A couple of colleagues shared this letter by Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US State Department, on social media. It was sent to participants in a small international student recruitment conference in early December in the US.
I’m not sure what they were so excited about. As I mentioned in an understated LinkedIn comment, The statements and actions of the administration she serves belie her words… As we all know, talk is cheap and, in this case, utterly worthless, since official reality firmly contradicts the warm and fuzzy talking points. Indeed, in many cases, administration statements, policy proposals and proposals are a frontal assault on this official rhetoric.
I remember writing these kinds of letters when I was a graduate assistant in the president’s office at a major state university. You know, boilerplate kind of stuff. Another day, another constituent letter. (The more interesting writing consisted of policy statements and speeches.)
I know times are tough but I have the feeling that some people are grasping at straws, looking for something, anything, that they perceive as being cause for hope. Trust me – this ain’t it. I know this dates me but it kinda reminds me of the time teachers gave good students gold stars for outstanding performance or exemplary behavior. Decades later, I still have fond memories of those gold, silver, and blue stars. A little went a long way.
Maybe Ms. Royce and Secretary Pompeo should have a sit-down with their big boss in The White House (or Mar-a-Lago) to ensure that they are all on the same rhetorical and policy page. Yeah, right. When hell freezes over.
The open letter below, an initiative of Veterans For Peace (VFP), is further proof that the US has yet to overcome its participation in the American War in Viet Nam (“Vietnam War”) in the spirit of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, a German term that means the “struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past”. VFP is “an international organization made up of military veterans, military family members, and allies” who are “dedicated to building a culture of peace, exposing the true costs of war, and healing the wounds of war.” They are the ones who realized that the American War in Viet Nam was an immoral travesty and who made the decision to stand on the right side of history, most after the fact.
The letter is related to an upcoming VFP Vietnam Trip that is being organized by VFP Chapter 160 in Viet Nam. The dates are 4-21 March 2018: Veterans For Peace will go on a 50-year look back at 1968 – the Tet Offensive, Khe Sanh, My Lai – as we travel through Viet Nam, north to south. It will be delivered to the Vietnamese and a translation read at the end of the My Lai commemoration ceremony on 16 March.
If you’re interested in adding your name to this letter, please contact Doug Rawlings at rawlings[AT]maine.edu.
Many Americans, especially those of us who came of age during the American War in Viet Nam, understand that our war in Vietnam was a crime of untold proportion and a massive violation of international law. As citizens under this government, we have to accept responsibility for its actions. It is with that realization in mind that we engage with you as the 50th Anniversary of the My Lai massacre nears.
We acknowledge that this terrible massacre was a clear atrocity, but also we recognize that it was not an anomaly — that it is one of many such abominations that many of our soldiers inflicted on the people of Viet Nam during the American War.
We acknowledge the deep and tragic suffering we have caused you — death, destruction, the ruin of your land, and the torturous rending of your social fabric.
We acknowledge the great sacrifices you have made to resist our government’s global, imperial designs, including battling the civil strife our military forces brought to your society as they pitted governments they manipulated against your resistance forces. Many of our soldiers deepened and exploited the divisions in your society.
We acknowledge the virulent form of racism that our government brought from our country into yours as it made almost no attempt to understand your rich history and culture.
We acknowledge that this racial animus led us to assault your people with what our government leaders imagined was “impunity,” using our Pentagon’s almost unlimited funding and massive firepower to kill, maim, and poison your land and people.
We acknowledge that even after our armed forces had withdrawn from your country, abandoning our government’s colonial designs, many U.S. government officials continued to wage economic warfare against you to thwart your efforts as you rebuilt your reunified country.
Therefore, we pledge the following:
We will make an honest effort to try as fully as possible to understand and feel the impact of the war on your families and your land, to empathize with your struggles and suffering and to share our experience with others.
We who were directly engaged in this war will continue to publicly confess our complicity in your country’s suffering.
We will do all in our power to make amends by supporting efforts to assist you in the healing of your land and your people.
We pledge to keep learning, and taking to heart, the lessons our people should have learned from the American War in Viet Nam as we work to attain peace and social justice in our own country.
We who were complicit in the American War in Vietnam will continue to search our consciences as we face our own direct and indirect participation in a system that enabled our government to start and escalate this war against your land. We cannot undo the wrongs we have done, but we will use our remorse to work for world peace.
Below is a letter that was sent to Bob Kerrey about his controversial appointment as chairman of the Fulbright University Viet Nam board of trustees, announced by John Kerry during President Obama’s May 2016 visit to Viet Nam. In case you’re interested and are not up-to-date on this situation, here are some articles that have appeared since:
I will continue adding names and sending updated versions to Bob Kerrey. The names in red are the original signatories.
7 September 2016
Dear Mr. Kerrey,
We are writing with the heartfelt and urgent request that you resign from your position as chairman of the Fulbright University Viet Nam (FUV) board of trustees.
It is our firm belief that you should never have been offered this appointment and, having been offered it, should have declined the offer. We strongly believe that there are other more appropriate roles for you to play in support of FUV, and that there are better qualified people without your historical baggage.
Mark Bowyer, an expat in Viet Nam, expressed doubt in an early June 2016 blog post that “reminding the world of previously unpunished US atrocities in Viet Nam is a judicious use of the political capital accumulated during Barack Obama’s recent successful visit.”
Shawn McHale, a George Washington University colleague, wrote the following comment in response to your interview with WBUR’s “Here & Now” program:
Bob Kerrey is letting his ego get in the way of US-Vietnamese rapprochement. The man has done a lot of good — but killing civilians, a war crime, makes him unfit to be head of the Fulbright University Vietnam Board of Trustees. For the good of the university, he should recognize that he is not the person for the job.
