WAR’S LETHAL LEGACY

The SoHa online media has kindly invited me to share my take on the Agent Orange tragedy in Vietnam. Please click here for the Vietnamese version . The original English text is below.

How the Agent Orange tragedy in Vietnam defined 40 years of a foreigner’s life

By Thomas Bo Pedersen

Vietnam and its people are many things to me. Most of them heart-warming and beautiful. So much that I dare to call Vietnam ‘Que Houng thu hai cua toi’. My second home.

I have some very close friends here, who continue to give me more, than I ever thought that I would have.

All the good things are a stark contrast to the very reason, why I came here as a young journalist almost four decades go: To report on the lethal legacy of war, Agent Orange.

During the so-called American War, the US Airforce sprayed 72 million liters of herbicides to defoliate the jungle and to destroy the food supply for the guerrillas operating from the countryside. Most of the herbicides were known as Agent Orange, contaminated by dioxin, by far the most potent synthetic poison, ever developed in a laboratory.

Even though I spent weeks of research before my arrival, nothing could really have prepared me for the actual experience, when walking the rounds at the Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh along with Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong and her patients, young women who had come in from the countryside. 

THE DYING WOMEN

Two girls in every bed and occasionally two girls under the bed as well. Only the ones who were dying or in great pain could have their bed alone. Many of them with unborn babies – mother, and foetus both with malignant tumours and other unspeakably terrible diseases.  

Dr. Phuong stopped to hold the hand of a young girl, crying, and gasping from pain.

“I can do nothing for her or the many others, except trying to ease the pains during the time they have left,“ the doctor told me. 

I remember the orphanages as well, full of children with mental and physical disabilities. Until then, I did not know that human arms and legs could look like branches of an old tree.

During the following month, my photographer and I went all over Vietnam to record the long-term consequences of Agent Orange in Vietnam.  We went on to include the desperate calls for help from American war veterans and their families, suffering just as much from exposure to Agent Orange. 

US DENIALS

When I returned to Europe and published my first reports on Agent Orange, they were written off by some as communist propaganda. The US Embassy in Denmark went out of their way to destroy my credibility with a discreet phone call to my editors sharing the concern that the reputation of my newspaper was damaged by my unfounded allegations.

This first experience with the Agent Orange cover-up fueled an anger inside of me which has continued to burn ever since.  Over the years, I have continued to use every opportunity, to highlight the ongoing suffering of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam and elsewhere. I have written hundreds of articles, given many lectures, and been involved in fund raising in my own small way. 

AN ODYSSEY OF MISERY

At one point, I set out to gather evidence, how Agent Orange continues to affect the Vietnamese people. It became an odyssey of misery, which I have never been able to put behind me. I visited several villages in the North with many former soldiers who had returned from the contaminated battlefields in the South decades ago. 

In provinces like Hai Duong, Thai Binh and Nam Dinh, I met scores of 2nd and 3rd generation victims, and their desperate parents, who all asked the same question: Who will take care of our disabled children, when we are dead?  

The same happened among the poorest of the poor in the Central Highlands and in Da Nang, where people suffered from continued exposure of chemicals, which had seeped into the ground under the former US Airbase.  The dioxin contamination level there was more that 300 times the safety limit. 

A LETTER TO OBAMA

At the Tu DU hospital in HCMC I got myself the sweetest young friend, Hoan, born without lower legs and with one arm only.  She had just written a letter to US President Barack Obama ask him to help the Agent Orange victims in Vietnam. She never received any reply from the White House, but then again, in a way she did get a belated response from the president.

In 2016, during Obama’s official visit to Vietnam, he became the first US president ever to officially acknowledge the Agent Orange issue in his ‘Remarks to the Vietnamese people’. 

Prior to this the US has never officially admitted any responsibility for the Agent Orange tragedy, even though they have given medical support to affected US veterans and their families- 

In all fairness it must be said that the US government also – and for more than a decade – has supported the clean-up of the Da Nang airbase as ‘an environmental support’ project and sponsored several programmes to support programmes for disabled Vietnamese, without officially acknowledging any link to the Agent Orange exposure. For that reason, Obama’s speech was a very important change of US policy. 

Most recently, the US has also committed support to the clean-up of the former US airbase in Bien Hoa, which will be a huge challenge financially as well as timewise. Good news, indeed.

