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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The original article had nearly 1,000 Facebook shares, before the site migrated to a new server. It was quickly translated into Vietnamese and widely discussed on Vietnamese language blogs and Facebook pages. Maybe the latter was the icing on the censorship cake?
My comment reflected something I wrote in that article about having no need to play the quiet game because I’m not a diplomat. (Bob Kerrey was appointed with much fanfare and some fanfare should accompany his surrender.) Its prompt deletion also confirmed something else that I wrote, namely, that the silent treatment was an attempt to Clean up the mess and move on, as if nothing happened. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If an online comment is deleted, was there ever an original comment?
The irony of a university that claims to be inspired by the American tradition of liberal arts education (think critical thinking and other skills and knowledge) yet wastes no time in digitally erasing views with which it disagrees was not lost on me. It’s yet another example of do as we say, not as we do. We (US) claim to believe in freedom of speech and are constantly lecturing other countries, including Viet Nam, about their transgressions but we (US) practice it selectively. Shameless and shameful.
This arrogance reminds of something Ron Suskind wrote about a 2004 interview with a George W. Bush aide who was later revealed to be Karl Rove: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” In other words, the US government can do and say whatever the hell it wants because, well, the US is an empire.
Speaking of arrogance, J. William Fulbright wrote about this mindset in a classic book entitled The Arrogance of Power written during the American War in Viet Nam. Yes, that Fulbright after whom FUV is named. Irony piled upon irony. Shameless and shameful ad nauseam.
P.S.: Bob Kerrey is still a member of the FUV board of trustees, according to the FUV website, a textbook definition of a flawed compromise.
This is the tag line of the latest documentary by Burns and Novick. There are many stories to be told, mostly from the US American perspective because it’s usually “all about US,” but there is one truth, I believe: the US should never have been in Viet Nam in the first place. There should never have been a 2nd Indochina War that resulted in 3.8 million Vietnamese deaths and wholesale destruction of the infrastructure, flora, and fauna of Viet Nam, in addition to debilitating and deadly war legacies such as Agent Orange (AO) and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) that continue to haunt Viet Nam. (AO, of course, has also affected US veterans who were exposed to this poison, along with many of their children.)
It started when the US made the decision to follow in the footsteps of the French by ignoring the Geneva Accords of 1954, which called for a national election in 1956. President Ho Chi Minh would have received 80% of the vote, according to none other than President Dwight D. Eisenhower, thus unifying his country and ushering in an era of peace and development. US support of its client state, the Republic of Viet Nam (South Vietnam), ensured that the war against the latest invader and occupier du jour would continue until it was forced to pick up and leave, which it eventually did initially in 1973 and, finally, in 1975.
There are lines that The Vietnam War does not cross because either the truth is beyond the comprehension and ideological confines of the filmmakers and/or because their corporate sponsors would not allow it. This is part of a larger issue, namely, the inability of the US to overcome its past, unlike other countries, including Germany. (Although Adolf Hitler is a part of German history, there are no statues of him in Germany only memorials to his millions of victims. The US is still having this debate, e.g., statues of Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee.)
Here’s a story that Bill Ehrhart , who was interviewed for this series, encouraged people to share “far and wide.” Ehrhart is a US poet, writer, scholar and war veteran who has been called “the dean of Vietnam war poetry.” (He was a signatory to my 2016 letter calling on Bob Kerrey, a self-confessed war criminal, to resign from his position as chairman of the Fulbright University Vietnam board of trustees. He eventually did in 2017.)
The day after I came home from Vietnam in early March 1968, I took the money I’d saved in those 13 months and went to West German Motors in Ft. Washington, PA, and bought a brand new Volkswagen. VW Beetle. Red with black interior.
Only I didn’t buy it. I had to give the money to my father, and he bought it because I was not legally old enough to buy a car. The owner’s card remained in my father’s name for the next year and a half until I turned 21, which was the age of majority then in Pennsylvania.
The day after that, I went to McKeever Insurance, in my home town of Perkasie, PA, to get insurance for my car. But Mrs. McKeever told me I couldn’t get a policy in my name. I would have to be carried on my parents’ policy as a dependent child.
Understand what I’m saying here: I had just spent 13 months fighting in Vietnam. I was a combat-wounded Marine Corps sergeant, but the state of Pennsylvania recognized me only as a child dependent on my parents.
Let me say that again: I had just spent 13 months fighting in Vietnam. I was a combat-wounded Marine Corps sergeant, but the state of Pennsylvania recognized me only as a dependent child.
You want to talk spat-upon? I sure as hell was spit on when I came home, but it wasn’t the antiwar people who did the spitting.
I begged Lynn Novick of Florentine Films to get this story on film and into their documentary, but you will not see this true story among the 18 hours of film you are about to watch. Instead, you will see and hear some teary-eyed woman apologizing for something there is no proof ever actually happened.
You are welcome to spread this story of mine far and wide. It’s the only way anyone will hear it because, as I said, it didn’t even make onto film, let alone into the documentary.
BONUS: Here’s a post on the Vietnam Studies Group listserv by Christoph Giebel, an Associate Professor of International Studies and History at the University of Washington, Seattle, in a threaded- discussion about the film.
