Ben Tre: Keep the Loneliness Warm

The children of Ben Tre in 1968 praying for peace, photo credit Wilbur E. Garrett, public domain.

Ben Tre: Keep The Loneliness Warm

I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm

two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

This poem was written during the Vietnam War (1955 – 1975) after the bombing of Ben Tre. The destruction of Ben Tre occurred 50 years ago today, February 7, 1968, when American bombs, rockets and napalm obliterated much of the South Vietnamese town, killing a thousand civilians who lived there.

Later that day, an unidentified American military officer gave Associated Press reporter Peter Arnett a memorable explanation for the destruction, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” The bombing of Ben Tre occurred because the communist Viet Cong had invaded the town as part of the nationwide Tet Offensive against the Southern Vietnamese government, which at the time was supported by the U.S. government. The U.S. response to destroy the town was to stop the spread of the Viet Cong.

Victims of the destruction of Ben Tre, 1968, photographer unkown.
This photo of an unknown American Marine was believed to be taken in 1965, during the U.S. Operation Blastout 1, photo credit “The Marines in Vietnam 1965” part of an anthology by the U.S. History and Museums Division

Even as the Vietnam War divided the nation at home, the drafted American service members in Vietnam were just as equally divided about why they were there and the purpose of war as a whole.

An American soldier wears a hand lettered War Is Hell slogan on his helmet, Vietnam, 1965
June 18, 1965, 173rd Airborne Brigade Battalion member Larry Wayne Chaffin, photo credit Horst Faas of The Associated Press.
September 12, 1967, Marine Cpl. Michael Wynn, 20, of Columbus, Ohio serving as part of Operation Ballistic Charge in Da Nang, South Vietnam, photo credit Bettmann/CORBIS, public domain.
Viet Cong prisoner captured in 1967 by the U.S. Army awaits interrogation during the Vietnam War, photo credit PFC David Epstein, public domain.
12 Jan 1970, Ben Tre, South Vietnam soldiers after a skirmish with Viet Cong soldiers along the Mekong Delta, photo credit Bettmann/CORBIS, public domain.

On June 11, 1963, five years before the massacre of Ben Tre, Thich Quang Duc, another Vietnamese monk and a friend of famed spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh, had his fellow monks soak him in fuel and then Quang Duc lit a match and immolated himself in the middle of Saigon, in protest of the oppression of the Buddhist religion by the U.S. supported South Vietnamese government. He did not panic, he did not speak or scream, as his body burned.


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The photos in the above slideshow were taken by American photographer Malcolm Browne of The Associated Press. Browne was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting as well as the World Press Photo of the Year in 1963 for these images. The self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc sparked a rebellion that led to the overthrow of the government in Southern Vietnam and the eventual fall of Saigon in 1975.

Though Quang Duc was the first monk to self-immolate, he was not the last. Many others in Vietnam followed in his footsteps, but none were as effective or influential in their act as he was. Even in more modern times and in other countries and cultures, those under the oppression of regimes and governments, have also copied Quang Duc’s act, but it would seem that today’s world is more desensitized to this type of self-sacrifice and the act continues to carry little to no effect. In 2005, the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, constructed a monument in his honor, for displaying self-sacrifice in the fight for peace and freedom.


For an in-depth look into the Vietnam War, its origins, key players, and its lasting legacy, I recommend checking out the documentary film series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, released in 2017. Perhaps the most comprehensive look into the war that divided the U.S. like nothing else since the American Civil War. The breadth and scope of this documentary examines many of the most controversial decisions in our government’s history, the sacrifices made by men who both chose to enlist and those who were drafted, as well as the public response in the U.S. to one of America’s longest wars.

MetroFocus “THE VIETNAM WAR” With Ken Burns and Lynn Novick from Steve W. Thompson on Vimeo.

Listen to a conversation between Sam Harris and film creators Ken Burns and Lynn Novick about their film “The Vientam War,” a groundbreaking look into America’s most controversial war that began airing on PBS on September 17, 2017:

A preview of the this film series, as well as the option to purchase the entire series, is available at, other media content providers such as and the iTunes Store also have this title available to purchase.

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