A NEW HOPE

Unfortunately, funds are still far from sufficient to assist the thousands of victims in Vietnam and elsewhere.  Some hope is growing, now that a Vietnamese woman in France has sued the US companies, who produced Agent Orange. 

The hope is based on the fact that a janitor in the US recently won a court case against Agent Orange manufacturer Monsanto. The court awarded him a compensation of USD 289 million. He had contracted cancer due to his exposure of similar kind of herbicides, which he used for clearance of weeds on the school premises, where he worked for decades.  

My own pessimism is based on the previous court cases by Vietnamese victims, refused without exception by US judges.  We shall wait and see, what happens now. In the meantime, thousands of people have died in Vietnam from cancers that used to be rare in this country. 2nd and 3rd generation are abundant. Just visit Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City or the ‘peace villages’ in the North and see for yourself. 

From time to time, I reunite with Dr. Phuong, most recently 3 weeks ago. At 77, she is supposed to be retired. Nevertheless, she came late for her appointment with me because she had performed emergency surgery on three complicated cases the same morning.  They might not have been due to Agent Orange, but Dr. Phuong is adamant that we have not seen the last victim yet of this lethal legacy. 

BE STRONG AS A TIGER

It was my great fortune to spend this morning with one of Vietnam’s towering giants, soldier, writer, scholar and so much more, Huu Ngoc, now 104 years of age. I met him twice before, in 2004 and 2010.

His living room in Cau Giay district is simple at first glance, but filled with the treasures of a truly amazing life.

Stacks of his 37 books and thousands of articles are everywhere. Huu Ngoc happily shows his latest book, the two-volume “Cao Thom Lan Gio”. It is 1.000 pages written by hand at the age of 99, and typed by younger relatives.

“It is definitely my last book. I cannot really see well enough to write anymore, Ngoc says in fluent English with a slight French accent.

On the wall, there is a big black and white photo of himself with his beloved wife Trinh and their daughter Dich Van. The family had just been re-united after the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which led to the collapse of French colonialism in Indochina.

Ngoc fought there in the final battle, while his wife took care of the wounded as an army nurse. His beloved Trinh passed away some months ago, and their daughter just turned 70.

Next to the family photo, there is a small blurred photo. A very young Huu Ngoc is standing there between President Ho Chi Minh and Vice President Ton Duc Thang and a high-ranking delegation from the German Democratic Republic.

“Our leader was in desperate need of a translator. He was fluent in French and English, but the Germans only knew their own language. I had learned German from a German prisoner of war, who had fought with the French, so i jumped in as Uncle Ho’s personal translator,” Huu Ngoc says with a grin.

LET ME SHARE with you some excerpts from our wide ranging conservation this morning, carried out at around 90 decibel or so, due to Huu Ngoc’s fading hearing.

Here is what he had to say about China and the legacy of Confucianism: “The Chinese have believed for 21 centuries that the almighty emperors all are sons from heaven. They still believe that, and the present emperor, called President, certainly aims to rule the world.”

ON THE AMERICANS: “They are our friends, but they are not good readers. So when I wrote my very thick book “Wandering through Vietnamese culture”, I asked my wonderful friend Lady Borton for help. She cut down the American version of my book to one third to help me, and her fellow Americans to understand my message.”

ON UPSETTTING the Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller during his official visit to Vietnam in 2004: “I tried my best to humour the minister and help him understand why we did not welcome French colonialism.”

“Uncle Ngoc, As you may recall, I was there as a note taker from the Embassy. Do you remember what you said to him?”

“Tell me, young friend.”

“You know, our foreign minister at the time had very close personal ties to France, and he became upset, because you talked so much about French brutality and exploitation. Then he asked you, if you did not have anything good to say about the French.

You replied:”Oh yes, Minister. I can mention one thing. You see the beautiful Vietnamese lady over at the door. Look at her Ao Dai and the nice cut exposing a small triangle of her beautiful skin right above her thigh. Before the French the Ao Dai looked more like a soldier’s tent. I am very grateful to the French for introducing that beautiful cut!”.

ON A HAPPY and long life:”Uncle Ngoc, when we met the last time in 2010, you gave me a very important advice to follow to achieve a good life.”

“Yes I remember. I told you to be strong as a tiger. I hope you listened well.”

