“My dear Miss Dell.” Ho Chi Minh stroked his wispy beard. His voice was a monotone whisper. In his younger days his words had more amplitude but were still soft and monotone. Today, at 68, his normal speech was only decibels above a whisper.
“Yes, President Minh.” She turned from the television.
“What you see on the screen is what war does to my country. Villages, innocent men, women and children are all victims. The television program is both from South Vietnam and North Vietnam villages. The North Vietnam sequences are from the devastation wrought by American bombers, American soldiers and chemical warfare. Yes, chemicals. See the mist being spread on the forests of both North and South Vietnam–by the United States.”
“President Minh, I know all this. Why do you show it on Christmas Day?”
“Because of what is going to happen on this day in the United States. You are part of it.”
“Yes. Look at this news station.” CBS News was brought in by satellite TV. San Diego Naval Hospital activists were chanting in throngs and waving posters protesting the war. “You see your followers define the war as it is–war victims both North and South. But most of the protestors not in our camp speak of ‘war’ in general–any war. That will not get results. Your group will get results.”
“You said earlier, President Minh that the war will be coming to America today?”
“Yes. Another faction allied with your cause, our cause, will assault the military hospitals and inflict casualties on American soil.”
“But that is not what I want.”
“It is what is needed and it will unite all anti-war sentiment. The voting American citizens will clearly see what violence and death is all about when it happens on their own soil.”
“I wanted peaceful elimination of the conflict, not more violence.”
“My dear Miss Iona Dell, war is the physical extension of political thought. Political thought by America in Vietnam is aggression. On this day, almost 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace was born. Is it not then appropriate that Americans see the hypocrisy of so-called ‘peace-seeking’ Americans acting by violence?”
“I don’t know. This is not what I wanted.”
“What you want is not real. What you see in Vietnam is real. What your country will experience today is real. You are an advocate through a powerful media–visual representation. Are you not?”
“You spoke of endorsing the cause of Vietnamese unification did you not?”
“You even burned your American flag because it no longer stood for what its founding fathers wanted–freedom from aggression by a foreign force. Did you not?”
“At the time the American military hospitals are attacked by your own people, I will be launching massive offenses on all fronts in South Vietnam. Live action will be broadcast from the borders of Cambodia and Laos. It is also where Americans are camped. America is broadening, not narrowing their involvement. This must be shown. It must be ended. You will make a statement for worldwide television at that time from this very office with me at your side.”
“I am not that powerful an image, President Minh.”
“Just before we go live on global television, we will broadcast your President Nixon’s Christmas speech of days ago committing to end the conflict. You and I will then appear and annotate the war being waged here and in your country on this day.”
“But the violence and deaths here and on U.S. soil…” Dell’s voice wavered with uncertainty.
“You are a soldier of peace. We will end the broadcast with the scene of Christmas birth and the music ‘Silent Night’ in the background.”
Iona Dell looked from the old man to the TV screen showing the energetic and purposeful picketers walking in chanting circles like strikers for a labor union. Some of them might be dying today. Tears welled up in her lower eyelids. Yes, this has to be. And the ending–so appropriate. Jesus sent her here. Their cause is driven by God.
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