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POWS and Nixon
From Theater Magazine, January, 1992, $3.50 issue, $27 for 11 issues in the U.S., $45 all other countries, glossy paper, saddle stitched 17" by 11" folded once, thick photo cover, editor Jim O'Quinn, all correspondence 355 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10017, see Stages: What A Riot, pp. 10-11, short reports edited by Lynn Jacobson:
Coming Home. How Did American P.O.W.s Survive the Vietnam War? At times, thoughts of happy homecomings-- like this one (photo of couples embracing) depicted in Theatre IV of Richmond, VA's Four Part Harmony--were the only things that kept them alive. Other survival strategies included communicating in code or conducting 'classes' with fellow prisoners: One U.S. soldier with a music degree taught his cellmates music theory on a piano 'keyboard' scratched into the dirt floor. Playwright Marcus Fisk--himself a Desert Storm veteran-- collected these stories in interviews with ex-P.O.W.s (including Richmond's own retired navy commander Paul Galanti and his wife Phyllis) to create Four Part Harmony, a musical composed by Douglas Minerd and recently directed by John Glenn at Theatre IV. Play It Again, 'Nam. Tricky Dick tells all in the Organic Theatre of Chicago's recent production of Nixon Live! The Future is Now. Writer and actor Frank Melcotti portrayed the ex-President on a visit to Ricky's Tiki Lounge (photo of actor with the nose and airline in a cheap suit standing by a man in goatee and shades and Arab headwrap at keyboard), where he ruminated on the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Spiro Agnew. Meanwhile, the proprietor (Jimi Jihad) tickled the ivories, and the lounge's patrons--the audience--got a chance to question the President at the conclusion of the play. Melcotti states that he did not want to do a cartoon of Nixon, 'but rather a characterization within the bounds of political satire.'
Bounds? The man destroyed Cambodia because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I don't care if Melcotti kidnaps him to use for a snuff flick. Imagine Alger Hiss renting that one at the video store for a few laughs. Who was that actor that used to mimic Nixon straight, like an Elvis impersonator, while Nixon was in office? Does anyone know what he's doing?
Some things to point out about the U.S. POWs at Ha Noi: they were almost all educated men of mature years who chose to engage in strategic bombing; many of them did not survive imprisonment; the two chief psychological strategies for survival were ideological resistance on the one hand, and cooperation in the heroic propaganda mission of the communists against the air piracy of the West on the other. Guess which one I think was more reasonable? Actually, a lot of the guys just muddled through; their housing, diet, and medical care wasn't a whole lot worse than that of any Vietnamese refugee, and was better than anyone got at Con Son island; if you want to read up on what the experience was like, consult the campaign biographies of the POW senators, the published debriefings of the Navy fliers, and read U.S.A. Major Eliot Gruner's masterful critical study of POW narratives when it appears from Rutgers University Press. Say, was Paul Galanti's wife Phyllis really a POW?
The most pro-Asian white man I know in public life, by the way, is Jack Downey, the C.I.A. agent who spent twenty years in a Chinese prison--Dulles wouldn't trade for him, because that would mean he recognized Communism. All the parochial school kids in Connecticut grew up praying for his release, so he was a natural for office after he got out and earned a law degree. He was a state public utilities commissioner last time I looked, someone like Ireland's Prime Minister Erskine Childers Jr., whose revolutionary father had made him shake the hand of every man in the firing squad that killed Erskine Sr. The son forever afterward carried a moral heft that made people sit down and compromise. Why can't our POW senators be like that? I mean, they got a White House party when they came back, what's their beef? Why don't they shut down the whole POW/MIA boondoggle? Speaking of Desert Storm veterans, hasn't our flier POW from that war been making public statements against the incineration of Iraq?
