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This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have four novels and seventeen stories in print.

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the 13 years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.

 

Phạm Ngọc Thanh (2)

In Last of the Annamese, I portray the last visit by the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, to Colonel Thanh. My description of their conversation is an almost verbatim rendering of the conversation I had with the South Vietnamese officer I talked about in yesterday’s blog post.

As with all the characters in my fiction, I didn’t actively create Thanh. He came to me as if from a source outside myself, fully formed. As I wrote about him, he revealed more of himself to me until it felt as though he was someone I knew well and saw every day.

What I admire most about him is not his serenity but his strength. His peacefulness and courage spring from his internal harmony which is the underlying core of his potency. He is at peace with himself. That gives him power.

Thanh isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes. But he is strong enough to recognize his errors, admit to himself and others that he’s erred, and then correct himself.

Reviewers have congratulated me for creating him and making him so compelling and believable. But it doesn’t feel as though I made him up. It feels as though he came to me ready to play his role in the story of the fall of Saigon. He told me his story. All I did was write it down.

Phạm Ngọc Thanh

One of the three principal characters in Last of the Annamese is South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Phạm Ngọc Thanh. Unlike the others in those days of disaster, Thanh is under no delusion. He knows South Vietnam will fall to the communists.

Thanh insists on calling his country An Nam (literally, peace in the south) as opposed to Viet Nam (the troublemakers in the south). As a Buddhist priest turned Marine officer, he finds serenity in the face of disaster and chooses death rather than escape from his dying nation.

The character of Thanh has attracted the most attention from the book’s reviewers. As one pointed out, a possible interpretation the book’s ending is that Thanh is himself the last of the Annamese. Others have remarked on the contrast between Thanh’s untroubled courage and the self-serving drive of most of the other characters.

I based the character of Thanh on several South Vietnamese officers I knew during my years in Vietnam. They were stalwart, incorruptible men, willing to sacrifice their lives to save the country. I went to visit one as the fall of Saigon loomed. I wanted to tell him where he and his men should go once an evacuation was declared. Here’s how I described my conversation with him in my article, “Bitter Memories: the Fall of Saigon” (http://atticusreview.org/bitter-memories-the-fall-of-saigon/):

“I risked another trip to check on a South Vietnamese officer I worked with. I wanted to be sure he and his troops knew where to go when the evacuation order was given, something I couldn’t discuss on an unsecured phone line. Always a model of Asian politeness, he invited me in and served me tea. He told me that his wife, who worked for USAID [United States Agency for International Development], had been offered the opportunity to leave the country with her family. That included him. But he wouldn’t go because he was unwilling to abandon his troops—no evacuation order had been issued—and she wouldn’t leave without him. Alarmed, I asked him what he would do if he was still in Saigon when Communists tanks rolled through the streets. He told me he couldn’t live under the Communists. ‘I will shoot my three children, then I will shoot my wife, then I will shoot myself.’”

That officer didn’t escape at the end. I have no doubt he carried out his plan because so many other South Vietnamese officers did precisely what he described.

More tomorrow.

Favorite Humor

I’ve been without internet since yesterday. So here, belatedly, is today’s blog post:

Some years ago, my friend Cody Collins, a man who served with me in Vietnam, sent me a list of his favorite aphorisms. I still enjoy them. Here they are:

It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you place the blame.

We have enough “youth.” How about a fountain of “smart?”

A fool and his money can throw one heck of a party.

When blondes have more fun, do they know it?

LEARN FROM YOUR PARENT’S MISTAKES—USE BIRTH CONTROL

Money isn’t everything, but it sure keeps the kids in touch.

If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

We are born naked, wet and hungry. Then things get worse.

Red meat is not bad for you. Fuzzy green meat is bad for you.

Ninety-nine percent of all lawyers give the rest a bad name.

Xerox and Wurlitzer will merge to produce reproductive organs.

Alabama state motto: At least we’re not Mississippi

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS NO MATCH FOR NATURAL STUPIDITY.

The latest survey shows that three out of four people make up 75% of the population

“I think Congressmen should wear uniforms, you know, like NASCAR drivers, so we could identify their corporate sponsors.”

The reason politicians try so hard to get re-elected is that they would hate to try to make a living under the laws they’ve passed.

And one of my favorites, not from Cody: Death is jut like going to sleep at night, except that you don’t have to get later to pee.

