Site Statistics  :  Web Resources  :  Past Polls    
 Welcome to WinterSoldier.comMonday, April 24 2017 @ 01:17 AM MDT 
Contribute
Support WinterSoldier.com


Dedication
WinterSoldier.com is dedicated to the American veterans of the Vietnam War, who served with courage and honor.

Visit The Wall

Read the book: To Set the Record Straight
The inside story of how Swift Boat veterans, POWs and the New Media defeated John Kerry.

Topics

Newsletter

Sign up for WinterSoldier.com updates.

Email:


Interviews
January 30, 2008:
FrontPage Magazine: To Set The Record Straight

August 18, 2004:
FrontPage Magazine interviews Scott Swett


Speakers Bureau
Speaker Biographies

Contact Us
Send feedback to Admin@WinterSoldier.com

For media contacts or to book speakers, email Media@WinterSoldier.com

WinterSoldier.com is an online project of
New American Media Online Services, LLC


What Are We Doing To Vietnam, Page 2
From the untilled rice fields today, we still sing together these words, even though a thousand lives are hard and sad, still life carries joy. From two exhausted dry hands, pray that effort still rises one more hour. Though today the rice fields are untilled, we still move one step towards tomorrow. Our ruined wasteland, our dry bare earth. Earth bears ardent flowers, our future is here. Our earth is sick, our earth is wretched, our earth is in rags, our earth sits. Our earth gives us life, our homeland carries us, our earth gives us death, to our homeland we return. Tomorrow our land will stretch out fragrant with the smell of new rice. Tomorrow flowers will grow, red lips will smile. Tomorrow the country will grow green with the color of the river in the hills, because today our people are determined to live."

And this is what's happening in Vietnam, also. Dr. Spellman talked about self-employment and creativity. This is really evident in Vietnam. As I said, home for me as a Buddhist orphanage. And the kids ran the orphanage. I was sort of attached to the staff you might say; but learning more from the kids than from anybody else. There were two nuns on the staff and two other young fellows; there were three older women who did most of the cooking. But everything was done by the children. The older people were there as advisors. And anybody who has spent any time in Vietnam can see what people of all ages, but especially the children, do make with our leavings. There are, I don't know, how many rings made out of American metal floating around. All kinds of things are made with leftovers of American goods. This kind of creativity is everywhere. Dr. Spellman talked about self-employment and creativity. This is really evident in Vietnam. As I said, home for me was a Buddhist orphanage. And the kids ran the orphanage. I was sort of attached to the staff you might say; but learning more from the kids than from anybody else. There were two nuns on the staff and two other young fellows; there were three older women who did most of the cooking. But everything was done by the children. The older people were there as advisers. And anybody who has spent any time in Vietnam can see what people of all ages, but especially the children, do make with our leavings. There are I don't know how many rings made out of American metal floating around. All kinds of things are made with leftovers of American goods. This kind of creativity is everywhere. There's poetry everywhere, and the people are encouraged in this kind of creativity. But an extension of this is the awareness, total awareness, that our own survival is in us. For Vietnam that means that their survival is in their own history--their seed for survival, their strength for survival--is in their own history, in their own culture and it's going back to that. It's in that they get the strength to keep going. So you see what things are very central to the culture of Vietnam: the whole concept of the family, and the central object in the home of the Vietnamese is the altar, the family altar. Now when the people are made refugees, everything's taken and they can't take the altar with them because it's usually a permanent structure. But when they go, they'll build a new one. I'm sorry that I don't have slides of these here. I have pictures and anyone who's interested in looking can see afterwards. But I have here a picture taken in Hue, shortly after Tet, and the house is completely destroyed, but the family is moving back. The first thing they do is set a chair in the corner and put the family altar on it. And another one of the camps just south of the demilitarized zone where again there are no materials, nothing to make anything out of. The first thing they do is to build the family altar with the only available materials, which happen to be ammunition boxes supported on mortar tubes. It's this kind of creativity in maintaining their own culture that the Vietnamese keep insisting is their own survival. And it comes out in all their songs; it comes out in the poetry; it comes out in the daily way of living.