Richard Kane, Vice President for Marketing at this press, sent along a catalogue from "America's Foremost Publisher of Military History." The history tends more towards personal narratives and retired officers' reports and campaign histories with problematic documentation than towards analytic treatment of contemporary sources, but that still covers a lot of interesting ground, and Presidio's eye for a reprint opportunity is impressive. If you like war stories, you should get this catalogue. About 240 titles. Color photo cover of Rhonda Corum, a Desert Storm POW whose She Went to War, cloth 6 x 9, 1 map, 16 b & w photos, 256 pp., $19.95 leads the new list. They say it's soon to be a major television movie. The blurb-writer thinks that war "is a world where women have previously never been allowed" and sure enough there isn't a rape or prostitution narrative in the lot. They do have Harry Combs' Brules, a Western by an aviation executive, 576 pp., 6 x 9, 1 map, frontispiece, 6 line drawings, $19.95. There is my favorite POW narrative, Dieter Dengler's Escape from Laos, paper, 228 pp., 6 x 9, 1 illustration, 2 maps, $9.95. It sidesteps the whole Ha Noi Hilton I'm-proud-to-be-an-American-thing, since the pilot is in the jungle, in Laos. Dengler mostly talks about food, and doesn't seem to have spent much more time in the U.S. after he got home than he absolutely had to. He grew up in Germany under the Allied bombing. Lots and lots of books from all kinds of wars, especially including the ones about Americans in Viet Nam. Presidio publishes at least one RVN author, many Wehrmacht soldiers, and Harry Summers. I could report the whole list, but get your own from P.O. Box 1764, Novato, CA 94948-1764, FAX (415) 898-0383, (800) 966-5179, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, book rate shipping, $2.50 per order, allow 6 to 8 weeks.
I met Merle Ratner of the Committee in Solidarity with Viet Nam, Cambodia, & Laos, P.O. Box 303, Prince Station, New York, NY 10012-0006, (212) 420-1586 on February 22 at a party at Ben Kiernan and Chantou Boua's after the Schell Center conference on Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia. She was accompanied by Do Le Chau, a correspondent with the Viet Nam News Agency at the United Nations, contact: 10 Waterside Plaza, Apt. 7A, New York, NY 10010, (H) (212) 689-1153, (W) (212) 963-7616.
Do was very interested to see issues 3:3 and 3:4 of the newsletter, and may translate some short fiction for us in the future. Do is from Ha Noi, about 36 years old. He gave me a copy of the Viet Nam Courier: A Monthly Review, "First Published in May 1964," New Series No. 27 January 1992, a tabloid of 16 pp., with color photos and general articles on trade, culture and travel in Viet Nam. The review contains a substantial amount of specific information and leads, attractively presented. It is edited by Phan Doan Nam at 10 Le Pung Hieu, Ha Noi, SRV, phone 52974-57731, and printed in Viet Nam at the Ha Noi Moi Printing House. All articles may be reproduced with mention of Viet Nam Courier as the source. I think that Do can supply a sample copy, if you write him.
Ratner is recently back from two months in Viet Nam. She just gave a talk at Hunter College in New York, Thursday, February 20, on "The Vietnamese Revolution Today. How are the Vietnamese people building socialism? How do they see the process of doi moi (renovation) in their society? How is the current international balance of forces affecting Viet Nam?" Slides by Joan Nicholson accompanied the talk. Ms. Nicholson was a participant in the U.S.-Viet Nam Peace walk. Cindy Homzy of the Campaign to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge gave a special report on the situation in Cambodia.
Ratner gave me a brochure, "Healing the Wounds of War: A Vietnamese Vet Brings a Message of Peace and Reconciliation for Friendship Between the Vietnamese and American Peoples, For Diplomatic Relations Between the U.S. and Viet Nam." The brochure reports on the U.S. tour of Nguyen Ngoc Hung, the PAVN veteran whose Yale visit I reported on in issue 3:2. It says he served from 1969-1975 in the Quang Tri-Thua Thien area. His brother is MIA. The brochure has nine photos, one a portrait of Nguyen, the rest showing him in company at the memorial in New Haven and in Dorchester, MA, with Ron Kovic in LA, shaking hands in Nellsville, WI, toasting with a black man in DC, with a group of men at a "vet center" in New York and at The Veterans Building in San Francisco and in front of a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the MLK Center in Atlanta.
