Friday, January 23, 2009

Chaos as "Opportunity"

Today is the 14Th day since I returned from Vietnam. I am going through a many faceted reentry. First, of course is the recovery from the jet lag and red eye flights from Vietnam and Korea. This has been complicated by a head cold which started in Vietnam, and which I thought was cured there, but has not ceased. Second, I am still thinking about the whole experience of the victims of Agent Orange. The stated need by VAVA (Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange) is US and chemical company assistance for the victims, including an apology. Third, I am reviewing and analyzing the issue of "sacrifice." Why do humans sacrifice their own people and their enemies as was done with Agent Orange, but is done in all wars? Fourth, the economic meltdown is demanding every one's attention. I have been spending some time going into that since it is affecting me and family members. Back to the first named, my energy is gradually returning.

My sense is that "we are in deep trouble." Analysts, including both the new President Obama and the past President Bush, do not have a handle on the economic meltdown. The word "Great Depression" was mentioned by Bush in his closing press conference (See Tom Englehardt's comments in and creeps into conversations with a number of sources. No one wants to name it with certainty. Yet, the sense of the words that I am receiving is that this may be even more devastating or unwieldy (I'm reaching for the right words here) than the Great Depression. Those who have been reading this blog for the last nearly two years know that things are even more involved than the economy. How do you be "real" or "realistic" in this situation, without panicking or going into pessimism? I'm trying to name the elephant in the living room without the pessimism. But, no one knows the name of the elephant!

I return to Richard Heinberg's hope: After the 21st Century, one hundred years from now, whoever survives could live in a more human world, a more congenial civilization. We have the know how for that due to insights into human nature garnered of late. We also have the capability to continue laying waste to Mother Earth and each other.

I just read an article in the current issue of The Journal of Psychohistory about the effects of the Black Plague in the 13Th and 14Th centuries. The flux in all the facets of the way of life at that time enabled the survivors to make many gains in social relationships and in human life conditions. This was like the Chinese meaning of "chaos", i.e. opportunity. The normal patterns went out the door when the plague entered. Change happened.

Does not this remind us of what is happening on a small scale at this time, so far? A black president promising change has been elected and his/our opportunity has been "enhanced" due to all the issues raining down upon us: economic melt down, global climate change, wars, resource depletion.

I am still taken up by the human and environmental sacrifice due to Agent Orange in Vietnam and will do what I can to support the peoples there and here (our veterans and their families.) However, I must connect that reality to the others. This is our "opportunity." For me, the opportunity requires forming a deeper faith and discipline of will.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

War Museums

Today, January 5th, we begin our next to last day in Ho Chi Minh City and on our tour. I have not shared the War Museum experiences in Hanoi, Hue, and here in HCMC. The museums go back to the historic 1000 year period of Chinese control of Vietnam, from the beginning of AD to 1000 AD, and they touch uppon the various exploits in the second millemium. But, the major emphasis is the Indochinese war with the French, the post WW II peiod when the French were supported by the United States until they were defeated in 1954; then, the United States exploits culminating in the Vietnam War ending in 1975. The museums show the histories from a Vietnamee point of view as is expected.

For me, the visits are a review, almost a reliving of the history, especially from 1965 to 1975 when I was becoming involved in social activism, moving from supportive to US policy to radical desent and resistance. As the museum show quotes of US Senators that US policy of Vietnam violate the Geneva 1954 Peace Accords, the UN Constitution, and US Constitution, I also feel like "this is just like the Iraq war." Not really a surprise.

The museums begin outdoors with huge displays of captured US weaponry, aircraft, and tanks, and go to documemtaries, photo exhibits, models, etc of all types. There are even prisons and tiger cages. And, some were from the Diem regime in South Vietnam. Of course, the role of Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnam military are given central focus for saving and liberating Vietnam. (We will return to the HCMC museum today to see the Agent Orange documentary.)

The self immolation of the Buddhist Monk protesting the oppression of the Buddhists by the Diem regime is shown with photographs which I remember from 1967. The execution of the Viet Cong prisoner by a South Vietnm officer in Saigon, and the girl stripped by napalm are captured by historic photos, among numerous other experiences are also shown. However, there is no mention of the witness of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who spoke against both sides in this conflict, advocating peaceful resolution, and being sent into exile in 1966, only to return to Vietnam for the first time in 2005.

Yesterday, we visited the Co Cui tunnels outside of HCMC where the villagers lived from 1954, resisting first the French, then the Americans, until 1975. We crawed through a tunnel and saw a way of life that harrassed the militaries in amazing, and grusome fashion. Now a tourist site, the transformation exploits the war situation for economic and "educational" purposes. Our tour guide is from this area and is a sincere Buddhist. We enjoyed our visit to his home and fine lunch served by his family.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Agent Orange visits

From Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, this entry will bring up to date our tour of Vietnam to visit Agent Orange victims and support. HCMC is the last location of five. Our reception has been full of gratitude and appreciation. In Danang, we have been given a certificate and marble plaques, along with ginger. This was very emotional. We donate US dollars at each place, solely a token amount. We represent only ourselves, no NGO, no government program. I feel hesitant even to ask for the opportunity to meet with VAVA leaders. Yet we have met with them in Ha Noi, Hue, Danang, and will meet them today in Ho Chi Minh City. We offer a few things, our efforts to tell the story back in the US and to seek some help. We even want to approach Dow Chemical Company to enter the caring community. And, we share our resistance to the use of Agent Orange by the US in 1969 by our citizen's action and imprisonment.

The need is great. 3,000,000 victims of Agent Orange. Add to that the families and friends who try to care for them. Our visits have taken us to a rehabilitation center, The Friendship Village, a day shelter, and to several homes of victims and their families. These are very modest places. They expose only a few views into the complexity of the millions. The physical effects range from total deformity and incapacity to inability to walk, to a modicum of normal functioning. The mental effects can cover the same range, total mental disability to moderate mental presence. Some have both physical and mental issues. We find sisters and brothers caring for their adult siblings who at times lay in bed 24/7 and at times roam the neighborhood returning when they find their way home. The families we visited live in the most basic of homes. Our three day visit in the Hue/Danang area was in continuous rain with flooding conditions. (The sun shines on our first morning in HCMC.)

The spirit and dedication of the families and volunteers is very heartening. They have been in for the long haul, and will continue. They want and need our help. They need and want the US help. And the chemical company's support. They want us to return.

Why do the people have such good feelings for us from the United States? Why do they continue with such care? At least part of the reason is indicated in the observation of a monk we visited two days ago in this Buddhist country: "The past is no longer real, the future is not yet, the present is now."