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Central Vietnam: An Enduring Legacy of How Far Washington is Willing to Go

My Lai: the old tree that survived, while the village and people around it did not (Photo: Andre Vltchek © 2020)

Andre Vltchek
21st Century Wire

My Lai. My Son… This story is short, but it is telling. And I have travelled far, in order to bring it to my readers.

My Lai hamlet in Central Vietnam may be one of the most gruesome and symbolic places on earth, like Nanking or Auschwitz. It clearly depicts just how monstrous war can be, and how ruthless, appalling the occupiers can become.

It is also a place we should have on our lips now, when it appears that the “Empire” ruled from Washington is once again ready to attack several countries, all over the world.

But is President Donald Trump an insane anomaly, or just a continuation of ruthless and sadistic rulers?

To answer this question, I travelled back to Vietnam, a country which used to be my home, almost two decades ago.

Located near the city of Quang Ngai, the village of My Lai is about 150 kilometers south from Danang, and it does not even appear on most of the maps of Vietnam. So small, so humble. And yet, and yet…

According to Oliver Kendrick and his work, “The My Lai Massacre in American History and Memory” [Manchester University Press, 2006]:

“On the morning of 16 March at 7:30 a.m., around 100 soldiers from Charlie Company led by [Captain Ernest] Medina, following a short artillery and helicopter gunship barrage, landed in helicopters at Sơn Mỹ, a patchwork of settlements, rice paddies, irrigation ditches, dikes, and dirt roads, connecting an assortment of hamlets and sub-hamlets. The largest among them were the hamlets Mỹ Lai, Cổ Lũy, Mỹ Khê, and Tu Cung…”

What followed was a massacre, of the most monstrous sort. A massacre of children, adults and elderly people.

To describe what occurred, Vietnamese sources used very different language to Mr. Kendrick’s. This is part of a transcript released by the National Liberation Front Committee of Quang Ngai Province, dated March 25, 1968:

“Early morning of March 16, 1968, just like any other normal mornings, the people of Son My commune… were starting a day of production, suddenly the enemy artillery from Ram mountain… shoot for hours… Following that, nine American helicopters landed three times surrounding two small villages. Having left the planes, the GIs as wild beasts rushed to the villages to kill everyone. They are divided into three groups: one to kill, one to burn the houses, one to cut trees and kill animals…”

People of My Lai before being slaughtered (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

Her last moments, before her deliverance to U.S. freedom and democracy (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

Corpses on one of the roads of My Lai (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

Mrs Nguyen: one unlikely martyr at the hands of U.S. soldiers in My Lai (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

500 people died. 500 innocent civilians. No one even opened fire at the arriving U.S. helicopters. There were no armed men on the ground. The Vietnamese civilians were just there, living their lives, tending their fields.

The massacre was systematic, sadistic and took hours.

No one was spared: old women, babies, nobody.

Only one U.S. soldier refused to participate; an African-American who deliberately shot himself in the foot. Others clearly enjoyed their monstrous endeavor. Historic black and white photographs exhibited at the local museum, show American GIs resting after committing mass murder: lying in the grass, smiling, joking, content.

Not one person went to prison. Some individuals got decorated. Empire is good to its killers and rapists.

US soldiers taking a cigarette break after slaughtering 500 innocent civilians (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

The President of the United States, at the time when the massacre took place, was Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), a Democrat. Not that it mattered much. Crimes against humanity were committed by his predecessor JFK (Democrat), as well as by his successor Richard Nixon (Republican). They are being committed presently, by the current administration of Donald Trump.

That is somehow answering my rhetorical question printed above. A question about Trump.

All this has to be remembered. All this has to be kept in context.

This year, in 2020, and right before the beginning of the auspicious “Year of The Rat” (according to the Chinese calendar) began, I was the only foreigner paying tribute to the victims of My Lai massacre. The only one.

There was only one Vietnamese traveler, sitting on a bench, in front of the ruins of one of the houses of May Lai. He was resting his head in his palms, in grief. Perhaps he was not a traveler, after all. Maybe a relative of those who died here, half a century ago.

Remains of the foundation of a house torched by US soldiers in My Lai (Photo: Andre Vltchek© 2020)

I wonder, why no one came? How sick and telling that nobody was there. Out of the billions of people inhabiting this planet, nobody gave a shit to travel here.

GIs killed millions, all over Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. B-52s bombed everything that moved. Soldiers on the ground raped children, slaughtering sadistically elderly people. Often I was told: “My Lai is not the most terrible atrocity U.S. committed in Vietnam. There were thousands places like that”. I know… Still, My Lai, as well as the No Gun Ri massacre in South Korea (where U.S. forces massacred an undefined number of refugees) are supposed to be the symbols of U.S. crimes against humanity.

So why; why is no one here, why does no one remember?

HUMANITY’S HERITAGE: Ancient temple at Mỹ Sơn, Quang Nam province (Photo: Thomas Hirsch CC)

A couple of a hundred kilometers north – My Son.

When I used to live in Vietnam, while visiting the great archeological site of My Son, I had to leave my car at the entrance, and take a Vietnamese military 4WD. It is because the entire area was a minefield, even decades after the U.S. carpet bombing campaigns had stopped.

My Son is a UNESCO-inscribed world heritage site, and this is what The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has to say about it, on its website:

“Between the 4th and 13th centuries a unique culture which owed its spiritual origins to Indian Hinduism developed on the coast of contemporary Viet Nam. This is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower-temples located in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence…”

Its importance did not save it from savage bombing by the U.S. Air Force, during the Vietnam War (called, more precisely, “The American War” in Vietnam).

To this day, the entire area is dotted with craters, and visitors are discouraged from venturing off the beaten tracks, as there are tons of unexploded cluster bombs all over the area.

50 years later, exploded US cluster bombs still ravage the landscape (Photo: Andre Vltchek© 2020)

Still dangerous bomb craters interrupt an otherwise beautiful nature landscape (Photo: Andre Vltchek© 2020)

My Son sanctuary funded by the Japanese government (Photo: Andre Vltchek© 2020)

The craters are marked. But in the museum financed by the Japanese government, there is no mention of the U.S. cultural barbarity. There are only very few photos of the aftermath, with close to no comments. Funding from perpetrators of Southeast Asian genocides and their allies comes with one condition: silence. And Japan got fat and rich because of its collaboration with the West, during both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

My Son clearly pronounces what the people of Iran and other places on earth, at the beginning of the 21st Century, are afraid to even imagine: the United States can and periodically does bomb and even liquidates important cultural heritage sites and centers… and even world heritage sites, located in the territories of the states it defines as its enemies and adversaries. Washington’s military clique does it against all international conventions, and with total impunity. It does it for no military reasons; just out of spite.

Trump is not just bragging, nor only intimidating. Others, before him, have already done it, they dared. And he would not think twice visiting the same destruction.

My Lai and My Son, in Central Vietnam. Two different stories, two atrocities. One against the people, the other against the culture.

Both places literally lost in some of the most beautiful countryside of Southeast Asia. Both places inhabited by people with an ancient culture.

But the depth of culture matters very little to the Empire. Be these the cultures of Vietnam or Cambodia, of Indonesia, Sy ria, Iran or China. Fundamentalist Washington only accepts full, unconditional submission. If that is not achieved, a country, its people and its heritage sites get bombed into the ground. A similar logic to that of the Taliban dynamiting the Buddhas of Bamyan, or ISIS sacking Palmyra, is applied by the Empire.

And so, whenever Washington gets ready to devour its next victim, I travel to Vietnam. It is because being here, things somehow fall into perspective.

Communist Vietnam is enjoying its independence. It suffered tremendously, but it rose and fought. It first defeated French colonialists, and then the U.S. imperialists. It lost millions of people, but it saved its country for future generations.

If Vietnam could, others can, too.

Ho Chi Minh and Communist flag in My Lai today (Photo: Andre Vltchek© 2020)

While we know many heartbreaking accounts from My Lai, including various local testimonies as well as foreign analyses, very few have access to what followed, including the Urgent Declaration from March 25, 1968 of the National Liberation front Committee of Mid-Central Vietnam:

“The National Liberation Front of Mid-Central Vietnam denounces violently atrocious crimes of the American aggressor and the South Korean mercenaries… it sends sadness shares to the families massacred by U.S. soldiers and call upon the people turn pain into action, contribute their energy with the whole people to wipe out the enemy. The whole people, cadres and soldiers engrave this pain on their mind to turn vindictive hatred into strength. Keeping on attacking, rising up to wipe out the U.S. soldiers, the Quisling, the vassals. Punish the thug, striking deadly blows into the American aggressor…”

The statement ends with a call for independence.

An independence, which was eventually achieved.

Somehow, I always believed that this statement should be taught at schools, all over the world. These days, almost no one dares to use this simple but determinate logic. The grammar may not be perfect, but the message is clear. A country can defend itself from evil, no matter how great the evil is. And it can win, against all the odds.

If it is determined, if it is brave, and if it puts its ideology and independence first.

Mother & Child: decades after the devastation of US occupation, residents experience real independence and dignity (Photo: Andre Vltchek© 2020)

Today, Vietnam is a shining star of Southeast Asia, with no slums and one of the most optimistic populations on earth.

It stands in striking contrast to such horrid places like Indonesia, where Western imperialism defeated socialism, consequently ruining the environment and keeping the majority of people in misery.

We should celebrate Vietnam’s heroism. But we should never forget that millions died, while fighting for its freedom.

SOME STILL REMEMBER: A monument to victims in My Lai (Photo: Andre Vltchek© 2020)

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Five of his latest books are “China Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Countries, Saving Millions of Lives”, China and Ecological Cavillation with John B. Cobb, Jr., Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, the revolutionary novel “Aurora” and the bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter. His Patreon.

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Get Your Copy of New Dawn Magazine #203 - Mar-Apr Issue