American academics,politicians and journalists continue to pontificate about the VietnamWar…without the input of Vietnamese

By Nguyen Thai 

(Thearticle below is slightly revised from the one found in the above link)

OAKLANDCalif.Feb 23, 2006 -Thirty-three years after the withdrawal from Vietnam and the ensuing debacle, America has still not learned the lessonsof the war. Despite its ignoble politicaldefeat in 1975, America loves to listen to its favoritesons and daughters rehash the war’s shortcomings in the pretext of findingwisdom and relieving future generations of angst and sorrow.

Butthe voice of the Vietnamese people, here and in Vietnam, is always an afterthought. Thusfor two days (March 10-11), the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston will host a conference on “Vietnam and the Presidency,” underthe auspices of the National Archives and all 12 presidential libraries.Conference organizers have invited an impressive list of political big-shots, including former secretaries of state HenryKissinger and Alexander Jr., Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), first Ambassador to Vietnam Pete Petersen,television journalist Dan Rather and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors David Halberstam and Frances Fitzgerald. President Jimmy Carterwill speak via video. The organizers claim to address a wide range of issuesand new information, yet curiously, not a single Vietnamese was among theinvitees.

Inpolitics, the media and academia, the voice of Vietnamese andVietnamese-Americans is rarely heard. From the “Vietnam as History”conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., tothe (USC) University of Southern California’s “Vietnam Reconsidered”event in early 1983 to the recent Oakland Museum conference and exhibit,”What’s Going On: California and the Vietnam Era” to the upcoming JFKlibrary conference, the Vietnamese voice has always been circumscribed andgagged.

Vietnam was a complex war and they need amore inclusive view,” says Professor Doan Viet ,a dissident who was released from jail in 1989. “The present situation in Vietnam demands it.” and professor Nguyen Ngoc from the Washington area were suggested by variousVietnamese forums, but were not invited. Bui Tin, the ex-colonel from thePeople’s Army of North Vietnam and the chief editor of Dan People’s Army newspaper was also bypassed. Quang Pham, a Marine helicopter pilot in the first war and author of “A Senseof Duty: My father, My American Journey,” says he contacted the JFKlibrary to suggest Vietnamese speakers, “but to no avail.”

Bypurposely framing the conference around Vietnam and the presidency, theorganizers have effectively shut the Vietnamese voice out of the historicaldebate and sidestepped the issue of why America went to Vietnam in the first place. In case thepundits have forgotten, the American promise and premise was to secure theblessing of liberty and self-determination for the (South) Vietnamese people.Or, as John F. Kennedy pledged in his 1960 inauguration address, “Let everynation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price,bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe toassure the survival and success of liberty.” These words ring hollowtoday, considering the dearth of liberty in Vietnam since the less-than-honorableAmerican Congress decided to cut all aid to South Vietnam in 1975 and effectively foreclosethe dream of democracy there.

Willthe conference juxtapose Kennedy’s “survival of liberty” with theTruman Doctrine’s call to “support free people who are resisting attemptedsubjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures”? Have Americansforgotten that we Vietnamese were fighting for our independence almost ahundred years before the United States decided to side with France in her attempt to retake Vietnam in 1946?

Itwas convenient in 1963, on the heels of the Buddhist unrest in South VietnamAmerica to engineer the coup against PresidentNgo Diem that had him and his brother murdered so it could have free rein in the execution ofthe war. How ironic for the United States to take over the war when, in thestruggle for nationhood at the waning of French colonialism, the Vietnamesenationalists and communists had in common, at least, a shared struggle fortheir place in the 20th century.

Howdisingenuous, then, for Nixon to “Vietnamize“the war, when beginning in 1961 Kennedy had already set in motion anAmerican-led war by eliminating a regime that had steadfastly refused Americantroops. How ironic for “Vietnamization“when Robert McNamara and Gen. Westmoreland kept pouring American troops into Vietnam, where, in April 1969, Americantroop levels had reached 543, 400, giving a false sense of security to theVietnamese and convincing them that only a reliance on military superiority would bringfreedom to Vietnam. Was it “Vietnamization“when Kissinger forced President Thieu to sign theParis Accords in 1973 (inept a president as he was, Thieuwas prescient enough to resist signing a death warrant for South Vietnam), whenKissinger knew all along that the North Vietnamese were not going to honor theaccords?

Inthe end, there was neither peace nor honor for Vietnam, only a sell-out agreement forgedby American policy makers. The United Statessquandered 58, 000 Americans and more than 3 million Vietnamese lives in itslast betrayal of Vietnam, leaving more than 2 million Vietnamese-Americans and80 million Vietnamese in Vietnam to sort out their fates in the 21st century.Now, more than 30 years later, those who consider themselves the top thinkers,policy makers and the very conscience of America will sit at the JFK PresidentialLibrary in judgment of America‘s past action and once againtotally disregard the most critical players and victims of their blunders: weVietnamese.

America Media contributor Thai A.Nguyen- teaches social studies in the San FranciscoUnifiedSchool District. He was a Vietnamese AdvisoryBoard member for the OaklandMuseum conference “What’s GoingOn,” from February 2004 to July 2005. He writes for the English-edition ofNguoi Viet 2 and is an editor of Dan Viet, a popular online magazine

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