Poet is Priest of the Invisible (Wallace Stevens)

April is National Poetry Month

Every war is a war against children.

– Egalntyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children a century ago.

We can celebrate and ruminate on any day of any month, and April is one of those months that have milestones and remembrances vital to me, and important to tens of millions.

I’ve written about National Poetry Month before for many publications, including Dissident Voice and the New Times. This celebration of poetry was introduced in 1996 and organized by the Academy of American Poets as a way to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States.

For me, way before this recognition, I was deeply steeped into poetry – creative writing, too. A poet is a creative, a writer, and that person is more than someone like Pablo Neruda, Chile’s famous poet. For my own tutelage, poetry also means advocating revolution.

I was in Nicaragua in the 1980s, and I certainly embraced this revolution against the thug dictator. Some call this Sandinista rebellion as a revolution of poets: Ernesto Cardenal, Mejía Godoy, Sergio Ramírez, Gioconda Belli, and Rosario Murillo, currently the Vice President and First Lady of the country.

Fire From the Mountain | POV

Someone who is almost my contemporary, Omar Cabezas Lacayo (born 1950 in León, Nicaragua), is a Nicaraguan author, revolutionary and politician. He was a commander in the guerrilla war against Anastasio Somoza and prominent Sandinista party member. His personal account of his time as a guerrilla fighting the dictatorship, published in Nicaragua, is entitled Fire From the Mountain.

However, my introduction to poetry came from one side of my family, Scots, a grandmother, aunts and uncles living Ayr, the home of Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scotland’s national poet. I was 18 months of age with my family in Ayr absorbing recitations of Burns.

Robert Burns: was the beloved poet a 'Weinsteinian sex pest'? | Robert Burns | The Guardian

Burns came from a working family, unlike most of Britain’s men of letters. “Tam O’ Shanter” is Burns’ poetic masterpiece. The climax is a witches’ Sabbath, attended by all kinds of gruesome sights. And pride of place in this hellish scene is given to lawyers and priests:

Three Lawyers’ tongues, turned inside out,
Wi’ lies seamed like a beggar’s clout;
Three Priests’ hearts, rotten, black as muck,
Lay stinking, vile, in every neuk.

Many wonder how Burns’ poetry ever succeeded since he had no formal training; he managed to produce the finest lyrical poetry that ever emerged from these Isles. Burns’ lyricism is written, not in English, but in his own tongue, the dialect of the Scottish Lowlands. His song is as natural as the woodlark’s.


So many great writers have entered my mind, heart and imagination. I was a freshman at the University of Arizona (1975) in poet Richard Shelton’s class whereupon he recruited some of us to head up to the Arizona State Penitentiary for writer’s workshops he facilitated, with convicts behind bars. His book, Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer (2007), is more about Shelton’s professional fulfillment and a testament to the transformative power of writing for him, as well as the prisoners.

I hearken back to Walt Whitman (1819-1892), our own American poet (essayist and journalist, too). He was a humanist, and he worked as a stretcher bearer in the American Civil War. He embraced the power of transition — between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. For many, he is the father of free verse. Whitman on being a poet:

This is what you should do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men … re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss what insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem.

Civil War Blog » Understanding Walt Whitman

April 22 is traditionally tied to Earth Day, which I have been a large part of as organizer in several locales, including Spokane. This celebration of our web of life started in 1970 with the amazing book by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, as the bible of environmentalism.

But then, April 30 also is another date, the starting date of the Fall of Saigon (1975) with the defeat of American forces in Vietnam. I was there in 1994 and 1996, and in 1995 I organized a 20th Anniversary look back on “Vietnam” where I put literary, visual, cinematic and theater arts front and center for this month-long event sponsored by dozens of groups, including my two schools – UT-El Paso and El Paso Community College.

The poets looking at war, the Vietnamese, the trauma and the country stirred me to action.

While I never met Carson or Whitman, I did spend time with Denis Levertov, who was an ardent supporter of poetry of protest. With Muriel Rukeyser and several other poets, Levertov founded the Writers and Artists Protest against the War in Vietnam. She took part in several anti-war demonstrations in Berkeley, California. In the ensuing decades she spoke out against nuclear weaponry, American aid to El Salvador, and the Persian Gulf War.

I go to a Vietnamese poet, Thanh Thao, from his poem, “A Soldier Speaks of His Generation” (1973) as a capstone of this opinion piece with my drumbeat concussing why poetry is so important:

They are so very young
as they flicker along on the stream
into a faraway meadow
on an endless evening.
They’re the people who came first
twenty years ago as one generation
and also the ones who will come later,
twenty years from today.
That evening
on the small canal
artillery attacks and flowing water.
How clearly you can see
the faces of
our generation!

*****Existential Crisis

I’ve been closely tied to poets — the term also hits close to home, as in “fellow” writers in general — and the potential for change through language. Today, so-called poets write insipid junk about Zelensky, about a new Churchill or David!

Others were more sipid, such as Robert Bly who helped redirect the creative surge of Modernism’s influence on poetry by unraveling his words and lines into what Victoria Frenkel Harris has called “incorporative consciousness.” Bly believes that the poet or creative thinker must go “much deeper than the ego … at the same time [becoming] aware of many other beings.” In a sense, he believes that “leaping out” of the intellectual world and into what we intuitively hold as our own realities best explores the paradoxes of two worlds: the world of our psychic pain, and the world in which we must adjust to observing the rules.

Bly came to prominence during the Vietnam War era — a time that tore at the psychic integration of American culture. He recalls how controversial his work was then: “Most of the English teachers in the universities hated our doing ‘political poems,’ as they were called. That still happens,” he recently said about those heady days of the ’60s. “When I’m at a reception at a university these days, an English professor may come up to me and ask: ‘How do you feel now about those poems you wrote during the war?’ They want me to disown the poems. I say, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t write more of them.’”

Bly, along with David Ray, created the group American Writers Against the Vietnam War. The first important protest volume was A Poetry Reading Against the Vietnam War (1966), edited by Bly and Ray.

In one of his poetry collections, The Light Around the Body, Bly cast a beacon of hazy light upon the symbiotic relationship of poverty and racism and the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

As a reminder of Bly’s continuing relevance, consider that he’s an anti-war activist of long standing. In the Dec. 9, 2002 issue of The Nation, Bly was one of the first to beat the earth drum against the impending war, in his poem, “Call and Answer”:

Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days

And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed ? The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense

Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out! See who will answer!”

*****But in 2023, the rot has flooded almost all people in the Western world. Censorship, the New Blue McCarthyism, and unimaginable crimes supported. This existential crisis for me is around cohorts who call themselves “poets” but who are navel gazers, looking at their folds of skin over time and waxing about getting old. Fine, that perspective, for sure, but in the past 40 years, and now, breakneck speed since the Planned Pandemic, and now, the Proxy War, and the Trump Years, and the Russia Ain’t at the Gate madness, my so-called fellow writers have fallen flat.

They do not look at the depth of how messed up the world is — poverty, land theft, murder incorporated in all parts of the world, those 800-plus US military bases, the ungodly hundreds of trillion$ dollars thrown at war lords, war dogs — but instead go into themselves, look at the raven in the sky and the time ticking off around their sagging eyes.

Political poetry? Great dervishes of pain calling out the entire cabal of capitalist killers.

Vietnam conflict remembered around Spokane

Vietnam conflict remembered around Spokane

Vietnam conflict remembered around Spokane

*****Slaying Dragons, Slaying Demons
Resistance in the Womb – Vietnam Is in My DNA

Vietnam like a leech inside my guts, slowly growing, waiting to expurgate right before truth hits my amydgala like a hollow-point uranium-tipped US of A projectile.

