31 December 2010

Winchester, Virginia: My First American Hometown

Fifty years ago this month, I arrived in a snow-covered city I would come to think of as my first American hometown, Winchester, Virginia. I had just spent most of my elementary school years in Kyoto, Japan, which I still think of as my Japanese hometown. My parents were missionaries. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where my father was in seminary, and I later attended first grade there during our first furlough while he finished his coursework toward a Th.D. But our two-and-a-half years in Winchester gave me my first prolonged exposure to life in small-town America.

Amherst St. house, Dec. 1960For 7th and 8th grades, I walked to my mother’s alma mater, Handley High School, where I soaped the windows of my homeroom one Halloween, and had a classmate whose parents threw a grand Bat Mitzvah party, for which I learned to jitterbug when other kids were just beginning to dance the Twist. We two oldest brothers were baptized in my mother’s home church, First Baptist, where my parents had gotten married and my father now served as associate pastor during our extended furlough. He would draft us to help shovel snow off its sidewalks along Piccadilly and Washington Streets. My brother and I both had paper routes, delivering the Winchester Star on the way home from school each afternoon. I joined the Boy Scouts, advancing to Life Scout and marching with my troop in the annual Apple Blossom Festival parade. My mother’s two brothers lived a few miles down the Valley Pike, while her sister lived up the Pike outside Martinsburg, West Virginia.

House on Henry Ave., Winchester, Va.My parents resigned after their regular furlough year (partly from burnout), and we moved into a smaller house near Quarles Elementary School, where I had earlier finished the last half of 6th grade. Without a missionary salary, my father supplemented his earnings at First Baptist by substitute teaching at the county high school (James Wood) and serving as interim pastor at a tiny Baptist church in Gore, Virginia (birthplace of Willa Cather and Patsy Cline, I later discovered).

Meanwhile, my mother had her hands full with five kids. Our family car was a Rambler station wagon with an extra rear-facing seat in back. One summer we drove it to Sebago Lake in Maine, where our pastor let us use his summer cabin, where in the evenings my mother would read to her own five children from The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (one of whom—in each family—was named Joel). My mother, who had dropped out of Berea College after her junior year to get married and become a missionary, always felt inferior to the more educated missionary wives, especially the registered nurses at the Japan Baptist Hospital in Kyoto, where my father had served as chaplain. Perhaps she compensated to some extent by being somewhat of a Japanese-style kyōiku mama (at least where I, her eldest, was concerned).

But I remember those years as the least bookish, most outdoorsy era of my life. We went sledding on the slope above our big old house on Amherst St., and built igloos and snow forts behind our smaller house on Henry Ave. One summer, Uncle Bill took us waterskiing on the Shenandoah River. Dad took us oldest boys along for a campout in Monongahela National Forest with a group from his little country church in Gore. With Boy Scouts, I took a 50-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail through the Shenandoah Mountains, and I remember one Camporee that got hit by such a heavy rainstorm that many parents came to rescue their boys and a few boys abandoned their pup tents to spend the night in the scoutmasters’ vehicles.

Sometime during 8th grade, I started to show signs of near-sightedness. I don't think it was while trying for my rifle-shooting merit badge in the old Winchester Armory. I think I first noticed it when I had trouble reading the blackboard from the back of the classroom during algebra class or my tryout semester of Latin. But Uncle Bill likely noticed it sooner when I accompanied him on trips to Baltimore to bring back a tanker of gas for his filling station. He used to ask whichever nephew accompanied him to be on the lookout for certain road signs, landmarks, or maybe patrol cars, and I don't think I was as good at spotting them as he was—or as my brother was. I went for an eye exam and got a prescription for contact lenses (newfangled and expensive at the time), which were soon replaced by regular eyeglasses after I lost one down the drain.

Sometime during that same school year, my parents opted to return to the mission field, this time to Hiroshima, which became the Japanese hometown of my three youngest siblings. We two eldest sons went off to boarding school in Kobe, and I began my evolution into the most bookish nerd one can ever hope to become.

28 December 2010

Benevolent Colonialism of NGOs in the Balkans

One of the people who most helped put my impressions of Ceauşescu's Romania in 1983-84 into coherent wider perspective was Steve Sampson, an American anthropologist from (at that time) the University of Copenhagen (now at Lund University) who had done a lot of fieldwork in Romania during the 1970s and come back for more just as we were finishing our Fulbright year there. He was the one who introduced me to the term "actually existing socialism," which Western socialists employed to distinguish their visions of ideal socialism from the actual implementation of socialist projects in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, where nearly every ostensible good intention had paved the road to ruin. When I recently googled his name, I came up with an interesting article he had published about attempts by NGOs to help failed societies in the Balkans pick themselves up and get fresh starts. I'll quote just the introduction from his preprint published in Anthrobase under the title Weak States, Uncivil Societies and Thousands of NGOs: Western Democracy Export as Benevolent Colonialism in the Balkans.
In 1997, as part of a EU program to help build civil society in Bosnia, I was assigned to participate in the "mapping" of civil society in the country. We found nearly 400 various voluntary groups and civil society organizations. There were community groups, environmental groups, women's groups, youth, refugee/returnee groups, human rights groups, psychosocial assistance groups, associations for reconstruction, culture, legal aid etc. Even in the eastern Republika Srbska, which was considered to be home to some of the most uncivil tendencies in Bosnia, we found various local initiatives and activities which we certainly could call "civil society". This was surprising to the international aid organizations operating in Bosnia, who saw themselves as operating virtually alone, or needing to "build up the NGO sector". But it also surprised ordinary Bosnians working in civil society who also felt tremendously isolated. During a meeting, one of them even declared, "If we had had 400 NGOs in our country before the war, there would have been no war."

As part of this same study, we also commissioned a study of the history of the Bosnian voluntary sector. We found that a hundred years ago and up to the Titoist period, Bosnia was full of voluntary charities known as Vakuf, civic organizations, community groups, intellectual clubs and other organizations and activities which we would today call "civil society" or non-government organizations. It turns out that Bosnia was not so Balkan as it may seem, and that the real problematic was not the absence of civil society and the need to implant NGO organizations, but the fact that a vibrant civil society had in some ways declined or dissolved due to specific historical and political factors. Similar tendencies have prevailed in most other Balkan countries: there were community groups centered on neighborhood, occupation, or common interest which existed together with or supplemented the primary family groups; moreover, family groups often fulfilled what we today would call civic functions, providing security, welfare, etc. Kosovo's (pre-1999) parallel institutions are the most recent example. The problem of civil society is not necessarily its absence but its decline under specific conditions of economic chaos or political repression.

I point out this example because over the last few years in trying to export Western democracy to the Balkans, we continually interpret our difficulties in terms of the barriers posed by stubborn Balkan traditions. A Western democracy assistance program has stalled or not been implemented, and this is explained by the fact that local Balkan organizations or government offices lack initiative, are not serious, are just thinking about the money, are hypocritical, lazy or corrupt. NGOs are accused of being unable to cooperate, of hoarding information; staff are accused of not having enough initiative; intellectuals of being unable to write clearly; officials of promising to do something and then changing their minds or catering to their political patrons.

These explanations for inadequately executed programs come from the donors and their representatives. They are often not written down in reports but are the stuff of ethnographic interviews or café chatter when "the internationals" gather. But the critique is also complemented by the locals. In Albania, Bosnia, Romania, and Kosovo, the locals make similar complaints about donors: the donors do not listen to their suggestions; they come in and out as if they know everything; they impose bureaucratic barriers on obtaining funds; they are keeping secrets from us; they are maintaining their positions to earn high salaries, otherwise they would have to go home; they are wasting aid money meant for us; they are carrying out unnecessary appraisals, evaluations, and control visits using uninformed foreign consultants. In short, the donors are "not being transparent with us", they say. This activity, "donor bashing", is almost de rigeur at conferences on the Balkans and in recent locally produced analyses (Deacon and Stubbs 1998, Papiè 2001). Criticism of donors in Eastern Europe, particularly of American programs, comes also from Western specialists (see esp. Wedel 2001, Carothers 1999, Carothers and Ottaway 2001).

Now it would be easy, much too easy, to call all this an Orientalist discourse, yet another indication that we stupid Westerners don't know what's going on. I myself, having worked on such projects, have been accused of all these things. Analyzing the local laments, it would also be easy to see a kind of Balkan externalization in which all problems are attributed to the machinations of outside actors beginning with the Turks, later on the Communists, and now the West, represented by their agents at the local EU office or USAID mission. It would be easy to conclude that the donors are stupid, naive or corrupt, and that the local staff are unthankful or manipulative.

Yet things are not so simple. In fact, most of the actors on both sides of the Western aid system are intelligent, diligent and well-intentioned. Moreover, many of the most anti-Balkan statements come not from the foreigners, who in fact have a sympathy for the trials and tribulations of these countries, but from local citizens frustrated at their own countrymen for squandering opportunities or not being able to cooperate. The most negative remarks about the Albanians, Kosovars, Bosnians and Romanians with whom I have worked have come from other Albanians, Kosovars, Bosnians and Romanians.

The discursive turn in Balkan studies (Wolff 1994, Todorova 1997), in which societies are purely constructive and therefore artificial, has blinded us to the concrete problems which cause some organizations and projects, despite good intentions and declarations, to falter. Measuring project success is always problematic. Often we tend to compare the ideal of our own society (our own myths of efficiency, transparency and cooperation) with the harsh reality of getting things accomplished in the Balkans. There are in fact some concrete factors connected with Balkan history and society which do indeed give democracy projects a particular colour in these places south and east of the Alps. In one particular sector, civil society/NGO development, activists and project coordinators conclude that of the thousands of registered NGOs, no more than 10% are truly active. The rest exist only on paper, or have been formed only to obtain funds, or are a cover for a single person's activity, or simply a cover for tax free business, or even worse. Civil society is accused of being secretive, manipulative, ineffective, nepotistic, of being an "NGO mafia" who reward each other with trips, computers, and other benefits. The conflicts can even be more dramatic. In Albania, for example, I was working with a head of a youth organization who explained to me that he was unable to work with another youth activist because of a family feud: He explained to me, "Do you know what it's like to be angry at somebody for five generations?"(Sampson 1996).

