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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Postcard from the End of America: Fort Indiantown Gap, PA

As published at Unz Review, CounterCurrents, LewRockwell and Intrepid Report, 8/24/16:

It’s remarkable that I’ve been friends with Giang for nearly four decades. We’ve spent but a year in the same state and, frankly, have little in common. Giang studied computer science, business administration and engineering technology. He makes more in a year than I do in ten. He drinks Bud Lite and recycles corny metaphors and analogies. A director of marketing, Giang actually told me, “I can sell a freezer to an Eskimo.”

Driving from California last week, Giang stayed at my sweltering apartment for two nights. Since he had never been to Philly, I took Giang to a decent cheesesteak joint, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Having spaced out in history classes, Giang had forgotten that Philly was the nation’s first capital and the War of Independence was against the Brits. No matter, Giang got snapshots of himself in front of the iconic sights.

I also showed Giang the Italian Market, Little Cambodia, Kensington, Penn’s Landing, South Street, Dirty Frank’s and Friendly Lounge. In Little Cambodia, we saw kebabs and other delicacies sold on the streets and in a park. It was too hot for volleyball. On a sidewalk, young and old tried to toss bean bags into a hole in a plywood board. We admired the exterior of a brightly painted Buddhist temple. Just like Vietnamese, Cambodians are often mischaracterized as “war refugees” although they have fled from the Communist peace.

What my friend really wanted to see was Fort Indiantown Gap. In 1975, Giang stayed there as an 11-year-old refugee. The same age, I was at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.

It was good to get out of the city. The Pennsylvania landscape featured nothing dramatic. On Horseshoe Pike, we spotted a concrete chicken on a roof, some Amish clothesline, “trump / trump / trump” scrawled on the back of a highway sign, and that’s about it. Since Giang got the Amish and Hasidic Jews confused, I untangled for him their contrasting hair convictions, hat beliefs, horse notions and electricity theologies.

In 1975, the ride from Harrisburg Airport astounded the refugees. I translate an online account by one Hà Giang:

Each length of road took us further from everything we had left behind, and a step closer to our awaiting future, which to us at the time was extremely vague and unsettled. Our tenuous happiness was mixed with worries.

Though exhausted, no one could doze off because we had just slipped into a new world, as far as language, sceneries, sounds, colors, even the air, fragrances, everything around us was new, everything was different.

I strained to etch on my mind the first images of this country where I had just landed.

The wide road unfurling behind us, the novel one-story houses, way too wide compared to Vietnamese ones, though too low in height. I saw very few with tiles, and absolutely none with tin roofs.

Also, the houses here did not share walls but were comfortably situated on private plots of land, with their entrances not near sidewalks but receding way back behind lusciously green, square-angled lawns. Between one house and another there was no fence, only bushes sometimes, or absolutely no barrier at all, though looking closely, one could see that the grass color of one house was slightly different from another’s.

Such a long road, yet there was no human shadow, so that we had to wait forever to see one old man leisurely sweep a few leaves.

Oh what peace! Peace and serenity were my first impressions of the United States of America.

Pennsylvania was so different from bustling Saigon, crowded Saigon, chaotic Saigon, my Saigon already so distant. Oh Saigon, where are you now? And my parents, my friends, what are you doing there now?

Lost in thoughts, I didn’t even know the bus had turned onto a road leading to the main gates of Fort Indiantown Gap.

Another refugee writes that his time in the camp was “the most magical” of his life, such was his relief of escaping from Communism. By mid June of 1975, there were 14,900 Vietnamese in Fort Indiantown Gap, and this transient community even had its own bilingual daily newspaper, Đất Lành/Good Land. (“Benign” is actually a better translation for “Lành.”) Vietnamese are big on newspapers. Wartime Saigon had about ten dailies at any time.

