Four years ago in 2018, after returning from a Veterans For Peace trip to Viet Nam, I wrote an article called “Why Would Anyone Kill One’s Self In an Attempt to Stop A War?” Now, four years later, in the past three months, two persons in the United States have taken their own lives in an attempt to change U.S. policies on Palestine and call for a Ceasefire and stop US funding to the State of Israel that would be used to kill in the Israeli genocide of Gaza. A yet unidentified woman, wrapped in a Palestinian flag, set herself on fire in front of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia on December 1, 2023.
In a decision issued January 31, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California found that there is a credible case that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza and that the US is supporting its actions. It called on the Biden administration to “examine the results of their unflagging support of the military siege against the Palestinians in Gaza.” While it said it had no authority to order the US to stop, it called on ordinary individuals to “confront the current siege in Gaza.” This Commentary is offered as a starting point for thinking about the implications of this decision for all of us.
Fishers, organizers, and concerned citizens in Texas, Vietnam, and Louisiana — areas that are home to existing or proposed Formosa plants — have supported each other’s efforts to mobilize against the Taiwan-based firm, forming the organization International Monitor Formosa Alliance (IMFA). Now the alliance is launching a hunger strike to demand that the victims of a 2016 environmental disaster in central Vietnam caused by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of the Formosa Plastics Group, be compensated for their losses, that the polluted area be restored, and that those who have been jailed for protesting be released.
If you stand back just far enough, history repeats itself. And we might just learn something from the outlines. The lesson comes from the Vietnam War. On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese New Year festival, approximately 85,000 combatants from the National Liberation Front (the so-called “Viet Cong”) and North Vietnam staged a surprise attack all across South Vietnam. The scale and the audacity of the campaign was unprecedented. But more than that, it was the surprise element that stood out. The offensive targeted over 100 locations, including cities, towns and military installations, and the capital of South Vietnam, then known as Saigon, hitherto immune from large-scale fighting.
Doug Rawlings found poetry in 1970 after returning from his tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Over fifty years later, he returned to Vietnam for the first time. In conversation with Chris Hedges, Rawlings looks back on his experience of the war with unflinching honesty on the many crimes of the US military, and shares some of the poems he’s written to process these experiences. Doug Rawlings is a veteran of the Vietnam War who has published several volumes of poetry, including In the Shadow of the Annamese Mountains (2020). He is a cofounder of Veterans for Peace.
In April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an eloquent and stirring denunciation of the Vietnam War and US militarism. The speech titled “Beyond Vietnam” is relevant to today’s war in Ukraine. In the speech at Riverside Church, King talked about how the US had supported France in trying to re-colonize Vietnam. He noted, “Before the end of the war we were meeting 80% of the French war costs.” When France began to despair in the war, “We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war.” King went on to recall that after the French finally left Vietnam, the United States prevented implementation of the Geneva Accord which would have allowed Ho Chi Minh to unite the divided country. Instead, the US supported its preferred South Vietnamese dictator. The U.S. has played a similar role in blocking compromise solutions and international agreements to the Ukraine conflict.
A navy warship was waiting for us when our sailing ship Phoenix came close to Da Nang, South Vietnam. It was October 1967, during a recently-escalated hot war in Vietnam. The 50-foot ketch-rigged Phoenix was loaded with medical supplies for civilians wounded by the U.S. war. I’d already been to the South Vietnamese capitol of Saigon, now named Ho Chi Minh City, in order to negotiate this trip with the government. We weren’t surprised that warships would be looking out for us. The surprise was the word from Vietnamese officials when they came up next to us. “Turn around and go back to Hong Kong,” they said. “Your visas are no longer valid; your mission is denied.” I quickly convened a meeting of our crew to decide what to do.
Learning no lessons from the failure and mass slaughter of the Korean War in the previous decade, the US military commenced widespread bombing of Vietnam and sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers. At the time, spring 1965, about 400 US soldiers had died in the conflict. The war was not yet widely unpopular. Americans who protested against the Vietnam War were a small minority. It would be two years before Martin Luther King’s famous denunciation of the war. Years later, after hundreds of thousands had been drafted into the military with the deaths of tens of thousands, the war became widely unpopular. Ultimately, over 58,000 Americans and three million Vietnamese civilians and soldiers died in the war. The cost in human lives and wasted resources was immense.
On Sunday, CBS News’ “60 Minutes” profiled the Oath Keepers, a white-supremacist veterans’ group founded when President Barack Obama assumed office. The program traced the group’s history from its 2009 formation to its armed support of Cliven Bundy in 2014 to its open plotting of sedition in December 2020. Then CBS showed some cell-phone footage of the 40 members of the group on Jan. 6, 2021, as they breached the U.S. Capitol in perfect military formation. That insurrection’s aftereffects are still being felt, with 400 participants having been arrested by the Justice Department. Now, as indictments loom, at least one Oath Keeper is openly cooperating with the Department of Justice, and the country’s two political parties are broadcasting dueling narratives about Jan. 6.
When the Pentagon began gearing up for a future war with China in 2018, Defense Department officials quickly realized that they needed access to Vietnamese territory for troops armed with missiles to hit Chinese ships in a US-China conflict. So they initiated an aggressive campaign to lobby the Vietnamese government, and even Communist Party officials, in the hope that they would eventually support an agreement to provide them the permission. But a Grayzone investigation of the Pentagon’s lobbying push in Vietnam shows what a delusional exercise it was from its inception. In a fit of self-deception that highlighted the desperation behind the bid, the US military ignored abundant evidence that Vietnam had no intention of giving up its longstanding, firmly grounded policy of equidistance between the United States and China.
On a warm late February day in Santiago, I went to the grave of Victor Jara to pay homage to the man who was brutally killed on 16 September 1973. A theatre director, songwriter, and communist, Jara was arrested after the coup d’état against the socialist government of Salvador Allende. He was tortured and then murdered. At the rear of the Cementerio General in Recoleta, Jara was buried with other victims of the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. In 2009, Jara’s body was exhumed as part of the investigation into this murder and he was reburied a short distance away. On the original tomb in simple paint are the words el derecho de vivir en paz (‘the right to live in peace’). These words are from the title song of Jara’s 1971 album. The song, which opens the album, is an homage to the Vietnamese people, who were led by Ho Chi Minh in their fight against US imperialism.
The civil complaint targets more than 20 US chemical firms for their part in the production of Agent Orange, massively employed by US forces during the Vietnam War. In her 2016 autobiography, Ma terre empoisonnée (My poisoned land), published in France by Stock and co-written with journalist Philippe Broussard, Trân Tô Nga describes herself as “the girl from the Mekong, colonialism and war”. She recounts how, as a young woman in her native Vietnam, she enrolled as a messenger and liaison agent with the communist Viet Cong guerrilla movement engaged in the bitter 20-year war for independence against US imperialism and its allied regime in South Vietnam that would end in victory in 1975.
Recently, the U.S. Department of State issued a report in which they claimed that religious freedom is being suppressed in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government is of course capable of speaking for itself and responding to this defamation. However, I think that Americans also have a responsibility to speak out against baseless claims made by our reactionary government. And as an American living in Hanoi, I can tell you—this is a baseless claim indeed. Anyone that has spent any time in Vietnam can plainly see the evidence right in front of their face that accusations about a lack of religious freedom are lies. Walking around the capital city, there are Buddhist pagodas, temples of various sects, a mosque, and even a Chabad House Synagogue. Even though Christians make up a small minority of the population of Vietnam, on Christmas Eve the streets in front of the city’s churches are packed with worshippers and friendly onlookers listening to the music and enjoying the celebration alongside their fellow citizens.