Lansdale’s Ghost

Below is a review of Max Boot’s book about Edward Lansdale by Thomas A. Bass that appeared in the May 2018 issue the Mekong Review.  In case you don’t know who Max Boot, check out this Wikipedia entry.  He is one of the resident US nationalists at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  Bass describes the CFR and Boot as follows:  The CFR provides the nabobs who appear nightly on the evening news to discourse on how the Empire is faring in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere among the 177 countries where the United States currently has military forces in operation. The CFR might quibble over tactics or parse strategies in the Hindu Kush, but US wars are invariably good wars. When it comes to counterinsurgencies, wars among the people and winning the hearts and minds of restive natives in far-off lands, Boot is CFR’s cheerleader in residence.
Here is the original Gore Vidal quote in its entirety:  After 1976, I predict (being an optimist) that the word will have gone forth to friend and foe alike that the era of American bullshit is finished and that we will now try to create that society the world has been waiting two hundred years to see: an American civilization.  It appeared in A Special Supplement: The Meaning of Vietnam published in the 12 June 1975 issue of The New York Review of Books.  As much as I admire Gore Vidal and as much as I, too, am an optimist, I believe that history makes it crystal clear that the “era of American bullshit” continues unabated with too many people, both in the US and beyond, all too happy and willing to swallow it.
Subsequent administrations should have listened to President Eisenhower, who knew a thing or two about war, and said 1) “No military victory is possible in this theatre.”; and 2) President Ho Chi Minh would have received 80% of the popular vote had a national election been permitted to take place in 1956 under the terms of the Geneva Accords of 1954.  The US decided otherwise, making the 2nd Indochina War an inevitability.   
Peace, MAA

lansdale
Edward Lansdale in 1963. Photo: WikiCommons

The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam
Max Boot
Liveright: 2018
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The Vietnam War was a dog from day one. This was the scandal revealed by the Pentagon Papers, the forty-seven volumes documenting the lies and fakery that year after year racked up bodies like cordwood. More than 3 million Vietnamese were bombed, shelled, gassed, tortured and otherwise killed in a war that Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford should have ended the day it began, by acknowledging that the Vietnamese beat the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and that colonialism in Asia was dead.

“The word will have gone forth to friend and foe alike that the era of American bullshit is finished,” said Gore Vidal.

Unfortunately, Vidal was wrong. Not even their defeat in Vietnam could keep the US military-industrial pundit class from longing for “a better war”, a winning war, a triumphal return to world dominance. The Vietnam War has produced the best of books and the worst of books, but, as time goes on, the latter are crowding out the former, and only the latter are read at West Point and other US military academies. “The vast majority of senior American military officers … are still refighting the Vietnam War to a far cheerier outcome through the books they read, the scholarship they publish, and (most disturbingly) the policies they continue to pursue,” wrote US Army Major Danny Sjursen in a 2018 posting to TomDispatch.com.

The revisionists refighting the war are divided into two camps, says Sjursen. The Clausewitzians — followers of the Prussian military theorist — believe that the United States should have invaded North Vietnam. The “hearts-and-minders” believe that the war should have been fought at the village level as a counterinsurgency. Leading Clausewitzians include Harry Summers, whose 1982 book On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War “became an instant classic within the military”, says Sjursen. Summers argues that a namby-pamby emphasis on civil affairs prevented a knockout invasion of North Vietnam. The war was lost, he says, by “draft dodgers and war evaders who still struggle with their consciences”.

Opposing the Clausewitzians are the hearts-and-minders, who argue that the US lost the Vietnam War by failing to adopt a small-unit pacification strategy, with soldiers following Mao’s advice “to move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea”. The leading advocate for this strategy is Lewis Sorley, who claimed in his book A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam that the United States had already won the war by the spring of 1970, before this victory was squandered by generals and civilians clamouring for a big-war strategy. Other proponents of counterinsurgency include generals David Petraeus and James Mattis, who co-authored the 2006 US Army field manual on counterinsurgency, before going on to command US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Caught sending mash notes to his mistress, Petraeus was later cashiered as CIA director, while Mattis currently serves as US Secretary of Defense.) The list of those arguing that the US should have emphasised counterinsurgency over conventional warfare includes Andrew Krepinevich (The Army and Vietnam), John Nagl (Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam) and Petraeus and Mattis, whose field manual, FM 3-24, became a bestseller after receiving a laudatory review in the New York Times.

