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Nation Above All

By       Message Linh Dinh       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   4 comments

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 11/4/18

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Saigon, 2018
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"T" Qu'c Trên Hết" ["Nation Above All"] was a slogan of the defunct and much maligned Republic of South Vietnam, while the Socialist North rallied their populace with "Ch'ng Mỹ Cứu Ndegreesớc" ["Fight the Americans, Save the Nation"]. During the war, both Vietnamese sides stressed their nationalist credentials while discrediting their opponent as a foreign puppet. The common Vietnamese soldier, then, didn't fight and die for capitalism, communism, democracy, internationalism, universal brotherhood, America, Russia or China, but only for Vietnam, for only nationalism could justify so much sacrifice, pain and endurance.

Two miles from me is St. Francis Xavier Church. In Vietnam, there are Catholic churches that combine Western and Eastern architectural elements, with Pha't Diệm Cathedral, completed in 1891, the most striking example. Though St. Francis Xavier is quite modest in size, it's very charming and elegant, with a Chinese pavilion in its courtyard sheltering the Virgin Mary. The red, buttony cross on its ornate gate is flanked by two white, upturned carps, while inside, the main crucifix, with an ivory-white Jesus, is framed by a contrapuntal couplet, in Chinese.

On November 2st, 1963, President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were captured at St. Francis Xavier Church, where they had fled to escape a coup. Tied up and dumped inside an armored personnel carrier, both were then shot.

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Since the Americans had propped up Diem, it was they who had to give the go ahead to depose, if not kill, the man, and though Diem is often caricatured as just an American puppet, he was clearly not just that, for otherwise, there would have been no reason to wipe him out.

The very fact that he was killed by the American deep state means he wasn't serving it very faithfully. Likewise, John F. Kennedy was also assassinated three weeks later, and though that rub out is even murkier, to the point of farce, its lessons are also abundantly clear.

If you're an American citizen, the state doesn't owe you any reasonable explanation, about anything, and if you're a politician within the American orbit, it's best that you toe the line and ask no inconvenient questions. Carter, Clinton, Bush father and son, Obama, Trump, Sanders, Hillary or whoever, they understand perfectly well the diagram of magic bullets dancing in a shattered skull, so none will let slip one heretical statement about the USS Liberty, say, or 9/11.

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In Saigon in 2016, Obama visited Jade Emperor Pagoda. Built by the Chinese in 1909, it's considered old by local standards, but Saigon is a pretty new city. Founded in 1698, it's a decade younger than Philadelphia. Near me on Nguyen Trai Street, there's a handful of Chinese temples from the 19th century, and the other day, I found myself ogling at one, again, as I trudged by in the heat and dark. If this was any other East Asian city, however, these modest structures wouldn't even be mentioned in a guidebook.

Renamed Ho Chi Minh City after April 30th, 1975, this city is still universally called Saigon in daily conversations, as well as on countless shop signs, and not just here, but across the country. In Hanoi, for example, you'd find stores advertising "Saigon fashion," and restaurants serving dishes in the "Saigon style." Now as ever, a native son is still a "ngdegreesời Si Gòn." Finally, you can't erase by a governmental decree a name that's immortalized by all those songs, novels, stories and poems.

I'm bringing this up because a couple of righteous nitwits have chastised me for not knowing the name of my native city, with one John Lawrence Re' commenting, "Calling it Saigon is for revisionists still living in the illusion of american exceptionalism"! Only an American exceptionalist revisionist with the deepest illusions about himself, country and history can barf up such a load of unintended irony. It is hopeless.

War against the Americans over, the Vietnamese communists promptly fought against communist Cambodia, then China, so there goes international communist solidarity, not that it ever existed, then the Soviet Union collapsed. With communism discredited for everyone but Western bourgeoisie posers, Vietnamese Communists have resorted to the old standby, nationalism, for their legitimacy. Nation above all.

Across Vietnam, then, you'll find nationalist murals and posters exhorting the people to defend the nation, as in "PARACEL ISLANDS AND SPRATLY ISLANDS BELONG TO VIETNAM," "WE CHILDREN LOOK TOWARD OUR NATION'S SEA AND ISLANDS" and "FIRMLY PROTECT THE OWNERSHIP OF VIETNAMESE SEA AND ISLANDS," etc. There's even a kids' coloring book called "Sea Islands My Nation," with a boy sailor standing on a beach, holding an AK-47, with a lighthouse behind him.

In the West, nationalism has become a dirty word to the educated, progressive class, who routinely equate it with fascism. They also see national borders as somehow obsolete and oppressive, but what's ignored is that each man is profoundly defined and marked, with practically each of his word and action, by his national heritage. Having lived as an adult in five countries, and traveled to dozens more, I have never met anyone, no matter how cosmopolitan, who isn't essentially one nationality, with only a handful tolerably passing as a second. The nation, then, is the totality of who you are, and it's where and how you are properly seen and understood.

