Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Nguyet Anh Duong speaks at DC church, with short film (escaped from Vietnam in 1975, major military engineer)

On Sunday March 2, 2008, Nguyet Anh Duong spoke to the potluck brunch after the services at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC.

Nguyet Anh Duong is a Vietnam-born scientist who helped lead the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s (link) development of the thermobaric weapon that was used in “Operation Enduring Freedom” in rooting out the Taliban in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. The weapon is credited with saving the lives of many Army personnel in Afghanistan. The weapon is probably also used in some cases in Iraq.

Her speech, ending with some emotion, followed a ten-minute short film distributed by Vietnamese-American Television showing her receiving the Service to America award for her work in civilian DOD employment, as well as a brief biography. She has two similar videos on YouTube in Vietnamese, 1 and 2.

Her life story is important it tends to challenge much of our “conventional understanding” of the War in Vietnam, a story many younger Americans barely understand today. She and her family made a harrowing escape from Saigon when it fell in April 1975. She and her family members had to make several dangerous boat and helicopter transfers to get out of the country, at one point having to make a dangerous jump over water to a boat, timed with the swell of waves.

The Church helped her and her family over a number of years. She got degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Maryland, and started a career with the Navy as a civilian engineer. She regards her service as an expression to American for her freedom.

The remarks at the brunch event were careful to note that there is wide political disagreement in the public with respect to the current administration’s military policy in the Middle East (mainly Iraq), and that there was widespread objection to the War in Vietnam. That does not detract from the importance of her accomplishments.

In fact, the fall of Saigon did lead to a communist, one-party state in Vietnam, which was restructured in 1992. Nevertheless, the other “dominos” in the region did not fall, as had been first expected according to the ideas of Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara (especially) and Richard Nixon, all documented in the Sony documentary film “The Fog of War.” Vietnam has a better economy than had been expected, and helped drive the Khmer Rouge out of Cambodia, and had a brief conflict with China that might have increased Soviet influence in the region had the Soviets not stumbled themselves with the invasion of Afghanistan. Even so, I recall the debates during the 1960s about American involvement in Vietnam. The conflict was sometimes discussed at Church retreats (I attended there as I grew up and came of age) in the 1960s. Sometimes the point was made that civilian refugees were streaming south from North Vietnam.

There is a film Journey from the Fall (2006, ImaginAsian, dir. Ham Tran, 135 min, R, VietNam/Thailand). Also important are films about Cambodia and the “legacy” of Pol Pot (often a subject of ABC Nightlines in the late 70s): S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2002, INA, France/Cambodia, 101 min, dir. Rithy Panh) and, of course, and, of course, Roland Jaffe’s The Killing Fields (1984)..

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