Posts tagged ‘Vietnam War’

October 18, 2014

US Government Sanitizes Vietnam War History

US Government Sanitizes Vietnam War History

The Blog Posts

Marjorie Cohn | Become a fan

Professor. Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Posted: 10/17/2014 12:11 pm EDT Updated: 10/17/2014 12:59 pm EDT
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marjorie-cohn/us-government-sanitizes-v_b_6003704.html

For many years after the Vietnam War, we enjoyed the “Vietnam syndrome,” in which US presidents hesitated to launch substantial military attacks on other countries. They feared intense opposition akin to the powerful movement that helped bring an end to the war in Vietnam. But in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!”

With George W. Bush’s wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama’s drone wars in seven Muslim-majority countries and his escalating wars in Iraq and Syria, we have apparently moved beyond the Vietnam syndrome. By planting disinformation in the public realm, the government has built support for its recent wars, as it did with Vietnam.

Now the Pentagon is planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War by launching a $30 million program to rewrite and sanitize its history. Replete with a fancy interactive website, the effort is aimed at teaching schoolchildren a revisionist history of the war. The program is focused on honoring our service members who fought in Vietnam. But conspicuously absent from the website is a description of the antiwar movement, at the heart of which was the GI movement.

Thousands of GIs participated in the antiwar movement. Many felt betrayed by their government. They established coffee houses and underground newspapers where they shared information about resistance. During the course of the war, more than 500,000 soldiers deserted. The strength of the rebellion of ground troops caused the military to shift to an air war. Ultimately, the war claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans. Untold numbers were wounded and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. In an astounding statistic, more Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war.

Millions of Americans, many of us students on college campuses, marched, demonstrated, spoke out, sang and protested against the war. Thousands were arrested and some, at Kent State and Jackson State, were killed. The military draft and images of dead Vietnamese galvanized the movement. On November 15, 1969, in what was the largest protest demonstration in Washington, DC, at that time, 250,000 people marched on the nation’s capital, demanding an end to the war. Yet the Pentagon’s website merely refers to it as a “massive protest.”

But Americans weren’t the only ones dying. Between 2 and 3 million Indochinese – in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – were killed. War crimes – such as the My Lai massacre – were common. In 1968, US soldiers slaughtered 500 unarmed old men, women and children in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. Yet the Pentagon website refers only to the “My Lai Incident,” despite the fact that it is customarily referred to as a massacre.

One of the most shameful legacies of the Vietnam War is the US military’s use of the deadly defoliant Agent Orange, dioxin. The military sprayed it unsparingly over much of Vietnam’s land. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese still suffer the effects of those deadly chemical defoliants. Tens of thousands of US soldiers were also affected. It has caused birth defects in hundreds of thousands of children, both in Vietnam and the United States. It is currently affecting the second and third generations of people directly exposed to Agent Orange decades ago. Certain cancers, diabetes, and spina bifida and other serious birth defects can be traced to Agent Orange exposure. In addition, the chemicals destroyed much of the natural environment of Vietnam; the soil in many “hot spots” near former US army bases remains contaminated.

In the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973, the Nixon administration pledged to contribute $3 billion toward healing the wounds of war and the post-war reconstruction of Vietnam. That promise remains unfulfilled.

Despite the continuing damage and injury wrought by Agent Orange, the Pentagon website makes scant mention of “Operation Ranch Hand.” It says that from 1961 to 1971, the US sprayed 18 million gallons of chemicals over 20 percent of South Vietnam’s jungles and 36 percent of its mangrove forests. But the website does not cite the devastating effects of that spraying.

The incomplete history contained on the Pentagon website stirred more than 500 veterans of the US peace movement during the Vietnam era to sign a petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. “Mick” Kicklighter. It asks that the official program “include viewpoints, speakers and educational materials that represent a full and fair reflection of the issues which divided our country during the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.” The petition cites the “many thousands of veterans” who opposed the war, the “draft refusals of many thousands of young Americans,” the “millions who exercised their rights as American citizens by marching, praying, organizing moratoriums, writing letters to Congress,” and “those who were tried by our government for civil disobedience or who died in protests.” And, the petition says, “very importantly, we cannot forget the millions of victims of the war, both military and civilian, who died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, nor those who perished or were hurt in its aftermath by land mines, unexploded ordnance, Agent Orange and refugee flight.”

