Sunday, June 3, 2012
A response by Loring Abeyta to Dien Bien Phu
My friend Loring Abeyta responded to the poem: Dien Bien Phu here. The stereotype of the Vietnamese as feminine is, of course, part of Orientalism as Edward Said suggests - their resistance to foreign oppression is as long and determined and resourceful as the Chinese - and applies to the Iraqis and Afghanis as well.
Thank you for this very moving poem, Alan. I am particularly taken by it
because I just finished Paul Hendrickson's The Living and the Dead:Robert
McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War and am working on H. R. McMaster's Dereliction of Duty. I picked up these books because I recently showed Fog of War in my national security class, and have always wanted to dig deeper behind the March 2, 1964 conversation between LBJ and McNamara that Errol Morris incorporates into the film. In that conversation, LBJ orders McNamara to write him a memo of "four letter words and short sentences" to explain the complexity of Southeast Asia, and McNamara replies that "we don't know what is going on out there." It seems our entire U.S. foreign policy is constructed on the flimsy, laughable, and utterly destructive scaffolding of "four letter words and short sentences," and then we march into places that we don't know -- deeply know -- but we have the all-purpose fix-it for what ails the world. And it usually seems to involve air power, ground troops, and these days, unmanned drones. Yep, four letter words and short sentences. That should cover it. Your poem reminds us that there is so much more to the story -- or, as Hendrickson quotes from Tran Tu Thanh (in achapter titled, "In the Shattering"), McNamara was "so ignorant of the customs and aspirations of the Vietnamese people" (p. 341).
No one in the State Department spoke Vietnamese at the time of the Geneva Accords which the US sabotaged or even in 1965 when Johnson sent half a million troops. Eisenhower's casual remark: We cannot allow elections to unify Vietnam because a majority would vote for Ho Chi Minh was pretty much the substance of American policy. Anti-democratic depravity for (neo-)colonialist purposes is never a good place to start...
As Daniel Ellsburg discovered in reading and then heroically releasing the Pentagon Papers, lots of nonsense was written in the State Department and the Pentagon currying the approval of higher-ups but without a serious justification for (or even a thought about) why the US was in Vietnam. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, an enormous number of human beings, including Americans, has paid the price for the hubris of American policy makers (often, the only "excuse" for American war crimes is that they are all such criminals or the enablers of them).
What Loring says is the truth about Vietnam; the Iraq War, led by Cheney and Dr. Rice, as Condi likes to be called, was also a bunch of lies. In the sphere of power, all puffed up and talking only to themselves in the Oval Office or in the crannies of the self-important, the language and ideas are often fantastic, trivial, ignorant and scatalogical as well as murderous...
This extends to obviously bright people like David Petraeus as well as those uninterested in policy (not to mention, decency) like Bush.
As a senior at Harvard, I debated McGeorge Bundy about the war (see the poem: Sanders Theater at 3:AM magazine here and the answer to the first question here). Bundy said he knew things that we (the some 800 people at Sanders Theater, most with doubts about the war) did not. He did not.
Will Altman points out that the poem might also have included the Japanese...