"Number Ten" Respect

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Vietnam was foreign and exotic, mysterious and frightening. American GIs were not only confronted with an “enemy,” but also with new words and terminology: Words such as “Chuck” or “Charlie” for the Viet Cong. And then, there were the derogatory terms for the Vietnamese people themselves. Here we were, tasked with defending, protecting and liberating them from evil, and we blatantly demeaned them among ourselves and even to their face.

“NUMBER TEN” RESPECT

By Al Garcia

Vietnam was foreign and exotic, mysterious and frightening.  American GIs were not only confronted with an “enemy,” but also with new words and terminology:  Words such as “Chuck” or “Charlie” for the Viet Cong.  And then, there were the derogatory terms for the Vietnamese people themselves.  Here we were, tasked with defending, protecting and liberating them from evil, and we blatantly demeaned them among ourselves and even to their face. 

We used such terms as “Dink,” meaning all Asians, “Gooks” or “Slopes” for the Vietnamese people themselves, sometimes even shouting those words to the very people we were supposedly helping.  And the term “White Mice” was used for the South Vietnamese National Police, because of their white uniforms. 

Newly-arrived American GIs were known by two terms, depending on who you spoke to.  “Cherries,” for soldiers who had not yet experienced being under fire, or “FNG,” fucking new guy.  But the words most used by GIs were “Boo-Coo,” slang for “many” or “much”, “Boom-Boom,” used frequently when talking to some of the “local girls (and I think you get the gist), “Didi,” slang for “to leave” or “to go,” and “Xin Loi,” – meaning “sorry about that.”  This “sorry” phrase was heard constantly among the troops speaking among themselves.  However, I never heard it directed at a Vietnamese.  American GIs were always right.  And, the most frequently used words when speaking to Vietnamese where these two phrases, “Number One,” meaning “the best,” and “Number Ten,” meaning “the worst.”  Some of these words even found their way back to the States with the returning soldiers, and entered the American vernacular in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. 

There were many more words and phrases that GIs came across or made up.  But these were the ones I came across.  These words and phrases were part of our new environment.  Most of them very telling about how the American GIs were so unprepared for their new environment and the stated goal of the US Government – assist and respect the Vietnamese people.  At lease the U.S. Government’s goal looked good on paper, but respect for the Vietnamese was never taught or talked about during any military training. 

And seeing the use and abuse of the Vietnamese people by American GIs became a daily and expected occurrence.  For the most part, respect, courtesy, politeness, gallantry, were all left behind in the USofA -- to be picked up by the soldiers after they turned in their combat gear for civilian clothes. 

It was sad to see how civility and gentility was quickly forgotten or ignored.  We went in and acted as conquerors, and in the end, left baffled, overwhelmed and conquered.  We had two enemies in Vietnam, “Charlie” and ourselves.  We forgot our civility and our gentility toward our fellow man – we treated those we were fighting for and fighting with, with disgust and disdain. 

If only we had been taught respect, before we were dropped into a theatre of war -- a theatre of the absurd. 


Submitted: June 17, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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