The long good-bye

The parallel to Iraq is far from exact, but still might be instructive:

 It took many years to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam.


A Marine veteran of the Gulf War, Quang X. Pham is an entrepreneur and author of “A Sense of Duty: My Father, My American Journey.”  This was adapted from a talk he gave last week at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace.

Anyone interested in bringing an end to the war in Iraq might want to revisit the waning days of U.S. involvement in South Vietnam. The lesson is that, absent annihilation by nuclear weapons or unconditional surrender, ending wars takes years, especially complicated and controversial wars.

President Richard Nixon inherited the Vietnam War from the Democrats, and he brought it to a conclusion for America. It was called a “peace with honor,” but not for its ally, South Vietnam. Somebody had to lose.

Starting a war is easy; somebody fires the first shot or invades another country.

My father had enlisted in 1954 when Vietnam was divided into two countries, and I landed in Saudi Arabia in 1990. After 21 years, my father’s war ended in a rapid, public and humiliating defeat; the communists marched him into the re-education camps for more than a decade.

My war was the 100-hour sandbox skirmish called Desert Storm, after which President George H.W. Bush declared to Congress, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome.”

The war in Iraq is at a major crossroads, somewhat similar to Vietnam in 1969. The Iraqi military is under the microscope, like the South Vietnamese, but on a much shorter leash and timeline. It will be on its own soon – the sooner, the better. South Vietnam’s Achilles heel was its dependence on the U.S. weaponry (later cut off by Congress) and way of waging war. Corruption and inept leadership contributed to the defeat.


After running on a platform to end the protracted conflict, Nixon won the Oval Office at the height of the war in 1968. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger began direct secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese behind the Saigon government’s back.

In 1965 the United States had taken over conduct of the war, with troop strength peaking at 560,000. Before that, the South Vietnamese had fought the brewing war themselves, with the help of American advisers who were first dispatched by President John F. Kennedy. South Vietnam also had a young but capable air force – my father’s service – along with a navy, Airborne troops, Rangers and Marines.

The South Vietnamese military hurriedly expanded its capabilities with the goal of replicating the military philosophy, tactics and structure of their great ally. Unfortunately, this meant inheriting the associated cost, complexity and continued dependence on the United States.

South Vietnam’s military was tested in the biggest battles of the war, larger than anything U.S. ground troops had faced in previous years: Lam Son 719 (the incursion into Laos), the Easter Offensive (the largest battle of the war and one where the South Vietnamese withstood a 120,000-man assault, albeit with the help of U.S. advisers and air power), and the final offensive by the North in 1975.

Diplomacy and re-election

In a taped conversation declassified by the U.S. National Archives in 2003, Nixon and Kissinger mulled over the situation in Vietnam in preparation for the presidential election of 1972. It worried Nixon that “losing” South Vietnam (thus making him the first U.S. president to lose a war) would cost him his re-election. “If we settle it, say, this October [1972], by January ’74, no one will give a damn,” Kissinger coldly said to Nixon.

Nixon needed to get the American Prisoners of War (POWs) home from Hanoi. Some had remained in captivity for years, the longest reaching nine.

There were other re-election concerns for the Nixon administration. Nuclear-arms limitation negotiations were under way with the Soviets. The situation in the Middle East involving Israel and Egypt, along with subsequent oil crisis, was threatening.

Kissinger also met secretly with the Beijing government, which led to Nixon’s landmark visit to China in February 1972, just a month before the Easter Offensive began. Detente with the Soviets and a direct channel to China meant that Vietnam remained a burr under the saddle of U.S. foreign policy.

In January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed; Kissinger took home the Nobel Peace Prize while his co-recipient and North Vietnamese counterpart rightfully declined. Three key provisions (or concessions) in the accords would contribute to the fall of Saigon. First, the North Vietnamese were allowed to keep 150,000 soldiers in the south. Second, the United States would retaliate if North Vietnam violated the accords. Finally, and most important, the United States would continue to aid South Vietnam unconditionally. The latter two provisions would never happen.

