© by Peter Brush
If, in America's eyes, the Soviet Union was the evil empire, then Hanoi and the Vietnamese Communists were the manifestation of evil in Southeast Asia. Richard Nixon describes them as "the warlords in Hanoi" and not a government; their governance is a "reign of terror"; their military policies consist of "merciless bestiality" rather than tactics and strategy. In the rhetoric of the United States, the Vietnamese Communists are beyond the pale of reasonable socio-political behavior. Certainly the Viet Minh and Viet Cong were unique phenomena in Vietnamese history. However, when their behavior is viewed in a larger historical context, their policies become quite legitimate, rational, and less reasonably subject to denigration. All nations are pawned by the forces of history; Vietnam no less than the United States. This is so even if America would portray it otherwise.
Ho Chi Minh viewed communism as the means to realize Vietnam's nationalist aspirations. Not only could Communism eliminate French rule, it would also allow Vietnam to modernize while taking its rightful place as a united and independent state in the postcolonial world. For the U.S., the fact of Ho's nationalism was "irrelevant." Writing in 1949, Secretary of State Dean Acheson claimed that an independent Vietnam would subordinate itself to international Communist purposes. Displaying a better sense of geography than history, Acheson claimed that even though Vietnam was beyond the reach of the Soviet army, it would "doubtless be by no means out of reach of Chi-Commie hatchet men and armed forces." President Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, summed up the attitude of the United States in the title of his speech to the Overseas Press Club in 1954: "Opposition to the Spread of Communism by Whatever Means."
The constitution of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam notes the unremitting struggle of the Communists against foreigners in defense of the nation's independence. President John Kennedy viewed their efforts as quite the opposite: a continuing effort to undermine and destroy Vietnamese independence. American leaders could only see the red on the flag of Communist Vietnam; never the yellow, which historically represented the Vietnamese people.
President Nixon says a series of myths were generated about the Vietnam War by media misreporting. When Nixon lists these media myths of the Vietnam War, his first myth is that it was a civil war. The Vietnamese, both communist and anti-communist, saw it differently. Vietnam was independent for a thousand years after gaining its independence from China in 939. Its people speak one language. The constitutions of both the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the Government of (South) Vietnam state explicitly that Vietnam is one country. The Communists fought throughout for reunification. In 1964, South Vietnamese Premier General Nguyen Khanh led a movement in Saigon, calling for the liberation of the native land in the north in order to reunify Vietnam. This "To the North" movement caused great consternation in Washington. It clashed with America's desire to maintain two Vietnams.
Nixon read this myth backwards: the United States needed to support the myth that it was not a civil war in order to justify its intervention in the south. America viewed intervention less kindly in its own civil war. When Britain proclaimed its neutrality and granted belligerent rights to both North and South, Harper's Weekly and The Atlantic accused Britain of inexcusable conduct. Northerners were in an uproar over the British decision. Northern Senator Charles Sumner declared that if Britain gave aid to the Confederacy, the United States "would once more, as twice before, become her enemy."
France began its military conquest of Vietnam in 1852. In 1940, while Germany conquered France in Europe, Japanese armies crushed French forces in Vietnam. A power vacuum resulted with the defeat of Japan in World War II. On August 16, 1945, Viet Minh forces occupied Hanoi as Japanese troops stood by without interference. On September 2, Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh read the Vietnamese declaration of independence to a crowd of 500,000 gathered in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi. Although the Viet Minh had fought the Japanese throughout their occupation of Vietnam, independence would not come so easily as that. Still, the August Revolution gave them a taste of the possible.
Fighting between French and Viet Minh forces began soon after Ho's declaration of independence. Although an agreement was reached in March 1946 that recognized Vietnam as a free state within the French Union, France soon broke the agreement. The First Indochina War continued until 1954 when Viet Minh armies, victorious at Dien Bien Phu, forced the French to the bargaining table at Geneva.
The outcome of the Geneva Conference was favorable to France. It had extricated itself from a war that, by 1954, was little supported at home. It retained a foothold in South Vietnam. In mid-1954 it appeared as if French cultural and economic influences would be sustained in its three former colonies in Indochina. North Vietnam even expressed a desire to maintain membership within the French Union. Although the United States did not sign the Geneva accords, it did publicly declare its resolve to refrain from the threat or use of force to disturb them and to devote its efforts to the strengthening of peace according to the principles and purposes of the United Nations.
That is what the U.S. declared publicly. Privately, it planned otherwise. One week before the conference began the National Security Council recommended the U.S. should approach the South Vietnamese government with a view to continuing the anti-Vietminh struggle in some form, including unilateral American involvement. The Americans gave their complete support to Catholic and anti-communist South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, whom the French considered not only incapable but a madman.
