South Vietnam An Angry Student Speaks Out About His Government

"President Thieu and others of his kind enjoy their present positions of authority and wealth only because of the abnormalities and injustices produced by the war. Once peace comes, once the abnormalities and injustices which have so far served as the stepping stones to the attainment of their power and wealth are removed, they are certain to lose their foothold. This, as far as President Thieu and his sympathizers are concerned, is comparable to physical death."

The following is a speech given at the PAX Award Dinner on March 7 in honor of former Senator Ernest H. Gruening '07. Mr. Long '68 is a Vietnamese graduate students in East Asian studies.

I WOULD like to express my sincere and deep gratitude to Senator Gruenand to all of you here for having tried so hard and so long to bring peace to Vietnam. I believe that the majority of the Vietnamese people share this feeling with me.

While we all want so much to have peace, while many of us forces our attention and our hopes on the Paris peace talks, we must be aware, however, that there are people whose very livelihood and whose very political survival depends on the perpetuation of the war and who, therefore, threaten to make it difficult, if not to say impossible, for us to obtain peace.

President Thieu of South Vietnam on November 20th, 1968 said in a speech which was reported in Dan Toc and several other Saigon newspapers that talking with the NLF would be like marrying a prostitute and that he would "make it impossible for the United States to withdraw any of its support." On Feb. 6 of this year, in a speech in Go Cong which was reported by Duoc Nha Nam the following day. Mr. Thieu ordered the provincial chief to "arrest and imprison all monks and priests who talk politics and arouse the population." He also added, "We could die because of those factions who advocate peace and sympathize with the communists, those politicians who are helpful to the communists; but before we died, those people must die first."

From this we can see that President Thieu is extremely afraid of peace. The reason for this is easy to understand: President Thieu and others of his kind enjoy their present positions of authority and wealth only because of the abnormalities and injustices produced by the war. Once peace comes, once the abnormalities and injustices which have so far served as the stepping stones to the attainment of their power and wealth are removed, they are certain to lose their foothold. This, as far as President Thieu and his sympathizers are concerned, is comparable to physical death. To prevent peace from coming, Theiu must therefore do at least two things: 1) to eliminate those Vietnamese how want peace, and 2) somehow, in his own words, as I quoted before, to "make it impossible for the United States to withdraw its support."

IN AN ATTEMPT to carry out their fist intention, the Saigon government officially forbids the discussion of peace or of neutrality. Those who do so will be branded as "bon nguy hoa, tay sai Cong San" (or, "peace pretenders and Communist lackeys") and will be subjected to imprisonment or death according to law code N. 004/65. Within the last few months, hundreds of students and intellectuals in Vietnam have been arrested, many imprisoned, some killed, because they happened to refer to the issue of peace.

To cite but a few recent examples: On February 7 a Saigon newspaper, Dan Toc, reported that a groups of law students were arrested during a student electing at the Saigon University Faculty of Law because the government suspected them of being acquaintances of a certain Mr. Nguyen dang Trung. Tien Tuyen, the South Vietnamese Army newspaper reported on August 4 of last year that this Mr. Nguyen dang Trung, who was president of the Saigon Student Union, was sentenced in absentia to ten years of hard labor because the Saigon Student Union had published a newspaper that favored peace and therefore "weakened the anticommunist spirit of the army and the people." Other sources close to Mr. Trung say that he may have been done away with. Tin Toung, a Buddhist magazine, in its September, 1968 issue reported that one of Mr. Trung's friends, Mr. Tran quoc Chuong, was tied up by three strangers and thrown down to his death from the third floor of the Sangon University Faculty of Medicine, while many others were beaten to death in prison. Since then any student has been liable to arrest on mere suspicion of being an acquaintance of Mr. Trung.

Another example occurred just about two weeks ago. On February 24th the New York Times reported matter-of-faculty that "The government arrested a leading member of the militant Buddhist factions and about 50 students, reported to be leftists." The Buddhist leader was identified by the New York Times as the Venerable Which Then Minh. On January 26, Dan toc and several other Saigon newspapers, reported that on the preceding day, during the Celebration of the Anniversary of Buddha's Enlightenment, Thich Thien Minh had declared that the Buddhist Church should stand in the middle, not leaning to one side or the other in the conflict, and that after the Vietnamese New Year there would be a number of ceremonies to pray for peace. Since the South Vietnamese government equates neutralism with communism and considers those who talk of peace as communist lackeys, it is no wonder that Thich Thien Minh was arrested for having wanted to stay in the middle and to pray for peace.

This policy of punishing those who are for peace is even carried out right here in this country. Already, a number of Vietnamese students who have expressed their desires for peace have had their passports revoked and some are being recalled to Vietnam.

TO CARRY out their second goal, which is that of keeping the United States bogged down in the Vietnam war as long as possible so that it can go on extending its material and diplomatic support, the South Vietnamese government resorts to a wide variety of tricks. One of the tricks is to give the impression that the Saigon government itself is shaping up, and that the United States should help them in this effort instead of forcing them to make a deal with the other side since according to them, this would only lead to an eventual communist take-over and therefore would be tantamount to an American sellout of its ally.

So far the American government, and the American press seem to have been hoodwinked in this direction. For example, the American government favors the building up of the South Vietnamese troops and the resettlement of thousands of village inhabitants in the so-called refugee camps. The latter process, by the way, is deferentially referred to by some American intellectual as "urbanization." The retainale behind all of this is that once you get the country people "urbanized" they will not go back to the countryside, and that once you strengthen the South Vietnamese army, presumbaly it will be able to keep out the communists. Thus will have some basis for a negotiated settlement, probably with the Viet Cong controlling certain areas in the countryside and with the Allied side in control of the cities and towns.

The American press also seems to support this in their daily reports to the effect that the South Vietnamese troops are beginning to take on more of the combat responsibilities as well as more of the war casualties, that the fanatic communists have sacrificed many lives in order to influence the Paris peace talks, but that so far they have been beaten everywhere and that the most recent fighting may be the last offensive they can mount. IN short, the illusion is created that peace is just around the corner. The South Vietnamese government well knows that this kind of thing works with some Americans, and they seem to spare no effort in pressing the point. For example, during an award ceremony for the Fifth Vietnamese Military Division, which was reported on CBS Evening News on February 3, President Thieu gave a speech in English (mind you, a speech in English to an audience of Vietnamese soldiers) in which he said "During the last few days we have killed more of the communists than during the Tet Mau Than offensive . . . we will continue to kill them all, to bring about a quick and lasting peace."

THERE IS, however, another side of the coin, which is very different from this sort of make-believe. The step-up drafting of Vietnamese males into the army and the continuous driving of the country people into the towns and cities, far from helping to defeat the communists, is only production more and more problems for the Allied side. For example, the salary of a Vietnamese soldier is about 2,500 piasters a month, while a kilogram of pork costs about 500 piasters. Such salary is not enough for him to even feed himself alone.

A recent Vietnamese study reveals that in the Cape St. Jacques area of South Vietnam, most of the Vietnamese soldiers' wives have become bar-girls and prostitutes for the Americans, in order to feed themselves. But this does not really help their financial situation much since the GI's only have a limited amount of spending money, and since living expenses in South Vietnam are as high as those in this country, if not to say higher. Daily newspapers from Saigon are full of stories about Vietnamese soldiers robbing and committing suicide either because their wives are sleeping with Americans or because they cannot support their families. The conditions of the so-called refugees are even worse, but let me not take time to go into that here.