99 CENT SALE – The Reach of the Banyan Tree

99 CENT SALE – The Reach of the Banyan Tree

99 cents on AMAZON.COM

For a limited time only, The Reach of the Banyan Tree is well within reach. You might say it’s a steal at only 99 cents on Kindle from August 17-23.

Historical Fiction + Contemporary Romance + VIETNAM!!!! = A Terrific Read!

I had an amazing time piecing together this 300 page novel. I loved adding the center section which extends back to Vietnam in 1945 at the tale-end of World War II. It not only helps the reader understand the complexities 20th century Vietnam and that country’s amazing story, but it also helps to explain the modern romance which makes up the rest of the story. Don’t worry, the romance is ALSO based in Vietnam and bathed in its amazing culture.

How did I do my research? By living in Vietnam for 10 years. By learning Vietnamese fluently. By studying Vietnamese culture and history IN Vietnamese. I do hope my experiences help to bring this book to life. But don’t worry, this isn’t some high-brow treatise on geo-politics. At its heart its a story of fathers and sons and the loves of their lives.

Please do pick yourself up a copy. And now, it’s so cheap, there’s no reason to pass it up.

And don’t forget to leave a review. Your support is much appreciated.

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Movie Review: Dunkirk

I mean, really. Who am I question the artistic decisions of Christopher Nolan?

“Dunkirk” is Nolan’s self-penned, produced, and directed rendition of the English evacuation from Dunkirk in the early parts of World War II. I use the word rendition rather than story on purpose, because Nolan has chosen to strip away the human elements of the story, the typical sentimentality which brings patriotic and nostalgic folks to tears, in order to provide a more sterile and emotionally distant film to show what happened.

The show is, of course, impressive. The cinematography is breathtaking and many intense scenes of peril and struggle as the British and French tried to hold off the Germans’ advance before the small private English boats get upwards of 35,000 soldiers to safety in England.

The script follows the happenings of several individuals: a private boat hired on the English side to go to Dunkirk and retrieve some men, a couple of privates on Dunkirk who take their chances by trying anything they can to get on a ship for the homeland. The fighter pilots who battle the Germans in the air as they try to protect their countrymen on the sea and beach below.

But what Nolan doesn’t do is tell us who they are. We don’t know their stories. We don’t know about their loved ones at home. We don’t what they’ve been through. We are simply given a tableau of action that describes their ordeal of Dunkirk. For this reason, some moviegoers will not enjoy this film. It may seem confusing at times and distant, lacking real human connection.

But this is, obviously, how Christopher Nolan wanted it to be, and he achieved his goal in grand ways. Anyone who watches the movie understands what happened at Dunkirk. What we don’t see is the heart and human stories that we experience in other war movies such as “Hacksaw Ridge.”

My son said that he wished he knew it was going to be like this before he went to see it because it would have helped. I agree. “Dunkirk” is a good historical film produced by one of the film masters of our generation. It’s just not the kind of film which will grip your soul. If you know that ahead of time, I think you’ll appreciate the movie even more.

A Short Narration #1

A Short Narration #1

RLT  Musical Revue is a special show of musical theatre (May 20th) which highlights the songs and short musicals which I’ve written or co-written over the past eight years. It includes 21 pieces of varying lengths, including 3 short musicals of 10 minutes or less. To tie the show together, I’ve written a few narrative pieces which introduce certain segments of the performance. Here’s a short one entitled Sacrifices & Hope. It introduces one of my favorite pieces, the short musical “A Woman at War” which tells the story of Sarah, who fights World War II in her own way on the home front.

Sacrifices and Hope. Hope is a platitude which means nothing without sacrifice. Hope doesn’t bloom alone in a barren and frozen winter soil. Hope requires sacrifice. For who would trust in a man who isn’t willing to lay does his life for his love? Who would trust in a God who wouldn’t firsthand understand the pain and sorrow holding back the spring’s green growth? Hope grows in the soil of sacrifice, on the distant battlefront, on the lonely home front, in the dead cold mud of the first day of March. As sacrifice is planted, hope grows.

