1.1 What was it about?

There are events in our lives that we cannot understand because we keep a part of what we know away from understanding. War is one of those events.

–Susan Griffin, A Chorus of Stones.

What was it about, Daddy?

Oct. 10, 2002

My thirteen-year-old daughter and I had just watched an “NBC Today” interview with Laura Palmer and Denby Fawcett about their experiences as reporters during the Vietnam War.  When the discussion of their newly-published book War Torn – including archival films from their reports on the war — was over, my daughter, knowing Laura is a friend of ours, asked me, “Did you see them when you were there?”

“No, sweetie, I didn’t see them.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for one reason, I wasn’t there at the same time they were.  The war in Vietnam lasted a very long time.”

“How long?”

“Oh, about fifteen years.”  Her mouth dropped open, and I explained that the main part we were involved in lasted about ten years, plus the five years or so when we sent advisors.  I mentioned that the Vietnamese conflict with the French had been going on about a hundred years.

“That’s a long time!” she exclaimed. “What was it about?”

——

It takes my brain a long time to register her question. I see her standing there, eyes wide and innocent, and I realize she has asked me what the war was about. Completely disingenuously, with a 13-year-old’s innocence, little grasp of the enormity of the question for me, she has asked what the war was about.

I can’t speak.  I stand there for what feels like a long time, looking in those still-wide eyes, trying to gain enough composure to answer.  I hug her, trying to gain a little time.  She sees the tears in my eyes and doesn’t press me, just keeps looking at me, calm and steady, the way she often does, with that deep child’s wisdom.

I hold her shoulders, looking at her, clearing my throat.

“Sweetie, it was… it was about… who….”

——

My answer, when I was finally able to give it, ran to several sentences; it was not very profound or interesting, but she listened, unflinching, as I explained.  Then she hugged me.

What was it about?