Chris Powell: Lies and betrayal from Vietnam through today; rich school employees

With their 10-part series The Vietnam War just broadcast on PBS, documentary makers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have done a great service not only to history but also to contemporary public policy.

The documentary emphasizes that the famous Tet offensive of Communist North Vietnam and its guerrillas in South Vietnam, launched in January 1968, was actually a military triumph for the United States and South Vietnam but also a political disaster for them. For it exposed the U.S. government's years of lies that the war was close to won. 

Indeed, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his political associates libeled the anti-war movement as disloyal and Communist even as they confessed to each other in private that the war was going poorly and was ill-conceived. So the war was continued for another seven years just to save face.

The series also brilliantly contrasted the astounding courage and heroism of U.S. soldiers with the equally astounding stupidity of the strategy that their generals pursued. 

A former soldier summarized that strategy this way: Walk into the jungle and see if you can draw fire. Of course, our soldiers did draw fire, suffered terrible casualties, and then withdrew to remote and poorly defended fire bases without ever holding the territory that they had won with so much blood. The United States dropped more bomb tonnage on the Vietnam War theater than it dropped on Europe during World War II, but that didn't hold territory for long either. That former soldier said he especially resented having to fight to take the same ground multiple times.

Of course, this is pretty much the "strategy" now being used in the 17th year of U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan: Draw fire and then retreat with your casualties. 

At least the Trump administration, unlike the Johnson administration, doesn't pretend that the war is going well. But like the Johnson administration, the Trump administration continues the war anyway without any plausible plan for winning it -- and this time the American people and even supposedly humane members of Congress are indifferent to another endless war of attrition in Asia. 

So maybe in a decade or so Burns and Novick will be able to make a documentary called  The Afghanistan War. They could quote the quatrain from Kipling that belongs at the graves of Johnson and Nixon and will belong at Kissinger's:  

And the end of the fight is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear: "A Fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East."

LUXURIOUS EDUCATION: A community activist in Hartford, Kevin Brookman, notes that the city's school system employs about 70 people with salaries of $100,000 or more, many of them above the governor's salary, $150,000, not counting insurance and retirement benefits. The city's new school superintendent is paid $260,000.

If the Connecticut General Assembly doesn't quickly pass a state budget he likes, the governor, operating the state by executive order, may divert to Hartford and a few other cities all the education money state government has been giving to the rest of the state's municipalities.

What will Hartford do with it all? Create more $100,000-a-year positions? Build another stadium? 

If experience is any guide, the city won't improve education with it, since student educational performance is almost entirely a matter of family cohesion, of which Hartford has little.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Hilary Cosell: My father's friendship with Muhammad Ali and their fight for justice

     “I’m gonna kill you, nigger-loving Jew bastard.”

      The so-called Jew bastard was my late father, the broadcast sports journalist Howard Cosell, and the quote typical of the hate mail that poured into his office from the moment in 1964 that he said, “If your name is Muhammad Ali, I will call you Muhammad Ali.”

      Muhammad’s death on June 3 was a bit like my father dying a second time, because as long as Ali was alive, a piece of my father still lived. Together they represented the very best that this country has to offer, and exposed the worst, too.

     As the Ali accolades poured in, and his status as a national treasure  remained firmly in place, as I watched and listened to the round-the-clock tributes, I thought back to those years between 1964 and 1971, during which Ali was stripped of his title, the years he lost in boxing, and the hatred that engulfed him. I wondered how many people lauding him now even remember those days, or the true reasons why he deserved such praise.

      My dad covered boxing for ABC, and so he began to cover Ali. Right from the start they had the kind of rapport that often develops between two smart, fast-talking people. On camera together their relationship was entertaining, and they became synonymous in people’s minds: Ali-Cosell, Cosell-Ali.

     But there was a bond between them that had nothing to do with repartee. It was forged during those years of  the Freedom Summer, of riots and cities burning in the summer of 1965, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the draft, and the Vietnam War, and the Black Power Movement.

      My father stood alone and stood his ground when he used Muhammad’s name. Sportswriters and broadcasters refused to speak it, and The New York Times wouldn’t print it. Other boxers continued to use it, and paid for it in the ring.

      In 1966 Ali was reclassified as 1A by his draft board, and in 1967 he refused to step forward, and applied for conscientious objector status on religious grounds.

