Iraq Massacre Can't Shake Vietnamese- American Support for U.S. Troops

New America Media, News Feature, Andrew Lam Posted: Jun 13, 2006

Editor's Note: Though many Vietnamese-Americans see parallels between My Lai and Haditha, most remain solidly behind President Bush's policy in Iraq. Andrew Lam is a New America Media editor and the author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" (Heyday Books, 2005).

SAN FRANCISCO--Of all ethnic groups in America, the most conservative and pro-war is undoubtedly the Vietnamese. While San Francisco was flooded with anti-war demonstrators during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in April 2002, Vietnamese in Orange County marched to support the U.S. troops. "We Love Our Troops," was one of two signs that hung in front of Little Saigon's biggest shopping mall on Bolsa Avenue in Orange County, where the largest Vietnamese population in the United States resides. "We support President Bush" was the other.

Their points of view will not be swayed easily, many Vietnamese are now saying, even as U.S. Marines are being accused of killing 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, last November, after a roadside bomb killed one of their own. Nor do they find the parallels with My Lai -- where hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were massacred by U.S. soldiers in March 1968 -- compelling enough to change their opinions.

"Images of My Lai undoubtedly helped strengthen the American anti-war movement," notes Dung Ngo in the op-ed page of Nguoi Viet, the largest Vietnamese language paper in the United States. "Now, with Haditha, Americans are asking why: Why would soldiers in most respected corps of U.S. Army shoot civilians they were sent to 'liberate?'" But Ngo concludes that "while in Vietnam, people won't have that ability to ask publicly under a communist dictatorship, in the U.S., in a democracy, you can. Hadithta will be covered extensively. That's healthy."

Linda Vo, a professor of Asian American studies at U.C. Irvine, says that Haditha does have an eerie resemblance to My Lai. "It seems there's more accountability this time and I hope that this is because of what happened during the Vietnam War, that we've learned a lesson from the past." However, she doesn't think Haditha will change the minds of Vietnamese Americans who support the war.

More than 1.2 million Vietnamese reside in the United States.

This reporter's father, former Lt. Gen. