Affairs to Remember
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We've gathered menus fit for all your summer celebrations.
Memorial Day Menu
Welcome summer with a backyard cookout made for Memorial Day. (Serves 8)
Celebrate summer with this no-fuss, all-American menu. (Serves 6)
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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Great Grilled Menu
Here's an all-purpose menu you'll roll out time and again, no sweat. (Serves 6)
Put a fresh touch on your summertime parties with a lively alfresco buffet under the best light show around-the universe. (Serves 8)
When the weather gets warm and your thoughts turn to grilling, try this casual menu. (Serves 2-6)
Backyard Bash Menu
This menu is for outdoor dining―at the game, at the park, or in your own backyard. Throw some fresh corn on the cob on the grill before you start cooking the shrimp. (Serves 6)
Food and fellowship make get-togethers memorable. Gather around a table and celebrate life, love, and fabulous food. (Serves 8)
Dinner at Dusk Summer Menu
For this year's Fourth of July gathering, trade the soda and meal-on-a-bun buffet for cold glasses of white wine and a menu that inspires ooohs and ahhhs before the fireworks begin. (Serves 6)
Burgers on the Grill
While the weather's warm, fire up the grill and take dinner outside. Our variation on the classic bacon cheeseburger will please any crowd. (Serves 4 )
Sun, sand, surf, and a great meal. Enjoy delicious kebabs with roasted potatoes and a rich and creamy caramel mudslide for a finale finish.
Where there's smoke, there's fire--and some mighty fine eating.
A Sunset Supper
Total relaxation: an easy-to-follow menu for dining under the stars. (Serves 8)
Bridal Luncheon Menu
Let other brides serve the usual quiche and crepes. Our light, bright menu leaves that kind of food at the altar. (Serves 10)
This mix-and-match menu makes the most of fresh ingredients. (Serves 6)
To enjoy a meal the Mediterranean way means dining at a table laden with simple, fresh foods and lined with friends and family. And whether you serve your meal in courses or put it on the table all at once, the dishes are sure to be savored. (Serves 8)
Pack a Picnic Lunch Menu
These components travel well, whether to foootball games or picnic in the park.
Healthy eating is as delicious as it is nutritious—a feast for the senses as well as good for the body. The Healthy Eating Plate is an excellent guide for creating healthy, balanced meals, and cooking is a great way to experiment with new flavors. We offer recipes for cooking at home — whether for yourself, or your friends and family — as well as recipes for larger food service operations.
To get you started, we’ve compiled helpful suggestions for how to create a healthy kitchen.
5 Quick Tips to Stock a Healthy Kitchen
Choose locally grown vegetables and fruits whenever you can, and eat plenty every day. Aim for a variety of colors — variety is as important as quantity no single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy.
Trade in white rice for whole grains such as barley, bulgur, oat berries, quinoa, brown rice, and more. Try perusing your local grocery store’s bulk bins to discover new, delicious whole grains that are often simple to prepare.
Rely on healthy protein such as fresh fish, chicken or turkey, tofu, eggs, and a variety of beans and nuts. Remember to balance your plate with lots of vegetables & fruit, whole grains and healthy fats as well.
4. Fats and oils
Use liquid vegetable oils whenever possible for sautéing vegetables, stir-frying fish or chicken, and as the base of salad dressings. Good choices include canola, sunflower, corn, soybean, peanut, and olive oil.
5. Other essentials
Even a small amount of a high-quality ingredient can have a big impact on flavor. Stock your kitchen with high-quality basics like extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh and dried herbs, and a variety of unsalted nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, and pistachios), and you’ll have flavorful building blocks for any recipe.
A note about recipe development
Some of the recipes were contributed by well-known chefs like Ming Tsai and Mollie Katzen, who collaborated with Harvard University Dining Services chefs Martin Breslin and Patty Gregory. Other recipes are from the renowned Culinary Institute of America. These contributors created colorful dishes that are both healthy and delicious.
The contents of this website are for educational purposes and are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The Nutrition Source does not recommend or endorse any products.
Madly in Love
Beginning in 1965, a psychologist named Dorothy Tennov began to study the state of being in love as something different from other ways that people love each other. In 1979, she published a book summing up her research, in which she coined a new scientific term for "in love." She called it "limerence." Based upon hundreds of interviews with people in love, she came up with a general description of the condition.
- In the beginning, we become very interested in another person.
- If the other person seems interested in us, we become even more interested in that person.
- We feel a keen sense of longing for the other person's attention.
- We become interested in only that person and no one else.
- Our interest develops into an obsession: We can't stop thinking about the other person even if we try to concentrate on other things.
- We daydream and fantasize about the other person constantly.
- The relationship causes euphoria -- an intense "high" or feeling of joy and well-being.
- We think about engaging in sexual activities with the other person.
- Sometimes we feel an aching sensation or pain in the chest.
- We fail to notice or refuse to acknowledge any faults in the other person, and no logical argument can change our positive view.
Remembering Gulshan Nanda, forgotten author of affairs to remember
This month, 50 years ago, the film Kati Patang was released in theatres and became a big hit. It starred Rajesh Khanna (by then Hindi cinema’s breakout star), had blockbuster music by RD Burman and was directed by the veteran Shakti Samanta. But few people remember the story and screenplay writer — Gulshan Nanda.
For readers who’ve never heard of him, Nanda was a phenomenally popular writer of “pocket books”, the cheaply printed and low-priced Hindi novels that sold in staggering numbers at bookstalls, railway stations, bus depots and lending libraries in the 1960s and ’70s.
Kati Patang was based on a book of the same name published in early 1970 (though Nanda’s novel itself was based on a 1948 book I Married A Dead Man, by American crime writer William Irish.)
If authors like Surender Mohan Pathak and Om Prakash Sharma were the pulp kings of the crime novel, Nanda was the badshah of the “social” novel, which had love, romance, drama, family relationships, but also, often, mystery and suspense. What made Nanda different was the fact that he was also one of the top story and scriptwriters of Bollywood in the ’60s and ’70s.
He’d written 51 books by the time of his death in 1985, at the age of 57, but most of them are unavailable today. I wanted to revisit the story this month. I found the movie on Amazon Prime but I located the book (that too, only an ebook, I would have wanted the paperback they had luscious illustrated covers, the handiwork of unknown artists) with great difficulty.
I read the book and it was as if I was watching a film. It brimmed over with familiar Hindi-film situations: at one point it is the hero’s birthday and he has a party at the Rainbow Club. And at the insistence of his guests, he even sings a song! (In the film this is the gorgeous Kishore Kumar number Pyaar Deewana Hota Hai Mastana Hota Hai).
The dialogue often seemed straight out of a Hindi movie of the time too: “Us din maine gustakhi kar di thi. Maine ek pativrata stree ki aradhana ko parakhne ki koshish ki thi.”
For readers who haven’t seen Kati Patang, it is a tense drama about a young woman (Anju in the novel and Madhavi in the film, the latter played by Asha Parekh) pretending to be the widowed daughter-in-law of a wealthy family, and terrified of her lie being found out. Especially after she falls in love with a forest ranger called Shekhar (Rajesh Khanna), who turns out to be the man she had abandoned on their wedding day (neither of them had seen each other).
This is the incident that triggers the subsequent chain of catastrophic events, setting the stage for the real drama to unfold. These events occur at the beginning of the story and move at breakneck speed: Asha Parekh runs away on her wedding day to be with the man she loves (Prem Chopra), only to find that he’s with another woman. She runs back home to find that the baraat has left her house and her uncle (her guardian) is dead.
She runs away again, this time to the railway station, where she meets an old friend, Poonam, who is now a widow with a baby. Poonam is on her way to her sasural for the first time. No one in her in-laws’ home has ever seen her. Then, the train the two girls are travelling in has an accident and Poonam dies, but only after extracting a promise that Asha Parekh will pretend to be her. And finally, as if this avalanche of calamities wasn’t enough, the taxi driver taking Asha Parekh to Poonam’s in-laws’ home tries to abduct her and she’s rescued by Shekhar! Phew.
My difficulty in locating Kati Patang the novel was only part of the problem. Barring a stray article or two, it is almost impossible to get any information about Nanda on the internet either. I called up his son Rahul Nanda, who, along with his brother Himanshu, is a leading publicity and marketing professional in Bollywood today. Rahul filled me in with many details about his father’s life and work.
Nanda was born in 1929, grew up in Quetta (now in Pakistan), but came to Delhi before Partition. Rahul says that even as a boy, his father used to sit and write stories in a Quetta graveyard, the only place where he could find peace and quiet.
In Delhi, he began working as an optician but continued to write stories, in Urdu. According to his contemporary, Surender Mohan Pathak, Nanda’s first few books were published by Ashok Pocket Books and sold so well, they were constantly in print. Pathak says he was the biggest writer of the pocket-book trade.
