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