My Lai Conversation

How old are you, small Vietnamese boy?
Six fingers. Six years.
Why did you carry water to the wounded soldier, now dead?
Your father.
Your father was enemy of free world.
You also now are enemy of free world.
Who told you to carry water to your father?
Your mother!
Your mother is also enemy of free world.
You go into ditch with your mother.
American politician has said,
“It is better to kill you as a boy in the elephant grass of Vietnam
Than to have to kill you as a man in the rye grass in the U.S.A.”
You understand,
It is easier to die
Where you know the names of the birds, the trees and the grass
Than in a strange country.
You will be number 128 in the body count for today.
High body count will make the Commander-in-Chief
of the free world much encouraged.
Good-bye, small six-year-old Vietnamese boy, enemy of free world.

Author: Eugene McCarthy

Eugene McCarthy served as a civilian in the War Department in 1944 and later became a Senator from Minnesota. He campaigned for the Democratic nomination for president in 1968 as a peace candidate.

11 thoughts on “My Lai Conversation”

  1. Most affecting in this poem is, of course, the dissonance of a soldier’s gentle voice expressing lethal intentions and bland explanations. Like most war poems, this one is more than a little obvious, but if we do not get nuance we do at least get a chilling originality. The speaker’s argument about having to defeat the Vietnamese in Vietnam before they invaded America was ludicrous but often uttered by hawkish politicians, always without a sense of irony (or a sense of reality). After years of presidential hopefuls like Rick Perry and Herman Cain, it is hard to imagine a candidate with McCarthy’s education, intelligence, integrity, and sensibility.

  2. McCarthy’s poem really reaches me since we do the same stuff all the time, killing people far away. Saying it’s because they could come here.

  3. Don’t be stupid, Keith. They do want to come over here and kill us. Forgot 9/11 already? The poem is about Vietnam not radical islam terrorism.

  4. dittotrump, you are wrong. Taliban in Afghanistan did not do 9/11, and they do not want to come here. They want to run Afghanistan. We are on one side of a civil war there, like in Vietnam. Now Putin is helping the Taliban. Terrorists in other countries are manufactured every time we bomb them. The Bush family started this mess, first the Gulf War then W and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So we are the ones who went into someone else’s country to kill people. The soldier speaking in McCarthy’s poem fell for the lie. If we stop killing their kids they will stop getting recruits from families wanting revenge. Try less ditto and more thinking.

  5. Who cares what happened in the past. Trump said he will wipe out radical islamic terrorism and he will. You can take that to the bank.

  6. Fact is, if you listen to veterans they don’t say anything good about the people they are there to protect. It’s like the troops never heard all the Washington BS.

  7. @dittotrump. The election is over, you can come back to reality now. Or are you part of the Russian effort to promote Trump?

  8. This is a better poem than most of the shallow stuff being published these days, whether or not you like the idea behind it.

  9. @FlyGirl, right about poetry today. I found McCarthy’s poetry book at the library, and think most of it is ordinary, but most of it is still better than the stuff I see online. My grandmother writes poetry and says poetry was not so bad in the old days when you could only publish in print, and it was harder to do.

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