Monday, September 3, 2012


Nguyen Thanh Giang's Rational Proposal
Pham Truong Long
Nguyen Thanh Giang, a prominent dissident in Vietnam, has made a proposal which
merits our serious attention. In an article dated May 19, 2002 expressing deep sorrow
caused by the loss of land and territorial water in the wake of the Border Agreements of
1999 and 2000 between the Vietnamese and Chinese Communist Parties, in which the
Vietnamese Communists are alleged to have surrendered to their Chinese comrades
some 789 sq. kms of land along the Sino-Vietnamese border and 6,000 sq. kms of
territorial water in the Gulf of Tonkin, he demands that a monument be erected to
remember the valiant sailors and commanding officers of the South Vietnamese Navy
who died defending the Paracel Islands (Hoàng Sa) against the Communist Chinese
invasion in January 1974.
Nguyen Thanh Giang's proposal has wide and deep significance. It comes from an
objective and rational view. He himself is an intellectual (a geologist) living in Vietnam.
He also lived in the then communist North Vietnam during the war, and is thus in no way
associated with the South Vietnamese regime. But more importantly, it serves to remind
us of the pressing need to render truth to contemporary history of Vietnam and to
prevent the incalculable dangers the Vietnamese people are facing if the Communists
are allowed to continue covering up and falsifying history to serve their own interests
as well as those of their foreign patrons, i.e. Communist China and the former Soviet
Union. The lesson of the Vietnam War is still fresh in our memories. With deceitful
slogans like „fighting the U.S. aggressors to save the nation" or „liberating the South",
the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has shoved the entire nation into a devastating
senseless fratricidal war, sowing irremediable hatred on the people, of which the entire
Vietnamese people ended up being the losers, as the veteran dissident and author
Nguyen Minh Can puts it. The new lesson, no less bitter and painful, is the recent
concession of border land and territorial water to Communist China. From the
occurrence of events to the signing of the two Border Treaties of December 30, 1999
and December 25, 2000, history was totally blacked out. The common Vietnamese have
no knowledge whatsoever of this shameful deal. They did not even know their own
A Nation and its History
A historical fact (or figure/personality) can be seen and/or evaluated in different ways.
But the facts must be documented truthfully, objectively and comprehensively.
Historical truth can not be altered. Indeed, historical untruth, if allowed to hold, only
degrades the nation and its people, creating a guilt complex, or proving that the people
are unworthy of their own history.
Every nation has dark, even humiliating or shameful chapters in its history. For the
Germans, it was the killing of the Jews (Holocaust) during the Nazi regime. The French
had their Vichy regime. Neither the Germans nor the French can deny such chapters in
their own history. They are actually valuable historical lessons. They help avoid a
recurrence and serve as a measure of the worth of a nation, showing how its people
come to terms with their own history, whether honestly or deceptively.
Even commonly regarded civilized peoples like the Germans and Japanese are not free
from the temptation to tamper with their own history in order to make it more palatable.
Either expressly or mutely. The Germans have to acknowledge that the crimes
committed by the Nazi regime, from the war of aggression spanning all of Europe to the
killing of some 6 million Jews, were dark chapters of their history. In 1970, during a
visit to Poland, then German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeled down at the monument to
commemorate victims of the uprising in the ghettos of Warsaw, who were brutally and
barbarically suppressed by Nazi occupiers, to acknowledge formally the crimes
committed by his countrymen and express his apology in the name of the German
people. This picture went around the world and Brandt's gesture earned due respect
from the world's community. An Italian newspaper wrote: „He kneeled down, and
through it, he elevates the worth of his own people."
This positive thinking has helped the Germans overcome their guilt complex in
connection with the crimes committed by the Hitler regime and reintegrate into the
community of nations. But not every German is apt to think in such a straightforward
manner like Willy Brandt. Some are more inhibitive and want their conscience
exonerated from this burden of guilt, albeit silently. They cannot escape because the
voice of conscience of the Germans is stronger. The former German Chancellor Helmut
Kohl (1982-1998) once expressed that he was lucky to be born late, i.e. not directly
associated with the Nazi era. Promptly, he was harshly criticized as wanting to escape
from the onerous moral responsibility for historical past. The renown German writer,
Martin Walser, in receiving the German Publisher's Literary Prize in 1998, has unleashed
an unprecedented and heated argument when he confided that personally, he does not
want to be admonished all the time by the media of responsibilities for the German past.
Auschwitz, he said, should not become a „moral cudgel". This debate is still smoldering
among German intellectuals. Most of the critics, including the former two German
Presidents, Messrs. von Weizsaecker and Herzog, clearly did not share Walzer's point of
view. The debate however shows the relentless struggle the Germans are going through
in their conscience, but at the same time reveals that the Germans do not accept a
falsified interpretation of their own history. The Germans have acknowledged their
responsibilities for the infamous past and the world community, including the Jews and
erstwhile enemies, have accepted their rehabilitation. Crimes can be forgiven but
should not be forgotten.
The Japanese, by contrast, remain untrue with their own history. Until now, they are not
willing to admit the wrongdoings they inflicted upon the peoples of Korea, Manchuria
and China in the early 20th century. They committed barbaric crimes such as
conducting, in the name of science, experiments of lethal chemical and biological
products on thousands of healthy young men, or forcing women into prostitution to
serve occupying Japanese soldiers. Japanese schoolbooks do not mention the crimes
committed by the Imperial Army in their former colonies like Korea and Taiwan or in
occupied territories like Manchuria and the coastal provinces of China. The
Governments of PRC and South Korea have repeatedly reminded the Japanese of their
responsibilities for such crimes in the past and await an official apology from Tokyo.
