Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hong Kong Boy Activists Portrayed in "Lessons in Dissent"

To listen to our interview with Director Matthew Torne on Subversity Online, click on: here.

Oxford-educated scholar turned documentary filmmaker Matthew Torne's  "Lessons in Dissent" (whom he also co-produced) deftly portrays two dedicated teenagers fighting the moneyed Hong Kong establishment and special administrative region's Beijing masters.  It's a study in contrasts and a striking depiction of a new generation of young activists and protesters in a very politicized Hong Kong.  Some spectacular footage is included.

Media-savy teenager Joshua Wong
Focusing not on the recent Umbrella Revolution or Movement, Torne details the struggle in Hong Kong against the proposed imposition of what critics termed brain-washing and propagandistic, a mainland China-dictated National Education in Hong Kong school curricula.

One figure portrayed is the media savy 15-year-old schoolboy Joshua Wong Chi-fung (之鋒), the convenor of Scholarism, and who led the fight against National Education in 2011, and who also was a key figure in last Fall's Umbrella Movement.

The more radical Ma Jai is shown being arrested

In striking contrast is the more below the radar and less known Ma Wan-ke () (nicknamed "Ma Jai" () a 17-year-old secondary school dropout (from the same school and housing estate as the more mainstream Joshua Wong), who while lacking Mr. Wong's more sophisticated political analysis (spoken in the film in Cantonese, with English subtitles), nonetheless is able to offer biting observations that prove that he is able to be well read and  educated despite Hong Kong's at times stultifying education system.  He is an active member of the more anarchistic League of Social Democrats.

Matthew Torne at UC Irvine 25 February 2015; Photo c Daniel C. Tsang 2015
For Subversity Show Online, show host Daniel C. Tsang interviewed Director Matthew Torne earlier today from London via Skype.  Torne had shown his documentary before several dozen students at UC Irvine the Wednesday before.  Meanwhile, Joshua Wong was featured in  the L.A. Times after their visit to UCLA.

Protest leader Joshua Wong
On Subversity,Torne offers a critical analysis of the current political situation in Hong Kong in the aftermath of last fall's uprising.  He explains why he chose the two young protesters to feature in his film and offers some trunchent analysis of the People's Republic of China as Hong Kong's new colonial masters.

Joshua Wong with Lessons in Dissent DVD
The DVD was just released in Hong Kong; the boxed set comes with two DVDs (the documentary plus outakes) and a booklet with an analysis of the political situation in Hong Kong.  - Daniel C. Tsang.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"Last Days in Vietnam" Documentary is Fatally Flawed

The recent online free screening of an Oscar contending documentary, Last Days in Vietnam, on the Vietnam War (or American War) has sparked quite a bit of debate.  For instance, Nick Turse has panned it in the Nation, pointing out the consequences of the massive American bombing are still felt in Vietnam.

On Subversities, with the permission of the author of another critique, we provide here this Vietnam Studies academic's analysis of this documentary, taken from postings originally on the Vietnam Studies Group list.  Here is University of Washington historian Christoph Giebel's critique below, with headlines added:

A Fatal Flaw

I first saw the documentary in September at a pre-screening, and my many misgivings then were only reconfirmed by seeing it now again online.  The fact that the documentary is “widely praised” and nominated for highest US awards is much more of a commentary on current US culture —steeped in nationalist discourses of exceptionalism, thoroughly militarized, and narcissistic— than a reflection of its actual quality.  While most of the film is taken up by a detailed telling of the evacuation, the first 25 minutes of the documentary devoted to establishing background/context are dangerously simplistic, quickly abandon all pretense at historical accuracy or balance, and extremely manipulative.  These opening 25 minutes are a fatal flaw that render the entire documentary questionable at best.  Apart from the compellingly told, if minor human-interest stories contained in the main portions of the film, “Last Days in Vietnam” is the worst attempt at documenting the war I have seen in a long while.  In its early parts it comes across as a bad caricature of Cold War propaganda, and seemingly un-self-aware at that.

There is no indication in the credits that the film makers consulted any historians.  Instead, they seem to have relied on their own general, vague sense of how the war is being discussed in conventional, establishment discourses in the US or on the perspectives of the main US protagonists that are then uncritically presented as factual background.  The quote by Rory Kennedy in the linked review is bitterly ironic, as the film maker is revealed as incurious and easily swayed by the worst revisionist tropes of US politics over the war in Viet Nam.

