Vietnamese American: The Best Outcome of Vietnam War

by Nguyen Y Duc, M.D.

The Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation

The 5th Triennial Vietnam Symposium at the Viet Nam Center

Texas Tech University - March 17-20, 2005

There was a long discussion by the principal parties who were involved in the Vietnam War about the shape of the table used for The Paris International Conference in 1972. The conference was formed with the efforts of ending the long and costly war for all sides. The proposals ran from 2 sides, to 4 sides, and ended up with an oval shape. The reason for the issue coming up was all sides wanted their recognition as a principal party and their rights is addressed in the negotiation. The discussion was who was really fighting with whom? Were Americans fighting against The North Vietnamese? Or was The South Republic of Vietnam fighting against North Vietnam with the help of the Americans.  Additionally, how did The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam fit into the picture?  Was it a puppet of North Vietnam?  Or it is an independent force?

At the time, the efforts to satisfy a table requirement seems ridiculous and trivia, but they represent the difficulty in reconciling all sides involved in the conflict. The Paris treaty offered an exit for American military adventure, sealed the fate of her ally -South Vietnamese, and warranted a hollow victory for her adversary -North Vietnam. Looking back with a calm and more mature observation, the treaty marked the end of an area of painful losses for all sides involved in the nightmarish war. Regardless of the war negative impacts, this paper aims to focus on the positive outcome of the war. An outcome confirms our hope and belief in freedom and humanity. That positive outcome is the existence and growth of the Diasporas Vietnamese integration into the world nations, particularly the Vietnamese Americans.

There is no winner in Vietnam War

No matter what side you are on, in our opinion, there was no winner in the Vietnam War:  America lost over 50,000 lives, billions of dollars, her reputation as a trustful ally, and the unity of her citizens for decades. The so-called National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, supported by North Vietnam, who claimed to have won, lost millions lives. This Liberation Front was forced to disband completely one year after the war was over. Some of their leaders can still be seen in the current Vietnamese Communist Governments, mostly in unimportant positions, others have completely disappeared from public sight. North Vietnam, who also claimed to have won, also lost countless lives. The hollow triumph brought the power and privilege to a small number within the Communist party.  These members have gotten rich and powerful, but the vast majority of the over 80 million Vietnamese People are living in poverty and hopeless future. Per capita income in Viet Nam is $220 and disparities in income are large and growing. In addition, the collapse of the International Communist System in Russia and Eastern Europe, the failure of a communist economics in Viet Nam has bought the Communist Vietnam to its knees. According to a report of the United Nations, from 1983 to 1985, there was an un-reported famine in Vietnam that killed thousands of people, especially people in the countryside. This was due to the fact that the Vietnamese government instituted a series of domestic policies that brought the country to the brink of starvation. The most significant of these policies was the collectivization of agriculture in the South. This policy proved to be a terrific failure and crop yields declined dramatically.

 In recent years, the Communist Vietnamese Government has been adopting a program known as “Doi moi”. This movement originated in Russia, and is an attempt to improve the Vietnamese Economy and to strengthen their relationship with the free world. As a result, the standard of living for the Vietnamese people has marginally improved. However, the Communist Regime’s fear of loosing power has over ridden the need of a fundamental change. This same change could help Vietnam take off and move forward as a modern and prosperous country. Today, Vietnam is one of the last four Communist countries left, and it is also one of the poorest countries in the world.

 Out of the conflict, the South Republic of Vietnam also lost over 200,000 service men and women along with their powers of government, freedom, economy, education, finance, media, culture, and even religion. These important elements in their lives were either thrown out or made illegal. Thousands of South Vietnamese Military Personnel, Government Officers and other opponents of the Communist Government were imprisoned for decades. Many of them died while in prison due to malnutrition, torture, and general lack of health care.

The best outcome of the Vietnam War

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, in our opinion, the only group of people who had a positive outcome was the Vietnamese Americans) and others Vietnamese communities in the free world) After the fall of Saigon in April 1975, the United Stated extended its generous hand, accepting thousands of Vietnamese refugees as citizens of this great nation.

a-   The history:

Before 1975, only a few thousand Vietnamese people lived in America. The majority of whom were spouses of American civilians, military personnel that served in South Vietnam, and students or members of the Vietnamese diplomatic corps.  Since April 30th, 1975, the number of Vietnamese refugees in America has increased rapidly, up 150% in the 80s and 90s. According to the most recent count from the State Department, Vietnamese residents in America account for 1,5millions persons, behind the Chinese (2,400,000), Filipinos (1,800,000), and Indians (1,600,000), and ahead of the Koreans (1,000,000). This figure has made the Vietnamese American the fourth largest minority group in the US. Over half of the group population is concentrated in the states of California, Texas, Louisiana and Maryland.


b-   “Freedom or die” Courage

Vietnamese American initially fled their native homeland after the North Vietnamese communist invasion of the South Viet Nam in 1975.  Their means of exodus include ocean escapes on tiny boats, or walking through deadly battlefields of Cambodia and Laos between 1978, to 1995.  Others came to the US through programs authorized by US Government as a result of thousands of Vietnamese perished on the high sea or in the jungles of Cambodia, Laos, or Thailand. There were many waves of Vietnamese who determined to seek for liberty and freedom from political oppression.