Let me try to summarize, at the risk of putting all the Balkan societies under a single category (something we do every day when we talk about "the West"). What makes the Balkans both interesting, and exasperating is the presence of alternative social arrangements for achieving one's own strategies and for preventing others from achieving theirs. Kinship, clans, family relations, social networks, social circles, intrigues, ties of loyalty, informal linkages, and a host of social obligations somehow inhibit people from fulfilling their official duties to formal institutions, or prevent organizations from operating in an efficient, transparent way. In one sense, these are the famous "parallel structures" which played such a prominent role throughout the Balkans both before and during communism, and in Kosovo during the 1990s. In another sense, these parallel structures are the true civil society, the social self organization to fulfill grass roots needs in a hostile political environment.

The paradox, of course, is that these same informal relations which inhibit institutions from functioning are those which have enabled Balkan peoples to survive subjugation by foreign powers, authoritarian politicians, and countless wars and betrayals. Moreover, if we examine the many successful civil society initiatives in the Balkans, we find that many of these activities are based on the utilization of kinship, friendship and neighborhood ties and strong social linkages of obligations. Members of NGOs are not simply independent individuals with a common interest; they have often grown up together, gone to school together, served in the military or spent time in prison together, been in exile together, or are close friends or cousins. They "know each other". Let us call this relationship one of "trust". Trust, and the moral obligations associated with these, enable people to get a meeting together at a moment's notice, or put together an application, or locate a plane ticket when everything is sold out. Trust is what the members of an Albanian grant-giving foundation with whom I worked, when reviewing applications for grants from other activist groups, could throw the project proposal aside and conclude, "I know him. He's good." And it is these same importance of social relations which also causes them to question another project proposal, no matter how well written, by saying, "I don't know her." or "Her father was a communist".

The strength of these ties is well known to Balkan ethnographers. Extended families, friendship, godparenthood, village ties, and conversely, relations of enmity and feud are the very stuff of Balkan ethnography, especially out in the villages and up in the mountains. It is these ties which enable communities to hold together while also tearing them apart in the most violent fashion. In fact, the stronger the kin and family ties, the more violent the feuds and more fragmented the society. Highland Montenegro and Northern Albania are examples (Boehm 1984).

Seen from a Western democratic point of view, the problem of the Balkans is what to do about these traditional institutions. Up to now, the idea has been the replace them or go around them by establishing new institutions: NGOs, community organizations, parliaments, ombudsmand, and other kinds of formal organizations. Even in politics, the idea has been to turn the personalistic, clientilistic political parties into transparent, accountable organizations. Much of the activity of Western development projects is about implanting these new forms onto preexisting communities. It is about replacing loyalty to persons with a Western model of loyalty to an institution and its principles. Sometimes these efforts have been successful, though the presence of so many façade or nonfunctioning organizations seems to belie the success.

The ability to actually utilize these traditional networks has been limited to a very few projects: one of the most interesting are the Danish government-financed projects for conflict resolution in Albania, in which traditional leaders and peacemakers are given training in modern techniques of conflict resolution, which they then use to arbitrate family disputes, village conflicts or long-standing blood feuds. Generally, however, the effort by Western democracy and civil society programs is to transplant our models so that local cultural traditions remain unused.

Most Westerners' observations about complications in civil society development speak of the stubbornness of Balkan cultural traditions. The adaptability and flexibility of these traditions tends to be forgotten, as it tends to conflict with the dynamics of the Western foreign aid system as it operates in local communities and social interventions. It is what I call the "social life of projects", a specific set of resources, people and practices which ultimately creates embedded interests (Sampson 1996). One of these interests is to make itself irreplaceable, i.e., to construct a local Balkan reality in which local problems persist and make project personnel and project thinking a necessity. At its best, the project system begins with foreign staff and their organization, who are then gradually replaced by local staff, what in Kosovo has been called "kosovarisation" by the OSCE.

Project society has its own dynamics, and it is misleading to see Western aid projects as an insidious plot. The donors and their personnel are by and large well-intentioned, and the most suitable term for Western intervention in the Balkans would be benevolent colonialism. Here the accent should be on the benevolent aspects. Traditional European colonialism was violent, repressive and exploitative, but we also know that even the most brutal colonial regimes in Africa had civilizing missions, priests, doctors and humanitarians who truly sought to help. They built roads, sewage systems and railroads. Today's Western benevolent colonialism seeks to provide a climate of security and stability in the Balkans, and while their may be untapped consumer markets for cellular phones and household goods, the economic benefits of Western investment in the Balkans are questionable.

We need to understand the nature of this Western good will, the mechanisms behind "funding virtue" (Ottaway and Carothers 2001). Balkan critiques of the West focus on Western self interest and manipulation, hence the conspiracy aspect. They fail to understand that from an economic point of view, the Balkans is more a burden than a benefit. Hence my focus on benevolent colonialism. This kind of colonialism has its own dynamics, whereby the Balkans are a Western project. Let me therefore use the rest of this paper to detail the nature of project society in the Balkans.

24 December 2010

Legacies of Clara Hepburn's Juku in Yokohama, 1863

From: American Missionaries, Christian Oyatoi, and Japan 1859–73, by Hamish Ion (UBC Press, 2009), pp. 59-60:
Before he rented it out in May 1864, Hepburn had taught students Western medicine in his dispensary. Among those whom he taught was Yamanouchi Bunzaburo, the uncle of Hayashi Tadasu, and Hayashi Yuteki, who founded the famous Maruzen Bookstore. Clara Hepburn also taught them English. She was a trained teacher, having taught at the Norristown Academy in Pennsylvania before marrying, and was teaching several boys whose progress in reading and writing English had been altogether satisfactory and in some cases remarkable.

Hepburn Juku ([supplementary, a.k.a. "cram"] School), which Clara began in November 1863 shortly after her return from the United States, had its beginning in a Sunday school for the young boys and girls in the treaty settlement that she held in the front waiting room of the dispensary (being Sunday, there were no patients). Japanese children were also allowed to attend. It was from this Sunday school that an English-language school developed. Hepburn Juku had among its young students some who would become famous figures, including future prime minister Takahashi Korekiyo; foreign minister Hayashi Tadasu; leading businessman Masuda Takashi, who helped to establish the Mitsui zaibatsu, a major industrial and financial conglomerate; and surgeon general Miyake Hiizu (Shigeru). Thirteen-year-old Hayashi, the nephew of a doctor who had studied with Hepburn, was the first student. It was a manifestation of a growing awareness of the importance of English that these young boys came to Yokohama in order to learn it. However, their successful careers were predicated on the fact that these boys did not become Christians, and their presence at Hepburn Juku was often merely a brief interlude (by way of attending an English-language crammer, which prepared them for entry into American schools, and familiarizing themselves with Americans) before setting out to the United States or elsewhere overseas to study.

It was Hepburn's later deep involvement in the establishment of Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo that allowed the university to claim that its origins can be traced back to 1863 and to Hepburn Juku (and so bask in the reflected light of being connected to such a great figure in modern Japanese history as Takahashi, whose abiding reputation has been undoubtedly helped by his vicious assassination by militarists in the attempted coup of February [1936]. Takahashi made a special visit to Hepburn's house in East Orange, New Jersey, when he was in New York on government business during the Russo-Japanese War. Clara was too ill in hospital to see him, but he had a conversation with Hepburn in which he expressed his gratitude for Clara's efforts in teaching English. More immediately, the success of Clara Hepburn's efforts undoubtedly contributed to a very significant development, as it turned out, taking place in Yokohama in 1864.

Some Japanese officials at the customs house in Yokohama had approached Hepburn with a request that he establish a school for the benefit of interpreters and others who might obtain government permission to attend it. After consulting with the Dutch Reformed missionaries, the Yokohama Eigakujo (Eigakko, also known as the Yokohama Academy), was organized and opened. From the start the school was a success.

Legacies of Hepburn's First Japanese Dictionary, 1867

From: American Missionaries, Christian Oyatoi, and Japan 1859–73, by Hamish Ion (UBC Press, 2009), pp. 80-81:
[In 1866] Hepburn's dictionary was being printed at a rate of 6 pages a day, with nearly 250 pages of the first part of Japanese to English – out of a total of 600 pages – finished. Hepburn was now writing out a second part to the dictionary of English to Japanese (something he had not previously contemplated), which would add approximately another 300 pages. He had a deadline of 1 June to have it completed. It was an expensive business, costing two dollars a page for composition alone, and even though Walsh had agreed to cover any losses, Hepburn was obliged to pay him back all monies from sales until the debt was cancelled. There was going to be no immediate financial benefit to Hepburn from all his work.

