Below are some random pics I took while in Viet Nam. This is my final post. Check ‘em out in order:
Monthly Archives: April 2014
Ho Chi Minh
Vietnam posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
It was nearly a week in Ha Noi before we got to visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. It’s only open a few days a week, and even then, only for a few hours. We went on Saturday, April 5th in the morning around 9am (it was open from 8-11am).
The grounds are spectacular, with very wide open spaces, lots of green grass, trees, and symbols of state power. The facility is setup to receive thousands, with very strict rules when you actually walk inside to see the body of Ho Chi Minh. No talking, arms at your side, not in your pockets, hats off, and no photos. All very respectful.
I read somewhere that the design of the mausoleum is based on Lenin’s in Moscow. When we got in line to see his body in a rather extravagant glass case, there were hundreds of visitors, many of whom were clearly veterans, and many foreigners. All cameras and large bags had to be checked.
We walked single file into the building and passed a dozen or so soldiers dressed in white, many carrying side arms, some rifles. As we climbed the stairs it was nearly silent except for the obnoxious English ladies in front of us that couldn’t shut their pie holes, that is, until a soldier politely told them to shut the fuck up.
As someone critical of centralized systems of state power, and especially the corruption that usually accompanies a one-party state, not to mention the cult of personality that can border on religious fanaticism (Kim Jong iI), I found myself a little conflicted visiting the mausoleum.
On the one hand, I had to admire and respect his tenacity in the struggle to free his country from foreign invasion. On the other, I was suspect of the extravagance of the whole affair. Ho Chi Minh’s legacy, and the legacy of unification are essential historical narratives that legitimize the rule by the communist party (CPV), which as I quoted in an earlier post, deserves that legitimacy.
The facts on the ground are pretty clear: it took the organization that Ho Chi Minh created to defeat one of the most powerful empires in world history in a military confrontation, at a cost that is almost beyond human comprehension. How effective would a decentralized, anti-authoritarian movement have been in the same situation? I wonder. At best I can say that different struggles require different tactics. A friend once said, “you don’t fight power with the resistance you want, you fight power with the resistance you have.”
Besides some of the corruption I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t feel that it’s my place, as an American, to judge how the Vietnamese choose to govern themselves, especially after what they have suffered at the hands of the US government. Ideological principles are useful guiding posts in the struggle for liberation, but the messy business of surviving in the presence of a sociopathic empire hell bent on ruling the world is quite another matter entirely.
Nevertheless, it is a surreal experience seeing a preserved body in a glass case, especially someone like Ho Chi Minh. This was the dude! The guy who is on every single piece of currency in the country, the hero of unification, and the leader that defeated the French and the Americans.
But. I’ll be honest.
I kept asking myself if that was really him and not a wax figure. We were told that Ho Chi Minh had requested he be cremated and have his ashes spread throughout the country. Request denied.
Or was it?
Regardless, umm, he looked good. It was a powerful moment. For some reason I was paying attention to his beard, nearly as full as you might expect, and grey. He was dressed in white as I recall, in traditional peasant garments.
As we walked in the giant chamber, silence. Four soldiers stood on each corner of the glass case, standing to attention in all white, rifles at their side, with swords on the ends. The glass case stood off the ground about 5 feet. The soldiers heads were about even with the bottom of the glass case, while our walkway was even with their heads. We looked down on the soldiers as we circled Ho Chi Minh in a U-like shape.
Up on the wall behind Ho were two giant symbols, side by side at about 3ft x 3ft, carved in concrete (or dark marble), one a star, and the other a sickle and hammer, the symbol of the communist party. When you combine the silence, the disciplined soldiers in uniform, and the body of a man worshipped by its people, those symbols have power. Never underestimate the power of symbols in any context, especially when they are omnipresent. Corporate logos immediately come to mind, and for some odd reason in my case, band logos like Crass.