Article 14a of the Geneva Agreement called for elections which would bring about the unification of Vietnam. The January 25, 1955, issue of Look magazine reported the widely held view that "if the elections were held today, the overwhelmingly majority of Vietnamese would vote Communist." The date for consultations between North and South Vietnam regarding these elections came due in July, 1955. Diem refused to either meet with the North Vietnamese or hold the elections. The Communists offered to discuss holding general elections by secret ballot in July 1955, May and June 1956, March 1958, July 1959, and July 1960. Diem replied to these proposals with either disdain or silence.
Article 14d of the Agreement provided that civilians residing in a zone controlled by one party who wished to live in the zone controlled by the other party would be permitted and helped to do so. The governments of France, the United States, and Vietnam assisted in the transfer of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese from North to South Vietnam. According to a State Department bulletin, these people chose "freedom"; they "wished to go to liberty." The name given to the refugee transfer was Operation Exodus. Gangs of "sharp-tongued" Communist women worked overtime, haranguing the mostly Catholic refugees as they made their way to staging centers. Although a few succumbed to the propaganda of "Red agents" who tried to dissuade them,"most trudged on toward freedom." Look magazine published heart-wrenching photographs of the elderly, orphans, widows, and naked youngsters who wanted rice. "Freedom? What's that?" the article asked. U.S. Navy Task Force 90 began its evacuee lift on August 17, 1954, with 51 vessels sailing from Haiphong to Saigon.
An article in Newsweek called them "Pilgrims of the East." Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York Francis Cardinal Spellman sailed with them, blessing "the aged, the newly born, the seasick, the dirty, the pathetically ragged . . ." When one "wretched woman" thrust a broken image of the Virgin Mary into the Cardinal's hands, he blessed that too. Then he flew back to New York.
Interestingly, the same page of Newsweek noted that Saigon, the destination for most of the refugees, was considered the world's most sinful city. It contained entire blocks of opium dens, gambling mills, and brothels that catered to every purse and taste. It was all legal. According to the article, about half the population of Saigon consisted of opium addicts. The refugees from the North were fortunate to have the Cardinal's blessings as they sailed south on their voyage to freedom and liberty.
Less publicized was the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in encouraging the refugee transfer. U.S. Colonel Ed Lansdale arrived in Saigon on June 1, 1954, with the cover of assistant air attache with the Saigon Military Mission. The mission of the SMM was to save what was left of Vietnam by helping the Vietnamese establish a national government in the South. Part of this effort was a psychological warfare program. The SMM worked hard to maximize the number of refugees, who were told that "the Virgin Mary is moving south" and they would have a good life there under Diem, a devout Catholic leader. One of many stories spread by Lansdale was that of children whose eardrums had been ruptured by chopsticks during Viet Minh torture sessions.
Catholics in the North had a protected status under the French colonial administration. Their communities had provided militia units that fought alongside French army units against the Viet Minh. Many of their priests were the equivalent of warrior-monks, and fought a religious war in which little quarter was given. One Belgian priest kept a loaded pistol in his desk and was guarded by armed militiamen as he waited to leave the North for Saigon. In last battle before the cease-fire, his Catholic militia had inflicted heavy casualties on Viet Minh forces. The Communists considered the Catholics collaborators of the colonialists, and the Catholics feared reprisals and restrictions on their activities under Communist rule.
Also less publicized was that the refugees were triaged by the transfer authorities. The group given first consideration included doctors, administrators, and anti-Communist military and political personnel. Although evacuation by sea was best known, most refugees were transferred by air; the airlift carried 3,000 refugees daily. Moving the wretched by ship conveyed an image conducive to the U.S. goal of portraying the evacuation as a repudiation of Communism by the Vietnamese. Images of doctors or pro-French administrators and military leaders stepping off an airplane at the Saigon airport would be much less effective.
In British North America in 1774, another group of politically-oriented people feared reprisals for their pro-colonial beliefs. Loyalists outside of Boston in Massachusetts found themselves in an increasingly intolerable position. The pro-independence faction would not grind their corn, or engage in commercial transactions with them. Common laborers refused them service. This social denunciation was sanctioned by the provincial congress of Massachussetts. Tories who did not publicly acknowledge their misconduct were to be considered as betrayers of their country.
These Tory refugees found sanctuary in Boston. Patriot supporters allowed no provisions in and no people were allowed out. One witness declared, "The distress of the troops and inhabitants in Boston is great beyond all possible description." Furniture was burned when fuel became scarce. Disease found the Tory supporters easy prey, and the mortality varied from ten to thirty per day. George Washington declared of them that "One or two have done what a great number ought to have done long ago, committed suicide."
The Tories decided to evacuate Boston. Refugees were permitted to go first, and orders were given to carry nothing but necessities. Three British warships provided escort for 170 sailing ships, mostly small schooners. "On their top heavy decks were huddled a wretched throng of soldiers and refugees." It was the largest fleet ever seen in American waters. It set sail during March, 1775, the most tempestuous month of the year. After six days sailing, these Loyalist boat people found refuge on the coast of Nova Scotia.