Antiwar activists who signed the petition include Tom Hayden and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. “All of us remember that the Pentagon got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth,” Hayden said in an interview with The New York Times. “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it,” he added.

Veterans for Peace (VFP) is organizing an alternative commemoration of the Vietnam War. “One of the biggest concerns for us,” VFP executive director Michael McPhearson told the Times, “is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world – as a propaganda tool.”

Indeed, just as Lyndon B. Johnson used the manufactured Tonkin Gulf incident as a pretext to escalate the Vietnam War, George W. Bush relied on mythical weapons of mass destruction to justify his war on Iraq, and the “war on terror” to justify his invasion of Afghanistan. And Obama justifies his drone wars by citing national security considerations, even though he creates more enemies of the United States as he kills thousands of civilians. ISIS and Khorasan (which no one in Syria heard of until about three weeks ago) are the new enemies Obama is using to justify his wars in Iraq and Syria, although he admits they pose no imminent threat to the United States. The Vietnam syndrome has been replaced by the “Permanent War.”

It is no cliché that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. Unless we are provided an honest accounting of the disgraceful history of the US war on Vietnam, we will be ill equipped to protest the current and future wars conducted in our name.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. A veteran of the Stanford anti-Vietnam War movement, she is co-author (with Kathleen Gilberd) of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. Her latest book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues, will be published in October. She is also co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.

 

August 28, 2014

Bouncing down: The back roads of history (The Ho Chi Minh Trail)

Bouncing down: The back roads of history

Posted On Aug 25, 2014
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://theadvisorcambodia.com/2014/08/bouncing-back-roads-history/

Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent rides the Ho Chi Minh Trail on a 1989 pink Honda cub

The Ho Chi Minh Trail, for those of you who’ve forgotten, was a transport network running from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, via Laos and Cambodia. Originally made up of primitive footpaths used for local trade, by the time of the Vietnam War the Trail was used to supply weapons, fuel and men in vast quantities to fight the Americans. According to the US government, the Trail was “one of the great achievements of military engineering of the 20th century”.

It also caused a great deal of trouble for both Laos and Cambodia: Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bomb load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. US fighters dropped more bombs on Laos than were dropped by all sides during the whole of the Second World War. And in Cambodia, American bombing provided a huge impetus for the rise of the Khmer Rouge.
The scale of the Trail was breathtaking. Covering more than 2,000 kilometres, from Sihanoukville in the south and Hanoi in the north, through thick jungle and over the 2,500-metre Truong Son mountain range in Laos, much of it was hidden from the bombers by tied-together tree canopies and trellises. The Americans used increasingly sophisticated weaponry to try to disrupt the Trail, including dousing it with Agent Orange, but all to no avail.

Agent Orange, a viciously unpleasant herbicide and defoliant, was used to strip the ground of plant cover, so the North Vietnamese would have nowhere to hide. According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million people were exposed to the chemical, leaving 400,000 dead and 500,000 children born with birth defects. And reports suggest that at the end of the war, 80 million bombs had fallen on the three countries but not exploded, leaving an appalling and deadly legacy.

So, all in all, the Trail was a hugely important hinge for modern Southeast Asian history. It has been traversed before by modern travel writers, on foot and on motorbike: a guy called Chris Hunt rode the length of the Trail on a Russian-made Minsk 125cc in 1995. To top that, British-born Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent decided to make the journey on a bubblegum-pink 1989 Honda C-90 stepthru moped, because “doing it on a proper dirt bike seemed too easy”. She had to have the engine rebuilt four times during the trip, so she clearly found the difficulties she was looking for.