In spite of wartime censorship, massive propaganda, exorbitant taxing of newspapers and, occasionally, even imprisonment of journalists, South Vietnamese had access to a wider range of political opinions than Americans today. They also had many more political parties. There’s a saying, “Any two Vietnamese form a political party. Any three, a party and a faction.” No puppets or savages, Vietnamese took politics deadly seriously, because it was. In the end, though, they were just pawns of geopolitical schemers and war profiteers, same as the American soldiers who were sent over there.

Reviewing Apocalypse Now Redux for the Guardian, I point out how Coppola has scrubbed both spoken and written Vietnamese from a film he preposterously claims is not just about Vietnam, but “is Vietnam.”

Yours truly, “In Apocalypse Now, Vietnam is more or less one continuous jungle, with corpses casually dangling from trees, and arrows and spears flying out of the foliage. The arrow attack scene is lifted straight from Heart of Darkness, where a black river boat pilot is impaled by a spear […] As anyone who has been there will tell you, Vietnam is (and was during the war) grossly overpopulated. Rivers and roads are lined with settlements. The US, by comparison, is more wild. Another thing a visitor to Vietnam can readily see is the ubiquity of the written language—that is, of civilization. Signs and banners are everywhere. None of this is apparent in any of the panoramic shots of Apocalypse Now. Coppola hasn’t just withheld speech from the Vietnamese, he has also banned them from writing.”

Arriving in Indiantown Gap, Giang and I found the fort to be nearly deserted, with soldiers visible at only one building. As we browsed the rows of empty two-storied barracks, Giang blurted, “I’m getting emotional, man. I was here 41 years ago, and so was my future wife.” They’re divorced.

Giang wore a T-shirt, “Somebody in Pennsylvania Love Me.” He had had 50 custom-made, one for each state. Thirty of them are grammatical, but the rest are missing an “s.” The native-born printer screwed up. Whenever Giang crosses a new state, he has his picture taken below the welcome sign. Not just methodical, my friend is anal.

Right outside the fort was an old timey restaurant, Funck’s, so that’s where we went for breakfast. An electrical sign flashed a waving flag, then “GOD BLESS THE USA.” By the cash register, there was a carousel with laminated signs of patriotic, inspirational or loving messages for sale. The clientele were mostly wholesome looking families or soldiers in desert cammies. Perusing the menu, I learnt that “Honkey Eggs” had green peppers, onions and home fries mixed with two eggs and toast ($6.99). I searched for scrapple, found it then declared to the cheerful waitress, “This guy is from California and he’s never tried scrapple!” A scrapple faithful, I proselytize it at every chance.

As we waited for our food, Giang went to a convenience store next door and, chatting away, met a woman in her 60’s who had worked at the fort in 1975. After they hugged and took a photo, Giang invited Brenda to join us for breakfast. Since she couldn’t leave her shift, Giang bought her a Funck’s gift card as a token of thanks “for helping the Vietnamese.”

Steelton is 25 miles from Fort Indiantown Gap. In 2013, I met a man there who had been a guard at the refugee camp, “People were saying shit like, ‘These people killed my brother, they killed my father, and now you’re bringing them here.’ I was right there, I saw it, but things have changed, you know. Now you have all these Vietnamese businesses around here, all these restaurants.” Jackson was a black Vietnam vet who had done two tours.

The complexity of the Vietnam War is embodied by Phan Thi Kim Phuc. History knows her as a nine-year-old victim of a napalm strike. Since the weapon was American, and the pilot South Vietnamese, Kim Phuc became a perfect symbol to the Vietnamese Communists because she seemingly vindicated them. Studying medicine in Cuba, Kim Phuc married another Vietnamese student, and they were allowed to honeymoon in Moscow. During the trip back to Havana, the couple deplaned in New Foundland and asked Canada for political asylum. Here’s a clear victim of an American bomb rejecting Communism to live in the West. There is absolutely no contradiction except to those who see the world in the most simplistic terms. Raised in a Godless state, Kim Phuc is also a devout Christian.