In Vietnam, refugees also went from South to North. Their number, approximately 150,000, was kept small by order of the Viet Minh. The Communists wanted its sympathizers to remain in the South to prepare for the upcoming elections that would reunify the country. After finally realizing that they were waiting for something that wasn't going to happen, the Communists decided to resume the armed struggle against the American-backed government in the South.
Fighting between the Communist National Liberation Front, supported by North Vietnam, was initiated against the government of the President Diem. By 1964 the Communists were on the verge of another victory. During 1965 the U.S. was forced to send in hundred of thousands of its own troops to maintain the government in the South. By the end of 1967 the opposing forces were stalemated at a very high level of violence. The Communists decided on a dramatic effort to break the stalemate and move the revolution forward.
General William Westmoreland, commander of American forces in Vietnam, in his biography describes in considerable detail the great importance the Vietnamese attach to their celebrations at Tet. For weeks beforehand, Vietnamese housewives bake traditional little cakes of rice and wrap them in sweet-scented dong leaves. People lay in supplies of tea, candy, and rice wine, buy new clothes, and decorate their houses with flowers. Relatives arrange to come home to worship at the family altar and pay obedience to ancestors. Visions of candy and money dance in the children's heads. According to Westmoreland, nothing must stand in the way of the Tet celebration.
General Westmoreland describes Tet so forcefully in order that the reader will understand the Communists' "innate cruelty, his disregard for civilian lives and property and the sacred institution of Tet" by launching a nationwide offensive at that time. President Johnson agreed with Westmoreland by describing Tet as a sacred holiday, the fighting as representing Communist deception and ferocity, the attacks as treacherous assaults, a savage attack, and by a ruthless enemy. How could the Communists do such a thing?
Think of Christmas. Holiday cakes, baked on the eve of a great feast, were said to bring special blessings of good luck and health. Christmas may be proceeded by a day of fasting and abstinence in preparation for the Lord's nativity. On Christmas Day a great dinner is shared by Christians. It is a season of glory, and includes celebration of St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents. It is the Feast of the Nativity of Christ the King, a time of hymns and carols, Christmas candles in the window, burning of the Yule log, pageants, and the delivery of gifts to both children and adults by Santa Claus or St. Nicholas.
The Christmas season in 1776 was a time of new lows for General George Washington, commander of the American forces during the Revolutionary War. Washington felt that unless better fortune soon intervened, the war would be lost. In the middle of December, a spy informed Washington of the presence of a Hessian brigade at Trenton, New Jersey. The presence of these British mercenaries gave the general an intriguing idea. Two days before Christmas, Washington called his generals together and outlined his scheme to attack Trenton. On Christmas Eve he called another council of war and finalized his daring plan.
It was a tense time for the rebel troops as they gathered on Christmas afternoon in a hidden valley near the Delaware River. The attacking force moved out under cover of darkness. Snow changed to sleet, holding up the attack. There was the sound of Christmas revelry in Trenton, where the Hessians had carried their holiday celebration all day and far into the night. At 8 A.M. on the 26th Trenton was virtually asleep. Soldiers were in a stupor from their Christmas celebration of food and drink. The Americans attacked; the battle lasted just over an hour. It proved a remarkable victory for the insurgent forces. On December 27, Washington gave his men a hearty and belated Christmas dinner. The Americans were elated. A grateful Congress increased Washington's powers as commander.
For the Vietnamese Communists in 1968 as well as the American revolutionaries in 1776, surprise was an element of military strategy. According to U.S. Army Field Manual 100-5, factors contributing to surprise as a military strategy include deception, application of unexpected combat power, effective intelligence and counterintelligence, and variations in tactics and methods of operations. This is a good description of the Communist Tet Offensive. Since this field manual was written in 1962, it is reasonable to assume General Westmoreland was familiar with it during his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam.
The city of Hue was the scene of protracted fighting during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Richard Nixon, in No More Vietnams, says the Communist attackers came armed with "blood-debt lists" drawn up months in advance. These lists contained the names of Saigon supporters who could be, and were, killed on the spot. Included were a part-time janitor and cigarette vendor. The death toll reached 2,810 killed and 1,946 missing and presumed killed. Nixon laments that the news media gave little coverage to the Hue killings since it indicated what the Communists had in mind for the rest of Vietnam.
D. Gareth Porter examined the Hue "Massacre" in a June 24, 1974, article in the Indochina Chronicle. Porter, then a staff member of the Indochina Resource Center in Washington, D.C., notes that the South Vietnamese agency given responsibility for compiling data on the alleged "massacre" was the Tenth Political Warfare Battalion of the Army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam. The specific mission of this unit is to discredit the National Liberation Front without regard to the truth. Little coverage was given to the events at Hue because the Saigon government did not allow journalists access to the grave sites or to view the bodies of the dead Vietnamese. This was despite the fact that many foreign journalists, eager to pursue the story, were in Hue at the time.
