Michael Do, Keynote Speaks at Saturday Lunch, 2001 Annual Conference on Vietnam War, Lubbock, Texas
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am so glad and pleased to have this opportunity to speak out the voice of the Vietnamese Veterans before the selected audience of scholars and graduate students of the Texas Tech University and our American comrades-in-arm.
Thank Dr. Reckner for sending a heartfelt message to encourage me and set up the time for me to speak in this seminar.
I am a US citizen. But today, I will speak in the name of a soldier of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces.
The war in Vietnam that ended in 1975, seen by American as Vietnam War and by North Vietnam as Anti-American War, is to us, Anti-Communism War. For years, it has been discussed in the United States from different viewpoints other than ours.
Though a strong and well-equipped army in the War, the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) was not visible to the eyes of American public. Or worse, it was portrayed as a corrupted and incompetent army that became a burden to American policy.
We were soldiers who responded to the call of duty to defend our motherland from the Communist aggression. We were bound to the decision makers. Any mistake made by the politicians would cause us the disaster as this happened in Vietnam during the last several years of the war. We were ordered to retreat from Quang Tri, Banmethuot in 1974 while we were able to defend those provinces. We dropped our weapons on April 30, 1975 in confusion and anger, not knowing why big Minh could do such stupid thing as to surrender to the Communists. Minh is the last South Vietnam president who was in office only 3 days.
I wish I had a whole day long to tell you all what I learnt and experienced from the war. But within the limited time allowed for each speaker, I’d like to sketch some relevant factors to shed a new light and help you to understand more about our role in the war.
Video: Dr. James Reckner introduced the speaker
Who Were Our Enemies?
Let’s refresh our memory and recall the time after the end of Indochina War and the Geneva Agreement was signed in 1954.
According to the agreement,
(1) A cease-fire was in effect from July 20, 1954;
(2) Vietnam was temporarily divided into two parts with two opposing political systems;
(3) Communist troops was to withdraw to the North and Nationalist to the South, and
(4) A general election under supervision of the International Committee for Control and Supervision (ICCS) was to be held for the people to choose their favorite regime. In the North, the Communists began to establish a Stalinist dictatorship commandeered by the Soviet Union and Red China. In the South, the Nationalists planted the seed of Western style democracy with the assistance of the United States and other countries of the Free World. The temporary division became permanent because North Vietnam continuously violated the agreement and the South rejected the election.
If Ho Chi Minh minded his own business building socialism in North Vietnam, there would not have been the war that lasted 21 years and killed millions of innocent people.
Some of you may ask why South Vietnam rejected a general election that was to follow the cease-fire. Here is the answer: Ho Chi Minh and his followers at that time had strict control over the North, while there was no ground in the South for the concept of Democracy to grow yet. Besides, thousands of Communist cadres left behind in rural regions became the clear danger to our political stability.
The Communist Party 3rd National Congress passed the resolution to create the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam (NLF) and started the war against the young Republic of Vietnam. NLF initially consisted of Communist left behind cadres and militiamen and later was reinforced by North Vietnamese Army (NVA). It was directly controlled by members of the Communist Party Politburo. Until their victory in 1975, Hanoi had always denied its involvement in South Vietnam although after 1965, hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese regular army troops and millions of tons of supplies were flooded to the South via Ho Chi Minh trail.
This war was falsely understood as the struggle of South Vietnamese people against the intervention of the Americans who at that time only provided a limited assistance to help South Vietnam to develop its economy.
Thanks to the victory over the French in 1954, Ho Chi Minh was looked as a liberator. He insisted that he fought for independence and created a false impression that the Communist aggression in South Vietnam was a rebellion against the established government. Part of the world and, sadly to say, the American public were likely to be convinced and gave him support during the 21 year war.
The truth is that he skillfully disguised himself as a nationalist to mobilize resources during the war against French domination. But right after he gained control from the French in 1954, he revealed himself as a loyal servant of the Soviet Union and China. And then, in Vietnam War, he wanted to kick out the Americans just to welcome the Russians. Communists made a false statement that they fought for independence. We really don’t welcome that kind of independence. It was merely a deceitful banner. Moreover, independence is nonsense if the people are stripped of all freedom and human rights.
Why We Fought the War?
It is half the truth if saying US troops were fighting for Vietnam. They were indeed fighting to prevent the expansion of Communism into the Free World led by the U.S.
The expansion of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Europe satellites, plus the rise of Red China, posed a clear and direct danger to the rest of the world. As the leader of the Free World, the United States must have perceived the threat to its interests and security when one third of world population and territory fell into Communism. That’s why the Domino theory was approved resulting in the organization of NATO, SEATO, ANZUS etc. Vietnam unfortunately became the battlefield of an ideological war.
Vietnamese are peace-loving people. We just wanted to rebuild our motherland to catch up with our neighboring countries. But we had no other choice than to hold weapons to fight against Communist aggression and terrorism. We had to defend what we had achieved. We had to protect our beloved ones. We fought for what we believed in. That is freedom. That is the worthy life any human deserves.
