To the Editors:
The following letter was written inside a Vietnamese government jail on December 21 and smuggled out shortly thereafter. It is signed by three monks, representing some 500 monks incarcerated mostly for their refusal to bear arms. From a comparison with the earlier handwriting of one of the signators, we believe this letter to be authentic. We also believe that their plight as Vietnamese conscientious objectors deserves the attention of all Americans.
Southeast Asian Studies
Ithaca, New York
Peaceful Happy New Year!
A Call for Peace from the Imprisoned Monks in South Vietnam
From the dark, narrow and filthy cells, we 500 imprisoned monks in South Vietnam urgently send this call for peace to all goodwill people working to stop the war in Vietnam.
We consider this our duty, firstly because we have opposed this inhuman war by nature since the beginning, and secondly because we are suffering all kinds of ill-treating solely because we refuse to bear arms against our brothers.
We are monks and taoists belonging to the great and popular religions of Vietnam such as Buddhism, Caodaism, and Dao Dua; but above all, we are followers of the greatest and most popular religion in Vietnam, and we believe throughout the world, that is, the religion of Peace. We prefer imprisonment to murder and our ideal reflects that of the majority of the Vietnamese people, especially the peasants who suffer the heaviest calamities in this war.
Since 1960 at the onset of this war, thousands of our monks and taoists have courageously chosen the prison as nonviolent fighters for Peace. As the war escalates, our hardships multiply. Many of us have been killed in insecure areas, withered miserably in the cells and “tiger cages,” and waiting hopelessly for more than five years behind the bars.
The South Vietnamese authorities do not recognize the conscientious objector’s status of our religious vocation. Before May, 1970, we were prosecuted at the Front Court-Martial as political prisoners with the maximum penalty without revocation. After that date, the Front Court-Martial being judged anti-constitutional by the Supreme Court, we are brought before the military court as simple soldiers convicted of “civil disobedience” and “Disobedience to Higher Orders” (articles 105 and 116, Military Code 1951)
With the same so-called offense, we are sentenced again and again, and shuffled from the induction center to the prison through the court, and we become perpetual prisoners. The purpose of the government is to terrorize us and to demoralize those peace-loving young men who want to follow our examples by refusing and abandoning the war.
On November 1 and December 1, 1970, we have celebrated two ten-day fastings to denounce the above injustice.
- That those monks and taoists who have been sentenced by the anti-constitutional Front Court-Martial must be set free or rejudged before a civil court;
- That those monks and taoists who have completed their terms of “civil disobedience” must be released from prison to return to their pagodas.
To demonstrate to the government our determination against the war, our love of peace, and our defense of religious freedom, fifty persons from among us have opposed the forceful draft and lifelong imprisonment imposed on our monks and taoists by self-destroying our eyes, limbs, and fingers. These people want to make themselves unfit for manslaughter for life as a sacrifice to their religious ideal. We are ready to go up to harakiri and self-immolation to awake the government against its religious oppression. We rather voluntarily give up a part of or the whole of our bodies than to inflict a damage on the lives of our brothers.
On this occasion of Christmas and New Year, we raise this call for Peace to inform the public about the injustice we are undergoing, to give witness to peace-loving people the faith that love and peace will overcome hatred and war. At last, we solemnly burn the incense, close our hands, and pray for all a Peaceful Happy New Year. We cannot have any happiness unless we have Peace. Please have the kindness to pray with us.
Bikkhu Thich Nguyen Nhu
Badge no. 57283
Dang Van Hung
Badge no. 60376
Nguyen Hong Long
Badge no. 60638
Made at Saigon Military Prison, December 21, 1970
March 11, 1971