As a writer and a lover, I always wish to romanticize the places I visit. Sometimes, however, the real world is not romantic, no matter which perspective we choose.

I will never forget the unexpected conversation I had with Lenny (name changed to protect privacy and security of this person). A young man in his twenties, Lenny was very interested in making friends with the Americans passing through town. He first noticed us when my partner Dain was dancing along to the music playing inside a restaurant. Lenny found Dain quite entertaining. He sat down next to us and opened up easily.

Lenny informed us that what he learned in school about the American (Vietnam) War did not resonate as truth for him. He decided to investigate beyond the information in the textbooks provided to him in school, and outside Vietnam’s mainstream narrative on the country’s history. Lenny discovered a plethora of information which had never been included in the history books. I was not surprised. As an American, I had discovered the same thing while attending college.

The young man went on to inform us that thousands of Vietnamese were killed after the American (Vietnam) War ended. According to Lenny, these were individuals who had opposed communism and who were considered threats to communist interests. According to Lenny, this information is suppressed by the government.

“I have to be careful of what I say to you,” Lenny said. “I could be killed.”

The young man went on to tell us that his government had been tracking his online activity and noticed that he had been investigating topics which were considered by the government to be “off-limits” to the public.

He said, “The government contacted me and warned me. They said if I ever visit these information sites again then I will be killed. I must be very careful of what I say to you.”

Chills ran down my spine as I felt the truth and fear in his words. That day, I was forced to face the fact that there is little to romanticize about a government which spies on its people and threatens harm and death as a possible consequence for inquiry.

However, it is not for me – an ignorant foreigner – to judge or create prejudice of another country. There are many people in Vietnam who are just fine with communism and all the control which comes along with it. There are many communists who accepted me into their communities with open arms as if the American War were irrelevant.

Meeting Lenny helped shift my perspectives. Before meeting him I was but an ignorant millennial who did not grow up in a generation which feared the spread of communism. I had some opinions about war in general, and had wondered if the American effort to prevent the spread of communism was a great big lie, but I mostly kept these things to myself.

One Vietnam War veteran from the United States reached out to me shortly after I met Lenny. He wrote these exact words to me:

“As in Vietnam, the West supplied the Viet Cong with medical, food and war supplies for them to steal off USA Ships. Why?”

“‘It is not a very good war... but it is the only war we have. We have to continue, and keep things balanced,’ a CIA officer told my uncle this in Saigon. War is not easy to sustain. There must be deliberation, and effort. Someone has to earn big money in order for war to be sustained over a long period. In Afghanistan, it is the Poppy Heroin Trade. Same in Vietnam. Same in many other Conflict areas.”

I cry as I write this to you because I am swimming in a sea of uncertainty, conflicting information, and ongoing crimes against humanity.

On one hand, I am grateful for having been born into a democratic society in which I do not have to fear speaking my mind.

On the other hand, I am watching freedom of speech and other civil liberties becoming more limited by the day in my very own country.

I want to end this article with something positive and true, but my mind struggles to romanticize about the world today.

Instead, I ask that you hold my hand as we bow our heads to pray, imagine, and be open to seeing how the Guiding Light wishes to direct our paths, so we, the meek, can inherit an earth so loving that no far-reaching romanticism is needed to lift our spirits.

Thank you for collaborating with me in this way.

I AM with you.