In his autobiography, Na Bairi Na Koi Begana, Pathak recalls his admiration for Nanda and his first meeting with him at a publisher’s house in old Delhi. “I was in class 11 when I read his [Nanda’s] novel Ghat ka Pathar,” he writes, saying the he felt he wasn’t reading a novel but watching a film (clearly a common reaction among readers!).
Pathak quickly borrowed another novel, Jalti Chattan, from the lending library and after that, whatever other books of Nanda’s he could find. Which is why he was so delighted to finally meet the man. Nanda was already living in Bombay and had four or five hit films to his name. Pathak was silent witness to the negotiations with the publisher over Nanda’s next book. The deal was finally fixed at ₹ 20,000. (Pathak himself didn’t get more than ₹ 200 at the time, but he notes that Nanda didn’t seem too happy with the sum. He’d clearly expected more). Sweets were nonetheless ordered from Ghantewala, for the traditional mooh meetha karna.
Nanda’s peak as a novelist came with Jheel Ke Us Paar in 1971 (made into a film of the same name in 1973, starring Dharmendra and Mumtaz) for which he received an undisclosed sum from the publisher, Hind Pocket Books. In an unprecedented publicity blitz, the novel was promoted on billboards and radio spots. The print run was said to be 5 lakh, though Pathak says it was probably a more modest 3 lakh (still a colossal figure for those days).
According to Rahul, his father was invited to Bombay by actor-producer-director Guru Dutt, who wanted to buy the rights to his novel Pathar ke Honth, and was willing to pay ₹ 50,000. Nanda had already sold the rights to producer LV Prasad (who eventually made it into the much-acclaimed film Khilona, in 1970).
Once in Bombay, Nanda began living as a paying guest on Marine Drive. He plunged into the film industry as a story-screenplay writer, and met with great success. But by the end of the ’70s, he was losing his touch. Rahul puts it down to prolonged ill health. Between bi-weekly trips to Breach Candy Hospital for dialysis, “he lost conviction in himself and his writing,” Rahul says.
There was another factor at play too. The scriptwriting duo Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar had their first blockbuster, Zanjeer, in 1973, unleashing a new kind of hero upon the industry. The brooding persona of Amitabh Bachchan, with his simmering rage and unsmiling exterior, completely swamped Nanda’s social stories and “family movies”. Nanda’s time was over.
His fictional world invariably had characters, particularly women, who flailed helplessly against cruel twists of fate. They were victims of unfortunate, life-changing circumstances beyond their control. Often they were separated from their loved ones, or compelled to keep grave secrets from them.
The first film based on a Nanda novel was Phoolon ki Sej starring Manoj Kumar and Vyjanthimala (1964 the novel was titled Andhere Chirag). Nirmal and Karuna fall in love and have sex on a stormy evening. Nirmal is then suddenly transferred to Shillong. He scribbles his address on a piece of paper, asking Karuna to write to him. Karuna loses the scrap of paper, discovers she’s pregnant and spends fruitless years looking for him. When they meet again, circumstances force her to keep the birth of their child a secret.
Pholon ki Sej was followed by more than two dozen films based on his novels. The best of them included films like Yash Chopra’s massive hit Daag (1973, based on the novel Maili Chandni), where (once again!) a series of calamitous events befalls the lead pair (Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna). They fall in love, get married, but there is a rape attempt on Sonia. Sunil fights the molester and kills him by accident, is arrested by the police and sentenced to death. The police van in which he is travelling falls down a mountain and catches fire. Sunil is presumed dead. Sonia is pregnant and runs away… eventually the two come face to face. But by then Sunil, a fugitive from the law, is married to another woman in whose house Sonia lives and works.
Yash Chopra’s direction, the snowy locations of Himachal Pradesh, lilting music (Laxmikant-Payrelal) and the presence of a star (Khanna) at the peak of his powers, make Daag convincing and riveting.
Nanda explored other themes too, like reincarnation (Neel Kamal, 1968, based on a novel of the same name Mehbooba, 1976, based on his novel Sisakte Saaz). Identical twins showed up in the 1971 film Sharmeelee which had the good sister/bad sister trope. But in keeping with Nanda’s penchant for a twist in the tale, it included a rather forced espionage angle in the end. (Even a film like Ajnabee, 1974 — basically about the vicissitudes of the married life of Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat Aman — had a murder and courtroom drama at the end). For a while, the belief in Bollywood was that if the story was by Gulshan Nanda, it was sure to be a hit.
But though they might have done well, there were some films where the stories seem routine and uninspired. They worked because of the presence of top stars and excellent music — such as Pathar ke Sanam (1967), based on the novel Sanvli Raat or the 1966 Sawan ki Ghata (directed by the usually reliable Shakti Samanta), which opens, characteristically with a car tumbling down a mountain, and is set amidst a backdrop of picturesque tea gardens.
Despite his success, Rahul says Nanda always smarted at the fact that he was never acknowledged as anything more than a pulp writer. He felt his status as a bestselling author went against him.
Rahul’s considered view is that Nanda’s popularity came from the fact that he wrote about young people, about sex, about taboo topics at a time when no one else did. His books were frowned upon by older people they were like a guilty pleasure for youngsters. One of his early novels, Gaylord, written in the late ’50s, is about Delhi’s high society, seen through the eyes of a Connaught Place sex worker.
Kalankini is the story of a young woman raped by her guardian every night, even as he plays the father figure in public during the day. She falls in love with a photographer and the “father” gets them married, but then begins to blackmail her. In the end, she shoots him dead. Nanda’s last, incomplete book, was about a father and son who fall in love with the same girl.
Rahul adds that the other winning element of his father’s novels was their high emotion, the single most defining feature of Hindi films of the time. Perhaps that’s why he was such an ideal fit for Bollywood.
Nanda wrote commercial fiction suited to his audience and his time. His novels were probably the equivalent of today’s airport bestsellers, airplane and vacation reads. It’s just that then they were read on train and bus journeys, and on lazy afternoons when there was nothing much to do except listen to the radio (and in later years, watch a little TV in the evenings).
Because his films travelled so well to the big screen, it often appeared was as if Nanda was writing with a movie in mind. He may have yearned to be taken seriously by the Hindi literary world, but being a bestselling novelist whose stories were made into hit films of their time is not a bad legacy either.
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Affairs to Remember: Nora Ephron’s Classic Rom-Coms
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I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING
How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy
By Erin Carlson
Illustrated. 341 pp. Hachette Books. $27.
Nora Ephron’s friends were lucky guys. They knew the total Ephron, a writer, filmmaker, hostess and maven of such forceful personality that even strangers felt the proprietary right to call her Nora. Those fortunate hundreds — she was a discerning collector — knew Nora the stinging commentator as well as Nora the productive romantic-comedy queen of the Upper West Side. And when she died in 2012, at the age of 71, following an illness she kept so secret that many of those closest to her were stunned, they were able to mourn Nora Ephron as a woman and artist in full.
The rest of us each embraced the kind of Nora we needed, based on our age and experience with romantic heartburn. And by “us” I of course invite men, but really, it’s women who have always considered Ephron family, allying with “My Nora” the way “Pride and Prejudice” devotees might claim “My Jane” Austen. Those of us who lived through the times she wrote about in her classic essay collections “Crazy Salad” (1975) and “Scribble Scribble” (1978) — indeed, who read the books when they were too new to qualify as “classic,” and who feel the melancholy that drives the mordant humor of her 2006 collection, “I Feel Bad About My Neck” — cherish Our Nora as a lively, opinionated sister who cut through crap.
Those who weren’t around the first time are the audience for “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” written by Erin Carlson, a 30-something entertainment journalist who, through no fault of her own, wasn’t there either. Carlson has done her library research, conducted informational interviews and Googled her unfamiliar names. She is able to explain to her generation that the movie producer Ray Stark was “a towering Hollywood figure” whose “tactics were cutthroat, part of the legend,” and that Leona Helmsley, “nicknamed the Queen of Mean, was a very successful hotelier and real estate developer joined in marriage and business to self-made billionaire Harry Helmsley, her third husband.” She also assumes her readers will know what she means when she says that “Nora, like a proto-Taylor Swift, channeled heartbreak into pop art,” and that Tom Hanks’s emails in “You’ve Got Mail” are “the fantasy edition of what every woman hopes to find, and rarely does, on Tinder (where grammar goes to die).” Old-school Ephron ladies say, Say what?
As any fan of any generation probably knows, the title “I’ll Have What She’s Having” comes from a defining verbal zinger in “When Harry Met Sally …,” the enduring 1989 romantic comedy written by Ephron, directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as the title couple exploring the possibilities (and impossibilities) of nonsexual friendship between a man and a woman. What Sally is having is a fake orgasm, in a crowded deli, demonstrated for Harry to make a point about women and sex.
