The Voice of Viet Nam
Trinh Thi Ngo (“Hanoi Hannah”), broadcaster for Voice of Vietnam, was 87
THE voice was faint, for the signal was weak between Hanoi and the Central Highlands.
The Economist | From the print edition | Oct 13th 2016
Nonetheless, at 8pm Saigon time, after a day spent avoiding mantraps and pursuing the ever-elusive Vietcong, GIs would try to unwind by listening to the young woman they called “Hanoi Hannah”. As they cleaned their rifles, smoked herbs and broke out a beer or two, their precious radios, strapped up for protection with ragged black tape, crackled with tones that might have been those of a perky high-school cheerleader. “GI Joe, how are you today?” asked the sweet-sounding girl, of men to whom any girl would have sounded sweet. “Are you confuse d? Nothing is more confused than to be ordered into a war to die or be maimed for life without the faintest idea of what’s going on. You know your government has abandoned you. They have ordered you to die. Don’t trust them. They lied to you.”
Some soldiers would scoff or talk loudly for the time the programme lasted. Others would throw empty cans towards the voice. They listened, though, to the songs she played, sent over by Stateside sympathisers: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and her own favorite, Pete Seeger’s deeply melancholy “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Upbeat numbers, such as Petula Clark’s “Downtown”, would have even dog-tired men frenziedly dancing. But then Hannah would switch the mood again, reading out (courtesy of Stars and Stripes, the soldiers’ own newspaper) the names of recent American casualties and their home towns. “Defect, GI,” she would urge each man. “It is a very good idea to leave a sinking ship. You know you cannot win this war.”
The range of her knowledge was disturbing. She announced exactly where units were and, though troops cheered when she mentioned them, they were chilled to be tracked down. She knew the names of all the crew on ships that had just arrived, and once wished a wistful happy birthday to a soldier who had just been killed. Many listened because her information, written by the North Vietnamese defence ministry, was sometimes more accurate than what could be gleaned from sanitised US Armed Forces Radio: revealing in 1967, for example, that rioting was going on in Detroit. Some believed she even knew whether their girls were cheating on them back home, and with whom.
Schooled by the stars
Of course, she was not omnipotent at all: just a petite, smiling, lively young woman who translated, and then read faithfully in faultless American-English, the scripts she was given. Voice of Vietnam had started, in 1945, with Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of the independence of his country; but when she joined ten years later, at 25, she was reading English-language news bulletins rather than full-fledged propaganda. With the mass arrival of American troops in 1965 her broadcasts, previously 5-6 minutes once a day, were extended to 30 minutes three times a day. And it was she who had the exaltation of announcing to the world, on April 30th 1975, that Saigon was at last liberated and Vietnam unified. . .
Ex-soldiers who visited her in later years, when she had given up her broadcasting in Hanoi for domestic calm in hotter, noisier Saigon, found a woman of impeccable manners in exquisite silk blouses and strings of pearls. She dreamed of following her painter son to America, of seeing New York and the Golden Gate Bridge. She had no animus against Americans. . . So she was happy to say, laughing, “Let bygones be bygones,” as often as she was asked.
Read the entire obituary in The Economist . . .
The Unknown Warrior
Obituary: Ernst Neizvestny died on August 9th
The sculptor, artist, philosopher and defier of the Soviet regime was 91
The Economist | Print Edition | August 20, 2016
THE two men were about the same size, sturdy and short. Both had fought in the Great Patriotic War, worked in foundries; they could knock each other out. One was broad-faced, gap-toothed and almost bald; the other was swarthy, with bushy black brows and hair. The bald man, Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, was shouting “Filth! Dog shit! Disgrace!” at the paintings on display, that day in 1962, on the walls of the Manege Gallery beside the Kremlin. The swarthy one, Ernst Neizvestny, had his answer ready: “You may be premier and chairman, but not here in front of my works. I am the premier here.”
