Fulbright University Vietnam & Moral Leadership?

48425414_726336877749126_906051796659601408_nGiven events of the past few years, these are two phrases that mix like oil and water.  Think textbook cognitive dissonance.  Or a feeble attempt at rehabilitation in the eyes of the public, an audacious means of gaining the moral high ground from the morass of historical tone and gross insensitivity.  

My first reaction upon reading about this 10 January 2019 lecture and, more importantly, the series of which it is a part, was “that’s rich coming from an institution that engineered not one but two consecutive PR disasters related to the US War in Viet Nam.”  

The first involved Bob Kerrey, who was offered and accepted the position of chairman of the board of trustees.  That misguided appointment was the source of considerable controversy and ultimately became a thorn in the side of a budding bilateral relationship – at the highest levels.  

The second involved another war veteran and “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of,” Thomas Vallely.  He made a series of cruel and insensitive statements about civilian deaths during the war in an interview that was published in early 2018 in Politico

In case you’re just tuning in, dear reader, or are not entirely up-to-date, have a look at the articles and posts below.  

Bob Kerrey

Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University – What were they thinking? by Mark Ashwill (MAA)  (8.7.16)

47 Signatories Urge Bob Kerrey to Resign from Fulbright University Viet Nam Position by MAA (8.9.16)

The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position by MAA (26.5.17)

Thomas Vallely

How a U.S.-Backed University in Vietnam Unleashed Old Demons by Isabelle Taft (4.2.18)

More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells by MAA (17.8.18)

The Importance of Speaking Up About “Things That Matter by MAA (26.12.18)

Make amends and come clean, FUV; then you’re entitled to launch a Moral Leadership Speaker Series in good conscience.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA, The Unquiet US American

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The Importance of Speaking Up About “Things That Matter”

things that matter2After telling an acquaintance who is well-known in Viet Nam circles that I intended to write about the rhetorical bombshells that Thomas Vallely dropped in an early 2018 interview about Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University Vietnam, he warned me about possible backlash. 

In case you’re just tuning in, Vallely is Senior Adviser for Mainland Southeast Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of.”

I highlighted some of Vallely’s appalling and unconscionable statements, some of the words he used to hang himself, rhetorically speaking, in an interview in this 17 August 2018 article entitled More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells

Regardless of your age or situation, please don’t remain silent about “things that matter” and let your life begin to end.  Life’s already too short.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA, The Unquiet US American

“PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc receives Harvard University’s professor”

PM_Nguyen_Xuan_Phuc_receives_Harvard_Universitys_professor.jpg
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (R) and Thomas Vallely at the reception. (Source: VNA)

When I saw this headline, I was curious to see who the Harvard professor was.  It was none other than Thomas Vallely, who is not a professor but an administrator with neither an academic appointment nor a Ph.D.  More importantly, this is the same Thomas Vallely (TV) who made a series of cruel and insensitive statements about civilian deaths during the war in an interview that was published earlier this year in Politico.  I listed and commented on the most egregious quotes in this August 2018 article, More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells

Apparently, Prime Minister Phuc is unaware of this background information or, if he is,  considers it so much water under the bridge.  While I understand the nature of politics as the art of compromise, there are some lines that should not be crossed.  

What was most striking about this article was TV’s proposal to name the “most important lecture hall” in the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) school of public policy and management after the late John McCain.  Yes, the same John McCain who could never bring himself to properly thank the two Vietnamese men who fished him out of Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi after his jet was shot down in October 1967, thereby saving his life – TWICE.  The first time was from drowning and the second was by protecting him from an understandably angry crowd that wanted to finish the job. 

This is also the same John McCain who repeatedly referred to Vietnamese as “gooks” in various speeches and who never met a war he didn’t like.  (Sorry, but his death bed concession about Iraq doesn’t count.  While always better late than never, still too little, too late.)  Can’t TV and associates do better than that, I ask myself rhetorically?   

What’s next, the Bob Kerrey Auditorium?  It could be yet another feather in his cap, in addition to having his very own war crimes exhibit in the HCMC War Remnants Museum.  Yet another insult to the memory of the 4 million Vietnamese who were killed during the US war, the survivors, and the Viet Nam of 2018.  Since FUV has chosen to cross that line, why not the Richard M. Nixon or Lyndon B. Johnson Administration Building or the Robert McNamara Student Center?  

TV is a one-man rhetorical wrecking ball, living proof that Fulbright University Vietnam desperately needs a public relations makeover.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells”

demons

This 17 August 2018 CounterPunch article is the third in a trilogy.  Here are the first and second articles.  This should be my last word about this sad story.  

Pardon the nasty military metaphor but it’s not nearly as nasty as some of the quotes from “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of” in a January 2018 interview.  