Surprisingly, the dictionary was finished ahead of schedule, and Hepburn was back in healthy Yokohama by late May 1867 and able to send off a copy to the mission library back home. Although Hepburn was discounting the early work of his friend Brown in claiming his was the first dictionary, it was an immense achievement, far surpassing any nineteenth-century rival. Yet, the dictionary had its limitations for those learning Japanese. Interestingly, in early 1870, Christopher Carrothers, a new Presbyterian missionary then learning Japanese, wrote that Hoffman's Japanese grammar was the best assistant for the written language: "Dr. Brown's Grammar and Dr. Hepburn's Dictionary are more adapted to the Colloquial. Hoffman is soon to issue a Japanese Dictionary for which we are anxiously waiting. Carrothers was referring to J.J. Hoffman, a German linguist who learnt Chinese, Japanese, and Korean in Europe and in 1868 produced a Japanese grammar in Dutch and English. Even though Hepburn's dictionary might have been more suited for those using colloquial speech than wanting to acquire the written language, it remains Hepburn's greatest contribution to opening Japan, not only to missionaries but also to the English-speaking world. It should not be forgotten that Hepburn was helped by the work of other Western scholars who had attempted Chinese or Japanese grammars and dictionaries before him, including W.H. Medhurst, Karl Gutzlaff, and S.W. Williams among China missionaries, and Liggins, Brown, and Hoffman when it came to Japan and Europe. He also benefited from the assistance of Kishida Ginkō, who had been with Hepburn in Kanagawa and accompanied him to Shanghai. In September 1872, the Japan Weekly Mail noted that the second edition of the dictionary "is a fresh encouragement to foreigners in this country to pursue the study of the Japanese language, and to the Japanese it will afford invaluable assistance in the study of ours." The newspaper predicted that its print run of three thousand would be quickly sold out. It was close to a century later – in the early 1960s with the publication of the Nelson dictionary – before another American missionary produced a dictionary that would have a similar profound impact on those learning Japanese. The Hepburn system of romanization of Japanese, which the earlier dictionary first introduced and the Nelson dictionary used, remains the standard system of romanization.
The dictionary was typeset and printed in Shanghai, where it required "making copper matrices and casting of new Japanese as well as specialized English type, so the actual printing was moving at a snail's pace" (p. 79).

20 December 2010

Seven Years of Blogging—and Much Else

I began blogging seven years ago today (in 2003), after finishing our family Christmas letter (the Harking Herald–Jahrblatt, now in vol. 20), and having a few free moments to see how easy it might be to start my own blog on Blogger.

About four years ago (in mid 2006), after researching free online tools while on a short sabbatical in Japan, where my wife was teaching at the time, I began editing Wikitravel articles about cities I had visited there. I also created my first new article on Wikipedia and started a Flickr site for all the photos of springtime in Japan that I took with my small digital camera. I've now added more than 3400 photos from other travels, some of them scans from older prints, which have altogether attracted about 430,000 views.

Shortly after returning to work in July 2006, I migrated a work blog from Wordpress.org software running on our own server, to a better-looking, sturdier, and more spam-proof blog at Wordpress.com. I easily imported all my old posts from my old Far Outliers on Blogger.com into a new Far Outliers on Wordpress.com and began posting to both blogs, partly as backup, partly to avoid orphaning my old blog and its regular readers and indexers. I have created several more WordPress blogs for other people since then. Each Far Outliers blog now contains over 2100 blogposts of identical content but different appearance (with almost 660,000 page views on my older Blogger site, plus over 200,000 on my WordPress site).

About two years ago (early in 2009), I discovered that my documentary photography hobby could serve to supply photos for the intersection of two WikiProjects: WP National Register of Historic Places and WP Hawai‘i. That hobby snowballed drastically this year after a local reporter who likes to write about old buildings profiled us in the local paper. By now I have edited, expanded, or created hundreds of Wikipedia articles.

About two months ago, after our daughter's wedding, I finally relented and joined Facebook, to which I'm now adding more old photographs of friends and family, photos with faces in them.

So there you have it, a growing list of excuses for not blogging as much as I used to. The next seven years of blogging may remain fairly lean, but only because I've got too many other projects going.

19 December 2010

Interpreting Sino-Soviet Border Clashes, 1969

From: The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost: The Grand Strategy of Charles Hill, by Molly Worthen (Mariner Books, 2007), Kindle Loc. 1202-26:
It remained unclear whether Beijing was simply using the Soviet border threat to galvanize internal party unity, or whether genuine geopolitical realignment was in the making.

The answer came in the spring of 1969, on a tiny, uninhabited fragment of land about 250 miles down the Ussuri River from the Soviet city of Vladivostok. Called Damansky by the Russians and Zhen Bao by the Chinese, the island appeared to be of only symbolic worth. Little over a mile in length and a half mile in breadth, Zhen Bao and its environs were mostly swampland and under water for much of the year. The island is closer to the Chinese side of the river, but both countries had long claimed it. According to Soviet press reports from March 2, 1969, that morning 300 Chinese troops on the island opened machine-gun fire on a Soviet patrol of frontier guards, killing 31 and wounding 14. The Soviets sent reinforcements, but these too were ambushed. Chinese accounts of the encounter, predictably, blamed the aggression on the Soviets (counting 70 Soviet dead), and although at first most Western observers jumped at a chance to blame the Chinese, the reality of that cold morning remained foggy. Both sides had withdrawn from the island by the afternoon, but Zhen Bao marked only the beginning of the conflict. As spring turned to summer, violence erupted again on Zhen Bao as well as thousands of miles to the southwest, on the border between Soviet Kazakhstan and China's Xinjiang province, and along the Amur River. These skirmishes were more prolonged and bloody than the first brief encounter in March. Both sides issued conflicting accounts of the hostilities, but the geography of the battle sites in Xinjiang—easily accessible from nearby Soviet installations, and hundreds of miles from the nearest Chinese railhead at Ürümqi—suggested that the Soviets started the trouble there.

It was Hill's job to report on the border conflicts in daily cables to Washington. His commentary was circumscribed by lack of trustworthy eyewitness accounts, and as always he relied heavily on careful reading of the rhetoric coming out of Beijing and Moscow. But by 1969, these had become well-worn limitations for Hill. He was used to sorting through fighting versions of the same story and extracting some shadow of the truth. The responsibility was thrilling. The cables required him to draw on all his experience as a China watcher and to write cogently under extreme pressure—a skill that is learned only by necessity.

Once Nixon and his staff had time to reflect on Hill's anonymous cables, the significance of intensifying conflict between the world's two Communist giants was clear. As then national security adviser Henry Kissinger reflected in his memoirs, a Soviet invasion of China would capsize "not only the geopolitical but also the psychological equilibrium of the world; it would create a momentum of irresistible ruthlessness." Moscow's periodic threats to attack Chinese nuclear installations or employ nuclear weapons to push People's Liberation Army forces back from the border were particularly disturbing to Washington. On the other hand, an opportunity suddenly existed to soften China's raving isolation and cultivate a triangular balance among the world's three great powers. The situation was delicate. Beijing's propaganda still accused America of colluding with the Soviets in a renewed attempt at "imperialist encirclement."

Benefits of Strong, Silent Diplomacy (and Ego)

From: The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost: The Grand Strategy of Charles Hill, by Molly Worthen (Mariner Books, 2007), Kindle Loc. 1227-47:
In the months that followed, Kissinger became a prime mover behind a series of symbolic gestures and guarded diplomatic advances toward China. On a late summer world tour, Nixon remarked cautiously about opening channels with the Chinese to intermediaries in Romania and Pakistan, who, it was assumed, would relay the message to Beijing. As the Soviets grew increasingly nervous that autumn, Kissinger authorized the end of the U.S. destroyer patrol in the Taiwan Strait—a signal whose military significance was dwarfed by its symbolic value. What followed, Kissinger wrote, was "an intricate minuet between us and the Chinese so delicately arranged that both sides could always maintain that they were not in contact, so stylized that neither side needed to bear the onus of an initiative, so elliptical that existing relationships on both sides were not jeopardized."

Those brief clashes in the desolate reaches of southeastern Siberia set off a geopolitical chain reaction that would culminate in President Nixon's much-vaunted trip to China in 1972. His visit, to those who had been watching most vigilantly, was less a diplomatic coup than an inescapable executive act confirming several years of geopolitical transformation. The shift in the balance among the Soviet Union, China, and the United States was, for those who knew what to look for, well marked along the way—in official editorials' compromised turns of phrase, in remote clashes over an inhospitable bit of land, and, sometimes, in what was not said at all.

Hill was never bothered that Kissinger, for whom he would be a top speechwriter in a scant few years, had no idea who had written the cables he read with such interest. Although no reasonable junior officer expected to see his name attached to most of his work, Hill was distinct in his attitude. "Others said, 'We're working like dogs, but the time will come when we'll be ambassadors and we'll cash in,'" he recalled. "I didn't. I thought this was great—way beyond anything I'd been asked to do before." Hill's self-confidence was more valuable for its noiselessness. It was unusual in a profession that attracted ambitious men and women intent on achieving power and making names for themselves. That breed of officer was often frustrated in the Foreign Service—a highly constrained job, bounded by meddlesome supervisors and a lethargic bureaucracy that shuttled its officers around the globe, granting them little notice or say in their futures. Hill was better suited to it than most. Although every telegram he drafted was revised and chewed up by his superiors, his ideas still confined by a system that offered no guarantee that those on high would listen, he felt that the months spent covering the Sino-Soviet border dispute were the apex of his career thus far. He loved the chance to shape information, to tell the story of the border clashes as he saw it. His was a silent ego, not a meek one.