Within about 20-30 seconds, we were in and out of the chamber, heading down the stairs and out of the mausoleum. That was a mighty quick moment. A thousand questions and thoughts probably raced through my head. How the fuck did you survive all those years of destruction? If only your letters to the Americans in 1946, asking for support, were heard. I’m sorry for what my fucked up government did to your country. Solidarity!
Outside, we realized how fast that just happened, so we breezily walked around the grounds checking out the other things, like Ho’s old home, his cars, and a house on stilts.
That pretty much did it for our visit to the mausoleum. The grounds around the area are well kept, and there is a nice spot to get coffee or tea, which we did. The week before we spent some time at the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Below are some pics:
Socialist Dreams, Capitalist Nightmares
Vietnam posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a one party system run by the Communist Party of Vietnam, or CPV. When one thinks of a one-party state, it’s easy to think about North Korea or the old Soviet Union. Vietnam is certainly neither. With the massive amounts of foreign capital flowing into the country, visible everywhere, my first thought was to China, which has been welcoming western capital for over 30 years.
In trying to understand the current day politics, I was searching for articles analyzing the political system in Vietnam. I came across one by Hai Hong Nguyen, who writes:
The Vietnamese population seems to be strongly supportive of CPV rule. This is especially thanks to the responsiveness of the state to society’s demands, and the country’s social stability. Frequent farmer protests challenge this argument, but these protests are aimed at local government, not the central government, and there has never been a mass protest against the CPV’s rule. The role of the CPV in national independence and unification, as well as high economic growth during early Doi Moi, should be recognised, but criticisms have been levelled at the CPV for recent economic lows and rampant corruption.
The combination of state capitalist ownership over public resources, an influx of foreign capital, and no checks and balances within the hierarchy of the CPV, has led to the corruption, for which there have been recent attempts to correct.
However, lest we forget dear western reader, it must be pointed out that corruption and nepotism is no stranger to the US political system, where accountability seems to be a thing of the past, even when politicians engage in war crimes, torture, and violate international law with a flick of the wrist.
The US constitution seems to be irrelevant too, with the presence of the NDAA, NSA Stasi-like-spying, kettled protests, due-process free drone strikes that target US citizens (plus weddings and funerals), the PATRIOT Act and a scourge of excessive police violence.
One of the biggest threats to US leaders and capitalist hegemony over the globe is the threat of a good example. Any country in the past that tried to be independent of the Washington-Consensus (i.e. a market economy dominated by the West) was a target for invasion, subversion, or a coup, initially by economic means, but if that failed or was not an option, military means. John Perkins documents this very well in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman. And this dynamic is currently being played out in the Ukraine and possibly driving the world toward war.
Partly in relation to Ho Chi Minh’s popularity in Vietnam during the 1950s, and after the liberation from the French in 1954, Vietnam became a cold war target of the US.
So today, when talking about internal problems in Vietnam, I think it has to be juxtaposed to their struggle for national liberation in the past. It is remarkable to me that Vietnam has come so far, after what it has had to endure. They’ve had to fight against the invasion of not only the US, but of the French and Chinese too.
But I fear for what all this invested capital may mean for Vietnam. Whatever short term gain may be realized, the long term impacts could be devastating. One example is the mining of bauxite. The logic of capitalism, and its externalization of costs, or externalities (the shit they don’t pay for, but we pay for in the form of pollution, environmental degradation, ecocide, loss of finite resources, loss of the commons, the suffering of low paid workers, etc), is a dangerous game to be playing with well-financed, predatory western capitalists.
When we got out of the airport in Hanoi, and started driving towards the center of the city (about 45min), I was struck by the number of billboards advertising various banks and the massive industrial warehouse facilities visible from the highway, listing their corporate owners: Yamaha, Toyota, Canon, foreign construction companies, among others. McDonalds and Starbucks just opened recently in Ho Chi Minh City.
Western companies doing business in Vietnam, that we saw, include Coffee Bean, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Guess, Pepsi, Louis Vuitton, Hilton, Hyatt and Panasonic.