The movie won Ephron a screenwriting Oscar nomination and landed an entry of honor in modern cinema history as an unconventionally literate variation on the conventions of romantic comedy. It also set Ephron on an unexpected path to fame in a territory those of us who were around the first time would never have believed of My Nora who wrote the 1972 essay “On Never Having Been a Prom Queen.” Bringing tousled Ryan and her sparkle along with her, folding in reliably delightful Hanks, and learning her way on the job as director as well as co-screenwriter, Ephron went on to devise a twist on the 1957 Leo McCarey beaut “An Affair to Remember” with “Sleepless in Seattle” in 1993, and a variation on the peerless 1940 Ernst Lubitsch confection “The Shop Around the Corner” with “You’ve Got Mail” in 1998.
More movie work followed that — some good, some less so, since Ephron’s strength was never as a distinctive filmmaker with a cohesive style or graceful storytelling structure she was always more interested in words on the page than in cinematic movement. That Carlson lacks the authority or experience to confidently analyze what Nora Ephron did and didn’t do as a filmmaker of romantic comedies — and fills the empty space with blog-post-like extras about what the director wore on the set — is the main reason this reader of neck-fretting age is not having what the impressionable author and her underanalyzed pop-culture project is having. Even as my generation steps aside, willingly, for younger writers and younger readers, we on the way out can be caught up short by the perspective lost as the parameters of “back then” shift in the analysis of pop culture.
But I digress! I have other harrumphs, too, from someone too old for this party. The author lures the browser with the subtitle “How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy,” anchoring her survey on “Harry/Sally,” “Sleepless” and “Mail.” My Nora would hate the hot air in the word “iconic,” but never mind: Nothing in “I’ll Have What She’s Having” makes a persuasive case for why “Sleepless” and “Mail” can be considered in the same category of excellence as “Harry/Sally” (me, I say they’re not) neither does Carlson make a convincing argument for why the romantic comedy needed saving (me, I say it didn’t, not if one looks at Hollywood history more fully) nor does she elucidate how Ephron saved the genre and shaped what came after (me, I say hooey).
So it’s back to the factoids, the digressive details about ancillary players and the awkwardly shoehorned, slapdash sociological observations (“As it happened, the Sandra Dee-ification of Meg Ryan held a mirror to sexually anxious times”). There is also an obligatory race-and-gender disclaimer, during which Carlson soberly notes that Ephron’s “fatal flaw” was living in a bubble. “While Nora created worlds in which we all wanted to live, her daffy, urban universes included mainly straight white people and couples at the unfortunate expense of diversity,” she recites, like a pledge of allegiance — and even then, she doesn’t stick to her own undeveloped thought. “Nevertheless,” Carlson continues, “Nora persists as an icon in the same big league as equally complex, multifaceted rom-com pioneers Woody Allen, Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch, the master himself.”
I would like to challenge every word of that sentence — on Twitter, where grammar goes to die.
Applebee’s Bourbon Street Chicken And ShrimpPhoto (c) Applebee's
With almost 2,000 locations around the country, there’s a good chance you’ve visited an Applebee’s restaurant. One of their most popular orders is the Bourbon Street Chicken And Shrimp, and we have the recipe:
- 1 pound of peeled frozen shrimp, thawed
- 1 pound of chicken breast
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of bourbon whiskey
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 1/4 cup of soy sauce
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 1 sliced green pepper
- 1 sliced white onion
- 1 quartered lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Get a large bowl and thoroughly whisk together the brown sugar, bourbon, olive oil, soy sauce and minced garlic until it becomes a viscous marinade.
- Place the shrimp and chicken into the bowl and make sure they are fully covered and coated in the marinade.
- Put the bowl into the fridge and let it soak for about an hour.
- When the meat is almost ready, grab your large skillet, heat it up at a medium heat and add the butter until it melts.
- Add the chicken and shrimp into a single layer on the pan — we want an even cook — and add the salt and pepper. Remember: Make sure you save the marinade in your bowl.
- Cook the chicken until white, then flip and cook further. Cook the shrimp until it’s pink, then flip and cook further.
- Throw in the veggies and cook until they’re tender.
- Remove both veggies and meat, then put them aside for now.
- Add the rest of your marinade into the skillet and wait until it starts to boil, then whisk it until it is thickened (about 5 minutes).
- Now, add the meat and veggies to the skillet and toss for a bit until everything is evenly coated. When everything is warm, check the chicken and shrimp's temperature to make sure it's done — the chicken should be 155° - 165°F and the shrimp should be 120°F.
Reckoning with Vietnam, 50 years after My Lai…
In any attempt to explain or tell the story of “The Vietnam War” as a whole, the people who should command most of the focus are the Vietnamese. That should go without saying, really. The United States lost 58,000 soldiers in the war, while multiple millions of Vietnamese lives were lost, possibly nearly 4 million. This is 20 to 60 times as many deaths, almost half of whom may have been civilians. Yet needless to say, in America’s voluminous national literature about the war, including tens of thousands books, dozens of Hollywood films, and numerous documentaries, the Vietnamese experience is not treated as being ten times as tragic and important as the American experience. In fact, the ratio goes in the other direction: even in antiwar depictions, the story of the Vietnam War is almost always told from the perspective of American soldiers. The Vietnamese are nameless fungible extras.
I am tempted to call this “understandable.” On the face of it, it doesn’t sound crazy to say that Americans see the war through American eyes. Ken Burns said that when he worked on the epic documentary The Vietnam War (co-directed with Lynn Novick), he included a number of Vietnamese voices under pressure but wanted to “pull them back” because he was making an “American film” to honor Vietnam veterans and heal national wounds. If we actually consider what this means, though, it’s not really “understandable” at all, or at least not defensible. A documentary called The Vietnam War that isn’t mostly about Vietnamese people isn’t about The Vietnam War and it isn’t really a documentary. It might be a moving collection of anecdotes, but a deliberately “American” film is intentionally excluding most of the people affected by a historical event, solely because of their nationality. (As historian Christian Appy asks: “Is it possible to make a film for one side’s combatants and still remain neutral?”) Yet Burns’ and Novick’s film remains a drastic improvement over previous efforts, in that Vietnamese people do actually show up in it (though they are rarely humanized to the same degree).
There is a standard (infuriating) justification offered for why domestic portrayals of historical events treat other participants as scenery: the audience demands it. People don’t want to watch films about Vietnamese peasants being blown up, they want to watch films about the moral anguish of good-hearted American boys who had to blow up Vietnamese peasants. Oliver Stone made two Vietnam War films about American soldiers, which made $150 million each and won Oscars. Then he made one about a Vietnamese woman. It flopped, earning $5 million on a $33 million budget. 1978’s The Deer Hunter, a trashy melodrama in which the Vietnamese exist as sadistic racists who are there to be shot, won five Oscars including Best Picture. But the fact that it’s hard to make Americans care about Vietnamese lives is the opposite of a justification for ignoring those lives. It’s a disturbing caution that we probably have deep-rooted nationalistic and racial biases that will inhibit our ability to understand and empathize with other people’s pain, and which continue to fashion the prism through which we view our history.
The selective attention to suffering can occur unconsciously, without anyone noticing they are doing it. I am sure Ken Burns didn’t even think about the implications of dwelling mostly on U.S. policymakers, troops, their families, and antiwar activists. But this failure to afford equal status to Vietnamese people in accounts of the war has allowed the United States to avoid coming to terms with the full human cost of its actions. Comforting national myths about the Vietnam War as a “noble mistake” have let the country to make peace with what happened, without ever having to seriously probe what the war looked like from the other side. In fact, it can be very difficult to find English-language studies of the Vietnam War that prioritize Vietnamese sources. But when we do try to examine the war fairly and neutrally, and give all lives the same weight, we inevitably come to conclusions that should be highly discomforting for Americans who would like to treat the war as a well-intentioned tragedy rather than a lasting moral stain on the country and a serious challenge to the idea of America as a “force for good.”
The magnitude of devastation in Vietnam is difficult to comprehend. To watch The Vietnam War, you would get the general impression that the war largely consisted of soldiers jumping out of helicopters and tramping through rice paddies and up hills (to the tune of “Green Onions,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and, of course, “All Along The Watchtower”). But the most damage was inflicted from the skies, in massive aerial bombing campaigns that turned significant parts of the country into moonscapes. Over a seven-year period, U.S. and South Vietnamese aircraft flew 3.4 million combat sorties. From 1965 to 1968, the United States was dropping 32 tons of bombs per hour on North Vietnam. 25 million acres of farmland were subject to saturation bombing, and 7 million tons of bombs including 400,000 tons of napalm were dropped in Southeast Asia (including Laos and Cambodia) during the conflict. This is more than three times as many tons of bombs than were dropped in all of World War II, and the combined power of the explosives amounted to more than 640 Hiroshimas. In Quang Tri province, “only 11 of the province’s 3,500 villages went unbombed,” and the province’s capital district was “saturated with 3,000 bombs per square kilometer.” When Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay promised to bomb North Vietnam “back into the Stone Age,” he was not bluffing. (Laos, however, had even more explosives dropped on it, and by the end of the U.S.’s 9 years of aerial attacks it was the most bombed country in the history of the world. And since ⅓ of the bombs failed to explode, 50,000 people were killed or maimed there in the decades after the bombing stopped.) A North Vietnamese soldier described what a U.S. bombing raid felt like from the ground:
From a kilometer away, the sonic roar of the B-52 explosions tore eardrums, leaving many of the jungle dwellers permanently deaf. From a kilometer, the shockwaves knocked their victims senseless. Any hit within half a kilometer would collapse the walls of an unreinforced bunker, burying alive the people cowering inside. Seen up close, the bomb craters were gigantic—thirty feet across and nearly as deep… The first few times I experienced a B-52 attack it seemed… that I had been caught in the Apocalypse.