Here’s my first stab at pointing to a few of the main issues with the documentary’s opening 25 minutes:

1) US-centrism and exceptionalism:
With one of its main themes being the “abandonment” of "South Vietnam” by the US, the unspoken, but heavily hinted at argument is that US action alone would have prevented the collapse of the RVN. The long-debunked notion that the US “cut” aid and did not provide the Paris Agreement-mandated supplies is trotted out and portrayed as central to why the ARVN was disintegrating (see, for example, the roughly 90 seconds starting at 22:18).  It is entirely US (in)action that is determining the outcome of unfolding events, not Vietnamese action/agency.

2) Complex US debates reduced to liberal “abandonment”:
The documentary participates in one-sided US politics by pointing at Congress and the US anti-war movement as main culprits for this “abandonment.”  See, for example, the a little over two minutes of scenes starting at 16:43: President Ford asking Congress for $722 million, Rep. McCloskey then explaining that Congress was unwilling to appropriate that money, overlaid simultaneously with (older) images of anti-war protestors, mainly holding up “Bring the troops home” placards. The complex ways in which the US public debated and opposed the war are thus reduced to being only self-interested in “bringing the boys home” and not caring about/abandoning "the South Vietnamese.”  The same manipulative overlaying of images occurs once more, starting at 23:47: Kissinger speaks into the camera about the two reasons for Ford’s $722 million request, one, "to save as many people as we could … the human beings involved, that they were not just pawns” and second, "the honor of America, that we would not be seen at the final agony of South Viet Nam as having stabbed it in the back.”  The images immediately cut to a newspaper headline of April 18 “Congress Balks At Arms Aid,” followed by a presidential aide remembering how he brought the news to Ford and the President uncharacteristically using a swear word, calling Congress “sons of bitches.”  The message to take away: Ford/Kissinger deeply cared, Congressional sons-of-bitches and the anti-war protesters did not and cold-heartedly stabbed “South Viet Nam” in the back.

(I will not speak here to the adventurous notion that Congressional appropriation (not assembling, shipping, delivering, distributing), on April 17, of emergency military aid, in violation of the Paris Agreement, would have made a lick of a difference before April 30.)

3) False and manipulative framing along US propagandistic, Cold War rhetoric:
The documentary abounds with the terms “North Vietnamese” v. “South Vietnamese,” all neatly homogeneous, and with a false spatial, binary representation of the warring parties as “North Viet Nam” and “South Viet Nam,” and of a “North Vietnamese” “invasion” “into” "South Vietnam” (caption at 7:54).  That the propaganda trope of two discrete countries and a “Northern" invasion is still being peddled —and widely accepted— in 2014 as an accurate historical rendition of the war is shocking.  Others have already pointed to the grotesque digital map with its 1950s, McCarthyism-style red ooze gobbling up homogeneously yellow territory.  It appears at 13:54, 18:52, and 33:56.  On this disturbing count alone, the film loses all credibility.  (It is one thing to say that the historical witnesses and the parties they represent may have subjectively felt this to be true, but the documentary portrays it as fact.)

Needless to say that the Paris Agreement knew no “North Vietnam” and “South Vietnam” (as captioned at 3:20), but instead the DRVN and RVN, both claiming to have sole, all-Vietnamese authority, and the NLF’s RSVN thrown in for good measure.  The DMZ of the map was long defunct.  Revolutionary forces (PAVN, PLAF, local guerrillas) controlled large areas of Viet Nam south of the 17th parallel, as specifically acknowledged by the Paris Agreement.  There were many factions of southern Vietnamese, supporters of the RVN being merely one of them.  No matter, the documentary collapses “South Viet Nam” with, and assigns it to, the RVN and completely elides revolutionary and nonaligned southerners.  (That makes for oddly confusing images at the end of relieved, happy if not jubilant Sai Gon citizens welcoming the victors.)

