February 12, 2009
Photo credit: Eddie Adams (AP)
(This is the first of a multi-part series debunking liberal media myths about the Vietnam War.)
The Photo That Lost the War?
It’s one of the most famous images of the 20th century. Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer Prize winning 1968 photograph of an execution on a Vietnam street has been reprinted and reenacted countless times. In the film Stardust Memories, Woody Allen’s depressed character decorates his kitchen with a colossal mural of the image, to illustrate his angst. A post-modern artist recreated the iconic image in Lego.
However, few know the true story behind the photograph, which some cultural critics claim, then and now, “helped America lose the war.”
While lecturing on college campuses to promote his book Stalking the Vietnam Myth, author H. Bruce Franklin discovered that most students “were convinced the original photo depicted a North Vietnamese or communist officer executing a South Vietnamese civilian prisoner.”
However, the executioner was the chief of the South Vietnamese Police — an American ally. The victim was a captured Vietcong insurgent whose comrades in arms had themselves been summarily executing anyone associated with the South Vietnamese and the Americans.
After killing the captured prisoner, the police chief told journalists, “Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamese friends. Now do you understand? Buddha will understand.”
The photograph helped make Eddie Adams famous, but he wished he’d never taken it. Due to its notoriety, the photo ruined the police chief’s life, turning him into an internationally hated (and misunderstood) villain for all time. Adams never forgave himself.
“The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?'”
The Girl In The Picture
An equally infamous photograph snapped during the Vietnam War depicts a little girl running, naked and terrified, from her bombed out village, her clothing burned from her body in the blast.
Most people believe her village was attacked by Americans. It was not.
In fact, the village was accidentally bombed by the Vietnamese Air Force, who were nearby targeting communist North Vietnamese fortifications. In other words, this was an “all-Vietnamese” fight. Even the photographer was Vietnamese. No Americans were involved.
Adding to the confusion: in 1996, a Methodist minister publicly approached Kim Phuc, the “girl in the picture” and asked her forgiveness for ordering the strike. The trouble is: this man had nothing to do with the bombing. He was a lowly soldier stationed miles away.
Whie such stories of reconciliation are undeniably moving, Kim’s public “forgiveness” of this confused man, “must be viewed with the realization that while she is free to insinuate anything she pleases about the countries which give her refuge and support, she cannot freely criticize the Communist government of her former homeland. Although a political refugee in Canada, her relatives still live in Viet Nam.”
The minister’s motives are less clear or noble, but seem to be a blend of self-loathing and self-promotion.
These and other phony tales of American “atrocities” mar the image of the United States at home and abroad. Since the Vietnam War is constantly held up by the anti-war Left as an example of a failed, “racist,” “imperialist” conflict which only ended thanks to the “peaceful” protests of “courageous” hippies, getting the facts right is tremendously important.
Stay tuned for the next installments in this series.
February 12, 2009
Southern California is home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. And that means we are very privileged to be able to eat at some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in the USA.
One of my favorite simple pleasures is a banh mi sandwich. What is a banh mi, you say?
First and foremost is the Vietnamese style baguette. Crispy on the outside and light on the inside. You can order a choice of meats, from roasted or BBQ pork, chicken, pate, sardines or even vegetarian.
The finishing and most crucial addition is the topping of pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cilantro and sliced jalapenos. Sometimes cucumbers slices are added. This gives the sandwich a balance of savory, sour, hot and sweet.
And the best part about a banh mi? The average price is about $2.50. With this economy you cannot beat that! My favorite banh mi shop is part of a chain called Lee’s Sandwiches, and is located in Alhambra. leesandwiches.com/2008/index.php
I have decided that in 2009 I am going to find and sample banh mi all over the area. The website Battle of the Banh Mi has a directory battleofthebanhmi.com/finding-banh-mi/banh-mi-directory/#more-13 of Vietnamese banh mi shops all over the United States, and a few international shops as well. I may have to take this quest on the road.
February 12, 2009
Nguyen Mai, a former Saigon\HCMC music professor, has helped preserve and popularise Vietnamese culture in the US, with her 36 brass string-zither.
Before 1975, Nguyen Mai taught traditional music and how to play traditional musical instruments, including the 36 brass string-zither in Ho Chi Chi City (previously known as Saigon).
After 1975, she re-settled in the US where she no longer gave music classes.
However, after moving to Orange County in California, US where thousands of Vietnamese lived, she was invited to teach the traditional music of Vietnam for the Vietnamese community there.
One of Mai’s friends brought her a brass string zither from Vietnam, and she started teaching Vietnamese traditional music right in her own garage.
Mai and Nguyen Chau, another musical professor, founded the Lac Hong music group in 1989, with the goal of offering more lectures on the different traditional instruments of Vietnam.
With only 10 students at first, Lac Hong now has more than 100 trainees in different classes, including a chorus singing class for children, a chorus class for adults and a traditional dancing class.
And class and rehearsals are now conducted on the second floor of a small shop in Little Saigon in Orange County, California.
On Saturdays, the rehearsal room is filled with melodious sounds from the traditional Vietnamese two chord guitar, the monochord and the 16-chord zither.
Mai confided to the Los Angeles Times newspaper that through being a music teacher, she has found that all the Vietnamese have love a for their traditional music. That has given her more determination to preserve Vietnamese traditional music in the US.
To date, Lac Hong is the biggest group in the US which is performing traditional Vietnamese music and arts.
Currently, two teachers are in charge of teaching folk singing to children from 4 years old upward, and every student is allowed to study at least one musical instrument.
And many of the students continue their study of the traditional Vietnamese musical instruments offered by Lac Hong even after they start their university studies.
Students do not only learn how to play traditional Vietnaese musical instruments, they also, step by step, learn about its culture.
Translated by Mai Huong
Clive Owen has bank troubles in The International, but the people in Owl and the Sparrow tell us more about the world.
February 12, 2009
We have seen the future in Clive Owen’s face, and that future is bleak. The now-46-year-old English actor starred in one of the best films of 2006 (or of any year), Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian Children of Men, where his job was to safeguard the future of humanity. The present is likewise grim for Owen’s categorically violent characters in Frank Miller’s Sin City, Spike Lee’s Inside Man, the Driver series, and Will Graham’s British crime pic I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, as well as in Jack Manfred’s sour Croupier, Owen’s breakthrough role. It’s difficult to imagine him in a romantic comedy.
It has to do with his physical presence. The strength and resolve of Owen’s typical characters show through, but they always take a back seat to his essential bone-weariness. His is not a “hang-dog” expression, it’s “hang it all.” Owen’s big-screen masculinity is of the scruffy, anti-James-Bondian variety, which is why, with all due respect to Daniel Craig, Clive Owen should be the current James Bond for these post-martini times, disillusioned and case-hardened and in need of some sleep he’s never going to get. Punctuate it with a cigarette and a two-day beard, and we’ve got the basic Owen protagonist.
The International begins with a medium close-up of Owen standing outside the Berlin central train station, looking like a drowned rat. It grows nastier by leaps and bounds for Louis Salinger (Owen) as the increasingly familiar story unfolds. If only director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run; Heaven; Perfume) and writer Eric Singer had cooked up something a bit fresher than the old “malevolent clandestine superpower bent on taking over the world” scenario, à la Syriana, Traffic, or Goldfinger.
The laconic Salinger is an Interpol agent investigating major corporate skullduggery. IBBC, aka the International Bank of Business and Commerce, appears to be involved with assassinations, arms trading, intelligence gathering, destabilizing governments, and ultra-violent cover-ups of same from its fortress-like stronghold in Luxembourg, where sinister men in suits glower over computer screens and dispatch killers all over the globe. This bank has more armed goons than ATMs — don’t even think about complaining about a service charge.