The Loo-Choo Naval Mission, 1846–1861

From: American Missionaries, Christian Oyatoi, and Japan 1859–73, by Hamish Ion (UBC Press, 2009), pp. 9-11:
Although Britain was loath to open trade relations with Japan, British naval officers were instrumental in beginning what is now considered by many (especially Japanese Anglicans) to be the first Protestant mission to the Japanese, the Loo-Choo Naval Mission. Bernard Jean Bettelheim and his English wife were associated with the British Anglican Church Missionary Society and were the Loo-Choo Naval Mission's resident medical missionary couple in Naha between 1846 and 1854. A miserable time Bettelheim had of it, for he was beaten and ostracized by the Ryūkyūans and held in contempt by commanders of Royal Navy gunboats that infrequently visited them. In early February 1852, Bettelheim wrote to Commander Charles Shadwell of HMS Phoenix complaining about his treatment at the hands of Japanese soldiers and arguing that British settlers would never be safe until gunboat diplomacy was used to teach the Japanese a lesson. Shadwell strongly disagreed about the need for gunboat diplomacy and thought Bettelheim exaggerated his complaints about the Ryūkyūan authorities. In his report on his visit to the Ryūkyūs, Shadwell wrote that Bettelheim's enthusiastic zeal was undoubted but that he was narrow-minded in his view of the world and that his isolation in Naha had led to "an idiosyncratic turn of mind which renders him an unsafe guide in matters which might involve grave political consequences." The charge that Bettelheim was narrow-minded was a common criticism of evangelistically minded missionaries, but there is no doubt that he had developed in Naha an idiosyncratic turn of mind.

Bettelheim fared little better when Commodore Perry first visited Naha in May 1853. He had a long conversation with Perry soon after his arrival, very likely giving him a full report of his frustrations with the Ryūkyūans and what he saw as their negative characteristics. McOmie has suggested that as a result of his meeting with Bettelheim/ Perry was prepared to match the chicanery and duplicity that Bettelheim saw in the Okinawan authorities with "a little Yankee diplomacy." By the end of Perry's visit to Naha, however. Perry's relations with Bettelheim were not good, and the commodore rejected Bettelheim's offer to join the expedition to Japan as an interpreter. This was much to the relief of Samuel Wells Williams, the expedition's missionary interpreter, who had developed a real dislike for Bettelheim while Perry's flagship was anchored off Naha. Part of the problem was Bettelheim's acting as an agent for the American warships in the purchase of provisions during their extended visits in 1853 and 1854, leading to suspicions that he was lining his own pockets. Yet, the officers of USS Plymouth thought his services had been so valuable to them during the winter of 1853 that they presented him with a silver goblet worth $80. Attitudes toward Bettelheim among Americans with Perry's squadron were mixed. Lieutenant George Henry Preble of the USS Macedonian was generally sympathetic, but he thought that despite Bettelheim's sincerity and enthusiasm, he was the worst kind of person to be a missionary to the Ryūkyūans: his great contempt for them meant that he knew less about the Ryūkyūans after eight years than some knew after eight months. William Heine, the official artist with Perry, clearly liked Bettelheim. Heine was very impressed when he became, by chance one night in February 1854, an unseen onlooker at the Bettelheim family's evening prayers. The German-speaking Heine was a young man and possibly a little homesick, which might account for why he found the prayers of a close-knit family so touching. His overall generosity of feeling toward Bettelheim might also be a reflection that the polylingual missionary's German was better than his English. On 15 January 1854, Bettelheim preached aboard the Macedonian; Preble recorded that "it was an ingenious and animated discourse to which his foreign accentuation and broken English gave additional force. Reading the Hymns was rather a stumbling block to him but he showed he conceived their sense." Since Bettelheim was unable to convert the Ryūkyūans to Christianity, Preble thought his chief contribution was the translation of the Scriptures into Ryūkyūan language and the construction of a Ryūkyūan dictionary. A linguist said to have mastered thirteen languages, Bettelheim managed to translate four chapters of the New Testament into the Ryūkyūan language. This work was probably the most positive and lasting legacy of his sojourn in Naha. Under pressure from the Ryūkyūan authorities. Perry agreed to evacuate the Bettelheims from Naha.

In March 1854, Perry's supply ship Supply took Bettelheim's family to Shanghai, and later in June Bettelheim himself left Naha for good aboard USS Powhatan. He left behind his replacement, C.H. Moreton, formerly of the London Missionary Society, and Moreton's wife, who had arrived in Naha that February, to continue on the mission alone. Bettelheim made the first step toward establishing Protestant missions in metropolitan Japan, which the northward movement of American warships under Perry from the Ryūkyūs presaged. Unfortunately, in December 1855, his successor, Moreton, fell ill and left Naha to return home. There was difficulty finding another missionary, and in 1861 the Loo-Choo Naval Mission was formally ended. What monies were left over were given to the British Anglican Church Missionary Society for the development of its future Japan mission, which eventually began in 1869.

30 November 2010

A Japanophile Dutch Banker's Disillusionment, 1970s

From The Magatama Doodle: One Man's Affair with Japan, 1950–2004, by Hans Brinckmann (Global Oriental, 2005), pp. 210-211:
My 'Magatama Doodle' metaphor was inspired by the whimsical linking of an observed physical habit (the doodling of comma-shapes on tabletops and chair arms) of certain functionaries, when confronted with a problem or pressed for an answer, to their assumed preference for evasion and procrastination. Japan's leaders, I had always felt, were fully capable of taking decisions, and if they did not, that was because they chose not to.

I still believed this analysis to hold good for the corporate sector, but I no longer could credit the government and the bureaucracy with similar ability. After all, the cabinet members, from the prime minister on down, were beholden to their party colleagues waiting in the wings for their turn at government. And all politicians lived at the mercy of the business establishment, which financed their election campaigns. They were also constrained by the bureaucratic elite, which provided continuity and expertise for the government of the day. Some bureaucrats in turn were rumoured to be supplementing their income with donations from the major corporations, to whom they also looked for their eventual amakudari on their retirement from the civil service in their early fifties. Few senior civil servants could afford to retire at that age, so they were all interested in a second career as adviser or senior director at a major bank or corporation. The result of these cosy relationships was a woeful lack of discretionary power on the political level, and even a prime minister travelling overseas had to weigh every word and frequently backtrack on his public statements in the face of opposition at home.

I could now see that it was the stasis in Japan's body politic that had bedevilled its relations with other countries, most of all the US, for decades. Earlier on I had, like probably almost every Japanese, habitually blamed the periodic strains in Japan-US ties largely on American impatience or intransigence. American leaders and negotiators, I was convinced, did not understand Japan, and their patronizing attitude only managed to infuriate their Japanese counterparts and thus stall progress in the talks. But without exculpating pushy American negotiators altogether I had come to suspect that the cause of the recurring tensions, especially in matters of trade and investment, lay mostly with the Japanese.

Through my Investment Committee at the American Chamber of Commerce and other sources I had heard stories about the 'impossibility' of dealing with Japanese negotiators on issues such as regulating the flow of car exports and improving access to Japan's still heavily protected consumer market. The negotiators had no mandate and had to refer to Tokyo on every detail without in the end coming up with any kind of helpful response or compromise. The US side would be kept waiting interminably while their counterparts tried to placate them with pleas for understanding Japan's slow-moving consensus system and promises of an eventual satisfactory outcome. More often than not, no such outcome ensued, and the Americans either had to back off with gritted teeth or threaten unilateral action to force an agreement. On several occasions the US Congress stepped in with mandated sanctions when negotiations stalled, to the consternation of the Japanese, whose own parliament had no such power.

All this would not have been so bad if the Japanese had put their cards on the table. But they seldom did. To the home audience they usually played the victim card, blaming the heavy-handed Americans for bullying them into concessions, and asking the public to accept these 'sacrifices' in the interest of preserving good relations with the American ally. In this way they not only shifted the blame for any unwelcome outcome to the Americans, but they also obfuscated the system's structural inability to produce effective and timely decisions, actually turning this shortcoming into an advantage.

21 November 2010

A Japan-trained Dutch Banker's Impressions of Chicago, 1968

From The Magatama Doodle: One Man's Affair with Japan, 1950–2004, by Hans Brinckmann (Global Oriental, 2005), pp. 184-185:
Seven years earlier, our first US visit was no confrontation. We were wide-eyed tourists then, basking in America's sun and easy smiles without care or consequence. Even our brief stay in Illinois in 1965, a year after my bank's takeover by the Chicago bank, was little more than a courtesy call made out of our safe and trusted Japanese home base.

But this time it was different. This protracted stay was intended to be confrontational. There were wise men in the head office suspecting their 'man in Tokyo' of alien sympathies. They were right, twice over.

First, there was my typical European prejudice against the might and swagger of America, its superficial, money-based way of life, its waste and hyperbole, even that questionable concept – the 'pursuit of happiness'. This spoon-fed mindset was overlain by a less expressible, more internalized reserve about the United States, Japan-grown and stubborn. It was directed at the American mentality, the casual arrogance that is the birthright of the strong. It was a silent protest against the overweening, patronizing manners of so many Americans towards anyone and anything foreign, and especially Asian. Above all, it was a deep-seated resistance against the immodest American approach to life itself, its aggressive 'conflict model', its blatant emotionalism and lack of restraint, its materialism and physicality and holier-than-thou Christian orthodoxy.

Thus I arrived in Chicago heavily burdened with opinion but also willing to change my views 'in the light of new experience'. Well, experience is what we got. From the first day I had to place my mental constructs on the back-burner. Actual, visceral life, took precedence. The accommodation the bank had arranged for us, a small, furnished apartment in Old Town, turned out to be an address of ill repute, teeming with prostitutes. Within our stingy rent allowance we found a better place, near the Ambassador East Hotel, with mostly decent tenants. But we had to decide how to deal with the neighbours across the hall, a friendly well-groomed woman with an attractive grown-up daughter for whom – Toyoko had to conclude to her astonishment – she was acting as a 'discreet' pimp.

The confrontation with American reality brought home to me the vast cultural gap that separated that society from the Japanese – and the Dutch. But the comparison was not necessarily negative. The office, for instance, far from being a nasty environment steeped in power-crazy adrenaline, was more like a large living-room filled with people exchanging easy banter while glancing at a document or two, or discussing golf scores with a customer on the phone. The informality was deceptive. While telling jokes or kidding around these well-educated bankers kept a beady eye on the boss's door, to see who would go in next or to wait for an opportunity to slip in with a 'hot deal'. I was amazed to see that in spite of their relaxed style of communication they did get their job done.