      He was stripped of his title, stripped of the right to box professionally, his passport was lifted, and  many Americans despised him.

     He was called an ingrate, a coward, uppity, someone who didn’t know his place, a traitor, and accused of treason. What made his decision even worse, if possible, was the that he had joined a separatist black Muslim “nation” founded by Malcolm X. (He later left it and practiced a different form of Islam.) It’s no exaggeration to say that he was white America’s nightmare: a young, strong, articulate, separatist black man who said, “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”

       Alone again, my father rose to Ali’s defense. Howard Cosell was a lawyer and knew what was at stake immediately. This had nothing to do with boxing. At issue were freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal protection and due process.

      Amidst the hysteria and hate, my father explained the law, and Ali’s rights, over and over again. Few listened.

     When Ali couldn’t box, my dad periodically interviewed him on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and used him as a commentator on fights. He kept his name, face and case before the public.

      One of my favorite stories about them took place at a classic, elegant New York restaurant, called Café des Artistes. It was a hangout for ABC, because the network’s headquarters was directly across the street.

       It was a Saturday, lunchtime, and my mother and I got a table and ordered lunch, while my father did an interview with Ali. Suddenly there was a commotion at the entrance and my father strolled in with Ali and his entourage.

      “Look who I brought to see you, Em,” he said to my mother, Emmy.

     The maître d’ was used to my dad showing up with unexpected people. Tables were quickly pushed together, and Muhammad and friends sat down to eat. I looked around the restaurant, which was fairly crowded with a lily-white clientele who fell silent when Ali arrived, and simply stared. We ignored them.

       After they had eaten and left, an older white gentleman cautiously approached our table and asked if he could speak with my father. He nodded.

      “Why did you bring him here, Mr. Cosell? He doesn’t belong here. We’re afraid of him. Aren’t you?”

       My father looked at the man and quietly replied, “With all due respect, sir, the only thing I’m afraid of are the sentiments you just expressed.” My father then said, “If you’ll excuse me, I’m lunching with my family.” The man scurried away.

      Some revisionist historians write that Muhammad and my father were never friends, and that my father hooked on to Ali to further his career, not out of any sense of justice. It’s true that they helped each other’s careers along the way. But Howard Cosell’s defense of Ali defined my father’s career, as well as his character, conscience and courage -- and defined a bond of trust between two unlikely men that would never be broken.

Hilary Cosell is a Connecticut-based writer anda former NBC sports journalist and an occasional contributor to New England Diary.





Lan Anh: Building a foundation for close U.S.-Vietnamese relations


By Lan Anh

On the night of May 22, President Obama landed at Noi Bai International Airport to start his official visit to Vietnam. U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had also visited Vietnam while in office.

The American War in Vietnam was a long and sad chapter but that conflict ended 41 years ago.

President Obama’s visit to Vietnam  was a dramatic turning point as the two countries establish stronger ties  to promote the development, peace and security of the both countries, the Asia/Pacific region and the wider world.

Vietnam has spent  much blood,  wealth and time defending itself from invadersto regain and preserve its independence.  The country  has constantly faced threats to its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But, overcoming the sorrow of historical events, and some missteps in its economic-development strategy, Vietnam has  today achieved remarkable improvements in the economic and other aspects of its development. It has great potential strengths from its location and its population of 100 million, (making Vietnam the 13th most populous nation) including its large number of young people who are very receptive to new technology. It is also playing an increasingly important role in global economic development.

Meanwhile, Vietnam preserves many of its ancient traditions while it stays open to learning and accepting the best aspects of cultures and values all over the world.  

Vietnam has become an inspiring story of a country in transition.  A nation that suffered the sorrow of  a long war with the U.S., Vietnam has since normalized the relationship with America and is taking steps to improve it further.  Vietnamese-U.S. relations are now a world-recognized symbol of reconciliation and of progress toward a peaceful, more secure and developed world.

America has the  world’s largest economy and is the global military superpower.  Thus,  the U.S. plays a crucial role in preserving stability around the Earth. American military power can be deployed quickly to any place in the world.  Further, America is the innovation hub of the planet. It’s where leading technologies are constantly being invented and refined with great international impact.

Since World War II, the U.S.  has led the establishment of a network of multilateral organizations  -- most notably the World Bank, the  International Monetary Fund (IMF) and such regional  security organizations as NATO. In part becase of these organizations, the U.S. has strong allies around the world.

