The Myth of a Liberation

Le Duc Tho
Le Duc Tho; drawing by David Levine

Among the anonymous hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people are some whose stories are becoming known. And among these, there are a few special witnesses. One is Truong Nhu Tang, a founder of the NLF, minister of justice for the Viet Cong Provisional Revolutionary Government, one of the most determined adversaries of the US during the war.

There is no one whose revolutionary credentials are more secure, no one who worked harder to expel the US from Vietnam and to establish a revolutionary government. In recognition of his service, in 1976 Truong Nhu Tang was offered a cabinet position, vice-minister of nutrition, in the government of unified Vietnam, a unique honor for former NLF leaders. He is a man beyond the charge of CIA complicity. His story is a simple human tragedy, but beyond that, it provides unique historical insight into a tormenting war.

Truong Nhu Tang is fifty-seven years old and is now living in Paris, where he has recently founded the National Salvation Council (Uy Ban Cuu Nuoc) to rally his compatriots and gain support for the struggle against communist Vietnam.

—Doan Van Toai and David Chanoff

On May 15, 1975, I was standing on the official dais reviewing the first Victory Day parade in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon until several months earlier). The crowd marching by waved the flags of both the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Hanoi) and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (Viet Cong). The troops, though, bore only the North’s colors. I asked the four-star general standing next to me where were the famous Viet Cong Divisions 1, 5, 7, and 9. The general, Van Tien Dung, commander-in-chief of the North Vietnamese army, answered coldly that the armed forces were now “unified.” At that moment I began to understand my fate and that of the NLF. In Vietnam we often said: “Take the juice of the lemon and throw away the peel.” On that dais the years of communist promises and assurances revealed themselves for the propaganda they were. Victory Day celebrated no victory for the NLF, or for the South.

When I was a student in Paris in the late 1940s, I was tremendously attracted to Western liberal ideas. I studied the theory of democracy and saw at first hand something about how it worked. My own country had gone through such a different historical development: a thousand years of autocratic Chinese domination followed by an equally unenlightened French colonial regime. Ironically perhaps, I found I loved French culture and especially French political traditions. I wanted desperately for my own country nothing less than what France and other Western nations enjoyed: independence and a democratic political life. I felt elated and proud when Ho Chi Minh came to Paris to negotiate with the French, even more when the press hailed him as a hero…

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