From New England to Vietnam: Settler Colonialism in Cross-Cultural Perspective

I’ve been working on a long-form essay that combines my interest in history and genealogy. Since so many of my ancestors arrived in what became British Colonial America and later the USA, starting in 1610 and 1620, the historical is intensely personal for me. I write as a direct and collateral descendant of Jamestown settlers and Mayflower passengers, a permanent resident of Viet Nam, and a global citizen.

Below is the article in its entirety. It was originally published on 2 January 2022 by CounterPunch+.

Throughout its millennia-long history punctuated by invasion, occupation, and war, the Vietnamese people have accomplished an unparalleled feat: they managed to retain their culture and their sovereignty.

This is in diametrically opposed and tragic contrast to the Native American tribes of New England the seeds of whose destruction were sown beginning with intermittent contact with murderous, disease-ridden, and slave-trading European explorers and elevated to a foregone conclusion with the arrival of the Mayflower in November 1620 and the Great Puritan Migration that followed.

This ignominious history is not only academic but also intensely personal, as I am both a permanent resident of Vietnam and a direct and collateral descendant of settler-colonizers, both saints and strangers, who arrived in their New World in 1610 and 1620. If they hadn’t been there at that fleeting moment in history, I wouldn’t be here in this unique genetic form. That said, it is a painful reality that gives me pause.  

I have often thought about the fate of the people whose lands were occupied by my ancestors and the country I have called home since 2005. Both fell victim to foreign invasion and occupation, the former by the English and the latter by the Chinese, French, and US Americans. New England Native American tribes were quickly overtaken by forces beyond their control while the Vietnam – often against all odds – survived, their culture fundamentally intact.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, by William Halsall (1882)

1620: The Beginning of the End

This famous painting by William Halsall (1882), which hangs in the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts and graces the walls of my office in Hanoi, evokes a wide swath of emotions, depending upon how the beholder interprets that pivotal moment in history. You can almost feel the frozen sea spray and hear the wintry winds whipping across the deck.

A rush of nostalgia washes over those who were taught and who internalized a deep-rooted cultural mythology: the first viable settlement in what became British Colonia America, the birthplace of American freedom and democracy, the beginning of manifest destiny, and the foundation of the “greatest nation on earth.”

For others who are more familiar with the historical reality of this time and place and, equally important, whose empathy with their fellow human beings knows no physical or temporal boundaries, there is a sense of foreboding and melancholy, an almost palpable desire and yearning to turn back the hands of time.

There is the dark knowledge that what the new arrivals, filled with unbridled joy and relief after a long and terrifying voyage, were looking at off in the distance on shore was a graveyard strewn with the bones of unburied corpses.

There is the stark realization that the days of those who had called this land their own for millennia were numbered. The arrival of this strange vessel on their shores was the beginning of the end of an era and life as they had known it.

Patuxet Becomes Plymouth

Just a few short years before the Pilgrims arrived, the desolate landscape depicted in Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor had been the thriving village of Patuxent, part of the Wampanoag nation, the People of the First Light who had lived in that area for some 10,000 years. Patuxent was decimated by a plague imported by previous European visitors who had been fishing these waters and exploring these parts for a century. In 1622, Nathaniel Morton, who later became the Plymouth secretary and historian, described the areas as “sad spectacles of…mortality” with “many bones and skulls of the dead lying above the ground.”

Just 15 years before their arrival, Samuel de Champlain visited Cape Cod on in search of a suitable location for a French base. After seeing how many people lived there, he rejected the idea. The explorer John Smith, who toured the coast of New England in 1614, described Patuxet, the summer village of the Wampanoag, as “an excellent good harbor, good land; and no want of anything, but industrious people,” overlooking the fact that industrious Native People had lived there for thousands of years. When Smith returned in 1622, he was shocked by what he saw. “God had laid this country open for us,” he wrote. “Where I had seen 100 or 200 people, there is scarce ten to be found.”

Maine’s Passamaquoddy Indians, among the first to come into contact with Europeans, were devastated by a typhus epidemic in 1586. As a result of that and other diseases transmitted by European visitors, their population plummeted by 80% from 20,000 to 4,000.