During the last Democratic National Convention, I saw many Bernie Sanders fans march around with red flags. Carrying a red flag and pumping his fist, a young man stood precariously on top of a seven-foot-tall chess piece. He was a pawn on top of a pawn. It is remarkable that Communism is still hip despite decades of unprecedented barbarity, much cultural heritage destroyed and millions of innocents imprisoned or killed. Across the West, it is distasteful to bring up Communist crimes, yet those by Nazis are relentlessly amplified. Holocaust museums and memorials greatly outnumber those devoted to the horrors of a movement to which Jews have contributed so greatly.

The US allied itself with Stalin, then fought Communism. It propped up Saddam Hussein, then murdered him. After bombing Hanoi, it now sells weapons to the same regime. In front of a huge Ho Chi Minh bust, Bush, Clinton and Obama beamed. Freedom fighters will be redefined as terrorists, or vice versa. When it comes to geopolitics, there is no ideological consistency. Only war is constant, and the flow of refugees.

Debating, voting or protesting, we are no more in charge of our destinies than the South Vietnamese.



LJansen said...

You got that right, Linh. The levers are busted or the vandals took the handle.

But I heard on National Poison Radio theres a new, possibly habitable planet out there. Think Tromp'll develop that instead of the White House gig?

Living is the best revenge.

Signed, One of Henry's Useless Eaters

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Linda,

In 1975, I was in 6th grade at my Catholic school in downtown Saigon. I also had judo lessons at school on certain evenings. I remember classes being canceled, then seeing on TV news of a renegade South Vietnamese pilot bombing the Presidential Palace, then the President giving a rambling speech as he resigned. My father arranged for my brother and me to get on a plane, and we got out hours before the airport was shut down because of shelling. Plenty of people were killed.

What I'm trying to say is, one's life can change very abruptly. I mean, look at Turkey. After that strange coup, thousands of people lost their jobs, and thousands more were locked up. There are almost no tourists there now, so millions more are affected economically. When I was in Istanbul just before Christmas, it was still bustling with commercial activities despite the tension with Russia.

Look at Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Are Americans so sure this nation won't implode or explode in the near future?


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Linda,

Also, do click on Phan Thi Kim Phuc in the article. It will lead to a YouTube interview with this amazing woman.


Linh Dinh said...

An email from a Polish-American:

I write to let you know how much I enjoyed your article published on August 26, 2016, at You seem to understand the true nature of communism as only someone familiar with its atrocities ever could. Although my background is Eastern European rather than Asian, the brutality of communist regimes is universal wherever it was allowed to gain power. And thank you for pointing out the absurdly disproportionate treatment of communist and fascist regimes by the modern-day American "press," and for touching on the reason for the disparity. You will no doubt receive swift criticism for stating what should be obvious to the world by now. Please be strong in the face of that criticism. We need more like you willing to speak (and write) the truth.

LJansen said...

Hi, Linh. That interview with Phan Thi Kim Phuc was very moving. Americans on the whole have no idea what it is like to be treated that way, as you know.

They might look upon her as an alien being. Someone so forgiving may not be imaginable to them. And being the recipient of such horrors is beyond their understanding. But as you said, things can change.

I think of myself as a global citizen. I do not stand for the national anthem or pledge of allegiance. Most people do not seem to care that I don't. I suppose that could change too.

Thanks, Linh. Linda

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Linda,

She is a remarkable woman.

In California, Kim Phuc met Nick Ut, the Vietnamese photographer who took that famous photo of her. I see images of them hugging and smiling. Her spirit just shines through.

As for nations, a reader just brought to my attention what Solzhenitsyn said at his Nobel lecture:

"In recent times it has been fashionable to talk of the levelling of nations, of the disappearance of different races in the melting-pot of contemporary civilization. I do not agree with this opinion, but its discussion remains another question. Here it is merely fitting to say that the disappearance of nations would have impoverished us no less than if all men had become alike, with one personality and one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, its collective personalities; the very least of them wears its own special colours and bears within itself a special facet of divine intention."


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I read Linh Dinh's review of "Apocalypse Now". Everything he writes about the movie is true, but irrelevant. No matter what Coppola says, the movie was an American movie made by Americans for Americans. It's about America not Vietnam.