CRAVEN. I was on a delegation of students that went to Vietnam. From the time we arrived in Vietnam till the time we left, I must very honestly say that I had the most incredible human experience that I have ever had. Before our plane landed in North Vietnam we had been flying over Laos, and much of the landscape in Laos looked very barren. In some places you could see the results of the American bombing, and parts of Laos looked like the surface of the moon. It was reported that there are between 800 and 1,200 bombing sorties flown every single day. But as our plane descended beneath the clouds over North Vietnam, we were all very struck with the lush vegetation and with the whole fertility of the land. And as we came closer to the ground, we saw peasants and water buffalo working the fields in the kind of sight that I've never seen before, and nobody in our delegation had ever even conceived of before. We arrived at the airport and were met by 75 Vietnamese who were holding flowers. When we came to the airport, we were embraced very warmly. During the time that we were in Vietnam this became a very kind of commonplace occurrence. The Vietnamese themselves expressed tremendous solidarity and tremendous love for one another. And it is not an uncommon sight, in the streets of Hanoi, to see people walking down the street, young girls, or even soldiers, women and men, embracing each other, holding each other's hands--all of them always very happy. At the airport, we went into a side room, and we met the group that was hosting us; a group called the Committee for Solidarity with the American People. We had several toasts; we were introduced to each other, and we were told roughly what our itinerary would be for our stay in Vietnam. We were asked to make any requests for things that we would like to do. We were asked to mention any kinds of people that we would like to see, and what particular interest we might have where we could understand better how similar kinds of people live and work in Vietnam. We got into our bus to go to our hotel in Hanoi and, as we traveled on the road to the Long Binh Bridge, we saw the shells of a bombed train depot and an old factory, as well as the millions of Vietnamese who were riding their bicycles, or riding in water buffalo or horse carts, with whatever goods they might be taking to the market in Hanoi. When we got to the river right outside of Hanoi, we found that the Vietnamese were repairing the Long Binh Bridge. We had to go over a floating bridge that the Vietnamese have become very skillful at assembling and disassembling, as they repair the bridges which have been destroyed by American bombers.

It took us about an hour and a half to get across the bridge, waiting for a long time as traffic went one way. Finally we crossed the river to Hanoi in sort of single file, with the water buffalo carts, the people walking, the people on their bicycles and the people on their pony carts. It was just incredible to see the patience of everybody just moving right across that river on this floating bridge. We arrived in Hanoi and went to our hotel; we were very well accommodated. Almost embarrassingly well accommodated, compared to the way we knew the Vietnamese live. Vietnam is very obviously a poor country. It is very obviously a very strong country. The people are not poor to the extent that there is any kind of poverty, to the extent that there is any kind of hunger, or to the extent that there is any kind of poverty that is shown through people not having sufficient clothing to wear. The first night we were in Vietnam we were taken to see the Vietnamese circus, which is right on the outskirts of Hanoi. And it was just an incredible, incredible thing. The circus was under a big top, and there were magicians and clowns and acrobats, and all the kinds of things that you would expect to see at a circus. There was also an anti-American imperialism skit. It was just so incredible in the way that it did not show hostility to the American presence in Vietnam, but showed kind of a humorous insight and humorous perception into the nature of the American presence, and the nature of the Saigon complicity with the Americans. The skit was about a South Vietnamese shoe-shine boy who was sitting on his shoe box waiting for somebody to come along. He was sitting next to a sign that said "Yankee Go Home." Well, an American soldier came by, saw the sign and was immediately outraged. He started to harass the shoe-shine boy. He asked for his papers, began kicking him around, and as the soldier turned to look at the papers, the shoe-shine boy took his shoe-shine brush and hit him over the head and knocked him out. Well, the shoe-shine boy then saw a Saigon troop coming and was very afraid. So he put the American soldier in his shoe-shine box with the top half of his body inside the box and his feet hanging outside. Then he sat on the box with his own feet curled underneath him so that it looked like the feet of the American soldier were his own legs. The Saigon troop came, saw the "Yankee Go Home" sign, was immediately afraid that an American soldier would see him not doing anything about it, so he began to harass the shoe-shine boy. He then tied a rope round his legs to haul him away from the place. Well, the shoe-shine boy had put something over on the Saigon puppet.

