UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Vietnam War in the words of the Vietnamese Pham, Duong Thuy Thi 2006

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata

Download

Media
831-ubc_2006-199015.pdf [ 15.56MB ]
Metadata
JSON: 831-1.0092950.json
JSON-LD: 831-1.0092950-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 831-1.0092950-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 831-1.0092950-rdf.json
Turtle: 831-1.0092950-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 831-1.0092950-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 831-1.0092950-source.json
Full Text
831-1.0092950-fulltext.txt
Citation
831-1.0092950.ris

Full Text

THE VIETNAM WAR IN THE WORDS OF THE VIETNAMESE by D U O N G T H U Y T H I P H A M B.A., University of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 1988 Grad. Dip., LaTrobe University, Australia, 1995 M.A., La Trobe University, Australia, 1996 A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of D O C T O R O F P H I L O S O P H Y in T H E F A C U L T Y O F G R A D U A T E S T U D I E S ( E N G L I S H ) T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F B R I T I S H C O L U M B I A March 2006 © Duong Thuy Thi Pham, 2006 11 A B S T R A C T The dissertation examines Vietnamese literary representations of what is known in the West as the Vietnam War. Analysis of prewar literature (1858-1945) shows that the early resistance literature, kindled by the French conquest in the late nineteenth century, reaffirmed the ly (broadly speaking, logic) of nationalism, while the changes of the 1925-1945 period highlighted the significance of tinh (emotions of the heart) among members of the Viet Minh , the revolutionary organization which successfully staged the national uprising in 1945 and later defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. On the Vietnam War, the dissertation first looks at non-fiction. Memoirs by National Liberation Front (NLF) leaders Nguyen Thi Dinh and Truang N h u Tang are compared and contrasted with those by Nguyen Cao K y and Tran Van Don, leaders of the opposing Republic of [South] Vietnam ( R V N ) , for their positions and reflections on the contested concepts of nationalism, communism, freedom, and democracy, which define the cause and form of the war. For fiction, the study summarizes the literary trends and philosophies that governed the different strands of Vietnamese literature during 1954-1975. Subsequently, representative fictional works by R V N and N L F writers are analyzed to explore the various stances and levels of commitment supporters of the opposing factions demonstrate toward their respective "imagined communities." It is found that differing images of the Vietnamese woman accurately reflect the different natures of the warring factions. The R V N woman is represented in the fiction of R V N writers (e.g. V o Phien, Nha Ca, M a i Thao, Nguyen Thi Thuy V u and Nguyen Dinh Toan) as a passive victim of circumstances outside her control and understanding. B y contrast, the N L F woman is described by N L F writers (particularly by A n h Due in Hon Ddt and Phan T i i in Man and I) as embodying both ly and tinh, the combination of which underlies the nationalists' strength and commitment to their cause of national independence and prosperity. The study concludes with a brief look at Vietnamese postwar fiction in the context of the postwar complexities, and suggests directions for future research on Vietnamese literature and the Vietnam War. T A B L E OF CONTENTS Abstract i i Table of contents i i i Acknowledgements iv CHAPTER I: So That the Lesson Learned Wil l Not Be Unlearned 1 CHAPTER II: Hearts and Minds 26 CHAPTER III: The Just Cause—The Hearts and Minds of Leaders 86 CHAPTER IV: People's War and People's Wil l in Literature 159 CHAPTER V: The Aftermath 286 Notes 317 Works Cited 343 iv A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S I was born in the midst of escalating war in Vietnam and spent my teenage years in the difficult postwar period, when food was scarce and beliefs shaken. Coming to the University of British Columbia (Canada) in 2001 with plans to expand my knowledge on canonical twentieth-century American writers, I eventually realized that I could make literary contributions to the academic discussion of the Vietnam War in the West, considering my familiarity with Vietnamese literature and my first-hand experience of life during and after the conflict between Vietnamese and Americans. Hence this dissertation on twentieth-century Vietnamese war literature, which I hope w i l l illuminate not only certain wartime concerns, but also lingering issues regarding the Vietnam War that are still being debated in Vietnam and in the West. M y research has greatly benefited from the advice and supervision of Dr. Michael Zeitlin, Dr. Sandra Tome, and Prof. Alexander Woodside, who have worked tirelessly to add insight to this dissertation, and to whom I owe my deepest gratitude. I would also like to thank my family and those dear friends whose encouragement and faith in my work have sustained me all these years. Lastly, this work would not have been possible i f not for the countless heroes and heroines of Vietnam, whose amazing sacrifices and selfless dedication to their country have inspired the literature examined in this dissertation, and whose memories I hope my study w i l l help keep alive. 1 I N T R O D U C T I O N : SO THA T THE LESSONS LEARNED SHALL NOT BE UNLEARNED This dissertation examines the Vietnamese literature which concerns Vietnam's reactions to French and American presence and intervention in the twentieth century, and which arguably illustrates the Vietnamese viewpoints on the wars that ensued. Almost ironically, however, I feel that a great way to introduce my study is to look at the representation of the character Phuong in The Quiet American, Graham Greene's classic novel about the Vietnam War written in the early 1950s. M y goal being to provide an intimation of the complexity and irony of what later turned into a thirty-year-long war for the Vietnamese, I shall not attempt a comprehensive discussion of all of the novel's multi-layered subtleties, or engage the existing substantial criticism on this over-analyzed text, but merely review the dilemmas confronting Phuong and her country that w i l l be relevant to my later analysis of twentieth-century Vietnamese war literature. The Quiet American and Vietnam in the Eyes of the West For many readers, The Quiet American is apoli t ical allegory of Vietnam's fate at the end of French colonial rule. In this allegory, the two main characters and Phuong form a triangle in the political arena of Vietnam when France was being driven out and America was about to step in to replace it. The novel is told from the point of view of the I-narrator, Fowler, an experienced British journalist working in Vietnam. Fowler's foil is Pyle, the quiet American of the title, who is portrayed as exuberantly eager in his crusade to export American-style democracy to Vietnam and the rest of the world. Absorbed " in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West" and "determined [. ..] to do good, not to 2 any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world" (10), Pyle opts for direct intervention in Vietnamese political affairs, and tries to whip up a "Third Force" out of General The, a Cao Dai bandit. Intent on changing the world to fit his idea of what it should be, and not overly scrupulous about the means to get his ends, Pyle engages in political intrigues that eventually lead to the death of at least fifty innocent civilians by the time of his own death. In Fowler's eyes, and arguably in Greene's as wel l , Pyle is a satire of the American national character and of its questionable idealism in the 1950s. Although he repeatedly positions and critiques Pyle as a man of ironies (but without ambiguity), Fowler himself is not above contradictions. Maintaining that he is just a reporter and does not "take sides" (102), Fowler nevertheless belongs, together with the French, in the club of "old colonial peoples" (175). He enjoys a tacit comradeship with Captain Trouin and Vigot of the Surete in Saigon, and admits his sympathy toward old-style imperialism: "I 'd rather be an exploiter who fights for what he exploits, and dies with it" (101). The non-involved standpoint adopted by Fowler and his nation, as Trouin is quick to point out, is but self-denial and hypocrisy: "We are fighting all o f your wars, but you leave us the guilt" (169).' Moreover, Fowler realizes that, as a British citizen, he is positioned to be "an eternal brother" (27) to the Americans in their common imperial status in Southeast Asia . For all his persistent effort to establish difference between himself and Pyle, Fowler is nonetheless aware of the similarity in their colonial empowerment. He tells Pyle point-blank that the Vietnamese "don't want our white skins around telling them what they want, [. . .] they don't like our smell, the smell of Europeans. A n d remember—from [their] point of view you are European too" (100). The crux of the story exposes Fowler's biggest contradiction yet. While publicly 3 and privately denying involvement in any form, Fowler believes that Pyle's naive and unscrupulous earnestness wi l l only bring harm and destruction to Vietnam, and therefore persuades himself to connive in Pyle's death. The apparent reason Fowler gives for his involvement is that Pyle's endorsement of terrorist activities endangers the civilian population, although readers might wonder i f Fowler's decision is not at all swayed by a selfish desire to conveniently eliminate his love rival in the process. Given Fowler's many contradictions, his relationship with Phuong, the Vietnamese woman Pyle is also interested in, is anything but simple. To many readers, Phuong is a symbol of Vietnam (one of the directors of the 2002 movie remake o f the novel, for example, explained at length their search for a Vietnamese actress for the role of Phuong, stressing that she had to fit the image of her country). In the novel, we are told early on that she is "[/e] pays qui te ressemble" (5). What kind of symbol she is supposed to present is of relevance at this point. Compared to the complex characters o f Fowler and Pyle, Greene's characterization of Phuong is curiously underdeveloped. Fowler may be aware of the Vietnamese effort to gain national autonomy, an effort he eventually assists. But the woman that Fowler projects his desire onto, the dubious personification of the Vietnamese nation, is described as a typically exotic Oriental woman: childlike, passive, dependent, and literally unable to speak for herself. To Fowler, a non-believer in "mental concepts" (98) who insists on construing his environment in material terms, Phuong is alternately a habit or an exotic addiction. She is "the hiss of steam, the clink of a cup, [. . .] a certain hour of the night and the promise of rest" (2). She is linked with opium: "I thought that i f I smelt her skin it would have the faintest fragrance of opium, and her colour was that of the small flame" (5). She is 4 described as "a bird" (3), or "a dog on a crusader's tomb" (131) lying at his feet. But Fowler's most characteristic thought of her is that of "the soft hairless skin" (15) between her legs where he puts his hand every night. A s Zakia Pathak, Saswati Senupta, and Sharmila Purkayastha duly note, Phuong is "without a history; there is a noticeable absence of cultural markers of class, religion, education, which suggests that these are invisible for Fowler" (205). In the novel, Phuong speaks no English, and her French is not good enough to appreciate linguistic subtleties. Conversely, the fact that Fowler, the narrator, speaks no Vietnamese, and therefore cannot relate or even make out what Phuong says or thinks in her native language, turns her into a mentally superficial woman who hardly has anything to say, except in inconsequential bits. Early in his relationship with her, Fowler tries to fathom her mind, and fails: "I remembered that first tormenting year when I had tried so passionately to understand her, when I had begged her to tell me what she thought and had scared her with my unreasoning anger at her silences" (149). In the end, he gives up, concluding that "one never knows another human being; for all I could tell, she was as scared as the rest of us: she didn't have the gift o f expression, that was a l l " (149)— meaning, in actual fact, that she does not express her feeling and thought in a language he understands. Fowler's inability to get past Phuong's surface due to language and cultural barriers renders her inscrutable in his eyes, though he seems to eventually credit this incomprehension to her psychological superficiality rather than to inadequacy on his part. Because "[he] wanted to read her thoughts, but they were hidden away in a language [he] couldn't speak" (155), and yet he must find a way to classify her somehow, Fowler insists on "inventing a character" (149) for Phuong. Ironically, while trying to 5 shatter what he sees as Pyle's illusions about Phuong, he resorts to stereotyping her as a fixed form of difference, at once other and entirely knowable (Bhabha 164): Do you know the kind of polish that doesn't take scratches? That's Phuong. She can survive a dozen of us. She' l l get old, that's all. She' l l suffer from childbirth and hunger and cold and rheumatism, but she'll never suffer like we do from thoughts, obsessions—she won't scratch, she'll only decay. (148-9) When Pyle chides Fowler: "I don't think you quite understand Phuong," Fowler counters, "Are you sure there's anything much to understand?" (62). Even the desire that is attributed to her—to have stability and security with a husband who can provide for her—must be voiced by either her sister or her two Occidental suitors. "One always spoke of her [. . .] in the third person as though she were not there. Sometimes she seemed invisible like peace" (42). Phuong's invisibility is manifest not only in her dependence on her Occidental suitors, but also in her incapacity to form any worthy judgement about the world around her. While the political upheavals of the 1950s were affecting the fate of every citizen in the country, Phuong seems to be blissfully unaware of, and uninterested in, the national turmoil. She prefers instead to browse through Paris Match, looking at photographs of the British royal family. A t one point, Fowler marvels what his American rival and ex-lover talk about between themselves. For, while Pyle is "very earnest" about American-style "Democracy," Phuong was wonderfully ignorant; i f Hitler had come into the conversation she would have interrupted to ask who he was. The explanation would be all the more difficult because she had never met a German or a Pole and had only the vaguest 6 knowledge of European geography, though about Princess Margaret of course she knew more than I. (3) Throughout the novel, Phuong does nothing except the most mundane of everyday tasks. She does not act; she simply is. Her passivity, her lack of imagination and philosophical ideas, and her ignorance of the world at large and of one's place in it, together with a simple-minded focus on the practical concerns of everyday life, are at times extrapolated to all Vietnamese people, despite the book's allusions to an underground resistance movement. Holed up in an outpost with two Vietnamese guards, Fowler and Pyle debate about what the West should do with Vietnam. Fowler's opinion is that "mental concepts" like Democracy are simply not in the people's regimen: They want enough rice[. . .]. They don't want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. [. . .] In five hundred years there may be no New York or London, but they'll be growing paddy in these fields, they'll be carrying their produce to market on long poles wearing their pointed hats. The small boys wi l l be sitting on the buffaloes. (99-100) Vietnamese people, as poor "peasants," are not capable of thinking the way Westerners are: "Thought's a luxury. Do you think the peasant sits and thinks of God and Democracy when he gets inside his mud hut at night?" (100) This "underdeveloped" state of the Vietnamese makes it seem logical, even natural, that the "superior" West should assume the task of managing their lives for them. A n d this is precisely what Fowler and Pyle vie to do to Phuong, the female embodiment of Vietnam. However, the bitter competition as to who can provide Phuong with a better 7 life materialistically (without even once consulting her as to what she wants) is in fact not really about Phuong herself. Rather, it testifies to Said's assertion that "European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground s e l f (20). Where there is more than one Western power involved, as in the case of both The Quiet American and Vietnam in the 1950s, it may turn into a contest in which Western forces flex their muscles to show who is better endowed—and "the best man wins" (81). The belief that Phuong simply wants to be associated with whoever shows the most strength and power explains the workings of Fowler's mind when he puts together the "favourable exchange rate" (61) and "infinite riches" (59) of America that Pyle epitomizes, and Phuong's realism "not to minimise the importance of money and not to make any great and binding declarations of love" (132). Thus, Greene's characterization of Phuong mirrors and satirizes the contemporary Western view of Vietnam and the Vietnamese. Her image as an Oriental woman with inferior capacities (mental and otherwise) makes her completely alien, and at the same time, seemingly conquerable to the Western man. Bhabha theorizes that the construction of the colonial subject in discourse, and the exercise of colonial power through discourse demand an articulation of forms of difference—racial and sexual. Such an articulation becomes crucial i f it is held that the body is always simultaneously inscribed in both the economy of pleasure and desire and the economy of discourse, domination and power. (150) In The Quiet American, Fowler, a representative of Western imperialism, literally wields his phallus—the symbol of Western superiority—in an attempt to subjugate his Vietnamese mistress: "Even my desire had been a weapon, as though when one plunged 8 one's sword towards the victim's womb, she would lose control and speak" (149). A n d throughout the tale, the metaphorical incarnation of Vietnam appears as a simple-minded, helpless mistress, not much more than "a comfortable lay" (148) bandied about between two Western powers despite their professed sympathy and infatuation. This preliminary discussion of Greene's subtle and complex novel, however cursory, highlights a topic of vital relevance to my current study of Vietnamese literature: the importance of finding the voice of Phuong and her country i f we are to look past our own misconceptions, especially as we define and view those subsumed under the category of the "other." In The Quiet American, both Pyle, whose understanding of Vietnam comes from the books he reads at Harvard, and Fowler, who prides himself on an intimate, hands-on knowledge of the country, are precluded by their Western perspectives from truly understanding Vietnamese wishes and expressions. In real life, misconceptions of both their goals and their foes led American politicians to intervention in Vietnamese affairs. The war that occurred as a result was to devastate the country and grievously upset the lives of generations of Vietnamese for years to come. The War—Effects and Lessons Often talked about as the longest war in American history, the Vietnam War also concluded the longest armed resistance against foreign powers in Vietnam's history. Even though the fighting is often officially dated back to 1945, Vietnamese revolutionaries had been at war ever since French naval forces fired on and eventually seized the port of Da Nang in 1858, starting almost a century o f French colonial occupation of Vietnam. 9 The impact of the Vietnam War on the United States is evident to all Americans revisiting the period between 1954 and 1975. The war drove two American presidents out of office, destroyed U . S . foreign policy consensus, and shattered a generation's perspective on America's role in the world and the public's earlier innocent faith in their government. Furthermore, it caused an economic depression and a rift in the population between those who supported the war and those who did not. The war cost the United States an estimated $150 bil l ion dollars in direct expenses, with indirect expenses probably totalling at least that, while still other costs—such as payments to veterans, or interest on debt incurred—have made it even harder to put a final number on the loss. The damage to Vietnam and the Vietnamese has been, by all accounts, far more staggering than it was to the United States. Yet it was, and still is, much less known to the majority of Americans. The country was devastated by thirty years of full-blown, continuous war, following a century of French colonial exploitation. The war left horrendous consequences, both short-term and long-term, for generations of Vietnamese, from those who experienced firsthand the fierce fighting and bombings to those who grew up in destitution during the postwar economic embargo imposed on Vietnam by the United States. Ironically, not even the Vietnamese themselves understand fully the extent of the damage the war wrought on their country. Those who are trying to rebuild the country have had their work cut out for them. Those who, for different reasons, oppose the winner o f the war and the present government of Vietnam generally have no reasons to look past the real and perceived foibles of the united Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) . Many have been simply too tired to even contemplate the damage to their own lives and properties. 10 The war pitted the U . S . expeditionary forces and its Republic of Vietnam ( R V N ) ally against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam ( D R V ) in the North, and the elusive, tenacious National Liberation Front (NLF) in the South, whose members operated from bases deep in the jungles and among the general population of South Vietnam, especially among the peasantry in the countryside. In order to deprive the guerrillas of their base, U .S . commanders were committed to removing the peasantry from the countryside and destroying the jungles. A variety of strategies were employed by the U.S . , including shelling and bombing, and deforestation by Agent Orange, napalm, and the Rome plows. During the war, the United States dropped more than 15 mill ion tons of explosives on Vietnam, almost three times the amount dropped in all theaters of World War II by all sides, or the equivalent of the power of 400 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, over a country about the size of N e w Mexico. It is estimated that 100,000 hectares of Vietnam's forest lands were completely obliterated, and a further 5 mil l ion hectares, or 40% of the total forest area, were damaged. The 30 mil l ion craters these explosives created throughout the country rendered large areas of land infertile due to the lack of topsoil and to disease-bearing organisms the water carried. In addition, chemicals (such as Agent Orange) used extensively in South Vietnam to exfoliate jungles are known to have caused cancer and mental disorders in infected people, as well as birth defects in their offspring. About 72 mil l ion litres of herbicides were sprayed on South Vietnam, affecting 43% of the cultivated area, and 44% of the total area. Seventy percent of the south's coconut groves and 60% of its rubber plantations were destroyed, together with enough crops to feed 2 mil l ion people. 11 The destruction to the environment and disruptions in human labor caused by the war turned South Vietnam from an exporter of rice in the 1930s into an importer by 1970. The billions of dollars injected into the South Vietnamese economy during the American presence ironically left it exceedingly artificial, vulnerable and unable to stand on its own. Furthermore, the war deprived Vietnam, including the South, of the chance and resources to industrialize the way other Southeast Asian countries like Taiwan or South Korea did, making way for longer term devastation. Economic problems were further exacerbated by the R V N ' s many disastrous economic policies. After the war, the economy of North Vietnam, damaged by bombing and exhausted by wartime consumption, could barely carry on with the South Vietnamese burdens added while aid dried up. To make matters worse, the U.S.-led economic embargo that lasted until 1994 was meant to see to it that Vietnam would struggle for decades economically. A s catastrophic as the damage to the environment and the economy was, the human consequences of the war were even more grievous, i f not readily or fully apparent to observers. Naturally, the massive use of explosives in a war of attrition depleted not only the resisting guerrillas, America's enemy, but also the general population of Vietnamese no matter what political leaning they might have entertained. The war caused an exodus of refugees from areas of heavy fighting and bombing to the relatively safer cities, uprooting 50% of the population in South Vietnam, and 30% in North Vietnam, disrupting the labor essential in an overwhelmingly agricultural economy. The unplanned and uncontrollable expansion of the cities in the South generated problems typical of burgeoning urbanization for the R V N during the war, and continued to be a major social and economic predicament for Vietnam long after unification. A decade of 12 Americanization of the country left a challenging legacy of prostitution, drug abuse, and homelessness. Many of the best and brightest of Vietnamese, who could have helped Vietnam become "ten times more beautiful" according to Ho Chi Minh ' s wish, instead numbered among the millions dead. The hundreds of thousands of maimed civilians and veterans have continued to be taxing on Vietnamese society physically, economically, and psychologically. But perhaps the most severe consequence of all is the divisiveness among the Vietnamese population that bred deep suspicions and bitter hostilities among those who, either by choice or necessity, fought on opposite sides of the conflict. This lack of trust among the Vietnamese people living both inside and outside of the country, which has been discussed in part by Le L y Hayslip and Truong N h u Tang, posed the biggest hurdle for reconstruction and contributed to some detrimental, arguably unavoidable, measures the unified Vietnamese government adopted in the postwar chaos. A d d to that the problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, postwar exhaustion and disorientation, and the depletion of generations of men, leaving women without potential partners, and the long list o f human consequences the war brought on the Vietnamese people continues on. Difficult as it has been to rebuild the country from the ashes of war, these long-term psychological effects have left open wounds among the Vietnamese as a people ever since the Geneva Convention partitioned the country into North and South in 1954. It was not clear to the majority of Americans at the time how and why the United States became entangled in Vietnam; in fact, not everyone is fully aware of the cause and nature of the Vietnam War even today. Some of the interrelated factors that propelled the United States into war in Vietnam were induced by the American sense of self in the 13 1950s: the residual frontier spirit that fathered America as a nation, arrogance in its achievements, a desire to showcase its power in the world political arena, and a Cold War mentality. These factors were, moreover, accompanied by an insensitivity to and ignorance of Vietnamese history, culture, and people, which Graham Greene so deftly reflects in The Quiet American. Twenty years after the Vietnam war ended, Robert McNamara, U . S . Secretary of Defense under American presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson (1961-1968), revealed a belated sense of guilt and regret in his 1995 memoir In Retrospect: the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, in which he admitted: "Our misjudgement of friends and foes alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture and politics of the people in the area" (322). This ignorance, among other reasons, caused the United States to support an unpopular regime in South Vietnam, creating a conflict that cost 59,000 American and more than 2 mil l ion Vietnamese lives and inflicted heavy wounds on both peoples. The understanding of America's old enemy that McNamara again stresses as important in the 2004 Oscar-winning documentary The Fog of War should, in my opinion, benefit from a broader look into the twentieth-century Vietnamese war literature than what has been so far accomplished. Vietnam has produced a substantial amount of literary writing about its war experiences. These war experiences and the literature about them have significantly shaped the Vietnamese national identity, philosophy, and way of life. It is imperative that this literature be examined i f it is held that understanding o f Vietnamese thoughts and perspectives would afford Americans better self-awareness and insight. Conversely, such an examination should further clarify some of the most contentious issues pertaining to the war, which in turn could help Americans avoid 14 possible repetitions of what is considered one of the greatest tragedies for America in the twentieth century. The painful conjectures over the life and thoughts of his Vietnamese enemy that obsess T im O'Brien in "The Man I K i l l e d " require answers. The concern that American scholar and Vietnam veteran Mil ton Bates voices is also that of many of his compatriots: If we Americans lost the war because we failed to recognize and adapt to the otherness of the enemy, [. . .] we are in danger of losing it a second time by losing its lessons, unless we try to see the war as others—particularly the people of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia—saw it. (7) At the same time, American scholars such as George Herring, J im Neilson, and Susan Jeffords note a recent revisionist trend in American cultural representations and interpretations of the Vietnam War, which has struck some responsive chord in American politics and popular culture from the 1980s onwards. Going one step further, in his book Warring Fictions: Cultural Politics and the Vietnam War Narrative, Neilson questions i f this conservative rewriting of history is wholly coincidental and might not be responsible for the push among some American politicians for aggression in the current war in Iraq. Whatever the answer, it seems that the study of Vietnamese perspectives on the Vietnam War wi l l retain its importance to Americans as long as the question of how we define and understand, or fail utterly to understand, those we call enemies remains pertinent. The Research Project—Theses and Methods In the past decade or so, in response to the call on Americans to try to "understand the 'different wars' fought by the people of Vietnam" (Bates 7), a small but growing 15 number of scholars in the West have directed their research to the Vietnamese experience. However, most choose as their subjects of analysis literary works written either prior to 1945 or post 1980—that is, excluding wartime works altogether. In addition, most of the critical reviews deal with, at best, a handful of texts by one or two authors. To illustrate the currently narrow scope of the study of Vietnamese literature in the West, as far as I know, the number of critical studies conducted to date on twentieth-century Vietnamese literature is limited to two books (Renny Christopher's The Vietnam War/The American War: Images and Representations in Euro-American and Vietnamese Exile Narratives, and N e i l Jamieson's Understanding Vietnam) and eleven short articles by Wi l l i am Searle, Charles Horner, Peter Zinoman, Hue Tarn Ho Tai, Greg Lockhart, Dana Sachs, David Hunt, and Wayne Karl in . Among the articles, four are appended as introductions (Zinoman's " V u Trong Phung's Dumb Luck and the Nature of Vietnamese Modernism," Lockhart's "First-Person Narratives from the 1930s," Hunt's on Le Liru, and Karl in 's on Le M i n h Khue), and one as afterword (Karlin's "On Nguyen Khai") to the small number of translations of Vietnamese literature published in the West so far. O f all the works produced by Vietnamese writers of fiction during the Vietnam War, with the exception of some wartime R V N poetry included in Jamieson's Understanding Vietnam, only two Vietnamese short stories written during the w a r — R V N writer Nha Ca's " A Story for Lovers" and D R V writer Le M i n h Khue's "The Distant Stars"—are briefly discussed in three literary reviews (Searle's "Women, Vietnamese, Other: The Depiction of Women in Vietnamese Short Fiction," Sachs' "Small Tragedies and Distant Stars: Le M i n h Khue's Language of Lost Ideals," and Karl in 's introduction to Le M i n h Khue's collection of short stories, The Stars, the Earth, the River). 16 A s Jamieson's Understanding Vietnam is the only study so far that presents a number of Vietnamese literary texts written during the Vietnam War, and as I w i l l engage this study in Chapter Three, a summary of the book is appropriate at this point. The book is a cultural study of the Vietnam War illustrated through Vietnamese literature. Its principal argument rests on the cultural framework of yin and yang, with the two elements working together in an action-reaction pattern. Jamieson believes that this yin-yang system governs Vietnamese values and institutions, and that its balance is crucial to the governing of the country. Vietnamese culture and government, Jamieson proposes, were yang in nature at the time of the French conquest. The rise of romanticism as a modernist literary school in Vietnam between 1932 and 1939 is regarded as signalling the emergence of yin, which challenged the predominantly yang tradition. The decline of romanticism in the late 1930s, according to Jamieson, gave rise to the "new yang of the resistance" against French colonialism led by the Viet M i n h under Ho C h i Minh . Between 1955 and 1975, North Vietnam and South Vietnam societies became "inverted images" of, respectively, yang (in other words, totalitarianism) and yin tendencies. Jamieson concludes that the R V N in South Vietnam was in the end defeated by its own yin forces, manifested as the literature of protest and antiwar sentiments on the one hand, and the family-centric, often materialistic demands South Vietnamese women presented as wives, mothers, mistresses, daughters, and sisters to administrators and soldiers of the R V N on the other. There are serious flaws in Jamieson's argument, all o f them the result of his subscription to the communist versus anti-communist mindset, and the underlying assumption that the anti-communist stance made the R V N ' s a just cause to the South 17 Vietnamese people. Firstly, Jamieson is unable to explain what caused the rise of yin in the South and not in the North, especially considering his description of both governments as similarly aggressive, dictatorial and oppressive, and hence, yang in nature. Secondly, Jamieson's view of the Vietnam War as a conflict between "competing models" of local forces divided into North and South fails utterly to account for the fact that the so-called Viet Cong, whose members came primarily from the South Vietnamese population, and many of whom lived under the same R V N administration that non-Viet Cong members of the R V N did, were not affected by the supposedly disastrous influence of the yin element. Thirdly, to say, as Jamieson does, that the failures and final collapse of the U.S.-backed R V N were attributable to the selfish (as opposed to patriotic) motives and demands among South Vietnamese women is in fact, according to his yin-yang paradigm, to blame the defeat of the masculine, rational logic of the U . S . model on the corrupting influence of the manipulative female Oriental. A s Susan Jeffords argues in The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War, this line of thought (albeit with American women as the culprits) is not only common among American revisionists of the Vietnam War since the 1980s, but self-delusive and dangerous. I w i l l return to Jamieson's flawed argument in Chapter Three of this dissertation. Twentieth-century Vietnamese war literature has thus hardly been explored, as we can deduct from the scant number and limited scope of the existing studies. In addition, the narrow circle of Vietnamese authors American scholars examine does not represent the rich treasures of Vietnamese literature before, during, or after the war. Even the most extensive of the studies, Jamieson's Understanding Vietnam, contains only a small 18 number of R V N wartime productions of literary fiction, all of which, except one, are songs or poems. This dissertation wi l l offer a selection of, in my judgement, some of the most influential works of Vietnamese literature produced during what Vietnamese refer to as the French-American war. A t the same time, my analysis of the Vietnamese literary representations of the war shall be situated in the socio-political context of a conflict that spanned three-quarters of the twentieth century for the Vietnamese people. A s we w i l l see, issues of colonialism/imperialism occupied Vietnamese thought for most of the twentieth century, and in various degrees affected the lives of most Vietnamese. It is, moreover, impossible to confine to specific dates the Vietnamese resistance against French and American domination, for this resistance had in fact been brewing long before the war officially started in 1945. For these reasons, I am including some prewar and postwar literature in this study, even though this literature was not penned during the "official" war period (1945-1975), nor does all o f it deal directly with war. This study w i l l also respond to the call from supporters of the now-defunct R V N , such as Van N g u y l n Marshall 's, for a presentation of the R V N viewpoints in the debate. The project w i l l therefore bring together texts produced by the warring sides from both the North and the South, and both inside and outside of Vietnam. M y analysis of Vietnamese twentieth-century literature is realized in five chapters. The current chapter, "So That the Lessons Learned Shall Not Be Unlearned," establishes the need for better understanding of the Vietnamese perspectives in a war that has been written and re-written by Americans/Westerners for Euro-American audiences. 