Domestic disruptions

The anti-war movement was adamant about ending the war – Saigon had to fall. The high U.S. casualty rate, the Kent State National Guard shootings, Jane Fonda’s visit to Hanoi and the My Lai massacre drained the American psyche. The invasion of Cambodia added fuel to the fire. Failing to declare war, Congress intervened, and the War Powers Resolution took effect. Watergate loomed in the background, then exploded.

In August 1974, President Nixon resigned from office. The news sent a shock wave throughout South Vietnam, for he was seen as its last savior. To make matters worse, in the same year Congress reduced the amount of aid to South Vietnam, signaling its impending abandonment. The new anti-war class entered Congress, and they ensured that the United States would not re-engage in Southeast Asia, despite what had been signed in Paris.

In retrospect

America’s withdrawal from Vietnam took place over four years. Two years later Saigon fell to a modern army, armed to the teeth with the latest Soviet-bloc weaponry, not some ragtag insurgency bent on killing innocent civilians.

Ten years after Nixon resigned from office and long after the Vietnam War had ended, I stood on the tarmac wearing my dress uniform at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. A Boeing aircraft with “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” emblazoned on its side had brought the 37th president home to Orange County one last time. From a hundred yards away, a few lucky Marines and I witnessed the Nixon family and his casket deplane. A chilling 21-gun salute followed.

Nixon was a complicated man for a complicated time. In the end, despite the distractions, he did what was best for the United States, not for South Vietnam. Today, with the anti-Iraq-war movement getting some steam, with Katrina and Rita relief efforts and other hot-button issues occupying the Bush administration, it will still take years before our military comes home.

And there’s no guarantee for the people of Iraq after that.

Re-print with permission from Quang X. Pham

©Vietnamese & American Veterans of the Vietnam War, 2005 All Rights Reserved

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
May 29, 2007

This morning at 0801, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, staked his claim as the “Human Rights President.”

After many diplomatic overtures to the United Nations, China and Sudan, the President of the United States said that it was acting more harshly and unilaterally against Sudan for ongoing Human Rights abuses in Darfur.

China is Sudan’s number one foreign investor and protector.

The President called the wrongdoing in Darfur “genocide.”

This is a giant slap in the face to President Hu Jintao of China, who has attempted to downplay China’s involvement and complicity in the genocide in Darfur.

China’s actions in the Sudan now look inexcusable.

This afternoon, President Bush went a step further by welcoming to the White House four of communist Vietnam’s most hated critics. The President of the United States welcomed into the White House Cong Thanh Do, founding member, Peoples Democratic Party of Vietnam; Diem Do, Chair, Vietnam Reform Party; and Nguyen Le Minh, Chair, Vietnam Human Rights Network; Quan Nguyen, Chair, International Committee For Freedom To Support The Non-Violent Movement For Human Rights In Vietnam.

This is the same President Bush who in 2005 welcomed into the Oval Office Vietnam’s Phan Van Khai, the leader of one of the most repressive and intolerant regimes in the communist world.

Khai is gone now and replaced by younger and some might think more tolerant men.On July 4, 2006, Honglien and I published an article in The Washington Times which stated: “The top political leadership of Vietnam just changed. A new team of economic reformers emerged; but their ability to move Vietnam toward a more open and democratic future remains uncertain. The question, as we celebrate Independence Day in America, is this: can democratic governments like the U.S. influence Vietnam toward more freedom and democracy?

Last week in Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung was chosen by the communist ruling body as Vietnam’s youngest post-war prime minister, arguably the most significant leadership position in the government. Nguyen Minh Triet, the Communist Party head in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, formerly Saigon), was chosen as Vietnam’s new president, a more ceremonial position. Nguyen Phu Trong was named as new chairman of the national assembly.