I have no problem with the depiction in episode 1 (and others) of Le Duan’s role. I have huge problems with episode 1 overall though. I watched it last night, prepared for some US centrism, to be sure, since this is a series heavily privileging American perspectives, experiences, feelings, but also anticipating to find the edgy “new take” by Burns/Novick that was so heavily promoted. Like with many books, I am particularly interested in the introduction and conclusion (episodes 1 and 10) for the “beef” of the argument, where the deep framing, contextualization etc. takes place
Episode 1 was, frankly, crushingly dispiriting in its unreflective depiction of ahistorical American exceptionalism and uncritical repetition of worn-out Cold War tropes and Western frames. Its flawed choice of key terminology and mapping and its condensation of extraordinarily complex issues over more than 100 years into 75 minutes, all marshaled to set up Burns’ “flawed, but innocently well-meaning” redemptionist narrative of the US, fell even short of the 1983 PBS series (which itself badly needs overhauling). After a decade of working on this, where is the damn novelty? I’ll need a bit of time to formulate my thoughts, but I must say that episode 1 was profoundly troubling.
Below are some thoughts about the US War in Viet Nam (the “Vietnam War”) from Mike Hastie, a war veteran whom I had the privilege of meeting in Ha Noi. They were originally posted on the Vietnam Full Disclosure website in the context of the Burns/Novick PBS documentary, The Vietnam War. It is Mike’s story but a common one – in broad strokes – told by many veterans of that war.
The Full Disclosure campaign is a Veterans For Peace effort to speak truth to power and keep alive the antiwar perspective on the American war in Viet Nam. This is what US Americans, especially young people, should be learning about that war in an effort to come to terms with that part of their country’s past – in the spirit of Vergangenheitsbewältigung.
Thanks, Mike, for sharing, and for speaking truth to lies and to power.
I’m starting to watch the Burns/Novick documentary on PBS. I am visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Spokane, Washington, both of whom have health problems. I want to focus on them more, but they wanted to watch the second episode last night. I have read several articles about the PBS series, along with what people are posting on Full Disclosure. I am sure I am no different than most people. I have been somewhat hesitant to watch the Burns film, because I am away from my friends and support group back in Portland, Oregon. When I came back from Vietnam, I was eventually hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for PTSD, once in 1980, and in 1994 after I came back from my first return to Vietnam with three close friends who were also Vietnam veterans. One of those friends was involved in the Phoenix Program, where he was personally pulling the trigger on assassinations. Another friend in our group was involved in radio intercept. Halfway through his tour in Vietnam, he realized he was giving B-52 pilots coordinates in the bombing of civilian targets. When he realized he was involved in mass murder, he walked into the orderly room on his base, and told his company commander that his tour in Vietnam was officially over. Well, they threatened him with a court-martial, and even a firing squad, but he stuck to his guns, and told them to go fuck themselves. He was eventually sent back to the US as a psychiatric case, and wound up on a psyche ward at Madigan Army Hospital. His war was over, and he spent the next twenty years drinking heavily, and packing a pistol. He was basically suffering from the LIE of the Vietnam War, and the dismantling of his core belief system. He absolutely hated the US Government, and called the Pentagon a house of goons. He used profound articulate sarcasm to get through his day, as he referred to the American flag as a Nazi symbol riddled with madness. To this day, he is a person I have the utmost respect for, because he walked into his orderly room in Vietnam, and told people that he could no longer morally commit murder for corporate America. Now, run this voice through the 18-hour Burns documentary on The Vietnam War. This is not complicated, except for people who are still looking for a noble cause for America’s involvement in Vietnam. The LIE is the truth of the Vietnam War. That LIE put me in two psychiatric hospitals, and that is why I dearly love my friend, because he validated me to the core.
Before I went to Vietnam, I spent a year in Denver, Colorado at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital attending an advanced 41 week medic course. Fitzsimmons had a lot of amputees from Vietnam, as they were going through various stages of being severely wounded. I saw a lot of people in wheelchairs during the year that I was there. One experience I had, as we were involved in many medical rotations throughout the hospital, was my two-week rotation on the psyche ward. Many soldiers coming back from Vietnam were severely wounded psychologically, and the drug of choice was Thorazine. You could tell soldiers were on heavy doses of Thorazine, because they had the Thorazine shuffle. When soldiers did not respond to drugs ( if they ever would ), they often received shock therapy. As a student, I witnessed one of those high voltage treatments. I remember they brought this young American kid into the room on a gurney and we transferred him to the shock table. He was strapped down to the table, a padded tongue blade was put in his mouth. He was already on a sedative, but the nurses were there to give him as much comfort as they could. Electrodes were attached to his head, and the switched was executed. His body became very rigid, and he convulsed with jerking movements that seemed to elevate him off the table. What I saw in that moment, was the utter LIE of the entire Vietnam War in a nutshell. I wish Ken Burns had a clip of that shock therapy session in his 18-hour epic on The Vietnam War, as it would cut through a lot of bullshit ideological rhetoric. When you get away from emotional intelligence, and the incredible grief and sorrow of the Vietnam Holocaust, you are still discussing whether it was a noble cause. When I saw the end results of a couple of American soldiers commit suicide in Vietnam, and a good Vietnam vet friend hang himself in a motel room twenty years after he got back from Vietnam, I didn’t need anymore proof on whether it was a noble cause of not. I had the blood on my hands to prove it, and the emotional trauma of the LIE for a lifetime.
Mike Hastie Army Medic Vietnam September 20, 2017 Full Disclosure
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