The Great Truth Has Great Silence

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.  

MAA 

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

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“Why is Vietnam still poor?”

quoraBelow are a question asked by someone on Quora and an answer provided on 1 September 2016 by a young man who describes himself as born in Hanoi, now living in Sai Gon.  Quora is a self-described “question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users.”  Its slogan is The best answer to any question. Unfortunately, like most corporate slogans, it’s more of an ideal than a reality.  The fact is anyone who is a member can answer, and some answers are better than others, to put it mildly.

As with Facebook, the only reason I choose to continue receiving their updates is because of the occasional nugget of gold in the midst of what is mostly ore.  Some of the questions and answers are the journalistic equivalent of click bait, e.g., Can humans crossbreed with other primates?, Would you kill someone if it wasn’t illegal? or Did you play “show me yours, I’ll show you mine” as a kid?  You get the idea.

Keep in mind that the assumption is Viet Nam is poor.

Why is Vietnam still poor?

Let’s start with corruption. Vietnam’s government is one of the most corrupted government in the world. The Vietnamese government was ranked at 112/168 (2015) in the CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index) [source]. All the money spent towards infrastructure building, social insurance, etc. flows into private pockets. Furthermore, brain drain (or human capital flight) is a huge problem in Vietnam. So you want to get a job in the government, does your father know “someone”? Do you have the money to “buy the position”? All the high quality workforce, if they don’t work oversea, they work for non-government entities. The low quality workforce somehow got into government jobs, and can you imagine what they can do to the countries?

The common Vietnamese people were educated to not having their own opinions, even if they do have opinions, they’ll be suppressed before saying it. Not to mention every problems in society are handled by “the Party” (Communist Party of Vietnam). Even the Vietnamese Constitution states that “the Party” is the only and rightful leading party of Vietnam.

But things are changing towards better. The young generations are now having their own opinions, their standard of living is raising, they have more concerns about politics than ever.

My Answer

Yes, there’s corruption in Viet Nam but there’s also corruption in the US, which is considered to be an “advanced country” but certainly a cautionary tale in this and other respects.  For example, 20 US Americans own as much wealth as 50% of the population, a clear indication of extreme wealth inequality and all of its attendant problems. 20 People Now Own As Much Wealth as Half of All Americans  (See Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy, based on a study Princeton University and Northwestern University)

Let’s give credit where credit’s due. Here are just a few examples:

1) Viet Nam is among the world’s leaders in converting wealth into national well-being. Vietnam is the 4th best country in converting wealth into well-being – VnExpress International

2) “Vietnam has achieved the fastest reduction in child malnutrition in the region with an average annual decline of 1.5 percent, according to the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).” Vietnam leads drop in child malnutrition

3) “Việt Nam is ranked fifth in the list of the world’s most optimistic countries on economic prosperity in 2017, according to a survey by WIN/Gallup, the world’s leading association in market research and polling.” VN among the world’s most optimistic countries on economic prosperity

4)  Viet Nam ranks 47th out of 127 countries in the Global Innovation Index 2017 (GII) and 9th in Asia, leading the group of middle- and lower-income economies.

As with any country, it’s important to be objective and well-informed when assessing its achievements and its shortcomings. For example, it’s patently false to assert that “All the money spent towards infrastructure building, social insurance, etc. flows into private pockets.” The world is not black and white but rather like a rainbow.

This statement is an oversimplification of a complex phenomenon: “Furthermore, brain drain (or human capital flight) is a huge problem in Vietnam.” A more accurate term is “brain recirculation.” Growing numbers of overseas-educated Vietnamese are coming home to start new businesses or join existing ones, not to mention overseas Vietnamese who have moved (back) to Viet Nam to work and live for the long term, if not for the rest of their lives.

And, yes, Viet Nam’s past continues to haunt its present, including war legacies and the fact that 3.8 million Vietnamese, over half of whom were civilians, were killed during the American War. As others have mentioned, the devastating US-led economic embargo, which was imposed in 1965 on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (“North Vietnam”), was only lifted in 1994 (!). These are tragic realities not excuses.