That was perfectly clear. And as the skit ended, the Saigon puppet was hauling the shoe-shine box away with the American soldier lying in the box and the shoe-shine boy was sort of scampering off. The American soldier came to consciousness and you can imagine what happened then. I think it's significant to show this kind of feeling among the North Vietnamese people. I think it's significant to show the kind of impression that I got from the Vietnamese, going there not knowing what to expect and being so warmly received. The Vietnamese will tell you time and again, almost everywhere you go, that they always distinguish between the American people and the American government. And they knew that they are not at war with the American people, they know that there are no people on the face of the whole earth that would wage the kind of war against their country that is currently being waged. Often before breakfast a couple of us would walk in the streets of Hanoi. By the time we would get to the market place, there would be as many as two or three hundred small children who would have followed us and come around us by that point, who would sing songs and whistle. And they would find somebody that could speak English and they would say that they were singing the songs for their American friends. At one point, I was walking in Hanoi and I heard one of the young children whistling an American movie theme. I really can't remember the name of it, but he was very proud of the fact that he knew it. One day during our stay in Vietnam, we visited a place called the Revolution Museum, which is in Hanoi. This museum traces the entire history of Vietnamese struggle against foreign aggression and depicts, through various paintings and pictures, significant hallmarks of Vietnamese history. The Vietnamese will tell you that they have spent three-quarters of their entire history under foreign domination, but they have never been unsuccessful in expelling the aggressor. They will tell you about the French having been there for eighty years. About the French being overthrown by the Japanese, the Japanese being overthrown by the Vietnamese, the French coming back nine months later. The French being overthrown by the Vietnamese and the Americans coming only a year later. They will tell you of how in the twelfth century Kubla Khan had defeated and conquered all of Asia and most of Europe, and had never been defeated, but that when he came to Vietnam he was defeated for his first time.

They will tell you how he made three successive attacks on Vietnam, and on the third attack the Vietnamese ambushed him and defeated him so badly that his entire naval fleet was completely destroyed. They have these paintings in their Revolution Museum; one of the ambush of Kubla Khan's ships coming into the Haiphong River and another which they explain as the Mongolian troops standing on the shore really not knowing what to do next. They will explain to you that the Vietnamese then gave the Mongolians their entire naval fleet to transport them back to Mongolia. Also, at the Revolution Museum, we were shown a restaging of the entire battle of Dien Bien Phu. We sat in a room where there was a pit, that was about the size of the middle section of this room, which had a whole land scale of the battleground of Dien Bien Phu, with the valley in the middle, the mountains surrounding it, and the French fortress right in the middle. Through a narration they show you how the Vietnamese progressed and advanced against the French fortress, and, through colored lights on the ground, they will show the various advances, the couple of setbacks, and the renewed advances against the French fortress. Finally, when the Vietnamese conquered the French fortress in the last moments of the monologue, the French flag on top of the French fortress is electronically lowered, and the Vietnamese flag is raised. We also were able to visit the art museum in Hanoi. The Vietnamese are very proud of their art.

They have a long tradition of art, music, and of very beautiful poetry. A third of their museum is devoted exclusively to discussion and portrayal of the minority groups that live in North Vietnam. They have the costumes, the dress, the houses and the architecture of these minority groups and different representations of their culture. It is interesting to compare how the North Vietnamese perceive their minority groups as compared to the South Vietnamese, especially the South Vietnamese Christians, the South Vietnamese ruling class. The South Vietnamese have been noted for their systematic racism; their systematic oppression of their minority groups--Montagnards--and the Cambodians who are from the same kind of ethnic extraction as these groups. On the other hand, in North Vietnam, the minority groups have been consciously incorporated and made an active part of the society. In the colleges, where education is a very valued and a very treasured thing, the minority groups constitute a greater proportion of the percentage of college students than they actually constitute as a proportion of the society. Everywhere you go in North Vietnam, you can see the effects of the destruction. I don't think it's really necessary to elaborate too much on that. It's very interesting how the Vietnamese have dealt with the situation of aerial bombardment.

