Vietnamese Americans Continue to Contribute to Society

Vietnamese couple follows their dream of education to America and NASA’s Marshall Center.

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Sixteen-year-old Dien Le’s future — if he had one at all — looked bleak.

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Growing up on the Pacific Coast near the end of the Apollo-era missions to the Moon, Bruce Thanh Vu’s mind was on rockets to space.

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Engineer’s Long Journey To NASA Began Escaping From Vietnam

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Young Vietnamese Americans in Commercial Aviation 


Robert C. Trando

As the world marks the anniversary of the end of World War II after the drop of two atomic bombs on the Japanese soil sixty years ago it is noteworthy to jot down some reminiscences of my memory during that crucial period which marked the start of big changes in the history of Vietnam, my motherland.

I was then a student at the University of Hanoi doing my study of Differential and Integral Calculus as well as General Physics. We boarded in the brand new Cite Universitaire campus about ten miles from the Hanoi University, biking day in day out to the prestigious house of learning off Bobillot Avenue.

During the period February-March of 1945, the Japanese gradually turned up their screws on the French administration of Admiral Decoux and finally demanded that all French forces be under a mixed Nippo-French command citing the stipulations of the accord franco-nippon of 8 December 1941 as signed by the government of Marshall Petain. Difficult negotiations have started but finally a certain compromise reached and the atmosphere became somewhat relaxed again.

On the evening of 9 March 1945 the Japanese counterparts invited their peer French to a friendship dinner and all of a sudden at 9 o’clock the hosts raised their glasses for a toast and said “Gentlemen, you are now our prisoners”. The sounds of small arms fires were heard everywhere, Saigon, Hue, Hanoi, the French posts besieged and taken. In the morning after, a white flag raised atop the tower of the Artillery Fort of Hanoi, the omnipresent symbol of French power of occupation.

We were very tense, removed the curtain rods to use as weapons and assembled in the mess hall. Passed midnight my classmate Bui Diem came with Miss Anita Kim, the daughter of Tran Trong Kim, and Yamaguchi, a Japanese agriculture student. They informed us of the successful operation and gave the advice to surround and incarcerate all French students.  

We were all overexcited and, armed with sticks, stones, table knives, forks and whatever things we could get as weapons we went out in force to arrest the French boys and secure them in the villa of Dr. Rivoalen, the Director of the Cite Universitaire, pending their herding away by the Japanese authority

The next morning Colonel Kudo met with us in the hall of building B and suggested to select a new board of directors. I did not know why the other students elected me to replace Dr. Rivoalen, Le Van Thuan to replace Lafont as secretary general and Pham Phu Khai as purser in place of Nguyen Phu Doc (Dr. Le Van Thuan became resident medical doctor of Can Tho and Doctor Pham Phu Khai later on was the mayor of Saigon). I went on to occupy the desk of Rivoalen but did not have a single notion of budget and management. I rode the shiny chauffered black limo of Rivoalen displaying a fluttering flag of national gold color. With only 22 years of age and having absolutely no knowledge of administration, I had the feeling of a blind man led by a seeing eyes dog. I wondered what kind of star was in the prediction of my horoscope.

Then came the Two Trung Sisters Day designated as Vietnamese Women Day. On the Bach Mai street there was a long procession of women going through from downtown Hanoi led by the vocal Miss Pham Le Trinh, the daughter of the famous wealthy publicist Pham Le Bong, shouting patriotic slogans. They organized meetings and entertainments at the Hanoi Opera House and   invited me as guest of honor. The very young director was dressed in the only and one suit of white stripes light blue wool custom made at the Ciseaux d’Argent in Hue as a gift from mom after his graduation of Baccalaureat one.

 The limo with the fluttering national flag stopped at the entrance stairways of the Opera House. A strong female voice announced ceremoniously “the director’s arrival”. All the beauties of Hanoi got busy leading me to the VIP booth. Among them I still remember Miss Nhu of the To Chau store and Miss Pham Le Trinh, and so many other misses surrounding me, pinning insignias to my lapel and talking like birdies with musical and lovely voices. There were skits, choirs, dances, patriotic theatrical productions and oratorical speeches to the standing ovations of a frenetic audience.     

A few days later came the commemoration of King Hung our national founding father. The open space in front of the campus filled with thousands of people displaying banners and gold color flags, assembled orderly in front of a newly erected altar to King Hung with candles burning and incenses sticks exhaling rising clouds of aromatic smokes. A team of six elderly dressed in blue brocade tunics with the traditional ceremonial pointed headdresses presented offerings and reciting litanies of prayers to the rhythmic sounds of gongs in front of the big crowd with somber mood. Then everyone joined in, teary eyes, to chant the famous song of Luu Huu Phuoc “Hung Vuong” the lyrics of which can be translated into

                           “Four thousand years of national culture,

                           “Our country strong and healthy,

                           “Owing to the works and ethics of our ancestral past,

                           “Now descendants of the Dragon and the Fairy,

                           “We are all united in one spirit

                           “To take the solemn oath amidst

                           “The enlightening convolutions of incenses smoke.     

