Thursday, August 07, 2008

Zipper Heads and why we must have them

A friend who is an author and a Vietnam Vet wrote and asked if I knew where the term "Zipperhead" came from. It was a word used by some to refer to the Vietnamese. Here is what I said in answer.

You know the whole world of Gooks and Dinks and Slopes and Zips just runs together. No one ever talked about those guys until you were in country. Where I was it was mostly "The Dinks" and sometimes gooks. Slope and Zipper Head weren't too popular. I always assumed that zip had to do with a particular sort of Vietnamese with an exaggerated slope to the head and slant to the eyes (seen more in cartoons that in real life) that suggested you could zip his eyes closed. I can see someone coming across a peasant in a conical hat and loose black pants and a long white top and saying "hey zipper head, come here" and the name sticking. I worked very closely with all manner of people in Vietnam getting my village built and I learned to tell the Chinese from the Pure Vietnamese and the various racial mixes and stereotypical issues they had. Some were extremely difficult to think of as gooks while others fit the roll to a "G". Of course most soldiers come up with a common nick name for those they might need to kill wholesale and unfairly. We either punish them for their audacity-–"take that Mr. Master Race"–– or we condemn them for their sneaky ways––"Burn you yellow Japs!" It's only later that it occurs to us that we were all young men and needed a name for the boogie man, so we would not recognize the possibility that we were shooting our kindred spirits for the pleasure and tactical entertainment of the elders who make their profits by proving the value of their machinery from time to time. It's always been so and will continue so long as we celebrate our time at arms. The fact that I sit around in my early 60s and can define my life by 17 months spent overseas in a war that had absolutely no positive bearing on my country or the life my kids led is a pretty sad commentary for the boys who were supposed to win WW III. I think what really needs to happen now is for a bunch of vets to come home –like from Iraq– and say "Fuck this" "It was the worst most useless time of my life" "Don't give me any service medals or parades, I don't feel like a hero, I feel like a sanitation worker in a project." "Now I want a job in a national park and never want to hear any patriotic BS again," " Leave me the fuck alone and lets just forget about this war like it was just a big mistake." Just let it drop, OK? Fine. There's your hero

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