19 Chapter Two, "Hearts and Minds ," examines twentieth-century Vietnamese literature prior to 1945. This body of Vietnamese literature, often referred to as tien chien (prewar) literature, elucidates the workings of the Vietnamese collective mind and the convergence of historical and cultural aspects which lend substance to the cause of independence and sovereignty led by the Viet Minh , and which, in my opinion, ultimately account for the success and failures of the political factions involved in the war. Specifically, the chapter w i l l show that Vietnam's long tradition of resistance to foreign domination had, by the time of the French conquest, been indelibly established as ly (roughly speaking, universal rules of logic) in the Vietnamese mind. On the other hand, the literature examined reveals that colonialism and modernism had, by 1940, left a yearning for tinh (emotion or affection, which extends to all social relationships), which the Viet M i n h and its successor the N L F would attempt to fulfil by characterizing their organizations in a familial manner. Chapter Three, "The Just Cause: the Hearts and Minds of Political Leaders," looks at memoirs by leaders of the two warring factions in South Vietnam: the R V N and the N L F . The chapter examines the leaders' arguments on the basis of four often-used, but also much contested terms in relation to the Vietnam War: nationalism, communism, freedom and democracy. It is believed that analysis of the leaders' own accounts of their concerns and positions regarding the above four topics w i l l illuminate the nature of the leadership of competing Vietnamese forces in the French and American wars. Alternatively, the chapter also considers how satisfactorily the leaders address the ly and tinh dimensions which Chapter Two has concluded to be not only deep-rooted, but compelling among the (South) Vietnamese. It is argued that, in this battle for the hearts 20 and minds of the people, the leaders' success or failure in addressing these popular thoughts and sentiments would effect the participation and zeal, or lack thereof, of their respective supporters, and ultimately, the prevalence of their respective causes. Chapter Four, "People's War and People W i l l in Literature," follows the previous chapter to examine available Vietnamese fiction by supporters of the R V N and N L F . The start of the chapter briefly summarizes the trends and philosophies eminent in what had become by 1959 three sources of Vietnamese literature—from the D R V , R V N , and N L F . The chapter next analyzes representative fictional works by R V N and N L F writers to determine the extent to which supporters of the two warring factions identified with and believed in their respective causes. Arguing that the essence of the respective regimes transpires most clearly and accurately in the literary representation of their traditionally weakest member—the Vietnamese woman, the chapter illustrates through textual analysis that R V N women are portrayed as passive, helpless victims of forces outside of their control, similar to what their political leaders inadvertently reveal themselves to be in their memoirs. In contrast, N L F texts extol the revolutionary woman as embodying both ly and tlnh in the nationalist cause. Moreover, analysis of two major N L F novels—Hon Ddt by A n h Due and Man and I by Phan Tii—shows the advance of revolutionary women from primarily feminine, though active and heroic, supporters of the revolution to feministic, active agents of their own fate as well as leaders of the revolutionary cause to determine the destiny of their nation. Finally, Chapter Five, "The Aftermath," wraps up the dissertation with a discussion of some postwar Vietnamese literature and its relevance to the understanding of Vietnamese current thoughts and values. In particular, the chapter w i l l put into 21 perspective the "literature of protest," (so called because of its tone of disillusionment or dissent) which has been over-represented in the West. The conclusion wi l l also suggest directions for further research in the study of Vietnamese literature about the war that impacted so deeply the course of history for both Vietnam and the United States. The project w i l l make use of Vietnamese texts available in English in the West, whether published in English in the original, or translated from Vietnamese. I w i l l also attempt to introduce canonical writings which have boasted large audiences and which are believed to have left an enduring influence on the Vietnamese reading public during the war, but which the politics of translation and publication in the West have excluded from Western attention. Literature, History, and Politics—Genres and Interpretation The inclusion of both fiction and non-fiction in the present study, which, moreover, has to do with Vietnamese politico-history, demands acknowledgement at the outset of questions concerning the problematics of representation and interpretation among different literary genres. On the other hand, the relevance of literature to the study of history and politics w i l l also need to be addressed. The relationship among history, politics and literature has always been somewhat controversial in the West. First off, there have been arguments against the interweaving of politics into works of imaginative art, as it is believed that political agendas usually come at the sacrifice of aesthetic quality. Moreover, politically engaged literature has often been discounted on the basis o f a supposed conflict o f interest. A n assumption quite popular among Western critics is that art has the power to unify people, and that literature 22 is "disinterested," while, in contrast, politics is partisan and divisive. Thus, political bias and propaganda may have been the grounds on which literature produced by D R V and N L F nationalists on the Vietnam War has been consistently overlooked in the West, at least until recently. Such views of the relationship between literature and politics should prove to be counter-productive in examining the literature of Vietnam, where, as Chapter Two wi l l show, literature was traditionally produced by scholars who were at the same time performing their duties as administrators of the country. Furthermore, it would be not only unwise, but impossible to hedge out political concerns in the study of twentieth-century Vietnamese war literature. The popular resistance against foreign domination consumed Vietnamese life and thought for most of the twentieth century to such an extent that any socially conscious writing produced in Vietnam during that time must be political to some degree. If literature were looked at only as an aesthetic concern, much of this only viable body of literature in wartime Vietnam would be unduly excluded. A second, related question is how useful, then, are imaginative modes of art to the understanding of political issues. On this question, Catherine Zuckert argues that novels restore the human focus abstracted away by political and social theorists: "The concrete or particular form of characterization in the novel makes it an especially apt means of critically examining political and other generalizations about the way people do and should l ive" (688). Lee Sigelman goes further to contend that fiction is not simply a mirror which "reflects—in a one-to-one correspondence" history and politics, but a prism which "transforms whatever passes through it into something new and different" (155). He maintains that 23 [t]he most fundamental influences on the way we live are often so deeply embedded in our collective and individual consciousness that they pass wholly unobserved. B y portraying imagined alternatives in which some of these influences are inoperative, writers of fiction perform invaluable mind experiments [. . .] that open up whole new ways of thinking about various aspects of human existence. (157) A t the same time, Joel Kassiola contends that literature is "the enhancement of our understanding of human values—in particular, political values—through its ability to provide 'virtual experience' in a v iv id manner" (53). Maureen Whitebrook sums up the debate by stating that "art deals not (just) with facts, but with our sense of fact. Imaginative expressions of the political do not substitute for the 'facts' of social science or 'real ' politics, but extend the understanding possible from facts," thus allowing for the fullest representation of "reality" by way of a "different kind of evidence and [. . .] offering a different, fuller, realism" (5). A further note should be made about the inclusion in my present research of both fiction (prose and poetry) and non-fiction (memoirs). M y argument for this inclusion is that these two categories are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually supportive. A s George Egerton points out, (political) memoir is in fact a "polygenre"—an amalgam of political, historical, autobiographical, and literary elements. Discussing the interpenetration of autobiography and history in modern Indonesia, Susan Rodgers also maintains that "telling a life unavoidably [. . .] involves telling history in terms of passages through ages of time and transitions between levels of consciousness and social awareness," and that both historical memory and personal memory are "animated by 24 certain closely related key scenarios and social images." She goes on to conclude that "art animates the telling of history at both the public and personal levels in unusually thoroughgoing ways" (3). Similarly, Whitebrook's assertion that fiction is a mode of apprehension, o f "facts fitted into a larger vision of the human condition," may very well apply to non-fictional genres such as memoir and autobiography. Moreover, while some autobiographers' conceptions of truth invite comparisons to fiction, as Stephen Ambrose suggests Nixon ' s memoir to do, memoirs can also be appraised under the categories of poetics and fiction as "metaphors of self and novels of self-exploration" (Egerton 347). Finally, insofar as both forms "enable us to gain an understanding of issues, problems, and points of view as they matter to the other" so that we may then come to "understand the motives and behavior of others as they understand them" (Egerton 5, italics in the original), the decision to embrace both categories in a study like this proves to be of unquestionable validity indeed. Lastly, in the case of the Vietnam War, fiction and non-fiction appear to intersect on several levels and in very interesting and complex ways. The Vietnam War with its delusions and deceptions invoked serious doubt and self-doubt in those who experienced it first-hand, resulting in a peculiar blurring of fact and fiction. A well-known example of this inseparability o f fact and fiction in the American Vietnam War literature is Michael Heir ' s Dispatches. Composed of intensely individual and artful recollections of a journalist who has "been there," the work is often treated as a novel for its strange, mosaic admixture of military moves and 1960s pop culture, with all the accompanying absurdity. In Peter Mclnerney's words, it is "the finest example of facts about the American experience in Vietnam rendered into fiction" (190). On the other hand, 25 veterans of the war such as Wayne Kar l in , T im O'Brien, Bao Ninh , Le M i n h Khue and several others have produced fiction distinguished by a strong fusion of both autobiographical and imaginative elements. One of the Vietnamese discussed in this project, Nguyen Cao K y , prime minister, then vice president of the former R V N , recently returned to Vietnam for the first time after the 1975 collapse of his government. His pleas for reconciliation are, I believe, long overdue. But true reconciliation is only possible when there is acceptance of certain aspects of the war, and when both sides are committed to making Vietnam a better place. It is my hope that examination of the literature about the war from the Vietnamese perspectives wi l l help facilitate this understanding for both Vietnamese and Americans. 26 C H A P T E R 2: HEARTS AND MINDS The Vietnam War was not a conventional war with clear military fronts and targets. When Americans argued that the People's Army of [North] Vietnam ( P A V N ) and the People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF—the military arm of the N L F ) had never won a decisive battle against American forces during the ten years of U . S . direct combat in the country, Vietnamese military leader and strategist General V o Nguyen Giap answered, "That may be so. But it is also irrelevant." 4 Giap's reply shows that Vietnamese revolutionaries had understood what the American administration and military command were but dimly aware of throughout the length of the war, that failure and success were not measurable by the area of territories occupied, battles won, or even the number of enemy soldiers kil led and captured. Instead, victories depended on a much more intangible criterion: the ability to capture the "hearts and minds" of the general population, both inside and outside of Vietnam. To understand where the Vietnamese "hearts and minds" rested, let us return to the socio-political context at the beginning of the thirty-year long war. A close look at the literature from the onset of colonialism to the official outbreak of the resistance war against the French (1862-1945) shows a gradual evolution toward what was to become by 1945 the twin desire for national independence and a new organized community. In the twentieth-century revolution to resist both foreign domination and the breakdown of Vietnamese society, national sovereignty was to represent ly (broadly speaking, "the mind"), while the emotional bond and security of a mutually supportive and caring community was to underwrite tinh (broadly speaking, "the heart") for supporters of the Vietnamese Revolution as a whole. 27 Ly and tinh are classical Confucian concepts deeply rooted in the Vietnamese consciousness. Given their importance to the understanding of the success or failure of the political factions involved in the war and of the literature penned by supporters of those factions, these concepts merit a careful explanation at this stage. Both ly and tinh have multiple meanings, for which there are no exact equivalents in English. Essentially, ly refers to the ultimate rules of the universe, and encompasses not only the "rational" or "logical," but the moral as well . Thus, Neo-Confucians in China in as far back as the eleventh century, and notable Vietnamese scholars (such as Le Quy Don in the 1700s) called themselves members of the ly hoc, or "School of Principles," and exalted ly as transcendental principles that sustained human ethics. This blending of the moral with the rational in the concept of ly is further demonstrated in two of its related terms: its immediate etymological derivative, chdn ly (truth), and the much older dao ly (morality). Similarly to ly, tinh is originally a very broad-based omnibus term about which whole books have been written in Chinese studies. It can mean both the general emotions of the heart and the more specific face-based ties of reciprocal obligations and friendship. In modern Vietnamese, tinh is most often used to mean "care and affection;" in close relationships, it is the equivalent of "love." From these two broad concepts came five important Confucian virtues for the governing of individual behavior, as defined by Dong Zhongshu, a very influential philosopher of the Western Han dynasty: nhdn (benevolence), le (duty), nghia (propriety), tri (conscience), tin (faithfulness). Rounding out the moral virtues are trung, which originally meant loyalty to the king, but was later to be understood more broadly as loyalty to the nation, and hieu, essentially the filial piety to one's parents, or more broadly, piety to one's family. It 28 should be noted here that, to the Vietnamese, morality, judging by its component virtues, reflects proper behavior in one's relationships with other people, in which the self is held amenable to the cultivation of the relationships. Ly, tinh, and the moral virtues are indelible in the Vietnamese consciousness. They work on both conscious and sub-conscious levels to explain to the Vietnamese what is considered good, proper and just. Together, they lend foundation to cong ly (justice, or justness), present when conflicts are resolved in such a way that satisfies all of the above aspects—"co ly, co tinh," as the Vietnamese would say. In traditional Vietnamese studies, students were taught these concepts and virtues just as children in the West learned the Ten Commandments. Thus, for thousands of years, these concepts and virtues defined to the Vietnamese, as they still do, the ideals of good human behavior. This paradigm of ly-finh, and its satellite terms of chdn ly, dao ly, and cong ly, w i l l form the background of my analysis of Vietnamese literature in this study. For better or for worse, by the time Westerners began to arrive en masse on Vietnamese shores, Vietnam had spent many years fending off foreign aggressors.5 This shared history had honed a remarkable spirit o f resistance against external influences that was deeply embedded in the national psyche and constituted a ly to those who considered themselves Vietnamese. Besides generating a sense of national cohesion (identity based on a shared language, culture, and geographical homeland), this resistance has also been a major source of pride for all Vietnamese—and not without good reason. Vietnamese history by the nineteenth century had claimed repeated victories not only over the chauvinistic Chinese, but also over the Mongols, who once possessed an army formidable enough to threaten the world. 29 Before embarking on military campaigns, leaders of Vietnamese troops often made speeches to justify the need for fighting and to boost their soldiers' morale. These military announcements (called hick) were (somewhat ironically) inked in Chinese, which was the official written language of Vietnam before the Vietnamese version, chic nom, overtook it. They were also often in verse form, not only because military generals were well trained in poetic tradition and convention, but because they wanted their soldiers to take to heart the political message, and verse could be easily remembered and recited by the common soldiers. Two of the most famous hich, which have been widely taught in schools to generations of Vietnamese then as now, were composed by Generals L y Thuong Kiet and Tran Quoc Tuan, who went on to join the long list of national heroes for leading Vietnam to victory over the Chinese in 1076 and the Mongols in 1285 respectively. I, for one, still remember these hich by heart. Considered Vietnam's first Declaration of Independence, read to the troops in 1076, L y Thuong Kiet 's short but forceful poem sums up Vietnam's nationalistic w i l l and pride in four lines, following the 7/4 (that ngon tie tuyet) convention: Nam quoc son ha Nam de cu; Tuyet nhien dinh phdn tai Men thu. Nhu hd nghich 16 lai xdm pham; Nhu dang hanh khan thu bai hu. (The Southern emperor rules the Southern land. 6 That is the sacred Destiny writ in Heaven's Book. H o w dare you bandits trespass on our soil? Y o u shall meet your undoing at our hands!) (3:110) 30 The poem invokes, for the first time in what we know of Vietnamese literary history, the ly of sovereignty as the foundation for the belief that the invaders w i l l certainly be defeated. A s I w i l l demonstrate, this reasoning was to be followed in many later nationalistic writings. The fact that Vietnam prevailed over China in that same year would prove to the Vietnamese people the "truth" of L y Thuong Kiet 's assertion, as would Vietnamese history of resistance and triumph over militarily superior invaders time and time again confirm the power of the w i l l . "Hich Tuong ST" was likewise penned to encourage all members of the Vietnamese army to set aside their personal interests for the fight against the coming Mongols. In this symmetrical speech, composed of perfectly parallel sentences, Tran Quoc Tuan invokes loyal patriots in history and asks his generals and soldiers alike to prove that they are men worthy of respect by devoting themselves wholly to the national cause. Declaring that "Chet vinh horn song nhuc" (to die in honor is far better than to live in shame), Tran Quoc Tuan expresses his heartfelt concern for the nation and his determination to crush the invaders in the following forceful words, which have been memorized by generations of Vietnamese: Ta ticng tai bita quen an, nua tfem vd goi, nude mat dam dia, ruot dau nhu cat, chi gidn khong duac an thit, nam da, nudt gan, uong mdu qudn thii, dau tram than ta phai ngodi not co, nghin xdc ta goi trong da ngua, cung nguyen cam long. (I have been foregoing food at mealtimes, tossing and turning at night, my eyes wet with tears, my insides hurting with anger. If only I could get my teeth at the enemy's flesh, tear off their skin, eat their liver, drink their blood! Even i f my 31 body were a hundred times exposed on the battlefield, even i f my corpse were a thousand times buried in horse skin, I would still be satisfied.) The mid-1800s abruptly mobilized this tradition of resistance against a modern French army and its Western culture and philosophies. Between 1858 and 1954, French colonialism was to rip apart the very fabric of Vietnamese traditional society. Vietnamese Literature and French Colonialism (1858-1925) From the 1860s to 1890s, at the same time that other European colonizers were eradicating indigenous peoples in North America, French colonial rulers in Vietnam set in motion the beginning of a gradual, but relentless demise of this thousands-year-old civilization. The construction of French Indochina, based on France's administrative divisions of Vietnam into Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina, with Cambodia and Laos added in 1873 and 1893, constituted an amalgam that had no historical, cultural, or geographical justification whatsoever. Vietnam's foreign relations and civ i l administration were controlled by Paris. Vietnamese military forces were disbanded and replaced by a French legionnaire army. A s French colonialists sought to impose their own cultural and institutional models on the colonized Vietnamese, they also exploited existing social structures as a means of control. The puppet Nguyen dynasty was preserved and Vietnamese mandarins became the low level bureaucrats of the French colonial administration. The impact of colonialism was felt first and most acutely by the scholar-gentry, who traditionally wielded far greater influence than any other group could with regards to Vietnamese thinking, ways o f behavior, and politics through their unique role in Vietnamese society—but who had now lost all of their political power. 32 The influence of this scholar-gentry class, as political activists and leaders of resistance movements and as creators of the literature I am going to discuss, is incalculable. A s a matter of fact, its influence may explain in part the large following the Viet M i n h easily acquired in the beginning, given that its leadership came primarily from the scholar-gentry. In traditional Vietnamese society, the scholars constituted a small corps; yet they enjoyed an eminence unequalled by any other social group. They served as a connection—arguably the only, i f largely informal, connection—between the administration and the rural community. Scholars who won one or more of the academic degrees in the court examinations became c iv i l servants (quan—scholar officials), who administered districts, prefectures, and provinces. The top scholar in the third-degree examination could even fi l l the equivalent of the modern-day prime ministership. In times of revolution, scholars were especially appreciated as strategists. Every successful military leader in Vietnamese history was accompanied by a well-versed scholar, i f he/she was not one him/herself. A most notable example of the scholar-strategist is Nguyen Trai, who helped Le L g i to success in military as well as administrative matters in the fifteenth century, and who bequeathed several speeches and documents attesting to his strategizing genius. The two Vietnamese scholar-strategists best known to the West, however, are General V o Nguyen Giap and Ho C h i M i n h (Giap started out as a history teacher at Hanoi's prestigious B u a i Highschool, and Ho Chi M i n h taught at the renowned Quoc Hoc Highschool, Hue, before his first international journey). When scholars were not involved in administration, they contributed to society as teachers, whose very words were revered and adhered to by generations of students. Vietnamese teachers received, as they still do, a level of respect unequalled by any other profession. Children were taught 33 to put their teachers on the same level as their parents, to be honored, obeyed, and paid moral debt to for the rest of their lives. According to a moral lesson to children, "Mot chit ciing la thdy; nita chit cung la thdy" (He who teaches you a word, or only half a word, is still your teacher [to be respected]). Good teachers acquired large followings of students, who automatically entered something like an informal, life-long "student/alumni association" around the teacher. Finally, these scholars were also writers who produced most of the high literature in a society observed by historians to be one of the most intensely literary civilizations on earth (Woodside, Community 2). 9 The influence of the scholar-gentry class is evident in an old Vietnamese adage, "Quoc gia hung vong that phu hitu trdch" (scholars are responsible for the country's rise and fall), which holds the scholars accountable for the destiny of their nation. Under French colonial rule, the scholars, on whom the country's proud history fell, were more than anyone else sensitive to nhuc mat nude (the humiliation of losing one's country). They were also the group most upset by the new social (dis)order. B y the early twentieth century, the French had created completely new social classes out of Vietnamese collaborators, such as interpreters and me Toy (Vietnamese women who consorted with the French), who served as middlemen/women between the colonial regime and the ruled native population. The power these classes obtained, less from any traditionally recognized qualifications than from their assistance to the invaders, upset the traditional hierarchy. In came an era when former "losers" and French-speaking militiamen could replace cultivated scholar-officials as administrators of Vietnam. Worse still , the Vietnamese elite became inferior even to the lowest ranking French (Woodside, Community). It was a time of "nude chdy nguoc" (water flows upward), when all ran 34 counter to ly. Not only was the old social order reversed, traditional morality as the scholars saw it also suffered a serious decline. Rapid Westernization caused an inevitable disintegration and erosion of traditional values. Confronted by these disruptions, scholars now either stood up and resisted, or abstained in protest and resentment. Not surprisingly, their inner turmoil was translated into an impressive body o f literature which preceded the national Revolution in August 1945. Because the literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contributed significantly to the political activism leading to the later resistance war, it w i l l be the topic of discussion next. Benedict Anderson observes that the concept of nationalism gained prominence in Europe in the eighteenth century when "the novel and the newspaper provided the technical means for 're-presenting' the kind of imagined community that is the nation" (25, emphasis in the original). In Vietnam, patriotic poetry had long played the role of creating the imagined community o f the Vietnamese people with a legendary tradition of resistance against foreign invasion and domination. From the onset of the French invasion to the 1920s, resistance poetry surged. This poetry was produced in either Chinese or nom (the Vietnamese adaptation of Chinese ideograms in writing, with a distinct Vietnamese vocabulary and pronunciation) by both militant and abstaining scholars/writers/teachers. The writings formed a concerted attack on the French invaders and on those Vietnamese who collaborated with the foreigners. After the revolutionary scholars' initial attempts at armed resistance failed, there was a pervading sense of nostalgic longing for the pre-colonial past, and desperate yearning for able saviors and change. 35 Prominent revolutionaries of this period, such as Phan B o i Chau and Phan Chu Trinh, turned out volumes of writings which, together with their political activities, inspired a whole generation of patriots and fellow revolutionaries. Young men and women (among whom the teenaged Nguyen Sinh Cung, later known to the world as Ho Chi Minh , and several others who were to become leaders of the D R V and N L F ) listened to secret readings of these writings even as they witnessed the miseries of their nation under the French. Born in Nghe A n (Central Vietnam), the cradle of many radical revolutionaries in Vietnamese history (including Ho Chi Minh) , Phan B o i Chau (1867-1940) ranked among the most famous mandarin revolutionaries of the "Can Vuong" (support the king) movement, so called because they aided K i n g Ham Nghi and Prince Cuong De in their resistance against the French. A child prodigy, he was known for being able, at the age of six, to memorize the Tarn Tie Kinh (Three Bibles) after only three days of reading. Although refusing to seek reputation and a career under foreign rule, Chau attended and won the top standing in the mandarin examination in Nghe A n province, just so he could broaden his revolutionary activities as a scholar/teacher. Besides political tracts, Chau left several poems, some under the pen name of Phan Sao Nam. His poetry reminds his fellow countrymen in many ways that determined opposition is the only moral and just way for a Vietnamese citizen l iving under foreign rule. Committed to armed resistance as the primary means of struggle even after the armed insurgence of the late nineteenth century had been brutally suppressed by the French, Chau also advocated change so that Vietnam could benefit from renewed strength. In 1905, he went to Japan to seek outside support for revolutionary activity and to investigate ways to modernize Vietnam. The 36 Dong D u (Go East) movement was thus started, which would later produce many staunch revolutionaries for the Viet Minh . In "Tu Hu De N h d " [To the nest-robbing cuckoo], Chau borrows the cuckoo's habit of stealing nests to condemn the French invaders: 1 0 Hey that cuckoo, this nest is none of yours! H o w come you barged in here and called it home? M y wife and I have worked so hard to build this home; Y o u and your kind, do not sit so brazen there. I thought your abuse would not last beyond two or three days; Who knew you would have overextended your stay several times by now. 1 1 How in the world can such a freak occur? Y o u came unasked; resisted, you wi l l not leave! In "Chuc Tet Thanh Nien" [New Year's wishes for the youth], Chau urges young people to do their part in saving the country from slavery and backwardness: Get up! Get up! Get up! The rooster has just crowed The birds are singing their welcome. Arriving Spring, do you know H o w ashamed I am before the rivers, how sad before the mountains, how mortified under the moon? Twenty-something and I have experienced such sorrows. I am lucky to be alive But day and night, I burn with hatred for the barbarians. 37 Men , women, young and old, It is time to change in this time of change. Open your eyes to new opportunities Give a hand to the rescue of our ancient nation. March forth, stand upright, withstand with perseverance! Unified, we are determined to once again create the fortune. We shall strive to maintain fraternity Shedding the old skin, we shall nurture our spirit. We shall not indulge in the common pleasures of games, fashion, or gastronomy. With hearts of iron, we w i l l move mountains and drain seas We w i l l wash away the disgrace of slavery with our boiling blood. N o w that is truly new, my people! A s they say: It is a new day, once again! In "Song" [To Live] , an inflamed Chau rouses his less fervent countrymen to greater social responsibility in this time of foreign domination: L iv ing in shame, you do not deserve to crowd this earth! L iv ing that kind of life, do you not feel disgraced facing the world? If you wi l l live in slavery, to be kicked around, If you w i l l live in stupidity, to be laughed at, If you w i l l live for your social position while the nation is lost, If you wi l l live with dreams of wealth, heedless of your people's suffering, Then you had better not live at all . L iv ing in shame, you do not deserve to crowd this earth! 38 Sentenced to death by the French, the patriot does not flinch, but instead blames himself for his failure to save the nation in "Ba i Tha Tuyet Menh" [Poem before death]: Sixty years on this earth, I have paid my dues to this life. Where is the grand spirit I was born with? The moon is still shining in my heart, as clouds still covering the sky. In my life, I have failed to terminate the country's enemies N o w about to die, I ask that the younger generations not bother to mourn. Submitting myself to the tigers like this, I am no better than D i T e , 1 2 am I? M y tears are flowing for the country and its people, I wish for talents that I do not have to save them from decline. This body is going to die while the spirit is still frustrated H o w mortified I w i l l be, facing our ancestors! In the same revolutionary vein, Phan B o i Chau's most talented comrade, Phan Chu Trinh, urges his fellow-countrymen to social responsibility and action in "Ngau Hung" [Impromptu]: 1 3 A windstorm's turned the country upside down Why did Heaven above weave this noose for us? Chew over your own duties—bitter tang Open your bag of literature—dank mold. Those scoundrels play and dally fighting fire— Waifs wander, mourning fathers in distress. 39 High hills, vast seas—the land lies broad, immense Cl imb peaks or swim the deep—do all you can. Several other revolutionaries of the period, such as Nguyen Huu Huan, Huynh Thuc Khang, Phan Van Tr i , and Tran Cao Van, contributed fiery poems composed in prison—at times right before their executions. A leader of the resistance in the South, Nguyen Huu Huan wrote his last poem, "Carrying a cangue around the neck," then bit his tongue and took his own life before he was to be executed by the French in 1875. 1 4 A cangue is a wooden frame fastened around the neck of an offender as both a portable pillory and a symbol of infamy. Here, Huan sees it instead as a symbol of French rule, which, as a scholar, he is under the duty to resist. To Huan, the scholar's responsibility for the nation's welfare is both his "moral burden" and "pride." He also declares that the penalty for those who do not resist w i l l be "disgrace." Countrymen from north to south, see what I am bearing here? It is a moral burden, not a cangue. Beneath its weight, the scholar's shoulders stoop Around its neck, the hero flaunts his pride. I shall die and go up north: my name wi l l shine. Y o u live and stay down south: it is your disgrace. 1 5 One wins or loses according to Heaven's w i l l . Fuck you base traitors! Don't you dare laugh at me! Guillotined in 1916, Tran Cao Van announced that "It is a mere child's play to die" for his country. 1 6 In fact, he saw it as the only way he could live on in people's memory as a man worthy of respect. 40 It is a mere child's play to die—who would care to try? To die a patriot's death is Heaven's grace. I shall have my body crushed and die a man. I shall let my head fall off and die upright. Who dies for justice wins the world's respect Who dies to serve his king forever lives. To die this way w i l l be a sheer delight. Hey, do you hear? I am not afraid to die! Revolutionaries together stressed the need for all Vietnamese to cultivate social responsibility, and to stand up and fight the invaders. The scholars themselves, through their lives and deaths, set examples of self-sacrifice for the cause of national salvation. Meanwhile, abstaining patriots such as Nguyen Khuyen, Tu Xuong, Tan Da, and Nguyen Dinh Chieu reached out, through their writing as well as their teaching, to a large segment of the population no matter their social, political, or educational background. These poets preached and practiced non-collaboration, the only other acceptable response to unjust foreign rule. A t the same time, they boycotted everything associated with the French—be it shorter hair, Western clothes, paved roads, French cultural traditions, or even Western-style soap. 1 7 Nguyen Khuyen (1835-1909) is a significant voice in the pre-modern Vietnamese experience. 1 8 A uniquely accomplished scholar, Nguyen Khuyen won top standing in all of the three court examinations he took, earning the title "Tarn Nguyen Y e n D o " (three times top graduate) from Emperor T u Due. He served as a mandarin from 1871 to 1883, and, at the height of his career as governor of Son Tay province, withdrew from public 41 service after the Hue Court signed the Harmand Treaty, giving France dominance over the whole of Vietnam in August 1883. Both Khuyen and Tu Xuong, the poet I am discussing next, are taught extensively in Vietnamese schools. One of Nguyen Khuyen's best known poems is entitled " H o i Tay" [French National Holiday]. In this poem, the usually mild, polished poet lashes out at the crowd who jo in in the French-staged festivities on Bastille Day. Look! The Amnesty festival is here! Firecrackers snap Hosts of flags are hoisted, hosts of lanterns hung. B i g dames, legs exposed, watch the boat race Small boys, hunched up, sneak a peek of the folk opera. Boasting their strength, damsels wigway on the swing Chasing after money, bumpkins climb greased poles. Hats off to those who have staged this merriest of shows! The merrier, the more humiliating it is! In only eight lines, the poem delivers a number of messages. First, the poet bemoans the decline of moral standards: high-ranking mandarins' wives forgo respectability by revealing their legs for all to see; mercenary people embarrass themselves for money; and the celebration of brawn over inner strength. Erosion of traditional morality is clearly attributed to the French corrupting influence. A s organizers of this "merriest of shows," the French stand to be blamed for encouraging the above condemned traits. But more importantly, the main message of the poem rests on one word: "nhuc" (shame, humiliation), which, due to the tones of the surrounding words, receives the most emphasis in the last line. The title of the poem, "French National 42 Holiday," reveals the cause of this shame. Historically, French colonialists attempted, as part of their mission civilisatrice, cultural assimilation—the Gall icizing of Vietnamese culture and institutions. More than anybody else, scholars like the poet himself, who grew up believing in the inherent superiority of their culture, felt the humiliation of having to celebrate a foreign holiday. The last line therefore reveals both anger at the scholar/poet's own impotence and fierce anti-French sentiments. It is at the same time self-reproach and a verdict against those Vietnamese who are ignorant or mercenary enough to jo in in the merriment, thereby celebrating their own humiliation. Although not nearly as successful as Nguyen Khuyen in his academic career, Tu Xuong (1870-1907), another Northern poet, attained comparable prominence in Vietnamese literature with his exquisite, biting attacks on the French and their Vietnamese underlings. In poems such as "Gieu Nguoi Thi D o " [Mock the graduates], Tu Xuong castigates those Vietnamese scholars who subject themselves to French rule rather than resist or withdraw. 1 9 The poem is cited in Vietnamese here to facilitate my analysis of the poet's diction. Mot dan thdng hong dung ma trong No do khoa nay co su&ng khong! Tren ghe, ha dam ngoi dit vit, Duoi sdn, 6ng cu ngdng ddu rong. (A flock of failed candidates stand by to watch; The graduates of this examination, aren't they jubilant! Upon a high chair, the French dame hoists her duck-like rump; Down in the courtyard, the graduates lift their dragon heads.) 43 The sardonic humor, expressed in perfect parallel lines, has made this poem a lasting favorite for all Vietnamese readers, literature critics and textbook compilers. The poem was composed in 1897, the first year the court exam was presided over by the French. The occasion was marked by the presence of the newly arrived Governor-General of Indochina, Paul Doumer, and his wife at the ceremony where successful candidates received their titles. Here, the court candidates are no longer accorded the esteem traditionally given to scholars; they are instead decimated in a number of ways. The first two lines refer to them as a "flock" of "thting" and "no" (two contemptuous words for inferior, less-than-men juniors). The presence of Doumer's wife on a high platform at a most solemn place where no woman was allowed before not only exposes the French rulers' disdain for native customs and tradition, but emphasizes the humiliation of those who submit to it. The failed candidates (with the poet among them) are pathetic as envious lookers-on, but they are nowhere as pathetic as the jubilant graduates, whose "dragon heads" (the dragon-shaped caps being the insignia of intellectual nobility) aspire toward a French woman's ample derriere. The connotation-loaded "dit vit" (duck rump, or the dirtiest part of a lowly and dirty animal) and "dau rong" (dragon heads, or the highest part of a sacred animal that also happens to be the Vietnamese people's legendary ancestor), and the deliberate pairing o f "duck rump" with "tren" (up high, superior) and "bd" (madam) in line 3, which at the same time contrasts with "dragon heads," "duai" (down, underling) and "ong" (mister) in line 4, exploit at once the contemporary racism and sexism to deliver in one swift stroke the mortification of a whole nation under foreign domination. Having been called in the diminutive in the first two lines, Vietnamese (male) scholars (Tu Xuong himself included) are dealt a 44 double slap in the face in the last two lines. Whether they have failed or succeeded in this particular exam, Vietnamese scholars, as guardians of the nation, have all failed when they can do nothing but helplessly watch the country sink under foreigners. Yet another poet to underscore the duty of the scholar/poet to help his/her country is Nguyen Khac Hieu (1889-1939), who took his pen name from the mountain Tan and the river D a of his native village in Son Tay—"non nuac" (mountains and rivers) being a set expression for "the country, homeland, and nation." His anguish as a patriot, seeing 20 the Vietnamese nation divided and trampled upon, is expressed in "The Tattered Map." On the surface, the poem seems to be about the sorry state of a physical map, but the double entendres reveal the poet's concerns for Vietnam now in the hands of invaders. Stand there and have a look at the poor map— Its rivers and mountains are being turned into sorry jokes. Do you know how long it took to draw the map? Why is it now tattered and torn? Our fathers have acquired and bequeathed it to us— How dare their children make a toy of it? But now, rather than blaming the juveniles, Let us do all we can to mend the map. In the South, Nguyen Dinh Chieu (1822-1888), a widely respected blind teacher informally called C u Do Chieu ("teacher Chieu"), exhorted his students and children to spurn everything French. In a poem entitled "Tha D u i " [I'd sooner be blind], Do Chieu compares the physically blind favorably to those who blindly serve the invaders. 