Excerpt: A Bit of History
from Then the Americans Came--Voices From Vietnam
by Martha Hess

Full Medal Jacket: Foxhole to Filebox
Marc Levy

The Mekong River, Southeast Asia's Mississippi

Global Surrealism Symposium Held
in Bucharest on May 17-20

by Valery Oisteanu

In brief:
Bronx Accent

~ . ~


Excerpt: A Bit of History
Then the Americans Came--Voices From Vietnam

by Martha Hess

(Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993,
$22.95, hardcover. ISBN:0-941423-92-1)

Soldiers of the Viet Minh marching south.
Courtesy, Vietnamese Photographers Assn.
(Tran Cu)

         What is known in Vietnam as the American War is the bloody culmination of two thousand years of resistance to foreign invaders. The Chinese came first, and the Vietnamese fought them for ten centuries.
         The French came in the 19th century and conquered the kingdoms of Indochina. Putting down sporadic resistance, they governed until 1940, when Germany defeated France and the Vichy authorities in Indochina let the Japanese military move in without firing a shot. President Franklin D. Roosevelt protested the Japanese aggression and sought economic sanctions. This early friction eventually led to the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war, a nationalist coalition called The Viet Minh (an abbreviation for the League for Vietnamese Independence), led by the communist Ho Chi Minh, began an underground resistance that left them in effective control of the country when Japan surrendered in 1945. They later came to be known in the U.S. and South Vietnam as the Viet Cong or V.C.
         Ho Chi Minh began treaty negotiations with the new DeGaulle regime in Paris, but in November 1946 the French bombarded the northern port city of Haiphong, and the war was on. The Truman Administration, on the pretext of fighting communism, helped finance and supply the French War, which ended in 1954 with a French defeat in the great battle at Dien Bien Phu.
         The Geneva Agreements that year provided for the departure of the French and the temporary partition of Vietnam at the 17th parallel, with the Viet Minh administering the North and forces that had served the French administering the South. They also provided for national elections to be held by 1956 at the latest, and the country would then be reunified. But, as President Eisenhower noted in his memoirs, the Viet Minh would have won, so the elections were never held. The U.S.-sponsored regime of Ngo Dinh Diem sought permanency by repressing the opposition--through massive killings, detentions, and torture--which led to public demonstrations and the rise of a new guerrilla movement. At the time of the partition, most of the Catholics of Vietnam had gone to the South. Under Diem, Buddhism was repressed. There were mass protests, including the self-immolation by fire of several Buddhist monks on city streets in South Vietnam. Until the end of the war, Buddhists were active in the movement for peace and an end to foreign domination.
         The bad news from Saigon prompted President John F. Kennedy to approve the overthrow of Diem, who died in the coup on November 1, 1963, just three weeks before J.F.K. was himself assassinated. During the Kennedy Administration, the number of American military "advisers" had risen to 10,000, and the CIA conducted a secret war in Laos in an effort to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of paths and roads through the jungle and mountains, down which supplies and then troops came from the North. The military dictators who took over in Saigon were no more effective than Diem. Then, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that the North Vietnamese had attacked two destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin--many historians say it never happened--and obtained Congressional approval of a resolution, which had been drafted before the Tonkin Incident, authorizing him to retaliate.
         That was the beginning of what the Americans call the Vietnam War. It became a holocaust. From the first ground units of combat troops, U.S. forces grew to over half a million men. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam than fell on Europe during World War II. Millions of gallons of defoliants and napalm ravaged the forests and rice fields, the villages and their inhabitants. Villages were razed, people killed, raped, tortured, jailed, relocated into concentration camps. The massacre at My Lai on March 16, 1968, was one of many.
         Repeatedly, the Pentagon announced that victory was near, that "there was light at the end of the tunnel," but kept asking for more men. The Tet Offensive, a general uprising in the South which began on the Vietnamese New Year in January 1968, was put down, but it destroyed many illusions. Along with worldwide and domestic opposition to the war, it caused L.B.J. to halt the troop buildup, call for peace talks, and withdraw from the presidential campaign. The war continued nonetheless. President Richard M. Nixon slowly reduced the number of U.S. ground forces, but stepped up the bombing of the North and South, raided Laos and Cambodia and, still fighting communism, continued the war for over four more years. Another justification by this time was the emotional issue of American prisoners of war and M.I.A's, which is used to this day to isolate Vietnam diplomatically and economically.
         A month after the massive bombings of northern cities in December 1972, what the Vietnamese call "Dien Bien Phu in the air," Nixon signed a peace agreement along lines that had been proposed years earlier. It included a promise, never fulfilled, of $3.25 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid. With most U.S. forces gone, the South Vietnamese regime survived until April 30, 1975, when Saigon was liberated and the last Americans left.
         Vietnam was united and at peace for the most part. In late 1978, the Vietnamese responded to mass killings by the Khmer Rouge in villages close to the Cambodian border by invading Cambodia and defeating Pol Pot's regime. In 1979, an incursion by the Chinese at Vietnam's northern border resulted in a two-month war.
         The American War in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia caused the deaths of 58,000 Americans and unknown millions of Indochinese.

(Reprinted by permission of the author.)
[See selected interviews from Hess's book, Interviews. Ed.]



Full Medal Jacket: Foxhole to File Box
Marc Levy

Photo: Marc Levy (1970)
Prior publ.: Rattapallax #3

The National Archive in Maryland is a large, impressive place, composed of glass and white cement, sleek with modern airy curves, and quiet. 'Researchers' are issued special photo ID's, good for three years. Unauthorized items must be stashed in coin-operated lockers. Spaced fifteen meters apart, black half-domed surveillance cameras hang like ripe melons from the false ceilings.

The archive staff are nerdy, friendly types; nothing fazes them. "Place your order, here, sir. No, over here, where I'm pointing my finger. That's fine. We'll be right with you." You wait patiently for combat reports, for Mt. Vesuvius to re-erupt, while up in the stacks someone stalks your destiny. An hour later, a suddenly arrived metal cart groans under the weight of archival boxes, their corners tipped with filigreed protective metal. "Will that be all, Sir? Can I get you anything else?" I gesture,"No." "Then sign here, Sir. Here. Date, initial, name. Thank you. Next."

The second-floor research area is wide and long with thick, beige carpet and large, comfortable, broad-paneled desks and soft overhead lights. You open one stiff cardboard box at a time and read and read, inhaling the musty scent trapped in time-worn pages. I pour over reams of jargon-laced intelligence reports, the shock of certain names and dates somewhat diminished. Not so for a friend. Sitting in a corner, he wilts under the terrible heat of a six-page battle account. In one day, his company lost twenty-six men. When the ARVN [*] deserted, he swung round a .50 cal and shot them, one by one, first in the legs, then in the back. A week later, he killed three villagers with his bare hands. "Are you all right?" Without looking up, he whispers, "Yes."

Richard Boylan is the Senior Military Archivist at NARA, as the agency is called. He worked with Burkett on Stolen Valor [**]. You could say he knows his shit. I ask Richard if we can find my decorations. "Let's go," he says. "I'll give you the tour." There are 40,000 archival boxes on Vietnam in twelve separate stacks, each room the size of a small football field. The staff have catalogued each and every one. Boylan expertly ducks into a ten-foot high metal hedge, finds "First Cavalry Division," narrows the search, then plucks out two bone-white, untouched boxes: "Third Brigade. Awards. Letter L." I ask if the contents are broken down by rank or unit. "No," he says. "That's everything for 1970."

Odd, how the first folder starts with my last name. In ten seconds Boylan snares the original orders for a Bronze Star, Kingdom of Cambodia. "Let's see what's in the other box," he grins, a mischievous smile creasing his face. Fanning pages like a bank teller thumbing hundred dollar bills or a card shark slapping down a winning hand, he trumps: "Here, I think this belongs to you." And Boylan, who has done this more than once before, flourishes original orders for a second battle star. On the third page I see my lieutenant's deep-pressed neat signature, the ink still dark blue, and beneath it the Captain's close-knit imprimatur. I feel chills course down my spine. I'm told some men walk away, sobbing.

Back in the research area I read all the L's for 1970. How strange and sad to discover Bronze Stars were boilerplated, that recommending officers chose from a list of combat encounters.

-- Began placing a heavy volume of suppressive fire on enemy positions.

-- Administered first aid to the wounded and assisted in evacuation to save them.

-- Accurately called in artillery and air strikes on enemy positions.

I hunt and find Mike Lawson, squad leader in fourth platoon on LZ Ranch when it was overrun:

-- Exposed himself to intense hostile fire, engaging and killing the enemy. In the morning, we throw corpses into craters; salt them with lime.

Sometimes there are batches of medals for one brave man. And sometimes the aging sheets are stamped in thick, syrupy ink: 'POSTHUMOUS.'

