Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Đặng Thùy Trâm

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July 25, 1968: Oh, my God. How hateful the war is. And the more hate, the more the devils are eager to fight. Why do they enjoy shooting and killing good people like us? How can they have the heart to kill all those youngsters who love life, who are struggling and living for so many hopes?  -Đặng Thùy Trâm

11 years ago, Đặng Thùy Trâm’s wartime diaries were published in hardcover in the US.  In the summer of 2005, they had been published in Viet Nam, where the book became a bestseller.  (If you are unfamiliar with this poignant story, check out this overview and this October 2005 article.)  

Below is a letter that Ted Engelmann shared with the Vietnam Studies Group.  Ted is a veteran of the US war in Viet Nam to whom Fred Whitehurst gave the diaries at a 2005 conference at Texas Tech.  It was Whitehurst, then a 22-year-old military intelligence specialist, who defied orders to burn the diaries following the advice of his South Vietnamese translator, who told him “Don’t burn this one, Fred, it already has fire in it.”  

10 July 2018

To:  Viet Nam Studies Group (VSG)

Subject:  “Returning the Diaries of Dang Thuy Tram”

For several years I’ve been asked by many Vietnamese how the diaries of Dang Thuy Tram found their way back to her family in Ha Noi, Viet Nam.  People seem to realize the stories they’ve read and heard leave considerable doubt.

In case anyone in the VSG is interested, lo these many years later, here is the short version from the one who handed the “diaries” to the Tram family the evening of 25 April 2005.

Saturday, 17 March 2005, was an important moment in the history of the diaries.  At a conference sponsored by the Vietnam Center & Archives at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, I watched as Fred Whitehurst and his brother, Rob, donate the diaries of Dang Thuy Tram to the Archives.  That evening, Rob gave me (and others) a CD onto which he had scanned the two “diaries.”

A few days later, in Ha Noi, I asked a Vietnamese friend if she could tell me what was on the CD, since I wasn’t able to speak or read Vietnamese.  After reading a random passage for a few minutes, she teared up and quit.  To my surprise, she said the writing was too emotional for her to continue.   

Concerned about the emotional content, I asked another Vietnamese friend to look at the CD, telling her about the previous experience, and would she help me locate the family of the woman who wrote the diaries while I went to Saigon.  As an American War veteran, I wanted to make “final photographs” on 30 April 2005 for my photographic project, documenting the American War in Viet Nam.

After a couple days reading, my friend was about to give up looking for the family when she discovered Thuy’s father had been a doctor at the hospital near her village, a little north of Ha Noi; a revelation she explained thirteen years later.  That personal connection inspired her to look deeper.  A few days after calling the hospital for information, she made contact with the family who lived several blocks down the street from her office.

Sunday, 24 April 2005, I received a very early morning call at my Saigon hotel.  When I answered, a woman said she was Kim Tram, youngest sister of Dang Thuy Tram, calling from Ha Noi.  She understood I had some diaries and wanted to meet me right away.  Explaining I was in Saigon, she invited me to bring the diaries to her house in Ha Noi, and meet Mother Tram and her family the following day.  Although I had a splitting headache at that moment, I felt compelled as a messenger to oblige, and agreed to her plan.

A couple hours later at the Viet Nam Airline office, I bought a ticket to Ha Noi for the next day.  About an hour after I purchased my ticket, my stress headache disappeared.  With a clear head, I remembered to email Fred and Rob with the exciting news that Thuy’s family was alive.

Arriving in Ha Noi the next day, I took a taxi from Noi Bai airport to my hotel, where my friend left the CD at the front desk.  That evening, Kim, with sister Hien and her husband Ho Nam driving their SUV, arrived and took me to Kim’s home that she shares with Mother.  Entering the ground-floor living room, I was warmly greeted by Mother Tram, then introduced to her extended family, a packed house of relatives, two Vietnamese TV cameras, and many reporters. I was overwhelmed at being the center of attention, their friendliness, and their interest in my small package. 

Using my laptop, the family was immediately captivated by Thuy’s beautifully hand-written “diaries.”   Many tears were shed as the family sat on the couch, reading various entries during two stressful years, describing the private thoughts and feelings of a medical doctor from Ha Noi, treating wounded and dying soldiers at war with America in South Viet Nam, revealed for the first time to her own family, thirty-five years after her death.  Although buried in a martyr’s grave in Ha Noi, the spirit of a daughter and sister was finally safe and home from the war.

