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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Ahistorical and Deluded, with Fireworks

As published at Unz Review, LewRockwell, CounterCurrents, Intrepid Report and Diacritics, 7/2/16:






The Dinh Dynasty lasted only 12 years and ended in 980, but in the 20th century, there were around a dozen plays about one of the Dinh queens, Duong Van Nga. When I was a kid in Saigon in the 1970s, a folk opera about her could pack a theater night after night. In 2013, an elaborately produced 12-part series about Dinh Tien Hoang [Dinh the Celestial King] appeared on TV. Posted on YouTube, it has generated many comments. In 2015, a dorky, hour-long animated film was made about the king’s childhood.

People remember, as they should. Just about any Vietnamese historical figure has a temple devoted to him, usually in his home village.

The most maligned character from the Dinh era has long fascinated me. For a millennium, Do Thich was depicted as a farcical assassin.

This minor official dreamt a star fell into his mouth. Interpreting it to mean he would be the next king, Do Thich killed Dinh Tien Hoang and his grown son, Dinh Lien. Instead of being crowned, however, the eunuch was executed, with his body shredded and fed to the populace.

A six-year-old boy was enthroned, only to be replaced soon after by Le Hoan, a general under Dinh Tien Hoang. What’s most curious, however, is that Le Hoan also married the dead king’s wife. That’s like Mary Todd Lincoln wedding Andrew Johnson, or Jackie Kennedy becoming, recoil of recoils, LBJ’s first lady.

Peasants aren’t dummies, so satirical folk poems started to circulate, with one surviving to this day. Do Thich’s name was never cleared by historians, however, until the 1990s, more than a thousand years after his ghastly demise.

Poor schmuck. When Dinh Tien Hoang was just a warlord, Do Thich carried him on his back during a battle reversal. This is attested by two documents kept at a private home in Nam Dinh and a temple in Hai Nam.

So why you bring up this recherché bullcrap, homie? What you trying to do?


Well, cuz, all I mean to say is that all historical events and figures should be reexamined endlessly, for the official or commonly accepted narratives are often deceptive. The sanity of any society can be measured by its capacity for historical questioning.

You can’t probe history, though, if you don’t care about it. One in four Americans don’t even know which country the American War of Independence was fought against, and more than a third can’t tell you in which century it occurred. Just five years after 9/11, 30% had forgotten it happened in 2001.

Historical ignorance is especially severe among our youth, which means cluelessness is on the rise. Our masters have engineered this, of course, since nitwits are easier to fool.

Inducted from infancy into the cult of progress, we’re also conditioned to see the past as benighted, befouled and irrelevant to our march towards an ever brighter future. The more distant an epoch, the more repulsive and unhappy, we all seem to agree. I mean, how could anyone possibly endure life without recorded music, televised sports or web porn?

Endless noise thwarts reflection and discussion. On demand virtual sex chokes political turbulence.

Writing for the Guardian, Chelsea Manning quotes Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Would a Pole or Czech in 1946 agree? A Syrian or Ukrainian now?

The arc of the moral universe has bent every which way throughout history, and one would have to be pretty goofy to think the worst outrages against man won’t come round again and again for sustained visits. Anything can happen, including a thousand-year descent into the deepest abyss, starting yesterday.

NASA, though, claims it will colonize Mars by 2030s. I wouldn’t bet on it. We’ll be so broke and broken by then, I’d be surprised if your average American could even afford to get on an ordinary airplane.

In 2002, the BBC conducted a poll to determine the greatest 100 Britons ever, and here are the top ten: Winston Churchill, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Princess Diana, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Elizabeth I, John Lennon, Horatio Nelson and Oliver Cromwell.

Yes, Diana is an awfully silly choice, and many will smirk at Lennon also, but for a public survey in this age of mass media, the Brits didn’t embarrass themselves.

Who would top an American poll? Would any scientist, engineer, inventor or writer show up? And how many sport figures, rock musicians, movie stars or recent politicians? Also, what percentage of American high school graduates know anything about the English top ten besides Diana and Lennon?

Since 29% of Americans can’t even locate the Pacific Ocean on a map, don’t ask them about the South China Sea crisis or our Pivot to Asia, and even as Washington daily engages Russia in a new game of nuclear chicken, 73% have no idea what the first Cold War was about. We’re that out of it.

With an all volunteer army, Americans are fine with saluting the troops constantly while sending them off to wherever. In a Cheyenne bar, a lady told me her daughter was stationed in North Korea.

Although an empire with the greatest reaches ever, we pose as victims of cave dwellers, beginner pilots, box cutters and semi-retarded lone wolves. Celebrating gender instability, we welcome cross-dressers and self-castrators into our military. Our most famous entertainer was a black man who tried his damnedest to appear white, and one of our greatest male athletes ever decided at age 65 that he was somehow a woman. Obama praised nem/ver/em, “It takes courage to share your story.” Meanwhile, Americans with real balls, Gary Webbs, Pat Tillman, Michael Hastings, etc., were rubbed out. In Hillary Clinton, we have a foreign spy running for president.

A thousand years from now, what will they write about this culture of mass delusions?




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About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.