These factors are crucial parts of the foundation for stronger Vietnamese-U.S. relations.

Prof. Thomas Patterson, a leading Harvard scholar on politics, press and public policy,  and a co-founder and director of The Boston Global Forum (, said that the bases for a strong and sustainable relationship between  the U.S. and Vietnam are trust and respect for each other and mutual understanding of each other’s needs and values. Despite some inevitable differences, the two countries have many shared goals, which include building their own and each other’s prosperity, friendly cultural exchanges and peace and security in the South China Sea (called in Vietnam the East Sea). Strong andfriendly U.S.-Vietnamese relations will foster the strong growth of the two countries in the Pacific Era.

The U.S. can help Vietnam with capital and advanced technology so that Vietnam can continue growing its knowledge and innovation economy via such technology solutions as  artificial intelligence (AI) and network security.

After the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TTP) comes into effect, Vietnam’s GDP is projected to increase to $23.5 billion in 2020 and $33.5 billion in 2025. Its exports are projected to rise by  $68 billion by 2026.  Under the TPP, big markets,  such as the U.S., Japan and Canada, willeliminate tariffs for goods imported from Vietnam, which will obviously give its exporting activity a big boost..

Meanwhile Fulbright University Vietnam has officially been granted approval to open. This  is a milestone  in the journey of  cooperation between U.S. and Vietnam in education. Further, the University of California at Los Angeles ( UCLA ) will soon work with Vietnam to carry out new initiatives in global citizenship education.

To establish itself as a major global player, Vietnam needs to be independent  of bigger countries so that it can strategize its  path ahead while following universal standards and values. Vietnam will raise its visibility in  the world with a loving,  tolerant and generous attitude.

Vietnam has overcome sorrow and loss to make peace with other countries that caused it pain. Hence, Vietnam has become a symbol of reconciliation and can play an important role in preserving  international peace and security in the Asia/Pacific region and around the world.  

For example, Vietnam can contribute to the effort to resolve conflicts between the U.S.  and Russia,  between Europe and Russia,  between China and Russia,  between the U.S.,  Japan and North Korea,  and between the U.S. and China. Vietnam could also become a centerfor finding solutions to conflicts in the Middle East and forhelping North Korea integrate with the rest of the world (as when Vietnam helped Myanmar reintegrate). And it can be a pioneer in building harmony and security in online space in South East Asia and around the world. This can include educating people  to be responsible online citizens in Internet era; teaching them to respect each other’s culture, knowledge and morality, and  promoting initiatives for global citizenship education.

Building strong Vietnamese-U.S. relations, as well as the other initiatives cited above, can’t be completed overnight but the path to a brighter future is opened. Tomorrow has started today.

Lan Anh is a journalist for VietNamNet.

Llewellyn King: Where the motor scooter reigns

HANOI I want tell you about Vietnam: its people, its culture, its economy, its disputes and its aspirations.

But I can’t. Not yet.

Like other visitors to this capital city, I’m not focused on the wide, French-colonial boulevards, the roadsides decorated with extraordinary ceramic mosaics and the great parks; the glorious architecture, which tells its history; traditional, colonial and modern; or the fabulous food, informed by the French but resolutely Vietnamese.

No. I’m totally mesmerized by the traffic: one of the wonders of the world. It’s a wonder not because, like so many of the world’s cities, it’s so terrible, but because it flows in the most extraordinary way. It’s the triumph of a lack of system over a system.

Hanoi has  few  traffic lights, except on major thoroughfares, and no stop or yield signs. Traffic moves along at about 15-miles-an-hour; sometimes a little faster and sometimes slower, depending on the time of day.

Looking at the traffic is like watching a column of ants, going hither and thither in a courteously chaotic way. The only absolute rule on the roads is to keep to the right. Everything else is improvisation.

At the heart of this traffic miracle, this way of moving millions of people with little delay, is the humble but iconic Vespa scooter, its imitators and relations, all powered with small engines in the 150 cc category. For those not intimate with the intricacies of motorcycles, a top-of-the-line Harley Davidson comes in at 1,247 cc.

But central to the Hanoi traffic triumph are scooters and very light motorcycles (some of them electric), the occasional moped and even bicycles -- although compared to when I was here 20 years ago, the bicycle has nearly disappeared.

