Here’s my latest essay for CounterPunch.
A short up-and-down overwater flight from Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport and, voilà, you’ve arrived. While your destination is just off the coast of southern Vietnam, it may as well be another world. In less than an hour, you are transported from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to the quiet and melancholic beauty of Côn SơnIsland, the largest and most infamous in the 16-island Côn Đảo Archipelago.
Vietnamese come from far and wide not just to enjoy breathtaking views of the sea, fresh seafood, and invigorating walks along pristine beaches, but also to participate in a solemn pilgrimage to dark places that are a legacy of French and US brutality. They are a stark testament to the supreme arrogance of one fading colonial power that handed the blood-stained baton to an ascending neocolonial power, both convinced they had the right to determine the destiny of a country not their own. Many of those who travel here are war veterans and former prisoners who pay homage to their fallen comrades.
This tropical paradise was a penal colony during the French colonial era and the US War in Vietnam. For 22,000 Vietnamese and some Cambodians, Côn Sơn Island was literally the last stop on a journey that began with their arrest and incarceration on the mainland. Their crime? Resisting the foreign invader du jour and fighting for their country’s independence and unification. In addition to execution, causes of death included disease and torture.
Shalom (שלום), MAA