Then the student exhibit show, an annual event, was set up in the courtyard of the mayoral edifice. It always was a famous event attracting the whole Hanoi where the mothers or big brothers of “full moon” daughters or sisters took them to, leisurely going back and forth looking for the potential young men within the frame of mind “not university student no mate”. The booths were set up and manned by students wearing now the “a la mode” hat of vanguard youth.

The official paper of the student, Le Monome, in French language changed name to Tu Tri or Autonomy as a tool of dissemination of revolutionary ideals of the General Federation of the Vietnamese students. Once I went with Nguyen Ken (he later became General The Lam of the Viet Minh) and Le Van Giang (he had worked for some time as private secretary to Ho Chi Minh) to central Vietnam to distribute the papers. The publishing and editorial office was in the campus. I belonged to the highly motivated team with Nguyen Sy Quoc, Pham Van Hai. Le Khanh Can, Nguyen Xuan Sanh… The articles gradually changed scopes, indirectly criticizing the Nippon Army with humoristic drawings making the Japanese very upset. After about three months, Colonel Kudo returned, took the administration of the campus in his hands and expelled all of us out.

One Samaritan lent us his villa facing the Thien Cuong Lake and we moved in. The campus kitchen still provided us food in secret. We went on writing articles changing from the theme “autonomy” to “independence” showing a more virulent and combative wording. The name of the publication changed again to Gio Moi or New Wind and we were under extreme tension with the scrutiny and surveillance of the Japanese Kempetai. About mid August a friendly informer let us know that the Japanese was mounting a midnight operation against us. Then we disbanded in secret. Along with Le Khanh Can and Nguyen Xuan Sanh we biked to the village of Quynh Loi seeking asylum in the villa of Professor Hoang Xuan Han. Dr Han was not home but Mrs Han agreed to shelter us in the pig stall away from the house. We stayed in there for a few days during which we were provided simple meals carried out by a little girl crawling through thick elephant grasses.

In the mean time there was the big and disastrous famine killing millions of people. Several villages in the delta of North Vietnam wiped off the map. People of all ages carrying their belongings and even the altars for the worship of ancestors flocked out in search of food and survival. They all were bony, looked harrowed, eyes poking out of their sockets and they devoured whatever they could get. Even the trees lining the streets of Hanoi had their bark gnawed off and black skinny cadavers were scattered everywhere, on sidewalks, at gutters and in front of houses doors. Rumors spread that the Japanese forced the farmers to plant jute instead of rice for their war need and that the French blocked the supply of rice from the rich south as a political tool of coercion. We all hated both French and Japanese colonialists and the atmosphere was ripe for an uprising under the banner of the Viet Minh, short for Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Alliance of all parties for a free Viet Nam).

In Hue, on 11 March 1945 His Majesty Bao Dai issued a proclamation. “Along with the world situation in general and the condition in Asia in particular, the government of Vietnam solemly and publicly declare that starting from this date the treaty of protectorate signed with France is nullified and abolished. Therefore Vietnam regains all rights as a fully independent nation”. We were all overjoyed and we expected a political leadership which never materialized. The various nationalistic parties seemed inept. The VNQDD (Vietnam Kuomingtang) with the prestigious history of the 30’s when Nguyen Thai Hoc, Pho Duc Chinh and a few other patriots faced the French firing squad in Yen Bay shouting “long lived Viet Nam” still highly motivated us, filling us with pride and an ardent desire to be in the game. The University de facto closed, all French professors arrested. We felt lonesome, disoriented, bored and aimless. Then in April Emperor Bao Dai formed a government under Tran Trong Kim. Mr. Kim was a known and respected historian and elitist. He was assisted by his director of cabinet, the young Doctor Phan Huy Quat, a former president of the General Association of Students.  He selected Dr. Phan Anh to be the Secretary of Youth. Dr. Anh then set up in Hue the School of Military Vanguard Youth with the help of Professor Ta Quang Buu, the famous math teacher of Providence school and boys scout leader of Central Viet Nam. The minister of health, Dr Vu Ngoc Anh died when American planes strafed his motorcade while on the way to Hai Phong.