“Uncle Ngoc, you also reassured me back then that the future is always better than the past.”

“Yes, I think I said so. If you still believe that, you are a bigger optimist than me!”

Uncle Ngoc then challenges his failing eye sight and writes a personal dedication for me in his 665 pages “Sketches for a portrait of Vietnamese culture.” The book was a present from my ex-wife in 2002, and with Ngoc’s dedication in it, I am concerned she might steal it back. 😀

Never the less, Uncle Ngoc then starts singing an old military song for us as his farewell salute.

The above is written with a very big thanks to the eminent Toui Tre journalist Huong Hoang, who helped me find Huu Ngoc again on this rainy Saturday morning in Hanoi.

THE MAN WITH NO NAME

I look at the photo

Our meeting 36 years ago, this month.

Your face in black and white.

The well worn jacket took the brunt 

of Hanoi’s freezing, humid winter.

I remember your modest pride:

Remembering the final attack in the morning hours

You rode in sitting on the battered tank

You showed me the map

Red arrrows indicating

How thousands of battle hardened soldiers

entered the enemy’s last stand.

Soldiers so young, their eyes too early aged 

through years of endless combat

Bodies like walking skeletons from years on jungle rations.

The victorius sons and daughters 

of Nam Dinh, Thai Binh, Hai Duong, Hoa Binh, Ninh Binh

and countless other places far up north.

Thousands were left dead along the Ho Chi Minh Trail

still mourned by another army of grieving relatives

looking for the remnants of Wandering Souls

roaming the land of their ancestors

I knew you had gone to war at the age of 14

You answered the call from the school teacher

who had become a famous general to liberate his land

Your entire life was spent in a war without fronts

You shared with me the fruits of victory 

with a smile so beautiful, I almost cried. 

I did not imagine that a war hero could be as modest as you

You gave me no clue of the bitter fruits waiting to poison you in peace time

Not a single hint of merciless struggles among brothers and sisters.

Could it be you did not know what life had in store for you

A different kind of suffering, bloodless and all the more painful

You left it it all behind

You were lost to former comrades, friends and family.

You watched them for decades, from afar.

Bitterness became your trademark for all to see

You passed away in foreign lands

In peace, I wonder?

Or will I meet you soon again

A Wandering Soul in the streets of Hanoi

Looking for your name

tbp, Hanoi 04/21

REUNION WITH HOAN

Such a beautiful afternoon seeing my friend Hoan again. When I first met her 11 years ago at the Tu Du hospital, she was struggling as hard as any Agent Orange victim, born without lower legs and one hand only. Today, she came riding on her own motorbike to meet me at a Saigon cafe.

“When I told the doctors, I wanted my own motorbike, they said “No! How can you drive safely with one hand and no legs?!” But I had seen other disabled people ride a motorbike, so I insisted. Now, I have my artificial legs from Germany. It took me a year to learn to use them with a lot of pain, but they are fine now. I only have problems, when my legs are renewed. Then it takes me another three months to get used to them.”

A decade ago I gave Hoan the best English dictionary, I could find. These days, she speaks fluent English, and a great deal better than my insufficient Vietnamese, even though Hoan acknowledged some improvement on my part. When we first met, Hoan was living at the hospital with 11 other kids in the room.

In those days her big dream was to become a doctor, like her famous stepmother, Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong. “I had to give up my dream. I accepted that you cannot be a doctor with one hand only and no legs.”Instead, Hoan became a software specialist, and now she works at the Tu Du hospital writing code. She moved out from the ward several years ago.

“I have a good salary, and I rented a house with my friends. I also have my own business selling different things. My friends in Australia were so amazed to see how well I can do in business.”

A message for Obama – and Biden

Hoan became famous as a teenager, when she wrote a letter to US president Obama and asked him to help the Agent Orange children in Vietnam. Obama never replied, but Hoan was invited to testify with her stepmother before the US. Congress.

I asked her if she has a message for the new president, Joe Biden.

“Oh yes, and I am willing to travel to the White House and tell him. There are so many victims from poor families, who cannot take of themselves like I can.” My beautiful friend continues to pursue her dreams to help other victims. When I asked her, what her next dream is, she giggled and looked at me with those sparkling eyes: “I want to get married with a good husband, who will work with me to help those in need.”

