I wrote this in June of 2006 and it was posted on Huffingtonpost in response to Chopra's article. I wrote this and sent notices of it to John Kerry and Ron Paul among others in hopes of giving additional insights to counter the 'cut and run' label that was even more dominant at the time. I am reposting it here as I am commenting about Vietnam in John Carey's piece about Vietnam holding and releasing of Cuc Foshee. And many thanks to Arthur Silbur for many of his quotes in my article.
Sunday, June 25 2006
Hello Mr. Chopra, living in San Diego, I have read your books and have even contemplated attending your extension classes that you sometime offer here locally. I am a seeker of zen and a practitioner of aikido here in san marcos, and when I see it, I try to read your writings about this war and learn from your unique perspective, coming from a holistic practitioner keenly aware of living in an ultra conservative, ruby red San Diego's 50th district. Your writings are not as balanced and harmonious as you might think, but overall well-meaning and thought provoking; but on this occasion, in regards to your remarks about Vietnamese, I have to respond and to also clarify about the Vietnam war in general as posted at my website zenwire.com that I designed for people to vote for the truthiest news. You said: If I had been invited to Camp David with Mr. Bush, I would have given my invitation to former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, the architect of the war in Vietnam. What doomed us in that conflict, Mr. McNamara now believes, is that we knew almost nothing about our enemy, the North Vietnamese. We didnt know how they thought or what they wanted. The whole enterprise of the war was wrapped up in a monolithic idea - defeating Communism around the world - just as the present war is wrapped up in defeating global terrorism.
Nobody looked closer and tried to understand the people on the other side. I was born in Saigon in 1965, and when my Vietnamese parents fled the country on April 20th, 1975 and brought our entire family here, first to Camp Pendleton then to San Diego, and ever since, I have seen America, my country, changed and realized for the worse, right before my eyes. The idealism and foundation that I was taught and aspire to since elementary through UCSD is no longer clear or absolute as I once thought or held dear. Even the very question and nature about the Vietnam war and what it was all about is being re-written and redefined as we speak. This is why I want to clarify this issue with you in regards to your comments quoting McNamaras about the Vietnamese and them being our enemy. It is this overall perception and casual categorization of the term our enemy that I want to clarify and specify before it gets muted and muddied. Who won, who lost, who could have won is being re-drawn and reshaped as if history is a piece of clay for the architects of power to playfully sculpt in a contest to see who can artistically express their specific vision of reality first, given four plus years. This, of course is totally and at the core: American, the pursuit and realization of your specific dream, any and all your dreams if you want, at any costs, if only you have enough will. It all comes down to will power! Ki! For as Napoleon Hill so aptly puts it: thoughts are things, and it does not matter how selfish those thoughts can be either, or how perverted or how one sided, it does not matter, you should not constrain yourself by holding back your deepest desires; if you can dream it, you can realize it, the grander the better, the more people it affects and governs, the more territory it encompasses it, more power, points and fame to you. Back to Vietnam, if anyone of us would take just a few minutes and google and do a little conscientious research about the "Vietnam war", you would quickly find out that the war was manufactured and that the Vietnamese never attacked us first. They never tried to invade us, or steal our oil or fly planes into us. They never had a religion or a God that was better or came before our God or had multiple Gods. They just wanted to be free: from the Chinese, the Japanese, and from the French... and from us! Just like we all want to be free. Barbara Tuchman puts it best: "Americans were always talking about freedom from Communism, whereas the freedom that the mass of Vietnamese wanted was freedom from their exploiters, both French and indigenous.
The assumption that humanity at large shared the democratic Western idea of freedom was an American delusion. "The freedom we cherish and defend in Europe," stated President Eisenhower on taking office, "is no different than the freedom that is imperiled in Asia." He was mistaken. Humanity may have common ground, but needs and aspirations vary according to circumstances." And as Arthur Silber describe the likely sourse and origin of this pervading attitude: "Western civilization, more particularly the United States, constitutes the highest point of possible human development. It is only "freedom" and "democracy" as practiced in the West that can guarantee a future of peace. (Never mind the West's uninterrupted history of warfare within its own ranks, and never mind the West's unending, centuries-long interference with the rest of the world.) The West has the answer to successful human life. Since it does, and because certain elements in the rest of the world have now chosen to attack us on our own ground (and never mind that we have invaded and ruled over vast portions of the rest of the world since time immemorial), we must enlighten those benighted portions of the globe in our defense. Our chosen method of enlightenment is brute military force, to be deployed even against countries that did not threaten us. The lack of a genuine threat is no argument against spreading our version of "civilization," for our mission is grounded not only in self-defense: it is also a moral mission. Our success and our "peace" directly correlates to our virtue. Those countries and those civilizations that do not enjoy the same success and peace are without virtue. In the most extreme (and, one could argue, most consistent) version of this tale, non-Western parts of the world are less than human -- and they are subhuman by choice. They are immoral, and sometimes even evil. Since we represent the good and they represent the evil, we are surely entitled to improve them, by invasion and bombing if necessary. If they do not threaten us today, they might at some indeterminate time in the future. And while we might kill many innocent civilians in our campaign of civilization, those who survive will be infinitely better off than they would have been otherwise. Besides, how "innocent" can any of them be -- since they are members of inferior, less than fully human civilizations, and since they are so by choice?" Arthur Silber goes on to say: "It is this belief, together with the entire Western perspective to which it is connected, that was imperiled by our ignominious defeat in Vietnam.