2 1 If his 45 Northern contemporaries leaned heavily on allegory, irony, double entendres, and parallelism, Nguyen Dinh Chieu's attacks are often characteristic of Southern bluntness: Better to have both eyes obscured by mists Than to sit here and see the kingdom's foes. Better to curse the void before your eyes Than to sit here and watch the people's hell. Better to have for your eyes a desert Than foreign conquest and defeat. Better to have both eyes in pitch-dark night Than warfare drowning this dear land in blood. Sooner be blind and honor your home cult Than see the loss of ancestor worship. Sooner be blind and keep from foul repute Than have both eyes and feed on putrid meat. Sooner be blind and to yourself stay true 22 Than keep both eyes and tamper with your hair. Why see and ape those creatures garbed in wool A n d swagger, bowing to no lord above? Why see and, stirred by gold and flesh, Unleash all lusts, inviting Heaven's scourge? Why see and race against the madding throng? Today's reward w i l l be tomorrow's shame. Why see and throw all ethics to the wind, 46 Spurning old virtues, flouting Heaven's laws? Seeing what has happened to the world outside, Inside I w i l l preserve my heart and soul. Feeling impotent against the French onslaught on the Vietnamese and their culture, many scholars abstained from the public world. But they all expressed a strong wish for an able leader and propitious time to come and avenge the nation's shame. In "Ngong Gio Dong" [Waiting for the east wind], Nguyen Dinh Chieu likens colonial rule to the harsh winter that fetters life. The people of Vietnam, like its flora, are desperately yearning for a wise, strong leader to restore the country and cleanse it of all foreign influence. The flora is desperately yearning for the east wind O Lord of Spring, where are you, do you know? Stil l no sign of geese through the cloud-hung northern passes Swallows hush their cries in twilight southern mountains. To foreigners our ancient territory has been parceled out— We now have to share the same sky with them day and night. When wi l l our holy sovereign's grace shine through, A n d a shower of rain cleanse our streams and hills? N g u y l n Dinh Chieu's forlorn hope for national independence is echoed in Nguyen Khuyen's "Quoc K e u Cam Hung" [On hearing the rail c ry ] : 2 4 Your grief-laden cry lingers in the air— Like the soulful wail of Shu, who died long ago. Blood flows through the hours of quiet summer nights; 47 Souls roam every minute the moonlight fades. Are you bemoaning the spring, now past and gone? Or is it the water you are missing? Who are you crying for, all through the night, Making a wanderer brood within his heart? The patriot's tumult is expertly expressed through a variety of double entendres in this poem. Playing on the double meaning of "quoc" as both the rail and the nation, the title can thus be read as "On hearing the rail cry," or "Listening to the call o f the nation." The reference to the king of Shu, who according to Chinese legends died in exile and became a rail after losing his kingdom, reveals the poet's sorrow for his own country (nuac can mean either "water" or "country"). M u c h "blood" has been shed and many patriots have been executed, leaving behind their "souls" when resistance after resistance is crushed by the French. "Khdch giang ho" ("wanderers," or "knight-gentlemen"), like the poet himself, are left to toss and turn over the plight of the nation. Tu Xuong makes a similar call for revolutionary action by directing the criticism at himself—at what he calls his own selfishness—in "Dai Han" ["drought," also "catastrophe"]: These days the sun is melting gold and stone. People are frantically praying for rain. In happier times, carefree, they ate and slept Now, waterless, they tremble for their land. Buffaloes are glad the fields are parched beyond plowing Fearful for their lives, fish have all fled dry ponds. 48 Everybody is now trying to save only themselves— M y palm-leaf fan I am fluttering alone. Again, the double meaning of "nu&c" plays in this political allegory. The fourth line can thus be read as "Now, having lost the country, people worry about the fate o f their nation." A sign of nature's malevolence, the drought represents the evil o f foreign dominion that tests people's loyalty ("gold and stone"). Inaction or abstention, the poet suggests, is not unlike the act o f selfishly and futilely fluttering a palm-leaf fan for one's own good when calamity is breaking loose outside. It is the act of a coward. The influence of this body of resistance poetry on the shaping of the Vietnamese psyche in preparation for the war that was yet to officially start is immeasurable. Copied and recopied in painstaking calligraphy, and memorized and recited by illiterate peasants and scholars alike, the multitude of patriotic, anti-French poems of this period, of which the ones cited above are but a small sample, kept alive Vietnam's legendary spirit of resistance even as all armed insurgence had been drowned in bloodbath by the early 1900s. 2 5 Vietnamese Literature under Change (1925-1945) Alexander Woodside suggests in Community and Revolution in Modern Vietnam that early Vietnamese resistance to Western influence was ethnocentric and based primarily on loyalty to Confucianism and xenophobia. Even i f it was so, elements among the scholars/revolutionaries soon realized Vietnam could do with the advantages of modern science and technology, and were wi l l ing to explore, ultimately, new, Western philosophies and thinking as well . One of the early advocates of modernization was Phan 49 B o i Chau; and the model civilization he first gauged was Japan. Later, a substantial number of scholars/revolutionaries joined him, forming the Dong D u (Go East) movement. Meanwhile, starting from the 1920s, an increasing number of Vietnamese youths went to France for higher education. Upon their return to Vietnam in the late 1920s and early 1930s, they brought with them a broader view of the West and of Vietnam's place in relation to it. A t the same time, various factors combined to accelerate changes inside Vietnamese society in the first two decades of the century. First, some Western technology, a market economy, and transportation and communication facilities had been introduced to serve the colonialists. These developments combined with population increase and the rapid expansion of urban centers to create a radically different social context for people's lives. Above all , a Western-style education system provided a powerful impetus to cultural change. B y mid-1920s, a new public school system had spawned numerous Tan hoc (new education) writers as well as created an audience literate in quoc ngu (the romanized transcription of the Vietnamese language). There also appeared an increasing number of Vietnamese writers educated in French "superior schools," who came largely from the elite, wealthy section of the population and who became fluent in French. The promulgation of quoc ngu and of French by the colonialists was meant to speed up the colonialists' progression to power through language. 2 6 Unwittingly, it also aided modern Vietnamese nationalism, as it encouraged Vietnamese to look out into the Western world and learn about themselves as well as others. While this new, Western knowledge was to enthral the more impressionable receivers of Western education, it would also empower modern Vietnamese nationalists in their efforts to free their 50 country. 2 7 The literature of the 1930s and 1940s well illustrates the division and tension between these two groups, who would evolve into opposing factions in Vietnam's political arena in the mid-1940s. This literature also shows how the left-leaning revolutionaries managed to reconnect with their Vietnamese identity, thereby prevailing over the minority of Vietnamese who accepted Western influences wholesale. Finally, an analysis of the literature of the 1930s and 1940s is particularly rewarding as the writers of this period would later form the leadership of various political factions that competed with one other in Vietnam's struggle to shake off the yoke of colonialism. For these reasons, the literature of the 1930-1940 period wi l l be discussed next. The two decades immediately preceding the war were characterized by a blossoming of new genres and new ideas reflecting French influences. Different literary schools emerged corresponding to different artistic and aesthetic viewpoints. A s a result of severe censorship and suppression by the French, the revolutionary strand of Vietnamese literature went completely underground. Much of it was in fact produced in prison and was neither published nor publicized until after 1954. The "legitimate" literature of this period monopolized the reading public, and did so through a revolution of its own. In terms of genres, this period ushered in two new forms: the prose novel/short story, and reportage/autobiography/reminiscences. Among literary schools, first romanticism, then realism, claimed the rapt attention of the new urban, educated youths who were being swept into a nation-wide social and political revolution. The evolution from romanticism to realism in the 1930s and early 1940s corresponded with the ascent and eventual triumph of leftist elements in a nationalist revolution against the colonial regime. 51 Romanticism and Individualistic Tendencies (1925-35) Romanticism emerged in the Vietnamese literary scene circa 1930 and flourished for the better part of the decade. Famous romantics include the poets Nguyen Binh, Tan Da, Che Lan Vien , and Huy Can; and prose writers Hoang Ngoc Phach and Nguyen Tuan. But the spokesmen of Vietnamese romanticism were arguably the T u Luc Van Doan (Self-reliance literature group) writers: Nguyen Tuong Tarn (pen name Nhat Linh), his brothers Nguyen Tuong Lan (Thach Lam) and Nguyen Tuong Long (Hoang Dao), and Khai Hung (Nguyen Khanh Giu) ignited the reading public with their prose fiction, while The L u , Liru Trong L u , and Xuan Dieu were acclaimed leaders of the "new poetry" movement. Representing the "art for art's sake" viewpoint, Vietnamese romanticism of this period was strongly individualistic and sentimental. This individualism and sentimentalism found its most intense expression in the "new poetry," which broke with tradition in both form and subject-matter. The "old poetry" was characteristically outward-looking. Written usually by scholar officials for particular occasions, it was primarily didactic, pragmatic, ethical and social in nature. (Exceptions are pastoral poetry, in which the poets' personal feelings are often embedded in the description of nature, and the "aberrant" poetry of women writers such as Ho Xuan 30 Huong. ) Employing numerous Chinese and historical allusions, the tone of old poetry was dignified, its poetic form strictly adherent to conventional (Chinese and Vietnamese) rules of length, rhyme and rhythm. 3 1 Romantic poetry capitalized somewhat on the undercurrent of pastoral poetry, but, under the influence of French romanticism, focused entirely on the " I " and turned inward to explore intricate emotions in verses that obeyed no conventions other than the poet's feelings. This " I" as a whole-person individual, as 5 2 opposed to a part of a role-based community, was itself a new creation of the industrialization and expansion occurring in Vietnamese society at the time. A s used by the romantics, the new "I" reflected a strong, Western-influenced self-awareness. A n "art for art's sake" philosophy imported from the West now freed the poets from producing socially and culturally "correct" reflections of themselves and of others. They could now celebrate being true only to themselves, even i f it meant breaking with the social and moral expectations of the roles they were occupying in the community. For many of the urban intellectuals of the period, who were being increasingly divorced from the old culture by their Western education and a progressively Western working environment, the traditional family and village life was fast disintegrating. The "new poets" became the mouthpieces of this generation of urban intellectuals as they passionately expressed personal dreams and desires. Flaunting their idiosyncrasies and sensuality, romantics also defined as social issues the tensions between the Western-style individual and the Vietnamese tradition of community life and Confucian practices. A t first, intoxicated with their newly-found freedom, romantic poets churned out exuberant poetry that at times bordered on impressionism. French influence was obvious in the use of free verse and prosody devices such as enjambment, alliteration, and the caesura. N o longer relying on classic imagery and symbolism, the new poetry employed fresh images and sounds, and voiced every private emotion from love to hate, resentment to desire. A famed creation of a most popular romantic of the period, Xuan Dieu's "Cam X u c " [Feeling] is illustrative of this intensely personal poetry. 3 3 N o longer is the scholar/ poet held responsible for the fate of his country. The poem enthusiastically proclaims the 53 freedom to be but an instrument for its author's feelings and emotions, played by the hands of beauty and love: To be a poet is to be lulled by the wind To dream with the moon, and drift with the clouds. To let his soul be bound by a thousand strands Or splinter with a hundred precious loves. Hand on heart to trace the flow of blood and tears. A thousand hearts are carried in one To understand the voice of the stream or of the birds, The sound of the sobbing rain, the cry of words roused by the sunbeam. I am but a tiny needle, A n d nature is ten thousand magnets. If the evening dew awakes intoxicated with the full moon, How can a poet be criticized for being sensual? In a similar fashion, The LvJ, a pioneer of "New poetry," considers himself "Cay Dan Muon Dieu" [A harp with a thousand melodies]: I am but a wanderer Roaming the walks of life, Looking for beautiful feelings in each tear or laughter, In difficulty, in moments of happiness, In grand aspirations or simple dreams. 54 I love life with all its gloom, Pathos, horror, and gentleness, Its moments of brilliance, lust, or violence. Y o u may say I 'm quick to change, N o focus, without a philosophy—but who cares? I am only a passionate lover O f Beauty in myriads of shapes and guises. From the Muse, I obtain a harp with a thousand melodies, From the Muse, I obtain a brush with a thousand hues. I want to be an artist o f magic, Taking as materials all the sounds and beauties o f life. In a culture where amorous affection and feelings between men and women were rarely, i f ever, verbalized, Nguyen Binh 's passionate "Ghen" [Jealousy] was shocking— especially so because women had always been considered men's possessions to be taken for granted: Oh my little sweetheart, I want your lips to part in a smile Only when I am near, and your eyes Only see me when we are apart. I don't want you to think of anybody else, Or kiss even a fresh petal, Or hug a lonely pi l low in your sleep, Or swim at a beach crowded in the afternoon. I want that the sweet scent of perfume That you often wear w i l l not travel far, A n d enchant passers-by, For all that they are but passing strangers. I want that, in cold winter nights, Dreams wi l l not accost you. Or i f they should, I want that Y o u wi l l not meet any young men there. I want that your light breaths W i l l not damp strangers' shirts, A n d that no one wi l l ever step on Your footprints left along the dusty road. That means I 'm so jealous, Which means I 'm so much in love. A n d that means you are everything— Y o u are everything to me, and only me. 56 Unfettered individualism was to be cited by some Western-educated Vietnamese as a reason for their opposition to so-called "Communist" rule later. But for many others, writers and readers alike, the initial enthusiasm and passion for romantic individualism soon gave way to melancholy, despair, and a frightening emptiness. B y around 1937, and in a manner parallel to the experience of writers in the West two decades earlier, excessive preoccupation with their internal worlds and private sensibilities had led the new poets to an exhausted dead end. The introspective inclination of romanticism eventually brought the poets face to face with their inner vulnerability and alienation, and at the same time offered no way out. A sense of decay, weariness, and desperation became prevalent in the romantic poetry of the late 1930s. Perhaps no poem illustrates these feelings more clearly than The Lur's "Truy Lac" [Decadence]: The spirits of passion to numb a weary soul, Keep pouring, f i l l the glass, my lover! I am listening to the wind outside— Is it wailing out of sorrow? Keep pouring! When I 'm soused enough, Your hair I w i l l grab to dry my drunken, unseeing eyes. Then, looking out through a haze of smoke, I w i l l see only bright colors. There, white bodies gyrating. There, lusty laughters ringing in peels, Provocative, promiscuous, suggesting heat. And titilating or tear-jerking songs. Ladies of the night, tainted lovers, Do you know i f these pleasures W i l l help me care not for tomorrow A n d my life? For tomorrow might bring sobriety. Like yours, my soul is dead cold. Seems so long ago, when Light and the song of birds, or the falling darkness, A fresh flower, or a fallen leaf Were enough to move my heart. So innocent was I, like a virgin. N o w the maiden has become experienced, Practiced, having seen sullied life at close range. With a blighted heart, no longer with faith, I 'd rather forget, drowning everything in drunkenness, In the throes of faked passion, Just to avoid the empty hours. I dare not let my soul look back and remember. For, occasionally in the present madness, 58 Through the long night, a part of the dying poef s heart Might long for its former innocent life. The decline of romanticism as a trend was signalled by stylistic misadventures as well . A t his best, Xuan Dieu exemplified the romantics' innovative style and open sensuality in unforgettable poems such as " V i Sao" [Why?]: H o w can one explain love? For it doesn't make sense. One afternoon, It captivates us with its gentle sunshine, Its fluffy clouds, and its tender breeze. N o w this most westernized of Vietnamese poets lapsed into unlikely stylistic experiments. A n example of such experiments is his poem "Chieu" [Dusk]. Even though the musical quality is unimpeachable, the feelings and images are so vague and confusing that it is impossible to procure an exact translation: Today, the sky looks light and far above. I feel melancholy, not knowing why. . . . Red leaves fall quietly on long alleys; Vi rg in dew drops from the source o f love. Swayed is the soul o f the roses Pink cheeks still linger in passing breaths. It sounds as i f the wind has crossed the river Hidden in the reeds, boats haven't left the bank. The air seems to be made up of gossamer The slightest footstep could disturb, the lightest touch w i l l dissolve. 59 Smoothly, dusk broods upon dusk; The heart feels fine, moved by but a breeze of quiet melancholy. The decay of the late 1930s was not contained within a poetry of despair, but spilled into the poets' real lives. Many members of the "village of literature" (lang van) in Vietnam at this time resorted to opium or alcohol as an escape from the emotional disorder that typified a large portion of urban intellectuals just like themselves. O f greater significance and direct relevance to the present study is the fact that the emotional distress of the 1930s was rooted not only in the modernism of the period, but in the larger context of foreign oppression and exploitation, which the global economic depression of the 1930s and its effects on the colonial economy in Vietnam seriously aggravated. In fact, increasing foreign oppression and exploitation underpinned the rise of social realism over romanticism in Vietnam even as proletarian literature was becoming fashionable elsewhere in the late 1930s. A n d it is through the evolution of the prose novel, which started out as the other vessel of romanticism but matured as the weapon of social realists, that we see the quantum leap in political consciousness among the many Vietnamese writers/intellectuals who would later on become the pillars of the Viet M i n h leadership. In pre-modern Vietnamese literature, the verse tale (truyeri) had existed for quite some time. The most famous of the verse tales is Nguyen Du's Truyen Kieu [Tale of Kieu] of the late eighteenth century. 3 4 But the novel of the twentieth century, like the "new poetry," differed from the verse tale in both form (prose, as opposed to verse) and content (psychological, as opposed to courtly). Unlike the classic verse tale, in which plot and action were paramount, the modern novel focused more on psychological analysis. 60 The characters' personalities and inner motivations, their feelings, thoughts, and emotions were dissected and described in much greater detail. Modern novelists also employed other forms of modern art (painting and sculpture) in their constructions of scenery and character. Modelled on the French romans, the Vietnamese prose novel of the 1930s and 1940s was distinguished from earlier versions in its natural spoken language and creative plots. The modern romantic novelists took as their topics personal relationships and the fate of individuals at odds with (and often powerless in) a corrupt, hypocritical society that stifled them. Their writings struck out at the traditional paradigm of loyalty and moral debt to family, village and state—and in this manner anticipated the later drive for a social revolution. The evolution of the romantic novel can be best charted along three famous works of the period: Hoang Ngoc Phach's To Tdm (1925), Khai Hung's Hon Bu&m Ma Tim (1933), and Nhat Linh 's Doan Tuyet (1935). To Tdm focuses on the eventual, tragic resignation of a young woman in her struggle for romantic love against traditional family obligations. In love with a young man from an inferior background, To Tarn (which means "pure heart") is forced by her parents to marry into an established family in accordance with the age-old "good match" (mon dang ho doi) requirement. Unable to reconcile her duty as a daughter with her parents' inflexible insistence on "face," she finally yields to their demands. But, being educated and sensitive, To Tarn cannot suppress her personal desire for happiness. Her death by heart failure is meant to implicitly indict the murderous combination of practicality and Confucian morality. The novel's publication in 1925 marked the first 61 awakening of individualism and of the desire for freedom from the ancient institutions of family and community. Hon Bu&m Mo Tien [Butterfly's heart dreaming for an angel] is another story o f thwarted love. The protagonist, a university student in his summer vacation, becomes enamoured with a young monk, whom he later discovers to be an intelligent, educated woman. Although his love is reciprocated, Ngoc is made to promise he wi l l not upset the platonic relationship i f he is to see Lan again. In this novel, the barrier to romantic fulfilment and personal happiness is as flimsy as spiritualism—in particular, the Buddhist wish to escape from worldly ties. The novel's immense popularity at the zenith of romanticism is thus an indication of the taste for dreamy sentimentalism and escapist pleasure amongst urban youths. What is significant about Kha i Hung's first and probably most popular novel is its inconclusiveness and indirection, however. On the one hand, it does present a collision between the new and the old, represented by the meeting o f Ngoc, who is westernized in dress, ideas and habits, and Lan, with her conservative Buddhist ideals. On the other hand, it is devoid of harshness and criticism. Although there is little in common between the two worlds (signifying the impossibility of a merging of the old and the new), there is no lacking in mutual sympathy and affection. Ancient institutions may stand in the way of his personal, romantic fulfilment, but Ngoc 's acceptance of and respect for Lan's decision implies acquiescence to tradition, a theme 35 that emerges again in Khai Hung's next novel, Nua Chung Xudn [Unfinished spring]. Thus, in a way, these two of Khai Hung's novels, published in 1933 and 1934 respectively, ironically foreshadowed the amalgamation of tradition and revolution adopted by Viet M i n h revolutionaries in the 1940s. 62 O f the three novels, Nhat Linh 's Bogn Tuyet [Breaking the ties] is the most radical and signifies a fully-fledged individualism. Loan, the heroine of the novel, is forced to marry into an established family even though her heart belongs to a revolutionary. Perpetually criticized by her sister- and mother-in-law for being headstrong and "modern," Loan feels miserable in her husband's strict, traditional family. When she accidentally kills her husband in a row, Loan is charged with murder and arraigned before the court. She is acquitted, however, thanks to the eloquence of her lawyer, who advocates women's rights to freedom, respect, and personal happiness. Her final departure from her husband's family and all it stands for, together with the hope of reuniting with her revolutionary dream lover, signals a clean break with the traditional culture. The novel is an overt, bitter attack on traditional practices, rituals, and values. The character Loan was intended to personify the modern ideal woman, and her acquittal was in essence a defense of the individualistic ideology that Nhat L inh subscribed to. Yet, Loan did not draw complete sympathy from many readers because of her aggressiveness, arrogance, intolerance and self-righteousness, qualities attributed to Nhat L inh himself by many of his contemporaries. Published in 1935, at the time romanticism was starting its decline, Doan Tuyet completed the evolution of the romantic novel from emotional resignation to sentimentalism to open defiance. In summary, romantic literature sparked intense interest and enthusiasm among young, Western-educated Vietnamese when it first appeared. In an atmosphere that was palpably amenable to change, romanticism at first seemed to embody novelty and modernity. The individualism championed by romantics appealed to urban, educated youths because it addressed their newly acquired sense of self and reflected the tension 63 between their awakened desire for personal fulfilment and the traditionally required conformity to communal codes of behavior and morality. While it incited revolutionary latencies, individualism as an ideology proved to be narrow and exclusive. Moreover, it failed to address the questions of national independence and self-determination, which had become burning issues to the majority of Vietnamese at the time. Turning around on itself, individualism quickly ended in exhaustion, offering its followers not solace but despair, not fulfilment but further alienation and fragmentation. In just a few years, the initial enthusiasm had fizzled into a lost and desperate whine. From the late 1930s to 1945, social realism ascended as a school in Vietnam and eventually far eclipsed romanticism both in the public's appreciation and in its influence on the Vietnamese development of political awareness. Social Realism and Nationalist Consciousness (1930-45) The fast decline of Vietnamese romanticism was brought on as much by its internal problems as by external events. Economic and political circumstances from the late 1930s leading up to the war in 1945 made the exaltation of the individual seem increasingly irresponsible, hence unethical. The economic crisis of 1936, repressive and exploitative colonial policies that denied Vietnamese people their rights and dignity, the looming spectre o f war and famine, all helped expose the futility, even irrelevance, of a focus on the self s inner world and the naivete of the Utopian reforms espoused by T u Luc Van Doan. Vietnam in the early 1940s was experiencing major social and political problems that demanded real, practical solutions, but the problems portrayed in romantic novels (i.e. the clash between the individual and tradition, or unfulfilled personal dreams) 64 were affecting only a small number of Western-educated Vietnamese. The two mil l ion (or about ten percent of the Vietnamese population) who died in the 1945 famine exposed much more immediate issues facing Vietnam: political and economic disasters, as well as 36 spiritual and physical demise as a result of foreign rule. Individual freedom was a valid demand, as those who had just discovered it recognized; but perhaps a better time for it would be when all Vietnamese were living in a country free and independent from outside interference and domination. The teachings of the previous generation of revolutionaries such as Phan Bo i Chau and Nguyen Dinh Chieu, who urged greater social responsibility in these times of need, were still resonant in the hearts and souls of most Vietnamese. Additionally, more and more people were realizing that the social and nationalist revolution called for in 1940s' Vietnam demanded the action and unity of the majority for the social good, i f Vietnam was ever to emerge from the darkness of colonialism. Thus, when faced with a choice between dwelling on personal issues and searching for ways to unite and stand up, most educated Vietnamese to whom this choice presented itself felt that now was the time to exercise their social responsibility, and that the personal could wait. Theirs was not too hard a decision at the time, given that the recent experiment with individualism had ended rather disappointingly. Moreover, many educated Vietnamese in the 1930s and 1940s may have benefited from a French education, but, as mentioned at the beginning o f this chapter, they also grew up with a traditional Vietnamese awareness of the ly of national sovereignty and of the prime virtues of trung and hieu, which underscored duty to both the family and the nation. Against this background, various political parties emerged and started, often in competition with one another, to recruit members, seeking to convert potential candidates 65 to the party's ideology in the process. One of the parties, Dai Viet (Great Viet), had among its leaders Nhat L inh and Khai Hung, the romantic authors, respectively, of Breaking the Ties and Butterfly's Heart Dreaming for an Angel discussed earlier. The party that proved in the end to be by far the strongest and most organized, however, was Ho Chi Minh ' s Indochina Communist Party (founded in 1930), which formed the nucleus of Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (All ied league for Vietnam's independence), a broad front founded in 1941 and increasingly known by its shortened name Viet Minh . A t first, Nhat L inh and his group called for a social revolution without considering the problem of political power, stressing "social thought," a life based on idealism, egalitarianism, the "new" and the "progressive," and individual freedom. They condemned Confucianism and advocated Western "scientific methods" in the building of athleticism, the mind, and character (Woodside, Community 88). Once they set their sights on political power, however, Nhat L inh and his group promiscuously courted support from divergent groups. They secretly negotiated with the Japanese when the latter had some interest in forming a puppet Vietnamese government. A t the same time, they sought support from China and the All ies , actively collaborated with various anti-Japanese Vietnamese factions with ties to the Chinese, and for some time flirted with the Viet M i n h . Nhat Linh 's party's maneuvering earned them the distrust of all the parties involved (Jamieson 180). Furthermore, although Nhat Linh and his group had followers among the urban middle class, they encountered major problems in mass organization, and their alliances with the other factions were at best uneasy and fraught with power disputes, as his own brother admitted in reminiscence (Tuong Bach Chapter 19). Their main problem, according to Woodside, was that "only a minority of Vietnamese 66 intellectuals were ardently wi l l ing to embrace science and organization and individualism without showing even the slightest deference to what might be called the familiar plots of Vietnamese culture and of Vietnamese personality development" (88). To a large extent, the failure to organize and acquire large followings was thus proof of the Vietnamese rejection of Nhat L inh and his group's extremism. Ironically, while romantic writings of the 1930s instigated revolutionary latencies among the educated, specifically in opposition to outdated feudalistic customs and beliefs, the failure of leading romantics in the T u Luc Van Doan to satisfactorily resolve the tensions between the "old" and the "new," or to offer a concrete, decidedly superior social or ideological model as a rallying tool, helped to explain the success of their arch rival, the Viet Minh . The feeling of dead-end despair and alienation romanticism brought at its decline would, in addition, prepare Vietnamese intellectuals psychologically for the Viet Minh ' s model of the revolutionary supervillage. In the early 1940s, having refined their ideological stance, the Viet M i n h succeeded as no other faction did, thanks to their ingenious grafting of national liberation and Marxism-Leninism as revolutionary tools onto a renewed version of the Vietnamese traditional institutions of family and the village. The spread of the Viet Minh ' s influence was accomplished in no small part through the writings of its growing members, which together made up a revolutionary literature. The revolutionaries at first published underground and circulated their works only among the supporters, but in time grew to prevail in the countryside as well as in resistance zones near the border with China and in the Southern swamps of Dong Thap M u a i and U Minh . Revolutionary writings at this time comprised mainly political tracts, the circulation of which was 67 limited in French-occupied areas due to the heavy-handed suppression of the French. However, the revolutionaries' efforts were significantly aided by Vietnamese social realists who published legally throughout Vietnam in the 1930s and 1940s, who in turn benefited from the global rise of proletarian literature elsewhere in the world. These Vietnamese social realists may or may not have been members of the Viet M i n h at the time, but had all joined the revolutionary ranks by 1945, as had most of the romantics. Social realists contributed significantly to the rise of a leftist revolution in Vietnam since their writings decried the French colonialists, the debauched native bourgeoisie, and the corrupt, tyrannical village officials and landlords who were acting as the colonialists' compradors. The important achievements of social realism as a literary school and a revolutionary impetus merit consideration in the following section, in which some of the best known social realist works of the 1930s and 1940s w i l l be examined. Between 1935 and 1939, the victory of the Popular Front in France made possible the growth of social realism and the re-surfacing of leftist philosophies, thanks to a comparative relaxation of censorship. Soon, realism was overtaking romanticism in the literary arena. The emergence of realism immediately started a heated debate over "art for art's sake" versus "art for the sake of life," or in other words, the needs o f the individual versus the needs of society. Specifically written to argue for the "art for the sake of life" stance are Song Hong's " L a Thi ST' [To be a poet] and Nguyen Cong Hoan's Co Gido Minh [Miss Minh , the schoolteacher]. Song Hong [red wave] is a pen name of Dang Xuan Khu , a revolutionary who was to be better known as Truong Chinh, Party secretary general of the D R V in the 1950s and again under the S R V in the late 1970s-1980s. " L a Thi S f (1942) is a parody 68 of Xuan Dieu's celebration of the heart as the only legitimate source of poetry in "Cam o n X u c " [Feeling], discussed earlier in this chapter: If "to be a poet is to be lulled by the wind To dream with the moon, and drift with the clouds," To have his soul hung upside down on the boughs Or softly swayed and drooping like a wi l low; If to be a poet means to wince and blubber, To beg for God's mercy, His soul lost in every which way, Weeping incessantly like cicadas in summertime; If a poet is absorbed in describing "White breasts" trembling in passion, Trading life for dreams and unearthly love, Drowning in grief for flowers and gems; If to be a poet is to spread an elegant brocade Over the sores of tyranny in decay, Straining to sing sweeter and louder To cover the groans of the people's distress, The cry of the laboring people's long pain, Then, oh my friends, such a poet Is a curse to the whole human race! He is tormenting his own heart while wasting the springtime of youth Extolling brutality and praising injustice 69 Bending his knees before power in the poor servile hope O f catching a whiff o f the droppings of the rich, Lul l ing the people with obsession and lust So they w i l l continue living under the yoke of slavery. Reminiscent of what Phan B o i Chau and other revolutionaries of the previous generation considered a responsible poet should be, Song Hong proclaims: To be a poet is to be true, pure, brave, Firm-willed, to have purpose and fire, To sing to freedom, progress, and love For mankind, peace, and justice. He must free all the ardour and power of his heart To bring again to his people's dark winter the courage of Spring. Seize the pen to cast down the world's tyrants Turn rhymes into bombs and verse into grenades. Stop crying with the wind and whining with the clouds. Let us march on the road to progress. Light up with the clear beam of verse The gangrene that devours our land. Your verse together with peasants' hands Shall plow the furrows for a splendid future. 70 If " L a Thi ST" was a poetic rebuttal of the "art for art's sake" argument, Co Gido Minh (1936) is an attack in prose on the kind of individualism advocated by T u Luc Van Boan. Minh , a schoolteacher, faces the same conflicts as Loan in Nhat Linh 's Doom Tuyet. Coming from a very similar social and educational background as Loan's, M i n h is also forced to marry against her wishes and suffers from similar clashes with her husband's traditional family. Determined to get away from the worsening situation she is in, M i n h arranges for her own transfer to a province outside of Hanoi. On her departure, she starts to have second thoughts, however. "Should I really follow European ideas and smash an Asian family?" she asks herself. Memories of a happy childhood come back to her, making her realize that running away is the easiest thing she could do, but not necessarily the best. It is selfish and self-defeating, since it would put a bad name on "the new," of which she is a representative. In the end, M i n h chooses to stay with her husband's family and devotes herself to promoting mutual understanding, respect, and cooperation between the "new" and the "o ld" elements in the family. The mutually agreeable conciliation and co-existence of the old and the new to the benefit o f both that end the story are Nguyen Cong Hoan's way of rejecting Nhat Linh 's Western, extreme individualism as divisive, short-sighted and immature. "Whether one follows the old or the new, the goodness of the person is what is important." 