The leaders named nine new cabinet members, who were confirmed by the national assembly, including two deputy premiers and the foreign, defense and finance ministers.”

Our hopefulness didn’t bear fruit.

Vietnam, especially in the last several months, has instituted a deadly round of repression.

So President Bush has accepted the Vietnamese minority into the White House. He has welcomed home the Freedom Fighters. He has extended his hand to those that represent Human Rights in Vietnam.

This is cause for celebration and joy.

House Passes Smith’s Resolution Calling for Human Rights Reform in Vietnam
Smith resolution calls for an immediate release of Father Ly, other political prisoners

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to a recent, well-orchestrated campaign of political suppression and intimidation by the Government of Vietnam, the U.S. House of Representatives today overwhelmingly passed a resolution authored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) that calls for an immediate release of all political prisoners and substantial human rights reforms in Vietnam .

“H. Res. 243 is intended to send a critical and timely message to the Vietnamese Government that these serious violations of basic human rights are unacceptable and bring profound dishonor on the government of Vietnam . These human rights violations cannot be overlooked or continue without equally serious consequences,” Smith said yesterday on floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Smith’s resolution (H.Res. 243) calls on the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including Father Nguyen VanLy and those who have been arrested in a recent wave of government oppression.  The resolution also calls for the Government of Vietnam to comply with internationally recognized standards for basic freedoms and human rights.

H.Res. 243 passed the House by a vote of 404-0, with 3 members voting present.

In November 2006, pursuant to assurances that the human rights situation in Vietnam had improved dramatically, the U.S. State Department removed Vietnam from the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” so designated pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act.  Late last year, the United States Congress agreed to Vietnam becoming an official member of the World Trade Organization.  Recently, the group of Asian countries at the United Nations has nominated Vietnam as the sole regional candidate for a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2008-2009.

Despite this flurry of international recognition and tangible economic benefit, despite the hopes of many—including and especially the Vietnamese people—Vietnam has reverted back to its repressive practices and has arrested and imposed lengthy prison sentences on numerous individuals whose only crime has been to seek democratic reform and respect for human rights in their country,” Smith said during House consideration of his resolution.

Earlier this year, the parish house of Father Ly—a former prisoner of conscience who spent over 13 years in prison—was raided. Father Ly was moved to a remote location and placed under house arrest.  Father Ly is an advisor to “Block 8406”—a democracy movement which started last April—and a new political party, the Vietnam Progression Party.

On March 30th, Father Ly was sentenced to 8 years in prison for distributing “anti-government” materials.

“I have been to Vietnam and have met with Father Ly and a number of other democracy advocates who are now behind bars or under constant surveillance and harassment in Vietnam .  The intimidation and persecution of these peaceful activists must end.  It is not enough for the Government of Vietnam to talk reform—they must also show progress through their deeds,” Smith said.

Father Ly was among a number of dissidents swept up in a recent crackdown in Vietnam .  Earlier this month, Vietnamese police arrested another member of “Block 8406,” principal spokesperson for the Vietnam Progression Party and the founder of the Vietnamese Labor Movement, Le Thi Cong Nhan.  On the same day—March 6, 2007—Vietnamese police arrested one of Vietnam ’s few practicing human rights lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai.

A similar Smith-authored resolution condemning human rights abuses in Vietnam and calling on the Government of Vietnam to release political prisoners passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. 

For Immediate Release: May 2, 2007
Contact:  Patrick Creamer (202) 225-3765

Freedom of Speech, The Internet and The Rights We All Hold Dear

Attempts to Kill Freedom of Speech Ultimately Doomed to Failure

By John E. Carey
A shorter version of this essay was published by
Op-Ed News.Com:

China and Vietnam are among the nations that restrict the internet and email to “approved” topics, words and discussion. People in both countries always assume, and usually correctly, that “Big Brother” is watching.