The very urgent need was to train enough military cadres to fill the vacuum left by the French. Many students from Hue and all neighboring provinces returned from Ha Noi and enrolled along with seniors of Khai Dinh Lycee. There was a total enrollment of 47 trainees who later during the French war 

become valuable military leaders whose ingenuity and inspiration were legendary facing a modern well-armed invading troop with practically nothing but crude weapons in their hands and their inventive brains? Several of them promoted generals; others were dead for the country during operations from North to South and in Laos. Names like Dang Van Viet fighting more than one hundred battles against the French in the mountains of North Viet Nam. The frightened French commanders nicknamed him the Grey Tiger of Highway 4. Le Thieu Huy who died by a French bullet trying to shelter Prince Souphanovong with his body while crossing the Mekong river, Le Dinh Luan, the son of Dr. Le Dinh Tham, killed in the first engagement in Phan Rang, Nguyen Ken as the famous General The Lam, Nguyen The Luong alias general Cao Pha, head of Military Intelligence. Some have changed side to become commanding officers in the Armed Forces of free Viet Nam like Navy Commander Vo Sum who was head of the explosives research and development,  Tu Bo Cam, VNAF Colonel, Dang Van Chau, engineer for the oxygen-acetylene company in Saigon. All those young men were pure patriots, heeding the “call of mountains and rivers”, ready to sacrifice their lives in a long and arduous fight against the French invaders to regain full independence to the country.

In the mean time in Hanoi the agitprops of the Viet Minh redoubled their campaign of propaganda disseminating rumors of the return of Nguyen Ai Quoc as the savior of the nation with the assistance of the American mission headed by Captain Patti of the OSS. Duong Duc Hien, president of the Student Association left town to rejoin the guerilla zone. The Dai Viet party  enrolled in its military training school in Yen Bay several other students. The mood was somber with very intense conflicting reflections on your own future and the demand of sacrifices for an independent motherland.  Premier Tran Trong Kim as our national anthem adopted the Vietnamese version of la Marche des Etudiants. The national flag of gold color displayed one red stripe sandwiched between two broken ones as the “Li” sign according to the ancient Chinese geomancy. At schools during morning flag hoisting ceremonials school kids chanted with fervor the new patriotic anthem. On 17 August appeared leaflets calling for all civil servants to stop working on the 19th for a massive show of unity to support the independence of the nation. The response was unprecedented and starting from the wee hour big crowds converged to the front of the mayoral building displaying banners “VIETNAM TO THE VIETNAMESE”, “INDEPENDENCE OR DEATH’. It was awe inspiring seeing those humble office workers, males and females, shouting patriotic slogans and singing the national anthem. Suddenly on the elevated platform a few agitprops waved the gold star red flag of the Viet Minh announcing the return of Nguyen Ai Quoc as the savior of the nation and the non-partisan patriotic demonstration changed into a Viet Minh led insurgency to seize power and declare independence under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. In the crowd Viet Minh agents or sympathizers distributed small gold star red flags and the frenzied innocent hands raised them up shouting with fervor patriotic slogans, tears swelling their eyes. The big assembly became a delirious mob invading public offices, taking over police stations and the Gendarmerie under the inactive eyes of the Japanese guards. Suddenly appeared a dozen horse mounted young men wearing long boots and kaki uniforms, with pistols on their belts, led by Le Van Lang and Dao Khanh Thanh under a thunderous uproar from the whole city enlivened at the sight of those very handsome demi-god heroes.

In Hue when news reached on the successful uprising to seize power in Hanoi, on 21 August two trainees of the Military Youth Vanguard School. Nguyen the Luong and Dang Van Viet got instructions to take down the yellow flag and hoist the huge Gold Star Flag up the monumental flagpole

at Ngo Mon gate. The two students displaying the school military youth vanguard hats, wearing knee length leather boots with a small pistol and six tiny bullets on their belt, loaded the huge heavy rolled flag on the frame of their bikes pushing them huffing and puffing to the location. The five-militia guards were ordered to slowly take the old flag down, tie the new flag and hoist it up while Viet and Luong stood at attention giving a simple military salute marking the end of the Nguyen dynasty. A few days after on the Ngo Mon gate Emperor Bao Dai in a moving ceremony presented the gold seal and dagger of the Nguyen dynasty to Tran Huy Lieu representative of the Hanoi central Government, while a huge assembly of the Hue population gathered to bid farewell to the last King of the Nguyen.  Seigneur Nguyen Hoang was the first to heed the advice of Nguyen Binh Khiem “the range of Hoanh Son is the land for many thousand generations of prosperity”. And Emperor Bao Dai was the last progeny to end the Nguyen dynasty lasting nearly three centuries with his historical declaration “I feel better to be the citizen of a free country than the King of a subjugated one”.