4 0 Many readers (and, increasingly, many romantics themselves) came to concur with Nguyen Cong Hoan that simply "breaking the ties" with tradition did not present a satisfactory solution to the problems of individual estrangement, or to the need for an organized community. The T u Luc Van Doan's philosophy of individualism was so extreme as to be "outside society," 71 as a critic of Nhat Linh 's wrote (Woodside, Community 88). It was, at the very least, unrealistic. From 1935 onwards, social realism overshadowed romanticism in both quality and popularity. Although it did inspire excellent poetry by satirists such as Tu M a and Do Phon, social realism was at its best in prose (both fiction and non-fiction). To the evolution of the prose novel as a genre, the realists added local color and colloquial language, which transformed the upper-class settings and often stilted language o f romantic prose. The most influential prose writers of the period include enduring names such as Ngo Tat To, Nguyen Hong, Nguyen Cong Hoan, Nam Cao, Tam Lang, Ho Bieu Chanh, Bu i Hien, To Hoai , Pham Duy Ton, Manh Phu Tu , Do Due Thu, Nguyen Tuan, and V u Trong Phung. Generally from less affluent backgrounds than the romantics, social realists were often themselves first-hand witnesses and victims of what they would later describe in their writings: social ills, the pauperization of the peasants and the working class under Vietnamese lords and French colonialists, their miserable working conditions, and bourgeois snobbery. Soon, realist writers and Vietnamese intellectuals in general began to identify and to seek culpability for the social problems of the swelling poor, their bleak economic conditions, prostitution, drug addiction, alcoholism, and injustice. It is this social awareness and the subsequent attribution of these social evils to the problem of colonialism that finally transcended Vietnamese intellectuals' political consciousness. O f realist literature, the works o f Nguyen Cong Hoan, Ngo Tat To, N a m Cao, Nguyen Hong, and V u Trong Phung topped the list of those that had the most impact on the Vietnamese reading public. Nguyen Cong Hoan (1903-1977) is considered one of the four greatest short story writers of Vietnam (the other three are Thach Lam, Nam Cao, 72 and Ngo Tat To). He began writing at a very early age, publishing his first story Quyet Chi Phieu Luu [Set for adventure] at the age of 17. A prolific writer, Hoan contributed to Vietnamese literature some thirty novels, more than two hundred short stories, and dozens of essays and articles. His first-rate short (sometimes very short) stories reconstruct a panorama of life in Vietnam when colonialism was co-existing with feudalism. Hoan's trademark feature is his sardonic humor and expert use of irony as a primary tool. The subjects of his attacks are the cruel, corrupt and depraved French and mandarins, the insolent, pillaging landlords and village magistrates, and the mercenary, debauched bourgeoisie. Among the most illustrious of Nguyen Cong Hoan's stories about Vietnamese peasants is a short piece entitled "Tinh Than The Due" [The spirit of sports]. In the 1930s, French colonialists discovered that sports could be used to distract the attention and energy of young Vietnamese males from nationalist activities. Consequently, great efforts were put into making athletic competitions a regulation, and spectatorship enforceable by fines. In "Tinh Than The Due" (1939), Nguyen Cong Hoan satirizes this policy and reveals how the promotion of sports, impractical and ridiculously irrelevant, adds yet another burden on the impecunious peasants. A t the opening of the story, administrators of Ngu Vong precinct have just received orders to round up one hundred peasants under five flags for a soccer match at the district stadium. The peasants are ordered to put on their good clothes, clap their hands repeatedly, and walk in straight rows to please the distinguished guests. The story is then played out through several vignettes. Before the big day, the village chief goes about with a big bamboo rod to announce the order. A hired hand futilely appeals to the chiefs mercy that his family w i l l 73 have nothing to eat i f he misses the day's work. A woman begs in vain to replace her sick husband. A n elderly woman resorts to bribery so a paid relative can go in place of her son who is getting married on the same day. A t five a.m. on the big day, only eighty-two peasants are present. Vil lage guards are ordered to find the eighteen who fail to show up. They succeed in capturing a hapless hider, who is taking shelter with his little boy in a haystack. Poor Co is immediately trussed up and marched to the village yard. Despite all attempts, the guards still fail to round up the required number, however, for a few ingenious people have fled to other villages or taken refuge with sympathetic neighbors. In the end, the village chief is resigned to shepherding off the pack of unenthusiastic peasants, "keeping a vigilant eye over them as i f watching over prisoners. 'Damn their ancestors! Show them a soccer match and they take off as i f fleeing combat!'" Hoan's satire exposes most effectively not only the coercion, but also the hypocrisy of the colonialists, who champion sports not for the ostensible benefit o f the Vietnamese, but for their own exploitative agenda. A s it was to be with the Americans later, the result is a pervasive irony due to a mismatch (and abuse) of Western ideals and Vietnamese actual desires and cultural practices. The use of exact hours (Vietnamese peasants at the time did not have clocks or watches, and conducted their daily activities according to the angle of the sun) and the "scientifically-calculated" quota of peasants to be marshalled for the soccer match predict American scientific efficiency, extensive use of war machines, and the k i l l ratio or tabulations of "secured" strategic hamlets later employed in what Americans call the Vietnam War. The tyrannical Vietnamese officials, who work for the colonialists against their own compatriots and who carry out imposed 74 Western ideas in an oddly feudalistic manner, were to find real models in America's proteges such as the Ngo Dinh family. Another realist, Ngo Tat To (1894-1954) first achieved his reputation in another new genre, documentary feature-writing (reportage). Like Nguyen Cong Hoan and other Vietnamese realists of the time, Ngo Tat To was deeply concerned with the desperate situation of Vietnamese peasants under many levels of oppression. His most important fiction work, Tat Den [Without a light] (1937), which w i l l be examined next, was developed from his earlier documentaries on the pauperization of the peasants under French rule. If Nguyen Cong Hoan relies on irony to highlight the misery of peasant life under capricious colonial rule and indifferent Vietnamese officials, Ngo Tat To employs obj edification in Tat Den to underline the dehumanization of the rural poor. B y the 1930s, French policies had reduced large numbers of Vietnamese to dire poverty. In order to finance their expanding enterprises and grandiose programs, the French forced Vietnamese peasants to do prolonged, unpaid corvee labor and imposed on the Vietnamese people numerous crushing taxes, both direct and indirect, through state monopolies on certain necessities. Among the most ludicrous taxes was the "body" tax (thue than), forced on Vietnamese adult males from age eighteen for simply being subjects of colonialism. But even more dreaded than the taxes themselves were the techniques of tax enforcement, which generated serious abuse and corruption (Ngo VInh Long, Before the Revolution 61-82). 4 1 A m i d this background of ruinous taxes, forced labor, and oppressive law enforcement, A n h Dau, the breadwinner of a struggling family of five, fails to accrue enough money for his body tax. He is consequently arrested, trussed up with ropes, and 75 left exposed to the harsh, beating sun. Unable to see her malaria-stricken husband thus tortured, Chi Dau, his wife, is forced to sell her dogs, her meagre yams (the family's only provisions), and her oldest daughter to meet the official bail set for his release. The village chief pockets the money Chi Dau has just painfully acquired but refuses to release her husband on the pretext that the Dau's are still owing tax on A n h Dau's brother, who has been dead for almost a year, but whose name is still in the tax book. Pushed to the wall , Ch i Dau fights back against the pompous, threatening tax collectors in order to rescue her fainting husband. She is subsequently brought to the village yard, where the district chief is presiding over several trays of delicacies. Seeing Chi Dau's beauty, the chief demands that she be brought to the district ja i l for his pleasure. Once again, Chi Dau fights back and is fortuitously freed thanks to Madam District C h i e f s jealousy. Out of ja i l , but still owing her brother-in-law's tax, and having nothing left to feed her ailing husband and two small children, Ch i Dau is reduced to seeking work as a wet nurse in a rich family far away from home. Too soon, however, she is sexually harassed by her employer. The end o f the novel sees Chi Dau fleeing her employer's house "into a night as dark as her own future." The novel is a compelling portrayal of the various evils poor peasants faced in Vietnam at the time: the greed and cruelty of the landlords, who enrich themselves by lending money to impoverished peasants at cut-throat rates; the nastiness, corruption and opportunism of village officials who ride on the peasants' backs as compradors for the exploitative French; and the depravity and pomposity of the pseudo "educated" upper middle-class who submit to the French for profit. The story advances through a series of climaxes, leading the main characters inexorably to eventual despondency. In order to 76 highlight the dehumanization of the peasants, Ngo Tat To ironically juxtaposes the personification of inanimate objects and the objectification of their human owners. Thus, in the Dau house, "the cheesecloth blinds, torn around the edges, and the coarse bamboo screen in the middle both endeavored to give some privacy to the room. But the gaping crevices on the door frame and the holes on the screen stood out as i f to confess that besides an old, decrepit bamboo bed, there were only a chipped water vessel and a mended jar inside." In the kitchen, "the chipped clay lids lying exposed as i f laughing at the idle, sprawling pots" (Chapter III). The residents of the house, by contrast, are likened to animals. Besieged by financial grievances, made even more grievous by the village chiefs daily menace for the body tax in the last few days, "Anh Dau had been running around like an ant on a scorching pan, blindly searching for escape" (Chapter III). Because of the unpaid body tax, "the collectors roped the wretched chap up the way country folks did a dog soon to be butchered," the pain making "his face screwed up like that of a trapped rat" (Chapter IV) . Anxious to free her husband from the ki l l ing sun and ropes, Ch i Dau is bargained down by Madam Representative (MP), who curses the Daus' daughter for not eating dog food: "Hey, I 'm telling you, you don't deserve my dogs' leftovers! The dogs could sell for ten piasters. I've bought you for just one. So stop acting superior around me!" (Chapter XIII). Selling her daughter, her dog and a litter of puppies all for a total of two piasters and twenty cents (the tax is 2.70 piasters), Ch i Dau is finally left with only ninety-two cents after paying twenty cents for the sale contract, and one piaster for the notary seal while being bilked eight cents by the avaricious Madam Representative. The despair leaves her "rigid like a piece o f wood, not knowing what to say" (Chapter V ) . 77 So successful is Ngo Tat To's description of the details of rural life, the customs, habits and language of country people, and the anguish that befell the peasants that many scenes and utterances from Tat Den have persisted into the realm of the proverbial. For example, in cases of stinginess, people often recite Madam Representative's "I have already counted. There are fourteen pieces [of meatloafj left. I ' l l kill you i f any of them is missing" (Chapter V ) . To mock the servile worship of foreigners, many people use M r . Representative's "Don't be so rustic. French clocks are never wrong" (Chapter VI) . When the bureaucracy, corruption and cruelty of (village) officials are mentioned, there is no saying better than the village chiefs "Even dead people shall not avoid the government's tax! Who told him not to die before last October?" (Chapter X I V ) . If Nguyen Cong Hoan and Ngo Tat To dealt with the effects of taxes, arbitrary rules, corruption, abuse of power, and other distresses heaped on the peasants by the colonialists and their local henchmen, Nam Cao (1915-1951) and Nguyen Hong (1918-1982) focused on the moral (and physical) depravation of the poor and the oppressed in rural communities that no longer offered economic security or emotional comfort. In Bi V6, Nguyen Hong described the deterioration of morals in the cities as well . Nam Cao's Ch i Pheo of the title is at the bottom of the village society. A n abandoned bastard, he is found at the village ki ln one winter morning and sold to a childless peasant. After his adopted father dies, he spends his teenage years eking out a living as a hired hand. It is bad enough to live in poverty, but the depravity and cruelty of the rural rich drive C h i Pheo to an even lower level: that of a drunkard and a small-time criminal with no hope for a better life. A t twenty, Ch i is commissioned to perform massages on the highly-sexed third wife (ba Ba) o f the semi-impotent, then ly truang 78 (village chief) Kien . The honesty and naivete of a peasant and a fear for the rich deeply inculcated in the underprivileged combine to render him unresponsive to bd Ba's sexual demands. Caught between bd Ba's frustration and ly Kien ' s jealousy, Ch i is sent to ja i l with no charges for eight years, at the end of which he returns to the village a reckless tough. Ly K ien is now bd Kien , one of the most influential and wealthy officials in the region. He has come to understand that it is unwise to oppress the people until they have to leave the village. Out o f ten of those who leave, nine w i l l come back as ruffians, with the kind of insolence learned in far away places. A wise man squeezes only half way. Secretly push them into the river, then bring them back so they can repay the debt. Bang the table for five piasters, then toss back five hao "because I feel sorry for you being so poor!" Moreover, it pays to squeeze the right people. The relatively well-to-do with beautiful wives and children—they are the ones easy to intimidate. B y contrast, the homeless with no family to speak of are easy to k i l l , except what is there to gain but bones? [. . .] He has since learned that, in rural areas, the poor break their backs to feed the magistrates, but sometimes the magistrates are forced to grit their teeth and provide for those who are poorer than the poorest, simply because they are reckless. A s it is unwise to "squeeze" a homeless tough like Ch i Pheo, bd K ien uses him. Chi is thus paid to collect debts, destroy property, or throw the occasional rice wine bottle onto a farmer's land. 4 2 The villagers suffer while C h i turns to alcohol to drown the purposelessness of his life and to rack up the courage for further, similar activities. When he drinks, he curses—anybody from the villagers to his own parents. He feels revengeful, 79 without knowing who the culprit is for his state. One day, Ch i meets Thi N o , the ugly, simple-minded spinster in the village. The care of a woman opens his eyes, for the very first time in forty-odd years, to the happiness of a simple, honest life. But Thi N o ' s aunt opposes her liaison with Chi because of his notoriety. Drunk and desperate, he seeks out bd Kien , demanding: "I want to be an honest man!" Derided by the unluckily obtuse Kien , who believes people can always be bought, Ch i stabs Kien to death before turning the knife on himself. His suicide ends a life that knows no love, sympathy, or even decency. However, the image of the village ki ln reappears at the conclusion of the story to suggest that the vicious circle of poverty, exploitation and lack of dignity does not end with Chi ' s death. " C h i Pheo" (1941) marked the height of Nam Cao's art as a short-story writer. The characters' speech is such an accurate record of the peasant language in North Vietnam and their psychology is so well developed that not only have the main characters become classic metaphors and allusions in the Vietnamese language, but their names have been used as verbs, adjectives, or common nouns ever since (e.g. " C h i Pheo" means "to get things one otherwise would not be able to by behaving recklessly, as i f with nothing to lose;" while "Thi N o " is synonymous with "ugly as sin"). Like C h i Pheo, Binh in Nguyen Hong's Bi V6 (1936) has become a symbol of human corruption. A n innocent, fresh country girl, B inh is abandoned by a smooth-talking urban clerk when she becomes pregnant. Unable to face her parents' hurtful insults and the looming punishment by the villagers, Binh flees for the city in the vain hope of reuniting with her lover. In the city, she is nearly raped by another clerk, whose wife arranges with the corrupt police to put her in a brothel. Financially and physically 80 exploited by coarse, lewd clients and an avaricious madam, Binh sinks into a most sordid life until rescued by a thug with the alias o f Nam Sai Gon. The happiness of being cared for is short-lived, however. N a m Sai Gon is jailed for his crimes, and Binh soon becomes, out of necessity, a bi vd (slang for a woman pickpocket). Similar to Chi Pheo, the country girl in B inh cries out for a simple, honest life. She tries to persuade Nam Sai Gon to quit his trade and start a new life away from the city. But it is easier for a jailbreak criminal like him to dive deeper into it than to get out. Events later lead them to mistakenly murder Binh 's own lost son for the gold chain he is wearing, for which they are finally executed. The novel is a blunt tale of how goodness and innocence are corrupted as much by the debauched urban well-to-do as by poverty and people's indifference. The social realists' attacks on the urban middle and upper classes culminated in V u Trong Phung's So Do [Dumb luck], first published in serial form in Ha Noi Bdo (Hanoi Newspaper) in late 1936. A sardonic caricature of Vietnamese urban society in the 1930s, So Do follows the meteoric rise of a vagabond, Red-Haired Xuan, to socialite and national hero. When the novel opens, Xuan is working as a ballboy at one of Hanoi's tennis courts which have sprung up as a result of the sweeping Europeanization movement among the urban bourgeoisie. Arrested for peeping at a French woman in the changing room, Xuan is rescued by a widowed me Tdy, Mrs . Deputy Customs Officer, who plans to take advantage of his lasciviousness. He is then put to work at the tailor shop of Mrs . Deputy Customs Officer's niece, Mrs . Civilization. "Just like that, Xuan became a member of the movement for social reform" (64), and the social elevation of the street-smart hawker begins. Although Xuan is unable to comprehend the ideas behind those Western "movements" that the Vietnamese bourgeoisie of the time are so fond of, 81 he very quickly catches on the terminology and the advertising techniques required to promote them. His rise is amply aided by the wish of the people around him to conceal his lowly background for their own benefit. Xuan is catapulted to doctorship when the Civilizations need a quack to accelerate their Grandpa's death so they can inherit his money sooner. A private tennis court is built so Mrs . Deputy Customs Officer can occupy Xuan as a tennis "professor." In the end, Xuan conspires to put in prison two Vietnamese tennis champions, and replaces them at the critical match with the champion of Siam. A t the government's request for diplomatic reasons, Xuan accepts defeat, is awarded several medals of honor for it, and is hailed as a national hero. His lucky streak continues when he is happily embraced into the Civilizations' family by marriage to M r . Civilization's "modern" niece. The novel is a crushing verdict on the follies of the Vietnamese urban society in the 1930s. From the nouveaux riches who make their money prostituting themselves to foreign powers, to the upper and middle classes with their pseudo-intellectual Western fads, or the now impoverished and ineffectual old-school scholars, to the opportunistic working class, Phung spares no one, men or women. The commercialization of what once was a spiritual life is a prominent theme in So Do. The monk Tang Phu is thus presented as a businessman soliciting donations in an aggressive manner. Also among the novel's many objects of ridicule are the snobbish, pretentious modernists, who advocate Utopian reform. M r . Civil ization is described as a "revolutionary within the prevailing legal framework," who hopes to "radically reform society without being jailed or executed" (76-77)—an obvious caricature of Nhat L inh and those who fancied themselves to be 82 revolutionary, but who continued to benefit from consorting with the French and, later, the Americans. It is clear from the novels and short stories of the period leading to the August Revolution in 1945 that Vietnamese society was disintegrating at a dizzying pace in both the village and the city. Social chaos and decay became the order of the day, and in the fast changing Vietnamese society of the 1920s-1940s, lowly characters like Xuan could fool their way to the top of the society by employing the signifiers of success, such as ostentatious language and arrogant manners. The development of Vietnamese literature from the onset of French colonialism to 1945 corroborates the conclusions of many historians in the West regarding the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese. Alexander Woodside, in particular, argues that, by the 1940s, the two distinct, yet ultimately inter-connected Vietnamese national aspirations that had become all-consuming were resistance against foreign domination, and the search for a new organized community. The resentment against French rule that had been alternating between simmering and boiling points now demanded a more radical outlet than simply verbal protests, and the unraveling of traditional society required a new, yet-to-be-determined model on which to build the future of the nation. Romantics succeeded in highlighting the tensions between traditional Vietnamese society and democratic tendencies as espoused in the West. A s such they contributed to the Vietnamese awareness of the need for a social revolution that would move the nation forward, as opposed to a return to the pre-colonial past. However, romantics failed to offer practical solutions to the most pressing social and personal issues for a majority of Vietnamese. The despair in the wake of romanticism instead highlighted the importance 83 of an organized community for Vietnamese revolutionaries seeking the strength of unity, as well as for sensitive intellectuals disappointed by their experiences with romantic individualism and a fragmented society. The social realist literature that succeeds romanticism exemplifies the empowering appropriation of a literary school initiated by French avant-garde writers such as Anatole France and Emile Zola. Vietnamese social realists pointed at colonial rule as the original culprit for many of the social evils and injustices the Vietnamese in both rural and urban societies of the 1920s-1940s were experiencing. French colonialists imposed a repressive and exploitative rule on the Vietnamese people, of which the ridiculous obligatory sport spectatorship in "The Spirit of Sports" and the body tax in Without a Light are but two manifestations. In the process, the colonialists supported corrupt, tyrannical village oligarchs, whose potential abuse had traditionally been checked by their dependence on the peasants for their very authority and maintenance, but who were now acting for the colonialists, and given free rein to exercise their power over Vietnamese peasants. These oligarchs, moreover, worked in tandem with a class of greedy, abusive landlords to form a second, native yoke on the rural poor. In Tat Den, for example, Representative Que is a cruel, avaricious landlord whose "buffaloes, cows, chickens, and pigs secured him a seat in the Parliament" (Chapter IV) in pursuit of further riches. Ba K i e n in " C h i Pheo" is another example of the scheming, exploitative, and corrupting landlords-cum-oligarchs in village society. In the city, social and moral chaos and decay prevailed in every walk of life, as V u Trong Phung's hyperbolic So Do makes evident. Later Marxist critics may criticize Phung for overlooking the revolutionary potential o f a portion of enlightened intellectuals and the revolutionary power of the 84 working class. But it is impossible to deny that, together with other leading social realists such as Ngo Tat To, Nam Cao, Nguyen Hong and Nguyen Cong Hoan, V u Trong Phung contributed a significant part to setting the course for a revolution against both colonialism and its appendage of Vietnamese followers and imitators. Stylistically, irony and satirical humor became most effective weapons for Vietnamese social realists. These literary tools invited readers to look at the different manifestations of colonialism, and at the same time masked what would otherwise be punishable as criticisms of colonial rule. The prevailing sarcasm was also indicative o f the writers' disillusionment and bitterness at the common plight of the Vietnamese as a people under colonialism. Finally, it is interesting to note how intimately literature is wedded to politics in the case of Vietnam, where there is a time-honored tradition of scholars' involvement in government and revolution. Like generations of scholars before them, writers of the period between 1930-1945 were fervently engaged in politics when it became clear that nobody could stand aloof from the nation's destiny. One by one, most of the romantics and social realists, including most of the T u L u c V a n Doan writers, joined the Viet M i n h . The few exceptions included Nhat Linh (Nguyen Tuong Tam) and his brothers, who formed a rival party for the same dual purpose of freeing Vietnam from colonial rule and creating a new society. These writers would later migrate South in 1954, but, under Ngo Dinh Diem's repressive rule, became reclusive and unproductive in both their writing and political activism. From the prewar literature examined in this chapter, it is obvious that writing did not conflict with participating in a political cause for Vietnamese writers. In fact, there was a strong correlation between literature and the people's political consciousness and 85 zeal. Many Vietnamese writers became political activists as a result of the heightened social awareness their own writings brought them. Subsequently, as these writings were accepted by large audiences, the writers were able to powerfully incite their readers to political activism. Considering the lively interaction between literature and politics in Vietnam, and the profound influence of the scholar/writer/administrator on the political awareness of the literary-minded Vietnamese, it becomes increasingly evident that the literature of the Vietnam War itself should illuminate some of the most debated issues about the war. 86 C H A P T E R III: THE JUST CA USE—THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THE LEADERS The Vietnam War has defied neat explanation as no other war in modern history. Some thirty years after the collapse of the R V N , U.S . discourse on the war still shows disparate views on the American involvement and/or the nature of the Vietnamese factions embroiled in the conflict. In 1965, McNamara's foreign policy specialist John McNaughton quantified the reasons for sending American soldiers to war in South Vietnam as: 70%—To avoid a humiliating U.S . defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor). 20%—To keep S V N (and the adjacent) territory from Chinese hands. 10%—To permit the people of S V N to enjoy a better, freer way of life. (Sheehan, Bright Shining Lie 535) Yet, as late as 1993, American scholar Ne i l Jamieson still argued that the "anticommunist stance was a legitimate one" (318), and that, therefore, the R V N represented chinh nghia [the just cause]. A s Chapter Two has shown, by the 1940s, the Vietnamese were preoccupied mainly with national independence and the search for an organized community that would effectively lead Vietnam not only to freedom and self-determination, but also to social progress and harmony. B y the August Revolution in 1945, the Vietnamese had largely polarized into two opposing blocs: those who fought the French for Vietnam's independence under a broad-based movement led by the Viet Minh ; and those who were purportedly striving to achieve the same goal by collaborating with the French. B y all accounts, supporters of the Viet Minh , both active and in spirit, made up the large majority of the Vietnamese population, i f the multitude of Vietnamese writers to jo in the 87 Viet M i n h is any indication. The subsequent division of the country into North and South at the 17 t h parallel by the world powers at the Geneva Convention in 1954 was arbitrary and initially merely geographical. Even as the division was supposed to be only temporary, it went against the wish of practically all Vietnamese, as the memoirs of the Vietnamese on both sides examined in this chapter affirm. 4 3 However, for its own purposes, the United States government violated even this arbitrary Geneva Agreement and attempted to make the division political and permanent by creating the R V N , a client regime in South Vietnam, and installed its protege of Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic with no popular base in Vietnam, as the president. From that starting point, the appellation of a "Vietnamese government" in South Vietnam and American propaganda of its own mission of "democracy" and "freedom for the Vietnamese" formed the ideological basis for the American invasion of Vietnam, which officially dated from 1965, when U.S . marines were sent in country to rescue the embattled R V N , supposedly at the latter's request. Confused by their own misleading labels o f "North Vietnamese," "South Vietnamese," "non-Communists," and "Communists," Americans were shocked to discover that the majority of the South Vietnamese did not want them there, that many of those South Vietnamese they were supposed to help were actually trying to k i l l them, and worse, that their ally was unacceptably corrupt and despotic. During the war, the R V N and the N L F utilized the same terminology (e.g. "nationalist," "just cause," "revolution," or "democracy") to rally the people to their respective causes. Further, reading the contesting literatures about the Vietnam War coming out o f both Vietnam and the West, it occurs to me that most people, Vietnamese and Americans, use terms such as "Communist," "democracy," or "nationalist" as i f these 88 terms were somehow self-explanatory. In fact, injudicious use of these terms has resulted in a great deal of confusion among many Americans. For example, it led to miscalculations of the R V N ' s ability to win popular support, or to the American impression of the notorious "Vietnamese untrustworthiness" or "political/ideological flexibility"—for those who spent time in Vietnam could often cite numerous incidents that attested to the seemingly speedy "change of hearts" among the local civilians as well as among members of their own indigenous ally. Apt ly alluding to this confusion, Mar i lyn Young in The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990 describes the war as a "zone of contested meaning" (314). It is my intention, therefore, to help clarify some of the confusion by examining the arguments of Vietnamese leaders on both sides of the battle. This chapter w i l l compare and contrast memoirs by Nguyen Thi Dinh and Trucmg N h u Tang on the N L F side with those written by Tran V a n Don and Nguyen Cao K y , who represent the R V N . The comparison w i l l follow four ultimately interconnected concepts that are most often employed as well as contested in writings about the Vietnam War: "nationalism," "communism," and "freedom/democracy." Upon examination, all the leaders appear to be invoking the ly-tinh paradigm and its moral corollaries as the implicit foundation of their arguments in the memoirs. However, the R V N leaders encounter inherent contradictions because the very nature of their regime runs counter to the ly o f nationalism. Their arguments end up being not only lacking in tinh, but circular and incoherent in both form and content. Meanwhile, convinced of the ly o f their position, the N L F leaders notably highlight the tinh dimension of their organization. Their memoirs are markedly different from those of their opponents in the emphasis on interpersonal relationships. The resultant perception o f a 89 mutually supportive and caring community of dedicated, selfless revolutionaries explains the N L F ' s success: the revolutionaries' strength is grounded not only in the demands of history, but in the depth of Vietnamese culture. O f the thousands of books on the Vietnam War, three American texts are of particular importance to my reading of the memoirs. They are Frances FitzGerald's Fire in the Lake, N e i l Jamieson's Understanding Vietnam, and Alexander Woodside's Community and Revolution in Modern Vietnam. These three texts all combine an analysis of Vietnamese history and politics with observations of Vietnamese society and culture. Their insights into the war from a cultural and socio-political point of view have led to their widespread influence on American discourse on the Vietnam War . 4 4 In turn, my reading of the Vietnamese texts discussed in this chapter w i l l enable a reassessment, from a Vietnamese point of view, of the validity of the arguments the three above scholars advance. "Nationalism" The first contentious term to be discussed is "nationalism." In Fire in the Lake, Frances FitzGerald writes: A t the beginning of the American war in Indochina certain American scholars of Vietnam argued against U . S . support for a regime in Saigon on the grounds that the Communists had already "captured" the forces of nationalism. Their intentions were to defend Ho Chi Minh , but their argument merely hardened the semantic paradox created by the administration officials who defined "Communism" and "nationalism" as mutually exclusive terms. "Nationalism" in 90 Vietnam did not wait like a brass ring to be "captured" by the most energetic pursuer: it had to be created. After seventy years of French rule in the north and ninety years in the south, even the idea that it ought to be created was not shared by all Vietnamese. "Vietnam" had, after all , disappeared. [. . .] Many Vietnamese were "nationalists" in the sense that they looked forward to the disappearance o f French rule, but few conceived of the creation of a nation-state and only one group succeeded in organizing on a national basis. Regionalism, class interests, or a traditional outlook defeated the rest of them. Because the French decided to contest Vietnamese independence, these defects showed up very plainly at the moment of engagement. Among all the anti-colonial political movements, only the Viet M i n h actually created a "nation" strong enough to defeat the French armies. Apart from the specific political organization the Viet M i n h made from the society as it emerged from French occupation, "Vietnam" was no more than a theory. (65-6) However, many other historians have discussed the Vietnamese deep-running awareness of their own nation's history of nationalist resistance against foreign invasion and domination. 4 5 Over what the Vietnamese claim to be four thousand years of history, the struggle against foreign invasion and domination had become a defining feature of Vietnamese identity, pride, and heroism, the way the frontier defines American culture and history as a whole. Vietnam as a political entity may have been dissolved by the French colonialists, but the Vietnamese nation as an imagined community (to use Anderson's phrase) is, as Woodside puts it, "one of the longest enduring acts of faith in human history" ("Vietnamese History" 27). The literature examined in Chapter Two 91 certainly demonstrates that this national history of resistance was deeply lodged in Vietnamese tradition, and that, again, it was the book-loving Vietnamese scholars/writers who kept alive over the years "the most meticulously preserved memory" (30) of the injustices and losses their people suffered from the hands o f foreigners. In fact, reinforced by the literature written during the period of French colonialism, nationalist resistance made up the ly element in Vietnam's struggle for independence in the twentieth century, capable of commanding "profound emotional legitimacy" (Anderson 4) in the Vietnamese consciousness. But it is equally clear from the same literature that Vietnamese identity and self-confidence underwent a crisis during confrontations with the West in the early twentieth century. The Vietnamese belief in their own superiority was seriously fractured after the country's conquest by the French "barbarians" and the failure of the early resistance. B y 1945, almost a century of French rule had created a class of dependents, economically and mentally, on the colonial regime (Woodside, Community 9-13). Woodside points out that the children of the well-to-do and upper-classes of Vietnam were trained in French-founded "superior schools," the function of which was to "produce servants, not leaders—to produce competent Vietnamese subordinates who could serve the colonial system and the French administrators who controlled it" (296). In their mission civilisatrice, the colonialists even attempted to erase Vietnam's historical memory by teaching Vietnamese students in French schools that the Gauls were their ancestors. Paradoxically, the colonialists simultaneously imposed a double-tier system of values in Vietnam in which Vietnamese, no matter how educated, had to answer to even the lowliest of Frenchmen. Over time, many Vietnamese growing up this way acquired what 92 may be called an external locus of control, manifested by a "generalized obsequiousness to foreign standards" (Woodside, Community 297) that inhibited creative thinking as well as a sense of responsibility for their own fate. Woodside discovers that this "holdover from the colonial period" (297) persisted among the R V N intelligentsia with the arrival of the Americans. FitzGerald observes that the same was true with R V N officials in the Diem government: "Under the colonial regime the French had exercised the only initiative, the only authority. With their departure the old-line functionaries seemed to lose all powers of forward motion" (117). In contrast, the "discovery of a transcendental 'righteous cause' (chinh nghTa)" transformed members of the same French-educated class who made up the Viet M i n h and its successor, the N L F (Woodside, Community 299). That righteous cause is motivated by nationalism, which, as Anderson proposes, is "capable of being transplanted, with varying degrees of self-consciousness, to a great variety of social terrains, to merge and be merged with a correspondingly wide variety o f political and ideological constellations" (4). In their struggle against foreign forces, the Viet Minh ' s (and the N L F ' s ) identification with the people of Vietnam and the realization that they would have to carry out this revolution on their own as a mass organization (albeit external assistance would always be appreciated) enabled them to shake off the servant mentality and to effectively internalize their locus of control. In August, 1945, as the A x i s armies were surrendering over the world, Ho C h i M i n h led a national uprising to overthrow the Japanese and the French Vichy regime throughout Vietnam, and declared the country free and independent from Western domination. Supported by the majority of the population, the Viet M i n h formed the first independent Vietnamese government since the French invasion. 93 In the 1940s, To Thru, a revolutionary who was to head the Literary Association for National Salvation in the Viet Minh , describes his transcendental discovery of the righteous cause of national salvation in the poem " T u A y " [Since then]: Since then summer light has burned in me, The sun of truth has imbued my heart A n d my soul has become a splendid garden A l l scent and chirping birds. I link my mind with other minds, M y love flows a hundred ways M y soul mingles with multitudes Side by side, we're creating l i fe . 4 6 The poem speaks of the poet's transformation into an active participant in a like-minded community for the goal of "creating life" from the dearth of colonialism. The "truth" (chdn ly) that To Huu credits for the transformation is derived from the ly o f nationalism, and meant to extend to the cong ly (justness) o f the revolutionary cause. In fact, much of the Viet Minh ' s appeal came from their ability to weave the ly o f nationalism with the other aspects of the ly-tinh paradigm to successfully project their cause as the embodiment of the umbrella dao ly, or morality, something which is not necessarily associated with politics or ideology in the Western mind. A s we shall see, Trucmg N h u Tang's account of his first meeting with Ho Chi M i n h , the "turning point" (16) in his life, illustrates the profound effect of the combination of the ly, tinh, and dao ly dimensions that Ho personified. Tang was "hardly alone" in being powerfully affected 94 by this combination. He observes that "Ho had had a galvanizing effect on almost all the Vietnamese students in France" (16), who represented the essence of the contemporary Vietnamese intelligentsia. Thus, it is not a coincidence that the conversion to the Viet M i n h cause of both of the N L F leaders examined in this chapter should be explained in terms of the ly-tinh paradigm and its moral virtues. The author of A Vietcong Memoir, Truong N h u Tang speaks for a class of French-educated cosmopolitans with privileged economic and social backgrounds from South Vietnam, who formed a large part of the N L F ' s original leadership. One of the founders of the organization, Tang served as minister of justice in the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), the N L F ' s administrative organ, from its inception in 1960 until 1975. A s a boy, Tang received from his beloved grandfather moral lessons in the five Confucian virtues and the two "unshakeable necessities: protection of the family's honor, and loyalty to the nation" (4), or trung and hieu. At the same time, he attended the prestigious French Lycee of Chasseloup Laubat in Saigon, where his father, an affluent business owner from an old, wealthy family, was a professor. Growing up ensconced in this "family cocoon" of "spiritual and material abundance" (4), Tang was not aware of his "Vietnamese identity" (5) until he encountered puzzling but stinging discriminations from his French schoolmates at the Chasseloup Laubat. However, shrouded by a colonialist education that glorified the civilization of "nos ancestres les Gaulois" (5) like many of his contemporaries, Tang was not to learn of the root of French colonialism in Vietnam, nor of Vietnam's long history of resistance to foreign domination, until he met Ho C h i M i n h in 1946 while studying in Paris. Immediately, Tang was struck by 95 the imperturbable dignity that enveloped [Ho] as though it were something tangible. I [Tang] had never thought of myself as a person especially sensitive to physical appearances, but Ho exuded a combination of inner strength and personal generosity that struck me with something like a physical blow. He looked directly at me, and at the others, with a magnetic expression of intensity and warmth. (12) Tang's feeling of warmth was substantiated when Ho, with the "same effortless communication of wisdom and caring with which [Tang's] grandfather had personified to [him] the values of Confucian life," began to inquire after the personal and family history of each of the Vietnamese students gathering there at Montmorency. Ho then extrapolated the students' blood family with the "great family of Vietnam," and said, gently but with great intensity, "[. . .] Y o u must remember, though the rivers may run dry and the mountains erode, the nation w i l l always be one." To Western ears such phrases may have sounded artificial. To ours [the Vietnamese] the simple sentimentality was evocative. (12) What Ho said to the students at Montmorency in 1946 later formed one of his most famous sayings: Nu&c Viet Nam la mot. Dan toe Viet Nam la mot. Song co the can, nui co the mon, Song chdn ly do khong bao gid thay doi. (Vietnam is one. Our Vietnamese people are one. Rivers may go dry; mountains may erode. 