A Christian Looks at Vietnam
Major Wallace H. Little
San Francisco, CA
I would like to make several comments concerning Vietnam from the viewpoint of a practicing Christian. But first, let me make a couple of statements to establish the context in which I shall write. I am no Asian expert, and likewise, four months duty in this country does not qualify me as an expert on Vietnam, its affairs or the relationship of the U.S. to this country. My concern here does not pass moral judgment on the "right" of U. S. involvement, or on my part in this involvement. Suffice to say here that God has insured that I'll never be placed in a position of having to decide whether or not to take the life of another human. The sequence of events involved is too long to discuss here, however. I obviously do not consider my military service as sinful before God -- if I did, I would long ago have left the United States Air Force. And, I love my country and desire to carry my share of its defense load.
Now, with the guidelines established, let's take a look at the subject.
The Conduct of the War
Whether or not the U. S. has the "right of involvement" here in Vietnam is not for me to judge. I was not privy to the councils in which decisions were made. However, two things I do know. First, if war we must, we do not need to lower ourselves to the level of assassins. Just because the Viet Con (VC) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) engage in such barbarous practices as machine-gunning wounded prisoners, we do not need to do so. But we do. Not often, but once is too often. The stress of battle is great, but it need not make us lose our reason. Second, if war we must, and if people must be killed, it should be done with the minimum rather than the maximum of death. The only thing which keeps this war from being over in a month is the lack of political courage in the high councils of our government. Militarily, North Vietnam could be brought to its knees in that time with a minimum of dead on both sides and I'm not advocating "bombing them back to the stone age?" either. There are far better, more humane ways open to us if we had the courage of our manhood.
The subsequent reconstruction or both sides would cost only a fraction of what the war itself is costing, and the continuous casualty lists would no longer exist. Some who would otherwise die would yet have a chance to learn of Christ. As a nation, we do ourselves no honor here under the present circumstances. I am not advocating a protest demonstration or a revolt, but I am urging Christians be heard on this. The killing need to be ended, definitely, finally and above all, fairly.
There has been too much corruption, too little known or said about it, and above all, too little done about it. That the South Vietnamese are involved in it, even at high government levels on a gigantic basis cannot be successfully gainsaid. We as Americans have allowed this de facto condition to exist too long without applying real pressure to stop it, and it could be stopped. Additionally, there is an involvement here by the Korean troops. They have advance knowledge of shipments of expensive Exchange items, and purchase them in job-lots -- many of which show up on the black market. Every cent for this comes out of the pocket of the U. S. taxpayer. Again, it should and could be stopped. But neither of these is as heart-rending to me as the third aspect of it -- the involvement of some Christians. Perhaps it seems so small as to be without significance, especially when compared with the magnitude of the others, but Paul was not so minded in his discourse on hypocrisy in Romans 2:17-24. The selling of cigarettes and other controlled Exchange items on the black market is truly a case of the Christian selling his birthright for a bowl of beans (Gen. 25:31-34; Heb. 12:16).
America Exports Its Worst
As a nation, we seem to have an ability to show the depths of degradation rather than the heights of glory of our country. For example, in any Base or Post Exchange, most of the magazine counter is taken with the "girlie" magazines whose pictures leave little, if anything to the imagination. Playboy, Stag, Male, etc., etc., almost crowd what little decent literature that is available off the racks. I can still read where "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov. 14:34). I am grieved that our country exports sex, license and immorality in its literature rather than material of a higher moral tone. The temptation of men, particularly young married men away from their wives for a long year, cannot help but further reduce the moral level of the American troops, and that of the local populace. What makes the situation even sadder however is that some Christians, rather than rebuking this evil (Eph. 5:11) all too often read and enjoy these examples of pornography right along with the aliens (Heb. 10:26; Gal. 5:19-21).
Christian Attendance at Worship
Of all places today where the young, American male Christian has special and continuing need to attend the assemblies of the saints, I cannot think of one more critical than Vietnam. Yet getting them to do so is like finding hen's teeth. The indifference, the "don't bother me" attitude, the desire to conform to the world is so strong that many, if not most, simply do not attend at all. Further, when approached by faithful brethren desiring nothing but the salvation of their souls in the light of the responsibility of "bear ye one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2), the unfaithful ones often become angry. I have written and spoken on this subject before, but it bears repeating: leaving home (overseas duty?) is sure test of one's Christianity - it will either make or break the individual concerned, spiritually. No proof is even necessary -- simple observation will confirm this statement. The reason is simple but too often misunderstood. Brethren really don't believe Mat. 11:28-30 and consequently, refuse to trust Christ. I want to stress that this condition does not occur in Vietnam, but actually takes place long time before Christians arrive here. In Vietnam the right conditions exist to bring this deplorable condition to light for all to see. While at home, Christians had various sociological pressures which kept them apparently faithful. Away from home, and these pressures (the preacher, elders, girlfriend, wife, parents, or whatever), they must fall back on their faith (trust) in Christ and they simply do not trust him enough to live for him.
Christians as the Salt of the Earth
Christ has some words on this subject (See Mt. 5:13-16). And surely, if anything is needed among the aliens here, it is Christians acting as God's salt. The same ones, however, who fail in attendance, thus avoiding the opportunity to grow (2 Pet. 1:5-7) also fail here. When salt is no longer either a flavoring or a preservative, it is without value to its owner. I cannot help but wonder how long God will endure when these, faced with what might be their greatest (and possibly their last) opportunity to serve Him turn from it and go not to the work (Acts 13:13; 15:38). I wish it ended here, but it does not. Of those few who do attend, some of these are anything but a light reflecting glory to God by their lives and words. It is not difficult to understand the despair of the Curries when after reducing tons of pitch-blend, they had a residue so small that it could not be weighed. (But what a residue it turned out to be!) Reduction to perfection is a problem God faces in us, but I sometimes am made to wonder if the working material gives Him as much of a return as the Curries had (Mat. 7:13, 14; 21-33). But don't blame God in this (2 Pet. 3:9: Acts 10:34; look inward -- 2 Cor. 13:5). We need to look again at the first three verses of Hebrews the second chapter. With so many opportunities (some call them "problems"), we fail miserably to show Christ in our lives, thus fail to influence others to come to Him. Of what value are we as God's salt?
Finally, my brethren, let us look again at ourselves. As the present controversy has so well demonstrated, it is easy to hold a "position" of righteousness but considerably more difficult to stand up for it. The latter takes courage. But read Rev. 21:8 where God cites the destination of those afraid to serve Him. Within "faithful" churches many utterly fail to do their share, in work, in study, in personal teaching, in giving of their means, and in anything else God expects, unless of course it pleases us. We are playing church. Here in Vietnam I've already cited the circumstances. But the difference between here and in the U.S. is much more a matter of degree than kind. There is surely a commonality. Simply put, we are only half converting people BECAUSE WE ARE ONLY HALF CONVERTED OURSELVES. See Paul's comments in Heb. 5:11-14. Many, oh how many Christians have need to learn again what be the first principles of the oracles of God! When our faith is put to the test (whatever test God allows), faith insufficiently grounded fails miserably, and we fall back on self -- AND THAT IS IDOLATRY! See 1 Jno. 5:21, and let's not go to hell.
Reflections and Recommendations
Looking back over what I've written, it obviously applies not only to Vietnam but to all Christians wherever they might be. Too many churches are filled with men and women best described in Rev. 3:14-17, but we either cannot or will not recognize it. We can see it in others but are blind to it in ourselves -- the log and the speck situation all over again. The man who will not recognize his illness will never take his medicine. The Christian who will not acknowledge his sin will not take his "medicine" from the great Physician and will die in his sins. So, first -- let's look at ourselves and recognize our faults, and seek God's forgiveness. He knows we need this, and so should we. Second -- for those of us here, turn to God and serve Him faithfully, presenting our bodies a living sacrifice (a giving up of ourselves to Him while yet in the flesh) (Rom. 12:1). We may not have much time left in which to do this. Third -- wives, parents, elders, preachers, all Christians at home teach, admonish and encourage all who may be leaving to remain faithful while they are away. Those of us who are "there" know that if this isn't done, it is almost too late to recover the wanderers after their arrival here. Fourth -- and most basic of all don't wait but get busy immediately. "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6) and, of parents to their children, "... bring them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). For those who have the privilege of knowing these wanderers when they are away from their home, invite them into yours. They are lonely, and need your help. For the love of God and for the love of the individual concerned, do these things. If you have some doubt as to the necessity, look at the end result of the failure to do them. I have.
-- 536 Tactical Airlift - Squadron (PACAF)
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIII: 8, pp. 8-10