Back in Hanoi Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam in Ba Dinh Square. Ho Chi Minh as the new name for Nguyen Ai Quoc sounding rather Third International Communist and as such would lack the support of the grassroots. Then according to the accord of Postdam, the Chinese units of Chiang Kai Sheik will come in the North to accept the surrender of the Japanese while in the South the British Gracy delegation will do the same. The ragtag armies of General Lu Han and Tieu Van crossed the borders with near starvation men stricken with malaria and beri-beri. There were lootings, black marketing and all sorts of strange uncivilized behaviors to the dismay of the general populace. In their coattails came back the members of the VNQDD Nguyen Hai Than, Vu Hong Khanh. Although we respected their names as reputable revolutionary nationalists, they were somewhat late comers and being under the patronage of such a disgraceful Chinese Army did not fare well to their standing. The Viet Minh was fast trying to get the students under their umbrella. They sent to the Cite Universitaire their best eloquent speakers like Tran Van Giau, Phan My to win over the hearts of the undecided students. There were vehement discussions, at times virulent and violent on name change from General Association of Vietnamese Students to Association of Students for the Salvation of the Country, a terminology that prevailed on all Viet Minh organizations. An atmosphere of mistrust was present, completely different from the unanimity inherent to us from the beginning.

During that period there were several instances of assassination and bloody killings of which the most prominent case was the On Nhu Hau villa where it was discovered dozens of mutilated bodies scattered in that nice villa on the elegant Bonifaci street. Out on the streets of Hanoi women carrying bags and baskets busily ran back and forth buying and selling the Chinese bank notes while there were rumors of the presence of Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu off the Hai Phong harbor. In South Vietnam, the arrival of the British delegation brought with them the French. The news created a real shock and the Southern students got ready to go home fighting the French, repelling the colonialists. Several groups rode their bikes together among them famous names like Huynh Van Tieng, Dang Ngoc Tot, Mai Van Bo, Luu Huu Phuoc, founders of Tan Dan Chu or New Democracy party.

The Viet Minh administration was through a period of dangerous turmoil. On one side the presence of the Chinese troop brought about a climate of insecurity for the population and they offered a screen for activities of the more and more vocal opposing VNQDD.`On the other side the French in the South and the presence of d’Argenlieu off Hai Phong created heavy diplomatic and military pressures. Then they resorted to their trick of “national alliance”. Before the end of the year, they convened the national alliance and reconciliation conference in the Ba Da pagoda of Hoan Kiem Lake. I had the opportunity to be there as member of the students delegation. We were in about ten minutes before Ho Chi Minh arrived. When the VNQDD delegation came with Nguyen Hai Than, Vu Hong Khanh, Nguyen TuongTam, Ho Chi Minh hurriedly rushed out, stretching his arms widely to embrace Nguyen Hai Than with tearful eyes. Then the national union government was formed, Nguyen Hai Than becoming vice president, Nguyen Tuong Tam foreign minister and Vu Hong Khanh chairman of the armed forces commission. Mr. Tam headed the delegation to the Dalat talk with the French and then Pham Van Dong went with Ho Chi Minh to the conference of Fontainebleau during which they signed the accord of 6 March under the banner of French Union. The French officially returned, the Chinese had to go back to China and the VNQDD lost back up. The Viet Minh was free to liquidate the opposition, surrounding and disbanding the Dai Viet centers and their military school in Yen Bay. At the cite universitaire during a late moonless fall night, a bunch of Viet Minh hoodlums slipped into building A, grabbed tutor Phan Thanh Hoa still in pajamas, blind folded him and led him away to an unknown location. Phan Thanh Hoa, the current president of the Association of Student disappeared; the Viet Minh probably liquidated him. To save their heads the VNQDD government members had to run fast under the protection of their Chinese mentors.  

However, the marriage of reason did not last long. During the few short months of honeymoon, each party discretely built up its position of defense. The French recruited their new Hanoi Corps de Security (CSH) employing mostly the metisses (mixed blood French Vietnamese) as agents of intimidation and intelligence collection. The Vietnamese side increased the number of volunteer militia guards and there were frequent skirmishes although of minor nature. The situation deteriorated further and the city ordered the formation of street self-defense units. The Cite Universitaire also activated a company of self defense in which the students took turn as sentries at the various points of access, day and night armed with the old French mousquetons. Cadres moved in as instructors submitting all residents to daily military drills and tactical exercises. Tension increased day in day out and skirmishes became bloody clashes, the animosity against the French unabated, and instructions secretly gave home and storeowners orders to open holes in their common partition walls to make things ready for the city guerilla warfare. Rumors spread that the whole central government headed by Ho Chi Minh had moved out of town to a remote jungle site up North. The people of Hanoi hurriedly left town in troves with all rickety means taking along warm clothes and blankets to be ready for a long stay in the countryside. Suddenly on the night of 20 December, the French opened fire and attacked en masse, taking all key points while the Tu Ve defenders hastily withdrew. That night they killed Dr. Le Tai Chat, the outstanding intern of Bach Mai hospital while assisting the wounded in the streets wearing his long white medical robe. The student company also pulled out under pressure and finally disbanded. With a few close friends, we went south to the village of Cu Da on the bank of the river Nhue Giang. The chaos was complete with no visible leadership, just groups of people here and there talking, discussing, and doing things at the whim of the moments. I saw Dr. Hoang Dinh Cau trying to form the nucleus of a medical First aid team when the pudgy Dr. Pham Huu Chuong went by riding a tanned color horse. Then at a short distance away folk singer Pham Duy strummed his guitar while vocalizing the song Ben Cau Bien Gioi (Next to the border bridge) surrounded by all the young men like in a beach party.