The most dramatic scene I think I witnessed in regards to the contradiction between the dream of socialism and the desire for economic growth was the glitzy Louis Vuitton store located directly across the street from a massive image of Ho Chi Minh hugging a child.
Are armed national liberation movements a thing of the past as a result of the ubiquitous nature of a global capitalist integration? If they aren’t, they might become irrelevant if the ecosystem crashes as a result of capitalist consumption, something that is looking more probable everyday now. It’s clear the current hegemon isn’t changing course anytime soon.
What about earth liberation from capitalism? It’s not hyperbole to say that the choice may be between profit and death, or egalitarianism and life. Is another system possible? Well, there had better be, otherwise we are all likely doomed.
Thanks for reading this blog. We are headed home. We love Vietnam and it’s people.
Da Nang and Mr. Duc
Vietnam posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
We arrived in Danang (da-nong) on Sunday afternoon, April 6, 2014, flying on Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi. Da Nang is located in the middle of the country and is a huge tourist destination now, with primarily Chinese, Russian and Australian tourists. The highway running parallel to the beach is dotted with hotels, many still under construction.
25km (15 miles) south lies Hoi An (hoy-on), a tiny village-like town which is also the quintessential tourist destination. Both Danang and Hoi An reminded us a bit of Mexico, where cities on the beach attract the rich to luxury hotels, surrounded by the working poor. The infrastructure is very similar.
Danang is more of a “normal” city, with the largest population outside of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. There are a number of scattered modern high rise buildings, local bars, and almost everything you would expect that goes along with a beach culture.
Danang used to host the US Air Force base during the war, which is still visible now. For some reason, they haven’t torn it all down completely. You can still see the remains of some hangars and the air traffic control tower.
I am told that for a time during the war, this was the busiest airport in the world with some 1500 flights a day, coming and going. Danang International Airport, located on the opposite side of town, is still massively polluted with dioxin from Agent Orange, currently under a massive cleanup effort. And who says that the U.S. is opposed to the use of chemical warfare?
Danang has a beautiful beach, which the Americans used to call China Beach. It’s humid, hot, and the water is reasonably warm for April. Looking east while standing on the beach, you might actually think you were in Mexico, except that the view north and to the left presents a giant statue, not of Christ, but of the Bodhisattva of Mercy statue. It stands 67 meters tall, or 219 feet.
On the southern part of Danang are the 5 marble mountains, each one named after an element of the earth. We hiked the largest one which houses a number of Buddhist temples, and massive caves.
During the war, the vietnamese army hid a hospital clinic inside one of the caves. The names of the mountains are Hoa Son (fire mountain), Kim Son (mountain of metal), Tho are (mountain of Earth), Thuy Son (water mountain) and Moc Son (wood mountain).
Along the beach sprout massive hotels and casinos, which have been appearing within the last 10 years, including one Chinese casino that was as massive as it was obnoxious. The Hyatt down the road was almost as big, but equally obnoxious. It’s clear that there has been a huge capital inflow into the country, and a kind of two tiered society is being created here, with the ultra rich living across the street from the ultra poor. Tourist money is flowing like water here, as was clear from our visit to Hoi An.
Hoi An is a beautiful town, but it’s kind of a shopping mall for tourists. But the beaches are supposed to be nice, although we didn’t check them out. We were far more interested in the people and the town of Hoi An. There were plenty of bars and restaurants to hangout in, and although still cheap, there was a noticeable price increase compared to Hanoi and Danang.
One thing we really appreciated was that the center of town was supposedly off limits to cars and motorcycles, but bicycles were ok. We got the feeling that locals pretty much ignored that restriction. We did ride bikes all over which I’d highly recommend. We only stayed a day and a half, but it was enough.
Mr. Duc (rhymes with cook) was our cab driver. He insisted that we call him if we need a lift anywhere, so we did, and he drove us to Hoi An, and the next day, back to the airport.
