Reflections on the passing of General Giap and the end of an era

reflectionsHot off the digital press, a retrospective view of the passing of the legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, who died six years ago this Friday at the age of 102 in Hanoi.  Click on the image to read the article in its entirety.  

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Here are two photos that will appear in the forthcoming Vietnamese translation.

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Group photo of Vietnamese, US and other foreign colleagues.
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From left to right: Michael Cull, who passed away in early 2018, Manus Campbell, MAA, and Chuck Searcy. Photograph by Catherine Karnow

Update:  Here’s a link to the Vietnamese translation on Soha.    

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Coming to Terms with the Past by Honoring Historical Truth: The Case of Fulbright University Vietnam

Here’s my latest essay about Fulbright University Vietnam.  Below is an excerpt from the conclusion to whet your appetite (or not).

Education is one way to heal the past, assuming it is objective, comprehensive, and truthful. FUV has yet to live up to its billing as a university with a mission grounded in the liberal arts. If it is ever to truly become an independent international university, it must jettison the US exceptionalist mindset that infuses so much of its thinking and actions at the highest levels. If not, lingering suspicions of the institution as a US Trojan horse bent on molding Viet Nam into the United States’ image will continue to simmer.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Albright & Powell to Speak at the NAFSA 2019 Annual Conference: Say What?

What Were They Thinking?

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 Buddha’s Fifth Remembrance from his Five Remembrances (PDF download)

I’m pretty sure What Were They Thinking? is going to be the subtitle of an article about the morally odious decision to invite Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell to speak at the 2019 annual conference of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which takes place in late May, fittingly, in Washington, D.C.  The last time I used this phrase was when I first wrote about the disastrous appointment of Bob Kerrey as chairman of the Fulbright University Vietnam board of trustees in 2016.  I had the exact same gut reaction to this message, which appeared in my inbox earlier this year.  

Dr. Madeleine K. Albright and General Colin L. Powell to Speak at NAFSA 2019

NAFSA is pleased to announce that Dr. Madeleine K. Albright and General Colin L. Powell (retired) will be the Opening Plenary of the NAFSA 2019 Annual Conference & Expo in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, May 28.

unnamedAs one of the world’s most respected diplomats, Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, continues to advocate for democracy and human rights across the world, while also championing the important impact international relations and educational exchanges have on the United States today. In 1997 under President Bill Clinton, Dr. Albright was named the first female Secretary of State and became, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.

unnamed (1)General Colin L. Powell, USA (retired) has devoted his life to public service having held senior military and diplomatic positions across four presidential administrations. Under President George W. Bush, Powell was appointed the 65th Secretary of State and led the State Department in major efforts to address and solve regional and civil conflicts throughout the world. He also worked at the forefront of American efforts to advance economic and social development worldwide.

Say it ain’t so, NAFSA!  Surely, you can do better than the likes of Albright and Powell.  As one colleague opined, “They’re aiming to impress NAFSA attendees with Albright and Powell’s ‘star power’, lies and callousness notwithstanding.  You can bet your bottom dollar that no questions from the audience that are not pre-screened will be taken.”  Yes, yes, sadly but not surprisingly.  

If you know anything about the background of “one of the world’s most respected diplomats” and someone who “has devoted his life to public service having held senior military and diplomatic positions across four presidential administrations,” you know that I will highlight at least some of the following issues:  

Albright, a nationally televised interview, and 500,000 Iraqi children who died because of US-led sanctions against that country.  Death due to malnutrition and disease falls into the category of “ultimate human rights violation,” doesn’t it?  In the same role, Albright did her utmost to prevent the UN from entering Rwanda to prevent the genocide that occurred in spring 1994.  She is a junior varsity member of Team USA.  

Powell, weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, the UN, and some shocking examples from his time as a high-ranking Army officer in the US war in Viet Nam.   He is a varsity member of Team USA.  

If the truth can hurt, the truth about the two of them, in particular, Colin Powell, is especially painful.  

Two questions to ponder between now and then:  

  1. With a rather large pool of outstanding speakers spanning the globe who are doing cutting-edge work in their fields, why did NAFSA choose Albright and Powell?  
  2. What do these two have to offer to a group of international educators from the US and around the world, aside from what not to say and do, i.e., their status as negative role models?  

Stay tuned! 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day from Viet Nam!

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Beyond Viet Nam:  A Time to Break Silence, a speech Dr. King gave at the Riverside Church in New York City on 4 April 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated is always worth a read and a listen on this or any other day:  text and audio.  His friendship with Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Zen master, global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist who is now back at his “root temple,” Từ Hiếu Temple near Huế in central Viet Nam, is one of the reasons he gave that seminal speech.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

The College of the Ozarks Patriotic Education Travel Program to Viet Nam: A Vietnam-Era Veteran Responds

PatEdSealI received a number of comments in response to my recent article entitled A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!, mostly from US veterans of the war in Viet Nam, or “Vietnam-era” veterans.  One who falls into the latter category decided to take it one step further and send a letter below to the College of the Ozarks.  The “lessons from the American War in Vietnam” to which he refers are contained in this 2012 article The Racket of War: Dying for Lies, a copy of which he included with his letter.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA


Sanford Kelson– Attorney at Law

December 14, 2018

Valerie Coleman, Public Relations, Director, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, MO 65726

Re: Patriotic Education Travel Program, Vietnam

Ms Coleman:

Enclosed is the story of my lessons from the American War in Vietnam.

