What Vietnam tells us about the Middle East

Last night in at a gallery in Peekskill, N.Y., I heard the artist Sheilah Rechtschaffer talk about paintings she made that were inspired by several recent visits to Vietnam, where she taught art and her husband Bert did voluntary dentistry. The whole time I thought about the Middle East.

Rechtschaffer showed slides of Vietnamese children and the paintings they made. Innocent pictures of water buffaloes and rivers and people smiling with giant red lips. She showed slides of young Vietnamese men going off to bakery school. She showed slides of a man her husband’s age– in his early 70s. The man had been in the war; and he was grinning from ear to ear.

When she showed the children’s pictures, I could only think of the children’s pictures Susan Johnson has shown from Gaza. Look at them for an instant. They are all about murder and brutality. When Rechtschaffer showed the young men going off to baking school, I thought about the young Iraqis and Palestinians whose lives are purely political, and shadowed by violence.

Of course it was once that way in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese were savage people, inhuman, they hated our way of life. They tortured American soldiers and burned collaborators. They were intensely political people wearing black pyjamas who built a jungle warrior infrastucture, the Ho Chi Minh trail,  and worshiped Ho Chi Minh.

And look at the place now.

When Rechtschaffer was helping her husband at the improvised dental clinic and she forgot to change her rubber gloves from one child to the next, someone would drift up with a smile and point out her mistake. “Bert said he would take any one of them home in a flash [as an assistant] because they were so cooperative….”

Yes it’s a Communist country. There are red stars on all the Heineken cans. We were fighting Communism, right?

“Going back there as Americans after 35 years, we never never never had any malice or hostility toward us,” Rechtschaffer said.

“We were in Hue. That was where the Tet offensive happened. I thought, many many many people here don’t have parents, or grandparents. But you wouldn’t go there. I’m sure they had many tragic personal histories. Which they were reluctant to share with you. Because they wanted to honor you. And by getting into that, they would think they would be offending you.”

All this could be true in the Middle East. In less than 35 years. People everywhere hate occupation. We need to get out of the people’s way. We need to respect a great international principle: self-determination. Let us learn from our own mistakes.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 11 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. hophmi says:

    “We need to respect a great international principle: self-determination.”

    I agree. But you seem to believe in it for some people and not for others.

    • Bumblebye says:

      Uh, no, mr dimbulb. It’s YOU who does not believe in self-determination for the Palestinian people, as you seem to think that would somehow disappear the Zionist state.

  2. Tal says:

    hophmi is right. If you are truly seeking for peace and justice you should respect the right of the jewish people in the land of Israel/Palestine for self determination. The “one state solution” is a facade for stealing this right from the jews. The only just solution is the 2 states solution with controlled ROR.

    • annie says:

      the right of the jewish people in the land of Israel/Palestine for self determination.

      right? what right?

    • cjs2 says:

      Even where the one state solution argument fails to sway people completely in its direction, look how it helps move the “centrist” position toward justice. This Zionist is now talking about ROR. Keep up the one state pressure and let’s see what else comes…

    • Chaos4700 says:

      Because only Jews have rights to property? Really?

    • eljay says:

      >> hophmi is right. If you are truly seeking for peace and justice you should respect the right of the jewish people in the land of Israel/Palestine for self determination.

      hophmi is not right. What is worthy of respect – what allows for peace and justice – is people in a region deciding to self-determine as a nation and respecting the rights of all individuals in that nation.

      What is not worthy of respect – even if it is an undeniable reality – is:
      - foreigners mass-migrating to a region;
      - establishing a religion-supremacist state in the aftermath of ethnic cleansing, expansionism, colonization and destruction;
      - failing to respect the rights of all individuals in that state; and
      - “growing” that state by means of an ON-GOING campaign of aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction and murder.

      Israel as the non-aggressor, democratic and egalitarian state of all Israelis is acceptable to me. (And I can only speak for myself.) Israel as a supremacist “Jewish state” that continues to oppress, steal, colonize and destroy – while all the while playing the hapless “victim” – is an utter disgrace.

    • RoHa says:

      “the right of the jewish people in the land of Israel/Palestine for self determination. The “one state solution” is a facade for stealing this right from the jews”

      The Jews do not have that right qua Jews, so it cannot be stolen from them. If they have that right, they have it as residents of Israel/Palestine, in common with all the other residents of Israel/Palestine.

  3. nmi says:

    Good entry, though a fundamental point is not mentioned. The people of Vietnam exist today and have a future because they violently expelled the invaders.

    • annie says:

      The people of Vietnam exist today and have a future because they violently expelled the invaders.

      with more than a little back up from china

      • nmi says:

        I can’t deny that but I really don’t think it was the deciding factor. When the US death toll reached 58,000 it was time to say uncle.

        The Iraqi resistance certainly had no great power backing but also expelled the US, through the strategic use of small, inexpensive IED’s which prevented the U.S. from operating outside the Green Zone. The Palestinians can certainly learn much from these examples, in my opinion.