The Importance of Speaking Up About “Things That Matter”

things that matter2After telling an acquaintance who is well-known in Viet Nam circles that I intended to write about the rhetorical bombshells that Thomas Vallely dropped in an early 2018 interview about Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University Vietnam, he warned me about possible backlash. 

In case you’re just tuning in, Vallely is Senior Adviser for Mainland Southeast Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of.”

I highlighted some of Vallely’s appalling and unconscionable statements, some of the words he used to hang himself, rhetorically speaking, in an interview in this 17 August 2018 article entitled More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells

Regardless of your age or situation, please don’t remain silent about “things that matter” and let your life begin to end.  Life’s already too short.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA, The Unquiet US American

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

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

Shalom (שלום), MAA


Sanford Kelson– Attorney at Law

December 14, 2018

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

Re: Patriotic Education Travel Program, Vietnam

Ms Coleman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

Sanford Kelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shalom (שלום), MAA

A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!

PatEdSealThis is an essay I felt compelled to write about a US American study abroad program to Viet Nam that reinforces and indeed celebrates US nationalism.  It is a textbook example of how not to structure such a program. 

The country of Viet Nam is but a sideshow, a prop that enables students and veterans to waltz hand in hand down a very bloody memory lane and learn nothing, at least nothing that resembles historical truth. 

There was one last year and another one that started earlier this week.  As I mentioned in the postscript, C of O liked the 2017 Viet Nam program so much that it organized a fourth trip to Viet Nam this from 9-22 December 2018.   Since they’re running out of veterans who are alive, yet alone able to make the long trip to Viet Nam, what’s next, Patriotic Education Travel Programs to Afghanistan and Iraq? 

Here’s an excerpt that may whet your appetite to read the article in its entirety.

Patriotic Education as Misnomer

A cursory reading of the program information and the “tour blog” reveals that it would be more accurate to call it the “Nationalistic Education Program.”  The distinction between patriotism and nationalism, while quite elementary and accessible in any dictionary, is lost on most US Americans, including those with advanced degrees and obviously the leaders of C of O. Patriotism is defined simply as “love for or devotion to one’s country”.  In contrast, nationalism is defined as loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

As with most US evangelical Christians, there are close ties to US nationalism. Why?  Because both are about a sense of group identification, exaltation, and superiority.  If you’re an evangelical Christian, you have found salvation and are “saved.”  The rest of us are doomed to eternal damnation.

On the political side of the coin, in the words of Herman Melville “We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people — the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world,” i.e., are members of an exclusive club that is the “greatest nation on Earth.”  In fact, the logo for the C of O Patriotic Education Program features these words:  God, Sacrifice, Country, and Heritage, a rhetorical intertwining of religion and nationalism.

It’s clear that these programs are designed not to create global citizens, which is usually the case with study abroad programs, but to solidify preexisting nationalistic values and attitudes.  Think of it this type of study abroad as the mixing of US nationalism with US-style evangelical Christianity, the perfect international education marriage made in hell. 

Here’s what one US veteran of the US War in Viet Nam had to say about the article:  

DS
Yesterday at 5:13 AM · 

Such a sad commentary, a study abroad program which has been designed to indoctrinate students with lies, with veteran mentor’s denials of their murderous hand in a war that should never have been.

It so reminds me of Zionists designed tours for Jewish Students to visit Israel devoid of the cruelty of its Apartheid Laws, it Check Points, it Genocidal attacks on Gaza, its becoming the monster it’s founders escaped from.

The enemy in the American War in Viet Nam was the American Invading Military.

To deny this truth to these students from the College of the Ozarks should be a crime.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Political Incest

Let’s say you were a sniper in Iraq, and you had 
20 confirmed kills. Years later, you realize the 
entire war was a Lie because Saddam Hussein 
had nothing to do with September 11th and 
Iraq never had any weapons of mass destruction
and the U.S. Government knew it all along. So, 
as an American veteran who killed 20 Iraqi citizens, 
how does that make you feel? The last thing I felt
before I left Viet Nam, was Dick Nixon Dick with-
drawing from my ass. This is what I have always 
called Political Incest. It is the kind of betrayal 
that causes 22 American veterans to commit 
suicide everyday. Lying is the most powerful
weapon in war.

Mike Hastie
Army Medic Viet Nam
September 8, 2018
Full Disclosure

DSC_2554
Photo of Mike Hastie by Linda Patterson

“More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells”

demons

This 17 August 2018 CounterPunch article is the third in a trilogy.  Here are the first and second articles.  This should be my last word about this sad story.  

Pardon the nasty military metaphor but it’s not nearly as nasty as some of the quotes from “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of” in a January 2018 interview.  

Here’s an excerpt:  

The Victims

As I mentioned to an FUV official who was involved in Kerrey’s appointment in a previous incarnation, what I’ve discovered in all of this is how invisible the victims of that massacre at the hands of Bob Kerrey and his unit are, both the dead and the living, not to mention the millions of whom Thomas Vallely spoke in a couple of throwaway sentences.

That is my main motivation in writing and speaking out about this, not “sticking it” to any individual or institution.  The tendency of most people involved with this issue to completely ignore the victims is both heartless and morally reprehensible.