The sheer numbers of bombs dropped may be staggering, but the important fact is that they were dropped on people. Not only were countless civilians killed, but the nonstop bombing created an atmosphere of perpetual terror for large parts of the population, along with the lifelong pain and trauma that comes with being maimed, losing a loved one, or just suffering with the inevitable nightmares produced by year upon year of gigantic explosions.
In exhaustive, multi-decade research on the war ranging from examining military archives to interviewing peasants in remote Vietnamese villages, journalist Nick Turse has produced strong evidence that the Vietnam War was far worse for the country’s inhabitants than most Americans realize. Whole cities were turned to rubble, farms were obliterated, children incinerated. The United States deployed chemical weapons in the form of thousands of tons of CS tear gas. 70 million liters of toxic defoliants and herbicides, including Agent Orange and the lesser-known Agent Blue, were deployed as part of a deliberate strategy of killing Vietnamese farmers’ crops. As is by now well-known, up to 5 million Vietnamese people were sprayed with these toxic chemicals, but the crop destruction strategy itself was perverse and cruel, attempting to starve insurgents by ruining the lands of poor peasant farmers. (As the RAND corporation noted in 1967, “the civilian population seems to carry very nearly the full burden of the results of the crop destruction program.”)
Photos from the Associated Press. See note at end of article.
In South Vietnam, the United States often attempted to save peasant villages from a guerrilla insurgency by flattening the villages from the air. Turse quotes two South Vietnamese generals saying that as a result of U.S. firepower, “Many villages were completely obliterated… Houses were reduced to rubble, innocent people were killed, untold numbers became displaced, riceland was abandoned, and as much as one half of the population of the countryside fled.” As early as 1962, villages in certain zones were “subject to random bombardment by artillery and aircraft so as to drive the inhabitants into the safety of the strategic hamlets,” according to pro-war historian Guenter Lewy. “Driving the inhabitants” into “safety” through bombing may seem oxymoronic, but it resulted from a U.S. theory that villagers in Viet Cong dominated areas could be persuaded to relocate to friendly territory if bombing made it in their self-interest to do so. As Turse writes:
To deprive their Vietnamese enemies of food, recruits, intelligence, and other support, American command policy turned large swathes of those provinces into “free fire zones,” subject to intense bombing and artillery shelling, that was expressly designed to “generate” refugees, driving people from their homes in the name of “pacification.” Houses were set ablaze, whole villages were bulldozed, and people were forced into squalid refugee camps and filthy urban slums short of water, food, and shelter.
Journalist Neil Sheehan confirms that the destruction of villages in order to intentionally create homeless refugees was policy rather than accident, sanctioned by U.S. commanding general William Westmoreland. Eventually, U.S. evaluators would conclude that “putting the people behind barbed wire against their will is not the first step towards earning their loyalty and support,” but Westmoreland publicly stated that making villagers homeless or putting them in camps would ensure that their villages could not be captured by guerrillas, claiming that “in order to thwart the communists’ designs, it is necessary to eliminate the ‘fish’ from the ‘water,’ or to dry up the ‘water’ so that the ‘fish’ cannot survive.” The “water,” he said were the villagers. By 1967 this policy had produced a million refugees. As Sheehan explains:
The Americans called it ‘generating refugees’… Driving people from their homes by bombing and shelling. I was out with Westmoreland one day and I asked him, ‘General, aren’t you disturbed by wounding all these civilians, the bombing and shelling of hamlets?’ He said ‘Yes, Neil, it’s a problem. But it does deprive the enemy of the population, doesn’t it? And I thought to myself ‘You cold-blooded bastard. You know exactly what you’re doing.’
This is not seriously contested. Guenter Lewy, whose America in Vietnam strongly defends the morality of American actions and dismisses antiwar criticisms, reports instances like a brigade that “reported evacuating 8,885 villagers and burning their houses in order to deny the use of these facilities to VC/NVA forces and to discourage the villagers from returning to their homes.” Lewy says that “the extensive use of artillery and air strikes with high explosives and napalm had helped keep down American casualties but had also resulted in large-scale destruction and the deaths of villagers and many refugees.”
In fact, while Lewy’s work is ostensibly a strong defense of American policy, it contains shocking evidence about the extent of U.S. destruction of Vietnam. He quotes an American officer’s assessment that “the unparalleled, lavish use of firepower as a substitute for manpower is an outstanding characteristic of U.S. military tactics in the Vietnam war.” (In fact, when Westmoreland was asked how he intended to win the war, he did not reply with an actual military strategy. Instead, he just said “firepower.”) This “lavish use of firepower” was an application of a maxim that Lewy says the U.S. began subscribing to after World War I: “Expend shells, not men.” This meant minimizing U.S. casualties at all costs, by maximizing the amount of destruction inflicted. But while a philosophy of “risk minimization” can sound benign, it causes horrifying results. Just as a police officer trying to “minimize risk” at all costs will open fire on anyone who could potentially be a threat, “expend shells not men” leads soldiers to blow up villages rather than risk being attacked in them. It abandons any “rules of engagement,” and concern for other lives, in favor of the constant massive use of deadly force. Having a plane drop napalm from the air, for instance, is an easy way to minimize risk to Americans and “expend shells,” but it seriously amplifies the risk of massacring civilians. As Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward say in The Vietnam War’s accompanying book, napalm was “an effective weapon—a single 120-gallon aluminum tank could engulf in flame an area 150 feet long and 50 feet wide, and its use saved untold numbers of American and ARVN lives—but it also killed or disfigured countless Vietnamese civilians.” Lewy says the official Rules of Engagement allowed napalm attacks on villages only in cases where it was “absolutely necessary,” but admits that “in practice this rule does not appear to have restricted the use of such weapons.” Efforts to restrain firepower “ran head on against the mindset of the conventionally-trained officer” who concentrated on “zapping the Cong” and wanted to “minimize casualties among their troops.”
Lewy’s work essentially concedes that war crimes were sanctioned. “Training in the Geneva conventions and other provisions of the law of war was often perfunctory,” he says, and an inspection in May-June 1969 revealed that “almost 50 percent of all personnel had not received their required annual training in the Geneva and Hague conventions.” At that time, he says “the pressure for body count and the free use of heavy weapons in populated areas probably made this kind of instruction seem rather academic and irrelevant.” Surely it did: if official policy is to pummel populated villages with artillery shells, what good could it do to learn about the Hague’s prohibition on terrorizing civilians? There were, Lewy says, “severe problems of proper conduct toward the insurgents and the civilian populations.” Rules largely existed on paper, and the military justice system failed to deal with instances of war crimes, since enlisted men were “not anxious to expose their comrades to legal retribution for having killed Vietnamese civilians who generally were perceived as unfriendly.” Again, this is one of the war’s staunchest defenders speaking. In fact, you can often get a sense of just how much is uncontested by looking at the (often understated) admissions made by writers supposedly justifying American actions. A writer for the conservative Weekly Standard, for instance, in dismissing certain allegations of widespread atrocities, still says: “make no mistake: Americans committed war crimes in Vietnam, and officers covered them up. General William Westmoreland’s search-and-destroy policies and the profligate use of air and artillery fire put Vietnamese peasants at risk, and far too many died—though not all at our hands.” The same writer goes further elsewhere:
No serious historian of the Vietnam War disputes that the way American forces fought the war contributed to an atmosphere of atrocity. None doubt that command at all levels may have swept allegations under the rug or that incidents went unreported. Few historians argue that [the My Lai massacre], while an aberration in scale, was an aberration in practice.
This is remarkable. It essentially says “Well of course, everybody knows there was an atmosphere of atrocity in which commanders swept war crimes under the rug, and that the only thing unusual about My Lai was its scale.” That may be the consensus among serious scholars of the war, but it’s not the dominant American perception, and My Lai is often seen as a kind of “exception that proves the rule.” Here, for example, is Sam Harris, talking about My Lai as evidence that American culture has no tolerance for the “murder of innocents,” by contrast with other cultures:
[My Lai was] about as bad as human beings are capable of behaving. But what distinguishes us from many of our enemies is that this indiscriminate violence appalls us. The massacre at My Lai is remembered as a signature moment of shame for the American military. Even at the time, U.S. soldiers were dumbstruck with horror by the behavior of their comrades. One helicopter pilot who arrived on the scene ordered his subordinates to use their machine guns against their own troops if they would not stop killing villagers. As a culture, we have clearly outgrown our tolerance for the deliberate torture and murder of innocents. We would do well to realize that much of the world has not.
