Purity (anti-paradox?) and meaning

  • If something is worth dying for, then you’ve got a reason to live. [pure and paradox simultaneously]
  • We don’t succeed or fail because of fortune or luck. We succeed because we understand the way the world works and what we have to do. We fail because others understand this better than we do. They take advantage of things, like your cousins, and they don’t question things. As long as things work for them, then they support those things. But you see the lie beneath those things because you never got to take part. You see a different shade of red than them.
  • I didn’t get over that until Duc was born. At first he was just this strange, ugly little thing. I wondered what was wrong with me, why I didn’t love my own son. But slowly he grew and grew, and one night I noticed how his fingers and toes, his hands and feet, were perfectly made, miniature versions of mine. For the first time in my life I knew what it was to be struck by wonder. Even falling in love was not like that feeling, and I knew that this was how my father must have looked at me. He had created me, and I had created Duc. It was nature, the universe, God, flowing through us. That was when I fell in love with my son, when I understood how insignificant I was, and how marvelous he was, and how one day he’d feel the exact same thing. And it was then I knew I hadn’t betrayed my father. I cried again, holding my boy, because I’d finally become a man. What I’m saying, why I’m telling you all this, is that my life once had meaning. It had a purpose. Now it has none. I was a son and a husband and a father and a soldier, and now I’m none of that. I’m not a man, and when a man isn’t a man he’s nobody. And the only way not to be nobody is to do something. So I can either kill myself or kill someone else. Get it? [the ineffable feeling of being a parent]
  • She was the domestic equivalent of her husband, an anti-communist warrior housewife to whom nothing was just an isolated incident but was almost always a symptom by which the disease of communism could be linked to poverty, depravity, atheism, and decay of many kinds. I won’t allow rock music in this house, she said, gripping Madame’s hand to console her for the loss of her daughter’s virtue. None of my children will be allowed to date until eighteen and, so long as they live in this house, will have a curfew by ten. It’s our weak spot, this freedom we allow people to behave any way they please, what with their drugs and their sex, as if those things aren’t infectious. [Made me think of the conservative mindset of purity (which leaves them vulnerable to claims of hypocrisy) and how everything is a slippery slope]
  • it struck me that I, the bastard, understood him, the philosopher, with perfect clarity. A person’s strength was always his weakness, and vice versa. The weakness was there to be seen if one could see it. In the Watchman’s case, he was the revolutionary willing to walk away from the most important thing to a Vietnamese and a Catholic, his family, for whom the only acceptable sacrifice was for God. His strength was in his sacrifice, and that had to be destroyed. I sat down immediately at my desk and wrote the Watchman’s confession for him. He read my scenario the next morning in disbelief, then read it again before glaring at me. You’re saying that I’m saying I’m a faggot? Homosexual, I corrected. You’re going to spread filth about me? he said. Lies? I have never been a faggot. I have never dreamed of being a faggot. This—this is dirty. His voice rose and his face flushed. To have me say I joined the revolution because I loved a man? To say this was why I ran away from my family? That my faggotry explains my love for philosophy? That being a faggot is the reason for my wish to destroy society? That I betrayed the revolution so I could save the man I loved, who you have captured? No one will believe this! Then no one will care when we publish it in the newspapers along with your lover’s confession and intimate photographs of the two of you. You will never get me in such a photograph. The CIA has remarkable talents with hypnosis and drugs. He fell silent.
  • I had hit him where it hurt, in the solar plexus of his conscience, where everyone who was an idealist was vulnerable. Disarming an idealist was easy. One only needed to ask why the idealist was not on the front line of the particular battle he had chosen. The question was one of commitment, and I knew, even if he did not, that I was one of the committed.
  • I’m hard on myself. Don’t call me a man or a soldier, either. Call the guys who stayed behind men and soldiers. The men in my company. Man. All dead or in prison, but at least they know they’re men. They’re so dangerous it takes other men with guns to keep them locked up. Here, no one’s frightened of us. The only people we scare are our wives and kids. And ourselves. I know these guys. I sell them liquor. I hear their stories. They come home from work, yell at their wives and kids, beat them once in a while just to show that they’re men. Only they’re not. A man protects his wife and children. A man isn’t afraid to die for them, his country, his buddies. He doesn’t live to see them all die before him. But that’s what I’ve done.
  • Perhaps I could blame youth for my friendship with Bon. What drives a fourteen-year-old to swear a blood oath to a blood brother? And more important, what makes a grown man believe in that oath? Should not the things that count, like ideology and political belief, the ripe fruit of our adulthood, matter more than the unripe ideals and illusions of youth? Let me propose that truth, or some measure of it, can be found in these youthful follies that we forget, to our loss, as adults. Here was the scene of how our friendship first became established: a football pitch of the lycée, myself a new student surrounded by older, taller ones, the prancing steeds of the school. They were about to repeat a scene rehearsed by man from the dawn of time, the moment when the strong turn on the weak or the odd for sport. I was odd but I was not weak, as I had proven against the village comedian who called me unnatural. Although I had beaten him, I had also been beaten before, and I prepared myself for a losing fight. It was then that another new boy unexpectedly spoke out in my defense, stepping forward from the ring of voyeurs and saying, This isn’t right. Don’t single him out. He’s one of us. An older boy scoffed. Who are you to say who’s one of us? And why do you think you’re one of us? Now get out of the way. Man did not get out of the way, and for this he received the first blow, a slap on the ear that sent him reeling. I drove my head into the older boy’s ribs and knocked him down, landing astride his chest, from where I commenced to land two blows before his fellow oafs hurled themselves on me. The odds were five-to-one against me and my new friend Man, and even though I fought back with all my heart and rage, I knew we were doomed. All the other schoolboys surrounding us did, too. So why, then, did Bon jump forth from that crowd and take our side? He was a new boy who was as big as the older boys, true, but even so he could not beat them all. One he slugged, another he elbowed, a third he rammed, and then he, too, was brought down by the horde. So they kicked us, and hit us, and beat us, and left us bruised, bloody, and elated. Yes, elated! For we had passed some mysterious test, one that separated us from the bullies on the one side and the cowards on the other. That very night, we snuck out of our dormitory and made our way to a tamarind grove, and under its boughs we cut our palms. We mingled our blood once more with boys we recognized as more kin to us than any real kin, and then gave one another our word…A pragmatist, a true materialist, would dismiss this story and my attachment to it as romanticism. But the story says everything about how we saw ourselves and one another at that age, as boys who knew instinctively that their cause was to stand up for the weaker. Bon and I had not talked about that incident in a long time, but I sensed that it was in his bloodstream as well as mine as we sang songs from our youth on the way to our destination at the Roosevelt Hotel. [This instinct to stand up for the underdog and deflect bullies stands feels like a bright line between people. It confronts fear. It's a fundamentally pure sign and stands in contrast to authoritarian bullies whose are respond to fear with yet even more insecurity. The way a lie cannot stop at just one but multiply geometrically as each new lie creates new holes requiring the putty of even more lies to plug them.]
  • A lot of the people they went to save didn’t want to be saved, Uncle, Bon said. That’s why they ended up dead. My son, the admiral said, no longer smiling, it does not sound like you are a believer. If by that you mean a believer in religion or anticommunism or freedom or anything with a big word like that, no, I’m not. I used to believe, but not anymore. I don’t give a damn about saving anybody, including myself. I just want to kill communists. That’s why I’m the man you want. I can live with that, the admiral said.