The brochure calls for funds to continue projects similar to Nguyen's tour. Send tax-deductible checks to the Veterans Peace Tour, P.O. Box 303, Prince Station, New York, NY 10012. The brochure also suggests that readers circulate "The People's Call for Peace," some kind of petition, in his or her community. The Center also offers to provide speakers, slide shows, films, and videos for educational events. All these activities are sponsored by the Asia Resource Center, the National Network of Indochina Activists, Vinamex Corporation, VINEXCO, Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, Clergy and Laity Concerned, Association of Vietnamese in the U.S., The Women's Workshop in the Americas, and the US/Puerto Rico Solidarity Network.
Rod McQueary called 10 February 1991, to tell about the big Cowboy poetry gathering at Elko, Nevada three weeks ago. He's been going for about 8 years. The event is always the last weekend in January. Every year he has attended, the crowd has been estimated at 8 to 12 K, but this year they far exceeded that figure. There are about 90 such gatherings annually, McQueary says, though Elko is the big one. Next weekend there's one in Grand Junction, Nevada. The Elko event takes place in the town convention center, and in a couple other meeting halls. There are about 1200 hotel and motel rooms in Elko, and by the event of each gathering they are all booked for the following year. McQueary gave a couple performances of his poetry. He met Bob Holman, of New York, NY, who has some relationship with PBS and runs a nightclub for poets in Manhattan. There is a lot of Western and Cowboy music at the gathering as well as poetry. McQueary says that the crowd are mostly people who have been forced off their small farms or ranches in this generation, into factory or mine work. They are seeking cultural heritage, and a Native American- like ethic of reverence for the land is often expressed. I asked if many Indians attend, and McQueary said that a few, not many, do. He said that the poetry is given at the Convention Center in three or four different venues, with events all day long, and every seat always filled. He did his "Lizard Trilogy," which we'll print here if we can ever figure out how, and "quoted" some of Bill Shields' work. In another performance, he performed his work, "Homeward," printed in the newsletter this issue. Several veterans approached McQueary afterwards and thanked him. One man asked that McQueary send the poem to a friend.
Soon he will have a nice book to send out. At Elko, he met with John Dofflemyer of the Dry Crik Review, P.O. Box 51, Lemon Cove, CA 93244, (209) 597-2512, and with Bill Jones. Dofflemyer proposes to publish a collection of Jones' and McQueary's work. Then he proposes to take that collection, along with books by Bill Shields and Jon Glade, to a commercial publisher to interest them in an anthology. Rod says that he can't think of a good name for the first book, but is sure that Dofflemyer will come up with something. John D. has done well with his Dry Crik Review, recovering costs, says Rod, by his third issue, and now enjoying about 400 subscribers.
McQueary went on to talk about Bill Jones. McQueary says that Bill is the manager of the Lazy L and B in Duboise, Wyoming. He worked as a railroad detective until he "was killed in a car wreck." It so happened that the paramedics on the scene knew Jones, so they went the extra mile in attempting to revive him, and got lucky.
It was a year before the poet could walk. McQueary says Bill is working on a poem for the new collection, about returning a dead friend's effects to his mother, as promised but twenty years late. We discussed possible places to meet as I cross the country to Seattle this June. McQueary enjoys the newsletter issues he has read. He especially liked Gretchen Kay Lutz's essay, "Veteran's Eve," in 3:3. He admires the way our writers put their address on the writing. Besides the phone call, I got a letter and a package of poems today from McQueary as well. Here are some parts of the letter:
I ranch in Ruby Valley, Nevada on a place my Grandad bought in 1946. I have lived here all my life, minus school years and service time. I was in the army National Guard, but decided to join the USMC with a good friend. (Sort of a Quayle story in reverse.) I was a good rifle shot, went to all the right schools, then shipped right to Viet Nam in December 1970. For some crazy reason, my assignment was changed from 0311 to 1st Division MPS. That is like graduating Magna Cum Laude in poacher school, and being hired as a game warden. After leaving USMC in 1972, I went to a small school in Oregon, met Niki Swakhamer, and we were married in 1973. The cattle business was pretty bad in the middle 80s, and I wrote a few things about it. One invitation led to another. I have been reciting in shows and Poetry Gatherings ever since. I was on the "Tonight Show" last February. Bill Jones and I met at The Durango Poetry Gathering three years ago, after a few separate projects, and we were approached by the publisher of the Dry Crik Review to do a book. We have worked on that for almost a year, now and it should be out early in the summer. I enjoyed VNG Newsletter, and am honored to be included in it. Best wishes, Rod McQueary.