Here’s an excerpt:  

The Victims

As I mentioned to an FUV official who was involved in Kerrey’s appointment in a previous incarnation, what I’ve discovered in all of this is how invisible the victims of that massacre at the hands of Bob Kerrey and his unit are, both the dead and the living, not to mention the millions of whom Thomas Vallely spoke in a couple of throwaway sentences.

That is my main motivation in writing and speaking out about this, not “sticking it” to any individual or institution.  The tendency of most people involved with this issue to completely ignore the victims is both heartless and morally reprehensible.

The last of the Buddha’s Five Remembrances about impermanence is relevant here (translation by Thích Nhất Hạnh):  “My actions are my only true belongings.  I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”  The ground upon which Thomas Vallely once stood dissolved into quicksand the moment those chilling words about civilian deaths in the Mekong Delta and Thạnh Phong spilled out of his mouth.

Peace, MAA

Fulbright University Vietnam & Free Speech: “Do As We Say, Not As We Do”

hy·poc·ri·sy
həˈpäkrəsē/
noun
noun: hypocrisy; plural noun: hypocrisies

the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.

 

free speech notThis is a concept to which US Americans, including and perhaps especially those who represent the US government and affiliated institutions, pay lip service.  Presumably, this also includes a new US-style university in Viet Nam,  a private initiative, led by private citizens from Vietnam and the US.

Imagine my surprise when I posted an innocuous comment on the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) Facebook page stating something along the lines that “It’s full steam ahead for FUV now that Bob Kerrey is no longer chairman of its board of trustees” and included a link to my 26 May 2017 article The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position   When I tried to post a link to a Vietnamese translation my original comment had disappeared and I was already blocked from the FUV Facebook page.  Compare and contrast the screenshots below.

fuv fb page comment deleted
The original post has already been deleted, which is why there is “no permission” to add a comment.
blocked FB account
This is what a blocked account looks like.  There is no opportunity to comment or reply nor is there a way to message the host.  You can look but not touch, i.e., interact.
one account ok
One can comment and/or reply to a comment using this account.

fuv logo

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.

MAA

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.

Government to ease rules on foreign investment in HE

This is yet another example of the Vietnamese government’s flexibility, as well as its ability to make mid-course corrections and learn from past mistakes.

A new government decree to ease the way for foreign investment in education in Vietnam, likely to be approved by the country’s leadership as early as June, will streamline procedures and reduce bureaucracy for setting up foreign branch campuses in the country.

The new decree will replace Decree Number 73 issued during 2012 which relates to foreign investment and collaboration in higher education. The new decree will increases the minimum investment capital to set up a foreign-backed university, from VND300 billion (US$13 million) under Decree 73 to a minimum of VND1 trillion or approximately US$45 million, excluding the land value for university construction.

“The draft decree is being revised and we have almost been through our internal procedures, so I hope we will be going to submit it to the government, to the prime minister, to issue next month or July,” Nguyen Xuan Vang, the director general for international cooperation in Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training, told University World News last week.

Significantly, this article includes a reference to Fulbright University Vietnam as an “existing project.”

Existing projects

The new decree will, however, not apply to foreign-funded projects already under way such as Fulbright University Vietnam or FUV, an independent non-profit university funded by the United States and Vietnamese governments.

“Fulbright has been set up and they have submitted their application for the operating licence,” Vang said. “When they will be granted the operating licence, then they can recruit students, they can set up the university, but in order to operate they have to be able to show that they have faculty, they have staff, they have everything ready for quality assurance.”

Vang thought FUV’s operating licence could be granted by the end of this year, at the very earliest in September this year.

The project had been embroiled in a controversy over the appointment last year of Bob Kerrey, former Nebraska governor, US senator, and alleged war criminal as chairman of the Fulbright University Vietnam board of trustees. He is said to have quietly resigned from his high-profile position in recent weeks.

Mark Ashwill, managing director of Capstone Vietnam, a Hanoi-based educational consulting company, said: “If Bob Kerrey had stayed on, FUV would have remained a project and the red light would not have changed. By leaving, the red light quickly changed to green.”

eyewitness2
Bùi Thị Lượm, the sole survivor of the attack carried out by Bob Kerrey and his US Navy SEALS unit in February 1969. (MAA Photo:  War Remnants Museum, HCMC.)

The quote from me was excerpted from this 26 May 2017 article The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position, which was widely distributed and quickly translated into Vietnamese. 

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety. 

MAA

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

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

MAA

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

– J William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power

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

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

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

eyewitness2
Bùi Thị Lượm, the sole survivor of the attack. (MAA Photo:  War Remnants Museum, HCMC.)

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

Never Say Never

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

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

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

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