The Battle of the Flags

by Sidney Tran

            There is nothing more sacred for a country than her national symbol.  Hence, nothing represents the national symbol more than a nation’s flag.  A flag is a powerful and simplistic symbol that most modern countries have nowadays no matter how big or how small that country is.  It is displayed at all governmental buildings, memorials, sporting events, and countless other venues.  There are some well known flags out there that one can easily identify and associate the emblem with its people.  The flag of the UK, known as the Union Jack, is easily recognizable as it symbolizes all the regions of the British Isles.  Additionally, who cannot recognize the national flag of Japan, the sun disc on a white background?  Of course there is “Old Glory”, the national emblem of the greatest democracy in the world, the United States. 

            It is with this context that we understand the ongoing war between the Communists and nationalists over what flag is the legitimate representation of the Vietnamese people as the emblem of the country.  It is such a powerful, emotive issue that has transcended time, generations, and continents.  The flag war is just an extension of the ongoing dysfunction that exists in the Vietnamese community inside and outside Vietnam.  It is rather sad that this still exists.  I often wonder how much longer this division can last.  Will it go beyond my own generation to the next?  In Vietnam, a person of a certain age can either identify himself or herself as having fought under the banner of the yellow flag or the red flag.  The colors represent the two political entities that were created after an international conference about Indochina in 1954.  The flag issue is a gaping wound that has not and will not heal from the war.  It is an ongoing conflict that has existed between members of the Vietnamese family.

            At one end of this conflict is the red flag of North Vietnam that is now officially the flag of a unified Vietnam.  At the other end is the yellow flag that is supported by the overseas Vietnamese community.  In order to understand this conflict, a person has to understand the historical significance of the two flags.  The red flag had its origin with one political group the communists of Vietnam while the yellow banner has a deeper root in Vietnam’s historical record and memory.  The first mention of the yellow flag was when Trung Trac and Trung Nhi rallied the people together and waved the yellow flag of the people in order to fight the Chinese army in AD 40.  Thus, if one were to go by history alone, then the yellow banner predates the communist flag by about a mere 2,000 years!   It would seem the red flag has a pretty shallow claim as an emblem of the Vietnamese people especially because it never really mentions the Vietnamese people.  Rather, the red color signifies the blood of the people and revolution.  The yellow star represents the leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party.  So what happened to the 2,000 years in between the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the revolt of Trung sisters?  Simply, Vietnam was not founded by the Communists and was not led by the Communists for all those years.  Additionally, Vietnam as a nation will continue to go on without communism.   How can any Vietnamese with knowledge about Vietnam’s early history accept the red flag as an emblem of her people?  It is time then to acknowledge the inheritance of our ancestors.  It is for the land of Vietnam and the hard working people that occupy it that most Vietnamese identify themselves by and not by one political party or ideology.  The emblem that sustains the Viet nation for over 2,000 years was the banner that gave the inspiration to the people in their darkest, deepest hour of calamity.  No one can deny this historical basis. 

            The yellow banner with the three red stripes should not be identified only with the defunct Republic of Vietnam.  It represents all of Vietnam and all of her regions and her people.  It was an emblem that had its genesis in the earliest memory of the Viet nation.  Communism on the other hand was as a political force and an idea that have come and gone.  It has been rejected by virtually every country, every people and every region of the world.  Essentially, communism was founded by false prophets and false ideas that came from a far away land.  It has no historical basis or connection to the Viet people that have inhabited the Red River Delta and beyond.  It is with sadness then that the red flag of communism continue to divide the Vietnamese people in Vietnam and abroad.  One also cannot wash away the stain that the red flag stood for.  It is a flag of totalitarianism.  It is a flag of aggression, oppression, and suffering.  Its basis was the enslavement of other Vietnamese.  It represents the deepest, darkest, most primitive impulses of humanity, a world in which morality or human value were inconsequential to the machinery of madness.  As a result, it will never be truly accepted by the Vietnamese people.  The red flag only represents a small, narrow group of people who did not derive any sort of legitimacy for its rule.  Thus, the sickness and malady that still afflict modern Vietnam will only go away when a nation faces the truth about her past and present in order to define her future.  The ideals in which Communist Vietnam was founded on have all proven to be false.  There is no utopia but only a crude dictatorship that feeds on the subjugation of its subjects.  The most tragic thing about Communist Vietnam is the persistence and resiliency of people who support them in clinging to unrealistic ideas which have proven to be so harmful to the people.  Dictatorships always seem to have a life force of its own once it has been implemented.  The addiction of power cannot so easily be dismissed.   Finally, the rationale and justification for its continuing role are rooted in insecurity.  It is the insecurity of losing power and the subsequent loss of privilege and status.  But for a nation to continue to survive and to flourish leadership requires sacrifice and sometime that sacrifice means letting go the reins of power for the common good of the nation. 

