Here’s my latest CounterPunch article, in response to a statement in a TV interview by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnamese-American author that the US won the war because Viet Nam shifted to a free market economy.
Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Last December, Viet Thanh Nguyen, a chaired professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer, described by Amazon as “thrilling, rhythmic, and astonishing, as is the rest of Nguyen’s enthralling portrayal of the Vietnam War,” made the stunning pronouncement in a TV interview that “the US won this conflict” (8:03) because Viet Nam adopted a capitalist system, what is officially referred to as a socialist-oriented market economy.
I could see many viewers nodding their heads in solemn agreement. “Yes”, I could hear them proudly and confidently saying to themselves, chests puffed out and hearts beating red, white, and blue, we belatedly yet ultimately triumphed because Viet Nam acquiesced and became like US. Wasn’t that our goal from the beginning?
The Big Lie
This is a line, a fairy tale, a lie that I’ve heard many times. It somehow makes US Americans feel good that the “commies” finally came around and saw the light. It’s a psychological and emotional salve that reassures the gullible, the uninformed, and the nationalists that the sacrifices on their side were not in vain. The problem is it’s dead wrong.
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
Below is guest post by Chuck Searcy, a US veteran who has lived and worked in Vietnam for over 20 years.
The reporting on “trade” is actually pretty misleading, because the TPP does not have much to do with trade (only what? — five out of 23 chapters related to trade?). It’s mostly about widening opportunities for multinational corporations to intrude into fragile markets such as Viet Nam to take enormous advantage of local companies and production sectors, particularly drugs and agriculture.
There is something that doesn’t meet the “smell test” about the likelihood that U.S. beef imports into Viet Nam will sell more cheaply than locally produced meats. That’s because heavy U.S. government subsidies are very well hidden. The Vietnamese have no clue how to peel through the layers of America’s generously subsidized economy and learn the truth. But American corporate lawyers will be lined up to take action against Viet Nam for the slightest advantage that Viet Nam seeks under the TPP.
We’ve slapped Viet Nam down several times — with textiles, shrimp, catfish, under terms of the US-VN Bilateral Trade Agreement which the Vietnamese naively thought would help them so much. The WTO turned out to be a major disappointment for Viet Nam.
And no one knows the consequences that will result from America’s attempts to exclude, or cordon off, China from this commercial arena. The scheme is not realistic, and could be quite damaging for Viet Nam. Much of Viet Nam’s raw material (threads and fabrics for the garment industry, for example) come from China. Will Viet Nam now have to buy these inputs from other more expensive markets? Possibly. No one quite knows. But “origin” in China will not be allowed. That will be great satisfaction for Obama and Washington politicians, who want to “contain” China.
Prof. Herman Daly should be studied and listened to much more carefully. The “steady state” economy that he and many others promote is really the only answer to conventional economics, which is a runaway train that is gobbling up resources as if there will never be a tomorrow. The conventional approach is to create a rapacious, advertising-driven consumer market that is based on waste and finite destruction. It is simply not sustainable.
For politicians in Viet Nam and most other countries to continue to speak as robots about “growth” is dangerous for future generations. We simply do not need to be destroying the earth as we’re doing, in a quest for meaningless gadgets and playthings, while much of the world’s population lives a meager existence only because we have such a distorted global economy that we refuse to distribute a food supply that is actually adequate to feed the entire world.
The TPP is just one more ticket to one more glittery ball to be enjoyed by a few wealthy patrons, as the masses stand outside shivering, but at midnight the clock will strike and everything will collapse (or maybe we’ll turn into pumpkins).
Most of us are in denial that such a scenario will really happen. And maybe it won’t, if we listen to a few enlightened people like Herman Daly — and if it’s not too late.
Final note: I recently was in a meeting with two semi-retired company executives and Vietnamese government advisers who are part of a Vietnamese think-tank. After all the discussion about “trade” advantages turned out to be mostly irrelevant, they concluded, with some confidence, that “trade” didn’t really matter in the TPP. The reason Viet Nam had to sign the TPP, they said, was strictly political. “Viet Nam must have a place at the table,” they said. “We have to be viewed as being a significant ‘international’ player, so we cannot be left out of the TPP. It is important for our positioning against China.”
There you have it. It’s all about positioning vis-a-vis China and exactly the trap in which the U.S. wants to ensnare Viet Nam. Next will come big weapons sales from the U.S. and after that the “independence” that Viet Nam fought for during the past century will be lost to the behemoth of global state capitalism and militarism.