REUNION WITH A HEROINE

I presented dr. Phuong with this beautiful portrait from our first encounter in 1984, shot by photographer Ole Johnny Sørensen.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong came late for our reunion today. She performed three operations this morning, and the last one was a bit difficult, she told me.  

“But doctor Phuong. At our last reunion 10 years ago you told me you would retire soon!” I said to her.

“I am 78 now, so I only accept complicated cases,” she explained today. 

Since 1969, Dr. Phuong has assisted thousands of Vietnamese women with abnormal pregnancies. Today, I gave her this beautiful portrait of herself by photographer Ole Johnny Soerensen, from my first interview with her in 1984. 

I have never been able to put behind me the unspeakable nightmare she was dealing with: Young pregnant women dying on her day after day in the Tu Du Hospital, because of their exposure to Agent Orange. Two young girls in each bed, and sometimes another two girls on a mattress below the beds. 

These days, the nightmare has become sort of manageable. “We have very advanced equipment now, so we can detect abnormal foetus at a very early stage with a much better chance of saving lives,” Dr. Phuong says.

Over the years, she has taken the agony of the Agent Orange victims to the US congress, often accompanied by her adopted daughter Hoan, who was born with no legs below the knees and one hand only. 

Much has happened since the first time we met. In those days the US government denied all allegations from Dr. Phuong and her colleagues as communist propaganda.  

In the past decade, the US have donated as much as USD 400 million to the clean-up of Agent Orange contaminated sites. And more funds are on the way. 

“We do need more funds,” says Dr. Phuong. “We need support for 2nd and 3rd generation victims. We want to create jobs for victims, who can work in spite of their disabilities. I want to help them to get married as well to have a normal life to the extent possible.”

Let us give it up for Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, a true heroine for us all. 

WHEN DARKNESS DESCENDS

I was one of a handful of journalists, who found our ways to sneak into Burma to report from the ongoing slaughter, which swept across the country some 30 years ago. What we found our editors barely believed, that’s how bad it was. 

– This morning I received the news that my own government of Denmark is now recommending all Danes to consider leaving Burma, or Myanmar as the Junta renamed this suffering nation. Other countries, like my second home Vietnam, have started evacuating their citizens from Burma. 300 Vietnamese just arrived safely here.

Surely, other foreign governments will do the same.  I am not out this morning to blame governments or the frightened foreigners, who are running away from the killings in Burma. I am writing this, because I have very, very strong fears, what will happen next. Because I have seen it all before. I have seen what Tatmadaw (The killing machine of the Burmese generals) will do, when they operate without any restraint. 

They kill, they kill, they kill – that’s how they deal with dissent, whether it is students, Buddhist monks or just any bystander, who happens to be present.

I was one of a handful of journalists, who found our ways to sneak into Burma to report from the ongoing slaughter, which swept across the country some 30 years ago. What we found our editors barely believed, that’s how bad it was. 

Thousands had fled into the jungle, finding shelter with the Karen insurgents, who had fought the Burmese generals since World War II, or they were in hiding with the Shan guerillas. Other thousands were less fortunate. Here is what a catholic priest told me:

“I plead with President Bush, the UN, all the powers of the world to help us. They are closing the schools, the universities, the churches and the temples. People are disappearing without a trace. They have built new crematoriums next to the prisons. The chimneys are billowing with smoke day and night.”

Sadly, the world largely ignored the cries for help, including my own government. As typical for a young journalist and as pathetic as it might have been, I wrote a very angry op-ed in my newspaper, targeting the Danish Prime Minister Poul Schlüter for his silence on Burma. I doubt that he ever read it. The piece was buried on page 18. 

Some governments did even worse. The Polish arms corporation Polski Zaklady Lotnicze sold 20 heavily armed MI2 helicopters to Tatmadaw. Poland’s own liberation hero, president Lech Walesa did nothing to stop the deal. 

Swedish Bofors delivered state of the art patrol boats to Tatmadaw. The Swedish Prime Minister did not intervene.  

The lethal shopping spree of Tatmadaw was largely financed by the French oil company Total with the full acceptance of the French government. Total got the first foreign oil concessions from Burma in return.

To make matters worse, the Thai general and later Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh let his son put together the infamous ‘blood for teak’-deal, which ensured Thailand a huge amount of precious Burmese teak wood. They paid by forcibly returning Burmese refugees in Thailand to their destiny at the hands of Tatmadaw. 

