“What are you thinking Miss Iona Dell?” The grainy voice of General Phu Bahr brought her from self analysis.
“Oh, General. You startled me. I was thinking about Christmas in my country. It is considered a children’s holiday. Presents and rewards for being good make the children laugh and make parents feel comfortable.” She paused and added, “There are no sounds of children here in this section of Hanoi.”
“Here, we are military targets. The center of government and our leader Ho Chi Minh have sent the family units to the outskirts of the city. We do not celebrate this Christmas Holiday that you speak of. However, we do have special recognition for children at other times in the year.” The whispered words sounded like sage-delivered prophecy.
“Many of your VC look like adolescent children and some younger. We don’t send our citizens to the military until age 18, General. Is there a mandatory age for going into the army?” She folded her arms onto her quilted chest.
“For the VC a man is a man when he chooses to be. Some want to fight rather than tend the rice paddies. Some are only 12-years of age. But yes, we also have a mandatory service obligation Miss Iona Dell.” He looked into the activity of the square’s center. “A man is required to complete 3-years in the Army between ages 16-to-40. Most of our VC compliment is from age 14-to-28.”
“Is there conscription like the U.S. draft?”
“For the North Vietnam Army yes. The VC is a volunteer force. You have a similar system in America. Your countrymen are conscripted into the Army or they can join the Marines, Navy or Air force. Yes?”
“Yes, from that perspective it is the same.”
“But you seem troubled Miss Iona Dell?”
“I’m distressed there will be violence in my country today. It was never my wish for the military hospitals to be under attack in America.” She looked up at the sound of a rumbling in the sky.
“It is President Minh’s feeling that one can best understand a situation if they are also part of it. For the first time since Pearl Harbor your country will understand that violence-to-end-violence is as much of a message as a peace-talk meeting.” General Bahr looked up also. The air-raid siren began sounding.
“What do you mean?” Iona Dell watched as people in the square began running for cover.
“I mean that the attacks on your military hospitals are a way of asking for peace.” General Bahr directed Iona Dell down the staircase going to the air-raid shelter of their building. The ground thumped under their feet. B-52s were dropping bombs from 20,000 feet. She saw a SAM missile hiss and then roar into the sky just before the door closed.
“How is that a way to beg for peace?”
“The message will be spelled out clearly. The attacks within America will stop when the U.S. leaves Vietnam to the Vietnamese.”
“I am opposed to war and violence. Peace talks are what I advocate.”
“Not so, my dear Miss Iona Dell. When you side with the North Vietnamese, it means you side with our methods. Otherwise you would not be here. Is it not true?” He gave her a stern look.
“It may appear that way but I am for peace not war.”
“With your name and face associated with us, Miss Iona Dell, you are perceived as one of us. Some people will like you and some people will not.”
The explosions could now be heard as well as felt. Dust began to sift down from the rafters as if from salt-and peppershakers. A woman screamed. Iona Dell trembled and grabbed onto General Bahr’s shoulders. He looked into her eyes.
“You see Miss Iona Dell. Your people must experience fear like this.”
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