OUR ESCAPE FROM VIETNAM: APRIL 1975, FROM OUR HEARTS TO OUR CHILDREN
To our dear children,
We are now in our seventies which means we are pretty well advanced in aged compared with the generations before us. We have discussed many things with you all but not all the same time. More than that, we are pretty sure that you did not remember all of our talks. Because of that, this letter is to summarize all the important thoughts that we wish to convey to you all so that you can pass our thoughts along to your own children at the appropriate time.
First, our thanks to the US: Dear children, when we escaped the communists in the search for freedom and liberty we left all of our belongings, among them the altar of our ancestors and their tombs. When we took refuge in this country we were helped by the government and the people of this country: the United States of America. Our lives are now stable and comfortable. We have to recognize and give thanks to the US, even as we seek ways to make this country better and more prosperous as a way of expressing gratitude for the to help we received.
Reasons of our escape from the communists: It is very important for you to explain to your children why we and thousands upon thousands of Vietnamese refugees left the land of their birth. It was simply that to find freedom we had to flee from communism. Because you have enjoyed all liberty since birth, it will be difficult for you to comprehend the atrocities and the lies of the communist party. It will not be easy for you to understand how our human brethren treat one another so viciously. On that, you may want to see the movie “Journey From the Fall” by director Ham Tran (2006). Communist actions were despicable but they are very good in concealing them through propaganda and cover-ups. That’s why you must impress on your children, not to sow hate but to expose the truth. We heard many times that “ Do not listen to the communists but look at their actions”. Actions reveal truth.
Our Fatherland; Even though you live busy American lives, please find time to read the history of Vietnam to understand the origin of our people, the creation of our country, the ups and downs, our moments of glory and of humiliation, the wisdom and the mistakes of our ancestors. From that you will learn many lessons. There are many pages of glory but many more of tearful sorrows. Once we were dominated, but we gloriously broke away the chains and gained freedom. Yet there were times that we annihilated a nation (the Chams) or we invaded a country (Kampuchea) and caused continuous hate and frictions.
Our actual threat of the next Century: the Chinese communists of the People Republic of China (PRC). The PRC in this century is a growing menace: they are producing toxic products “Made in China,” as Diane Sawyer, anchor of ABC-TV, warned in 2012 and as Peter Navarro has done in his book “Death by China” (2017). Another book describes the PRC’s effort at hegemony by the PRC to be completed by 2049 (The Hundred Year-Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace American Global Superpower by Michael Pillsbury published in 2015). The New Silk Road of the PRC is now being unmasked with some countries increasingly fearful about borrowing or accepting economic help from the PRC.
The followings items we concentrate on Vietnam. The Vietnam Communist Party (VNCP) is deeply indebted to the PRC due to the cost of the last Vietnam War which concluded in April 1975. The pressure is on the VNCP not only to repay those debts it but also to accept Chinese dominance like a slave to his owner. Profiting of this debt claim, the PRC has obtained special rights in the economic zones ceded by Vietnam. They sent thousands and thousands of hungry Chinese to develop these zones. Let think about it: a decade later how many children will be born by these Chinese laborers? More than that they will establish special Chinese enclaves deep in our country. And what about environment/ecology disasters: in 2016 millions of fish were found dead along the coastal provinces of Central Vietnam. The cause was the discharge of toxic products into the sea by the Chinese Formosa Industries. In the highlands, the PRC is now exploiting 2 bauxite plants which are the source of future ecological disaster to our precious fatherland. Another calamity: the PRC is now controlling the Northern borders so they can discharge unsafe products, dangerous drugs and human trafficking. Adding to this, the PRC Navy is now threatening our fishing boats, invading and occupying our islands in the Spratley and the Paracels chains that were never owned by China. Not long ago the VNCP had given some land at the northern border secretly and sold our ocean rights to the PRC. Last year vigorous protests erupted when the VNCP enacted the laws giving China lending rights to the special economic zones. More than that the VNCP passed the Security Clause Act on June 12, 2018 to silence the Vietnamese people effectively closing the freedom of the press. These above actions have been exposed: the PRC not only is a big threat to Vietnam but also to the World. And, of course, the Vietnamese people will suffer.