The looser structure was an immense relief from the tensions and social rules of Japan. What is more I soon discovered that the much-maligned 'shallowness' of American social relations was actually more like an open, unprejudiced kind of hospitality which we tight-arsed Europeans and fastidious Japanese would do well to try and emulate, to our benefit. Americans, I found, opened their doors first and then sorted out what they had let in. Europeans and Japanese, distrusting spontaneity, were forever trying to determine the suitability of others before deciding whether they wanted to get acquainted.

My lifelong latent resistance against America's ways had collapsed inside a week. Not on fundamentals, but – let us say – on the attractions of their lifestyle. These Americans lived their lives instead of fretting about them. They had no time for wrenching soul searching or weighing up the relative merits of their civilization. They were victors, and victors are free of doubt.

Vietnam was supposed to have changed all this. But not here, not yet, in this heartland of assured capitalism, where seating a single black graduate from Northwestern University on my bank's carpeted 'platform' for all to see, was deemed to constitute an adequate gesture to the irksome demands of the Civil Rights movement. The headlines of the Chicago Tribune copies scattered about the desks might be screaming indignantly about the seizure of the US Navy ship Pueblo by the North Koreans or about the Communist Tet offensive just launched by the Viet Cong, but loan requests had to be processed and the 17.37 back home to the comforts of Winnetka had to be caught.

The self-assuredness was astounding. Laced as it was with magnanimity and the decency of family concerns it was a far cry from the imperial hauteur of the British and French or the self-conscious pride of the Japanese. But it was daunting nonetheless. Paraded around Chicago as 'our man in Japan' I had to make frequent appearances at meetings, both inside the bank and on calls to important corporate customers, to shed light on the mystery that was Japan. I was expected to explain the peculiarities of the market and dispense hot tips on how to breach its protectionist shell.

My audience was eloquent, courteous and sceptical.

15 November 2010

Wordcatcher Tales: Yakinokori-zei, Yoyū-jūtaku-zei

From The Magatama Doodle: One Man's Affair with Japan, 1950–2004, by Hans Brinckmann (Global Oriental, 2005), pp. 99-100:
She had contracted tuberculosis towards the end of the war, and had spent her teenage years in hospital and at home to fight the disease and recuperate. American-made streptomycin, not available in Japan at the time, saved her. Bought at great expense on the black-market, it consumed a good part of what remained of the family's fortune after MacArthur's confiscatory property taxes, including the infamous yakinokori-zei, 'having-survived-the-bombings tax' [焼き残り税 'burn-remainder tax'], levied on houses that were left standing, followed by the yoyū-jūtaku-zei, the 'excess living space tax' [余裕住宅税 'surplus residence tax']. As she had been unfit to attend class, she had been tutored at home to prepare her for higher education.

04 November 2010

Legacies of Danish Estonia

From The Baltic: A New History of the Region and Its People, by Alan Palmer (Overlook, 2006), p. 45:
The Swedes backed missions to secure Christian footholds in Estonia and in southern Finland, where in 1222 one Swedish king, John Sverkersson, was killed in a skirmish. Valdemar II, King of Denmark 1202-42, demonstrated the effectiveness of sea power by sending a fleet of deep-draught warships to seize the Estonian offshore island of Saaremaa in 1206, establishing a base from which he mounted an invasion of northern Estonia thirteen years later. On that occasion Valdemar came as a crusader and was accompanied by the Archbishop of Lund, two other bishops and their chaplains.

The campaign is steeped in legend. The formidable army that landed at Reval was thrown into confusion by an Estonian attack from the hill of Toompea. When the fighting became desperate the archbishop is said to have knelt in prayer, with hands raised in supplication: a red flag with a white cross upon it floated down from heaven, in token of God's blessing on the Danish cause; and beneath the banner, Valdemar's army went on to gain a historic victory. The emblem of Denmark today is still this Dannebrog, the oldest national flag in the world. And Estonia is the only republic with a capital named after the foreign invaders who made it a city; for the word Tallinn derives from the Estonian for 'Danish Town' (Tanni linn).

Soon Reval/Tallinn did indeed become in every sense a Danish town, founded little more than forty years after Copenhagen itself. A cathedral, eight churches, a nunnery and a Dominican abbey, all planted from Denmark, were grouped around the castle and royal treasury on Toompea hill, where the king's lieutenant resided. Between Toompea and the quay-side everything essential to administer a distant dependency was concentrated – an arsenal, commercial warehouses, stables with horses kept ready for any expeditionary force from the homeland. It was, however, a curious form of 'colonization'. After Valdemar completed a land settlement in 1242 the Danish kings never intervened in Estonian affairs. There was virtually no centralized control; nominal vassals enjoyed a rare independence on their territorial fiefs. The treasury remained in Danish hands but there were many months when the Sword Brothers were virtual masters of the growing city. Yet, despite these obstacles, during a 120-year period thirteen successive rulers of a country 1,300 kilometres west of Estonia could count on steady revenue from the tolls, tithes and taxes of their overseas colony.

Danish Hedeby's Heyday

From The Baltic: A New History of the Region and Its People, by Alan Palmer (Overlook, 2006), pp. 28-29:
Greatest of all merchant communities – and in 950 the largest town in the Baltic world – was Danish Hedeby (now Haithabu in Germany, east of the E45 autobahn, a few kilometres south of the town of Schleswig). There was a settlement at Hedeby many years before the Viking raids began, for it stood at a key geographical position, astride the main artery from the south in north-western Europe and at the centre of the narrowest isthmus between the Baltic and the North Sea. Hedeby faced north-east, down the winding Schlei fjord and about 38 kilometres from the open sea, a port far enough inland to receive warning of approach by pirates or enemies. West of Hedeby a mere 16 kilometres of moorland provided easy portage to the Eider, a short river that flows into the North Sea at Tonning, with an upstream quay at Hollingstedt. A ditch-and-embankment rampart, known as the 'Danewirke' and built in the eighth century, afforded Hedeby protection from Frankish incursions. The Danish King Godfred extended the rampart and encouraged merchants to settle in Hedeby in 808, after the raid in which his warriors sacked the Abotrite port of Reric, some 190 kilometres along the Mecklenburg coast. Yet, though ninth century Hedeby had the makings of a commercial port, it also served as a hideout for raiders who returned home with booty and slaves from Frisia, the Netherlands and England. The growing trade with the East transformed the town: Hedeby's greatest prosperity came at the middle of the tenth century, the years of Varangian commercial ascendancy at Constantinople.

A Moorish merchant from Cordoba, visiting Hedeby about 975, was far from impressed. The town was too big, he thought; it was not, by his reckoning, rich; a high birth rate prompted families to throw unwanted babies into the Schlei; the main food was fish, because there was so much of it; and Viking singing was dreadful. It was a growling from the throat, 'worse even than the barking of dogs', he grumbled. There must have been a touch of the Wild North about Viking Hedeby. Yet archaeological evidence, from three major digs in the last seventy years, suggests that life in the port at its prime anticipated the commercial bustle of Thames-side London nine centuries later: ship repairing workshops; craftsmen tapping away at silver, bone or amber jewellery; potters, weavers, carpenters and leather-workers; and all the banter of barter in markets where bargains were struck for furs from the Lapps, soapstone from the Swedes, and wax, silk, spices and honey from the East.

Ironically Hedeby, the port that prospered most from the luxury trade with Novgorod and Kiev, was razed to the ground by the one Viking warrior known to have amassed a fortune in the East. For, in his attempt to add Denmark to his Norwegian kingdom, Harald Hardrada led a fleet up Schlei fjord in the summer of 1049 to destroy his enemy's commercial capital. Nine hundred years later underwater exploration by divers and frogmen revealed that he had employed a tactic favoured by the Byzantines. Harald might not possess the secret of 'Greek fire', but he knew the panic a floating inferno would cause among the Danish defenders. At least one fireship – probably more – bore down on a wooden barrier outside Hedeby's harbour. Soon the whole town was ablaze. The stock of goods in the warehouses must have fed the flames.

30 October 2010

Trading Thai Ganja for U.S. Guns in Vietnam

From In Buddha's Company: Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War, by Richard A. Ruth (U. Hawaii Press, 2011), pp. 123-126:
This exchange of drugs for luxury goods brought together the Thais and the Americans to a degree greater than any official duty ever did. When asked to recall their interactions with Americans and other farang in Bearcat Camp, the Thai veterans brought up their meetings with drug-prowling GIs more often than they did any other circumstance. Even those Thai soldiers who said they did not participate in these illicit exchanges often cited conversations with drug-using farang as the only time they had a lengthy conversation with a foreign soldier in South Vietnam.

A drug user's urge for a score was a powerful motivating factor for overcoming the reticence generated by cultural boundaries and difficulties in communicating. And the happy garrulousness that emerged in the aftermath of a successful buy turned some normally taciturn GIs into ad hoc cultural ambassadors. The relaxing effects of the marijuana on the Americans, when combined with the Thai soldiers' self-described propensity for friendliness and tolerance, created the circumstances and environment in which the two groups could meet and learn about each other. "The ones who talked to us were the ones who [used] intoxicants, such as marijuana," Sergeant Wad Kaeokalong remembered. "They used to come around looking for the Thai soldiers every day."...

The drugs seemed to provide the impetus for farang soldiers to learn Southeast Asian languages. Some Thai volunteers later remembered the drug-using Americans as possessing superior language skills....