Pink vehicles seem to be something of a motif for Bolingbroke-Kent; previously she had driven a pink tuk tuk from Bangkok to Brighton. On the Trail, at a stately 20mph, she fords rivers, climbs mountains and braves the heat and dust and loneliness and potential tiger attacks, staying in grubby guesthouses, swatting insects and drinking warm Pepsi. If her writing is sometimes a little flat, her knowledge of the history of the Trail, as well as her views on unexploded ordnance and the effects now of the logging and deforestation along the way, are invaluable.
As economic progress turns the Ho Chi Minh Trail into well-paved routes for shipping wood abroad for garden furniture, the Trail itself is disappearing; this is a decent book on a fascinating subject.

April 11, 2014

Luci Baines Johnson: Vietnam War ‘Lanced’ LBJ’s Gut Every Night

April 10, 2014 4:48 PM ET

APLuci Baines Johnson greets residents as she accompanies her mother, Lady Bird Johnson, to Savannah, Ga., on Oct. 8, 1964.

The 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is being celebrated this week at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.

NPR’s Don Gonyea spoke Wednesday to Luci Baines Johnson, the 66-year-old younger daughter of the 36th president, about some of the human dimensions of the presidency.

Here are some highlights from their discussion:

On the toll the presidency took on her father

President Johnson’s birthday letter to Luci Baines Johnson, dated July 2, 1964 — her 17th birthday, the same day the Civil Rights Act was signed.

“[The Vietnam War] was a personal burden. I saw it as if somebody was lancing his gut, every night — the sleepness nights,” she says. “It was his cross to bear and we felt it very much at home as well as in a public way.”

Recalling life in the White House during the Vietnam War

“Back then you could picket on Pennsylvania Avenue, and the walls of the White House are pretty thin and the last thing I might hear before I went to bed would be, ‘Hey, hey LBJ! How many boys did you kill today?’ and that might be the first thing I heard in the morning.”

On the unspoken bond between first families

“The children of first families — they serve, too,” she says. “So much of that common tie is of public service and of seeing your parents — who you adore —sometimes from your perspective gravely misunderstood.”

March 14, 2014

Presentation recalls ‘secret’ CIA war in Laos

Presentation recalls ‘secret’ CIA war in Laos

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.dailycampus.com/presentation-recalls-secret-cia-war-in-laos-1.3150989#.UyLy1IWhFRw

By Zach Lederman

Staff Writer

Published: Friday, March 14, 2014

Updated: Friday, March 14, 2014 02:03

SANTIAGO PELAEZ/The Daily Campus.  Major Sar Phouthasack of the Royal Lao Army and Special Guerilla Unit attached to the U.S. Special Forces was the keynote speaker at a ceremony in Konover on Thursday evening.

The atmosphere of Konover Hall in the Dodd Centre on Thursday night was a solemn one during the Vietnamese Student Association’s presentation, “The Vietnam War and the Secret War in Laos.”

The evening began with an introduction by Kimberly Thai, the VSA’s President, and Garret Grothe, who honored U.S. troops with a moment of silence, as well as a playing of the national anthem.

Once the anthem concluded, the opening ceremony began with two cultural acts: one Vietnamese, and the other Laotian. The first act featured five female members of the Vietnamese Student Association who performed a traditional Vietnamese dance representing the cultural view of the Vietnamese people as having descended from dragons. The second performance was also a dance, featuring Mina Phomphakdy, who performed a traditional Laotian dance used to grant good luck to the audience. Following the ceremonies, the keynote speaker was introduced: Major Sar Phouthasack of the Royal Lao Army and Special Guerilla Unit attached to the U.S. Special Forces.

He began his talk with a request for everyone in the audience: “Defend your nation. Support your troops and protect your fellow citizens. I have seen no greater country in my life than the United States.”

Phouthasack is a veteran of the Vietnam War but he identifies as a veteran of what many refer to as the “Secret War” in Laos. This war, which is not typically taught in school, refers to the CIA’s recruitment operation in the Hmong villages of Laos. The CIA recruited Hmong soldiers from these villages, and it was said that over the course of the war, many Hmong lost their lives in order to save even greater amounts of American troops.