96 But this truth wi l l never change.) The ly of nationalism is here invoked as a truth (chart ly) and an appeal to the Vietnamese to struggle against foreign forces that kept Vietnam divided. A t Montmorency that day, Ho was in fact educating the students in the ly of the revolution against foreign domination, ignorance and poverty when he talked about "the proud traditions and history of [their] ancestors' struggle against the Chinese and the Mongols, [. . .] [and] the heroes who had defeated these invaders: Tran Hung Dao, Le L o i , Nguyen Trai, and Quang Trung" (14). He also encouraged the students "to study and learn and to contribute to the national family" (13). 4 7 A s Tang remembers it, It was a message that combined ardent and idealistic nationalism with a moving personal simplicity. Ho had created for us an atmosphere of family and country and had pointed to our own role in this great patriotic endeavor. Before an hour had passed, he had gained the heart of each of us sitting around him on those steps in front of Aubrac's house. (13) Tang's account of his meeting with Ho illustrates the combination of tradition with revolution, and of ly and tinh with dao ly and cong ly: [Ho] had done it all in the traditional Vietnamese manner with which we felt so comfortable, with touches of light humor, legends, anecdotes, and moral tales to amuse and instruct at the same time. It had been another Sunday with my grandfather at one of his educational sessions, but with a difference. Grandfather's text had always been morality. Ho ' s was politics and revolution. (15-16) This powerful combination of ly, tinh, and dao ly converted Tang into a believer: 97 That afternoon [. . .] brought together the separate fibres of my training and emotions, whose unity I had never before been able to see clearly. The values of learning and virtue and loyalty to the nation had somehow been crystallized for me into a whole. I could see how they fit together, and I began to make out, however dimly, the shape of my own future as a fighter for independence. (16, emphases added) Ho ' s lesson at once put into perspective the indignity Tang had suffered first-hand from his French schoolmates, and showed him how to combine the "values of learning and virtue and loyalty to the nation" by using his knowledge, as Ho advised, "to build the future of our country and the happiness of our people" (16). In the five years following his meeting with Ho Chi Minh , Tang was to discover his Vietnamese identity, and his understanding of the ly o f Vietnamese nationalism was to deepen: I had arrived in France a superb product of the French colonial system and its mission civilisatrice. Paradoxically, life in the French capital had imbued me with an understanding and a love for my own country far deeper than I had previously known. After five years I was at one with my Vietnamese identity, with the history, the national culture, the Asian soul of my country. (26) Delving into political science, he discovered the economic background to French intransigence and how the British fear for their own colonial empire spurred them to support France's reestablishment of colonial claims in Vietnam after World War II. Recognizing the "contradictions between France's democratic ideals and her imperialistic motives," Tang was also struck by the "complete absence of support among the democracies for the colonized and oppressed peoples" (21). Gradually, his understanding 98 of his ancestors' heroic past, as well as of colonialism and of the West's indifference to the fate of his people led Tang not only to his decision to partake in Vietnam's nationalist resistance, but more importantly, to the belief that it was possible and ethical to resist. A s Tang recalls, Everything that I knew and that I had seen in Vietnam—the French administrators, the privileged position of French families, the poverty of the countryside, the racial bigotry—all began to appear in a new light. It suddenly dawned on me that these things were not [emphasis in original] part of the natural order of the universe. On the contrary, there was a single cause, a comprehensible pattern that was amenable to analysis. The subordination of the Vietnamese nation to France could be understood as a historical and social phenomenon, and it could be fought—if one had the right tools [emphasis added]. (18) The awareness that foreign domination went against "the natural order of the universe," or in other words, against ly, and therefore could only result in injustice (or lack of cong ly) transformed Tang from an impassive "product" of colonialism into an active participant in Vietnam's struggle for independence. He then started agitating for Vietnam's independence from France. General Nguyen Thi Dinh initially headed the Women's Association for Liberation, and later became deputy commander of the People's Liberation Army, the armed forces of the N L F . Coming from a poor, landless peasant family in the South of Vietnam, Mme. Dinh arrived at revolution by a very different path from Truong N h u Tang's. Known in the West as the official memoir of Mme. Dinh, No Other Road to Take is in fact a recorded oral history of her life as a revolutionary until 1965; as such, it is also 99 very different from Tang's memoir in several ways. But, like Tang's, Mme. Binh ' s recount of her conversion to the revolutionary cause is framed in the familiar paradigm of ly, tinh, dao ly, and cong ly. Early in the story, Mme. B i n h tells how the history of Vietnamese resistance came to her, condensed in the verse novel, Luc Van Tien. The novel was composed by Nguyen B i n h Chieu (1822-1888), one of the great patriots and certainly the most popular and revered scholar/teacher/writer of the South in the late nineteenth century (see Chapter Two of this dissertation). Following the title character's struggle to remain true to moral virtues, Luc Van Tien contains a strong message of "humanity, kindness, filial piety, courage, determination, and loyalty" (Binh 25). The quote from the novel, which was sung by Mme. Binh ' s mother, is apparently Luc Van Tien's avowal of hieu (filial piety), but it can also be linked to the virtue of loyalty to one's nation: "In the Netherworld, i f your soul is blessed with power, Mother, please be aware of your son's sincere feelings. A l l around me, rivers have their sources and trees their roots. Y o u bore me in your womb for nine months A n d my gratitude and debt to you is boundless." (25) The "Mother" in the second line refers to V a n Tien's blood mother who has just passed away; but it also recalls the phrase "dat M e , " or Motherland. Additionally, the sense of moral debt in the last three lines echoes a Vietnamese saying, "Uong nuac nha nguon" (remember the source when you drink the water), which is often used in conjunction with trung, or loyalty to one's nation—the word for "water" and that for "country" being homonyms in Vietnamese. 100 Even as a little girl, Mme. B inh was greatly influenced by such patriotic and righteous poetry. The persuasiveness of Nguyen B i n h Chieu's verses was all the more effective because they were written by a man who lived the life he preached. In real life, the poet urged noncollaboration with foreign invaders and sacrifice for a just cause, and popularized the Buddhist belief of "nhan qua" (causality), in effect a kind of natural justice when good and virtuous people wi l l be rewarded, and the bad and the wicked w i l l be punished. 4 8 Such poetry as Luc Van Tien had since childhood cultivated in Mme. B i n h a sense of justice (cong ly). She learned to hate "those [. . .] who abused their power, position and wealth to harm honest people like V a n Tien and Nguyet Nga" (25). Later on, her sense of justice was brought to bear against the wicked landlords who were bringing "miseries and poverty to [her] family and other families at the time" (25). The hen she had been raising, which Muon, the village landlord, greedily consumed as a bribe for putting off his collection of the rent Mme. Binh ' s family still owed him for a ricefield lot, became in her young mind a symbol of the loss of cong ly for poor people like herself. The incident, Mme. B inh implies, was to lead her to "make revolution" (27) against social injustice, embodied in the enemy of her class, the wicked landlord. When she learned that her beloved older brother B a Chan was making revolution, she "began to understand and to firmly believe that making revolution was a good thing [that is, ethical], since [her] brother continued to do it even though he had been jailed and beaten up for it [by the hated landlords who were now also canton officials]" (27). Later, Mme. Binh ' s realization that the lack of cong ly was ultimately caused by the colonialists, who preserved and enforced the power of the landlords, was to tune her in to the ly o f nationalism. 101 In the same manner that Tang's nationalistic sentiments empowered him, Mme. Dinh's awareness of ly fostered a sense of responsibility for her own actions and destiny. She might have been just "a gi r l" (27) from a peasant family with little formal education, but Mme. Dinh nevertheless chose not to wait passively for peace and prosperity to come, but to "make revolution" to precipitate them. Different as they were in their backgrounds, both Mme. Dinh and Tang had arrived at the same conclusion: there is "no other road to take" but to fight for Vietnam's independence against colonialism and its abuses. It is also clear that for Tang as for Mme. Dinh, the past functions as a link to the present. The history of Vietnamese struggle against foreign invasion and domination plays an important part not just in the two memoirs under discussion, but in all Vietnamese nationalist war literature, for it serves to demonstrate the link of ly between the twentieth-century resistance against the French and later the Americans, and that of historical heroes such as Hai B a Tnrng (the Trvmg Sisters), Le Led, Tran Hung Dao, or Nguyen Hue (King Quang Trung) against the Chinese and the Mongols. Consequently, appealing to a history that all Vietnamese as a people understand and take pride in helps to establish the resistance against the current French and American interference and domination as continuous with that past, thus grounding the Viet M i n h / D R V / N L F in Vietnam's time-honored nationalist tradition. 4 9 A major source o f strength imbuing the nationalists with a sense of continuity, purpose, and identity, history also presents Tang and Mme. Dinh with an ethical foundation. Implicit in their accounts of history and of traditional moral virtues is the revolutionaries' argument that not only was the cause they were to jo in in accord with the ly o f nationalism, but, in seeking to reverse the injustice 102 (lack of cong ly) they and other Vietnamese were suffering, the revolutionaries were putting into practice the moral virtues (dao ly) inculcated in them since childhood. Positioning themselves as resisters of foreign domination, the nationalists convey a strong sense of their identity as Vietnamese, which they consciously seek to define and highlight historically and culturally. B y aligning their cause with Vietnam's proud past, the nationalists not only reassert their Vietnamese-ness, but also tap into a formidable source o f collective power. Just as trees take nourishment from the roots and rivers flow from their sources (Binh 25), the nationalists were to draw strength from this "historical self-confidence" (Woodside, "Vietnamese History" 16) for a revolution that was to take on, somewhat paradoxically, nature's power of renewal. In short, the ly of nationalism forms the core of the compelling paradigm of interwoven tinh, dao ly, and cong ly, which upholds the N L F leaders' sense of the justness of their cause. Stylistically speaking, this paradigm serves as a thematic thread to coherently piece Mme. Binh ' s experiences together in what would otherwise have been just a series of events. The same paradigm maps the trajectory of Tang's life as a revolutionary, as well as informs his decision to leave Vietnam when he perceived that the postwar leadership no longer represented the revolutionary cause for which he and so many other Vietnamese had fought. Given that most Vietnamese of the 1920-1945 period shared more or less the same cultural heritage (and its crises), it is not surprising that the memoirs of the R V N leaders also cite Vietnam's historical past to corroborate their claim of ly, and ultimately, of representing the just cause. However, their position of collaboration with the colonialists, who were then succeeded by the Americans, contradicts Tran Van Bon ' s and Nguyen Cao K y ' s assertions of ly, and renders their subsequent claims of morality and 103 justness unstable. While the memoirs of Nguyen Thi Dinh and Truong N h u Tang illustrate how the paradigm of ly, tinh, dao ly and cong ly acted as the transcending impetus behind their opposition against malignant foreign powers, the R V N leaders' memoirs are mired in a language of passivity and victimization, which explains their failure to appeal to a broad popular base. Tran V a n Don, A R V N general since the 1950s, minister of defense in 1963, and R V N senator from 1967-75, was born in France of Vietnamese parents with French citizenship. His father came from a humble family of hired boatmen, but, helped by a kind French doctor in his studies, eventually became a wealthy doctor and landlord who owned "some 2,700 acres of rich rice-paddy land in Long Xuyen in the lush Mekong Delta" (3). Under the French and the Americans, Don's father became the first "mayor of Saigon (1949), and ambassador to London (1951) and Rome (1953-7)" (4). Written after the 1975 collapse of the R V N , Don's Our Endless War: Inside Vietnam, as an attempt to rationalize the R V N ' s defeat by the N L F and D R V , reveals the narrator's passivity and disclaims his responsibility for the failures of his own regime. " B y birth [. . .] a French citizen and later an officer in the Army of France" (1), Don nevertheless cherished being a Vietnamese nationalist. His memoir opens with a moment of Vietnamese nationalistic impulse, ironically while he was standing "at rigid attention" (1), saluting the French tricolor flag at a French military academy outside of Hanoi. Tears in their eyes, Don and a Vietnamese friend swore that they would "from now on dedicate [their] whole lives to serve only one country, Vietnam, and to defend only [their] own national colors in independence and freedom" (1). The friend later 104 answered Ho C h i Minh ' s call and became an effective guerrilla leader. Don continued on the "Western side" (10) with the French colonialists and later, the Americans. Given the intimate relationship between his family and the French, in light both of Don's father's gratitude to his French patron and of the benefits Don's family later acquired thanks to the French in Vietnam, it is not hard to understand just why Don should remain with the French. In his memoir, Don views French rule as having "both positive and negative aspects, as my own life so clearly shows" (8). Don's explanation of French colonialism reveals a dubious stance, as we can see from his use of broad, misleading, generic terms referring to the people of Vietnam, which reflects his shallow understanding of colonialism, subsumed in yet another of his broad generic terms, "the West." A s he says, and I w i l l italicize the generic terms and insert their intended meaning in brackets: The Vietnamese [all of them] benefited greatly from French advances in science and technology, health services, modern farming methods, [. . .] and the encouragement of industrial and business development. Our youth [all Vietnamese youths, symbolizing Vietnam's future], including myself, learned of free enterprise and social justice, and respect for Western democratic principles. We [all Vietnamese, or at least all youths] also attended French schools, learned the French language, and came to realise that we could compete favorably with Westerners in a variety of disciplines. A s a by-product of all this education and example [colonialist example?], many of us became political militants, prepared for the coming struggle against oppression. We [all Vietnamese?] learned from 105 France herself, not the French colonialists, that we should fight to better the lot of the underprivileged and to recover independence and national unity. (8) Two things are evident from the confusing generic terms and curious assessment of colonialism in this passage. First, Don identifies himself with a minority o f Vietnamese who formed a privileged class under the French (e.g. the landlords, the officials, and the collaborating bourgeoisie) and who, as the prewar literature shows, more often than not caused additional misery to the rest of the luckless Vietnamese population. Second, Don mistakenly extrapolates the interests of his class of collaborators to the Vietnamese population at large, whose two mil l ion dead of starvation in 1945 should be a clear indictment of the "benefits" of colonialism. This position conflicts with his later revelation of the detriments of colonialism, and of the indignity and despair (in other words, the lack of cong ly) the majority of Vietnamese felt under French domination and oppression: [Under the colonial regime] racial discrimination was practiced universally. The native Vietnamese were represented either poorly or not at all , and thus could not articulate their legitimate aspirations. Many Vietnamese functionaries were better qualified to fill positions in the government than the Frenchmen who held them, but these locals were excluded. We were deprived of essential liberties by a prying, arbitrary police network which was aided by courts that systematically denied accused persons elementary rights of defense. [...] Agriculture and mining were financed almost entirely with French capital and directed by French technicians, with the greatest benefits going to the French, while local manpower was exploited and mistreated. A Vietnamese youth could 106 go to France [. . .] and graduate from a university with a first-class diploma, only to find when he returned to Vietnam that he would be given a menial job, subordinate to a semiliterate Frenchman who had never completed high school. Economic development always involved what benefited France and her French colonialists, not the Vietnamese. Vietnam was kept [. . .] dependent on the mother country[. . . ] , both as a source of raw materials and as a captive market for French manufactured goods. (8-9) Don's confusion about his identity, and about the nature of colonialism (the intransigence of which Truong N h u Tang understood perfectly), led him to contrary conclusions about his own political stance. On the one hand, he observes that a "less short-sighted administration could have predicted the eventual outcome of these restrictive policies, but it took raw armed force to shock the French and the rest of the world into the realities of the situation" (9), and "signs [of] nationalist sentiment and sub-rosa resistance were everywhere to be seen but failed to have any effect on the unseeing French" (10, emphases added). On the other hand, he chose to "work with the West toward Vietnamese independence" (10). To rationalize his stance, Don attempts to characterize Vietnam's history as one of internal conflicts and northern invasions, so as to prepare the reader for his (implicit) argument that the war to come was an internal, c iv i l war of two equal factions, and that the "invasion" would come from the north of Vietnam. A s a schoolboy, I learned that my ancient country had a rich tradition and desire to be independent, but had been beset over the years by factional disputes internally and by invasions from China externally. Periods of warfare between 107 competing royal factions had been interspersed with periods of Chinese domination, when the nation had united to throw out the northern invaders. (8) The fact is, "invasion" could not come from inside of Vietnam, as Don irrationally implies, but did so from France in the West, as Don himself admits earlier (8). Nor were the two factions (the Viet M i n h with their large popular base, and the French collaborators, who constituted a small minority) ever equal, either in number or in the validity of their respective claim of the ly of nationalism. A s Don's account of the origin of the R V N makes evident, the regime's status vis-a-vis the French (and later the Americans) completely refutes Don's claim of nationalism. Initially, apparently aware of the ly of nationalism, and possibly out of the wish to identify with the winners, both Don and K y tried to join the Viet Minh . Don was rejected and K y deserted. 5 0 Without hesitation, both went straight to the other side and enlisted with the French colonialists. A s Don recalls, "We were told we were not worthy to jo in them [the Viet Minh] , so as the only choice open to us as young military men, we joined the newly released French troops under [Colonel Jean] Cedile [of the French High Commission and Administration of Colonies]" (32). This obvious flip-flopping should have warned the Americans of the kind of leadership the R V N was to have. Lacking in popular support, the minority group Don calls "non-communist nationalists" (21) was weak and disorganized, composed as the several little parties were of fading romantics like Nhat Linh, cynical non-participants like Bao Dai , or opportunists and Viet M i n h rejects like K y and Don themselves. 5 1 Motivated by self-interest and having no clear, viable ideological vision binding them together, these parties were fraught with discord and power struggles from within, and could not even "manage to agree on programs of 108 action or leadership;" consequently, they were in no shape to compete with the Viet Minh (Don 22). Blaming their "lack of cohesion and mutual trust" on "the 'divide-and-rule' tactics of the French colonial administration" (22), Don and his partners paradoxically assumed Western mastership, instead of trying to create their own popular base and "stand on [their] own feet" (180). Having read Machiavelli , Talleyrand, Clausewitz and histories of the First and Second World Wars and understood the "economic background to French intransigence" and lack of support for the colonized (Tang 21), Trucrng N h u Tang had come to realize that the only way to achieve independence was for Vietnamese to unite and wrestle it from the claws of Western powers. Don, however, lacked a similar understanding, and persistently hoped that, somehow, the French colonialists would miraculously "grant" Vietnam her due independence, even though this hope had been disappointed time and time again (28). The R V N leaders' collaboration and compromise only facilitated their continued servility to those Don calls "our French masters" (3). What Don could not admit is that the R V N members' collaboration with the French can be easily accounted for by self-interest, as opposed to genuine nationalism. The N L F leaders suffered a great deal of personal losses for their nationalistic endeavors. Trucrng N h u Tang was "not only completely cut off from the parental love that had enveloped [him] for [his] entire life, but also [left] without a sou for food or rent" (24). He later lost two marriages and his children due to long separation, and eventually his health due to the adverse conditions of life in the jungle. Mme. Dinh braved arrests, tortures, the deaths of her husband, brothers and mother, and separation from her only son. Don and K y , on the contrary, continued to receive salaries from the very French colonialists they allegedly wanted to topple. Claiming to be nationalists, Don and K y 109 nevertheless at times reveal in their memoirs that opportunism motivated the R V N cause and their participation in it. Don explains his running for the R V N Senate in the following words: I think it is appropriate at this time to explain my political activities and what I was trying to achieve through them. A s I explained during a previous chapter, when I saw my military career coming to an end during the last few months of Nguyen Khanh's erratic reign, K i m , Xuan, and I organized an import-export business called D O X U K I . Events quickly proved that Xuan and I were not cut out to be businessmen, so he bowed out and I became a silent partner, leaving K i m to run the business, which he did successfully until 1975. I am not sure exactly what pushed me toward politics; maybe the urgings of many friends; maybe a chance to further serve the country in a new way; and probably a desire to be a little in the limelight. (177) K y , ever someone who speaks his mind, cites the power of the dollar in his "plea [. . .] [to] a mighty nation [i.e. the U.S] which believes above all in freedom, and is prepared, as it always has been, to back up its beliefs with a check. Let it [. . .] be an open check" (124). In fact, the main contention of Don's and K y ' s memoirs is that the two foreign masters should have given them the carte blanche in whatever they wanted to do, and paid for their expenses without asking for anything in return. K y , for example, devotes a whole chapter to rationalizing aid without "strings," arguing that "the American elastic band was [. . .] too tight" (119). Their goal being "a check" from "mighty" foreigners, it is no wonder that Don and K y voted for Western forces who were trying to "maintain colonial control of [Vietnam]" (Ky 11). Not only can self-interest explain why Don, K y , 110 and other R V N leaders would bow to the French and Americans for support, they also account for the infighting that would advance these "nationalists" to R V N leadership. Independence or not, they would put up with indignity after indignity from their foreign "masters." A s a corollary, they would also tolerate the injustices these foreign forces dealt the Vietnamese people as a whole. Out of their subordination to "mighty" foreign powers, on the receiving end of the feeding line, and having neither intention nor capacity to support themselves, Don, K y and others on the R V N side found themselves having little control in their negotiations with France, and later, the U .S . Here, Frantz Fanon and Frances FitzGerald help expose the nature of collaborating regimes similar to the R V N . A s is the case in other colonized countries over the world, a privileged minority of foreign collaborators would be engaged in politics as an "intermediary between the foreigners and the natives" (FitzGerald 300) of the colonized country. The purpose of this collaborating intermediary is not to organize the people against the foreigners, but to manipulate the foreigners for its own ends, using the threat of the discontented masses as its means of leverage. It demands independence for the country, but it cannot produce it, for its interests lie not in building a nation but in assuming exclusive control over what the foreigners have created. Granted independence, it w i l l attempt to continue to act as an intermediary with the foreigners and to defend its own exclusive entree into the trade market, the higher educational system, and the government bureaucracy. (300) I l l Call ing themselves nationalists, Don and K y nevertheless reveal in their memoirs the R V N ' s servant status when they protest against indignity in the language of the victim, marked by passivity and ineffectuality. On the origin of the R V N , Don recounts the fate of its early version, the Cochinchinese Republic. Meant as a counter to Ho's D R V , this "local government" was established by the French and operated totally under their direct control. The president of this "government" was Dr. Nguyen V a n Thinh, a French citizen with a French wife much like a combination of Don and K y . Thinh's, like Bao Dai ' s and other "Vietnamese governments" erected by the French and Japanese, was, as the involved collaborators themselves called it, "only a puppet government" (20). The French did not even pretend to be subtle in their snubs: [Thinh] had to use his own house as both office and official residence because the French gave him insufficient means for getting his work done. They did give him an official car, but the license plate was marked with five zeros in order to make him an object of ridicule. (34) Enduring such insults, Thinh was still, in his own words, "not [. . .] enough of a puppet for [the French]," so they sought to replace him with more "complacent" ones (34). Upon the news, Thinh hanged himself. In March 1945, the Cochinchinese Republic was passed on to Bao Dai . A t the end of World War II, Japanese forces surrendered while the French in Vietnam were still disarmed. A s Don reflects: A great popular insurrection could have been instigated at any moment by militants of any political tendency. But [Bao Dai 's] government was powerless to 112 act because most of the problems were caused by matters quite out of their control. (20, emphases added) The Viet Minh , on the other hand, took the initiative—they disarmed the Japanese, kept the French imprisoned and declared Vietnam independent. The D R V was established. Bao Dai abdicated, leaving the symbolic mandate as the last Vietnamese king to the new government headed by Ho C h i Minh . Forgetting his own earlier descriptions of Bao Dai ' s puppet government, Don now tries to verbally cancel out the Viet M i n h victory. But once again, his language in support of Bao Dai is that o f passivity and powerlessness: The fact that we already had established a legitimate, independent, and unified government headed by Bao Dai made no difference to the Communists. They, of course, had the weapons and ammunition, so there was not much the Bao Dai government could do to avert destruction. (24) Thus, Don and his like-minded group stood by and helplessly "watched as the Viet M i n h took over[. . .], exploiting daily their successes of August and September, 1945" (26, emphasis added). It is only with French and British arms that the Bao Dai government was resurrected in Central and South Vietnam in 1946. Again, it was a puppet, powerless government. Don blames this powerlessness on Bao Dai , who had "trouble grasping the significance of'independence' as a concept vis-a-vis the French" (38). Ironically, unlike Don, Bao Dai was sophisticated enough to know (or honest enough to admit) that he was simply a "real whore" for the French, and that his position depended on his very lack o f capacity for leadership (Sheehan, Bright Shining Lie 171). From then on, the collaborators engaged in little skirmishes with the French over what they should be allowed to do—and always came out defeated. A s Don witnessed, Bao Dai 's premier 113 once defied the French by proposing a charter warranting Bao Dai 's government the right to send diplomatic emissaries abroad. The French High Commissioner for Indochina "got quite upset about it" (39) and "threatened to cancel [. . .] the new government." Xuan was forced to "withdraw the charter provision, which was, of course, a real defeat for him and the new government" (40). Particularly interesting, given his nationalistic aspirations, is Don's language o f the passive inferior, evident on several occasions when he hopes the French would "let [them] organize a separate national army" or "grant [them] authority [.. .] outside French immediate control" (38, emphases added). Similarly, K y later "begged American advisers" (Ky 124) to let him take control of the A R V N . Behaving as an inferior hoping for favors from his superiors, Don reasons thus about the French veto of the Cochinchinese Republic's rights to foreign representation: I think the French erred in this. Had they granted this concession, the Viet M i n h position would have been greatly undermined. A s it turned out, the French had no intention of letting us operate as an independent country. This event was merely the first real indication. (40, emphases added) This language effectively nullifies the repeated claims of his league's supposed fight for independence in the spirit o f Vietnam's heroic history, during which generations o f Vietnamese chose to sacrifice their lives to repulse foreign invaders. The more Don invests in the French, the harder it is to defend his position. Realizing, as the above quotation says, that "the French had no intention of letting us operate as an independent country" (40), Don and his league still opted to acquiesce, ostensibly (and ironically) for independence from the French. When the Viet M i n h 114 triumphed over the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and France was forced to withdraw from the north of Vietnam, the same ineffectual "government" that had succumbed to the French colonialists earlier continued in the South under the U . S . with barely a change of personnel. When Ngo B i n h Diem was installed by the Americans to be the president of the R V N , he inherited the very same assembly who had buckled under the French. The flag and anthem adopted by the Bao Dai government remained unchanged, as i f signalling the R V N ' s continued servitude to foreigners. The similarities between the relations of Bao Dai 's government to the French and those of Don's and K y ' s to the Americans are pointed out time and time again by Don and K y in their memoirs. Left with little power in their relation with France and the U.S. , and at the same time no logical explanation for their subordination to Western powers, Don complains that the R V N leaders were in a difficult position. To the French, and later the Americans, i f we failed to agree with them, we were either Communists or neutralists [to be removed and outlawed by those foreigners], while to the other side [the Viet M i n h and N L F nationalists], by cooperating [with the French and Americans], we became puppets. (10) Don's confused rationalization of his position toward the French and his victim mentality are typical among other R V N leaders, even the most cocky, as Nguyen Cao K y ' s memoir, Twenty Years and Twenty Days, attests. K y belonged to a group of A R V N military officers nicknamed "the Young Turks," who succeeded Don's original generation of collaborators. Backed by the Americans, K y acted as R V N prime minister from 1965 to 1967, and vice president from 1967 to 1971. 115 It seems from K y ' s arguments that he is also aware, albeit in a confused and contradictory way, of the appeal of the ly of nationalism against foreign domination. That explains his befuddled account of Vietnamese history during the war against the French, in which he at times tries to include himself in the national struggle led by Ho Chi Minh , and at other times denounces that very nationalist movement when he is forced to defend his association with what he calls "the Vietnamese government," as opposed to Ho 's "Communist" one. This gives rise to dizzying contradictions, such as when he tells Americans that "when the French gave us freedom—or rather when the Vietnamese beat them, and they had to leave—the French gave us aid" (119). It took me quite a while and some rereading to figure out that the pronouns "we" and "us" referred to the various French-staged local governments, while "the Vietnamese" who beat the French so that they had to leave were the genuine nationalists led by Ho Chi Minh , "a national hero" (17) and "to all of us [. . .] a great patriot" (11) in K y ' s own words (also Don 21). Likewise, his defence of the minority group of Vietnamese he calls the "Nationalists" flies in the face of the fact that this "nationalist" government was set up and paid for by the same French colonialists he claims to hate. It is simply amusing to see both the terms "Nationalist" and "French-backed Vietnam [sic] government" (18) are actually used to refer to the Bao Dai government that K y served, while he has just denounced on the previous page the French "plans for a system of phony republics and controlled kingdoms" (17, emphasis added), before going on to inform readers that the very same French colonialists "created a southern Vietnamese military force" which K y joined as an air force pilot. Next, K y tries to extricate himself from the colonialists, saying, "I never did [serve in the French army]. I was trained [italics in the original] by the French, a very 116 different matter" (17)—although he of course fails to mention that he was also paid by the French. 5 4 Insisting that the R V N he served was tied to the Americans but not the detested French colonialists, K y later indicts himself by pointing out that the United States helped "the vain French struggle to retain their mastery of our country" (120). K y ' s awkward accusation, "How ironical that the Americans backed a loser, even then" (120), underpins a major theme of his memoir—that his American ally is accountable for the R V N ' s problems and eventual demise. Don and K y insist that they represent the ly of nationalism (the R V N would call themselves "quoc gia," or the Nationalists, and their cause "chinh nghia quoc gia," or nationalist just cause). Contrarily, neither wants to accept responsibility for their own regime's failures. Thus, in an attempt to justify the political chaos in South Vietnam in the early 1960s and his own subsequent failure to establish a stable government, K y finds it necessary to blame his American ally for most of the problems the R V N faced. 