In a 1616 epidemic, an imported disease to which Native Americans had no immunity killed anywhere from 75% to over 90% of all Native Americans up and down the New England coast, by varying estimates, leaving the Wampanoags in crisis and vulnerable to attack by hostile Native tribes, including the Narragansett in present-day Rhode Island who were unaffected by the disease because of limited contact between the two tribes (they were decimated by a smallpox plague in 1633), and their traditional enemy to the West, the Mohawk, in the future New York. Experts estimate that between 70,000 and 100,000 Native Americans lived in New England at the dawn of the 17th century. You can do the math.

European visitors and, later, settler-colonizers not only carried these diseases with them they also brought the belief that these plagues were one of the ways in which God expressed his wrath. This is a precursor to the notion of US Americans as God’s favored people and Herman Melville’s quote, two centuries later, that “We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people — the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. . . .God has given to us, for a future inheritance, the broad domains of the political pagans, that shall yet come and lie down under the shade of our ark, without bloody hands being lifted.”

The 1620 Charter of New England, granted by King James I, mentioned the epidemic as a reason why God “in his great goodness and bountie towards us and our people gave the land to Englishmen”.  Death by plague cleared the land and paved the way to English settlement. This was an extension of the Doctrine of Discovery, a 1493 Papal decree that justified Christian European explorers’ claims on land and bodies of water they “discovered” to promote Christian domination and superiority across the globe. To put it succinctly, the decree “established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians,” i.e., most of the world. 

The Wampanoag’s Uneasy Alliance with Plymouth

In his landmark book This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving David J. Silverman writes about the alliance between the Wampanoag sachem (chief), Ousamequin (Massasoit), and Plymouth’s governor, John Carver, that served as a declaration of friendship and a mutual defense pact. It was March 1621, a time when Plymouth Colony’s future looked bleak, after the first New England winter during which nearly half of all Mayflower passengers succumbed to illness and harsh conditions.  (Carver died a month later and was succeeded by William Bradford.)

As the story goes and history reflects, the Wampanoag Indians ensured the survival of the English newcomers by teaching them how to cultivate the Three Sisters of corn, squash, and beans, and catch and process fish and shellfish, which culminated in a harvest celebration that fall with Ousamequin and 90 of his warriors in what came to be known in the annals of US cultural mythology as the “First Thanksgiving.” (It was President Abraham Lincoln who, 240 years later,  proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”)    

The Path to Marginalization

From the Wampanoag perspective, the decision to assist the invaders and defend them in the event of attack was based not on a desire for friendship but rather expediency and power politics. It was a calculated strategic move designed to buy them time to rebuild and recover from the devastation left behind in the wake of the Great Dying, and acquire English weapons to protect themselves from enemies, foreign and domestic.

At that existential fork in the road, they chose the path of temporary accommodation, a precarious geopolitical balancing act and dangerous roll of the dice. An appealing and viable alternative, which many Wampanoag Indians heartily endorsed, based on previous violent encounters with European invaders who had killed their people, kidnapped them to sell as slaves, and transmitted fatal diseases, was simply to strangle the young colony in its cradle by killing the first winter survivors and putting an end to the second contact, at least in the short term. This act would have provided them with a respite and ample time to plan their next move.

The Wampanoag had numerical superiority and ample opportunity, but their sachem, Ousamequin, chose another path that in retrospect delayed the inevitable. He “faced stiff opposition from his own people as he tried to manage the English newcomers and looked for ways to survive the forces of colonization already tearing at the Wamgpanoags,” as Silverman pointed out.

That negotiation bought just over a half century of peace defined as the absence of full-scale war but not of violence provoked by encroachment and mistreatment at the hands of the 2nd generation of Mayflower passengers and growing numbers of secular and religious refugees. It was left to Ousamequin’s son Metacom, who became tribal chief in 1662 after his father’s death, to salvage what he could and attempt to forge a pan-Indian alliance to defeat the settler-colonizers once and for all. Time was running out.  