“The danger presented by either school is clear enough in the twenty-first century,” says Sjursen. “Senior commanders, some now serving in key national security positions, fixated on Vietnam, have translated that conflict’s supposed lessons into what now passes for military strategy in Washington. The result has been an ever-expanding war on terror campaign waged ceaselessly from South Asia to West Africa, which has essentially turned out to be perpetual war based on the can-do belief that counterinsurgency and advise-and-assist missions should have worked in Vietnam and can work now.”

The latest addition to this bookshelf is a tome by Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam. The author is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York’s major think tank for the military-industrial complex, where he writes popular military histories. What distinguishes this and Boot’s three previous books is that he has never met a US war he didn’t like. He beat the drums for invading Afghanistan. He beat the drums for invading Iraq and Syria. And now he’s beating the drums for refighting the Vietnam War, this time with a winning strategy. His nostalgia is telegraphed in the title of his book, where the “road” to avoiding military defeat in Vietnam, according to Boot, would have been more civil affairs, psychological operations (psy-ops), PR, pacification teams and other strategies developed by former advertising man and master CIA spook Edward Lansdale.

This approach to fighting wars was already being skewered by Harold Pinter in the speech he gave on winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005. The United States “has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’,” said Pinter. “Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued — or beaten to death — the same thing — and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed.”

The communists in Vietnam were promising to break the stranglehold of the Chinese merchants who controlled the rice markets, the Catholic mandarins who controlled the government and the landlords who controlled the land. The US was promising democracy and freedom, while engineering stolen elections, herding peasants into concentration camps, defoliating the countryside and killing everything that moved in free-fire zones. Boot takes 700 pages to explain how a harmonica-playing adman from San Francisco could have flipped this equation into a winning war. His argument is no more convincing now than it was fifty years ago, when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers and exposed Lansdale as a CIA operative whose black ops and terror teams had suffered one failure after another.

Employed as a copywriter for Wells Fargo bank, Italian Swiss Colony wines and Levi Strauss blue jeans, Lansdale, at the age of thirty-five, in a fit of patriotic fervour following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, joined the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. After World War II, he began working undercover on agency assignments in Asia. Here he did an excellent job of defending landlords and other reactionary forces that had sided with the Japanese during the war. He helped suppress the Hukbalahap movement in the Philippines, which was fighting for land reform, by labelling them “communists” and financing the military forces that tracked them into the countryside and killed them. The peasant farmers who had fought the Japanese now had to fight the Americans.

It was here in the Philippines that Lansdale perfected his tradecraft. By skimming 5 per cent of the funds allotted for the post-World War II Marshall Plan, the CIA had given itself US$200 million a year for black ops (about US$2.5 billion in today’s money). Dipping liberally into these funds (one estimate says his initial budget was US$5 million), Lansdale financed paramilitary operations, bought elections, published newspapers, mounted propaganda campaigns and engaged in psy-ops that skated into war crimes. In one notorious instance, his men kidnapped a Huk guerrilla, pierced his neck with what looked like the bite marks of a vampire and hung him upside down in a tree to bleed to death. Both Lansdale and his biographer believe that this was an effective method for spooking Huks into throwing down their arms and returning to toil on the estates of their landlords.

It was also in the Philippines that Lansdale acquired the long-suffering mistress, Patrocinio Yapcinco Kelly, who had to wait twenty-seven years — until the death of the first Mrs Lansdale and the end of anti-miscegenation statutes in Virginia (invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1967) — before she could become the second Mrs Lansdale. Boot quotes at length from their love letters, which reveal “Pat” to be the kind of native informant that every anthropologist — not to mention PR pitchman — hopes to find when operating in a foreign culture.