5 5 In K y ' s words, "The general problem was this: by insisting that the hated President Diem should remain in power for so long and then discarding him so abruptly, the Americans created a political vacuum which only the Communists were able to exploit" (45). The Americans nearly thwarted K y ' s attacks on his own troops in D a Nang and Hue during the Buddhist crisis. According to K y , American red tape and bureaucracy turned the hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of aid money into "sour milk," as effective in winning the hearts of South Vietnamese peasants as the American-provided "toothbrushes," battery-operated "lavatories" or "Hershey bars" (123) were in helping farmers who were dying for peace. American presence encouraged black market activities and corruption, turned South Vietnam's cities into brothels, and destroyed 117 Vietnamese traditional values. Americans advisors forced on the A R V N their own inappropriate military tactics. A t the same time, they tended to promote "lazy" officers, who "[sat] back and [agreed] with everything, as their fathers had politely pretended to agree with everything the French had told them" (128). In his vigorous attack on his powerful ally for bringing defeat on him, K y reveals that the Americans decided the fate of the R V N army and politics: The Americans controlled the fighting of the war. American aid financed the country; without which we could not survive. Americans selected or influenced the selection of our politicians and leaders, even at village level, and had a natural tendency to pick the most compliant rather than the most gifted. American culture—its films, television, and advertising—swamped our own. (137) K y blames the R V N leaders' lack of initiative on their sudden "independence": We [the R V N leaders] were not capable of filling [the political vacuum left by Diem's death] because we did not know what to do. We had jumped from being a colony ruled by the French to being a country dependent on America, and the transition from independence French style to independence American style was so swift that we never had the opportunity to learn the art of governing ourselves unaided and uninfluenced. (45, emphases added) His "nationalistic" R V N regime, K y declares, held both the "ace [of freedom]" and "the deuce" of not being free: True, we were not puppets, yet we never achieved the standing or appearance of an independent, self-governing country. The Americans criticized us for not having a highly developed system of government, but how could we have that 118 when every Vietnamese in Saigon referred to the American ambassador as "the Governor General" [after the French Governor General overseeing Indochina]? [. . .] South Vietnam had been a colony until the defeat of the French, and in many ways, it remained virtually a colony. [. . .] We still lacked our own identity. (137) Naturally, A R V N soldiers found it "hard [. . .] to realize that the Americans were friends, not new overlords" (126), while South Vietnamese villagers believed "they had merely exchanged their French masters for new ones" (124). The assessment of the R V N ' s position vis-a-vis the French and the Americans in the R V N leaders' own words has thus rested the case of "nationalism" insofar as the R V N is concerned. "Communism" The terms "communism" and "freedom/democracy" are used by many Americans when talking about the Vietnam War in an attempt to separate their cause from their Vietnamese enemy's. Instead, the paradigm of ly-tinh, dao ly and cong ly is again implicit in the examined leaders' accounts of their political choices. In No Other Road to Take, Mme. B i n h tells of her first moment of political awareness when she saw the Viet M i n h flag and heard the crowd talk excitedly about the presence of the communists in her hometown of Ben Tre province: A l l at once many things rose in my mind: hammer and sickle flag, Communism, Phu Rieng. On the way back from the market, I went all the way to the three-way confluence of the Huong B i e m river to take a look. I had the vague feeling that the flag was exactly the red piece of cloth that I had seen in my house a few days before. The yellow lines I could not make out now appeared clearly as 119 the crossed hammer and sickle. I did not understand anything, but felt very happy about what my brother had done. (26, emphases added) Her beloved brother was arrested a few days later, and brutally tortured by the same landlord Muon who had earlier deprived Mme. Dinh of her hen and who was now the Canton Chief. When her brother was finally released, Mme. Dinh was eager for an explanation of the whole situation. The reply was to initiate her into communism. He [Mme. Dinh's brother] explained to me at length, but I did not understand anything more than that the Communists loved the poor and opposed the officials in the village. My love for my brother and the men who had been jailed blossomed and deepened with such new and significant events. When I remembered the villagers' comment that the Communists would soon rise up in Ben Tre province, I immediately thought that the time was coming when Canton Chief Muon—the viper o f two cantons in Chau Thanh district—would perish. I was very happy and eagerly looked forward for that day to arrive. (27, emphases added) Mme. Dinh then offered her assistance "with a lot of zeal" (28) to those who she saw were striving to overthrow Canton Chief Muon and the cruel village officials. It is obvious from the italicized words in the quotations that Mme. Dinh's perception of communism had very much to do with tinh (feelings, affection), ly (here, the logical connection between events), and cong ly (justice). In her young mind, communism was intertwined with her beloved brother, her family, and the community of poor peasants who were being oppressed by the likes of Canton Chief Muon. And , since her brother was with the communists, whoever they might be, to make revolution to bring justice to 120 the poor peasants, communism must be "a good thing" (27), or, in other words, moral. This perception of the communists as embracing dao ly as well as the goodness of tradition is further illustrated by another of Mme. Binh ' s associations, this time with Buddhism, Vietnam's traditional and principal religion, which extols the moral virtues of honesty, dedication, benevolence and selflessness. A s she recalls: A t first, seeing that several of the [communist revolutionaries] were l iving in the pagoda disguised as monks, I thought that Buddhism and revolution was [sic] the same thing. Besides, my parents were fervent Buddhists, and this influenced me. I imitated my parents and fasted six days a month. Later, I stopped fasting and wanted to join the revolution, but every time I asked to be allowed to go, the people who came to my house said, " I f you want to carry out revolutionary activities, you can do it at home, you don't have to leave and go anywhere to do that" (28) The revolutionaries' reply also underlines another dimension of the Vietnamese version of "communism"—that it started "at home," and as such, involved a sense of the familial, and eventually familism in a revolutionary community. 5 6 Almost two decades before the Viet M i n h nationalists defeated the French at B ien Bien Phu and established a government in full effect (the B R V ) in 1954, there was a passionate but chien (fight with the pen) in the Vietnamese literary arena of the 1930s between the romantics, who championed unfettered individualism, and the social realists, who were concerned with larger social issues. The battle culminated in the head-to-head publications of Dogn Tuyet (1935) by Nhat L inh (Nguyen Tuong Tarn) and Co Gido Minh (1936) by Nguyen Cong Hoan, already summarized in Chapter II. In this 121 dichotomy, Nhat L inh stood for Western-style individualism and rejection of traditional customs and social values. At the end of Dogn Tuyet [Breaking the ties] the heroine Loan leaves her husband's traditional family, making a clean break with the old social values in order to seek individualistic happiness with her dream lover. While Loan's struggle against certain outgrown traditional values appealed to some readers, particularly the young and French-educated, many realized that in real life, one could not just sail into the sunset with a dream lover, but had to live among other, tradition-bound people. Moreover, Loan's total rejection of time-honored traditions was also seen as arrogant, unduly self-righteous, and extremist. Nguyen Cong Hoan, one of the best prose writers in Vietnamese literary history, capped this view with a novel of his own. Co Gido Minh [Ms. Minh—the schoolteacher] mimicks the beginning of Loan's struggle with conservative forces, but offers what the realists saw as a superior ending. The climax has M i n h realize that the individualistic happiness considered supreme in Western cultures matters less to her, a Vietnamese, than the satisfaction of building a family where the old and the new live in happy cooperation. She then reconciles herself with the family, and works to have the new accepted by the conservative members while learning from and respecting their traditional values. This solution of a community working together toward harmony and respect, as opposed to an alienating, individualistic happiness, represented a vision of the new society for the realists. That romanticism gave way to social realism in the later half of the 1930s, a period of incubating revolutionary activities, and that all the major social realists and most disillusioned romantics would go on to become active participants in the Viet Minh , can perhaps be taken as indications of the "personality" and nature of the new society this popular resistance movement was to advance. With Co 122 Gido Minh, Nguyen Cong Hoan, a representative for Vietnamese social realists, has thus argued for a Vietnamese solution to a largely imported problem. In the context of colonial Vietnam, when the nation was crying out for independence and a coherent vision for a new organized community, according to Hoan, individualism would be a form of selfishness. In Community and Revolution in Modern Vietnam, Woodside argues that the Viet Minh ' s success stemmed from their capacity to build a community which was based on the traditional family, but which transcended the narrow blood family with the ly of nationalism to form a larger community of revolutionaries for the advancement of Vietnamese nation. Ho captured the essence of this grafting of tradition and revolution perfectly when he urged the Vietnamese revolutionaries to be "trung vo i nuac, hieu va i dan" (loyal to the nation, and observing their filial piety in relation to the people), a lesson which the later professional revolutionaries and ideologues of the postwar period, over-confident of their Party being representative of the nation, changed to "trung voi Dang, hieu voi dan" (loyal to the Party, and observing the moral debt to the people). This amalgamation of tradition and revolution was not always smooth-sailing, as we shall see in Chapter Four of this study, which discusses the representation of the revolutionary Vietnamese woman as embodying the best of both tradition and revolution. However, the Viet M i n h was able to project, as no other organizations in Vietnam at the time could, their community of revolutionaries as exemplifying ly, cong ly, tinh, and dao ly. This paradigm of ly, tinh, cong ly, and dao ly not only appealed to the comparatively traditional rural population (as Mme. Dinh's memoir shows); it also persuaded many Western-educated intellectuals from privileged backgrounds to jo in the 123 Viet M i n h (and later, the N L F ) , against the economic interests of their own class, and sometimes, as in the case of Truong N h u Tang, against the wishes of their blood family as well . It is evident that Tang is interested in, but also somewhat ambivalent about communism as a social theory. What he first sees in it instead is corroboration for the ly of nationalism. About Marxism-Leninism, he says: "The vogue for Marxism then current among French intellectuals led me to Lenin and to Stalin's Book of Contradictions. Lenin's Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism impressed me as an excellent justification for Vietnamese nationalism" (21, emphasis added). On the other hand, Tang feels affiliated with Western democratic ideals as he saw them, ironically, in France, although this affiliation is by no means binding. I f Mme. Dinh's participation in the Viet M i n h cause was influenced by direct, personal grievances as a poor peasant under the tyranny of the RVN-favored landlords, Trucrng N h u Tang's account reflects thoughts which Americans might find, i f anything, to be very much in accord with the desired Third Force they were ostensibly looking for in Vietnam in the early 1950s: national independence and sovereignty, and the construction of a democratic society based on national concord and unity. His nationalistic and patriotic beliefs, shared by many Vietnamese, also advise flexibility and a pragmatic drive for eclecticism in order to achieve this dual goal: Specifically, I was looking for a government that would strive to reconcile the former pro-French Vietnamese (among whom were my own parents), the various groups of nationalists, and especially the former Vietminh fighters and sympathizers (the overwhelming preponderance of people in the countryside, i f 124 my experience in Chau Doc was any indicator). In my opinion, domestic policies were needed that would move toward building a broad-based, inclusive government, along something like French democratic lines. Also , I was not wil l ing to accept a permanent, hostile confrontation between North and South imposed arbitrarily, either by the major powers (as had happened at Geneva) or by a domestic politician subservient to them. (35) Nationalism and patriotism being his motivation, Tang is not set on a fixed ideology, but instead would assist any force that would advance his country. A n d as my italicization w i l l show, his beliefs are couched in the ly-tinh paradigm: The wholehearted nationalism that had consumed me in France (and that I shared with so many others) was in essence far more a diffuse patriotism than a political philosophy. M y personal struggle had been one to realize my Vietnamese identity against the cultural and psychological backdrop of French colonialism. Compared to this, adopting a systematic political philosophy was for me an important but secondary endeavor. M y years of struggling to understand the character of Ho Chi M i n h had convinced me that at heart his motivations were similar, that the Leninism he espoused was an accretion that served the cause of Vietnamese nationalism. Whatever my political inclinations, I would have been wil l ing to accept almost any regime that could achieve real independence and that had the welfare of the people at heart. (36) Tang recalls that in his first conversation with Ho Chi Minh , the latter "emphasized that [Vietnam's] struggle was not only against aggression, but against the ignorance and poverty that afflicted our fellow countrymen." 5 7 According to Tang, Ho ' s 125 most famous saying, "Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty" (15), bespoke the centrality of Vietnam's independence, liberty, and prosperity over any set > 58 ideologies in Ho 's revolutionary agenda. The same nationalism and patriotism make affiliations to any fixed ideology non-binding to Tang and many other N L F leaders. Following Ho, Tang embraces an eclectic, flexible approach to revolution in Vietnam, seeing "no reason that Vietnam [. . .] could not adopt the best from the world's political and economic cultures" (20). Later, Tang and his like-minded colleagues in the N L F were to argue for "the primacy of nationalism [. . .] [and] democratic freedoms" (196) over what they saw as "dogmatism" (196) amongst the "Party ideologues" (194) who rose to power after Ho 's death in 1969: " 'Nothing, ' they recited, 'is more precious than independence and liberty'—with the emphasis on 'nothing'" (196). A t one point, together with a group of N L F leaders, Tang states his opinion that "there is no necessary [emphasis in the original] connection between Marxism-Leninism and independence, let alone a causative relationship." Tang goes on to quote Ho C h i M i n h that it is "dogmatism [...] to ignore uniqueness and to prefer to draw profit from the experience of others—the 'others' being Communist revolutions elsewhere" (196). Discussion of the battle between the dogmatists and other N L F nationalists w i l l continue in the last chapter of this study; for now, suffice to say that fhe^ILF, whom Americans and R V N leaders dubbed the Viet Cong, was not necessarily "communist." According to Tang, there were several colorings in terms of ideology among the N L F and D R V . Many of the so-called Viet Cong were fighting, as Mme. Dinh obviously did, for a better life for themselves and their families, and to rid the country of foreign domination—"simple motives [. . .] uncolored by ideological considerations" (166). There were also "many Front members whose 126 communism was the thinnest of veneers" (216), and many "Western-educated individuals with generally liberal and democratic (in the Western sense of the term) political principles [. . .] [who] were decidedly not dogmatic people, and [who] had an instinctive distaste for those who were" (134). The problem is, a truly independent and unaffiliated Vietnam was not what the Americans were interested in, and their Manichean mindset had already dictated a division of the country to thwart the rightful aspirations of those they labelled Communists, whatever that might mean. Consequently, Tang's above-quoted specific points regarding a democratic and independent government, representative as they are of truly nationalistic and patriotic aspirations, found little correspondence from either American policy makers or their sponsored Vietnamese henchmen who, for their own self-interests, would try to hammer the rest of the population into submission. In his memoir, Tang assesses the nature of the Diem regime as follows: First, the country had settled into an all too familiar pattern of oligarchic rule and utter disregard for the welfare of the people. Second, subservience to foreigners was still the order of the day. We had a ruler whose overriding interest was power and who would use the Americans to prop himself up—even while the Americans were using him for their own strategic purposes. (65) The resistance that flared up in South Vietnam was, in Tang's opinion, inevitable, as "South Vietnamese nationalists were driven to action by [Diem's] contempt for the principles of independence and social progress in which they believed. In this sense, the Southern revolution was generated of itself, out of the emotions, conscience, and aspirations of the Southern people" (68, emphasis added). Significantly, Diem sought to 127 overturn these rightful aspirations of the Vietnamese from North to South by coining the term "Viet Cong," short for Vietnamese Communists, to refer derogatively to anybody who did not acquiesce to America's needs and Diem's own demands. This blanket ideological term that aimed to replace the immensely popular name of Viet M i n h and its powerful associations would eventually confuse American soldiers ( if not American politicians) who would find that the people they came to k i l l were ordinary civilians who had very little to do with their imagined ideological enemy, and most of whom were actually the people of South Vietnam that Americans were supposed to be assisting in their cause against the "Communist North Vietnamese invaders." 5 9 Tortured and forced to sign a declaration that he was a Communist even though he was not, Tang reflected thus on the R V N ' s and Americans' label of "Communist": It was part of the regime's ideology that anyone who opposed them must be a Communist. They could not accept the fact that there might be people who hated them for the travesty they had made of the country's life, for their intolerance and corruption and cold indifference to the lot of their countrymen. A n y opposition, as far as they were concerned, had to have an insidious external source, and they were going to label it for what it was and stamp it out. (113) Their cause lacking in ly, R V N members and leaders widely resorted to suppressive measures to try to bolster their rule (imposed as it was by foreign powers) among the Vietnamese population, resulting in serious transgressions on ordinary human rights (lack of cong ly). What Tang, Mme. Dinh, and hundreds of thousands of other Vietnamese experienced first-hand in R V N prisons simply reflected the R V N leaders' disregard of 128 tinh ("cold indifference") and dao ly ("corruption") in their relation to the general population of South Vietnam. To offset this bogus government with its modern ki l l ing machines (e.g. K y ' s American Skyraiders), the nationalist revolutionaries continually honed the most powerful weapon they possessed—the traditional base of ly, tinh, cong ly, and dao ly. Ironically, as one learns from the N L F leaders' memoirs, their participation in the revolution was motivated by a social awareness that approaches communism in its etymological origin: egalitarianism, equal sharing of resources, and ultimately, the emotional security that should accompany a mutually supportive community of moral and selfless members. This would explain why Tang repeatedly frames his descriptions of the N L F , the community of nationalist revolutionaries, as a big, mutually caring family where the members were bound together not only by the ly of nationalism, but also by their observation of time-honored moral virtues. Tang's reminiscence of his "turning point," the meeting with Ho C h i Minh , recalls clearly the ly, tinh, cong ly, and dao ly in a context that combines both tradition and revolution, as I have analyzed earlier. Just as Mme. Dinh was to experience in 1964, it did not take long for "Uncle H o " to "gain the heart o f each of us [the group of Vietnamese students meeting Ho C h i M i n h for the first time in Paris]" (13), and "from that afternoon [Tang] was Ho Chi Minh ' s fervent partisan" (16, emphases added). The revolutionary zeal Mme. Dinh and Tang demonstrated came from a "whole-hearted nationalism" that they "shared with so many others" (Tang 36), although the English word "whole-hearted" fails to convey satisfactorily all the aspects of ly, tinh, cong ly, and dao ly that motivated the nationalist revolutionaries. It is only understandable that Tang 129 and Mme. B i n h should both project the N L F , the revolutionary community these nationalists formed, in the same framework of ly-tinh. FitzGerald has written at length about what she calls the N L F ' s "children of the people" approach, and devotes another section of her book to the N L F organization on different levels. Her analysis of the N L F ' s relationships to the people and among themselves, though observant, reveals a Western perspective in which the emphasis is merely on the rationality of the actions. It is indeed true that the cultivation of interpersonal relationships was valued by the original leaders of the Viet M i n h and later the N L F , as Tang's reflection on Ho Chi Minh ' s character demonstrates: Nationalist, humanist, Marxist-Leninist, Machiavellian, Confucianist—these were just some of the aspects of his remarkable character. One undeniable element in his success, though, was his ability to affect people with his humility and personal warmth. M y encounter with him at Montmorency was just one example of the impression he conveyed in many far more significant situations. But that occasion exemplified the value he placed on cultivating personal relationships, and it also suggested something about his habitual determination to look toward the future. A t the time Ho invited Miss L y and myself for afternoon tea, he must have been a man in deep despair. The Fontainebleau negotiations for Vietnamese independence were ending in a personal disaster. [. . .] When [positive results] were not forthcoming, Ho knew he faced at least the possibility of his own political demise and at best a bloody uphill war. It was with these thoughts oppressing his mind that he set aside ah entire afternoon for two young students 130 from the South. It is hard to think of another world leader who under similar circumstances might have done the same. (16-17) Tang's later view of the N L F ' s top leadership is quite comparable to his impression of Ho. Vietnamese nationalists coming from different social and educational backgrounds and ideological views were united as an extended family and motivated for the entire duration of the war by the ly-tinh paradigm and its moral corollaries. To Tang, "the scene at N L F headquarters was like a family reunion" (132). Many members of the N L F leadership and its sister organizations enjoyed a special, deep-running personal bond. A s Tang writes: Although Vietnamese are often suspicious and inconstant in their feelings toward organizations and institutions, they place great value on personal loyalties and trust. Between the intellectual, upper-class nationalists outside the Front and those within (both Communist and independent), associations ran deep. In the stratified world of Vietnam, many families in the traditionally monied and governing classes had known each other for generations. They had gone to school together, raised children alongside each other, and inter-married. They had incurred toward each other debts and obligations of every imaginable sort. [. . .] Mult ip ly such situations and incidents over an entire social stratum and extend it for generations, and you have some idea of the personal bonds that existed between the people who joined together to form the Alliance and those in their parent organization, the N L F . Under these circumstances, a world of tradition and cultural expectations militated against the likelihood of personal betrayal. (135-6) 131 This brotherhood (tinh) was not reserved only for people within the formal organizations of the Alliance and the N L F , but extended to anybody who saw the ly of an independent Vietnam. In fact, it is in the prison cells of the R V N that members of some of Saigon's best families started to feel a sense of solidarity and brotherhood, the kind of emotions that attend on fighting and suffering for a cause. They began to feel like revolutionaries. For a number of them, this was the beginning of careers of political activism that the [ R V N ] government would later have cause to regret. (100, emphases added) This familial network (both real and symbolic) is heightened by Tang's impression of the N L F ' s first president, Trinh Dinh Thao, as resembling "someone's amiable and debonair grandfather" (138). The resulting "phenomenon of nationalist/communist concord" (138), which in Tang's opinion can be ascribed in part to the interpersonal bonds between the N L F members, was an "inbred Vietnamese psychology," which "Kissinger and Nixon did not fully comprehend" (137). Likewise, Mme. Dinh's moving reunion with an aunt of her martyr husband's at the scene of the successful uprising in her home province in 1960 gives the same indication that the large community of N L F nationalist revolutionaries had succeeded, and simultaneously transcended, the boundaries of family blood ties. The result was "self-confidence" (77) and strength of w i l l , as Mme. Dinh concludes: In struggling against the enemy, I had come to fully realize that we had to have the strength of the whole forest in order to stay the force o f the strong winds and storms. A s I thought about the protection and support of the people, about the enormous efforts that the revolution had expanded in educating and nurturing me, 132 about the countless comrades and beloved people—some of whom I had mentioned but whose names I could never exhaustively enumerate—I felt more intimately bound, more so than ever before, to the road I had taken and had pledged to follow until my last days. This was the road for which I would sacrifice everything for the future of the revolution and for the interests of the masses. For me there was no other road to take. (77) Frances FitzGerald, however, completely misses the tinh dimension in the N L F (and D R V ) revolutionary philosophy. Instead, she sees the N L F ' s channelling of hatred as the decisive tool for inciting the general population (211-20). The emphasis on tinh (and simultaneously on moral virtues, such as loyalty and selflessness) in Tang's and Mme. Dinh's memoirs has effectively contrasted FitzGerald's view. The two memoirs demonstrate that respect for traditional culture underlay the nationalists' cultivation o f affection and moral virtues in interpersonal relationships (the "correct behavior" in FitzGerald's terms), which played an important part in winning the hearts and minds of the majority of the people, turning what might have been merely a guerrilla war into a people's war. FitzGerald may note the "children of the people" strategy practiced by the N L F , but she does not grasp the root of the strategy. When the R V N pacification teams adopted a "line-for line copy of the N L F teams" (203) and still failed to achieve the same results with the peasants, FitzGerald attributes this failure, rightly, to the fact that the peasants saw through the R V N cadres' charade, and that both the R V N cadres and the peasants knew that R V N officials "lived on the endless supplies of money and goods from abroad, and that without foreign goods, foreign weapons, and finally foreign soldiers, [the R V N ] 133 cause would be lost" (205). Not so convincing, however, is FitzGerald's ensuing argument that the N L F succeeded in earning the peasants' trust and support because, "instead of giving generously" without asking as the R V N officials did, the N L F cadres simply reversed the normal, traditional roles of ruler-superior and the ruled-inferior, thus giving the villagers "a position of power such as they had not had even in the days of the empire." The peasants then "let down their traditional defenses" when they saw that the N L F cadres "behaved well out of necessity" (205—italics in original). From K y ' s testimony, though, "giving generously" (FitzGerald 205) did not seem to be the cause for the R V N failures. For example, fertilizers were of vital importance to the peasants. Yet, in his chapter on corruption, K y mentions a 1974 R V N Senate report confirming that "more than 70 percent of imported fertilizers, financed by American aid, had been hoarded and then resold to peasants for at least double the official price" (111). Again according to K y , even on the rare occasions "generous" American-supplied gifts did get through the R V N ' s corruption line, they did not seem to help much. A n example K y gives of the futility of those "generous" gifts is when American Marines came to a small village west o f D a Nang before it was designated a free-fire zone: They had not come to fight, but as part of the pacification program—in other words, to win the hearts and minds of the population of Tuylon. Whether they did so is open to question, though they certainly arrived armed with gifts and goodwill. The most astonishing gift of all consisted of 7,000 toothbrushes—the large number due to some error in accounting back at base. The village chief was staggered when he was presented with four portable lavatories. Each one had a flushing device operated by batteries. The women of the village were equally 134 mystified when Sergeant Murrell presented them with cartons. How eagerly they must have torn the tops open! Each carton contained, of all things, "Uncle Ben 's" rice [Vietnamese do not like Uncle Ben's rice, which tastes different from the jasmine variety popular in Southeast Asia] . Only the children's hearts and minds were easily won over without any of them having to think, for even the rich rice fields of Tuylon could not grow Hershey bars. (123) It was not hard for the peasants to see the indifference even behind the gifts when, as Mme. B i n h tells us, R V N officials "blatantly resorted to force" (59) and abuse in their attempt to establish agrovilles (strategic hamlets) throughout South Vietnam. Every day, they set fire to houses, cut down trees and crushed lush rice fields with tractors. The brutes poured toward the house of sister Tu. [. . .] After the Dien Bien Phu victory the revolution gave her 3 cong o f land to farm and support her five young children. After peace returned, she painstakingly built an embankment to grow tangerines, clod of earth by clod of earth. The tangerines were beginning to ripen when the [ A R V N ] soldiers came to cut them down. Watching them destroy what she had constructed with sweat and tears, she shouted in anger: - Heavens above, what kind of government is this that can be so cruel? Her children rushed in and tried to prevent the soldiers from cutting down the trees, but the soldiers were unmoved for they could not care less whether the people starved and died. [. . .] A couple of old people came forward and protested: - The government said it is concerned about the life of the people but haven't done anything to prove it. N o w it is forcing us to tear down our houses, 135 destroy and burn our properties, dig up the graves of our ancestors, and perform exhausting corvee tasks. How are the people going to survive? B a Huong—a fellow notorious for his brutality—[. . .] picked up his whip, ran over menacingly and lashed wildly at the villagers: - Your mother . . . how dare you resist the orders of the government? Where are the soldiers? Shoot immediately anyone who refuses to work. (59-60) Furthermore, FitzGerald's model of analysis cannot explain the appeal of the Viet M i n h and N L F both to the peasantry (of which Mme. Dinh was a member) and to intellectuals like Tang. In his memoir, Tang makes it clear that he and his intellectual, upper-class colleagues, who constituted most of the N L F leadership, did not join the resistance out of "necessity," i f that means for their own self-interest. In fact, as fighters for Vietnam's independence, they had, by their own volition, rejected the material comforts and social privileges they had been accustomed to since childhood: Many of us [the N L F leadership] were from well-to-do families and had been used to the good life before we enlisted in the revolution. Our reasons for joining were perhaps varied, but we all regarded ourselves as people who had already sacrificed a great deal for the revolution and were quite ready to sacrifice everything. Many of us had struggled in one way or another against the French, and in moving to the jungle all o f us were decisively committed against the Americans. Whatever comforts we might previously have enjoyed were part of history. (187) According to Tang, the ly of nationalism was the "primary mover" (196) for the many N L F leaders from the upper echelon of Vietnamese society, who chose to partake in the 136 cause for national independence as successful architects, engineers, doctors, and lawyers with degrees from prestigious Western universities. But equally important were the respect and affection Tang and Mme. B i n h accorded, and received from, their "brothers [and sisters] in struggle" (Tang 190). Although not explicitly stated as a major "mover," this tinh aspect seems to have played a vital part in helping the nationalists brave "prisons, B-52s, diseases, and malnutrition" (188) for the length of the war. Tang certainly demonstrates the prime significance of tinh when he tells of the reception N L F delegates received in Hanoi in the following words: The delegation was scheduled as well to visit Ho Chi M i n h (who was then suffering his final illness and in fact died several months later), but in a characteristic gesture, Ho refused to allow them to come to his cottagef. . .]. Instead, he sent a message to Thao [President of the N L F ] saying that the representatives of the proud Southern people should not have to come to him; rather it would be his honor to go to them. Early that evening, well before he was expected, Ho arrived at the house where the delegation was staying. He was not accompanied by an entourage, and his presence was not announced. He simply walked in through the back door, as i f he were an intimate friend or member of the family. The first person he stumbled across was Madame Thao, standing in front of a mirror putting the final touches on her makeup. A t first she didn't recognize him. But as soon as she realized who this frail old man was, she was overcome by emotion. With tears running down her face she called Thao and the others. A l l o f them were moved beyond words by the honor Ho was paying them through this gesture of simple friendship. 137 It was a story that was repeated time and again by all of the [NLF] delegates when they returned to the South. Ho ' s personal warmth thus touched not only Trinh Dinh Thao and his wife, but the entire Southern leadership. A s a demonstration of esteem, it had an unsurpassed effect, further highlighting the prevalent sense of North-South fellowship in this struggle. (140-1) "Freedom" and "democracy" Unlike the Americans, who consider the legal framework all-important, the Vietnamese have always put the "person factor" first and foremost when it comes to the business of government. According to FitzGerald, Americans (and Westerners in general) see government as a "complex machine" of policies and organization in which "men are replaceable and their 'personalities' almost incidental to their functions" (35, emphasis added). On the contrary, the Vietnamese look upon government not so much as the "product of a doctrine, a political system that hangs somewhere over their heads, but as an entire way of life, a Tao, exemplified by the person of the ruler" (34). The Vietnamese belief has always been that the people work the machine, not vice versa. On this topic, M s . Minh , the schoolteacher o f Nguyen Cong Hoan's novel, perfectly sums up the Vietnamese way of thinking: "Whether one follows the old or the new, the goodness of the person is what is important." 6 0 If it is true that the personality of the leaders indicates the nature of their government, the following analysis of the R V N leaders' memoirs should illuminate why the R V N regime and its kind of "democracy" and "freedom" were doomed. The analysis 138 w i l l concentrate mainly on K y , the more famous and "likeable" (FitzGerald 37) to Americans of the two A R V N generals. It becomes evident, when one reads K y ' s memoir, that K y was self-absorbed in himself, and that "freedom" to him simply meant having his way, regardless of possible harm to other people. Even as he acknowledges that "there was a war to be fought" (55), his self-absorption is manifested in the pages K y devotes to discussions of his reputation as a lady-killer (71-2), and of his cars (72-3) and luxurious houses (73, 85). There is one particular story of K y ' s that demonstrates better than anything else the "individualism" and "freedom" the U.S . was helping the R V N defend. It tells how K y showed off to a pretty woman to the detriment of several other Vietnamese. The story is told in brief in the first version of his memoir (Twenty Years 72), then detailed with great relish in Buddha's Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam. In this second, detailed version, which I am quoting from, K y recalls his romancing an A i r Vietnam hostess. He invited her out for dinner, but she was scheduled to go to Da Lat that day. K y then decided to "borrow" an A i r Force Skyraider, a powerful machine he was not at all acquainted with, so the hostess could see him flying alongside her plane on the way. Against the protests of the squadron leader, K y replied: "Are you the commander of the air force, or is it me?" (116-7), and took off with the American-supplied Skyraider. When he caught up with the A i r Vietnam plane, he "sideslipped until only a few inches separated [the] wingtips" of the two planes, thus endangering the lives of all the passengers and crew on that A i r Vietnam flight, just so he could impress "a certain pretty face" (117). A few weeks later, he was late for another dinner date with the hostess, and decided on "a grand gesture" (118). This is how K y describes it: 139 M y new girlfriend lived on Le L o i , Saigon's principal boulevard, and when I hovered my Huey helicopter just above the trees near her house, the late-afternoon streets were jammed with cars, pedicabs, taxis, and pedestrians. M y rotor wash kicked up an enormous whirlwind of dust, trash, and tree leaves that stopped traffic in all directions. I hovered until she came outside, then shouted, "Please wait for me, I w i l l be a little late!" Then I flew off in a cloud of debris. (118-9) The episode reminds me of a similar scene from the chapter "Souvenir" of Tobias W o l f f s In Pharaoh's Army. The scene is also of debris, dust, and whirlwind, created by a hovering Chinook by the order of an American, Captain Kale. The author Wol f f was experienced enough to know that the Chinook's descent would wreak havoc on the Vietnamese peasants' hooches and their inhabitants near the airfield. But out of revenge, he did not try hard enough to stop the ignorant but officious Kale. The utterly senseless damage to the Vietnamese peasants Wol f f witnessed was to be forever imprinted in his, and Kale 's , traumatic memory—a "souvenir" of their undoing to be agonized over in moments of peace. Wol f f writes: I looked around at what had been done here. This was my work, this desolation had blown straight from my own heart. [...] This was, I understood, something to be remembered, though I had no idea what that would mean. I couldn't guess how the memory would live on in me, shadowing my sense o f entitlement to an inviolable home; touching me, years hence, in my own home, with the certainty that some terrible wing is even now descending, bringing justice. (180) 140 W o l f f s account exudes grief, agony and self-accusation over something he had let happen to the innocent peasants, even though he was not really the person causing the destruction. The same consideration for the injured people, or at least a sense of regret over his own wrongdoing, however late, is not to be found in K y ' s account, for all that he was the perpetrator himself. Instead, K y seems perfectly oblivious o f his misconduct as he goes on to tell readers: I enjoyed a very pleasant evening, but the next morning at seven Prime Minister Khanh called my office. "Hey, K y ! " he bellowed. One of your pilots landed right in the center of Saigon yesterday! [. . .] Find out who that fool is and kick him out of the air force! Send him to prison!" I waited a few beats. " W e l l , General, it was me," I said. His voice changed. "Oh, you again. What were you doing down there?" I told him about being in love. "I was late for our rendez-vous. I was afraid she would go out with someone else. So I stopped by to tell her to wait for me. That's it." Khanh understood. [. . .] I heard nothing more about my near landing on Le L o i Boulevard. (119) Meant to show off his perceived "gallantry" and power, the episode is actually included in the memoir in which K y calls himself "Buddha's child," but which seems plainly devoid of the Buddhist moral virtues of compassion and self-abnegation. K y ' s actions and the complete absence of apology for them or compassion for the people he offended demonstrate that his individualism is but the worst kind of egotism, irresponsibility, and selfishness, just as M s . Minh , the schoolteacher, has concluded in 141 Nguyen Cong Hoan's rebuttal to Nhat Linh 's endorsement of this Western philosophy. 