By Hoi Trinh (USA Today) – For many, peace has never returned to their homeland, and certainly not since April 30, 1975.
A few weeks ago, I came across an article reaffirming how, on the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Saigon by communist forces from North Vietnam, the country now known simply as Vietnam has moved on, its young consumer population embracing Western culture and enjoying economic success.
The writer is a Viet Kieu (Vietnamese Overseas, a term referring to those who grew up in the West) much like myself. She marveled at how four decades after escaping war, many former “boat people” have managed to find fortune back in the country where their parents had fled in fear and tears.
Not all Viet Kieu can move on however, she noticed. “Some are scarred by war and persecution,” she wrote.
At the time, the article and commentary struck me as both ignorant and simplistic. And it was more disturbingly so because the writer was convincing, quoting many Viet Kieus, including Henry Nguyen, a former Goldman Sachs associate and Harvard graduate who last year managed to bring McDonald’s to Vietnam.
Incidentally, Nguyen is also the only son-in-law of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
If someone with a background like the writer failed to take notice the real reasons why many overseas Vietnamese still choose not to return to their homeland after 40 years, what hope have we got for the rest of the world?
It is simplistic to assume that they are held back because of the bitter past. In fact, for many, that’s simply not true. Rather, they refuse to return because major human rights violations continue to be committed by the same regime that had persecuted them. Imagine the same Nazi establishment still enjoying its power grip over present Germany. Would anyone dare make the same assumption?
Communist Vietnam is obviously not Nazi Germany. It didn’t set up killing fields as Pol Pot did in Cambodia, nor did it ever use gas chambers to choke and exterminate minority groups. But what it does is choke and silence dissent through the persecution of those who challenge its absolute power.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, a writer and activist, was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment for co-authoring a political manifesto entitled “The Path of Viet Nam.” An independent, faith-based group in Central Vietnam known as Bia Son was disbanded two years ago with all of its 22 activists rounded up and imprisoned, ranging from 10 years to life.
It is, therefore, not only simplistic but also wrong to use timeworn cliché to explain the deep tension between the 4 million plus overseas Vietnamese community and the powers that be in Vietnam. The division is not merely a tragicomedy. Rather, it is about a diaspora that, 40 years after their exodus in search of freedom, wants nothing less than to bring the same freedoms back to their homeland.
Perhaps I should not fault the Viet Kieu writer who most probably did not grow up under communism like I did. Because what I continue to find astonishing is the profound lack of debate on Vietnam and what has been happening there. The popular narrative tends to be either about an American-led war that was famously lost or a new rising tiger that is luring both Western investors and backpackers.
Just last week, the much-celebrated British journalist Nick Davies penned a long exposé aptly entitled “Vietnam 40 years on: how a communist victory gave way to capitalist corruption.” Devoting much of his investigation into the cause and ravages the war has brought on the Vietnamese, Davies noted how “the U.S. left Vietnam in a state of physical ruin.”
The fact that hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese servicemen were sent to “re-education camps” by their victors strangely did not warrant a single mention in Davies’ article. Nor did the mass exodus of more than a million Vietnamese boat people who did not flee in war but fled in peace.
For many, in fact, peace has never reigned in their homeland, and certainly not since that fateful day in 1975. As one famous refugee, Albert Einstein, had observed: “Peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice.”
There seems to be a slow realization, however, at least among the well-meaning crowd of America’s anti-war movement of the ’60s. That the reality facing Vietnam is that it has ended up with the worst of both worlds: being an authoritarian socialist state with the unchecked excesses of capitalism. A people is thus robbed of both their rights and prosperity, while the ruling elite “fills its pockets and hides behind the rhetoric of the revolution.” That, Davies concluded, is the biggest lie of all.
If only he and the world had come to the same conclusion 40 years ago.
Source: USA Today