Duc had a lot to tell us about Danang and Viet Nam. His parents worked for the Americans at some point during the war, as I recall, prior to 1965. After 1975, and the end of the war, his father was imprisoned for a few years because of that work. It also meant that their entire family could never get a government job, ever. I don’t know exactly what his parents did for the Americans, but I don’t think it was military related, at least not directly.
Because Duc can’t get a government job, it means he is forced into the private sector. I’m not sure that he would even want a government job, but the irony of a socialist state pushing a citizen into the private sector for something his parents did wasn’t lost on me. I am not sure whether this was a result of CPV (Communist Party of Vietnam) policy, or cultural, or both.
But that is Viet Nam today, and the parallels with China seem clear: open up the country to western capital and tourism, and accept all that goes along with a globalized economic system. I am curious if the CPV policy explicitly sections off those areas allowed to engage in capitalist development, and those areas which will be strictly state controlled. I suspect that is the case.
For example, narrow capital investment would be allowed for hotels and small businesses, those areas which drive tourism, but the state would maintain ownership over natural resources and insist on joint ownership for investments over X amount of dollars, or dong. There were many signs hanging on construction projects that referenced a joint venture between Vietnam and some foreign company.
When you are in Hanoi, there are hundreds of government buildings, all painted yellow, with hundreds of flags flying everywhere. It’s the home of the CPV, so it’s not a surprising sight, but what is surprising is the lack of that in Danang and Hoi An. Sure, they still exist, but the volume is turned way down. I got the sense that Duc didn’t like Hanoi, but from his perspective, I get it.
According to some people we met, there is a lot of government corruption. Local officials that have access to a building, or a small plot of land, are cutting deals with foreign capital to get a cut of the profits. Nepotism is a problem too given that well connected families are more likely to get access to resources. If you are outside the party system, you don’t have many resources. Almost everywhere we went, there were construction projects in the works.
We headed back to Hanoi, and oddly enough, the traffic, noise and air pollution was a welcomed sight. We went out with our friends to their favorite bar, drank, had some cake and called it a night.
Museum of Victory over B52
Vietnam posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
“Operation Linebacker II“, the US name for the bombing on Ha Noi from December 18 – 29, 1972, also known as the “Christmas bombings”, was the brainchild of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. From reading the American perspective on this bombing, it is said that the operation forced the North back to the negotiating table in January in which the Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27th, 1973.
From the North Vietnamese perspective this battle was a victory, referred to as “Dien Bien Phu in the Air”, a reference to the victory over the French in 1954. Although the peace talks resumed in January of 1973, the North insisted that stopping the bombings was not a precondition to resuming the talks.
Pictures below illustrate how the CPV (Communist Party of Vietnam) wants to remember this battle. I understand why, from their position, it’s important to remember this attack as a victory, but it’s hard to reconcile that term when there was so much death and destruction involved.
Neighborhoods were leveled, a hospital was obliterated and its estimated that around 1000 civilian deaths occurred, primarily women and children given that most men were off fighting the war. Yet, they insist their resistance reduced the enemy’s will to fight.
Of course, the downing of so many US B52s did put a tremendous strain on the US war machine, including the budgets of the Pentagon at the time, challenging the US air superiority with up to date Russian air defenses, and it shook the confidence of pilots who were used to dropping their bombs without much of a challenge. At a time when the anti-war movement was at it’s climax and the war’s popularity was at an all time low, the resistance displayed by the North during these bombings was no small matter.
The use of the phrase “Operation Linebacker II” is instructive as well. If you have seen the documentary Hearts and Minds, you would quickly recognize the connection between football culture and war, something I’ve considered for a long time. To borrow the phrase from Louis Proyect, the Super Bowl is a kinda quasi Nuremberg rally, with its hyper-patriotic gibberish riddled throughout, and from the presence of military personnel on the playing field to the flying of fighter jets overhead at halftime, it is a kinda ground zero for indoctrinating the young for American Exceptionalism (i.e. we are “number one”, can attack anyone, anywhere, for any reason).