Phouthasack was described as one of the greatest assets that the American army had. During the presentation, it was estimated that he had saved potentially upwards of thousands of American lives during his time on the front. He was trained by various groups, including the Green Berets and the CIA, and performed various covert intelligence operations.

Unfortunately, when the Americans left Vietnam, Phouthasack and his fellow troops were abandoned, leaving them to face the wrath of the Communist survivors who enacted ethnic cleanses all across Laos, raping and killing entire Hmong villages suspected of having supported the Americans. Though many were not so lucky, Phouthasack used his skills to successfully find refuge in Thailand before finally making his way to the United States.

At times, the stories were difficult to listen to. Phouthasack spoke of the friends he lost and the atrocities he witnessed, and as Grothe stated towards the beginning of the night, “This is part of all our history. Tonight isn’t about whether you identify as Laotian or American. Tonight is about remembering what happened to our fellow human beings, and doing what we can to see that it does not happen again.”

Following the speech, Phouthasack hosted a brief question and answer session before moving to the Asian American Cultural Center for a reception. The show was coordinated by the Vietnamese Students Association, hosted by the Asian American Cultural Center, and co-sponsored by the Cambodian Student Association, the Laotian and Thai Student Association and the CT Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission.

January 12, 2014

In A Past-Plagued Laos, A Youth Chases A Future

art & life

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.npr.org/2014/01/09/260777208/in-a-past-plagued-laos-a-youth-chases-a-future

by MARK JENKINS

January 09, 2014 5:00 PM

Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) bond when they encounter each other in a Laotian refugee village in The Rocket.   Tom Greenwood/Kino Lorber

The Rocket

  • Director: Kim Mordaunt
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

Not rated; violence, partial nudity, ribald humor, animal sacrifice

With:  Sitthiphon DisamoeLoungnam KaosainamSuthep Po-ngam

In Lao with subtitles

To help his struggling family and escape his own status as an outcast, a plucky young boy enters a competition. Yes, The Rocket is a sports movie, with an outcome that’s easily foreseen. The cultural specifics of this Laos-set tale, however, are far less predictable.

Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt came to his debut fiction feature via a documentary, Bomb Harvest, about Laotian children who collect scrap metal from American bombs. The Rocket’s 10-year-old protagonist isn’t one of them, but he does encounter some unexploded bombs and rockets — “sleeping tigers,” in the local lingo. These become of particular interest to Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) when he learns about a singular contest.

The story begins, though, with Ahlo’s birth, which his superstitious grandmother (Bunsri Yindi) deems inauspicious: Although his sibling is stillborn, Ahlo is technically a twin, which according to local lore means he may be cursed. But his mother (Alice Keohavong) refuses to kill him, as the older woman advises.

Nothing comes of grandma’s premonition for a decade, until Laos’s communist government and an Australian corporation announce plans for a new dam that will inundate the village where Ahlo and his family live. (There’s only one Aussie in the film, and he doesn’t even have a speaking part, but he embodies Mordaunt’s regret about what his countrymen have done in Laos.)

On the way to their new home, catastrophe strikes the family, and grandma begins to chide that it’s all Ahlo’s fault. Things only get worse in the relocation camp, where the promised new houses haven’t been built yet.

There, Ahlo befriends 9-year-old Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and her only surviving relative, “Uncle Purple” (Thep Phongam). Kia is playful, but a little more sensible than her new pal; her violet-suited uncle is an amiable alcoholic and, a bit too whimsically, obsessed with James Brown.

They’re pariahs in the camp, so Ahlo’s father (Sumrit Warin) orders him to avoid them. Still, the boy has a genius for getting into trouble all by himself, and after his antics enrage the shantytown community, Ahlo’s family must join Kia and her uncle on the lam.