In fact, the helicopter pilot who intervened to stop the My Lai massacre was widely vilified for turning on his fellow soldiers, and public opinion was resolutely on the side of William Calley, the lieutenant convicted of ordering the massacre. But even more importantly, America has showed an extraordinary capacity to ignore or justify “murder of innocents” that occurred throughout the rest of the war. The evidence is very clear that United States forces committed major atrocities, including the widespread use of chemical weapons on civilians, routine violations of the laws of war and the rules of engagement, and the dehumanization and terrorization of ordinary Vietnamese people. Yet there has been much less national reflection on these outrages than on My Lai, the one event that can be most easily classified as an aberration. Perversely, as Harris’s statement shows, My Lai has actually managed to make Americans feel better about themselves rather than worse, by convincing them that the massacrewas the crime rather than the war.
Understanding this fact is crucial to understanding the war. Documenting and analyzing atrocities committed in Vietnam is important, but above all else: the war itself was a crime. The United States refused to recognize Vietnamese independence after World War II, supported and then took over the French effort at colonial reconquest, and finally launched a large-scale invasion with 500,000 troops and the unrestrained use of deadly force in order to keep an unpopular, autocratic U.S.-friendly government in power. It was not a war fought out of noble motives U.S. leaders were fully aware that they were not acting in the interests of the Vietnamese people or defending anything that could reasonably be called “democracy.” It was a war fought because the United States feared the loss of influence and the humiliation of defeat.
This is not the picture of the Vietnam War that has been passed down. Instead, even liberal critics of the war have seen it as a flawed but well-intended tragedy. As Daniel Ellsberg notes, the received picture of the war has been as a foolhardy American “intervention” in an internal conflict, rather than an aggressive American attempt to subvert a national independence movement:
It was no more a “civil war” after 1955 or 1960 than it had been during the U.S.-supported French attempt at colonial reconquest. A war in which one side was entirely equipped and paid by a foreign power—which dictated the nature of the local regime in its own interest—was not a civil war. To say that we had “interfered” in what is “really a civil war,” as most American academic writers and even liberal critics of the war do to this day, simply screened a more painful reality… In terms of the UN Charter and of our own avowed ideals, it was a war of foreign aggression, American aggression.
“War of aggression,” of course, is one of the most severe international offenses, condemned by the Nuremberg Tribunal “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Yet many people critical of the war have shied away from this kind of language, searching for softer descriptions that will keep America from having to do the kind of hard moral reflection required of countries that have committed historic crimes. As Ken Burns frames it, the war was “begun in good faith by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings.” This is false. It was begun in bad faith by leaders who simply did not care about the will of the Vietnamese or the suffering they would undergo. As Ellsberg explained, the record shows that every single president lied to the public about Vietnam:
Truman lied from 1950 on, on the nature and purposes of the French involvement, the colonial re-conquest of Vietnam that we were financing, and encouraging. Eisenhower lied about the reasons for and the nature of our involvement with Diem and the fact that he was in power essentially because of American support and American money and for no other reason. Kennedy lied… about our own combat involvement, and about the recommendations that were being made to him for greater involvement [and] lied about the degree of our participation in the overthrow of Diem. Johnson of course lied and lied and lied about the provocations against the North Vietnamese prior to and after the Tonkin Gulf incident about the plans for bombing North Vietnam, and the nature of the buildup of American troops in Vietnam. Nixon as we now know, lied to the American public from the first months of his [term in] office, in terms of the bombing of Cambodia and Laos [and] ground operations in Laos, the reasons for our invasion of Cambodia and of Laos, and the prospects for the mining of Haiphong that finally came about in 1972 but was envisioned as early as 1969.
Nor did these lies come from good motives. Nixon, of course, sabotaged peace talks in order to get elected president, which stands out as a moral low point even in the career of Richard Nixon. But even Lyndon Johnson, who is often portrayed sympathetically for “agonizing” over the war, was often simply worried about being emasculated and seeming to “back down.” As he described his own fears:
[If we left Vietnam] there would be Robert Kennedy… telling everyone that I had betrayed John Kennedy’s commitment to South Vietnam… That I was a coward. An unmanly man. A man without a spine… Every night when I fell asleep I would see myself tied to the ground in the middle of a long, open space. In the distance, I could hear the voices of thousands of people. They were all shouting and running toward me: ‘Coward! Traitor! Weakling!’
Of course, it is too simple to say that millions of Vietnamese people died because Lyndon Johnson was afraid of being called a wuss by imaginary dream-people. But we can see that the psychological roots of U.S. decision-making went deeper than a mere rational concern about communism. Johnson didn’t want to look bad. There’s a resemblance here to the words of Reginald Dyer, the British colonel who ordered the Amritsar massacre in India. When asked if it was necessary for him to open fire on the crowd, he said “I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed.” As George Orwell explains in “Shooting an Elephant,” when he says that if he hadn’t shot the elephant the natives would have thought less of him, the fear of humiliation is a strong internal motivator in imperial powers.
There is another feature that the U.S. occupation of South Vietnam has in common with the ventures of prior empires: racism and the dehumanization of the native population. It is impossible to get around this. Numerous testimonies from Americans who served in Vietnam confirm that from basic training onward, “right away they told us not to call them Vietnamese. Call everybody gooks, dinks.” As for the Viet Cong themselves, “They were like animals. They wouldn’t allow you to talk about them as if they were people… They told us they’re not to be treated with any type of mercy or apprehension.”William Westmoreland, whose strategy of massive firepower and indiscriminate bombing killed countless innocent Vietnamese, was openly racist, suggesting that the “Oriental” mindset meant these killings didn’t matter very much: “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient. As the philosophy of the Orient expresses it, life is not important.”
Soliders were taught almost nothing of Vietnamese language or culture, and because the locals all bled together into a mob of “gooks,” distinctions between civilians and combatants were often made haphazardly. Nick Turse explains that the high civilian casualties in Vietnam resulted in part from an informal (sometimes spoken, sometimes not) “mere gook rule”: the rule that if corpses were “mere gooks,” nobody would be held accountable for the killings, even if the dead were civilians and the rules of engagement had been violated. Turse quotes one marine telling another: “Shouldn’t bother you at all, just some more dead gooks. The sooner they all die, the sooner we go back to the world.” “Nobody cared about the Vietnamese,” one anonymous soldier declared bluntly. Little fuss was made if civilians were killed, because they were often chalked up as enemy dead, with soldiers following the rule “if it’s dead and it’s Vietnamese, it’s VC.” (Note the “it.”) Even Lewy concedes that it is “clear that a steady percentage of those reported as VC dead were in fact villagers not carrying weapons.”
One of the most disturbing aspects of the war is the American military leadership’s strategy of prioritizing “body count” above all. Westmoreland deliberately waged a war of attrition, attempting to weaken the Viet Cong and NVA’s resolve by killing as many of them as possible. Commanders in the field were obsessively pressured to produce as many dead Vietnamese bodies as possible. “Body count was everything,” and the “pressure to kill indiscriminately” was “practically irresistible.” There were “kill count” competitions, with soldiers being rewarded with leave or cases of beer for maximizing their kills. Superior officers would say things like “Jack up that body count or you’re gone, Colonel.” One West Point veteran remembers hearing his commander explain his strategy, which was that “he wanted to begin killing 4,000 of these little bastards a month, and then by the end of the following month wanted to kill 6,000.” Promotion in the officer corps could be dependent on body count, and “many high-level officers established ‘production quotas’ for their units.” As celebrated war memoirist Philip Caputo recounted, it often seemed as if there were no traditional strategic military objectives, such as the capture of territory. The only objective was mass killing:
Your mission is to kill VC. Period. You’re not here to capture a hill. You’re not here to capture a town. You’re not here to move from Point A to Point B to Point C. You’re here to kill Viet Cong. As many of ‘em as you can… [But] there was also the question of how you distinguish a Viet Cong from a civilian… There were, at times, very convoluted rules of engagement given to us. If we were out on an operation and see saw somebody running, that was somehow prima facie evidence that he, or even she, was the enemy. Presumably. I guess the idea was if they liked us they wouldn’t run, and I remember an officer saying ‘The rule is if he’s dead and Vietnamese, he’s VC.
We can see here a chain of logic leading almost inexorably to genocide: take a series of teenagers, hand them M-16s, and put them through a brutal basic training routine in which they are called “maggots” and have their spirits broken, and must learn to obey orders unquestioningly and kill without mercy (even chanting “Kill! Kill! Kill!”). Drop them in a country they know nothing about, and teach them no ways of distinguishing between the inhabitants, who are all nameless gooks. (And who do not value life.) Tell them that the country is crawling with the enemy, and that even women and children may be supporters and informers of the guerrillas. Teach them nothing about the laws of war or the rules of engagement. Impose no accountability for abuses. Make them terrified. Then tell them their job is to maximize “enemy body count” and that they will be rewarded for killing and punished for failing to kill. Set them lose with more heavy firepower than any other war ever fought in human history.