Boy, did that war wake up in a naïve, idealistic, perfectly indoctrinated young man a curiosity to learn, to study, to read, to discuss, to critically think and to teach. I have never stopped learning. That war made me who I am to this day at 74 years of age. I consider myself a patriotic citizen but not a nationalist.

Don’t you agree that students who are exposed to multiple interpretations of history have a more quality educational experience than those who are exposed to only one interpretation? Multiple interpretations help provoke, oh my God, critical thinking. Do not forget, young students in the deep south of the 1700 and 1800s were taught only one interpretation of slavery, that it was just fine. Even God approved. “It says so in the Bible!” And, that immoral institution lasted for hundreds of years and its effects are still adversely affecting our nation.

Yes, the vets who go on the tour are heroes but in what cause, a just one or not, or a mixture of just and not just? If the lessons of the American War had been widely known, our leaders may not have able to mislead so many of us into supporting the current wars of choice.

Accordingly, I volunteer to go on the College of the Ozarks’ patriotic tours to Vietnam as a concerned veteran and a patriot. Or to present at the college. I believe in education and assisting young people with development of critical thinking skills, so I will gladly pay my own way for an opportunity to educate.

The contrast between my story and the other vets’ presentations may cause some of those young students to think critically and embark on their own investigations, as I did. If so, the lessons they learn will be based upon their own investigation and critical thinking. This I believe, should be the major goal of formal education. Does Hard Work U have sufficient confidence in the intelligence and critical thinking abilities of its student body to expose them to alternate interpretations? I certainly hope so.

Please pass this letter along to those at the college who are involved with the Patriotic Education Travel Program.

I look forward to the possibility of a positive reply to this letter.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

Sanford Kelson

“I Love America. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It”

time logoI liked most of this recent Time magazine essay by Viet Thanh Nguyen (VTN).  (The title is the very definition of patriotism, by the way.)  I was, however, troubled by the parts in bold italics in the following statements.  It’s as if he’s trying to sugarcoat his message in an effort to make it more palatable for a mostly US audience.  In doing so, he dilutes its overall impact.  My comments follow each excerpt below.  

Many Americans consider the war to be a noble, if possibly flawed, example of American good intentions. And while there is some truth to that, it was also simply a continuation of French colonization, a war that was racist and imperialist at its roots and in its practices. As such, this war was just one manifestation of a centuries-long expansion of the American empire that began from its own colonial birth and ran through the frontier, the American West, Mexico, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and now the Middle East.

Oops!  He did it again.  An assertion followed by equivocation followed by contradictory statements.  Why not just leave out that part about there being “some truth” to the notion that the US War in Viet Nam was a noble example of American good intentions, when it was a yet another example of US hubris and galactic stupidity, a pointless and epic tragedy that cost the lives of nearly 4 million Vietnamese and 58,300 US Americans, not to mention war legacies that haunt Viet Nam and, to a much lesser extent, the US, to this day?  Call a spade a spade, don’t water down the remainder of the thought by telling US Americans what most want and need to hear in order to continue living in their sociopolitical fantasy world.  

I made such criticisms not because I hated all the countries that I have known but because I love them. My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated. Every country believes in its own best self and from these visions has built beautiful cultures, France included. And yet every country is also soiled in the blood of conquest and violence, Vietnam included. If we love our countries, we owe it to them not just to flatter them but to tell the truth about them in all their beauty and their brutality, America included.

Is he referring to the Republic of Viet Nam (South Viet Nam), the country of his parents in what should have been a temporarily divided Viet Nam?  I’m tired of this kind of moral equivalency, as if each of these three countries is comparable in terms of “the blood of conquest and violence.”  Seriously?  

In what ways is Viet Nam “soiled” by this, aside from its gradual expansion southward from what was the original Viet Nam?  The overthrow of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s doesn’t count because, while technically an invasion, it was in reality a liberation for the survivors of the KR. 

In short, to mention France, the US, Viet Nam, and “the blood of conquest and violence” in the same paragraph is to grossly misrepresent and distort reality.  It’s as if VTN is pandering to his fellow US Americans, as if to say “this is what all three countries have in common,” when nothing could be further from the truth.  The US and France are a league of their own in this respect.  

Has Viet Nam every been a colonial or neocolonial empire?  On the contrary, it’s been the victim of several through its long and tumultuous history, including China, France, and the US, each of which it roundly defeated, much to its everlasting credit.  

VTN often speaks the truth, even sometimes uncomfortable truths, especially for a US American audience, but with the occasional equivocation and misstatement, for example, like the time he said in a nationally televised US interview that “the US won this conflict” – in reference to the US War in Viet Nam – because Viet Nam adopted a capitalist system, again telling his US American audience what it wants to hear and not the cold, unvarnished truth. 

I wonder if Time or any other mainstream US media outlet would publish what he writes, if he did?  Is it self-censorship or does VTN really believe everything that he says in print and interviews?  

Shalom (שלום), MAA