In response to:
The Way to End the War: The Statement of Ngo Cong Duc from the November 5, 1970 issue
To the Editors:
The statement of Mr. Ngo Cong Duc at a press conference held on September 21, 1970, at the Hotel Lutetia, Paris, has received some publicity in this country [NYR, November 5, 1970]. Insofar as it demonstrates that even the bourgeois, largely Saigonese and, as Mr. Duc says, non-Communist and non-NLF elements in Vietnam have come to oppose American presence in Vietnam, it is a useful document. Mr. Duc, however, makes certain claims in the name of the Vietnamese people which are totally unfounded and which need to be refuted else they might mislead Americans into supporting the wrong kind of settlement in Paris.
First, there is his statement that: “We must frankly admit that most South Vietnamese are firm in their resolve to struggle against the United States and against the Nguyen Van Thieu government. Nevertheless, they are still fearful of an eventual ‘communization’ of South Vietnam.” On what basis does Mr. Duc claim that most Vietnamese in the South fear the “communization” of their country? What available scientific study allows him to conclude anything at all about the opinions of “most” South Vietnamese? Either that they support the Communist ideology, or that they reject it, or even that most of them oppose the US and the Nguyen Van Thieu regime? The political life of any country is, in any case, shaped by those who actively work to implement their objectives and not by some nebulous will of a supposed majority. The only thing one knows for certain is that, currently, South Vietnam is occupied by some one-half million American and other non-Vietnamese troops, that this foreign force lends existence to a clique of men headed by Nguyen Van Thieu who pretend to govern South Vietnam, and that the NLF has successfully opposed this combined foreign occupation-clique government. All that can be said of the South Vietnamese people, then, is that more of them actively resist Washington-Saigon than actively support it, else Saigon would not need Washington. Those who, like Mr. Duc, have sat inactive somewhere in between, surely had their reasons for doing so but they must now accept the political consequences effected by their more committed compatriots and not, at the eleventh hour, claim anything at all in the name of the majority of the South Vietnamese people.
Mr. Duc also goes on to say that “the overwhelming majority of the South Vietnamese population demanding peace, independence, democracy, freedom and national reconciliation are not represented.” He then asks that a delegation of these forces of peace, independence, etc., be seated in Paris. Again, the strange presumption to speak for the majority. And how should this representative delegation be selected? And how about the tinker, tailor, sailor, and so on who too might wish to sit in Paris? But above all, what indeed does Mr. Duc suppose the issue in Paris to be? A carving up of the map of Vietnam into as many pieces as there are hungry mouths?
I sincerely hope that he will realize that one issue alone confronts us Vietnamese in Paris: and that is the relationship of the US to Vietnam. And there are only two possible outcomes to this issue: to immediately terminate the relationship, or to prolong it. Since both outcomes already have their advocates in Paris, it can in fact be said that the entire Vietnamese people is already sitting in Paris. Mr. Duc’s problem now is merely to choose which outcome he would rather support.
As he himself states, the Vietnamese must settle their affairs among themselves. Once a terminal date for the total and unconditional withdrawal of US troops has been fixed, the present Paris conference will logically dissolve (after attending to the matter of the release of prisoners and other such details). A new format would be set up, among the Vietnamese themselves, to discuss Vietnamese affairs, and to plan for a new Vietnamese government, a new Vietnamese nation. Then, and then only, should our political differences and preferences be given full representation: Buddhist, Catholic, tinker, tailor, sailor and all.
In the meanwhile we ask that neither the Overseas Vietnamese Buddhist Association, nor Mr. Duc, nor any other party genuinely anxious to solve Vietnamese affairs among Vietnamese, solicit support for their programs abroad. We ask too that Americans genuinely desirous of seeing an independent Vietnam refrain from supporting either Mr. A or Mr. B or the Buddhists or the NLF. We all surely have enough to do just working for an immediate, total and unconditional US withdrawal from Vietnam.
Truong Buu Lam
Department of History
SUNY at Stony Brook, N.Y.
Richard A Falk replies:
Professor Truong Buu Lam is highly respected both as a specialist on Vietnamese history and as a genuine Vietnamese patriot. His letter is a powerful assertion, the central message of which I endorse fully—namely, that the political future of South Vietnam is solely a Vietnamese question. The United States government can promote this end only by withdrawing its troops from Vietnam and its support from the Thieu regime and allowing the various political tendencies in Vietnam to work out some sort of resolution on their own. One thing is clear, the American role has been and continues to be one of using its fantastic military superiority to impose the Thieu regime on the Vietnamese people and to destroy the country of Vietnam.
Professor Lam’s main contention cannot be repeated too often to Americans. No matter how high-minded our views, there is nothing Americans can do for Vietnam except to get out, and by getting out cause the collapse or abdication of Thieu, Ky, and Khiem. I also agree with Professor Lam that Mr. Ngo Cong Duc (and other Vietnamese opposition groups) are in no position to represent the Vietnamese people as a whole.
In this respect Madame Nguyen Thi Binh’s eight-point proposals of September 17, 1970, in Paris provide a proper way to proceed. Point 4 calls for free and democratic elections of a permanent government in South Vietnam organized by a provisional coalition government to assure fair treatment of all parties of interest. Point 5 proposes that this provisional coalition government be composed of three elements:
1.) Members of the National Liberation Front, or what is now more accurately identified as the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRG);
2.) Members of the Saigon Administration (other than Thieu, Ky, and Khiem) who stand for peace, independence, neutrality, and democracy;
3.) Persons of varying political and religious tendencies, including those living abroad, who stand for peace, independence, neutrality, and democracy.
I cannot imagine a more inclusive proposal. Madame Binh has made it clear that the PRG is not asking for a veto or to determine by itself which Vietnamese outside the PRG stand for peace, independence, neutrality, and democracy (with the exception of the three military leaders of the present Saigon regime).
The selection of a coalition government would proceed by discussion and by principles of “mutual respect.” Such an approach seems in basic accord with Professor Lam’s position, and, if good faith existed in Washington, would provide the basis for negotiating a rapid end to the war, including the establishment of a cease-fire, the release of prisoners of war, and the protection of withdrawing foreign forces.
But there is not good faith in Washington, and this is where I feel that Professor Lam’s strictures could be quite misleading. The point of Ngo Cong Duc’s call for separate representation at the Paris talks is to underscore the illegitimacy of representation of South Vietnam by the Saigon regime. Such a point is important if it helps people realize that it is the non-Communist middle in South Vietnam, as well as the liberation left, that regards the Thieu government as an instrument of American diplomacy that is supplying Washington with huge mercenary armies to fight against the Vietnamese people. Duc’s initiative, if successful, would help dramatize the isolation of the Thieu government and would lend further credence to the PRG claim that the only way to bring peace to Vietnam is to find a formula to translate the military stalemate into a power-sharing political compromise that gives all parties in South Vietnam reasonable assurance that, at long last, their country will have peace and that their future will be determined by the Vietnamese themselves.
In the meantime, it is important for Americans to heed the central message of Professor Lam’s letter and insist that there is no proper American role with respect to a political settlement in Vietnam.