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A Portrait of Grief and Pride

By James D. Blum

One of President Nixon's top-ranking advisors predicted last week that the North Vietnamese and their allies now fighting in the South will have been so totally crushed by July that they will not be able to recoup for two years.

Even if they do suffer defeat--and that does not seem too likely at the moment--the North Vietnamese and the PRG and the other Vietnamese who oppose the United States and the Thieu regime will surely return to the fight.

For instance Ngo Ba Thanh, an authority on international law trained at Columbia Law School, has been repeatedly imprisoned for her outspoken opposition to the Thieu regime. Although her damp cell at Thu Duc prison has aggravated her already severe asthma, Mrs. Thanh refuses to surrender her beliefs.

Last March as she waited to have her stretcher carried back to Thu Duc prison after a "trial" in Saigon, Ngo Ba Thanh discussed--in somewhat broken English--her views with an American doctor. During most of the conversation, Mrs. Thanh was gasping for breath. At one point after the trial ended, she required artificial respiration.

Interview with Ngo Ba Thanh

Mrs. Thanh: This is the rule of Law?! Free arrest of citizens who want Peace, Democracy. Independence. We don't want Americans to come here. We don't want anyone to come here and interfere in our affairs and put on our heads such a puppet as Nguyen Van Thieu, which is a shame.

I want all the Americans to go home, and hand back our Sovereignty and we want to talk with the other people from the other side, about our business, among the Vietnamese. You people go talk with the Chinese if you want to, but not here, in Vietnam.

I also call on President Nixon, that he should take this chance to listen to the voice of the Vietnamese people. I am sure that he would not be disappointed, as he has been up to now. Because for a long time he has been dealing with a minority that just care about themselves--that's all. Never about the people. This is my personal message to President Nixon.

The transcript of Mrs. Ngo Ba Thanh's statement was made available to the writer by the Indochina Mobile Education Project in Washington, D.C.

The two poems are printed by permission of that project from a compendium of Vietnamese poetry entitled We Promise One Another--poems of an Asian war.

Le Hieu translated Kim Van Kieu.

(At this point. Mrs. Thanh began discussing the situation at Thu Duc. the prison she was being returned to.) Mrs. Thanh: At Thu Duc the conditions are reluctantly better. Because it is not an interrogation place. But lying on the floor and the humidity is very bad for asthma The food--(we get) one supply for a week--and the nutrition is very bad for the health. But I still am very good morally. I know what I am doing is right.

Question: Mrs. Thanh. what university did you go to in the U.S.?

Mrs. Thanh: I was at Columbia University.

Question: When you return to prison will you return to Thu Duc?

Mrs. Thanh: I suppose so.

Everyday I could hardly sleep two hours every night. I just sit., So even if they keep me there for better conditions (Editor's note: because conditions there are better than at other prisons) they are the same. Doctors understand the situation. We have no fresh air here and it is very bad for asthma.

We've been in a position in general of being retaliated (against) by the government. It all comes from the fact that the government is supported by the Americans. Not many people. From the day the Americans withdraw their support...that day, the Vietnamese people will be able to decide on our fate and the role of the minority of people who actually rule the country, they will collapse by itself because it has no people support.

I don't think that any government that has no support from its own people would be able to stand. Even supported by foreign powers such as America--this is a lesson that we have learned for the last 10 years. With such presence of the U.S. Army, the full support of so-called Allies and yet the puppet government of South Vietnam has failed in all aspects totally--economically, socially and politically. This is a good case, so how could they stand by themselves?

All we are demanding is that Americans could just turn back to the people of Vietnam their sovereignly, and we would handle our business and we are sure that when the war ends in our country-with our country our natural resources with our ability and our will, with our full aspiration to peace and with peace, we could know how to handle our country. The Americans have always ignored the Vietnamese people. All they know is about the few men that they think would serve the interest of America. Who are in fact working against American interest.

I have not only been in America but I have been educated in the traditions of American Democracy. I have graduated from the Law School of Columbia University--a title for which I am very proud.

Because of that. I believe that in America. I mean the Great America, and not some administration of some given time of history, is in fact serving the real ideal that every free man should fight for and I am among them. But unfortunately for this time of the human rebuild-up we are converging towards a new world and I think the new equilibrium has not been found yet. That's why we haven't been able so far to find our real wise solution, but in fact there are some basic rules. As long as every nation would recognize to every other nation with the same rights asked by themselves--the right to hold their own business--as long as every human being would be recognized--any basic right as human beings--as long as no other country would want to impose on other people their way of living, their way of governing themselves--of course, peace would come--peace would last and there would be real cooperation, on equal footing respect of mutual sovereignty.

And I am happy that President Nixon has now recognized that and recently tried to approach Communist China in order to work for peaceful co-existence. Because I also believe in peaceful co-existence. Not on the imposition by a bloc or so called ideology on other people because man has been born to be free and I'm sure that they know how to choose to be free. This is a pride of the world and of our country. But man has to fight in order to be free, and in order to preserve that he must fight. And that's what I'm doing now.

Present-day Vietnamese find their suffering mirrored in the works of past poets.

The poet Nguyen Du wrote two centuries ago of a beautiful lady, Thuy Kieu, who became the concubine of a ruthless merchant to save her father from the clutches of a tax collector.

On Thuy Kieu's request, her betrothed Kim Trong, married her sister Thuy Van. Yet Kim Trong's original love for her never faded throughout Thuy Kieu's miserable association with the merchant.

