A Long Read to Ponder: Biden in Vietnam & at the UN: Who Could Have Imagined?

An image from Vietnamese TV news, during Biden’s visit.

NOTE: Friends, this material just blows my mind.

Yes, that’s an outdated 1960s expression, but it fits here: this material is about the Vietnam War. And for me (plus, I figure, most of the remaining survivors of that era of national agony), having our minds blown was a thing.

Maybe initially it was fun, or mind-expanding. But for me, and for many, it happened too often back then, and it didn’t always mean by taking drugs. I didn’t do much of that, but had mind-blown fatigue anyway.

When it came to Vietnam, even for many of us Quakers & others who resolutely opposed it, mind-blown fatigue soon turned to denial, domestic kinds of PTSD, a dive into the vapidity of the “Me Decade,” and a willful forgetting. John Lennon’s 1971 song, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over If You Want it)” was a particularly fatuous, but representative example.

But about the Vietnam War, there were people who coped with their trauma (some unimaginably brutal) and didn’t forget, or turn bitter and self-destructive.

Some of them spent much of the rest of their lives finding ways to address the many horrific legacies of what the Vietnamese rightly called “The American War” (looking at you, John McCain, John Kerry, Former senator Pat Leahy, among many others less well-known. Take a bow.

I knew this reparative work was going on, and admired it from afar, but was busy “moving on” myself.

And then suddenly (for me), Joe Biden was in Hanoi. When I stopped to think about it, the fact blew my mind.

Scranton Joe, who neither served nor protested the war, was shaking hands with his Vietnamese counterpart (officially still a Communist, right?): mind-blow.

Then Biden sat down with him, right under a huge, watchful Buddha-like icon of Ho Chi Minh: mind-blow.

And then there they were, at a fancy luncheon, raising glasses, quoting Ho and Vietnamese poets and making flowery toasts: mind-blow again.

But to top it off, the White House released a lengthy “fact sheet,” unpacking what all the ceremonials were about, something called a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for peace.” It’s an alliance that includes a multiply mind-blowing list of projects and investments in the same small country on which  —I still remember this— we dropped way more bombs than we did in all of World War Two (and still lost).

Excerpts from that fact sheet are below, just for reflection, for those who can handle the cognitive dissonance (that’s a mind-blow that’s been to college). No other commentary is added; have your own reactions.

Ahead of that, there are excerpts from speeches by Biden, in Hanoi and at the UN, and from his Vietnamse host.

Draw your own conclusions, but it reads to me like their minds were blown too.

From Biden at the UN (Excerpts):

Remarks by President Biden Before the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly | New York, NY

United Nations Headquarters
New York, New York

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, and my fellow leaders, about a week ago I stood on the other side of the world in Vietnam on soil once bloody with war.

And I met a small group of veterans, Americans and Vietnamese, [with whom] I watched an exchange of personal artifacts from that war — identification cards and a diary. It was deeply moving to see the reaction of the Vietnamese and American soldiers.

A culmination of 50 years of hard work on both sides to address the painful legacies of war and to choose — to choose to work together toward peace and a better future.

In Hanoi: Biden & Truong shake hands under the gaze of Ho Chi Minh

Nothing about that journey was inevitable. For decades, it would have been unthinkable for an American president to stand in Hanoi alongside a Vietnamese leader and announce a mutual commitment to the highest level of countries partnership. But it’s a powerful reminder that our history need not dictate our future.

With a concerted leadership and careful effort, adversaries can become partners, overwhelming challenges can be resolved, and deep wounds can heal.

So let us never forget that. When we choose to stand together and recognize the common hopes that bind all humanity, we hold our hands the power — in that power to bend that arc of history.

My fellow leaders, we gather once more at an inflection point in world history with the eyes of the world upon all of you — all of us.

As president of the United States, I understand the duty my country has to lead in this critical moment; to work with countries in every region linking them in common cause; to join together with partners who share a common vision of the future of the world, where our children do not go hungry and everyone has access quality healthcare, where workers are empowered and our environment is protected, where entrepreneurs and innovators everywhere can access opportunity everywhere, where conflicts are resolved peacefully and countries can chart their own course. . . .

My fellow leaders, let me close with this. At this inflection point in history, we’re going to be judged by whether or not we live up to the promises we have made to ourselves, to each other, to the most vulnerable, and to all those who will inherit the world we create, because that’s what we’re doing.

Will we find within ourselves the courage to do what must be done to preserve the planet, to protect human dignity, to provide opportunity for people everywhere, and to defend the tenets of the United Nations?

There can be only one answer to that question: We must, and we will.

The road ahead is long and difficult, but if we preserve –persevere and prevail, if we keep the faith in ourselves and show what’s possible.

Let’s do this work together. Let’s deliver progress for everyone. Let’s bend the arc of history for the good of the world because it’s within our power to do it.

Thank you for listening. You’re kind. (Applause.)

Biden in Vietnam — Sept. 11, 2023

President Võ Văn Thưởng, to deliver his welcome remarks.

Biden & Truong exchanging toasts at Hanoi summit luncheon

PRESIDENT Võ Văn THƯỞNG: (As interpreted.) Honorable President Joseph Biden, distinguished American and Vietnamese guests, on behalf of the state and people of Vietnam, once again, I would like to warmly welcome you, President Joseph Biden of the United States of America, to Vietnam on your first state visit.

Your visit is truly significant. It builds on the very special character of Vietnam-U.S. relations. You are the first U.S. president to visit Vietnam at the invitation of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyễn Phú Trọng.

During this visit, you have also joined General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng to announce the upgrade of relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for peace, cooperation, and sustainable development. This is truly a new page in the relationship between our two countries — an enduring, stable long-term framework that opens up a vast space for further development of the bond between us for decades to follow.

Mr. President, distinguished guests, a mere five months after national independence, President Hồ Chí Minh penned a letter addressing President Truman, expressing the desire to establish a bond of full cooperation with the United States.

As history would have it, this desire had to confront countless turmoil and challenges — all of such we have overcome. And today, we can speak with joy that never before has the relationship between our two countries reached such flourishing height as today.

From former enemies to Comprehensive Strategic Partners, this is truly a model in the history of international relations as to how reconciliation and relationship-building should proceed after a war. This is a result of the efforts to walk past such challenges and vicissitudes of history by so many generations of our country’s leaders and people.

Over the past 50 years, we have witnessed events of such significance in the relationship and the unprecedented quantum leaps in our relationship.

Last U.S. helicopter leaving the U.S. embassy in Saigon, April 29, 1975.

There have been momentous achievements in various areas of cooperation between Vietnam and the U.S. — from economic, trade, investment ties and in education and training cooperation, to various mechanisms for dialogue and joint efforts across different domains and sectors.

Across the comprehensive areas of cooperation between us, I would like to specifically call to attention the truly pride-worthy and striking achievements in our cooperation in addressing war legacy issues.

Allow me to cite the dioxin remediation projects in Da Nang and Bien Hoa airports; support given by the U.S. in various ways to Vietnamese persons with disabilities, including Agent Orange victims of the second and third generation; and the removal of UXOs [Unexploded Ordnance, e.g., bombs] left behind after the war.

Marker for dioxin (Agent Orange) remediation at the Bien Hoa airport in Birtnam.

And most recently, for the first time, our two countries have started working together to conduct forensic identification of yet unidentified remains of Vietnamese war martyrs. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to generations of U.S. administrations and people — and to you, Mr. President, and the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden — for your active support for Vietnam in the humanitarian field.

On our part, since 1973, Vietnam has actively conducted unilateral searches for American MIAs. In 1988, both sides commenced the first joint mission. After half a century, the co- — the full cooperation between Vietnam and U.S. in this area is still growing stronger and stronger. Many American MIAs lost in high mountains or deep oceans, even the — on grounds hardly ever tread, have since been found — their remains returned to their home.

Mr. President, distinguished guests, to quote Secretary General Nguyễn Phú Trọng, “Set aside the past, overcome differences, build on similarities, look to the future.”

You have also pledged your support for a strong, independent, resilient, and prosperous Vietnam. I have a strong belief that building on the length of Vietnam-U.S. relations with mutual trust and respect, and given the new driver we have established during your visit, the Strategic — Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for peace, cooperation, and sustainable development between Vietnam and the U.S. will continue to grow in strength and substance and bring concrete benefits to our two peoples, make positive contributions to peace, friendship, cooperation and sustainable development in the region and the world.

Let me take this opportunity to express my respectful gratitude to the different agencies, organizations, and individuals from both countries who, from one generation to the next, have tirelessly cultivated and nurtured the relationship between Vietnam and the U.S.

Of these very exemplary persons, I would like to especially honor the late Senator John McCain, former Senator Patrick Leahy, and Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry — truly close friends of Vietnam through the years.

Repair, remediation, UXO disposal. Former Senator Pat Leahy, upper right.

Let us, in the generations to come, work together to build on these efforts to preserve, reinforce, and grow this special relationship, take it higher and further in the warm atmosphere of friendship and cooperation between Vietnam and the United States of America.

Let us raise our glasses to the happiness of the American people and the prosperity of the United States of America, to the flourishing Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Vietnam and the United States of America, to the good health of President Joe Biden, and to the good health of all present here today. (Applause.)

(President Thưởng offers a toast.)

MODERATOR: Now we have the great honor to invite Your Excellency, Mr. Joe Biden, President of the United States of America, to respond.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. President, the — the great Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Du once wrote, “In glory they made up for their past hardships, and their love got fresher and warmer each day.”

Mr. President, friends, it’s an honor to be here today on this historic occasion, a day when we feel all the glory and warmth of the boundless possibilities that lie ahead — a day that may have seemed impossible not that long ago.

As a matter of fact, I was just in the other room with my very close and old friend, Tom Vallely, who is the guy who put together the Fulbright University. And he was helping me when I was a much younger man trying to get the nomination for president.

And we were sitting in a small twin-engine plane. And I looked at him, and I said, “Tom, why are you doing this for me?” He said, “Because I want to fundamentally change the relationship with Vietnam.” And he had been here as a soldier. “I want to fundamentally change that relationship.” And he’s worked his whole career to do that.

And, you know, for — we — as we sit side by side, Mr. President, we’re reminded of the hard work we all did to get here to overcome the hardships of the past and seize the promises of the future — one of greater opportunity, dignity, security, and prosperity for all our people.

And as we trace this 50-year arc of progress between our nations, there’s one common denominator: you, our people, our activities, our activists, our entrepreneurs, our scholars, our veterans, our innovators, and our leaders who never forget — like Senator, later Secretary Kerry, who was a brave soldier who fought here but wanted, every day since then, to make it better. Everyone in both our countries who’s working to make sure that people, no matter who they are, can seize potential of this moment.

I want to thank three close friends again in normalizing these relations: John Kerry, Tommy Vallely, and a close friend of the three of us — a guy who is not here today; a guy who, when he returned from Vietnam, came to work for me as a military aide in the United States Senate and then I convinced him he should run for United States Senate. He ran in the other party. We argued like hell from that point on, but we still loved one another. And John McCain, who I miss — we all three of us miss dearly today.

We know where there was darkness, you all found light. Where there was hardship, you found healing to bring us forward, to bring us together, to bring us to this day. It’s testament to how far our countries have come but, most importantly, how far we will go in the years ahead.

And that’s what Comprehensive Strategic Partners is about — and thank you for inviting us to have that status — going forward together, tackling challenges together, facing the future together.

So please join me, if you will, in — I’d like to make a toast. I quoted a Vietnamese poet to begin with, and I’m going to quote — my colleagues in the Senate always kidded me. I was always quoting Irish poets. I quote them not because I’m Irish — because they’re the best poets in the world. That’s why I quote them.

But all kidding aside. There is a great quote from a man whose wife I got to know after he passed away, Seamus Heaney. And he wrote a poem called “The Cure at Troy.” And this is my toast to all of you.

He said, “History teaches us, don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime, that longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”

Here’s to us making hope and history rhyme for all our people. God bless you all. (Applause.)

(President Biden offers a toast.)

What is in the new strategic partnership? Summary excerpts from a joint Fact Sheet, issued Sept. 10, 2023 (Full text here.)

To support our shared vision for broader bilateral cooperation, deeper institutional ties, and more extensive and innovative economic engagement, including in support of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), the United States, in partnership and collaboration with the government and people of Vietnam, is expanding engagement and announcing new initiatives as outlined below.


> New Semiconductor Partnership to Support Resilient Semiconductor Supply Chains for U.S. Industry, Consumers, and Workers

> Establishing Workforce Development Initiatives to Support Semiconductor Capacity in the United States

> Developing Electronics & Leading Technology Advancement Partnerships (DELTA) Network: The United States and Vietnam intend to launch a DELTA network with key regional governments and industry entities to bridge and coordinate technology strategies with like-minded partners that share our commitment to building secure and resilient technology supply chains.

> Vietnam-U.S. Science and Technology Agreement for Research: The United States and Vietnam intend to expand bilateral joint research through the Vietnam-U.S. Science and Technology Agreement for Research (VUSTAR). VUSTAR will identify priorities for potential collaboration in areas that include artificial intelligence, R&D and governance, health and medical science, climate science, biotechnology, and conservation.


People-to-people ties are the foundation of our enduring partnership with Vietnam. It is through cooperation on education and training that the United States and Vietnam have made some of the greatest gains to rebuild mutual trust and understanding. Vietnamese students studying in United States represent the fifth-largest foreign student population, and many of these students are pursuing careers in science, technology, and engineering at community colleges, universities, and higher education institutions.

For more than 31 years, the Fulbright Program in Vietnam has connected thousands of American and Vietnamese scholars and students in fields such as climate science, business, and arts, and prepared them to be leaders in their fields. In June 2023, the U.S.-supported Fulbright University, Vietnam’s first independent non-profit higher education institution, graduated its first undergraduate class and, with financing from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), will expand to a new campus.

> STEM Champions of Vietnam Initiative: New STEM-focused education initiative that targets the full spectrum of the Vietnamese education sector – from K-12 to post-graduate studies – to connect Vietnamese education and governmental institutions with their U.S. counterparts to strengthen their ability to develop future leaders in science and new technologies.

> Upskill Vietnam and Foster Digital Growth: This program will enable Vietnam to unleash the potential of the digital economy to become a key driver of the country’s continued growth. Working with Congress, USAID will provide an initial investment of $12.75 million.


In elevating our partnership, the United States and Vietnam reaffirm a shared commitment to regional prosperity through improved economic cooperation.

> The United States intends to do this by:

> Expanding Agricultural Trade

> Increasing Access to Capital for Underserved Borrowers: New projects by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), such as Tien Phong (TP) Commercial Joint Stock Bank ($100 million), the Vietnam Prosperity Joint Stock Commercial Bank (VP Bank)($300 million), and the Beacon Fund ($50 million), that expands lending opportunities to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are women-owned, women-operated, and/or climate-focused.


President Biden underscores the universality of human rights and the importance of our bilateral cooperation to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief, at home and abroad.

> Enhanced Commitment to Meaningful Dialogue: The U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue is an important mechanism to discuss a wide range of human and labor rights-related issues including: freedoms of expression and association; freedom of religion or belief; rule of law and legal reform; and the rights of members of marginalized populations, including women and girls, ethnic minority groups, LGBTQI+ persons, and persons with disabilities, as well as individual cases of concern.


Climate, energy, environment, and health are all essential elements of a dynamic thriving technology-focused innovation-based society and economy. To promote progress in these areas, the United States is expanding its collaboration with Vietnam through new projects and mechanisms

> U.S – Vietnam Bilateral Climate Working Group: The two countries will launch a new working group to coordinate bilateral climate related projects and initiatives to strengthen adaptation and resilience to the impacts of climate change such as the Net Zero World Program.

> Climate Resilient Agriculture in the Mekong Delta: USAID will launch a new project that builds climate resilience for traditional agriculture-based economies of the Mekong Delta. With an initial investment of $11.41 million over two years, subject to engagement with Congress, this project will support a vital region that produces roughly half of Vietnam’s total rice harvest and nearly three quarters of its fruit, aquaculture, and fisheries products.

> Expand Energy Storage Capacity: The U.S. government, in collaboration with AMI AC Renewables, a Vietnamese company, and Honeywell, a U.S. company, will launch a new pilot project that develops Vietnam’s first ever battery energy storage system in Khanh Hoa Province.

> Diverse and Securing Critical Mineral Supply Chains: A bilateral Memorandum of Understanding strengthens technical cooperation to support Vietnam’s efforts to quantify its Rare Earth Elements (REE) resources and economic potential, attract quality investment for integrated REE sector development, and meet high environmental, social, and governance standards.

> Cooperation on Global Health Security: A new suite of new activities that strengthen Vietnam’s core public health capacities, increase laboratories’ capabilities, improve surveillance systems, and enhance Infection Prevention and Control capacities.

> Advanced Care and Treatment for Cancer: The United States intends to expand existing academic and health partnerships to train and mentor medical professionals and faculty to enhance palliative care for cancer patients.

> Medical Device Policy Frameworks: U.S. Trade and Development Agency plans to host a healthcare workshop and Reverse Trade Mission (RTM) from Vietnam’s Ministry of Health to facilitate increased information sharing on best practices in synchronizing a single regulatory framework to govern all aspects of medical devices in Vietnam through the development of their first ever “Law on Medical Devices.”


> The United States and Vietnam have overcome a difficult past to become trusted partners. President Biden committed to Vietnamese government leaders our resolve and unwavering cooperation in our collective pursuit to continue addressing war legacy issues.

> The U.S. government is dedicated to supporting the Vietnamese in developing a technology-led system for identification of remains from the war. An interagency effort intends to extend archival research to help identify locations of Vietnamese missing or fallen individuals, as well as cutting-edge DNA technology, including the transfer of expertise and equipment to Vietnamese laboratories.

>The United States is expanding the following efforts:

> Advancing our Commitment to Complete Dioxin Remediation at Bien Hoa: The United States Government announces a new step toward completing the dioxin remediation project at the Bien Hoa Air Base Area, in accordance with the project Master Plan.

> Supporting Persons with Disabilities: USAID will expand their essential health and social service programs that support persons with disabilities into two new provinces Bac Lieu and Ca Mau, thus raising the number of supported provinces to 10.

> Scientific Training for the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons: The United States seeks to increase scientific training and technology support and exchanges offered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, as well as on-site in Hanoi.

> Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Activities: The United States will provide an additional $25 million to further UXO clearance and tracking activities to the Vietnam National Mine Center in Central Vietnam. The United States’ long-standing commitment to this effort totals over $230 million in UXO [Unexploded Ordnance] since 1993.


> In deepening our bilateral security cooperation, the United States-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership will also enhance the collective security of the region. The United States is announcing new programs and equipment donations worth $8.9 million to build Vietnamese capacity to fight regional and international transnational crime. These programs include improving maritime domain awareness, port facility security, cargo security, and building Vietnam’s ability to counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. The United States and Vietnam have enhanced bilateral engagement on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) to address new and emerging trafficking trends, including support to combat TIP, child sexual exploitation, and the growing issue of cyber scam operations in Southeast Asia.


> We welcome the progress of U.S. and Vietnamese businesses moving ahead with new and expanded initiatives that will increase trade and commerce between our two countries. Some examples include:

> Expanding Commerce in the Aviation Industry: Boeing and Vietnam Airlines will sign a multi-billion-dollar proposal acceptance to purchase 50 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft that will benefit both countries by supporting U.S. manufacturing jobs and providing world-class aircraft to support Vietnam’s growing travel and tourism industry as they aspire to become a leading aviation hub. This deal is will support over 33,000 direct and indirect jobs across the United States.

> Strengthening Semiconductor Supply Chains: Arizona-based Amkor Technology will announce the commencement of operations at its state-of-the art factory in Bac Ninh Province in October 2023.

> Furthering Technology Partnerships: Microsoft and Trusting Social will announce an agreement to develop a generative AI-based solution tailored for Vietnam and emerging markets. NVIDIA is partnering with FPT, Viettel, and VinGroup to deploy AI in the cloud, automotive, and healthcare industries. Meta Platforms and the Vietnam National Innovation Center will announce the Vietnam Innovation Challenge, a program to promote digital transformation among small and medium enterprises.

> Boosting Travel, Transport, Tourism: VinFast continues to progress on the construction of its $4 billion electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing facility in North Carolina. 3M concluded an agreement with Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport to improve traffic safety. New York-based Nobu Hospitality will announce a partnership with Viet Capital Real Estate (CVRE) to bring the first ever Nobu hotel, residences, and restaurant to Vietnam.

> Enhancing Strategic Port and Energy Infrastructure: Seattle-based port operator SSA Marine and Vietnamese private company Gemadept will announce their intent to collaborate on strategic port projects in southern Vietnam, including their joint interest in developing the proposed $6.7 billion dollar Cai Mep Ha Logistics Center.

> Promoting Climate Resilience and Innovation: Massachusetts-based Australis Aquaculture will sign an MOU with Khanh Hoa Province to invest an additional $100 million to expand its sustainable aquaculture operations in Van Phong Bay.

> Strengthening Financial Services and Capital Markets: United Beacon Asia Media will launch the inaugural issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek Vietnam in October 2023. VNG filed for an Initial Public Offering on the Nasdaq, representing the first Vietnamese technology company to list in the United States, and one of several Vietnamese companies looking to access U.S. capital markets to fuel growth and innovation. Crane Currency has signed an MoU with Vietnam-based Q&T Hi-Tech Polymer Co. Ltd. to help the State Bank of Vietnam secure Vietnam’s next generation of bank notes.

5 thoughts on “A Long Read to Ponder: Biden in Vietnam & at the UN: Who Could Have Imagined?”

  1. Fear is the mind-killer. And the people killer.

    The Sec Gen of Vietnam in his speech mentioned the Ho Chi Minh’s wrote Truman — and fear killed what could have been.

    Racism (they look different than “us”) and ethnocentrism (they do things differently than “us”) are primal fears.

    Even the Western framing of the universal, civilization-preserving, imperative to love others as ourselves has been re-framed as being about “our neighbors.”

    Fear is not only the mind-killer: it is the people-killer.

  2. Oh my. Chuck you may know I am from Cascabel and have eave’s dropped on zooms related to Jim Corbett.
    I am a Vietnam vet. Was a Vietnamese linguist for the Army.
    Flagstaff Friends took me and family in when I was a grad student there. 71-75.
    I have a long standing anti political stance regarding failure of Peace talks undermined by Kissinger and the Dulles brothers.
    Those politicians secretly instructed Ngo Dinh Diem to block the geneva ? peace talks with North Vietnam extending the war for years costing Vieetnamese and American lives in the thousands . The y completely ignored the North’s concern that the Chinese were the VN enemy> Proven by the ‘war’ Vn fought with china after America departed.
    I could go on. but maybe just maybe it is a contribution to this long article

    1. Thanks, Charlie. I’m not surprised to hear about secret maneuvers that may have pointlessly extended the war and the killing. There are many ghosts and unsettled spirits left over from that awful war. If there is a purgatory or a hell, some big names will face a reckoning sometime, somewhere.

  3. Aloha, all!

    In 1997 and 1998, my husband, Ted Luyben, PE, and I went to live and work in Vietnam.

    Ted’s job was to raise above maximum flood waters Highway No. 1, from just south of Saigon to Can Tho. Essentially, Highway No. 1 needed to service the Mekong Delta with safety for people, products, property, and emergency services during the rainy season. Elevations were up to two meters in places. A Vietnamese “Bomb Committee” met to organize disposition of unexploded ordinance discovered during construction. The project was funded by the World Bank, headquartered in Washington, DC. Ted actually worked for Louis Berger International, in China (1994-1996) then Vietnam (1997-1998). About two years after we left Vietnam, a serious flood tested the project and, we were told, many lives were saved because of the timeliness, foresight, commitment and cooperative spirit of the US-Vietnam effort.

    I offered free classes in English to all those who worked on the project and who wished to acquire the single most important skill for professionals seeking employment with international organizations.