I read every DFC and Silver Star and Purple Heart in both unblinking boxes: how daring pilots and steadfast grunts trafficked in terror, were 'mortally wounded' or, hit, went back for more, ducked rockets, chucked grenades, went hand-to-hand, a real war twister spinning round and round my grey-flecked head.

A slim box of reports marked 'FRIENDLY FIRE' contains urgent telex cables mixed in with hastily scribbled notes signed by shocked-out sergeants and nervous first lieutenants. Some poor son-of-a bitch accidentally shot sideways; a suicide found in a bunker, bottle of liquor, 45 to the head; casualties from short-fused grenades.

You keep reading, surrounded by war, relive the feeling you don't want to end, then put it down, you put the whole damn thing down, and hear yourself say, "It's over. It's over." It never really is.

(Marc Levy served with D 1/7 First Cavalry Division as an infantry medic in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1970. A video of his war-related prose and photographs, The Real Deal, has received critical acclaim (Distributor: Cinema Guild).)

[*] ARVN:
"Army Republic of Vietnam," the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese forces.
[**] B.G. Burkett, B.G., Whitley, Glenna, Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History. [Non-fiction account of those who posed as Vietnam veterans. See Ed.]


The Mekong River, Southeast Asia's Mississippi

In fact, at 2700 miles, the 'Perfumed' is longer than Mark Twain's Old Man--and that, by more than the entire length of the Hudson. Though still considerably shorter than the 4000-mile Amazon and Nile, its resources are of huge commercial and agricultural importance to nearly 200 million people in six countries, as it flows through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and, last, to Vietnam's fertile Mekong Delta, where it mouths into the China Sea. Massive upriver construction of hydroelectric dams has and continues to reduce the flow to each riparian rightsholder in turn.

The belligerent disregard of those rights, especially by China, in clear violation of the 1997 United Nations Law on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Water Courses, and inconsistent with the policies of the Mekong River Commission established in 1995 by the UN Development Project to coordinate building along the river, is viewed by many to pose a serious threat of regional conflict. (The infighting among states in the western region of the U.S. seems manageable by comparison.) Bully tactics could, with a twist of the tap, flood or desiccate the downstreamers.

Logging and dam-related deforestation have heightened the prospect of flooding, while the proliferation of concrete impairs the natural migration and propagation of fish, once four times as plentiful in the river's lower reaches than in the North Sea. Environmental groups such as the Southeast Rivers Network have organized marches and other protests to publicize the severity of the problem. With its 1999

Mekong Declaration, The Mekong Forum called for a moratorium on construction, an initiative which has the support of newspapers in the region.

The brown river supports about sixty fresh-water dolphins.

Recent publications:
The Mekong River and the Struggle for Indochina
Water, War, and Peace

By Nguyen Thi Dieu
Praeger Publishers. Westport, Conn. 1999. 280 pages
LC 97-49488. ISBN 0-275-96137-0. C6137 $59.95




Global Surrealism Symposium Held
in Bucharest on May 17-20

by Valery Oisteanu

I believe the moment is at hand when, by a paranoic and active advance of the mind, it will be possible (simultaneously with automatism and other passive states) to systematize confusion and thus help to discredit utterly the world of reality.

-- Salvador Dali, La Femme Visible (1930)

The Romanian avant-garde (established since 1909) created a breeding ground for international dada/surrealist movements, with star names such as Tristan Tzara, Constantin Brancusi, Victor Brauner, Marcel Iancu, Eugene Ionesco, Gherasim Luca, and others. This year, 2001, marked the launch in Bucharest of ICARE, the Research Institute of Research for the Study of Romanian and European Avant-garde, which will consist of an archive, a publishing house and, soon, a building of Cubist design as its center.

A four-day symposium took place at the Writers House in Bucharest, Romania from May17-20 with more than sixty participants from France, Germany, the U.S., Spain, Russia, Sweden, and, of course, Romania. Several cultural institutions collaborated in sponsoring the event: The Cervantes Institute, The Romanian Ministry of Culture, The French Institute, the Pro Helvetica Society, the International Center for Contemporary Art, the publishing house, Vinea, along with several theaters and national film archives.

Friday at mid-day, the marathon focused on poetry. Recordings by Apollinaire and André Breton filled the air!

Nicolae Tzone opened the symposium with a presentation of the most important acquisitions for the archive and library of the research center. Surrealistically, it was followed by a theater group performing a masked rendition of all the surrealist manifestos.