When it was time for me to leave, I gave the CD to the family with my best wishes.  While it felt good to help an American veteran (Fred Whitehurst, who had kept the diaries for so long), I was deeply honored to be a messenger of peace; returning a lost daughter to her family.

As you can tell, after having been given the CD, a Vietnamese woman and myself are the only two people directly involved in returning the diaries of Dang Thuy Tram…perhaps guided by Thuy’s spirit, if you believe in such things.

Thank you for your interest,

Ted Engelmann, Denver, CO

Peace, MAA

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West Point in Viet Nam?

I can assure you that whoever created the original marketing and promotion campaign for Vinhomes West Point (2nd image) did not receive an Employee of the Month award.  I noticed this on Facebook and wondered how long it would last.  It was a lame attempt at honor and prestige by association by comparing the United States Military Academy West Point with a real estate project in the southwestern part of Hanoi.  From the horse’s mouth:  west point1vinhomes westpointName of the project get inspired by West Point prep school – the most prestigious Military Academy school of The United States which famous for its high quality learning conditions. High quality living condition is also the thing VinHomes is willing to bring to our customers. Main products of VinHomes West Point project are luxury apartments and Officetels.

I seem to recall a war that was fought on Vietnamese soil, known here as the American War in Viet Nam and in the US as the Vietnam War.  This war, which included West Point graduates among the US Army officers, resulted in the deaths of nearly 4 million Vietnamese and 300,000 Vietnamese MIAs, in addition to war legacies, e.g., Agent Orange, Unxploded Ordnance (UXO), Amerasians, etc.  

west point logoThe mission of West Point (the military academy) is “to educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army.”  That’s a far cry from a real estate project.  West Point in Viet Nam?  Textbook oxymoronic.  Talk about a nasty affiliation!  

Needless to say, a phone call must have been made, or an urgent email sent, and the original marketing campaign mercifully and quickly pulled.   There are some lines that should not be crossed when hawking a product or service.    

Peace, MAA

Lansdale’s Ghost

Below is a review of Max Boot’s book about Edward Lansdale by Thomas A. Bass that appeared in the May 2018 issue the Mekong Review.  In case you don’t know who Max Boot, check out this Wikipedia entry.  He is one of the resident US nationalists at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  Bass describes the CFR and Boot as follows:  The CFR provides the nabobs who appear nightly on the evening news to discourse on how the Empire is faring in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere among the 177 countries where the United States currently has military forces in operation. The CFR might quibble over tactics or parse strategies in the Hindu Kush, but US wars are invariably good wars. When it comes to counterinsurgencies, wars among the people and winning the hearts and minds of restive natives in far-off lands, Boot is CFR’s cheerleader in residence.
Here is the original Gore Vidal quote in its entirety:  After 1976, I predict (being an optimist) that the word will have gone forth to friend and foe alike that the era of American bullshit is finished and that we will now try to create that society the world has been waiting two hundred years to see: an American civilization.  It appeared in A Special Supplement: The Meaning of Vietnam published in the 12 June 1975 issue of The New York Review of Books.  As much as I admire Gore Vidal and as much as I, too, am an optimist, I believe that history makes it crystal clear that the “era of American bullshit” continues unabated with too many people, both in the US and beyond, all too happy and willing to swallow it.
Subsequent administrations should have listened to President Eisenhower, who knew a thing or two about war, and said 1) “No military victory is possible in this theatre.”; and 2) President Ho Chi Minh would have received 80% of the popular vote had a national election been permitted to take place in 1956 under the terms of the Geneva Accords of 1954.  The US decided otherwise, making the 2nd Indochina War an inevitability.   
Peace, MAA

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Edward Lansdale in 1963. Photo: WikiCommons

The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam
Max Boot
Liveright: 2018
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The Vietnam War was a dog from day one. This was the scandal revealed by the Pentagon Papers, the forty-seven volumes documenting the lies and fakery that year after year racked up bodies like cordwood. More than 3 million Vietnamese were bombed, shelled, gassed, tortured and otherwise killed in a war that Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford should have ended the day it began, by acknowledging that the Vietnamese beat the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and that colonialism in Asia was dead.