In addition to ... items ... available from the PX or the quartermaster's store, there were other items more difficult to obtain that the Thais eagerly sought from the Americans. Namely, they wanted guns. It was common for Thai soldiers to bargain for a sidearm like those carried by American helicopter pilots. Possession of one of these high-powered pistols, which were not included in the arsenal issued to the Thai units, brought honor to its owner. More importantly, these unofficial weapons would not be taken from the Thai volunteers when they returned to Thailand. They could be hidden in their duffel bags and smuggled past the military police and customs officials who haphazardly searched the returning soldiers.

The most prized of these pistols was an American officer's .45-caliber Colt automatic, what the Thais called the "US Army brand," the "11" (for "11 millimeter," the size of its round, or "M1911," the US Army's designation for the pistol). They did not come cheap, though. To obtain a weapon like that, the Thai volunteers had to trade a minimum of three kilograms of marijuana. "They brought [the pistol] back to Thailand to show it off," Wad Kaeokalong explained. "Thai soldiers like guns." For an American intent on scoring some marijuana from a gun-loving Thai, it was only a matter of reporting that his sidearm had been accidentally lost in flight.

The consequences of this drugs-for-guns trade affected crime patterns in Thailand. Thai authorities were alarmed by the number of personal weapons being smuggled into their country during this phase of the war. Some of the "top-grade" weapons acquired by the Thai volunteer forces began appearing in Thailand's arms black market. Criminal investigators discovered a dramatic increase in the number of hand grenades, automatic pistols, assault rifles, and high-caliber ammunition turning up in the possession of private citizens, and in May 1970, Thai police officials gave orders for a crackdown on soldiers smuggling weapons from Vietnam and Laos....

This Thai desire for American arms had its origins in earlier episodes of modern Thai history. In bringing these weapons home, either for sale or personal use, the Thai volunteers were participating in a historical trend involving the dramatic proliferation of small arms throughout rural Thailand in the late twentieth century. This quiet arms race, a process that Thai historian Chalong Soontravanich has called the "democratization" of small arms, began during World War II, when most of the Thai volunteers interviewed for this project were young children. The influx increased during their adolescence Great quantities of lethal weaponry, including automatic pistols, hand grenades, and high explosives, flowed back and forth across the Mekong River when war between the French colonial forces and the Viet Minh flared in the late 1940s. Other wars of liberation throughout Southeast Asia fed more weaponry into these arms-trading networks throughout the 1950s and 1960s. These modern weapons, according to Chalong, became part of rural people's "daily tools" and were used primarily for protection. The Thai government's statements and warnings about the dangers posed by indigenous and foreign communists, subversive Vietnamese refugees, and militant Muslim separatists all helped generate a social atmosphere of imminent danger throughout rural Thailand. The acquisition of personal protection not only continued in this period but appears to have intensified with the availability of American weapons in the region. The Thai troops who acquired handguns and other weapons had a ready market at home. There was no indication of a glut in this market. As long as there were Americans around who wanted drugs, the Thais had the means to facilitate a trade....

Of all the stories about Thais who smuggled US Army weapons back to Thailand, one in particular gained legendary status among members of the Royal Thai Army for its audacity and high profile. Lieutenant General Chalad Hiranyasiri, the Thai commander entrusted by MACV to crack down on the Thai malfeasance in 1969, "embezzled" (om) a US Army helicopter as a "souvenir" of his time in South Vietnam. He kept it on the grounds of the Royal Thai Army's First Infantry Regiment. Chalad, who was described by one Thai military writer as "bighearted," used the helicopter to give rides to children each year on Children's Day. Nearly three decades after Chalad was executed for his coup attempt, the helicopter was still in use.

25 October 2010

Dull Eating along the Tokaido in Edo Times

From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), 163-164:
After so much talk of famine, we too need some relief. Let us turn next to the food that travelers ate at the fifty-three stops of the Tōkaidō highway. In 1817 Yamagata Heiemon Shigeyoshi, the master of the scholar Yamagata Bantō (1748–1821), was summoned by the lord of Sendai. Yamagata left Osaka by boat on the eighteenth day of the first month and then traveled on highways to arrive in Sendai on the twelfth day of the second month. In his detailed travel diary, he recorded exactly what he ate at each of the inns at which he lodged.

For lunch on the nineteenth, while looking out over Lake Biwa near Atsuta, Yamagata ate corbicula soup; a dish of carrots, burdock, and kelp; and a dish of trefoil dressed with white sesame sauce. Toward evening he arrived at Kusatsu in snowy weather; here it was so cold that even the lamp oil froze. Supper consisted of a vinegared dish (namasu) of giant white radish (daikon), persimmon, and greens; a soup of greens and dried bean curds; a hira of kamaboko, gourd shavings (kanpyō), and burdock; and a broiled salted mackerel. The next morning he ate white beet soup; a hira of Japanese cabbage (mizuna), shiitake mushroom, and dried bean curd; a choku of pickled salted plums; and a roasted dried fish. Yamagata crossed Suzuka Pass in heavy snow and spent the night at the bottom of the opposite slope: the twenty-first found him in Kuwana; the twenty-second, in Miya. Although the surroundings changed considerably, food on the Tōkaidō highway stayed basically the same at every inn. As soups, hira, tsubo, or broiled fish were not varied by introducing locally available specialties, the cuisine was quite monotonous.

This was an official trip. Travel expenses for Yamagata and his attendant, a doctor, five porters, three packhorse drivers, and three horses were probably paid by the lord of Sendai. Thus meals at each post town must have been of a high quality. Although one must take into account that Yamagata's journey took place in the middle of winter, the lack of variety in the cuisine is surprising. Soups always included giant white radish, either fresh or dried; the hira always featured combinations of dried gourd shavings (kanpyō), tofu, burdock, carrot, potato, kelp, shiitake mushrooms, and, as recorded on a few occasions, dried laver (nori) and kamaboko. The tsubo consisted of kokushō; of tofu boiled in water, soy sauce, and sake; of burdock; or of light wheat gluten cakes. Broiled fish usually meant mackerel, young sea bream, sole, or yellowtail. Exceptional meals included the eel served for supper at an inn at Arai and the "fluffy eggs" eaten for breakfast at Fukuroi. Today Japanese travelers would tire of such fare in two or three days. Such cuisine gives us yet another insight into conditions on the Tōkaidō during an age in which the pace of life was much slower than it is today.

Once Yamagata had passed Edo and headed for the northeast, some local color appears in his meals. At Kasukabe broiled carp (funa) was served; at Odawara he ate a wild duck. Broiled fish was almost invariably salmon or gurnard (kanagashira), but at Koshigawa he received dried cod flavored with sake. Nevertheless, both soups and hira featured nothing out of the ordinary. Even the fact that udo (probably yamaudo) was eaten at the stay at Kasukabe on the fifth day of the second month seems remarkable in this context. If high-class inns on the Tōkaidō and Ōshū-kaidō served this kind of fare during the late Edo period, one may assume that both the quality and preparation of food at townsmen's homes must have been quite mediocre by today's standards.
NOTES: Although I was familiar with kinpira (金平 lit. 'gold ordinary'), I wasn't aware that hira (平 'level, plain, common'?) could be used for all types of similarly prepared (sauteed then simmered together) vegetable dishes. Perhaps tsubo (壷) 'pot, jar' dishes differ from nabemono (鍋物 'hot pot') by being prepared in the kitchen rather than at the dining table. Kokushō (濃く漿, 'thick sap/serum/plasma'?) seems more commonly known as 重湯 omoyu (lit. 'heavy hotwater') 'thin rice gruel', like okayu (お粥) 'rice gruel, jook, congee'.

24 October 2010

Wordcatcher Tales: Frikadel, Shippoku-dai, Zhuofu

From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), p. 146:
During the early years of the Edo period, Japan engaged in much trade with East Asian countries. As a result, a remarkable amount of foreign cuisine was imported. Unusual ingredients, previously seen but rarely in Japan, were introduced. Their use was at first limited to social or ceremonial events and special banquets, but in time they were consumed by a broad range of the population.

A number of new foods are recorded in contemporary writings: red-and-white hanpen (a cake of pounded fish); yaki-dōfu (broiled bean curd); sarasa-jiru (a soup made with fresh chrysanthemums); a Javanese dish called gōren ("goreng") made with fried fish; and furugasuteru ("frikadel"), a dish apparently of Dutch provenance in which beef and cabbage were finely minced, combined with egg, seasoned with wine, covered with bread crumbs, and fried.

The spread of such cuisine brings to mind my own experiences as a child. My hometown was in the Kansai area, in a rural area around the city of Akō in Harima. Things may have changed now, but in my childhood we called a dining table a shippoku-dai. Usually everyone ate from individual boxlike trays, but local tradition required the use of a shippoku-dai when guests arrived. The word shippoku, which originates from the Chinese word zhuofu (tablecloth [桌布]), denotes a Chinese-style dining table. But what we called shippoku-dai was a purely Japanese-style table with no hint of Chinese influence. Shippoku cuisine, a Japanese version of Chinese food, is today a specialty of Nagasaki; this cuisine and the shippoku-dai were probably transmitted to Japan in much the same manner. Although shippoku cuisine did not spread to the rural areas, the shippoku-dai, by contrast, spread to every nook and cranny of the Japanese countryside. Many people of the Kansai area must have fond recollections of this kind of table.

23 October 2010

Wordcatcher Tales: Kohada-zushi, Konosirus punctatus

From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 170-171:
At the end of the Edo period the charming sight of sushi vendors selling kohada-zushi (sushi topped with a small gizzard shad) could be seen in the streets of Edo. Nigiri-zushi—bite-sized sushi made by squeezing a small amount of rice in the hand—was an Edo specialty that appeared during the Bunsei Period (1818–1830). This sushi soon became all the rage. The most conspicuous nigiri-zushi vendors sold kohada-zushi. These hawkers covered their heads with a hand towel in Yoshiwara fashion; they wore narrow-striped kimono tucked up behind, short coats with broad stripes and black silk collars, sashes known as Hakata obi, cotton leggings with white socks, and sandals made of straw and linen. Such a unique outfit made kohada-zushivendors quite striking in appearance. From the start of spring until early summer sushi peddlers sauntered through the streets and called out in a mellifluous voice, "Sushi! Hey! Kohada-zushi!" ...

