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Part 3. The Cogwheel

Luan, Nguyen Công Indiana University Press ePub

As my father had been a public servant and had died in the communist prison camp, and I was my mother’s only son, I was exempted by conscription law from the military draft. If I had applied for a scholarship abroad, I would have been on the priority list. My mother and my aunt hated the idea that I would be in the military. They wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer.

Some of my friends thought that we should not join the army because it was spoiled by corruption and had too many incapable officers who impeded the army’s progress and spoiled the young officers’ efforts to improve the organization. My friends thought that young men with above-average intelligence, like some in our group, would be better able to help the country if they became doctors or academics. Besides, the salary of armed forces officers was rather low.

Other friends had a different opinion. They said in a world where the conflict between communist powers—especially China—and the free world was becoming more and more serious, another war in Việt Nam would be inevitable in the next few years. In such a situation, we should be serving in the army to defend our stronghold of freedom.

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Part 1. A Grain of Sand

Luan, Nguyen Công Indiana University Press ePub

It was a cool summer morning in 1951 in my home village, a small and insignificant place on the Red River delta, some sixty miles south of Hà Nội, in the north of Việt Nam. Under the bright sunlight and the cloudless blue sky, the green paddy in front of my grandma’s house looked so fresh and peaceful. It would have been much more beautiful if there had not been war in my country.

I was surprised that I was still able to perceive beauty when the whole village was filled with horror. At about 5 AM, African soldiers of the French Army arrived, took position in the pagoda area, and began searching the village houses at sunrise.

Sitting by the doorway of our brick house beside my grandma and a cousin, I was waiting for the worst to happen to me. The village was very quiet; even birds seemed to be aware of impending dangers. At that hour of a day in peacetime, the air would have been noisy with voices, children babbling, birds chirping, and the rice fields active with farmers working.

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Part 6. Epilogue

Luan, Nguyen Công Indiana University Press ePub

The war from 1945 to 1954 was initially a war of independence when Vietnamese patriots of all dispositions were fighting to liberate their nation from French domination. The Việt Nam Communist Party’s campaign to eradicate political opposition drove the anticommunist Vietnamese patriots to the other side. So the war of resistance became mingled with the communists’ long-range scheme to consolidate their ruling power. Beginning in 1951, the Red Chinese were involved in the conflict, providing aid and military and political advisors to the Việt Minh side, and the United States began providing assistance to the French, elevating the war to a new level, turning it into a conflict of influence between the international communist bloc and the capitalist world.

After the 1954 Geneva Accords, the nationalist Vietnamese gathered in the South, founding an anticommunist regime backed by the United States. Millions of Vietnamese like me picked up arms to fight communism because we would not live under communism. We trusted the invincible power of America to defend the democratic and free South Việt Nam. Prior to April 30, 1975, I had never imagined a day when the U.S. government would accept an inglorious defeat.

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Part 5. After the War

Luan, Nguyen Công Indiana University Press ePub

What we were waiting for came at last. On June 9, the communist military governor of Sài Gòn announced his decision to call all former RVN field grade officers and ranking civil servants, including elected legislative officials, to report for “reeducation.” Everyone knew the rhetoric meant “incarceration” or, to be more exact, “incarceration in a concentration camp.” The ARVN NCOs and enlisted men in the Sài Gòn area had been ordered to attend the three-day reeducation class at the wards in late May. They were then released to live with their families.

Communist authorities in the provinces acted differently. In most areas, military officers, civil servants, and other notables were detained right after April 30. The NCOs and troops were subjected to “local reeducation” and released. In other areas, they were sent to serve the unlimited terms in forced labor projects that included clearing land mines left from the war.

On June 15, 1975, I left home for the reeducation camp.

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Preface

Luan, Nguyen Công Indiana University Press ePub

In my early childhood, “war” was one among the first abstract words I learned before I could have the least perception of its meaning. It was when World War II began. When I was a little older, I saw how war brought death and destruction when American bombers attacked some Japanese installations near my hometown. But it was the wars in my country after 1945 that resulted in the greatest disasters to my people.

Particularly, the 1955–75 Việt Nam War has been the most destructive in Việt Nam history and the most controversial in the United States as well as in many countries in the world. The debate seems endless, the arguments contradicting.

Before and since April 1975, there have been conferences, teach-ins, books, reports, and movies about the Việt Nam Wars after 1945. I realized that many of them contained incorrect and insufficient information, one-sided and superficial arguments, and erroneous figures. There have been conferences held outside Việt Nam about the war, but among many hundreds of participants, there was not a single Vietnamese from either side.

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