India, in an effort to stop the communications of subversives following terror bombings in July 2006, also took steps to implement internet and email restrictions.

Is India going the way of China and Vietnam? What is becoming of the Great Indian Democracy?

When India announced even temporary restrictions in internet blogs, the Indian Government took a stand against Freedom of Speech. So the story is about one of the rights we Americans hold dear, and sometimes take for granted.

Internet sites and computers pose a two edged sword, Communist nations have found. If a government fosters internet communications widely people will communicate. Before long, if you aren’t careful, people will think and communicate at the same time.

In Vietnam, starting in the 2006-2007 school year, all high schools must provide accredited and extensive IT education to all students. Each high school must also be equipped with a computer center with at least 25 computers connected to the Internet. These reforms are dictated by the Communist Party’s Ministry of Education and Training.

But the Vietnamese leaders, like the Communists in China, want to control the internet, monitor usage by individuals , and limit access to many western sites. Prohibited search words include “democracy,” “freedom,” and “declaration of independence.” Many sites Americans take for granted are prohibited in Vietnam and China: like my own Washington Times (most articles much of the time).

Email is monitored in both China and Vietnam. Users caught writing “subversive” material or communicating too much with western friends find the police at the door.

It seems a pretty good rule of thumb that where information and access to information is limited and controlled by the government: the government is almost always up to something bad. We’ll call this the “Peace and Freedom Freedom of Speech Rule of Thumb.”

Vietnam and China are perfect examples of our Freedom of Speech Rule of Thumb: no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no opposition party or independent government sector, no writs of habeas corpus, no search warrants authorized by an independent judiciary, no “Miranda rights,” and no probable cause. Add a tireless attempt to limit and control what the people can know and you have yourself a witches brew rife with human rights violations.

It is a very sad commentary that India feels that it is appropriate and useful to limit “blogs,” no matter what their content.

It is an even sadder commentary that U.S. companies including Google and Microsoft, eager to get into the huge Asian market including more than 123 Million Chinese users, acquiesced to the Chinese restrictions on internet and email use that the Chinese demanded.

I know these corporations have an obligation to their shareholders. I know the Chinese market is too big to totally cede to others. I know the arguments…but….

If we Americans are so eager for cash that we easily cast aside our most basic freedoms, the freedoms our forefathers fought to maintain during many wars, maybe we need to rethink our principles.

Just google “Google” and “Microsoft” and check their quarterly profits: they are staggering. And both these companies and their leaders, especially Bill Gates, are justifiably proud of all the good they do in the world. But in the case of freedom of speech in Asia, and now apparently India, both corporations and their leaders have failed to take a stand that protects the rights of their fellow men.

We are pleased to join Amnesty International in speaking out for Freedom of Speech.

Stifling freedom of speech will almost always fail. Men of principle cannot be silenced. They only keep quiet while the evil ones are watching. Or they seem to.

And in the year 2006, those stifled find a way to blog, text message and all the rest. And that’s a good thing.

The Battle of the Flags

by Sidney Tran

            There is nothing more sacred for a country than her national symbol.  Hence, nothing represents the national symbol more than a nation’s flag.  A flag is a powerful and simplistic symbol that most modern countries have nowadays no matter how big or how small that country is.  It is displayed at all governmental buildings, memorials, sporting events, and countless other venues.  There are some well known flags out there that one can easily identify and associate the emblem with its people.  The flag of the UK, known as the Union Jack, is easily recognizable as it symbolizes all the regions of the British Isles.  Additionally, who cannot recognize the national flag of Japan, the sun disc on a white background?  Of course there is “Old Glory”, the national emblem of the greatest democracy in the world, the United States. 