In short, Mr. Đức’s one-sided answer reflects a lack of knowledge and perspective. He lacks an appreciation for just how far his country has come in a very short period of time. He does, however, end on an optimistic note: “But things are changing towards better. The young generations are now having their own opinions, their standard of living is raising, they have more concerns about politics than ever.” That’s called development. Why is the standard of living rising?  In large part because of key government policies that date to the Renovation (Đổi Mới) reforms of 1986.

In spite of its problems, many of which I consider to be the “growing pains” of a rapidly developing economy, Viet Nam is widely considered to be one of the great success stories of the developing world.  Isn’t that something Vietnamese and others who have Viet Nam’s best interests at heart can be rightfully be proud of?

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.

Just Because the Golden Arches are in Vietnam Doesn’t Mean the US Won the War

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.

MAA

 

 

47 Signatories Urge Bob Kerrey to Resign from Fulbright University Viet Nam Position

kerrey-fulbright-univ-vn
Photo:  US State Department via The New York Times

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:

When Phoenix Came to Thanh Phong: Bob Kerrey and War Crimes as Policy in Vietnam by Douglas Valentine (7.6.16; a reprint of a May 2001 article published after the story of his war crime broke that spring)

Bob Kerrey and the ‘American Tragedy’ of Vietnam by Viet Thanh Nguyen (20.6.16)

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

Fulbright University Vietnam – ‘Put this war behind us’ by Mary Beth Marklein (16.7.16)

Bob Kerrey’s Unit Slaughtered Civilians in Vietnam; Why Was He Appointed to Chair Fulbright University? by John Marciano (23.8.16)

Bob Kerrey, Fulbright University, and the Neoliberal Erasure of History by Paul Street (1.9.16)

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.

Wishing you peace and happiness,

Mark A. Ashwill, Ph.D.
Hanoi, Viet Nam
Educator; First US American to be awarded a Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant to Viet Nam, 2003
Author of Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University – What were they thinking? (7-8-16)

Patrick Barrett, Ph.D.
Madison, WI
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

John Chen
Long Beach, California

Robert Chenoweth
UH-1 Helicopter Crew Chief 1967-68
POW from February 1968 to March 1973

Dr. Stephen Cottrell
USMC
S/Sgt,Vietnam 66′ 67′
0311 grunt, I Corps,Zulu Company
Fulbright Ambassador Emeritus

Herbert Covert
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

Linh Dinh
Philadelphia, PA
Political essayist, fiction writer, poet and translator. Author of Postcards from the End of America

John V H Dippel
Executive Director
Teachers for Vietnam
Salisbury, CT

Daniel Ellsberg
Berkeley, CA
Former Foreign Service Office (Reserve) in Saigon, 1965-67
Author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

W. D. Ehrhart
Haverford, PA
formerly Sergeant, USMC
Author of Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir
Editor of Carrying the Darkness: Poetry of the Vietnam War

Mark Hallett
Fort Collins, CO

Mike Hastie
Portland, OR
Army Medic Vietnam

Van Hillier
San Diego, CA

C. J. Hopkins
Berlin, Germany
Playwright, author of Horse Country, The Extremists, and screwmachine/eyecandy, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Bob

Sanford Kelson
Conneaut Lake, PA
Lawyer, Labor Arbitrator, Educator – Lessons of the Vietnam War

Soren Kirchner
Hanoi/Saigon
American Global Management Association

Ann Hibner Koblitz
Tempe, AZ
Professor of Women and Gender Studies, Arizona State University
and Director of the Kovalevskaia Fund

Neal Koblitz
Seattle, WA
Professor of Mathematics, University of Washington

Dr. Deepa Kumar
New Brunswick, NJ
Professor of Media Studies, Rutgers University
Activist, Unionist, Author

John Marciano
Talent, OR
Professor Emeritus, State University of New York
Author, American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?

Shawn McHale 
Associate Professor of History and International Affairs
Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University
Washington, D.C.