Intriguing for peace
HE OUTLIVED all his country’s other founding fathers, but failed in what he most yearned for: to lead it into a lasting peace. Missed opportunities dogged Shimon Peres’s career. He gained the highest offices—prime minister, twice, and president—but the political arithmetic invariably went against him. His forte was foreign policy, but his political nemesis, Menachem Begin, signed the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, and his arch-rival, Yitzhak Rabin, got most of the plaudits for Israel’s deal in 1993 with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
Mr Peres’s imprint was lasting, nonetheless. As a precocious young civil servant, he brokered arms deals which helped his uniformed counterparts to get the weapons they needed. He circumvented arms embargoes with creative ruses, such as buying warplanes as, purportedly, film props, and cannily found leaky frigates and rusty tanks in places where they were no longer needed. He bargained hard, shaming rich countries for charging full price to tiny, beleaguered Israel, and cajoling rich sympathisers. It meant breaking a lot of rules. Jimmy Hoffa, boss of America’s Teamsters union, became a friend, and Israel’s rapprochement with West Germany was cemented with marathon drinking sessions with the arch-conservative Bavarian, Franz-Josef Strauss.
The discomfort of words
Geoffrey Hill, an English poet, died on June 30th, aged 84
The Economist | From the print edition | Jul 30th 2016
IT WAS, he said, like falling in love. When Geoffrey Hill was ten years old he was given a Victorian anthology of English poetry, an award to mark his punctilious attendance at the Sunday school of his local church. It was filled with the kind of high-flown, sentimental stuff he would later scorn. But for the child of a village policeman who had left school at 13, the poetry of past lives suddenly seemed a revelation—and led to his eventual vocation.
Pierre Boulez, composer and conductor, died on January 5th, aged 90
The Economist | From the print edition | Jan 16th 2016
FEW figures were cooler or calmer than Pierre Boulez on the podium. He conducted without a baton, lifting the phrases and flicking them away with long, elegant fingers. The rest of his body did not move, impassive and commanding as a man lightly trimming a hedge; his face was a stone mask, only his darting eyes revealing how he was excavating the music, uncovering the layers and rebuilding them in structures of crystal clarity. Many said he was the finest conductor-composer since Richard Strauss. Every inch of him suggested that he was well aware of that.
Inside the statue, though, was gelignite. Music, to him, was in permanent revolution; but since there had been no proper upheaval since the Renaissance, he was leading one. For 50 years he was at war, or in a state of uneasy truce, with the musical establishment, fighting to make the deaf, incurious or plain uncultured appreciate the works of their own time. . .
Of the private Boulez, almost nothing was revealed; he was a solitary, isolated by choice and cloaking his charm, much of the time, in arrogance. His favourite mental associates were bad-boy poets, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, or abstract painters like Kandinsky, all smashers of boundaries and shockers of the status quo.
When he composed, he once explained, he dug down through layers of himself towards the “core of darkness” from which, in extraordinary flashes, his music came. Though the music might be wildly radical, this core—another paradox—would never change. Towards that unknown, like Orpheus, he made the most tumultuous and controversial journey of any modern classical musician.
Read the entire obituary. . . Economist
The Inarticulate Society
Notable & Quotable: Florence King
From a 1995 Journal review of the book
‘The Inarticulate Society: Eloquence and Culture in America.’
From “Dan Rather and Other Enemies of Civilization” in the July 31, 1995, Journal, a review of Tom Shachtman’s book “The Inarticulate Society: Eloquence and Culture in America” by writer Florence King, who died Jan. 6 at age 80: WSJ | Jan 14, 2016
The book’s pièce de résistance is Mr. Shachtman’s sardonic tracing of the decline and fall of TV news, and how it has destroyed eloquence.
On Aug. 29, 1963, the “CBS News With Walter Cronkite” aired its first half-hour edition. Everyone sounds like an Oxford don, speaking in complete sentences with so many dependent clauses that they have to take a breath before the end. There is almost no action footage or graphics, and the uncreative commercials, mostly written testimonials, always parse.
The edition of Oct. 27, 1972, was Mr. Cronkite’s first lengthy perspective on Watergate. We see more graphics, visual aids and film; one-breath sentences now prevail, but they are still complete, except for the serpent in the garden, Dan Rather, who reports from the White House: “Nine vetoes today, more promised tomorrow.” . . .
