In recent days, a vibrant debate has broken out over the appointment of Bob Kerrey - a Vietnam War veteran - to the chairmanship of Fulbright University Vietnam’s board of trustees. Tuổi Trẻ shares the opinion of Ho Chi Minh City Party Secretary Đinh La Thăng on this issue.
In response to a question about the position of those who believe former senator Bob Kerrey should step down as chairman of the Fulbright University Vietnam board of trustees because of his actions during America’s war of aggression in Vietnam, Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee Đinh La Thăng had this to say:
First of all, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) deeply appreciates and strongly supports the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) project. We have worked with the US side to do everything we can to make this project a reality.
In my view, FUV will make a significant contribution to the human resource improvement program not only of Ho Chi Minh City but of Vietnam as a whole. FUV holds great meaning and promise as a driver of development, as a vehicle for building mutual understanding between Vietnam and the US, and as a testament to the comprehensive relationship between Vietnam and the US.
FUV is a concrete symbol of the shared determination of Vietnam and the US to “set the past aside, overcome differences, pursue shared interests, and look to the future” in a practical and effective manner.
Second, regarding public criticism of Bob Kerrey’s past, I think the reaction is understandable, if we only look at its emotional side. However, when we reflect on a historical event, we must see it in relationship to the present. Therefore, emotional responses alone are inadequate.
We need to approach this issue with rationality and clarity of mind. Let's read the pained confessions of Bob Kerrey that were printed in the People’s Army newspaper in 2001, after the Thanh Phong incident was first revealed: “If I lost both hands, both feet, my sight and my hearing, it would still be nothing compared with what I lost on that night… I ask the Vietnamese people to forgive me.”
On May 29, 2016, when the Vietnamese media again raised this issue, Bob Kerrey continued to express profound remorse: “I have apologized to the Vietnamese people for my actions during the war and I do so again now. Sincerely and with the pain of that memory with me forever I apologize to the people I have hurt.”
I think those are the anguished, heartfelt words of a man who is powerless to atone for his sins.
For that reason, he has sought out every opportunity to redeem himself with the Vietnamese people, including his efforts as a senator, together with Senator John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry, to pressure the United States government to normalize relations with Vietnam.
He advocated staunchly for bilateral trade agreements and for strengthening Vietnamese education through the Fulbright Program.
In his remarks to Vietnamese young people on May 25, President Barack Obama acknowledged and thanked Bob Kerrey personally for his pioneering efforts in bringing bilateral relations back to normalcy.
It is brave of Bob Kerrey to accept this position, knowing full well the reaction it would generate. But he did it in order to maximize FUV’s chances of success and to share with the Vietnamese people the wisdom gained during a lifetime of public service. Bob Kerrey’s efforts are sincere and worthy of recognition.
Third, in Bob Kerrey’s case, let us be enlightened and guided by our ancestors’ traditions of self-respect, compassion, forgiveness, and faith in the future. These values have defined the sweep of our nation’s heroic history.
If we had no capacity for forgiveness, our nation would not be as strong and well-respected as it is today. In my view, President Obama’s visit to Vietnam and the launch of FUV is a historic opportunity for reconciliation and an occasion for the two countries to close a chapter on the past and work together for a better future, for the sake of generations to come and for the long-term national interest.
Let’s give Bob Kerrey one more chance to experience the greatness of the country on which he, out of ignorance, once inflicted great pain. The past is unalterable, but the future is up to each of us.
Moving beyond hatred only helps to show the world more clearly the strength and the depth of Vietnam's cultural standing.