Is it any wonder, given this process, that so many Vietnamese civilians died? My Lai instantly ceases to become a mystery when we understand just how the United States went about prosecuting the war. It would be shocking if My Lai were an aberration, because it’s hard to see how draftees in this situation could produce anything other than a bloodbath. The combined notions of “killing as success” and “civilians as unimportant” are recipes for mass death. Then add the euphemistic concepts of “free fire zones” (areas that had supposedly—but not actually—been cleared of anyone except the enemy, where one was free to “kill anything that moved”) and “search and destroy missions” (which were supposedly about searching a village and destroying the enemy, but quickly morphed into searching the village and then destroying it). The resulting horror was the unavoidable conclusion that followed from the U.S. military’s premises.
I am not sure how much detail to go into on how this horror unfolded on the ground. Turse’s book can be almost unreadable, because its catalog of atrocities is so stomach-churning that one can’t read more than a few pages at a time without feeling the urge to throw up. A few brief notes on various aspects of it will do. First, Vietnamese women were routinely sexually abused, and Turse cites numerous instances of female villagers being sadistically raped by U.S. soldiers, quoting one who served in the 25th Infantry Division saying that “rape was virtually standard operating procedure” in his unit. (“All three grunts grabbed the gook chick and began dragging her into the hootch… I learned to recognize the sounds of rape at great distance. Over the next two months I would hear this sound on the average of once every third day.”) Prisoners of war were often tortured and killed. This was in part the result of “body count” logic (“Damn it I don’t care about prisoners, I want a body count,” one lieutenant quoted his superior officer as saying) and partly the desire for vengeance that came after U.S. soldiers watched their friends killed by mines and heard reports of torture by North Vietnamese forces. A marine, explaining why his unit never brought in any prisoners, said: “If an enemy soldier fell into our hands he was just one sorry fucker. I don’t know how to explain it that would make sense to anyone who wasn’t there..” In Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War, specialist Richard Ford of the Army’s 25th Infantry Division sheds some more insight on what this could look like:
(Warning: this passage is incredibly disturbing.)
So at that time they had this game called Guts. Guts was where they gave the prisoner to a company and everyone would get in line and do something to him… So they took the NVA’s clothes off and tied him to a tree. Everybody in the unit got in line. At least 200 guys. The first guy took a bayonet and plucked his eye out. Put the bayonet in the corner of the eye and popped it. And I was amazed how large your eyeball was. Then he sliced his ear off. And he hit him in the mouth with his .45. Loosened the teeth, pulled them out. Then they sliced his tongue. They cut him all over. And we put that insect repellent all over him. It would just irritate his body, and his skin would turn white…. I don’t know when he died. But most of the time he was alive. He was hollering and cursing. They put water on him and shaking him and bringin’ him back. Finally they tortured him to death.
It is difficult, after the fact, for anyone to figure out just how widespread this kind of behavior was. Certainly, stories of U.S. soldiers cutting off ears recur in Vietnam memoirs, and Turse’s examination of internal U.S. war crime records reveal hundreds of incidents of abuse that went largely unpunished. But Turse’s characterization that war crimes were perpetrated throughout the armed forces has been disputed, and it is not clear how one should proceed from anecdote to data. The anecdotes alone, though, are enough to suggest that the moral culture of the U.S. armed forces in Vietnam was severely warped.
Specific people and units stand out. Roy Bumgarner, a psychopathic sergeant who killed 1,500 people, was widely known to be a mass murderer but was kept on active duty. The “Tiger Force,” an elite reconnaissance unit, racked up “scores of unarmed victims” including “two blind brothers, an elderly Buddhist monk, women, children, and old people hiding in underground shelters.” The infamous “Phoenix Program,” sponsored by the CIA, tortured and assassinated tens of thousands of people, and seems to have invented the horrendous tactic of “rape with eels.”
The burning of villages was commonplace, and villagers were baffled by the fact that U.S. soldiers would sometimes show up and hand out candy, and sometimes show up to destroy every building in town. One major general said that when troops took casualties, “the instant reaction of the troops [was] to burn the whole hamlet down.” (Many U.S. atrocities seem to have occurred because soldiers were frightened and angry after members of their units were killed.) There were, according to a member of the First Cavalry Regiment, “numerous burnings of villages for no apparent reason.” One marine patrol received the instruction: “Burn the damn gooks out. Burn it. Burn it and they can’t ever come back.” As a soldier described the process:
The flamethrowers came in and we burnt the hamlet. Burnt up everything They had a lot of rice. We opened the bags, just throw it all over the street. Look for tunnels. Killing animals. Killing all the livestock. Guys would carry chemicals that they would put in the well. Poison the waster so they couldn’t use it… They killed some more people here. Maybe 12 or 14 or more. Old people and little kids that wouldn’t leave. I guess their grandparents. People that were old in Vietnam couldn’t leave their village.
Of course, things would go to an even greater extreme at My Lai itself, “where American troops murdered an entire village of 300–500 unarmed South Vietnamese, in addition to raping civilians, killing their livestock, mutilating corpses, burning down houses, and fouling drinking water.”
What are we to make of this catalog of evils, 50 years after a date on which U.S. soldiers executed an entire village, and the military covered it up? First, I think it’s important to deal with the “both sides” question. I am sure any list of atrocities committed by the United States in Vietnam can be met with a corresponding list of North Vietnamese atrocities, and the torture suffered by U.S. prisoners of war in North Vietnam is well-documented. A few points should be kept in mind, though. First, what was done by the United States is uniquely morally blameworthy because it was done to civilians. The U.S. civilian population never suffered, and the laws of war rightly single out unarmed people for special protection. Second, there are major differences in scale: the United States was bringing the mightiest fighting force in world history to a country full of rice-growing peasants. The colossal damage inflicted by U.S. bombing campaigns was unmatched by anything done by the other side. Finally, the United States’ objectives in the war were fundamentally indefensible. It could not win, because it did not have popular support in the country, so all it could do was inflict devastation. It is worth thinking about what our attitude would be if the war had occurred in reverse: the Vietnamese had invaded and occupied America, propping up a Vietnam-sympathetic regime and dropping hundreds of thousands of tons of napalm on all of our cities and causing tens of millions of deaths (the U.S. population equivalent to the number of deaths in Vietnam). It would not be possible for us to look at such an occupying power as having made a “tragic but well-intended mistake.” They would rightly be seen as having committed an international crime of the severest magnitude.
I understand why the United States does not want to think of the Vietnam War this way. For one thing, it seems to blame the soldiers themselves, to portray them as monsters and criminals. This seems very unfair, because we know how much they themselves suffered, and has thus contributed to the idea that the war should be conceived of as honorable. But it is possible to separate the soldiers from the conflict, the same way we do with “child soldiers” generally. (And many who served in Vietnam were essentially children.) It is difficult to keep one’s humanity in such a situation, and to see the war’s consequences as the product of individual depravity on behalf of front-line troops is a serious mistake that exonerates U.S. political and military leadership.
But there are deeper reasons why it’s difficult to acknowledge that the Vietnam War was worse than is admitted. As Christian Appy notes, it challenges American exceptionalism, “the belief that the United States is the greatest nation on earth, unrivaled not only in its wealth and power, but in the quality of its institutions and values, and the character of its people.” If we did commit a terrible crime, our treasured moral authority collapses. Nobody wants to think of themselves as a “bad person,” and no country wants to think of itself as a bad country. Hence the Ken Burns view: Vietnam was an honorable mistake, the kind a good country might reasonably be expected to make from time to time.
If we are to avoid conflicts like this in the future, though, we must understand what this one was like. Whenever we hear rumblings of some new war, we would do well to keep in mind how the lives of the civilians who will be affected by U.S. decision-making can easily be swept from view, and to recommit ourselves to valuing those lives equally. We should remember how simple and benign-sounding euphemisms can mask atrocious realities, and how easily our country can lapse into unthinkingly adopting policies like “maximizing enemy body count” without considering the murderous catastrophe this might cause. Vietnam offers a series of important lessons, ones that a country that considers itself humane and virtuous must learn. But it is yet to be seen whether we are sincere enough about our stated values to learn them, or whether we will continue to convince ourselves that the war was a sincere failure rather than an irresponsible crime against humanity.