Di di Mao I & Ra kh?i ?ây II

Di di Mao – young guy named Hal with M-16

Di di mao
Get out of here,
boy, emaciated like a
walking zither, legs
shanked by B-52 metal
chopsticks for arms
Di di mao now, boy,
so I get some madam boom-boom

Di di mao
Go on, get out of here,
leave me in my bivouac
tethered to M-16
and howling Credence Clearwater
Budweiser and Castle Rock

Di di mao
Black-toothed auntie
your sack of bones
weighted by bamboo shoots
eyes rimmed by leeches
you hiss when I drive by
you twist up like roots — red
exclamation point for tongue

Di di mao
frozen refrain
each zip from my bloated cheeks
zip-zip-zip from Mattel’s
automatic carbine
white horizon courtesy of DuPont
dioxin defoliant
orange noon thanks to DOW
napalm, white phosphorus, caldrons
percolating into my bone

Di di mao
get out of here now,
Charlie, bequest your sisters
and wives, we are
masters of the flesh
sweaty carcasses
lurching for our all-American
pursuit of happiness

Di di moi
swollen delta
where water buffalo
undulate in their gases,
heat from
F-4 Phantoms —
with jaws of a great
shark — rattle
elephant tusks.

*****Ra kh?i ?ây – Boy with Dog in Rice Basket

my rainforest is purity
horn bills sail through mists
where my elders follow our joss
stick incense trails
vines like tendrils
to heaven,
the slog and muck and verdant
forest sings songs
of genuflections
to dead brothers and mothers

ra kh?i ?ây, get out of here now
pulpy-flesh mastodons
go back to your refrigerators
T-bones and French fries
find your leaders
placate your lip-less gray kings
who are mean with their green wads
go, find them and ask
why you are running
into our shadows

ra kh?i ?ây
recede into your choppers
smoky trails lead back to your
land of garish light
your churning chugging citizens
purge from your jet planes
like sunburned bovine —
leave me to my lotus
my empty stomach
my sister who is like
an apostrophe
agile, sudden
fragile, but with a bomb

ra kh?i ?ây
get out of my
Hue, where my monks
self-immolate on the banks of the Perfume
River, butterflies
flutter into memory — watch
my grandmothers throw your
C-rations into the river
your photographs of lip-cinched
sallow men
fleshy children
balloon pin-up girls
float in a river
of fire

ra kh?i ?ây
we are pleasant in our
stone age — our
mosquitoes like black lace
wet-skinned tigers
lurch after barking deer
vine snakes like liquid titanium
civets watch kingfishers
who spear frogs
like my Viet Cong
sending pongee stakes
wet into your
hearts …

ra kh?i ?ây . . . di di mao.

Note: Published in a collection, Poets Against the War: Led by poet Sam Hamill, February 12, 2003 became a day of Poetry Against the War conducted as a reading at the White House gates in addition to over 160 public readings in many different countries and almost all of the 50 states. Since then, over 9,000 poets have joined this grassroots peace movement by submitting poems and statements to Poetsagainstthewar.org, registering their opposition to the Bush administration’s headlong plunge toward war in Iraq. Poets Against the War features a selection of the best poems that were submitted to the website. Contributors include: Adrienne Rich, W.S. Merwin, Galway Kinnell, Robert Bly, Marilyn Hacker, Grace Schulman, Shirley Kaufman, Wanda Coleman, Yusef Komunyakaa, Hayden Carruth, Jane Hirshfield, Tess Gallagher, Sandra Cisneros, former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, and many others.

Pretty simple stuff, even for a 66-year-old, 2/6/57, struggling, for fucking sure, in this punishment society, a culture pushing as many of its elderly and youth into the proverbial debtor’s gutter. It doesn’t matter to the controllers – teen, happy-go-lucky newly wed couple, 50-something, pensioner, kicked to the street, to the endless line of scraps, prayers to the money god, to the devils who evict, shut off gas-water-electric, to the white smocks and their big pharma and med industrial seven chambers of hell complex. Maybe the tipping point sliding beyond the beyond happened the moment we blew away any sanity and began playing the domino game about Vietnam. One tile falls, and the rest go, what, socialist, communist, antithetical to the corruption of capitalism, each tile falling, going, gone?

vietnam fallout

Resistance in the Womb – Vietnam Is in My DNA—Paul Haeder

Vietnam like a leech inside my guts, slowly growing, waiting to expurgate right before truth hits my amydgala like a hollow-point uranium-tipped US of A projectile.

