Letter to my children and grandchildren [Vietnamese Version] [French Version]
Nguyễn Văn Phú
Translated by Minh Châu
Dear old friend,
While waiting for our children to pick us up from our monthly meeting at the Seniors’ Association, you and I had, on several occasions, the opportunity to discuss and to agree on a number of important points. You urged to me to put our thoughts on paper to share with our descendants because, as you said, your hands tremble so much these days that you are having difficulty holding the pen. Moreover, this year marks the 30th anniversary of our self-exile as refugees and we both thought it would be useful to transmit a clear message to our children and especially our grandchildren. During these last few months, I endeavored to accomplish the task you assigned. Today, my work may be considered complete. For ease of presentation, I wrote this article in the form of a letter by a father to his children. Please review it at your convenience. I would very much appreciate any corrections and improvements.
My beloved children,
Your mother and I are both in our eighties now, longevity virtually unknown to the earlier generations. Over the years, we have had many occasions to talk to you about a number of important subjects, but you were often not all present at the same time to share the same conversations. Moreover, you may not have entirely retained our message. Hence, this letter to summarize the key points that your mother and I wish to impart to you. For your children who speak Vietnamese but do not read it very well, we ask that you find the best way to communicate our thoughts to them and offer them the necessary explanations. It is not enough to merely take note of what we put today in writing for you. Please make an effort to really grasp the fundamental meaning of our message.
Gratefulness — My beloved children, in fleeing the communist regime in search of freedom, we had to leave everything behind: our properties, our ancestral shrine, as well as our ancestors’ final resting place. The authorities and the people of this adopted land opened their arms and their hearts to help us rebuild our lives. Now that we are relatively well established, we should be grateful and show it by doing our best to help make this nation even greater, stronger and more prosperous.
The cause of our exodus — You must be sure to explain clearly to your children the reasons which pushed our family as well as hundreds of thousands of others to choose a life of selfexiled immigrants in a foreign country: we fled communism, in search of freedom. Your children have the great fortune of living in a democratic society. Having known nothing but freedom since they were born, they would never imagine the full extent of the duplicity and the cruelty exerted by the communists. They would find it difficult to believe the atrocities to which men can submit men. (In due time, you may let them watch the movie Journey from the Fall, directed by Traàn Haøm, which premiered on April 30, 2005.) The communists are cruel in action, but very cunning in words and especially skilled in the art of concealment! Hence the need to really explain things to your children to ensure they have a full understanding of our background, not to incite hatred in them, but so they can be aware of the truth. We often repeat this saying amongst ourselves: “Don’t listen to what the communists say, just examine what they do.”
Our native land — Regardless of how busy you are, take the time to reflect on the history and the geography of Viet-Nam in order to understand the origin of our people and the creation of our homeland. Learn about the vicissitudes that our people experienced, including the moments of glory and the times of humiliation. Appreciate the wisdom and accomplishments of our forefathers as well as their mistakes. These are all lessons that we should learn and communicate to our descendants. The pages of our history books are alternatively filled with glorious achievements and painful tears. There was a time when our country had to bear the humiliation of Chinese occupation during a thousand years. Then, our heroic people rose to break the subversive bonds of domination and reclaimed our independence. Our past also included periods when we invaded and destroyed other countries. The most recent incident is the destructive ten-year occupation of Kampuchia, which incited the hatred of a neighboring country and created unwholesome karma, the fruits of which future generations will have to bear.
Recent historical events — Our country became a French colony around the end of the 19th century. In 1940, a World War erupted. In Vieät-Nam, on March 9, 1945, the Japanese overturned the French in a military coup. Emperor Bảo Đại enacted the abolition of the treaty of protectorate concluded with France and entrusted to Mr. Traàn Troïng Kim the formation of the first government of the independent state of Viet Nam. On the global scene, the countries of the axis — Germany, Italy and Japan — were overcome by the Allies — England, France, the United States, the USSR and China. In our country, on August 19, 1945, the Viet Minh revolutionary forces seized the power held by the Traàn Troïng Kim government and proclaimed the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vieät Nam. As France sought to restore its domination, on December 19, 1946, a war of national resistance was declared in view of defending our independence. At that time, the Vieät Minh revealed its true communist nature and initiated a campaign to eliminate the nationalist groups. Faced with the danger of being gradually eradicated, the nationalist parties pulled back into special zones controlled by another non-communist government.
After the battle of Điện Biên Phủ, the Geneva agreement of 1954 divided our country into two: the North became the Democratic Republic and the South, the Republic of Vieät-Nam. The North pledged open allegiance to the communist bloc and immediately launched the process of conquering the South by force, an act which it dissimulated to the eyes of the world by operating behind an organization of its creation, called the Front of Liberation of the South. At 3 that time, South Vieät-Nam accepted the support of the United States and the allied forces of the free world created to stop the expansion of communism. In the 1960s, as the invading forces from the North grew in numbers and in strength, the United States started pouring their own troops into the South, and the war intensified.
In 1972, after the rupture of relations between the USSR and China, President Nixon went to China and signed the Shanghai agreement. Consequently, no longer needing an “outpost in the fight against communism”, the United States dropped their support of the Republic of Viet Nam! [The book “Khi Đồng Minh Tháo Chạy (When the Allies Ran Away)” by Dr. Ngưyễn Tiến Hưng reveals the disappointing truths about the betrayal of the Americans in their shameful flight.] According to the Paris agreement signed in 1973, the United States was to withdraw their troops from South Viet-Nam and only leave in place a number of military advisers, while the North Vietnamese troops remained fully stationed in the South! The Communists of North Vieät-Nam were therefore free to continue their unabated invasion of the South with the considerable assistance of the international communist bloc. Despite the courage shown in its war of self-defense, because of the serious lack of ammunition and fuel, South Viet-Nam was pushed into an untenable situation. On April 30, 1975, Saigon, the capital of the South, fell. In the months and years following that date, the world witnessed the exodus of the Vietnamese men, women and children fleeing communism, in search of freedom. I trust you already know the next chapters of our story with sufficient details.