Porter concludes that the Nixon's "massacre" story was the result of a political warfare campaign by the Saigon government, embellished by the U.S. government, and accepted uncritically by the U.S. press. The official story of indiscriminate slaughter is a complete fabrication. The cause of death of most of the Vietnamese killed at Hue was the fighting itself, including U.S. airstrikes. The portrayal of "massacre" provides a glimpse of U.S. efforts to keep alive fears of a Communist "bloodbath" in order to sustain the American anti-communist effort in Vietnam.
It is reminiscent of Allied propaganda campaigns in World War I describing the German sweep through Belgium. The Bryce report on that campaign, translated into thirty languages, gave details of German atrocities that included soldiers publicly raping Belgian girls in the marketplace of Liege, the bayoneting of a two-year-old child, the cutting off of a peasant girl's breasts in Malines. A 1922 Belgian commission of enquiry failed to corroborate a single major charge of the Bryce report.
The Tet Offensive in Vietnam was a turning point in the war. President Johnson, disillusioned by the lack of progress, declined to seek reelection. A bombing halt over 90 percent of North Vietnam was announced. Peace negotiations began in Paris. Richard Nixon was elected president on a policy of turning the fighting over to South Vietnamese and the withdrawal of American forces. In a 1971 interview to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Nixon claimed "that if the United States were to fail in Vietnam, if the Communists were to take over, the bloodbath that would follow would be a blot on this Nation's history from which we would find it very difficult to return."
In 1975, North Vietnamese army forces occupied Saigon. The South Vietnamese government surrendered and the fighting ended. Vietnam was unified under Communism. Their goal was to bring order to a society ravaged by many years of war. No more difficult task can face a government than to repair the damage caused by civil war.
The Communist authorities formed a Military Management Committee in Saigon whose mission was to establish a revolutionary administration in the South. Local militia sought out Southerners loyal to the old Saigon regime. Former Government of (South) Vietnam military and civilian officials were ordered to report to the new Communist authorities. Those considered a threat to the new order were ordered to return home to await further instructions. Most of these people would later attend indoctrination sessions. Others were sent to reeducation camps for political indoctrination. The worst offenders were sent to isolated work camps where they remained for extended periods of time. Before the end of the first year of Communist administration, several hundred thousand officials of the defeated government were incarcerated in such work camps. Scholars and journalists concluded that no bloodbath took place.
Richard Nixon claims the Vietnamese Communists instituted a "reign of terror" after the fall of Saigon, noting that tens of thousands of Vietnamese were held in reeducation camps or prisons. In A Vietcong Memoir, former Vietcong Minister of Justice Truong Nhu Tang describes how his own brother was sent to such a camp by the Communists. When the brother was not released, Tang asked the president of the Provisional Revolutionary Government for an explanation. President Phat explained that clemency was being applied to a great number of people. Most soldiers and officials had been released and were back at work. "You've got to distinguish between the criminals and the ones were just cannon fodder," Phat told Tang. "You can't treat all these people alike. Each one is a separate case, and we've got to deal with each one differently."
Near the end of World War II, U.S. President Roosevelt came to a similar conclusion. Roosevelt decided to try German war criminals from the very top down to relatively low ranks. The categories of Nazis to be held for possible trial were so vast that they included hundreds of thousands of Germans. Because Nazis were mixed in with prisoners of war, it was not possible to release any POWs until all had gone through the same complicated screening process. Such a process was necessary to preclude the escape from justice of high Nazi officials. Some of top Nazi leaders, including Adolf Eichmann, were posing as low-ranking enlisted men. Heinrich Himmler posed as an army captain. British Field Marshall Montgomery told Anthony Eden, two months after Germany's surrender, "There are some 2 million men of the German armed forces waiting discharge to civil life; amongst these are many thousands of ardent nazis, who cannot possibly be discharged."
Allied prisoner of war administrators used the term "cages" to describe the temporary enclosures used to hold German POWs. At Yalta the allies had decided to use German POWs as slave laborers after the war. The occupation army was required by the Yalta agreement to hold the prisoners until the allied governments were ready to put the POWs to work. France alone wanted two million German POWs for labor reparations. The United States ceased using ex-POWs for labor at the end of 1946. At this time the British and French still held one million German ex-POWs. These men were not discharged until 1948.
The Vietnamese Communists sought to create a revolutionary new society in the south of Vietnam after their military victory. The United States attempted much the same in Japan during its post-war occupation. This program, intended to institute a radical transformation of Japanese society, was officially labeled "The Removal and Exclusion of Undesirable Personnel from Public Office." More commonly, it was known as the "Purge." Details of the purge were set forth in the Potsdam Declaration. Paragraph 6 stated "There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan . . ." Targets of the purge included top Japanese military leaders; all other officers of the armed forces who were exponents of aggression and militant nationalism; all persons who played an active governmental, economic, financial, or other significant part in the formulation or execution of Japan's policy of aggression; and other civilians as necessary for the achievement of the purge mission.