            Ultimately, the legacy of the red flag is rooted too much on suffering.  When the suffering of its victims is never acknowledge no amount of coercion or denial will justify that political system.  Furthermore, nothing galvanizes the overseas Vietnamese community more than the display of the red flag of communism, especially if it is displayed in their neighborhood and community.   It is an eyesore upon their sense of morality.  It is an affront to their sensibilities.  It is an affront to anyone who believes in human decency and the value of human life and worth.  Most people, who are ignorant about it, do not really know what the fuss is all about?  But there is a reason behind the passion and emotion that are associated with the communist banner.  It is rooted in pain and loss.  The pain is for all the lives that were robbed from its owners.  The loss is for the destruction of a country that most believe represents the fundamental ideals of Vietnamese nationalism.  Hence, so long as communism represents a force in Vietnamese politics, the struggle for the identity and soul of Vietnam will continue indefinitely.  And nothing is more indicative of that struggle, than the national banner of a unified Vietnam.

            The sentimental attachment that some Vietnamese have for the yellow flag indicates the alienation they have toward the present government in Vietnam.  It is a feeling that is hard to overcome.  Since the yellow flag does not claim to represent a particular party or group, its basis is more broadly held across the spectrum of Vietnamese society inside and outside the country by various groups and classes.  The lineage of the yellow flag has been passed down through the noble monarchs of various dynasties.  That lineage was the inspiration for Bao Dai in creating the yellow banner with three red stripes in 1948.  The historical connection thus goes back hundreds of generations.  It goes back to a time when the Viet people first became conscious of their uniqueness as a people and were willing to fight for their beliefs.  If we reject the imperial yellow that has existed in the Vietnamese family eons ago, then we reject the generations that came before us.

            The “blood flag” of Ho Chi Minh and his followers belongs to the lost members of the same Vietnamese family.  These lost members have chosen to reject our moral and cultural values that have existed in the Vietnamese nation from time immemorial.  And in its place they have brought peril and calamity for the people of Vietnam.  They sought to find a society with no moral values at all.  Rather the only morality they believe is the kind that suits their own political ends.  Moreover, when an order is founded based on no precepts of decency it can mean only one thing, chaos.  It was this kind of chaos that ensued in Vietnam’s recent past when refugees fled from the red terror and consequently scattered across the globe.  This phenomenon has already been witnessed in other parts of the world.  Thus our tragedy is not unique or isolated.  Rather, it only confirms the weakness of mankind’s character.  Therefore, to accept the “blood flag” means accepting denial, injustice, and the rejection of history.  In order to build a truly just society, the inhabitants of that society must know the difference between what is and what is not acceptable behavior and that goes for the powerful and the not so powerful.  The equality of justice should be sacrosanct above all.  This idea is the most fundamental belief in a highly evolved and civilized society.  Today’s Vietnam has not reached this summit in her civilization.  Thus, it is up to the future generations of that land to rectify the mistakes of the past.

            Maybe the only way for members of the Vietnamese family to extricate themselves from this morass of division is to look back to the past.  Look at the commonality that existed before the pollution of Marxism invaded the consciousness of the Vietnamese nation.  It was the polluted ideology that came from without that influenced some Vietnamese to reject the moral values of their ancestors to commit great crimes against their own people.  Not all foreign ideas are bad just because they are foreign.  But they are bad when they violate the universal norms of society that transcend all boundaries and cultures.  Japan is a great example of a country that is able to preserve her uniqueness as a nation while transforming the country into a modern state.  Japan still is and remains a constitutional monarchy.  She has been able to preserve her distinctive culture while embracing the necessary changes of modernity in order to flourish as an independent and sovereign country that is respected around the world.  Destroying things are easily accomplished but rebuilding things after the chaos of destruction are not so easily replicated.  In the end, one should not discount the importance of symbolism.  And the symbol of an independent Viet nation has always been the yellow banner that has preserved the sovereignty of her people.                     

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