In response to:
The Myth of a Liberation from the October 21, 1982 issue
To the Editors:
Truong Nhu Tang’s “The Myth of Liberation” in your October 21 issue only hints at the explicitly pro-Chinese position Truong has taken in his efforts to mobilize support for renewed American involvement in Vietnam.
Testifying to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs on October 15, 1981 he stated that “The relationship between China and the United States is the decisive factor for the global strategy to stop the Soviet hegemonists and Hanoi’s ambitions.” Were Mr. Truong to have his way, “…the US would move from the containment policy to the roll back policy.”
In light of his candor elsewhere, Mr. Truong’s tendentious article has no veracity, save to those whose minds are closed to facts.
To state, as Mr. Truong does, that Vietnam wishes to be dependent on Soviet aid ignores entirely its intensive efforts during 1976-1978 to establish economic ties with the West via loans, aid, and investments—efforts it has not abandoned. Its present dependence on the USSR is the consequence of a conscious US and Chinese policy which Assistant Secretary of State John H. Holdridge summed up last June 8: “It is important to keep the Vietnamese isolated politically and economically, and there is agreement on that score.”
Mr. Truong would only carry this Sino-US collaboration further. But no advocate of this bizarre concept of Vietnam being allied with China can deny the historical fact that Socialist Vietnam has always sought to pursue an independent foreign policy.
Truong Nhu Tang replies:
Unable to challenge any of the facts discussed in my article, Mr. Kolko attempts to characterize me as pro-Chinese, apparently intending to disparage me that way.
In 1964 I exchanged a life of power and ease for fifteen years as an anti-American, anti-regime revolutionary. For me that meant fifteen years of prisons, jungles, and torture. I did not endure this because I was pro-Chinese or because I was in favor of US-Chinese collaboration against the Soviet Union. I did so because along with millions of other Vietnamese I wanted for my country peace, independence, and liberty. The communists made solemn pledges of internal reconciliation without reprisal, independence from the Soviets and Chinese as well as from the Americans, and a democratic political system. If these promises had been fulfilled neither I nor one million of my countrymen would have risked our lives in order to become refugees.
Mr. Kolko does not understand the reality of today’s Vietnam. He seems as willing to accept the assurances of Vietnam’s Party leaders as I was years ago. But those concerned about my country must now shift their attention from the myths of communist Vietnam, and of its leaders as progressive and liberating, and toward the reality of vast domestic dislocation and suffering among the fifty million Vietnamese people.
Part of the myth of today’s Vietnam is that it seeks independence. But how can any sane person believe this in view of the official position announced at the Fifth Party Congress last March that “firm and solid co-operation with the Soviet Union is the unbreakable cornerstone of Vietnam’s foreign policy. We must teach this just cause and principle to all Party members and to the people, not only in this generation but in those that follow.” During his state visit to the Soviet Union on October 4, Truong Chinh, the Vietnamese president, reconfirmed this principle, publicly stating that “Vietnamese-Soviet cooperation and relations are a just cause. On her part, Vietnam will do her best to guard this cooperation as if it were guarding the irises of her eyes” (reported in Nhan Dan, the Party newspaper, on October 5, 6, 7, 8). Those familiar with Vietnam’s history will recognize that Chinh’s text is taken from Ho Chi Minh’s famous slogan: “Guarding Party Unity is like guarding the irises of our eyes.” This phrase was intended to express Ho’s concern to maintain an even-handed neutrality vis-à-vis China and the Soviet Union. Now it is used to serve precisely the opposite goals.
Suggesting, as Mr. Kolko does, that Vietnam’s dependence on the USSR is caused by American attitudes is like saying that Thieu was dependent on the US because of the attitude of the Soviet Union. This is not a serious argument. There is no need to find scapegoats outside the current regime for Vietnam’s predicaments. Neither bad weather nor Chinese threats nor US “imperialism” have caused Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia, its expulsion of the ethnic Chinese, or its establishment of a system of “re-education camps” (i.e., concentration camps) and political prisons, Would Mr. Kolko tolerate equivalent activities in Chile or South Korea? Why then make excuses for Vietnam? To do so is to deceive oneself and to attempt to deceive others.
On the contrary, I am in favor of condemning those who deserve condemnation and opposing those who carry on oppression in my country. For this reason I support Sino-US collaboration to counteract Soviet hegemony over Vietnam. I believe that eliminating Soviet domination of my country is the aspiration of our people. Having suffered so much from French colonialism and US imperialism, the Vietnamese know that Soviet domination is worse. It leads to greater outrages against the human spirit, and it threatens to be permanent. There is no appealing to the reason and humanity of the Russian people as we appealed to the reason and humanity of the French and American public during the war. Inside Russia there is no way to make our appeal heard and no way for the people to express their support.
In the West there is still freedom of thought and the ability to weigh questions of right and wrong. I take this opportunity to express my appreciation and respect to those in the US who formerly gave their support to the nlf and prg and who now have the courage and integrity to continue to fight for liberal ideals rather than support a regime that has proved itself the moral enemy of those ideals. These people I consider the real leftists, the others merely opportunists.
January 20, 1983