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My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later (Part One)

A REMF Way Out In The Front (A Personal Essay)

Click here to go to My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later, PART TWO: "Memory, Writing and Politics"
 

Each of us carried in his heart a separate war which in many ways was totally different . . . we also shared a common sorrow; the immense sorrow of war.
                                        - Bao Ninh, The Sorrow Of War

It’s hard to believe that 50 years ago I was a 19-year-old kid in Vietnam sitting on a mountaintop near the Cambodian border in the forests west of Pleiku trying to locate equally young North Vietnamese radio operators with a piece of WWII RDF equipment I’d been told was obsolete. I was part of a two-man team, working in conjunction with two other two-man teams; our job was to listen for enemy broadcasts, which were sent in coded five-letter groups of Morse code. Sometimes we searched and located random operators. Other times, we’d get an intel lead on when an operator would come up. Using the silver-alloy rotating antenna of the obsolete PRD1, we obtained a bearing that was then plotted on a map; hopefully, the three bearings would provide a tight fix and locate the operator. We’d give the map coordinate to division G2, who would assign some death-dealing operation to search and destroy whatever was on or near the coordinate. Throughout it all, I remained relatively safe, while the men I most respect in this business of war -- the mostly drafted infantrymen, or “grunts” -- did the dirty work “humping the boonies” with weapons and packs. I went to Vietnam on a troop ship (a rust-bucket named the USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey) in August 1966 with an Army Security Agency company; once we arrived in division base camp in Pleiku, seven of us were assigned to a tactical DF team with, first, the 25th Division, then the 4th Division. I later spent some time at a cushy strategic DF site in Camrahn Bay.

Aboard the WWII-era USNS Hugh J. Gaffey headed under the Golden Gate to Vietnam, August 1966Aboard the WWII-era USNS Hugh J. Gaffey headed under the Golden Gate to Vietnam, August 1966

In one operation, our teams hunted down an operator known to us as SOJ. It took us 30 days. Each day, the operator would use a different frequency and call sign; it always amazed us clueless kids that G2 Division Intelligence knew this. Sure enough, at the prescribed time, there he was. First thing, we’d locate our coordinates on the map by sighting on road intersections or hilltops. Our team sergeant inside a box on the back of a three-quarter-ton truck at base camp would plot our bearings and, hopefully, get that tight “fix.” The NVA radio operator we were looking for was attached to what was presumed to be a large dug-in unit HQ; the operator was transmitting to a larger HQ over the Cambodian border. They knew we were looking for him, so every day this operator with a leg-key and a comrade with a bicycle generator would go to a different location at some distance from his unit. Over 30-days, a pattern developed, and G2 figured where the dug-in unit must be. Some combination of long range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP), 105mm or 155mm howitzers, F4 Phantom jets and the ultimate weapon, infantry grunts, located the unit and destroyed it and all the soldiers in it -- presumably including my counterpart radio operator, whose Morse key characteristics we had developed a sensitivity to. A large arms cache was discovered. My comrades and I were each given an Army Commendation Medal for the operation. Today, I actually feel pretty rotten about my part in all this. As I’m wont to do these days, I like to ask anyone who expresses anything positive about the war, can you tell me anything -- anything! -- that the Vietnamese did against us here in the United States. Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh guerrillas were our ally in World War Two against the Japanese who had driven the colonial French army into its barracks as the French government collapsed and collaborated in Europe. Terrorist acts? Not a hint. Well they were communists, weren’t they? Yes, but they also quoted the US Declaration of Independence at the end of WWII, hoping the US would support their liberation from French colonialism. It was not to be; we supported French re-colonization, which led to 30 years of terrible war on the Vietnamese. And a US retreat based on the war's ultimate immorality.

My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later (Part Two)

Memory, Writing and Politics

 
Click here to go to My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later, PART ONE: "A REMF Way Out In The Front"
 
                                                                  MEMORY, WRITING and POLITICS
 
That writer’s place inside the imaginative mind where things rise from the unconscious and find their way outward to the fingertips and onto the keyboard to become words -- that place is neither fact nor fiction. This is a fact. Donald Trump has made this fact more clear than maybe anyone ever has in modern memory. In that writer’s place, I’ve always employed Bao Ninh’s character Kien from The Sorrow Of War and the ill-fated 27th NVA Battalion as stand-ins for the unit I helped locate for death and destruction. I see the lush terrain of Vietnam’s Central Highlands now in my mind as an opening master shot in a movie. The camera is looking out the open door of a Huey in the early dawn hours. There is actually no door at all on the chopper, and cool air is rushing into the passenger compartment where I sit on a canvas seat with no seatbelt holding my M14 rifle. (In 1966, REMFs still had long, wood-stocked M14s.) Everything is green and gold from the rising sun. I’m stunned looking at the winding Se San River like a golden snake slithering through the forest reaching to the horizon. This was probably the most amazing, most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. The image and moment is seared into the creases of my mind.