4) One-sided misrepresentation of the Paris Agreement:
The film falsely reduces the Paris Agreement to "a ceasefire between North and South Vietnam,” without mentioning that (1) the warring parties were not defined by these spatial terms, that (2) the ceasefire was in situ and not at the 17th parallel, and that (3) there were political provisions calling for a peaceful settlement that were immediately renounced by the RVN after the signing.  No mention is made of the much more aggressive violations of the ceasefire by the ARVN in 1973.  Of course the revolutionary side violated the Paris Agreement as well, albeit initially in a reactive manner, but the documentary, in maps and words, obscures the complexity of the situation  and resorts to manipulating the uninformed audience into believing that a ceasefire existed between a “North Viet Nam” and a peaceful, homogeneous “South Viet Nam”-cum-RVN that was only violated on March 10, 1975 by an “invasion.”

5) One-sided representation of war-time violence:
Dao X. Tran in the online review has said already enough on this point.  Again, it is one thing to portray the legitimate fear of communist violence and civilian killings as foregrounded in the subjective perspective of the documentary’s protagonists.  But this is what the film portrays alone to be the nature of warfare against the entirety of “the South Vietnamese.”  No one else perpetrated violence, no one else suffered.  See segment starting at 8:22.

6) Racist/orientalist reductionism of Vietnamese actions, motivations, and feelings:
One of the most appalling scenes of Last Days in Vietnam is CIA-agent Frank Snepp “explaining” what led to the “invasion” of Spring 1975.  Starting at 7:20: "The North Vietnamese viewed Nixon as a madman. They were terrified of him. They believed that Nixon, if necessary, would bring back American air power. But in August 1974, he was gone. … And overnight everything changed. Ha Noi suddenly saw the road to Sai Gon as being open.”
For the documentary, this segment functions as the crucial and only link between two points:  (A) The (falsely portrayed) ceasefire “between North and South Vietnam” and Nixon’s (hollow) assurances to Thieu that "if the North Vietnamese were to substantially violate the terms of the Paris Agreement, the United States would respond with full force.”  And (B) The “North Vietnamese” “invasion” of March 10, 1975 and subsequent US “abandonment” of “South Viet Nam."
The implications of Snepp’s simplistic point are two-fold: on the one hand, it reinforces the subtle message already discussed under (1) and (2) above that it was liberal hounding of Nixon, who alone as towering Uncle Sam held the line for “South Viet Nam,” that ultimately led to the RVN’s collapse.  On the other hand, it plays into long-standing racist notions in the West that “the natives” are easily swayed by, and can be kept under control through, fear, “shock and awe,” and the threat of violence.  Here the rational, if cunning, but ultimately well-meaning White Man, there the superstitious, emotional, child-like Little Brown “commie."
Naturally, the domestic turmoil in the US played a role in revolutionary plans, but the idea that “the North Vietnamese … were terrified of [Nixon]” and that it was this irrational fear that kept them in check is laughable, unbelievably substance-free, and plain ugly.

The first 25 minutes of Last Days in Vietnam sink the documentary.  This is too bad, because the human-interest story of the evacuation in the bulk of the film give voice to people immediately affected by the events in compelling and, at times, quite moving ways.

C. Giebel
Assoc. Prof. of History (Southeast Asia)
and International Studies (Viet Nam)
University of Washington -Seattle
7 February 2015 Postcript from Prof. Giebel:
Alternative Introduction Suggested 
If this film was meant as a snapshot of one city at a particularly perilous moment, an intro along the following introductory lines would have completely sufficed:

Southern Viet Nam, 20 April 1975:  the ARVN was unraveling before the combined forces of Vietnamese revolutionaries, barely five weeks into a General Offensive that swept entrenched communist-led divisions into the lowland population centers of central and southern-central Viet Nam.  A re-intervention of US forces was, for a complex set of domestic political reasons, out of the question.  The battle at Xuan Loc to hold the final defensive line before the approaches to Sai Gon, capital of the RVN, was lost, having ground up the last organized reserve units of ARVN.  The Republic of Viet Nam now rapidly collapsed, many of its troops, commanding officers, and civil servants deserting their posts, its leadership in disarray and embroiled in factional fighting, and any semblance of a functioning government quickly vanishing in the few remaining territories under its control — the vicinity of Sai Gon and scattered areas in the Mekong Delta.  Total defeat was only a matter of time.  With increasing urgency, indeed desperation, US personnel now faced the task of organizing an emergency evacuation of around 7,000 US citizens, their Vietnamese dependents, and perhaps several hundred thousand Vietnamese affiliated with the Republic and its armed forces, who were at risk of revolutionary reprisals.  The city of Sai Gon was teeming with people bewildered by the rapidly unfolding events, some in great fear for their safety, some secretly jubilant in their revolutionary loyalty, many others exhaustedly awaiting the end of war.  This documentary is about the untold stories of some remarkable Americans and Vietnamese caught up in the evacuation efforts from Sai Gon as the United States and many Republican loyalists faced their Last Days In Viet Nam.

