Sunday, January 21, 2018

The 2018 Women's March: A Resisting Force from Within

 © Kim Roberts

January 21, 2018. Yesterday, one year after President Trump's inauguration, millions of Americans marched to show the same resisting solidarity they had in 2017 but with a newer spirit and a better focus. Absolutely moving to see!

On January 22, 2017, I wrote a blog about the 2017 Women's March on Washington. The march was a phenomenon. That was unprecedented. I was moved. But, at the same time I felt uneasy. There was so much anger toward Pres. Trump and his character and not enough of the way his administration would lead and govern the country because it was too early for one to say. Legally, it is not a crime for him to be a badass, a blunder, or blooper. And, among the marchers, there was a sentiment of loss, remorse, and bewilderment after the election. The 2017 marchers were emotionally heated but they showed less evidence of unity, conformity, and spirit, at least in my view.

For every movement, there's a difficult starting point before adjustments and progress are made and followed. From a deeper level, I view the 2018 Women's March as a new dawn of a stronger and growing force as its focus has shifted from attacking Trump as an individual to the performance of his administration, and to include other abusive celebrities as mentioned in such new trends as "me too" and "time's up." I foresee this force to be a larger and more inclusive movement in the future. And I visualize a growing internal power that is building and uniting women and those who support their cause. Undoubtedly, the women are reinforced and empowered by a new positive energy from within. In several cities, their focus has shifted to being more involved in voting and in the political arena. The 2018 March has demonstrated itself as a united front with new focus, meaning, and spirit.

That said, I have faith that time will change everything. But inaction might not lead to any change. Any movement in the name of humane treatments and justice for all will prevail. I am not an expert in constitutional or legal fields, or other fields, but I believe in the spirit of America. I am confident that the American Revolution that gives birth to this country also intends to give American the right to stand up for their beliefs. For many of us, struggles define our characters. 

Additional INFO: My Blog of January 22, 2017:

Copyright © Kim Roberts

... Scholarly or not, I write what I see, observe, and how I feel. My favorite philosopher Soren Kierkegaard says, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” This is my view with my limited understanding of the events happening around me, which I have experienced. There are so much more that I don’t know. But, as Kahlil Gibran says, “If I knew the cause of my ignorance, I would be a sage.”

January 21, 2017, as I received photos from a relative and several girl friends, who were in the women’s marches, I reflected on my own feelings. Through the media, I saw President Trump as one without sound judgment, gentleman-like conducts, wit, and intellect—essential elements found in most reputable characters. However, with my legal background, I was concerned that it has not been legally proven that he has committed wrong doings or crimes. And I wondered if an attack on him was warranted. That said, in view of the women’s march, I have looked deep into their cause by reflecting on the historical background of situations that led to terrible disasters in the history of mankind when those who knew did not speak up or take actions. And, it became apparent to me that it is a justification of the women’s march.

I recall the American Civil Rights movement, the anti-war demonstrations in Washington DC, the hippies, and the freedom movements. But I did not live in the U.S. then so I don’t know enough to comment. Most of everything I know well and have witnessed is connected with the unpopular Vietnam War. As much as I am reluctant to speak of the war, I can’t keep hiding my feelings toward those who were able but did not stop such a war from happening. So bear with me. 

My online research of the events leading to the Vietnam War reveals that, from 1945 to 1946, in 9 letters and messages to President Truman and America, along with Truman’s Secretary of State James Byrnes, Ho Chi Minh repeatedly begged the U.S. for acceptance. Ho sent six letters and messages in 1945 and 5 in 1946. In a letter dated February 16, 1946 to President Harry Truman, Ho wrote, “…What we ask has been graciously granted to the Philippines. Like the Philippines our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.” (a quote from History as Weapons site).

The language in Ho’s letter is consistent with my knowledge and belief of the events leading to the war. I was attending high school in Vietnam when the war started. I often wondered why President Truman and those who surrounded him did not consider asking Ho Chi Minh to give up Communism in exchange for independence and financial assistance for Vietnam. As a Vietnamese, I knew Ho would agree. That would be logical but apparently that wasn’t in the mind of those in power in America at the time. The consequences of not avoiding the Vietnam War from the get-go have taught us that, when it comes to people in high power, it is too dangerous to apply the presumption of innocence in which “one is not guilty until the crime is proven in the court of law” and no action could be taken until something has happened...

