There is a current art exhibit in Washington, D.C., that I am hoping to see -- “Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975,” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Holland Cotter in The New York Times calls it “protest art” from the American point of view.
But the “second, smaller” part of the show I most want to see is “Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue,” a view of the Vietnam War era through Vietnamese eyes – “far more than a mere add-on,” as Cotter put it.
The Vietnamese people experienced that war – in some ways 180 degrees differently -- but it is safe to say all suffered.
In 1991 I visited “post-war” Vietnam with a small group involved in child care. My wife was doing vital volunteer work by frequently visiting India but she also visited Thailand and the Philippines. I joined her on the trip to Vietnam to deliver goods to a hospital and visit facilities in both “North” and “South” Vietnam.
I was most definitely not there to work or act like a journalist, but I could not help looking and listening to how “The American War” had impacted Vietnamese lives.
Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City: We met a doctor doing complicated surgery. He let us gown up and observe a complicated facial procedure done by a visiting American doctor, the mutual language in the operating room being French.
We got to spend enough time with the doctor to learn he had been on the “wrong” side when the North took over, and was sent to a camp deep in the countryside. I gathered that his family had assets, and he had a great reputation, and he was released from the camp and allowed to resume his profession, refreshing his skills at major hospitals in Asia. He was an asset.
In a relaxed social setting, the conversation got around to how he was able to put the war behind him, to function, to move on. I totally paraphrase his answer; it has been a long time, after all. He said you cannot live in the past, you have to get back to “normal” as smoothly and quickly as possible.
When I (subtly, I hope) asked about the lost years in the camps, he showed no bitterness. He was still a surgeon, putting people back together again. Life went on.
Hanoi Region. We worked our way up north (baguettes and coffee on the beach; ancient ethnic villages; a growing crafts shop outside Da Nang) and we flew to Hanoi. On a chilly day, we took a jitney out to visit a rural orphanage. Our interpreter was a woman around 30 who worked in the sciences and was fluent in English. I happened to sit next to her.
Far into the countryside, I noticed circular ponds scattered on the flat land. I asked the interpreter what the waterholes were for – fishing? rice? source of irrigation?
Actually, she said, with no trace of emotion or agenda, they were holes left over from bombs. She did not mention Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger or the “Christmas bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong in late December of 1972.
She remembered, she said casually, living at a school, and hearing the bombs, and later discovering children her age had been killed or injured. I did not ask any other questions.
The orphanage was shabby, but the workers were doing the best they could. They let us hold children as we walked around. They had a handle on each child, would not release children for adoption if relatives claimed them. We were bringing some aid, and people were courteous.
A young worker pointed at my ball cap, from the 1990 World Cup, and he said, “Maradona,” and I gave him the cap. And then we flew on.
Now I read about the show at the Smithsonian about the remaining terrible divisions in the United States over the Vietnam War. I hope to see that show, as well as its companion piece about Vietnamese reaction to the American War – “more than an add-on,” indeed.
Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue:
My past articles about John McCain, American hero, and Vietnam:
My article about the excellent crafts shop outside Da Nang:
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.