There.  Took ten minutes to write.  Could have been spoken in voice-over in three minutes as a prologue to the documentary.  No gimmicky McCarthyite maps of red ooze, no gross distortions of the Paris Agreement, no utterly misleading regional/spatial terminology, no false insinuation of a ceasefire at the 17th parallel between discrete countries broken by a “Northern invasion,” no caricature of US politics, no homogenization of populations, no disrespect for the suffering of many ordinary people in southern Viet Nam.

Instead: trotting out, for 25 minutes, one Cold War propaganda zombie after the other that have, for two generations, prevented reconciliation across old divides and a more mature engagement of US society at large with the war in Viet Nam.  The film makers had choices.  They ruined what could have been a fine documentary.

Christoph Giebel

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Real Lillian Baker: Historical Revisionism in Our Times

From the Tsang Archives, a 1996 article:


"I HOPE SHE DIES A SLOW DEATH," Chicago Shimpo newspaper English-language editor Arthur Morimitsu told the Chicago Tribune three years before her death. He was referring to revisionist writer Lillian Baker, who died in Gardena on October 21, 1996 of natural causes at age 75.

Baker was the nemesis of Japanese Americans everywhere, a purveyor through her Orange County foundation of misinformation about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But you would have thought she was a great American from the laudatory obituary the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times ran October 29, 1996.

My original article appeared in OC Weekly 29 November-5 December 1996, pages 9-10

Here's our correction:

Baker founded the now-defunct, Anaheim-based Americans for Historical Accuracy (AFHA), a group that, not unlike the O.C.based Institute for Historical Review (the Holocaust-is-myth folks), argues that what the history books tell us about the U.S.' treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II is a lie. AFHA, founded by Baker in 1972 in Lawndale, became a "public benefit" California corporation in 1992 in Anaheim, but it lost its corporate status on Oct. 3, 1994, when it was suspended by the Franchise Tax Board. The most likely reason, according to a source at the California secretary of state's office, was failure to pay corporate taxes.

In the last two decades of her life, Baker became the darling of the Right, campaigning (without success) against congressional legislation to pay reparations to the 60,000 surviving Japanese Americans rounded up by the U.S. in World War II. In her four books, she touted her revisionist thesis: that the internees owed allegiance to Japan's emperor, that military necessity justified the "relocations," that internment was constitutional, and that Japanese American camps like California's Manzanar were not concentration camps. The barbed wire was there to keep cattle out, not to keep people in, she insisted, arguing that there were no machine guns in guard towers. Internees, park historians and photos say there were; Baker insisted that the photos had been doctored  and the internees and park historians had lied to advance the cause of Japanese American internees.

Baker aroused emotions wherever she spoke. When she testified in August 1981 against reparations before the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in Los Angeles, more than 200 Japanese Americans walked out in silent protest of her "hysterical diatribes against evacuees,"according to an account in the Santa Ana Wind, the newsletter of the Orange County Japanese Americans Citizens League. That same article noted that the next day, "Baker was ejected from the hearing room by the state police for attempting to snatch written testimony from James Kawanami, president of the Southern California 100th/442nd Veterans Association, while he was giving his testimony." The 442nd, composed entirely of Japanese Americans freed from the camps, was one of the most decorated U.S. units in World War II.

But right-wing groups embraced Baker's cause. The Valley Forge, Pennsylvania-based Freedoms Foundation awarded her a certificate for "promoting a better understanding of America and Americans." The Stanford-based conservative think tank Hoover Institution started a Lillian Baker collection (The Lillian Baker Papers now comprise some 113 boxes of her "research" materials) and paid for the National Archives photographs used in one of her books.

Those books, published by an obscure press in Medford, Oregon, Webb Research Group, included Dishonoring America: The Falsification of World War II History (a 1994 revision of her 1988 work). The publisher's introduction to that book claims that another Baker compilation, American and Japanese Relocation in World War II: Fact, Fiction & Fallacy, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1990. The tome, which was actually nominated in 1991 by the Freedoms Foundation, never received any awards.

In Baker's case, it's pretty safe to judge her books by their covers. Her first was 1983's The Concentration Camp Conspiracy: A Second Pearl Harbor, her last, The Japanning of America: Redress & Reparations Demands by Japanese Americans (l991). "Japanning," according to the publisher, refers to the covering up of historical fact and the "blackening of America's honor by persons of Japanese ancestry in the USA. "Baker gave copies of three of her books to the Anaheim Public Library, including one signed, "Compliments of Lillian Baker in the interest of historical accuracy." But her supporters, mistakenly thinking the books would not be circulated, staged a small demonstration (replete with picket signs) outside the library in December 1991. Jane Newell, the library's local-history curator, said the books are shelved in the local-history reading room because they are "revisionist history not based on fact" and thus more appropriate for a special
collection. Only one person (besides me) has asked to see them since Baker died, Newell said.

Baker's revisionist L.A. Times obituary was penned by staffer Myrna Oliver, who cited-without qualification-Baker's view that Japanese-Americans were "voluntary guests" free to leave the camps as soon as they proved their loyalty. Oliver wrote that Baker believed the internees "benefited from the education and free food they received at Manzanar." Baker continued to wage unsuccessful battles against Manzanar being designated a national historical site until her death.

Oliver's apologist obituary even invited readers to send donations to the Lillian Baker Memorial Fund for scholarships for history srudents. But the post-office box the Times listed is not registered to AFHA. An Anaheim Hills postal employee who manages box rentals said that the box has been rented since 1985 by H .D. Garber and his family members. That would be Howard D. Garber, a retired Anaheim Hills optometrist, Baker clone and a one-time controversial KUCI talk host. Garber used the same box in his campaign literature to raise money for his unsuccessful 1992 Assembly campaign. Garber also uses it for the plethora of other front groups he heads, including the anti-ACLU American Civil Responsibilities Union, the California Coalition for Capital Punishment and Advocates of Penal Euthanasia. Garber, AFHA's registered agent according to records on file with the secretary of state's
office, admitted that its corporate status had been suspended but said he couldn't tell us why. He would only say that they'd never had secretarial help with the paperwork. He also said Republican politico Gil Ferguson (a fellow AFHA board member) is "leading the effort" to decide what to do with the donations.

"Since the L.A. Times article,  I've received various checks," Garber added, saying that they will probably be used for a bronze plaque and an annual scholarship for students doing historical research into "inaccuracies" about the "relocation" camps. Garber did not recognize my voice or name in 1996; nor did he remember challenging me months earlier to a debate on World War II after calling me a liar for describing the internment camps as "concentration camps." When we talked, he questioned my ethnicity again {for the record, I'm Chinese American) and inquired why I wasn't concerned about the Nanking massacre of Chinese by Japanese troops in 1937. He also said that his group is planning to sue some Japanese Americans (whom he wouldn't name) for linking Baker and AFHA with the Institute for Historical Review. He added that, as a Jew, he had fled the smokestacks of Europe. "Do you know what  smokestacks are?" he asked. "Those were the real concentration camps."

 - Daniel C. Tsang.


Revised  and hyperlinks added 21 July 2014 for this blog from the original article, "The Real Lillian Baker" that appeared in the OC Weekly 29 November- 9 December 1996, pages 9-10.  OC Weekly editor Will Swaim had commissioned that article, and as I recall it was my first for the publication.

See also: Robert Ito, "Summer Camp or Concentration Camp: A New Generation of Revisionists Tries to Put a Happy Face on the Japanese American Relocation Camps," Mother Jones, 15 September 1998.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

David Truong in His Own Words in 1978: "I am Not a Spy" | "Tôi không phải là một gián điệp"

Here is David Truong's inspirational statement at his sentencing 7 July 1978. [Italics used here for the underlining in original.]  He alludes to the "petty political vendettas" by those in the U.S. administration to delay inevitable normalization of relations with Vietnam.  As David predicted, "They cannot reverse history."

See also our earlier post, as revised, which links to our online Subversity audio interview where Prof. Ngo Vinh Long elaborates on why and how the government set David up. - Daniel C. Tsang



                                                                      David Truong
                                                                      July 7, 1978

       To experience one's own trial always leaves oneself with
definite impressions of what justice, dignity, and honor are.
But this case, which at least for its absurd and senseless
character, reminds me of the Viet Nam war, begs for comments.

          Let me say first that whatever happens today will not
change my love and affection for the warm people of this country
whom I've known for more than a decade and in the course of this
trial. A few of them are here today, most in other cities, so it
would take many courtrooms if they all came. Whether close or
afar, I want to thank them for their boundless love, friendship,
and solidarity. I also thank my counsels, Michael, Marvin, and John,
for their untiring work and compassion--these are things I will,
never forget.

      What did take place about this case and in this court will,
for a long time, cast large shadows on this Administration,
notably the Justice Department and the intelligence agencies--
the CIA and' the FBI. There is a very serious and fundamental
credibility problem for the government when such intelligence
agencies run amuck in a land where some justice is supposed to
rule. This, I believe, is and will increasingly be, an important
question for all Americans and alien residents here. Aside from
not inspiring additional confidence in the carrying out of justice,
my case, and where it will lead, will also sap the government's
credibility to a severe extent.

       To talk about credibility in specifics: What about this myth
of the danger of flight? It would really hurt, would it not, if
the alleged Vietnamese spy is out of jail, refuses to flee, stays
put; and fights the government every step of the way. Gentlemen,
one may be poor, one may tighten one's belt because of enduring
_hardships, one may even have to give up one's life--but no Vietnamese
will ever flee before this government.

       In addition to the credibility question, there is the question
of human rights. In his April 30, 1977 speech in Athens, Georgia,
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance defined human rights as such: "The
right to be free from governmental violation of the integrity of
the person. Such violations include torture; cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment; and arbitrary arrest or imprisonment,
as well as denial of fair public trial and invasion of the

        My case stands clearly as a violation of human rights in the
U.S. and will be seen as such by peoples everywhere.

         Thirdly, today will do no honor to this country. Many will
remember this years from now. No matter how hard the government
tries, this case can never erase the horrors and destruction that
were unleashed upon the people of Viet Nam for decades. Frankly,
your honor, even a life sentence for me would look pale beside the
untold number of war crimes and countless Vietnamese women,
children, and men who died during the term of four Administrations.

         If I would add a personal level, I know of a government
that came to southern Viet Nam, crippled my father for his views
by imprisoning him for more than five years at hard labor, and
then left in April of 1975. In between, it managed to jail my
little brother for a while.

       The heavy legacy of Viet Nam--those bombings of Christmas,
1972; those millions of Vietnamese uprooted, wounded and killed;
those hundreds of thousands of undetonated explosives in Viet Nam--is
something no Administration can wash away.

       One day, younger Americans, perhaps the children and grand-children
of many present here, will ask after having visited
Viet Nam, whether what happened there for thirty years was and
is deserving of this country's honor and conscience. But, up to
now, it will remain for the first time in mankind's history such
a powerful country chose to turn its back to the massive destruction
perpetrated on a small country. President Carter's words summed
up things well: "Without morality, no nation can maintain its
position in. the world."

       Finally, your honor, I did not wrong anyone in this country-or
this country. I am not a spy or anybody's agent, and reaffirm
my innocence.

       I would have liked to see peace and normalization of relations
instead of more war. And I would like in my modest way to help
rebuild Viet Nam, like tens of thousands of Vietnamese living
abroad. Instead, all I see are petty political vendettas by some
elements within this Administration in vainless attempts for
revenge, including a major effort to stifle the drive of Vietnamese
living abroad to help heal the wounds of war. Zbigniew Brzezinski
and his lieutenants can only bring disgrace and shame with their
actions, they cannot reverse history.

       If one learns anything from history, and, of course, from the
tragedy of the Viet Nam war, it would be that the people always
count. They shape and mold history. And they stood together, in
difficult and good times alike--that is the history of two peoples,
Americans and Vietnamese, during the war.

       And now, they will stand even more firmly together in their
pursuit of healing war wounds in Viet Nam and here, and of normalization
of relations between two countries. Nothing can change that.
With that certain knowledge, my mind is totally at peace, ready to
climb the highest mountain and go down the deepest valley, no matter
how long it takes.

       History will once again show that the peoples will decisively
turn that new page in the history of US-Viet Nam relations. They
will win, and so will I.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Remembering Vietnam Scholar & Peace Activist David Truong

Irvine - I will forever remember David Truong as a peace activist cum Vietnam scholar - graduate of
Stanford and offspring of a presidential peace candidate -- Trương Đình Dzũ -- in South Vietnam against Nguyễn Văn Thiệu.

David would much later become a European Union representative or consultant to Vietnam but in the post-Vietnam War years, was hounded by the US authorities who managed to pin an espionage charge on him.

David Truong between two FBI agents - photo credit: Đặng Mỹ Dung

Trương Đình Hùng or David Truong, as he came to be known in the U.S., spent many years in prison, but just before he was incarcerated he married his fellow peace movement supporter and economics researcher Carolyn Gates -  a sure sign of their commitment to each other, a commitment that lasted decades until his death last week (26 June 2014) in Penang, Malaysia, of cancer.  He was 68 , having been born on Independence Day in Vietnam on 2 September 1945.  

A beautiful event for the newlyweds, yet one clouded by foreboding, knowing that prison awaited David.  I had seen some of the government transcripts of the surveillance on his phone and apartment and knew he was not a spy - among other innocuous conversations, they captured David and his friends chatting about what to get for groceries that day.

David was a great friend to know - on the few occasions I did run into him after his release, we would partake of exquisite food.  In Amsterdam I joined him and Carolyn in the best dim sum joint in Chinatown - I remembering having to brave many drug dealers offering pot etc. before I got to the restaurant.

At historian Ngô Vĩnh Long's apartment in Hanoi in 2001, it was David who joined Long in cooking the best meal of my visit in that cold winter evening.

David's progressive lawyer, Michael Tigar, has already penned his remembrances about the national security implications of David's legal case.   The appellate decision against David is nonetheless worth reading for more details on the opposing parties legal positions.
And a Vietnamese-language remembrance by his Vietnamese friend
Nguyễn Ngọc Giao has already appeared

KUCI Subversity Online reached Ngo Vinh Long earlier today for a long chat about David, his progressive work, his legal case, and his impact on US-Vietnam relations.

To listen to that interview click on the podcast here.

It's a long conversation (almost an hour) but several key revelations:
  • Although David was definitely anti-war, he knew many of the top policymakers of the time.  In fact, William Colby - head of the notorious Phoenix assassination program, and later CIA director was one of his godfathers!  And as Prof. Long reveals, Colby once advised David to stay in the U.S. no matter what happens, otherwise he would be killed.  (Long says it could perhaps be by the CIA or from South Vietnamese agents.)  
  • According to Long, David's espionage setup was due to National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brezinski trying to "torpedo" Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's plan to normalize relations with Vietnam - with the result that an FBI/CIA double agent, Dung (or Yung) Krall, the wife of a US Navy pilot, was tasked to befriend David.
  • Krall, according to Long, was the one who packed the package she took to Paris for David, with the incriminating low-level document (that lawyer Tigar separately in his blog characterized as diplomatic "chit chat")
  • David and Long also convinced liberal Democratic Senator Hubert Humphrey to stop Food for Peace (P.L.480) funding to the South Vietnamese regime - since the two believed the RVN was seeking to sabotage rural support for the liberation of Vietnam by getting rice free from the US and then selling it cheaply to farmers to undermine the anti-government forces. The two lobbyists succeeded in stopping Food for Peace funding to the Saigon regime.
In sum, David was a target along the lines of how the Obama administration is similarly currently targeting -- journalists and researchers who receive leaks from government employees.   David was a researcher, (as his citations in Google Scholar attests) and not an actual spy.  As Long expressed in the interview -- with both David and Long having been accused of being "communists" - that is an easy political invective - but Long says that both loved the U.S. and would never have done anything to hurt their adopted country.

David's true legacy as a peacemaker and advocate of normalization of relations with Vietnam will be remembered by anti-war activists, and it will not be the one painted by a compliant mass media hesitant to be critical when "national security" is raised as a red herring. Our condolences to David's comrade-in-arms Carolyn and to his sister, Monique.  -- Daniel C. Tsang.

[Added 7/7/14: New York Times obituary: David Truong, Figure in U.S. Wiretap Case, Dies at 68]
[Added 7/15/14: Washinton Post obituary: David Truong, defendant in espionage case after Vietnam War, dies at 68]