A screening committee was established to designate purgees. A Special Investigation Bureau was created to ensure purgees did not engage in proscribed activities; punishment for doing so included imprisonment for three years. The Bureau had the additional function of surveillance of purgees.
By May 1948, 200,000 Japanese had been designated as purgees. In 1950 the purge was utilized to remove the leadership of the Japanese Communist Party from positions of influence. The initial intent of the purge was to remove from positions of influence Japanese who had been active during the period of 1937-1945. During this period Japanese Communists had been in prison or exile, and not participants in Japan's policies of militant nationalism. Still, America's anti-Communist inclinations were sufficiently strong to change the focus of the purge program from an anti-nationalist to an anti-Red tool.
The Vietnamese Communists faced problems more complicated than merely restoring law and order in the South. The primary problem for the new regime was to institute changes in the economic sector. Fighting had badly disrupted food production. Hundreds of thousands of peasants had moved from the countryside to the cities to escape military operations and to gain employment in service jobs associated with the large American military presence. The Communists estimated there were three million unemployed persons in the city of Saigon alone. The Communists' first priority was to encourage the population to return to the countryside in order to reduce unemployment and restore food production. The South was to resume its historic role as the breadbasket of the nation.
The means to accomplish these goals was the creation of New Economic Areas (NEAs) in the countryside. The concept had originated in the North during the First Five Year Plan in the 1960s. In order to reduce overpopulation in the Red River Delta of North Vietnam, over one million people had been relocated into NEAs in the North in the twenty year period ending in 1975. Post-war NEAs were to be created in underpopulated areas in the Mekong Delta, the central coast, the Central Highlands, and the piedmont regions along the Cambodian border.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) was not the only state to realize problems in its agricultural sector as a consequence of war. The American government, during the course of World War II, shipped 380,000 German POWs to the United States. The majority of them were housed in isolated rural camps. Contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Convention, a reeducation program was established for them.
Agriculture was impacted more than any other sector of the American economy during the war. Growers had difficulty finding adequate manpower for the low-paying manual labor tasks. Many former agricultural workers had either been absorbed into the military or moved to urban areas in search of better paying jobs in industry. In February 1945, congressional representatives from farm states asked the War Department to ship over another 100,000 German POWs to relieve the farm labor shortage.
Growers and food processors paid the U.S. government the going rate for civilian agricultural laborers for use of German POWs. The prisoners received eighty cents daily in coupons that were redeemable in prison camp canteens. In 1944 the U.S. government earned $22,000,000 in this manner.
A second problem area facing the Vietnamese Communists was to reduce the power of private enterprise. A campaign was launched to confiscate the property of bankers, war contractors, investors, speculators, industrialists, and traders. Several individual entrepreneurs were charged with serious economic crimes against the people. A few were executed after trial. One of the most important consequences of this policy of abolishing private control over the economic sector was the lessening of the economic power and influence of the Chinese community in Vietnam. Vietnam's Chinese, known as Hoa, were overwhelmingly urban dwellers. Most of them lived in the South. For generations they were a dominant influence in the economy of Vietnam. The change of government in the South had severe consequences for them as well as for ethnic Vietnamese in the commercial sector.
A similar situation existed in the American colonies during its war for independence. Tories, loyal to Britain, were often office holders whose livelihood depended on the existing regime. Anglican clergy were in similar position to Vietnamese officials of the Catholic Church in Vietnam. Some professed loyalty to Britain simply because it represented the existing government; they chose to "fear God and honor the King." For many, content with the old order of things was the normal condition; certain elements of society remained steadfast in their beliefs. These Tories made as much political capital as possible out of America's wicked and sinful alliance with France, predicting a speedy and inevitable ruin if "the lion and lamb lie down together." This presaged America's distress at North Vietnam's alliance with China and the Soviet Union. Rivington's Gazette, the leading Loyalist newspaper, noted the dangers of alignment with foreign ideologies in an article dated October 20, 1779. Alluded to were domino theory pitfalls:
Since Dr. Franklin has ceded Canada and Florida to the French and Spaniards, it is to he hoped that he will give New England to the pretender and make the Pope Archbishop of North America and that the whole continent in the end may go to the devil.
When the British finally surrendered at Yorktown, British General Cornwallis wished to provide for the safety of Loyalists by inserting a clause in the articles of capitulation. This clause stated that Loyalists should not be punished on account of having joined the British army. General George Washington refused to agree. Historian Claude Van Tyne uses the term "reconcentration camps" to describe the means of incarceration of Tories by Americans. Some states transported these people to remote places "into the back country." Most states considered Tories to be traitors. Their property was confiscated. Several states passed legislation claiming those who acknowledged allegiance to Great Britain "should suffer death without benefit of clergy."