For Americans of a certain age Vietnam is not even a country--it's a psychic scar.

I really enjoy Linh Dinh's blog. He knows a lot of interesting people and writes about them very interestingly. But in the end, no one but an American can ever come close to understanding Americans. The thing foreigners always forget is that Americans have just as great a capacity for hatred as anyone else--we just hide it better than most.

Swza said...

Distasteful to bring up communist crimes across the west? I'm not following this sentence Linh. American children are bombarded with the stories of atrocities carried out by communist countries our entire childhoods. Please explain.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Swza,

That was a while ago. On American campuses, you can freely praise Mao, Castro, Ho, Che, Lenin, Trosky or even Kim Jong-Un, but try to say anything positive about Hitler and you'll get crucified. Recently, the poet laureate of San Francisco was Jack Hirschman, a man who openly and repeatedly praised Stalin.

At Unz, I just posted this comment:

Last year, I visited the Stasi Museum in Leipzig and posted three photos of it on my blog. Immediately, two Stalinist freaks jumped in to denounce me as a cheerleader for American imperialism!

Similar freaks have hounded me over the years, and it’s no good to reason with them. I’ve pointed out my objection to all abuses of state power. I’ve said that they’re welcome to yearn for and live in a Communist state, but just leave me and billions of others out of it. I’ve asked why does such an atrocious solution, one that has killed millions, still have any credibility? I’ve said that surely humanity is not so lacking in imagination that it’d want to revert to this colossal failure. It doesn’t matter what I say, though. For pointing out the obvious, that Communism is evil, I’m branded a defender of American war crimes.

When I asked one Stalinist freak to read (or reread) Orwell’s Animal Farm, he said he didn’t trust Orwell because Orwell had gone to Eton. He also said Communism is “the best hope for the world’s downtrodden.” Since the man was in his 50′s, you can’t blame youth for such idiocy.

A different Stalinist freak called 1984 a pornographic novel.


Linh Dinh said...

The Poet Laureate of North Vietnam was Tố Hữu. I translate his 1953 ode to Stalin :

Stalin! Stalin!

A mother showed to her child
A picture of Stalin with a young child
His shirt is white against red clouds
His eyes are kind, his mouth smiling

On an immense green field
He stands with a little child
Wearing a red scarf round his neck
Towards the future they both look

Stalin! Stalin!
How I loved my child’s first word
When he said the word Stalin!
The milky fragance of a baby’s mouth
Is like the dove of peace and a limpid moon

Yesterday the field speaker blared
Tore my stomach to shreds
O how the village convulsed
O how can it be… He’s dead!
O Stalin! O Stalin!

Without you, are there still sky and earth?
The love for my father, mother, wife
The love for myself are but one tenth
Of my love for you
The love for my child, country, race
Can’t be greater than my love for you

Before there was only barren desolation
Thanks to you there’s brightness and joy
Before only torn clothes and hunger
Thanks to you our rice pots are full

Before only torment and shackles
Thanks to you we have days of freedom
When people have land to till
When independence comes tomorrow
Who will we remember with gratitude?

This gratitude I’ll bear on my shoulders
One side for Uncle Ho, one for you
My child, you’re still so clueless
But you’ll learn to thank Stalin for life

Loving you a mother vowed in silence
To love village, country, husband, child
Although you have disappeared, gone
Your crimson footsteps are forever

Today on the village road at dawn
Incense smoke curled up everywhere
A thousand in mourning white, joined
In wrenching eternal remembrance of you.

Much superior artists to Tố Hữu, most notably Picasso and Neruda, have tainted themselves by paying homage to a man responsible for 20 to 60 million deaths. Even Albert Einstein refused to condemn Stalin’s murder of political prisoners, stating, “The Russians have proved that their only aim is really the improvement of the lot of the Russian people.”