Nigiri-zushi was also sold by "Atakematsu" of Atakegura in Honjo; eventually this sushi came to be known simply as "Matsu's sushi." ... Most were mere street stalls, but true restaurants existed as well. At any rate, sushi was highly popular. From Edo the sushi fashion spread to the Kamigata area. In the late 1820s a restaurant called "Matsu no sushi" appeared south of Ebisubashi in Osaka. This was the first Osaka outlet of Edo sushi: but before long this specialty was sold at shops throughout Osaka.
Kohada (小鰭) and shinko (新子) are young and younger stages of konoshiro 'dotted gizzard shad', Konosirus punctatus (Temminck & Schlegel, 1846), according to Japanese Wikipedia, but a species utterly missing from English Wikipedia, where gizzard shad is summarily redirected to American gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), in a genus limited to eastern North America. The other five genera of the subfamily Dorosomatinae (gizzard shads) are not covered at all. The systematics of shads appear to be extremely complex.

I first heard of shad from my youngest uncle, who had a cabin down by the James River near the site of Virginia's peculiar political gathering, the Shad Planking.

Thai Language Speakers in South Vietnam

From In Buddha's Company: Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War, by Richard A. Ruth (U. Hawaii Press, 2011), pp. 168-169:
Thai language skills seem to have spread quickly to areas beyond the villages directly surrounding Bearcat Camp. Infantrymen on operations were surprised to find Vietnamese women in isolated villages who could speak some Thai. Yutthasak Monithet, who went to Vietnam with the Black Panther Division's third phase in July 1970, recalled conducting impromptu Thai lessons for curious Vietnamese: "As for the Bien Hoa market. people in the shops could speak Thai, but they spoke it as if they had [recently] learned Thai. Sometimes they had questions [about Thai], and they would ask, 'What is this thing called in Thai?' We would tell them the words that Thai people used for these things." The market that Yutthasak described is fifteen miles or so from Bearcat Camp.

The other factor that contributed to the spread of Thai was the influence of ethnic Vietnamese who had lived in Thailand and Laos. There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that some of the Vietnamese refugees who had lived in Thailand in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s returned to Long Thanh District and settled in areas near Bearcat Camp; others found their way to Saigon, Vung Tau, and other R & R towns frequented by Thai troops. Some of the repatriated Vietnamese opened Thai restaurants while others provided Mekhong whiskey and other goods to sell to the Thai soldiers. Many spoke the Isan-Lao dialect, "as they do in Ubon [Ratchathani] and Nong Khai, and others spoke Central Thai, also known as Standard Thai.

A third factor was the role of the Thai-Vietnamese translators. Some of the Vietnamese who were hired to translate for the Thai units had lived in Bangkok before the war. Unlike the Vietnamese who settled in Isan, these Vietnamese learned Central Thai, the country's official dialect. They lacked Thai citizenship and apparently had been repatriated along with the Vietnamese from the northeast. Their familiarity with Vietnamese and Standard Thai made them a valuable asset to the Royal Thai Army and the Royal Thai Navy as they sought translators for their units.

Repatriated Vietnamese were mediators between the Thai military and the indigenous communities. The Thai volunteers relied on them for items that the US Army would not or could not provide. In market towns such as Long Thanh and Bien Hoa, Viet Kieu (expatriate Vietnamese) restaurants were centers of Thai relaxation and recreation. Chanrit Hemathulin's unit regularly patronized one of these restaurants near Bearcat Camp because it offered northeastern Thai staples, such as lap (minced-meat salad), som tam, and khao meo (glutinous rice). "It was as if they were Thai restaurants, he recalled....

Mixed in among the population of Vietnamese returnees were Thai women who had married Vietnamese men back in Thailand and then accompanied them to Vietnam when the Thai government had deported them. Like the returnees among whom they lived, these women served as mediators between the two cultures.
The Chinese characters for Viet Kieu must be 越僑: 越 as in 越南 Yuènán 'Vietnam'; 僑 as in 华侨/華僑 Huáqiáo 'Chinese Abroad'.

22 October 2010

On the Foreignness of Vietnam to Thais

From In Buddha's Company: Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War, by Richard A. Ruth (U. Hawaii Press, 2011), pp. 188-189:
The Thai soldiers saw South Vietnam as a separate country in a conception that differed from their understanding of their immediate neighbors Laos and Cambodia. Many of these soldiers had passed through those two countries in their youth. Private First Class Aran's childhood home in Nong Khai, for instance, was within sight of the Mekong River and the banks of Laos opposite. As he recalled, "It was like going into my sibling country. Back then Thailand and Laos weren't that different from each other. There was no ideology [separating them] at all. We crossed over to play like normal. We could eat and sleep, and then cross back. [The Lao people] were like our relatives; we could go back and forth [between Thailand and Laos] all the time." Those soldiers from the southern Isan subregion, many of them from districts where Khmer was spoken as a first language, enjoyed similar ease in crossing the Thai-Cambodian border in the period before the World Court awarded full ownership of Prasat Khao Phra Wihan (Preah Vihear in Khmer) to Phnom Penh in 1962. For the ethnic Khmer living in southern Isan's Sisaket, Surin, and Buriram provinces, a jaunt into Cambodia was as unremarkable as the boat ride on the Mekong River made by their ethnic Lao counterparts in the north.

Vietnam was different. Its cultural dissimilarities more so than its geographic distance put it into a separate category. It seemed Chinese. The strong cultural similarities between the Vietnamese and the Chinese made such comparisons inevitable. The historical Vietnamese embrace of Confucian principles, Mahayana Buddhism, Chinese script (as well as Nom, the Vietnamese indigenous script that resembles Chinese to many outsiders), and the classics of Chinese literature encouraged the Thais to see Vietnam as belonging to China's sphere. It seemed distant beyond the kilometers that separated it from Thailand.

Upon their arrival in Vietnam, the first action undertaken by many Thai volunteers was to acknowledge the presence and sovereignty of the local spiritual regime. As soon as Sergeant Khamron set foot in South Vietnam, he dropped to his knees, scooped up a handful of dirt, and sprinkled it over his head. He carried out this impromptu gesture to ensure that Mae Thorani would protect him while he was in South Vietnam.... "If you are Buddhist, they train you to do things like this," he explained. "There is a khata [verse] that says, 'When you go to a foreign land/Entrust your care to Mother Earth.' It is the same thing when you return. When I got back [to Thailand], I immediately knelt down, took up some dirt, and sprinkled it on my head. I said, 'I'm back.'" Khamron's decision to carry out the same action on returning to his homeland underscores the degree to which many soldiers saw South Vietnam's spiritual forces as belonging to a separate (and specifically Vietnamese) realm. Despite sharing the same physical landmass and duplicating the same flora, fauna, and weather, the two countries were seen to harbor individual and esoteric spiritual actors. The sovereignty of each area belonged to local spirits. For this reason, some Thai soldiers brought their own soil with them. They collected samples of dirt, which they addressed as "Mae Thorani," and carried the samples with them to South Vietnam.

17 October 2010

What the River Kwai Meant to Thais

From In Buddha's Company: Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War, by Richard A. Ruth (U. Hawaii Press, 2011), pp. 42-44:
Behind the confident statements issued by Thai and US leaders throughout the first half of 1967, the battle readiness of the regiment was uncertain. American military personnel who had come to train the Thai [Queen's Cobra] regiment were unimpressed by the volunteers' level of preparedness. From early June, in the ten weeks that remained before embarkation, the American advisers guided the Thai unit through field exercises and training missions in Lopburi, Chonburi, and Kanchanaburi. The Americans had designed "an intense training" program that "drilled the Thai [troops] in the exact tactics and methods of operation employed by the Viet Cong." They hoped that this crash course would help the Thais counter the guerrilla warfare methods being used by the Vietnamese guerrillas. All of the American instructors came from experienced combat units in South Vietnam and were eager to impart the lessons they had acquired. They attempted to simulate the conditions that the Thais would face in South Vietnam, but despite the physical similarities between Thailand's and South Vietnam's landscapes, the Americans found it difficult to impose a sense of urgency or even realism on the regiment that had hitherto been regarded as a domestic symbol. In Kanchanaburi the Americans led the Thai troops in field training exercises that crisscrossed the jungles along the Khwae (or Kwai) River, not far from the site of the bridge built by forced labor for the Japanese Imperial Army's "Death Railway" during World War II. The fictionalized retelling of the bridge's construction, as presented in Pierre Boulle's 1954 novel and its 1957 film adaptation, was on the minds of the Americans as they trained the Thai troops. The hint of cinematic make-believe suggested by the Khwae River location may have contributed to the growing unease among the American instructors. It was as if their appreciation of the book and film undermined their own attempts at simulating realism in the jungles there. The Americans' effort to impose realistic conditions on the exercises were compromised by the feeling that they had been dropped into a movie set on which a familiar, unrealistic film had been made. While the Thai troops were certainly aware of the cinematic resonance that the Khwae River setting elicited, the region offered them another set of specifically Thai symbols born from a different semifictional source: Thailand's nationalist history.

The area used in the training exercises was not far from several sites important to the historical imagination shared by most Thai soldiers in this era. Kanchanaburi's location below the Three Pagoda Pass put it on a major route traditionally used by the Burmese and Siamese armies while invading and raiding each other's kingdoms. In the nationalist version of Thailand's history prevalent in 1967, a retelling of events that was particularly popular with members of the Thai military, the Burmese of old were always portrayed as the Thai people's archenemy. The natural corridor created by the mountains to the west and the Chaophraya floodplain to the east was the site of several celebrated (and historically embellished) clashes between these occasionally bitter rival kingdoms.