Early in 1782, groups of Loyalists began to leave the country by sailing boats. Propelled by fear of the victorious Whigs who were about to take over, over 29,000 refugees left New York City within a year. Governors of states were urged to exchange lists of proscribed persons in order that "no Tory might find a resting place in the United States."
Newsweek magazine, in its July 2, 1979 issue, reported that Hanoi apparently had decided to expel most or all of its citizens of Chinese extraction, and to make them pay for the privilege. A U.S. government official made the connection between the racial overtones of this policy and the plight of European Jews under the Nazis. "We have talked for years about never allowing the horrors of World War II to be inflicted again. Now they are being inflicted on tens of thousands of people by a government that is utterly brutal and cynical."
The same week, Time magazine described the Vietnamese actions as "a barbarous policy of racism." U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale agreed the policy was both "brutal and cynical." An editorial in The New Republic claimed that "today bayonets are employed in driving them out."
Ethnic Chinese in Vietnam had traditionally retained their Chinese citizenship. In 1955 an agreement was reached between the Communist parties of China and Vietnam that allowed Chinese in North Vietnam to keep Chinese citizenship while enjoying the same rights as the Vietnamese. For the Hoa, it was the best of both worlds and they considered it in their best interests to resist becoming citizens of Vietnam. They could vote in Vietnamese elections yet they were not subject to military conscription. In 1978 the Vietnamese government announced that it intended its Chinese citizens to become citizens of Vietnam at some point in the future.
In February 1977, newspapers in the Peoples Republic of China called for a "revolutionary united front of all patriotic parties, people, and Overseas Chinese." One year later China held out the possibility of granting Chinese citizenship to Chinese in Vietnam. Further, it announced its opposition to any attempt to compel overseas Chinese to change their citizenship and claimed it was duty-bound to protect those who decided to keep Chinese citizenship.
China raised the citizenship issue at the same time as the SRV was taking control over the private economic sector in the south of Vietnam. At the same time, Vietnam was drifting toward war with China, its traditional enemy. The Vietnamese government began placing restrictions on the free movement of its Chinese citizens, especially in the border areas. Many Hoa were dismissed from their jobs. According to Le Van Ban, a Hoa who left Vietnam at this time, "Relations between Vietnam and China were deteriorating rapidly, war was fast becoming a real possibility and the Hoa knew they would be the first to suffer. In the summer of 1978 the Hoa were not expelled. They fled in panic." For these urban dwellers, the prospect of life as agricultural workers in the harsh environment of rural New Economic Zones, coupled with the consequences of a Sino-Vietnamese war, provided sufficient reason to leave Vietnam.
The Vietnamese took action against the Hoa at a time when they felt threatened by China. They say their response compares favorably to the actions taken by the United States against the Japanese during World War II. At that time the U.S. government forcibly expelled and detained 120,000 Japanese American civilians at the outbreak of the conflict with Japan. These Japanese Americans were forced to abandon their homes and jobs, denied their political rights, and relocated to prison camps in the interior of the United States. Most of them were U.S. citizens, born and raised in this country. The entire West Coast Japanese population was placed in military detention.
In the early 1960s South Vietnam was overwhelmingly a rural country. At that time from 80 to 85 percent of its population lived in villages and hamlets. By the time of the peak buildup of U.S. military forces, South Vietnam had become more urban than Sweden, Canada, the USSR, Austria, Switzerland, or Italy. A 1968 estimate noted that 40 percent of its people lived in cities of 20,000 or more.
According to Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, the principal reason for the urbanization of South Vietnam was the intensification of the war by the Americans. U.S. military forces fired approximately 10,000 artillery rounds per day into the South Vietnamese countryside. 3.88 millions tons of bombs were dropped on South Vietnam. Historian and sociologist James Gibson points out that an American air force study claimed the United States had a policy of refugee generation during the war. The objective of this policy "was to separate the VC from the people by forcing refugee movements into GVN controlled areas. Intelligence reports document the success in achieving this objective." As Vietnam instituted its New Economic Zone policy in order to deal with severe urban overcrowding, it is disingenuous for the United States to fault them for it.
Approximately one million people left Vietnam by boat during the fifteen-year period after the end of the war. This is an emigration rate of 2.1 percent. Historian Wallace Brown notes that in the aftermath of the American Revolution, between 6.4 and 15.3 percent of the total population of the new United States went into exile as Loyalists, and that it provided one of the first modern examples of what have come to be known as "displaced persons". American confiscation of property was almost as great as during the French Revolution. On occasion, Loyalist prisoners were summarily executed by the colonists. A few, including civilian supporters of Britain, were hanged after the fighting ended.
The flight of Hoa from Vietnam reduced the Chinese population of Cholon (the Chinese quarter of Ho Chi Minh City) from 72 percent to 49 percent. By the mid-1980s, the Vietnamese adopted policies designed to improve relations with the remaining Chinese population. Today Cholon, renamed Sector 5, is still a vibrant Chinese community.