Right before the collapse of South Vietnam, a certain number of people with connections with the American Government were given permission to leave. This included members of the South Vietnamese military who had connections with either the American Embassy or the General Headquarters of the American Army in Saigon. This group of immigrants is estimated at 150,000 left the country by plane.


After that, another wave, accounted for another 150,000, escaped by boat and were subsequently rescued by the allied forces beyond the territorial waters of Vietnam during the period between 1975, and 1978.


From 1978, to 1982, a repressive movement was raging in Vietnam against Vietnamese people of Chinese descent, and thus resulted in another wave of refugees. This wave included people of Vietnamese and Chinese decent. They left by sea, and in ships of all sizes. They were categorized as “boat people,” and they risked their lives for freedom. Their slogan was:” Freedom or die.”  They escaped in the hopes of reaching any free neighboring coastal region such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand or Singapore. In fighting for their survival, many went to their deaths. Most did not live long enough to see any coastline at all. Entire families were wiped out by angry hurricanes, as bait to the roving sharks, or were raped and killed by pirates. According to the United States High Commissioner for Refugees, there was an estimated 700,000 Vietnamese escapees perished at sea during those years.


Once on solid land, survivors were gathered into refugee camps where they lived in destitute and extreme anxiety while waiting for approval to enter third countries. This group accounts for about 500,000 people.


c-   The Generous and the Compassion Fatigue

The unprecedented and dismal exodus raised international concerns. Many third countries in Asia, who helped to hold the Vietnamese refugees while they were waiting to settle in final country, addressed their fatigue of dealing with a large number of refugees from Vietnam. The US Government, United Nations, and other countries had numerous multi-lateral negotiations resulting in humanitarian programs for orderly departure, such as the Orderly Departure, the Home Coming Act, the Program for Unaccompanied Minors and the Humanitarian Program for Former Political Detainees were formed. From then on, Vietnamese refugees were given permission to settle in America for family reunification of offspring of American citizens or offspring of political refugees.


This latter group accounted for over 300,000 and is also called Humanitarian Operation (HO). In 1988, President Ronald Reagan personally signed a decree allowing entry into America to all Vietnamese ex-prisoners who had endured at least three years of re-education. They included Vietnamese military and civilian members at all levels, sent to concentration camps by the Communist Regime after the fall of South Vietnam. Depended on their former ranks and contributions, their prison terms ranged from a few months to 15 years. They were isolated in these camps, which were scattered all over the country. Severe restrictive measures and even torture was applied to these prisoners. After a day of hard manual labor for their own keep, they had to attend evening classes to be indoctrinated with Marxist and Leninist theories in order to remove any “imperialistic residue” from their minds. By best estimates, at least 65,000 persons were executed for political reasons between 1975 and 1983 according to many studies.


d-   The Contributions

Vietnamese American contribution to the American landscape is not just one of population.

Like many previous immigrants, Vietnamese Americans have overcome their painful experiences, utilized their rich culture and work ethic to achieve the American dream. For the first ten years, countless stories attracted the attention of this nation to the hardship of Vietnamese immigrants who worked very hard to overcome their language and cultural barriers.  Though the struggle of Vietnamese Americans to integrate into American Society continues, the story of the Vietnamese American experience are now replete with success. To name a few examples:


-         Nguyet Anh Duong was the inventor of the bunker buster bomb that help American troop won the battlefield in Afghanistan.

-         Nguyen Dat plays linebacker for the NFL Dallas Cowboys.

-     Nguyen Hung Viet contributed his research to power NASA Columbia space shuttle.

-         Dinh Viet was appointed as the Deputy of US Justice Department in President Bush’s first term.

-         Mina Nguyen was appointed as Director of Public Relation of Labor Department.

-         Truong Hong Son is one the most respectful scholars at NASA.


One can go on and on about the achievements of Vietnamese Americans. To Vietnamese Americans, working hard and being successful was one way to express their gratitude to the generosity of the American people who have embraced them as true members of the American family. Vietnamese Americans have strived to enrich every sector of American society. From the economy, to education, to culture to the arts and sports, Vietnamese Americans have set their footprints and made a positive impact on the American Landscape. Vietnamese Americans are also making positive contributions to the War in Iraq. Many Vietnamese Americans in the United States armed forces are defending freedom on the front lines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the globe. They have enjoyed the American glory, prosperity and also share the global burdens and responsibilities that the US has under taken.

The success of Vietnamese Americans also benefits Vietnam. Vietnamese Americans have added an estimate of 5 - 8 billion dollars yearly to the Vietnamese economy.

