The truth about my family

Andrew Arnett

March 15, 1991|By Andrew Arnett

SEEING my father, Peter Arnett, reporting live from Baghdad nonstop for 54 days was a proud experience for me.

But while my father, who returns to the U.S. next week, was threatened by missile fire and bombings in Baghdad, gratuitous verbal assaults were being leveled at him and his family here at home by politicians, TV viewers and even a few journalists.

Not wanting to divert attention from the American men and women who were risking their lives in the Persian Gulf, I kept my feelings to myself. But now that Kuwait has been liberated, there are some personal issues that deserve attention.

At a Washington press luncheon last month, Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., accused my father of being an "Iraqi sympathizer." Simpson then charged that during the Vietnam War my father, who won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting for the Associated Press, had a special relationship with the North Vietnamese.

According to the senator, my father was allowed to stay in Vietnam after Saigon fell because he was married to a Vietnamese woman whose brother was in the Viet Cong.

Simpson, perhaps chastened by the public's outrage at his attacks, hasn't said much about my father recently.

In fact, all he has added is that he would like to meet with him to explain his comments.

But the damage has already been done. The American Vietnamese community, which made considerable sacrifices during the Vietnam War, was upset by Simpson's accusation that my mother, Nina Arnett, had ties to the Viet Cong.

The truth is that my mother was separated from her two brothers in 1954 when the Geneva agreement divided Vietnam. Her brothers were trapped in the North while she fled to the South. One brother, a doctor, died in the 1960s; the other became a mathematics professor. Neither was politically active during the war -- and neither would have been able to influence North Vietnamese relations with the Western media.

My mother, an American citizen, still mourns her brothers. This pain has been compounded by Simpson's unsubstantiated allegations.

There are others beyond my family who have been hurt by Simpson's words. Are we to be told by our leaders to refrain from expressing ideas at odds with theirs?

My father's reporting offered a rare view inside Iraq. The news he provided while under the scrutiny of Iraqi censors helped many of us form our own opinions about the war.

In smearing my father, Simpson used guilt-by-association tactics more in keeping with a dictatorship than a democracy. Information is essential to an open society. If our freedoms are not upheld at home, our sacrifices abroad mean nothing.

Andrew Arnett is a musician.

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