Historical data and information — We live in an era of information and we are indeed swamped by a glut of data about everything. Much has been written about Vieät-Nam and the Vieät-Nam War, including photos and movies, but we found a serious shortage of books and films that are objective and truthful. There are of course a few authors who did try to provide an honest account of the war. Unfortunately, each of them only succeeded in relating one particular aspect of the truth, in the manner of the blind men in the ancient fable who tried to describe an elephant by each touching a part of its body. Moreover, many authors knowingly bend the truth to fit their personal justification or neurosis about the war. Still others, including certain monastic figures, make up stories for the purpose of slandering. The worst misrepresentations are found when those in power or their scribes engage in History writing. Alex Haley wrote in the last lines of his book Roots: “… preponderantly the histories have been written by the winners”. This is why we insist that you, and especially your children, should be extremely cautious and discerning in reading the books or viewing the films about Viet-Nam produced in the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, regardless of the authors and their nationalities.
From your parents’ perspective, the conflict that took place in our country from 1954 to 1975 was a war that opposed the North to the South, a civil war, a war by proxy resulting from the confrontation between the communist bloc and the free world, a war delivered with the weapons of the foreign countries and the blood of the Vietnamese people. For the South Vietnamese, it was a war of self-defense. Meanwhile, in the North, through propaganda and education of the masses, the communists portrayed it as a war delivered against the American puppet regime to reunify the country. The Northern winners had been arrogant and cruel; the defeated Southerners swallowed their pain and their anger, and bowed their heads in humiliation. There lies the heart of the deep chasm dividing our people (even though in all truth, there are many other reasons for the division). As long as one does not succeed in changing these two opposing views, it would be useless to speak about national reconciliation! Millions of dead people, a reunified country, but the Vietnamese people still remain deeply divided in their heart.
Visiting Viet-Nam — Many people asked us whether we had returned to Viet-Nam. Our response has always been: “Not yet, because of our health.” Many have returned to Vieät-Nam, each for their own particular reasons. Needless to say, we all long to be reunited with our homeland, but everyone has a personal view about the pros and cons of the matter! Returning to the country to care for one’s aging or sick parents, to help one’s family, to restore one’s ancestral tombs, to teach young students, to visit one’s country, these are valid reasons to go. Returning to the country to bring solace to victims of natural disasters, to selflessly help compatriots in need, these are also commendable motives. But returning to enjoy sensual pleasures, to take advantage of cheap tourism, or to seek monetary gains and official distinctions, then it is better to abstain.
Later, if the country has shown some real improvements, you may want to bring your children to visit our homeland. But we predict that they will not be particularly moved — one may not feel any emotion if there are no memories which associate one with something. Thus, in raising your children, please try to provide guidance and help them appreciate our native land, our people, our compatriots, and make sure they do not behave as vulgar tourists. As for the probability of your returning to live in Vieät-Nam, we do not expect the prospects to be very positive.
The real situation in the country — If somebody tells you that the country has made progress — that the majority of the population are now able to eat rice with every meal, compared to the mix of rice and oats of the post-1975 era; that motorbikes and cars have mostly replaced bicycles — know that in truth, such progress only reflects the normal evolution of any country (after all, it would be unthinkable that after thirty years of peace, no growth or progress were achieved!). However, in terms of real democratic progress, if we compare Vieät-Nam to its neighbors, we cannot help feeling shame for the country’s failure in many aspects (even Kampuchea has an opposition party!).
If you want to know the real Vieät-Nam beyond the tall buildings, the shiny cars, the luxurious five-star hotels, the modern golf courses, then seek information from inside the country to see the extensive breakdown in many sectors (education, in articular), the excesses of “red capitalism”, the plague of widespread corruption, and the waste of our nation’s natural resources. And don’t forget to visit our compatriots who live in desolate poor regions in the back country. We need to look objectively at the actual situation without any make-up, that which is painted neither in pink nor in black.
For a clear view of the situation in our country, refer to a speech by Dr. Lê Đăng Doanh, former Director of the Central Institute of Research on Management in Haø-Noäi. In this speech, Dr. Doanh voiced the whole truth to the highest communist leaders. This document recently made its way abroad. In a presentation which is made of this text, one can read: “We should all pay attention to the numbers that point to the sad reality of the economic situation in Viet-Nam. Mr. Doanh underlines the weaknesses of the economy and the antidemocratic nature of the communist regime in Viet-Nam. He affirms unequivocally that the political infrastructure is obsolete and should be changed.” (Ngoâ Nhaân Duïng, in Ngöôøi Vieät Daily, March 30, 2005).
Mr. Doanh relates the following story. An expert in international finances asked him the following question: “Clever as you claim to be, how come your country is still poor after such a long period? With your intelligence and your proud tradition, why do you beg all the time? Why don’t you give yourself a goal in time after which you will resolve to stop asking for alms? Is this possible?” How humiliating for us all! Our country is not populated only by incompetents; our people are not lazy; why this utter misery? It is all due to the dictatorship of the Party!
Having a political attitude — Our fellow expatriates are not the only ones who demand the abolition of the unique-party regime; some members of the Communist Party and progressive elements in the country are also clamoring for the same. Understand this: the fight against dictatorship, against a single party regime, against corruption, against the erroneous policies of the Communists, is not a fight against Vieät-Nam; it is, quite to the contrary, an effort to move forward so that the country can improve and grow.