Tom Miller
Berkeley, CA
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

Michael Montesano
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)

T.T Nhu
Berkeley, CA

Andrew Pearson
Kittery Point, ME
TV news and documentaries

Deryle Perryman
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Documentary Filmmaker
Producer/Director: Same Same But Different
Artillery Crew Chief, Central Highlands, 1967-68

Hiep Pham
Educator
Taiwan

Peter Shaw
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

Daniel Shea
Portland, OR
Marine Corps Combat Viet Nam 1968 Veteran, Agent Orange Survivor, co-founder of Education Without Borders and Board Member of Veterans for Peace

John Stauber
Madison, WI
Founder, Center for Media and Democracy
Author of books, including Weapons of Mass Deception

Jeffrey St. Clair
Portland, OR
Editor of CounterPunch; Author of Born Under a Bad Sky

David Swanson
Charlottesville, VA
Director, World Beyond War
Author of books, including War Is A Lie

Paul Street
Iowa City, IA
Journalist and author of Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics

Fred Tomasello, Jr.
Cheektowaga, NY
Former platoon commander, forward air controller and casualty assistance officer during the Vietnam War
US Postal Service (Retired)

Michael Uhl, Ph.D.
Walpole, ME
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)

Douglas Valentine
Longmeadow, MA
Author of The Phoenix Program

Peter Van Buren
New York City, NY
Former US Diplomat

Brad Van Den Elzen, Ph.D.
Stevens Point, WI

Giang Vu
Hanoi, Viet Nam
Press Consultant

Vũ-Đức Vượng
Editor,  TRỒNG  NGƯỜI
A Clearinghouse on Education in Viet Nam
San Francisco, CA

Brian Willson
Portland, OR
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

Lý Thái Xuân
Camarill, CA

List of signatories updated on:  18.10.16

Recent Interview with Chuck Searcy, International Advisor, Project RENEW

chuck_N4A9622-v2-800x445.jpg
Photo courtesy of Book Hunter Club

Here is a link to the Vietnamese version:  Cựu chiến binh Mỹ Chuck Searcy: “Phòng thủ vĩ đại nhất của Việt Nam chính là ý chí của người dân (Book Hunter Club)

  • Why do you choose to return and live in Vietnam?

It’s a choice I made, to accept an opportunity to come here as a veteran, an American citizen, and in some small ways contribute to what I discovered in 1992 as a tourist, my first time returning to Viet Nam after the war.  I witnessed people all over Viet Nam working hard to recover from the war and to rebuild not just the country’s infrastructure, damaged by so much destruction and devastation, but also to rebuild their lives and their communities after many years of war and a constant struggle to survive.

I thought perhaps I could somehow contribute something positive, something constructive, instead of being part of the destruction that was brought about by war.  I felt that I had some responsibility to do my part in helping, if I could, as a war veteran and as a concerned American citizen.

I have been fortunate to have that opportunity, as a veteran, representing and working with American veterans organizations such as Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), and Veterans For Peace (VFP).  Our work has focused on trying to repair, reduce, or eliminate the consequences of the war related to the legacies of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and Agent Orange/dioxin (AO).

  1. Could you tell me why did you get involved in the Vietnam War and when did you realize the truth about this war?

I enlisted in the U.S. Army because I was about to be drafted, and I thought perhaps I could get a better deal and avoid the war if I enlisted for three years, to choose my assignment, instead of two years as a draftee which would allow me no choices whatsoever.  Actually it made no difference; nothing changed, I was sent to Viet Nam and assigned to a military intelligence unit in Saigon.  I had no choice over anything.

When I arrived in Viet Nam I did not have a concrete idea about the war.  I assumed that President Johnson and the U.S. Congress had a reason for “stopping the communists” in Viet Nam, and I was just doing my part as a loyal and patriotic American.  I didn’t like the idea of the war, I didn’t want to come here as a soldier, but I did not resist.

