- AP News
- Abc News
The launch of a US-backed university during President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam last week was meant to symbolise reconciliation and the potential for the two nations to deepen their relationship.
But there has been a backlash against the decision to hand the chairmanship of Fulbright University Vietnam to a former US senator accused of involvement in a Vietnam war massacre.
Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator and governor of Nebraska, has expressed remorse about the 1969 raid on a Communist-controlled village in which his elite Navy Seal platoon killed at least 13 unarmed women and children. The attack was made public in 2001 following an investigation by CBS News and the New York Times.
However, his selection as chairman of the trustees of FUV, Vietnam’s first private not-for-profit university, has stirred up painful feelings about a war in which more than 1m Vietnamese died.
“I know that Mr Kerrey wants to heal the pains of the war, both his and the Vietnamese people’s,” said Thai Bao Anh, a Vietnamese lawyer. “However, I wonder if he has ever asked himself [whether] his appointment, in fact, is opening an old wound in Vietnamese people’s minds.”
Mr Thai, who won a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to the US in 2003, said he could not forgive Mr Kerrey.
Most of Vietnam’s state-controlled media painted the university as a symbol of deepening US-Vietnam co-operation but Zing, a popular online news outlet, prompted a more CRItical reaction after it published a story looking into the massacre. It said on its?Facebook page that the choice of Mr Kerrey to head the FUV was “difficult to understand”.
In comments posted below the article, Vietnamese were divided. Lieu Ngo argued that the “generation who faced Bob Kerrey on the battlefield” did not want to live with hatred: “Let’s support Bob Kerrey to help his Fulbright university project in Vietnam succeed.”
Mr Kerrey told the Financial Times he understood the CRIticism and would “gladly step down” if his participation put the success of FUV at risk. “I have faced my past squarely and honestly,” said Mr Kerrey, who lost part of his right leg during the war. “I did something terrible and will live with it all my life. But I do not live in the past. I live in the present and am trying to do what I can to help Vietnam build a better future.”