TIME natural disaster

Millions Affected as Widespread Flooding Inundates Swaths of Southern Asia

Millions of people have been affected, hundreds are dead and thousands of have lost their homes and land

Flooding brought on by torrential monsoon rains has left large swaths of land across parts of southern Asia underwater, and has affected an estimated 10 million people in India alone.

The usual monsoon rains have been made worse this year by Cyclone Komen, which made landfall in Bangladesh last Friday.

In India, 200 people have died and more than 1 million have been moved to relief camps in West Bengal, which has taken the brunt of the damage, reports Agence France-Presse. Flash floods and landslides have swept away homes, farmlands and livelihoods in Manipur, Gujarat and Rajasthan states as well.

On Tuesday, two passenger trains derailed off a bridge into a river in Madhya Pradesh. It is believed the heavy rain had caused the river levels to rise and partially submerged the track, reports the BBC.

Meanwhile, flooding in neighboring Burma has caused widespread devastation in several western states, prompting the government to appeal for international assistance on Tuesday.

More than 200,000 people have been affected and at least 47 people have died.

Burma’s President Thein Sein has declared four areas in the country, formally known as Myanmar, as disaster zones and many remote areas are still cut off by floodwaters, landslides or damaged roads, leaving thousands of people without aid.

Aid agencies are particularly concerned with the 140,000 people already living in displacement camps in the country’s western Rakhine state.

“The floods are hitting children and families who are already very vulnerable, including those living in camps in Rakhine state,” said Shalini Bahuguna, from the U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF.

Flooding has claimed 150 lives and affected 800,000 people across several Pakistan provinces including Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and the disputed region of Kashmir.

In northern Vietnam, flooding has left more than 12,000 people without electricity for days and record rainfall has affected the power supply to 27 cities and provinces nationwide. Since July 26, Quang Ninh province saw a total rainfall of 1,500 mm, considered to be the worst in 40 years.

Heavy rains and flooding have damaged 10,000 houses and ruined 4,000 hectares of rice and other crops in the province. Seventeen people have died.

And in disaster-hit Nepal, at least 90 people have died in the past two months as a result of floods and landslides.

TIME Australia

Australian Leader Urged to Reveal What Happened to Vietnamese Refugee Boat

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers a lecture on "Our Common Challenges: Strengthening Security in the Region" in Singapore
Edgar Su — REUTERS Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers a lecture titled "Our Common Challenges: Strengthening Security in the Region" in Singapore on June 29, 2015

A significant number of children were thought to have been aboard

Australian officials are being accused of breaking international law after 42 Vietnamese asylum seekers were allegedly sent back to Vietnam after arriving in Australian waters by boat.

A small wooden vessel was spotted off of Australia’s northwest coast last week, the BBC reports. It was apparently carrying the asylum seekers, whose status is currently unknown.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to reveal what happened to the migrants, simply stating that the Australian government stance was to “do what we have always done, and that is to act in accordance with Australia’s interest.” Canberra has recently adopted a policy of “tow-backs,” forcing migrant boats away when they enter national waters.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who belongs to the Australia Greens party, has called for greater transparency in the case, the BBC reports.

“Handing these people directly over to the Vietnamese Government constitutes refoulement, which is a breach of the Refugee Convention,” she said in a statement.

Australia courted controversy recently with allegations that officials paid people smugglers bound for its shores to turn around. Abbott has refused to comment on the claims, which if confirmed would amount to participation in human trafficking, say human-rights activists.

[BBC]

TIME Media

The Other Pentagon Papers Secret: Few People Actually Read Them

Anti war activist Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the
Steve Hansen—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the media, at a press conference in July of 1971

June 30, 1971: The Supreme Court rules to allow the publication of articles about the Vietnam War’s origins, based on the Pentagon Papers

As classified documents went, the Pentagon Papers were such dry reading that almost no one made it all the way through them — including Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser and chief strategist on the Vietnam War.

When the 40-volume Pentagon report on America’s entanglement in the controversial war was delivered to reporters, however, it became the WikiLeaks of its day: “[t]he most massive leak of secret documents in U.S. history,” according to TIME’s 1971 account.

But even after the study’s revelations became front-page news in the New York Times, few lay readers could get excited about the story, which TIME described as “six pages of deliberately low-key prose and column after gray column of official cables, memorandums and position papers.” Most Americans only understood the scathing significance of the report when they saw how hard the Nixon administration fought to keep it under wraps.