I must admit, I am pretty removed from the rhetoric of the era to properly write about the nuances of the war. Up until more recently, I had read little about the Vietnamese government’s position. What I did read was from those in the anti-war movement in the US.
I think it’s instructive for the reader to hear and see what the official line is here in Viet Nam. I’m hesitant to regurgitate official propaganda from any government without a full review, but I know that the American version, as I discussed in my first post, is so full of lies that it’s valuable to hear.
I consider any bombing of civilian targets to be the definition of terrorism, so in that sense, what happened during the December, 1972 bombings certainly qualifies as terrorist. The US attack on Viet Nam was an act of international aggression, the highest war crime defined by the Geneva convention (signed by the US), not to mention the 3-4 million Vietnamese killed during the war, the use of chemical weapons (Agent Orange continues to deform the newborn), and the counter-insurgency and assassination program known as Phoenix.
Doan took us to the “Museum of Victory”. Here’s the entrance:
Here’s a picture of B52s dropping their bombs over Vietnam:
Here’s a pic as you walk in the museum:
Here’s what many of the bombs dropped all over Viet Nam look like:
Here’s the plaque in front, as seen above just to the right:
This is the front of the Museum:
A Russian MIG fighter sitting out front:
Here’s a list of the planes shot down in December of 1972:
A ball of wreckage:
The plaque in front of the “carcasses” of wreckage:
A wheel from the wreckage with the imprint, “GOODYEAR USA”:
A display celebrating the downing of the bombers. Note the flames, the parachutes, and the capture of pilots:
John McCain, former presidential candidate, and recently, supporter of neo-nazis and bigots in the Ukraine, was shot down over Vietnam and held prisoner for 5 years by the North.
Below is a pic of what is claimed to be John McCain’s pilot uniform. This was not from the Museum of Victory, but from the Hoa Lo prison where McCain was held, also referred to as the Hanoi Hilton. John McCain, in his not so eloquent racist blather, was quoted on his 2000 campaign bus as saying, “I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.”
For risk of stating the obvious, there are millions of us who despise John McCain, his racist politics, and his support for neo-nazis the world over.
Vietnam posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Above and below are some Vietnamese resistance posters I found in a small shop in Hanoi with a sign that read “Old Propaganda Posters”. I struggled to find the right word for them, and I think ‘resistance’ art is a good one. Perhaps they are a kind of agitprop too.
Agitprop, or agitation-propaganda, is a term referencing a form of politicized art, originally associated with the Communist Party of the Soviet State, but later applied in many different ways, from the plays of Bertolt Brecht to 80s English punk.
As you may have noticed, the name of this site is agitdrop, an obvious play on the term agitprop. So is my nick: agitkid
In the west, it’s a negative term, mostly affiliated with totalitarian officialdom, a kind of Ministry of Truth. And there is certainly some legitimacy to that critique.
But, I think it goes without saying, understanding any political art requires understanding the context. Spanish Civil War artwork produced by the CNT-FAI is just not the same as something produced from officialdom.
Paris 1968 graphics came from students and workers in the middle of a struggle not associated with the CP. Anti-war artwork of the 60s and 70s, and punk from the 80s was all based on a kind of DIY ethic. If something was popular, it was popular because it was good.
While it is easy to see the obtuseness of any central committee type propaganda and criticize it, and I am not suggesting that these posters represent that, but what is arguably much more insidious is the kind of propaganda found in the US known as Public Relations. PR is far more powerful and effective when the target population has no idea they are being indoctrinated. Indeed, it is especially effective when they insist they are free thinkers.