I remember a disheartening talk in Copenhagen with the late Michael Aris, the husband of Burma’s incarcerated Aung San Suu Kyi. He had come to Denmark in an attempt to alert the Danish government to the carnage in Burma, invited by the Danish Burma Committee. No one but the committee bothered to listen to Michael Aris.

I am burdening my friends with all of this, as I see the writings on the wall on an early Tuesday morning in Hanoi. Honestly, the latest news from Burma kept me up much of the night. I am hearing long forgotten Burmese voices, as foreigners are scrambling out of Burma once again. A friend in Rangoon just messaged me a screen shot to show me, how his internet is going down. The Darkness is coming back.

In the short run, I am sure we will see a bit of uproar in the media and elsewhere, as the situation gets worse now in Burma. The generals might be a little cautious, until the world’s attention turns elsewhere due to other calamities.  

I hope I am wrong, but I fear that I am right: Once the darkness engulfs Burma again, the killings will be systematic and on a much larger scale, as we have seen before.

The Tatmadaw will do so, because they know it works. 

THE MAGIC OF CLAY

How her grandfather’s furniture workshop and years of global encounters have inspired the amazing works of Dutch artist Petra de Vree. In recent years, Vietnam has been her focus.

Petra with a sculpture, inspired the Vietnamese Nypa fruit.

The first thing you would notice in Petra de Vree’s living room is the incredibly beautiful dining table, big enough to accommodate 12 people. The table is in massive wood and looks like it weighs half a ton. She designed it herself during her years in Bolivia.

Petra designed her own dining table during her years in Bolivia.

“The carpenters had a Caoba tree brought directly from the forest, a tree big enough to cut a 14 feet piece of wood,” says Petra. 

The texture and smell of fresh wood in processing has played an important role in her creative efforts since her childhood in a small, pittoresk village in the Netherlands.

“My grandfather was a furniture maker and my father a carpenter, and early on I started making things out of leftovers in their workshop. At the same time, I often went with my father to pick vegetables, getting the feeling of soil in my hands. This led me into the magic of clay.”

Petra does not work with just any clay. She prefers the black clay of her own country.

“When we left for Bangladesh in 2014, I brought 600 kilos of Dutch clay with me, and the remaining clay moved on with us, when we moved to Hanoi in 2017. I still have enough for a year or two.”

Petra’s works from Bangladesh is displayed in her studio.

Petra’s unique clay sculptures has indeed resonated around the world, wherever she has lived and worked as an artist. Her works are clearly inspired by the local scene, be it Ghana, Bolivia, Nepal, Guatemala, Bangladesh or most recently Vietnam. 

Petra’s husband is a biologist and an anthropologist with a long career in Dutch development assistance programmes around the world for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Along their way through the world, she has set up her own space as a professional artist.

Lady of the Lamps

“In Ghana the called me ‘The Lady of the Lamps’, because I started a lamp production in cooperation with the local blacksmith,” says Petra with a grin. 

In Bangladesh, they made this fascination documentary The Beauty of Clay , where you can learn more about her works.

Just a few weeks ago, Petra’s works were exhibited at Hanoi Studio Gallery.  A sculpture, titled ‘Da Song’ (Vietnamese for Living Rock) struck me immediately as perfect addition to my own modest art collection. The asymmetric and rough features are obviously inspired by Halong Bay, topped off with the fine features of a human face.  Inevitably, the ‘Da Song’ moved in with me yesterday, now sharing my magnificent view of the Red River.

Female strength and beauty are recurrent themes in Petra’s works throughout her career:

“Born between two boys I liked the kind of games they were playing, or other things they were doing, so I played with them. But if they gave me a certain roll because of being a girl I felt the injustice of not being a boy.  Deep inside I knew I would be capable to do the same as them or what was expected from them.  Nowadays I like to show with my sculptures the talents of women. It makes me really happy to see the younger female generations, women like Jacinda Ardern and Amanda Gorman, taking their space and being a positive inspiration for girls.”

In Hanoi, Petra has also started her own art courses in her To Ngoc Van studio.  Some 20 students are learning how to cope with the mysteries of ceramics.  From the works, I saw there, including a nicely crafted dragon, it looks like Petra will leave another living legacy behind here, when she and her husband move on to their next destination. 

