Vietnam

It is hard to believe that 50 years have passed since the assassination, on this day in Memphis, of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His life – and his death – have framed much of my own life, as a schoolchild and law student in Chicago, as a law clerk once struck with awe when his widow, Coretta Scott King, walked past, as an attorney representing poor persons charged with federal crimes, and as a professor, first at Martin Luther King Jr. Hall, now very near King’s native Atlanta, and as a scholar of human rights, human security, and the laws of war and peace. King’s influence is evident in my recent borrowing of his “arc of justice” metaphor and in my many posts about him and the movement of which he was a part.

To commemorate this anniversary, I reprint here one such post, published in 2008:

What Dr. King did

Backlash has been part and parcel of decades-old struggle to set aside this day in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., born 79 years ago this month. Most years backlash has come from the right, often from elements once aligned with segregation. (On that point, see this excellent op-ed.)
This year questions have come from a different direction. A Democratic presidential candidate has indicated that King was a talker, that it was President Lyndon B. Johnson who delivered civil rights to people of color in the United States. What was said:

Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done. … The power of that dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president ….

In view of this claim, it seems appropriate to recall at least some of what Dr. King did — not only through the act of talking, but also through the acts of submitting to arrest, of marching, of putting himself before hostile crowds.
What Dr. King did, after he won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize (above), was to act upon his understanding that civil rights depended on peace.
What Dr. King did was this: he defied the President to whom, that 1 candidate said, King owed everything. King opposed the Vietnam War, and in so doing, spoke against war itself. The 1st audio-visual item below, a brief video pastiche, demonstrates the nature and scope of his opposition. The 2d audio-visual item below, a longer audio clip of a sermon in which King explained his opposition, found evil in the sending of poor people of all races to kill another nation of poor people:

We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school room. So we watch them in brutal solidarity, burning the huts of a poor village. But we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago or Atlanta. Now, I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

Recalling prior encounters with segregationist sheriffs, King continued:

Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its praise when I was saying, ‘Be non-violent toward Bull Connor’; when I was saying, ‘Be non-violent toward Jim Clark.’ There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward Jim Clark,’ but will curse and damn you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children.’

What Dr. King did is evident in this timeline:

March 2, 1965: “King asserted that the war in Vietnam was ‘accomplishing nothing’ and called for a negotiated settlement.”
March 25, 1967: “King led his first anti-war march in Chicago … and reinforced the connection between war abroad and injustice at home: ‘’The bombs in Vietnam explode at home—they destroy the dream and possibility for a decent America.'”
April 4, 1967: In a speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam,” King spoke out against the war in front of “3,000 people at Riverside Church in New York City.”
April 15, 1967: Despite the NAACP’s resistance to his linkage of peace and civil rights, King, along with Dr. Benjamin Spock (with whom Coretta Scott King had been marching for years) and 10,000 others, demonstrated against war in a march, pictured at right, to the United Nations headquarters in New York.
April 30, 1967: King gave the sermon quoted above at his church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta.
March 31, 1968: In a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., King called Vietnam ‘one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world.’
Four days later King died, felled by an assassin’s bullet — 4 days, that is, after Johnson announced both that he he would begin to end the war and that he would not seek to remain President after the November election, 4 days after the President had yielded to antiwar entreaties of King and others.
What Dr. King did, through word and deed, was to help force a President to hasten the cause of peace on a troubled planet.
It took a dreamer to get it done.


Anyone interested in exploring, at this half-century mark, the conflict waged on a then-partitioned Southeast Asian coastal land, Vietnam, ought not to stop at the 2017 televised PBS series. Also meriting attention is a less heralded, but entirely worthwhile Public Radio International podcast.

Called “LBJ’s War”, this multi-part podcast focuses on Executive Branch machinations after the United States became involved, siding with the South (Republic of Vietnam) against the North (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) – and against the Viet Cong, an armed ally of the North that operated in the South.

It begins in the fall of 1963, when Lyndon Baines Johnson assumed the U.S. Presidency after the November 22 assassination of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, and soon confronted the question of whether to continue support for South Vietnam, where the incumbent President, Ngo Dinh Diem, himself had been assassinated on November 2. It ends 5 years later – well before the last Americans fled as Saigon fell, but after Johnson’s surprise March 1968 announcement that he would not seek another presidential term.

Most notable is the way that the podcast recounts these and other key events (including, of course, the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution and the 1968 Tet Offensive). As much as possible, it uses words spoken on cables, in taped phone calls and conversations, and, in the case of Lady Bird Johnson, entries in an audio-recorded diary. Coming to life are her voice, that of her husband, and those of others – among them two Georgians, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

Well worth a listen.

(credit for photo captioned “President Lyndon B. Johnson awards the Distinguished Service Cross to First Lieutenant Marty A. Hammer”)

nguyenGeorgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, for which I serve as director, will host a roundtable on the legacies of the U.S.-Vietnam War as part of next week’s visit here by Viet Thanh Nguyen, a University of Southern California professor whose first novel, The Sympathizer, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

nothingEntitled “Vietnam/War/Memory/Justice: A Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen,” our roundtable will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. this Tuesday, February 14, in the Larry Walker Room on the 4th floor of the law school’s Dean Rusk Hall.

The topic of the roundtable is drawn from Nguyen’s 2016 work, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, which itself was nominated for the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. (Nguyen’s newest book, a short-story collection titled The Refugees, was published yesterday.) In Nothing Ever Dies, Nguyen writes:

“Memory, like war, is often asymmetrical.”

The same may be said of justice; in particular, of efforts to right the wrongs done during armed conflict and similar extreme violence. These issues of transitional justice, memory, and war will be explored in the roundtable, at which Nguyen will be joined by:

tiana-mTiana S. Mykkeltvedt, Georgia Law alumna, member of the Dean Rusk International Law Center Council, and partner at the Atlanta law firm Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, who was flown out of Vietnam as an orphan in April 1975 in what came to be known as Operation Babylift; and

amann► Yours truly, Diane Marie Amann, Associate Dean for International Programs & Strategic Initiatives and Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law at Georgia Law, who also serves as the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict.

Roundtable space is limited, and registration, available here, is recommended. For more information, contact ruskintlaw@uga.edu.

Our Center is especially pleased to sponsor this event, given that our namesake, the late Dean Rusk, a Georgia Law professor, and served as U.S. Secretary of State during the first years of the Vietnam War. The Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Vietnamese American Bar Association of Georgia, and Georgia Law’s Asian Law Students Association are cosponsoring the roundtable. It will be the last in a series of Global Georgia events hosted by other university units, most notably the Department of Comparative Literature and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts:

► 4 p.m. Monday, February 13, in the university Chapel, Nguyen will deliver the 3d Annual Betty Jean Craige Lecture of the Department of Comparative Literature, entitled “Nothing Ever Dies: Ethical Memory and Radical Writing in The Sympathizer.” For information, contact Professor Peter D. O’Neill at pon@uga.edu.

► 6-7 p.m. Sunday, February 12, at Avid Bookshop, 493 Prince Avenue in downtown Athens, a book-signing of The Refugees.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes)

Today’s the 50th anniversary of “Daisy.” That’s the 60-minute TV advertisement in which a toddler‘s miscount to 10 morphs into a military backcount to 1; simultaneously, her right eye shapeshifts into a mushroom cloud whose explosion wreaks devastation. (Video above.)

“Daisy” helped propel President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had taken office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy less than a year earlier, to a landslide November 1964 win against GOP challenger Barry Goldwater. It’s worth noting for more than that, though. One wonders, for instance, whether the powerful symbolism inspired later Flower Power protests (protests against the escalation of Vietnam, undertaken by post-election President Johnson), not to mention masthead_posterLorraine Schneider’s iconic sunflower poster (right).

Even filtered through the lens of campaign bluster, moreover, the core sentence in “Daisy” has contemporary relevance:

‘We must either love each other, or we must die.’