Recent Interview with Chuck Searcy, International Advisor, Project RENEW

chuck_N4A9622-v2-800x445.jpg
Photo courtesy of Book Hunter Club

Here is a link to the Vietnamese version:  Cựu chiến binh Mỹ Chuck Searcy: “Phòng thủ vĩ đại nhất của Việt Nam chính là ý chí của người dân (Book Hunter Club)

  • Why do you choose to return and live in Vietnam?

It’s a choice I made, to accept an opportunity to come here as a veteran, an American citizen, and in some small ways contribute to what I discovered in 1992 as a tourist, my first time returning to Viet Nam after the war.  I witnessed people all over Viet Nam working hard to recover from the war and to rebuild not just the country’s infrastructure, damaged by so much destruction and devastation, but also to rebuild their lives and their communities after many years of war and a constant struggle to survive.

I thought perhaps I could somehow contribute something positive, something constructive, instead of being part of the destruction that was brought about by war.  I felt that I had some responsibility to do my part in helping, if I could, as a war veteran and as a concerned American citizen.

I have been fortunate to have that opportunity, as a veteran, representing and working with American veterans organizations such as Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), and Veterans For Peace (VFP).  Our work has focused on trying to repair, reduce, or eliminate the consequences of the war related to the legacies of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and Agent Orange/dioxin (AO).

  1. Could you tell me why did you get involved in the Vietnam War and when did you realize the truth about this war?

I enlisted in the U.S. Army because I was about to be drafted, and I thought perhaps I could get a better deal and avoid the war if I enlisted for three years, to choose my assignment, instead of two years as a draftee which would allow me no choices whatsoever.  Actually it made no difference; nothing changed, I was sent to Viet Nam and assigned to a military intelligence unit in Saigon.  I had no choice over anything.

When I arrived in Viet Nam I did not have a concrete idea about the war.  I assumed that President Johnson and the U.S. Congress had a reason for “stopping the communists” in Viet Nam, and I was just doing my part as a loyal and patriotic American.  I didn’t like the idea of the war, I didn’t want to come here as a soldier, but I did not resist.

However, in just three or four months I realized that something was terribly wrong, and what the U.S. government had been telling the American people was confusing, misguided, misleading, deceptive – it was a lie. And that was a very hard realization for me to accept, because I had always believed that the American government would never lie to the people.  But I had to accept the terrible reality that the war was a huge and costly exercise in death and destruction that was making some American companies rich and which was causing untold loss, agony, and grief for so many innocent people – Americans and Vietnamese alike.  In my work as an intelligence specialist, I saw many classified and unclassified documents and reports that only reinforced my belief that the war was wrong.  I saw that we were providing inaccurate information to the American people about the costs and the likely outcome.  It seemed certain to me and my fellow soldiers that America could never win in Viet Nam, yet no American government had the courage to tell the truth and to quit the war.

The Tet Offensive in 1968 was a huge turning point.  It was very costly for the Vietnamese – thousands of soldiers killed, major sacrifices and losses – but it was a huge psychological victory that convinced the American people that the war was futile.  It could never be won.  Yet it still took seven more years for the war to finally come to a bitter and exhausting end.

  1. Nowadays, there are many Vietnamese young people believe that “The Vietnam War is a civil war and the North of Vietnam invaded the South of Vietnam, and the US government was the savior of The South.” What is your opinion about this?

The “civil war” interpretation of the confrontation which has been too conveniently characterized as a “north-south” struggle is a figment of the creative minds of historians and apologists who refuse to face reality.  If Vietnamese young people believe that, they have been sadly misled by myths, distortions, and rewrites of history.  Yes, there have been geographic and cultural divisions within Viet Nam, language variations and ethnic distinctions. Some of these go back many centuries.  They are more accurately described as three general demarcations: north, central, and south.  The north-side political and military divide was a creation of outside powers, the result of negotiations in Geneva in 1954 to set the terms of the French withdrawal after their defeat at the hands of the People’s Army of Viet Nam at Dien Bien Phu.  Terms of the Geneva Agreement called for a separation of the fighting forces – the Vietnamese to the north and the French to the south – to allow for a peaceful and orderly withdrawal of the French forces.  In 1956 national elections were to be held, when a unified government for one Viet Nam would be chosen by vote of all Vietnamese citizens, nationwide.

However, during that period, the U.S. began to replace the French and to establish a new “government” in the south, under President Ngo Dinh Diem, which had never existed before.  The 1956 elections were cancelled because, as U.S. President Eisenhower said openly, there was no doubt that Ho Chi Minh would have been elected overwhelmingly in a popular democratic vote.  And the U.S. could not allow that.  So the U.S. government, using the CIA and other agencies, established the southern regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, recognized it as a legitimate government, and supported Diem and his newly created army and police forces with money and weapons.