... Political Science is the first degree I earned in California in 1978. Among the textbooks I read with passion, the first one was Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.” My favorite Tocqueville’s quote is, “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”  The second book I most enjoyed was Erich Fromm’s “Escape From Freedom.” The original title of that book is “Fear of Freedom.” Fromm’s theoretical analysis led me to understand the transformation of a free individual into a submissive member of a totalitarian government. 

Totalitarianism is not a form of American democratic government. But, at gut level, unpredictable voters might turn democracy into a totalitarian type of democracy. Therefore, to certain extent, the totalitarian trend explains why and how, on the one hand, millions conservative American have sought to surrender to their religious beliefs, political affiliations, or strong leadership in exchange for hope and comfort. And, on the other hand, the opposing liberal force also relied on a collective power of the masses to ease anxiety. Consequently, American democracy has become more paradoxical and less logical as it is strengthened by a contradiction between two opposing forces. I am beginning to sound like Hegel but the realities of American politics led me to believe that the goal of each major party in America is not merely gaining power but overpowering the other. Thus, to maintain a balance, successful crusaders no longer advocate as individuals but operate under group identities...

END   © K. N. Roberts

P.S. It feels good to speak up.                      © Kim Roberts

Sunday, November 19, 2017

In the Autumn of My Life

© Kim Roberts

I am looking at the dead leaves on the ground of Montmorency Park, in front of Château Frontenac. I am in tears, not because of sadness or joy. This intense emotion is from gladness in my heart. Despite all the ups, downs, and arounds, life has been fabulous and I am thankful for this life.

An autumn gust sweeps through like a magic wand that mysteriously makes the leaves roll upward with hesitation, vacillate for a few moments, then dance in mass as if they are being hypnotized. I stare at their movements. I observe their directions. I am mesmerized by the colors of golden and brown with some stubborn green spots that refuse to give in to the brilliant autumn colors edging around them. I see death with a promise of renewal. Then looking inward, I see a glittering sunset sky shimmering down slowly--the twilight of my time on earth. But, unlike the trees losing autumn leaves with a promise of a new growth in spring, I wonder if I will have the same chance of returning. I am in the autumn of my life--the most brilliant time to cherish what life has offered and a time to reflect, to feel melancholic with a touch of nostalgia, and perhaps a few moments to savor the last drops of golden sun rays before the night takes over and life ends.

As I narrow my eyes and gaze intensely at the movements of autumn leaves chasing each other on Montmorency ground, images of the old days begin to emerge. The colorful carpet of leaves turns into a sparkling water surface with thousands of Water Fish wiggling under the sun. They immediately disappear as a breeze stirs up ripples and tiny streaks of sunrays begin to leap and bounce on the water, unaware of the disturbance that has dissolved the fish. And, I am six. Father is holding my little hand and puts in my palm a tiny sapling plum tree with a promise that the tree would grow if I take good care of it. "Water it thoroughly until it can drink from the creek," says Father. The day Father dies, my plum tree dies. I am fifteen. Sister Nhu Anh consoles me, "Trees have souls. They follow Papa."

I am seventeen. The morning I meet an American Officer at a Sunday service at Dong Tam Chapel, he immediately sweeps me off my feet. We go on a helicopter ride to Vung Tau to visit the military hospital there. Over My Tho, along the Mekong River, Viet Cong's shots hit the side of the chopper. I examine the defoliated dead coconut trees, leaves drooping, and trunks in various brownish shades. I turn to him with inquiring eyes and disbelief, "Why? Why? Trees have souls." For years after that day, I often go to bed with images of his eyes that reveal so much feeling. He contacts me frequently by mail. Yet we never get close. We never have even a hug. Each time I open his letter and reply to it, I ask myself, "Why?" Occasionally, I ask myself a different question, "What's the point?" I am eighteen; I experience the effects of teargas and sing Trinh Cong Son's anti-war music along with other students for the first time. I hang out with starving artists in Saigon. My mentor, artist V. Ba takes me under his wing and helps me hone my skills in painting. I meet a pilot, a friend of my sister, on a rainy night. We stand on the porch and recite Le Trong Lu's and Han Mac Tu's poetry until 2 AM. Two years later the pilot is killed during the Khe Sanh Battle. I ask, "Why? Why him?"