To the more than 3 million scooters, most of which take to the streets daily, add the skill, courtesy and physical courage of the riders. They weave, dodge, brake, swerve, swoop, accelerate and slow in what, to American eyes, is an unscripted ballet with a cast of millions. The dance is known, but the choreography is new by the split-second.

There are cars, too, but they’re the minority. They let themselves into the shoals of seething motor scooter riders with a confidence that I'd never have. I’d never go anywhere, being convinced that I’d plow down dozens of intrepid riders with my first tentative yards onto the road. You must not only have patience, but also enough boldness to know that the river of motorcycles -- a river that ebbs and rises, but never ceases -- will accommodate you.

I sit in the back of my taxi convinced that blood will flow as I watch young and old glide by with a determination only otherwise seen in NASCAR drivers. The dance is fast and furious; the music is all New World Symphony.

It is worthy of study by fluid dynamists. Maybe the traffic, the smooth-flowing traffic of Hanoi, should also be studied by sociologists.

Everything happens on the darting, rushing motor scooters and mopeds of Hanoi. Families of three are transported, young men and young women ride abreast and meet on wheels.

If you want to cross the street, pluck up you courage, ask forgiveness from your Creator, and step into the maelstrom of  motorized wonder, believing, as you must, that the throng of riders in Hanoi have extrasensory perception and will part, like the Red Sea, for you.

Who would believe that watching traffic could be recreational? Worth the trip, almost.

Reporting on Vietnam, with its intriguing culture, emerging economy, territorial contentions, and future relationship with the United States, will have to wait. There may be a moped in my future.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is

Llewellyn King: The rise and fading of 'The New Class'

"The New Class” was a concept in the 1970s that various writers and commentators, led by Irving Kristol, used to describe an important social and political phenomenon of the time. It represented a kind of Fifth Estate, or extra-curricular branch of government. The new class in the context of the time had nothing to do with the use of the same term (sometimes employed to describe the elite of communist-run nations), but had everything to do with what had happened in the turbulent 1960s.  

Most especially, it was a manifestation of the opposition to the Vietnam War by young professionals in the United States. By the time Kristol used the phrase, he had already taken his epic journey from the left to the right  and was already ensconced as the godfather of neo-conservatism. As I remember, he used his column in The Wall Street Journal to identify the  New Class and to attack it. I, too, was writing about it and was leery of its effect on energy supply, but intrigued as to whether a whole new social strata was going to change things; whether we were going to see policy by the young, for the young.


The new class was a rump of disassociated and unaffiliated professionals who had been impacted by the draft and were sensitized to the other social issues of the 1960s – the civil rights, the environmental and the women’s liberation movements. The New Class was important because it was smart and it knew how to use power effectively. It did this by co-opting journalism and using – and perhaps abusing -- the court system.


They were people who had either served in Vietnam or had avoided doing so by fleeing the country, seeking deferments, or, actually rejecting the draft and going to prison. The latter, predictably, produced a surge of interest in prison reform. The draft-avoiders were drawn into the other social issues of the time. Their most profound impact was probably on the environmental movement. To this day, the environmental organizations influence public policy by the use of media and selective litigation -- tactics perfected by the new class.

The New Class was in many ways a non-political movement, leaning to the left but not exclusively. It was the result of comfortable, middle-class kids waking up to what was wrong with the society they lived in. Because they had, in their view, felt the heavy hand of government, they were appalled by conditions in black America, the criminal-justice system and the state of environmental degradation. Of course, they were appalled by the war and the institutions that supported it, including corporations, government, universities and the military. With the end of the war, came the end of the New Class; not immediately, but surprisingly fast.


Its lasting legacy is in tactics, not policy. Its members morphed into a generation of self-interested professionals; its idealism, like the war, a fading memory. As a social pressure group, the New Class has left its mark. It showed how effective a few people with literary and legal skills could redirect policy. As it was not affiliated with a political party, or even a defined philosophy, it could pick its targets. In today’s world of rigid left and right, the power of unaffiliated movements is abridged, if it exists at all. I used the term  "New Class'' contemporaneously with Kristol, but I am not sure whether I had just heard it and it had seeped into my consciousness.