The last of the Buddha’s Five Remembrances about impermanence is relevant here (translation by Thích Nhất Hạnh):  “My actions are my only true belongings.  I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”  The ground upon which Thomas Vallely once stood dissolved into quicksand the moment those chilling words about civilian deaths in the Mekong Delta and Thạnh Phong spilled out of his mouth.

Peace, MAA

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Đặng Thùy Trâm

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July 25, 1968: Oh, my God. How hateful the war is. And the more hate, the more the devils are eager to fight. Why do they enjoy shooting and killing good people like us? How can they have the heart to kill all those youngsters who love life, who are struggling and living for so many hopes?  -Đặng Thùy Trâm

11 years ago, Đặng Thùy Trâm’s wartime diaries were published in hardcover in the US.  In the summer of 2005, they had been published in Viet Nam, where the book became a bestseller.  (If you are unfamiliar with this poignant story, check out this overview and this October 2005 article.)  

Below is a letter that Ted Engelmann shared with the Vietnam Studies Group.  Ted is a veteran of the US war in Viet Nam to whom Fred Whitehurst gave the diaries at a 2005 conference at Texas Tech.  It was Whitehurst, then a 22-year-old military intelligence specialist, who defied orders to burn the diaries following the advice of his South Vietnamese translator, who told him “Don’t burn this one, Fred, it already has fire in it.”  

10 July 2018

To:  Viet Nam Studies Group (VSG)

Subject:  “Returning the Diaries of Dang Thuy Tram”

For several years I’ve been asked by many Vietnamese how the diaries of Dang Thuy Tram found their way back to her family in Ha Noi, Viet Nam.  People seem to realize the stories they’ve read and heard leave considerable doubt.

In case anyone in the VSG is interested, lo these many years later, here is the short version from the one who handed the “diaries” to the Tram family the evening of 25 April 2005.

Saturday, 17 March 2005, was an important moment in the history of the diaries.  At a conference sponsored by the Vietnam Center & Archives at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, I watched as Fred Whitehurst and his brother, Rob, donate the diaries of Dang Thuy Tram to the Archives.  That evening, Rob gave me (and others) a CD onto which he had scanned the two “diaries.”

A few days later, in Ha Noi, I asked a Vietnamese friend if she could tell me what was on the CD, since I wasn’t able to speak or read Vietnamese.  After reading a random passage for a few minutes, she teared up and quit.  To my surprise, she said the writing was too emotional for her to continue.   

Concerned about the emotional content, I asked another Vietnamese friend to look at the CD, telling her about the previous experience, and would she help me locate the family of the woman who wrote the diaries while I went to Saigon.  As an American War veteran, I wanted to make “final photographs” on 30 April 2005 for my photographic project, documenting the American War in Viet Nam.

After a couple days reading, my friend was about to give up looking for the family when she discovered Thuy’s father had been a doctor at the hospital near her village, a little north of Ha Noi; a revelation she explained thirteen years later.  That personal connection inspired her to look deeper.  A few days after calling the hospital for information, she made contact with the family who lived several blocks down the street from her office.

Sunday, 24 April 2005, I received a very early morning call at my Saigon hotel.  When I answered, a woman said she was Kim Tram, youngest sister of Dang Thuy Tram, calling from Ha Noi.  She understood I had some diaries and wanted to meet me right away.  Explaining I was in Saigon, she invited me to bring the diaries to her house in Ha Noi, and meet Mother Tram and her family the following day.  Although I had a splitting headache at that moment, I felt compelled as a messenger to oblige, and agreed to her plan.

A couple hours later at the Viet Nam Airline office, I bought a ticket to Ha Noi for the next day.  About an hour after I purchased my ticket, my stress headache disappeared.  With a clear head, I remembered to email Fred and Rob with the exciting news that Thuy’s family was alive.

Arriving in Ha Noi the next day, I took a taxi from Noi Bai airport to my hotel, where my friend left the CD at the front desk.  That evening, Kim, with sister Hien and her husband Ho Nam driving their SUV, arrived and took me to Kim’s home that she shares with Mother.  Entering the ground-floor living room, I was warmly greeted by Mother Tram, then introduced to her extended family, a packed house of relatives, two Vietnamese TV cameras, and many reporters. I was overwhelmed at being the center of attention, their friendliness, and their interest in my small package. 

Using my laptop, the family was immediately captivated by Thuy’s beautifully hand-written “diaries.”   Many tears were shed as the family sat on the couch, reading various entries during two stressful years, describing the private thoughts and feelings of a medical doctor from Ha Noi, treating wounded and dying soldiers at war with America in South Viet Nam, revealed for the first time to her own family, thirty-five years after her death.  Although buried in a martyr’s grave in Ha Noi, the spirit of a daughter and sister was finally safe and home from the war.

When it was time for me to leave, I gave the CD to the family with my best wishes.  While it felt good to help an American veteran (Fred Whitehurst, who had kept the diaries for so long), I was deeply honored to be a messenger of peace; returning a lost daughter to her family.

As you can tell, after having been given the CD, a Vietnamese woman and myself are the only two people directly involved in returning the diaries of Dang Thuy Tram…perhaps guided by Thuy’s spirit, if you believe in such things.

Thank you for your interest,

Ted Engelmann, Denver, CO

Peace, MAA