Finally, Linh Dinh, a Vietnamese-American writer, poet, and a signatory to this letter, wrote that “This sick and vain spectacle is hurting not just him but the university. By hanging on, he’s focusing the spotlight on his war crime.”
We agree with these assessments. Your appointment is a politically- and emotionally-charged issue that is not going to go away, least of all in Viet Nam. In early June, you told the New York Times via email that you would resign, if you felt your role were jeopardizing FUV. That time is now.
There are many US veterans who have returned to Viet Nam to do penance, so to speak, some on short trips and others for the long haul. They are each making a modest contribution, trying to find a way to give back, to make amends, to make whole that which they and their government tried to destroy. On a personal level, as you can imagine, they also find this experience to be therapeutic and even cathartic.
We’d like to take the liberty of offering you some advice. Travel to Thanh Phong. Arrange to meet with the victims’ family members and the survivors. Ask for their forgiveness. Burn incense and pray at the graves of the people you and your unit killed. And do all of this with the greatest sincerity, contrition, and humility.
Offer to meet a local need, to build something of lasting value that will benefit the community. We believe that these acts will be greatly appreciated and may help you find a measure of peace. You could even invite the other members of your unit to join you.
Thank you for taking the time to read our note. We look forward to hearing from you.
Patrick Barrett, Ph.D.
Havens Center for Social Justice
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dennis Berg, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, CSU, Fullerton
Vietnam (S.E. Asia) Workshop Facilitator (1991-2016)
Fulbright, VEF, SSRC, USSH-VNU Faculty Scholar in Vietnam
Awarded Vietnam’s National Medal for Higher Education
Long Beach, California
UH-1 Helicopter Crew Chief 1967-68
POW from February 1968 to March 1973
Dr. Stephen Cottrell
S/Sgt,Vietnam 66′ 67′
0311 grunt, I Corps,Zulu Company
Fulbright Ambassador Emeritus
Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Anthropology
University of Colorado Boulder
Fulbright Scholar with the Department of Geology and Minerals of Vietnam 2001-02
Fulbright Scholar with the Institute of Tropical Biology of Vietnam 2008-09
Political essayist, fiction writer, poet and translator. Author of Postcards from the End of America
John V H Dippel
Teachers for Vietnam
Former Foreign Service Office (Reserve) in Saigon, 1965-67
Author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
W. D. Ehrhart
formerly Sergeant, USMC
Author of Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir
Editor of Carrying the Darkness: Poetry of the Vietnam War
Fort Collins, CO
Army Medic Vietnam
San Diego, CA
C. J. Hopkins
Playwright, author of Horse Country, The Extremists, and screwmachine/eyecandy, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Bob
Conneaut Lake, PA
Lawyer, Labor Arbitrator, Educator – Lessons of the Vietnam War
American Global Management Association
Ann Hibner Koblitz
Professor of Women and Gender Studies, Arizona State University
and Director of the Kovalevskaia Fund
Professor of Mathematics, University of Washington
Dr. Deepa Kumar
New Brunswick, NJ
Professor of Media Studies, Rutgers University
Activist, Unionist, Author
Professor Emeritus, State University of New York
Author, American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?
Associate Professor of History and International Affairs
Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University
President, Green Cities Fund
Co-founder, Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery established in Saigon in 1966 to treat war-injured children
Co-founder Vietnam Green Building Council
Greg Nagle, Ph.D.
Hanoi, Viet Nam
Scientific Researcher/Faculty Member
ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore
Dzung Kieu Nguyen
Ph.D., Economics, SUNY Albany
Le Minh Nguyen
Hanoi, Viet Nam
London School of Economics
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Los Angeles, CA
Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California
Author of The Sympathizer, Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author
Author of Bob Kerrey and the ‘American Tragedy’ of Vietnam (6-20-16)
Kittery Point, ME
TV news and documentaries
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Producer/Director: Same Same But Different
Artillery Crew Chief, Central Highlands, 1967-68
State College, PA
Korean War veteran, co-founder of the State College Peace Center and creator of its documentary film series, lifetime member of Veterans for Peace
Marine Corps Combat Viet Nam 1968 Veteran, Agent Orange Survivor, co-founder of Education Without Borders and Board Member of Veterans for Peace
Founder, Center for Media and Democracy
Author of books, including Weapons of Mass Deception
Jeffrey St. Clair
Editor of CounterPunch; Author of Born Under a Bad Sky
Director, World Beyond War
Author of books, including War Is A Lie
Iowa City, IA
Journalist and author of Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics
Fred Tomasello, Jr.
Former platoon commander, forward air controller and casualty assistance officer during the Vietnam War
US Postal Service (Retired)
Michael Uhl, Ph.D.
Author Vietnam Awakening: My Journey from Combat to the Citizens Commission of Inquiry on US War Crimes and The War I Survived Was Vietnam: Collected Writings of a Veteran and Antiwar Activist (Oct. 2016)
Author of The Phoenix Program
Peter Van Buren
New York City, NY
Former US Diplomat
Brad Van Den Elzen, Ph.D.
Stevens Point, WI
Hanoi, Viet Nam
Editor, TRỒNG NGƯỜI
A Clearinghouse on Education in Viet Nam
San Francisco, CA
Author of Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson
Subject of documentary, Paying the Price For Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson http://www.Brianwillson.com
Viet Nam veteran, peace activist, and trained attorney