By 1675, after 55 years of land expropriation, conversion and assimilation, forced disarmament, humiliation, and a steady erosion of Native sovereignty, the Wampanoag Indians and other New England tribes were a shadow of their former selves in terms of numbers, land, and influence. The Mayflower second generation and other immigrants were more interested in land acquisition, expansion, and the unchecked pursuit of wealth than they were in the peace negotiated by Governor Carver and his fellow Pilgrims. The window of opportunity that would have enabled them to retain their sovereignty for the foreseeable future had long since shut with a loud thud.

Charles C. Mann, author of Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491, summed up the regional situation in 1675 as follows: The Europeans won. Historians attribute part of the victory to Indian unwillingness to match the European tactic of massacring whole villages. Another reason was manpower—by then the colonists outnumbered the Natives… (It is estimated that there were 80,000 New England colonists.  A third to half of the remaining Indians in New England died of European diseases. The People of the First Light could avoid or adapt to European technology but not to European germs. Their societies were destroyed by weapons their opponents could not control and did not even know they possessed.

By contrast, there were an estimated 4,646 European settler-colonizers living in British Colonial America in 1630, including 2,500 in Virginia, 506 in Massachusetts, 500 in New Hampshire, 390 in Plymouth, and 350 in New York.

Trampling Out the Vintage

One especially bloody example labeled genocide by some historians was the Mystic massacre that occurred on May 26, 1637 during the Pequot War. Connecticut settler colonialists, along with Narragansett and Mohegan allies, torched the Pequot Fort near the Mystic River shooting or slaying with a sword anyone who tried to escape the raging inferno. As William Bradford wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation, It was a fearfull sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stinck and sente ther of; but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prays therof to God, who had wrought so wonderfuly for them, thus to inclose their enimise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.

Estimates of Pequot deaths range from 400 to 700, including women, children, and the elderly.  History records that the Narragansetts were shocked by the magnitude of brutality displayed by the English, a point that William Bradford highlighted. While intertribal conflicts were not known for their gentility and featured ritual torture of some of their enemies, they did not target noncombatants for indiscriminate and wholesale slaughter.

In the Great Swamp Massacre on December 19, 1675 in present-day Rhode Island, a decisive battle of King Philip’s War (1675-78), the tables had turned and the Narrangansetts found themselves on the receiving end of English brutality. An estimated 300-1000 Narragansett people, mainly women and children, died from gunshot wounds and exposure to the elements, after their seemingly impenetrable winter camp fort was set on fire. (It was an Indian guide, Peter, who led colonial militia from Plymouth, Connecticut, and Massachusetts Bay Colonies to the fort. Previous attacks against the Narragansetts included Pequot and Mohegan Indians.)

The tribe’s website notes that Following the massacre, many of the remaining Narragansett retreated deep into the forest and swamp lands in the southern area of the State. (Much of this area now makes up today’s Reservation). Many who refused to be subjected to the authority of the United Colonies left the area or were hunted down and killed. Some were sold into slavery in the Caribbean, others migrated to upstate New York, and many went to Brotherton, Wisconsin.

Divide and Conquer

That same month Metacomet set up a winter camp in New York in the hope that he could convince the Mohawks to join him in his quest to drive the English out of New England. The Mohawk, traditional rivals of the Algonquian people, attacked Metacomet and his 500 warriors the following February, which resulted in the death of most of them.  The sachem and other survivors made a hasty retreat to New England with the Mohawk in hot pursuit.

Aside from divisions fomented by bitter historical enmities, the Mohawks relied on the English for gun purchases, an immediate need that superseded all else. Metacomet was killed by an Indian named John Alderman in August 1675, his corpse beheaded and his body drawn and quartered. His head was displayed on a pole in Plymouth for a quarter of a century, the same town where a statue of his father, Ousamequin, stands a short distance from Plymouth Rock gazing out over the harbor.

While the Native population was in rapid decline because of disease and violence, the settler-colonizer population was increasing exponentially because of immigration, a rising birth rate, and  a higher life expectancy than in England.

The numbers continue to move in opposite directions with 26,634 settler-colonizers in 1640, 50,368 in 1650, 75,058 in 1660, 111,935 in 1670, and 151,507 in 1680, two years after the end of King Philip’s War. The tipping point was most likely as early as 1640, just twenty years after the arrival of 102 Mayflower passengers, nearly half of whom perished during the first winter.  

