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My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later (Part Two)

Memory, Writing and Politics

On a daily basis, now, we see the rise of arrogance and belligerence in the world. It seems to be seasonal, and we’re entering a new season of it. One of the most striking examples of this is the Philippines, where the sociopathic President Rodrigo Dutarte proudly advocates and oversees the murder of thousands by death squads and now -- surprise! -- finds himself at war in his home province against an uprising linked with ISIS. I read a story in The New York Times that quoted a civilian caught between these two murderous forces. It’s the-same-old-story from the Vietnam War and other wars, including gang wars and police violence in places like inner city Chicago. Civilians caught in the crossfire. Donald Trump, of course, adores Mr. Duterte’s authoritarian impulses, as he does Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s in Egypt and the Saudi royals on the Arabian peninsula. His connection with the authoritarian Vladimir Putin seems quite unsavory and somehow revolving around greed. How did it come about that the world should descend into this kind of seasonal maelstrom of overweening authority? Has it always been like this? And now with i-phones and everything connected on the internet we just have more access to information, making us more aware of how crazy life is? In exceptional American, we’ve deluded ourselves that being “ill-used by fate” -- what the Vietnamese heroine Thuy Kieu was stoically inured to -- is a very un-American fate. Faced with difficulty, we take charge, kick some ass and take some names. If things aren’t going our way, we fake it and make things up. Then, we mobilize and drop huge bombs and kill people from 12,000 miles away while sitting in an air-conditioned cubicle sipping a Diet Coke, anticipating the end of our shift and going home to play with our kids and watch TV.

During Memorial Day ceremonies, I attended a reading of Martin Luther King’s famous Riverside Church speech where he linked the Vietnam War with the Civil Rights Movement. Many believe this is why he was assassinated. It was chilling to hear the speech and recognize the resonances with our own insane time. He wanted to know where we in the US had gone wrong. Why didn’t we support the liberation movements fighting to lift the yoke of colonial oppression in places like Vietnam? He was the rare case in 1968 in that he knew the history and he publicly articulated it: The anti-colonial liberation movement in Vietnam had fought shoulder-to-shoulder with our forces against the Japanese and, in 1945 when the war was won, had quoted our Declaration of Independence from colonial oppression in their declaration of independence document. For speaking this, the man was murdered.

story | by Dr. Radut