“The word will have gone forth to friend and foe alike that the era of American bullshit is finished,” said Gore Vidal.

Unfortunately, Vidal was wrong. Not even their defeat in Vietnam could keep the US military-industrial pundit class from longing for “a better war”, a winning war, a triumphal return to world dominance. The Vietnam War has produced the best of books and the worst of books, but, as time goes on, the latter are crowding out the former, and only the latter are read at West Point and other US military academies. “The vast majority of senior American military officers … are still refighting the Vietnam War to a far cheerier outcome through the books they read, the scholarship they publish, and (most disturbingly) the policies they continue to pursue,” wrote US Army Major Danny Sjursen in a 2018 posting to TomDispatch.com.

The revisionists refighting the war are divided into two camps, says Sjursen. The Clausewitzians — followers of the Prussian military theorist — believe that the United States should have invaded North Vietnam. The “hearts-and-minders” believe that the war should have been fought at the village level as a counterinsurgency. Leading Clausewitzians include Harry Summers, whose 1982 book On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War “became an instant classic within the military”, says Sjursen. Summers argues that a namby-pamby emphasis on civil affairs prevented a knockout invasion of North Vietnam. The war was lost, he says, by “draft dodgers and war evaders who still struggle with their consciences”.

Opposing the Clausewitzians are the hearts-and-minders, who argue that the US lost the Vietnam War by failing to adopt a small-unit pacification strategy, with soldiers following Mao’s advice “to move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea”. The leading advocate for this strategy is Lewis Sorley, who claimed in his book A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam that the United States had already won the war by the spring of 1970, before this victory was squandered by generals and civilians clamouring for a big-war strategy. Other proponents of counterinsurgency include generals David Petraeus and James Mattis, who co-authored the 2006 US Army field manual on counterinsurgency, before going on to command US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Caught sending mash notes to his mistress, Petraeus was later cashiered as CIA director, while Mattis currently serves as US Secretary of Defense.) The list of those arguing that the US should have emphasised counterinsurgency over conventional warfare includes Andrew Krepinevich (The Army and Vietnam), John Nagl (Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam) and Petraeus and Mattis, whose field manual, FM 3-24, became a bestseller after receiving a laudatory review in the New York Times.

“The danger presented by either school is clear enough in the twenty-first century,” says Sjursen. “Senior commanders, some now serving in key national security positions, fixated on Vietnam, have translated that conflict’s supposed lessons into what now passes for military strategy in Washington. The result has been an ever-expanding war on terror campaign waged ceaselessly from South Asia to West Africa, which has essentially turned out to be perpetual war based on the can-do belief that counterinsurgency and advise-and-assist missions should have worked in Vietnam and can work now.”

The latest addition to this bookshelf is a tome by Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam. The author is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York’s major think tank for the military-industrial complex, where he writes popular military histories. What distinguishes this and Boot’s three previous books is that he has never met a US war he didn’t like. He beat the drums for invading Afghanistan. He beat the drums for invading Iraq and Syria. And now he’s beating the drums for refighting the Vietnam War, this time with a winning strategy. His nostalgia is telegraphed in the title of his book, where the “road” to avoiding military defeat in Vietnam, according to Boot, would have been more civil affairs, psychological operations (psy-ops), PR, pacification teams and other strategies developed by former advertising man and master CIA spook Edward Lansdale.

This approach to fighting wars was already being skewered by Harold Pinter in the speech he gave on winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005. The United States “has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’,” said Pinter. “Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued — or beaten to death — the same thing — and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed.”

The communists in Vietnam were promising to break the stranglehold of the Chinese merchants who controlled the rice markets, the Catholic mandarins who controlled the government and the landlords who controlled the land. The US was promising democracy and freedom, while engineering stolen elections, herding peasants into concentration camps, defoliating the countryside and killing everything that moved in free-fire zones. Boot takes 700 pages to explain how a harmonica-playing adman from San Francisco could have flipped this equation into a winning war. His argument is no more convincing now than it was fifty years ago, when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers and exposed Lansdale as a CIA operative whose black ops and terror teams had suffered one failure after another.