The battle of Nong Sarai was certainly on the minds of the Thai volunteer soldiers as they trained for their South Vietnam mission. It had occurred during a phase of Ayutthaya's history when the kingdom's Thai rulers were struggling to retain their sovereignty after several decades of Burmese military occupation. At this site in January 1593, King Naresuan the Great, the most revered figure in this nationalist history, won Siam's greatest military victory. With his forces pressed to the breaking point, Naresuan was said to have called out the Burmese crown prince to challenge him to a duel on war elephants. After a few minutes of fierce combat, Naresuan got the better of his Burmese rival and killed him with a well-aimed slash of his sword. The Burmese forces panicked and fled south-southwest toward Burma. Naresuan's army pursued them through Kanchanaburi, decimating their scattered lines.

The Thai soldiers preparing to fight in South Vietnam relished their proximity to the site of Naresuan's victory. Joseph Callaway described his Thai trainees talking about a centuries-old victory over the Burmese "as though it took place only a few years before." They cherished the historical memory of the warrior king and asked his spirit to bless their upcoming adventure. The men prayed in an ubosot (Buddhist ordination hall) said to have been visited by Naresuan while he was fighting in the area. Many recalled dreaming of Naresuan while training in Kanchanaburi and fighting in South Vietnam....

In the midst of this atmosphere of competing cultural and historical symbolism, the Thai troops added one realistic detail to their training procedure that may have trumped even the Americans' passion for realism. The Thai troops carried live ammunition along with the simulated rounds used in their training because they felt they required protection against the dangerous forces that inhabited the Thailand-Burma frontier, everything from cobras and tigers to opium smugglers. Although the American trainers felt that the Thais did not fully comprehend the danger posed by the Viet Cong guerrillas, they were flabbergasted to discover how anxious this apparently sleepy western province made the volunteers.

03 October 2010

Goals of Thai Volunteer Soldiers in the Vietnam War

Normally, I try not to excerpt from books hot off the press unless they offer new historical perspectives on recent events. This ground-breaking book seems long, long overdue, and the rest of the chapter from which I've quoted is available online. It offers a useful corrective to those who view every regional conflict through the lens of their own far-removed national partisanship, those who see every wartime ally of a hegemonic power as a bought-and-paid-for puppet, or those who imagine that Buddhists cannot be just as warlike as members of any other religion.

From In Buddha's Company: Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War, by Richard A. Ruth (U. Hawaii Press, 2011), pp. 4-8:
The most important of the Thai national symbols constructed during the war was that of the volunteer soldier. He was an idealized man who was brave, devout, patriotic, and selfless. His image was the incarnation of modern Thainess in an age of anticommunist furor. For a while, he would be hailed—in Thailand at least—as what was intrinsically good about the Thai nation in the postcolonial age. He would restore honor to the Thai military in the wake of its ignoble adventures during World War II, and make the goals of the military appear consistent with those of the civilian population. In the years before 1973–1976, when this idealized soldier-citizen was put to sinister use by the Thai military and by the Thai paramilitary vigilante organizations that emerged from the military's dark shadows, he was someone to be admired, envied, and supported.

As symbols, the Thai volunteer soldiers reflected the evolution of Thai society in several critical ways. They stood at the nexus of many of the important themes that defined Thailand's history in the 1960s. In this way they can be read as the embodiment of the changes that affected the country after World War II. These trends are related principally to Thailand's relationship with the United States. In the period now known as the American Era, these troops became Thailand's official representatives in the biggest US-dominated event: the war against communism in South Vietnam. They were physical reminders of America's close relationship with Thailand during the period of the conflict. They wore American uniforms, carried American weapons, and conducted military operations according to American training. They departed and returned to Thailand aboard American ships and planes. They lived in an American-built camp bearing an American name. They carried American currency with which they purchased items of American material culture. The stories they carried back were as much about things American as they were about the people and culture of South Vietnam. Their repatriated casualties received prominent American visitors—some of them international superstars—in Thai military hospitals. And some of their dead ended up buried in American soil to be mourned far from home by American strangers. In an age defined by an American idiom, they bore the marks of close contact with the Americans.

The troops were also a product of the other great theme of the day: development (kan-phatthana). The American-built roads that transformed rural Thailand's physical landscape and social and economic systems in the 1950s and 1960s also transformed its people. The infrastructure constructed with American aid, machinery, and advice profoundly altered the relationship between the people of the countryside and those of the urban center. For the first time in Thailand's history, the people and circumstances of the rural areas rivaled those of the capital in importance to the national state. The need for industrial labor, construction workers, and service employees brought waves of internal migrants from what had once been Siam's hinterlands to live and work in Bangkok. The newcomers changed the face of Bangkok, a city whose dynamism had previously been understood to be almost the exclusive product of the Chinese immigrant and entrepreneurial energies. And in doing so they changed Bangkok's self-image. These upcountry people redefined what it meant to be Thai. Their migration patterns from rural to urban were not one-way journeys. Their ties to their homes and the seasonal nature of the farms they left behind contributed to the exchange between two formerly antithetical geographic cultures. The newly mobile brought back the ambitions, ideas, and perspectives of the capital city. These men and women became a migratory population whose outlook was simultaneously rural and urban, traditional and modern, settled and restless.

The Thai volunteer soldiers were products of this age of rural transformation. Changes in national politics, economics, and education were influential agents in the formation of their outlook. Their individual stories describe the profound changes under way in areas where the people had only recently begun to see themselves as belonging to the center, as being truly Thai. This process of transformation coincided with some of the earliest academic studies of Thai regionalism. The experiences of the Thai volunteers complement such studies as Charles Keyes' Isan: Regionalism in Northeastern Thailand. The stories of their youth and young adulthood, of their time before, during, and after their tours of duty in South Vietnam, are the stories of rural Thailand in this era. The rapid expansion of government public schools, and the emphasis on national loyalties over local loyalties, encouraged rural youths of this era to consider themselves subjects of the state to an unprecedented degree.

Although they were not the first generation to be educated in Thailand's government schools, the volunteer soldiers were the first to have been schooled at a time when secondary education was a possibility for all children of the rural poor. The expansion of upcountry secondary schools and technical colleges provided some of these people with the educational infrastructure for more advanced degrees and also the broadened ambitions and expectations that come with higher learning. Similarly, the traditional intrusions of the state, obligations such as taxes and conscription, were less odious, if not less onerous, to a young population that saw its adult fate as entwined with that of the nation. As per the requirements of the Royal Thai Army's guidelines for the recruitment of soldiers for South Vietnam, all of the volunteers had graduated from secondary school, a newly possible feat for the rural poor. Many of them had continued their education while serving as draftees in the army. The sheer number of volunteers who qualified for service in South Vietnam was a reflection of the rise in education levels throughout the country. As young adults, many of these men had wanted to elevate their social status but had failed so far. Most of them had missed out on the opportunities available to the expanding middle class located almost exclusively in Bangkok's urban sphere. Unwilling to join the unskilled labor force in the capital, they pinned their hopes on gaining positions as civil servants—bureaucrats, policemen, and teachers—in the upcountry provinces of their births. Lacking the advanced education to become teachers and the connections needed to secure a spot in the provincial government, these young men became soldiers. Even this avenue was only a stopgap measure. Like the civil service, the Royal Thai Army lacked the capacity to absorb all of those who sought long-term careers. With the exception of the few who had made a career in the military, most soldiers served only two years as conscripts. The opportunity to reenlist with the Queen's Cobra Regiment and the Black Panther Division represented an unexpected second chance at an army career.

The strong desire the volunteer soldiers expressed to visit foreign lands and learn about neighboring cultures reflected a correlated elevation in ambitions as well. The largely rural population of young who volunteered for service in South Vietnam had taken the government's mantra of kan-phatthana and applied it to themselves. A tour of duty as a member of the celebrated volunteer corps confirmed their personal worth as well as their value to the state. Going to South Vietnam became a major goal in their personal program of change. To this day, many veterans cite their time in South Vietnam as the pinnacle moment in this process of transformation. Long after they returned home, and long after they had spent the monetary rewards they had acquired as compensation, the lingering aura of exceptionality garnered them a measure of distinction, of a special social status, in the societies that had produced them. Many got jobs that were better than they would have previously expected. And, a generation later, their children enjoyed even better lives, thanks to the continued financial, educational, and health benefits and expanded horizons that Vietnam service provided.

The Thai volunteers saw themselves as Buddhist warriors. Theravada Buddhism—especially the layman's expression of Buddhist culture popular in Thailand in the 1960s—played a critical role in the lives of these soldiers and in the national adventure that sent them to South Vietnam. Thailand's sangha (Buddhist ecclesiastical order), after some deliberation, sanctioned their military mission. The Supreme Patriarch and other prominent monks blessed the departing troops and the returning casualties in public ceremonies. The military units transported Buddha icons along with their weapons and support equipment. A crowded Buddhist altar dominated by a Sukhothai-style Buddha statue was set up in the Thai contingent's field headquarters as the backdrop to all meetings with the Thais' "Free World" allies. Some troops put Buddha images on their military vehicles. And the most emblematic symbol of the Thai fighting man was the string of Buddhist amulets that ringed his head and filled his pockets. Some soldiers brought as many as 100 tiny Buddha statuettes—enough to field a full combat company—for their protection. These iconic symbols would impress their American GI counterparts, facilitate their illicit trading schemes, and neutralize foreign magic in the spirit-rich forests of Bien Hoa.
I blogged earlier about South Korean attitudes toward the Vietnam War.