Recent history of Vietnam: Our country had been under the French colonialism since the 19th Century. World War II started in 1939 and Japan abolished the French colony on March 9, 1945. The last Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai rescinded the Protectorate Treaty with France and asked Prime Minister Tran Trong Kim to form the 1st independent government. The Axis countries: Germany, Italy and Japan lost the war to the Allies: Britain, USA, France, USSR and China. On August 19, 1945, a small group of communists usurped the government of Prime Minister Tran Trong Kim and proclaimed a Vietnam Socialist Republic. Not long after, the French returned and the whole country of Vietnam resisted. When the Vietnamese nationalists discovered the perfidy of the Vietnamese communists, they returned to form a nationalist government with the French. After the defeat of Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva Convention divided the country on July 20, 1954 into 2 countries: the North under the VNCP (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) supported by communist countries and the South which became the Republic of Vietnam and was supported by the US and the Free World. Soon the North sought to unify Vietnam by infiltrating soldiers and creating the National Front for Liberation of South Vietnam. The Republic of Vietnam asked for support to stop the spreading of the communists. When the infiltration by the communists became unbearable the US started sending troops in 1960 to stop the invasion. The fighting intensified.
In 1972, when the USSR and China were in no longer friends, President Nixon traveled to China to sign the Shanghai Communiqué. At that time the US no longer needed an outpost against the communists and decided to abandon South Vietnam. (The book “When the Allies Ran Away” by Dr. Nguyen Tien Hung describes the horrific truth on the US withdrawal). According to the Paris Peace Treaty of 1973, the US withdrew all combat troops from Vietnam but let the VNCP troops stay. The VNCP continued to attack the South with the full support of other communist countries. The Republic of Vietnam in the South, willing to fight but lacking arms, munitions, and petrol, were unable to stop the communist onslaught. Finally on April 20, 1975, Saigon, the capital of the Republic of Vietnam capitulated. The escape from Vietnam to seek freedom began and we became part of it!
Reflections on History and News: In our time there is a cornucopia of information. Authors write on Vietnam and films depict the Vietnam War, but often the content is far from truthful. At best it is partially true, like 5 blind persons trying to describe an elephant: one touches the trump, one the ear, one the foot, one the tail and one on the abdomen. No one “sees” the whole elephant. Some even bend the truth to serve their own obscure motives. Some even “invent” stories to denigrate others. Worse, above all, is when the victors rewrite history to serve their own purposes. (Alex Haley wrote in “Roots”: At the end, the victors are writing history).
Because of that, we ask you all to be very careful: Use common sense when you read documents, books, or view films on Vietnam during the 20th and 21st Century, even from Western sources. From our point of view the Vietnam War of 1954-1975 between the North and the South Vietnam was a civil war created by politicians from 2 blocs: the communist bloc and the Free World, with both sides providing weapons to bleed the Vietnamese people. For the South the cause was defending their freedom, but for the North it was communist ideology employed under the pretext of liberating the South from the US and reunifying all of Vietnam. The victors were arrogant and committed atrocities while the losers were humiliated. Since we cannot change these feelings, true peace and reconciliation are impossible. Millions have died, despite a reunified Vietnam and there are still deep resentments in the Vietnamese populace.
On Visiting Vietnam: Yes, we returned to Vietnam, like many others. Due to our advanced ages and health, we do not like to visit Vietnam anymore. There are many people who return to Vietnam, each one has their own reason, goal or a particular desire. Returning to take care of aging and feeble parents/families, to visit dear friends, to take care of our ancestral tombs, to train students in special needy fields, to visit our natal place: All of these are worthy motives. To return to help victims of environment disasters like flood or to help the poor, the sick without looking for gain or publicity is also acceptable. But to return to enjoy cheap tourism, for self-promotion, or to seek remuneration is despicable.
In the future, if the current government allows some genuine freedom, you should take your children to visit their fatherland. Of course, they may well be indifferent since they have no direct memories of Vietnam. We ourselves all have memories of our ancestral land whereas they do not so they have no emotional connection. But perhaps you will be able to guide them toward loving their country of origin, and the people of Vietnam. Help them take a view different from that of an ordinary tourist. Regarding the hope of finding work and earning a living in Vietnam, we think that is far-fetched.
Current situation in Vietnam: Some say that Vietnam nowadays is better than before. The majority of Vietnamese now eat rice not the barley mixed with rice like during the first few years after the Vietnam War. Today there are plenty of cars and motorbikes on the streets rather than bicycles. After more than 40 years of peace, there ought to be some progress. But to compare this progress with Vietnam’s neighboring countries it is shameful (even Kampuchea has an opposition party!). To know the truth in Vietnam behind the high-rise, luxurious cars, five-star hotels, modern golf courses it is necessary to dig into local news. There you discover deficiencies, decadences especially in education (e.g. drugs, hooliganism), the eruption of Red Capitalism, national corruption, social vices, child sexual abuse/trafficking and waste in natural resources. We have to find the truth and not behind the cover up/make up.
On Politics: not only overseas Vietnamese are demanding true democracy, abolition of the one party system, and the creation of a multi-party government. There are also progressive members of the VNCP who demand the same reforms, but they are muted by the current oppressive regime. To stand for reform, to fight despotism, to oppose an autocratic corrupted communist regime is not to fight against Vietnam but to keep alive hopes for a better future for a free and developed Vietnam.