What followed was a historic clash between the Executive Office and the Fourth Estate: For three weeks, the White House battled in court to keep the Times and the Washington Post from publishing stories based on the leaked documents, which revealed staggering incompetence and deception on the part of both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. The White House argued that publishing the information jeopardized national security; the newspapers argued that the public had a right to understand the machinations that had led the nation into its most unpopular and unsuccessful war.

In the end — on this day, June 30, in 1971 — the Supreme Court sided with the press and ruled that the newspapers could immediately resume publishing the classified reports. The 6-3 vote marked deep divisions within the court, however, prompting the justices to “[vent] their opinions in nine separate opinions,” as the Post put it the day after the ruling. TIME summarized the differences between their takes on the case:

Three of the Justices—Hugo L. Black, William O. Douglas and Thurgood Marshall—contended that there can be no exceptions to the First Amendment’s press freedom; no matter what the potential impact on the nation, prior restraints on news cannot be imposed by Government. Another trio composed of Justices Potter Stewart, William J. Brennan Jr. and Byron R. White took a middle position, contending that the First Amendment is not absolute and a potential danger to national security may be so grave as to justify censorship. However, they agreed that this had not been demonstrated in the Times and Post cases.

And while Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press by sneaking them out of his office safe, one volume at a time, to be Xeroxed by a colleague’s girlfriend in all-night copying sessions) initially faced felony charges for his role in the leak, there were many who commended him for his courage as a whistleblower.

The charges against Ellsberg were dropped in 1973, but the Pentagon Papers themselves were only declassified four years ago, in 2011. Ellsberg told the Times he believed they still held valuable lessons for the American populace — although he found it even more unlikely that anyone would wade through the 7,000-page report 40 years after it was leaked.

“The rerelease of the Pentagon Papers is very timely, if anyone were to read it,” he said.

Read TIME’s 1971 cover story on the Pentagon Papers, here in the TIME archives: The Secret War

TIME Thailand

Thai Junta Bans Launch of Vietnamese Rights Report Ahead of State Visit

The report's authors accuse the junta of "choosing to side with dictatorships"

Authorities in Bangkok abruptly canceled a press conference Friday during which a report on the plight of indigenous communities in central Vietnam was due to be launched.

The meeting, called to launch Persecuting ‘Evil Way’ Religion: Abuses Against Montagnards in Vietnam, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), was deemed too “sensitive” to take place at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Department of Information director general Sek Wannamethee told HRW, according to the rights group.

While many meetings to discuss the political situation in Thailand have been nixed, this is the first time a discussion of another country has been deemed too controversial. The decision, many believe, is because Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is due to visit Thailand soon.

“This action today is just the latest indication that Thailand is choosing to side with dictatorships in ASEAN while further stepping up repression at home,” HRW said in a statement Friday.

The incident is the latest curbing of freedoms since Thailand’s military chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in a May 22, 2014, coup d’état and installed himself as Prime Minister. Hundreds of academics, journalists and activist have been summoned and arbitrarily detained for criticizing military rule. Even cryptic expressions of dissent such as publicly reading George Orwell’s 1984, or flashing the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games, have been outlawed.

The relationship between Thailand’s military and press has also become more fractious. Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman the National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta euphemistically christened itself, revealed this week that 200 local and foreign journalists would be summoned to “create understanding” and be given instructions on how to “ask questions” that will not offend Prayuth, who is notoriously touchy. The 61-year-old despot went on a bizarre rant earlier this week, in which he seemed to accuse the entire media industry of a conspiracy against him.

“I am not angry at you, reporters, because I know that you were ordered to do this. If you write well, they won’t publish your stories,” he said, according to the English-language service of the Thai newspaper Khaosod. “We are working to fix everything, but the media keeps writing that I have not done any work at all, that I haven’t passed any reforms at all. I am sad, too. I am sad to be born in this country.”

TIME China

China Seizes Rotting 40-Year-Old Meat Destined for Dinner Tables

Officials astonished to see date stamps from the 1970s on the contraband haul

China has found itself embroiled in another food safety scandal after authorities discovered 100,000 tons of smuggled frozen meat—some of which was over 40 years old and had begun to thaw—apparently destined for sale and consumption.

“I nearly threw up when I opened the door,” an inspector said of the aging meat’s overwhelming stench.

