Thursday, May 27, 2010

50 Years Ago: Hanoi Began the Vietnam War


The year 2010 presents a milestone for Vietnamese-Americans. Numbering more than 1.6 million, they are set to become the second-largest community of Asian ancestry in the United States this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There is also a grim aspect to 2010. It is the 50th anniversary of an event that ultimately brought them to these shores. In 1960, Communist North Vietnam formed the “National Liberation Front of South Vietnam,” the Vietcong. This set the stage for a war whose legacy is still causing agony to tens of thousands of men tormented in Communist camps. A new medical study of a sample group of 200 torture survivors found that 64 percent of these individuals “showed neurologic impairment.”

The findings by Harvard University psychiatrist Richard F. Mollica and his fellow researchers illustrate that, much as Americans would like to forget about the Vietnam War, it is still very much with us. Many U.S. Vietnam Veterans find it hard to forget that when they returned from combat they were defamed as “baby killers.” Feeling abandoned by their compatriots, thousands committed suicide.

The U.S. public gave hardly any thought to the fate of South Vietnamese veterans living in this country. Now it turns out that they too are hurting from invisible wounds inflicted on them after having been abandoned to tyrants. This comes as no surprise. Throughout history combatants have always risked two kinds of wounds – physical wounds caused by weapons and psychological wounds due to the recall of their pain, particularly the pain of rejection at home.

There will be many neurologically injured veterans among the crowds greeting the “Year of the Tiger” with firecrackers and cheers early on Sunday morning. Their wounds might not show openly. But in years of research Dr. Mollica has discovered that they are there nonetheless.

When the Vietnam War was over, many critics of U.S. policies believed the fib disseminated by ideologues and segments of the media that Washington and its “corrupt puppets” in Saigon had caused this conflict. Yet for a long time there has been ample evidence pointing to the real identity of its author: Ho Chi Minh. Under the name of Nguyen Tat Thanh he had been a key player in the Communist International (Comintern) with the specific charge to apply Leninism to Vietnam. He pursued this mission relentlessly, even after the 1954 Geneva ceasefire accords that temporarily divided Vietnam’s Communist North and pro-Western South.

Months before Hanoi’s Third Workers’ Party Congress fashioned the Vietcong in September 1960, it became clear that the Communist leaders had shifted from “agitation and propaganda,” the first phase in guerilla warfare in the guerilla warfare strategy designed by North Vietnam’s defense minister Vo Nguyen Giap to “armed struggle,” the second phase. The third and final “phase three was the type of conventional war the world eventually watched every night on its television screens.

In January 1960, the Saigon government registered a daily average of seven terrorist “incidents against its outposts. The term, “Incidents,” was banal term military spokesmen used during in “five o’clock follies,” the daily press briefing in Saigon. In reality, these “incidents” were gruesome outrages whose numbers multiplied quickly into hundreds and eventually thousands every day.

In early 1965, this correspondent witnessed one such “incident” in a village that had been “visited” by a Vietcong team during the previous night. The village mayor, his wife and their eleven children were hanging from trees. All other villagers had been forced to watch this bloodbath, and to listen to a Vietcong cadre telling them: “This will happen to anybody cooperating with the Saigon puppets.” The mayor had been loyal to the South Vietnamese government.

Memories like these do not fade away, nor do memories of the torture South Vietnamese soldiers and public officials were subjected to after their country, abandoned by its Western allies, had fallen to the Communists. On the 50th anniversary of the Vietcong’s creation, it is time to pay homage to America’s former allies, to those who drowned fleeing from Communism, to those who made it to the United States where they have not stopped astounding their neighbors with their industry and their loyalty to this country.

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