Lansdale was given another Asian assignment when the CIA sent him to Vietnam, beginning with an exploratory mission in 1953 and then for another two-year stretch, starting in 1954. Again, he rallied the right into a neocolonial medley of landlords, Japanese collaborators, Legionnaires, Catholic mandarins and Chinese rice merchants, although even President Eisenhower admitted that communist leader Ho Chi Minh would easily have won election as president over a unified Vietnam, if such an election — as called for in the Geneva Accords — had been held. “No military victory is possible in this theatre,” Eisenhower wrote in his diary.

After the dissolution of French Indochina in 1954, Lansdale began creating a country called the Republic of Vietnam. He took Cochinchina, France’s former colony in the south, and installed Catholic mandarin Ngo Dinh Diem, first as prime minister and then as president. He bribed Diem’s opponents, financed his military, sabotaged Ho’s government in the north, encouraged close to a million Catholics to resettle in the south, drafted South Vietnam’s constitution and then sealed the deal with a “democratic” election that Diem stole with 98.2 per cent of the vote.

Lansdale was a master at surrounding himself with a fog of PR. He even managed to rewrite the script for the original Hollywood version of The Quiet American, turning Graham Greene’s bumbling CIA operative into a celluloid crusader. Our first glimpse into the real nature of Lansdale’s activities came in 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg released forty-three of the forty-seven volumes of the top-secret History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam, commonly known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg was actually a former member of Lansdale’s team. Between stints at the RAND Corporation, a military think tank in California, Ellsberg had served as Lansdale’s assistant in Vietnam for a year and a half, beginning in the summer of 1965. (This was during Lansdale’s second tour of duty in Vietnam, from 1965 to 1967 — an unsuccessful mission that followed another failed assignment, to kill Fidel Castro.)

The Pentagon Papers include a document entitled “Lansdale Team’s Report on Covert Saigon Mission in 1954 and 1955”, which presents itself as “the condensed account of one year in the operation of a ‘cold war’ combat team”. Lansdale’s team “was to enter into Vietnam quietly and assist the Vietnamese, rather than the French, in unconventional warfare. The French were to be kept as friendly allies in the process, as far as possible. The broad mission for the team was to undertake paramilitary operations against the enemy and to wage political-psychological warfare.”

The report goes on to describe the covert acts of sabotage and terror that Lansdale launched against North Vietnam before his agents were evacuated from Hanoi in April 1954. The team “spent the last days of Hanoi in contaminating the oil supply of the bus company for a gradual wreckage of engines in the buses, in taking actions for delayed sabotage of the railroad (which required teamwork with a CIA special technical team in Japan who performed their part brilliantly), and in writing detailed notes of potential targets for future paramilitary operations”. These operations began the following year, when mercenaries trained in the Philippines were landed on the shores of North Vietnam. After most of these saboteurs had been arrested and put on trial in Hanoi, Lansdale turned to training the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the force that the United States put up against the communists, before engaging 500,000 troops of its own.

Lansdale created a country, began funnelling millions and then billions of dollars into defending it, and laid the blueprint for pacification, psy-ops, black ops and all the other military campaigns that would kill Vietnamese by the millions and still not prevail. “South Vietnam, it can truly be said, was the creation of Edward Lansdale,” Neil Sheehan wrote in A Bright Shining Lie. For Sheehan this proved a tragic mistake, while for Boot it was a heroic struggle for truth, justice and the American way. Boot actually writes prose like this, without irony. When it comes to rounding up peasants and throwing them into concentration camps, we learn from him that “strategic hamlets” are a “tried-and-true pacification technique”. Sometimes his prose is so purple that it’s hard to understand. We learn, for example, that soon after Lansdale’s birth, in Detroit in 1908, the “child of the nascent American Century … would have imbibed, along with his Cream of Wheat and Grapenuts, a sense that American power was spreading to every corner of the globe like milk filling up a bowl of cereal”. Is Boot saying that US power is the mother’s milk of the world? Are other countries nothing more than flakes of cereal floating in this bowl of US benevolence?