Many of the schools and many of the hospitals which have been destroyed by American bombs have been rebuilt. You will see great craters in many of the fields where bombs have been dropped. These craters create a problem with drainage from the rice paddies, from the fields. Unless they are filled up, there can be no crops grown in these fields. Where the craters have been too big for the Vietnamese to be able to refill, they have filled them with water and made them into fish breeding ponds. The Vietnamese have also adapted to the situation of bombardment and war by being able to totally decentralize their entire country. Every province is self- sufficient and any province, when it is cut off from the rest of the country during bombardment, can be sufficient medically, can provide enough food for its people, and can begin immediately, when something is destroyed, to rebuild it. The Vietnamese talked of their leprosy research and treatment center that was at Nui An in southern North Vietnam. They talked of how this leprosy treatment center was the most sophisticated leprosy research treatment center in all of Southeast Asia. They tell you that during the air war, between 1964 and 1968, this leprosarium was bombed by American planes on thirty-nine different occasions. All of the 160 buildings making up this leprosy center were destroyed; 117 lepers and medical workers were killed; all of the research documents and records were destroyed. This gives you some idea of the kinds of setbacks in terms of production, in terms of accomplishment, that the Vietnamese have had to suffer. North Vietnam is very different from South Vietnam in that they have been able to advance, in that they have been able to solve the problems of starvation. They have been able to solve these problems by increasing production and developing more sophisticated facilities. Yet the air war destroyed almost all of this. The Vietnamese will tell you, as Nixon again makes threats against North Vietnam to renew bombing, that what seems to be happening is that the facilities they have rebuilt are again being threatened and will again be destroyed. The Vietnamese dealt with had a very astute kind of insight into the situation in America. They would talk about the recent Senate elections. They talked about what they felt to be the significance of the GM strike, for example. They talked of the anti-war movement with great love and with very great confidence. They talked about their American friends they read about. They talked about the books that they had read by American authors, and the kinds of cultural accomplishments that they saw as being significant in this country.

When we met with a group of musicians, artists, and poets in Vietnam, they described to us in great length, how before their revolution their culture and their society had been undergoing a period of decadence. They talked about how the Vietnamese, when they tried to represent in their art, for example, love, found that they could represent only a very desperate kind of love. They talked about the sort of preoccupations represented in their art, with the use of opium, and that much of the art and much of the music had to do with opium dreams and opium experiences. They will tell you how, after the revolution, there was a resurgence of feeling; there was a resurgence of spirit. The people felt a renewed capacity to express their feeling for one another, to pull together as a people, to begin working toward the kind of solidarity that now exists in Vietnam. Our delegation during this meeting presented to the Vietnamese a copy of the screenplay SATYRICON. We told them that many of us felt that this movie, and this play, represented the same kind of decadence that existed in a great society--Rome during its fall--and that we experience many of these same kinds of conditions in this country. About a week later, as we were getting ready to leave, about five or six Vietnamese came to me and told me that they had read the entire screenplay from Satyricon. They asked me to sort of graphically portray the various scenes. There was one movie in Hanoi when we were there that dealt with the battle between the American Indians and the American Cavalry, in which the Cavalry was totally wiped out. One day we were going to the coast, to a place called Ha Long Bay. This is a tremendous bay right on the Gulf of Tonkin where there are 6,000 mountain islands with monkeys, caves, grottos, and all kinds of things. We were crossing the river near Haiphong on a ferry boat with our Vietnamese friends. Our buses had been put on the ferry. One of the Vietnamese took out his pipe and offered us some Thoc La which is what the Vietnamese smoke as a kind of tobacco. It is very strong kind of tobacco. It gives the Vietnamese people the sensation of being kind of stoned. He brought out the pipe and we sort of smoked the pipe. We were going across this river and one of the Vietnamese friends pointed down the river to the cliffs where Kubla Khan had been wiped out and said, "You know this is where it was. We're very proud of those cliffs."

As we were going along, just sort of sitting there watching the river, just enjoying the beauty of the countryside, a man named Mr. Xuan Oanh, who was one of the leading musical composers in all of North Vietnam (he wrote and composed the Vietnamese national anthem and was also a member of the Paris delegation) brought out his cassette recorder and started playing the Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers." So I think you can understand what I mean about the ease with which we were able to relate to the Vietnamese. We were able to feel so much at home in this country. When we would greet each other in the morning or when we would say goodnight, we would always embrace and there would always be a very genuine feeling of love between us. We saw that the Vietnamese had been pulled together by the kind of progress they have been struggling to make together, and the kind of suffering they have had to suffer together. They feel not at all desperate. They feel very determined to deal with the renewed threats that are being made against their country, to deal with the suffering that is being leveled against their South Vietnamese brothers and sisters. We understood very clearly that they have a great deal of confidence in the American people to be able to stop the kind of technology, the kind of death machine that comes from the air. But they will continue to resist until the American people stop it once and for all.

EMENY. One thing they say about Thoc La is that, after a long morning, you sit down (Thoc La you smoke through a water pipe) and you take one long, slow drag. It knocks me flat on my back. What they say is, they take one long, slow drag and they can do seven more rounds on that field.

MODERATOR. I'd just like to add a brief statement, to corroborate the kind of information we've been given. From my experiences as a Civil Affairs Officer in Vietnam, I can only testify that all of my civil affairs experiences were either very frustrating or very disastrous. No program ever recommended to me by any of my training or any of the manuals available to me worked. The techniques that I felt were so pertinent to the saving of these people were useless. And I had many months of experience in this frustration. Of all the experiences I had while I was in Vietnam, which include several war crimes, I consider this to be probably the greatest war crime that I committed. If it's not defined as a war crime, then I'll accept whatever kind of definition someone would like to put on it. I will entertain questions from the floor.

QUESTION. I want to address this to the second speaker up there. About two weeks ago in the New York Times it was announced that the United States and Saigon governments were going to evacuate about three million peasants to the southern part of South Vietnam. I want to hear if you have any predictions about how these people are going to react to this plan?

CLARK. I read the same thing that you did. The provinces of the northern half of South Vietnam were traditionally controlled by the Viet Minh. And the population in that area has traditionally been more sympathetic to the NLF than they've ever been to the central government. In my discussions with people I had up there when I was in Quang Tri, they openly stated that they saw the refugees as what they called Viet Cong sympathizers, or VCSs. While the operations near the DMZ were going on, there was 31,000 refugees generated at one point in a short period of time. I think 12,000 were suspected to have gone north, and a great many others of them went back into the area, even though they realized their lives would be threatened in a free fire zone. Basically, the situation is that most of these people cannot be allowed to return to their fields, in the terms of the South Vietnamese government, because if they did, they would go back with very hostile attitudes toward the central government. And if they did grow food, it would be for support, probably, of the NLF. Therefore, by relocating them to the south, there would be greater chance of control by the South Vietnamese government over them. I think that that's what predicated the decision to send them south. Obviously, I think it's a bad idea.

MODERATOR. Jim, do you think there's anything involving the numbers which would change the situation?

CLARK. There's going to be a tremendous tactical problem in trying to move that many people. I just can't imagine their attempting to do it, unless they do it over a very long period of time. I really don't think that it's the solution to the problem that they're facing. I don't think you can win the hearts and minds of people by forcibly transporting them to other areas.

MODERATOR. Jay, do you have a comment?

CRAVEN. I think that that announcement about Melvin Laird is one of the most significant events that has happened in the last several months. And I think there's no question the Vietnamese are not going to want to move to the southernmost provinces of South Vietnam. It's a fact that that kind of dislocation is a very severe war crime. I think what this may indicate is that that entire area is being cleared for an absolute saturation bombing or possible nuclear strike zone. And in fact, by moving all those people out, the only people left can be said to be NLF sympathizers, and thereby a justification could be presented by the administration for just total annihilation of all of central Vietnam.

QUESTION. This may be an unfair question, but I'd like to ask you if you could speculate what would have happened if a Gandhi had arisen in Vietnam, in let's say 1954 or 1955. Would he have had any following, and if so what would be the result?

EMENY. There is a long tradition of nonviolent struggle in Vietnam. This is the tradition that is most active in the cities today, for example. It's totally blacked out here. There is not a central leader. There hasn't arisen a Gandhi, but there have arisen a series of people--in the student leaders, in the Buddhist leaders, in women--a series of people who have led this kind of a nonviolent struggle. There hasn't been anything like the salt marches of Gandhi, but the current situation in South Vietnam is something really extraordinary. About nine months ago the Saigon government started a more intensive campaign of repression than had been before. It was first directed against the students, when they tried to close down and take over the universities. They arrested some of the student leaders. The student leaders went to jail and their prisons are impossible. Everyone knew they were being tortured, as they routinely are, so some students starting fasting in sympathy. Then their mothers started fasting in sympathy. And more joined every day, until the students were released. There have been marches. There are nonviolent forms of struggle going on daily in Vietnam and it is escalated to the point now where on November 7th--again, something that's gone unspoken of in the United States press--there was a meeting in a small pagoda outside Saigon. At this meeting all kinds of organizations were represented in South Vietnam: shoe-shine boys, student groups, women's groups, Buddhists, Catholics, lawyers, doctors, government officials, all levels, ages, everything. And this group formed what they called the People's Front for the Defense of Peace. Now the first demand of the People's Front for the Defense of Peace is that U.S. withdrawal is a precondition to peace in Vietnam, a precondition to any kinds of negotiations for peace in Vietnam. Now this is not the NLF. This is the non-NLF side of the Vietnamese struggle to remain Vietnamese, and much of this is based as a nonviolent struggle.

SPELLMAN. I think the question is a very difficult one. It's not an easy one to answer because you first have to ask whether or not a Gandhi could have arisen in that type of a cultural milieu. Gandhi, as a man, was an extraordinarily rare moral being. I'm not so sure that Buddhism has as strong a tendency toward "ahimsa" which is not, simply not, killing. Gandhi was not so interested in winning. He was not really interested in nonviolence as a tactic, as it has unfortunately become as it has moved into the American political scene. He was interested in nonviolence as an extraordinary kind of moral stamina, and when he had the British, as it were, over a barrel, at the beginning of the Second World War, and could have done many things to obtain independence in India, he said no. Our adversary is in a weak position. It is not proper that we take advantage of that situation. Therefore, he supported the British in the Second World War. Now, he was severely criticized about that. We remember the ultimate triumph of Gandhi, but that triumph was preceded by many very great failures, and those failures of Gandhi were themselves preceded by a great wave of terrorism in India, particularly during the First World War with a large number of terrorist movements. So Gandhi really had that kind of thing on which to base his campaign.

It's unfortunate that nonviolence is so often understood in this society as being a very useful political tactic that you use when you are weaker than your adversary. Gandhi understood it as a form of strength that was much stronger than your adversary. It did not depend on numbers, as demonstrations frequently depend today, using the cultural values of this society. It depended on moral strength, not a righteous bigotry, and on a perspective of truth that men like Gandhi, Tagore and a few others have had, that overrode political concerns. The politics was religion. It wasn't politics under the guise of religion. So I think that to the extent that nonviolence becomes a political tactic, in which the techniques are useful for winning, that that is a mockery and a sham of nonviolence. Nonviolence is an outgoing form of love with certain humor and quipe mixed into it, in which it is the love of your adversary that finally conquered him, not the hatred, not the techniques, and not the tactics. And so I am not sure whether the degree of Christianizing that has taken place in Vietnam would certainly not have supported this kind of thing. Then you have the other problem, and that is the British were on the other side and not the Americans. And I dare say that the British have a far higher sense of moral decency than the American government does, at least if one considers the kinds of things that you find in the British press. Moral indignation is I think a much stronger basis in England than it is in this country.

EMENY. On the other hand, I do have a children's song that I'd really like to read you the translation of again. I guess that's one of the main things I brought away from Vietnam. "The enemy is not people. If we kill people, what brothers will we have left? The enemy's name is cruelty. The enemy's name is no conscience. It's hatred. It's bitterness. A group of phantoms. The enemy is not people; if we kill people, what brothers will we have left? The enemy wears a coat of doctrine, the enemy wears the false front of freedom. It has a deceiving appearance. It sifts our words. It's a germ to separate us. People, people have compassion for the weak, have compassion for the innocent, have compassion for those who pity us. The enemy is not a stranger. It lies inside each one of us. The enemy carries the name of unjust accusation. The enemy is the name of ignorance. It's ambition. It's jealousy. It's jealous hatred. The enemy is in desiring eyes. It's in an arrogant head. In a lonely heart. In a narrow mind. In the dream of conquering. The enemy is no stranger. The enemy lies inside each one of us."

QUESTION. Dr. Spellman, I'd like to ask you a question concerning what you feel to be the root of the problem in Vietnam and a lot of the imperialistic expansion of the Western countries of this world, in particular the United States. I know that you've touched a little bit on the values system, the structure of the values in the United States with reference to technology, industrialization, competition. I know I have my definite views about what is causing many of the Third World revolts, as well as U.S. expansion. I would say that's capitalism. But I wish that you would give us your opinions as to this.

SPELLMAN. That, too, is a difficult question. I do not think that I would feel that it was capitalism. I think that maybe the root lies certainly not solely with the United States. I think that we are dealing with values that extend far beyond the national boundaries. They are cultural values that have a very long heritage. I suppose at the root of this lies concepts such as the idea of truth. Now, we understand things in our society largely from a lineal perspective, and we have the idea that a thing is either right or wrong, good or evil. It is a kind of dualism. And so in order to include something, we must exclude all else. And I think that it is this idea of exclusion, that is one. I think that the idea of evangelism, the crusading, the idea of universalism, which is common both to Christianity and to Islam, is also involved here. I think that our concept of time is also relevant.

Our concept of time is again a lineal concept, and it is only a lineal concept which can give you an idea as progress, which I find a very curious concept. But progress, which is basically a 17th or 18th century development, says that on this line--this beginning and end spectrum--that things continuously improve. So there is a beginning and end, a birth and death, this kind of thing. Now if you contrast that with the Asian concept of time which is cyclical, which deals with the way the seasons operate, so that February 1971 is not much different than February 871 or 1871 B.C., time continues. This gives us the concept of reincarnation and transmigration, that nothing is created or destroyed, not only physically, but also in terms of the spirit of the divine which manifests itself in many ways. We don't accept the multi-dimensionality of life. We don't accept our relationship to all that is living. This again makes a difference in our relationship to nature where we feel that we have the idea of conquest.

Conquest is not simply a political idea. We have the idea of control. You look in telephone directories and see how frequently the word "control" comes. You look at our present orientation in terms of the concept of problems, and you will find very few people who are nowadays able to go through one day without using the word "problem." In other words, the emphasis is on disharmony rather than harmony, and I think that it is the inter-relationship of these kinds of values which lead us to believe that our ideas are good for everyone and even in a discussion (and I don't care how right or left the group is) if someone disagrees, we feel that we have to convince them. So we say, "Well, why do you disagree?" instead of saying, "Very well, you disagree, that's fine." We can't do this.

We feel that we have this tremendous adulation of the scientific values, of objectivity, of impartiality, of nonemotionalism. So we dismiss their arguments by saying, "You are being emotional. You are being subjective. You are being prejudiced about this," instead of saying, "Of course a human being is not a machine. It is inconsistent and illogical and so am I." Much has been made sometimes that Asian society is not individual. It is not; that is true. But it is extremely personal, as you heard from the last statement here. And it is this different value system, which itself forms a kind of unity, but I believe a bankrupt one, that is involved. It is like language. We have this opposition to age. The newest, the most recent, is the best. No matter what my argument is, I can prevail over you by saying, "Recent research shows" and, immediately, whatever you say is finished. This is very useful for a consumer-oriented society, where you don't have to do your own creative work. So youth becomes a tremendous value in the society and newness. Damn the old. All you have to do is examine our vocabulary on age and you will see that words implying great age, "old-fashioned," "out of date," "obsolete," "archaic," are pejorative words toward age. Again, this is not a value that is sympathetically received in most Asian cultures. It is a large, large question that you pose.

EMENY. Let me just add a couple of things about the Vietnamese language. The word "I" does not exist in Vietnamese language, technically. Everything is termed in terms of a relationship. That goes back to what Dr. Spellman was saying about the sense of individuality. It ties in very much with the way the Vietnamese are themselves, because the survival of Vietnam as a nation is much more important than my own individual survival. It all ties in. It is ecological, thinking in terms of the balance of nature.

QUESTION. I'd like to address this to Dr. Spellman. He referred to Southeast Asia's traditional legal system as free, flexible, and merciful. Would you elaborate on what makes it free, merciful, and flexible?

SPELLMAN. Well, again, I tried to put a kind of a disclaimer at the beginning by indicating that I was not a specialist on Southeast Asia or particularly of Vietnam. I've spent the last fifteen years doing some studies of Asia. I am Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Windsor in Canada. I am in this sense making projections from the traditional legal system as I understand it, of India, and taking this through Burma as Indian influence moved, all the way to Cambodia, and to Indonesia. Now that system was largely based on customary law, rather than traditional law. There is no point in having written legislation where people don't read, for example. The first point about that law is that it is extremely decentralized and much of it is village-operated. Now I have done some work on the ancient political theory in this, and if you're really interested you can look at my book on Political Theory of Ancient India, which was published by the Oxford University Press in 1964. What I've tried to indicate is that because of the very heavy decentralization of law, first of all, there is no police. The enforcement of law is up to the people. If the law is not reasonable, then through their social behavior, through ostracism, through buying at shops, this kind of thing, people will not enforce the law. Therefore, laws fall, without any legislative process. It has only been very recently that it has been understood that the people make law. In the law books of Manu, the ancient Indian code, it says, "A thousand fools cannot declare what righteousness is, what law should be. One wise man can." There was no concept at this time that the majority makes right, although unfortunately that idea is in our own society. But that, of course, is the very basis of a lynch mob, in which everybody except one man is pretty agreeable as to what is going to be done. Here, you can't afford to enforce the laws which are very rigid. An example is a man in a caste situation who was accused of eating meat in a Hindu situation. When he came up before the Punjaid, before the village elders, he said, "I am accused of eating meat, but so does so-and-so, so does so-and-so, so does so-and-so," all of whom were very reputable people in the village. The decision of the Punjaid was to say, well, the man by accusing all these other people of eating meat is obviously very disturbed about this and we can't accept his testimony so we'll have to dismiss the case. The Buddhist texts, that is the Indian Buddhist texts in the 3rd century B.C., have a text called the Questions of Melinda in which a question is put to the king about a man who is not responsible for his crime, and they said, "What shall we do about this man?" and the answer is, "If he is not responsible for this, if he is insane, no blame is due to this man." Now this was long before these ideas ever came into Europe, as many ideas have come from these countries into Europe. The purpose of law is not guilt or innocence as it is in our legal system. We are not interested in who is guilty or who is innocent. We are interested in the harmony of the village, and the purpose of law is to provide harmony, to provide justice as we see it in our light, not as the Americans or the British legal system sees it. This system arises from very different concepts of the nature of man, and not the kind of thing that you work on in the West.


Last Updated Wednesday, March 17 2004 @ 08:02 PM MST; 5,823 Hits View Printable Version