Professor speaks on forgiveness and the Vietnam War

by Zefeng Zhang | Photo Editor
Published: Last Updated on

“After two years of research, I had decided that I needed to go to Vietnam to see where Bill [my brother] had been killed and to visit the site of the My Lai massacre,” said Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Weber during her Faculty Forum presentation on Feb. 6.

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Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Weber delivers her Faculty Forum Lecture on her experience with grief and forgiveness for her older brother Bill’s death during the Vietnam War.
(Photo by Zefeng Zhang)

 

She described her trip to Vietnam sponsored by the Vietnam-USA Society. Weber, along with her father, Alvin Weber, professor emeritus in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, and friend and fellow writer Bob Ross, landed in Vietnam in late 1996.

According to Weber, Dao Le Mai Thanh, the sponsor and organizer of the Vietnam trip, warmly received them and dedicated considerable effort to their visit.

Weber read an excerpt of a chapter from her memoir, “In My Brother’s Name,” which she is currently writing. She explained that her visit to Vietnam had two aims: to learn more about her brother’s death and to understand whether his company might have used his death as an excuse to exact revenge in the My Lai massacre. According to Weber, it is one of the most barbarous acts committed by U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Nearly 500 civilians were killed.

Weber said that she went to Vietnam because her brother was killed there in 1968 when she was 17. Her brother was a radio-telephone operator employed by Charlie Company and was killed by sniper fire a month before the massacre.

Weber thinks that the soldiers could possibly have used her brother’s death as a motivator for the My Lai massacre.

Weber admits that the war weighed heavily on her because Bill’s name was possibly called out during the killing of Vietnamese civilians. After his death, she said that she went from a straight-laced honor roll student to a rebel against traditional American society, and even joined a commune.

Thirty-six years after his death, Weber said she still misses Bill, but she is thankful that he was not involved in the massacre.

“I miss my brother every day. But I was also glad that he had not been part of the massacre, for his soul would have been scarred forever by the killing of innocent men, women and children,” she said. “I felt terrible saying that I was glad that Bill was dead. A part of me said to my dead brother, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Oh, forgive me.’ ”

Weber said her trip was a healing experience, and she has attempted to visit every location where her brother had been stationed, meeting locals along the way.

“It was healing to see them as just people and as workers. It was healing to have them take me to the place where he was killed,” she said.

She also asserts that she was never angry with the Vietnamese. “They took time away from their jobs, and all the Vietnamese that I spoke to while I was there were very kind. They would say that the war is in the past we want to go forward and we want to be friends now.”

There was only Weber’s voice resonating in the Trustees Dining Hall during the presentation, and some audience members said they were impressed by her presentation.

Department Chair and Associate Professor of Communication Darryl Clark thought Weber’s presentation not only shared universal ideas but also illuminated a lesson in forgiveness.

“I think that the story that Elizabeth told deals with deeply human issues, things such as trying to make sense of things in a confusing world, dealing with loss, forgiveness. Those are all things that all humans deal with,” Clark said. “And I think that her story portrayed that … in a much deeper way than most people will experience, but it’s something that all people can relate to.”

Assistant Professor of English Karen Newman said that she was moved by the words of forgiveness in the presentation.

“Dr. Weber’s presentation was powerful on a personal and international level,” Newman said.  “It meant a great deal to me to learn more about my colleague’s long, painful process of forgiving the sniper, whom she may have even met during her visit, the U.S. government and herself for feeling so much bitterness over all these years. Vietnam is still an open wound for so many.”

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