WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY

  1. to re-establish friendship between, 
  2. to settle or resolve, as a dispute,
  3. to bring (oneself) to accept.

Following a war, it's very difficult for soldiers to reconcile differences with their former enemies.  Vivid memories tell veterans of their personal loses, including close friends, loved ones, a home, and possibly their village or town.  It's also possible that they have been personally scarred by the war; physically and/or emotionally (see PTSD).

Since the Vietnam War ended, various groups of Vietnam veterans have traveled back to Vietnam to bring humanitarian relief to one of the poorest nations on Earth.  Many have taken donations of medical supplies or built clinics.   Most veterans have been surprised by the friendliness of their former enemies, who appear to harbor no grudges toward them.

Below is a short story from "When Heaven and Earth Changed Places -- A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace" by Le Ly Hayslip with Jay Wurts  Order book at


"A Song of Enlightenment"

A long time ago, in a fight for justice -- a fight over strong beliefs about right and wrong -- a proud boy chopped off another boy's arm with his family's sword. The victorious boy, believing the battle was over, gave thanks, sheathed his weapon, and went home.

The boy lived with his grandmother, who taught him to always be good and honorable; and with an orphan girl, whom the grandmother had raised to be an honorable wife for her grandson.

Not long after the fight, a call to battle reached their house. The king's messenger told them a great war was beginning that would test the power of good against evil. Understandably, the boy had two minds about responding. He believed in goodness and virtue, of course, and had proved it in his fight with the wrong-headed boy whom he had maimed. But he was soon to marry his fiancée, too, and was anxious to begin a family.

To resolve this dilemma, the boy consulted his wise old grandmother (who had taught him everything about the past), and his fiancée (who shared his dreams about the future), and asked them what to do. Because the grandmother loved virtue and justice about all things, she said the boy should go to war without hesitation. Because the girl loved the boy and also respected the grandmother's opinions, she too said the boy should go and promised to wait faithfully for him no matter how long the war should last.

So the boy went with the messenger and was gone a long time, during which he distinguished himself in many battles. When he returned, however, he found his home in shambles. The crops had failed, the animals had run away, and the house itself lay in disrepair. When he opened the door, he was greeted by his fiancée, who now looked as old as the grandmother he remembered.

"What happened?" he asked in astonishment. "Why has my home been ruined? Where is my grandmother? What's happened to you?"

"It was horrible," the fiancée said, falling weeping in his arms. "After you left, the boy whose arm you cut off came back and took revenge against us. He killed your grandmother and chopped her into pieces, then he raped me, pillaged our house, and burned our farm."

The boy-turned-soldier already had his ancestral sword half drawn in rage when he cried, "I will avenge this atrocity! Justice and virtue must prevail!"

On his way down the road, he stopped at his grandmother's grave and prayed for the strength and courage he would need to avenge her. While he was praying, his old enemy appeared. But instead of striking him from behind or calling him to combat, the enemy fell to his knees and begged the soldier to behead him for the wrong he had committed.

The soldier, believing his prayer for justice had been answered, drew his sword and prepared to strike, when a bell sounded in a nearby temple. The soldier paused as a song, born on the wind in a chorus of ghostly voices -- now his grandmother's, now the victims he and his ancestors had killed in war, now the voices of his own children yet-to-be-born -- filled the air around him:

Late afternoon--
Hear the bell--
The bell wakes up
My soul--

We must hurry to become
We must kneel beneath the tree of
We must look into the face of god and
Forget the past--

To forgive our brother is to forgive
We abandon our revenge;
Our lives have seen suffering enough.
We are tired and worn out with

If I take revenge, it will be the cause;
The effect will follow me into my next life.
Look into the mirror: see the compassion in your heart.

The soldier, having had his passion interrupted by the bell and his spirit awakened by the song, put away his sword and helped his enemy get up.

"Go your own way," the soldier said. "I took your arm, and that cannot be replaced; but I could have had your life, and this I have returned to you."

"Go your way in peace," the one-armed man replied. "I took your loved ones, it's true, and what's done cannot be undone; but I, too, have returned to you your life: for my brothers would have avenged me even though you had my head."

So the two men, no longer boys, parted and began new lives. To commemorate the breaking of the circle of vengeance, the temple bell now rings twice each day and reminds people to arrest their passions long enough to think; and having thought, to hear the song of enlightenment.