On Monday July 25th the Vietnamese Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr.Nguyen Van Hung, opened an exhibition in the Quang Tri Mine Action Centre (QTMAC) and Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the effects of the War (RENEW). about Joris Ivens and the Medical Committee The Netherlands-Vietnam (MCNV). The Ivens Foundation in close collaboration with the Vietnam Film Institute created the panels about the relationship of Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan-Ivens with Vietnam between 1965 and 1970. Their support of the liberation struggle resulted in four films, of which Le 17e parallele was filmed in Quang Tri.
Next to the Minister of Culture and Tourism, also former embassadors of The Netherlands in Vietnam and Vietnamese embassors in Vietnam attended the meeting, and Mr. Hoang Nam, vice-chairman of the Peoples Committe of Quang Tri, who was head of the delegation which visited The Netherlands in October 2019.
Among the keynote speakers was Mrs Xuan Phuong, a close collaborator of Joris Ivens during the shooting of the Vietnamese films. Although educated as a doctor she became Ivens' interpreter and personal assistant. She was worth 'three man' as Ivens explained. After the war she started an art gallery in Ho Chi Minh City to promote Vietname visual artists, not only in Vietnam but also abroad.
Another speaker was Ad Spijkers, former FAO representative and advisor of the Ivens Foundation. He focussed on the history of Joris Ivens in Vietnam and the supportive actions in The Netherlands, which resulted among others in the construction of a hospital in Quang Tri, the most heavingly bombarded area of Vietnam. The Medical Committee The Netherlands-Vietnam was established at that time and is still - after more than fifty years - very active in VItenam and Laos.
During the preparation of the exhibition the Ivens Foundation found finally proof of the fact that Joris Ivens made the footage of a short reportage on president Ho Chi Minh in 1969, the year he passed away. He is sitting in the garden of the presidential palace, receiving soldiers from the front. The reportage was made with a very poor camera, as Ivens explained in a letter, which caused trembling footage. Anyway it is a rare testimony of the president in colour.
The Landmine Center is a very appropriate venue for this exhibition, it shows the history of the bombardments and landmines and how these cause casualties until today. The MCNV is being supported by both USAID as well as the EU.
Mrs. Xuan Phuong watching the Ivens exhibition panels, together with the former ambassador in The Hague, Mrs. Hoa Ngo Thi, journalist Nhan van Nguyen and Mr. Ad Spijkers. Photo copyright Tran Le Hieu / MCNV, 25072022.
The speech of Mr. Ad Spijkers:
“Valuable footage of Joris Ivens in 1967 will remain in the Quang Tri history - Solidarity in action in the Netherlands for Vietnam during the war and afterwards”
Ad Spijkers - Former FAO Representative and advisor EFJI (Vietnam)
The Vietnamese Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Nguyen Van Hung (in the middle), opened the exhibition in the Quang Tri Mine Action Centre (QTMAC).Mr. Hoang Nam, vice-chairman of the Peoples Committe of Quang Tri applauding (4th from the left). Photo copyright Tran Le Hieu / MCNV, 25072022.
The speech of Mr. Chuck Searcy:
QUANG TRI - 50 YEARS OF ASPIRATION FOR PEACE
Chuck Searcy, Adviser for Project RENEW and President of Veterans
for Peace, Chapter 160 Vietnam, NGO Agent Orange: “Building a culture of peace and healing the wounds of war”.
Peace is precious, three words that were carved on precious wood and red lacquer trimmed with gold, put in these formal places and respected for generations. That is a beautiful philosophy of life, a special ideology of Vietnam and the Orient. Throughout time it becomes the measure of kindness . . . It rejects the philosophy of venerating power, using violence to deter and conquer other nations as the only way to solve difficulties in the world. It must be because we are a nation that has been through the pain of war that we have a burning desire for peace.
– Poet Hu’u Thinh, Chairman of the Vietnam Writers’ Association, from the Preface of his book.
“Building a culture of peace.” What does it mean?
Culture is the quality in a person or society that creates excellence in arts, letters, manners, scholarship, and relationships. It encourages improvement of the mind. Minds improve collectively, and society benefits, cultures blossom. Culture may need decades or centuries, and generations, to mature. Rich civilizations are created through this growth, just as orchids are cultivated and they become beautiful flowers.
As an American, I feel somewhat out of place speaking to Vietnamese about culture. After all, Vietnamese culture has been around for 4,000 thousand years. America, as a nation and a culture, has only been around less than 300 years.
The culture of Viet Nam, from the family and the village level to the national level, embraces mixed roles of leadership and duty among village elders, kings, respected leaders such as Ho Chi Minh. It is built on balance and stability in institutions such as Buddhism and the Communist Party’s leadership. All of these fall under the banner of harmony, duty, honor, respect, education and allegiance to the family and the nation.
Those cultural values have been a strong foundation for Viet Nam as a society and a nation, and permitted this small country to survive and to prevail against attacks, invasions, occupations, storms and floods and other man-made and natural devastation. In every case, the Vietnamese have maintained their unity, their dignity, and their solidarity, and eventually Viet Nam has always regained its independence and freedom and restored the homes and rice fields of the people. Such strength and resiliency constitute one of Viet Nam’s strongest cultural values, which also guarantees Viet Nam’s sovereignty: the determination of the Vietnamese people to never give up their independence and freedom.
Viet Nam has shown the world that a culture of peace can open a pathway to tranquility, harmony, forgiveness, and a bright and safe future. Viet Nam has shown us how to teach children about peace, about sharing, about putting aside selfishness and thinking of others. The children grow to become young adults and future leaders, and they carry with them the lessons of peace they learned from their parents. They are the global leaders of the future.
Viet Nam carries the culture of peace to another dimension, however: when Viet Nam finally defeats and expels the invaders and the occupiers, the Vietnamese remove them with grace and dignity. The Vietnamese do not humiliate their defeated former enemies; they treat them with respect, knowing that some day they may again be friends. The Vietnamese have great compassion, and great understanding of the hearts of human beings. They know that making a new friend will be a stronger bond and better guarantee peace than crushing an enemy in the dust – which will leave a taste of anger and revenge.
The Vietnamese can teach the world about a culture of peace, continuing to lead by example.
I can tell you, as an American veteran of the war in 1967 and 1968, in Sai Gon, a US Army intelligence analyst, that even during the war I learned from Vietnamese friends how precious is peace to the people of Viet Nam. That’s a special word, precious – quí. We don’t use it much in English. But in Viet Namese precious has an enhanced meaning that all Vietnamese understand. They know that peace is indeed precious.
When I was leaving Sai Gon in June, 1968 my closest Vietnamese friend, a soldier in the Saigon army, said to me as we were saying goodbye, “Go in peace, my friend. I wish you well. And please take every other American soldier with you. Because until you Americans leave our country, we will not have peace. Vietnamese know from centuries of history how to make peace – how to talk with each other, how to reach understandings, how to compromise. We know how to make peace. But you Americans will not let us have peace. You want only war, and victory, but a victory that is different from what the Vietnamese people want.”
He was right. As I look back on that conversation in June of 1968, the last time I saw him, I remember thinking, the Vietnamese are seeking their independence and freedom, which can only be guaranteed by peace. The US is only seeking victory. And we did not even know what that meant.
The end of the war in 1975 stopped the fighting, the bombing, the death and destruction. But the peace that followed was a difficult time for the people of Viet Nam, a time of hard labor, lack of food, lack of opportunity, a time of struggle and sacrifice. It was a time when healing was needed, but that was a difficult challenge. Yet the Viet Namese people did not complain. They redoubled their efforts to rebuild their nation from the rubble of war. They labored under the banner of a hard-won peace, savoring their independence and freedom. They knew how precious peace was, and they were determined to keep it.
War leaves many wounds, and sometimes the scars are visible for a lifetime. To heal a wound, we must first clean the injury, to allow sunshine to restore health and wholeness. That is true of history, also. To learn from history, to avoid making mistakes of the past, we must accept the truth, we must expose wounds of the heart and soul to the healing sunshine of truth.
American veterans of the war – thousands of us who have returned to Viet Nam over the past nearly 50 years – have learned much from our Vietnamese friends about healing, not just about healing the physical injuries but also the psychological wounds of war. The welcome we have received from the people of Viet Nam, and from Vietnamese veterans, former enemies, has been warm and embracing. The forgiveness and the compassion we have received from the Vietnamese have been unexpected and overwhelming. American veterans quickly discover that the Vietnamese people don’t hate us, in fact they welcome us as friends, especially if we offer to help in Viet Nam’s continuing recovery from the damage and destruction, the legacies of the war, including explosive ordnance and Agent Orange.
I have seen American veterans weep on the shoulders of Vietnamese veterans when they hear these words. For some, they truly feel forgiveness for the first time. They feel compassion from the Vietnamese that they did not get back home in America.
Some American veterans still suffer feelings of guilt, betrayal by the U.S. government with the lies that we were told, and anger that we were forced to do something that we deeply regret today.
The Vietnamese people kindly say to us, “That was a long time ago – it was not your fault. The US government made the decisions, and you obeyed. You served your country, we respect that. You know how we Vietnamese suffered, because you suffered also. Today we are brothers and sisters, friends.”
I have seen so many American veterans reach out and embrace Vietnamese veterans, or mothers or children of Vietnamese veterans, who hug them and share with them powerful healing. In more than 25 years in Viet Nam I have met so many US veterans who have come here with their minds and hearts in turmoil. After two or three weeks in Viet Nam, meeting Vietnamese and sharing special moments together, every American veteran I know has returned home to America with his life changed for the better.
That is true healing. We owe so much to our Vietnamese friends for sharing those bonds of forgiveness and friendship.
Many of us American veterans have tried to give back, in small ways, to help Viet Nam recover from the consequences of the war. An American veteran, George Mizo, saw the need for medical support and rehabilitation for children and veterans suffering from Agent Orange, so George joined with the Vietnamese veterans’ association to build and operate a Peace Village on the edge of Ha Noi, which has served hundreds of veterans and children of veterans with care and treatment.
Other veterans have helped build or renovate schools, orphanages, other community facilities, and many have volunteered to work in those institutions.
I am fortunate to work with Project RENEW in Quang Tri Province, a cooperative effort to reduce and eliminate the threat and the harm from bombs and mines. RENEW teams, working with Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), PeaceTrees, MAG and other organizations, have destroyed more than 800,000 bombs over the past two decades. From 75 or 80 casualties every year two decades ago, starting in 2018 the accident rate in Quang Tri Province dropped to zero. For four years there was not a single accident in Quang Tri. Unfortunately, this year there have been two accidents this year – a sad reminder that the problem will not ever go away. It must be managed and monitored every day, to protect children today and in the future.
American veterans have also worked with Vietnamese veterans – the veterans association, the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange, and others – to deal with the terrible consequences of Agent Orange. Two major dioxin hot spots in Viet Nam have now been cleaned up, and one is being cleaned up now, helping to make Viet Nam safe from toxic contamination. Partly because of urging from American veterans, the US government has finally agreed to provide $65 million over the next three years to help families who are facing problems from their children with severe disabilities, likely caused by Agent Orange.
And veterans from all sides have worked together with the governments of the US and Viet Nam to find and account for the many missing remains of soldiers lost in the war.
We have learned – American veterans – from our Vietnamese friends the value of “giving back” in exchange for the forgiveness and the friendship we have received from the people of Viet Nam. This is another way in which the wounds of war are being healed.
I am deeply grateful to the Vietnamese people for sharing with us who have lived and worked here the important values that have made this country such a special place: a culture of peace; and understanding the need to heal the wounds of war.
How to create a culture of lasting peace is the most important challenge. With open hearts and minds, we should learn from each other.
In the words of venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, “Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.”