Tag Archives: history

Vietnam M*A*S*H Up

MASHWhen I was a kid, one of my favorite late-night rerun television shows was M*A*S*H, a long running series about a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War. The TV series was based on the 1970 film by the same title which was itself based on a 1968 book entitled MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors.




The original book was written by Dr. H. R. Hornberger under the pen name Richard Hooker. It described, and surely exaggerated upon, the horrible working conditions and strange circumstances of the first MASH doctors during the Korean War. The book was a sort of bizarre exposé of medical and army living during a transitional time in American domestic life and foreign policy.


MASH, HawkeyeAs it became a movie and then a television series, the narrative became a clear critique of the Vietnam War. The TV series in particular portrayed the United States Army as largely consisting of incompetent buffoons at the top and generally liberal people at the bottom. In the early years of the TV show which began broadcasting in 1972, there were a number of errors such as suggesting that Korea was part of Southeast Asia, or looking for communists/comrades in the jungle that hinted at the association of the series with events in Vietnam. In many ways, MASH can be seen as part of a television phenomenon that changed American attitudes during the prolonged war. Some critics even accused the show’s writers of have damaged American moral and helping America “lose the war on television.”

Larry GelbartWell, this might not be as straight forward as those critics thought. As it turns out, Larry Gelbart, one of the main comedy writers for the show had, only five or six years earlier, been using television to help America win the war in South Vietnam.


Truyền hình Việt Nam, USISIn 1966, the United States Information Agency decided to bring television to South Vietnam both to entertain American troops and make gains in their propaganda efforts. The USIS brought in thousands of television set, primarily from Japan, and helped the South Vietnamese government make their own TV station. Filming and programing began in Saigon at the National Film Studio (“national” might be a bit of a misnomer as it was actually endorsed and run by the USIS utilizing Filipino cameramen, crew, and directors, but that is a story for another time). Larry Gelbart, along with several other young American television writers and consultants were recruited to come to Saigon and shape this Vietnamese television channel, Truyền hình Việt Nam-TV, into the best state propaganda machine it could be. They dubbed old American war movies in Vietnamese, created newsreels supportive of the South Vietnamese government, and played plenty of old Vietnamese opera films to keep things lively. How well these channels worked to meet the USIS objectives is anybody’s guess.

The United States Information Services Creates the Việt Cộng

Although I study Southeast Asia quite a bit, I am not an expert of Vietnamese history by any means. In a way, this lack of expertise allows me to get surprised by new information all the time and keeps my job fresh.

Today for example, I came across information that claims the term “Việt cộng” was invented by the United States Information Agency (USIA/USIS) as part of their psychological warfare campaign to support Ngô Đình Diệm, the then president of South Vietnam, and undermine the credibility of the Việt Minh.

USIS Saigon

During the mid-1950s, the United States Information Agency engaged in a program to label all anti- Diệm groups in South Vietnam as communist through the moniker of “Việt Minh.” By associating these groups with communist North Vietnam, the USIA hoped to prevent the anti- Diệm movements from gaining traction. However, labeling these groups as “Việt Minh” was not only incredibly inaccurate, but also carried a positive nationalistic tone that worried many intelligence officers in the field. Moreover, lumping together the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and assorted groups who supported alternative visions of South Vietnam’s future and calling them all communists may have actually increased the very real connections and conflicts between these groups and Vietnamese in the north.

Diem, Vietnam, USISIn late 1955, the USIS post in Saigon came up with the idea to begin calling these groups “Việt cộng” instead, a sort of slang word for communists. They hoped that this might create less positive sentiments among the population in South Vietnam. The first step was to encourage Diệm to use the term in his speeches and correspondences. It also appears that the USIS hired Vietnamese journalists to use the term Việt cộng in local newspapers in hopes that it would become part of the Vietnamese vocabulary. By the end of 1956, the term had caught on back in the United States and was in popular use before the end of the decade.

King Arthur, Twelve Pints of Beer, and the True Origins of Social Networking

One of the first “big boy” books I read as a kid was T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. This Arthurian romance, along with Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal, sat in my parents’ bathroom for years. One day I decided to start reading what seemed to me at the time to be the biggest book ever written. I was surprised at how much it was like Disney’s The Sword in the Stone… who knew books and movies were related? The Once and Future King

In any event, last night I watched The World’s End, a British movie directed by Edgar Wright about five middle-aged friends who seek to finish a quest they began at the end of their high school days. Specifically, they hope to have a pint of beer in twelve different pubs in one evening. Their final destination, The World’s End. The story quickly turns into a combination of an homage to The Once and Future King and a biting critic of British culture (or current lack thereof). All of this is explained, of course, through the rise of (literally) monstrous “social networks.”

It is worth checking. Or at the very least, a great excuse to drink some beers and watch a movie.

Maybe I Should Have Been a Math Teacher… Bwaahaahaa… co-written by Edgar Allen Poe.


As I pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore (well, AHA writing about “professionalization” actually), I thought, perhaps I chose unwisely my lifestyle and future long-term career. You see, in the hard sciences, particularly mathematics, there are right and wrong answers, it’s not semantics. You either solved the problem or you didn’t. Yes, they require imagination, but yet, there is an internal logic to the system that creates comforting certainty. Certainty for sure.



University of Oregon, math, building, winter

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, that I sat in classrooms in dark Eugene on the fourth floor. Here I learned about the many varieties of mathematic expression and tips on coaching young students to calculate progressions. My dad, a high school teacher of chemistry and physics had apparently deposited some semblance of a desire to teach within my soul.



And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me – filled me with the prospect never felt before; perhaps I should be a teacher. A teacher, not an astronaut as I had previously envisioned. But this would take years of schooling, researching things that others consider a bore.

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, I decided to emulate my father and learn the teaching craft of yore. Of course this process had many bumps along the way and redirected me toward the histories of Asia, the U.S., cultural development, and more. I loved the classes and people until that day… That day my first student asked me “what are we learning this for?” imagesCAY7ZGFR Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming, how to answer the question “what are we learning this for?” Was this student asking this question in class to address some grievance, perhaps from all the homework dealt out to her before? I turned for a second to face what was written on the board.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, soon again I heard a tapping, a foot upon the floor. My students were impatient while I searched for a response that would satisfy their educational needs galore. Then the student added, “I’m never going to need this, when I graduate, I am going to work in my mother’s store.”

Much I marveled this ungainly foul (fowl) to hear discourse so plainly, though my answer little meaning – little relevancy bore. “We can examine the past to learn to reason, see new connections, understand power structures, and maybe even find out what human beings were put here for.” “So what” said the student “learning something about the Mongols or whoever isn’t important anymore.”

desk, officeStartled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken, “doubtless,” said I, as I wondered what this student’s future had in store. After class had ended with evil portended intended, I returned to my cramped cubicle-cum-office to stare upon the floor. Should I have been a math teacher with symbols, right or wrong answers, and nothing more? If I can’t impart value and aid in the future of society, what am I teaching for?

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing to this confidence crushing question now burning into my bosom’s core. This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining on the broken patent leather office furniture with the lamp-light gloating o’er.  You shall impart meaning nevermore.

And this statement, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting, round the small room number placard and course listings adjacent my office door. And its biting piercing query creates a shadow of a career path made more demining by the insecurity of adjunct hiring outside the union’s moor. And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted – nevermore!