While describing Lansdale as an expert in the “cutthroat business” of counterinsurgency, Boot also wants us to believe that the man “would preach ideals of brotherly love”. He calls Lansdale a master “of the art of propaganda that he would later practice in both its civilian guise of ‘advertising’ and its military version, ‘psychological war.’” Here Boot is actually skating close to the truth by describing psy-war as the military version of PR. He admires the realpolitik involved in black ops. For him and other members of the war party, the end justifies the means. It is not with distaste that he says the OSS, “like all intelligence agencies, existed to lie, cheat, and steal for its country”.

Lansdale had a “ruthless streak”, Boot admits, “even if it required murder for hire, but he was so eager to protect his image as an idealist that he was deeply reluctant to admit what he was up to, not least to himself”. The same might be said of Lansdale’s biographer, who has produced a schizophrenic narrative that tries to recommend black ops as a useful tool for winning hearts and minds. After claiming him as the “godfather of counterinsurgency”, Boot also credits Lansdale with the growth of US special forces, the philosophy of “soft power” and the rise of military contractors. One might add to this list the use of mercenary forces, secret armies, terror teams, assassination squads and other ways of waging war while pretending to be at peace.

Boot likes to compare his book to Sheehan’s master work, but the claim is bogus, particularly when one looks at their coverage of the same events. When writing about the battle of Ap Bac in 1963, for example, instead of relying on Sheehan’s first-hand observations and meticulous research, Boot quotes from a couple of neocon lightweights intent on burnishing the image of Ngo Dinh Diem. On the next page, he displays the same bad judgement by attacking journalists for their “sensationalistic media coverage” of the Buddhist crisis (as if monks burning themselves alive on the streets of Saigon was not “sensationalistic”). Boot invariably relies on second-rate sources, dubious interpretations and crowd-pleasing attacks on the press, which he holds responsible for losing the Vietnam War. He is a tub-thumper for the neocon trope that reporting the truth about US brutality and incompetence aids the enemy.

Lansdale was smart enough to know that his attempts at nation-building had run off the rails by the time Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother were assassinated in 1963. (Diem was “cut down in a blaze of bullets”, writes Boot, incorrectly. He was actually stabbed to death on the floor of an armoured personnel carrier with his hands tied behind his back.) Lansdale knew for sure that the game was up in 1968, after the Tet Offensive. The war would last for another seven years, but by this time the US had begun brutalising the Vietnamese population with large-scale operations and committing atrocities such as the My Lai massacre, when more than 500 women, children and other non-combatants were killed in a day-long blood-letting. “We lost the war at the Tet Offensive,” said Lansdale, because US soldiers, thinking every Vietnamese a potential terrorist, could no longer discriminate between friend and foe. “I don’t believe this is a government that can win the hearts and minds of the people,” he added, before leaving Vietnam in June 1968.

This is a Council on Foreign Relations book,” Boot writes in the opening line of his acknowledgments. He is referring to the outfit that pays him as a “senior fellow in national security studies”, but also to the kind of book this is. The CFR provides the nabobs who appear nightly on the evening news to discourse on how the Empire is faring in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere among the 177 countries where the United States currently has military forces in operation. The CFR might quibble over tactics or parse strategies in the Hindu Kush, but US wars are invariably good wars. When it comes to counterinsurgencies, wars among the people and winning the hearts and minds of restive natives in far-off lands, Boot is CFR’s cheerleader in residence.

Boot is a Russian Jew born in Moscow, whose parents immigrated to the US when he was seven. He grew up in sunny Los Angeles, where he teethed on the freedom-loving poppycock of Ronald Reagan.

“I am white. I am Jewish. I am an immigrant. I am a Russian American. But until recently I haven’t focused so much on those parts of my identity. I’ve always thought of myself simply as a normal, unhyphenated American,” Boot wrote in an article published in the Washington Post in September 2017, entitled “I came to this country forty-one years ago. Now I feel like I don’t belong here.”

“Not even Trump and his nativist attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have yet figured out a way to strip naturalized American citizens of their legal status,” Boot wrote in his article, before asking — like a lot of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees currently facing deportation — “What would I do now, at age forty-eight, if I were deported to a country that I have not seen in more than forty years and whose language I no longer speak?”

After his recent wake-up call, one wonders if Boot might start writing different kinds of books, less full of patriotic gore. In the meantime, his Lansdale tome is a battle cry from the past. It is a history of neither the Vietnam war nor Lansdale’s role in that debacle. It is a love letter from the happier days when flag-draped patriots and scoundrels ruled the roost, and no one had to worry about the chickens coming home.

Thomas A. Bass is the author of Vietnamerica, The Spy Who Loved Us and Censorship in Vietnam: Brave New World (reviewed here).
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An Open Letter to the People of Viet Nam

The open letter below, an initiative of Veterans For Peace (VFP),  is further proof that the US has yet to overcome its participation in the American War in Viet Nam (“Vietnam War”) in the spirit of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, a German term that means the “struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past”. VFP is “an international organization made up of military veterans, military family members, and allies” who are “dedicated to building a culture of peace, exposing the true costs of war, and healing the wounds of war.”  They are the ones who realized that the American War in Viet Nam was an immoral travesty and who made the decision to stand on the right side of history, most after the fact.

The letter is related to an upcoming VFP Vietnam Trip that is being organized by VFP Chapter 160 in Viet Nam.  The dates are 4-21 March 2018:  Veterans For Peace will go on a 50-year look back at 1968 – the Tet Offensive, Khe Sanh, My Lai – as we travel through Viet Nam, north to south.  It will be delivered to the Vietnamese and a translation read at the end of the My Lai commemoration ceremony on 16 March.

If you’re interested in adding your name to this letter, please contact Doug Rawlings at rawlings[AT]maine.edu.

Peace,

MAA


Many Americans, especially those of us who came of age during the American War in Viet Nam, understand that our war in Vietnam was a crime of untold proportion and a massive violation of international law. As citizens under this government, we have to accept responsibility for its actions. It is with that realization in mind that we engage with you as the 50th Anniversary of the My Lai massacre nears. 
 
We acknowledge that this terrible massacre was a clear atrocity, but also we recognize that it was not an anomaly —  that it is one of many such abominations that many of our soldiers inflicted on the people of Viet Nam during the American War.

We acknowledge the deep and tragic suffering we have caused you — death, destruction, the ruin of your land, and the torturous rending of your social fabric.

 
We acknowledge the great sacrifices you have made to resist our government’s global, imperial designs, including battling the civil strife our military forces brought to your society as they pitted governments they manipulated against your resistance forces. Many of our soldiers deepened and exploited the divisions in your society.
We acknowledge the virulent form of racism that our government brought from our country into yours as it made almost no attempt to understand your rich history and culture.
We acknowledge that this racial animus led us to assault your people with what our government leaders imagined was “impunity,” using our Pentagon’s almost unlimited funding and massive firepower to kill, maim, and poison your land and people.
We acknowledge that even after our armed forces had withdrawn from your country, abandoning our government’s colonial designs, many U.S. government officials continued to wage economic warfare against you to thwart your efforts as you rebuilt your reunified country.
Therefore, we pledge the following:
 
We will make an honest effort to try as fully as possible to understand and feel the impact of the war on your families and your land, to empathize with your struggles and suffering and to share our experience with others.
 
We who were directly engaged in this war will continue to publicly confess our complicity in your country’s suffering.
 
We will do all in our power to make amends by supporting efforts to assist you in the healing of your land and your people.
We pledge to keep learning, and taking to heart, the lessons our people should have learned from the American War in Viet Nam as we work to attain peace and social justice in our own country.
We who were complicit in the American War in Vietnam will continue to search our consciences as we face our own direct and indirect participation in a system that enabled our government to start and escalate this war against your land. We cannot undo the wrongs we have done, but we will use our remorse to work for world peace.
YOUR NAME:  
YOUR TOWN/CITY:
 
YOUR STATE:

Recent Discussion with US Students – United by Viet Nam!

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Twice a year, I have the opportunity, schedule permitting, to speak to a group of US students who are in Viet Nam for the semester under the auspices of the School for International Training’s Vietnam – Culture, Social Change, and Development program.