The exodus of refugees from Vietnam in the 1980s was different from that of the 1970s. Those in the later group were ethnic Vietnamese. Many were quite well educated and in search of better economic opportunities. In 1988, Nguyen The Tam left on a boat with several engineers, architects, and electricians. "We really didn't have any difficulties. We had two shops and our income was decent. But we were looking for a better life," Tam said. Mostly, these Vietnamese found a cool welcome abroad. Chinese in Hong Kong detested them and would happily see them all returned to Vietnam. Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore all had adopted push-back policies for refugee boats. Thai "pirates" attacked them, presumably with the connivance of local authorities. The United States objected to these policies designed to keep the Vietnamese within Vietnam. At the same time, it refused to let them live in camps on Guam or other American territory and readily sent back economic refugees from Haiti.
Inglorious in defeat, and in spite of an absence of "bloodbath" evidence in refugee interviews, the United States continued to claim the opposite. An unpublished study by two scholars at Berkeley asserted that 65,000 political executions took place in Vietnam after the war. Both Reader's Digest and the U.S. Department of State Bulletin uncritically adopted this conclusion. A subsequent article published in Pacific Affairs claimed the Berkeley scholars, in their eagerness to uncover a "bloodbath," were careless in their collection of data and reckless in drawing conclusions from it. It was only an attempt at "Creating a Bloodbath by Statistical Manipulation" and there is no evidence to support it.
For the United States, the Vietnam War was the hottest manifestation of the continuing confrontations of the Cold War. For the Vietnamese Communists, it was a total-war effort to regain and maintain their independence. As has been shown, both the U.S. and Vietnam reacted comparably when their vital national interests were threatened. Both pulled equivalent policies from the maelstrom of contingencies available to them. In time of civil or revolutionary war, issues of expediency take precedence over issues of ethics. Harsh measures are employed to ensure survival. Issues of human rights are luxuries of peacetime.
In 1993 I traveled throughout Vietnam. I met with personnel in the foreign ministry in Hanoi, a hospital administrator in Hue, the head of the Ho Chi Minh City University, a general in charge of Vietnam's national veterans group, and a provincial leader (and former Viet Cong) in central Vietnam. During the Tet Offensive of 1968, as a young Marine at Khe Sanh, I believed the worst of them. In 1993 I saw only well-intentioned administrators and bureaucrats, yet undoubtedly Communist. Not warlords, terrorists, or practitioners of bestiality. Were they ever? And compared to what? Hopefully, they no longer saw me as a former running dog henchman of the Wall Street warmongers.
At a Buddhist pagoda on the Perfume River near Hue, I discussed the Vietnam War with a young high school teacher. When I asked how she taught the war to her students, she replied that she did not; she could not, as she did not understand it. I tried to explain America's fear of international Communism, the notion that we had to fight the Vietnamese in order to ensure our safety at home. "America was a large and strong country," she said, "and Vietnam was not one or both. How could America fear Vietnam? What could we do to harm you?" I was unable to make sense of it to her.
Times change, history explains and our differences become smaller and smaller. In the end, there are some things that old rhetoric no longer adequately explains, and never adequately could. Historian Larry Cable succinctly explains American linguistic legerdemain regarding Vietnam in the title of a recent article: "Don't Bother Me with the Facts; I've Made Up My Mind." According to Cable, all governments' policy are affected by internal and external constraints. Cognitive dissonance (an ability to see only what one wishes to see or to justify the dismissal of information or perspectives that run counter to one's desires) and not historical accuracy was the engine that drove American rhetoric regarding Vietnam.
 Richard Nixon, No More Vietnams (New York: Avon Books), 1985, p. 17, 21.
 John T. McAlister, Jr. and Paul Mus, The Vietnamese and Their Revolution (New York: Harper & Row), 1970, p. 112.
 "Telegram from Dean Acheson to the U.S. Consulate in Hanoi, May 20, 1949," Foreign Relations of the United States, 1949 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office), 1949, vol. 7, p. 29.
 John Foster Dulles, "Opposition to the Spread of Communism By Whatever Means" Speech to the Overseas Press Club, New York, March 29, 1954, in Department of State Bulletin, April 12, 1954, p. 539, in Marvin E. Gettleman et al. (eds.), Vietnam and America (New York: Grove Press), 1995, p. 51.
 Amos J. Peaslee, Consitutions of Nations (The Hague, M. Nijhoff), 1966, rev. 3d ed., vol. II, p. 1197. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1964, p. 815.
 Peaslee, Ibid. Nixon, p. 9.
 Gettleman p. 240; New York Times, July 24, 1964, p. 1.
 Allan Nevins, The War for the Union (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons) 1960, pp. 253-254.
 Cohen, p. 24.
