Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Month: October, 2008

A Liberation Doctor: Dang Thuy Tram

Last evening I had a conversation with my friend Suzanne, who is a playwright. I asked about her play, which deals with an Iraq war veteran and if she considered producing it a second time. She wondered aloud if the arts could truly speak to such a calamity as war, or are they only able to provide entertainment. I remembered a passage from one of Kafka’s letters and attempted to reassure her that plays—like books—could, indeed, be what we need precisely at this time:

“If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? So that it shall makes us happy? Good God, we would also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come upon us like ill-fortune, and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.” {1}

Recently I have had just such an encounter with a book: Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram. Published in English in 2007, it’s the diary of a young doctor from Hanoi who goes south to support the struggle against the U.S. occupation of South Vietnam in 1967. In the mountains of central Vietnam, she worked in hospitals and clinics, attending to wounded civilians and the revolutionary fighters. It’s hard to imagine being faithful to a diary under such excruciating and continually dangerous circumstances. Yet, throughout these pages, there are brilliant flashes of humanity, humility, compassion, indignation, and tenderness. Read the rest of this entry »

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Journalists (Monitoring Power)

Thought of the day from journalist Robert Fisk from his The Great War for Civilisation:

“I suppose, in the end, we journalists try–or should try–to be the first impartial witnesses to history. If we have any reason for our existence, the least must be our ability to report history as it happens, so that no one can say: ‘We didn’t know–no one told us.’ Amira Hass, the brilliant Israeli journalist on Haaretz newspaper whose reports on the occupied Palestinian territories have outshone anything written by non-Israeli reporters, discussed this with me more than two years ago. I was insisting that we have a vocation to write the first pages of history but she interrupted me. ‘No, Robert, you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘Our job is to monitor the centers of power.’ And I think, in the end, that is the best definition of journalism I have heard: to challenge authority–all authority–especially so when governments and politicians take us to war, when they have decided that they will kill and others will die.”

I Don’t Expect Obama Will Be Quoting This Any Time Soon

“Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”

–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Vietnamese dead

[Another man approached me with the two children of his brother, killed by U.S. gunfire, by his side.] “This little boy and girl, their father was shot by the Americans. Who will take care of this family? Who will watch over these children? Who will feed them now? Who? Why did they kill my brother? What is the reason? Nobody told me. He was a truck driver. What is his crime? Why did they shoot him? They shot him with 150 bullets! Did they kill him just because they wanted to shoot a man? That’s it? This is the reason? Why didn’t anyone talk to me and tell me why they have killed my brother? Is killing people a normal thing now, happening every day? This is our future? This is the future that the United States promised Iraq?”

–Dahr Jamail, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq