– And two different attempts to make us want to understand why and how it all happened
– And two different attempts to make us want to understand why and how it all happened
Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre newspaper have looked into, how the government is stepping up its measures against the perceived dangers of social media, including a 10.000 strong ‘cyber force’ unit, controlled by the army:
“On top of efforts to regulate content on social media, a Vietnamese general has revealed that the country had employed a cyber task force to fight the dissemination of false and derogatory information on the Internet.
Force 47 consists of more than 10,000 “core fighters” against hostile forces in cyberspace, according to Colonel General Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy chairman of the General Political Department of the People’s Army of Vietnam.
“As forces and countries suggest using cyberspace to fuel real war, [Vietnam] should also stay vigilant against wrongful views in every second, minute, and hour,” the three-star general said at a meeting on December 25.
With hostile forces having employed the Internet as a new medium for their effort to sabotage Vietnam, the country’s army has acknowledged that it should ready its forces for warfare in cyberspace alongside the conventional military, Nghia added.”
US Poet Laren McClung spent a decade collecting the testimonies of fellow writers, who inherited the sufferings of the war in Vietnam from their parents. A formidable achievement which deserves global attention
The casualties, the suffering, the misery and the destruction. The story has been told so many times about those who fought in Vietnam and those who got caught up in the war. The voices of the immediate victims, combatants and civilians, are all too familiar. We know their numbers must be counted in millions.
Now, there is more, a lot more to be included in our understanding of war and the trauma that follows.
With the 2018 publication of ”Inheriting the War” a new dimension is added to the human price still being paid in Vietnam, the US and elsewhere by thousands of descendants of veterans, civilian victims and refugees all over the world.
The American poet Laren McClung has spent a decade tracing the descendants through their poetry and prose. Her formidable endeavor is now available in 400 pages of compelling reading. 60 poets and authors from around the world has contributed to the book with their personal stories on the impact that the war in Vietnam still has on their lives – more than 40 years after the last combat casualties occurred.
”Even though I wasn’t alive during the war, I have been living through it since I was born,” T.K. Le sums up her perspective in a single sentence. Even though she grew up in California in a Vietnamese refugee family, a caucasian coworker jokingly labels her “Viet Cong” at a cocktail party.
“I could talk to my coworker about how my parents were both refugees and about the life and death decisions they had to make at ages younger than ours. I could talk about the My Lai massacre, about the systematic rape of entire villages that meant even less than “just making a point.” Agent Orange, burning skin, land mine amputees, and all the dead children. But I won’t satisfy her with the gratuitous imagery of a war I never knew.”
The acclaimed writer Andrew Lam recounts his conversations with a woman, who spent years in one of Hong Kong’s infamous refugee camps:
”I ran out of tears so now I just laugh when I can,” she said. Her sons, who share the same history as their mother,now live in Santa Ana, California. Their mother, on the other hand, has become a living ghost.”
The refugee camps in Hong Kong are long gone, but Andrew Lam’s essay The Stories They Carried contains one haunting testimony after another, like the fate of a former officer in the South Vietnamese army, Diep Tran and his son:
When he and his son finally reached Hong Kong, he lacked the USD 3,000 cash demanded by a screening official. In protest, his son, Anh Huy, committed self-immolation in front of the UNHCR official. Tran showed me his son’s photos. One is a smiling teenager. The other is a picture of a burnt, bloodied corpse flanked by grim looking Vietnamese men.
Hanoi based poet Ngu Tu Lap, was too young to fight in the war, but his childhood memories continue to torture him:
While I played with a snail
In a bomb shelter filled with rain
The women disappeared without a sound
Thirty years later I still see them
Millions of breasts cut from sufffering bodies
Fallen to earth like young coconuts
Full with milk even in the grave
Thirty years later they still come back
To prepare the alluvial fields for corn
Their tears falling like crystals.
A FATHER’S WAR NO MORE
Adam Karlin sets out to find his father’s war in Vietnam. Only to find a country, very different from what his father, author Wayne Karlin experienced during the war and described himself in his instant classic Wandering Souls.
Adam Karlin encounters Nha Trang, a former fishing village which is now full of beach resorts ”with pink-faced Russian tourists who throw endless reserves of money and insults at locals.”
At the top of Da Nang’s Marble Mountain, Adam Karlin finds the proper place to pay homage to the man, who inadvertently saved his father during the war:
I said a prayer to Jim Childers, a helicopter gunner who switched missions with my dad and was subsequently killed. My father touches his name every time he visits the black wall in Washington D.C.
Nguyen Phong, etnic Vietnamese, relates a childhood experience in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. He still carries the memory of an old man in the market, who had asked a band of teenage soldiers to leave him alone.
”These Khmer Rouge kids in their war-customes stung like wasps. They seized him by the arms and dragged him into the market, where among the bitter melon and durian, he was clubbed with riffle butts and kicked by twelwe little feet, shod in sandals cut from old tire…
…I had seen a man beating a child before. But never had I seen af child beating man a man. With every strike, the earth seemed to wobble on its axis.”
Once the Khmer Rouge kids were fed up with the beating, one of them killed the old man with his bayonet.
THE AMERICAN DREAM AND THE NIGHTMARE
Pulitzer prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Symphatizer) offers this observation, as a response to being labelled an ’immigrant writer’:
”Immigrants are the story of the American dream, of American exceptionalism. Refugees are the reminder of the American nightmare, which is how so many who were caught under American bombardment experience the United States….….I had breakfast with a former Vietnamese ambassador in Hanoi and she said that Vietnamese ”boat people” were economic refugees, not political refugees. Probably every single Vietnamese refugee would disagree with her.”
Deborah Paradez, daughter of a US Vietnam veteran, devotes a poem to the omnipresent dangers of UXO’s – unexploded mines and bombs in the entire region. The UXO’s still find their victims all too often in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
In Laos, a farmer digs
for bamboo shoots
and his spade strikes
a cluster bomb
startled from its mud-cradle
At night the hollow poles rise
And answer to the wind.
Who knows how many more will surface by morning.
Bao Phi brings us to a scene, he has been carrying with him for years:
I am teenager, shopping with my mom for groceries at Cub foods. In the parking lot a Vietnam veteran starts shouting at a Hmong family, two parents and two kids. ”I fought for you people, you owe me!” he screams at them. They don’t look at him, they keep walking, their shoulders turn in towards each other as if they are trying to make themselves as small a target as possible. I see this and I want to say something, but I don’t. I feel like an unlit match.
Ben Quick, son of US veteran, is a second generation Agent Orange victim.
His father patrolled day in and day out in the areas, defoliated by the dioxin-contaminated chemicals, more than 72 million liters were sprayed over Southern Vietnam in a futile attempt to deny the Viet Cong cover and food. After the war, Ben was born with some of the all too typical disfigurements – in his case a deformed hand, which he has been trying to keep out of sight, ever since he became conscious of his handicap:
Lying in bed at night before sleep takes hold, I’ll notice my left hand resting underneath the ruffles of the blanket while my right hand sits bare and comfortable on top. Or I’ll think about a class I’ve taught on a particular morning, coming to a sudden realization that all gesturing and hand-waiving was done with one arm. I will pause for a moment and make a mental note. Sometimes, I will curse.
Ocean Vuong is trying to come to terms with the sudden suicide of his uncle.
There should be tears. There should be a reason. It’s 7:34 PM on New Year’s Eve. I am lying in my kitchen in Astoria, New York, my cheek pressed to the cold tiles. My mother has just called. My child, she says in Vietnamese, her voice barely a gasp, your uncle has killed himself. It was not until she heard herself say those words did she start wailing into the phone. I open my eyes and see only the blue and yellow tiles on the kitchen floor. Little blue flowers on tiny sun-lit fields. When did I fall? Is that my voice? I did not know I could sound like that: Like an animal that just learned the word for God…..
….When someone dies their silence becomes sort of a held note, a key on the piano pressed down for so long it becomes an ache in the ear, a new sonic register from which we start to measure our new, ruptured lives.
Karen Spears Zacharias has the final chapter with her essay The Man In The Jeep – a symbol of the dreaded visitors, who came to more than 58.000 American families during the war: The US Army officers who brought the ultimate grievous news from Vietnam to the relatives at home.
Karen recalls her last conversation with her father before he went to war.
”Why are you crying, honey?
”I am scared,” I answered.
”Scared of what?” Daddy walked over and sat down on the edge of my bed.
”That you won’t come home!” I wailed. Like monsoon rains, powerful tears rushed forth.
”Karen,” Daddy said, smoothing matted hair back from my wet cheeks. ”I’ll come back. I promise.”
…Daddy kept his promise, in a way. He did come back. Via airmail, in a cargo plane full of caskets.
I am typing these final words during my descent to Hanoi’s Not Bai Airport 1 January, 2018. These days, B52 bombers have been replaced by Boeing Dreamliners and the competing A 350’s. The SAM anti aircraft missils on the ground have given way to McDonalds, Starbucks and friendly immigration officers. Better still, The Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the USA both benefit from the immense value of their new strategic partnership.
Yet, there are so many people around us, who continues to inherit the suffering of a war that ended more than four decades ago.
I am thinking that this eminent book does deserve to come out in Vietnamese – for obvious reasons. And in any other language spoken.
Laren McClung (ed.): Inheriting the war. 415 pages. WW Norton & Co. 2018.
Today, I hand over my blog to the official VIETNAM NEWS and this unusually sharp op-ed on ‘CRAPITALISM’ – i.e. the endemic corruption in Vietnam.
In a Đà Nẵng plot that has thickened steadily over the last several years, police are seeking a 42-year-old real estate tycoon, Phan Văn Anh Vũ, for criminal charges of “revealing State secrets.”
For the moment, we are not privy to what the nature of the “State secrets” was, but how did a private sector businessperson happen to access them in the first place?
Then, that the tycoon, who made a name for himself with possession of several former State-owned lands in desirable locations scattered across the third largest city in Việt Nam, gets an inside tip to flee the clutches of the law screams his guilt, and raises troubling questions with some obvious, even more troubling answers.
This man, who has since been referred to as a Đà Nẵng “mafia” by the public and sections of the media, was not just a formidable figure in the real estate market, but also someone who was alleged to be able to wield certain influence on the decision-making of the city’s top authorities.
The “gifts,” like the luxury car and houses that his company’s given to Đà Nẵng’s former disgraced Party Secretary Nguyễn Xuân Anh, are never really free.
The nexus between politicians and businesspeople is one that has not received due attention, with the anti-corruption focus mainly trained on public sector’s officials.
Vũ’s case, a tear in the veil that allows a glimpse into the ugly underbelly of the rapidly developing economy, is a high-profile wake-up call to a problem in the country that has never been identified and named for that it is: crony capitalism.
How many Vu’s?
This begs more questions: how many Vũs lurk in the system, and how will they and conniving officials be brought to justice?
To think that this Socialist republic, established by dint of the sacrifice of “rivers of blood and mountains of bones,” can fall victim to an ugly mutation of its capitalist antithesis, which has also been called “crapitalism,” is not just sad, it is deeply worrying. It would be no exaggeration to say that the nation’s success depends on its ability to deal effectively with this problem.
Crapitalism is not a new phenomenon, in Việt Nam or elsewhere; and in certain cases, it has been institutionalised: K-Street and the revolving door between politicians and plum corporate placements come to mind immediately.
While it is natural for businesses and government to form relationships and hold dialogues with each other, understand each other’s legitimate needs and demands, and so on, we cannot accept that crapitalism is a natural extension of this process.
In Việt Nam’s case, it was in the twilight of the nation’s shift to a market-oriented economy that this corruption took root and fester.
The way the spoils of this immoral enterprise are shared is a clue to how the system is corrupted. Businesses get huge profits through under-the-table deals with or favouritism from the government, officials involved get pecuniary and other benefits, such as securing managerial positions in a business.
“Too big to fail”
Then, when the businesses grow to become important players in the local economy, they want to “go to extreme lengths to intervene in certain State management affairs,” as the new Party Secretary of Đà Nẵng, Trương Quang Nghĩa, who replaced the ousted Xuân Anh, put it.
This reminds me of the “too big to fail” corporations that caused the crippling 2007-2008 global financial crisis. That they were bailed out and rewarded, with US taxpayers’ money, instead of being punished for their reckless ventures, only shows how entrenched crapitalism is.
It’s counter-productive to think that these types of alliance only happens with ‘evil big corps.’ No, it’s the phenomenon that can be seen almost everywhere on a daily basis.
In Việt Nam, we have actually been seeing the insidious impacts of crapitalism for some time: projects that blatantly lacked required criteria like proper environment impact assessments and adequate financial strength have been running despite ongoing violations like wrongful use of land. How could this have happened so regularly, so blatantly, if certain authorities had not been bought?
The recent controversies regarding Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) traffic projects have to do with a stark lack of transparency. With a cash-strapped State budget and the need for infrastructure development, it’s understandable that the private sector is brought in under concessions agreements.