Emiliano Zapata, more than some cut-out historical lie created by the controllers, the historians, the directors and producers.

I quote:

I want to die a slave to principles. Not to men.
If there is not justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government.
It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

Vietnam like a leech inside my guts, slowly growing, waiting to expurgate right before truth hits my amydgala like a hollow-point uranium-tipped US of A projectile.

There is no calm in America, this bloody July 4, the gusto of a flagging, intellectually flaccid nation of killers, toned and full of IT hipster cool, those engineers and technocrats surfing in the California dream as they build the silicon master parts and the electronic nets that are the killing instruments of capitalism.

They await another bit of hubris and flatulence from the Spielberg and Bruckheimer types to the 10th power, blockbuster pathos a la propaganda, maybe coming soon from one of those chosen few studios to screen in one of the chosen few’s theaters: Lies about Vietnam, about Panama, Malvinas, Fallujah. The drama of our times is death and lies and unfathomable cunning. I remember all the hype about the foolish film, Saving Private Ryan, while one of my favorite directors, Terrence Malick, came out with his great anti-war film, The Thin Red Line – almost 20 years ago.

It’s the Vietnam of Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, Heaven and Earth. Imagine the books, Paradise of the Blind, The Sorrow of War, Scent of Green Papaya. Gut, really, this country is perverted, war and poisons, in the air and over the air, a pandemic of the consumer lie, infecting ever corner of the world. War criminals Bush-Clinton-Mrs. Clinton-Obama-All-Those-Israel-Firsters. Think about Blair, pestilence that is allowed to breathe the same air as human beings.

Vietnam, the plague of the white Christian-Hebrew race, machinations, psy-ops, billions traded for gluttony and pleasure with arms and armaments.

Not another Vietnam … Not Another Vietnam on this Empire’s watch. Words uttered by Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush A & B, Clinton, Obama, the rest of the universal replaceable parts to their controllers’ wars, skirmishes, dirty wars, battles, civil actions, coup d’etats, invasions, shock and awes.

Military glory–that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood–that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy…
— Abraham Lincoln (Speech on War With Mexico (January 12, 1848) in Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005): 122.

The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.
— Albert Camus (“Homage to an Exile” (1955), in Camus, A. Resistance, Rebellion, Death. Translated by Justin O’Brien. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961): 101.)

There are war criminals in colleges, as CEOs, in judicial positions, floating in their ether as media moguls; the entire system of capitalism is hinged on death and subjugation. There are criminals with more blood on their hands than the paid killers they sometimes call “warriors” they send to commit murder, and they look like Obama, like Kissinger, like Mrs. Clinton, like Bill Clinton, faces interchangeable, white/black/brown, Albright/ Rice/Gonzales, all of them, even the limp heads of Trump University or U of Phoenix. War criminals heading up the IT departments at any number of armament death companies. PhDs, engineers, software designers, all of them, holding onto the power of their wages, the vacations and bonuses, their children going to summer cello camp and soccer training retreats. Skiing and boating and slum tours and snorkeling with manatees and zip-lining in the Amazon. War criminals who never laced up a boot or hump a rucksack or touched an M-60 or grenade launcher. MBAs, JDs, software architects, doctorates in engineering… War criminals, genuflecting at Easter, fasting at Lent and Rosh HaShanah.

A thousand subsidiaries of the tooling companies – Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Honeywell, HP, United Technologies, Bechtel, and on and on and on. The deliverers of death, of PTSD, permanent homelessness, continual war-war, depleted uranium, festering water systems, hospitals that have no air conditioning, lights, and life saving medicines, dumped into oceans. The DNA of America goes back to killing indigenous, killing with fire, muskets, smallpox, barbed wire, booze and shaved heads.

