: ‘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

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