So, war again after just a few months of euphoria. A war fought by young men inspired by a high sense of patriotism to defend the motherland against French colonialism regardless of the Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh whose aim was to steer the country into the fold of another more barbarian and atrocious hegemony, which is the communist camp. During the war, for   fully controlling the people they adopted squarely the teachings of Stalin and Mao, destroying all vestiges of cultural traditions, eradicating the bourgeoisie by the method of self and public deprecation, applying the proletarian agricultural reforms of Mao and the scorched earth tactics of Stalin. In addition, that war which brought about misery, family separation, forced migrations lasted eight year short of five month, from 20 December 1946 to the date July 19 1954 at the signing of the treaty between Ta Quang Buu and General Deltheil in Geneva, Switzerland, dividing the country into two parts separated by the 17th parallel.    

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

Stopping an ‘Epidemic’ — Vietnamese Priest Reaches Out to Sex Trafficking Victims

Pacific News Service, First-person commentary, By the Rev. Nguyen Van Hung,

as told to Andrew Lam, Aug 02, 2005

Editor’s Note: When Vietnamese victims of trafficking or forced labor escape from their captors and need assistance, they turn to the Rev. Peter Nguyen Van Hung. The reverend worked for a number of years helping migrant workers in Taiwan before working exclusively with Vietnamese by establishing the Vietnamese Migrant Workers Office, under the auspices of the Hsinchu Catholic Diocese of Taiwan. He told his story to PNS editor Andrew Lam, whose book “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora” is forthcoming this fall from Heyday Books.

LOS ANGELES–My name is Nguyen Van Hung, and I am a Roman Catholic priest. I was born in Vietnam and came to Australia many years ago. The last 17 years I’ve been doing charity work in Taiwan. The last few years, however, my focus has been to help victims of trafficking and forced laborers in Taiwan, most of them from Vietnam.

Vietnam signed a labor treaty with Taiwan in 1999, and that opened up a new route for desperate Vietnamese looking for work. But it also exacerbated the exploitation problem. Currently we are providing shelter for overseas female workers from Vietnam who have been victims of rape and sexual assaults by their employers, or who were tricked into prostitution and managed to escape from the brothels.

There are now approximately 200,000 Vietnamese living in Taiwan. More than 100,000 are brides, and around 65,000 are working as laborers. The rest are children of Vietnamese living in Taiwan. The needs of this population are so great. Many suffer under the hands of their employers and husbands. They have very few rights in Taiwan, and practically no representation whatsoever.

So much so that we formed the Vietnamese Migrant Workers Office to fight for their rights.

Vietnam does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and anyway, the government is not helpful. If anything they are helping the employers, and not the Vietnamese citizens.

I went to the U.S. recently to fund-raise on behalf of Vietnamese trafficked victims and I went Washington, D.C., to testify. The U.S. State Department released the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report.” Vietnam was classified as a “tier two” country. But in fact, Vietnam belongs to the tier three, the worst, because it does nothing for those people, and in some circumstances, is complicit with trafficking trade. The only reason, so representatives in D.C. told me, it got tier two status was that Vietnam promised to clean up its act. But you cannot give a country like Vietnam, with its dismal human rights record, the benefit of the doubt.

Why Vietnamese women? They are beautiful and many are not educated, and having no representation in Taiwan, they are most vulnerable. Many come from poor backgrounds and rural areas. They don’t know their own rights. They don’t speak the language.

The Taiwanese government has to do something about real-life situations facing foreign migrant workers, or else the runaway rate among Vietnamese workers will continue to rise. I work with government agencies, I work with the media. I lobby on their behalf because they have no other venues.

But some who ran away are very brave. Instead of being intimidated, they would testify against their attackers in court. I myself have been threatened by gangsters, and now I can no longer go out by myself late at night.

Here’s a case in point (refers to the web site of the Taiwan Alliance to Combat Trafficking, of which he is a part): “Dao Mai is 21 years old, the youngest girl in her family. Her mom’s business in Vietnam failed, and the family was suddenly plunged into debt. So Mai did what she felt a dutiful daughter should do: She went into the city and signed up with a marriage broker…she could not stand idly by and watch her family’s situation deteriorate.

“Mai was eventually ‘picked’ by a 66-year-old Taiwanese man who came to Vietnam, like thousands others before him, to find a bride. Of the thousands of dollars that exchanged hands between the man and the Vietnamese broker, Mai’s family only got US$133…Mai hoped to be able to work once in Taiwan and send money home to help her parents and siblings.

