Imagine you’re a young man growing up in the pastoral farmlands of Canada, surrounded by your devout parents and seven siblings. You trek 16 miles to church each Sunday to further devote your life to the religion that you believe to be your calling. Life is hard, but you’re at home and alive. Then, like a shot from destiny, everything changes. You find yourself in South Vietnam in the middle of war, attempting to make sense and reconcile the faith and morality from the only world you’ve ever known with this all-encompassing hell of inhumanity and senselessness. This is the disconcerting experience that author JanStephen James Cavanaugh recounts in A Bloodied Tapestry.
In this autobiographical historical account, Jan takes readers through the time he served as a civilian volunteer in the Vietnam War and shows how this experience altered the trajectory of his life forever. Walk with Jan as he comes to grips with the realities of war, and how injustice and violence betray our better judgements.
Much has been written about the Vietnam War; however, this book is not a retrospect on the utter inhumanity and senselessness of war because—sadly—war continues. Alternatively, Cavanaugh extols lessons and observations about the war that may finally reach our collective consciousness and compel meaningful and noticeable change. Much more insight is needed as we fumble our way toward attempting to find a peaceful way to exist together. Cavanaugh still believes we can make the choice to let go of the injustice and ego that create war. He is still hopeful that together we can make the collective choice to turn our backs on war so we may progress and find greater meaning and compassion in our existence. This pursuit is what motivates Cavanaugh and inspired him to revisit this hell, so that we may finally experience the harmony that comes from humanity living in an age of peace.
Sometimes graphic, oftentimes uplifting, A Bloodied Tapestry is a personal account of one man’s immutable beliefs as they are challenged to the very core and his resolution to survive for a greater purpose.
A year ago this June 2022 I wrote the epilogue to my book: Fearing then that humanity is on a path to great destruction, and now a year later talk of nuclear war as Ukraine war grinds on ... the next chapters in WWIII. The truth be told Ukrainians are being slaughtered at the altar of USA power. Zelensky is their puppet. And now he is in a deep trouble. As Pope Francis and Rand Paul noted our complicity in this unlawful war is the truth. Shame on Democrats for what I understand to be willful blindness. We need a march on Washington to demand President Biden Negotiate An End to the Slaughter. It won't be popular, but our message must be clear. The record is clear: USA and NATO provoked this war and just as guilty as the Russians in starting this illegal war. Let peacemakers join Francis and Paul ... to amplify their message. In the streets a plea for Biden to do the right thing ... from power broker to peace broker to end this unnecessary slaughter.
My friend Eve Marko who is a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, called the other night. She had just finished my book and was excited by the story well told. She said, “I’ve met and talked with many Vietnam War veterans, but never with a civilian who volunteered to work with the people and got caught smack in the middle of a murderous war. Vietnam’s American War left scars not just on soldiers, but on ordinary people with high-level skills and the best of intentions. The images and sounds described here stay with me since my reading. When war intersects with generous idealists in a beautiful country, devastation ensues not just in the countryside but also in the hearts and minds of human beings." Yes, my hope to draw attention to “ the hearts and minds of human beings” the plight of civilians caught in war. In country not a few weeks … words from my soul to capture the horror of war as it hit me. And why humanity needs to abolish it. (Thomas Merton)
I learned from a group of women who read my book … apparently the word is out, the sexy chapter is last … and they all laughed. Apparently from a woman’s point of view that is the place to start. I live in a retirement community that also has a lot of retired nuns. Apparently one of the nuns wants to read it, and my friends wondered about that. I flashed back to the time held up in hotel downtown Saigon for weeks during Tet 68 (nothing to do but party to drown the noise of war) … if what I saw be a measure of nuns at play, nothing to shock that crew. But this did get me wondering, so that I start out in better light, maybe to recommend to nuns, or anyone, to start with Sr. Mary McD.'s recommendation for graduate school at the very back of the book. I do recommend reading the story from the beginning that my whole story can be seen in context. And in me in truth I felt a little saner for that interaction … Eros not Thanatos, at least for a brief moment a blessing.
My story is a story of boy raised in patriarchy and him no more aware of it than the air, but there all the same. Learning the lessons, he needed to survive and maybe thrive.
I talked recently to lifelong friend about his time as a civilian in Vietnam. His work there in a time of war. His experiences of war. I realized there are a lot of us civilians who worked in Vietnam. We all got stories to tell of what that is like trying to a job as the bombs are going off. And the many here with stories to tell with loved ones over there. The writing of my story a healing for me and maybe for the reader, a healing. . God Bless,
My life journey to Vietnam took me though a time with Maryknoll. There are many of us who served in military and civilian capacities in that war. My story is from the civilian side. I look back on those times in Maryknoll. I remember great comradeship, and the excitement of change for a more just world ... Sexual Revolution II, Civil Rights, Vatican II, Camelot, Kennedy's speech American University June 10, 1963, to build a world beyond war. And oh my God, Father and Mother in Heaven, I look out my window and what I see is far from the promises of those times. The dogs of war are off the leash. We are in the opening chapters of WWIII. We desecrate Mother Earth. Tell me it is my time in war past that has me seeing the future so darkly. It would be a relief to accept that I am just 'round the bend'. And I fear I am not.
By God's plan what I remember strongest of my trip north to meet with Bill Rose of Friends Service Committee was not what I experienced there, although even that enough. It was on the trip south I had a life altering experience of war. Even now 55 years later still a strong echo in my soul imprisoned in the terror of noise.
From boyhood on farm to young man off to do humanitarian work in a country at war. Off to war with none of the necessary preparation mentally to be in war. What I think now, more than anything in my life ... now pushing 80 ... Vietnam a major influence in how I view life and love. .
For reasons that may have to do with my time in war over 50 years ago and maybe due to stirring up stuff in the writing of my story, all I know is Ukraine War stirs me deeply. More so than the many wars in last twenty years. This war as most wars do, will end in negotiations. The question is when? In my gut a feeling of great anxiety that only gets worse by the day. I can only hope it is my trauma in war from times past that has me seeing the future so darkly.
Civilian Perspective, American War in Vietnam, II Corps, South Vietnam, 1967–1969 My story draws from a well of personal journals written during my time in war as a civilian. Journaling is a habit I started in Catholic seminary and unwittingly gives witness to my story. What is written herein is a series of essays that interweaves a tapestry of memories that crisscross my time in South Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. The “American War,” as the Vietnamese have named it.
In answer to the why now that I finished writing my story. I see the story more clearly. It is a coming-of-age story of a very young man working in a foreign land in civil war. Walk with him and feel your way. I wonder now I survived to tell the tale of the horrors of civilians in war ... that we might see more clearly ourselves in the mirror.
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