Friday, November 30, 2012

What were we fighting for?

I believe we were fighting for the cause of freedom in Vietnam - just as our fathers fought for freedom in World War II. And freedom always wins - eventually. It's hard-wired in the human DNA. The thugs that usurped freedom using violence - Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia, Mao in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Pol Pot in Cambodia, etc. - by murdering tens of millions of their countrymen in an attempt to force centralized government control over the lives of their people all ultimately lost to the forces of freedom.

Today, freedom is under assault here in the United States. Everyday, more and more power is concentrated politically in Washington and economically on Wall Street. The casualty is individual freedom. It's loss has not been sudden and shocking but subtle and, at times, imperceptible. Who is the enemy now? Is it the devil as Paul Harvey says in this 1965 radio broadcast (below) that has recently received wide circulation? Or is it the do-gooders? After all, isn't the road to hell paved with good intentions? Or could the enemy be ourselves?

Paul Harvey's remarks here are almost 48 years old now - stated about the time we were all training to fight against Communism in Southeast Asia in the mid-1960s. Many of his comments have proven to be prophetic. Listen for yourself ...

(Turn up audio.)

"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1961

"L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs (hell is full of good wishes and desires)." -- Bernard of Clairvaux

"We have met the enemy, and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly), 1971

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Real Estate Bubble in Vietnam

The commercial real estate market in Vietnam is still languishing after the same 2008 bubble that burst in the West hit the booming economy in our old stomping grounds. Ten years after North Vietnam's successful invasion of South Vietnam in 1975 (two years after all the American combat troops left) the new, united country was more impoverished than ever and gave up on Communism in 1986. The urban construction has stalled, however and new commercial buildings in Hanoi (pictured at right) are unused, unfinished and sitting in disrepair. According to a recent Bloomber news article, commercial rents are down 22% and expected to fall another 15%.

Saigon, (pictured below) has slowed also but not as much as Hanoi. The central bank chief, Nguyen Van Binh, said in April the level of bad debt at some lenders may be “much higher” than reported. Bad debts in Vietnam’s banking system may have accounted for 8.82 percent of outstanding loans at the end of September, Nguyen Van Giau, head of the National Assembly’s economic committee, told legislators in Hanoi Nov. 13. How ironic that Ho Chi Minh and his followers spent 50 years and millions of lives to force Communism on the Vietnamese people only to abandon it after ten years and move to an open market economy similar to what existed in the conquered South. Apparently, there is no humorist like history.

"It was patriotism, not communism, that inspired me." -- Ho Chi Minh

Monday, November 19, 2012

Medical History Should Include Military History

This article was in the New York Times today. If you don't use the VA for medical care, make sure your private doctor includes your military medical history in your medical record.

Medical History Should Include Military History, Doctor Says

Seven weeks after his induction into the Army in 1966, Dr. Jeffrey L. Brown was sent to Vietnam, where he spent a year treating front-line soldiers, sometimes under fire. He knew next to nothing about weapons when he went, but returned a battlefield doctor. Back home, he got married, started a family and opened a pediatric practice. Decades later, Dr. Brown, now 72, developed ailments which, he thought, seemed “consistent with his age.” So he was surprised to learn not long ago — from reading a newspaper article — that at least one of those ailments, ischemic heart disease, has been linked to exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange, which was used widely in Vietnam.

It dawned on him that no physician had ever asked him whether he was a veteran, much less taken his military health history (which included not only exposure to Agent Orange, but also dengue fever.) Even the resident physician who performed his intake exam at a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic did not do that kind of thorough history. “I had never had a civilian doctor ask if I was a veteran, ask pertinent follow-up questions, provide me with preventive counseling or screen me for medical and psychological illness that might have occurred from my deployment,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Those musings prompted Dr. Brown, who teaches pediatrics at New York Medical College and Weill Cornell Medical College, to write an essay titled “The Unasked Questions” that was published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In it, Dr. Brown lays out a simple proposal: The American medical system, he says, needs to begin systematically asking adult patients whether they are veterans and, if they are, ask them some detailed questions about their health histories during their service.