Not all major intellectuals got it wrong, of course. During WWII, when the dictator was an ally of Roosevelt and Churchill, an important American poet did declare, “Stalin’s regime considers humanity as nothing save raw material. Deliver so many carloads of human material at the consumption point. That is the logical result of materialism. If you assert that men are dirty, that humanity is merely material, that is where you come out. And the old Georgian train robber is perfectly logical. If all things are merely material, man is material–and the system of anti-man treats man as matter”–Ezra Pound.

What Pound got wrong have been amply broadcast, but Pound got a lot right.

Spending decades writing obsequious and bloodthirsty poetry, Tố Hữu was also very dangerous as a high-ranking Party member. He wrecked many lives. Near death in 2002, he circulated a farewell poem. I translate:

To my most beloved friend in life
A few lines of verse and a bit of ash
Poetry for life, ash for the soil
In life I give, in death I also give.

The Vietnamese word for “give” is “cho.” Add a rising diacritic, however, and “cho” becomes “chó,” meaning “dog.” In oral circulation, the last line of Tố Hữu’s poem has been converted to:

In life I was a dog, in death a dog.


Anonymous said...

Linda Jansen: Hi, Linh. That interview with Phan Thi Kim Phuc was very moving. Americans on the whole have no idea what it is like to be treated that way, as you know.

Yeah, Americans are really awful. I'm sure it would be much nicer to go to Vietnam as a refugee.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'm amazed by how you twisted Linda's words and sentiments.

Kim Phuc's ordeal was and is extraordinary.

Next time you comment, do come up with a pseudonym at least.


Swza said...

Hi linh,
Thanks. Both capitalism and state capitalism (soviet communism) are deplorable.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Swza,

People get confused by the left/right dichotomy. Whether ruled by a king, corporations or a single political party, a totalitarian state is a totalitarian state.

Though calling itself "Communist," North Korea is basically a hereditary monarchy, and there's no surprise here. Orwell's Animal Farm is an allegory of this transformation.


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Swza,

With their materialistic mania, both unchecked Capitalism and Communism wreck the earth, because production is paramount.

As just another resource, the masses are just there to be exploited.

State glory trumps individual dignity or just plain sanity.


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Swza,

Speaking of left and right, can you guess who wrote this?:

The organization of society so as to abolish the preconditions of usury, and hence its possibility, would render the Jew impossible. His religious conviction would dissolve like a stale miasma under the pressure of the real life of the community. On the other hand, should the Jew recognize his materialistic nature as valueless and work for its abolition, he would be working for simple human emancipation and the shedding of his development to date, thus rejecting the highest practical expression of human self-alienation.

Thus we recognize in Judaism generally an anti-social element which has reached its present strength through a historical development in which the Jews eagerly collaborated. Jewish emancipation means, ultimately, the emancipation of humanity from Judaism.

Swza said...

Do tell. . .

Linh Dinh said...

Karl Marx.

Buck Swamp said...

Did I twist her words? I think you are mistaken. Here is what she wrote:

Hi, Linh. That interview with Phan Thi Kim Phuc was very moving [true]. Americans on the whole have no idea what it is like to be treated that way, as you know. [Really? The Vietnam War was hardly a picnic for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who were killed or maimed in that insane war, or the uncounted thousands whose psyches were destroyed by it. Or don't they count too? And from the American perspective, what in the hell was it all for? Can somebody please explain that?]

They [bad Americans] might look upon her as an alien being [while she looks at them no doubt as friends and family, because we all know the Vietnamese are so much less xenophobic than Americans]. Someone so forgiving [the good non-American] may not be imaginable to them [bad Americans again]. And being the recipient of such horrors is beyond their [bad Americans] understanding. But as you said, things can change.

I think of myself as a global citizen [I call BS--probably just another privileged poseur-American.]. I do not stand for the national anthem or pledge of allegiance [oh how brave you are!] Most people do not seem to care that I don't [most people probably don't even notice that you don't]. I suppose that could change too. [Everything will change sooner or later].

Swza said...