Imagine, the triple chins on Kissinger, Mrs. Clinton, Trump, their bad seed children giving birth to future bad seeds, all swaddled in the investor-renter-casino capitalism class that is responsible for more death and mayhem and global warming, global pestilence, global extinction than any and all the despots and warlords and sociopaths that have ruled their gold, their people, the people’s land, combined.

I am talking about PTSD with these rockets blaring, neighborhoods like war zones, friends who end up in corners, in closets, outside, shaking the death ghosts of Indochina like spiders in their heads, that delirium tremens of all wars, perpetrated by the Ivy League, Finishing School, MBA, Lobby Classless, leaches and ticks all of them, the black plague of debt like pandemics of dengue eating at the souls and future souls of the majority, us.

This war, Vietnam, or what the people of that country call, America’s War with Vietnam, defined me, since day one, really, 1957 the year of the rooster, my birth, or before, 1954, Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Ho Chi Minh ready for elections, Emperor Boa Dai assassinated by Ngo Dinh Diem who refused elections.

My old man was already working the intelligence sector of the first phase of the Vietnam War, 1959-’63. His boss, Dwight D. Eisenhower, stated, in 1954, “Nobody is more opposed to intervention than I am.” The white men are the liars, the false flag designers, plagues upon the war booty, victims, families on all sides, infinite and inter-generational PTSD. They are glib, get to triple-dip, retire with golf carts and skin cancers removed and quadruple by-passes after the Seven-and-Sevens are splashed on the ice of their veins.

We of course supplied bombs, munitions, bombers and pilots flying sorties over Vietnam for the French, advisers, bankers, funny-looking economic hit men, and my old man, before I screeched into the world, was working first with the Air Force on the cryptographic clandestine stuff for the US, and then later when he became an office in the US Army.

I remember as a three- and four-year-old kid listening to war stories from my family’s friends, special operations forces in both the Air Force and Army talking about the things they were doing in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia.

Bombs bursting in air, those Gatling guns, immense firepower, tsunamis of napalm, the entire shit show that is American and Western warfare. Of course, years later, as a journalism student, the first causality of war (now all warfare – cultural, racial, economic, environmental, educational, judicial) was and will always be Truth, as US Senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917: “The first Casualty when war comes, is truth.” (Quoted in preface of Dispatches by Michael Herr, (Knopf, 1978).) Taken to its journalistic elegance, Philip Knightley 60 years later published a book, The First Casualty from the Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker. All expropriated from greater minds, someone like Aeschylus (In war, the first casualty is truth!)

So Ali is dead, the history, the revolt, the raw revolutionary force of Muhammad, the fabric of civil rights, Malcolm X, King, Black Panthers, dead; some semblance of anti-authoritarianism, something way beyond the here and now of US Patriot Act, Total Surveillance, the Zuckerberg-Google-Giving-It-All-to-the-Corporate-Man, gone.

Indochina, the lies, the cover-ups of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford. The colonels and majors turned generals and thieves – Powell, Haig, Westmoreland, so many jumping, those interchangeable parts – wars in Central America, South America, Chile, entire continents, Africa. The gluttony of feeding frenzies for more and more money stuffed into all their orifices. Then, five decades later, this pathetic thing called Obama. The scrubbing of history by the controllers. The project to disinfect America’s war with Vietnam, the eco-cide, the biological warfare, the assassinations, the napalm mornings, the entire shit storm that represents US of Armaments, the entire industries of death created by the Controllers, Financiers, in Iraq, overkill in Panama, anywhere that is not moved by USA shit culture or economic structural suicide, mowed down labor organizers, priests, students, nuns, teachers, clerics, environmentalists, grandparents search for the ghosts of children.