We know the rest of that tragic history.

If the U.S. had not intervened, no one can say with certainty what would have happened. However, as my best friend in Saigon – a South Vietnamese soldier – said to me in 1968, “There would be no war in Viet Nam if you Americans were not here.  No one supports the southern government.  As long as you Americans are here, we will have no peace.  So please leave, my friend. Then we will have peace.  It may take six months.  It may take two years.  But Vietnamese can talk to Vietnamese.  If you are not here in our, we will make peace.”

  1. In the globlisation Vietnamese people and American people can share and do business together. Is it possible for Vietnamese government and the US government be friends in the future?

The Vietnamese people have long extended the hand of friendship to Americans.  Americans have responded with appreciation and respect.  The U.S. and Vietnamese governments have established diplomatic relations and a good working relationship based on friendship and mutual respect.  There is no reason why this should not continue long into the future.  As Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap said to me the first time I met him, “Our two countries must never fight again.”  I believe that as firmly as Gen. Giap stated it to me.

Yet Viet Nam must also be very cautious, very thoughtful in its relations with the U.S. and with all other foreign countries, steadfastly maintaining its independence in policy, statements, and deeds and actions, avoiding any tangling alliances that reduce Viet Nam’s flexibility and ability to protect the country’s and the people’s best interests.  Viet Nam must continue to maintain a very careful balance between China and the U.S., for example, and not let one power push Viet Nam off balance vis-à-vis other nations.  Viet Nam especially should be very wise in decisions regarding weapons procurement and military cooperation.  Viet Nam’s greatest defense is the will of its people.  Military machines and technology will never be adequate, can never substitute for the strength, unity and determination of the ordinary people of Viet Nam.  Viet Nam’s leadership needs to always remember that.  Other nations would be wise to recall Viet Nam’s thousand-year history which provides ample evidence of that reality.

  1. How can Vietnamese people be friends with American people regardless the relationship between the Vietnamese government and the US government?

Nowadays it’s quite simple.  With the Internet and global communications, individuals and groups of interested friends can be in easy contact, which the governments in both countries should encourage.  Sharing ideas, concerns, questions, solutions is energizing, creative, the connections nurture new opportunities that can benefit both peoples and both countries.  Institutions such as the Vietnam-USA Society and many other organizations under the umbrella of VUFO – the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations – carry on a very active “people-to-people” diplomacy program which is an important channel of communications.

Neither government, the U.S. or Viet Nam, has any reason to worry about strong and active contacts between people young and old of both countries.  This is a natural bridge that links hands of friendship in support of understanding and peace.  Such dynamics are a huge asset for the governments of Viet Nam and America, which make the task of governing easier, more beneficial for all concerned, and likely to create policies that more accurately reflect the unity and support of the people.

CHUCK SEARCY

International Advisor, Project RENEW
Tư Vấn Viên Quốc tế, Dự án RENEW
Vice President, Veterans For Peace Chapter 160
Phó chủ tịch, Cựu Chiến Binh vì Hoà Bình Chương 160 (Hòa Bình)
Co-Chair, NGO Agent Orange Working Group
Đồng Chủ tịch, Nhóm làm việc Phi chính phủ về Chất độc da cam
71 Trần Quốc Toản, Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Mobile    +8 490 342 0769
Skype     chucksearcy
Email      chuckusvn@gmail.com
Web        http://landmines.org.vn 

The Monsanto Vietnam “Charm Offensive” Continues

Courtesy of Monsanto
Courtesy of Monsanto

Why are these children smiling?  Is it because they’re excited at the prospect of tasting the sweetness of Monsanto’s generosity through its most recent philanthropic activity – in cooperation with Room to Read?  Naw, it’s just a file photo, but you get the idea.  Vietnamese children, smiling faces, Monsanto’s latest charitable gesture in a country devastated by one of its signature products, Agent Orange.  Flashbacks to that classic 1974 dramatic thriller, The Parallax View.

This is also the company that is challenging the food sovereignty of Vietnam and many other countries with the introduction of highly controversial genetically modified crops.  To date, Monsanto, which had 2013 revenue of $15 billion, has invested a grand total of $220,000 (70k + 150k) in scholarships for students at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture (check it out my introduction to an article entitled The Audacity of Monsanto & the Short Memory of the Vietnam National University of Agriculture by Chuck Palazzo) and now this program.

Like I said in the aforementioned post, Monsanto execs must be smiling like a Cheshire cat at how easy it is to buy access and influence in a country that was once on the receiving end of one of its most infamous products and is now a living laboratory for genetically modified corn to be used for food and animal feed.

Not All Money is Created Equal

Nguyen Hong Loi and child born without eyes in Agent Orange children's ward at Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Nguyen Hong Loi, 24, cares for a child born without eyes in the Agent Orange children’s ward of Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. About 500 of the 60,000 children delivered each year at the maternity hospital, Vietnam’s largest, are born with deformities, some because of Agent Orange, according to doctors. May 1, 2013. Photo by Drew Brown

This is what I described in that previous post about the scholarship program as the Trojan horse approach to improving the bottom line, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, according to one media reference.  I once advised a well-known student organization that they should be careful who they take money from in the form of corporate sponsorship.  One example was an organization that promotes the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco-related products.  The problem is most nonprofits never met a donor whose money they weren’t happy to take.  The moral of the story is choose carefully and ethically, when it comes to sponsorship.  Consider the source.

The Ultimate Expression of Corporate Social Responsibility

The ultimate corporate responsibility for companies like Monsanto, Dow and Diamond Shamrock would be to take responsibility – in partnership with their client back in the day, the US government – by creating a superfund, substantially more than the token 220k donated thus far, to assist with clean-up efforts and to help alleviate the suffering of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations of Vietnamese affected by dioxin poisoning.

MAA

The Audacity of Monsanto & the Short Memory of the Vietnam National University of Agriculture

Note:  This is obviously NOT a post about education.  Given the relative freedom of speech that this blog has afforded me since I left the employ of a quasi-US governmental nonprofit five years ago, I reserve to right to explore other important issues related to Vietnam, including the war legacy of Agent Orange and the issue of food sovereignty as it relates to genetically modified crops.

Below is a guest post by Chuck Palazzo, an American war veteran and Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordnance activist and researcher, who is currently living, writing and working in Danang.  Consider this rather lengthy introduction an opportunity to add my two cents, echoing some of the points Chuck makes.

A 13 October 2014 post on Monsanto’s blog Beyond the Rows, entitled Monsanto and Vietnam University of Agriculture Collaborate to Develop Talents in Agricultural Biotechnology, announced a new VND 1.5 billion scholarship program “for outstanding students studying agricultural biotechnology. This scholarship aims to nurture and encourage the engagement of young talents in the development of agricultural biotechnology and products thereof to support farmers.”  How noble but I wish the source of funding weren’t an entity that was once voted the Most Evil Corporation of the Year and which happens to have an unsavory “Vietnam connection.”  Audacity (the Yiddish word “chutzpah” also comes to mind) is the correct word to describe this charm offensive.

[I once advised a well-known student organization that they should be careful who they take money from in the form of corporate sponsorship.  One example was an organization that promotes the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco-related products.  The moral of the story is choose carefully and ethically, when it comes to sponsorship.]

At first glance, I had a visceral reaction to the obscene symbolic and practical significance of  this scholarship program, sponsored by Monsanto, one of the companies that gave the world – and profited handsomely from – Agent Orange  (AO) and is now reaping huge profits from highly controversial genetically modified (GM) crops.  For a paltry $70,000, rounded down, they have bought their way into the Vietnam University of Agriculture and the country’s media, a wolf in sheep’s clothing – in more than one media reference – with a Trojan horse approach to improving the bottom line, so to speak.

Keeping in mind that Monsanto’s 2013 revenue was nearly $15 billion, I wonder what the ROI will be on that 70k?  Monsanto execs must be smiling like a Cheshire cat at how easy it is to buy access and influence in a country that was once on the receiving end of one of its most infamous products, a country that continues to pay a steep price in environmental degradation and human suffering, as do US war veterans and others exposed to AO.

If the world were just, Monsanto is one of a number of multinational companies of US origin that would be forced to compensate the millions of victims – here, in the US and elsewhere – for the multi-generational effects of one of their marquee products, Agent Orange, rather than being given the opportunity to (once again) profit from Vietnam.   If they want to curry favor with the public here and massage global public opinion, why not establish a multimillion dollar grant program for AO victims, all four generations of them?  No need to accept any responsibility, just make the lives of these people more bearable, less painful, more livable.  Just do the right thing.

Monsanto has two offices in Vietnam.  Note:  Dekalb is a Monsanto subsidiary.

DEKALB VIETNAM COMPANY LIMITED
Unit 1303, Floor 13, Centec Tower
72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street
Ward 6, District 3
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Phone: (84-8) 3823 3470 -76
Fax: (84-8) 3823 3473 – 3823 3469

DEKALB VIETNAM COMPANY LIMITED – HA NOI REP. OFFICE
10th Floor, 442 Doi Can Street
Cong Vi Ward, Ba Dinh District,
Ha Noi City, Vietnam
Phone: (84-4) 3762 1146
Fax: (84-4) 3762 1149

MAA

The Audacity of Monsanto and the Short Memory of the Vietnam National University of Agriculture

by Chuck Palazzo

monsanto
 In a recent article, Monsanto and the Vietnam University of Agriculture announced:

“…a pledge of VND 1.5 billion scholarship for outstanding students studying agricultural biotechnology. This scholarship aims to nurture and encourage the engagement of young talents in the development of agricultural biotechnology and products thereof to support farmers.”

As I read this, several ethical questions immediately came to mind. Could it possibly be that the same Monsanto that manufactured one of the most disastrous herbicides in history, Agent Orange, has been allowed to resurface in Vietnam in the guise of agriculture? To be more precise – GMO – Genetically Modified Organisms and Seeds?  That is exactly what has occurred.  According to various estimates, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 11 to 12 million gallons of Agent Orange over nearly 10% of then-South Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. One scientific study estimated that between 2.1 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange. Vietnamese advocacy groups claim that there are over 3 million Vietnamese suffering from health problems caused by exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange.

Yes, the same Monsanto which, according to their own website, states: “At the time the herbicides were used, there was little consideration within the U.S. military about potential long-term environmental and health effects of the widespread use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.  As a result, the governments that were involved most often take responsibility for resolving any consequences of the Vietnam War, including any relating to the use of Agent Orange. U.S. courts have determined that wartime contractors (such as the former Monsanto) who produced Agent Orange for the government are not responsible for damage claims associated with the chemistry.”

OK, Monsanto, agreed that you were and continue to be complicit with the US Government. OK, it’s convenient for Monsanto and the other manufacturers of Agent Orange to hide behind the US courts. But is it OK for this same Monsanto, which lied to the public about the deadly effects of Agent Orange, be allowed to return to Vietnam under the guise of improving agriculture? Is it OK for this same company that has been responsible for some of the worst chemical concoctions known to man (PCBs is another example) are now held in such high esteem that the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture awards them The Sustainable Agriculture Company Award? Sustainability? GMO’s do not contribute to the sustainability of agriculture or anything else for that matter. To make matters worse, some of the same components used in Agent Orange are also being genetically implanted into GMO seeds – for human consumption. Other GMO seeds have been developed to withstand mega-doses of herbicides without killing the crop itself – albeit, the chemicals will saturate and ultimately destroy the surrounding environment. This is clearly NOT sustainability.

Nguyen Hong Loi and child born without eyes in Agent Orange children's ward at Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Nguyen Hong Loi, 24, cares for a child born without eyes in the Agent Orange children’s ward of Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. About 500 of the 60,000 children delivered each year at the maternity hospital, Vietnam’s largest, are born with deformities, some because of Agent Orange, according to doctors. May 1, 2013. Photo: Drew Brown (http://drewbrown.photoshelter.com)

Monsanto has not compensated any victim of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the US, or anywhere around the world for the death and destruction this corporate giant has been responsible for over the years. They refuse to. They hide behind US laws, which, in my opinion are a disgrace, as evidenced by my own fellow American veterans who continue to die as a result of their own exposure to Agent Orange and the countless Vietnamese victims who I see and advocate for daily, many of whom are 2nd and 3rd generation victims.

Monsanto is an incredibly large, multinational company that has the financial capability to do as they please – in the US, in Vietnam and throughout the world. GMO’s do not resolve the world hunger problems; they do not resolve drought-related issues. Poor farmers around the world enter into contracts with Monsanto that ensure the seeds they use are destroyed at the end of each season – forcing the farmer to continue to buy seeds from Monsanto. Yep, control the food and you will control the people.

What about food sovereignty? There is none as long as Monsanto is part of the agricultural food chain in Vietnam and anywhere their seeds are being used.

Sure, let us recognize talent in our universities and grant awards and scholarships based on academic achievement.   But not by using the blood money Monsanto has granted to the Ministry of Agriculture, paid in part by profits earned from the Agent Orange they manufactured and sold to the U.S. Government during the American War. The same Vietnam that was saturated with Agent Orange. The same Vietnam whose victims of Agent Orange who, now very well into the 3rd generation, continue to suffer and die, for very likely, many more years to come.