LÆREMESTEREN ER GÅET BORT

– DET KRÆVER IKKE DET STORE TALENT AT OPSPORE ULOVLIGHEDER. DET GÆLDER OM AT AFSLØRE DE LOVLIGE URIMELIGHEDER.

Sådan lød en af de centrale journalistiske ambitioner, som jeg og andre unge journalister fik venligt, men bestemt terpet ind af vores læremester Jørgen Flindt Pedersen, som døde i dag 80 år gammel.

Det var en meget stor dag, da Jørgen ringede til mig i maj 1988: “Det er en bedrift, at du har skrevet en nuanceret bog om Egon Weidekamp. Vi har lige mistet Lasse Ellegaard. Kunne du ikke tænke dig at træde i hans sted?”

Jeg revnede af stolthed den dag og tilgav Jørgen det fuldt og helt, da jeg senere fandt ud, at vi var hele tre journalister, der blev hyret til i fællesskab at fylde Fyrtårnet Ellegaards journalistiske vandrestøvler ud.

Det blev nogle fantastiske år på Det Fri Aktuelt under Jørgens utrættelige journalistiske indpiskning. Han havde meget svært ved at holde sig til sin egen jobbeskrivelse som Chefredaktør.

Han ville være med selv på de dagsorden-sættende historier. Jeg husker en dag, hvor jorden for alvor var begyndt at brænde under fødderne på finansmanden Klaus Riskær Pedersen, som på et tidspunkt havde arbejdet som researcher for Jørgen i DR. Med Jørgens hjælp fik jeg en interview-aftale med den belejrede Riskær i hans herskabslejlighed dør om dør med Amalienborg. I sidste øjeblik stod Jørgen ved mit skrivebord med et: “Har du noget imod at jeg tager med?”

Min rolle blev i praksis at tage noter og skrive artikel-udkastet, og det blev selvfølgelig et af de bedste interviews jeg nogensinde har haft en aktie i. Et andet typisk Jørgen-øjeblik kom, da han modstræbende bevilgede mig en reportage-rejse for at besøge alle borgerkrigens parter i Cambodia. “Det er en rigtigt godt koncept du har lavet, jeg ville bare ønske det var mig selv, der skulle afsted,” sagde han – og mente det.

Mennesket Jørgen kom jeg for alvor til at mærke, da jeg knækkede sammen efter nogle barske oplevelser i journalistikkens tjeneste og blev sygemeldt. Et par dage senere lå der et håndskrevet brev postkassen. Jørgen fortalte, hvordan han selv var brudt sammen med et angstanfald på Storebæltsfærgen og var bogstaveligt talt blevet samlet op fra gulvet af folketingsmedlem Birte Weiss, som tilfældigvis var med samme færge. “Siden da har jeg altid gået rundt med stesolider i lommen, og det skal man ikke skamme sig over,” skrev han.

Et stærkt vemodigt minde er Jørgens tale ved redaktionschef Rolf Gecklers begravelse. Rolf var ikke fyldt 35, da han tabte kampen mod kræften. Jørgens farvel til Rolf var noget af det mest ubærligt smukke, jeg har hørt.

Vore veje skiltes, da Jørgen blev direktør på TV2, og jeg selv kort efter forlod journalistikken til fordel for Udenrigsministeriet. Der gik næsten 20 år, før vi blev genforenet i Hanoi, hvor han og Birgitte boede hos mig. Jørgen medbragte et eksemplar af sine erindringer ‘Hjerteblod’ med en dedikation, som gjorde mig lige så kisteglad som dengang med Ellegaard. Jeg sidder og bladrer i den nu, mens tårerne triller mere end en anelse.

Under Jørgens første besøg herude arrangerede vi en aften for herboende danskere, hvor Jørgen fortalte om sine oplevelser, da han dækkede Vietnam-krigen for TV-Avisen. Han tryllebandt en fyldt sal inde på Hilton-hotellet. Jeg havde også Jørgen og Birgitte med på min ‘Hanoi History Mystery Tour’, og han kvitterede året efter med en magisk rundvisning i sit elskede Kerteminde.