DF team member and jeep at a firebase, in the Central Highlands and Chinook lifting a load on a slingDF team member and jeep at a firebase in the Central Highlands, and Chinook lifting a load on a sling

Earlier that morning, I’d leaped up onto the top of our three-quarter-ton truck’s box, and as an olive-drab behemoth, two-prop Chinook slowly lowered itself down toward me, I’d slapped a metal ring onto a hook below the massive copter’s belly. Out the door of the Huey, over the Se San River, I watched the truck with its box containing maps and DF paraphernalia trailing in the wind on a sling beneath the Chinook; a jeep and trailer had been driven inside the belly of the beast. Our mobile DF operation was headed toward the border as part of a huge operation to engage and clear the NVA streaming down from the north via the Ho Chi Minh trail and into the Highlands. There is an amazing sense of power one gets -- especially as a kid -- from being a small part of such a powerful and immense army of men. I realize now we were looking for young Vietnamese men like Kien and the 27th Battalion.

American Conservatives Love to Bash Canadian Health Care — But U.S. Corporations Love It

So do Canadians, for the last almost half century:

 

Canada's affordable, efficient and widely popular single-payer system saves millions for U.S. corporations. That's the main reason many of them shifted production into Canada. But if they know Canada's system is so good, why aren't executives of the parent companies here in the US lobbying for it?

To read this story by Dave Lindorff, please go to Salon.com

Neurology Study Reveals What We Already Know: People of Color Get Worse Healthcare

Maybe one day we’ll spend more energy addressing racism instead of continuing to prove it exists

 

In the most recent issue of Neurology, Dr. Altaf Saadi and colleagues reveal the disheartening news that African Americans and Hispanic Americans receive lower quality neurologic care than their white counterparts.

Analyzing data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from 2006-2013, they found that Black patients were 30% less likely to see an outpatient neurologist even after adjusting for social factors such as insurance coverage. Hispanic patients were 40% less likely.

They looked at neurologic diseases such as stroke, headache, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy. According to the CDC, strokes kill over 130,000 Americans each year, about 5% of deaths. Strokes are also the leading cause of long-term disability. Furthermore, the risk of stroke is nearly twice as high for Black Americans as opposed to whites. Yet, despite higher rates of stroke, Black Americans are seeing neurologists, the experts on strokes, less.

The authors postulate that there are likely simultaneous factors. The first factor they cite is low health literacy. Not only are patients unaware of all the possible follow up care that can prevent another stroke or minimize the impact of a recent one, folks might not even recognize the symptoms of stroke, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease to begin with.

Folks of color are more likely to have their care across more than one healthcare system making it difficult for the primary care doctor, the emergency room doctor, the neurologist, and the hospital doctor to coordinate their care. If you live in the Southeastern United States, the number of neurologic specialists is far lower than anywhere else in the country.

And finally, the impact of implicit bias and stereotyping cannot be underestimated. Though most doctors are well intentioned and would like to be “color-blind” study after study has shown that we have also absorbed the subtle messages that society sends us that folks of color are inferior or less deserving of care. As this study points out, even at high volume specialty sites, Black and Hispanic patients get delayed care compared to whites.

But perhaps the most distressing part of this article is that time and resources were put towards it at all. We already know that Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, get lower quality care and that they die younger because of it. David Hatcher, former Surgeon General reports that from 1991-2000, 880,000 excess deaths could have been averted had the health of Black Americans matched that of whites.

Hounding Trump and Trumping Up Russia as America's New Enemy

Dave Lindorff and Kevin Zeese on Sputnik Radio's 'Loud & Clear' with host Brian Becker

Sputnik Radio's 'Loud&Clear' with host Brian Becker (click on the image to hear the segment with Lindorff and Zeese)Sputnik Radio's 'Loud&Clear' with host Brian Becker (click on the image to hear the segment with Lindorff and Zeese)

Dems Doom 2018 Chances by Labeling Trump a Russian Puppet, not Just Another Sleazy Plutocrat

Chasing red squirrels in DC

 

Democratic politicians, aided and abetted by their journalist supporters in publications like the Washington Post, New York Times and at electronic news organizations like CNN, MSNBC and NPR, are playing a dangerous game focusing their anti-Trump “resistance” energies on trying to revivify the moribund Cold War with Russia and China.

