“Duty To Remember”

by Lt. Col. Nguyen Gia Tien, MD


“Duty to remember” is translated from the French expression “Devoir de memoire”.  It normally means the duty, the advice or the obligation, for the sake of human conscience, not to forget Nazism’s horrendous genocide which killed 6 million Jews in the Second World War.  This crime was so enormous it went beyond what was considered human behavior to become completely inhuman.  Humanity should never be allowed to forget this tragedy, this crime committed by man against man.  The younger generation in Europe has been constantly reminded of this genocide by German Fascism.  This tragedy, called Shoah or Holocaust, has been part of the curriculum at European schools so that students wouldn’t forget. 

Europeans convincingly say that they did so not because they simply “hate Hitler” or just to “remember the past”, but because they worry about the present and the future.  They believe that if the younger generations are given complete information to realize how an insane and a murderous ideology has resulted in millions of innocent people being destroyed, there will be more chance of this tragedy not being repeated. 

Recently on Jan 27, 2005 Europe celebrated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz (Poland) concentration camp where the Nazis had annihilated over 1 million Jews by gassing and cremation.  Many schools have sent students to visit the old concentration camp and see the crematoriums which are still preserved as a museum displaying the crimes of Nazism.  Heart breaking pictures are shown of hundreds of nude women detainees, some holding their children, lining up to enter a tunnel leading to the crematorium.  They didn’t know they were going to be cremated because the SS guards told them they were going to get a shower!

The Campaign to remind people of the Holocaust is not so much about remembering the past, but to have an effect on the future.  It reminds young generations of Europeans of the “Duty to remember” this great tragedy, because it could happen again.  In some European countries we have seen the emergence of a few Neo Nazis among certain extremists.  However, that should lead to nowhere because young people are now aware of the “duty to remember”. 

In Vietnam quite a few tragedies took place during the past decades.  However, the concept of “duty to remember” those tragedies hasn’t been encouraged.  It hasn’t been part of the Vietnamese “tradition”.  People have been told to forget! “Forget the past, look forward to the future” seems to be today’s slogan. 

Since the days when Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communists introduced Marxism into Vietnam, tragedies have been common occurrences in this country for half a century.  And unfortunately, they were instigated by Vietnamese against Vietnamese, people of the same ancestry!

In the recent “Black book on Communism” by historian Stephane Courtois, statistics were shown that crimes committed by communist regimes far exceeded those of Nazism.  This conspiracy to eliminate whole classes of people was no different from genocide.  The victims killed by Communism could number up to a hundred million.  Ho chi Minh’s legacy in this regard ranked as high as other butchers’ like Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung or Stalin…

As a matter of fact, within two decades, two massive exodus of refugees took place in Vietnam.  One million people had to leave North Vietnam to go to South Vietnam (1954).  Then, three more million had to escape overseas to be scattered all over the world since 1975, with hundreds of thousands of them lost at sea while attempting to do so.  This kind of tragedy had never happened to any country in the world.  It never happened in Vietnamese history before, even during a thousand years of Chinese domination or a hundred years under the French.  Only the Vietnamese Communists could have achieved that in a couple of decades!

Then there were other tragedies such as the “Agrarian reform” (1953-1956) carried out through the Chinese Communists’ instigation in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed, thousands more were buried alive during the Tet offensive (1968).  Hundreds of thousands were imprisoned and tortured in concentration camps (1975). 

All of the above tragedies are well known to be caused by the Hanoi communist regime.  In the future, when this regime is bound to collapse, many more crimes will certainly be uncovered. 

And all that killing and misfortune only led to a present day Vietnam as one of the poorest nations in the world, under a corrupt and brutal regime. 

The most accurate observation of the Communists’crimes came from none other than Tran Do, a veteran communist activist who had to admit that the Vietnamese Communists’ crimes rivaled the ones committed by Chinese Emperor Tan and by Hitler put together.  Tran Do’s assertion, although disputed by some people, testifies to the fact that the Communists did bring about extensive genocide throughout Vietnam. 

After North Vietnam fell to the Communists, all the tragedies they had experienced seemed to be forgotten by the Vietnamese people.  No lessons seemed to have been learned.  During all the recent war years in South Vietnam, some intellectual and religious activists ,under the “anti-war” or “third party” umbrella, did not want to learn from history and neglected their “duty to remember”.  Unintentionally or not, they helped the Communists rapidly take over the South. 

Nowadays, after decades of living in foreign countries, the Vietnamese refugees’ memory seems to be getting worse.  A number of “intellectual refugees” don’t seem to understand why three million Vietnamese ended up living outside their own country.  They are helping a group of communist sympathizers at the University of Massachusetts “re-write a new identity” for the Vietnamese expatriates. 

Recently, other calls for “forget the past, no more hatred” have been sounded.  They seem to see nothing in the past fifty years of Vietnam’s history.  Nothing remarkable, no tragedies!

And the Vietnamese younger generation would have learned nothing and be ready again to be drawn into more tragedies in the future.  Europeans are wiser.  They see what is coming and try to teach their younger generation the “duty to remember”. 

Vietnam’s history will continue, but there is no guarantee that such tragedies wouldn’t happen again.  There is no guarantee that such criminals as the communist groups under Ho chi Minh wouldn’t reappear under a different form. 

One can’t help wondering if the “duty to remember” for the Vietnamese people is being remembered and carried out sufficiently to prevent more tragedies in the future?