McQueary has a tape, Chicken Outfit, 40 minutes of poetry and jokes, available from him for $10.
Ryder War Poem
Roll the muffled drum
Wail the shrieking fife
Halpine's in his home
Only his remains come...
And we hold the breath
In the presence of death
And we hold the breath
For the men who faced death
Veterans every one.
Now bursts the awful chime
As they pass in line
Shoulder to shoulder
As they sway together
As they vibrate together.
With music weird and strange
As sounds that range
Along the billowy shore
When storm rules the hour
As they pass
As they pass.
Wakes within the brain
Ah so dull a pain
Wake within the frame
Both a chill and pain
Ah so dull a pain
That's verse from Albert Pinkham Ryder, the painter. It turns out that his brothers fought for the Union, one as a sailor, one in artillery. I found the poetry quoted in Albert Pinkham Ryder, by Elizabeth Brown, a 344 page catalogue of an exhibition held at the National Museum of American Art, 6 Apr-29 July 1990, on page 17. Brown's text uses research and common sense to dissolve the usual anecdotes of Ryder's quintessential Americanness but leaves him seeming even more self-made and admirable, a contemporary biographical approach I like very much. Brown cites the verse in reference to a portrait of a Union officer which visitors saw in Ryer's studio but which is no longer known. No one knows who Halpine was. Well, Charles Graham Halpine (1829-1868) was an Irish-born humorist who retired from the U.S. Army as Brigadier General. He published throughout the war in New York's Herald. But what do I know: look him up in my reprint of the incomparable B.M. Fullerton's Selective Bibliography of American Literature 1775-1900 (Ox Bow Press, 1989). Fullerton not only read all the authors that the wonderful and industrious Cathy Davidson and her less zestful colleagues are digging up, he also enjoyed doing it. He was read out of U.S. literary studies when that field was being cooked up, for not being German enough, and for being so vulgar as to live by trade.
The source given for the portrait is Sadakichi Hartmann, "A Visit to Ryder" Artnews 1 (March 1897): 1-3 reprinted in Sadakichi Hartmann Newsletter 2, no. 3 (Winter 1971): 4-5. This may be the source for the poem as well. Brown gives a marvellous "Appendix A: Poems and Verse Composed by Albert Pinkham Ryder," pp. 315-322, with sources, but 'Halpine' seems to have fallen through the fingers of the really determined editing of this book of pictures. There's no telling where Brown read the poem, what the title is, whether the verses cited are the whole poem, and whether they were ever printed before. I haven't tried to reproduce Brown's rendering of the poem's typography. She says that Ryder wasn't happy with the way any of the few of his poems that were printed looked on the page. Well hey, if you want complete control over your work, write it out yourself, fold it up, sew it shut, and throw it in the back of a drawer like Emily Dickinson, or typeset the damn thing yourself like Walt Whitman. Or browbeat a whole generation into thinking typography is real meaningful, like Charles Olson did. I'm with Joyce and Shakespeare and Homer on this issue, but I suppose that somebody's got to believe that there's a right way to put song in print, or you end up with a lamentable situation like you have with rock and roll lyric sheets. Let's see, odds and ends: Sadakichi Hartmann was himself a fine poet and an East/West intercultural oddity, of whom there are more in the U.S. past than you might think. Emily Dickinson didn't write war poetry. I always thought, having scoured through all the poems and letters to find like three acknowledgments that the Civil War even took place, until Shira Wolosky pointed out to me that she wrote about nearly nothing else. You know, like Aliens is a Viet Nam war movie. See Shira Wolosky, Emily Dickinson: Poet of War. The author teaches in Jerusalem lately, maybe she's still thinking about war.
