The Responsibility of Young Vietnamese Americans

By Sidney Tran

In the mid 1990’s as Bosnia disintegrated into various ethnic enclaves, I was taking a comparative politics class to fulfill part of my political science degree.  Part of the discussion was whether the U.S. should pursue a policy of supporting the Bosnian Muslims to resist what was left of Yugoslavia and their Bosnian Serb ally. Of course the analogy of the Vietnam War came up in the discussion. My professor stated that the analogy of U.S. involvement in Vietnam was an erroneous case to make. He based his analysis on the fact that Bosnian Muslims were willing to fight for their cause and they deserve U.S. support while the Republic of Vietnam did not deserve U.S. support because her soldiers did not fight for their country.  I remembered his words vividly, “the South Vietnamese didn’t want to fight”, he said in a condescending tone.  I cringed and seethed with anger inside of me as I heard those words. With a wave of his hand at one fell stroke he denigrated the deaths of 275,000 dead soldiers of the Republic out of a nation 17 million.  I just sat there in stone silence. Maybe, I was shocked beyond belief, the contemptuous arrogance he had about a people he never knew. Alas, I just sat there and I did not rise up to defend the honor of the men who could not be there to defend themselves.  To this day, I feel shame and remorse for keeping my mouth shut that day.  I was not brave enough to challenge the opinion of one man.  It is something that has bothered me to this very day.

Even in a free society where a person has a right to his or her opinion and also has a right to be heard, a person can self-censure his own views because of the fear of upsetting those around him.  The historical baggage of the Vietnam War has brought me to this juncture.  This long process of self-reflection has made me to conclude that young Vietnamese Americans or other Viet Kieus have a special responsibility or obligation for the generation that preceded them.  It is a bond forged in the furnace of a shared suffering and stoic resilience.  It is for the sake of our ancestors.  For the blood of our ancestors that was shed, spilled and mingled in every mountain, every field, every valley and every river that exists in Vietnam.        

There are numerous myths and inaccuracies about the Vietnam War that have been perpetrated by either the uninformed or by the outright purveyors of falsehood.  If these myths are not challenged, then they will have the capacity to become, by default, the unvarnished truths.  The responsibility of young Vietnamese Americans (persons under 40) is to be educated about the historical accuracies of the Vietnam War.  It is also our responsibility to communicate to the world our views and analysis about the saddest chapter in Vietnam’s history.  It is time that a long neglected voice is heard about a subject that impacted our community the most.  History cannot be only written by Hanoi or by her apologists.  If that were the case, then it would be a one-way conversation.  It is incumbent on us because having been raised or born in our host countries we are the bridge between the mainstream community of the host countries and the small band of Viet Kieu community.                 

As the defender of an often maligned and neglected view, historical truths should be defended with honesty, fairness, and with indefatigable accuracy.  We should convey the message of truthfulness about history no matter how ugly, how hurtful that message may be.  If not then we will surely condemn our community to scorn and triviality.  There will be plenty of people who will peddle the snake oil of falsehood masquerading as knowledge.  But falsehoods have a way of self-destructing when the light of knowledge is illuminated. What must the world know about the Vietnamese that do not call themselves communists?  Who are these Vietnamese who are not the disciples or nephews of uncle Ho?  The Young Vietnamese Americans will reply with the following proclamations:

– We are the descendants of Tran Hung Dao, Le Loi, Quang Trung, and the Trung sisters not Marx, Engels, Lenin nor Mao

– We respect the morality that was taught and inculcated into us by the great religions of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism

– We share the suffering from the tragedy that befell all the peoples in Indochina including the Montagnards, Hmongs, Laotians, Chinese and Cambodians

– We believe in true reconciliation between victors and victims

– We believe in the real meaning of justice, freedom, independence, and equality as real ideas rather empty slogans

– We believe in a society based on knowledge and law rather than the preservation of power

These are just some of the basic tenets, I believe, that the generation of our parents tried to preserve in Vietnam.  If we do not accept our responsibility as guardians of a humane Vietnamese civilization that was handed down to us from our ancestors, then the inheritance from our parents’ generation will be forever lost for all time.  This is indeed a heavy responsibility for us.  Ideas do matter.  The precarious path between barbarism and civilization has always existed since the dawn of man.  The defenders of freedom have always been few and far.  In every age there have always been a calling for men and women who are willing to take up this special responsibility.  If we do not fight for the memory of the preceding generation, who will?  No, it is our responsibility.             

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