[News] Vietnam – The Journey Continues

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Tue Aug 13 11:33:43 EDT 2019


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  Vietnam – The Journey Continues


        My presentation ended with an audio recording, from the Freedom
        Archives, of Ho Chi Minh addressing the US antiwar movement in
        English, to the applause and tears of everyone.

------------------------------------------------------------------------


        by Alex Hing - August 2019


        Five years after the publication of /The People Make the
        Peace—Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement /(Just World
        Books 2015), our book was translated into Vietnamese by Gioi
        Publishers.  As authors, we decided to organize a book launch in
        Hanoi with our Vietnamese publisher, the Vietnam-USA Society,
        and the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations. Five of us
        were able to attend which allowed me to return to Vietnam for a
        third time in a continuing process of observing first hand
        changes in this important nation.


        The general feeling I got from the Vietnamese was although they
        are poor they are happy and optimistic.  Unlike New York, all of
        the storefronts in Hanoi were bustling and, as always, the
        people were very kind and friendly. This is not to say that
        people are unaware of the serious problems they face, the top
        two being China’s bullying in their Eastern Sea (China calls it
        the South China Sea) and global warming. The situation with
        China is the background for Vietnam’s recent unabashed moves to
        cement ties with the US, both officially and on a
        people-to-people level. Our people’s delegation was not bound by
        protocol so we voiced strong misgivings about our government.


        The Vietnamese deeply appreciate the American activists who
        helped build the antiwar movement that ended the horrific,
        genocidal war of US aggression. All of us, however, understood
        that it was they, through their persistence, vision, wisdom and
        brilliant military implementation of protracted people’s war,
        who forced the US withdrawal and unification of their nation
        with unimaginable sacrifice.  To them, we are heroes and
        sheroes, to the extent that we were awarded medals for “Peace
        and Friendship Among Nations” at a nationally televised
        ceremony.  In the US, however, we are caricatured and
        trivialized so that a movement that encompassed the majority of
        the American people for peace has been replaced by a cynical,
        patriotic, pro-military sentiment leading to endless war, so
        dangerous were we to dare to implement another way of living.

American peace activists: (left to right) Frank Joyce, Judith Albert, 
Alex HIng, Karin Aguilar-San Juan, and Mary Anne Barnett.


        We arrived in Vietnam on a festive occasion, the 20^th
        anniversary of the recognition by the UN of Hanoi as a City for
        Peace. Part of the celebration was the opening of the “Peace
        Diary” exhibition at Hoa Lo prison (the “Hanoi Hilton”). Since
        returning war veterans are a mainstay of peoples’ friendship,
        ex-prisoners and veterans were given prominent recognition in
        the museum.  We arrived two days after the official opening
        ceremony when international antiwar activists presented
        memorabilia from their movements to the museum.  However, a
        special ceremony, which was televised at the museum, was held
        for us. I saw in this an opportunity to make a presentation on
        the Asian American contribution to the antiwar movement.  Before
        leaving for Hanoi, I put out a call for any photos, flyers,
        newsletters and such to be put into a portfolio which I would
        present to the museum.  The response was swift and large. Thanks
        to Eddie Wong, Leon Sun, Greg Morozumi and the Freedom Archives,
        I put together two dozen pages of memorabilia as well as a video
        and two audio recordings which I had on a thumb drive.

Los Angeles march in support of Vietnamese students. October 1971. 
Photo: Visual Communications Archives.


        Asian Americans punched way above our weight. Though less than
        1% of the population at the time, we consistently turned out in
        Asian American contingents to antiwar marches in the hundreds.
        And, we were discriminated against by some of the leaders of the
        general antiwar movement, who we thought were racists. The
        slogan “Bring the Troops Home Now!’ only concerned itself with
        American troops without any regard for the Vietnamese who were
        the victims of US aggression and offered no solution to ending
        the war. Our slogan was, “Victory to the Vietnamese”.  By this,
        we wanted the war to end based on the Vietnamese demands at the
        Paris Peace negotiations. Since nobody paid attention to the
        negotiations because of a US news blackout, Asian Americans not
        only marched, but built grassroots sentiment for the Vietnamese
        demands in our communities.

Van Troi Anti-Imperialist Youth Brigade at NYC rmarch, October 1971. 
Photo courtesy of Greg Morozumi.