Sex, Money, and Morality
Subtitled: Prostitution and Tourism in Southeast Asia, by Thanh-Dam Truong, Ph.D., 202 pp., substantial bibliography, index, Zed Books Ltd., London and New Jersey, 1990, $17.50 paper. What looks like a very smart exceedingly well-researched and digested book on a central topic in North/South relations. The author is a Viet now carrying a Dutch passport, as a lecturer at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. A glance shows that her study is widely informed by theoretical studies and social research. Chapter headings: The Analytical Framework for Prostitution; Sexual Labor in Prostitution; International Tourism and Prostitution in SE Asia; The Political Economy of International Tourism; Gender Relations and Prostitution in Thailand; Foreign Exchange, Tourism and Prostitution in Thailand; Conclusion.
Will an expert please query Dan Scripture about reviewing this book? I've heard that a delegation of Japanese businessmen were received by SRVN officials to discuss sex tours in Viet Nam, on the model of those provided in Thailand for travelers from Japan, Germany, and the U.S. The report nauseates me, the Tale of Kieu notwithstanding, especially since I also hear that all of Thailand's thousands of prostitutes are HIV positive or soon will be. Let's hope that Communist morality holds the line. Don't associate my gut feelings on this matter with the views of Dr. Truong, which seem to be rigorous and subtle and beyond quick summary by someone who hasn't read the book yet.
Bill Short, Willa Seidenberg, and Le Tri Dung
On Friday, March 24, Skip Delano and Oliver Hirsch picked me up on their way from New York and we drove to the Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, for the opening reception for William Short and Willa Seidenberg's "A Matter of Conscience," Le Tri Dung's "The Black Paintings," and Short's photos of public areas in Ha Noi. The exhibition was presented in conjunction with Phillips Academy's winter term course "A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall: The Literature, Film and Music of the Vietnam War." The Short/Seidenberg work is now part of the gallery's permanent collection. Dung's work was for sale.
"A Matter of Conscience" is several dozen present-day portrait photos of men and women who resisted war while in military service. Short took the photos, and Seidenberg prepared a personal history that is hung by each individual. Nearly all the subjects are from the war in Viet Nam, but Short and Seidenberg included several military resisters to Desert Storm. Above and below and beside the photos and bios, the walls were papered with photocopies of contemporary posters, newspapers, and other documents. Circulating in the room were many of the dissident vets whose images hung on the wall, including Skip and Oliver, Jabiya Dragonsun, John Tuma, Terry Irvin, and Bill Short himself. Sorry, I didn't bring a notebook and buttonhole people for names. I just drifted around, gawking and chatting.
I wish I had the wits to have asked Oliver Hirsch to write a review of the exhibit. He is a photographer and painter immersed in the worlds of painters and dealers and critics. Hirsch told me Short's photos of Ha Noi were very fine indeed in terms of what photographers are trying to do lately. "A Matter of Conscience" for me is a war memorial, a soldier's story. Bill Short decided to stop fighting in Viet Nam in 1969, and went to Long Binh for it. He's gathered the image and narrative of dozens of people a little like him. It's a strong vote for conscience and peace.
The Addison Gallery has produced a handsome and inexpensive oversize catalogue of the exhibit, A Matter of Conscience: GI Resistance During the Viet Nam War, photographs by William Short, oral histories by Willa Seidenberg and William Short, 1992, Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA 01810. I paid $18.95 for one. Perfect- bound, paper, details of Paul Atwood's left hand on front, right hand on back, holding his father's service photo and tags & ribbons & USMC insignia respectively, 83 pages, nearly all of them beautiful photos except five of bios for 24 quarter-page photos, and a glossary, and a full-page bio for the about 24 full-page portraits. Most of the resisters are holding mementos. It's a lovely book. Check out the selection of Short's photos that appeared in Viet Nam Generation's GI Resistance: Soldiers and Veterans Against the War.