Among the speakers were Petre Raileanu, renown French author of Romanian origin, who spoke about the 20th Century as the century of avant-garde movements. The entire first day of the symposium was dedicated to Gellu Naum, the last surviving surrealist poet in Romania, with video and photographic presentations, and readings. University professor, Dr. Ion Pop presented a paper called, "Gellu Naum or The Poetry Against Literature." In the evening, the Cervantes Center unveiled the exhibition, "Dali-Gala, The Privilege of Intimacy," by Spanish photographer and artist, Marc Lacroix.

On day two, I took the podium to revise, restore, and recall to mind several important artists of Romanian origins living in the diaspora whose contribution to surrealism was vital. One such artist is Dolfi Trost, whose poetry galvanized first Romanian avant-garde, then French Surrealism, and ultimately went on to Chicago. In the evening, we moved to the famous café named after a dada hangout of the 30's and 40's, for an evening of Jazzoetry with Johny Raducanu and word jazz from my new book, Poems in Exile, published in Paralela 45.

The third day, we heard from renown French master Sarane Alexandrian, editor of a magazine called The Unknown Superior. During his long lifetime, he befriended all the surrealists in France. Each day culminated with films from the surrealist archive: The Andalusian Dog by Buñuel and Dali, and Blood of the Poet by Jean Cocteau.

The fourth and last day we enjoyed more oral or video contributions about Romanian surrealists from Sweden, Bonn, and the Sorbonne. The main purpose of that symposium was to rediscover and reclaim the works of writers and artists who had left the country by choice or were forced to leave, writers who established themselves as leaders of the avant-garde groups of the beginning of the 20th Century in Zurich (Dada 1916), Paris, (Dada 1920-24, surrealism 1924-39), and even in such remote places as Israel, Hawaii, Chile, and Australia.

Surrealism eludes most scholars. It is anti-definitional and anti-explanatory. It is not rational or static. It is not a dogmatic theory of art, It is a way of life, an intense experience, a new mechanism of inspiration from dreams and hidden desires. Upon its conception in 1924, three major Romanian representatives occupied the inner circle: Tristan Tzara, Marcel Ianco, and Victor Brauner. Tzara added his prestige to the group and his method of experimental dream and his theories were the springboard for Breton.

The second generation of surrealists were also complemented by illustrious Romanian writers and painters, among them, Jacques Herold, B. Fondane, Gherasim Luca, and Jules Perahim. Among avant-gardistes with Romanian accents we have to mention Eugene Ionesco, absurdist playwright, Voronca, the tragic poet, and Brancusi, the most important sculptor of this century. The survival of the species is carried on by Gellu Naum, in Bucharest, Lucian Boz, in Sydney, and by yours truly in New York.

The success of this first-ever symposium in Romania was evident from the media coverage and the interest of the attending intelligentsia. The slogan of the day was, Why should one act in a way that others may understand? It's the virtuosity of living abstractly. Surrealism is young again!

Top of the Soul

from Blue Beach by Gellu Naum
written in Bucharest Mental Hospital, Room 3003

Breast fed me
The tree with your cat's breasts
because of a fault with two military types
One was wearing white silk stockings and a thong
The other one was saluting by sticking out his tongue
Their heads were fluttering in the wind
like a wedding white scarf
and my silent weakness was hanging like a plant

-- 1990

(Transl. Valery Oisteanu)



from The Forest of Mirrors by Constantin Nisipeanu

I am not a friend of the dream
He makes me tired
I prefer to walk on foot the streets of the world
or to wrestle with mountains and oceans
instead of dreaming in bed protected from rain or cold
If you open my chest with a scalpel you will see the sunshine
in the forest of my lungs
When tigers meet a sleeping man
they turn their backs to the corpse in decay
When asleep, one does not stir up the appetite,
not even for the ferocious animals from savannahs
They prefer to chew with their teeth tree bark or
to stretch in a shadow, and overcome by hunger
to chew with appetite from a fragile ghost
Can't be friend with the dream
He makes me tired

--May 1989

(Transl. Valery Oisteanu)

Article in Brief:
Bronx Accent

Barbara Unger and Lloyd Ultan won The New York Society Library's $1000 book award for Bronx Accent: A Literary and Pictorial History of the Borough. The authors were honored on May 2 with a reception at the Society where Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times made the presentation. Awards in other categories were also made to books about New York City. Michael Chabon won in the fiction category for his novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which was earlier awarded the Pulitzer Prize. That award was presented by playwright Wendy Wasserstein, a past recipient herself of a Pulitzer for drama. The event was hosted by Connie Roosevelt of The New York Society Library.