There’s no Ernst Stavro Blofeld behind IBBC, just a pasty-faced, shaven-headed CEO named Skarssen (Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen). Skarssen eschews fluffy white kittens — he lives quietly with his family. His Hitler-Youth kids help him make his cold-blooded decisions. Among his witticisms: “The true value of a conflict is the debt it produces.” ICCB is evidently modeled on BCCI, a similarly naughty real-life leviathan bank of the ’80s and ’90s — but verisimilitude alone cannot save this film.
The MacGuffin of the piece, the “Vulcan Guidance System,” has to do with an Italian family of arms manufacturers named Calvini, which gives the producers the chance to shoot spiffy second-unit stuff in Milan — also in Istanbul, the environs of Berlin, and New York City — while Salinger and his adversaries tussle over the dingus. And of course there’s an indecipherable old man, played by veteran I.O.M. Armin Mueller-Stahl, who holds all the secrets in his head. Just to round things out and provide The International with the whisper of a potential love interest, a New York assistant DA (huh?) named Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) pops up from time to time in various bits of business. But she’s strictly an afterthought.
As previously demonstrated, Owen can take a punch. The movie’s centerpiece, really the only reason to sit through it, occurs when Salinger goes into the Guggenheim Museum in New York on the trail of “Sherwood” (Brian F. O’Byrne), ICCB’s number one assassin. All of a sudden, a small army of hit men open fire on the Interpol man and his NYPD pal (Jack McGee) and turn the majestic Guggenheim atrium, with its curved 20th-century-modern ramp, into a Wild West shooting gallery. It’s the most spectacular “destruction” of a New York cultural landmark since Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Jules Munshin made their bones with a dinosaur at the American Museum of Natural History in On the Town. (Tykwer’s bullet storm was reportedly shot on a specially built set in Germany to stand in for the Guggenheim.)
One wonders how a filmmaker like the talented Tykwer, who has delved deeply into philosophical drama in such films as Heaven, The Princess and the Warrior, and Winter Sleepers — not to mention the techno-fueled destiny-mobile Run, Lola, Run — got saddled with a meat-and-potatoes screenplay so atypical of him. Take away the Guggenheim shootout and we’ve at least got Clive Owen at half throttle. Take away Owen and there’s nothing left but the tired old mystic cabal of sadistic sorcerers. Maybe the US government could send bailout money to this movie. Put me down for a dime.
Things aren’t nearly so frantic in Vietnam, scene of filmmaker Stephane Gauger’s charming little fable, Owl and the Sparrow — although cash and the lack of it once again drive the plot. But where the money trail in The International leads to clichés, the low-key exploits of a little girl named Thuy are arguably as unpredictable as a thunderstorm in the South China Sea.
Ten-year-old orphan Thuy — played with a beguiling mixture of toughness and vulnerability by first-timer Pham Thi Han — runs away from the factory where her “uncle” exploits her and other child laborers, and heads for nearby Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City, although no one there bothers with that name), where she joins the multitude of homeless kids selling flowers and trinkets on the street. Running parallel to her story are the lonely lives of Lan, a pretty flight attendant living in an HCMC hotel (Cat Ly) and Hai (Le The Lu), a gentle young man tending the animals at the city zoo. Fate intends these three to come together, and director Gauger sees to it with a light, wistful touch plus a maximum of Vietnamese local color.
Films from and/or about Vietnam on American screens are rare as phoenix tails. American-made Owl and the Sparrow, exec-produced by Timothy Linh Bui (Three Seasons) and Ham Tran (Journey from the Fall), takes full advantage of director Gauger’s Viet-American point of view (half Vietnamese, Gauger was born in Saigon) and his apparent dedication to telling true-to-life stories of ordinary Vietnamese. Owl and the Sparrow opens Friday at the Sundance Kabuki as part of the San Francisco Film Society’s “SFFS Screen” series. It’s worth the trip across the bay.