Short and Seidenberg like to include people. They include each other in their project, which includes many other persons. They threw a party in the gallery after the reception proper, then had everyone back to the house. Most impressively, they included a Vietnamese painter in their exhibit. The paintings of Le Tri Dung filled the front room of the exhibition. Le is a PAVN veteran from a family of artists. He served in an armored division in the capture of Sai Gon. He served as a military artist for a few years after that. Some of his most striking paintings show deformed children, a consequence of dioxin. The children are shown as cherubs, aloft. As I stared at one painting, trying to read the Vietnamese inscription, John Tuma explained to me that such deformed children are an element already present in Vietnamese art. The farm family traditionally kills deformed newborns, and they have to appease the monstrous spirits. Tuma is an archaeologist. The Army trained him elaborately in Vietnamese so he could interrogate prisoners. He was removed from Military Intelligence after he refused to countenance torture. A grenade exploded in his hut, and some Province Recon tried to walk him into an ambush. It was a lot of fun looking at Le's pictures with the subjects of Short's photos.
You can see a photo of Le and reproductions of his painting Agent Orange (on silk, 1978, 17 1/4 by 22 inches) and his drawing After the Bombing at A-Sau (charcoal pencil on rice paper, 1972, 10 3/4 by 15 1/2 inches) on pages 92 and 93 of As Seen by Both Sides: American and Vietnamese Artists Look at the War, edited by David Thomas, February, 1991, distributed for the William Joiner Center and the Indochina Arts Project, 20 Webster Ct., Newton Centre, MA 02159, by the U of MA Press, P.O. Box 429, Amherst, MA 01004. Perfect- bound, 115 pages, the bulk of the book consists of an interview with Lois Tarlow with each of about 40 Vietnamese and U.S. artists (mostly men, mostly vets, several non-vets from both sides, several U.S. women, one Viet woman, one ethnic Chinese overseas Viet U.S. man) with a photo of the artist on the page with the interview, accompanied by a facing page reproduction (68 in color, 14 in black and white overall) of two of the artist's works. Short is in there, on the pages right after Le. There are also essays by Lucy Lippard and David Kunzle, a chronology of Viet Nam 1858-1990, a checklist of the work presented, other items of interest, especially names. There's a Preface by the Joiner Board, a Foreword by Quach Van Phong, General Secretary of the Fine Arts Association in Ho Chi Minh City, another by Tran Viet Son, President of the Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, Ha Noi, and Acknowledgments and Introduction by C. David Thomas, Director, Indochina Arts Project. On the page after Le's work, there is a photo and article about Short, and reproductions on the next page of two of his "C-prints" of Ha Noi. Price is $24.95.
The "As Seen by Both Sides" exhibition opened at the Boston U. Art Gallery on January 14, 1991 closing there on February 24. It has since traveled to LA, Battle Creek, North Carolina, and Florida. It will be at the Baxter Gallery, Portland School of Art, Portland, ME, March 16-May 3; the Richard F. Brush Gallery, St. Lawrence U., Canton, NY, from August 31-October 2; Lehigh University Art Galleries, Bethlehem, PA, November 11-December 23, 1992, at three more places in the U.S. and at 7 in VN through 1995.
The interpreter present for the Portland opening will be the same man who accompanied Le Tri Dung at the Andover opening. Dao Tam Chao, of the Fine Art Department, Vietnamese Cultural Ministry, speaks and understands English well. He has trained in teaching Vietnamese to Westerners, which meant that he could understand me when I tried to speak with Le in their language. I recommend Dao to anyone needing an interpreter or language instruction, or just someone warm and interesting to talk to, in Viet Nam. His address is 38 Cao Ba Quat St., Ha Noi, Viet Nam. Le Tri Dung's office address is 51 Tran Hung Dao St., Ha Noi, tel 2.56981. Both men are now saying with Short and Seidenberg in Cambridge, MA.
Odds and Ends: Board member Kevin Bowen was at the reception. Sponsoring agencies for the show and the book include: The LEF Foundation, The Addison Gallery-Edward Elson Artists in Residence endowment fund; the MA Cultural Council, the Wm. Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the U of MA, the Cambridge Arts Council, The Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund, the Polaroid Corporation, Mel and Elenore Seidenberg, and Ms. Judy Ulman.