However, in just three or four months I realized that something was terribly wrong, and what the U.S. government had been telling the American people was confusing, misguided, misleading, deceptive – it was a lie. And that was a very hard realization for me to accept, because I had always believed that the American government would never lie to the people.  But I had to accept the terrible reality that the war was a huge and costly exercise in death and destruction that was making some American companies rich and which was causing untold loss, agony, and grief for so many innocent people – Americans and Vietnamese alike.  In my work as an intelligence specialist, I saw many classified and unclassified documents and reports that only reinforced my belief that the war was wrong.  I saw that we were providing inaccurate information to the American people about the costs and the likely outcome.  It seemed certain to me and my fellow soldiers that America could never win in Viet Nam, yet no American government had the courage to tell the truth and to quit the war.

The Tet Offensive in 1968 was a huge turning point.  It was very costly for the Vietnamese – thousands of soldiers killed, major sacrifices and losses – but it was a huge psychological victory that convinced the American people that the war was futile.  It could never be won.  Yet it still took seven more years for the war to finally come to a bitter and exhausting end.

  1. Nowadays, there are many Vietnamese young people believe that “The Vietnam War is a civil war and the North of Vietnam invaded the South of Vietnam, and the US government was the savior of The South.” What is your opinion about this?

The “civil war” interpretation of the confrontation which has been too conveniently characterized as a “north-south” struggle is a figment of the creative minds of historians and apologists who refuse to face reality.  If Vietnamese young people believe that, they have been sadly misled by myths, distortions, and rewrites of history.  Yes, there have been geographic and cultural divisions within Viet Nam, language variations and ethnic distinctions. Some of these go back many centuries.  They are more accurately described as three general demarcations: north, central, and south.  The north-side political and military divide was a creation of outside powers, the result of negotiations in Geneva in 1954 to set the terms of the French withdrawal after their defeat at the hands of the People’s Army of Viet Nam at Dien Bien Phu.  Terms of the Geneva Agreement called for a separation of the fighting forces – the Vietnamese to the north and the French to the south – to allow for a peaceful and orderly withdrawal of the French forces.  In 1956 national elections were to be held, when a unified government for one Viet Nam would be chosen by vote of all Vietnamese citizens, nationwide.

However, during that period, the U.S. began to replace the French and to establish a new “government” in the south, under President Ngo Dinh Diem, which had never existed before.  The 1956 elections were cancelled because, as U.S. President Eisenhower said openly, there was no doubt that Ho Chi Minh would have been elected overwhelmingly in a popular democratic vote.  And the U.S. could not allow that.  So the U.S. government, using the CIA and other agencies, established the southern regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, recognized it as a legitimate government, and supported Diem and his newly created army and police forces with money and weapons.

We know the rest of that tragic history.

If the U.S. had not intervened, no one can say with certainty what would have happened. However, as my best friend in Saigon – a South Vietnamese soldier – said to me in 1968, “There would be no war in Viet Nam if you Americans were not here.  No one supports the southern government.  As long as you Americans are here, we will have no peace.  So please leave, my friend. Then we will have peace.  It may take six months.  It may take two years.  But Vietnamese can talk to Vietnamese.  If you are not here in our, we will make peace.”

  1. In the globlisation Vietnamese people and American people can share and do business together. Is it possible for Vietnamese government and the US government be friends in the future?

The Vietnamese people have long extended the hand of friendship to Americans.  Americans have responded with appreciation and respect.  The U.S. and Vietnamese governments have established diplomatic relations and a good working relationship based on friendship and mutual respect.  There is no reason why this should not continue long into the future.  As Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap said to me the first time I met him, “Our two countries must never fight again.”  I believe that as firmly as Gen. Giap stated it to me.

Yet Viet Nam must also be very cautious, very thoughtful in its relations with the U.S. and with all other foreign countries, steadfastly maintaining its independence in policy, statements, and deeds and actions, avoiding any tangling alliances that reduce Viet Nam’s flexibility and ability to protect the country’s and the people’s best interests.  Viet Nam must continue to maintain a very careful balance between China and the U.S., for example, and not let one power push Viet Nam off balance vis-à-vis other nations.  Viet Nam especially should be very wise in decisions regarding weapons procurement and military cooperation.  Viet Nam’s greatest defense is the will of its people.  Military machines and technology will never be adequate, can never substitute for the strength, unity and determination of the ordinary people of Viet Nam.  Viet Nam’s leadership needs to always remember that.  Other nations would be wise to recall Viet Nam’s thousand-year history which provides ample evidence of that reality.

