The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position

Below is an excerpt from my latest CounterPunch article about Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University Vietnam.  Think of it as the 2017 bookend to my 2016 CP article, Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University – What were they thinking?, published a month after the controversy erupted.  Follow this link to read it in its entirety. 

MAA

“One simply cannot engage in barbarous action without becoming a barbarian… one cannot defend human values by calculated and unprovoked violence without doing mortal damage to the values one is trying to defend.”

– J William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power

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List of victims of the massacre.  (MAA Photo:  War Remnants Museum, HCMC)

More than 48 years after mortal damage was inflicted with a vengeance on both human beings and human values in a quiet village in Bến Tre province in the Mekong Delta, justice, fairness, and common decency won a minor victory when Bob Kerrey, former Nebraska governor, U.S. senator, New School president, decorated veteran, and self-confessed war criminal, quietly resigned from his high-profile position as chairman of the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) board of trustees, according to reliable sources.

Kerrey, whose appointment was announced one year ago at the iconic Rex Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) by then Secretary of State, John Kerry during President Barack Obama’s visit to Viet Nam, has stepped down behind closed doors.  He was reportedly replaced by Đàm Bích Thủy, a prominent Vietnamese businesswoman who is the current FUV president.

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Bùi Thị Lượm, the sole survivor of the attack. (MAA Photo:  War Remnants Museum, HCMC.)

It was Bob Kerrey himself who said in an interview last June, as all rhetorical hell was breaking loose, that he would not step down.  This about-face came after first saying, in response to questions emailed to him by a New York Times reporter, that he would resign if he felt his role was jeopardizing the U.S.-Vietnamese joint education venture.  I’m not a diplomat and therefore have no need to play the quiet game.  Bob Kerrey was appointed with much fanfare and some fanfare should accompany his surrender.

Never Say Never

Never say never and never forget this timeless wisdom from Proverbs 16:18:  “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  It was Kerrey’s arrogance that made him dig in his heels and delay the inevitable.  It was a firestorm of controversy and, most importantly, steely and steadfast official Vietnamese opposition, that forced him to do the right thing.  It wasn’t only about Bob Kerrey.  Jeopardize FUV he did, at the end of the day, as some predicted.

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The sewer in which three children were hiding.  All three were stabbed to death. (MAA Photo:  War Remnants Museum, HCMC.)

Kerrey’s long overdue resignation is a cause for celebration and a sense of vindication for many.  It is, however, a bitter disappointment for his supporters, both Vietnamese and U.S., who probably still cluelessly wonder why a man who led a U.S. Navy SEALS unit that murdered 21 men, women, and children in the village of Thạnh Phong in February 1969 would not be considered morally fit to assume such a leadership position.

Keep in mind that this is a man who has the dishonor and disgrace of having his very own war crimes exhibit in the War Remnants Museum in HCMC, one of many such incidents in the bloodbath and industrial-scale slaughter that was the American War in Viet Nam.

What is Your Ikigai?

Everyone I know who is happy is working well at something they consider important.  Abraham Maslow

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I had the opportunity to speak to about 150 10th graders at one of the more selective high schools in Hanoi earlier this week.  I chose to speak to them not about overseas study in general or study in the USA or another country in particular but about finding their ikigai, which is related to quality and quantity of life, what to study at university, and which career(s) to pursue after that. 

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A brave student answering the three (3) questions at the bottom – in English!

Ikigai, of course, is a Japanese concept that refers to reason for being, the thing that gets you up in the morning, the passion the drives your life.  While a seemingly simple concept to define and illustrate, it is not always so easy to find.  For students who are 15 or 16 years-old, it is the right time to begin exploring. 

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Another student answering the same questions in English.

I asked them some questions that get at the heart of the matter to help them think more concretely:

  1. What are you good at?
  2. What do you think you might be good at but are not sure yet?
  3. What do you enjoy doing?
  4. What do you have a passion for? 

While I didn’t have a projector because the presentation took place outside, I descrubed ikigai as being at the center of what I like to call an existential sweet spot.

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The existential sweet spot of ikigai

I also shared some relevant quotes about time (The key question to keep asking is, ‘Are you spending your time on the right things?’ Because time is all you have. Randy Pausch, 1960-2008), how to follow your heart and  live your life (Steve Jobs, Stanford University 2005 Commencement Speech), and how to be happy in life (the “grand essentials of happiness” from George Washington Burnap). 

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Students working on their ungraded pop quiz

To underscore my point about the value of time as the most precious commodity in life, I helped put the finiteness of life in perspective.  “Let’s say you live until the age of 80, which is five years older than Viet Nam’s current life expectancy.  You’ve already lived 19% of your life.  What will you do with the remaining 81%?”

Then  I introduced the concept of psychological flow, which is related to ikigai.  It was developed by the Hungarian psychologist, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who defined it as a “highly focused mental state” and “effortless concentration and enjoyment”.  He saidThe best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…  The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.  I also like this definition from the Wikipedia entry about flow:  Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

In order to make the abstract concrete, we discussed examples of flow, including writing, composing music, writing code, playing chess, cooking, dancing, painting, solving a difficult math problem, etc. 

I concluded with a quote attributed to Confucius:  We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.  Sadly, some people never come to this realization.  High school is the ideal time for young people to become aware of life possibilities and constraints. 

Finally, I had the students answer the following questions – in English or Vietnamese.  Some shared their answers with the group.

  1. What is your passion?
  2. When do you experience psychological flow?
  3. What do you hope for?

Looking out into the audience, I noticed that quite a few students were actually listening, a sign of interest and curiosity.  As for the others?  Hopefully, they get it sooner rather than later.  Young people naturally think of life as never-ending while those of us who are older and/or experienced death at an early age know that the clock is ticking.