On Nov. 9, 1989, “The CBS News With Dan Rather” features the collapse of German communism and English metaphor. “The Berlin Wall is still standing, but it doesn’t stand for much,” Dan begins, explaining against a backdrop of busy visuals that the world is “racing to stay ahead of the curve of history.” Cut to George Bush, who says, “I’m not going to hypothecate that it may—anything that goes too fast . . .” Then back to Dan for the final word: “The Berlin Wall is obsolete tonight.” The commercials are frantic, and the show ends with an invitation to join Dan later on “48 Hours” for a discussion of sex and teenagers. . .
His solutions are impossibly idealistic—hire only well-spoken baby sitters, give networks tax writeoffs for cultural programs that do not get high Nielsen ratings—but one at least filled me with venomous glee: “Among the first orders of business ought to be the abolition of teachers’ colleges and teaching degrees.”
This book review is found at http://www.wsj.com/articles/notable-quotable-florence-king-1452815618 .
Blessed Are The Peacemakers
Daniel Berrigan SJ, priest, poet and anti-war activist, died on April 30th, aged 94
The Economist | From the print edition | May 21st 2016
TO DO good. On every occasion to do the right thing as he saw it and Christ taught it, no matter how disruptive and no matter what the cost. This was Daniel Berrigan’s motivation. He was not concerned with the outcome of it, let alone success. A good action must go somewhere; do it, let it go. If God willed, it might mean lives saved, swords beaten into ploughshares and the world smiling with peace.
In the febrile America of the Vietnam-war years, however, it more often meant obloquy, humiliation, scorn, the hand of a federal agent on his collar. Between 1970 and 1995 he spent a quarter of his time in prison, in denim garb he liked to think of as the vestments of a new Catholic church. He was declared the enemy both of that church (by Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York) and of the state (by J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI). But then, as he liked to say, if you were serious about Jesus, you had better start considering whether you’d look good on wood.
The best act, one he wished he had done much sooner, was carried out on May 17th 1968 in a parking lot in Catonsville, Maryland. He and eight others, mostly in religious orders, one his priest-brother Philip, made a blaze there of 378 stolen files of young men about to be drafted to fight in Vietnam. The fire was set with napalm they had made at home, from soap-shards and kerosene. He apologised over the pyre for “the angering of the orderlies in the front parlour of the charnel house”; but they had not, like the government, burned children. Only papers: or, as he saw them, hunting licences to track, rape and char human beings.
This destruction of government property won him three years in jail, which he refused to accept. It was morally inconsistent to bow to an illegitimate system, so he went on the run instead, living exultantly for four months in “felonious vagrancy”, the first-ever priest on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Come, Holy Spirit! Like a Pentecost, Catonsville lit up people’s hearts, a spreading fire of protest across America. It also made him that “pumped-up absurdity”, a celebrity-priest with a bad Beatles haircut and a black polo-neck, puckishly turning up wherever trouble beckoned.
He had been warned about that. The two chief influences in his life—Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and Thomas Merton, a Trappist philosopher—pushed him to work among outcasts and to labour for peace, but not in the public eye. His Jesuit superiors, embarrassed by his fervour, tried to restrain him by sending him abroad, to France and Latin America. Contact with worker-priests there just fired him all the more. How could he be quiet, when all around him in the 20th century men continued to ignore God’s fundamental precept, Thou shalt not kill? *How could he be invisible, when lepers, beggars and the downtrodden cried for something to be done? Outraged love drove him to be loud, turning lessons into lectures at Yale and Cornell, addressing crowds and writing 50 books, many of them poetry, as this, called “Miracles”:
Vietnam over, he did not rest. In 1980 he led a group into GE’s missile plant in Pennsylvania to attack the eggshell-thin warheads with hammers: the most violent gesture in a life dedicated to non-violence, to opening hand and heart to the enemy. He too struggled mightily to replace his own anger, “the death game”, with love. In his 80s he took part in Occupy Wall Street and marched against war in Iraq. Fearlessly he stood in the path of governments and corporations: for “powers and dominations” remained subject to Christ, to his gentleness. Day by day he listened (“Want to rap?”), shared whatever he ate and held the hands of the dying in an AIDS hospice in Greenwich Village. “Let’s re-member each other,” he would say.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
To many—to himself sometimes—it seemed odd that he was a Jesuit, submitting himself to their discipline, authority and institutional life. It did not fit with the thin boy, a poor feeder and never brawny, who had so feared his father’s heavy judgment-tread and his rages like an uncontrolled cyclone. It did not fit with his teenage suspicions of a distant, blind-as-a-bat deity, or even with his later hope that God would just stop imagining these flawed creatures called men. Oddly, though, the Jesuits had room for his sort, with only moments of squirming; and from the age of 18 his loyalty never swerved. . .
Read the entire obituary in The Economist. . .
* As a Jesuit Priest, Berrigan, should know that the Mosaic Code, Thou shalt not kill, was for all men to adhere to. But what if someone did not, then his God gave a different command in Matt 26:52, For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. And again in Romans 13:4,5: But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for “the government” beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil …”
Obituary: Johnny Barnes And Datta Phuge
Clothed with happiness
Johnny Barnes, Bermuda’s “greeter”, and Datta Phuge, “the Gold Man of Pune”, died on July 9th and 14th respectively, aged 93 and 48
The Economist | From the print edition | Jul 23rd 2016
IN THE city of Pune in Maharashstra, in 2012, Datta Phuge conceived a desire to display something no one else had. Something, that is, made of pure gold. As founder-floater of the Vakratunda Chit Fund, a slightly slippery credit society, he had any amount of gold in his possession or on his body: rings, bracelets, coins, mobile phone. He was in the habit of wearing 7kg of it a day, here and there. He had given a heap to his wife Seema, who began to find it a little boring to wear. But since gold was his passion and his chief way of showing how happy and fortunate he was, he wanted to flaunt it still more.
After chatting it over with his friends at Ranka Jewellers, he ordered a shirt made almost wholly of gold. It comprised 100,000 spangles and 14,000 gold flowers fixed to white velvet cloth, so that it could be folded away like any other shirt. Accessories were provided, also of 22-carat gold: necklaces, cuffs and a belt. Altogether, the outfit weighed 9.5kg. It took 15 craftsmen from West Bengal, working 16-hour days, more than two weeks to create it. And it cost 1.27 crore rupees, or $250,000.
Almost 13,000 km away, across two oceans in Bermuda, Johnny Barnes in 1986 also decided to put on a prodigal display. He would stand at the Crow Lane roundabout in Hamilton, where most of the rush-hour traffic came past, and tell each passing motorist how sweet life was and how much he loved them. His days had long overflowed with happiness, in his garden and in his jobs as a railway electrician and a bus-driver, where he had taken up the habit of waving and smiling to anyone who passed as he ate his lunchtime sandwiches. He had lavished joy on his wife Belvina, “covering her with honey”, as he put it. But there was plenty left over.
For 30 years he went to the roundabout every weekday morning. He would rise at around 3am, walk two miles to his post, stay for six hours shouting “I love you!”, smiling and blowing kisses, and then walk home again. He was there in the heat, his wide-brimmed straw hat keeping off the sun, and there in the rain with his umbrella. Only storms deterred him and eventually, the creakings of old age. Over the years, he transmitted his radiant happiness to drivers hundreds of thousands of times. . .
Fame came rapidly. Mr Barnes was hailed as an icon of Bermuda, and in 1998 a statue of him was put up near the roundabout. Tourists from Africa and America came to be photographed with him and to buy his dollar postcards; he once waved to the Queen of England. Mr Phuge was on all the Marathi TV channels modelling his shirt, but also had BBC reporters and Canadians lining up at his front door; they were, his wife said, “even more sought-after than royals”. . .
Drawing the moral
On the night of July 14th, on his way to a party—but not, apparently, in the shirt—he was stoned to death by “friends” to whom he owed money. Nothing could have been further from the peaceful death of Johnny Barnes, in ripe old age and in the firm conviction he was heading home. The moral of the tale seems almost too easy to draw: the selfish flaunter of happiness, weighed down by gold, came to an awful end, while the selfless one, wearing his prodigious love so lightly, was praised and lamented.
Both men, though, left behind a deficit of magic. After Mr Phuge died, no one could find the wonderful gold shirt. It was not in the house, nor at Ranka Jewellers; rumour had it that a creditor from Mumbai had taken it away. As for Mr Barnes, people searched up and down, far and wide, for the true secret of his happiness; for that, too, had disappeared with him.
Read the entire Obituary From the print edition . . .
Jo Cox, The First British MP To Be Murdered Since 1990
She wasn’t a TV Star and wouldn’t dress like one.
Jo Cox, the first British MP to be murdered since 1990, died on June 16th, aged 41
The ECONOMIST | From the print edition | Jun 17th 2016
OUT-OF-TOUCH and self-centered at best; deceitful and crooked at worst:
Britons have developed smolderingly low opinions of their rulers.
Jo Cox—idealistic, diligent, likeable and rooted in her Yorkshire constituency—was a living rebuttal of that cynicism.
Britain’s political class is easily caricatured as an inbred elite. But she was the first member of her family to go to university. True, she found Cambridge daunting: it mattered so much how you talked and whom you knew. Other undergraduates had posh professional parents and had taken sunny gap years. Her only foreign travel had been package holidays in Spain, with summers spent packing toothpaste in the factory where her father worked; indeed she had assumed, until school pointed its head girl farther afield, that she would spend her life working there.
For all her brains and charm, Cambridge jolted her confidence—setting her back five years, she said. But when in 2015 she reached the House of Commons, mastering the ways of that self-satisfied, mysterious and privileged institution was easy.
Also unlike a stereotypical politician, she had a real life. She had been an aid worker for ten years. She had met rape victims in Darfur in Sudan, and talked to child soldiers about how they had been forced to kill their family members. She commuted to the House of Commons by bicycle, from the houseboat she shared with her husband and two young children, its view of Tower Bridge the only luxury she allowed herself to enjoy. (She wasn’t a TV star and wouldn’t dress like one, she firmly told a constituent who wondered if she might like to vary her trademark, unfussy blue blazers and red dresses.)
Principles mattered; tribalism did not. She was Labour “to the core”, but one of the most moving of many tributes after her murder was by Andrew Mitchell, her Conservative co-chair of the all-party Friends of Syria group. He called her a “five-foot bundle of Yorkshire grit”, and recalled her ferocious scolding of the Russian ambassador for his country’s role in Syria’s civil war. She and her Tory counterpart would text each other across the floor of the House of Commons, oblivious to the baying partisanship that raged about them. Other such friendships abounded. . . .
She bemoaned British foreign policy’s missing moral compass. Whereas many Labourites droned or ranted at the prime minister’s weekly question-and-answer session, she asked him, calmly and devastatingly, whether he had “led public opinion on the refugee crisis or followed it”. That unsettled Mr Cameron, and (aides now say) helped change British policy. Her plainly spoken ambition to be foreign secretary one day looked more than plausible.
Helping her constituents was her most rewarding job, yet also prompted the tragic circumstances of her death. Though Westminster and Whitehall are tightly guarded, British politicians have scant protection when they venture outside. Only a handful of senior ministers have police bodyguards. Constituents wanting to meet their representatives simply make appointments for their regular surgeries (advice sessions)—or, as in the case of Mrs Cox’s assailant, wait outside in the street.
Trust and openness come at a cost. Five politicians were assassinated during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the last of them Ian Gow, blown up by a car bomb outside his home in 1990. In 2000 a regular visitor to the Cheltenham constituency office of Nigel Jones, then a Liberal Democrat MP, entered in a frenzy, wielding a sword, wounding the lawmaker and killing his assistant, Andrew Pennington. In 2010 an Islamist extremist walked into a constituency surgery to stab and nearly kill the Labour MP Stephen Timms. A recent survey showed four out of five MPs saying that they had experienced intrusive or aggressive behaviour. Mrs Cox herself had complained to the police about abuse—although not involving the 52-year-old gardener with, seemingly, far-right views and psychiatric problems who is now charged with her shooting and stabbing. . .