By Owei Lakemfa
George Zimmerman, a 32-year old American murdered a black boy, Trayvon Benjamin Martin. He is set free, and decides to further profit from his crime, by selling the murder weapon. He pockets $250,000 from the weapon sale, smiles to the bank having first become, famous or infamous for his crime, and now makes financial capital from it. It is likely that he will make more profit when he tells the full account of his crime.
Meanwhile, American President, Barack Obama goes to Vietnam, a country almost obliterated 40 years ago by the United States using conventional, biological and chemical weapons. He tells the world that the new relationship shows that “hearts can change and peace is possible”. The evidence of that is not that America wants to help with food assistance to Vietnam which is suffering severe drought with 39 of its 63 Provinces needing urgent food assistance. The American idea of peace is not to settle lingering disputes in the region, but to lift a 32-year arms embargo. The motive is two fold; the American arms industry will have a new outlet to trade, and Vietnam will be armed to constitute a threat to neigbouring China which lays claims to parts of the South China Sea.
A common thread in Zimmerman and Obama’s visit is that the former and his country committed crimes and are interested in profiting from violence. The title of this piece is paraphrasing an American Major in Vietnam who following the near obliteration of the Vietnamese city of Ben Tre on February 7, 1968, told then Associated Press Correspondent, Peter Arnett “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”.
Ben Tre was under the control of pro-American forces when America got intelligence reports that it was being infiltrated by Vietnamese fighters under the leadership of legendary Ho Chin Minh. The Americans reasoned that if they went into the city, they may be engaged in street battles that may take some American lives, so they decided to wipe out the city with its inhabitants. They rained napalm bombs and rockets. There are no records of the casualties from this crime against humanity, but US Major Chester L. Brow, an Air Force Officer who participated said “It is always a pity about the civilians”.
The same rational led to the American dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945 wiping out over 29,000 people. Robert Taber, who studied the Vietnamese War, explained in his book ‘The War of the Flea: Guerrilla Warfare; Theory and Practice’ that in deciding to destroy Ben Tre, the prevailing American principle was that: “There is only one means of defeating an insurgent people who will not surrender, and that is extermination. There is only one way to control a territory that harbours resistance, and that is to turn it into a desert”.
The Vietnamese had fought a war of liberation from colonialism and had militarily defeated France following the May 7, 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. America feared that Vietnam might go communist, so it began its own intervention the following year. By 1975 when it withdrew its forces, the renewed war had claimed 1,313,000 Vietnamese and 58,220 American military personnel.
Perhaps the most devastating weapon America used in Vietnam was chemical, especially a cocktail called Agent Orange. A total of 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange with 400,000 dying over the years. Statistics by the Red Cross in Vietnam showed that by 2015, one million Vietnamese were either disabled or sick from the lingering effects of Agent Orange.
President Obama’s primary concern during his visit was not the crimes against humanity his country committed in Vietnam nor the victims who continue to suffer, but to sell arms! The US has been making reconnaissance flights in the South China Sea and is being challenged by China which on May 17, 2016 scrambled two jets into the air to challenge American spy planes in the area. China makes claims to most of the Sea. Five other countries; Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Philipines and Malaysia also make claims to the area. Apparently, America which cannot make similar claims, is trying to build a coalition that can challenge China. What Obama’s visit indicates is that America and its allies are commencing an arms race in the Sea. Despite this clear indication, Obama takes time to pointedly deny this: “The decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations. It was based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalisation with Vietnam”.
Trayvon Martin was a 17-year old junior at the Dr. Michael M. krop High School. He was staying at a gated community; The Retreat, Twin Lakes, Sanford, California. He was returning from a convenient store when he was spotted by Zimmerman, the neigbourhood watch coordinator who was driving by. He profiled the youth as a criminal; obviously, Trayvon’s skin threatened to blend with approaching darkness. He confronted the boy who might have protested his innocence, and shot him just 64 metres from the home the youngster was staying. He justified the murder on the basis of an old ‘Stand your ground’ rule which gives a man the right to defend himself using lethal force if he thought his life was endangered. On June 13, 2013, Zimmerman went home free. This incidence led to the establishment of the Black Lives Matter social movement. He says he won’t spend all the money on himself, but would use part to fight the movement which he views as endorsing violence against law enforcement officers.
The kind of mindset that leads a man to snuff out an innocent boy’s life and be proud of his misdeeds, is a warped one. Also, a mentality that leads a country to obliterate a city full of civilians ‘in order to save it’ is one that needs to undergo a fundamental change. Obama’s visit to Vietnam does not portray a country that has undergone a fundamental rethink of its past.