Until now, the Japanese did not show any sign of readiness to meet this expectation. As
a consequence, Japan, though a democracy and an economic power, is somewhat
encumbered with its own inglorious past. The world community, in particular erstwhile
victim nations of the Japanese like the two Koreas, China, Taiwan, have not wholly
accepted the Japanese. Wherever they go, the Japanese must still carry the guilt burden
with them. The Japanese Emperor, for instance, shuns trips abroad, for fear of
That is the price the Japanese have to pay for being deceitful to their own history.
Rendering Truth to the History of Vietnam
Being untrue toward their history, the Japanese are only deceiving themselves. Japan is
a democratic country and nobody is being deliberately deceived. Beside moral damage,
to be held in lesser esteem from the rest of the world for instance, the Japanese can
still live with such deceit. The damage is limited and transparent. But for the
Vietnamese, the deceit/falsification of history by the VCP has been devastating in every
aspect. Beside moral damage, it has been the cause of tragic consequences for the
nation in the last 50 years. It can threaten the very existence of the nation if goes
unchecked, and this threat will continue so long as the VCP still holds power.
Even though some deceits of the VCP have been unravelled over the years, the curtain
behind which distorted history is looming is still very thick. To discern what is right or
wrong takes time, sometime generations, even under normal circumstances. In
November, 2000, when U.S. President Clinton was visiting Vietnam, young Vietnamese in
Hanoi and Saigon lined the streets to greet him enthusiastically. One will recall that not
too long ago, the U.S. was incessantly labelled „imperialist sentry" who must be chased
out of the country. Now they are warmly and enthusiastically welcomed. Indeed the
young Vietnamese are unmasking the falsifications concocted by the VCP regarding the
Americans and the Vietnam War. To be sure, to render truth to the history of the
Vietnam War in a systematic way is a giant task. It requires time, at least one more
generation, if the work is to be seriously undertaken now.
A number of other deceits have not seen the light, such as what really happened
between Vietnam and Communist China since the Sino-Vietnam border war in February
1979. The painful and humiliating truth coming into light now drives home a bitter
lesson: if the VCP is allowed the monopoly to keep distorting and falsifying history, the
Vietnamese people will have to pay dearly in the future. The recent losses of land and
territorial water, for instance, will cost future generations blood, if the lost territories
are to be restored at all.
Lately, the VCP has fallen victim to its own deceitfulness in connection with the land and
territorial water losses to the Chinese. The fact that they concluded the borders treaties
with the Chinese without fanfare and in complete secrecy proves that they are no longer
capable of deceiving the Vietnamese people in such matters. More humiliating still, the
officially-known history of the relationship between VCP and the CCP, itself full of
deceits and contortions, is now due to be re-written (less hostile to the Chinese) as
pressured by Jiang Zemin, the Chinese Communist President during his visit in Vietnam
in February 2002. A second falsification, without any prospect of a lesser menace from
China's expansionist ambitions. The humiliation and material losses are finally to be
borne by the Vietnamese people alone.
To return to the proposal of Nguyen Thanh Giang. To honor and remember the valiant
soldiers and sailors who died during the battle defending the Paracel Islands is only the
beginning of a long and enduring process to render truth to the history of Vietnam. It is
however an important and pressing beginning. So long as Vietnamese history is still
fraught with untruths, the fate of the nation is still at the mercy of risks and
unpredictable great dangers. When the people do not know where the truth lies, they
remain on the fringes of their own history.
Besides shedding light on the history of the Vietnam War as well as the proxy role of the
VCP vis-a-vis the Russians and the Communist Chinese (during and after the war), all
the atrocities and bloody crimes committed by the Vietnamese communists must be
truthfully and honestly documented and made known to future generations. That the
crimes of „the U.S. and its puppet regime" are exhibited in War Museums, documented
(not always truthfully) and propagated for school children and the populace while
barbaric crimes committed by the Vietcong such as the massacres of innocent
Vietnamese, including school children, in Cai Lay, Hue ..., the campaign to „reeducate"
former officers and government cadres of the Saigon regime after 1975 ... are nowhere
to be seen is very much a shame for Vietnam and its history.
History is the root of a nation. It can not be denied, cheated or concealed. Moreover
history is continuity and cannot be conveniently cut into periods and interpreted
subjectively, as the VCP has done and is doing. It is incumbent upon every Vietnamese,
regardless of background, whether from the North or the South, wherever they live, in
Vietnam or overseas, to shed light on the falsifications brought to history by the VCP.
It's a question of honor and of long lasting interests for the Vietnamese people. The
Vietnamese people will never be able to catch up with the pace of progress of the world
community, and redeem their worth as a people, so long as they have to live with the
VCP's untrue history.
The proposal of Nguyen Thanh Giang is a precious and needed reminder. Our conscience
does not permit us to evade our responsibility and relegate the onerous task of
restoring the truth to history to future generations. We will be judged harshly by our
children. As Nguyen Chi Thien in his poem Vi Au Tri (Because We are Naive) (1975)
They will have the right to curse their parents and grandparents.

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