vietsoul21

VietSoul:21’s Letter to the Seattle Times Editor

In Cộng Đồng, Lịch Sử, LittleSaigon - Seattle on 2015/11/19 at 19:31

Letter to The Seattle Times Editors in response to the essay Veterans Day notebook: PeaceTrees Vietnam and Dan Evans on ‘transforming sorrow into service’

Written by Neighborhood Artivists for Democracy & Social Justice – Northwest Region  (Facebook: Đinh-Lê-Lý-Trần Hồn-Việt)

We wrote the following letter to address the issues of Historical Context, Reconciliation and Power in response to the thoughts in the above essay posted on Seattle Times on the Veterans Day, 11/11/2015.

This is an uplifting reconciliation story that shows American individuals’ effort to alleviate old wounds and prevent further damages by one of the long residues of the Vietnam War, the unexploded ordnances. As such it heals the psychological rift and puts closure to a troublesome period in the lives of Vietnam veterans and their loved ones.

However, the comparison on the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation of the Americans and Vietnamese American community with their old foes is an inapt contrast. This association missed not only a broader and critical context but also the power struggle perspectives.

It’s problematic in such parallel comparison drawn from a supposed inference that Vietnamese community, especially the first generation, could not overcome their sufferings and hatred; and hence, renounce forgiving to be able to move toward a reconciliation process. This deduction implies that the mainstream Americans are capable of forgiveness and reconciliation while the Vietnamese American community didn’t get it (grasp the concept).

The fact that Americans and Vietnamese American community are under completely different background context and power relations was not considered in this article.

The war ended on April 30, 1975. Americans were no longer in direct conflict with their foes, and hence, their lives (with the exception of the Vietnam veterans’) were not affected by the post-war aftermath. Americans could choose to engage in reconciliation and forgiveness with their enemies because they are in a privileged position regarding compensation and remediation. Americans do have the choice to walk away if their efforts failed the planned expectations or not getting the reciprocated gestures.

On the other hand, Vietnamese of the old (Southern) Republic of Vietnam—who remained in Vietnam after the North communist takeover of the South—were considered as traitors and scums of the land. They were punished severely physically and psychologically by their old foes, the Vietnamese communists. Hundreds of thousands were imprisoned and died while in prison. Their land, houses, properties were confiscated. Their families were pushed out to rot with hunger in the “new economic zone”. Their children were denied of education and jobs. The South Vietnam culture was systematically erased by that totalitarian regime. These Vietnamese didn’t have a choice to walk away and live in peace even until today. In short, the Vietnamese people have not had a choice in reconciliation and forgiveness.

In such dictatorship state, the Communist party has retained its monopoly of power and imposed its voice through an all-encompassing propaganda machine, and hence, its citizens have none. Their basic rights have been forsaken.

The saying “… the word reconciliation comes from the word ‘reconcilen’ which means to make good again, or to repair” sounds truthful for some but not for the wretched with no power.

The Vietnamese Communist regime with lip service spouted to “make good again” but continued degrading the Southerners with name calling and enforcing discrimination and elimination toward them. So the only option left for the ones who longed for freedom and basic human rights was to flee, on foot or by sea, by millions. Many Vietnamese ex-refugees and ex-political prisoners in the Vietnamese American community at the present would have forgiven all the bad things done to them in the past if there is a true reconciliation from the one who abuse their power.

Vietnamese are forgiving people. We know forgiveness and reconciliation. But we do not forget lessons of history and social memory of anti-oppression. That is who we are then and now.

Historically speaking, we reconciled and forgave our archenemy many times over regardless of our sufferings over a thousand years under Chinese colonization. It’s written in the Bình Ngô đại cáo (literally means Great Proclamation upon the Pacification of the Wu) as “Utilize great righteousness to triumph over barbarity. Bring forth utmost human compassion to overcome violent aggression.” In 1788, Nguyễn Huệ (also known as Emperor Quang Trung)—who defeated the forces of the Qianlong Emperor of the Chinese Qing dynasty—did not keep any prisoners, but provide provisions and allow them to return home with honor. In other words, we had encouraged a peaceful relationship with the defeated.

The Vietnamese communist disregarded such reconciliation practice. Instead of using great righteousness toward its fellow citizens the Vietnamese Communist regime feted out the extreme measures and punishment with impunity. Instead of affecting utmost human compassion to its citizens the Vietnamese Communist regime imposed inhuman treatment with disregard to basic human rights. Consequently, the mass exodus of Vietnamese boat people from 1976 through 1989 with half a million perished at sea not only became a catastrophe  in our mind and heart but also shook the world’s conscience.

The Vietnamese Communist regime—the persecutor, the one who has absolute power—must but has not taken steps in the reconciliation and forgiveness.

Forgiveness and reconciliation is not only for what have happened but what is now and forward. The majority of Vietnamese Americans, not only the first generation, probably have forgiven for what had happened to them. However, we won’t reconcile with the dictatorship for what is now and forward. How could the Vietnamese American reconcile when the oppression and injustice have been continuing under the absolute power control of such police state?

Vietnamese community will forgive if the Vietnamese Communist regime ceases its practice of persecution and oppression on their own citizens.

Vietnamese community will reconcile when the Vietnamese Communist regime relinquish complete control of power allowing its citizens the freedom to choose how to live in a democracy.

There would not be then any reconciliation as long as the Vietnamese Communist regime maintains a totalitarian state.

In sum, the statement “In our Vietnamese community, forgiveness and reconciliation with old foes is a difficult concept for many to grasp” is unfair and seems prejudice due to lack of power perspective and historical context.

© 2015 Vietsoul:21

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