Mowed down by money. America’s claim to fame. A Trump of mafia casino fame, the Boss, fire for fun, or Clinton, secreted away to Goldman Sach’s alimentary canal for a million buck for the shit coming from her mouth. War Criminals, The Mrs. and the Donald Toupee …

KATM … KATR … The alphabet soup of Murder, Inc. Kill Anything That Moves … Kill All That Resist …

Any activist or resister or revolutionary could live and die by the boxer’s words, Ali:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.”

But that is not how America flies now, as the scrubbing of all truth about the illegal invasions and the mass murdering of Vietnamese by America come to light. A celebration to last 13 years, this “thank you” to the veterans of the war on Vietnam by Americans is preposterous and asinine and Orwellian, all in one heavy lying breath to mark 50 Fucking Years of Illegal and Wonton Murder in Indochina. More than 10,000 companies (corporations, mostly) have put money into this project approved by Congress in 2012. It’s a pack of lies, a scrubbing of the real events and history of that criminal enterprise called America – from the “Celebration’s” Propaganda website: “to pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front” and “to highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to military research conducted during the Vietnam War.” Wow, sick Little Eichmann’s and Josef Mengele’s, America is with all it’s Zio-Con and Puritan engines of profit firing on all 12 cylinders. You will not see a word on that Pentagon and Congressional tribute site any mention of the millions upon millions of peace activists and radical patriots fighting the scourge of the entire mess that was the corporate war we launched against Vietnam.

Sanitizing Malcom, MLK, Jr., Anything that attempts to move the people away from the lie factories that are part and parcel Occupation Corporate America. Billions made from that “war,” from the splat of children, the cancers of uterine hells, plowed-over towns, sprayed-upon vast millions of acres of land, the B-52s dropping bombs in veronicas of hate and precision onto orphanages, farmers, cities. The old starved of humanity from the invaders, and the families that lost loved ones. While Yankee Go Home drank, smoked, fornicated, murdered, shot-up with heroin, filled bellies with the calories of home airlifted to the jungle, and they laughed at the wounded, tortured, dredged the sky of heaven and torched Buddha and shrines and elephants, just for fucking fun, a Senator McCain said a thousand times as he belched on top of his prostitutes, young women sold into the covenant of capitalism USA style.

The education class, now toeing the line and marching to the orders of the elite, a very small minority stuck in tribal and religious politics entwined with Capitalism with a big C. I understand the bending fabric of this country, my own brethren when I started teaching in 1983. This is not a country of Oaxacan resisters, Mexican teachers, who take it upon themselves to be the true voices of social justice not only for their children and students, but communities.

As I filed this installment of my anti-memoir, struggle, resistance, murder and resolve are taking place, the stage being rampant, rapacious capitalism USA style. Here, read where my heart is always:

Members of Coördinadora Nacional de Trajabadores de Educación (National Coördination of Education Workers, or CNTE), the largest teacher’s union in the country, went on strike to protest education reform passed by the current administration. Those reforms would — among other things — require teachers to take standardized tests to evaluate their qualifications.

Reforms would also end “normal” schools, government-funded teacher training schools that serve in rural and impoverished (and heavily indigenous) parts of Mexico, and which provide alternate paths to those who might otherwise grow up working in the fields. Normales have been around for a century, and historically are places people go to learn not just how to be teachers, but how to protest and challenge the government.

(The case of Ayotzinapa— the 43 teacher trainees who went missing in September 2014— involved “normalistas,”or students from a normal school in Mexico’s Guerrero state.)

The Mexican government has responded to the protests by first taking professors into custody, and then, on 19 June 2016, firing bullets and tear gas into a crowd in the Oaxacan town of Nochixtlán: “They were shooting at us as if we were animals”, William Velázquez, a 34-year old teacher, told FNL. He picked up a large stick. “These are the only weapons we have. We don’t carry guns. They were firing on unarmed civilians.”

There is no other way to put this – our country is a wasteland, vast and empty, a bubbling up Coke can in the hands of every man, woman and child, holding the stuffy toys of Disney and Speilberg, all the lies set up early on with the infantilization of adults as they trip along with children watching the most insipid stuff the masters and controllers spew out.