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The most common Vietnamese word for nation is actually "water," as in I was born in this water and I will defend my water to the death. What water are you from? Shaped by a unique history and language, every nation sees the world differently, so only the most naive or educated can even pretend we're all the same.

Philadelphia's Italian Market may be one of the funkiest American neighborhoods, but it's still not Saigon, not that it should be. Each day, I become more reintegrated to my native city, so instead of bullshitting in Friendly Lounge, with the Phillies in the background, I found myself, like tonight, eating two duck balluts on a sidewalk, then wandering through clogged streets and darkened alleys to reach another eatery, where I had some pretty good beef, bò lúc lắc, plus two Tiger beers, for just $4.27. As with most Vietnamese joints, there was no clear boundary between business and street, so intinerant food vendors approached my table, and the owner's kids ran all over, with the alley as their playground. Surrounding me were office and factory workers, eating, drinking and talking, with no canned noise to interrupt them. As always, the main pleasure was mingling.

Foreigners may sneer that the Vietnamese aesthetics seems to range from slovenly casualness to high kitsch, but judging by how your average Vietnamese is dressed, to the way he decorates his home or business, visual elegance or beauty is clearly not that important here. If you want that, fly to Japan. In Vietnam, a man is content if he has a plastic chair to sit on, with some tasty morsels in front of him, and people to converse with or simply see. So what if there's garbage under the table, and the wall he's leaning on is dirty. He'll chatter away, laugh.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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3 people are discussing this page, with 4 comments  Post Comment


John Lawrence Ré

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As a veteran who had his appointment to OCS cancelled and was subsequently discharged for questioning the US involvement in Vietnam, I find your reference to my comment offensive. I called you out in your previous article because it was a totally incomprehensible and pointless mishmash degrading Italians, and because referring -- IN THE US -- to Ho Chi Minh City in your previous article as "Saigon" suggested disrespect for the Vietnamese GOVERNMENT -- even if every single person in Vietnam refers to it as Saigon in the vernacular. OEN is first and foremost a political website and you were writing to an American audience where many who comment here were traumatized by the fact that our taxes paid for the invasion of Vietnam. One piece of solace for those who fought and sacrificed against our role in the quasi-genocidal experiment was the symbolic renaming of Saigon upon the US departure.

Though it's clear you fancy yourself a Paul Theroux--style travel writer, wandering around does not always inure you from a simplistic understanding of your destinations - no matter how much esoterica you stuff into the articles to make you seem learned. Your cultural ramblings to-make-a-prosaic-political-point might fare better at an appropriately simpleton, bourgeois journal like the Sunday NY Times where liberal readers might even regard them as profound. (And btw, if you spent any time on this site you'd have discovered that I have commented extensively in favor of nationalism. Even defended Marine Le Pen as more progressive than her knee jerk detractors who lump her together with fascists because she first wanted to better assimilate immigrants already warehoused in the high rise slums surrounding Paris under the benign-neglect/neoliberal policies of French rulers over the past several decades before allowing new ones to suffer the same fate. Her proposal for France to stop supporting the US endless wars of regime change correctly addressed the primary root cause of the refugee crisis).

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 4, 2018 at 9:41:13 PM

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Linh Dinh

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Iranian President Mohammad Khatam, "This civilization is best described by the renowned French sociologist Alexi de Toqueville who spent some two years in the U.S. in the 19th century and wrote the valuable book entitled Democracy in America, which I am sure most Americans have read."


When I quoted Toqueville just once in an article, you called it "dropping higher ed names," so it's clear you have nothing to offer but an obnoxious attitude.


Should my Vietnamese friends here ask me about American ignorance or insolence, I can point them to you as a prime example.




Submitted on Monday, Nov 5, 2018 at 1:24:56 AM

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Linh Dinh

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And it's typical of a navel gazing American to shoehorn everthing into narrow American perspectives, so a writer like me, who's primarily known as a poet, and whose non fiction is mostly political essays, is somehow a Paul Theroux wannabe. Since you seem to enjoy pontificating about Vietnam so much, try reading a few Vietnamese writers, then get back to me.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 5, 2018 at 1:32:39 AM

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stephen waterhouse

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Hope you're enjoying "Saigon"? At the rate tings are going, my a55 is going to probably wind up for good in the Southern Philippines. But, that said, speaking for the "educated progressives in America who continue to equate nationalism with fascism," it is ethnic nationalism or white ethno-nationalism and which is of course associated with white supremacy that is the problem, slavery being America's "original sin." A concept familiar to all Catholics if not all Christians, be they Vietnamese or American or just plain citizens of the world.

Submitted on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018 at 4:27:55 AM

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