If somebody thinks that communism now has changed a little bit, especially after the collapse of the Eastern Europe Economic Bloc, one should know it is due to the revolt of the people of these countries and outside international pressure. For that reason the VNCP also has “changed” (doi moi) by freeing the economic policies (but still keeping the communist doctrine). Although we are not political activists, we need to support all movements in bringing real democracy and liberty to Vietnam.
On Family: now regarding our own families. We are from the previous generation, we raise our children following the norms of our time, much as we ourselves were educated by our parents’ norms. Sometime, you think that we are too rigid but it was like that during our time. We hope that you will forgive us when we unintentionally have offended you. Please remember that we did not indulge ourselves in vices, we did not spend extravagantly, we always spend within our means, and we worked and saved so you all could have a good education under a safe and protective roof.
Because all of our belongings had been lost or confiscated by the communists, our lives were difficult when we first arrived in this country. We worked hard and we know you too had to work as summer jobs besides being studious, but so far so good. You are always not satisfied thinking that you are smart and capable. Intelligence and skills are important, but also we all depend on luck and opportunities, following the “doing good philosophy” of previous generations. You need to stay honest, live “right” to maintain the “correct path.” If we sow good deeds we will be rewarded accordingly. That is the natural cycle and it is always right!
In our own family, our advice is you have to respect your partner. We cannot avoid conflict, but we can always manage it peacefully (2 porcupines despite their menacing needles can live together harmoniously). Anger is a short folly, try to avoid it (we know it is easier said than done).
For your children, obviously you have to love them but do not spoil them. You need to check on them and to know their friends: now it is easy for children to be influenced by the media (TV, game, chat) and bad company, they need to be restricted. But safe sports need to be encouraged. Your personal lives should be balanced physically and spiritually.
On everyday life, we need to save and protect our environment because natural resources are not infinite. Always think about future generations. Don’t waste even an unnecessary napkin. Once in awhile show your children photos of the poor living conditions in underdeveloped countries in the world.
When there is sibling interaction, show each other understanding and solidarity. If you fight stubbornly with each other, it will cause pain and suffering for us.
In America today, we have only limited time to take care of our own family so obviously we do not havetime for our “big family” even in our subconscious mind we like to have that time, so try to understand and promote family solidarity. With the in-laws, try to maintain good relations.
Vietnamese language in a foreign country: something to discuss. You are the children of this country with all the rights and duties of a citizen hence you need first to be fluent in English so you can assimilate in your country of adoption. Studying Vietnamese language to keep your heritage is applauded but do not blindly enforce your children to study a second language: they can be overwhelmed! And they do need music and sports too! So try to educate them according to their capabilities and skills so they can balance their lives and live harmoniously in their adopted culture. On American culture: America is above all a consumer society! It is easy to be attracted by the ingeniously crafted ads that urge you to buy more and more. Even our banks and insurance companies try to sell us, hook us in their products. You need to buy only the things you need, period! For houses and cars, safety features are the first criteria to buy, not because your friend has nicer car or spacious home. Avoid sinking into debts that you cannot manage. Relax! We are not talking about philosophy; our actual societal condition is now in a declining mode in morale and in spirituality: everything now is towards materialism, egotism, me-too and not in the pursuit of inner happiness. Be less selfish, think about our countryman, and share with your friends.
For us: Getting old will bring illnesses, sickness will bring death. That is natural. On that date, prepare for us a simple but dignified burial ceremony. If you inter us and later on you move, you will feel uncomfortable because you cannot care of our tombs anymore. We chose cremation because this method is more efficacious, not using precious land for future generations. You can scatter our ashes into the mountains, ocean or river. Dust return to dust, it is perfect! Instead of expensive burial festivities, contribute wisely to common charities. Don’t be afraid of ridicule gossips, people will understand. One last note, in an unfortunate case that we are in a vegetative coma, be courageous and pull out the tubes: don’t prolong unnecessary life, it will make people suffer!
The altar: in present-day America, it is difficult to maintain an altar in a house. To remember our ancestors, display their photos in a respectful place. On the date of the death anniversary, a simple ceremony with few flowers, few fruits, and a candle will suffice. Your truthful remembrance is more precious than everything else. For the Vietnamese culture, commemoration of death anniversaries is more important than other anniversary dates. If you all can get together on that date it is a plus, more appreciated because family bonds with be refreshed and stronger.
We hope that you all have read carefully this letter. We ask that you reflect on it deeply and heed our advice.
Big hugs and kisses.
Lastly, we thank our children for always caring us for many years making our lives so fulfilled and happy.