A NOTE ON SOURCES: With over 30,000 books on the Vietnam War in print, unless one is a serious scholar it is impossible to look at anything but a fraction of the material available. The books I drew from the most are: Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward’s “The Vietnam War” (the book adaptation of the television documentary), Guenter Lewy’s “America in Vietnam,” Christian Appy’s “Patriots” and “American Reckoning,” Tim O’Brien’s “If I Die In A Combat Zone,” Karl Marlantes’ “What It Is Like To Go To War,” Michael Herr’s “Dispatches,” Wallace Terry’s “Bloods,” Deborah Nelson’s “The War Behind Me,” the Winter Soldier report, and Nick Turse’s “Kill Anything That Moves.” These sources offer a variety of perspectives on the legitimacy of the war from Lewy’s defense to Marlantes’ lament to Turse’s harsh criticism. I also recommend Noam Chomsky’s review of Lewy’s book, “On The Aggression of South Vietnamese Peasants Against The United States,” which can be found in his Towards A New Cold War and is a good example of how two people can look at the same sources and come to completely different conclusions, with Chomsky seeing barbarism where Lewy sees moral and lawful conduct. Where a factual source is not linked above, it is from one of these books.
A NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPHS: Often, photos are just decoration. Nobody actually looks at them, or at least not closely. Vietnam was a heavily photographed war, and has its share of highly-recognized images: the monk on fire, the Vietnamese officer shooting the prisoner, the naked girl running from her napalmed village, the My Lai bodies in a drainage ditch. Yet even though all of these are powerful and disturbing, over time they have become almost “iconic.” Anything looked at enough times will cease to have much of an emotional impact.
In presenting Vietnam visually, there is an unconscious inclination to lapse into what has been done before, or what it feels like you “should” do. That partly explains why Ken Burns has the “hits of the 60s” soundtrack: you can’t have a movie about the Vietnam war without the “something’s happening here” song. It means, though, that with Vietnam images, so often we get The Vietnam Panorama, which is dominated by soldiers jumping out of helicopters and villagers crying or dying. As I started trying to find visuals for this article, I found myself defaulting unthinkingly to the usual pictures: soldiers traipsing through rice paddies, Lyndon Johnson in consternation, a marine standing over his dead friend, looking up at the jungle canopy with an expression that asks “Why?” These images are important parts of the story of the Vietnam War. But I tried to put together a few pictures that actually convey the point: the Vietnam War is mostly about Vietnamese people, and should be imagined from their point of view.
The photos are all licensed from the Associated Press. The AP captions are as follows (starting with the featured article image at the top):
- Young Vietnamese on motorbikes stop to look at a Viet Cong killed in the western section of Saigon, Cholon, during day-long fighting on May 5, 1968. A group of Viet Cong moved into the area following an mortar barrage on different parts of the city. The fighting which took place in Cholon was near a heavily-hit area during the Tet Offensive. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)
- A Vietnamese mother and her children are framed by the legs of a soldier from the U.S. First Cavalry Division in Bong Son, Vietnam, September 28, 1966. (AP Photo/Henri Huet)
- A U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division soldier throws a rice basket into flames after a peasant woman retrieved it from the burning house in background. American troops destroyed everything of value to the enemy after overrunning the village near Tam Ky, 350 miles northeast of Saigon, during the Vietnam War on Oct. 27, 1967. (AP Photo/Dang Van Phuoc)
- A Vietnamese mother huddles over her youngest child while her other daughter crawls on the ground during a battle between U.S. Marines and Viet Cong snipers in the village of Ngoc Kinh, 25 miles southwest of Danang, April 7, 1966. Civilians, finding themselves in the middle of fighting, took cover in shelters or huddled close to the ground. (AP Photo/George Esper)
- A Vietnamese man carries his lightly wounded wife out of a threatened area in Southern Saigon, Vietnam on May 8, 1968. Daylong fighting in the area erupted at dawn with a daring Viet Cong attack on a police station. As they did during the Tet Offensive, residents abandoned their homes escaping to safer parts of the city. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)
Most of the photos I have selected show ordinary Vietnamese people struggling through the war. They are variously pensive, frightened, confused, and heroic. I particularly value the shot of a husband carrying his wife away from the flames, because I think it very poignantly shows love persisting under incredible pressure. I also think the view of children through the legs of a U.S. soldier is a good reminder of the “child’s eye view” of war.
I think the photograph of the American soldier may be seen as the most controversial choice. I could have presented a picture of an American soldier saving a child from a burning village rather than burning the village. One can complain that this presents a one-sided view of the war. But all selections must be selective. Bad acts are not outweighed or canceled out by good ones, and it is on the bad ones we must dwell. A murderer cannot be exonerated by having saved a life at some other point in time. Those of us who seem to talk about the U.S.’ wrongdoing much more than its virtue are not “America-haters,” but simply want to draw attention to what matters most. Even as I selected pictures designed to draw attention to Vietnamese suffering, though, I also avoided the most disturbing or graphic images. In doing so, I actually reduced exposure to the full consequences of American military force. A realistic and representative look at the human cost of war would be far more upsetting than what I have chosen to present. In fact, photos themselves inherently sanitize and soften war by necessarily portraying it in two dimensions rather than three.
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Planning Balanced Meals on a Budget
Cooking at home can save you time and money and is usually a better nutrition buy as well. You may think you don’t have the time or the skills to cook for yourself, but really it doesn’t have to be complicated and with a little pre- planning you can make it work. Here are some helpful tips to get you started:
- Buy and cook more fresh foods. Make nutritious and economical choices bycooking at home more often with fresh items or compliment a convenience item with fresh sides. Perhaps start with one or two meals prepared at home, if eating out often, and gradually build on this as time allows. Don’t buy fresh for the whole week as the food may spoil by the time you get to it. Buy fresh for only the first day or two of the week and then use frozen or canned options.
- Ask about discounts.Your local grocer may have student discounts or a loyalty / discount card.
- Use coupons to help you save money.Remember coupons only help if they are for things you would usually buy. It helps to still price compare to get the best deals.
- Consider store brands—they usually cost less.These products have a special label or store name. Price compare with brand names to get the best deal.
- Convenience usually costs more.Be aware that you can save money if you don’t mind a little more work. Examples: buy whole chicken and cut into pieces shred or grate your own cheese make your own yogurt smoothie and consider rice in bulk instead of instant rice mixes.
- Look at unit prices.These are usually posted on the shelf under the product label showing how much the item costs per ounce, per pound, etc. Compare unit prices of brands or different sizes for the best value.
- Try to buy in bulk. Only buy a size you can use before it expires. If you buy meat in bulk, decide what you need to use that day and freeze the rest in portion-sized packages.
- Focus on economical fruits and vegetables in season. Produce such as bananas, apples, oranges, cabbage, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, dark-green leafy vegetables, green peppers, and regular carrots are usually less expensive especially when in season. (see produce guide on the following page)
- Consider frozen vegetables and fruit. A common misconception is that frozen fruit and vegetables are not healthy, however they are usually frozen at their peak ripeness when most nutrient-dense. Therefore, frozen versions are good alternatives for students on a budget, especially during winter months when fresh produce is limited or more expensive. Some canned versions may be budget friendly as well, however, canned vegetables are generally higher in sodium so opt for the no or low sodium options more often. Tip: rinsing canned veggies helps remove some of the sodium.
- Reduce food waste.For less food waste, buy or cook only what you need, freeze leftovers.
- Don’t shop while hungry / Resist temptations at the check-out.Snack foods and candy are conveniently located near the cash register for impulse buying.
- Share meals with roommates. This can be both a budget and time saver. Pool resources with roommates and consider meal planning and buying some items in bulk. You can save time by rotating a shopping/cooking schedule. Plan your meals and create shopping lists together.
Tips for meal planning: (Make it fun with themes or rotate meal planning menus)
- Set time aside each week, to create a quick meal plan. Consistency is key, and results in less time and money spent on driving to the store for impromptu meals or forgotten items.
- Check your store’s weekly specials to save money.
- Don’t forget to plan balanced snacks! https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/studenthealth/nutrition-services/snacking
Tips for creating a shopping list:
- Be sure to check what you already have on hand.
- Use your meal plan to create your list.
- Don’t forget to add in pantry staples that need replenishing.
- Organize your list by store
- Organize your list by sections (produce, frozen foods, canned goods, etc. )
- Consider downloading a shopping list app so you will never forget your list.
Whole Foods: Amazon Prime member awards, online ordering and free delivery, recipes online.
However, even with these awards this can still be a pricier option than other stores.
Durham Food Coop: members receive discounts, Co-op Basics- shopping items at consistent everyday low cost, $5 weekly lunch special, Meatless Mondays, $3 dinners on Thursdays.
Harris Teeter: VIC member card savings,Student discount 5% off lowest price, Fuel points savings.
Costco or Sam’s Club (for bulk items), Trader Joe’s (Chapel Hill), Aldi, Li Ming’s Global Mart, Compare Foods. Check websites or sign up for weekly special emails.
Seasonal produce guide:
Check with your local grocer or farmers’ market for seasonal produce in your area
Sharpening your cooking skills, if you haven’t already, is a great opportunity to have some fun, de-stress, and take control of your diet and budget! Once you have all the basic cooking tools, you may be surprised how easily you can make an inexpensive, nutritious meal. Preparing a big meal on Sunday, such as a soup, casserole, or a roasted chicken, can help create multiple lunches or dinners for busy weekdays. Preparing meals in batches for leftovers can save you the time and money of having to buy food on campus, and can help stretch your food budget.
Practical, Science-Based Steps to Heal from an Affair
Working through an affair is tough. It takes tremendous energy and vulnerability on both sides.
Working through an affair is tough. It takes tremendous energy and vulnerability on both sides.
Working through an affair is tough. It takes tremendous energy and vulnerability on both sides.
Many years ago, in the Clinton era, I was asked to do an interview on whether Hillary and Bill would make it through Bill’s affair. Responding psychologically rather than politically, my answer was to say, “If couples didn’t make it through affairs, the divorce rate would be even higher than it is now.”
Working through an affair is tough. It takes tremendous energy and vulnerability on both sides. Drs. John and Julie Gottman have developed the Trust Revival Method, with three defined stages of treatment: Atonement, Attunement, and Attachment. The effectiveness of this model is being studied in a randomized clinical trial.
I’ve watched hundreds of couples try this method, and I’ve learned a few practical things about effective treatment along the way. To provide clarity, let’s use names: Jennifer and Sam are married, and Jennifer had an affair with Anthony.
Seek couples therapy, not just individual counseling
Trust is an obvious issue, and is vital to regain. But if both partners are committed to reconciling the marriage, or at least to try, then seeing a couples therapist together is most helpful. Individual therapy doesn’t help regain this trust and may only make healing more complicated. Enough secrets have been kept. Even if Jennifer is talking about the love she had for Anthony, it’s important that Sam regain his role as confidante, and it’s even more important that Jennifer be completely transparent about what happened.
Often, people who engage in an affair will balk at the idea of sharing with their spouse their struggles with letting go of their lover. The most important point? To move ahead, Sam needs to actively hear and believe that Jennifer is choosing him and their marriage.
Realize that the “truth” rarely comes out all at once
This is a tough one. Those who have had an affair, whether they’ve been caught or whether they’ve actually come forward, rarely tell the whole story initially. In this case, Jennifer will either feel guilty and extremely protective of Sam, not wanting to hurt him anymore, or she’ll be protective of Anthony. Or both.
The latter reason may likely infuriate Sam. But it’s part of the process. The “story” usually emerges slowly, even though Sam might want the truth and all of the truth right away. Jennifer may not be able to do that. Remember, she’s now committed to the marriage, and more than likely fears Sam’s reaction — that “too much too soon” may blow up in her face.
When this occurs, it’s very easy for the hurt partner to view this as more intentional deceit, which many betrayed people say is just as difficult to work through than any sexual or emotional indiscretion. The therapist needs to guide the couple carefully through the betrayer’s tangle of self-protection or protection of a lover and the defensiveness and shame that comes with it, as well as the betrayed’s desperately wanting and deserving “the absolute truth” and the sadness, rage, and fear that accompanies it.
All of this lies in the Atonement phase — a working through of anger, fear, guilt, and shame. It’s a tightrope that has to be walked very carefully, and with as much openness as possible.
The problems in the relationship did not cause the affair but are important to change
Jennifer is totally responsible for going outside the marriage to get her needs met. That is clear. But affairs happen in contexts. And that context is Jennifer and Sam’s marriage.
Sam and Jennifer will want to create a fresh, enlivened relationship where both can recommit and leave behind the relationship that was not working. The task is to learn new skills and new ways of communicating so both can feel better about their marriage. They’re not going back — they’re going forward. They’re starting marriage #2.
If Jennifer is adamant about blaming the marriage and only the marriage, that’s not a good sign. In Gottman terms, she’d be stuck in the barn with the Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse and not moving forward. The same would be evident if Sam insisted that the marriage had been great with absolutely nothing amiss or broken. Both would be locked in defensiveness and contempt.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman teach that talking about the context of the marriage doesn’t belong in the “Atonement” process, but belongs in the second “Attunement” phase of treatment. This may be easier said than done. I’ve found that as long as distinctions are being made, and very clear boundaries are formed—that nothing happened in the marriage to cause the betrayer to betray—that both can be discussed. However, it’s far better to keep them clear from one another, if possible.
Give structure to communication about the affair
Dr. Shirley Glass points out in her book “Not Just Friends” that the betrayed partner often fits criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with their emotional well-being heavily threatened and a sense of safety having disappeared from the marriage. It’s important to structure the sessions to help the betrayed work through that trauma, as slowly as is needed, and not amplify symptoms like hypervigilance, nightmares, or flashbacks.
And, in all seriousness, this process can’t happen quickly enough for the betrayer nor slow enough for the betrayed.
Jennifer’s job is evident. She must cut ties with Anthony. She needs to provide whatever information Sam needs to help him heal. Most people seem to want a lot of information, often coming in with pages of questions.
If Jennifer is reticent to proactively offer openness to what used to be more private choices (cell phone or social media account passwords, for example), that may be a signal that the hurtful impact of the affair is still not understood, or the betrayer has not fully taken responsibility. At that point, work directed at the betrayer, to try to understand their balking — whether it’s an issue still with the affair, or is it some other individual trait, such as a struggle with control — is vital for the therapeutic process to go forward.
It is best if the couple can wait and only talk about the affair in the therapist’s office. But some people just can’t wait, so we would suggest that they limit, perhaps even by strictly scheduling, the time that they talk about it. Each would need to agree that they will refrain from using the four horsemen during those conversations. This structure helps prevent emotional explosions or from the affair gaining any more power than it already has, while also honoring the need for healing.
The affair will be on everyone’s mind. But it’s got to be fenced in to some degree. You are looking for new information to use for recommitment.
People in Sam’s role can sometimes get lost in the details, wanting to know everything about the affair. For example, asking if Jennifer loved Anthony, or why she was attracted to him, may be important details for Sam to know. But Drs. John and Julie Gottman would suggest that he, and others like him, need to be careful, again recalling Dr. Glass’ admonitions concerning PTSD. He runs the risk of becoming re-traumatized by the revelation of intimate details, such as where the affair happened and what the sex was like. He can become obsessive, requesting too much information. Yet if not enough is asked and absorbed, it can lead to later regret.
What’s the goal here? Sam finally says to himself, “You know, I just don’t need to ask that question. I’ve asked all I need to ask. I’m okay with not knowing.”
Realize the need for trust travels in both directions
The last thing that Jennifer wants to realize is that 10 or 15 years down the road, Sam says, “You know, I never really forgave you for that affair. I want a divorce.” Or he might never say those words, and simply act it out passive-aggressively.
That is very sad. Couples have come to me years after doing therapy for an affair. There has been no true stage of reconciliation that Drs. John and Julie Gottman would call “Attachment.” The unforgiving spouse remains bitter, but may try to hide it. The unforgiven feels a loneliness that he or she doesn’t understand it may be that everything “looks” fine, but underneath there is still distrust, blame, or anger.
Sam should take on the responsibility of giving reassurance to Jennifer that trust is building. He can say things sincerely, such as, “I wanted to text and ask you to take a picture of where you were at 10:00 last night when you were out of town, but I realized I didn’t need to. I’m past that.”
Jennifer can begin to feel hopeless if not given this information, or that her efforts are not being recognized. Both need to deeply understand and believe that the other is on board for a new commitment, that they both have chosen to remain, and are working on a new relationship dynamic that outshines their previous connection.
The process of healing from an affair takes time. Like all grief, it comes in waves. One day, it will seem like it happened a long time ago. The next? Either Jennifer or Sam can get triggered, and emotions will feel once again very raw.
Learning new skills of communicating about conflict, rebuilding trust, rekindling physical and sexual connection, giving time and attention to how the problems have affected the children or other family members — all of that can happen with time and energy.
There are many variations to the above. Such are the complications of being human.
The good news? It can be accomplished, and the commitment can be richer than ever. Not because of the affair, but because of the work done to make marriage #2 better than marriage #1 ever was.
Has your relationship experienced a sexual or an emotional affair? The Gottman Institute is currently seeking couples for an international study on affair recovery. For more information, click here.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, has practiced for over twenty years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Her work is found on her own website, as well as HuffPost, Psych Central, Psychology Today, The Mighty, and others. She’s the author of “Marriage Is Not For Chickens”, a perfect gift book on marriage, and hosts a weekly podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.
Vegetarian Pesto Gnocchi
Mitch Mandel and Thomas MacDonald
This quick and easy pesto gnocchi dish is meatless, but you won't notice because it gets so much wonderful flavor from basil pesto, which you can buy premade or make it yourself. Or, as the recipe suggests, you might want to consider making pesto from something other than basil. Kale? Sun-dried tomatoes? Fennel? The choices are endless.
Get our recipe for Vegetarian Pesto Gnocchi.
And for more ways to make meal prep easier, don't miss these 52 Life-Changing Kitchen Hacks That'll Make You Enjoy Cooking Again.