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Ambassadors for Peace

The Problem with War

Français, Español

The problem with war, particularly in Vietnam, was that weapons such as napalm had no soul. If you happened to be below it you were instantly incinerated. I arrived at 1:00 am, in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) after a flight haunted by images of movies and news reports from the 1970s. I was planning to stay ten days but remained a full month.

The roots of the journey started at Ambassadors for Peace dinner in New Jersey, the United States, some months earlier. For most of my life, I’ve been a salesman and learned to quickly read situations, and what I saw there was intriguing. I have been to many functions that claimed to be diverse but ended in segregated groups. In this hall of 700 people, most tables were multi-ethnic. A rabbi sat at table with an imam. Of the ten people at my table, eight were of different races than me. As the event progressed, a strange experience of unity filled the room and marinated over us, dissolving our distinctions.

Previously, my closest experience to this feeling was working in Orlando, Florida, and going to Disney World to mingle and get high on the collective energy of happy people.

At the end of the evening about 100 people were appointed Ambassadors for Peace. I was envious. I wanted to become a member of this club, not for the certificate but to be part of something I experienced as real and meaningful. My wish came true about two months later when at another event, my name was called and I was appointed as an Ambassador for Peace. In sales, if you succeed you receive many awards, but this was different. It was acknowledging potential. Patting me on the back, my friend didn’t say “Good job!” but “What are you going to do now?”

I saw this not as an award but a challenge. As I walked into the airport for the flight that would take me to that distant place called Vietnam, I realized that I could think of myself as an ordinary American revisiting a former enemy nation or as an Ambassador for Peace, following the five peace principles: God, spirituality, family, service, and unity.

My goal was to make every moment enjoyable for others and myself—even when drenched by the perpetual humidity or torrential downpours. I thought of British playwright George Bernard Shaw’s words:

“This is the true joy of life, being used for a purpose recognized as a mighty one, being a force of nature instead of feverous selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”

When my luggage didn’t show up, the adventure began. Apparitions of former negative experiences with lost luggage came to mind, but a baggage handler one third my size hopped across the carousels to offer his help to several empty-handed passengers. He grabbed our baggage claims tickets, wrote the numbers on his palm, and examined the remaining bags. Disappointed, he brought us to the claim counter. A friendly woman took our numbers and invited us to sit down. No forms were required, just instant action. Five minutes later she reported the bags were still in Chicago and gave us her cell phone number to call in the morning. These two prompt, helpful responses were not the exception; they were the norm. Was this the new Vietnam?

Over the next month there were hundreds of small incidents, from a soda vendor running after us to give us a straw or a vendor in the marketplace paying for our lunch (her daughter is now an exchange student in America and I’m taking her to see the UN next week). Though I spoke minimal Vietnamese, merchants I did business with would grab my bags whenever I reappeared, and stuff them under their counters to lighten my load.

I had memorable experiences with many families. On my third visit to one home, the 83-year-old patriarch immediately disappeared and returned five minutes later with a diet Coke for me. Seeing the joy he radiated while watching me drink it gave me a deeper understanding of the concept of service.

Vietnam has 4,000 years of history, and its culture of humane treatment of outsiders is legendary. In the year 1400, the Chinese invaded Vietnam and were soundly defeated. Instead of killing or enslaving the prisoners of war, however, the Vietnamese emperor apologized and gave them horses and ships to return home.

As I traveled through the Mekong Delta by boat, passing the ancient city of Hue and the shore near Hoi An, the day-to-day struggle for survival was painfully obvious. Everything from toiling in rice fields to rebuilding a motorbike requires long hours of hard work. But there is a contagious spirit of strong families, hard work, faith, and a strong will to succeed. Their motto is “We are a country, not a war.”

For four weeks I was transformed by simple acts of kindness, rendered unconsciously, that often brought me to tears. I thought I had something to offer them, but the quality of undeserved love this country shared with me in June 2007 is etched in my soul and will cast a long shadow for the rest of my life.

Upon returning to America I was inspired to do more as an Ambassador for Peace. Secretly, I wanted to share this peace and love with others. Well, be careful what you wish for. I became part of the UPF International staff, directing the Office of Membership and helping design programs for the Ambassadors for Peace. When you open your heart, the world does the same.

If you want to travel to Vietnam on a peace mission, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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