Vietnam


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.’