  1. How can Vietnamese people be friends with American people regardless the relationship between the Vietnamese government and the US government?

Nowadays it’s quite simple.  With the Internet and global communications, individuals and groups of interested friends can be in easy contact, which the governments in both countries should encourage.  Sharing ideas, concerns, questions, solutions is energizing, creative, the connections nurture new opportunities that can benefit both peoples and both countries.  Institutions such as the Vietnam-USA Society and many other organizations under the umbrella of VUFO – the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations – carry on a very active “people-to-people” diplomacy program which is an important channel of communications.

Neither government, the U.S. or Viet Nam, has any reason to worry about strong and active contacts between people young and old of both countries.  This is a natural bridge that links hands of friendship in support of understanding and peace.  Such dynamics are a huge asset for the governments of Viet Nam and America, which make the task of governing easier, more beneficial for all concerned, and likely to create policies that more accurately reflect the unity and support of the people.

CHUCK SEARCY

International Advisor, Project RENEW
Tư Vấn Viên Quốc tế, Dự án RENEW
Vice President, Veterans For Peace Chapter 160
Phó chủ tịch, Cựu Chiến Binh vì Hoà Bình Chương 160 (Hòa Bình)
Co-Chair, NGO Agent Orange Working Group
Đồng Chủ tịch, Nhóm làm việc Phi chính phủ về Chất độc da cam
71 Trần Quốc Toản, Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Mobile    +8 490 342 0769
Skype     chucksearcy
Email      chuckusvn@gmail.com
Web        http://landmines.org.vn 

Open Letter to Vietnamese & American Friends

Below is the English translation of an open letter written by Tôn Nữ Thị Ninh about Bob Kerrey’s appointment as chairman of Fulbright University Vietnam’s Board of Trustees.  Follow this link to read the original Vietnamese version:  Thư ngỏ của bà Tôn Nữ Thị Ninh gửi người Việt Nam và các bạn Mỹ   Mdm. Ninh’s statement is compelling and spot-on.

To say that the reaction to Kerrey’s appointment has been mixed is an understatement with people often falling into various predictable categories and camps, most without a full picture of his background and the status of the Fulbright University Viet Nam as a joint initiative.   I even received a Facebook message from a young Vietnamese, a mid-career professional, essentially lobbying me to support Bob after reading some of my anti-Bob comments in the media.  He later posted this simple yet sincere statement on my Facebook page:  I am with Bob.  I countered with this heartfelt reply:  I’m with the victims of Bob’s CIA-sponsored (Phoenix Program) slaughter and for someone who will not taint the reputation of this fledgling university.

MAA

Ho Chi Minh City, June 6, 2016

Ton_Nu_Thi_Ninh.jpg
Photo courtesy of Infonet.
  1. On June 1st I expressed an initial opinion on the appointment of Mr. Bob Kerrey (BK) as chairman of Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV)’s Board of Trustees. Today, I am sending this open letter to Vietnamese and Americans interested in the matter with a view to clarify and elaborate on prominent points:
  1. First, I would like to bring to light some facts about the role of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of an American-style university like FUV and the latter’s funding:

2.1. For an American-style university like FUV, the role of the Board of Trustees and its chair is not confined to fundraising but includes deciding on strategic directions for the School and formulating policies on complex issues affecting very diverse stakeholders. It is the BOT which selects and appoints the President. It would be erroneous to consider this position as inconsequential, or with little power, not worth the public’s attention or debate.

2.2. After the Vietnamese version of this letter was published, the leadership of FUV clarified the source of the initial funding for the school, to the effect that the first 20 million FUV received did not come from cutting the same amount from the VEF (Vietnamese Education Foundation), as had been mentioned in the news but from the Vietnamese Debt Repayment Fund (VDRF). While acknowledging FUV’s clarification, I would like to further clarify that the bill about the creation of VEF/VDRF was introduced to Congress by Representative George Miller and co-sponsored by a number of other Representatives and Senators.