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Did Truman Start the Vietnam War?

The headline is purposefully provocative. How could Truman, who came on the scene after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, have started the Vietnam War of two decades later? He didn’t, of course, but the case could be made, and was made in my thesis, that Truman instituted a policy shift towards Indochina which set the groundwork for what was to come. Here’s a snippet of my introduction on the topic.

Harry S. Truman, Vice-President and former Senator from Missouri, assumed the office of the Presidency on April 12, 1945 after the death of the longest serving U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Truman immediately found himself in charge of a nation embroiled in the most all-encompassing war in human history. Unprecedented in scope and in challenge, President Truman faced the ravages of war waning in Europe but with the likelihood of a long and costly affair in the Pacific Theater against Japan. The Truman administration was charged with the task of managing war reparations, checking Communist advances, attacking an entrenched Japanese army, and balancing fragile relations with Britain and France. This would have been enough of a challenge for a seasoned leader like Roosevelt, but for the inexperienced Truman, it was truly daunting.

Truman had served as Vice President for only a matter of weeks before Roosevelt’s death. His senatorial background gave him limited experience in the realm of foreign affairs, and Roosevelt did not include the new V.P. in important matters of state during the nascent hours of FDR’s fourth term.  In fact, Truman had been excluded from most executive branch conferences on foreign policy, leaving him to gleam his knowledge of world events mostly from reading newspapers and listening to Capitol Hill chatter (Donovan xiv).  When he became president, Truman did not know about the Manhattan Project (Bradley 103), and had not been informed of what Roosevelt had said at the meetings in Tehran and Yalta earlier in the year (Donovan 10).  He entered the Presidency as a neophyte in foreign policy with no experience in the art of negotiating (Donovan 10), and he brought with him a new Secretary of State, James Byrnes, who also had little foreign policy training (Donovan 17).  This lack of experience, coupled with Roosevelt’s confusing and often contradictory foreign policy, presented Truman with great challenges as his administration tried to bring closure to two wars while balancing world peace.

Not surprisingly, Truman said very little publicly about foreign policy over the first few months of his presidency, but a closer look at the actions of the executive branch in the early days of his administration reveals a clear shift in foreign policy which favored an understandably strong commitment toward France and Britain as tensions heightened with the Soviets over the make-up of post-war Europe (Lucas 13).  In July 1945, the discord over Poland unraveled the trust between the two war-time allies and put Warsaw firmly under control of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (Donovan 57). This undoubtedly gave Britain, France, and the U.S. a great deal of apprehension concerning the Soviet Union’s long-term plans. The U.S. viewed the Soviets in purely ideological terms, thinking that worldwide Communism was the goal (Lucas 13). By the end of 1945, most American policy experts viewed Soviet aggression as the greatest threat to world security, and they saw the Soviets emerging as the dominant power in Asia (Buhite and Hamel 370). Because of this, Truman’s focus on repairing European alliances in the summer of 1945 made a lot of sense; however, this European-focused foreign policy shift would have grave consequences for the peoples of Indochina.

Viet Minh and USA Relations in 1945

Part of my Master’s Thesis that I wrote a couple years back dealt with the Viet Minh, the Vietnamese nationalistic rebels who warred with the Japanese and French during and after WWII. The Americans had some very interesting interactions with them in the summer of 1945. Some have called these interactions nothing less than a missed opportunity which may have drastically altered the future geo-political alignments in southeast Asia. No matter what may have changed, the Viet Minh-USA relations in 1945 are fascinating – so fascinating, in fact, that I based a good portion of my third novel on a Viet-Minh-American connection. So in this post, I just want to highlight a paragraph from my thesis which outlines the politics of the region in the summer of 1945. I’m sure I’ll connect it to my novel at a different time.