And it is the same belief and perspective that is now so threatened by the Iraq catastrophe. You can see the desperation the hawks experience when facing this challenge to their worldview in any number of articles. As just one example, consider my examination of a Mark Steyn column from a few years ago, in an essay entitled, "They Are the Damned." In his profoundly dishonest attack on John Kerry, Steyn gives away his much deeper concern right here: "The only relevant lesson from Vietnam is this: then, as now, it was not possible for the enemy to achieve military victory over the US; their only hope was that America would, in effect, defeat itself." He the continues: " Steyn and many other hawks thus try to shift the blame for failure entirely onto those who criticized or even questioned our involvement in Vietnam. In this view, failure cannot possibly be the result of a basic error in our own actions and policies: the fault must lie with those who dare to question the innate superiority of America, and those who suggest that we are not preordained to remake the world in our image. In this way, the hawks' belief that the West and America in particular embody the culminating point of human history remains intact. Put it another way: no other country and no one else at all can ever defeat the United States. Only we can defeat ourselves -- which is precisely what Steyn himself says. It should be obvious how this leads into a messianic conception of the United States' role in human affairs: we are gods on earth -- or at least God's representatives on earth -- here to bring enlightenment to the inferior cultures and peoples who surround us. This conception of ourselves is not only dangerously wrong, but dangerously destructive and brutal: if we and only we have the key to humanity's future, then what are the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of inferior people -- or even the deaths of millions? If the world is to be saved, no price is too great and no pile of corpses, no matter how high, should deter us from our mission...Like Kennedy, Johnson believed that to lose South Vietnam would be to lose the White House. It would mean a destructive debate, he was later to say, that would "shatter my Presidency, kill my Administration, and damage our democracy." The loss of China, he said, which had led to the rise of Joe McCarthy, was "chickenshit compared with what might happen if we lost Vietnam." Robert Kennedy would be out in front telling everyone that "I was a coward, an unmanly man, a man without a spine." Worse, as soon as United States weakness was perceived by Moscow and Peking, they would move to "expand their control over the vacuum of power we would leave behind us ... and so would begin World War III." He was as sure of this "as nearly as anyone can be certain of anything."
No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little. The purpose of the war was not gain or national defense. It would have been a simpler matter had it been either, for it is easier to finish a war by conquest of territory or by destruction of the enemy's forces and resources than it is to establish a principle by superior force and call it victory. America's purpose was to demonstrate her intent and her capacity to stop Communism in a framework of preserving an artificially created, inadequately motivated and not very viable state. The nature of the society we were upholding was an inherent flaw in the case, and despite all efforts at "nation-building," it did not essentially change. In the illusion of omnipotence, American policy-makers took it for granted that on a given aim, especially in Asia, American will could be made to prevail.This assumption came from the can-do character of a self-created nation and from the sense of competence and superpower derived from World War II. If this was "arrogance of power," in Senator Fulbright's phrase, it was not so much the fatal hubris and over-extension that defeated Athens and Napoleon, and in the 20th century Germany and Japan, as it was failure to understand that problems and conflicts exist among other peoples that are not soluble by the application of American force or American techniques or even American goodwill. "Nation-building" was the most presumptuous of the illusions. Settlers of the North American continent had built a nation from Plymouth Rock to Valley Forge to the fulfilled frontier, yet failed to learn from their success that elsewhere, too, only the inhabitants can make the process work. Wooden-headedness, the "Don't-confuse-me-with-the-facts" habit, is a universal folly never more conspicuous than at upper levels of Washington with respect to Vietnam. Its grossest fault was underestimation of North Vietnam's commitment to its goal. Enemy motivation was a missing element in American calculations, and Washington could therefore ignore all the evidence of nationalist fervor and of the passion for independence which as early as 1945 Hanoi had declared "no human force can any longer restrain." Washington could ignore General Leclerc's prediction that conquest would take half a million men and "Even then it could not be done." It could ignore the demonstration of elan and capacity that won victory over a French army with modern weapons at Dien Bien Phu, and all the continuing evidence thereafter.