        The demands were simply: An immediate ceasefire; Total
        withdrawal of all US military forces from the country; Freeing
        of all POWs; Ending US support for the Tieu government; A
        democratic process for reunification.  We held forums in
        libraries, schools, churches and community organizations.  We
        provided draft counselling, which enabled many to escape the
        draft and even won a legal suit for 4 military personnel to be
        reclassified as conscientious objectors. We held events such as
        a ladies bowling tournament to raise medical funds for Hanoi. 
        But the general antiwar mobilizations disregarded our
        coalitions, such as the Bay Area Asian Coalition Against the War
        (BAACAW), as having a right to address post march rallies from
        the stage.  Instead, we were relegated to the tail end of the
        marches.  So, we amassed our contingents with the flags of the
        National Liberation Front, posters of Ho Chi Minh, and a demand
        to accept he 7 Point Peace Proposal of the Provisional
        Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam and snaked danced
        throughout the march.  On one occasion, we continued our snake
        dance to the stage and took it over, unfurling a banner
        supporting the 7 Point Peace Proposal to the wild applause of
        the gathered audience.  The war did, indeed, end based on the
        PRG’s demands in Paris. My presentation ended with an audio
        recording, from the Freedom Archives, of Ho Chi Minh addressing
        the US antiwar movement in English, to the applause and tears of
        everyone. Nobody knew of the Asian American antiwar activities.
        The museum managers said they would display our material when
        they change the exhibit in two years.


        The legacy of the war continues in Vietnam with the ravages of
        Agent Orange into the fourth generation affecting some 3 million
        people and, although dioxin in the soil can now be neutralized,
        there are still some twenty-eight major contamination sites
        throughout the country. We met with the directors of VAVA
        (Vietnam Agency for Victims of Agent Orange) and paid a visit to
        a Friendship Village, where Agent Orange victims undergo medical
        treatment, rehabilitation and vocational training. While the
        Vietnamese government has provided many resources for these
        activities, they rely mainly on individual, NGO and foreign
        government donations and, more recently, the US government has
        made contributions to this effort. Presently, Dow Chemical and
        Monsanto who produced the deadly dioxin in Agent Orange for the
        US military have escaped any liability for their role in this
        continuing tragedy. At VAVA the directors explained their
        program to assist the Agent Orange disabled, including education
        for acceptance and inclusion, training programs and equal access
        and, especially now, elderly care. We could not help but notice
        that none of the directors were disabled themselves.

Alex Hing presents artifacts from the Asian American movement’s support 
for the Vietnamese people and the PRG’s 7 Point Peace Plan to Dao Thi 
Hue of the Hoa Lo Relics Board. Photo by Mary Ann Barnett.


        When we met with the Ministry of Defense, officers there
        presented us with a detailed outline of their efforts on the war
        legacies.  They believe that toxic contamination while still
        serious is under control.  A bigger problem is with unexploded
        ordnances. During the war over 8 million tons of bombs were
        dropped in all areas of Vietnam (and also in Laos and Cambodia),
        more than 3 ½ times the amount dropped in all of World War II,
        10% of which were unexploded. The US cynically produced brightly
        colored bomblets released by cluster bombs, specifically so that
        children would see them as toys which would explode when
        touched. Today, these unexploded munitions are still causing
        damage.  The task of finding and removing them all is
        insurmountable so an ongoing education campaign aimed at
        avoiding shiny or metal objects in the field and reporting them
        to authorities who will then send a team for safe removal is
        having success, especially with vulnerable children.


        And then there are the MIAs, the some 300,000 who fought for the
        Vietnamese on both sides of the war.  While the US has used  its
        own MIAs to bolster a rightwing pro-military narrative, the
        Vietnamese have accommodated the US in its search for the few
        remaining US MIAs.  This is part of their strategy to work more
        closely with the US vis-a-vis China. However, whenever the issue
        is brought up, the Vietnamese also mention their MIAs and given
        the importance of familial respect and ancestor worship more
        needs to be done on the US side, especially since the US has the
        logistical data and technology.

Alex spoke with Bui Van Suu, who was wounded in the American bombardment 
of Quang Tri. He lives at Vietnam Friendship Village. Photo courtesy of 
Alex Hing.


        Climate change/global warming is an immediate challenge that was
        brought up in all of our meetings. Vietnam ranks high on indexes
        of countries most affected by climate change (from 5^th to 9^th
        ) due to rising sea levels, droughts partly due to international
        upstream damming, monsoons of increasing severity, increasing
        population and the concentration of poor people in costal urban
        centers. The Mekong Delta, the country’s rice basket is
        switching to shrimp farming and other aquaculture because rising
        sea water is making it impossible to grow rice there. Our
        meeting with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment,
        unfortunately did not happen.  However, as in the US, I got the
        impression that young people are more in tune to the problem
        than their elders, a lot of whom do not understand that
        revolutionary change must occur rather than just recycling
        plastics. A meeting with the World Wildlife Fund also did not
        happen, and for that I was glad. The WWF is an agent of US
        interests globally, often assisting in the forced removal of
        indigenous populations in the name of environmental
        conservation. In a meeting with a government agency that works
        with NGOs, it was mentioned that the WWF is doing work in
        Vietnam’s border area, meaning along the Chinese border.