One world, one Disney-20th Century Fox-Netflix-Facebook package of lies, from cradle to grave. Imagine teachers in this country with any backbone stiffer than a squid’s fighting reforms of standardization, washing away teacher agency, generating one giant superficial triangulating set of lies produced by Pearson Publishing, LLC and the other one or two conduits of pacification and agnotology.

I found the same sort of resistance to my own resistance to the official narrative or history of this country, of the Vietnam war, to Ali, to anything remarkable about revolution and radical left thought in all the schools I was taught.

Today, the world is one compliant factory, a big tattletale world, mostly directed by women at lower echelons, driving the fight and resistance out of young people, young boys of color, anybody that might cross their narrative of following the rules and coloring in the lines.

My defining moment as a kid, since my old man was a professional soldier, as he called himself – 10 years in the Air Force and another 22 in the Army, coming out as a CW4, wounded twice in Vietnam, his own crytpography career tied to his intelligence, seeking a bachelor’s and accomplishing it when I was 10, in Heidelberg, and then a couple of masters degrees in many locales throughout his career, culminating at the University of Arizona. He was a history buff, and I fought him on the Vietnam War, fought the entire project of militarism and what it was like to be a military dependent living on posts and bases.

It’s a fifty-none year struggle, but there was an awakening, 22 and 20 years ago, when I floated into the gossamer of Vietnam, right when that first Clinton “normalized” relations with the USA, after 20 years after the Fall of Saigon. Here’s that story, a chink in the armor that is the plague of propaganda!

War and Peace in Vietnam

Flying into Vietnam 10 years ago brought back the phone call my family received that my father had been shot by the Viet Cong. That was 1969, and I was a 13-year-old fighting schoolmates because I didn’t support the war in Indochina.

Even before the cold announcement that my father had been severely wounded carrying cryptographic equipment in a Huey, I knew the United States was wrong to be in Vietnam. Something about the mythology of war, invisible dominoes, never repeating history.

Now, flying over the mossy forest, a patchwork of clouds, and the glimmer from hundreds of flooded fields and winding rivers, I felt like I was about to drop into a dream.

The stiff green uniforms and yellow star on red background of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam suited the hard-faced immigration soldiers at Hanoi’s airport. There was panic in the air from mostly Vietnamese workers and businessmen deplaning from Moscow. Our group was scatterbrained from the long flights from London to Moscow to Pakistan to Hanoi. We were researchers being treated like tourists, our gear dragged by young blokes looking for hotel commissions.

Most of the Vietnamese on the streets hustling us for cyclo rides (three-wheeled pedaled push carts) and hawking imitation Swiss army knives, Rolex watches, Zippo lighters and U.S. dog tags were young men. This was a testament to one of the world’s highest population growth rates (2.5 percent) and to burgeoning under- and unemployment rates (40 and 20 percent).
As soon as we boarded the bus, cutting through rice paddies tended by women in conical hats, surrounded by teary-eyed water buffaloes and frenetic ducks, I knew I was in another world.

It felt like Vietnam instantly. I could almost taste the explosives in the air.

Scientific expeditions into Third World locales evolve into a weird mix of wanting to be open to a culture and attacking it with these disassociations. With Vietnam, there was emotional baggage and the statistics of war:

  • 2 million civilians killed in the north, 2 million in the south;
  • 1.1 million military casualties; 600,000 wounded;
  • 58,183 Americans (eight of them women) killed;
  • 3,869 fixed-wing aircraft and 4,857 helicopters lost;
  • 15 million tons of ammunition expended;
  • 2,000 Americans and 300,000 Vietnamese missing in action.

So many millions of acres of rain forest and mangroves were destroyed. More than 6 million lives were lost from 1954 to 1975. America introduced the concept of “ecocide” — warfare on the ecology — that still affects each new generation with carcinogenic and mutagenic dioxin from herbicides in human breast milk.

But I hadn’t come to Vietnam to unload a war catharsis.

“The war against America has little relevance in the minds of the people today, as opposed to how people in the U.S. feel about it,” Gene Reddic, a copy editor in Hanoi with the Vietnam Investment Review, told me.

“They don’t live it everyday … the Vietnam war does not conjure up B-52’s bombing Hanoi, and they don’t see Americans as evil people,” he added.

I felt alone for much of the time I worked in Vietnam, and not only because I was the only American in a group of 23 British, Canadian and Vietnamese scientists.

It wasn’t separation from familiar surroundings that stirred the feeling, or the fact that we were bivouacking for three months in primary rain forest — a cloud island, really, and hundreds of miles from Hanoi, just a few clicks from Laos. The raw primal rain forest we had come to study as a part of an international biodiversity project wouldn’t account for the strange separateness I would be feeling. My isolation came from being an American in a sea of Vietnamese — more than 83 million of them in an S-shaped country the size of Italy but with a per capita annual income of just $270.

It has one of the world’s highest population densities for any agricultural country. And then there is the “onslaught.” The 1986 economic reform program, known as Doi Moi, or “open door,” has brought an incredible Westernization — not only of Hanoi’s storefronts, but in the mindset of the people who find themselves actually desiring Western capitalism.

There is almost a lust for the new life, with disregard for tradition, spirituality and the environment.

I felt like an intruder — big, burly, full of extra calories, my dollars gold. I was an American returning with my father’s ghost haunting me.

Many of us have the “secondary Vietnam aftershock”: episodes with friends who had been to Vietnam now self-medicating with drugs, booze, violence. I have taught Vietnam draftees at community colleges — students with faraway gazes who couldn’t cope with festering emotions. All the land mines at home.

“I have buddies who did the tunnel-rat thing, the deep jungle sapping,” said Brian O’Connor, a 42-year-old Ohioan who was swapping stories at the Apocalypse Now bar in Hanoi. “But you have to remember, most of the servicemen were not in combat zones. I had two tours, and I fell in love with Saigon — no bullets. Just the occasional knifing or bottle bomb.”

Almost 3.2 million Americans, including more than 7,000 service women, served in Vietnam during America’s one and a half decades here. Around 80 percent were rear echelon or support; less than 20 percent ever saw combat.

“It’s still something talked about in our schools in Germany,” said Petra Buchbinder, a 24-year-old German traveler and backpacker who has been working as an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi. “Almost nothing about Hitler and the Third Reich, but much on the fire bombing and My Lai massacre. When I see Americans over here, I wonder if that one or this one fought here … and what they must have seen, or what dark horrors they carry with them.”

Buchbinder said after 18 months living in Saigon and Hanoi, she’s developed a “sixth sense” about foreigners. “I am 90 percent correct when I try to guess if he is American, if he has seen combat here.” It’s the look in their eyes, she insisted.

I had to press hard to get older folk — 40 or older — to talk about the war. In Hanoi, Hue and Vinh, people didn’t want to broach topics of combat duty or flights from carpet-bombing.

However, south of the Ben Hai River, the zone area along the 17th parallel that demarcated the war (DMZ), many spoke of killing Viet Cong. Others lamented how they had lost and been shuttled to reeducation camps set up by the communists after “the victory.”

Quang Tri, Cam Lo, Rockpile, Lang Vay and Hamburger Hill are just a few of the places these South Vietnamese fought at, places that saw bloody battles and ended up on television in America’s living rooms.

They had done hard labor in camps, and now they’re working the streets for big tourists to pay 50 cents for long rides on their cyclos. Others are street sweepers or sledging boulders.

I saw older women working on road gangs, hauling boulders and hot tar and baskets of sand. “The pro-Americans, the elite, or sympathizers were stripped of jobs, impoverished, received no education,” Reddic said. “Those that held land were basically evicted and singled out for reeducation.”

vietnam fallout

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.