A Soldier’s Love

I’ve blogged several times about the bond that combatants feel for one another. On 11 September, I read an op-ed in the New York Times that captured my feelings. The author was Joe Quinn who lost a brother during the terrorist assault on 9/11. Joe knows combat.  He lived through it. The words that moved me were these:

“I learned that I love soldiers. Nothing builds bonds more than living with a group of people in a war zone, getting shot at, not showering for months, roasting our own excrement in burn pits, cracking inappropriate jokes and serving something greater than ourselves.

“I also learned how that love turns to heartache when one of those soldiers gets killed, and you pack his gear up in duffel bags to be shipped home to his wife and unborn child. I learned that another family’s losing a brother doesn’t bring my brother back.”

The op-ed is: Joe Quinn, “The Real Lesson of Sept. 11” 10 Sep 2018, New York Times. You can read it at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/10/opinion/911-lessons-veteran.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_ty_20180911&nl=opinion-today&nlid=79098398edit_ty_20180911&ref=img&te=1

Symposium: The Vietnam War Revisited

On Friday, 14 September, I attended a day-long symposium called “The Vietnam War Revisited” at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  I was the guest of Miss Trinh Binh An, and I wish to publicly thank her for the opportunity.

Several aspects of the symposium struck me as noteworthy. First, every speaker, discussant, and moderator was a respected academic expert. Second, most of the presenters were Vietnamese. Third, the intellectual level of the exchanges remained remarkably high.

Much of the discussion centered around the question of why North Vietnam won the war and the U.S. and South Vietnam lost. I have strong opinions on those issues myself. I’m largely in agreement with Brian VanDeMark as expressed in his recent book Road to Disaster (see my review at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/road-to-disaster-a-new-history-of-americas-descent-into-vietnam). Among the reasons for the war’s outcome are the U.S.’s scant knowledge of and failure to understand the Vietnamese and their culture, the determination of the North Vietnamese to win no matter what the cost, and the U.S. attempt to fight a conventional war depending on large main force engagements against an enemy using guerrilla tactics. As I noted in my review, the U.S. won every major battle but lost the war.

To my surprise and pleasure, participants in the symposium largely agreed with my views. There was less consensus on the role of corruption among the South Vietnamese government officials but almost universal agreement that a major element in the outcome was the U.S.’s failure to understand the character and history of Vietnam.

I asked the last question from the audience to the symposium speakers: Am I correct in assuring American tourists returning from Vietnam that the Vietnamese they met were forced by the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to create a false picture of prosperity and contentment. The participants unanimously agreed.

Toward the end of the day, Fred Koster of KosterFilms asked to do a video interview with me for his documentary on the Vietnam war. When I find out where and when the video will be shown, I’ll post that information here.

U.S. Income Disparity

I and another member of a discussion group disagreed about the widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everybody else. So I gathered statistics to illustrate the case.

The figures below vary depending on what method the researcher used to derive them, but all show a striking inequality between the wealthy and the rest of us.

“By 2016, the typical American household had a net worth of 14 percent lower than the typical household in 1984, while richest one-tenth of 1 percent owned almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent put together. Income has become almost as unequal as wealth: Between 1972 and 2016 the pay of the typical American worker dropped 2 percent, adjusted for inflation, although the American economy doubled in size. Most of the income gains went to the top. In 2016, the annual Wall Street bonus pool alone was larger than the annual year-round earnings of all 3.3 million Americans working full-time at the federal income minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.” —from The Common Good by Robert Reich, 2018.

According to statistical data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (in September 2016), the richest 1% of the American population had an adjusted gross income of $465,626 or higher for the 2014 tax year. But the Washington Center for Equitable Growth put the average household income for this group at $1,260,508 for 2014. The average income for a middle-class worker in 2014 was around $50,000.

A recent Pew Research Center analysis also found that the wealth gaps between upper-income families and lower- and middle-income families in 2016 were at the highest levels ever recorded. Although the wealth of upper-income families has more than recovered from the losses experienced during the Great Recession of 2008, the wealth of lower- and middle-income families in 2016 was comparable to 1989 levels. Thus, even as the American middle class appears not to be shrinking (for now), it continues to fall further behind upper-income households financially, mirroring the long-running rise in income inequality in the U.S. overall.

The wealthy sometimes explain the disparity in income by insisting that lower-class people are lazy or don’t try hard enough.