The public health implications, he says, are significant. There are more than 21 million veterans in the United States today, including nearly one in six of all males between the ages of 35 and 64. But the majority – about 60 percent — receive their health care from private doctors, not from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yet few of those private doctors even know whether their patients are veterans — whose military experiences, particularly in combat zones, could have had profound effects on their health many years later.

“As good medical practice, a factory worker with a two-year history of exposure to low-grade radiation or chemical and smoke inhalation would have his or her occupational history noted and flagged for long-term follow-up; medical conditions like cancer and emphysema might not become evident until many years later,” Dr. Brown writes in his essay. “But if these same health risks occurred during a Gulf War deployment, this information might never find its way into the patient’s health record.” Had such military medical histories been routinely prepared in the past, many Vietnam veterans with illnesses that have been linked to their service might have received treatment or disability benefits many years earlier, he says.

Dr. Brown offers a few policy changes. First, he says, medical schools should start teaching students how to take a military health history. Those medical histories might begin with simple questions like these: When and where were you stationed? Were you physically injured? Were ever exposed to Agent Orange? Were you ever treated for parasitic or tropical diseases? Were you affected psychologically by your military experiences? He also recommends that medical schools encourage discussion about the major stresses facing veterans today, such as suicide, substance abuse and occupational disability. And he says that residents who receive training at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals take enhanced courses in dealing with veterans.

Since the essay was published, Dr. Brown says, he has received letters from other doctors who are military veterans saying that they, too, have been amazed by how rarely civilian doctors ask their patients whether they ever served in the military. Until that question is routinely asked, Dr. Brown concludes in his essay, “Patients who have been wearing their ‘I am a Veteran’ caps when visiting the physician will have good reason to continue doing so.”

"With tens of thousands of patients dying every year from preventable medical errors, it is imperative that we embrace available technologies and drastically improve the way medical records are handled and processed." -- Jon Porter

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Agent Orange: Environmental Impact

This paper was written for a graduate history seminar on environmentalism. It is a historiographical essay on the use of herbicides by the American military in Vietnam during the war. Human rights, morality, politics and health problems are not specifically addressed. Those concerns will be addressed in later essays. The focus here is on the American use of herbicides as a tactical measure to fight the war in Vietnam. For optimal reading view, click the "full screen" icon at the bottom right of the text window.
Agent Orange Environmental History

"Vietnam was as much a laboratory experiment as a war." -- John Pilger

"A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon." -- Napoleon Bonaparte

"The biggest lesson I learned from Vietnam is not to trust our own government statements. I had no idea until then that you could not rely on them." -- J. William Fulbright

Friday, November 16, 2012

Generals and their Privates

Darrell Gutsche sent me the link to a Rush Limbaugh (who never had a good word to say about anyone) commentary on the Petraeus sex story. Remember, if you have something nasty or salacious to say, don't email it - especially using free, public email servers like Yahoo or Google's gmail.

LIMBAUGH: "You know, folks, you have to think, with Bill Clinton watching all this, all these affairs going on in the military, Bill Clinton's gotta be kicking himself for dodging the draft. I mean, look at what he missed! You know what this is? This is The Real Housewives of West Point."

LIMBAUGH: "There's no institution out there that we can trust that has not been politicized, that hasn't been corrupted, even the CIA. It's being reported that General John Allen exchanged between 20,000 and 30,000 e-mails with the other woman here in the Real Housewives of West Point, Jill Kelley. I don't want to prejudge this, folks, but it sure seems to me that we have way too many generals taking orders from their privates. You know who else is potentially a big winner in this is Anthony Weiner. I mean, Anthony Weiner gets tossed out for couple of text photos and so forth. He's a piker compared to what is going on here."

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never."
-- President Bill Clinton (Later convicted and disbarred.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dong Ha, Vietnam 1967

Forty-five year old video footage of the Marine base and air field at Dong Ha where almost all of us flew in and out of many times. Maybe you will recognize some of the scenes ...

"So they've got us surrounded, good! Now we can fire in any direction, those bastards won't get away this time!" -- General Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller, USMC (the only Marine to be awarded 5 Navy Crosses).

“Remember that diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a bigger rock” -- from Warrior Culture of the U.S. Marines

Vietnam Zippo Lighters

Soldier sentiments on Vietnam era Zippo lighters ...

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Want a glimpse of how the Army trains potential officers in college these days? My grandson Kevin's ROTC battalion at Northern Illinois University sent nine cadets (Kevin was the only freshman) to Western Illinois University last weekend for the chance to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge. ROTC units from twelve mid-western schools including the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Iowa State Univertsity and Wheaton College. There were almost 300 cadets in total participating.

The German Army permits members of other allied military units to compete for this badge which the U.S. Army allows its soldiers to wear on the dress uniform. The test sets rigorous standards and includes Track and Field events, marksmanship, swimming and a two hour hike with full military gear and 35 pound ruck pack. A German Army officer is required to be present to observe the testing.

Kevin had never fired an Army weapon before. In his first attempt with the 9mm pistol, he missed every target. He went back in the line to await a second chance and then hit enough to qualify for the bronze version of the proficiency badge. After the swimming competition, he said he wanted to go back to the range and fire again. This time, he inadvertently had his thumb in the wrong position using a two-handed grip and the recoil mechanism on his first shot ripped a gash in his thumb. He came out with blood dripping down his hand and went into the men's room to clean it. Someone helped with a bandage for it. Then, he went right back to the pistol range and, with a bloody hand, hit every one of the targets thereby earning the gold version of the badge. This proves my theory that bleeding soldiers rarely miss.

The track events were very easy for Kevin and it was the main reason that they allowed him as a freshman to participate. He won the 5K race so handily that he lapped the second place finisher beating him by over a minute. He's still barely 18 but it looks like we might have another Lieutenant Smith in the family in four years.

(Turn up sound.)

"An army of asses led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by an ass." -- George Washington

Thursday, November 01, 2012

This time the Cavalry never came to the rescue

The dominant topic on military websites and at military reunions this fall is the shocking abandonment of Americans who fought for seven hours in Benghazi, Libya before finally being overrun and massacred by Al Qaeda on the anniversary of the infamous 9/11 attack. President Obama did nothing and gave an order to military assets in the area to "stand down." His challenger, Governor Romney, in front of an audience of 70 million Americans during the presidential debates chose not to question this betrayal. Romney may know how to run the economy better than Obama, but neither man is qualified to be Commander-in-Chief based on this show of leadership. Neither man has ever worn their country's military uniform; neither has ever been the target of a shot fired in anger.

The responsibility to aid and defend Americans under attack is sacrosanct. Both of these men should beg the forgiveness of every American in uniform and take an oath that it will never happen again. Compounding this failure of leadership, has been the subsequent attempt by the Obama administration to cover it up. Where is the press? Where are the Woodward and Bernsteins of the Vietnam era? In another time, surely there would have been talk of impeachment for such dereliction of duty.

Our UN ambassador and our Secretary of State - two more individuals who never served in our military - were told to blame the whole thing on a YouTube video. Disgraced and discredited, these two persons have not been on a talk show since. What does it say about a country when less than 1% of its people volunteer to defend it and we have to send our women out now to help with the fighting? Troop suicides are averaging one a day and Ted Turner says on CNN that this is a "good" thing. God help Obama and Turner if either ever gets trapped overseas and the U.S. military decides to "stand down" and watch their bodies be dragged through the streets.

Darrell Gutsche sent this video in which summarizes what happened. Romney is not mentioned but if he continues to ignore his responsibility to speak up, he is guilty of non-support as well.

"It's hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse." -- Adlai E. Stevenson