Det var også ved den lejlighed, at Jørgen kom med forslaget om, at vi sammen skulle lave den ultimative dokumentar om de infame langtids-følger af ‘Agent Orange’, som det amerikanske luftvåben sprøjtede ud over Vietnam. Jørgen havde allerede spottet hovedpersonen: 20-årige Hoan, der var født uden ben og med en arm. Hun havde skrevet til præsident Obama og bedt om hjælp på vegne af hundrede tusinder vietnamesiske ofre. Jørgen havde synopsen i hovedet, og få måneder senere var han og Birgitte tilbage i Hanoi.

Vi diskuterede projektet videre i detaljer, mens han lige lavede en dokumentar-udsendelse om en dansk, pensioneret lærer der knoklede som frivillig på et provinshospital i Bao Loc. På den sidste dag i Hanoi, gav han mig en liste at arbejde videre med. “Vi ses snart igen,” sagde han. Men det gjorde vi ikke. Nogle få måneder senere fik jeg den triste meddelelse om hans slagtilfælde. Endnu tristere er det at vide, at Jørgen nu er helt væk.

Æret være hans minde.

WOUNDS WITHOUT HEALING

Today I hand over my blog to two distinguished poets, one inspired by the other in a truly moving symbiosis. Take a few moments and listen to Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai and Dan Shea

TEARS OF QUẢNG TRỊ

by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

After the last American soldiers
had left Vietnam
and grass had grown
scars onto bomb craters,
I took some foreign friends to Quảng Trị,
once a fierce battlefield.

I was too young for war
to crawl under my skin
so when I sat with my friends
at a roadside café, sipping tea,
enjoying the now-green landscape,
I didn’t know how to react
when a starkly naked
woman rushed towards us, howling.

Her ribs protruded like the bones
of a fish which had been skinned.
Her breasts swaying like long mướp fruit,
and her womanly hair a black jungle.

I was too young to know
what to say when the woman
shouted for my foreign friends
to return her husband and children to her.

Stunned, we watched her fight against villagers
who snatched her arms and dragged her away from us.
‘She’s been crazy,’ the tea seller said.
‘Her house was bombed.
Her husband and children…
she’s been looking for them ever since.’

My friends bent their heads.
‘But the war was here forty-six years ago,’ I said.
‘Some wounds can never heal.’ The tea seller shrugged.

And here I was, thinking green grass
could heal bomb craters into scars.

SOME SCARS NEVER HEAL

by Dan Shea

Inspired by

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai‘s

poem Tears of Quang Tri. 

Green Marine deployed to

Quang Tri Province, Viet Nam 

August – October 1968

occupation machine gunner

The thunder of artillery

was a heartbeat of war

death danced to it’s tune

helicopters kept the rhythm

Mountain Jungles took 

our breath away, a sniper’s

bullet sang, you don’t belong

a marine fell, baptized in blood

Death tapped me on 

my shoulder, I refused 

the dance, a mortar shell

a vibrating cymbal in my head

It was over fifty two years

ago, some scars never heal

war was wrong, I an enemy

we should have been friends.

A WRONG FLAG IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME

Today, I am handing over my blog to Viet Thanh Nguyen: “What these particular Vietnamese have done is treasonous , shameful, and stupid. They own this behaviour. And so do those who didn’t march and continue to support Trump.”

By Viet Thanh Nguyễn

Vietnamese Americans flew the South Vietnamese flag at the attempted coup.

Even mainstream conservatives are calling this sedition. Too bad it took the storming of the U.S. Capitol for them to finally realize that Trump has always been a danger to the country, and believes only in himself, not the GOP and certainly not the entire USA.

And some Vietnamese Americans, who fled an authoritarian regime, who have always cast themselves as patriots, are going all-in on aligning themselves with a pro-Trump, cult of personality movement. that is inextricably intertwined with white resentment, white privilege, white supremacy, and apologizing for the Confederacy and defending it.

I am hearing from Vietnamese Americans who are pained by seeing their relatives continue to endorse this. I don’t know what to say to them. We love our relatives, who love us. They are good people. But everyone has to take responsibility at some point for what they believe, what they say, and what they do.

And what these particular Vietnamese have done is treasonous , shameful, and stupid. They own this behaviour. And so do those who didn’t march and continue to support Trump.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn is the best selling author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer and several non-fiction works, including The Refugees and Nothing Ever Dies.