This uncanny ability to divide and conquer, a strategy that served the future United States well in a long list of countries, past and present, in which catch-all US “national interests” were deemed to be at risk, was another indispensable tool in the settler-colonizer arsenal. In addition to a level of barbarism that spared no one, the numbers game, and germs as a death sentence for so many, Metacom was unable to unify competing Native American tribes against the English, their only chance of victory.

Being outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and susceptible to disease was the ball of string that continued to unravel for the next 200 years. It became the modus operandi of the settler-colonizers until the founding of the United States and beyond until every last Native American tribe had been subjugated in the push westward known as Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, the notion that the US is destined by God to spread democracy and capitalism across the entire continent and, in the future, globally.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam

Seven years after the establishment of Plymouth Colony, 8,000 miles away in Vietnam, as the crow flies west, a French Jesuit missionary by the name of Alexandre de Rhodes arrived in Hanoi for the purpose of proselytizing, which the government permitted him to do until he was expelled in 1630. By his own estimates, he converted nearly 7,000 Vietnamese to Catholicism.  (Today, about 6.8 million Vietnamese are Catholic, 7% of the population, still a modest number, thanks in part to the subsequent French occupation that lasted from 1858 to 1954. Spirituality aside, to be Catholic was to be allied with the colonial power du jour and opened professional doors.)  

During that time, building on the work of Portuguese missionaries, de Rhodes mastered the language, which he said, “resembles the singing of birds,” and transcribed it based on Chinese ideographs into the Latin alphabet script that was adopted by Vietnamese in the 20th century as the official writing system, also known as “national language” (chữ Quốc ngữ).

This singular achievement, which makes it easier for native speakers and foreigners to learn a language with six tones and diacritics, is the reason de Rhodes has streets named after him.  It is a distinction accorded only a few other foreigners, mostly French, e.g., Yersin and Pasteur. (The only US American with a street named after him in the central Vietnam city of Danang is Norman Morrison, a Baltimore-area Quaker best known for his act of self-immolation in November 1965 in front of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s Pentagon office.)

The Chinese and a Past They Were Condemned to Repeat

Several foreign powers have attempted to occupy Vietnam and bend it to their will only to be defeated and sent packing. The first to learn this lesson on multiple occasions were the Chinese, who invaded what was then call Nam Viet over a century before the birth of Christ.  Their actions were a modern-day definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Historians divide the Chinese occupation of Vietnam into four time periods, including the First Era of Northern Domination from 111 BC-AD 40, the Second Era from 43-544, the Third Era from 602-938, and the short-lived Fourth Era from 1407-1427.

With the exception of three years of local rule, the result of an uprising in 40 AD by the Trưng Sisters, who are revered as national heroines, the Chinese spent another nearly 900 years in Vietnam with the exception of a 58-year local interregnum. This was around the time when the idea of Vietnam as a nation began to form in the minds of the people.

In 938, the Chinese were defeated at the Battle of Bạch Đằng by Ngô Quyền, which ushered in an era of independence. What is known as the monarchical period consisting of a series of dynasties lasted until 1858. During that time, the Chinese, not having learned from history (sound familiar?), tried yet again to impose their rule on the Vietnamese with a Ming invasion in 1407 and annex the country into the Ming Empire. Vietnam regained its independence in 1427 with the Lê dynasty, the longest reigning Vietnamese dynasty, which lasted until 1789. China lost the next battle from 1788-79 in the Battle of Ngọc Hồi-Đống Đa, regarded as one of the greatest military victories in Vietnamese history.

The last Chinese military action in Vietnam occurred in the last half century in my lifetime. The border war of February 1979 also ended in bitter defeat. The full-scale invasion that sent 200,000 Chinese troops over the border in order to punish Vietnam – in the words of Deng Xiaoping, who served as the leader of the People’s Republic of China from December 1978 to November 1989 – for its invasion of Cambodia and destruction of the China-backed Khmer Rouge in late 1978, which had been instigated by repeated cross-border raids that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Vietnamese.

