George F. Will: Such are history's caroms—she was involved in the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the War on Terror

Roundup: Talking About History

History, said Emerson, is "the biography of a few stout and earnest persons." But history also is a story of unpredictable contingencies and improbable caroms, and of a 4-foot-7, 15-year-old girl's leap from a dangerously bobbing boat to a pitching South Vietnamese ship in the South China Sea. It was April 1975. The Communists were overrunning South Vietnam. At that time, Osama bin Laden was 18. The arc of his life, and Anh Duong's, would intersect.

Her leap propelled her to freedom. She grew up to be a 5-foot-1 chemist who, 26 years later, led the development of a bomb efficient at killing America's enemies in Afghanistan's caves. As a result, fewer American soldiers have had to enter those caves to engage Osama's fighters. This is Anh Duong's story.

The U.S. Navy took her and her family to Subic Bay in the Philippines. Next stop was a refugee camp in Pennsylvania. After five months this Buddhist family was adopted by the First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Soon Anh was in a suburban Maryland high school, headed for the University of Maryland and, eventually, degrees in chemical engineering, computer science and public administration.

"I wanted to work for the Defense Department," she says, "because I wanted to pay back the guys who protected us all those years." On September 11, 2001, she was working on Navy munitions and explosives—on, she says, "things that go swish and boom." Rockets go "swish." What they carry goes "boom." Soon after 9/11 it was apparent that U.S. forces would be fighting in Afghanistan, where the enemy often would be sheltered in the deep recesses of caves, reached after many twists and turns.

Sending U.S. forces into those caves would involve a terrible butcher's bill that might be avoided if a new munition could be developed—a new thermobaric (traveling blast and heat) bomb. At lunch at the Ritz-Carlton hotel near the Pentagon, as she delicately eats a hamburger with a knife and fork, she explains that normal bombs do their work by delivering fragments (to punch through things) and blast (to collapse things). But delivered by an F-15 to the mouth of a cave, a normal bomb's blast and fragmentation dissipate too quickly to reach deep into the cave and kill those hiding there. The task for her and her team was a challenge of detonation chemistry. They had to "deliver energy more slowly—we want the energy to last longer and travel."...

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Jeremy Kuz - 12/17/2007

Excellent comments by Mr. Shcherban.
Will presents this story as some kind of great morality tale - a truly sad commentary on the level of moral- intellectual discourse in mainstream public media in this country;

and a further reflection of the inability to come to terms with the consequences of the military violence unleashed on countries from Vietnam to Nicaragua to Afghanistan and Iraq - the millions of ruined lives, and the abillity to somehow maintain a moral high ground.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/15/2007

But Americans have never "overrun" neither South nor North Vietnam, nor Cambodia.
They just sent hudreds of thousands
of their troops to gently interfere.
It is true that no side was asking them to, but it just happened.
It is true that initial conflict was
between South Vietnamese peasantry and its brutal governments, but that
does not matter. It is true that the conflict was internal one, and did not threaten the US security a bit, but... then "we" have to interfere everywhere, otherwise "we" would loose our "leadership" of the world.

And what an idillyc story it is!
The 15-year-old girl fled from death, destruction and violence (to which "we", of course, had no relation to) and dedicated her career to produce more sophisticated and destructive means of violence.
She has not visioned her career as a peacemaker, conciliator between her native country and the new one to promote peace and, perhaps, changes to the better in Vietnam, she has not invented new drug(s) to help people sufferring from some deseases, she became deadly weapons'
designer. That is so awesome!
Don't we see the real course of history here, the intricate play of Providence that shows this country its noble destiny - to bomb the hell
out of anyone who does not live according to Pan-Amerikana design.
"We" call such policy a carom.
The world calls it agression and imperialism in their earnest.