Daily Archives: 15 June 2005

Vaclav Havel Sends Birthday Wishes to Aung San Suu Kyi

Former political prisoner and Czech president Vaclav Havel uses the Washington Post to send a birthday message to Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who turns 60 next Sunday.

I hope that the European Union will draw a lesson from [its failure to improve human rights in Cuba] — for example, when it again negotiates lifting the arms embargo on China. It makes sense to keep up the pressure on the military junta in Burma, which considers all the justifiable calls to free Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, as well as calls to begin democratic reforms, to be unjustifiable interference in the country’s internal affairs.

Even a decade and a half after the fall of communism there, the citizens of Central and Eastern Europe still vividly remember that their communist rulers made the same arguments. Abuses of human rights and freedoms have never been and will never be solely internal affairs of any country. As someone who years ago experienced firsthand the arbitrary rule of a dictatorial regime but then lived to see better times — to a large extent because of the international solidarity extended to us — I appeal to all those who have the opportunity to act against such arbitrary acts to express their solidarity with people who to this day live in a state of “unfreedom.”

This is also why — together with my friends His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, former presidents Richard von Weizsaecker of Germany and Frederik W. de Klerk of South Africa, and others — I founded the Shared Concern Initiative. The first public manifestation of this initiative was an open letter in support of Aung San Suu Kyi. This is why I welcomed it when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations moved beyond its “non-interference” policy and began publicly debating whether Burma should assume the chairmanship of that organization. This is why I support U.S. sanctions against the Burmese regime and why I find it easy to identify with resolutions by U.S. legislators. This is also why I appeal to the European Union to learn from its Cuban fiasco and step up the pressure on the Burmese regime both within the framework of the United Nations and in other international forums — and to do it in clear and comprehensible terms.

The current situation in Burma is bad. Since 1990 the ruling State Council for Peace and Development has repeatedly promised that it would take steps leading to gradual democratization of the regime. Not a single one of these promises has been even partially fulfilled.

But I am still an optimist. After all, I come from a country where, as late as mid-1989, while all around us totalitarian icebergs were cracking and thawing, the stupid, repressive regime remained strong. I, together with other people of a similar mind-set, was in prison. Yet, by the end of that same year I was elected the president of a free Czechoslovakia.

Seemingly unshakable totalitarian monoliths are in fact sometimes as cohesive as proverbial houses of cards, and fall just as quickly. Continuing democratization of the whole region, together with growing dissent inside the country, must eventually have a positive effect. As Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates her 60th birthday, I wish for her that those changes will happen as soon as possible, and that my silly idea — to hand her a rose — becomes a simple and easy thing to do.

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Halloran on Reshuffling U.S. Forces in the Pacific

Last Sunday’s (12 June 2005) Honolulu Advertiser carried an article by Richard Halloran on possible realignments of U.S. forces in the Pacific.

As pieced together from American and Japanese officials, who cautioned that no firm decisions have been made, the realignment shapes up like this:

Army: The Army headquarters at Fort Shafter would become a war-fighting command to devise and execute operations rather than to train and provide troops to other commands as it does now. The U.S. four-star general’s post in Korea would be transferred to Hawai’i.

I Corps at Fort Lewis, Wash., would move to Camp Zama, Japan, to forge ties with Japan’s ground force. Japan would organize a similar unit, perhaps called the Central Readiness Command, to prepare and conduct operations with the U.S. Army.

Japanese officials are considering elevating the Self-Defense Agency to a ministry and renaming Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force as the Japanese Army and the same for the navy and air force. Shedding those postwar names would reflect Japan’s emergence from its pacifist cocoon.

In South Korea, the U.S. plans to disband the Eighth Army that has been there since the Korean War of 1950-53, to relinquish command of South Korean troops to the South Koreans, and to minimize or eliminate the United Nations Command set up during the Korean War.

A smaller tactical command would oversee U.S. forces that remain in South Korea, which would be down to 25,000 from 37,000 in 2008. That may be cut further since Seoul has denied the U.S. the “strategic flexibility” to dispatch U.S. forces from South Korea to contingencies elsewhere.

Marine Corps: The Marines, who have a war-fighting center in Hawai’i, would move the headquarters of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, or III MEF, to Guam from Okinawa to reduce the friction caused by the U.S. “footprint” on that Japanese island. How many Marines would move was not clear, but combat battalions would continue to rotate to Okinawa from the United States.

via The Marmot’s Hole

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Time Reporter a North Vietnamese Spy

The New Yorker recently published a long profile of Pham Xuan An, a Time magazine reporter during the Vietnam War, who led a double life as a spy for the North Vietnamese. The author is Thomas A. Bass, an English professor at SUNY-Albany. It’s a story that should have rated mention in Phillip Knightley’s account of war reporting from Vietnam in The First Casualty, so perhaps Knightley was unaware of it.

“Here is Pham Xuan An now,” Time’s last reporter in Vietnam cabled the magazine’s New York headquarters on April 29, 1975. “All American correspondents evacuated because of emergency. The office of Time is now manned by Pham Xuan An.” An filed three more reports from Saigon as the North Vietnamese Army closed in on the city. Then the line went dead. During the following year, with An serving as Time’s sole correspondent in postwar Vietnam, the magazine ran articles on “The Last Grim Goodbye,” “Winners: The Men Who Made the Victory,” and “Saigon: A Calm Week Under Communism.” An was one of thirty-nine foreign correspondents working for Time when the Saigon bureau was closed and his name disappeared from the masthead, on May 10, 1976.

Recognized as a brilliant political analyst, beginning with his work in the nineteen-sixties for Reuters and then for the New York Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor, and, finally, as a Time correspondent for eleven years, Pham Xuan An seemed to do his best work swapping stories with colleagues in Givral’s cafe, on the old Rue Catinat. Here he presided every afternoon as the best news source in Saigon. He was called “Dean of the Vietnamese Press Corps” and “Voice of Radio Catinat”–the rumor mill. With self-deprecating humor, he preferred other titles for himself, such as “docteur de sexologie,” “professeur coup d’etat,” “Commander of Military Dog Training” (a reference to the German shepherd that always accompanied him), “Ph.D. in revolutions,” or, simply, General Givral.

We now know that this is only half the work An did as a reporter, and not the better half. An sent the North Vietnamese a steady stream of secret military documents and messages written in invisible ink, but it was his typed dispatches, now locked in Vietnam’s intelligence archives and known to us only through secondhand reports, which will undoubtedly rank as his chef d’oeuvre. Using a Hermes typewriter bought specially for him by the North Vietnamese intelligence service, An wrote his dispatches, some as long as a hundred pages, at night. Photographed and transported as undeveloped rolls of film, An’s reports were run by courier out to the Cu Chi tunnel network that served as the Communists’ underground headquarters. Every few weeks, beginning in 1952, An himself would leave his Saigon office, drive twenty miles northwest to the Ho Bo woods, and descend into the tunnels to plan Communist strategy. From Cu Chi, An’s dispatches were hustled under armed guard to Mt. Ba Den, on the Cambodian border, driven to Phnom Penh, flown to Guangzhou (Canton), in southern China, and then rushed to the Politburo in North Vietnam. The writing was so lively and detailed that General Giap and Ho Chi Minh are reported to have rubbed their hands with glee on getting these dispatches from Tran Van Trung-An’s code name. “We are now in the United States’ war room!” they exclaimed, according to members of the Vietnamese Politburo.

As Saigon fell to the Communists, An, like his fellow-correspondents, was hoping to be evacuated to the United States. Vietnam’s military intelligence agency planned to continue his work in America. The Politburo knew there would be a war-after-the-war, a bitter period of political maneuvering in which the United States launched covert military operations and a trade embargo against Vietnam. Who better to report on America’s intentions than Pham Xuan An? In the last days of the war, An’s wife and their four children were airlifted out of Vietnam and resettled in Washington, D.C. An was anxiously awaiting instructions to follow them, when word came from the North Vietnamese Politburo that he would not be allowed to leave the country.

An was named a Hero of the People’s Armed Forces, awarded four military-exploit medals, and elevated to the rank of brigadier general. He was also sent to a reeducation camp and forbidden to meet Western visitors. His family were brought back to Vietnam, returning a year after they left. The problem with Pham Xuan An, from the perspective of the Vietnamese Communist Party, was that he loved America and Americans, democratic values, and objectivity in journalism. He considered America an accidental enemy who would return to being a friend once his people had gained their independence. An was the Quiet Vietnamese, the representative figure who was at once a lifelong revolutionary and an ardent admirer of the United States. He says he never lied to anyone, that he gave the same political analyses to Time that he gave to Ho Chi Minh. He was a divided man of utter integrity, someone who lived a lie and always told the truth.

“An’s story strikes me as something right out of Graham Greene,” says David Halberstam, who was friends with An when he was a Times reporter in Vietnam. “It broaches all the fundamental questions: What is loyalty? What is patriotism? What is the truth? Who are you when you’re telling these truths?” He adds, “There was an ambivalence to An that’s almost impossible for us to imagine. In looking back, I see he was a man split right down the middle.”

In his 1965 book on Vietnam, “The Making of a Quagmire,” Halberstam described An as the linchpin of “a small but first-rate intelligence network” of journalists and writers. An, he wrote, “had the best military contacts in the country.” Now that Halberstam knows An’s story, does he bear him any grudges? “No,” he says, echoing the opinion of almost all of An’s former colleagues. “It’s a story full of intrigue, smoke and mirrors, but I still think fondly of An. I never felt betrayed by An. He had to deal with being Vietnamese at a tragic time in their history, when there was nothing but betrayal in the air.”

via A Glimpse of the World via Simon World

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