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Veteran Vietnamese soldiers appeal for peace in the era of chaos

By Chloe Nguyen

Trần Duy Nghĩa, who had one leg amputated in the 1969 Vietnam War, sends out a message of peace when wars have erupted in different parts of the world.

“Wars are nonsense. Civilians, who are not involved in the conflicts between governments, are most affected by wars,” he says. 

At the age of 81 now, the veteran soldier reads newspapers every day to learn what is happening in Ukraine since he has deeper feelings about it.

Suffering a lot from wars throughout his life, he says, “Rulers in various countries become more greedy and use violence to compete with each other nowadays.”

He believes the Russia-Ukraine War broke out due to the political interests of different parties, including the president of Russia wanting to conquer Ukraine to create a greater Russia and the United States and its allies’ plans to make Ukraine a Western bastion on Russia’s borders.

“I cannot believe there are still wars going on and empathize with people there,” he says as he recalls how he lost his right leg in the Tet Offensive military campaign, one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War.

“While I was investigating the battlefield to see if there were enemies nearby to attack, a bullet hit my knee. If my team had not carried me to a bush quickly, I would have been captured,” the former leader of the military district says.

Half of his right leg was cut and he stayed in the hospital for five years for  treatment and practicing walking all over again with a prosthetic leg. In 2021, a segment of his leg was cut again as it got infected.

Trần Duy Nghĩa wearing a prosthetic leg.

During the Vietnam War from 1954 to 1975, about 800,000 soldiers became disabled, 849,018 military died and an estimated 500,000 soldiers went missing, the Ministry of Defence says.

In 1981, Trần worked at a government-funded neuropsychiatric nursing center, which caters to soldiers with post-war mental health issues and head injuries. 

“Having witnessed my comrades sacrifice their lives for peace, I felt lucky to be alive and wanted to make the best of it by serving the injured after the war,” he adds.

He says because of the war, the government was so poor that it could not feed patients and provide proper healthcare for them.

“We did not even have enough money to buy food so we grew vegetables and raised pigs on our own,” the nursing center’s director adds. 

The veteran soldier is saddened to see that 444,000 Ukrainian military were wounded and killed, figures updated in February 2024 from Russia’s Ministry of Defence show.

A total of 10,582 civilians were killed and 19,872 were injured during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2024, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

The former soldier hopes the wars will end soon for civilians’ sake.

“Violence cannot solve conflicts, it only harms innocent humans and makes situations worse. Negotiation is a better solution that authorities involved in ongoing wars should resort to,” he says.

Also feeling wretched by the Vietnam War in 1972 is Ngô Thị Thu, who joined the rear forces of the army, supporting the front line with logistic works when she was only 17 years old.

She remembers her teeth were broken when she tried to escape from an airstrike with a 70-kg rice bag on her back.

“I was the least injured, 11 people in my team were hit by dropped bombs and died. Their bodies could not be found as they were shattered into pieces,” she adds.

“The worst part was I lost three family members when the U.S. dropped bombs in my hometown in 1969 and 1972,” the 69-year-old woman says.

Although the war ended more than 50 years ago, she is still suffering from war trauma, including body aches and mental health problems like experiencing nightmares and feeling anxious whenever a plane flies over her head.

An annual meeting of former soldiers after the war (Photo courtesy by Trần Duy Nghĩa)

The current war also annoys her. “I do not dare to see pictures of the Israel-Hamas War as they are too heartbreaking,” she adds.

She wishes no one would feel the same sorrow as her.

“Leaders involved in current wars should give up political interests and ambitions,  to achieve a common voice and bring peace to the people and the world,” the war witness says.

Associate professor Nguyễn Quang Hồng, from the Department of History at the Vinh University, says  every war has disastrous impact on human lives, economy and environment.

More than 40,000 deaths and 60,000 injuries have been caused by the 800,000 ton unexploded bombs left behind by the U.S. in Vietnam. The war ended more than 50 years ago but nearly 6.1 million hectares of land are still contaminated, accounting for 18.71 per cent of the total area of the country, according to the Vietnam National Mine Action Center. 

Data from the World Bank reveals the war between Russia and Ukraine, which was started in 2022, leads to 24.2 per cent of Ukarinians living in poverty. Before the war, the figure was only 5.5 per cent.

Over 34,000 people, 33,091 Palestinian and 1,410 Israeli have been reported as killed in the Israel–Hamas war, figures updated in April 2024 from the Gaza Health Ministry (GHM) show.

Nguyễn notes that consequences of the Russia-Ukraine War are on a global scale as the world is interconnected with each other.

“There is a danger that the Russia-Ukraine War will escalate, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) might jump into the fighting and nuclear weapons might be used,” the professor says.

Edited by Nutcha Hunsanimitkul

Sub-edited by Kamun Lai