Coming Full Circle: A Conscientious Objector Returns to Vietnam

Doug Hostetter
Doug Hostetter

Below are some excerpts from an article by Doug Hostetter, who is director of the Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Office in New York City.   He was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, who did his alternative service working for Mennonite Central Committee in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969.  Doug was a member of the National Student Association delegation to Saigon and Hanoi that negotiated the People’s Peace Treaty in 1970 and served as executive secretary of  FOR (Fellowship of Reconciliation)-USA from 1987–1973, and international/interfaith secretary from 1993–2001. Doug has published widely on the issues of war, peace, and nonviolence.

The photos below are of Doug and the daughter of an artist friend of his, Le Dinh Sung, taken when she was about 11 and during his visit last year.  As he mentioned in the article, They (Phuong Long and her older brother) both remembered me well, as I had spent much time in their home with their father.

I mentioned Doug and his work in Vietnam in this 2/14 Huffington Post piece entitled Jumping on the Vietnam War Commemoration Bandwagon: The Vain Search for Honor.


 “The Path of Return Continues the Journey” (Quote by Thích Nhất Hạnh)

When I learned that Vietnam had invited a group of 15 U.S. antiwar activists to come to Hanoi in January 2013, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords that ended U.S. direct involvement in the Vietnam war, I realized that it was time for me to return to Vietnam.

Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter - 1968 (Photos: Village photographer)
Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter – 1968 (Photos: Village photographer)
Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter - 2013 (Photos: Village photographer)
Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter – 2013 (Photos: Village photographer)

I had first gone to Vietnam back in 1966, soon after graduating from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  I had received conscientious objector status from the military, and then volunteered to do my Alternative Service in Vietnam, at the height of the war, working for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Vietnam with Vietnam Christian Service (VNCS).  VNCS was a joint program in Vietnam of the Mennonite Central Committee, Church World Service, and Lutheran World Relief, but was directed by MCC.

As a Mennonite I understood that I had no enemies, but was called to use the “weapons” of love and truth in the struggle to build a just and peaceful world.  Our Mennonite vision of the world clashed sharply with that of our government.

My path of return to Vietnam was a continuation of my original journey to learn peacebuilding.  As I relished the renewal of relationships from nearly half a century ago, I began to comprehend that a critical element of peacebuilding is authentic friendship.  Peace is founded upon relationships that transcend the national, racial, ethnic, religious, and political boundaries that usually separate humanity.

Follow this link to read Doug’s article in its entirety.


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