Dear American Christians:
We, the Mennonite missionaries in Vietnam, have been engaged in church and service programs in the Saigon area since 1957. In recent years we have seen the suffering of the Vietnamese people increase incredibly. As Christians, we too feel compelled to declare our concern for the moral issues involved in our country’s action here.
It is not our aim to speak as political commentators or final authorities. Even statistics often seem misleading in this divided, confused situation. We wish rather to share our impressions gathered from what we have seen and heard while working with Vietnamese people. For we sense that American Christians are not aware of the feelings and dilemma of the general population here.
The Nature of the Conflict
Perhaps the most crucial issue lies in understanding the nature of this struggle. To speak of supporting a free, independent people in their fight against external communist aggression does not describe the conflict we sense. The more we learn of its historical development and social dimensions, the more troubled we become with this assumption.
A century of Western colonialism, an eight-year battle for independence, a temporary partition of the country, a national election never permitted: these are but a few of the historical facts which lie in the background. From their perspective it is possible for the other side to feel they are fighting a second time for what they won from the French, but were denied through a treaty which was never carried out.
Another decisive factor is social reform for the peasant people, the 80 percent who have the least but suffer the most. They know that many who now are supporting U.S. policy also sided with the French earlier in the war. They associate the Saigon government with maintaining aristocratic and Western interest. And the United States is viewed as preserving the privileged minorities who attract little support.
Thus despite our government’s stated intentions, most Vietnamese apparently see America as only replacing France; the feeling of being used still pervades their life and spirit. The growing presence and power of foreigners once more causes the spirit of nationalism to burn brighter among the opposition elements. Even many who earlier favored America’s assistance are now fearful of domination and destruction, feeling the “medicine” is worse than the “disease.”
The Means to the End
But all these basic issues become overshadowed by the war itself and the way it is being conducted. Our leaders acknowledge that the key to victory is winning the loyalty of the country people; yet most of America’s energy and resources is expended in massive destruction of their life, property, and social order. We believe that such primary reliance on military force is insuring defeat of the goals being sought.
It is obvious to the Vietnamese that U.S. and Allied forces are causing most of the devastation and disruption. This side has thousands of planes plus warship, tanks, etc., while the VC have none of these. Even most Americans have seen and heard enough of forced evacuations, bombed villages, defoliated fields, burned people, prostitution, inflation, corruption, etc., to sense the cumulative impact of all this in a country more populous than California yet not half as large. As a Vietnamese friend summarized it: “Vietnam is dying.”
We do not condone the atrocities and terror of the other side. But can these acts justify a multiplication of them many times over by the Western forces? For three years the U.S. military has capitalized on its overwhelming, superior firepower to destroy guerilla fighters living among the people. Yet the most apparent result—besides the dead and maimed—is increasing hostility and resistance. As fast as they are killed, others rise up in their places. Victory for our leaders seems dependent on killing off enough people to crush all opposition.
According to the Saigon government, nearly one-fourth of the South Vietnamese people have been uprooted, many of them forced into inhumane existence. While this removes their support from the guerrillas and creates convenient free-bombing zones, it also is a mortal blow to the whole society. For today millions of Vietnamese are dependent on American handouts even for their daily rice. The assumption that one can build while destroying the very structure he must build upon appears fatal.
The Impact on Our World
We are also concerned because the country people being disregarded here represent the tragic plight of many Asians. What are the 250 million people of India who live in breadlines on four dollars a month concluding about
America’s concern? Our nation’s expenditure of billions of dollars and thousands of young lives for destructive purposes will be judged in light of such appalling need. They are asking for justice and progress; we send troops and bombers. To whom will they turn?
Moreover, the world gets the impression that the Christians’ God is behind our country’s action in Vietnam. They see pictures of church leaders and chaplains with the U.S. troops and hear that our president prays to God to bless “our pilots” on their missions of destruction. Since we are generally regarded as a Christian nation, Christianity itself is entangled in America’s military ventures and political policies.
This is a call to all Christians to become aware of the image being given to our faith. We sense a continuing rejection of this religion of the wealthy, white, warring West, for which we all bear responsibility. We fear that nations may close their doors and multitudes will be deaf to God’s call because of the
American Christians’ participation in and support of this war.
In light of these serious offenses against social justice, human life, and the Christian faith, we therefore plead for:
- A true consideration for the interests and needs of the Vietnamese
- A change of heart which will not only admit but also accept the consequences of past failures and mistakes against these people.
- A change of policy and tactics which will show [the Vietnamese] that our primary concern is for their own well-being, self-respect and independence.
- A tolerant spirit which would not force others to line up with us, but rather seek to understand their feelings and views.
- A fresh demonstration of our confession that in Christ there is no East or West.
Signed: James K. Stauffer, Everett G. Metzler, Luke S. Martin, James E. Metzler, Don M. Sensenig, S. Luke Beidler
Originally published by the Committee of Concern on Vietnam, Harrisonburg, VA, December 1967.