When the poem begins. Thuy Kieu has returned to her family, and her sister proposes that she and Kim Trong marry.

Thuy Kieu, however, asks that she be allowed to become a nun. Her body has been "battered by many storms," and she does not believe that she is worthy to be a wife.

Kim Trong refuses to allow her to escape from him again. He says that she sacrificed herself in order to show filial loyalty to her father, and that the scars she has suffered only enhance her inner beauty.

"Today, as our destiny has brought us here together let us enjoy the flowers as the mist lifts from the garden path, and the sky clears off again! See! The flower that had faded is fresh and lovely once more! You know, a waning moon is always much brighter than the full one that has passed! Why do you still doubt me? As careless of me as if I was just some mere passerby." --from "Kim Van Kieu"

Thuy Kieu's encounter with Kim Trong, as portrayed in the following poem Kim Van Khieu, has special meaning to the Vietnamese who have endured so much suffering in the last fifty years.

This poem is perhaps the most famous in Vietnamese history.   KIM VAN KIEU   By Nguyen Du

"Now the mirror

which was broken is complete again

for the Heaven which orders all

has so disposed: never dying love

with the lovers themselves both

still alive to enjoy it: the same

silver moon shines today as when

they were betrothed: though the bride

is no longer a girl, she is still

lovely, desirable: now is time for her

to be married in all state." Scarcely

had she finished speaking, when Kieu

swept her argument aside, saying

"How now can we speak of this affair

of so long ago? Surely I have pledged

myself, but my body since has been

battered by many storms, and I

in shame cannot speak of it all: now

permit the tide to ebb back

to the open sea." Then Kim broke in

saying. "strange words these, and a strange

wish: still despite all, there remains

our solemn betrothal: your word

given with the deep earth and high heaven

as witness, what does it matter

to us even the stars

have moved from their accustomed places

for have we not promised each other

in life and in death to be true

to one another? This oath shall we

hold to: our marriage is no betrayal.

our destiny we shall face together."

to which Kieu replied. "But now I see

how happily you and Van have lived together

both giving so much in love to each other

I feel that the best married love

needs the fragrance of the Hower to

gather around its pollen: that the moon

holds its proper shape: virginity is worth

much treasure: I do not wish to blush

in any bridal chamber where the rites

are carried out by my beloved Kim, for since

I have fallen on evil days, so have many

bees and butterflies polluted my body:

too much filth has lodged with me.

there have been lashing tempests

driving rains, any moon in such

would have lost its fullness, any flower

its loveliness, so what is left for me'

Surely now in this mortal life

little remains for me to hope for.

full of shame when I look back

wondering how may I, mud of the ditch,

dare ever to become your wife.

knowing of your great love yet unable to look at the clear flame

if that lamp that would light

our bridal chamber: now

have I decided on absolute cellbacy

for though my religious vows

are not yet completed, yet

do I feel this the only

way for me; if still you continue

remembering our past love, let us

make it a base for friendship

to speak of marrying after all

that has passed seems sad, even

ridiculous!" Kim answered,

"As ever you have reasoned well:

yet must you realize that every argument

has two sides: for any woman

there are many ways to carry through

the duties of married life; how

absurd of you to say in the face

of your filial piety so grandly

expressed, that your body could ever

he defiled! Today, as our destiny

has brought us here together

let us enjoy the flowers

as the mist lifts from the garden

path, and the sky clears off again!

See! The flower that had faded

is fresh and lovely once more!

You know, a waning moon is always

much brighter than the full one

that has passed! Why do you still

doubt me? As careless of me as if I

was just some mere passer-by

And what do the freigners who believe that day are helping to maintain a "free" Vietnam really know of the views and feelings of the people who have been imprisoned to maintain that "freedom?"

A high Nixon administration official once explained to me that the people jailed in the tiger cages of Con Son Island belong there because they refuse to salute the flag of President Thieu. Were they to salute, he told me, they would be freed.

The non-bureaucratic world has viewed the suffering at Con Son prison in a somewhat different light, and the following poem explains something of what it is like to be imprisoned there.

THE PRISON ISLAND OF CON SON  By Thop Xanh

You ask me where on earth

People cannot live as human beings,

Where people with heart and soul

Live like beasts,

And I remember the days at Con Son.

They days of my youth

The beautiful blossoming days of my manhood

Still engraved in my heart with hate;

I engrave in this buring heart

The days of starvation at Con Son

Meals of eight spoonfuls of rice

Burning my stomach,

One cup of water for five people

Burning my throat.

Do you know the nauseous smell of rotten shrimp paste?

Despite my empty stomach, the bile flows bitter

And I spit out "human rights" to the Second Republic!

Yet listen to them

"Eat and lie flat on your back for twenty-four hours.

Remember, son..

Raise your head and we'll break your ribs:

Unbutton your shirt and you'll eat lime dust."

You ask me where is Hell

Deep in my heart I remember night at Con Son--

The echo of a creaking door

The beatings

They crying out at midnight

The shouting of guards

"Damm it! Ask for medicine

And we'll send you to the cemetery of Ham Duong."

The beating of clubs on my back.

Oh, my heart, how it aches

Yet I still have the heart to ask

Whether they are human beings.

I ask all of you,

I ask the regime of the Republic

Who are they? Those whom the regime has trained

To "reform" the prisoners at Con Son.

You are responsible Regime of the Second Republic.

Responsible to all of the people,

To each of us

Today

In this Twentieth Centry

The century of human progress

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