Chinese authorities found the smuggled pork, beef and chicken wings in 14 different crackdowns across the country. The haul is reportedly worth in the region of 3 billion yuan ($480 million), reports Reuters.

Much of the meat is thought to have been bought very cheaply in foreign countries. It was then shipped through Hong Kong to Vietnam and finally smuggled into mainland China, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.

An official at China’s anti-smuggling bureau told the paper that smuggled meat can travel for extended periods of time in unrefrigerated vans and is often repeatedly thawed and refrozen, making it a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria and viruses.

China’s ongoing food safety woes are well established. In 2008, six children died and 300,000 fell seriously ill after consuming milk power contaminated by the industrial chemical melamine. On Wednesday, the BBC reported that the Chinese government had asked three Shaanxi infant formula producers to recall their products due to excessive nitrate levels.

TIME Military

The Next Step Toward Possible Conflict in the South China Sea

Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3)
Conor Minto / U.S. Navy The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) sails near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea last month.

U.S. warships likely to challenge expanded Chinese sovereignty

When discussing the growing conflict over China’s dredging new islands to extend its sovereignty 1,000 miles into the resource-rich South China Sea, one phrase frequently pops up from U.S. military officers past and present. “China,” they say, “doesn’t do off-ramps well.” What they mean is that once Beijing has decided on a course of action, it is rarely deterred from pursuing it. Given that—and the U.S. declaration that it will not allow China’s sand grab to stand—what’s next?

The chance of shots being fired now stand at better than 50-50, says Bernard Cole, a retired Navy captain and China expert. But he believes any initial volley would more likely come from the Philippines or Vietnam, who also dispute China’s expanding territorial claims, than Beijing or Washington.

“I see no flexibility in China’s position at all,” says Cole, now a professor at the Pentagon’s National War College in Washington, D.C. “I think China’s plan is just to have a fait accompli, gambling on where the U.S. threshold for reaction is.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made clear in recent days that the U.S. won’t back down, either. “There should be no mistake: the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world,” Carter said Saturday at the Shangri-La defense conference in Singapore. “After all, turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.”

If the Chinese don’t halt their island-building efforts in the Spratly Islands, new U.S. military hardware will soon be showing up in the region to help them reconsider, Carter warned. He rattled off an incoming roster of weapons, including “the latest Virginia-class submarines, the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft, the newest stealth destroyer, the Zumwalt, and brand-new carrier-based E-2D Hawkeye early-warning-and-control aircraft.”

China didn’t seem to get the hint. “China and the Chinese military have never feared the devil or an evil force,” Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, said at the same gathering Sunday, a day after Carter spoke. “Don’t ever expect us to surrender to devious heresies or a mighty power.” Basically, the two sides spoke past one another at the weekend confab. “China is unlikely to stop its reclamation in the Spratlys,” William Choong, an Asian expert at the session, wrote afterwards. “In fact, the reclamation will continue.”

President Obama on Monday repeated his call for China to halt its island building. “We think that land reclamation, aggressive actions by any party in that area are counterproductive,” he said. “It may be that some of [China’s] claims are legitimate, but they shouldn’t just try to establish that based on throwing elbows and pushing people out of the way.”

U.S. officials say the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea bars what China is doing. “Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands,” the treaty says. “They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf.”

U.S. naval experts say that if the U.S. is going to back it words with actions, the U.S. Navy soon will have to send warships near the growing Chinese-claimed islands to show its territorial claims are worthless. U.S. Navy officials have said planning for such deployments is in the works.

But the South China Sea has a reputation as a ships’ graveyard. It’s shallow enough to sink them, as well as to enable dredging gear to expand existing islands. That limits the U.S. Navy to dispatching one of its new lightly-armed Littoral Combat Ships, or a flat-bottomed Marine amphibious ship, to poke around China’s islands, says retired Navy captain Jerry Hendrix, who spent much of his career in the Pacific.

The USS Fort Worth, a 4,000-ton, 387-foot LCS, recently sailed near the Spratlys, where Chinese vessels kept a close eye on her. “Routine operations like the one Fort Worth just completed in the South China Sea will be the new normal as we welcome four LCSs to the region in the coming years,” Captain Fred Kacher, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 7, said May 12 after the Fort Worth returned to the Philippines.