    We very nearly rejected the assignment because our project manager had no discernible professional qualifications. We assumed, therefore, that he might be a “spook” since he seemed to know and mingle with other international types of only vague social or professional value. We were not interested in becoming a flimsy “cover story” for pathetic Intelligence services.

    When we told our Vietnamese partners in Hanoi that we would be returning home on the next flight out of Vietnam, we were asked to first visit the project site in Saigon. Then, if we still wanted to depart, we would be free to do so.

    In Saigon the next day, Ted’s inspection revealed that the project was in failure mode in the hands of a Frenchman who preferred not to show up for work. In other words, there was no management plan and no leadership to develop a plan. Dollars were being spent but no work was being done.

    While Ted was going on inspection tour with the project, I was taken on an historic tour — passing huge war cemeteries, seeing various war memorials, then finally I was led to a beautiful Buddhist temple, serene and dignified. After lighting my incense and removing my shoes, my guide gently led by past many side alters which completely surrounded the main alter. Here, it seemed, were intimate places to pray. I noticed photographs of young men placed at these alters.

    I said to my guide: “Vietnamese people must love education, because they place the graduation photos of their sons all around the whole pagoda. Parents, obviously, come to pray for their sons here.”

    My guide seemed startled, but affirmed that parents come to pray, yes of course, and these are indeed high school graduation photos. She stopped, but looked piercingly into my mind, heart and soul, waiting to see what I would next observe.

    There were hundreds and hundreds of these photos, filling the entire inner perimeter of the pagoda. I stopped. I understood.

    With tears filling my eyes and choking my throat, I asked: Are these the sons who were killed during the war with America?”

    With that intense look still on her face, she said very softly and gently: “Yes.”

    My knees gave way. I began to sag toward the floor. My guide held me up by my elbows and said: “Let’s get you out of here. It’s too much for you.”

    I said: “If you can stand it, I can stand it. I want to see every face and remember every one of these boys who died during the war.”

    Together, hand in hand, we completed the memorial circuit.

    Ted and I decided to stay with the project exactly because we knew we could make a difference to a people who had had enough of our collective, national and international insanity.

    Weeks later, I took a bouquet of flowers to the street corner where a Buddhist monk had self-immolated in protest against the war. I walked to the pagoda where he had served. I prayed in the silence and simplicity of the place.

    In December of 1998, The International Ladies of Vietnam asked me to offer the blessing at our Christmas luncheon. I began by saying, “All those who can hear my voice, I ask you to look deep into you own heart to find the love that is already there: love of this county which has welcomed and nurtured us, love of our homelands wherever they may be, of our friends and families close to us and far from us. We ask God to bless us and to accept our love — our offering and gift to God and to all of our neighbors everywhere.”

    Unbeknownst to me, the hotel had broadcast our program throughout the lower floor of the hotel and all work and workers had joined in the prayer and in the carols we sang together.

    We have never told our story, though we tried to, because hearts in America are hardening and stories like ours are not a part of the zeitgeist of America.

    Now, every evening at 8:30 PM, I light candles for the children and their families, for the neighbors and friends around the world, and for us — that our foolishness and selfishness may be corrected. My we learn to love God and neighbor despite the countervailing zeitgeist that keeps trending toward more and more violence and warfare.

    May the spirit of Tom Fox, our beloved Friend and brother, guide us to light candles against impending darkness.

    Kalei Luyben

  4. A very moving account of international reconciliation, facilitated by Biden’s capacity for eloquent Irish blarney. Why did he not use his eloquence to oppose the war — any war — the war in 2002 as well?
    At the same time, is this not replicating the outsourcing of American industrial capacity to China, in order to take advantage of a low-wage work-force regimented by autocratic overlords who will prevent labor organizing? And just when the deal with China is going sour, the US industrialists need to cultivate an alternative to outsourcing to China. What better choice than a traditional enemy to China? (So much for “international communism” and the “Internationale” anthem: all politics is local. It’s capitalism that is international.)
    Perhaps this development deal will industrialize Vietnam as it did China. Perhaps it will create prosperity. Will it end chauvinism? Is it the kind of progress the world needs? More computer chips?

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