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As a U.S. Army Public Health Advisor in the Hoi An political prison during the Vietnam War, I saw horrifying things. Men, from 12 to 70, forced to stand shoulder to shoulder in rooms not more than 10 feet by 10 feet with no room to even sit; food that was more like vomit; eaten first by rats and flies. I had nightmares of men, women and children being arrested without warrant, caged like animals, starved, tortured and murdered. I told my platoon commander I’d rather be court-martialed or sent to combat before going back.

I thought I had made some peace with my ghosts, but then I saw the headlines and news about the atrocities being performed by my government AGAIN on innocents seeking asylum under international law as refugees from Columbia, Guatemala and Honduras, countries ruled by criminals. History has repeated itself in a repugnant way, but the difference is it is happening on American soil. The photo of men held in cells with so little room that they could only stand broke me down. The fact we are arresting people who have not committed crimes? It was the prison in Hoi An all over again. I hated seeing this happen in a foreign country, but in my own country, with the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, these were crimes against humanity of the highest order. What we are seeing are concentration camps no different than Nazi Germany or the gulags in the Soviet Union.

The citizens of this country need to stand up to this with one loud voice and do something. The white supremacists and the 30% of the conservative zealots who back the orange man cheer him on. It is the 70% who believe in democracy and human rights that really matter. Unlike many Germans during World War II, thanks to the Internet we will not be able to claim we didn’t know. We know exactly what’s happening and it’s verging on genocide.

I put my life on the line by telling my platoon commander in Vietnam to transfer me from Hoi An to a combat unit as a medic rather than watch people being abused. Am I asking too much of my neighbors to defend our democracy? Hoa Binh (without war in Vietnamese).

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Paul Giannone

Hillsborough, North Carolina

Auburn native Paul Giannone, who spent his career in public health and emergency preparedness, is author of a memoir, "A Life in Dark Places." 

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