April 29th, 1975

After a restless night of shelling and mortar attacks, my family and I were airlifted from the airport along with hundreds or maybe a thousand other refugees. We flew out to aircraft carriers waiting not very far off shore from Saigon. Those days before and after the Fall of Saigon were still vivid in my mind. Looking back I felt it was unfortunate to experience the evacuation not only from my home but out of my country. My view changed overtime. Now I looked at those events as an initiation into history and becoming a member of the world society of refugees. I was a part of a colossal life altering experience. My family came away from the experience unscathed, we were very lucky. That experience gave me an outlook on life that will remain with me for the rest of my life. It taught me on a shallower level that nothing can be taken for granted. Freedom is one of those nothing, it is a concept so precious to many while others who have never known otherwise tend to disregard it to the point of abuse. A person understands freedom more profoundly when it can be taken away. What does it really mean to be free? Does a wild animal raised in captivity know whether it is free or not? May be it is born with the yearning for freedom that we could neither understand nor fathom.

Freedom is not anarchy. To be able to live and pursue happiness is the most tangible concept of freedom. Simple concept, but why are there so many of us living in a “free society” like the United States, yet we are certainly not free? We live in debts because we gave away our freedom for want of things we cannot pay for. It is our failure to understand freedom that fill up our jails and gets us all in debts.

My experience in Vietnam on a deeper level taught me optimism. All that I knew, owned or cared for could all be taken away; yet my parents and thousands of other refugees have proved that given enough time and effort, life starts a new. Look around and you will notice how tenacious life is. I saw a young green fern taking hold on a field of black lava as far as the eyes can see.

The Arithmetic of Iraq

Update: I wrote this piece nine years ago after we invaded Iraq in 2003 about the need for the US to consider war refugees as the consequences of repeating our mistakes in foreign soils. The Syrian refugees situation and the fears and potential backlash for these people in the US are fulfilling a predictable outcome. I was wrong in my estimate regarding Iraq Refugees, but nevertheless, I predicted thatĀ refugees from those conflicts will arrive here in the US.

In 1975 when I arrived from Viet Nam as a refugee, I knew more math than most of my fellow students in my sixth grade class at Utica Elementary school in Jeffersonville, Indiana. At least, they did not yet learned what we were taught in Viet Nam. That was then, now I do hope that there is no difference between what these children are taught in either countries, more importantly is what they know about math. For those who dislike math, even simple arithmetic, tend to forget that without it we cannot function effectively as an adult. Math is in everything that we do. It is simple arithmetic that will often bring us to reality or shed some light on not just matter of economics but in this case: our involvement in Iraq. In order to understand the meaning of the phrase “escalation of troops” when President Bush demanded, we have to look at it as an arithmetic problem.

Before a war, any war, lost of life is near zero. Once the killing or shooting gets under way the number of death and injured escalate. War cost lives. After the U.S committed its troops to the War on Terror on Iraq soil, the number of American deaths started to climb. Bringing in more troops increases their exposure to harm’s way. If there are more fish in the barrel to shoot at, then chances of hitting one increase. More insurgents will be killed along with more civilians when the fighting escalates. Simple arithmetic, adding and subtraction. Here is an example of math problem we may see in a future SAT exam:

Part One

The U.S sent 20,000 troops at the start of the Iraq war. Three (3) years later three thousand troops are killed. What is the average number of troops killed per year?

  1. 1000
  2. 6.667
  3. It does not matter
  4. None of the above

Part Two

If the U.S send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, given the average killed per year. How many years will it take before the total combined troops killed will reach and unacceptable number? (This is a trick question.)

  1. 3000 @ 3 years
  2. 50, 000 @ 10 years
  3. 100,000 @ 15 years
  4. None of the above

What is an unacceptable number? 50,000? The black granite walls of the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington D.C had more names. Vietnamese casualty from the same war was over two millions. Added together, the mistake the U.S made in Viet Nam cost over 2.05 million lives.

If the millions of deaths are hard to quantify, then we shall look at something that we all can identify with, the money side of our involvement in Iraq. Here is another test question example:

The war in Iraq cost the U.S $12 billion per month. The current Iraq population is at 26.7 million. What is the dollar amount spent per Iraqi per year?

  1. $45
  2. $5,393
  3. We do not care
  4. It does not mater

Making friends and winning hearts will be much easier if every man , woman and child in Iraq was handed five thousand dollars rather than the alternative: storming into their homes at night looking for insurgents or weapons. Who would not choose the obvious? Five thousand dollars a year or we will turn your country into a nightmare.

Iraq will not be solved mathematically given its complexity. Nevertheless, simple arithmetic will tell us that it is a problem, and to solve it we need a set of rules and some formulas. A solution will generally occur if we apply what is known into those formulas. 1 + 1 = 2. The important skills in solving any problem are knowledge, recollections, some creativity and perhaps a bit of a history lesson to would also help.

Optimistically, Iraq will cease to be a U.S problem when the last soldier boarded a plane for home. Soon after it will be their problem, it has always been theirs. When the U.S pullout, not if, there will be a period of greater unrests in Iraq, more Iraqis will kill each others. Some will die because they took side with the U.S. There will be more refugees. The U.S has to deal with that legacy when the time come, because we cannot abandon Iraqis whom we have relied on and trained to do what we believed was beneficial for us to achieve our unattainable goals. Remember the helicopters on roof tops during the last few days prior to the reunification of Viet Nam? Some of those Iraqi refugees will eventually make it here to the U.S to start over. With a bit of luck and hard work years later, there will be more new Iraqis restaurants opening up in our trendy neighborhoods. So there are benefits of the War on Terror after all, we gain a new crop of immigrants/ refugees. It is one way to experience the Iraq culture without actually leaving the comfort of your neighborhood. An Iraqis refugee in the U.S will be just as thankful as I am to be here. Leaving the war behind and living in this wonderful country full of opportunities.

Given what we remember about our experience in Viet Nam plus the similar mindset of the U.S, winning hearts and mind with planes and bombs, and the escalation of its troops; plus the will of the many factions that make up the Iraq population to resist the American way; using simple arithmetic and adding it all up, the result will be as exactly as history depicted. The Bush Administration will not achieve its objective. For the U.S government to do the same things as it did in Viet Nam while expecting a different result, it is not math but madness.