American refusal to take the enemy's grim will and capacity into account has been explained by those responsible on the ground of ignorance of Vietnam's history, traditions and national character: there were "no experts available," in the words of one high-ranking official. But the longevity of Vietnamese resistance to foreign rule could have been learned from any history book on Indochina. Attentive consultation with French administrators whose official lives had been spent in Vietnam would have made up for the lack of American expertise. Even superficial American acquaintance with the area, when it began to supply reports, provided creditable information. Not ignorance, but refusal to credit the evidence and, more fundamentally, refusal to grant stature and fixed purpose to a "fourth-rate" Asiatic country were the determining factors, much as in the case of the British attitude toward the American colonies. The irony of history is inexorable. ... Persistence in error is the problem. Practitioners of government continue down the wrong road as if in thrall to some Merlin with magic power to direct their steps. There are Merlins in early literature to explain human aberration, but freedom of choice does exist--unless we accept the Freudian unconscious as the new Merlin. Rulers will justify a bad or wrong decision on the ground, as a historian and partisan wrote of John F. Kennedy, that "He had no choice," but no matter how equal two alternatives may appear, there is always freedom of choice to change or desist from a counter-productive course if the policy-maker has the moral courage to exercise it. He is not a fated creature blown by the whims of Homeric gods. Yet to recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government...For a chief of state, admitting error is almost out of the question. The American misfortune in the Vietnam period was to have had Presidents who lacked the self-confidence for the grand withdrawal. We come back again to Burke: "Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom, and a great Empire and little minds go ill together." The test comes in recognizing when persistence in error has become self-damaging. For our political leaders, in terms of the methodology they bring to bear on questions of foreign policy, it is as if the United States is a country without a history. In this respect, they are like the most dangerous of nihilist revolutionaries: they believe they can make the entire world anew, writing on a blank slate. But when you completely disregard the realities of history and culture, when you set aside facts and the complexities of men and the societies they create, you will achieve only what such revolutionaries have always achieved: destruction. Tragically for all of us, and for the world, they have failed to learn that lesson as well." As Arthur Silber so eloquently concludes. For me, being American and Vietnamese, it took a long time to even begin the process of understanding who won and who lost, black or white, right or wrong, for I can see it from both sides and had to come to terms with it both.
And when I did finally figured it out, I realize, in actuallity, there was no winners...no one can win in such a war. 3 millions Vietnamese dead and 55,000+ drafted dead, not even counting the wounded and deformed and scarred for life. There was no winners here. How can there be? You can only win or lose if you have something to gain..., either in material, physical or mental form. So if you feel like you have to win or feel like winning, in such a calamity, then it reveals how elastic your moral compass can be. On memorial days, we all mourn for the people we love, we miss their presense, their thoughts, ideas and imperfections.... That being said, we should all call the "Vietnam War" for what it really was and is. A mistake! A selfish action gone wrong. A busted flush draw! Played and gambled with peoples lives and kids, and for what? For someone's specific vision of their reality that they are trying to realize. For the record books? We never cut and ran from Vietnam. We did our best to kill 3 million of them and they kept on coming. We tried to leave sooner, if only we did not have to worry what our neighbors might say! We stopped because we could not unwontingly kill, maim and torture any longer. We stopped because our consciense finally got the better of us. We stopped because we finally had the courage to own up to our mistake and admit we were wrong. If you are on a police raid and you busted in the wrong house and killed half the occupants and then realized it was the wrong house, do you stop and back out and admit you made a mistake, or do you think it is better just to kill the rest of the family and burn down the damn house and cover it up, leaving no evidence or witnesses. Using that logic, if we stayed in Vietnam, and killed another 3 million or so, then use nukes to kill the other 50 million that are left (mostly women, children and elders), and then we would have won that war and own a radioactive piece of real estate that is completely devoid of life. Was it worth it? Finally, we should be sorry for our actions. We don't have to apolozige to the Vietnamese or be formal about it. Their government is just as corrupt if not more! But the sooner we are sorry for the Vietnam war, then the sooner we will see the Iraq war for what it is. Another mistake! And if we can do this before 3 million more lives are lost, then we should consider that a collective improvement on our part, because this time, we did learn from history and finally had the guts to own up and did what was right when only 10,000 lives were lost. We are all human beings, regardless of our color or religion. By: zenseeker on June 25, 2006 at 07:56am
The link to the article on Huffington Post is here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/going-forward-in-iraq_b_23671.html