 

After the initial contacts between the Viet Minh and the Allied forces in southern China, the U.S. sent some OSS officers to Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh headquarters in Tan Trao, one hundred miles north of Hanoi (Marr, “Vietnam” 286). The OSS officers spent several weeks training Viet Minh forces (Marr, “Vietnam” 364), which the Americans believed could be used to help fight the Japanese. The views of certain officers who came into contact with Ho during that time bolstered the claim that the Americans, perhaps in hindsight, had missed an opportunity by sidelining the Viet Minh’s nationalistic movement in favor of French restoration. OSS lieutenant Dan Phelan, who began his mission to Vietnam leery of the possible communist connections of the Viet Minh, soon raved about the Viet Minh, stating that they were “patriots deserving full trust and support” (qtd. in Marr, “Vietnam” 289). Other military personnel with boots on the ground in Indochina expressed the opinion that Ho could be trusted as a democrat at heart who cared about American ideals (Bradley 136-139). But the fractured nature of affairs in Washington had already delineated military operations with political realities as OSS assessments of the developments of Indochina had no bearing on policy toward the French. The OSS troops in Vietnam that summer were not privy to the fact that the non-French trusteeship model for Indochina was sidelined and that the administration had shifted its goals to the assumption that the French would once again rule Indochina (Marr, “Vietnam” 291). However, from a military standpoint, Washington did not want to limit the use of any groups, including the Viet Minh, to further military objectives (Marr, “Vietnam” 291). As the summer plodded on, the Americans helped train the Vietnamese, who were preparing for the end of the war to declare their independence, and hoped that this eventual announcement would be backed by the U.S. These naive hopes were later crushed by the Truman administration’s continued support of France’s control in Indochina.

Are you familiar with the banyan tree? Check out post on the Storyreadingape

Chris, at TheStoryReadingApe was kind enough to publish a guest article I wrote as a promo for my new novel. I focused in the banyan tree and what I learned about it when I lived in Vietnam. Here’s the beginning of my article, but please click the link below and go over to his great website for the rest! Thanks!

Before I moved to Vietnam in 1994, I wasn’t familiar with the banyan tree – but what a unique and amazing tree it is. A banyan tree can be described more as a root system rather than a single tree with a single trunk. The roots of a banyan tree grow up from every direction and expand out in remarkable ways – the far reach of a banyan tree is tremendous. The limbs become so long that they sag to the ground and then continue right on growing into the sky again. More recently, I learned that the original root structure of a banyan tree dies when the new roots grow out around it.

Right around the year 2001, I visited the historical site of Tan Trao, which was Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh resistance headquarters in the mountains of northern Vietnam during World War II. The Viet Minh successfully cozied up with the Allies in an effort to help the war effort against the Japanese. Their ulterior motive, however, was trying to win western support for their independence movement, in order to throw off the shackles of French colonial rule. Ultimately, it didn’t work, as WWII led to the French-Indochina War which led to the Vietnam War.

Read the entire post HERE!

The Strange Ways of the Universe – an Excerpt

One of the things I really enjoyed doing with my soon to be released third novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, was to pepper small doses of history into the writing to better frame the time period. Here’s the opening paragraph to a chapter entitled “The Strange Ways of the Universe” which help set the stage of the crazy, confusing mix of political alliances at the end of World War II.

On a cosmic scale, it all seemed kind of absurd. Communist trained guerrillas fighting to overthrow the Japanese, so that they could get a chance to overthrow the French, whom they really hated. Communist trained guerrillas, working with the communist Chinese in cooperation with the nationalist Chinese to fight against the imperialist Japanese with the help of the Americans. Americans, working with the communist Chinese and the communist-leaning Vietnamese, while ignoring the French of Indochina who had kowtowed to the Germans and cooperated with the Japanese, even though their Free-French brothers fought side-by-side with the Allies in Europe. So it was. July of 1945 in Indochina was a political and military mystery—common threads tangled in the strangest of ways—just like a small fourteen-year-old boy who had become infatuated with one Charles Regal Carson.

Essay: A Historical Overview of Vietnam from WWII through the Vietnam War

From time to time, I like to post complete essays of mine which touch upon topics near and dear to my heart. If you know me, you won’t be surprised that this one is about Vietnam. I try to give a broad overview of the historical context which led to the Vietnam War of the 1960s. To do so, one has to start at the broader context of French Indochina and World War II. Then I try to analyze useful historical approaches to this topic. I’d appreciate your feedback.

The legacy of the Vietnam War continues to resonate loudly today especially in the shadows of the war in Iraq. The war of 1963-1975, which so vividly helped to define a generation, had its roots in the post World War II power vacuum caused by the defeat of the Japanese and the collapse of the French colonial infrastructure.  This enabled the United States to take a foothold in Indochina which would have broad consequences in the following decades.  In this short paper, I will give an overview of US involvement in Indochina during the two decades prior to the Vietnam War.  I will then discuss the type of historical theory or approach which may be most useful when researching this topic.

In the early months of 1945, the Allied forces saw the European Theatre coming to a close, but a peaceful ending to the war in the Pacific remained anything but certain.  The death of US president Franklin Roosevelt in April 1945 cast a cloud of doubt over the future status of the European colonial territories of Southeast Asia.   Roosevelt was a harsh critic of European colonialism and had no desire to see the French, in particular, reclaim Indochina after the war (Abouzahr 50). Even the communist led Vietnamese independence group, the Viet Minh, lamented Roosevelt’s death as a blow to the anti-colonial cause (“World News”).  Yet even with Roosevelt’s passing, America was determined to use all forces and tools at their disposal to fight against the Japanese who had imposed their suzerainty over most of the region.

After some initial contacts between the Viet Minh and the Allied forces in southern China, the US sent some officers from the newly formed Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh headquarters in Tan Trao one hundred miles north of Hanoi (Marr 286).  The OSS officers spent several weeks training Viet Minh forces (Marr 364).  Six days after the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, the Viet Minh received word of Japanese surrender and celebrated with the Americans remaining in camp (Marr 368).    A week later as Ho Chi Minh and his cadres trekked to Hanoi for the first time to fill the void in the political vacuum left because of the Japanese surrender, he was accompanied by some of those OSS officers who even dined with the enigmatic Vietnamese leader in Hanoi (Marr 488).  On September 2, 1945 as Ho Chi Minh delivered Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence, American officers stood with the swelling crowd which nearly seemed like an American endorsement of the ceremony (Marr 538).  However, relations between the Vietnamese and Americans would never seem so close again.  In fact, official US policy at the time was to ignore Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence in favor of supporting the French claim on Indochina (Latham 29).

At the closure of World War II, the Truman administration had very little regard for the small colonial countries of Southeast Asia and did not at all question France’s sovereignty over Indochina (Previdi 146).   Truman was completely in support of France’s desire to reclaim their Indochinese possessions, and he even had US war ships carry French troops back into southern Vietnam within weeks of Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence (Marr 545).

By the end of 1946, Ho Chi Minh realized that coming to peaceful terms with the French over the make-up of Vietnam was impossible, and on December 19, 1946 from a cave on the outskirts of Hanoi, he broadcast the call for a war of resistance against the French.  This war became known as the French-Indochina War.   The US strongly needed France’s support of the Marshall plan in Europe to rebuild the war torn countries and stop the tide of encroaching communism (Abouzahr 49).  While the Marshall plan did not directly support France’s war efforts in Indochina, the billions of dollars they did receive enabled them to free up resources that otherwise would not have been available in their war effort (Abouzahr 50).

The US, however, was not totally content with France’s aims in Indochina.  The US wanted the French to grant Vietnam enough autonomy that would shift public opinion away from Ho Chi Minh (Abouzahr 50).   Some US officials wanted France to be given an ultimatum to either grant Vietnam their sovereignty or risk losing US aid (Abouzahr 51).   The French countered with their ‘Bao Dai solution’ which granted Vietnam independence with former emperor Bao Dai as head of state.  However, in reality, France still called the shots and Bao Dai had little power in his own country (Abouzahr 52).  But this tactic did seem to set up a significant situation which would be played out over the next few years.  Bao Dai’s government was a legitimate alternative to Ho Chi Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam which still operated in exile from the hills of northern Vietnam.  These two governments were locked in a power play which would come to its head at the Geneva Conventions of 1954.  The ‘Bao Dai’ tactic also seemed to placate the Americans who, by the early nineteen fifties, were bankrolling nearly eighty percent of France’s war effort in Indochina (Umetsu 398).

By spring 1954, the long French-Indochina War continued to rage.  France’s will to fight was wavering as French public opinion soured toward the war (Umetsu 400).  The US wanted the French to continue fighting until a military solution was accomplished so that the states of Indochina could become independent and foment indigenous support against the communist cause (Umetsu 401).  As the western powers moved toward an international conference in Geneva to settle the issue of Indochina, Ho Chi Minh’s forces moved against the large French army which had dug itself into the remote valley of Dien Bien Phu in northwestern Vietnam.  Against overwhelming odds, Ho Chi Minh’s forces methodically dissected the valley bringing complete French surrender on May 7, the day before the opening of the Indochina phase of the Geneva Convention (Umetsu 411).  The Vietnamese had their signature victory and the communist forces could no longer be brushed aside.  The Vietnamese came to the bargaining table from a position of strength which eventually shifted US policy and led to the division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel.  The north would be controlled by Ho Chi Minh’s communist government and the south by the French supported and soon to be American backed Republic of Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem.  Elections to re-unify the country were scheduled to take place in 1956.

The reunification elections never took place.  The US believed that the popular anti-colonial figure Ho Chi Minh would easily win the election (Latham 29).  The US decided to invest heavily in ‘nation-building’ in South Vietnam in order to build a strong economy and a legitimate government (Latham 29).  The US spent $1.65 billion dollars in South Vietnam between 1955-1961 yet did little except alienate the South Vietnamese public (Latham 29).  In the north, Ho Chi Minh’s government used land reform as a means of collectivizing the land which resulted in an unpopular land policy which bullied former landowners and allowed no resistance to their policy (Duncansan 51).  However, South Vietnam’s land policy was little better if not worse.   The Saigon government did little to rectify large discrepancies in wealth by allowing families to own up to 100 hectares which was nearly 30 times the maximum allowed under other US-advised land reform programs in Asia (Latham 29).  This meant that poor families with no land remained at the whim of the land owners who often rented land at exorbitant rates.  This is perhaps one reason that the Vietnam communist’s infiltration into the south was so successful later on because peasants had nothing to lose and possibly a lot to gain by supporting the communist cause.

To further exacerbate the widening gap between US policy and the average peasants, the US backed South Vietnamese government set up the Strategic Hamlet Program by relocating peasants in places which Diem called ‘prosperity and density centers’ (Latham 34).  It was really a disastrous move in social engineering.   Many peasants were forced to leave their homes often at gunpoint (Latham 35).  As I have spent many years in Vietnam, I understand clearly the Vietnamaese concept of “que” or “homeland”.  It is the sacred place of their ancestors which gives them their connection to the past.  There is little else which could incite such anger and hatred in a Vietnamese heart than to drive them forcefully from their home.  US planners thought that these strategic villages, complete with a security force and government provided provisions, would help replace traditional family loyalties with loyalties to the state (Latham 34-35).   This was clearly a grave miscalculation. The US nation building plan was a disaster which led a repressive environment (Latham 36).    By 1963, Diem’s government was such a failure that the US supported a coup d’état to overthrow Diem weeks before John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 (Karnow 293-294).   Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson believed that Vietnam’s social engineering would not be possible without US troops on the ground (Latham 37).  Thus, without a complete change in US policy, war with the north seemed inevitable.

