Images of innocence

When we were at the big temple near Eid’s hometown, I noticed a Thai woman taking photos of Kanya, so of course I decided to take a photo of her. I was also reminded of a photo I have of Eid and her big-headed little brother Oad (Kanya’s father) when they were children.

The second photo was taken sometime in the late sixties, during the height of the Vietnam War, in Korat, a city in northeastern Thailand where the Americans had built a major air force base. It was taken by an American GI, who gave it to Eid’s mother (at the time, Eid’s father, who worked for the national railway, was stationed in Korat, while her mother worked at the local market, often with her kids in tow).

As far as I know, Korat wasn’t part of the US Army’s R&R (rest and relaxation/recreation/recuperation) circuit in Southeast Asia, so perhaps that’s why at least some of the GIs there were less fixated on finding sex and getting drunk, and more interested in taking pictures of cute kids in the market.

I was just a small kid myself when the Vietnam War ended in 1975, but I can distinctly remember seeing some of the images from that horrific conflict on television. A few years later, I had a Vietnamese friend (one of the thousands of “boat people” who fled after 1975 and resettled in Canada and other countries) whose father told me told me about the “reeducation camps” and what it was like to be adrift at sea, terrified of the “Thai pirates” who robbed, raped and murdered many of the fleeing refugees.

It’s very hard to imagine what it must have been like to be a child under those circumstances. To be honest, I can’t even imagine what it was like to be an American GI, many of whom were, by today’s standards, just kids themselves, in their late teens or early twenties. But I can easily imagine that if I knew that I could someday soon be killed in the jungle, or called on to commit mass murder from the sky, it might be some comfort to take photos of small children who knew nothing of all this, and hope they would somehow be spared the senseless violence that was raining down just next door on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

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