50 Years Ago: Hanoi
Began the Vietnam War
Photo Courtesy of HNDVN
South Vietnamese paratroopers getting ready to jump
Têt 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
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
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.
Once derided, they deserve
respect and gratitude. May the Year of the Tiger be a happy and successful one
for all the “Little Saigons” in the United States.