They come from a range of higher education institutions, mostly private liberal arts colleges, and are majoring in a variety of subjects, including Anthropology, Asian Studies, Biopsychology, History, Human Rights & Democratization, International Studies, Microbiology, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies

While the students are based in HCMC, they travel from south to north as part of the program.  Some stay in Hanoi to do an internship, a program requirement, while their classmates return to HCMC, or go to another location to do the same.  

As I told them, it’s a rare opportunity for me to share my knowledge of and passion for Viet Nam with US students.  (Most of my interaction with US Americans is with colleagues from secondary and postsecondary institutions.)  My time with them, the better part part of a weekday morning, consists of a presentation, an overview of what I consider to be some of the defining characteristics of Viet Nam – a country I know from books, articles, reports, and personal experience – and discussion. 

I always ask them why they chose Viet Nam as a study abroad destination.  In 2015-16, the top 10 destinations for US students were the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan.  (Not surprisingly, the top five were in Europe.)  There were 1,012 US students in Viet Nam, most on short-term programs.  To put that number in perspective 325,339 American students received academic credit last year for study abroad in 2015/2016.  One of the reasons mentioned was the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone.  I’m pretty sure that Viet Nam has not disappointed in that respect.

I also want to know which students have become passionate about Viet Nam in their short time here, and who plans to make this dynamic and exciting country a part of their academic, professional, and personal future.  There are usually two or three who fall into this category.  Amy Tournas, a Colby College student and aspiring journalist/writer, is one of them.  Below is an excerpt from one of her blogs, Does Anybody Know I’m here?, about the first part of her first day in Hanoi

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First Days of Hanoi

November 15, 2017

Amy Tournas

After arriving at 11 pm, driving to the hotel to be told there wasn’t room for all of us, and then having to walk 20 minutes down the road to another hotel, we finally were in Hanoi!

We classically woke up early and headed through the streets of Hanoi. On our first morning, we met a man named Mark Ashwill. Mr. Ashwill is the co-founder of Capstone Vietnam among many other things. We had a discussion about many different aspects of Vietnam, and talked a lot about his journalism and papers he has written in his life about many controversial topics. He really engaged us because a lot of it was centered around things we are all interested in. I was really captured by his view of the War, along with the books he recommended to us. He told us of the book titled Kill Anything That Moves, which is an extremely controversial book that reveals the horrors of the war in a way that explains parts of the war that many Americans did not want to know about. I haven’t started reading it yet, but my friend just finished it and said it was extremely difficult to get through. I’m looking forward to reading it but I am not looking forward to being further exposed to the horrors of the war.

Another book that he recommended to us which I actually started a few days before we met him was a book called The Sympathizer. Though I am only one hundred pages in, I am already deep in it. Its not the actual story that I think that I am in love with, though a story about a communist spy in America is extremely fascinating. It is the language in which the author speaks that really pulls me in further. It actually gives me shivers when the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes. When he says things like, “As the debacle unfolded, calcium and lime deposits of memory from the last days of the damned republic encrusted themselves in the pipes of my brain.” The way he speaks is just astounding. The Sympathizer is fantastic that I think anyone who is interested in the War should read.

The morning with Mr. Ashwill was pretty inspiring. He has such passion for both the world and Vietnam. The pieces he has written are incredible. I will attach some of them to this post because I think his words are provocative and inspiring, and he is someone I hope to be like when I am older; he is so passionate about his work.

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.

The Vietnam War – A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

vn war pbs

No Single Truth?

This is the tag line of the latest documentary by Burns and Novick.  There are many stories to be told, mostly from the US American perspective because it’s usually “all about US,” but there is one truth, I believe:  the US should never have been in Viet Nam in the first place.  There should never have been a 2nd Indochina War that resulted in 3.8 million Vietnamese deaths and wholesale destruction of the infrastructure, flora, and fauna of Viet Nam, in addition to debilitating and deadly war legacies such as Agent Orange (AO) and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) that continue to haunt Viet Nam. (AO, of course, has also affected US veterans who were exposed to this poison, along with many of their children.)