You hear almost nothing out of Democratic Party establishment figures about the continuing economic crisis facing most average and poor Americans, who continue to struggle trying to get by on lower paying jobs than what they had before the Great Recession (supposedly ended!), or working at part-time jobs, living from paycheck to paycheck while the rich get richer, and having the traditional tickets out of their family’s predicament -- a quality public school education and then college for their kids, a home they can finance and ultimately own, and a secure support system for their parents, and eventually themselves when they reach retirement age -- undermined and threatened with death by a thousand cuts -- all taken from them.

Instead, the American public hears from Democrats and a liberal media how President Trump is in some kind of conspiracy with the evil Russians, who we’re told insidiously helped destroy America’s election system, handing the presidency to Trump instead of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

There are so many things wrong with this picture.

First off, Russia these days, almost three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is not America’s enemy -- something that at least half of Americans understand instinctively, including most of those who voted for Trump in November. 86,000 US tourists and business people visited Russia in 2015, part of some 33 million who visited the country from around the globe to make it the ninth-most-visited country in the world.

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Forbes magazine, when tensions between the US and Russia were high amid Democratic Party charges that Russia was trying to throw the election to Trump last August, published an article reporting that billions of investment dollars were flowing from the US into Russia from a Fortune 500 list of America’s biggest firms, including PepsiCo, Procter&Gamble, McDonald's, Mondelez International, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson as well as resource companies like Cargill, Alcoa, and General Electric.

Russia, let us not forget, has been keeping the primarily US-owned and funded ISS space station staffed with its Soyuz rocket ferries, while the US flounders, trying to find the funding to develop a reliable transport system of its own following the forced retirement of the ill-conceived space shuttle.

US Values, Moral Accommodation and Remembering Vietnam

A Popular Culture Essay

 
The past two days were a roller-coaster for me in the national struggle for meaning in the realm of war and peace. First, I was talking with a friend about his conscientious objector status specifically to the Vietnam War. This was early in the war, and he made it under the wire. Soon, draft boards realized they better stop giving CO status to those morally opposing a specific war, lest they encourage a groundswell of opposition among potential combatants that could undermine an unpopular war like the one the US government chose to unleash on the Vietnamese. The war really began in 1945 when President Truman betrayed our WWII ally, the Vietnamese, and supported re-colonization by the French.

Senator John McCain and documentary filmmaker Ken BurnsSenator John McCain and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns

Later that night, I was part of an hour-long group phone call of fellow Vietnam veterans and friends in an organization called Full Disclosure. The group works to counter the government’s well-funded 13-year propaganda project to clean up the image of the Vietnam War; it emphasizes individual heroism and passes out badges and plaques to veterans. Members of Full Disclosure are very concerned right now about the upcoming Ken Burns 10-week PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War. Trying to get any kind of influence with Burns or members of his team on how the war is to be represented to Americans in 2017 is an uphill struggle.

Following the Full Disclosure phone call, I watched Mel Gibson’s excruciating film Hacksaw Ridge, about a CO medic who refused to even touch a rifle and saved 75 men from certain death in a horrific battle on the island of Okinawa in May 1945. I find Mel Gibson to be a repugnant lout; but my CO friend told me the film was a must-see. The husband of a gay Vietnam veteran friend who was a Navy corpsman with a Marine infantry unit in Vietnam also told me the film was good and how it reminded him of his husband’s experiences in Vietnam. (My medic friend felt no need to personally sit through Gibson’s gore fest.) Like the protagonist of Hacksaw Ridge, my friend refused to carry a weapon and saved men with sucking chest wounds and mangled and bleeding legs. He had been assured by a Navy recruiter he would be sent to journalism school, but Navy leaders did not need young men to assemble facts and information on the war; they needed what is historically known as cannon fodder, specifically cannon fodder able to keep other men alive. As cannon fodder, my friend's sexual preference was irrelevant.

Mr. Heron

 
It’s really very simple,
How things are going to change.
 
We learn what we need to know by watching
How Mr. heron stands in the marsh.
 