Perhaps in a heated bar conversation, you can imagine a response to this type of argument: “I ain’t endoctrinated fucker, Nobudy is tellen me what to think!” But it’s what they don’t tell you that matters the most. What makes PR so effective is repetition and the ability to overwhelm the senses, drowning out focused study and reflection. As an old friend once said to me about TV, “it’s probably the most dangerous invention since the atomic bomb. No, worse. There’s no deterrence”.
Quoting Chomsky again, from a 1991 Z Magazine article entitled Force and Opinion, and because he has written extensively on this subject:
Hume was an astute observer, and his paradox of government is much to the point. His insight explains why elites are so dedicated to indoctrination and thought control, a major and largely neglected theme of modern history. “The public must be put in its place,” Walter Lippmann wrote, so that we may “live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd,” whose “function” is to be “interested spectators of action,” not participants. And if the state lacks the force to coerce and the voice of the people can be heard, it is necessary to ensure that that voice says the right thing, as respected intellectuals have been advising for many years.
It’s why the liberal class in the United States are so spineless when it comes to challenging those in power as they torture, murder US citizens and countless civilians without charge or due-process (i.e. Darth Barrack’s drone strikes), spy on the world illegally, bomb countries unilaterally, etc and ad infinitum: they would lose respect.
In the case of the images in this post, they were made in the middle of a war, where an invading army was bombing civilian targets. The messages in them seem not only obvious, but legitimate. I think they speak for themselves.
Ha Long Bay
Vietnam posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Ha Long Bay is one of the new “seven wonders of the world”, as I discovered reading a billboard in the national park. It’s composed of around 2000 limestone islands in an area of about 1500 sq km, or about 25 x 25 miles. It’s massive, and it’s fucking beautiful.
The islands are the result of five hundred million years of geological activity involving sea regression, tectonic down-warping, and sea transgression. It is composed of sedimentary deposits containing the remains of ancient flora and fauna in many forms, including plants and animals that are long extinct.
John and I took a two day tour of the park this past week, and got on a 3 hour bus ride from Ha Noi to the Ha Long Bay port where we boarded the “Classic Sail” for the night. Our tour guide’s name was Tun (Too-en). He was from an area between Ha Noi and Sappa, which is to the north, near the border with China.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Vietnamese people we have encountered have been very kind, and this trip was no exception. Sure, we paid money to do this tour, and yes, they are aiming to please us given that tourism is an important part of their economy. But to me, this wasn’t just an expedition to make money.
Tun and the crew are proud of what Viet Nam has to offer, not just culturally, but it’s beauty. They told us how much they love being out here, a kinda pride in showing us Ha Long. For what it’s worth, I believed it and felt it. Like anyone that experiences the wild, the outdoors, and understands its ability to transcend normalcy, I was deeply moved by this place.
On more than one occasion, I’ve had locals remind me that Viet Nam is a poor country, and that people are doing their best to make a living. I have no problem supporting those I’ve met with my tourist dollars. I am not pretending this is some radical political tour, but I am trying my best to be conscious about the context I am in. I am trying to engage people on a human level as much as possible (as opposed to seeing everything through my own biases, politics, analysis, etc), and to check myself on my own class privilege, not forgetting the history between the US and Viet Nam.
We were joined by 3 people from France, two from Malaysia, and 2 others from the US. Now, normally, John and I are not of the taking tour types. But to see a place like this, you kinda have to do it right, and get on a boat with locals who can explain what it is you are seeing, and of course, know where to go.
The crew of the “Classic Sail” were phenomenal. For me, it’s awkward to be treated like the tourist I really was, but I did my best not to act like one, in the sense of expecting any special treatment, or being a whiny asshole. And yes, one of the other Americans was a whiny asshole. Absolutely, horrendously embarrassing.
John on the boat:
The food the cook prepared was the best we had had in Viet Nam up to that point. We were totally blown away, and they accommodated our veggie diets.
After eating, we had some drinks and hung out. The rest of our travel companions were boring, and disappeared into their rooms. Some crew members invited us to join all of them in playing cards, and from there, it was lots of whiskey drinking, smoking and laughing. One of the crew, Huong, wrote the name of the card game down on paper as “Kings and Ass”. John corrected him and wrote “Ace”.