A bigger San Antonio or Whidbey Island-class amphibious warship would show the U.S. is serious, says Hendrix, now at the Center for a New American Security. “They’re large vessels with a very shallow draft,” he says, “and they also come with Marines.”

Hendrix believes the Chinese are trying to take advantage of a sense of U.S. wariness of overseas action. Chinese President “Xi Jinping has perceived the U.S. administration to have rolled over on Cuba, on the Iran nuclear deal, on Russia in the Crimea and Ukraine,” he says. The U.S. refusal to budge in the South China Sea may also offend some Chinese sensibilities. “There may be a perception, at least among their military, that there may be a cultural bias here: ‘Wait a minute, you’ll deal with the Persians, with the Latins, and with the Slavs, but you won’t deal with us?’ That could be another source of friction.”

Cole says he’d bet on an LCS deployment. “But if I were still a Navy planner, I wouldn’t send an LCS in there by itself,” he adds. “The LCS almost can’t defend itself. I’d have a couple of DDGs [destroyers] or some airplanes just over the horizon.” Cole doubts either China or the U.S. would fire a first shot. “But suppose the Philippines manages to get one of those two old Coast Guard cutters underway that we gave them and it ends up getting sunk by the Chinese?” he frets. “We have a mutual defense treaty with the Republic of the Philippines that very clearly includes Philippine warships.”

MONEY Travel

Inexpensive Alternatives to Top Vacation Spots

Want the fun without the crowds and cost? Visit these substitutes for well-known vacation destinations.

TIME Veterans

How to Preserve America’s War Stories Before It’s Too Late

Dennis Martin
Dennis Keith Martin Collection / Library of Congress / Veterans History Project Dennis Martin seated, in Vietnam, ca. 1970

The Library of Congress is collecting the country's first-hand accounts of war

On June 19, 1970, Dennis Keith Martin, a U.S. Army Corporal stationed in Vietnam, wrote a letter to his grandparents. “We are hearing a lot of rumors that the 25th Division or at least part of it will be the next to be withdrawn,” he wrote, at the close of the two-page note. “We are all hoping to be involved in it but I am certainly not going to hold my breath.”

Martin was killed in action that July. Monday will be the 44th Memorial Day since then. But his letters and photographs, like the one seen here, are very much alive.

That’s because Martin’s sister, Barbara, donated them to the Veterans History Project (VHP) of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, which has made them available online. The VHP was created by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000. In the 15 years since, the project has collected nearly 100,000 oral histories from veterans and their families, as well as the families of those remembered each Memorial Day. More than 15,000 of those stories and documents, the first-hand accounts of conflicts from World War I to the present day, can be accessed online.

“I feel like my brother’s experience, like so many other thousands, millions, of people in warfare—it’s such a great loss, and what for? Seeing his letters there it gives some meaning to what happened,” Barbara Martin, who is now a musician in Waynesboro, Va., says. “I think that a lot of times people have a skewed viewpoint of what war really is. I think anything that can show people this is what it really is, this is the horror of it, this is the reality of it, is a very good thing.”

The VHP has done just that for people like Hetal Shah.

Shah is a 19-year-old college student in Aliso Viejo, Calif., who has been volunteering to collect oral histories for the VHP since she was 15. (Anyone can do those interviews, by downloading the how-to kit from the Library of Congress). The very first interview she did for the project was with a World War II vet who told a story of deciding not to shoot a hungry Japanese man despite orders to shoot the enemy on sight.

“When he was saying this story he was crying, not because of the man’s situation but rather because he disobeyed the orders of his commander,” Shah recalls. “That’s when it really hit me how complex war is for soldiers and all the people involved. He mentioned his family and all the struggles they faced while he was away. It made war more complex for me and it gave me all of these different perspectives that I could never learn from my history class.”

Shah has come to see her VHP interviews as something of an urgent mission. The stories of World War I that have made it to the VHP have done so through family members, the same way the stories of men and women like Dennis Martin, who were killed in action, got there. But those veterans who made it home from war are full of stories that have yet to be collected.

“I’ll never get to hear the story of a World War I veteran from his or her point of view. We lose that every time that veteran passes on, we lose their stories with them,” she says. “If veterans are not interviewed before they pass on then no one else will be able to get that same perspective and story from them. It’s very important for us to continue doing this project so that everybody, no matter when it was in history, can know how it really was.”