I swear I was going to write that but didn't want to look more foolish than I already am. Where is that from.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Buck Swamp,

Linda was talking about a single individual, not Vietnamese as a whole. I don't think she ever suggested that Vietnamese are categorically better than Americans.

As for the global citizen bit, it's part of the cultural climate of the time. Like you, I don't subscribe to it, and in many articles, I've argued against it.

In my Bridesburg Postcard, I echo both you and Linda:

In many parts of the world, people still have fresh memories of traumatic societal upheavals, but Americans have never been subjected to nonstop terror from an alien control apparatus, sent to hard labor or reeducation camps, or made so desperate, they head for the open sea in flimsy crafts, knowing they might drown, starve to death or be raped or killed by pirates. Having no experience of totalitarianism, not quite yet, Americans can glibly wear it as a conceit. Also, there is a Western tradition of militant evangelism that stems from an arrogant conviction that whatever you supremely believe in, or just kinda like, sort of, must be the guiding light for the rest of the world, so if it’s not Communism, then it’s Catholicism, Capitalism, Neo-Liberalism and so on, all Western belief systems. If a nominally Communist country like China has been able to revive itself, it’s due to its people’s deeply ingrained qualities of tremendous industry, single mindedness, stoicism, eagerness to learn and shrewdness in business. From Singapore to San Francisco, Chinese everywhere have these traits.

Any global solution requires global policing and enforcement, so enough, already, with universal diktats, for in their names, villages everywhere have been devastated. To globalize you, they’ll make you unrecognizable to yourself if not turn you into a slave. It’s fine if you disagree, for that only proves that humans tend to differ, just as groups of people will always remain distinctive. Born different, we also live differently.


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Swza,

It's from his On the Jewish Question.


swindled said...

from Michael Cooke's "Marx on the 'Jewish question': anti-Semitic or a cogent critique of liberalism?" Marx was not a self-hating Jew. He was using the language of the day. As Hal Draper pointed out in painstaking detail, Marx, in making Jews and Judaism synonymous with huckstering and usury, was borrowing the language of Moses Hess, one of the founders of Zionism,[21] in an article published around the same time as that of Marx. It was entitled “On the monetary system”. Hess described society at the time as a “huckster world” and like Marx peppered his text with stereotypes. This reflects the fact that the archetype of the huckstering Jew was accepted to some extent by radical Jewish commentators (including Lassalle and Heine[22]), especially with regard to rich Jews like the Rothschilds. In addition, the “liberal bourgeois” movement that was pushing for Jewish rights argued that Jews needed to assimilate into the wider society – an argument heard not only in the Rhineland and in other areas of Germany, but in France as well.
Judentum, the German word for Judaism, had the derivative meaning of commerce, a meaning which was uppermost in Marx’s mind.[23] As Draper points out:
The real issue of the time had nothing to do with the use of language about Judaism based on the universally accepted economic-Jew stereotype. The real Jewish question was: For or against the political emancipation of the Jews? For and against equal rights for Jews?[24]
In his public pronouncements and deeds Marx showed he was fully supportive of Jewish rights. Marx did not favour Jewish emancipation merely so that Jewish and Christian capitalists could compete on a level playing field, but saw it as a step towards the emancipation of all.

swindled said...

That the German word for Judaism, Judentum, according to Cooke "had the derivative meaning of commerce" (the literal translation is Handel) should perhaps not be so surprising, as the German language is littered with such evocative treasures. For instance, the German word for debt, Schuld, also means guilt.

LJansen said...

Thank you, Linh, for interpreting my statement as I meant it. I admit the global citizen might be superficial in that I am definitely living in the USA and defined by the actions of its state, which is what I feel alienated from. It does seem to me that collective efforts are necessary if humanity is to save itself. That totalitarianism seems to erupt from attempts to change course must be acknowledged. But isn't it possible to do better?

LJansen said...

Also thanks for the Marx statement on Jews. I need to take more time to read this. Linda


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 a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007), Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009) and A Mere Rica (2017), 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). 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.