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Reflections of a Peacebuilder: Remnants, a Coming-of-Age Story

It is why I work with Play for Peace, so maybe, just maybe, the children can move beyond the hatred they have been taught to a love and compassion for each other and the planet. - Play for Peace Certified Trainer Sam Tower

  By Sam Tower I have been absent from this list for several months. I have been stuck on what to say about an impactful experience I had in Ho Chi Minh city during our tour of Southeast Asia. We visited the War Remnants Museum, which documents remnants of the American war in Vietnam. It forced me to look back. I found an idealistic young university student facing his first U.S. presidential election, involved in the anti-war movement, and active in the civil rights struggle. We were given a clear choice. Barry Goldwater said that he would send more troops to Vietnam and pull out all the stops. Lyndon Johnson said that he would bring the troops home and end the senseless slaughter. We believed him. We worked for his election. We joined the participatory democracy we had learned about in school. Fifty five thousand of my peers and millions of people in Vietnam and the surrounding countries died, from U.S. actions, after LBJ was elected. My idealism slipped away. They lied. As I walked through the museum the remnants, brought to the forefront, with photos, stories, documents, videos, and artifacts, that the rumors we heard of atrocities, bombings of civilians and planned destruction of the infrastructure of several countries, all which the U.S. government at the time denied, were in fact true. Lt. Calley and My Lai was not an isolated incident but one of many massacres which occurred in the fog of war. There are remnants of villages, remnants of animals, remnants of human beings, buildings with holes, whole buildings gone, infrastructure destroyed. There are pictures of children going to school in hidden classrooms, weaving hats to use as camouflage, playing games, lying in pieces, and trying to maintain their childhood. Passing from there to an area devoted to the effects of Agent Orange, we see that these effects are still present. Children born with genetic birth defects are still happening, several generations latter. There are also stories and pictures of these effects on the children of U.S. soldiers who were also exposed to this chemical warfare. The people of Vietnam mostly drink bottled water because the ground water is still poisoned. There is a large display of the massive anti-war movement that was happening all around the world. It was clear that the citizens of the world did not support these criminal acts. The Vietnamese are friendly, hard-working, industrious people who have a beautiful country. The children go to school. We saw no signs of child labor. The streets and country side are clean. The food is wonderful and plentiful. There seems to be an acceptance, if not a reverence, for faith. Tradition lives on; that it was not destroyed is treasured. They have worked hard to rebuild and move on. To the winners go the heartache and the determination to rebuild. I detected no animosity toward us as Americans; in fact, it was the opposite. Would I/we be as accepting if the tables were turned? Hard to tell. I didn’t see many men my age. Maybe it comes down to the remnants of memory. Can I let it go and move on to learnings? Can we as citizens of the U.S. and the world find another way? I am 70 years old. Almost every day from June 21, 1942, the day I took my first breath, until today, an agent of the U.S. government has taken the breath away from one, or a lot more, citizens of another country. This realization continues my coming of age. It is why I work with Play for Peace, so maybe, just maybe, the children can move beyond the hatred they have been taught to a love and compassion for each other and the planet. Sam Tower is a Play for Peace certified trainer from Tacoma, Washington, USA. Sam and his wife, Sarah, who is also a certified trainer, lead the Play for Peace Club in Tacoma. Reflections of a Peacebuilder is a new blog series for Play for Peace, in which we will share the personal reflections from trainers, mentors, and youth leaders, as well as other members of our global learning community.  We invite Play for Peace members to share reflections on their experiences with Play for Peace or thoughts about how we can build more peace in our world. Please contact Maria Dell’Isola at for more information about how to contribute to this series.