Peace Corps Writers
Footprints in the Sand
(page 4)
Footprints in the Sand

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Back to school
That same researcher who had supported my views about the war encouraged me to return to NYU and study for a doctorate, and when I returned home I followed his suggestion and re-enrolled in a graduate program. It was a slow process and, as I learned later, risky. It seemed that at least one member of the department was opposed to my being readmitted because I had worked in Vietnam. In fact, he ended up on my dissertation committee, and with my own challenges, he helped me to not get the degree, but the department chairman having sympathy for me awarded me an M Ph as a consolation prize. All of this is to underscore how divisive the war became in our lives.
   
I had maintained my belief that the best ways to understand the world and to have it understand us was in fact-to-face exchanges. What I was beginning to find was that this was somewhat idealist given the preponderance of alternative US policy towards others.

In retrospect
What is so striking to me now is the absolute comparison between our attitude toward Vietnam then and our attitude toward Iraq today. This might not have occurred to me had not Kerry and the Swift Boat guys restarted the war, 40 years later. It is as if no one read the history of the war in Vietnam. I think that it is because 1) we as a nation are in denial, with neocons believing that we lost the war because of the bad press, and 2) as George Bernard Shaw so well stated it, “what we learn from history is that we don’t!”
     A third axiom comes to mind: “generals fight a current war the way that they fought the last one.” However, in the case of Iraq, the civilians rather than the generals now think this and direct the war. The generals, at least those who express their hunches, are right, i.e., we should never have taken this one on. In the case of Vietnam, we had a plan for after the war with Arthur Smithies and another colleague working on such a plan. In Iraq, there now appears to have been no post-war plan and the military has privatized reconstruction, as well as supply lines with catastrophic and expensive results. In addition, the military has dropped its community development assistance that it had used for years. Just look how an occupation force entered Japan after WWII and turned the lights and the water back on, resulting in Japan becoming a dominate economic power. This was largely because of our ignoring the aftermath of WWI and the result of that action being WWII.
     Another lesson for me is that the US never grasped the differences among the North, Central and South Vietnamese that they held for each of them. This was largely attributable to the fact that France oversaw all three as political entities and administered them in vastly different ways. Again, shades of Iraq with Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites.
     Overall, I have always reflected on the fact that I spent years avoiding the draft, first by joining the Peace Corps, as well as having one of my U.S. Senators contact my draft board when I received my induction notice on the day that I had informed my draft board that I would return to the US from Peace Corps service. And then I end up going there voluntarily as a social science researcher!
     And, like My Lia, we end up killing the very people we want to institute a western form of democracy. One of my wife’s students from the United Arab Emirates, when I asked, said that western democracy does not work for them because each of the clans, tribes, whatever, have wise men who arrive at agreed upon decisions. As one American diplomat once observed on a morning following a request for a decision, looking outside, he could see the many “footprints in the sand.” And of course, this is the sand that we and they are drowning in today.

  
David Gurr works today for AmeriCorps/VISTA, Corporation for National and Community Service. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he taught Auto Mechanics and Shop Management at the secondary level, Economics at the undergraduate level, and played flute with the Ethiopian National Symphony. He is the father of two children, a daughter who is an Episcopal priest and a son who is a somatic psychologist and Celtic harpist.
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