Have you found your ikigai

MAA

“The key question to keep asking is, ‘Are you spending your time on the right things?’ Because time is all you have.”  (Randy Pausch, 1960-2008)

 

Just Because the Golden Arches are in Vietnam Doesn’t Mean the US Won the War

Here’s my latest CounterPunch article, in response to a statement in a TV interview by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnamese-American author that the US won the war because Viet Nam shifted to a free market economy. 

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Last December, Viet Thanh Nguyen, a chaired professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer, described by Amazon as “thrilling, rhythmic, and astonishing, as is the rest of Nguyen’s enthralling portrayal of the Vietnam War,” made the stunning pronouncement in a TV interview that “the US won this conflict” (8:03) because Viet Nam adopted a capitalist system, what is officially referred to as a socialist-oriented market economy.

I could see many viewers nodding their heads in solemn agreement.  “Yes”, I could hear them proudly and confidently saying to themselves, chests puffed out and hearts beating red, white, and blue, we belatedly yet ultimately triumphed because Viet Nam acquiesced and became like US.  Wasn’t that our goal from the beginning?

The Big Lie

This is a line, a fairy tale, a lie that I’ve heard many times.  It somehow makes US Americans feel good that the “commies” finally came around and saw the light.  It’s a psychological and emotional salve that reassures the gullible, the uninformed, and the nationalists that the sacrifices on their side were not in vain.  The problem is it’s dead wrong.

MAA

 

 

Breaking into Cambodia: Asia’s new tiger economy

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My latest article, this time about Cambodia, was published by The PIE Blog with this introduction:

An economic transformation, demographic change and greater access to digital resources are all driving demand for study abroad among Cambodian students. Mark Ashwill, managing director of Capstone Vietnam, shares why the market is ripe for overseas institutions looking to recruit international students, and what they should consider when they do.

Follow this link to read it in its entirety.

MAA

Viet Nam Moves Up to 5th Place Among Sending Countries

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In my latest University World News article I write about the increase in the number of Vietnamese students studying in the US from November 2016 to March 2017, and the fact that Viet Nam was the only country to move up in the ranking of sending countries, displacing Canada in fifth place, as I predicted last year.

Follow this link to the read the article in its entirety.

A note to colleagues who will be attending the NAFSA annual conference and who have an interested in Viet Nam:  I’ll be participating in the following events.

Riding the Wave Viet Nam Student Recruitment Seminar: Monday, 29 May (unofficial)  Online registration is required.

Keys to Successful Non-Commission-Based Recruitment in Vietnam:  Friday, 2 June (general session)

MAA

You Don’t Have to Study Business to Do Business

book-45Forbes Vietnam published an article by me with the above title in its February 2017 (#45) issue.  An expanded English version, which focuses more on the value and advantages of a liberal arts education and includes more examples, will be published this spring.  Here’s a brief introduction:

Viet Nam currently ranks 6th among all countries sending students to the United States – with over 30,000 at all levels, mostly in higher education.  According to the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 29.3% of all Vietnamese undergraduates in the US were studying business/management.  This was the second highest percentage of any sending country – after Indonesia.  (The popularity of business is not limited to these two countries.  Almost one in five bachelor’s degrees earned in the US is in business, per the US Department of Education.) 

maa-forbes-2-17-issue-45Why are so many young Vietnamese studying business in the US, among other countries?  Because parents – as the key decision-makers – have bought into the seemingly logical notion that their children have to major in business in order to work in the private sector.  In other words, they believe that their sons and daughters have to study business in order to do business.  This is in part because most Vietnamese are not yet familiar with the concept of a liberal arts education and its many benefits, both intrinsic and tangible.

Viet Nam has consistently ranked #1 in recent years in the percentage of its students who choose business/management as an undergraduate major.  (It was displaced in the 2015/16 academic year by Indonesia.  Still, nearly a third of all Vietnamese undergraduates are studying business.)  Meanwhile, there are many young Vietnamese who were liberal arts majors, and are now pursuing successful careers in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors in Viet Nam and elsewhere.

MAA

US Mission Viet Nam Response to Open Letter to Vietnamese Parents & Students

Below is a response I received from Molly Stephenson, Counselor for Public Affairs, US Embassy, and Matthew Wall, Public Affairs Officer, US Consulate General, in response to an “open letter” I wrote last December to Vietnamese parents and students who may be concerned about the outcome of the US presidential election.  Reprinted with permission.

This takes on added importance in light of Trump’s immigration ban that targets seven (7) predominantly Muslim countries.  My article was written for Vietnamese parents and students with an interest in study in the USA but my sentiments apply to all current and prospective US-bound international students.

Follow this link to read the English and Vietnamese versions, published by University World News and Hotcourses Vietnam, respectively.

MAA


Dear Dr. Ashwill,

The U.S. Ambassador and the U.S. Consul General asked us to respond on their behalf.

We appreciate your efforts to reassure Vietnamese families that the doors to U.S. higher education remain wide open.  This is an important message, and your post compliments and amplifies U.S. Mission Vietnam’s messaging on this topic.  We also note that the specific themes you raise in your University World News posting echo the views of the many American university leaders who have met with us since our presidential election.

We sincerely hope that the Open Doors data from Vietnam continues to climb.  We agree, as you state, that U.S. higher education institutions “strive to create and maintain an inclusive, nurturing and diverse environment in which international and U.S. students can learn, work and play together with lasting mutual benefits.”

Thanks again for your contribution to deepening people-to-people ties between Vietnam and the United States — one student at a time.

Molly L. Stephenson
Counselor for Public Affairs
U.S. Embassy Hanoi

and

Matthew E. Wall
Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Consulate General, Ho Chi Minh City