I have learned to compartmentalize my life. Everything has its own drawer. Everyone about whom I care is kept in each compartment. I don't talk to anyone. I keep a diary in my head.  Living with poverty and at war, you don't have privacy. The only private part of your life is in your head and heart, your most primitive way to computerize your files. Over time, the files get full and stuck and you can't get most of them out. Among the files I have buried deep inside is the fact that everyone in my family knows I am a target of an obsessive stalker but no one would help me. I often ask, "Why? Why don't they?"

1974, I can see the day I am running away from a shadow that follows me. I crash into a cadet named Tam from Thu Duc Academy. Along with two dozens of cadets temporarily assigned to protect the Presidential Palace, he stays inside the National Library where I arrange an Art show for my office.  For the first time, in the library's secret archive kept in a nine-floor tower, fear of and anger at my circumstance, love of books, and the pressure of a war that is coming to an end have made our relationship the most intense and memorable of all. Three days after we met, he goes back to the Academy, I am deeply torn, "Why? Why life has to be this way?" Each time I think of myself standing by the top window of the library tower wishing I could fly away from the whole Saigon and the war, I have an urge to paint birds. I want wings. That's the reason I have painted so many birds--to me, they symbolize "freedom."

After coming to America in 1975, throughout the years, I have asked myself many more whys.  I doubt that I will ever find the answers to all of them. So I always have more questions than answers. I now face the fact that I am in the autumn of my life. Like everyone else of my age group or even older, it's time to decompress and open up the well-packed compartmental life cabinet to lessen the load on our way to the next chapter wherever or whatever that may be. I have decided that this is the time for me to explore the making of my character and answer most if not all the whys--not to satisfy anyone else's concern but mine, for me and me alone. My primary question is whether I am the maker of my own being, or the muse of my own creation. Or have I been merely the rhapsody of a force of destiny, or a Divine Plan, against which I have fought and surrendered?

A long time ago, in October 2015, I pondered that question when I began my blog. I blog so I don't have to be concerned about editing and publication. They are killers of inspiration. I've been waiting for the right time to explore all possible answers to my life inquiries. That said, I will now reprint my blog "Autumn in My Heart," the very beginning of my personal exploration.
Friday, October 9, 2015
© by Kim Roberts

Vibrant and lucid, the trees are ignited in Autumn blaze.

Return again, the whistling winds in sunlit sky.
The time has come for us to reflect
and to celebrate
the magnificence of today and of this place.

I look not to Winter when the leaves are gone,
nor back, with regrets, jolly Spring
and dazzling Summer funs.
Calm, peaceful, and restored by the glory of nature,
I wish to share with you my happiness, love,
and contentment…

That is how I feel about “Autumn" since Autumn always touches me more than any other season. I was born in Autumn. My father passed away on my 15th Birthday.  My late husband also died in Autumn, exactly 1 month before my birthdate. Yet for me, Autumn is not about dying, it’s about beauty. It’s a time to reflect, meditate, and to appreciate what Nature does to indulge us with magnificent colors, with nourishing rain, and with exquisite and melancholic changes when sea birds fly south for the winter and monarch butterflies migrate. This is an ideal time to give love and to reflect…

END    © Kim Roberts

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Horoscope, My Shadow, and Horoscope As Used During the Vietnam War

copyright © Kim Roberts

I am getting old. Whatever I have in mind is either old-fashioned or outdated. So when I call up memories of the old days and wonder how things could have been done differently, usually they are very old events that not many people remember and others are too young to know. Folks out there, please join me if you're around my age! 

Recently, when Ken Burns and Lynn Novick did the Vietnam War series, I was glad to be reminded of a few things about that war. There were some testimonial pieces from former American officers who said, or perhaps implied, that they admired the fanatic North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers and wished those soldiers were theirs. They also mentioned with caution that the South Vietnamese soldiers fighting along with the Americans were not motivated, if not too laid back to fight.

