Hold It All

Category: Agent Orange


Thuy, Cafe Ventana


Today’s Email: “Thank you for signing up for the [New York Times] Vietnam ’67 newsletter. Over the course of the next year, we’ll examine the participation of the United States in the long war in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam ’67 newsletter will arrive in your inbox weekly.”

“Long War”

Journalist Bernard Fall writing in 1967: “It is Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity which is threatened with extinction. While its lovely land has been battered into a moonscape by the massive engine of modern war, its cultural identity has been assaulted by a combination of Communism in the North and superficial Americanization in the South.”


Two Teachers

For two of my teachers
I give thanks:

Cao Ngoc Phuong
Khuu Vinh Ngoc Thuy

I first read Phuong’s autobiography
Learning True Love:

How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam
When it was published in 1993 Read the rest of this entry »

Current Reading

Read the rest of this entry »


Just Another Night at Café Illumination

After the talk on Operation Cast Lead
Carla Nguyen and I headed over to Café Illumination
Where we began processing what we heard

We sat outside as it was a balmy night
Odd how calm we felt
After the typical brouhaha and sparks flying

We were surprised
When an older man approached us
“Hi, the name’s Cal…|

I saw you at the Palestine speaker
Damn! — That one guy got pretty hot
And no one was there to support him”

We introduced ourselves
Carla bid him to sit with us
But he replied, “No, you are talking together Read the rest of this entry »

Remembrance, Responsibility, Reparations

Ariel S. Garfinkel, Scofflaw: International Law and America’s Deadly Weapons in Vietnam

With the recent passing of Senator John McCain, it’s clear how hard it is for many Americans see what we’ve done in the world. It’s much easier to see what others have done to us, in this case, the Vietnamese  who held McCain captive and tortured him.  Despite Trump’s demurrer that McCain was no “hero,”  the week-long mourning and focus on his death and life speaks otherwise.

Ariel Garfinkel can help us better see who we are and who we’ve been.  In her timely, informative, and piercing  book, Scofflaw: International Law and America’s Deadly Weapons in Vietnam, she brings attention to the damage the U.S. did to the Vietnamese people both during the war and since, with its unexploded ordnance (UXO), and the lethal defoliant, Agent Orange.  Because of these, people continue to suffer and die in excruciating ways.

Regarding UXO, Garfinkel writes, “Children are still being maimed by cluster bombs, their parents are still dying from grenades and mines, and the full removal of remaining live ordnance at the rate of success over the past two decades will reportedly take hundreds of years more.”  As for Agent Orange, it is true that the U.S. government has acknowledged the significance of Agent Orange when it comes to care for our veterans, yet  the government is unable and unwilling to  acknowledge its responsibility for the death and devastation its has caused the Vietnamese people.  According to the author, “an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese died as a result of exposure to the chemical sprays.” Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Monsanto

Journalist Hoang Phuong states in the conclusion of her eloquent address to Monsanto, “It is not and never has been a question of money, Monsanto. It is a question of justice. In denying Agent Orange victims the justice they deserve, humanity is being denied.”    It is the denial of humanity, however, that is Standard Operating Procedure for the corporation.

Bella Levenshteyn Engages with Her Critics/1

“Why are you people here?
Why are you making this fuss?”

“Sir, people are suffering, that’s why.”

“But people are suffering right here, too
I’ve got buddies who were sprayed
Why don’t you think of them or lobby for them?”

“Sir, if you know of any specific actions
we can involved in to care for our veterans harmed by Agent Orange”—-
Bella has the most poignant conviction pervading her face—-
“Let me know and we’ll join you”

The septuagenarian stood silent
Then Bella continued Read the rest of this entry »

Deep Looking

You can practice Photo Meditation
As you take in this article by 
On Agent Orange

An Excerpt:  “There is not much I can do about it with my pictures except to retell the story, despite all the raised eyebrows. The pictures I took are not about the before and after, they are all about now. As for how poorly we read history and stories from the past, I’m afraid that is about our future, too.”


Dear Bella

So after my article on Agent Orange Day
Was published in the campus newspaper

Professor Lang
Came up to me at Fatemeh’s Cafe and said

“Why do you only talk about
How the US and South Vietnam were

How come you never mention
How rotten the Viet Cong were

How they killed children
Terrorized women

How they jailed Buddhists
Made so many people flee on boats

You’re one-sided
You should show both sides!”

Even though Professor Lang
is highly esteemed in the Pol Sci department

Read the rest of this entry »

Deep Seeing

Dear Chris,

For me, one of  Thich Nhat Hanh’s greatest gifts is the original 14 precepts of the Order of Interbeing (first published by Parallax in 1987).  As you know, I include the 4th precept in my novel Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, where it serves as the catalyst for so much of what takes off in that story.  For present purposes, I highlight the sentence, “Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sound.”  Images, yes, images.

I have memorized an English translation of the Italian writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s poem, Shema; he updates the classic Jewish prayer in light of what happened (what was allowed to take place) in the death camps.  After describing in spare lines how men and women suffered, he concludes,

“Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts

Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.”

Thầy and Levi come to mind as I have read the second of photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths’ awesome trilogy on Viet Nam,  Agent Orange: “Collateral Damage” in Viet Nam. Read the rest of this entry »

U.S. Ruthlessness

The leaders of the United States of Amnesia prattle on about our love for democracy, human rights, the rule of law, etc.

But Abbie Hoffman knew the truth…
“No one who read the fine print of The New York Times doubted that Vietnam War policy was the creation of Lucifer. What should one make of cluster bombs—that open a hundred meters above the ground, releasing bomblets which in turn release a spray of deadly needles killing all that is human in their wake? Silent penetration of body flesh. Can one talk in civil terms about saturation bombings, strategic hamlets, and free-fire zones? Could you describe napalm to a ten-year-old? Dropped in large barrels, a jelly-gas that spread rapidly through villages and stuck to the skin with a fiery grip. Or herbicidal defoliants designed to poison miles upon miles of plants and trees. Not since the Romans, in revenge, salted the earth of Carthage, has the world seen such a calculated wasteland.”

The Autobiography of Abbie Hoffman