M. tells me he is lying on the couch with a stiff drink watching the movie, The Quiet American. He says, "It reminds me of you." Well, how can I resist? Unfortunately, I don't have a couch, but like many women the world over, I keep a bottle of booze under the sink. Warming up Sachiko's homemade plum wine, I recall the old US Embassy in Saigon. It had clearly seen better days, but as of 10 years ago, at least, it was still standing-- right up alongside the muddy Saigon River.
Yeah, The Quiet American.
Even after all the books I read before the trip, staring up into the glaring sunlight toward that famous flat rooftop, I wondered yet again, "Why on earth did America choose to go to war with Vietnam? What could it possibly have mattered?"
You see, all this talk about universalist and particularist theory has never been about me uncovering the various and sundry looming differences between East and West-- but rather it is a plain and simple distaste for ideology-led policy. For as I always like to repeat, much damage has been caused in the world by the perhaps good-intentioned wish to "share the good news." Whether its the universalist principles in Plato or Christian evangelical philosophies or whether its the kind seen in Marxism or even globalist economic policies, when states attempt to universally apply what are universalist philosophies the results can be oppressive-- especially when seen from the long view. For in the end, as a wise man once said, we cannot save each other, all we can do is inspire and stand witness.
A die-hard existentialist, I guess I stand with the Swiss. I believe that the function of the state is to provide for the people of that state first. Food, water, clean environment, education and social welfare. Humanitarian aid and free trade next. Other than that, when it comes to taking a stand or making an ideological commitment, I am just not sure that is something for nation-states to do-- as I think this is something that each individual person needs to take a stand on. It's bad enough when a state seeks to impose its ideology on its own people but to then export it?
This morning, the Good Professor sent me a copy of Roger Ames's translation of Sun Tzu: The Art of War. He mentions that it could be useful in roughly drawing out the distinctions between ancient Chinese and "Western" thinking, especially as the latter emerges from Greek and Christian thought. In particular, concerning my last post, Plato versus Mencius, I thought this below was pretty illuminating about what I believe is the significant difference between a universalism based on the concept of objective Truth versus a "Confucian sensibilty" based on shared dispositions.
In contrast with its classical Greek counterpart where "knowing" assumes a mirroring correspondance between an idea and an objective world, this Chinese "knowing" is resolutely participatory and creative-- "tracing" in both the sense of etching a pattern and following it . To know is "to realize," "to make real." The path is not a "given," but is made in the treading of it. Thus, one's own actions are always a significant factor in the shaping of one's world."
Is this not the existentialist political manifesto par excellance? A sensibility to shared values and a deep commitment to an embodied realization of subjective truth. Or in the words of Master Yangming, the unity of knowledge and action (知行合一) says in a nutshell, “If you want to know bitterness, you have to eat a bitter melon yourself.”
Human association, community, and personal freedom, stresses Camus. This is the existentilaist credo.
A friend in Japan, Robert Yellin tells me about his father, Jerry Yellin, a decorated soldier in the war against Japan who is now doing all he can for peace and reconciliation. His story as seen in the book video is so very moving and incredibly reminds me much of the small meetings between vets that I heard about or saw in Vietnam a decade ago, which happened on the same local level-- sometimes resulting from just one American vet going back there to find someone or something...Indeed, I will never forget the vets I met or spoke to in Vietnam. An army of amputees, and agent orange bare forests, I don't know how many times Vietnamese people would come up and ask me if I was American. Taking my hands in theirs they would say, it's time for friendship. That was a long time ago and I am sure everything has been utterly transformed. Personally, I will never forget some of the stories I heard from American and Vietnamese vets there. In Saigon, we were staying in a seedy hotel not far from the old embassy (pictured at top) and there was this older American gentlemen down slurping his pho every morning for breakfast. One morning, he suddenly struck up a conversation with me and hearing how he has returned to Vietnam over and over (not easy travel back then from the US)- I asked him why. And he said, "I cannot get the beauty of this place out of my mind." Interesting since he must have seen such horrors there.
Years later, I would meet the leader of a WWII veterans group in Japan through an introduction of my Aunt's who is active in an airforce widow's association in Honolulu. For years, this older gentleman and I corresponded--his Japanese was so formal and old fashion, it was pretty much impossible to decipher. But he always repeated how happy he was that now instead of war between our countries, there were weddings. This is not surprsingingly the title of Yellin's more recent book, Of war and Weddings.
Jerry Yellin's The Blackened Canteen (the video is very moving--I just ordered the book)
Carthage at war (I am re-listening to the Hannibal lectures) and always up to chatting about the Punic wars
The Iliad and What it Can Still Tell us About War
Coady's Just War on Philosopher's Zone
Also a link to a petition against a planned aquarium in Kyoto which goes against public sentiment (they are planning to build in where a public park now stands!)
On knowing as doing and doing as being, see Master Yang's unusual epistemology
1945 Outstanding Gun Camera Raw Footage from Japan