Known as the Sino-Vietnamese War and the 3rd Indochina War, it lasted three weeks and six days, resulting in a complete and utter rout of Chinese. There were an estimated 28,000 Chinese dead and 43,000 wounded, according to Western estimates. Fewer than 10,000 Vietnamese were killed.

These centuries-long encounters with China, which supported Vietnam during the US War, and recent territorial conflicts in what is known as the East Sea in Vietnam and the South China Sea in the rest of the world explain the high level of anti-Chinese sentiment among the Vietnamese people. While the US killed more Vietnamese and inflicted more damage on the country, including the war legacies of Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), its occupation of Vietnam was relatively short and has not posed a credible threat to the country since its defeat in 1975.

Vietnam as a French Colony

On September 2, 1945 in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh declared independence from the French, who were anxious to regain control of their colony in the post-WW II era. In his historic speech at Ba Dinh Square – after five years of economic exploitation by the Japanese and nearly 80 years of brutal French control of all three regions of the country – Ho Chi Minh began with words that resonate with US Americans who know their own history: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He went on to say – understatedly – that the French, whose national motto is Liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity), which finds its origins in the French Revolution, have “acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice.”

The 1st Indochina War

Ho Chi Minh’s attempts to reach out to the US through President Harry Truman in an attempt to avoid war with the French, were met with silence. This included a letter on October 17, 1945 in which the former expressed the desire of Vietnam “to cooperate with the other democracies in the establishment and consolidation of world peace and prosperity,” asking why Vietnam was not part of the (Far East) Advisor commission “while France, which ignominiously sold Indo China to Japan and betrayed the allies.” 

The 1st Indochina War, with the US as silent partner providing funding and other forms of support, became an inevitability. Their crushing defeat in May 1954 at Dien Bien Phu in the hills of northwestern Vietnam marked the end of the eight-year war and the French government’s attempts to continue its exploitation of Vietnam, which rid its country of yet another foreign invader and occupier.

The Geneva Accords of 1954, to which the US was not a signatory, stipulated that Vietnam would temporarily be divided at the 17th parallel – later to become the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)  until a national election was held in 1956. According to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s memoirs and other US sources, HCM would have received 80% of the vote, thus unifying his country. The US government’s contempt for this international peace treaty and a democratic election made the 2nd Indochina War inevitable, yet another missed opportunity.

The Second Indochina War

When they met in May 1961, the French president Charles de Gaulle spoke these prophetic words to President John F. Kennedy:  “You will find that intervention in this area will be an endless entanglement. Once a nation has been aroused, no foreign power, however strong, can impose its will upon it. You will discover this for yourselves. For even if you find local leaders who in their own interests are prepared to obey you, the people will not agree to it, and indeed do not want you. The ideology which you invoke will make no difference. Indeed, in the eyes of the masses it will become identified with your will to power. That is why the more you become involved out there against Communism, the more the Communists will appear as the champions of national independence, and the more support they will receive, if only from despair.”

De Gaulle later said that “Kennedy listened to me, but events were to prove that I had failed to convince.”  As the war was heating up in the summer of 1966, President Ho Chi Minh emphasized the historic nature of the war against the US and echoed De Gaulle’s advice, stating that “Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.” 

The US Legacy in Vietnam

Implementing a strategy used by the settler-colonizers of New England, albeit on a grander and deadlier scale, the US military dropped nearly 8 million tons of explosives on Vietnam’s cities and countryside, nearly four times as much as was used in World War II, 10% of which did not detonate upon impact. According to the Vietnamese government, unexploded ordnance (UXO) has been responsible for more than 100,000 injuries and fatalities since 1975, leaving many of the survivors permanently disabled.

It sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of herbicides, including Agent Orange, on 24% of southern Vietnam targeting food crops, mangrove wetlands, and forests. This poison, which has seeped into soil, ponds, lakes, rivers, and rice paddies, enabling toxic chemicals to enter the food chain, has caused horrific birth defects and a long list of disabilities and illnesses in an estimated four to five million Vietnamese and counting.

The US military and that of its client state, the Republic of Vietnam, and other countries that joined this immoral, unjust, and unjustified war, killed nearly 4 million Vietnamese, over half of whom were civilians. Most of this wholesale slaughter occurred in a span of seven or so years – from 1965-1972.