 "Statement of Under Secretary of State Walter Bedell Smith, at the Concluding Plenary Session of the Geneva Conference, July 21 1954," in The Pentagon Papers (Boston: Beacon Press), 1971, vol. 1, p. 175, 570.
 Pentagon Papers, vol. I, p. 183, vol. V, p. 65.
 Look, January 25, 1955, p. 61; Pentagon Papers, vol. I, p. 247.
 "Exodus: Report on a Voluntary Mass Flight to Freedom," in Department of State Bulletin, February 7, 1955, p. 222, 224.
 Look, ibid.
 Newsweek, January 24, 1955, p. 42.
 Howard R. Simpson, Tiger in the Barbed Wire (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's (US), Inc., 1992, p. 127.
 State Department Bulletin, ibid., p. 223.
 Claude Halstead Van Tyne, The Loyalists in the American Revolution (New York: Burt Franklin), 1970, pp. 40-59.
 Gettleman, p. 121.
 William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co.), 1976, p. 310.
 Westmoreland, p. 333. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, 1968-1969 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office), 1969, vol. 1, p. 156, 235, 409, 424.
 North Callahan, George Washington (New York: William Morrow), 1972, pp. 68-77. The author is indebted to David Duncan (I Protest!, New York: Signet Books, 1968, n.p.) for the comparison of Tet to Christmas, 1776.
 FM 100-5, February 19, 1962, pp. 47-48, quoted in Harry G. Summers, Jr., On Strategy (New York: Dell Books), 1982, p. 205.
 24Philip Knightly, The First Casualty (New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich), 1975, pp. 83-84.
 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office), 1972, p. 542.
 William D. Duiker, Vietnam Since the Fall of Saigon (Ohio University: Center for International Studies), 1980, p. 5. Gareth Porter and James Robert, "Creating a Bloodbath by Statistical Manipulation," Pacific Affairs, Vol. 61, No.2, Summer 1988, p. 303.
 Nixon, pp. 11, 205-206.
 Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir (New York: Vantage Books), 1986, pp. 273-274.
 Gunter Bischof and Stephen E. Ambrose, eds., Eisenhower and the German POWs (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press)_, 1992, pp. 67-68, 70, 171.
 Hans H. Bakerwald, The Purge of Japanese Leaders Under the Occupation (Berkeley, University of California Press), 1959, pp. 1, 5, 7-8, 50, 69-71, 78-79, 87.
 Duiker, pp. 5-6.
 Ibid., p. 6, 7, 14.
 Ron Robin, The Barbed-Wire College (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), 1995, p. 1, 6.
 Duiker, pp. 7-8, 39.
 Quoted in Van Tyne, pp. 152-153, 156.
 Van Tyne, pp. 25-26, 156, 189, 226, 268-269, 289-295.
 37 Newsweek, July 2, 1979, p. 42; Time, July 2, 1979, p. 39; The New Republic, August 18, 1979, p.16.
 Charles Benoit, "Vietnam's 'Boat People'" in David W. P. Elliott, ed., The Third Indochina Conflict (Boulder, CO: Westview Press), 1981, pp. 144-145.
 E. S. Unger, "Struggle over the Chinese Community in Vietnam, 1946-1986" in Pacific Affairs, Vol. 60, No. 4, Winter 1987-88, pp. 608.
 Benoit, pp. 150-151.
 Benoit, p. 139. John Tateishi, And Justice For All (New York: Random House), 1984, xii-xiii.
 Samuel P. Huntington, "The Bases of Accomodation" in Foreign Affairs, Vo;. 46, No. 4, July 1968, p.648, 649; Michael Lee Lanning and Dan Cragg, Inside the VC and the NVA (New York: Ivy Books), 1992, p. 148; Raphael Littauer and Norman Uphoff, eds., The Air War in Indochina Boston, Beacon Press), p. 281; James W. Gibson, The Perfect War (Boston, Atlantic Monthly Press), 1986, p. 230.
 Far Eastern Economic Review, July 12, 1990, p. 54. The Reader's Digest 1978 Almanac (n.p., W. W. Norton), 1978, gives the population of Vietnam as 47,407,169. Wallace Brown, The King's Friends (Providence, RI: Brown University Press), 1965, pp. 249- 250.
 Brown, p. 215. Van Tyne, p. 270.
 Unger, pp. 611-612.
 Far Eastern Economic Review, November 2, 1989, p. 31.
 The Economist, September 2, 1989, p. 33; ibid., June 23, 1990, p. 15.
 Gareth Porter and James Roberts, "Creating a Bloodbath by Statistical Manipulation," Pacific Affairs, Vol. 61, No. 2, Summer 1988, pp. 303-304, 310. Ralph K. Bennett, "On the Trail of a Hidden Massacre," Reader's Digest, September, 1986, pp. 166- 171. "Vietnam: Under Two Regimes," Department of State Bulletin, Vol. 85, No. 2102, September, 1985, p. 54.