Making their way through a country still hobbled by a war that ended in the 1970s, the refugees encounter preparations for a “rocket festival” — the goal being to puncture the sky and release rains to end a troublesome drought. Thinking he can win enough money to buy his family a new home, Ahlo turns to Uncle Purple, a former child soldier, for tips on explosives.

Laos is reportedly the world’s most bombed country, per capita, and The Rocket conveys a strong sense of the devastation. It also shows a documentarian’s eye for the earthy rural culture, with its phallic talismans and animal sacrifices.

Like Beasts of the Southern Wild, the movie depicts a world where humans and other critters live closely together, and where animals are treasured yet routinely slaughtered. Ahlo himself is quite the killer, in fact, although Kia stops him from aiming his slingshot at one particular endangered species.

More poetically, Ahlo takes a swim that becomes metaphorical: Diving into a lake created by an existing dam, the boy floats past submerged statues that symbolize the country’s scuttled traditions. This interlude, like the movie’s conclusion, is both agreeable and a little glib.

As Ahlo, Sitthiphon Disamoe demonstrates the resourcefulness he learned during a period when he was a street seller and beggar. It’s his exuberant performance, as much as the pungently naturalistic setting, that lifts The Rocket’s scenario above the generic.

The Wall Street Journal - Life and Culture

Film Review

A Lovely ‘Rocket’ Arrives Under the Radar

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303393804579310112308156786?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303393804579310112308156786.html

Jan. 9, 2014 1:44 p.m. ET

A special pleasure of movie going is sitting down with low expectations and coming out with surprised delight. “The Rocket” will do that for you, even though your expectations will have risen somewhat if you’ve read this far.

From left, Loungnam Kaosainam, Bunsri Yindi, Sitthiphon Disamoe and Sumrit Warin Kino Lorber

It’s a small film, set in Laos, with a big theme—changing one’s destiny. The hero, 10-year-old Ahlo, carries a curse almost from birth. He’s supposed to be bad luck, and he does have a gift for creating chaos wherever he goes. But he has the great luck to be played by a former street kid, Sitthiphon “Ki” Disamoe, whose irrepressible verve confers plausibility on this feel-good fable. (So does Andrew Commis’s stylish cinematography.) Kim Mordaunt’s debut feature was shot with a mostly nonprofessional Laotian cast. You’d never know, though, that the amateurs hadn’t had extensive experience—Mr. Mordaunt, an Australian, is an actor himself, and he directs actors exceptionally well—or that the one seasoned pro wasn’t tossing off his distinctive performance with beginner’s luck.

Laos gives the action a haunting context—a nation, scarred by the Vietnam War, where unexploded American bombs, or “sleeping tigers,” still lurk in the fields. After Ahlo’s family experiences a string of disasters that include the loss of their home and land to a giant Australo-Laotian hydroelectric project, the kid goes forth with his father and grandmother in search of a place to live and a way to survive. Soon they meet an endearing orphan, Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam), and her boozy uncle, Purple (fine work by a veteran actor and comedian named Thep Phongam); the characters may be clichés, but the performances are utterly fresh. At that point the group’s journey becomes, by turns, a charming road movie—Purple is a mysterious eccentric with a military past and a James Brown fetish—and a peacetime variant of “Forbidden Games,” René Clément’s 1952 classic about a young orphan girl and a poor farmer’s son making their way through Occupied France during World War II.

Mr. Mordaunt is no stranger to that latter part of the plot, having made a documentary feature, “Bomb Harvest,” about an Australian bomb-disposal expert and Laotian children who collect bombs to sell as scrap metal. But his taste is eclectic, with talent to match, so “The Rocket” is ultimately a canny piece of entertainment in which Ahlo gets a chance to redeem himself, and save his family, at a local rocket festival. A rocket festival? Yes, such things do exist in Laos, according to the production notes. They’re county fairs of a sort, competitions that ring changes on the nation’s history by firing rockets back at the sky that once rained bombs, awarding prizes for the missile that flies highest. Far be it from me to reveal the outcome, but watching Ahlo mix his explosives is like watching a Cordon Bleu chef whipping up a stupendous soufflé.

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