            It is with this context that we understand the ongoing war between the Communists and nationalists over what flag is the legitimate representation of the Vietnamese people as the emblem of the country.  It is such a powerful, emotive issue that has transcended time, generations, and continents.  The flag war is just an extension of the ongoing dysfunction that exists in the Vietnamese community inside and outside Vietnam.  It is rather sad that this still exists.  I often wonder how much longer this division can last.  Will it go beyond my own generation to the next?  In Vietnam, a person of a certain age can either identify himself or herself as having fought under the banner of the yellow flag or the red flag.  The colors represent the two political entities that were created after an international conference about Indochina in 1954.  The flag issue is a gaping wound that has not and will not heal from the war.  It is an ongoing conflict that has existed between members of the Vietnamese family.

            At one end of this conflict is the red flag of North Vietnam that is now officially the flag of a unified Vietnam.  At the other end is the yellow flag that is supported by the overseas Vietnamese community.  In order to understand this conflict, a person has to understand the historical significance of the two flags.  The red flag had its origin with one political group the communists of Vietnam while the yellow banner has a deeper root in Vietnam’s historical record and memory.  The first mention of the yellow flag was when Trung Trac and Trung Nhi rallied the people together and waved the yellow flag of the people in order to fight the Chinese army in AD 40.  Thus, if one were to go by history alone, then the yellow banner predates the communist flag by about a mere 2,000 years!   It would seem the red flag has a pretty shallow claim as an emblem of the Vietnamese people especially because it never really mentions the Vietnamese people.  Rather, the red color signifies the blood of the people and revolution.  The yellow star represents the leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party.  So what happened to the 2,000 years in between the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the revolt of Trung sisters?  Simply, Vietnam was not founded by the Communists and was not led by the Communists for all those years.  Additionally, Vietnam as a nation will continue to go on without communism.   How can any Vietnamese with knowledge about Vietnam’s early history accept the red flag as an emblem of her people?  It is time then to acknowledge the inheritance of our ancestors.  It is for the land of Vietnam and the hard working people that occupy it that most Vietnamese identify themselves by and not by one political party or ideology.  The emblem that sustains the Viet nation for over 2,000 years was the banner that gave the inspiration to the people in their darkest, deepest hour of calamity.  No one can deny this historical basis. 

            The yellow banner with the three red stripes should not be identified only with the defunct Republic of Vietnam.  It represents all of Vietnam and all of her regions and her people.  It was an emblem that had its genesis in the earliest memory of the Viet nation.  Communism on the other hand was as a political force and an idea that have come and gone.  It has been rejected by virtually every country, every people and every region of the world.  Essentially, communism was founded by false prophets and false ideas that came from a far away land.  It has no historical basis or connection to the Viet people that have inhabited the Red River Delta and beyond.  It is with sadness then that the red flag of communism continue to divide the Vietnamese people in Vietnam and abroad.  One also cannot wash away the stain that the red flag stood for.  It is a flag of totalitarianism.  It is a flag of aggression, oppression, and suffering.  Its basis was the enslavement of other Vietnamese.  It represents the deepest, darkest, most primitive impulses of humanity, a world in which morality or human value were inconsequential to the machinery of madness.  As a result, it will never be truly accepted by the Vietnamese people.  The red flag only represents a small, narrow group of people who did not derive any sort of legitimacy for its rule.  Thus, the sickness and malady that still afflict modern Vietnam will only go away when a nation faces the truth about her past and present in order to define her future.  The ideals in which Communist Vietnam was founded on have all proven to be false.  There is no utopia but only a crude dictatorship that feeds on the subjugation of its subjects.  The most tragic thing about Communist Vietnam is the persistence and resiliency of people who support them in clinging to unrealistic ideas which have proven to be so harmful to the people.  Dictatorships always seem to have a life force of its own once it has been implemented.  The addiction of power cannot so easily be dismissed.   Finally, the rationale and justification for its continuing role are rooted in insecurity.  It is the insecurity of losing power and the subsequent loss of privilege and status.  But for a nation to continue to survive and to flourish leadership requires sacrifice and sometime that sacrifice means letting go the reins of power for the common good of the nation. 