6 1 K y ' s "individualism" is further proven by his speedy severance with his then-pregnant girlfriend in order to marry the hostess. When the bride-to-be's mother opposed the union, he shut her up with "But that depends who is talking. [. . .] I was good and polite enough to ask your permission—but I can tell you that with or without your agreement, I w i l l marry your daughter. Y o u can do nothing" (119). I am certain not only Vietnamese people can appreciate how obnoxious such statements must have sounded to K y ' s soon-to-be mother-in-law. At the same time, the "freedom" touted by the R V N and its American sponsors was in reality a kind of lawlessness and anarchy, with a repressive yet flimsy government appended, rather than the democracy that Westerners have in mind. There are too many stories of pandemonium caused by R V N leaders of all ranks to recount here. Ironically, Don's own arbitrary arrest and demotion by his supposed colleagues and partners in the Diem coup that brought them all to power serves as one of the best examples of the capricious, nonsensical nature of the R V N ' s "freedom" and o f the general chaos South Vietnamese society was in under Don's and K y ' s reigns. The whole debacle is totally ludicrous from beginning to end: Don and some older-generation officers were unceremoniously incarcerated for "neutralism" and "pleasure-seeking," found guilty of "lax morality, insufficient qualifications for command, and a lack of a clear political concept" (Don 128), and then relegated to a committee responsible for "[formulating] a constitution for the new regime" (129). It is evident from K y ' s memoir that the RVN-style "democracy" seemed like a kind of lawlessness that was practiced rigorously by K y himself. K y once told Time 142 magazine of his job as prime minister of the R V N : "Governing a country like South Vietnam is a very delicate matter, requiring balance. The way we work is that my colleagues and I decide what we want done, and then I try to carry it out" (Twenty Years 89-90). A s commander of the A R V N A i r Force, he "[carried] it out" by bombing anybody that stood in his way, regardless of ideological orientation: North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, Americans, and even K y ' s colleagues in the A R V N . 6 2 One example of K y taking the law into his own hands is his 1966 confrontation with the Buddhists, when the latter staged demonstrations for a free election in South Vietnam. K y accused them of "causing trouble" (88) and "hampering the war effort" (87). The Buddhists had many supporters, among them the A R V N First Corps troops and commanders stationed in and around Hue and Da Nang, who would rather disobey K y than shoot at the demonstrators. Therefore, K y decided to attack his own troops in order to "liberate D a Nang" (93). Without informing Americans of his intention, he proceeded with "paratroops, marines, and tanks in a commando-type assault" (94) on the city. According to K y , he soon "ran into a problem: an American problem." It is not difficult to imagine the consternation among the Americans in Danang. They had been advising Vietnamese troops, who were now attacked by other Vietnamese troops. Ignorant of the problem behind the action, they asked themselves whom they should support. The United States Marines at Danang were commanded by General Lewis W . Walt, who was also adviser to First Corps. He was furious at an assault without warning on what he regarded as his territory. (94-5) 143 A s K y ' s forces entered the city, he was ready to bomb the First Corps troops i f they resisted, telling them: " I f you fire one single round, I w i l l destroy every gun in the artillery base" (95). A t that time, Walt contacted the A R V N Joint General Staff and asked whoever was responsible to stop the operation—otherwise he would send American planes into the air to fight back. K y instantly telephoned Ambassador Cabot Lodge, telling him: " I f it is true [that Americans are going to fight back], then I am going to fly up to Danang in ten minutes and lead the planes in action, just to see i f the Americans have the courage to shoot down the prime minister of Vietnam" (95). A s K y describes it: Lodge could hardly believe what I told him and promised to send a message immediately to Walt. Even so, the Vietnamese commander on the spot still asked me to fly up, so around lunch time I flew to Danang to review the situation. I told my local commanders to line up our biggest guns and train them directly at the American base on the other side of the small river. " I f Americans start to shoot down our planes," I said, "destroy the marine base. That is an order." (95) A s prime minister of the R V N , K y vowed to combat corruption. But laissez-faire (or some may correctly say laziness and indifference) seems to have taken the better of his intentions. Watching his colleagues in this war-torn country "pulling strings to try to acquire new and shiny automobiles slightly larger, i f possible, than their rivals ' ," K y "made no attempt to stop [them]" because, as he writes, "I was too busy to try to buck the system" (73). If the Vietnamese belief is that a government reflects the character of the leader, it should surprise no one that the R V N under K y was completely anarchistic. From that vantage point, it is only natural to envisage A R V N General Nguyen Ngoc Loan's summary execution of a Viet Cong suspect in the middle of a street in Saigon, an 144 act that created such a shock among Americans accustomed to being told of the "freedom" and "democracy" their government was helping its Vietnamese proteges preserve at the cost of American lives and tax-money. The "freedom" the R V N practiced includes, among other constrictions, the closures of any newspapers that dared to differ with the government, and the execution or persecution of political activists of all versions. It is significant that the champion of the Western concepts of individualism and freedom in the 1930s, the writer and former activist Nhat L inh himself, committed suicide in protest when faced with a court trial by the Diem regime for complicity in subversive activities (Nhat L inh apparently had only met with his friends to discuss politics). In his death note, Nhat L inh condemns the R V N ' s dictatorship as "a serious crime," and proclaims his death "a warning to those who would trample upon freedom of every kind." Under the Thieu-Ky reign, Don contrarily proposed a "benevolent dictatorship," arguing that "the rules of democracy were not very feasible while [the] country was engaged in a life-and-death struggle" (176). What transpired instead is what he delicately calls "a semi-dictatorship," which according to Don, resulted from Thieu's inflexibility and rigid intolerance for any criticism, constructive or not, manifest as a "built-in instinct to take personal offense at well-meant suggestions" (177). K y is especially bitter at Thieu's arduous efforts to ensure his stay in power by all means, which he accomplished by excluding all other potential candidates from running against him in elections, such that there was only one name— Thieu's—on the ballot in the presidential election of 1971 (Ky 193-6). The Thieu-Ky rule, which turned out to last the longest of the ever changing R V N leadership, is concluded by Don to be no different from the first American-created Diem administration 145 (Don 177), which came to be unanimously detested, even by the Americans in hindsight. The true nature of the R V N ' s "freedom" and "democracy" is best revealed by yet another of K y ' s statements when he told American reporters that the R V N "needed a Hitler," a proclamation that alienated even his British ally (Ky 76). 6 4 In short, it seems the R V N leaders also wish to portray themselves and what they represent within the paradigm of ly, tinh, dao ly, and cong ly. B y including the above-discussed episode of him "being in love" (Buddha's Child 119), K y is in fact playing up the tinh dimension (in addition to showing off his power). Similarly, when he emphatically prefaces his account of the confrontation with the Buddhists with "I was not going to be manipulated by anyone. M y job was to try to win the war" (87), he is in effect trying to assert the ly o f his coming assaults on his own troops and the Americans. However, as clearly illustrated, his actions came off quite the opposite of the image he wished to project. "Being in love" is a poor excuse for K y ' s violation of the tenets of morality (dao ly) and justice (cong ly), while his willingness to bomb his own troops and allies shows a complete disregard for tinh in this battle for the hearts and minds even of his own "supporters." Surprisingly, K y does not seem aware of his own inconsistencies in representations both of himself and of his enemy. Maintaining that ly was on his side, K y ironically sported an "American cowboy movie" (Buddha's Child 14) look. The R V N leaders' lack of identity is unmistakeable from the way Don and his Francophile colleagues preferred to speak French among themselves, to the Young Turks' trend of using Engl ish . 6 5 It is apt that, after K y finished a speech in his meeting with Lyndon Johnson, the latter would pat K y on the back and exclaim: "Boy, you speak just like an 146 American." K y took it with great pleasure, congratulating himself that "from him [Johnson] that was high praise" (Ky 81). Later, K y relates that Johnson looked at the R V N ' s newly-drafted constitution, in Johnson's words, "just as proudly as I looked at Lynda, my first baby" (99). In reciting Johnson's approval, K y inadvertently reminds readers acquainted with Vietnamese literature of Tu Xuong 's satire " M o c k the Graduates" in 1897, discussed in Chapter II. Modern times simply added a twist: the exchange of the French mistress's "ample rump" for an American "baby," and of the collaborating graduates' "dragon heads" for the A i r Marshal insignia and prime minister seal. Not only lacking in self-awareness, K y is also inconsistent in his explanation of the N L F and the popular support it was able to gain, and of the United States' role in South Vietnam and the fact that his government, like all previous and subsequent R V N governments, could capture neither the hearts nor minds of the South Vietnamese population. Early in his memoir, K y states the importance of learning history, using his father's words, "The past is the key to what you are doing today" (12). He then turns to the Americans, blaming them for having only a "skin deep" (11) knowledge o f Vietnam and its people. The problem, according to K y , is that "To many Americans in Vietnam, we were just vaguely 'Chinese.' We are not. We are Vietnamese" (11). He continues: "It is easy to say that none of this matters, but it does; it helps one to understand the reason why. Why a villager in the South might hide a killer from the North; why 'Uncle H o ' could inspire his men while so many of our leaders failed" (12, emphases in the original). 147 One part of K y ' s argument is that Americans should not have made their presence in Vietnam so obvious. On the other hand, K y is unable to account for the Southern and nationalist origin of the N L F , having presumed for himself the legitimacy of chinh nghia [just cause] accorded a government which represented the ly o f nationalism. Consequently, K y applies the labels o f "communists" and "North Vietnamese infiltrators" to "anyone actively fighting South Vietnam [i.e. the R V N government]" (22). K y then explains the nationalists' success in winning hearts and minds in the following words: the Communist cadres, infiltrating from the North, exploited our corruption and black marketeering as they tried to win over puzzled (yet at heart loyal) peasants to the cause of Ho Chi Minh . They were diabolically clever, for they made no spectacular promises; they held out no bribes. Like Churchill , they offered nothing but blood, sweat, toil, and tears, but they were able to build up the image of a simple, Spartan leader as great in his way as Churchill , and contrast it with our squabbling, corrupt politicians, as squalid in their way as the French politicians in 1940 who bickered among themselves while the Germans streamed across their land. (136) Against the "Communists' skillful propaganda," K y ' s government failed to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese population, because, as he writes, "we had one ace in our hand, i f only we could play the hand properly[. . .]. It was freedom, the world's most precious—yet most elusive—treasure. [. . .] But i f we held an ace, we also held a deuce. For while I was preaching the need for freedom, I was not always free m y s e l f (136). 148 In contrast, it is clear from Mme. Nguyen Thi Dinh's and Truong N h u Tang's memoirs that ly, tinh, cong ly and dao ly sustained the N L F nationalists through their several ordeals to the very end of the thirty-year war. The appeal of the N L F ' s ly and cong ly of patriotism and nationalism was such that John Vann, an American colonel respected among his colleagues for his talents and knowledge o f Vietnam, once admitted that, given the choice between the N L F and the R V N as a "lad of eighteen [. . .] and a member of a rural community," he would "surely choose the N L F " (Sheehan, Bright Shining Lie 524). On the other hand, disregard for ly and a desire to secure their position as the number-one power in the world led the U . S . to oppose legitimate demands by the Vietnamese, and consequently to its own defeat. O f parallel significance to ly is the N L F leaders' emphasis on affection and interpersonal relationships, even when they are discussing armed struggle and warfare. Mme. Dinh, for example, tells us how, with the A R V N in hot pursuit, she tried to protect sympathetic peasants by not seeking the refuge of their houses (54). While being imprisoned, tortured, and starved in R V N jails, Tang and his fellow nationalists were concerned about the "people in [their] networks, whose fates [they] were unaware o f (118). If K y unwittingly reveals selfishness in his tales of power and imagined grandeur, the love and care Mme. Dinh and Truong N h u Tang express for other people in times of stress are particularly telling of their compassion and selflessness, and render their portrayals of themselves dignified and moving. The R V N ' s lack of ly, tinh, cong ly, and dao ly, and ultimately, of legitimacy helps illuminate some incidents Ne i l Jamieson considers puzzling in Understanding Vietnam. The first is Jamieson's story of a priest who took down the N L F flag flying on a canal in 1967. According to Jamieson, the N L F then boycotted the local market in 149 retaliation and a number of people in the priest's hamlet rudely and publicly criticized him for his bravado. Jamieson attributes the disrespect this "staunchly anticommunist and Catholic community" showed to their priest, something which "would not have been tolerated" (300) or even questioned in the past, to changes in the South Vietnamese sense of loyalty and hierarchy. This leads Jamieson to contend that in the social and political turmoil of late 1960s' South Vietnam, "many people came to feel that too firm a commitment to any particular cause or leader was sheer stupidity, and some were not embarrassed to say so" (300). However, i f it were only expediency and upset social values which caused "many people" (i.e. a number of the R V N officials and soldiers Jamieson conversed with as an American in South Vietnam) to be reluctant to entrust their loyalty to the R V N regime, and which led, in this particular incident, to the villagers' disrespect and protest against their priest, how would one explain the commitment and loyalty N L F fighters and their many supporters in South Vietnam sustained for the nationalist cause even when they faced the very possible, very deadly destruction to their lives and everything they held dear from the hands of the R V N government and its ally? I argue that it would be more elucidating to view the common lack of loyalty to the R V N government and the mentioned villagers' disrespect as symptoms of their realization that the R V N government and the priest failed to embody ly and that, whatever limitations their N L F opponents might have had as an organization, they at least represented what accorded with the ly o f nationalism. It is simply not adequate or accurate to assume, as Jamieson does, that "Catholic," or even "anticommunist," automatically meant "ant i -NLF." On this point, Nguyen Khai offers a relevant incident of Vietnamese Catholics' "communists versus N L F " view in Past 150 Continuous. A Catholic worker on a rubber plantation exclaims when told that B a Hue, the caring woman he knows, is a Communist: " H o w can a nice person like you be a communist? Why didn't you join the Liberation Front instead? Liberation Front people are nice; they love the people—not like the communists." When B a Hue asks him what communists he has met, he replies: " O f course I have never met a communist! If I had, I wouldn't be alive and speaking to you now!" (52). While this Catholic worker is a character in a semi-fictional novel, his understanding of communism as an abstract category, no doubt inculcated through previous church sermons, serves to illustrate the fact that designations like "communism" and "capitalism" made little sense, at least to the uneducated Vietnamese during the war. It also demonstrates that many Vietnamese people, Catholics or not, tended to make judgements about the N L F based on their interpersonal relationships to its members. Moreover, even assuming that many Catholics did take an oppositional stance against communism in the abstract, that is still not to say that they could not recognize the ly of nationalism, or the tinh, cong ly and dao ly that the N L F represented. After all , the N L F in reality did include Catholics in their ranks. A s it is, Tang's memoir offers two of the most interesting examples of Catholics being ardent N L F members and leaders: "master spy" Albert Pham Ngoc Thao (who was later assassinated by Thieu, ironically because of his envy and jealousy for Thao's high standing in American eyes) and his brother, Lucien Pham Ngoc Hung (42-62 and 133). In Understanding Vietnam, Jamieson essentially argues that the R V N (and its American supporter) failed because of the gap between "modern roles and traditional culture" (311), or in other words, the "discontinuity in values" (312) in South Vietnamese society. A s he explains it, the "formal design o f this entire structure [of operation and 151 government that the advanced Americans brought to South Vietnam] assumed and depended on a radically different pattern of communication, one based on radically different values" (313) from what the Vietnamese were accustomed to. To illustrate, Jamieson tells the story o f a middle-level A R V N officer who had some urgent information, but who hesitated to dispatch the information to the province chief because, as he explained to Jamieson, the telephone on his desk was put there "so [the province chief] could call [the subordinate officer]" and not the other way around. What Jamieson sees as "modern systems of communication clogged by traditional values" (312) suggests another explanation, however. The mentioned officer clearly saw the A R V N (and by extension, the R V N government) as an imperious and corrupt bureaucracy that had little to do with his own life and person other than as an impersonal employer; hence the reluctance to do whatever it took to dispatch the urgent information. In fact, in view of the informal but effective system of communication within the N L F and between the N L F and its supporters during the war (FitzGerald 248-51), this presents the only possible explanation for the R V N ' s corruption and ineptitude. Given the abundant evidence of the R V N ' s nature, as we have seen from the memoirs of all the leaders examined in this chapter, corruption and inefficiency were inevitable when the majority o f the people felt that their relationship to the government was coldly impersonal and characterized by demands of unilateral loyalty from a corrupt government that was unable and unwilling to provide the general population with a safety net, material, political, emotional, or moral. Jamieson is clearly trapped in his own (American) biases, and consequently fails to satisfactorily explain the roots of the problems of the R V N government. The start of 152 his Understanding Vietnam offers as the rationale for his book that "we [Americans] must learn more about Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese paradigms in order to untangle the muddled debates about our own" (x). He argues that "few Americans had any conception of the immense ideological, historical, or psychological connotations of the term chinh nghia [just cause]," and that, to the Vietnamese, "going with the chinh nghia brought moral and ideological power that would transcend and generate all other forms of power: military, political, and administrative" (317). Jamieson accordingly begins his analysis with a description of the Vietnamese cultural paradigm of ly and tinh as manifestations of yang and yin, as i f this paradigm would inform his explanations of the R V N ' s problems, and alternatively, of the N L F / D R V ' s success. However, three-quarters into his argument, Jamieson claims that "at the personal, intellectual level—that is, as individuals, many G V N [i.e. R V N ] officials, cadre [sic], and supporters sincerely believed that their anticommunist stance was a legitimate one" (318). Thus, in spite of his earlier analysis of traditional Vietnamese culture, this vague and sweeping generalization shows that Jamieson has curiously abandoned his attempt to follow "Vietnamese paradigms" and resorted instead to the American communist/anticommunist mindset. Naturally, this premise of anticommunism being moral and legitimate fails to explain the R V N ' s rampant and self-defeating corruption, as well as the A R V N soldiers' perception of the lack of legitimacy of their government, leading Jamieson to contradictions, as the passage immediately following the above quote demonstrates: Yet, many o f them also believed that [. . .] their government and army were corrupt and ineffective, their industrial goods and commercial products were shoddy, their arts were imitative. The social system, in short, was not meeting 153 their own standards and expectations. [. . .] Few men in such a situation could avoid corrosive doubts as to the moral legitimacy of their position. Both their own experience of social life and the expressed opinions of persons who counted in the eyes of the community served to undermine the strength of their personal convictions as to the properly constituted nature o f society. (318) Claiming a better understanding of the Vietnamese, Jamieson contrarily turns the blame on the rise of yin over yang in South Vietnamese culture and society as the war progressed, or in other words, accusing "the female Oriental" for corroding the intrinsic American (male) goodness and strength. Significantly, his tacit Cold War framework is abortive in accounting for the fact that even R V N officials and soldiers were equivocal in their loyalty to the R V N government while N L F supporters and fighters were for the large part steadfast in their beliefs even in the face o f severe retribution from the American-backed R V N , and were able to procure at least neutrality from the non-partisan population. Jamieson's failure to address the root causes of the R V N ' s problems is also the reason why he chooses to leave unexplained the N L F ' s success in maintaining its members' morale and convictions. It is not, as Jamieson argues, because the A R V N witnessed unprecedented upheavals of values that challenged their traditional sense of loyalty and instigated competing complexes in their identity as males. For, after all , not the A R V N alone were enmeshed in the social and political turmoil at the time, and such upheavals should have affected N L F supporters and fighters at least to the same degrees. It is because, as my analysis of the leaders' memoirs demonstrates, as long as the United States financed and controlled the R V N , repressing the Vietnamese national desire for freedom and independence in the process, it would only beget a regime that ignored ly 154 and cong ly, which in turn led to the absence of tinh and dao ly—an absence fatally detrimental for such a government to obtain the desired legitimacy vital to success in Vietnam, political, military, or administrative. The R V N ' s lack of ly, tinh, dao ly, and cong ly would also illuminate what Americans perceived as the A R V N ' s low morale and cowardice, often cited as two of the causes leading to America's defeat and a main reason for American hostility toward its own ally. Literary representation of Asians (allies or enemies) at war with the United States as the Other, either subhuman or superhuman, but never "human like oneself," is nothing new. Renny Christopher points out in The Vietnam War, the American War: Images and Representations in Euro-American and Vietnamese Exile Narratives that such representations of Vietnamese are but a continuation of the racist stereotyping of Asians in general and of the racism in the wars the United States had previously fought in Korea and Japan in particular. However, Christopher also notes a peculiar split in American Vietnam War representations: whereas the Viet Cong /DRV soldiers might be perceived as simultaneously subhuman and superhuman, the A R V N was simply subhuman, or at least disastrously incompetent. Different schools of American scholars have attempted to explicate the disparity between the two groups, who are both Vietnamese and, by logical extension, should have shared similar traits. Some have sought to attribute the courage and tenacity o f D R V soldiers to the highly disciplined nature of North Vietnamese culture. Others point to the political instructions as a means of "brainwashing" the North Vietnamese to turn them into fanatical fighters. Alternatively, they may ascribe the N L F / D R V success to the 155 excellent organization of their fighting units. However, as in Jamieson's self-contradictory arguments above, regional characteristics and ideological differences cannot adequately explain to Americans the dedication and tenacity of both Northern D R V soldiers and Southern N L F guerrillas in the harsh conditions of a prolonged, horrendously bloody war, and at the same time, the ineptness and cowardice of the A R V N , who were trained and supported by the best America could offer. Even those scholars who argue that N L F guerrillas, operating clandestinely, could not afford to be anything but suicidally courageous cannot account for the seemingly incomprehensible cowardice and fatal corruption of the R V N and A R V N , who were supposed to be also fighting for their own lives and properties. It is here that all these labels of "North Vietnamese," "South Vietnamese," "Communists" and "anti-Communists" fail to fathom what motivated fighters of the two warring factions. Attributing the N L F ' s success simply to their correct strategies and organization and to a lack o f effective counter measures from the R V N regimes, FitzGerald can only partially justify N L F fighters' and supporters' determination and bravery. The heart of the matter is, it was impossible for the United States to "create" a democratic government for its proteges (whoever they might be) when it had chosen to pit itself against the ly o f nationalism honed over thousands of years in the psyche of the Vietnamese people as a whole. It is simplistic to say that "the Vietnamese Communist leaders differ from the non-Communists only in that they have successfully assimilated the Western conceptual framework and translated it into a form of intellectual organization that their less educated compatriots can understand" (FitzGerald 23-24). Contrary to her otherwise perceptive analysis, FitzGerald's Manichean division of the Vietnamese at this point into 156 communists and non-communists not only fails to reflect the people's varied political stances during the war, but also obscures the U . S . government's erroneous and immoral foreign policy that led them to Vietnam. In addition, FitzGerald's characterization of the R V N ' s failure mainly as a mismatch of manners and values between Saigon officials on the one hand and the peasants on the other hand runs contrary to the fact that the N L F was created and supported by many intellectuals with a sophisticated understanding of both world and national politics, a fact Truong N h u Tang well demonstrates. In fact, it is only by successfully enlisting the support of all groups of Vietnamese, "intellectuals and peasants, shopkeepers and businessmen" (Tang 309) that the N L F / D R V were able to prevail against the R V N and the United States. In the end, the N L F / D R V succeeded because their revolutionary goals and strategies not only embodied the ly of nationalism and patriotism, but were infused with tinh and represented cong ly and dao ly to a majority of the Vietnamese, a combination that allowed them to draw strength from the time-honored Vietnamese culture deeply lodged in each and every one of its citizens. It is no wonder A R V N soldiers were so reluctant to fight, backed as they were by the best in military training and weaponry that the United States could offer. Jamieson's observation is well taken that A R V N soldiers as a rule put their own self-interests and the demands of their blood family over and above those of their government when forced to choose between the two. Obviously, aware in varying degrees that they were not acting in accordance with ly, and that they were but hired pawns in the United States' political schemes, most A R V N soldiers could not whole-heartedly sacrifice their lives for such a cause, or as they often simply said, "for the Americans" (Don 150). K y echoes the same thought, recounting other A R V N soldiers' view: "Why should we fight? The Americans 157 are doing the fighting for us. Let's relax" (Ky 151). The R V N and its army were thus trapped in an acute quandary of their own making. On the one hand, they were made constantly aware of their subordination to the French and the Americans. On the other hand, as Vietnamese, R V N leaders and their soldiers could not ignore the deeply-entrenched ly o f nationalism. Unable to assert their wish for independence in any other way, and yet compelled to resist being completely bulldozed by American advisers, policies, and goals, R V N leaders and soldiers often felt a wayward need to compromise their "masters" whenever they could in order to compensate for their feelings of indignity and powerlessness. This is particularly evident in situations where, logically speaking, the R V N leadership and its army apparently had no reason to oppose certain acts generated and directed by the Americans, but they did all the same, just so they could parade their imagined identity. Such situations have been amply documented by both Americans and Vietnamese: the skirmishes between Captain Kale and the A R V N soldiers in the chapter "Souvenir" of Tobias W o l f f s book, A R V N General Cao's debacles in Ne i l Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie, the murder of Mme. Le Thi Rieng and Tran V a n Kieu in Truong N h u Tang's memoir (120), or R V N President Thieu's passive recalcitrance to American suggestions in Nguyen Cao K y ' s report (176). Thieu himself indicated the sensitivity of the dilemma when he confided to Don that "he had to fight more against [their] American friends than against the Communists" (Don 241). The absence of tinh, ly, cong ly, and dao ly among the R V N leadership—an absence obvious in Tran V a n Don's and Nguyen Cao K y ' s memoirs—was not missed by the majority of the Vietnamese people during the war, no matter what side they appeared to be taking, which ultimately accounts for the lack of fighting spirit on the part of the 158 A R V N . On the other hand, the final victory of the N L F / D R V is proof of the persuasive tinh-ly paradigm and its moral virtues in the nationalist cause the N L F / D R V upheld, regardless of occasional inevitable mistakes in the application and administration of certain strategies and policies. This blending of the mind and the heart is not only manifest in Nguyen Thi Dinh's and Trucrng N h u Tang's memoirs, as I have shown, but also in writings by other N L F / D R V leaders and in the N L F / D R V ' s war literature in general, a point I w i l l pick up again in the next chapter. K y himself understood that the French (and by extension, any other foreign imperialist) could not "establish peace" in Vietnam, because "no number of military conquests would achieve" (17) success against Ho Ch i Minh ' s nationalist movement. A n d perhaps no one could be in a better position than K y , A R V N A i r Force commander, prime minister, and vice president of the R V N , to conclude that " I f one works and fights for a cause, an ideal, considerations like pay and comfort do not matter. This was an essential difference between the forces of North and South Vietnam" (151)—except, of course, his "North and South Vietnam" are actually the U S / R V N and the N L F / D R V nationalists, respectively, during what Vietnamese people call the American war. 159 C H A P T E R IV: PEOPLE'S WAR AND PEOPLE'S WILL INLITERATURE Both Vietnamese and American political discourse has proved that in the Vietnam War, success ultimately depended on the conversion of an adequate portion of the masses to a cause. The analysis in Chapter III of the leaders' memoirs has shown that the N L F leaders advanced the virtues of their just cause through both tinh and ly, while the R V N leaders manifested confusion and incoherence in their position and presumed goals. Against the overwhelming financial and military advantage the U . S . possessed and endowed its R V N ally with, the N L F nationalists had, during the course of the war, realized their fight on three strategic fronts—political, military, and diplomatic—in which the political struggle was crucial (Truong N h u Tang 145). The question of morale and fervor, which are decisive factors in a long-winded war, particularly one in which the political aspect was of paramount importance to victory, can be further illuminated by considering how the general populace shared the leaders' views, and the extent to which the cause the leaders represented energized their supporters. This chapter w i l l therefore examine the literatures written by supporters of the R V N and N L F in order to determine, on the whole, the popular Vietnamese response and conviction to each side's war effort. The chapter w i l l begin with a summary of the literary philosophies and trends that governed the literatures of Vietnam from 1945 to 1975. This summary is necessary to the understanding of the Vietnamese literary development since 1945, and provides the background for the examination of the selected works later in the chapter. The chapter w i l l conclude by looking at representative works by writers of the opposing R V N and N L F in South Vietnam during the war. 160 The period from 1945 to 1975 is punctuated by major historical events: Ho C h i Minh ' s proclamation of independence for all of Vietnam in 1945, the battle of Dien Bien Phu that officially terminated French colonialism on Vietnam as a whole in 1954, the birth of the N L F in the South in 1959, the fall o f the Diem regime in 1963, the landing of American marines at D a Nang in 1965, and finally the fall o f the R V N in 1975. The following discussion of the literary philosophies and trends of what was to become by 1960 three different strands of Vietnamese literature w i l l take place along these important timelines. Vietnamese Literature 1945-1954 The first period, from 1945 to 1954, is often referred to as the nine-year nation-wide resistance (chin nam khdng chien) against the French. With the announcement of the D R V government in September 1945, the Cultural Association for National Salvation (Hoi Van H6a Cuu Quoc) was also officially introduced. Very soon after, the Association's official newspaper, the Tien Phong (Vanguard), published a series of articles by its first chairman, Nguyen Dinh Thi , on " A N e w Culture" (Mot Nen Van Hoa Moi), which set out the parameters for a new, "nationalistic, democratic, and realist" culture for the country. The Viet Minh ' s control of the cities abruptly ended when French expeditionary forces, released by the British responsible for disarming the capitulated A x i s troops, began to push for a reoccupation of major cities in both the North and the South. The Viet M i n h again went underground in urban areas, but remained in effective control of the vast countryside. 161 Among the Vietnamese of the time, the response was split in three ways: a large majority were imbued with fervent nationalistic enthusiasm, among whom an increasing number became militant revolutionaries under the Viet M i n h ; on the other hand, some Vietnamese adopted an attitude of attentisme, cautiously waiting on the sidelines for a winning force to decisively emerge; and finally a small minority wil l ingly submitted themselves to French domination and authority. The literature of the period was divided along these lines. The literature o f the Francophiles and uninvolved attentiste circulated mainly in Hanoi and Saigon. The topic of the day was the effects of war, and the writings were marked with political ambivalence. In any case, no works of memorable quality, aesthetic or ideological, came out of the French-controlled areas. 6 6 On the other hand, the literature of the resistants continued to circulate underground in French-occupied areas, and openly among the supporters in ever-widening resistance zones and liberated areas. The subjects of the resistance literature in this period naturally included the ravages o f war on Vietnamese life, but more importantly, the popular nationalistic struggle against the French colonialists, selfless sacrifice, and the feeling of camaraderie and affection among the resistants and between the resistants and their supporters. The spirit o f revolutionary enthusiasm was all-consuming and palpable in the works written at this time. Contributors to this resistance literature include most of the best-known prewar writers, whom I have discussed in Chapter II, and who had rallied to Ho C h i Minh ' s government: Xuan Dieu, The L u , Che Lan Vien , Nguyen Binh, L u u Trong L u , Huy Can, Te Hanh (poetry); Hoai Thanh, Nguyen Tuan, Nguyen Hong, Nguyen Cong Hoan, To Hoai, Nam Cao, Bu i Hien, Hai Trieu, Manh Phii Tu , Nguyen Huy Tuong (prose and drama); Dang Thai M a i , Hoang N h u M a i , Hoai Thanh (literary criticism). 6 7 Some writers 162 and playwrights who made their names in this period are To Huu, Nguyen Dinh Thi , ~ * A 68 Chinh Huu, M i n h Hue, Nguyen M y , Tu M a , Tran Dang, and Hoang Trung Thong. The upheaval of the time (among which the evacuations and fighting) inevitably shortlisted the known literary works created under the Viet M i n h during this period, especially the longer ones. More often than not, the longer works never made it to official publication even after the Viet M i n h regained control of the North in 1954. Besides, the realities of fighting a technologically superior enemy certainly limited the time and energy that could otherwise have been spent on producing quality works of epic dimensions. In addition, according to Phan C u De and Ha M i n h Due, revolutionary writers were taking the necessary time to adapt and develop the revolutionary consciousness and experience required to create longer literary works of quality. 6 9 B y contrast, this was a time when shorter works, especially poems, flourished. Shorter works also had a much better chance of surviving the turmoil, as they could be committed to memory and recited for a comparatively large audience in entertainment sessions. From here the proverbial Vietnamese knack for poetry helped spread the more popular of these poems to an even wider audience, thereby allowing for a deeper impact among Viet M i n h supporters as well as the general populace. The result is the survival of a number of deeply stirring poems, many of which lived on as lyrics in songs familiar to the people of both North and South after 1954, and which in their own way transcended the geographical and political division of the country. Going through the collection of poems printed bilingually in Mountain River: Vietnamese Poetry from the Wars 1948-1993, carefully edited and translated by Bowen, Chung, and Weigl , I found at least four such poems from this period that my generation and the two generations before it grew up memorizing. 163 "Maw Tim Hoa Sim" [The sim flower lavender] (1949) by Huu Loan mourns the death of a young wife, who takes to wearing the lavender color of the sim flower as a symbol of longing for her absent soldier husband. Hiru Loan served in the Viet M i n h army during the war of resistance against the French (he was also the editor-in-chief of the soldiers' wal l newspaper of the famous 304 t h Division in the Fourth Interzone), and regrouped to the North in 1954. But the song of the same title composed from this enormously popular poem, sung in the legendary soprano of R V N chanteuse Thai Thanh, remained one of the best known and most often requested in the South through the R V N regimes. 