I knew I wanted to see the film “The Sapphires” when I heard that it was based on a true story about 4 Australian aboriginal women who entertain U.S.  troops in Vietnam.  Last Saturday night we couldn’t get to Amherst Cinema in time to see the film so we saw “The Company You Keep,” Robert Redford’s film of the book with the same title by Neil Gordon about Weather Underground members who go underground after a botched bank robbery ends in the murder of a security guard.  It was a worthwhile film that had echoes of the ’60’s and the anti-war movement as well as an incredible scene featuring Susan Sarandon explaining what motivated her character to join a group advocating ending the war by any means necessary including violence.

In between the two films was “The Draft,” the staged reading of the play based on CALLED TO SERVE.  There were too many highlight moments for me to attempt to chronicle, but Penny Rock journeying from San Francisco to see Peter Snoad’s play was certainly one of the most memorable.  Peter and I got to debrief with her over lunch on Friday following Thursday night’s premiere performance, which played to a full house and received a wonderfully enthusiastic response from the audience and those sending email congratulatory messages.  Penny had many suggestions, but I felt her strongest message was no matter what Peter decides to change based on viewer comments or viewing the videotape courtesy of men’s group member and interview subject, Paul Richmond, he should most assuredly hold onto what the book and play are urging on us all – forgiveness and healing.  The Vietnam War divided our country and those divisions are with us still. The book and play are intended to allow all who read and watch to gain an awareness and ultimately an appreciation for the ways in which we were all victims of the war and the way forward is to recognize the commonality of our experiences, forgive ourselves and one another for what we did and did not do and ultimately continue the healing process that remains so unfinished despite the intervening years.  Penny embodies that work in her own story, which I decided, at the strong urging of my wife Susan who was deeply moved once again by seeing aspects of Penny’s story brought to life in the play, to include in the next version of CALLED TO SERVE.

With such words and thoughts echoing in my mind, watching “The Sapphires” last night provided many new and powerful images having to do with forgiveness and healing.  Without revealing too much, since I strongly urge you to see the film if that is possible in your neck of the woods,  let it suffice to say that there is a moment in the film where a beloved grandparent figure finds it in her heart to welcome a “stolen child,” one who was literally kidnapped by white Austalians who gave themselves license, as was done here in America to our native population, to steal native children, especially light skinned ones, from their homes, communities and cultures in order to raise them in a white world.  The scene where this takes place was overpowering for me.  All of the ways in which our culture has so egregiously failed to welcome our soldiers home, to cleanse them and accept them back into the community, to heal them and affirm them as beloved members of their families, and to forgive them for the awful things they have had to see and do – these failures were what I was keenly aware of as I watched this young woman brought back into the loving embrace of her loved ones.

This is what we must face as a country, community by community.  This film reinforces this fact sensitively and beautifully.




  1. Tom Gardner says:

    Very nice post. I want to see the Sapphires. Maybe tomorrow. One of my fellow soccer parents is a Vietnam vet. We let him know about the reading, but he couldn’t make it. He told us today that a friend of his (also a vet) has read Called to Serve several times and found it very moving, so he is going to borrow it from him. I think your reminder that healing is at the center of this project is incredibly important. It is almost as if we were all forced through a civil war (our own) because of the war and how it divided our generation. We are only now beginning to be able to acknowledge the pain and suffering that many of us went through, whether we were in combat in Vietnam or altering our lives and working against the war here. Your book and Peter’s play open a bridge to heal that divide.

  2. erniebrill says:

    There is healing. There is the need to educate the younger generations. There is also a great need to give te Vietnamese point of view on what they name as The American War ( the war they won after having to defeat The Japanese in World War II, and the French afterwards capped by the siege at Dienbenphu in 1954 (when the United States was financing Frances war by 80%).
    But what cannot be forgiven is the leadership of the American government, Republician and Democrat, from 1954 til now. Just about every single President and Congress, with very few exceptions, lied to the American people, and from 1965 until 1975 participated in the deaths of 50,000 GIS and one million Vietnamese in a conspiracy to commit murder and mayhem. These killers were never brought to trial. I do not see how they can be forgiven.

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