        In the meantime, our delegation had some of the best food in the
        world.  At present, Vietnam produces a wide variety of fresh
        tropical fruit and vegetables as well as a wide assortment of
        spices and herbs, many native to the country. It also has
        livestock, game and abundant seafood. It has culinary influences
        from China, France, Japan and India as well as its own culinary
        tradition and a new and prosperous generation of chefs are
        exploring the joys of their nation’s bounty.  After all, Ho Chi
        Minh was a pastry cook in Escoffier’s kitchen in Paris. Vietnam
        has always had a highly creative vegetarian cuisine, and on this
        trip we had a vegetarian feast that would be hard to match
        anywhere. And Hanoi egg coffee, a specialty that was created due
        to a shortage of dairy products where a foamy egg custard with
        sweetened condensed milk floats atop very strong robusta coffee,
        brewed Vietnamese style.

A view of the mountain villages in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Alex 
Hing.


        On the second day after our arrival, Karin Aguillar San Juan and
        I went on an 18 km trek over two days in the northern highlands
        around the township of Sa Pa, which is being developed as a
        tourist attraction. Both of us wanted to see Nature and not just
        the urban scene while we still could and took an overnight train
        covering 380 km into the mountains northwest of Hanoi near the
        Chinese border. We barely checked into the hotel when we were
        informed that after breakfast, our Hmong tour guide would lead
        us into the forest.  It was a jagged, steep and muddy slog,
        having rained the night before. But it was worth every step. The
        weather was cooler in the mountains so we did not suffer the
        heat and humidity that our comrades did closer to Hanoi. The
        landscape was breathtaking with misty clouds hugging the
        mountains, immaculately sculptured rice terraces, giant bamboo,
        hemp, indigo, many different kinds of trees, streams, rivers and
        waterfalls.  We even saw a rainbow! On the second day, we
        visited Cat Cat a Hmong village and tourist site to partake the
        native crafts and culture. It is a popular honeymoon site where
        families dress up in rented native Hmong costumes. Indigo grows
        in the area and we learned how the cloth is made by drying and
        shredding the roots and weaving it into cloth before soaking it
        in the leaves for the distinct indigo coloring. After dinner we
        took an overnight train back to Hanoi.

A roadside cafe in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Alex Hing.


        The book launch was a huge success, our hosts had to add more
        chairs and provide more books than they estimated.  Many people
        from the friendship organizations attended as well as a fair
        amount of students and a number of American ex-pats. The venue
        was a salon type question-and-answer dialogue on national
        television with a host and emcee interviewing our two editors
        and publisher followed by an open mike which the rest of our
        delegation could participate in answering questions from the
        audience.  In a meeting prior to the event with the publishers,
        I was pleased when they mentioned that the book opened up issues
        that would not be otherwise discussed, like the lingering issue
        of reunification as well as possible solutions. A journalist and
        one of the publishers also talked to me about the martial arts
        and I was interviewed on video twice.  Apparently, they read in
        my chapter how I thought the Vietnamese news agencies had
        stereotyped the American antiwar movement as all white when they
        abruptly ended my interview in mid-sentence and rushed off to
        interview Ramsey Clark, never to be seen again.

Four Hmong trekking guides in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Alex Hing.


        Our delegation also visited the Ho Chi Minh museum, had a good
        meeting with the Vietnam Confederation of Trade Unions, a
        meeting with the Foreign Ministry, The Women’s Union and Women’s
        Museum, and revisited GARCO, a successful garment enterprise
        that formerly made military uniforms and is now a model of the
        “socialist oriented market economy”, which nobody can still give
        me a clear explanation.

Judith Alpert, one of the founders of the Youth International Party 
(Yippies), talked about the role women played in the anti-Vietnam War 
movement. Here, she shows a picture of a women’s contingent in a protest 
rally in Miami, Florida. Photo courtesy of Alex Hing.


        A film crew was following us around getting footage for a future
        documentary on the US antiwar movement and they spoke English. 
        They were in their early thirties and I got the impression from
        them, from some students we met and from our young translator
        that not all of the newer generation is interested only in
        making money. Climate change is real for a lot of youth and
        talking about the future is problematic without engaging in hard
        discussions about where the earth is heading, and basic
        survival, and this is coming amidst postwar reconstruction and a
        new prosperity. Interest in international relations, especially
        people-to-people relations acknowledges that we are all in this
        together and by understanding how the people make the peace can
        lead to overcoming what lies ahead for all of us.


        /Author’s Bio: //Alex Hing is a sous chef in a New York City
        hotel, a trustee of UNITE HERE Local 6 and is on the Executive
        Board of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. He is a
        senior student of Grandmaster William CC Chen and has been
        teaching yang style tai chi in New York as well as
        internationally for over twenty years./


        /Hing is a longtime activist and organizer beginning as a
        student and in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements
        as well as in the community and labor. He was the Minister of
        Education for the Red Guard Party which drew its inspiration
        from the Black Panther Party for Self Defense./


-- 
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