However, the deliberate lack of public information and transparency in the bidding process used to select the most suitable and capable project investors has made this practice a hotbed of corruption.
Government inspectors and auditors have found that in many cases, incapable investors – in terms of both finance and technological qualifications, still ‘won’ the bids.
“It’s obvious that there are powers that backed these [investors] up,” said Hoàng Ngọc Giao, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies, Law and Development. Former deputy head of the National Assembly Office, Nguyễn Sỹ Dũng, has called some BOT projects, a product of illicit power and money trade, ‘muggers’ who’ve preyed on the public.
Then there’s the ongoing equitisation process – divesting State capital and privatising State-owned enterprises (SOEs). We should pay heed to the experience of the former Soviet Union, when many SOEs and their assets were pocketed for scrap value by overnight magnates with close ties to compromised high-ranking officials.
Twenty years into the equitisation process, it was only this year that the Government decided to make public the list of SOEs to be divested from and the equitisation ratio for each year. The change is welcome, but wasn’t it the obvious thing to do a long time ago? The intentional withholding of information regarding the real value of the SOEs – especially land areas under their management – would allow shady investors to buy them at low prices.
Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc has several times warned of the need for “careful valuation to avoid losses of State assets.”
Crony capitalism destroys a healthy business environment — it perpetuates the practice of bribes and grafts, forces honest businesses to choose between going bankrupt or “going with the (low) flow.” It is the most unfair form of competition, and most importantly, it distorts policies and the rule of law while lining the pockets of certain groups of people at the expense of national interests.
When a miniscule percentage of the position gets filthy rich, we can safely assume the rest have to pay the price, or at the very least, not get what’s due.
The bright side
Spearheading a vigorous anti-corruption campaign, Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng has on multiple occasions warned that corruption seriously threatens the very legitimacy and even the “existence” of the Party and the State.
“Vested interests groups,” as he called them, typically have goals that are inimical to public interest.
Rather belatedly, the nation’s governing apparatus has officially recognised that anti-corruption campaign should also extend to the private sector, which, since the opening up of the economy, has been treated as a holy cow for the most part. A draft law with a two-pronged approach that deals with corruption in both private and public sector is being completed.
It’s surely a laudable efforts, we cannot be blind to the difficulties and complications that this recognition entails.
For instance, how can the government strike a balance between its promises to cut red tape and foster a ‘better, more transparent business environment,’ without causing a lot of hassles for businesses?
The solutions to thwart crony capitalism and corruption are out there in the open – greater accountability and transparency, more qualified, independent watchdogs that are part of checks and balances needed in a system, robust rule-of-law, and unrelenting, decisive punishment. But tying all this into a powerful anti-corruption weapon would require a strong and unwavering political will. — VNS
Read more at http://vietnamnews.vn/opinion/op-ed/420212/crony-capitalism-subverts-socialist-aspirations.html#m62r8RyxpxpbLkEU.99
On 11 June 1963 his holiness Thich Quang Duc immolated himself in protest against the persecution of buddhist peace activists by South Vietnam’s Diem regime. AP photographer Malcolm Browne was tipped off by the monks that something was going to happen at the corner of Nguyễn Đình Chiểu Street and Cách Mạng Tháng Tám Street. His photo went around the world and became instrumental in turning public opinion against the Diem regime.
In the words of president Kennedy: “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Predictably, Malcolm Browne was awarded the Pulitzer prize and the slot as World Press Photo of the year, even though most prestigous newspapers, including the New York Times, refused to publish it.
Now, at the very same spot a massive memorial overlooks the intersection, where Duc vanished in flames. Here is how Vietnam’s present rulers have since embraced the sacrifice of Duc – the first of 6 monks to ‘barbecue themselves’ – as stated in contempt by Md. Nhu, the de facto First Lady of South Vietnam, until her husband and his brother were assinated a few months later in a coup against Diem by his own generals. A coup which had the quiet backing of the US Embassy in Saigon, and possibly the White House.
Once celebrated by the US as the “Winston Churchill of Asia”, Diem was found shot along with his brother in the trunk of a car.
33 years ago, I had my first Vietnam experience as a young journalist. It changed my life forever. VTC10 journalist Le Thi Bich trailed me for some days to find out why and how a foreigner lost his heart to this fantastic country. Here is her report: