Listen to the soldiers' musical soundtrack of the Vietnam War


We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War is a new book by veteran Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, about soldiers' musical memories and the impact of James Brown, Eric Burdon, Country Joe McDonald, and other popular artists on the Vietnam experience and our understanding of it.

At KQED's Next Avenue, Bradley shared the "Top 10 Songs of Vietnam" mentioned by the hundreds soldiers they interviewed for the book. Here are the top three with Bradley's comments on them:

1. We Gotta Get Out of This Place by The Animals

No one saw this coming. Not the writers of the song — the dynamic Brill Building duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; not the group who recorded it — The Animals and their iconic lead singer, Eric Burdon; not the 3 million soldiers who fought in Vietnam who placed extra importance on the lyrics. But the fact is that We Gotta Get Out of This Place is regarded by most Vietnam vets as our We Shall Overcome, says Bobbie Keith, an Armed Forces Radio DJ in Vietnam from 1967-69. Or as Leroy Tecube, an Apache infantryman stationed south of Chu Lai in 1968, recalls: “When the chorus began, singing ability didn’t matter; drunk or sober, everyone joined in as loud as he could.” No wonder it became the title of our book!

2. I Feel Like I’m Fixin to Die Rag by Country Joe & The Fish

Misunderstood and misinterpreted by most Americans, Country Joe’s iconic song became a flashpoint for disagreements about the war and its politics.

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Pick-pocketed in Ho Chi Minh City: A cautionary tale


Although we hoped it wouldn't happen, we knew that being pick-pocketed on our Trip Around the World was a very real possibility. We tried to always be careful, especially in crowded places, but we just weren't careful enough in Ho Chi Minh City.

If you've ever visited Vietnam or even seen videos on YouTube, you know the streets are filled with an endless flow of motorbike traffic. There are plenty of cars on the road, too, but, as it was explained to us, Vietnam has an import tax of 200% on automobiles while motorbikes are bought and sold from flyers on the walls of cafes and restaurants for $200. And that means there are a lot more motorbikes than cars traversing the streets of Vietnam.

We'd been in Vietnam for more than a week, so we'd gotten used to the intensity of Vietnamese street traffic. We even got really good at crossing the street with (almost) no fear. Despite this familiarity, we were still a little surprised when we left The Secret Garden (a well-regarded, somewhat hidden rooftop restaurant located up four flights of stairs in an alley off Pasteur Street) to walk to Fanny's, an ice cream parlor where we had a reservation to enjoy a fancy 14-scoop ice cream fondue platter.

It was New Year's Eve, and a massive number of people and motorbikes were clogging the city's streets like nothing we'd seen before. HCMC has a population of almost eight million people, and it felt like every one of them was either driving through the heart of District 1 on a motorbike or walking toward Công viên 23 Tháng 9 (Park September 23) to get a good view of the upcoming New Year's concert and fireworks show. Read the rest

Vietnamese swimmers ferry passengers across flooded rivers in plastic bags

When remote areas of Vietnam are flooded out, entrepreneurial swimmers set up informal ferries in which passengers climb into sturdy plastic bags and are then swum across the river against the current. The Vietnamese explanation accompanying the video is beyond Google Translate, but I'd love it if anyone out there could help flesh this out, because it's pretty amazing. (via Kottke) Read the rest

Obituary for a French superspy

The Telegraph's obit for Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld recounts the florid and exciting life of the aristocrat turned French resistance fighter turned UK special forces killer turned escape artist turned colonial enforcer in Indochina. In particular, La Rochefoucauld was a skilled escapologist, and ballsy as all hell about it:

Dropped into the Morvan with two British agents, including one radio operator, La Rochefoucauld teamed up with a Maquis group near Avallon led by a man who called himself The Pope. After destroying the electrical substation at Avallon, and blowing up railway tracks, La Rochefoucauld was awaiting exfiltration by the RAF when he was denounced and arrested. After a series of interrogations, he was condemned to death.

En route to his execution in Auxerre, La Rochefoucauld made a break, leaping from the back of the truck carrying him to his doom, and dodging the bullets fired by his two guards. Sprinting through the empty streets, he found himself in front of the Gestapo’s headquarters, where a chauffeur was pacing near a limousine bearing the swastika flag. Spotting the key in the ignition, La Rochefoucauld jumped in and roared off, following the Route Nationale past the prison he had left an hour earlier.

Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld (via Kottke)

(Image: downsized, cropped thumbnail of a larger image on The Telegraph) Read the rest

Napalm girl's life and times

An anonymous AP story tells the life story of Kim Phuc, the "napalm girl" seen running naked down a village road in Nick Ut's 40-year-old Pulitzer-winning photo. Phuc went on to medical school, but her education was interrupted when the Vietnamese politburo demanded that she return home to serve as a propaganda mouthpiece, trapped in a grueling round of closely supervised interviews with western journalists. Later, Phuc went to Cuba, and from there made her way to Canada, where she lives today:

The media eventually found Phuc living near Toronto, and she decided she needed to take control of her story. A book was written in 1999 and a documentary came out, at last the way she wanted it told. She was asked to become a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador to help victims of war. She and Ut have since reunited many times to tell their story, even traveling to London to meet the Queen.

"Today, I'm so happy I helped Kim," said Ut, who still works for AP and recently returned to Trang Bang village. "I call her my daughter."

After four decades, Phuc, now a mother of two sons, can finally look at the picture of herself running naked and understand why it remains so powerful. It had saved her, tested her and ultimately freed her.

"Most of the people, they know my picture but there's very few that know about my life," she said. "I'm so thankful that ... I can accept the picture as a powerful gift. Then it is my choice.

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Hong Kong Airlines accused of profiting from "flying Taiji dolphin coffins"

A recent article in China Daily pointed to charges that Hong Kong Airlines "has been accused of profiting from animal cruelty by striking a HK$850,000 deal to fly live dolphins from Japan to Vietnam."

Why were they headed to Vietnam? Because, Dolphin: it's what's for dinner.

The dolphins in question are captured at Taiji, a dolphin-hunt site in Japan made famous by Sea Shepherd's actions, and the film The Cove.

Sandy McElhaney at (an open publishing platform, not a newspaper as the name may suggest) wrote this interesting post about the China Daily article, and a petition followed. There are a few scattered press reports, but they don't include much direct sourcing beyond the China Daily piece so far. Hong Kong airlines has issued a weak statement that denies responsibility for any wrongdoing, profiteering or animal abuse.

For what it's worth, China Daily is not exactly a free and independent press outlet, but known for more Western-style journalism than other state-owned papers in China.

(image via Hong Kong Airlines.) Read the rest