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Legacies of the War, the Lingering Human Cost

June 3, 2015, 12:00 PM


March marked Lady Borton’s fiftieth year working with Việt Nam, her forty-fifth since first working for the American Friends Service Committee in South Việt Nam, and her fortieth since her time in North Việt Nam. For many years, Lady was the “dean” of the INGO community in Việt Nam.

As she says, “I’ve made more mistakes than any foreigner.”

Lady is the author of Sensing the Enemy: An American Among the Boat People of Vietnam (Dial/Doubleday, 1984), the only book written from inside the Boat People exodus, and of After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese (Viking/Penguin, 1995), the only book written from inside Việt Nam as the country began its process of opening (Đi Mi, Renovation or Renewal). She brought the first HIV-AIDS materials from the West to Việt Nam through a special arrangement with Book-of-the-Month Club.

Lady had researched residual wartime dioxin since the first request from Hà Nội in 1975, during the war. Some years later, on a restaurant napkin, she framed out the intervention for Agent Orange “hot spots” of residual wartime dioxin. Previously, she had been looking at 15% of the southern half of Việt Nam. Now, the intervention was simple—not a spread of color on a map but dots—a  list, which could be prioritized.

For years, particularly before normalized relations between the United States and Việt Nam, Lady worked in people-to-people diplomacy. She framed the possibility of the Clinton visit in the president’s “lame-duck” period and, with a co-founder of Veterans for Peace, went around Hà Nội testing the idea with Vietnamese officials. Her American colleague, a former aide on Capitol Hill, had many friends in the Clinton administration. Once the Vietnamese were on board, he and Lady went to Washington and took the idea “around town.” They made a second trip close to President Clinton’s visit, taking with them language they had crafted and taken around Hà Nội for what the president could say to address the touchy issue: the legacy of war. The suggested language was “shared pain” without a list. (A list prioritizes. An attempt to prioritize pain creates anger and resistance.)

Lady’s attempt in 1995 to facilitate release of long-term residents of post-war re-education camps dead-ended because of the US side. The Vietnamese were on board, all the way to the top, the newly opened US embassy was on board, but the US government in Washington had shut down. The window-of-opportunity with a lame-duck period on the Vietnamese side passed while the US government remained closed.

Lady continues her people-to-people diplomacy efforts. Since 2006, she has also been working as a researcher and as translator of works by Hồ Chí Minh, Võ Nguyên Giáp, Nguyễn Thị Bình, Phạm Hồng Cư, and Lê Cao Đài. She was co-editor and a co-translator for the bi-lingual anthology of a thousand years of Vietnamese women’s poetry (2007), the first book co-published from the outset by a Vietnamese and a US press, a project she organized.

Lady is an American citizen. She lives in Hà Nội.

Please register by email or by telephone no later than Tuesday, June 2. Lunch is  catered by Jorgensen’s for $10. Please pay at the door. Please indicate your lunch choice upon registering.

Lunch includes your choice of sandwich (Ham and Cheese Croissant with lettuce and tomato, Turkey Club, or Californian Wrap, which includes veggie, cheddar cheese, and avaocado spread), soup, cookie, coffee or tea.

Please note: Registrants who request lunch are responsible for lunch fees. If your plans change and you are unable to attend, please notify us so that lunch orders can be adjusted.

Sponsored by the Mid-Maine Global Forum.


June 3, 2015
12:00 PM


Bonnie Sammons
View Organizer Website


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