Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Vietnam

Ninety Years Alive on Earth

On Thich Nhat Hanh, At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life.  Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2016.

Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is a survivor.  Narrowly missing death in South Vietnam  on more than one occasion during the 1960s, he had many students killed in the bloodshed during the American War. He and other Tiep Hien Buddhists could not return to their country for fear of persecution, or worse. Uprooted, he ended up living in France,  where he and friends slowly began to rebuild their  lives.

At Home in the World, published in 2016, offers snapshots of nine full decades of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life.  It bears keeping in mind that his country  was living under a French colonial occupation regime, followed by U.S. intervention and invasion.  He and his friends knew what it was like to live under the U.S. bombs.

Nhat Hanh admits that in his youth he was a “revolutionary monk.”  He and his brothers  wanted to rejuvenate Vietnamese Buddhism, and they had to reckon with a conservative religious  establishment. Their motivation was simple: “Taking action against injustice is not enough. We believed action must embody mindfulness. If there is no awareness, action will only cause more harm. Our group believed it must be possible to combine meditation and action to create mindful action.” [41] Read the rest of this entry »

The Good  News of Public Libraries, 3.16.2017

This afternoon I walked eight blocks north to the Central West End’s Schlafly Library where I picked up three books by Bernard  B. Fall, whom Noam Chomsky once described as “the most respected analyst and commentator on the Vietnam War”—Last Reflections on a War, Street without Joy, and Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. The new trainee at the circulation desk said, “All these are very old books, look at the condition they’re in!”

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 »

American Fangs

Dear Carla

Twice I read Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram
Because of your enthusiastic recommendation

I was captivated
I was crestfallen

Thuy’s diary revealed her commitment
Comparable to that of Lan

The ardent Buddhist social worker whom I had read before
And assigned in my classes

But Thuy was overtly political
An unabashed Communist

Lan was committed to the Noble Eightfold Path
Which included Right Speech Read the rest of this entry »

Something’s Happening to Madeleine Weil

After hearing Cal speak
Of his trips to Friendship Villages
Madeline Weil started missing classes

She’d rather read in the library
Than go to Business Law classes
She’d study the photos of the children

She checked out autobiographies and memoirs
From decades ago by people her granddad’s age
And something began to change

Without her even noticing it
Her eating habits became less compulsive
Less time-and-energy-consuming Read the rest of this entry »

She Should Have Won the National Book Award

But then I think
What do these awards mean
They gotta serve somebody

I’ve checked the libraries
It’s her only book
On this—or any— subject

Why should the luminaries and guardians honor her
Which is to say honor our victims
Because that’s what she did Read the rest of this entry »

Hearts and Minds, Revisited by Mark Chmiel and Andrew Wimmer

This article was first published at Counterpunch, January 12, 2005.

 

The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds
of the people who actually live out there.

–Lyndon Johnson, on Vietnam

There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war ­ as least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.

–Daniel Berrigan, on the peace movement

In the months before the election, there was a lot of talk about the Vietnam War, some concerning where George W. Bush had been during that time, some dealing with what John Kerry had done, both in Vietnam and back at home. At the Democratic Convention, John Kerry declared himself proud to have served in Vietnam-consigning to Orwell’s memory hole his post-war activism against the war. In a campaign where he had to be seen as strong to rival Bush’s macho (yet fumbling) discourse, Kerry conveniently let that conscientious part of his own past slip away. (That “forgetting” is at least congruent with his support of the current war in Iraq and his enthusiasm not to withdraw but to stay and win.) And, of course, Kerry uttered the infamous non sequitor that even if he had known there were no WMD beforehand, he would still have gone into Iraq had he been President.

Gore Vidal’s apt subtitle for his latest book is “Reflections on the United States of Amnesia.” John Kerry wanted to be the Commander in Chief of this land of Amnesiacs, and he certainly offered himself as role model for abject forgetting.

Much nonsense was spewed forth at both ends of the political spectrum with each trying to trump the other when it came to proving militarist bona fides. The press can never resist a good martial tune, and so we all pretended, for what we told ourselves would be just a moment, that an illegal invasion and immoral occupation could be set right by a few more troops and better armor on the Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The price we will pay for this collective amnesia will be enormous, though we have only begun to see the faint outline of its contours.

A stirring antidote to such amnesia is the 1974 Oscar-winning documentary by director Peter Davis, Hearts and Minds. Each semester in his Social Justice theology course at Saint Louis University Mark shows his students this film, which has been recently reissued in the Criterion series on DVD. Some students, in their early twenties, share observations of how hard it is for their relatives ­ fathers and uncles, mostly ­ to speak about their experience in Vietnam. Some have testified that these men, now in their fifties and sixties, are still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For them, and their families, the Vietnam War is not yet over, there is not yet healing. The war lives on, enfleshed yet mostly mute, and still dreadful, with a new generation.

And yet hardly a week goes by that we don’t come across-in newscasts, on the Internet, in newspapers-a pious invocation of our efforts to win Iraqi “hearts and minds,” harking back to Vietnam, and willfully forgetting that our military efforts there (where we learned to “destroy the village in order to save it”) killed 3.5 million Vietnamese before they came to an end.

Read the rest of this entry »

What One Veteran Said

Vietnam veteran Wayne Smith: We were broken. I had so much anger and pain. I was crushed. I left like I had blood on my hands. I resisted calling the Vietnamese gooks and dinks, but near the end of it I found those vulgar words would come out of my mouth several times; I had contempt for myself. How could I have been so stupid and foolish to believe this country? How could I have been so foolish to think that I could really save lives as a medic? How could I really make a difference in the face of so many catastrophic injuries? Read the rest of this entry »

Touching a Nerve

According to my FBI documents, [President Richard] Nixon was more obsessed with me than with the president of Russia. He was obsessed with this movie star that was working with the GIs.

–Jane Fonda, from the oral history by Clara Bingham, Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul Read the rest of this entry »

American Ingenuity

[Daisy Cutters were] so named
because they were designed to explode
just above the ground
so the main force of the explosion was horizontal
in order to cause the maximum destruction at ground level.
The Americans claimed that these monsters were used only
for blasting helicopter landing pads out of the jungle.

The CBU-55 was the latest,
and most horrifying death-dealing device,
the Pentagon tried out in Indochina.
The CBU was a “mother-bomb” which spewed forth
scores of small bombs each of which sprayed
a highly inflammable aerosol gas,
ignited by a special firing device.
The resulting explosion of flame,
apart from anything else,
consumed all the oxygen in an area of several hundred yards radius,
automatically killing every living thing.

—adapted from Wilfred Burchett, Grasshoppers & Elephants:
Why Vietnam Fell — The Viet Cong Account of the Last 55 Days of the War

 

–from novel-in-progress, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris