Wednesday, May 19

A marketable name with a whiff of danger ...

Photo by Marjorie Zaum K.
Today, May 19th, is the birthday of Ho Chi Minh, born in 1890. I was not really planning a commemoration of his birthday, but this morning while reading Garrison Keillor's always rewarding The Writer's Almanac, I collided with this stunning paragraph:
"The famous Ho Chi Minh Trail was the route along which the North Vietnamese government ran supplies for the Viet Cong guerillas in the South, and it has become a series of golf courses, the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail, geared toward tourists."
A series of golf courses? As a child of the 1960s (born in '56), this has just left me dumbfounded. Is this what it was all about? The B-52 bombings, the napalm, the revolutions and killing fields? Is this what it was all about? Will the ghosts of fifty thousand plus US soldiers and untold millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians be teeing off together on the 18th hole? Did McNamara shout “Fore!” before releasing the bombs? Are the Pentagon Papers and Mao's little red book on sale at the golf shop in the clubhouse?

Ho Chi Minh Golf Tral
There is actually a website for the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail, with the catchy slogan: "The man, the trail, the golf adventure of a lifetime". I include the link, not so much for you to visit the site as to assure you that I am not making this up. The page proudly displays a quote from a review run in Golf magazine in February 2009: "Vietnam, once synonymous with bloodshed, is remaking itself as a golf destination, complete with luxury hotels, A-list course designers and a marketable name with a whiff of danger: The Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail."

I close with a video clip of Adrian Mitchell reading his powerful poem "To Whom It May Concern" at the International Poetry Incarnation in Royal Albert Hall, London (1965, when golf was not yet a tourist attraction in Southeast Asia). I first saw it at The People's Lost Republic of EEjit site, where it was posted by TFE as part of the poetry bus series. TFE apparently first saw it on Rachel Fox's blog. Thanks to both:


  1. Lorenzo

    While you were visiting my blog here I am at the same time visiting yours -- Your blogs holds a very powerful and compassionate message for us today. It is true that we cannot reverse the past it is irreversible but we must accept the fact that the future can be influenced. We are all responsible for tomorrows world and for creating peace. In response I hope it makes sense authors unknown

    "We should not assume that reason would prevail in a crisis when there is so little reason among men" "You and I and humans everywhere must resolve without delay, once and forever, to preserve this planet for what it is meant to be; a place for life and for living!"


  2. Joanny: Compelling thoughts and quotes. Certainly the history of the war encapsulated in the post today lends weight to the idea you quote that we should not assume reason will prevail in the affairs of humankind.

  3. this is just mind blowing...i really dont know what to think...maybe its an effort at restoring broken places (trying to think good thoughts)...

  4. Brian: Yes, good thoughts are much in need. I know that golfing is certainly better than warfare, but it is mind blowing, as you say, to reflect on the whole wretched bloody history and ponder what the people caught up in all that violence and turmoil on all sides would have thought and done back then if they had known.

  5. the adrian mitchell is new to me. i'm a "child of the sixties" and somehow it doesn't surprise me to see the sadness of vietnam marginalized in favour of commercial gain. it's such a strange and obviously cynical connection - ho chi minh and golf. wow! steven

  6. We listened to this poem together, my husband and I. It's mesmerizing and one I now cannot get out of my head.

    As the blurb reads, it could well apply to any and all wars - 'Tell me lies...'

  7. i agree with your words and those that have commented. war is inevitable. bloodshed is inevitable--but to take the memories of war and bloodshed and try to erase it through commercialism, that is despicable.

  8. The poem is brilliant, and, as others have noted, impossible to get out of your head!

    And the Hoh Chi Minh Golf Trail? Sorry, but I had to click on the link - that was just too weird to be true. It sounded like some kind of sick joke! What a bizarre, disturbing concept. I'm a little taken aback that anyone would actually want to play golf on the Hoh Chi Minh Trail. There's actually an interesting article in the New York Times on the subject - they commented that as many as 3,000 small farmers were displaced in order to create the course, and that it also uses as much water in one day of operation as would be consumed by 20,000 households over the same period.

    I suppose that Vietnam is trying to move on, but I'm afraid I find this venture rather creepy.

  9. is that not sacred ground....
    I wish I was more shocked.