He stands until the tide ebbs
To the point where a large fish
 
Leaps free
As if tossed up by the water
 
In a floppy arc.
And then Mr. Heron stirs
 
Like a business man
In a dark suit,
 
Lifting himself slowly on wings
That never hurry.
 
And then you turn to me and say,
He looks sad.
 
Yes, it is much sadder than beautiful
To watch him fly away.
 
 
--Gary Lindorff
 
garylindorff.wordpress.com

No US War on North Korea

An optimistic perspective on a scary crisis

 

North Korea is threatening to destroy the US with its thus far largely undeliverable and sometimes unexplodable nuclear weapons, while the US, after an embarrassing navigational "mishap" that saw it steaming in the opposite direction, has successfully dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier battle group to a position reportedly within "strike range" of North Korea (albeit actually still in the South China Sea near the Philippines, some 1200 miles distant from North Korea). Now President Trump is threatening a possible attack on that country if it won't halt its nuclear weapons program.

So is the Korean War, which never really ended, going to be reactivated, as scare stories are now warning?

While I often find myself the pessimist in these kinds of crises, given the penchant for US presidents to turn to war as a default foreign policy option, I'm guessing that won't happen in this case, and for the same reason I don't think we will see US troops confronting the determined ethnic Russian secessionists in eastern Ukraine.

It's clear that for years the imperialist policy of the US government, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, has been to create chaos in regions of the world from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America, the better to control uppity countries like Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil, whose leaders try to buck or stand up to US dictates. But it's one thing to overthrow a government and decapitate its leadership in a place like Libya or Syria, where no powerful state is located nearby to defend that country. It's altogether another to take on a country that lies right on the border of another nuclear power, as does Ukraine and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

There was nobody to come to Col. Gaddafi's aid when US-led NATO forces attacked his government, backing rebels seeking his overthrow, and left the country a chaotic mess, which it has remained now for six years. And until Russia stepped in, the same was true of US backing for Islamic rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Basher Al-Assad. Ukraine was something of an exception, with the US backing a coup in 2014 that ousted the country's elected pro-Russian president, installing in his place a pro-US regime, despite its bordering Russia. My sense is that US warmongers still thought Russia was a backwards mess in 2014, incapable of standing up and with a dysfunctional military. When Russia acted, though, and made it clear, with the annexation of Crimea and with material support of ethnic Russians in breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk, that it would brook no departure of Ukraine into NATO's fold, the US backed off, despite plenty of bluster from the Obama White House and its laughably inept Secretary of State John Kerry.

The USS Carl Vinson, somewhere in the Pacific...or the Indian OceanThe USS Carl Vinson, somewhere in the Pacific...or the Indian Ocean
 

I'm predicting that the same thing will happen in the case of North Korea (which borders both China and Russia). The Trump administration may threaten to attack, but the bottom line is that a US attack on North Korea, or even a so-called "surgical strike" on its nuclear weapons development facility or a special forces attack on its leader, Kim Jong-un, would be viewed by China's government as a mortal threat to their country's national security, just as Russia views any effort to turn Ukraine into a US puppet and NATO member as a mortal threat to itself.

Two Men Who Made Their Mark On History

Truth defenders

 

One man enhanced the legacy of a legend revered around the world.

Accomplishments of the other man include his involvement in a seminal court battle where the trial judge issued a pivotal ruling about racism that sparked enraged denials among authorities in that nation.

These two men made historic marks that had wide ranging impact in the countries that each adopted as their home.

While both of these men lived over 5,000-miles apart, they shared many similarities.

Both men experienced poisonous smacks from British colonial racism. Both men spent time in America. The civil rights/freedom struggles of African-Americans influenced both men. And, both men died recently, just days apart.

These two men are: Ngugi Githuka and Darcus Howe.
 
Ngugi Githuka talks with tourists outside Mandela House Museum. LBWPhotoNgugi Githuka talks with tourists outside Mandela House Museum. LBWPhoto

Historian Githuka often worked as a tour guide in Johannesburg, South Africa. Influential activist turned journalist Darcus Howe made his mark London, the capital of Great Britain.

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Here's the link to prairie radio radical Mike Caddell's Radio Free Kansas program, where you can hear the podcast of the whole group interview that was conducted on Saturday, May 8.

Also, listen to Dave Lindorff on Chris Cook's Gorilla Radio on CFEV Radio in Victoria, Canada.

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