Her message is exactly what the VHP’s backers hope the project offers. “It’s a resource for the country in the sense that it gives us a way of tying into and understanding the experiences of Veterans, as we think about the country, as we think about the future, and as we think about future military engagements,” says William “Bro” Adams, who is chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities—which is partnering with the Library of Congress to encourage veterans and the families of those killed in action to get involved with the project—and also a Vietnam veteran whose own stories are now part of the VHP archive. “These kinds of stories really give you a sense of things that no other form of recollection can give you.”

TIME Vietnam

Vietnam Outlaws ‘Filthy,’ ‘Clichéd’ and ‘Poisonous’ Romantic Novels

A publishing house employee stands at a booth selling discount foreign novels at a book festival in Hanoi on September 30, 2014
Hoang Dinh Nam—AFP/Getty Images A publishing-house employee stands at a booth selling discount foreign novels at a book festival in Hanoi on Sept. 30, 2014

Well, that's Fifty Shades of Grey nixed then

Vietnam has temporarily banned romantic novels, particularly those originating from China, as the “clichéd, useless, obscene and offensive” works are “poisoning” the youth of the country, reports local media.

The majority of unsuitable titles are foreign romantic novels, says the Vietnamese Publishing and Printing Department, which announced that all novels must be “suitable with Vietnamese habits and customs,” according to Thanh Nien News.

“We do not shut down any genre of books, but the government needs to regulate an activity related to culture and people’s way of thinking so that it can benefit people,” said department director Chu Van Hoa.

Most of the proscribed books are Chinese titles, including genres like danmei (Chinese-language gay-romance novels) that have been deemed salacious and morally objectionable, fueling erroneous notions of love or even promoting rape, according to Chu.

Vietnam will eventually remove the ban, he explained, but will only selectively permit some publishers to release books with romantic content.

[Thanh Nien News]

TIME Media

Read the TIME Essay That Advocated for the Vietnam War

US Marines landing in Da Nang.  (Photo b
Larry Burrows—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty US Marines landing in Da Nang in 1965

Fifty years ago, the magazine made the case for it being 'the right war at the right time'

It’s easy to forget now, 40 years after the Fall of Saigon and freshly removed from the prospect of Iraq and Afghanistan lapsing into “another Vietnam,” that there was a time when many believed that escalation in Vietnam was the right thing to do. Among the prominent voices who felt that way were the editors of TIME who, 50 years ago today, on May 14, 1965, published an influential essay backing the President’s decision to step up the ground campaign in Asia. It was, the headline proclaimed, “The Right War at the Right Time”:

Obviously, after overcoming his early hesitation, Lyndon Johnson will not allow the U.S. to be pushed out of Viet Nam. For if that were to happen, Americans would only have to make another stand against Asian Communism later, under worse conditions and in less tenable locations. As Demosthenes said about expansionist Macedonia in the 4th century B.C.: “You will be wise to defend yourselves now, but if you let the opportunity pass, you will not be able to act even if you want to.” Despite all its excruciating difficulties, the Vietnamese struggle is absolutely inescapable for the U.S. in the mid-60s—and in that sense, it is the right war in the right place at the right time.

Anticipating counterarguments, the essay swatted away objections. An American offensive wouldn’t be interfering with a civil war because Communism was a worldwide issue. South Vietnam’s continued fighting was indication that they wanted help. Once Communism was entrenched, it was nearly impossible to get rid of. A Communist Vietnam would seek to dominate the region. There was no evidence that U.S. involvement would draw in China or Russia. Events in Asia did matter to American interests. And, finally, there was no value in negotiating with Communists. All in all, the essay concluded, the critics of the war had no ground on which to stand.

The magazine would later change its perspective. In recent conversations about the war, former TIME Saigon bureau chief Peter Ross Range said that he sensed a shift after the Tet Offensive in 1968. “We were all news reporters, but I think there was a shared attitude, a widely shared attitude especially among younger correspondents like me, that the war was not a good thing,” he said. “It was never discussed openly at the magazine but if you read the magazine over time, over the last year before I went, you would get very much the same feeling.”

Years later, after the end of the Cold War, another TIME essay revisited the idea, positing that though the Cold War may have been the right war, Vietnam was the wrong battle—and, the piece concluded, the consequences of that wrong decision would continue to be felt for many years to come.

Read the full 1965 essay, here in the TIME Vault: The Right War at the Right Time

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