I was delighted to read this review from the Post-Dispatch about my former Maryville student Thao Truong and her husband Yun Vu’s restaurant, VietNam Style. I’m hoping to bring my Thich Nhat Hanh class soon to Delmar for a wonderful experience!
Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore infuriated some Vietnam veterans with his early May tweet that the U.S. should have national holiday on the date of the fall of Saigon, which should lead to “a commitment to never make same mistake again.”
“Mistake” is a common shorthand used by liberals to refer to the U.S. destruction in Indochina—Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Even veteran and antiwar critic John Kerry at the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit asked this question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
Was the My Lai massacre a mistake? Was Operation Speedy Express likewise?
Was U.S. torture of the Viet Cong (a broad category) a miscalculation?
Were the 20 million bomb craters just one mistake after another? Read the rest of this entry »
35 years ago today, I participated in the mass demonstration in New York City against nuclear arms. While there, I heard Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh read aloud this English translation of one of his poems.
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow–
even today I am still arriving. Read the rest of this entry »
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.”  Read the rest of this entry »
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!”
“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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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.