“Mai arrived in Taiwan in June 2004. Immediately after her arrival, she was locked up in the bedroom. Her husband then kept her naked, forbidding her from wearing any clothes during her entire incarceration. As he takes his regular dose of Viagra, he would force himself upon her, starving her until she gives in to his demands. Sometimes he would beat her when she resists his advances. On the 9th and 10th days of captivity, Mai’s husband beat her so constantly and so severely that she escaped.

“The policeman who found Mai took her to a domestic violence shelter, where she is currently residing. Hospital records showed that she had numerous bruises and that she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. However, the police claimed they do not have enough evidence to prosecute her husband… Her case is still on hold.”

There are many cases like this. I only see the problems growing unless all governments involved clean up their acts and seriously address this problem. It has now reached epidemic proportions.

Courtesy Andrew Lam, Pacific News Service (PNS)

: ‘Mandate of Heaven’ or ‘Mandate of Hell’?

Nguyen-Khoa Thai Anh

On the inauguration of the website: Vietnamese & American Veterans of the Viet-Nam War, I would like to add my battered voice to the tenor of the Viet-Nam debate. ‘Battered’ because, since becoming a Vietnamerican, I should have fared much better as a civilian than a military man, who is often-maligned in the United States. Why?

Some Americans often regarded the Viet-Nam war as an unjust war (or worse, an immoral war) so it is natural that a Vietnamese military man (ARVN: Army of the Republic of South Viet-Nam) should be viewed as an extension of the wrong-headed American foreign policy in Viet-Nam and should therefore receive bad rap. Yet as a civilian who took no part in the conflagration, I, too, have had bruising battles just to present our side of the story with the anti-war crowd, the embarrassed since-we-screwed-up-your-country crowd and others.

Why haven’t I fared better? Simply, because I am a product of the South, the dubious ally of the United States, therefore do not deserve to be heard. The American, particularly the American Lefts, would rather prefer to have us, the Southern people, swept under the rug of American ignoble amnesia.

In Errol Morris’Academy award-winning documentary, “The fog of war”, even the once hawkish Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara considers the Vietnamese communists as the legitimate voice and representative of the Vietnamese people. There was a snippet of the Hanoi octogenarian ex-foreign minister Nguyen Co Thach arguing his case with his fist beating the air, his face taut, his teeth gnarled, his neck veins showing. His theatrical antics is so believable that McNamara described the encounter between him and Nguyen Co Thach as “we almost came to blows”.

This was in 1995, when the United States, in the afterglow of normalization with Viet-Nam, arranged at the highest level diplomatic channel a meeting between the two former enemies. McNamara went to Ha Noi and met with Viet-Nam’s Nguyen Co Thach to test his hypothesis: could the two countries have achieved their objectives without these terrible losses of lives? 

Nguyen Co Thach: “You are totally wrong, we were fighting for independence, you were fighting to enslave us.”

Robert McNamara: “Do you mean to say, it was not a tragedy for you, when you lost 3,400,000 of Vietnamese killed (sic) which on our population basis, the equivalent of 27,000,000 Americans? What did you accomplish? You did get anymore than what we were willing to give you at the beginning of the war. You could have had the whole damn thing: independence, unification.”

Nguyen Co Thach: “Mr. McNamara, you didn’t read the history book. If you had, you’d know we weren’t pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. McNamara, didn’t you know that? Don’t you understand we were fighting the Chinese for a thousand years? We were fighting for independence, and we would have fought to the last man, and were determine to do so. No amount of money, no amount of U.S. pressure would have stopped us.”

If two of the most responsible players in American diplomatic and military circles, Mr. Kissinger and Mr. McNamara did believe in this reasoning then there are some serious flaws in the American understanding of the Viet-Nam conflict. The fallacies, often proffered by the Vietnamese communist party as defense for their one-party reign based on their ipso facto victories, are both blatant and deceitful. By usurping the exorbitant sacrifice of the Vietnamese people in the war, Ha Noi not only lay claim to the victory against France but also the just cause and thus the eventual victory against the imperialist United States and their Southern lackeys as well.

By default, the winner writes history, but Ha Noi leaders forget that even though they’ve won, they can no more claim themselves as legitimate rulers of Viet-Nam than they can lay claim to being the sole inheritors of Viet-Nam history. Judged either by the old monarchical ‘son of heaven’ concept, the regime lacks the ‘mandate of heaven’, or by today’s democracy standard, the unelected oligarchy lacks a popular consent from the governed. The de-facto right to rule – whether achieved by force or trickeries – does not irrevocably bestow upon the communist leadership the heirs to Viet-Nam proud history of resisting Chinese of foreign aggression.

