I’ve lived with the fear that my birth is evidence of a crime committed and forgotten. Some days I entertain the insane thought that, if it weren’t for Henry Kissinger helping to prolong the Vietnam War, I wouldn’t have been born. From across the Pacific Ocean, this German immigrant played matchmaker between my mother and my father in the early spring of 1973, inching them closer and closer, until I came sputtering out into the damp, warm air of a country that found itself on its last legs.
I was born in early December of that year, possibly at the hospital in the Gia Dinh district of Saigon, to a Vietnamese mother and American father. But about five years prior to my birth, in 1968, Henry Kissinger traveled along as an adviser to the Lyndon Johnson administration when representatives from the United States and North Vietnam finally met in Paris to negotiate a peace settlement and bring an end to hostilities between the two nations for the first time since 1965.
Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s most recent documentary “The Vietnam War” attends to the drama that unfolded at those negotiations. However, one would be remiss in not considering another documentary, called “The Trials of Henry Kissinger.” This one was based on Christopher Hitchens’ 2001 Harper’s Magazine article, “The Case Against Henry Kissinger,” which put forth the theory (now accepted as fact) that, behind Johnson’s back, Kissinger was secretly passing on key information from the negotiations to Richard Nixon’s campaign team.
The U.S. and North Vietnamese were reaching an agreement that could end, or at least halt, hostilities between the two countries. Nixon promised South Vietnam’s President Nguyen Van Thieu that his future administration would continue to support Thieu’s regime against an inevitable Communist takeover. On cue, the South Vietnamese contingent backed out of the peace negotiations, and the process fell apart.
Having promised the American people “peace with honor,” Nixon won the presidency in November 1968, and he tapped Kissinger to be his new national security adviser. As a result of Kissinger’s and Nixon’s backroom dealing, the war throughout Southeast Asia actually expanded and went on for another seven years. I noticed the documentary by Burns and Novick failed to pinpoint Kissinger’s pivotal role in Nixon’s political maneuvering.
Kissinger’s activities to favor Nixon’s presidential campaign by deliberately scuttling a serious attempt to end a disastrous and out-of-control war were both cavalier and cruel.
As the war progressed, many Americans read about orphaned Vietnamese children in the newspaper and saw them on the evening news. They believed they had a moral responsibility to take care of those less fortunate and to open their hearts and homes to the children of a war that they forgot their country prosecuted and escalated.
Regardless, the implied politicized message was that Americans were more moral than those “godless Communists,” aka the Vietnamese, and that only Americans could provide an infinitely better outcome to these castaways. Under the protection of the U.S. military — and with the support of countless donations — several religious groups established Christian-based orphanages that inadvertently took the place of indigenous methods of child welfare. With so much of South Vietnam overwhelmed by the casualties of war, enterprising “good Samaritans” took up the mantles of healer and savior.
The longer U.S. military and civilian personnel stayed in the country, the more prostitution and intermarriage produced children of mixed race. These “Amerasians” were commonly orphaned or abandoned because of a mix of poverty, national (and personal) shame, and sheer neglect on both sides. The Western media portrayed these children as caged animals, unwanted by their unfeeling mothers and missing-in-action fathers. To soothe their conscience and fulfill a sense of obligation to those fathered by their countrymen, Americans advocated for the adoption of these Amerasians. Intentionally or not, the adoption of these children became the Trojan horse for institutionalizing the adoption of Vietnamese children across the board.
My own adoption by Americans was facilitated in the summer of 1974. With it came my parents’ awkward and prolonged silence about the country in which I was born and the war that belched me forth. Ever since I can remember, the American foot soldier and, by extension, the people of the United States were cast as the victims of the Vietnam War. They represented the twin beacons of freedom, fighting for a noble cause. In the face of such rhetoric, I was expected to demonstrate compliant gratitude. This left me very early on open to disinformation and without a defense against emotional manipulation. No one wanted to acknowledge the unpleasant paradox of thousands of Vietnamese children living in the country whose citizenry readily accepted a war waged against the very people who conceived them.
Watching “The Vietnam War” documentary series forced me yet again to confront the truly mind-numbing thought: Henry Kissinger scheduled the deaths of thousands upon thousands of my countrymen (both Vietnamese and American) so that I may breathe at this very moment.
Kevin Minh Allen was born Nguyễn Đức Minh on Dec. 5, 1973, near Sài Gòn, Vietnam, to a Vietnamese mother and an American father who remain unknown to him. He was adopted by a couple from Rochester, New York, and grew up in nearby Webster with his two younger sisters. In 2000, he moved to Seattle to pursue a life less ordinary. Kevin is a freelance writer whose poetry has been published in numerous print and online publications, such as Eye To The Telescope, Meniscus Magazine, AsianAmericanPoetry.com, and Chrysanthemum. His first poetry collection, called “My Proud Sacrifice,” was published in 2014. He just finished his second poetry manuscript, called “Go In Clean, Come Out Dirty.”