Only after the communist brutal campaign of terror and armed attack became serious, the first US troops were sent to Vietnam in March 1965. Alongside with our army, the US soldiers took the major role in some tactical zones. They gave their youth, part of their bodies, and even their lives for our people and to the ideology pursued by the United States as the leader of the Free World.
Were We Wrong?
During the war, American mass media intentionally distorted the situation. Correspondents sent to Vietnam portrayed the GI’s as murderers and rapists. Consequently, they were treated as criminals back home. It was worse for our South Vietnamese soldiers. We were looked down upon as cowards. They put on the cover page the picture of rare wrongdoing of some individuals but covered up the numerous crimes committed by the Communists. Anything can happen in war. The army is not a perfect unit of all good men. Lieutenant Calley killed innocent people, and he was to pay. Looks like the media were so noisy around the My Lai massacre, and covered up the mass killing of more than 3000 civilians in Hue during Tet 1968. This killing is no doubt an act ordered by Hanoi to terrorize the people as the Communists occupied the old capital those days. Everyday throughout 21 years of war, Communists carried out terrorist acts aiming at innocent people such as shelling schools, markets, hospitals and residential areas. They kidnapped, murdered those who did not support them. They barbarously tortured and killed South Vietnamese soldiers and civil servants whom they captured.
American GI’s served a 2-year tour in Vietnam. They came and left. The War took the lives of 58000 American men and women plus about 2000 more missing. South Vietnamese soldiers were drafted at the age of 18, and only left the service as corpses wrapped in ponchos, or after being seriously wounded. We faced the death, day and night, for 21 years. An unofficial statistic reveals that more than a quarter of million South Vietnam soldiers were KIA and hundreds of thousands handicapped.
A Vietnamese Ranger battalion (the 37th) was defending Khe Sanh with US Marines (Jan – April, 1968). Vietnamese Marines took the major part in retaking Hue after Tet 68. Thousands of marines and paratroopers fell in the battle to retake Quang Tri old citadel (1972). Vietnamese infantrymen steadily defended An Loc during 3 months of siege and heavy attack by 3 North Vietnam divisions (1972). Nevertheless, the heroism of our soldiers had not been mentioned anywhere – in any paper or any movie – until recent disclosure by our American counterparts in some magazines.
Did We Lose the War?
The US didn’t win the war. I agree, because she didn’t want to win.
The US gave up the war when it became the source of unrest in domestic politics. Washington underestimated the strength of Hanoi and mistakenly predicted the intervention of China and Russia. Washington didn’t have a consistent policy due to the changes of its administration. While our enemy had a strong determination to win, we were reluctant in every step. Washington had pressure from all directions to end the war no matter what outcome. And this led to the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.
The Communists won the war; the US didn’t lose the war. Only our Vietnamese people lost. Millions lost their lives during the war, in concentration camps, on the sea or in the jungle attempting to flee the brutal Communism. Oversea Vietnamese lost their homeland. The Vietnamese who stay lost their freedom, their future, and most important: their hope and belief.
Our Causes Are Righteous
Had the facts of the Vietnam War been truthfully reported to the American public thirty years ago; had President Kennedy not been assassinated; had President Johnson not ordered to stop bombing Hanoi in late 1972 when the communists were on the verge of surrender; had the Watergate scandal not occurred, I would not be here today to talk about whether we were right or wrong.
The fact that we lost the war doesn’t prove we’re wrong. It’s unquestionable that the South Vietnamese government had violated some civil rights and was committed to corruption. But despite the war, South Vietnam had established a foundation of democracy and maintained the culture that is based on traditional values. Those things do not exist in Communism. The one party political system kills opposing forces and hence tightens the grips to control every movement of the people. Communism uprooted our society.
Today in Vietnam, except for a thin layer of powerful Communist party members who are extremely wealthy, the majority of our people are living in conditions far below the poverty level. There are not enough schools for children. There are not enough jobs for adults. Even having a job, one cannot feed himself through the days. The only thing Communists could do is to exploit for their own privileges.
I strongly believe that we – both American and Vietnamese soldiers – were fighting for the righteous causes. If American GI’s returned from Korea, Serbia, or Saudi Arabia, they were welcomed as heroes. Why were not those from Vietnam? Did they fight for different or opposing values to the ones that our people pursue?
Vietnam veterans had suffered too long the ill treatment until early 80’s when the American public changed its perspective and when the memorial to all Vietnams veterans was built in Washington DC in 1982 to honor 58 thousand KIA. The up coming Westminster Vietnam Memorial is another step to honor the South Vietnamese soldiers.
Vietnamese people are always thankful to the sacrifice of American soldiers. Our hearts are with the families whose sons and daughters gave their lives to our freedom.
Vietnamese veterans deserve recognition because we served our country, defended our values, and protected our people. Yes, we did fulfill our obligation to our motherland in whatever capacity.
The truth must be respected. Our children must be proud of their parents who have been fighting for freedom and human rights.
Please, accept my deepest respect and appreciation to our American counterparts.
Thank you so much. May God bless you all.