Employed as a copywriter for Wells Fargo bank, Italian Swiss Colony wines and Levi Strauss blue jeans, Lansdale, at the age of thirty-five, in a fit of patriotic fervour following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, joined the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. After World War II, he began working undercover on agency assignments in Asia. Here he did an excellent job of defending landlords and other reactionary forces that had sided with the Japanese during the war. He helped suppress the Hukbalahap movement in the Philippines, which was fighting for land reform, by labelling them “communists” and financing the military forces that tracked them into the countryside and killed them. The peasant farmers who had fought the Japanese now had to fight the Americans.

It was here in the Philippines that Lansdale perfected his tradecraft. By skimming 5 per cent of the funds allotted for the post-World War II Marshall Plan, the CIA had given itself US$200 million a year for black ops (about US$2.5 billion in today’s money). Dipping liberally into these funds (one estimate says his initial budget was US$5 million), Lansdale financed paramilitary operations, bought elections, published newspapers, mounted propaganda campaigns and engaged in psy-ops that skated into war crimes. In one notorious instance, his men kidnapped a Huk guerrilla, pierced his neck with what looked like the bite marks of a vampire and hung him upside down in a tree to bleed to death. Both Lansdale and his biographer believe that this was an effective method for spooking Huks into throwing down their arms and returning to toil on the estates of their landlords.

It was also in the Philippines that Lansdale acquired the long-suffering mistress, Patrocinio Yapcinco Kelly, who had to wait twenty-seven years — until the death of the first Mrs Lansdale and the end of anti-miscegenation statutes in Virginia (invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1967) — before she could become the second Mrs Lansdale. Boot quotes at length from their love letters, which reveal “Pat” to be the kind of native informant that every anthropologist — not to mention PR pitchman — hopes to find when operating in a foreign culture.

Lansdale was given another Asian assignment when the CIA sent him to Vietnam, beginning with an exploratory mission in 1953 and then for another two-year stretch, starting in 1954. Again, he rallied the right into a neocolonial medley of landlords, Japanese collaborators, Legionnaires, Catholic mandarins and Chinese rice merchants, although even President Eisenhower admitted that communist leader Ho Chi Minh would easily have won election as president over a unified Vietnam, if such an election — as called for in the Geneva Accords — had been held. “No military victory is possible in this theatre,” Eisenhower wrote in his diary.

After the dissolution of French Indochina in 1954, Lansdale began creating a country called the Republic of Vietnam. He took Cochinchina, France’s former colony in the south, and installed Catholic mandarin Ngo Dinh Diem, first as prime minister and then as president. He bribed Diem’s opponents, financed his military, sabotaged Ho’s government in the north, encouraged close to a million Catholics to resettle in the south, drafted South Vietnam’s constitution and then sealed the deal with a “democratic” election that Diem stole with 98.2 per cent of the vote.

Lansdale was a master at surrounding himself with a fog of PR. He even managed to rewrite the script for the original Hollywood version of The Quiet American, turning Graham Greene’s bumbling CIA operative into a celluloid crusader. Our first glimpse into the real nature of Lansdale’s activities came in 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg released forty-three of the forty-seven volumes of the top-secret History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam, commonly known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg was actually a former member of Lansdale’s team. Between stints at the RAND Corporation, a military think tank in California, Ellsberg had served as Lansdale’s assistant in Vietnam for a year and a half, beginning in the summer of 1965. (This was during Lansdale’s second tour of duty in Vietnam, from 1965 to 1967 — an unsuccessful mission that followed another failed assignment, to kill Fidel Castro.)

The Pentagon Papers include a document entitled “Lansdale Team’s Report on Covert Saigon Mission in 1954 and 1955”, which presents itself as “the condensed account of one year in the operation of a ‘cold war’ combat team”. Lansdale’s team “was to enter into Vietnam quietly and assist the Vietnamese, rather than the French, in unconventional warfare. The French were to be kept as friendly allies in the process, as far as possible. The broad mission for the team was to undertake paramilitary operations against the enemy and to wage political-psychological warfare.”