I would now like to look briefly at the historical methodology used in some of the literature on this topic.  The first temptation a historian would have when analyzing this era would most likely be to give it a political treatment.  The massive volume of larger than life figures from FDR to Johnson, from Truman to JFK, from Ho Chi Minh to Ngo Dinh Diem, from Charles DeGualle to Vo Nguyen Giap, give the researcher quite a range of characters in which to build a fascinating narrative.  David Marr did it brilliantly in Vietnam 1945 when he captured the post World War II struggles of the fledgling nation of Vietnam (Marr). Stanley Karnow also gave this era a thorough political overview in Vietnam: A History as he weaved stories of US & French policy against the backdrop of the Vietnamese struggle for independence (Karnow).   William Duiker defied some of the conventional wisdom of historical study by putting together the most exhaustive, and authoritative biography of Ho Chi Minh.  Ho Chi Minh is such a striking and overwhelming figure that the biography works on many levels.  His life touched upon so many facets of the entire Indochinese story from the USA to France, from the Soviet Union to China and Vietnam that this biography is thorough and important in scope (Duiker).

Besides the tendency to focus on political history, Marxist theory would be especially helpful when looking at divided Vietnam after the 1954 convention.  Northern Vietnam collectivized society in such a way that it ripped the social fabric in two.  Dennis Duncanson describes this vividly in the article “The Legacy of Ho Chi Minh” in which he describes the gap of economic ideas which Marx and Lenin left to Stalin to define.  Stalin’s ideas eventually led its way to China’s Mao and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh (50).  This economic restructuring affected every facet of Vietnamese life from the 1950s to the 1990s.  It is in this breadth of scope that Marxist theory would be successful in dissecting the communist state apparatus which controlled Vietnam.  Latham does a similar thing defining the societal changes that took place in the south in “Redirecting the Revolution?” He looks at how US policy was implemented on the local level, disrupting the lives of peasants and sending them into the arms of the communists (Latham). On this micro-level, Marxist theory would be helpful in understanding the totality of Vietnamese societal change.

One temptation that I have when looking at this topic is to read into the scenarios and play the ‘what if’ game.  What if FDR didn’t die?  What if Truman decided not to back the French and supported Vietnamese independence in 1945?  What if the French chose a Buddhist instead of Catholic to lead the south?  What if elections in 1956 were allowed to go forward?  There are so many seemingly connected parts to the puzzle that it makes one wonder how the Vietnam War ever really did come about.  As tempting as this game may be, it is most likely not useful to try to find an overriding theme or purpose by trying to directly connect the dots between 1945 Indochina and 1963 South Vietnam.  As Abouzahr reminds us, “Given the complexity of the issue such as the Indochinese Wars, it seems unlikely that a clear pattern of cause and effect can exist” (49).  This is perhaps the clear reminder to all to approach Vietnam with a heavy dose of historicism.  We must describe as accurately as possible what led to the Vietnam War, but we must be careful not to make too much out of the missed chances of diplomacy.

Works Cited

 Abouzahr, Sami. “The Tangled Web.” History Today 54.10 (Oct. 2004): 49-55.

Duiker, William J.  Ho Chi Minh: A Life.  New York: Hyperion, 2001.

Duncanson, Dennis. “The Legacy of Ho Chi Minh.” Asian Affairs 23.1 (Feb 1992): 49-65.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Penguin, 1991.

Latham, Michael E. “Redirecting the Revolution? The USA and the Failure of nation-

building in South Vietnam.”  Third World Quarterly 27.1 (Feb 2006): 27-41.

Marr, David G. Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power.  University of California Press.

Berkeley: 1995.

Previdi, Robert. “Vietnam 1945 to 1975: Communism on Display.” Parameters: US Army

War College 33.3 (Sep. 2003): 146.

Umetsu, Hiroyuki. “Australia’s Response to the Indochina Crisis of 1954 amidst the Anglo-

American Confrontation.” Australian Journal of Politics & History 52.3 (Sep. 2006): 398-416.

“World News.” Bao Chi Viet Nam Doc Lap 14 April 1945.