The struggle for Viet-Nam independence ended in 1954 and thus did not extend to the American intervention between 1965-1975. Therefore, if there was any war for independence after 1954, it was the war against communism as a foreign and bastardly doctrine, which was forced on the Vietnamese, plunging the people into a fratricidal war for power and the private gain of Ho chi Minh, his Party and followers. Thanks to Ho chi Minh, the struggle for independence against French colonialism was being hijacked and transformed into a civil war, substituting the people’s search for Viet-Nam’s voice and nationhood with unimaginable devastation and suffering a couple of decades later with the escalating U.S. involvement.

In that respect, the U.S. should have come to Viet-Nam as an ally of the South Vietnamese government and not the other way around. Perhaps that is the fundamental flaw in the whole Viet-Nam affair.

So today, who could hear anything from South Viet-Nam? Since, in one fell swoop, the United States had signed South Viet-Nam off as a viable entity. As if, because of the American induced debacle, South Viet-Nam did not exist any more. Yet the aspiration of the Vietnamese — North or South – remains the same today as it was 30 some years ago. The sooner the United States realizes this and stop equating the Ha Noi rulers with the country itself, the sooner the people of Viet-Nam would have a better chance at self determination and democracy rather than the continued fortification of a dictatorship in their future.

 VCP:  Vietnamese Communist Party.

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

The Vietnam War Remembered – A Conversation With My Father

Pacific News Service, Andrew Lam.

Recent revelations by former Sen. Bob Kerrey about his role in the death of women and children in Vietnam underscore how that war refuses to go away for America. The Vietnam War is an everyday remembrance for Thi Quang Lam — one of the four top South Vietnamese generals — who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His son, PNS Associate Editor Andrew Lam, finally mustered the courage to ask his father questions he has had since arriving here 26 years ago.

As Communist tanks rolled into the city of Saigon early on the evening of April 30, 1975, my father, Thi Quang Lam — a lieutenant general in the South Vietnamese Army — boarded a naval ship with a few hundred other Vietnamese officials and their families and headed out to sea. Nearing the Philippines, where they would ask U.S. authorities for asylum, he put away his army uniform, changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and tossed his gun into the water.

I was not there. I had left two days earlier with the rest of the family in a C-130 cargo full of panicked refugees heading for Guam. But for years I regarded the moment when my father jettisoned his gun into the sea as a kind of historical marker — the beginning of his exile and my beginning with America.

My father was 42 years old. I was 11.

A French-educated man who came from a wealthy, land-owning family in a small town in the Mekong Delta, my father towers over many other Vietnamese men of his generation. Five feet, nine inches tall, he also has the solitary characteristics of those in leadership positions, a presence so cold to those who did not know him well, that I have seen soldiers tremble in his presence. In Vietnam, because of his many victories in battle and his dark skin, the Viet Cong called him the “Black Panther of the South.”

In America, however, the Black Panther is recognized by few outside his Vietnamese community. Though he managed to remake himself as a banking executive, my father’s passion remains extra-territorial. “The U.S.A., for me, is a destination, not a homeland,” he said.

That is, Vietnam remains always on his mind. As it does for so many of the one million South Vietnamese who fought alongside the Americans, but who were abruptly abandoned in the middle of a battlefield.

For me, April 30 marked the 26th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. For my father, it is a date filled with feelings and memories that I have always been afraid to confront. Still, his voice remained controlled when I finally gathered the courage to ask, on the eve of this anniversary, about those feelings.

“I feel both anger and sadness,” he replied evenly, though the hurt clearly ran deep. “Anger because we were abandoned by our allies — the U.S. — at the darkest hour of our history. Sadness, because so many of my comrades-in-arms sacrificed for nothing, many were sent to concentration camps, and the country was ruled by a bloody, repressive regime.”

We went back in time to the final days, when the French government vainly tried to arrange a coalition government between the existing regime of General Duong Van Minh, the Viet Cong and a third opposition party. But President Minh decided to surrender and ordered all ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) units still fighting in Saigon and 4th Military Region to do the same on April 30. Five ARVN generals committed suicide rather than surrender to the enemy.

“After hearing the message of surrender, I decided I had to leave,” my father recalled.

I had to ask. Did my father consider suicide also? And, if not, why not? “The generals who committed suicide were corps and division commanders whose units were still combat effective. They committed suicide because they didn’t want to surrender their units to the enemy. The reality was that by choosing to die, these generals upheld the highest level of the Confucian concept of honor.”

And for my father?

“This was a question of choice. I didn’t commit suicide because I was not a unit commander and because I felt (former) President Nguyen Van Thieu should be held responsible for our defeat, not the unit commanders in the field.”

That choice came with its price: the sting of defeat, and even dishonor, a sting my father salves with bravado predictions. “I bear the loss of the homeland,” he said, “because I know the Marxist system will eventually collapse and I hope I will have the opportunity to come back in a free and democratic Vietnam.”

But had he forgiven this “destination” for abandoning his own? And how does one forgive when what was lost was one’s homeland?

