By Wallace Henley , Special to CP
March 18, 2012
The lovely ship Serenity docked last week at Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, once known as Saigon.
The Serenity, operated by Crystal Cruise Lines, is a magnificent ship, and Crystal tops in excellence. My wife and I sailed her to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. But there was something jarring about perusing her bridge webcam a few days ago and realizing the coast of Vietnam was off her bow.
My mind reeled with the thought: We gave 50,000 American lives, and who knows how many Vietnamese and others to make Vietnam safe for the cruise ships.
Perhaps such a thought would only seem incongruous to someone of my generation. Maybe, too, it's an unfair over-simplification. After all, the Serenity and other vessels that sail into Vietnamese ports bring prosperity, and hopefully inspire a greater openness in the country that is still under communist rule.
But is that worth all the blood that flowed in the 1960s and 1970s through the very cities now festooned with souvenir shops pushing their exotic wares to tourists? Dying to defend liberty is one thing, but when is "freedom" really "freedom"?
And by the way, our side, fighting to defend Vietnam's freedom, won many a battle, but lost the war, at huge cost. One could argue that the cause of freedom lost in Vietnam, despite the Serenity's elegant presence.
Vietnam's authoritarian rulers, like those in other Marxist states, still clamp down on freedom of worship and dissent. There are government-approved churches, but unregistered congregations and their leaders are persecuted decades after the war.
"Ethnic minority Christians in Vietnam increasingly face charges of national security crimes, severe abuse, property confiscation and forced renunciations of faith, according to Human Rights Watch and US parliamentarians," reported the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs last year.
One can only imagine how horrible it actually is for the UN to take notice.
Father Thadaeus Nguyen Van Ly shows how far Vietnam's communist rulers will go to stifle political dissent. He was imprisoned in 2007 for criticizing the government and communism, released in 2010 because of three strokes and a brain tumor, but put back in jail 16 months later.
Father Thadaeus' Stalinist prison won't be a shore excursion option for Serenity's passengers.
So, again we must ask: When is freedom truly freedom? The answer, according to the biblical worldview and the democracies that arose from it is that people are truly free when they have the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition of grievances. These are embedded in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but arose from the belief system laid out in the Bible.
There is erosion of those deeper freedoms in America itself as the biblical consensus deteriorates and the "post-Christian" era is celebrated in the salons.
The lack of those deeper, more profound liberties in Vietnam show that it is a Potemkin nation, an empty shell where cruise ships can dock, but where the onshore shopkeepers are restricted from the liberties that prove a nation is truly free.
Now America is in another such quagmire, Afghanistan. Headlines are nuclear this week with yet more horrors in that nation. An apparently crazed American soldier is accused of rampaging through a village, killing families. Perhaps he symbolizes the foreign policy nervous breakdown that presently sends our soldiers into countries, not merely to defend our freedoms, but to engage in nation-building projects for which there is no foundational worldview.
Raising any kind of structure – especially a nation – without a foundation is a hapless and thankless task.
So, 10 years from now we may see Land's End-clad western adventurers on happy excursions through the colorful poppy fields of Afghanistan, welcomed and watched closely by the Taliban.
There might even be a MacDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant or two, but there will also be those prisons where dissenters and minority worshipers are silenced.
And for this, thousands will have lost their lives. There's something wrong with that picture, even if it's from the Serenity's webcam.
Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.