|Volume 11, Issue 1||Interchange||April 2001|
Ambassador Le Van Bang Presents the Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity to Hugh Thompson
by Steve Sherlock
In 1968, anyone who predicted that on February 4, 2001, in Minnesota, Vietnam's Ambassador to the US would present to a US military veteran a humanitarian award for saving Vietnamese civilians from the US massacre at My Lai, would have been called a lunatic. Yet, that is exactly what happened. It was a very positive and powerful event and another mile marker on the long road to reconciliation and normalization of relations between the US and Vietnam.
Hugh Thompson is one of this year's two recipients of the Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity, which is bestowed annually by the Immortal Chaplains Foundation. The foundation was established by family members of four US Army chaplains, one Jewish and three Christian, who gave up their life jackets in order to save other soldiers on the sinking troop ship Dorchester in 1943.
David Fox, the foundation director and relative of one of the four chaplains, explained that the award " ... is given for risking everything to protect somebody who is different from you for that split second of thinking: `These are human beings, regardless of the fact they are of a different race or religion, and I am going to save them .... no matter what, even if it costs me my life.'"
Hugh Thompson was a US helicopter pilot at My Lai on March 16, 1968. From the air he saw the massacre in progress and several Vietnamese civilians cowering and about to be shot by US troops. Thompson landed between the US troops and Vietnamese and, in a stand off, screamed at the the US ground troops that he was getting the villagers out and also ordered his crew to fire on the US troops if they interfered.
At the very real risk of their lives, Thompson and his crew, Glenn Andreotta and Larry Colburn, saw that 11 civilians were successfully evacuated and avoided the fate of the other 504 civilians killed at My Lai. Hugh Thompson is a likable and modest man, who described his actions as simply doing what was right, and elaborated, "It's just the Golden Rule, and it's not that doggone hard to follow."
In presenting the award, Ambassador Bang lauded Thompson for his "... willingness to protect the sanctity of life", and personally thanked Thompson and acknowledged him as a true friend to Vietnam. The Ambassador also noted that the recognition of our common humanity and the development of lasting friendships help to emphasize that "...Vietnam is a country, not a war."
Steve Sherlock is director of Aid to Southeast Asia and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (612)378-9491.
US Business Urges President to Support BTA
[Excerpts from a letter by 250 leaders of trade organizations and corporations sent on January 29, 2001]
The US and Vietnam concluded a comprehensive Bilateral Trade Agreement [BTA] on July 13, 2000. As representatives of American business, agriculture and consumers, we urge you to transmit the Agreement to Congress and seek its earliest approval. Much progress has been made in restoring relations with Vietnam since the late eighties and it is important to continue to build on this positive momentum. Transmission of the agreement at this time would maintain the strong bipartisan support for trade with Vietnam evidenced by the increasingly positive annual votes on the Jackson-Vanik waiver.
Congressional passage of the trade agreement will extend normal trade relations to Vietnam for the first time since the Vietnam War thereby opening new opportunities for American and Vietnamese business people. The bilateral trade agreement addresses trade in goods and farm products, trade in services, intellectual property rights and foreign investment. This will create more open market access, greater transparency and lower tariffs for US exporters and investors in Vietnam. These provisions will enable American companies and products to compete effectively with European and Asian companies and products in the Vietnamese market, which will benefit American entrepreneurs, workers, farmers and consumers. At the same time the United States will extend to Vietnam the tariff treatment it grants to virtually every other country in the world. Normalizing our trade relationship with Vietnam will strengthen America's constructive role in Southeast Asia's political and economic development and further assist market reforms in Vietnam.
In addition to the economic benefits, there are security benefits from the agreement that should not be overlooked. Vietnam has greatly enhanced its efforts on issues of importance to the US since the normalization of relations in 1995, including joint MIA efforts, immigration goals, and international economic integration.
[Full text and signers list available from FRD or at www.usvtc.org]
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