When Huong realized the error after translating it, I think at least 5 minutes passed before we stopped laughing. Amazing. We assured him that his name was better.
What is incredible about this area is that it is 15 km (about 10 miles) away from the port, where we embarked. Out here, there’s a vibrant fishing community that lives on boats and floating docks. There’s even a school for the kids. Many of the locals cruise around on boats selling things to tourists.
We also visited what Tun called “Amazing Cave”. And yes, it was amazing. The cave is carved out of the inside of one of the islands over millions of years by water. You see the expected stalactites and stalagmites. It was massive and impressive.
Here’s some pics of a cave we kayaked to below.
We hiked about 500 steps to the top of this island:
View from the top:
And then there was this:
Ha Noi, Viet Nam
Vietnam posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
After nearly 24 hours of travel, three planes, two taxis, BART and some walking, I finally arrived in Ha Noi, Viet Nam on Monday March 31st with my friend John Brady. I flew from Los Angeles to Oakland, from San Francisco to Taipei, and from Taipei to Hanoi. I’ve been here nearly a week, and I am humbled by the kindness of the Vietnamese people.
It’s an amazing place, which I’d heard from people and from reading about it, but it makes it all the more remarkable to me growing up thinking about this country as a war.
Of course, here in Viet Nam, it is called the American war.
I have memories of watching war footage on TV as a kid. I remember the fall of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and the helicopters above the US Embassy where people were frantically trying to escape as the Vietnam People’s Army liberated the country, with the PAVN in the north and the NLF (National Liberation Front) in the south (“Viet Cong” is a term of US propaganda). The Vietnamese had won, albeit, at an incredibly high price.
Not until years later did I fully understand what I was watching. But, one thing I did understand was that my brother was illegible for the draft. All I remember thinking was that I didn’t want my brother to die, even if by that time the draft and the war had ended, but the idea of war scared me. It was my first anti-war thought, pure fear.
By the mid-80s I had seen enough Vietnam war films to be indoctrinated with US propaganda. Even the mildly anti-war films regurgitated out of Hollywood (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July) were always from the perspective of Americans. Never the Vietnamese.
I didn’t understand how incredibly racist many of those films were. John Pilger, one of the best journalists and film makers around, wrote recently about the 1978 film Deer Hunter:
“Following America’s expulsion from its criminal invasion of Vietnam, The Deer Hunter was Hollywood’s post-war attempt to reincarnate the triumphant Batman-jawed white warrior and present a stoic, suffering and often heroic people as sub-human Oriental idiots and barbarians. The film’s dramatic pitch was reached during recurring orgiastic scenes in which De Niro and his fellow stars, imprisoned in rat-infested bamboo cages, were forced to play Russian roulette by resistance fighters of the National Liberation Front, whom the Americans called ‘Vietcong’.
The director, Michael Cimino, insisted this scene was authentic. It was fake. Cimino himself had claimed he had served in Vietnam as a Green Beret. He hadn’t. He told Linda Christmas of the Guardian he had “this insane feeling that I was there… somehow the fine wires have got really crossed and the line between reality and fiction has become blurred”. His brilliantly acted fakery has since become a YouTube “classic”: for many people, their only reference to that “forgotten” war.”
Only later did I fully realize the extent of the lies that are fed to us through the US media/propaganda system, honed to a fine art by one of the most aggressive, violent, criminal empires in world history. But of course, mainstream logic always presents the US as a benevolent power, forced to act in the world because “Bad Guys” hate our freedom, or whatever is the current fashion of the day, never mentioning the coups, invasions, and outright aggression, with nearly 800 military bases to ensure access to raw materials and markets.
Chomsky and Edward Herman explain in their book, Manufacturing Consent, the mechanical and functional aspects of the US propaganda system.