The report goes on to describe the covert acts of sabotage and terror that Lansdale launched against North Vietnam before his agents were evacuated from Hanoi in April 1954. The team “spent the last days of Hanoi in contaminating the oil supply of the bus company for a gradual wreckage of engines in the buses, in taking actions for delayed sabotage of the railroad (which required teamwork with a CIA special technical team in Japan who performed their part brilliantly), and in writing detailed notes of potential targets for future paramilitary operations”. These operations began the following year, when mercenaries trained in the Philippines were landed on the shores of North Vietnam. After most of these saboteurs had been arrested and put on trial in Hanoi, Lansdale turned to training the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the force that the United States put up against the communists, before engaging 500,000 troops of its own.

Lansdale created a country, began funnelling millions and then billions of dollars into defending it, and laid the blueprint for pacification, psy-ops, black ops and all the other military campaigns that would kill Vietnamese by the millions and still not prevail. “South Vietnam, it can truly be said, was the creation of Edward Lansdale,” Neil Sheehan wrote in A Bright Shining Lie. For Sheehan this proved a tragic mistake, while for Boot it was a heroic struggle for truth, justice and the American way. Boot actually writes prose like this, without irony. When it comes to rounding up peasants and throwing them into concentration camps, we learn from him that “strategic hamlets” are a “tried-and-true pacification technique”. Sometimes his prose is so purple that it’s hard to understand. We learn, for example, that soon after Lansdale’s birth, in Detroit in 1908, the “child of the nascent American Century … would have imbibed, along with his Cream of Wheat and Grapenuts, a sense that American power was spreading to every corner of the globe like milk filling up a bowl of cereal”. Is Boot saying that US power is the mother’s milk of the world? Are other countries nothing more than flakes of cereal floating in this bowl of US benevolence?

While describing Lansdale as an expert in the “cutthroat business” of counterinsurgency, Boot also wants us to believe that the man “would preach ideals of brotherly love”. He calls Lansdale a master “of the art of propaganda that he would later practice in both its civilian guise of ‘advertising’ and its military version, ‘psychological war.’” Here Boot is actually skating close to the truth by describing psy-war as the military version of PR. He admires the realpolitik involved in black ops. For him and other members of the war party, the end justifies the means. It is not with distaste that he says the OSS, “like all intelligence agencies, existed to lie, cheat, and steal for its country”.

Lansdale had a “ruthless streak”, Boot admits, “even if it required murder for hire, but he was so eager to protect his image as an idealist that he was deeply reluctant to admit what he was up to, not least to himself”. The same might be said of Lansdale’s biographer, who has produced a schizophrenic narrative that tries to recommend black ops as a useful tool for winning hearts and minds. After claiming him as the “godfather of counterinsurgency”, Boot also credits Lansdale with the growth of US special forces, the philosophy of “soft power” and the rise of military contractors. One might add to this list the use of mercenary forces, secret armies, terror teams, assassination squads and other ways of waging war while pretending to be at peace.

Boot likes to compare his book to Sheehan’s master work, but the claim is bogus, particularly when one looks at their coverage of the same events. When writing about the battle of Ap Bac in 1963, for example, instead of relying on Sheehan’s first-hand observations and meticulous research, Boot quotes from a couple of neocon lightweights intent on burnishing the image of Ngo Dinh Diem. On the next page, he displays the same bad judgement by attacking journalists for their “sensationalistic media coverage” of the Buddhist crisis (as if monks burning themselves alive on the streets of Saigon was not “sensationalistic”). Boot invariably relies on second-rate sources, dubious interpretations and crowd-pleasing attacks on the press, which he holds responsible for losing the Vietnam War. He is a tub-thumper for the neocon trope that reporting the truth about US brutality and incompetence aids the enemy.

Lansdale was smart enough to know that his attempts at nation-building had run off the rails by the time Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother were assassinated in 1963. (Diem was “cut down in a blaze of bullets”, writes Boot, incorrectly. He was actually stabbed to death on the floor of an armoured personnel carrier with his hands tied behind his back.) Lansdale knew for sure that the game was up in 1968, after the Tet Offensive. The war would last for another seven years, but by this time the US had begun brutalising the Vietnamese population with large-scale operations and committing atrocities such as the My Lai massacre, when more than 500 women, children and other non-combatants were killed in a day-long blood-letting. “We lost the war at the Tet Offensive,” said Lansdale, because US soldiers, thinking every Vietnamese a potential terrorist, could no longer discriminate between friend and foe. “I don’t believe this is a government that can win the hearts and minds of the people,” he added, before leaving Vietnam in June 1968.