  1. I do not agree with the drive to suppress the opposition to BK’s appointment by linking the issue to President Obama’s visit to Viet Nam. I do not believe that President Obama would have agreed to the association had he known the appointment would lead to controversy and reopen old wounds, contravening the visit’s primary goal of consensus building and looking together to the future.
  1. I also do not agree with the labelling of people opposing the appointment as conservative, not forward-looking and “not in favor of reconciliation”. I oppose the appointment but none of the Americans that I know have come to the conclusion that I am not forward-looking or “not in favor of reconciliation”. Promoting reconciliation and looking towards the future is neither the exclusive right nor the sole prerogative of those supporting BK’s appointment. Had BK not been

involved in that dark chapter against Vietnamese people, no one would have had any comment. If the appointment had been that of a Vietnam veteran like former Congressman and first United States Ambassador to Vietnam Pete Peterson, or Mr. Thomas Vallely himself, also a veteran, someone who has been instrumental in the establishment of FUV, no one would have opposed it.

  1. I do not see the imperative to put BK in such an important position during FUV’s initial phase, one fraught with symbolism. The Americans (including veterans) who have spoken out on the issue directly to me or publicly through the media and social networks have expressed disapproval if not outright criticism. For instance, the BBC on June 2nd quoted Assoc. Prof. Jonathan London: “… [that is] an irresponsible decision. To establish a new university in Viet Nam, the least you could do is to be sensitive to the history of the two countries. I think this is a very sad mistake”. Dr. Mark Ashwill, an education expert who has been living and working in Viet Nam for many years, told Soha News on June 3rd that the appointment is “… disgraceful”. BK should “resign immediately”. Why is it that we, Vietnamese, remain unperturbed compared to Americans over searing pain inflicted on Vietnamese civilians?
  1. To the number of netizens and others asking people to be “generous, forgiving, forward-looking for the future of Vietnam…”, I want to reiterate that:

6.1. To forgive or not to forgive BK for his role in the Thanh Phong massacre is an individual right and choice. That said, it is entirely conceivable for one to forgive AND to disapprove of BK holding a leadership position in a university in Viet Nam (his leading an American university in the US is a different issue).

6.2. My opposition is not based on raw emotions nor is it the result of a “lack of a conscious and lucid mind”. On the contrary, I am raising my voice in full consciousness and lucidity about the matter with the desire that Fulbright University have a smooth start on a healthy, consensual basis for a sustainable development. The people involved in BK’s appointment should have been “moving on in Vietnam but remembering its lessons”, the third lesson being “to exercise humility in assuming knowledge about foreign cultures” (The New York Times Op-Ed, May 23rd, 2016).

  1. We are witnessing a kind of exhortation to the masses to express across the board “generosity of mind and nobility of heart”. I believe the Vietnamese do not have to prove time and again their sense of humanity in their relations with former enemies, a fact which has been widely recognized, especially among American veterans themselves. I was surprised at the profound sympathy expressed for BK’s “agony” and the praising of his “courageous decision to take the position”. Meanwhile, echoing in my mind are the words of a former staff of the War Remnants Museum where evidence of the Thanh Phong massacre is in display, crying for the victims who have yet to see the culprit return and light them a candle. That person could not fathom how hundreds and thousands of Vietnamese students at Fulbright University would eventually refer to BK as “Thầy”, a respectful form for addressing teachers in Asia, particularly in Viet Nam. And I could see BK’s portrait hanging in the prominent space reserved to the School’s founders!
  1. I think that at this stage we can say that the appointment of BK as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Fulbright University Vietnam has become a public controversy rather than contributed to the consensus needed for this ambitious project to take off smoothly.

The ball is now in FUV founders’ court. Since this is an educational project of great significance and far-reaching implications, I hope FUV founders will reconsider their decision and together with BK offer a reasonable solution: to appoint another person to lead FUV’s Board of Trustees.

If the occasion arises, I have no problem meeting again Bob Kerrey, the Vietnam veteran, and discuss matters benefitting US – Vietnam relations and peoples of the two countries.