            Ultimately, the legacy of the red flag is rooted too much on suffering.  When the suffering of its victims is never acknowledge no amount of coercion or denial will justify that political system.  Furthermore, nothing galvanizes the overseas Vietnamese community more than the display of the red flag of communism, especially if it is displayed in their neighborhood and community.   It is an eyesore upon their sense of morality.  It is an affront to their sensibilities.  It is an affront to anyone who believes in human decency and the value of human life and worth.  Most people, who are ignorant about it, do not really know what the fuss is all about?  But there is a reason behind the passion and emotion that are associated with the communist banner.  It is rooted in pain and loss.  The pain is for all the lives that were robbed from its owners.  The loss is for the destruction of a country that most believe represents the fundamental ideals of Vietnamese nationalism.  Hence, so long as communism represents a force in Vietnamese politics, the struggle for the identity and soul of Vietnam will continue indefinitely.  And nothing is more indicative of that struggle, than the national banner of a unified Vietnam.

            The sentimental attachment that some Vietnamese have for the yellow flag indicates the alienation they have toward the present government in Vietnam.  It is a feeling that is hard to overcome.  Since the yellow flag does not claim to represent a particular party or group, its basis is more broadly held across the spectrum of Vietnamese society inside and outside the country by various groups and classes.  The lineage of the yellow flag has been passed down through the noble monarchs of various dynasties.  That lineage was the inspiration for Bao Dai in creating the yellow banner with three red stripes in 1948.  The historical connection thus goes back hundreds of generations.  It goes back to a time when the Viet people first became conscious of their uniqueness as a people and were willing to fight for their beliefs.  If we reject the imperial yellow that has existed in the Vietnamese family eons ago, then we reject the generations that came before us.

            The “blood flag” of Ho Chi Minh and his followers belongs to the lost members of the same Vietnamese family.  These lost members have chosen to reject our moral and cultural values that have existed in the Vietnamese nation from time immemorial.  And in its place they have brought peril and calamity for the people of Vietnam.  They sought to find a society with no moral values at all.  Rather the only morality they believe is the kind that suits their own political ends.  Moreover, when an order is founded based on no precepts of decency it can mean only one thing, chaos.  It was this kind of chaos that ensued in Vietnam’s recent past when refugees fled from the red terror and consequently scattered across the globe.  This phenomenon has already been witnessed in other parts of the world.  Thus our tragedy is not unique or isolated.  Rather, it only confirms the weakness of mankind’s character.  Therefore, to accept the “blood flag” means accepting denial, injustice, and the rejection of history.  In order to build a truly just society, the inhabitants of that society must know the difference between what is and what is not acceptable behavior and that goes for the powerful and the not so powerful.  The equality of justice should be sacrosanct above all.  This idea is the most fundamental belief in a highly evolved and civilized society.  Today’s Vietnam has not reached this summit in her civilization.  Thus, it is up to the future generations of that land to rectify the mistakes of the past.

            Maybe the only way for members of the Vietnamese family to extricate themselves from this morass of division is to look back to the past.  Look at the commonality that existed before the pollution of Marxism invaded the consciousness of the Vietnamese nation.  It was the polluted ideology that came from without that influenced some Vietnamese to reject the moral values of their ancestors to commit great crimes against their own people.  Not all foreign ideas are bad just because they are foreign.  But they are bad when they violate the universal norms of society that transcend all boundaries and cultures.  Japan is a great example of a country that is able to preserve her uniqueness as a nation while transforming the country into a modern state.  Japan still is and remains a constitutional monarchy.  She has been able to preserve her distinctive culture while embracing the necessary changes of modernity in order to flourish as an independent and sovereign country that is respected around the world.  Destroying things are easily accomplished but rebuilding things after the chaos of destruction are not so easily replicated.  In the end, one should not discount the importance of symbolism.  And the symbol of an independent Viet nation has always been the yellow banner that has preserved the sovereignty of her people.