Friday, September 26, 2008


Family. I am fascinated by the word. What makes someone family? Is it birth? Blood? Love? Experience? If someone sacrifices for you, do you make them part of your family?

Surry invited me to a Montagnard birthday party a week or so ago. I am fascinated by how they can fill a kitchen with food that seems to effortlessly appear from nowhere. Our Montagnard host has a way of making you feel like the red carpet has been laid out just for you. He has the best smile, and shines when Surry walks up. "Hello, Doctor!" he says as they greet each other as brothers. Two people, raised in different countries on the other side of the world now greet each other in Raleigh as brothers. They hug like family.

My family and experience taught me that during events like a party, lending a hand, helping prepare the food, or doing dishes after meals is proper. Yet, I continue to find myself in a more male role where the decision-makers of the group want to talk. It is honorable and humbling to see one of the Montagnard leaders excitedly shake my hand at our introduction, obviously having learned a little about the project. They immediately want to jump into conversation about it to learn more and offer information. After eating they wish to stay in our company and ask questions, share ideas, and explain the way things are done in their family.

Yes, family fascinates me. We are born into family, raised by a family and go on to create our own families. We join families by marriage. And we make up our own, new families. We form families from experiences like performing together on stage, volunteering to help find homes for abandoned animals, and especially serving together in combat. This is the stuff of which films are made. It is the human condition with which I am obsessed.

There are so many people in my life that have adopted me, and I am so grateful to them for it. By birth I was given an amazing family, but lately have found myself in new families. This project, for example, is creating a family of people who are interested in our forgotten Montagnard allies--a group of people willing to offer their time, efforts and money to making this project happen so that others can learn the truth.

I have learned so much. I have so much to learn.

Monday, September 22, 2008

News from Nam

Many of my interviews have revealed the rough treatment of Montagnards by Vietnamese officials. Stories of Montagnards being hunted in the jungles like animals, beaten, and refused the chance to come to America. After South Vientam fell to communism, churches were destroyed and religious freedom ended.

Here is a story of a photographer being beaten for taking pictures during a protest in Hanoi. The part that lingers in my mind? The statement at the very end, "The U.S. Embassy filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry after the incident, and the State Department has asked the Vietnamese government what it would do to prevent such incidents in the future."

Why would the State Department be asking? Should we not be demanding that changes take shape? This story illustrates the realities of so much of what I have heard during my interviews.

Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The Vietnamese government said Saturday that an Associated Press journalist was violating its laws when he photographed a demonstration by land protesters in Hanoi, but sought to deny that he was beaten while in police custody.

AP Hanoi Chief of Bureau Ben Stocking emerged from a police station Friday with matted blood on his head and trousers, and a gash in his head requiring four stitches. He reported that he had been choked, punched and bashed with his own camera -- the last assault opening a cut in his scalp that bled profusely. After his 2 1/2 hours in detention, he immediately had to seek treatment at a private clinic for the head injury.

Nevertheless, a foreign ministry statement disputed that there had been a beating.

"There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force," read the statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung and posted on the Foreign Ministry Web site.

"Stocking broke the Vietnamese law by deliberately taking pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed," the statement said. "Officers who were on duty to keep the public order warned him, but Mr. Stocking did not follow."

The Associated Press stands by Stocking's account that he was assaulted and said that there was no evidence that Stocking had broken any law. It has called the treatment of him "unacceptable" and an "egregious incident of police abuse."

A video taken by an unknown cameraman and posted on YouTube showed the first part of Stocking's detention.

Before he was escorted away by a plainclothes officer and put into a choke hold, the video shows Stocking calmly standing next to a police officer in broad daylight routinely photographing the protest, which involved a long-running dispute by Roman Catholics seeking the return of what had been church land.

He offers no resistance when asked to step away and is dressed in a dark shirt and clean white trousers.

Photographs taken by the AP of him after his release a few hours later showed blood on his clothing and caking his neck and hair.

The U.S. Embassy filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry after the incident, and the State Department has asked the Vietnamese government what it would do to prevent such incidents in the future.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists in May cited the Vietnamese government for a "recent spate of arrests, detentions, and trials of journalists in Vietnam" that it said contradicted the country's constitutional provision that "broadly protects press freedom and freedom of expression."

(Just search for the headline, and you can see the article online from the AP newswire.)