This morning I was lucky enough to visit Dr. Patterson's STS 323 class to talk about Abandoned Allies and the issues it covers: human rights, foreign policy, the US Special Forces, and our loyal allies, the Montagnard people. I'm very grateful to Dr. Patterson, his students, and Laura Hartman for the kind introduction to the class.
It's an honor to share the subject with such smart university students. The subject is a complex one, and speaking to Dr. Patterson's classes has helped me think through our messages and how to distill them down into smaller bits of information for a presentation (outside of the media of film). Abandoned Allies has a very narrow scope, and would be much longer if we covered all that I wish could go into it. Finding what to cut / keep has been one of the biggest challenges.
Today, the room was full of about 200+ undergraduate students, many of whom are set to graduate soon. They were kind enough to listen to me talk about our project, and all of the things I've struggled to learn since the adventure started in March 2008. It's tough to not get amped up when talking about what's happening to our allies in Vietnam today.
Once I learned more about the truth explored in Abandoned Allies--and I still have more to learn--I couldn't help but be embarrassed and upset about it. Our government made a promise to the Montagnards: fight with us, and we'll help you find freedom. We didn't live up to that promise. It's a bit therapeutic to finally start sharing these things publicly, because we (as Americans) can actually do something to change this without the fear of being thrown into jail. Our Montagnard friends in Vietnam don't have that freedom, as all of my research has shown me.
Our country is trading with Vietnam, yet our allies are facing persecution in that country. It's a very complicated thing, to some degree. Do we continue trading or not? Can foreign trade be lumped together with human rights? How could our country stipulate human rights worldwide? Then again, how can we not stipulate that our allies be treated fairly? I have many more questions than I have answers.
Last night, in preparation for the talk, I searched for news relating to Vietnam. I found one article from the Canadian Press titled "Vietnam jails 2 hill tribe villagers for plotting anti-government protests" and another article from Bernama.com titled "Bill Clinton pledges more help to Vietnam." These two contradictory articles leave me with a feeling of unrest. Both were published in the last month. On one hand we have the persecution of Montagnards (or "hill tribe villagers" as the article calls them) and on the other, we have our previous President promising economic benefits for trading with the very country doing the persecuting. It's there, in black and white, for anyone who wants to piece it together.
These talks to students have been really helpful because this doc is not just a film--it's real life, happening today. My interest in this subject won't end after the film is finished, or after it has been shown to audiences. It'll be a lifelong interest of mine, as I learn how to be a more active/responsible citizen of the United States. I love my country. Learning these things about the broken promises of our government hurts me, and I search for answers about how to make it right.
Dr. Patterson asked me to speak to another class this afternoon, so I will head that way soon. I'm learning more from these talks than the audience is, I'm sure. They raise great questions, and a few students have even offered to help us with the film and events related to it. I'm so grateful and honored.