They compare coverage of East Timor and Cambodia just after the Vietnam war to illustrate how propaganda works in the US. One quote from that book I’ll never forget: “Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism”. In other words, lies are needed to keep the US public in line, thinking the correct thoughts, and the stick is for those that rebel under authoritarian systems, where it doesn’t much matter what you think.
Interestingly, as the U.S. empire declines, the stick appears to be in much wider use. The Big Lies are less effective, and only seem to really work on the affluent and the well educated, roughly 20% of the population. NSA surveillance, for example, isn’t about your personal privacy, it’s about state power and instilling fear in the population; functionally, just like the Stasi secret police in the old East Germany. If we are such a democracy, why use mass surveillance to spy on everyone?
Some things you might not know about Vietnam:
The US subverted and prevented the free elections and unification planned at Geneva in 1954, attacked and invaded South Vietnam, propping up a puppet government while choosing it’s leaders, conducted acts of terrorism in the south starting in 1962 (prior, they used mercenaries to conduct terror campaigns by proxy), manufactured the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1965 to get the US into a full war (a false-flag operation), lied repeatedly to the US public as exposed by Dan Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers, and killed between 3 and 4 million people.
The official CIA number is around 2 million, but other estimates almost double that when you take into account the bombings of Laos and Cambodia. I recommend reading this Chomsky interview and this article.
The estimates for the numbers killed, referenced in the article listed above, are:
Hanoi reported 2 million civilians killed, 1.1 million North Vietnamese and southern resistance fighters killed, and 300,000 missing in action. U.S. reported 225,000 killed in the army of it’s client regime (“South Vietnam”). The CIA estimates 600,000 Cambodians killed. Tens if not hundreds of thousands were killed in Laos by U.S. attacks. About 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed with about 2,000 MIAs.
These are holocaust level numbers.
I don’t remember what year it was that I finally saw Hearts and Minds, a documentary film that attempted to tell the truth about the war, but it was ground shattering. If you haven’t seen this film, watch it right now on Youtube. It connects the violence of US culture with the war in Vietnam. You actually hear the voices from the Vietnamese perspective.
The mentality of those who run the US Empire is on full display in Hearts and Minds, and little has changed in that regard. “War is the health of the state”, as radical writer Randolph Bourne said in the context of WWI. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam than the total combined tonnage of WWI and WWII.
In a sane world, US leaders who ran that war should have faced prosecution at a Nuremberg style criminal court for war crimes, torture, terrorism and the deliberate targeting of civilians (ditto for Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc, etc).
Now, I am here.
It’s almost difficult to believe. One of the interesting statistics I’ve recently learned is that almost 2/3 of the people in Viet Nam were born after the war ended. So for most, they only know the stories of the war through their history, or through family that survived. One friend we met, whose father fought in the war and lost many friends, says her dad doesn’t like to talk about it, which sounds like a universal truism.
Like anywhere else in the world, young people want to have a good time, go out with friends, and live a meaningful life. We have been lucky to meet some amazing people so far, and have been treated to the best spots to drink, eat, and get hair cuts. Yup. We even had a couple locals come over and make us dinner. And we love Vietnamese food! For two vegetarians traveling, you can’t do much better.
In my next posts, I’ll be writing and posting pics from our visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ha Long Bay, the Ho Chi Minh museum, and a museum dedicated to the downing of American B-52s, holy shit! There’s even wreckage still lying in a small lake in the center of town. A local named Moan (Moh-On) took us around. He asked us if we wanted to see where John McCain was shot down! LOL. YES!
McCain didn’t fly in B52s, but was shot down in a fighter jet (and saved by locals, of course), then imprisoned at Hoa Lo, or the “Hanoi Hilton” prison.
In December of 1972, nearly fifty planes were shot down by the Vietnamese, and was considered a major victory, which is called “Dien Bien Phu in the Air!”. Dien Bien Phu is the location of the defeat of the French in 1954.