Well, the filmmakers did not explain what led to that attitude. But I know the causes. I was a South Vietnamese who was familiar with both the American and ARVN military matters. We had always been more relaxed and easy-going people than Vietnamese from other regions. We were taught to believe in horoscope the moment we were born. So to us, everyone had a destiny, similar to a blue print, and everything would happen according to the chart. We must not fight against fate (cai so). Being driven was not our style. One must let things flow. If we planned major events such as marriages, buying new homes, funeral arrangements, we would choose dates and time when all the elements of water, fire, metal, earth, and wood were in a favorable alignment. We did not have "free will." When South Vietnamese soldiers went to the battlefield, they believed on a good day (ngay tot) favorable to their charts, everything would be all right. But, on a bad day (ngay xau) they could get killed.
1969. My sister and me (on right) in front of an American Battle Ship in Saigon
In Plato's philosophy, men who rely only on the evidence of their senses are similar to men imprisoned in a cave with their backs turn against the light coming in through the cave's mouth. As their eyes are fixed on the wall of the cave, they can only see the shadows of moving objects including their own shadow. These shadows, they regard as real, for that's all they know when in fact the real world is outside the cave.  For us, who allowed horoscope to dictate how we lived our lives, horoscope predictions were as real to us as Plato's cavemen believing in the shadows. Of course Plato's view goes further into the senses v. the ideas.  For Vietnamese, we're not that philosophical. We simply let the horoscope predictions lead the way into life.

I am not speaking of this belief, or trend, in my daily lives in the 1950s as a spectator or a research scientist. I am talking about my life as a victim of it. Fortunately, its impacts in my life were not all negative. Someday I will reveal the myth they told about me, a little girl from Sadec and how horoscope has affected my entire life. My sister witnessed what happened to me as she keeps telling my stories over and over. Do I believe in horoscope or myth? No, I don't. Definitely not! Nonetheless, I must say most predictions have been alarmingly closed and they affect me as if they were mind-control devices that suck into my brain functions and refuse to leave. Worse, my family members kept the control button. So, like a pair of magic red shoes, they kept me dancing against my will.

During the years I lived in Saigon I became acquainted with Duong Thai Bang, the celebrity Feng Shui Master and Destiny Analytics who advised only the top leaders in Saigon. Among his clients, President Thieu, ARVN generals, and the wealthiest Chinese business community in Cholon. He was an oracle, or a prophet, to his clients who offered him gold bars just to get his advice. I was a poor law school student, a starving artist, and Thieu's employee but Bang took interest in me as his pupil. He taught me destiny analysis, invited me to lunch, and eventually made me his protégé. That's how I knew about the influence of horoscope at a high level of military and policy decision-making in South Vietnam. In April 1975, the war ended. During chaos, each of us was getting out of Vietnam on our own. I lost track of Bang.

Several months later, in September 1975, I was standing in a food line at Fort Chaffee Refugee Camp in Arkansas to receive my lunch when an old gentleman in front of me suddenly turned around and looked at me. I thought I saw a ghost. He held my hands and I heaved up then my tears streamed out profusely. That was Duong Thai Bang. “You made it. No, we made it. How did you do it?” He asked. “I danced my way out,” I said and cried happy tears, “in the dark.”

After Ft. Chaffee, he joined his children in Texas and I went to California. He contacted me and visited me until he passed away years later. Among letters he wrote which I didn't open until after his death, he mapped out my life in an amazing way. I can't say he was completely right but he was close. I didn't read because I did not want his horoscope reading to become my self-fulfilling prophecy. Growing up, I had enough of horoscope as a shadow that followed me against my will. Nowadays, I am completely free from it but its impact lingers on.

That said, I will now reprint my Blog dated November 11, 2015. This is a true story of Vietnamese Horoscope and the way we South Vietnamese fought the war. I know all the main characters in the story when the influence of horoscope first surfaced militarily on May 1, 1970 then at the end of the Vietnam War, April 1975, when President Duong Van Minh refused to negotiate amnesty for South Vietnam.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Weapons at War That The Eye Cannot See: Fanaticism and Horoscope, Not Military Hardware

November 11th, 2015 is a nostalgic Veteran’s Day and, ironically, also my wedding anniversary. And that is an excuse for my somber writing mood. From the root of the root of my tree of life, I was born at war (Vietnam v. the French), and I grew up with the Vietnam War, beginning in Sadec, and was married to an American veteran who once fought the war in Sadec. My tree of life grows so deep and so high in my heart, soul, and mind that its shadow has enveloped nearly my entire existence. So here’s my most unusual kind of war story—one about fanaticism, horoscope, and military hardware in the war I know best, the Vietnam War.

“I'll be damned.  They’ll never believe this in Washington," said General Creighton Abrams, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, to the commander of the First Air Cavalry Division.

General E. Benton, who planned and commanded the incursion into Cambodia on May 1, 1970, informed Abrams that General Do Cao Tri, the 3rd Corps Commander, had refused to command his 50,000 South Vietnamese troops in the incursion into Cambodia because his horoscope predictions prevented him from planning major military operations during the first four days in May.
A simple destiny Analysis Chart based upon 12 animals. 
The real Horoscope (Tu Vi) has more details arranged in a complicated formula.
To fight the Vietnam War, in addition to conventional military strategies and tactics, the North Vietnamese relied on their fanatic determination to win the war; the Americans, at that time, used military hardware and statistics (Westmoreland’s strategy of attrition); and the South Vietnamese—who always believe heavily in horoscopes—used horoscopes.

Again, on the last days of the war, in April 1975, General Duong Van Minh, the head of the South Vietnamese regime, could have negotiated with the North Vietnamese for an amnesty for South Vietnam.  But he did not.  His horoscope readings indicated that the time was not right—the sun, the moon, and stars were not in alignment.  

 Horoscope predictions, as Tam Pham, a former South Vietnamese officer, explained, "Figuratively speaking, if you have fire in your star, a battle on the day that has water, which can put out a fire, can harm you.  If you have wood in you, a day that has metal, which can cut wood, can destroy you."  

My dear friend Duong Thai Bang, a well-known astrologer and Feng Shui master in Saigon, told me in the early 1970s that he advised President Nguyen Van Thieu that the evil forces of the sculpture of a turtle in the fountain square across from Thieu’s residence in Saigon could, literally speaking, harm his presidency. 

"The turtle was then restrained when Thieu ordered a steel column to be installed on top of the sculpture to keep the turtle’s spirit from harming him," said Bang, when he told me how Thieu survived the war. Bang showed me many gifts he received from Thieu.

Unlike the South Vietnamese, the communist North Vietnamese were not known for their belief in religion or horoscopes. They trained young Viet Cong soldiers to build fanatic’s obsession in fighting thus increasing their devotion and fighting effort by observing strict standards and tolerating no contrary ideas, facts, or opinions. This was confirmed by my relatives and friends who went North to be trained in military tactics before Ho Chi Minh passed away in 1969.
Young North Vietnamese? or Viet Cong soldiers 
who were trained to fight as children. I found this in a propaganda
leaflet distributed by the VC and unsure of the copy righ
Personally, I am one of the South Vietnamese who believed in horoscopes because they gave me hope and comfort while facing fear, anxiety, and helplessness induced by the atrocities and horrors of war. Horoscopes gave us a sense of directions during chaos.  

Luong Van Nghi, a former professor I knew in Saigon who now lives in San Jose, attempted to lend legitimacy to horoscope.

"Horoscope reading —which is based on Chinese astrology—is a science," said Nghi.  "And many things that have occurred prove that the horoscope predictions are accurate."

In the past, I had sat at dinners a few times with President Reagan’s former horoscope teller, J. Quigley, and she too also considered astrology, or horoscope, a science.  “I predicted President Reagan would be shot but survived,” Joan said.

With respect to the accuracy of General Tri’s horoscope after Tri had refused to go into Cambodia in 1970: "Tri’s horoscope must have been off a little bit.  The following February, his helicopter was shot down, and he was killed," recalled general E. Benton when interviewed by Harry Maurer in 1988 for Maurer’s book, Strange Ground. 

Upon reflection, with all the tactical horoscope readings and military hardware that the South Vietnam and U.S. possessed and strategically maneuvered during the Vietnam War, it was the North Vietnamese fanaticism that won the war. It was true then. Could it positively be, speculatively speaking, true again in the war against terrorism?

END      copyright © Kim Roberts