While living comfortable lives in US, Vietnamese American still have compassion for there loved ones in Vietnam. Gifts to their loved ones accounted for over 3 billions US dollars via conventional monetary transfer sources such as banks, and financial institutions. Vietnamese American investing in Vietnam is still quite small- about 200 million/year- compared with its ability of 22 billions/year. The reason for this gap is due to the humanitarian conditions in Vietnam. Most fundamental human rights such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of organization, etc… are still denied daily in Vietnam. Moreover, the unfair competition between state owned and private owned companies are so great that the chance for successful foreign investment is next to impossible. Most of all, the inconsistent and insincere policies of the Vietnamese Government toward the Vietnamese communities overseas is the biggest obstacle for enthusiastic investment by Vietnamese Americans to invest in Vietnam.

In the past, the Vietnamese Communist Government has labeled Vietnamese Americans as “traitors” or “criminals”. Now with their economic success, Vietnamese Americans have become “patriots” or “a far away brother and sister”. Whatever their label, the annual income of the 2 million Vietnamese Americans equated to the national income of the entire country of Vietnam, which has a population of 80 million people. Citing this sad fact is not to show off the Vietnamese American records, but to contrast a difference between a free and oppressed society and their influences on the lives and abilities of their citizens. The younger generations of Vietnamese Americans are highly educated and experienced in many critical fields and industries. This knowledge and skill filters back to Vietnam and not only helps Vietnam to re-integrate into the world economy, but will also force Vietnam towards a more free and prosperous country.

Treasure our History

This year, while we are celebrating the 30th year of freedom for over 2 millions Vietnamese Americans, we also look back to our 30 years of history to appreciate the efforts, sacrifice, and achievements of the first generation of Vietnamese Americans. We are proud to say that the Vietnamese American History is a story of courage, determination, and achievement. We want to save this treasured story for the younger generation of Vietnamese Americans and for generations to come. 

The Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation has in our possession over 200,000 pages of documents. Our members and other individuals in Vietnamese American Community donated these documents. There are tens of thousands of pages of documents, letters, pictures related to the exodus from Vietnamese.  There are thousand of pages that capture the experiences of the boat people who escaped under the watch of the Vietnamese Communist Government, and faced the dangers of ocean and pirates. There are thousands of other pages describing life in communist prisons, thousand of pages recording the efforts of lobbying with American Legislators, Administrators, and other US government agencies, as well as the Vietnamese Government to in hopes of achieving freedom.  In some cases these efforts are still on going.

Unlike other immigrant groups that have their roots planted deep back pass to the sacrifices for freedom in the Civil War and War for Independence, our bloodshed was in our journey to get here.  However, we do have to struggle for our existence. In the US, there was endless lobbying work with the Legislator, the Administrations, and the Department of Justice to convince them that there are the good reasons to embrace Vietnamese Refugees. These efforts also required a smart strategy and much patience from the Vietnamese American Community in the last three decades.

One still can remember when Ms. Khuc Minh Tho, the chairwoman of The Family Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association (FVPPA) and other Vietnamese American organizations asked the Vietnamese Communist Government to free all political prisoners and let them settle in US, the Vietnamese Communist Government loudly denied this request and announced: “there were no political prisoners in Vietnam”. Through the contacts of family members of these prisoners, FVPPA enlisted a number of prisons through out Vietnam documenting political prisoners that were held in these camps.

The International Red Cross visited these camps later and confirmed that there are tens of thousands of political prisoners in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communist Government since then has sit down to officially negotiation the issue of political prisoners in Vietnam. This discussion resulted in the Humanitarian Program introduced by Resolution 205 to President Reagan by Senator Edward Kennedy (Democrat), and Senator Robert Dole (Republican) on January 5, 1987. There were more than 30 Congressmen and Congresswomen of both parties, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Robert Fun Seth that worked as the principal negotiators to introduce Resolution 212 on September 1987. The agreement was signed on July 30, 1989, by both the US and Vietnamese Communist Government. Solution 212 became the fundamental legal document to free Vietnamese political prisoners and settle them and their families to the US.

There are many other stories of Vietnamese Americans who struggled and overcome their hurdles to have a productive and successful life. These stories need to be shared to empower both younger generations of Vietnamese American and Americans alike. These treasures must be preserved and passed on.


In the essence of these efforts, The Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation is honored to announce that the Vietnam Center of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, is helping us to build a Vietnamese American Archive. It is our hope that, through this archive and the center’s support, our unique story and history will be preserved. This archive is not just for Vietnamese Americans, but it is a chronicle that captures the spirit of freedom common to all Americans, and therefore is meant for all Americans.

The Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation wishes to keep in touch with you so that we can share the progress of this project. Thank you and God bless!


Reprint with permission of Nguyen Y Duc, MD, and Vietnamese Heritage Foundation