Monday, January 21, 2013


January 21, 2013

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Be bold with your children, your grandkids, the youngsters you meet and greet. Give them shimmering voice and tell them that it is not only all right to be different, that they deliberately ought to follow their particular bent.

It may take a lifetime to find that voice, but it is in the quest that individual “genius” is developed, that contentment is reachable, that progress is made for the person and then the world. Cookie cutting is predictable, so safe, but no one gets to the moon with ordinariness. And there are so many moons to jump over in our century, including personal moons.

There is so much emphasis these days on formal schooling, “core curriculum” requirements from state education panels, teacher evaluation schemes, but so very little on what has always been the first rule of learning: involvement.

I am not a teacher, though married to a retired one, the father of a practicing fellow and the father in law of one -- soon, probably -- to be excessed, And I have had more than a handful of masters who continue to have lifetime influence. They had in common two impossible-to-teach yet acquired skills: insight and patience.

Every child has a door that must be opened if the engine is to start and purr. No curricula nor state test can measure the ability of the good, even great teacher to find the door’s key, to care enough in the first place to look for it, let alone turn the lock, let alone walk through the door and tarry a while. Maybe a long while. Insight and patience is the paint job on the door, and the color scheme continues inside.

The good, even great teacher opens thousands of doors in his teaching lifetime, and his or her shimmering voice in fine-tuned insight is heard by some students at least. Even the most difficult of kids have ears ready to hear such voice, but how many are willing to speak to them -- teachers, parents, friends, society?

The debates will continue over teacher salaries (in some areas of the nation almost minimum wage, in others “high” but way less than that for many other professionals); over work load (most teachers take home work to do at night); over qualification (how is that accurately measured in most jobs?). All the talk is necessary to one extent or another.

Yet in the beginning, as in the end, the individual child, proclaimed such a wonder at birth, serenaded with music as an infant, read books to as a youngster, coddled over, so very protected in the first school years, must of necessity find his or her voice and seize the day on it. The best teacher, even the great one, offers continual insight and steadfast patience as a guide, even after sending the student on his way.  There is no test for that sort of instructor. 

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Monday, January 14, 2013


By Arthur H. Gunther III

     I don’t know if either my childhood friend or my neighbor’s first born had coffee at a Saigon cafĂ© before they were killed in the Vietnam War, but many an American tourist and business person can do so today. And soon, in post-war Ho Chi Minh City, even U.S. culture icon Starbucks will open its first outlet. Makes you wonder why commerce could not have happened before the battles and saved many lives, including those neglected souls still suffering from a conflict which brought so much protest that it redefined America.
Whether Starbucks proves popular in a nation so steeped in French-inspired coffee fascination and discrimination will be up to the tasters, but once again, America’s way of life has been exported. McDonald’s went to Japan, Europe, the Soviet Union and so many other places and now China. U.S.-style jeans, though doubtlessly no longer American-made, are regulation style almost everywhere. 
Perhaps, when Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur over Korea, American business should have hired the Asian expert to open up trade in Southeast Asia as a better way to blunt what was then seen as an overwhelming worldwide Communist threat. The general would later caution John Kennedy against military escalation in Laos and told him not to listen closely to advisers in 1961 urging war against North Vietnam. MacArthur understood the Asian mind and knew Soviet-style Communism was not a real fit.
Maybe Lyndon Johnson should have reread President Eisenhower’s warning speech about a growing, ever more powerful military industrial complex, the very existence of which depends on continual war as surely as did Germany’s Krupp Works in the world wars. LBJ, whose true genius lie in his ability to charm and compromise as Senate majority leader, wanted to try the same approach on Ho Chi Minh, North Vietnam’s leader, to sort of smooze him into helping end the escalating Vietnam War, but he was diverted from his folksy, Texas ways by administration hawks.  His presidency ended because of the war. Soon enough, there wouldn’t be time for anyone to drink coffee in either of the Vietnams.
Today, almost 38 years since the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, a reunited nation  continues to build trade with the United States. One shirt I recently received was made there. Ho Chi Minh City is sister to 25 communities in the US, France, even South Korea, which 50 years ago so desperately worried that the “domino theory” of communism would see it invaded not only by North Korea but by China, Russia and Southeast Asia.
May the new Starbucks customers enjoy their coffee in Ho Chi Minh City as well as the famous noodle shops and world-acclaimed native cuisine. May they see the charm of the people and relish in the culture of this land. But I wish my childhood friend and my neighbor’s son could be among those savoring all that and not be with the 58,000 dead. I wish the thousands of Vietnam War wounded, especially the mentally and emotionally afflicted -- so many among them still suffering -- could instead have sat at the French-style sidewalk bistros back in the 1960s-1970s. 

The writer is a retired newspaperman.