Vietnam protesters fall silent

 By Quynh Dao*
April 29, 2005


MANY myths and half-truths about the Vietnam War whipped up by the communist propaganda machine have been allowed to persist unchecked in discourse about Iraq. Today, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, perhaps some lessons can be learned from this painful chapter in history.

A point of view held by the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s and still taken as fact by some people today is that the Vietnam War was a civil war, not one fomented or directed by the communist north, which, in turn, was being instructed by China.

With that belief, the anti-Vietnam War movement denounced US involvement in Vietnam as an act of interference. The Vietnamese Communist Party's official biography on leader Ho Chi Minh and the Chinese Communist Party confirms that the communists in the north received instruction from China and were supported by the rest of the communist bloc with aid to foment the war and to spread Marxist-Leninist ideology.

The Vietnam War should thus be seen, rightly, as a fight to preserve freedom and democracy by the people of South Vietnam against communist invasion.

The anti-war movement supported the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (the Vietcong) portrayed by communist sympathisers in the West as independent from Hanoi. Party documents now reveal it was a product of the north.

As such, members of the anti-Vietnam War movement let themselves be deceived by the communists. Some influential people in the West, wittingly or not, abetted the communists in their deception.

Novelist Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American in 1955 in which he denounced the US and South Vietnam as engaged in acts of terrorism against the Vietnamese people. He could not provide any verifiable detail about one such alleged incident which he asserted was true.

At the time Greene wrote, thousands of people in the north were slaughtered in the so-called land-reform campaign initiated by Ho Chi Minh under the directives of Chinese advisers. Greene was happy to ignore that campaign.

Noam Chomsky, the leading anti-war intellectual, vowed "to speak the truth and to expose lies" as a reason for his pro-Vietnamese communist stand. As he made this passionate avowal, North Vietnamese poet Nguyen Chi Thien was imprisoned for doing just that, writing the truth about the communists. Nguyen was imprisoned for 27 years.

The Western media turned what was a military success on the part of the non-communist forces in the south to a political victory for the communists. The Tet Offensive of 1968 was an unmitigated disaster for Hanoi. Yet it was pictures of US carnage that were publicised to a war-weary audience.

The media also relayed ad nauseam the picture of a South Vietnamese soldier shooting a Vietcong, in civilian clothing. The message was loud and clear -- this is the kind of atrocity that the South Vietnamese army did to their own people, with the backing of the US. The Western media did not report the massacre of 4000 unarmed civil servants and civilians in the city of Hue, committed by the communists.

Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the South Vietnamese officer in the picture, passed away in 1998. Neil Davis, the Australian war correspondent killed on assignment in Thailand, set out the background to the killing when interviewed for David Bradbury's 1980 documentary Frontline. The Vietcong shot by Loan had, not long before this picture was taken, led a team of communist terrorists who killed the family of a South Vietnamese officer, including his 80-year-old mother, his wife and his children. How often is his background explained?

Following their victory in 1975, the communists, hailed as liberators by their sympathisers, put more than 1million people in concentration camps, appropriated property, nationalised all means of production, evicted people from their homes and stripped people of their savings. Before the end of the war, South Vietnam was at par with other developing countries in the region. Now, after 30 years of "liberation", Vietnam ranks with the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world.

After 30 years of peace, intellectuals, artists, Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, tribal people, even communist war heroes, are subject to arrest, torture, harassment and imprisonment for peacefully demanding freedom and democracy.

What is occurring in Vietnam sparks protests from human rights organisations around the world. Amid all of these voices of protest, the deadening silence from the anti-war camp is telling. Those who supported the communists still refuse to see the stark evidence.

It was the pressure from the anti-war elite that forced the US administration to pull troops out of Vietnam. The hasty US retreat made South Vietnam prey to a ruthless enemy still fat with Soviet largesse and left behind it a trail of indescribable human suffering culminating in the boat people tragedy.

Are we going to let this happen to Iraq? Troop withdrawal should be a process that happens gradually to allow the precious new democracy in Iraq time to build up its national security and strengthen its governing institutions in the face of fundamentalist savagery.

Building a democracy is a long process. While 80 million Vietnamese people are now doomed in slavery, the chances for the Iraqi people to live in a society that respects freedom and is based on the rule of law is within reach.

* Quynh Dao is a member of the Australian-Vietnam Human Rights Committee and a former refugee.




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