  10. Stunning, Lorenzo. As someone who marched in Washington against the bombing in Cambodia and other insane acts by my own government, I still don't know what to say. The only thing that ever comes to mind is the film, "King of Hearts," where the "sane" are truly insane and the "insane" are the truly sane.

    The Adrian Mitchell recitation is moving beyond words. Where have all the young voices of protest gone, now when we need them most?

    Thanks for this enlightening post, sad as it is.

  11. well written and not surprising given the "world economy" is run by corporations. really drives home the futility and stupidity of war.

  12. 'Make Golf, not war'

    But yes, Lorenzo, the world has indeed leapt from one total madness to another.George is right (above).Who is really insane? Looks to me like it's the one's in charge for sure.
    Thanks for the link, that's a powerful poem.

  13. The power of a refrain. And of heartfelt anger. The words rose like the cigarette smoke, and the chiseled cheeks of the women listening were as sharp as the emotion. Thank you for moving me this way, today.

    Strangely inspiring. Or maybe rather: inspiring, strangely.

  14. Love that clip. I, too, watched it via TFE. It is powerful, moving.

  15. A few years ago, my nephew taught English in Taiwan for five years. Viet Nam is one of the places they would vacation. I remember him taking his brother there and both of them talking about how beautiful it was. What a difference 30 or 40 years can make.
    To them, it is a place full of life and beauty. To me, it will always be associated with death and ugliness.

  16. I think I've listened to Mitchell read his poem 10 times so far. I can feel the anger in me clotting, and releasing a little more each listen.

  17. This really doesn't surprise me that much. I've not been to Vietnam in about 10 years. I remember the last time I was there they were building a luxury hotel adjacent to the "Hanoi Hilton" prison and planned to make it a museum.

    Is it any stranger that the Roman Colosseum and Alcatraz are tourist attractions? Though neither have putting greens...yet.

  18. Thanks to everyone for your comments. They have been stimulating and helped me bounce around some ideas in my head. Not to any great effect, but I am still working on it.

    The truth is that I am having a frustratingly difficult time getting my mind around this story. My initial reaction was stunned incredulity, a feeling that there is something deeply offensive about this, but this is quickly followed by the question, "why?". After all, isn't commercialisation of whatever natural and/or historical attractions a place has to offer something I should be used to by now? Isn't golfing better than warring? Isn't it really as sign of welcome normalcy of sorts? Progress even?

    More than thinking that the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail is insane, it throws into even starker relief just how insane, abominable, completely unnecessary everything that came before was: the whole war, the deaths of so many millions, the demise of entire countries. Nothing new there, but as someone who decades ago marched against that war, sometimes alongside banners bearing Ho Chi Minh's image ('Uncle Ho' we affectionately dubbed him), this still throws me. There just had to be a better way of getting from then to now, from there to here, without the war. And the folly is not just to found on the "other side", i.e., the perpetrators of the war. There is much work of self-criticism to be done here on my part, as well. After all, I remember celebrating the victory of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Gulp!

  19. You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out--Theses lines that the ending phrase starts on.... The entire last phrase. Sometimes I read something that twists my stomach. This piece, this clip, and then the small mention of the Khmer Rouge in your comment--my stomach is quickly in knots. Golf? golf.

    It is beyond comprehension what humanity has done with powerful leaders, charismatic speeches, and weapons of war-human beings (often very young ones). And yet, it is part of life. I believe it will exist as long as the earth does. Yet...

    (PS A good friend of mine, years ago, married a much older Cambodian man. He saw his entire family shot right before his eyes by the Khmer Rouge. He joined them on the spot and did what he had to survive. He had nightmares that he sobbed and screamed through during their marriage. It was unspeakably heartbreaking at the time to know this about him. They eventually divorced. Surprise. He had gotten into drugs later in the marriage.)

  20. may 19th was also the birthday of malcolm x - which i only realized on may 21st so missed commemorating it on the mouse.

  21. thanks for the head's up to adrian mitchell...wasn't familiar with him until now, but this is a brilliant piece - am sad to read (on the portal of all knowledge) that he is no longer with us - will have to locate some of his other poems.

  22. Kimy: Yes, May 19th was Malcolm's birthday. In my book of books, and calendar of calendars, every fight for justice is a commemoration of Malcom X, although it is nice to remember certain special dates. Perhaps next year we can do a joint tribute on May 19th.

    For me, too, this was my first exposure to Adrian Mitchell, thanks to TFE and Rachel.


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