This reign of terror among the civilian population, Vietnamese families just trying to make a living and survive a war not of their making, included all manner of abuse and torture, the rape of women and girls, the poisoning of wells, indiscriminate beatings of people, young and old, and the killing of farm animals.

Even after the war ended in April 1975, the US extended a trade embargo it had imposed on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (“North Vietnam”) in 1964 that caused considerable damage to the nation’s economy and well-being of its people until it was lifted in 1994 by President Clinton, a year before the normalization of diplomatic relations.

Perhaps the most incisive summary of what the Vietnamese were fighting for and against and where the US figured in all of this is contained in a description of a battle in which Steve Banko, a US Army combat veteran, participated:  One of our victims was searched when the shooting stopped and the bleeding continued and was found to be in possession of a medal. Our interpreter told us it was for heroism at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu fourteen years previous. While we were sent to war to fight communism, he had fought his whole life for his country’s right to self-determination. We traveled 12,000 miles to kill him for that.

Since past is often prologue, it should come as no surprise that Vietnam has experience doing a lot with little. As the saying goes, the hardest steel is forged in the hottest fires, a reference to the fact that great strength comes from great adversity. Vietnam’s history, including the past 75 years, is a graphic illustration of this saying.  In line with the idiom “necessity is the mother of invention,” the Vietnamese are both resourceful and tenacious, as enemy soldiers, including those still among the living, and peacetime business negotiators can attest to.

Similar Beginning, Different Ending

While each foreign power that attempted to impose its will on Vietnam left a legacy, both positive and negative, the Chinese were accorded the greatest influence, including in the DNA of the people because of the sheer duration of the occupation and resulting intermarriage, the fact is most Vietnamese rejected the foreigners’ presence and resisted in myriad passive and aggressive ways. Each encounter with the invader served to strengthen their deep sense of national pride and fierce determination to become independent.

Aside from the demographic footprint created by an infusion of large numbers of ethnic Han over centuries, Chinese rule was the catalyst for opening up Vietnam to the world for trade and cultural borrowing, a silver lining to their rule.  

In contrast to the tribal territories that became southern New England, the import of infectious diseases in present-day Vietnam was a moot point, one less challenge for the local population to overcome in its millennia-long quest for independence. It can be argued that it was the US military, the foreign invader that spent the least amount of time in Vietnam, that killed the most Vietnamese with a death toll of nearly 4 million. The same “kill anything that moves” policy that was in play in May 1637 in Mystic was alive and well in wartime Vietnam.

Unlike the Native American tribes of southern New England, who the English settler-colonizers skillfully played off against one another for geopolitical and economic gain, the Vietnamese formed a cultural monolith. Its well-honed divide-and-conquer strategy failed miserably under these unprecedented circumstances.

Each occupying power found locals who were willing to cooperate either because they were converts or opportunists, the ones Vietnamese national heroine Võ Thị Sáu referred to as “errand boys” on the morning of her execution. They were always few in number and, in the case of the French and the US, mostly limited to the city of Saigon. Everyone else either chose the side of their nation or tried to remain neutral.

A common cultural trait among the Vietnamese that is a source of inspiration for me and many others is their optimism in challenging times and their ability to tap into the collectivism that lurks beneath the cultural surface to defeat a common enemy, be it an invading army or an invisible enemy such as COVID-19.

The hundreds of Native American communities and cultures – there are 574 federally recognized Indian Nations in the US – possessed the same collectivism but ultimately lacked the unity and strength needed to retain their autonomy and way of life. That they live among us today, in variations on the original themes, is a blessing. That they have been diminished, diluted, and marginalized is one of history’s great tragedies.

In a documentary entitled Surviving New England’s Great Dying, Paula Peters, a journalist, educator, activist, and member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe whose ancestry can be traced to Patuxet, says to Jim Smith, a Mayflower descendant, who co-directed and co-produced the film, “I don’t hold you accountable for the actions of your ancestors. I hold you accountable for the future … I don’t want to say these are reparations, but we certainly need to tell the story of our ancestors in an accurate and complete way and with balance.” So it is with Vietnam and the countries that attempted – in vain – to subjugate it.

Copyright © 2021

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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