At the time, I thought the use of the courts was excessive and I wrote and criticized the new class. But I was fascinated by how they had gotten their hands on the levers of power outside of Congress and the presidency but powerfully affected those institutions. Looking back, one wishes the New Class were still a force: upset about the wanton cruelty of the immigration standoff, angry about income inadequacy, appalled by the surging power that mergers and acquisitions are handing to a small number of supra-national organizations, and worried about unfettered money in politics. Global warming would be a classic issue.


The New Class drew its strength from being indignant but without an organization -- just a few good writers and propagandists here and a few sharp lawyers there. They were amorphous and effective. Would they could be reprised.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of "White House Chronicle, ''on PBS. His e-mail is

Blighted and bright college days

(comment via
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a Dartmouth College classmate about stuff that happened when we were students in 1966-70. I mentioned someone we knew in common and recalled that he was in a certain fraternity.
 The guy I was talking with, Denis O’Neil, a screenwriter who recently published a part-memoir, part-novel of that period titled “Whiplash: How the Vietnam War Rolled a Hand Grenade into the Animal House,” politely corrected me; in fact, this person was in another fraternity.
Time has fragmented and mingled stories in my memory and those of others from that era, now almost half a century ago. One could argue that it was a tumultuous era, and thus it’s easy to get things scrambled, but most times are tumultuous and transitional. Mr. O’Neil makes much of the stress caused by the fear of being drafted and sent to Southeast Asia, but as bad as that was, it was much worse for young men in World War II. Whatever. We’re all the centers of our own universes, and we create narratives to explain ourselves to ourselves and others and to place ourselves in history.
Certainly, the huge size of the Baby Boomer generation, and technological and social changes of its young times, were dramatic, though I would argue that except for improvements in the rights of racial minorities and women, the transformations caused by the Internet (which increasingly looks as if it has made things worse for most people) have been much bigger than “Sixties” changes.
Still, it’s true that in that period one had the distinct sense of living in a discrete and vivid era, which actually began about 1966 and ended about ’73. People who lived in the “Roaring Twenties” — 1924 to the Great Crash of October 1929 — told me in “The Sixties” that they had had a similar sense back in the Coolidge administration. Youth is intense, and so the memories the now-autumnal people of “The Sixties” are intense, if sometimes erroneous.
From Mr. O’Neil’s book, which centers on fun, romance (not always fun) and anxiety, you might think that 80 percent of a male undergraduate’s time was spent drunk, seeking young women to have sex with and trying to get out of the draft. In fact, even for non-nerds who disliked what we then called “booking” — has the World Wide Web come up with its own equivalent phrase? — most of the time was spent going to class, studying and sleeping, not “raging” (the word for partying). After all, a lot of students wanted to get into good graduate schools and then fancy jobs. A lot did, and went on to become perhaps the greediest generation in U.S. history.
Mr. O’Neil was wise to have constructed his book at least in part as a novel, letting his imagination and telescoping of events provide a better story for the movies, a business he knows very well. If they do make a film of his story, I’d be interested to see how much of it gives a sense of the more humdrum aspects of college life for middle-to-upper-class late adolescents back then.
Probably not much.  The famous and often hilarious (and even witty) Dartmouth pranks memorialized in "Animal House'' (and Mr. O'Neil describes some corkers, including  a great train robbery of sorts) and the stuff described above offer rich material for a film.
Still, while L.P. Hartley’s line “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” is much quoted  people don’t do things as differently as they now might like to think  they did 45 years ago.
I was working last week in Harrisburg, Pa., the capital of the Keystone State. While that recently bankrupt city has seen better days — for many decades, it was a thriving center of trade and manufacturing and is bounded by rich farmland — many of its old residential and commercial buildings are beautiful, and you get a sense that people in the region very much want the little city to come back.
Greater Harrisburg has more brick and stone houses than you see in New England, where most houses are of wood, but there’s the same sense of an almost European-style settlement pattern, with a tight city center and the countryside close by. More and more people there complain about commuting and some of the gentrification in parts of Harrisburg suggests that a lot of its aging population is getting tired of driving. Indeed, demographics may gradually undo, over the next decade, much of the social and economic damage done by developer-driven sprawl zoning.
And there’s still a lot of boosterism in Harrisburg: The small local airport is proudly called Harrisburg International Airport, with flights to Toronto providing the “international” angle. Perhaps poor little Rhode Island could use a little of what some might slur as Babbitry to help talk itself out of its inferiority complex.
Robert Whitcomb ( is a Providence-based editor and writer.