It started when the US made the decision to follow in the footsteps of the French by ignoring the Geneva Accords of 1954, which called for a national election in 1956.  President Ho Chi Minh would have received 80% of the vote, according to none other than President Dwight D. Eisenhower, thus unifying his country and ushering in an era of peace and development. US support of its client state, the Republic of Viet Nam (South Vietnam), ensured that the war against the latest invader and occupier du jour would continue until it was forced to pick up and leave, which it eventually did initially in 1973 and, finally, in 1975. 

There are lines that The Vietnam War does not cross because either the truth is beyond the comprehension and ideological confines of the filmmakers and/or because their corporate sponsors would not allow it.  This is part of a larger issue, namely, the inability of the US to overcome its past, unlike other countries, including Germany.  (Although Adolf Hitler is a part of German history, there are no statues of him in Germany only memorials to his millions of victims.  The US is still having this debate, e.g., statues of Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee.) 

Here’s a story that Bill Ehrhart , who was interviewed for this series, encouraged people to share “far and wide.”  Ehrhart is a US poet, writer, scholar and war veteran who has been called “the dean of Vietnam war poetry.”  (He was a signatory to my 2016 letter calling on Bob Kerrey, a self-confessed war criminal, to resign from his position as chairman of the Fulbright University Vietnam board of trustees.  He eventually did in 2017.)

Dear Friends,

The day after I came home from Vietnam in early March 1968, I took the money I’d saved in those 13 months and went to West German Motors in Ft. Washington, PA, and bought a brand new Volkswagen. VW Beetle. Red with black interior.

Only I didn’t buy it. I had to give the money to my father, and he bought it because I was not legally old enough to buy a car. The owner’s card remained in my father’s name for the next year and a half until I turned 21, which was the age of majority then in Pennsylvania.

The day after that, I went to McKeever Insurance, in my home town of Perkasie, PA, to get insurance for my car. But Mrs. McKeever told me I couldn’t get a policy in my name. I would have to be carried on my parents’ policy as a dependent child.

Understand what I’m saying here: I had just spent 13 months fighting in Vietnam. I was a combat-wounded Marine Corps sergeant, but the state of Pennsylvania recognized me only as a child dependent on my parents.

Let me say that again: I had just spent 13 months fighting in Vietnam. I was a combat-wounded Marine Corps sergeant, but the state of Pennsylvania recognized me only as a dependent child.

You want to talk spat-upon? I sure as hell was spit on when I came home, but it wasn’t the antiwar people who did the spitting.

I begged Lynn Novick of Florentine Films to get this story on film and into their documentary, but you will not see this true story among the 18 hours of film you are about to watch. Instead, you will see and hear some teary-eyed woman apologizing for something there is no proof ever actually happened.

You are welcome to spread this story of mine far and wide. It’s the only way anyone will hear it because, as I said, it didn’t even make onto film, let alone into the documentary.

Bill

BONUS:  Here’s a post on the Vietnam Studies Group listserv by Christoph Giebel, an Associate Professor of International Studies and History at the University of Washington, Seattle, in a threaded- discussion about the film.

I have no problem with the depiction in episode 1 (and others) of Le Duan’s role. I have huge problems with episode 1 overall though. I watched it last night, prepared for some US centrism, to be sure, since this is a series heavily privileging American perspectives, experiences, feelings, but also anticipating to find the edgy “new take” by Burns/Novick that was so heavily promoted. Like with many books, I am particularly interested in the introduction and conclusion (episodes 1 and 10) for the “beef” of the argument, where the deep framing, contextualization etc. takes place

Episode 1 was, frankly, crushingly dispiriting in its unreflective depiction of ahistorical American exceptionalism and uncritical repetition of worn-out Cold War tropes and Western frames. Its flawed choice of key terminology and mapping and its condensation of extraordinarily complex issues over more than 100 years into 75 minutes, all marshaled to set up Burns’ “flawed, but innocently well-meaning” redemptionist narrative of the US, fell even short of the 1983 PBS series (which itself badly needs overhauling). After a decade of working on this, where is the damn novelty? I’ll need a bit of time to formulate my thoughts, but I must say that episode 1 was profoundly troubling.

C. Giebel
History / Int’l Studies
UW-Seattle, USA

MAA

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