I was on my treadmill when Christiane Amanpour of CNN fame reporting from London interviewed Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on their 18-hour epic documentary on the Vietnam War. Burns spent ten years making the documentary which began screening last month in ten parts, with interviews on war survivors and their descendants, both in America and in Vietnam, and recording clips from people such as President Lyndon Johnson who appeared totally confused and baffled why America was sending soldiers to Vietnam at the time when there were only about 20,000 American in Vietnam functioning as advisors to South Vietnam whose regime the American supported, but which number grew to over 540,000 by 1968. One of the more striking interviews was from an elderly North Vietnamese recalling how he saw American soldiers dying as their comrades in arms carried them away weeping and in great pains and sorrow, and which scenes were no different from the side of the North Vietnam. There was clear empathy about the total meaninglessness and unnecessity of wars, which apparently Burns was trying to get across to viewers, particularly young American viewers who knew nothing about the conflict. These days, young Americans naturally feel confused in the wake of the tone articulated by Trump on America’s readiness and willingness to resort to military options in respect of at least two countries, if not more.
Coincidentally, Fareed Zakaria, also of CNN fame, wrote in the Washington Post that Trump may repeat a tragic history. Citing the same documentary by Burns and Novick, in which Lyndon Johnson admitted that the war could not be won, the Washington Post’s opinion writer says that “Johnson’s dilemma is one that presidents dread facing and one that president Trump is bringing upon himself with North Korea and Iran.” Zakaria went on to say that in the two crucial arenas, “Trump had dramatically raised the risks for the United States, and for no good reason.”
Wars are indeed terrible and unnecessary things. Wars have never genuinely solved any problems permanently or effectively. History has shown that wars only create more problems and deepen conflicts between people and nations thereby creating more wars and violence. I still recall the year 1958 when I was awaiting results of my Joint Primary School Examination, which is a territory wide open examination for all primary six students seeking places in top secondary schools. The teacher told us that the two world wars were 25 years apart, so that we could expect a third world war 25 years after the last one began or ended, which would be between 1965 and 1970, depending on how one wants to view the matter. That was scary news to a young mind; and again coincidentally, Ken Burns was 11 years old when the Vietnam War ended officially.
Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, taught us that violence only begets violence. It follows that violence – and by implication, wars – can and will never stop violence. Indeed, both Buddhism and Christianity talks of forgiveness and mercy as the ultimate solution to end violence.
Generations of producers and film makers of documentaries have us believe that they are there to tell us the facts as they found them. Burns and Novick have certainly tried to tell Christiane that was their sole object, but conceded that individuals would inevitably form views of their own from what they see or hear. Facts itself can be no different from illusions, depending on how and when they are perceived, and by whom. Different people looking at the same facts often perceive different perspectives and hence draw different conclusions on the same facts, though only too often people are incapable of looking at or assimilating all the facts before them and thereby resulting in a situation in which they would only take what they can or what they like, and against the history and background from which they have been brought up. On top of that, one may need to be aware that Traditional Buddhism has talked of two levels of truths and more importantly what one sees of matters is but the forms exhibited and may not reflect the true substance – and then ultimately forms are no different from emptiness and emptiness is no different from forms.
I would not dwell further on the academics on truths, or on facts and opinions. One can discuss truths and facts ad nausea without getting anywhere and a consensus, just as what we are getting here in the context of the aftermath of the first Policy Address of the Chief Executive, to which my brother Mike Rowse has given a thumbs up. Indeed, quite a few local opinion writings have written positively on many aspects of her address, in particular on her ability to switch successfully from administrator to politician in an increasingly politicized and divided community. She has focused on livelihood issues which are the bread and butter of most people who are in Hong Kong from Day One and which therefor cannot be wrong. But on the other side of the fence, our pan democrats are up in arms and are geared up to pitch long drawn out battles with her administration. Yes, she may continue to talk about a grand reconciliation plan to bring the Opposition into the fold, but even as I am writing, I believe that is more of a statement of purpose than a belief that she would hold fast to at the risk of other priorities, meaning that she would ensure that her government would take full advantage of the current majority to achieve her agenda, for the good of Hong Kong. This is the fact as I can see it.