This is a Council on Foreign Relations book,” Boot writes in the opening line of his acknowledgments. He is referring to the outfit that pays him as a “senior fellow in national security studies”, but also to the kind of book this is. The CFR provides the nabobs who appear nightly on the evening news to discourse on how the Empire is faring in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere among the 177 countries where the United States currently has military forces in operation. The CFR might quibble over tactics or parse strategies in the Hindu Kush, but US wars are invariably good wars. When it comes to counterinsurgencies, wars among the people and winning the hearts and minds of restive natives in far-off lands, Boot is CFR’s cheerleader in residence.

Boot is a Russian Jew born in Moscow, whose parents immigrated to the US when he was seven. He grew up in sunny Los Angeles, where he teethed on the freedom-loving poppycock of Ronald Reagan.

“I am white. I am Jewish. I am an immigrant. I am a Russian American. But until recently I haven’t focused so much on those parts of my identity. I’ve always thought of myself simply as a normal, unhyphenated American,” Boot wrote in an article published in the Washington Post in September 2017, entitled “I came to this country forty-one years ago. Now I feel like I don’t belong here.”

“Not even Trump and his nativist attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have yet figured out a way to strip naturalized American citizens of their legal status,” Boot wrote in his article, before asking — like a lot of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees currently facing deportation — “What would I do now, at age forty-eight, if I were deported to a country that I have not seen in more than forty years and whose language I no longer speak?”

After his recent wake-up call, one wonders if Boot might start writing different kinds of books, less full of patriotic gore. In the meantime, his Lansdale tome is a battle cry from the past. It is a history of neither the Vietnam war nor Lansdale’s role in that debacle. It is a love letter from the happier days when flag-draped patriots and scoundrels ruled the roost, and no one had to worry about the chickens coming home.

Thomas A. Bass is the author of Vietnamerica, The Spy Who Loved Us and Censorship in Vietnam: Brave New World (reviewed here).

An Open Letter to the People of Viet Nam

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.

Peace,

MAA


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.
YOUR NAME:  
YOUR TOWN/CITY:
 
YOUR STATE:

R.I.P. Michael Cull: A Life Well-Lived

I received a very sad but not totally unexpected message last night from my friend, Chuck Searcy, informing me and many others that Mike had died at 8:50 EST (8:50 p.m. Viet Nam time) of pancreatic cancer, after slipping into a coma almost four hours earlier.  Here’s what Chuck wrote, which best sums up the kind of person Mike was and what many of us will remember about him:

Mike’s gentle spirit, his kindness that gave way to moments of indignation and anger when he saw injustices, and his good humor and contagious laugh will comfort us as warm memories of a good friend, a Vietnam veteran who gave much back to Viet Nam over the past two decades.

 

mike friendship village
Mike with a young friend at the Friendship Village in Ha Noi, where he worked as a volunteer for many years helping children and veterans who were dealing with medical and other problems believed to be caused by Agent Orange.

maa FB pic

I remember meeting Mike for the first time on a beautiful sunny day in Nha Trang, where he lived and worked.  I was wearing a New York Yankees cap, not because I’m a fan but because I needed a hat.  A New England guy, Mike was a loyal fan of the Boston Red Sox, archrival and mortal enemy of the Yankees.  His first comment after “Hi, great to meet you!” was about my cap.  I assured him that it was only to protect my follicly-challenged head from the tropical sun, not a display of team loyalty.  🙂

I enjoyed hearing and reading, since most of our contact was via email and Facebook, his comments about important issues of the day and from the past.  One of the things we had in common was our love of and respect for Viet Nam.  Another one was what Chuck referred to as kindness giving way to moments of indignation and anger when we saw injustices.  Mike was a soul mate in that respect.  I will miss his passion and honest feedback.

It seems as if many of my US expat friends, few in number, are veterans of the American War in Viet Nam who have returned to Viet Nam to do penance, so to speak.  I counted Mike among them.  Below is a photo taken by Catherine Karnow at General Võ Nguyên Giáp’s state funeral in October 2013.  From left to right:  Mike Cull, Manus Campbell, MAA, and Chuck Searcy.
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Photo by Catherine Karnow
Here is a story in English and Vietnamese entitled The Long Goodbye written by Manus, who spent nearly two months with Mike and his wife, Lan, from the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to the moment he passed away.  