7 0 A s the war went on, the R V N ' s general population soon grew war weary, and the incredible sadness of separation and of not being able to "speak [. . .] [or] see each other one last time," beautifully lyricized in the poem, struck a chord in the audience, which explains the poem's enduring popularity during the American war. Also inspired by the feeling of longing, Nguyen B i n h Thi 's "ATzo-" [Remembering] (1951) is about two lovers who are both fighting for freedom in the Viet Minh . The young woman in the poem is the object of the poet's love and longing. A t the same time, she symbolizes the country for which the poet is fighting. I love you as I love our country, In pain, hardship and with great passion. Every step I take you are in my thoughts, Every meal I eat, every night I sleep. The star never dims. W e ' l l fight all our lives for our love. 164 The fire in the forest flickers its red flame. We love each other, and we stand up straight, proud to be human. The poem plays beautifully on vibrant colors, light, and the symbols o f nationalism, patriotism, and revolution: the star lighting the "soldiers' way on the mountain pass" and the "red flame" of the fire are clear pointers to the golden star of nationalistic guidance in a background of red in the D R V ' s flag. Take the young woman as symbolic of the nation and the last line of the poem can be interpreted to mean the poet's love for his country has turned him into a proud human being (with the stress on "human"), in contrast to those other Vietnamese who buckle under Western mastership as humiliated slaves. This poem was also rendered into a popular song, frequently exchanged among Vietnamese youths during the French and American wars. If the soldier's love for his country is the underlying theme of "Nha," the love of the country's leader for the individual soldier is the theme of "Dim Nay Bdc Khong Ngu" [Uncle doesn't sleep tonight] (1951) by M i n h Hue, another soldier from the Fourth Interzone. The multiple-award-winning poem tells of a soldier witnessing Uncle Ho 's sleeplessness out of concern for the common troops and civil ian workers. The poem is significant because it helps explain in verse the reverence and devotion Ho Chi M i n h enjoyed among his followers. Ho ' s were never grand, forceful gestures, but simple, tender ones of "[lighting] a fire" for the soldiers sleeping after a day's work, of "[tucking] the blanket in/For each and everyone," of moving softly so as not to waken the soldiers. Ho 's deep, quiet love for the people is shown when, several times in the wee hours of the morning, the soldier awakens to find Uncle restless. To his concerned queries, Ho finally admits that he is unable to sleep in peace, knowing the civilian workers are out there 165 sleeping on a bed of leaves in the rain, with only "their coats for a blanket." A s the leader of the nation, Ho thus wins the people's undying devotion not with guns, authority, or pompous speeches, but with his characteristic simplicity, humility, and immense love for the people. The poem itself has won the people's hearts with its own simplicity, informal yet dignified tone, and sincere emotions. Immense love, this time between the people and Viet M i n h troops, is again the theme of "Bao Gia Tra Lai" [When w i l l you return?] (1955) by Hoang Trung Thong. This classic poem has been rendered into at least two songs, and continues to be a great favorite of Vietnamese people of all ages today. It tells how "the young men and women," as well as children and mothers of the village, look forward to news of victory and the final return of the resistants. The family atmosphere is notable in this poem, with the village elderly women mothering the troops ("Old mothers in plain brown clothes long to be at your side/Overjoyed at their sons' return"), and the soldiers in turn become brothers to the youths and children of the village ("Waves of younger brothers and sisters w i l l follow you"). The poem also alludes to the good harvests and reduced taxes under the Viet M i n h administration and conveys the pride of the villagers in turning their poor village around. The village is still poor, the narrator tells the soldiers, But our hearts stay open wide. Pots of rice cook A n d bowls of green tea brew. W e ' l l crowd together to share intimate stories O f where you have fought the enemy. 166 The soldiers have earned the villagers' respect and love by shedding blood on the battlefield [...] to protect our village, our land, The banyan tree, the dock, and the village courtyard. We remember the vows you made before you left. Y o u left to keep those vows, A n d the love of the people forever— Like the fragrance of areca flowers That spreads further and further 79 To the wide, open rice fields. A strong sense of community and bonding is thus created and maintained by the common cause of national salvation the villagers and soldiers are fighting for, albeit in different ways. Like the three poems discussed above, "Bao Gio Tro Lai" is grounded in both ly and tinh, making for a profoundly moving effect on the reader. The division of the country into North and South following the Geneva Convention in 1954 saw a separation of Vietnamese literature into two distinct strands under two opposing governments. In the North, the D R V under the leadership of Ho Chi M i n h embarked on the construction of a new society. The South fell under the U .S . -created Diem government. The Literature of the North 1954-75 Between 1954 and 1959, the young D R V government enthusiastically set out to create the new society that had only been broadly envisioned in the previous two decades. 167 B y this time, the Vietnamese Workers' Party had decided that socialism was the path for this country trapped between feudalistic means of production and a state of colonized mentality and economic dependency. The century of colonialism and ten years of fighting had left a dependent economy, a fragmented culture, a ravaged countryside on which 14 mill ion people depended for food, a scarcity of technicians of every kind, and a small and outdated industrial plant the D R V would have to enlarge and refurbish as an essential step to modern nationhood. The circumstances thus dictated that the building of North Vietnam's independent economy must also be accompanied by a social and cultural revolution. In the absence of the desired social and economic structure, the social and cultural revolution was to take on the task of creating a new social order and simultaneously engineering new manners and new ways of thinking. A t this point, the rise of a proletarian revolution within the broad nationalistic movement in Vietnam seemed inevitable, as Chapter II and III have shown that the most oppressed and exploited Vietnamese under colonialism were the rural and urban poor, who together made up the large majority of the population. Committed to reversing the old social order, the new government now vigorously pursued, as a part of the social revolution, the land reform which had been introduced earlier in liberated areas during the nine-year resistance. Meanwhile, a cultural revolution, which was deemed to be as important to the reconstruction efforts as the economic and social revolutions, was conducted through art and literature. D R V leaders stressed the importance of the people to the long-term future of the country in a slogan of the time: "Pz lai ich mu&i nam trong cay. Vi loi ich tram nam trong nguai" (Grow trees for the benefit o f the next ten years. Grow people for the benefit of the next hundred years). Consequently, they sought to rally the people and 168 artists under the banner of socialist realism, because, according to another slogan, "Muon co chu nghia xd hoi, trudc het phdi co con ngudi xd hoi chu nghia" (Socialistic people must first be created i f we want to create socialism). For the purpose of this study, I do not intend to discuss socialist realism as a school in the Eastern European bloc as a whole, but only its application in Vietnam. Dubbed ky su tarn hon (engineers of the soul), intellectuals, artists, and writers together with their literature and art were considered a crucial weapon in the struggle for a new society. A t a time when unity and organization were paramount to success (in fact unity and organization accounted for two of the distinguishing features of the Vietnamese Communist victory), people were asked to put social responsibility above their individualism and complete freedom of expression. They were required to conform to certain aesthetic guidelines and to support government policies to facilitate unity in the name of national salvation. In A Vietcong Memoir, Truong N h u Tang relates Ho C h i Minh ' s words that were to be indelibly imprinted in his memory: "We must fight a war against foreign domination, a war against hunger, a war against ignorance. To gain 'victory, victory, great victory,' we must have 'unity, unity, great national unity'" (26). What Ho said to Tang in 1946 was later turned into the slogan "Dodn kit, dodn ket, dai dodn ket. Thanh cong, thanh cong, dai thanh cong" (Unity, unity, great unity. Victory, victory, great victory). Commitment and revolutionary zeal at times resulted in radicalism, however. Concomitant with the land reform excesses and strains in 1956-7, some tension arose between the individualism recently discovered in the 1930s and the required conformity and direct supervision by the Party in the production of art and literature under the D R V . In the name of intellectual integrity and literary freedom, some 169 intellectuals demanded the right to uncensored expression in what was to be known as the Nhdn Van Giai Phdm (Humanities and Literary Selections) incident. 7 4 The former romantics of the T u Luc Van Doan, who had now found a new, invigorated life with new beliefs, were quick to respond. In 1958, Che Lan Vien , who twenty-one years earlier had wanted to "close [his] eyes to disregard the present," being so "sick and tired of the colors and forms of this world"—a world he saw as having been "created in a moment of 75 grief," now wrote the poem "When Y o u Have Purpose" that stresses the psychological rewards of participation in meaningful group action. The L u , the despairing, tortured poet of "Truy Lac" [Decadence] in the 1930s who had since then found psychological rebirth in the cause of national salvation, now criticized Phan Kho i , the instigator of the protest, and the dissidents: They have resorted to heresy and sophistry to deceive the people and seduce the rotten elements to follow them, to sell their hearts and minds to them cheaply. A n d in the ranks that followed them before all else came those literary artists who had gone with the revolution but carried along with them a heavy burden of personal feelings from the old life, and regretted the passing of a way of life characterized by unfettered selfishness, thinking and working in an easy manner, according to their own individualistic preferences, crawling into a dark hole of literature that was smoke-filled and debased and taking that as the universe for their souls to create m. Building on the hands-on approach of prewar social realists such as Tarn Lang, Nguyen Hong, and V u Trong Phung, the Association of Arts and Letters now encouraged writers to study the life of the soldiers, peasants and workers who were doing their share 170 in turning the country into an independent state. In order to avoid the kind of literature from ivory towers and dark attics—literature which might be shallow for want of real life experience, observation trips (chuyen di thuc te—literally "reality [experiencing] trips") were organized to bring writers and intellectuals closer to the people they were writing for and about. 7 8 For months at a time, entertainment troupes (van cong) travelled to faraway places, while artists, writers, and poets lived and worked among the people, occasionally joining forces with the van cong to entertain the villagers, workers, or soldiers. In addition, people from the peasantry, factory, and the army were encouraged to contribute their own writings to the national literature. Along with established writers from previous periods, the literary scene continued to brighten with new personalities, who wrote from personal experiences. Between 1954 and 1965, the best-known of the new talents included Nguyen Ngoc, V 6 Huy Tarn, Dao V u , Nguyen V a n Bong, V u Tu Nam, Le Luu , Nguyen Khai (prose); Hoang Ngoc Phach (criticism); V u Cao, Quang Dung, Ta Huu Yen , V a n Dai , A n h The (poetry). From 1965 to 1975, there were Ho Phuong, V u Thi Thuong, Chu L a i , Nguyen Kien , Chu Van , Nguyen M i n h Chau, Le M i n h Khue (prose); Hoang Nhuan Cam, Chinh Huu, Phan Thi Thanh Nhan, Xuan Quynh, Y N h i , Pham Tien Duat, Tran Dang Khoa, Nguyen Duy, Huu Thinh, Pham Ho 70 • (poetry); L u u Quang V u , Doan Hoang Giang (drama). Their literature, some of which is to be examined next, was full o f passion, clear in its purpose, and warm with emotion. It would not be a great exaggeration to say that this literature played a fair part in the eventual victory of the nationalist Vietnamese war effort. When remnants of the resistance in the South gathered under the N L F in 1959 to oppose Diem's ruthless and indiscriminate repression, the North had to be prepared for 171 another important task: providing assistance to this Southern resistance. The continued aggression from the U.S.—culminating in American General LeMay ' s threat of bombing the D R V back to the Stone Age—now demanded even greater sacrifice and unity under a strong leadership. The D R V literature continued its role in the construction of a desired society within the parameters set out by the overall efforts for national salvation. After the Ho Chi M i n h trail was opened, several writers went B (the code name for the South) and conducted their thuc te trips in the NLF-controlled areas, or fought in the army and Youth Brigade (thanh nien xung phong—literally, volunteer youths). 8 0 Literary talents from the North and the South were now truly intermingled, with writers born in the North now serving in the South, and many Southern writers having regrouped to the North, who every so often volunteered to go South again during the resistance war against the Americans—a fact that greatly complicates the usual black-and-white designations of "North" and "South" in the R V N ' s and American vocabularies. The revolutionary writers * 81 and artists had their fair share of members killed in action as well . In the next section, I w i l l discuss some representative poems composed by D R V poets between 1965 and 1975—poems my generation grew up committing to heart and copying in our personal diaries. One of the poets coming to fame in the 1960s in the D R V is Chinh Huu (born 1926). Holder of a French baccalaureate in philosophy, Chinh Huu participated in the August 1945 Revolution, joined the Viet M i n h army in 1946, and served in the capital regiment fighting around Hanoi. Upon release from the army, he was elected assistant general secretary of the Vietnam Writers' Association and served on the board of directors through 1996. Regarding the writing of poetry, he says: "I've told myself that I 172 should and must be an amateur, a nonprofessional poet to preserve my freedom. Freedom to write, and only write, whatever my heart moves me to. A n d freedom to cross out whatever I have composed that is not true to my feelings." Perhaps it is due to this quality of being true to the feelings that his poems were so successful in reaching the hearts of millions of readers. "Ngon Den Dung Gac" [The lamps standing on guard] (1965) is one among such poems, which was later woven into a song that millions of Vietnamese hummed. In this poem, the simple oi l lamp symbolizes hard work, hope, determination, and unity. The poet notices lighted oi l lamps everywhere he goes on his way to combat the enemy, from North to South. For the guerrillas in the South, night time was always bustling with activities, from meetings and food production to making contacts with the people or preparing for the next battle. The lighted lamps mark the hard work in those sleepless nights of N L F fighters and their sympathizers in the struggle for independence and unification: "Like the South/Twenty years/Sleepless." In the North, the ongoing reconstruction and production continued at night in relative safety from U . S . bombing, serving both to modernize and develop the economy, and to meet wartime needs so that the North could stand strong as the South's large rear area: "L ike the whole nation/With the South/Is staying awake every night." In this "protracted struggle," lighted lamps become the symbol of hope, determination: "Like spirits that never give up." They also stand for continuity and unity between the North and the South, illuminating the way for trucks and troops of fighters South-bound along the Ho Chi M i n h trail: Our lamps light up the joys Our lamps light up the appeals. 173 Faster, faster The battles are calling Over the mountains, the rivers Our lamps glow. In the wind, in the rain The lamps are standing guard For victories to follow One after the other ahead. If light plays up the central themes in "Ngon Den Dung Gac," sound is effective as a symbol of determination and continuity of the war effort in the North in Tran Dang Khoa's "Tieng Dan Bau va Dem Trang" [Sound of the one-string guitar and the moonlight] (1972). The traditional one-string guitar (dan bau) links the two now-divided halves of the country, playing both "the tender lullabies of the South" and "the freshly improvised quan ho exchanges" of the North. The guitar links the heroic past and the epic present: the "sounds of love of thousands of years past" lead to "the sounds of love today," and the "curving corners of the village communal temple's r o o f that have lasted through the history of Vietnam are now juxtaposed with "the high rise of the new factories on the other side of the river." The guitar links the social and industrial revolutions to the fighting on the battlefield, the "young village guard woman driving a tractor/her big toe covered with fresh mud" to the "village elders who have many times said goodbye to children and grandchildren going to the battlefield," as naturally as it entertains between "two crops of rice." The one-string guitar played by the "liberation 174 entertainment troupes" who are staying in the village on their way to the fighting line "vibrates with songs of the people, of earth." "The string seems only to skim the fingers/yet intensifies in the space/vibrating with the strength of thousands of years of Vietnamese history," making poets out of "nine-, ten-year-olds." When U . S . bombs explode in the distance, the areca palm passes its shade over the guitar, "erasing the polluting sound of the bombs/leaving only the music of the guitar, gushing out/fresh as a stream at its source." Considering that the poem was written when Khoa was only fourteen years old and had never left his native village, the profound beliefs that electrified the general population of the D R V during the war are as plainly expressed as the talent of the young poet, who went on to become a soldier in the last months of the American war and who remains one of the most interesting writers of Vietnam today. Many songs, poems, and stories have been written about the Ho Chi M i n h trail, the most famous icon of unity, continuity, and determination in the Vietnam War. One thing is for certain: poet and soldier Pham Tien Duat's "Truong Son Dong, Truong Son Tay" [Truong Son east, Truong Son west] (circa 1968) wi l l forever be remembered as a most popular poem coming out of the war. It was later lyricized in yet another best-known song of the war. Apparently a love story between a soldier and a youth volunteer on Truong Son, the mountain range that connects the North to the South, the poem plays brilliantly on the theme of separation and yet deep connection through love and support, not only between the young couple in love, but between the soldiers and the support people, and between the North and the South of this divided country. We both hang our hammocks in the Truong Son forests A t the far ends of the same mountain range. The road to the battlefield is beautiful this season Because Truong Son East is thinking of Truong Son West. One mountain range, but the colors of the clouds can be different When one side is raining, the other may be shining, Like you and me, like the North and the South Like east and west: two connected ends of the same mountain. In the West I march, feeling for you On the other side where it rains hard on the heavy rice baskets, Mosquitoes blanketing the forests, your sleeves being pulled down. N o greens left, are you now searching for bamboo shoots? A n d you must be thinking of me in the winter West, Where streams have dried up and butterflies shade the rocks. Knowing how passionate I am to be l iving in this unfamiliar terrain, Perhaps you are worried about the bombs that block our roads . . . . When I get in the truck, the rain starts The windshield wipers chase away my longing; When you walk down the mountain in the blazing sunlight, The tree branches wipe away your private concerns. 176 The route from east to west is not for mail: It's the route for rice and ammunition. 85 On the east side, the "three-ready" young woman dresses in green On the west side, the soldier wears olive camouflage. From your end to my end, Waves of troops are marching to battles. Like our love that never ends, Truong Son East connects with Truong Son West. The above poems are but three of many such pieces of whole-hearted writing, copied and recopied in tiny notebooks to be brought along to the battlefield in the South, or to the factories and offices in the North, and recited for millions of people through the "Tieng tha" [sound of poetry] program or the "Chuong trinh doc truyen dem khuya" [late night story reading program] of the Voice of Vietnam radio station in Hanoi. I myself numbered among the audience that were glued to those programs through the 1970s, at times crying or laughing from the shared emotion. Literatures of the South 1954-75 In the South, between 1954 and 1963, the overall atmosphere of repression stultified literary development as fear spread and people withdrew into general attentisme—or were driven to resistance in the jungles. Publishing houses mainly republished apolitical works by authors from previous periods, particularly the T u L u c Van Doan group, most of whom had rallied to the Viet Minh . In July 1963, Nhat Linh , 177 the best known figure of the T u L u c V a n Doan, also the most respected writer in Saigon and one with the largest following of readers among the urbanites of the South at the time, was driven to suicide when slapped with a police court order for "subversive activities," which would have ended in persecution. His suicide note denouncing the R V N ' s dictatorship (quoted in part earlier in Chapter III) was read by tens of thousands of Saigonese and distributed to American newsmagazines such as Time and Newsweek, and sparked waves of protests and demonstrations in Saigon throughout the rest of 1963. 8 7 A s far as policy goes, Ngo Dinh Nhu, Diem's brother and special adviser, tried to make writers produce anti-Communist works along the lines of his Personalism (Nhdn Vi) doctrine, an incomprehensible, distorted combination of both right-wing and left-wing varieties of totalitarianism that traced its roots to the works of Emmanuel Mounier, a French Catholic priest. The party that was formed on this doctrine (the Can Lao Party) took the form of a clandestine police force within the R V N ' s own government and army. But few people ever understood or cared much for this hodgepodge of a philosophy, and g o so the attempt failed. The RVN-controlled cities enjoyed a break of sorts after the ousting of Diem and his family in 1963 led to a period of the several coups and countercoups conducted or joined by Tran Van Don and Nguyen Cao K y . Preoccupied with their plotting, counterplotting, and consolidation of power, the generals left R V N writers pretty much to themselves, on the condition that the latter stayed away from anything that was vaguely labeled as "Communist propaganda." Even after Thieu-Ky had more or less consolidated their power, the unconcerned R V N government was still in no frame of mind to offer direction for the development of culture and literature under their jurisdiction, being even 178 more ignorant, passive and dependent on outside initiatives in these areas than they were in many other aspects. In the general anarchy that ensued, the R V N literature's development was characterized by its haphazard, anything-goes nature. Only when the Thieu-Ky rule (or more precisely, the lack of an effective government under their rule) ushered in American marines in 1965 did the R V N literature acquire a focus. Destruction of South Vietnamese life, racism, resentment, and despair emerged as the most prominent themes. First, there was a school of realists who dealt with the physical, spiritual, and moral destruction of South Vietnam under the R V N and its American sponsor. In particular, the focus was on the depravation of South Vietnamese society when forced to cohabit with a destructive foreign army: the unemployment, inflation, and poverty of the cities, and the prostitution of Vietnamese women under the evil influence of the dollar. A t times, this section of R V N literature also conveys different reactions to the comparative appeal and wholesomeness of the "Communist" nationalists. Some realists were professedly anti-Communist. These writers were mostly Northerners fleeing South in 1954 as Catholics and/or supporters of the French, and those who held jobs in the A R V N at one time or another, such as Doan Quoc Sy, V o Phien, Nguyen Manh Con, Duyen Anh , M a i Thao, and Ho Hiru Tuong. Others wrote from the sidelines of the war; their writings inclined more toward the authors' own powerlessness, their guilt and resignation in describing the horrors of a war in which they were taking no part. Writers in this group include Le Tat Dieu, Ta Ty, Nguyen Thi Thuy V u , and Nha Ca. A t the other end of the spectrum, a number of R V N writers tried to ignore the war altogether and produced a body of escapist literature heavily colored by eroticism, 179 anarchic romanticism, and narrow individualism. The best-known authors of this trend formed a group called "the five she-devils" (ngu quy): Chu Tu , Tuy Hong, The Uyen, Nguyen Thi Hoang, and Le Hang. O f all the literary schools, this group had the most best-sellers amid the R V N public's blase demoralization, even as R V N critics decried these erotic novels as immoral, and knowing parents forbade their children from reading them (as the parents of my South Vietnamese friends did). Nguyen Thi Hoang's Vdng Toy Hoc Trd [In the arms of my student lover] was passed from hand to hand among school students in Saigon soon after its publication. This novel about an affair between a schoolteacher and her sixteen-year-old student was particularly shocking in a culture where teachers were as revered as parents. The scandalous relationship hits home not only because the novel is based on the author's actual personal experience, but because of the reversal of gender roles—traditionally, the already scandalous student-teacher affair happened between a male teacher and a female student. Another extremely popular author in the R V N , Le Hang, produced love stories such as Thung Lung Tinh Yeu [The Valley of Love], Chet Cho Tinh Yeu [Dying for Love], Mat Tim [Violet Eyes], which caused great sensations with a heavy dose of what in the Vietnamese standard o f the time were graphic intimations of (often extramarital) sex. On another level, the existentialism o f Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Francoise Sagan was very popular among French-educated intellectual writers. R V N writers and poets of this trend include Thanh Tarn Tuyen, V u Hoang Chucmg, Dinh Hung, To Thuy Yen, Nguyen Sa, Nguyen Dinh Toan, and Nha Ca. In Fire in the Lake, FitzGerald observes that the Saigon intellectuals and c iv i l servants, from which came the political parties of the R V N , constituted a "privileged elite [.. .] that [sustained] itself not 180 on any local base of production, but on the work of the foreigners" (300). Acting as an intermediary between the foreigners and the Vietnamese natives, many of the Saigon intelligentsia under the French as under the Americans became, FitzGerald concludes, "a group of people with a very different culture from the rest of the Vietnamese" (300). While the leaders spoke French among themselves or took pride in their English, there continued to be a prestige to being "Western" in Saigon under the R V N . It was considered trendy for well-to-do Saigonese to send their sons and daughters to "truong Tay" (schools for the messieurs) and "truong dam" (schools for the mademoiselles), where they acquired fluency in French and English while taking only a few courses in Vietnamese. One of the consequences is that some writers, such as V i Huyen Dac, chose to write in French instead of their mother tongue. In addition, educated this way, a new generation o f R V N youths preferred to read in French or English, further contributing to on the R V N literary doldrums. A compromise was readily reached through the best-selling novels of Hoang Hai Thuy in the form of phong tdc (loose translation) of internationally famous novels (mainly love stories), such as Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, in which the plot, narrative, and character names were modified to suit a Vietnamese audience. Translated works were also popular, although the quality of the translation was questionable, judging by the surprisingly mediocre Vietnamese copies of A Farewell to Arms and Doctor Zhivago printed under the R V N that I happened to possess in the late 1970s. 9 0 From 1965, when American military troops landed en masse in South Vietnam and took over the fighting, t i l l the end in 1975, antiwar (and anti-American) sentiments became increasingly vocal as the war quickly expanded and became much more 181 ferocious. Spokespersons of this trend came from the most popular of poets and songwriters: Nguyen Sa, To Thuy Yen , D u T u Le, Tran D a Tu , Pham Duy, and most of all , the quintessential Trinh Cong Son. These poets and songwriters expressed a profound sense o f alienation and bitter displeasure with the existing government, war weariness, a feeling of futility, and a strong desire for peace. Significantly, antiwar themes were not restricted to a few writers and artists, or a few works of literature and art, but eventually came to permeate practically all works of note until the collapse of the R V N . Many poignant antiwar poems by the best-known protestors were set to music by even better-known songwriters, both reflecting and setting an atmosphere of degeneration and anguish, of outrage and resentment that enveloped the R V N . 9 1 The instigator of the war was perceived by some to be the "Viet Cong," by others to be the R V N leaders (in which case the real object of the blame, the existing regime, was often left unidentified for fear of consequences), and by an increasing number to be the Americans. Also in the South, the founding of the N L F in December 1959 heralded the establishment of H o i V a n Nghe Gia i Phong (the Liberation Association of Literature and Arts) soon after. The Association represented scholars, writers, poets, artists, and Vietnamese of learning who had rallied to the N L F cause, and who contributed to the Front in three ways: by orchestrating the cultural movement by and for the people in NLF-controlled areas; by producing literary works reflecting "men and facts in combat, in production, and in all social activities in the liberated area;" and by mobilizing patriotic artistic and literary forces in both N L F and R V N areas, as well as externalizing internationally for the revolutionary cause, the liberation of South Vietnam and the reunification of the Fatherland. 9 2 The chairman of the Association's central committee 182 was Tran Huu Trang, a playwright from Saigon who had founded the Saigon Brotherhood organization to agitate against the Diem government. Comprising the rest of the Association's central committee were other writers, poets, and artists from South Vietnam, including Mme. Thanh Loan, a famous chanteuse and comedienne from Saigon. In 1960, the Association put forward the Nguyen B i n h Chieu prize to further the production of quality literary works from N L F fighters and members. 9 4 The Association published a weekly magazine, the Van Nghe Gidi Phong (Liberation Literature and Arts), of stories, poems and other artistic productions by the guerrillas and the people under the N L F . The mere existence of the Association was an impressive achievement of the N L F in the harrowing conditions of the time. Talented Southerners who made their names writing passionately about the nationalist revolution in South Vietnam include Phan Tu , Giang Nam, Thu Bon, A n h Due, Thanh Hai , Nguyen V u , Le A n h Xuan, Nguyen Thi , Nguyen Sang, Tran Hieu Minh , Nguyen Trung Thanh, Nguyen Quang Sang, Lam Thi M y Da, Nguyen Khoa Diem, V i e n Phuong, Le V i n h Hoa, Nguyen M y , Tran Ngoc, Dinh Quang Nha, Cuu Long, and Hoai V u . 9 5 The body of N L F literature was further complemented by the writings of Southern regroupees and of Northerners who were fighting side by side with N L F revolutionaries in the South. In an attempt to define the N L F literature in the context of an actual integration of writers from both halves of the country in the South as well as in the North, in the next part of the study I w i l l discuss only Southern-born writers who were actually writing from the South during the American War. In other words, the N L F literature is here defined as the body o f writing produced in the South by Southern resistants. A s far as content goes, the D R V literature paid equal attention to the efforts and success at reconstruction and 183 modernization in the North, and compassion and encouragement for the fighting in the South, while the N L F literature was naturally devoted to revolutionary heroism, dedication and determination to the cause, hatred for the enemy and their atrocities, and love, compassion and camaraderie for the people and other members of the revolution. A remarkable feature of the revolutionary literature is that there is little distinction between writers and fighters, between real life and literature. 9 6 Literary writing came from the guerrillas and cadres in the simple form of personal diaries and letters, or pieces composed between fighting and food production for the unit's bao tuang (literally "wal l newspaper"), a gazette of news, poems, stories, journals, anecdotes and humour to be pinned on the walls in the bomb shelters or headquarters cottages in every unit of the liberation army in the jungle bases. 9 7 N L F (and D R V ) leaders encouraged literary writing among the members as they realized in it an effective outlet for emotions, a source of psychological and intellectual sustenance, and a means to connect the fighters to the nation's historical self-confidence (Woodside, "Vietnamese History"). Under wartime circumstances, the constant production of a body of literature, together with the establishment and maintenance of coherent cultural and literary policies in the jungles, was an admirable feat. It spoke volumes about the leaders' consideration of the time-honored Vietnamese tradition of love for literature, and about the revolutionaries' determination to popularize a tradition long reserved for intellectuals. The Nguyen Dinh Chieu prize continued to sustain interest since its inception, offering recognition to the best of the writings. The prize was aimed at encouraging the resistance spirit, expression of the revolutionaries' thoughts and feelings, and the depiction o f revolutionary life. A t the same time, it offered a measure of excitement through competition and provided 184 opportunities to discover literary talents among the fighters. Under the R V N , writing was a domain reserved for intellectuals and people of leisure, which explains in part the prominence of relatively well-to-do female writers from big cities, as urban women generally did not work unless forced by necessity to contribute to the family's finances. N L F writers, on the other hand, were simultaneously guerrilla fighters. Many of them died in combat (among whom three of the best-known: Nguyen Thi , Le A n h Xuan and Nguyen M y ) , in the bombing, or from the malnutrition and diseases of the jungle. Coming from active participants of the struggle who were shouldering their share of the sacrifice in the national cause, the passion and realism were palpable. Their determination and optimism, admirable through the most difficult stages of the war, played an important part in sustaining the morale of the fighters and their supporters. R V N literature 1954-1975 Even though all o f the different schools of literature under the R V N (realist, escapist/erotic, existential, antiwar) in their own way both reflected and contributed to the despair and nihilism prevailing in RVN-controlled areas until 1975, I w i l l examine only representative works by writers of "serious literature"—which means the exclusion in this study of romantic, escapist prose and poetry, which happen to be the most popular among a R V N readership increasingly exhausted by the war and its consequences. The phrase "the R V N literature" in this dissertation, therefore, refers to the body of serious literature coming out of the R V N during the American war. A s the examination of the political leaders' memoirs in Chapter III has made clear, the R V N leaders were lame in their rationalizing of their own cause, and the 185 "freedom" and "democracy" they claimed to uphold were in effect anarchy, lawlessness, and a culture of each acting on his own for his own motives. In this context, it should be no surprise that the R V N literature during 1954-75 shows a strong sense of ambivalence, passivity (with the exception of some rousing anti-war works), alienation, pessimism and lack of direction. In this study, I w i l l look at only writers who were either supportive of or neutral to the R V N government. Although the scope o f this study precludes a more detailed analysis, the representative works introduced below should sum up the prevailing sentiments and concerns in the R V N from 1954 to 1975. One of the most influential R V N writers is V 6 Phien (real name Doan The Nhon, born 1925 in Binh Dinh, Central Vietnam), a literature teacher and publisher in Saigon before 1975 (he founded Thai M a i [Modern Day] Publishing House). His short story collection Mua Dim Cuoi Nam [Rain on new year's eve] was awarded an R V N National Literary Prize in 1960. Settling in the U .S . since 1975, V 6 Phien founded and has been the editor of Van Hoc, a literary magazine published for the Vietnamese American exile community. He is also the most translated and anthologized Vietnamese writer in the U-S. His best known titles before 1975 include Gia Tu [Farewell] (1962), Mot Minh [Alone] (1965), and Dan 6ng [Men] (1966). His best short stories include " C h u tinh" [The love word] (1956), "Nguoi tu" [The prisoner] (1957), "Thac Do Sau Nha" [Waterfall in the backyard] (1957), "Dem xuan sang trang" [The turn of a spring night] (1961), and "Thuong hoai ngan nam" [Love for a thousand years] (1962). One of the staunchest anti-Communists in the R V N , V o Phien criticizes the Communists' self-discipline and their supposed replacement of family ties by love and sacrifice for the larger community in "Thac Do Sau Nha" [Waterfall in the backyard]. 186 The story is told from the point of view of Hanh, a young, noncommittal woman whose first love and husband Thp is a serious, honorable teacher. Problems begin, it seems, when Tho answers the nationalists' call and becomes a member of the Communist Party. The quite rambling plot revolves around the dilemmas and emotional turmoil caused by both wartime conditions and differences in ideological beliefs amongst Tho's family and circle o f friends. Since Tho joined the Party, he has been constantly at odds with his father and his friend Kha, although the reasons for the latter's opposition are left unexplained. Henceforward, Hanh witnesses her husband's efforts to monitor his actions and thoughts in an "honest aspiration to perfection because he is a revolutionary Party cadre." There seems to be an inner struggle within Tho every time the interests of his family and of his own differ from those of the larger society, and eventually, the interests of the society always triumph. When Tho's grandmother dies, he does not attend her funeral because she has sided with a landlord's family. When Hanh joins in the village community work at her husband's encouragement, Tho struggles with himself to keep in check his jealousy toward the men his wife comes into contact with. Although she says she loves her husband more for trying to be a bett