My father laughed. “I am fully aware that international relations are not based on sentiments and emotions, but on strategic interests. I also know that we didn’t have a voice in 1975. But the situation has changed and today, the increasingly powerful overseas Vietnamese communities — financially and politically — can impact U.S. relations with Vietnam. I am confident that, with the continued struggle of the Vietnamese people and involvement of our younger generation, we can put an early end to that bloody aberration [Communism] of the history of mankind.”

It was, as diplomats might say, a “full and frank exchange.” Yet what I, his son, could not bring myself to ask was if he really believed this “common goal” isn’t just wishful thinking. Certainly, we want better living standards and more freedom in Vietnam, but a ‘common goal’ implies a strength of national purpose, be it in Vietnam or among Vietnamese Americans, that has probably evaporated along with the end of the Cold War, the opening of more porous borders and the emergence of more complex, multinational and multiethnic identities.

While my father considers himself an exile living in America, I consider myself an American journalist who happens to make a yearly journey to Vietnam without much emotional fanfare. The irony is that he cannot return to the country to which he owes allegiance, so long as the current regime remains in power, while for me, my country of birth has become a point of departure, an occasional destination, but no longer home.

I am a product of the suburban America my father chose over the death or reeducation camps that befell many of his peers. For my father, history runs backwards, to a lonely nationalism and the place whence he fled.

Mine consists of Disneyland, Tahoe, and my father’s first American car, and runs forward from there to a more cosmopolitan reality.

In a dream I once had, I am a child diving into the blue ocean to retrieve a rusty gun. As I reach out for the gun it dissolves into sand and sifts effortlessly through my fingers. I woke in tears. Its message was clear: One cannot fight the old man’s battle; the past is irretrievable. Irretrievable then, still it must be remembered, its lessons to be explored and learned, and rendered into testimonies, into words.

Courtesy Andrew Lam at Pacific News Service (PNS).

Andrew Lam is an editor with Pacific News Service. His new book, "Perfume Dreams: 
Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" will be published in October 2005. 

Andrew Lam’s Calendar:

Thursday, September 22 at 5:30 p.m.
Andrew Lam will discuss and sign copies of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora. The event will be moderated by Sandy Close, executive director of New California Media Project. Asia Society of Northern California, 500 Washington Street, Fifth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111
Registration at 5:30 p.m.; program at 6:00 p.m.; post-event reception at 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $12 non-members, $7 members, $5 students. Call (415) 421-1762 to reserve a space.

Wednesday, October 5 at 4:00 p.m. .
Reading and book signing by Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.
UC Berkeley, Institute of East Asian Studies Conference Room, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor, Berkeley, CA 94720.
Free and open to the public; for information, call (510) 642-3609.

Thursday, October 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Reading and book signing by Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.
Cody’s Books, 2454 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704.
Free and open to the public; for information, call (510) 845-7852.

Sunday, October 16 at 3:00 p.m. .
Vietnamese-American Literary Art Festival, featuring a reading and book signing by Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, and other Vietnamese-American writers, poets, actors and musicians. Proceeds benefit the Friends of Hue Foundation (
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, 2nd floor, 150 E. San Fernando, San Jose, CA 95112.
Cost: $20 suggested donation. For information, call (408) 691-6489.

Thursday, October 20 at 6:00 p.m. .
Andrew Lam will discuss and sign copies of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora. The event is co-sponsored by the Crowe Collection of Asian Art and is part of the Gilbert Lecture Series.
Reception at 6:00 p.m. in the Texana Room of the DeGolyer Library; lecture at 6:30 p.m. in the Stanley Marcus Reading Room of the DeGolyer Library.
Southern Methodist University, 6404 Hilltop Lane, Dallas, TX 75275.
Free and open to the public; for information, call (217) 768-2946.

Thursday October 27 at 7:00 p.m. .
Andrew Lam will discuss and sign copies of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora. The event is co-sponsored by the Asia Society and NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute.
The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, 16 West 32nd Street, Suite 10A, New York, NY 10001.
Cost: $5 suggested donation. Please RSVP at (212) 494-0091.

Wednesday, November 9 at 7:30 p.m. .
Post-war Literature Conference, featuring Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, and Tim O’Brien and Wayne Karlin.
University of Hawaii, Manoa,

Friday, November 11 at 7:00 p.m. .
Reading and book signing by Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.
Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Kahala Mall, 4211 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816.
Free and open to the public; for information, call (808) 737-3323.

Tuesday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. .
Reading and book signing by Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.
A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, 601 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102.
Free and open to the public; for information, call (415) 441-6670.

Andrew Lam’s trip to Southern California will be announced in late October

For more information, or to schedule an event, contact Anissa Paulsen, Director of Education & Outreach, at (510) 549-3564 ext. 316, or by emailing

For review copy requests or to schedule an interview with the author, contact Zachary Nelson, Marketing and Publicity Director, at (510) 549-3564, ext. 309, or by emailing

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