I will miss his playfulness, the sparkle in his eye, and his smile.

Don’t say goodbye.  Say see you again, my brother

-Manus Campbell

Life goes on and people like Mike Cull inspire us to be grateful for each and every day and to keep our eyes on the prize of what’s truly important in this exceedingly short journey we call life. 

 

My heartfelt condolences to Lan, Mike’s Vietnamese and US families, and his many friends in Viet Nam, the US, and around the world. 

 

MAA

Recent Discussion with US Students – United by Viet Nam!

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Twice a year, I have the opportunity, schedule permitting, to speak to a group of US students who are in Viet Nam for the semester under the auspices of the School for International Training’s Vietnam – Culture, Social Change, and Development program.

They come from a range of higher education institutions, mostly private liberal arts colleges, and are majoring in a variety of subjects, including Anthropology, Asian Studies, Biopsychology, History, Human Rights & Democratization, International Studies, Microbiology, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies

While the students are based in HCMC, they travel from south to north as part of the program.  Some stay in Hanoi to do an internship, a program requirement, while their classmates return to HCMC, or go to another location to do the same.  

As I told them, it’s a rare opportunity for me to share my knowledge of and passion for Viet Nam with US students.  (Most of my interaction with US Americans is with colleagues from secondary and postsecondary institutions.)  My time with them, the better part part of a weekday morning, consists of a presentation, an overview of what I consider to be some of the defining characteristics of Viet Nam – a country I know from books, articles, reports, and personal experience – and discussion. 

I always ask them why they chose Viet Nam as a study abroad destination.  In 2015-16, the top 10 destinations for US students were the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan.  (Not surprisingly, the top five were in Europe.)  There were 1,012 US students in Viet Nam, most on short-term programs.  To put that number in perspective 325,339 American students received academic credit last year for study abroad in 2015/2016.  One of the reasons mentioned was the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone.  I’m pretty sure that Viet Nam has not disappointed in that respect.

I also want to know which students have become passionate about Viet Nam in their short time here, and who plans to make this dynamic and exciting country a part of their academic, professional, and personal future.  There are usually two or three who fall into this category.  Amy Tournas, a Colby College student and aspiring journalist/writer, is one of them.  Below is an excerpt from one of her blogs, Does Anybody Know I’m here?, about the first part of her first day in Hanoi

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First Days of Hanoi

November 15, 2017

Amy Tournas

After arriving at 11 pm, driving to the hotel to be told there wasn’t room for all of us, and then having to walk 20 minutes down the road to another hotel, we finally were in Hanoi!

We classically woke up early and headed through the streets of Hanoi. On our first morning, we met a man named Mark Ashwill. Mr. Ashwill is the co-founder of Capstone Vietnam among many other things. We had a discussion about many different aspects of Vietnam, and talked a lot about his journalism and papers he has written in his life about many controversial topics. He really engaged us because a lot of it was centered around things we are all interested in. I was really captured by his view of the War, along with the books he recommended to us. He told us of the book titled Kill Anything That Moves, which is an extremely controversial book that reveals the horrors of the war in a way that explains parts of the war that many Americans did not want to know about. I haven’t started reading it yet, but my friend just finished it and said it was extremely difficult to get through. I’m looking forward to reading it but I am not looking forward to being further exposed to the horrors of the war.

Another book that he recommended to us which I actually started a few days before we met him was a book called The Sympathizer. Though I am only one hundred pages in, I am already deep in it. Its not the actual story that I think that I am in love with, though a story about a communist spy in America is extremely fascinating. It is the language in which the author speaks that really pulls me in further. It actually gives me shivers when the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes. When he says things like, “As the debacle unfolded, calcium and lime deposits of memory from the last days of the damned republic encrusted themselves in the pipes of my brain.” The way he speaks is just astounding. The Sympathizer is fantastic that I think anyone who is interested in the War should read.

The morning with Mr. Ashwill was pretty inspiring. He has such passion for both the world and Vietnam. The pieces he has written are incredible. I will attach some of them to this post because I think his words are provocative and inspiring, and he is someone I hope to be like when I am older; he is so passionate about his work.

MAA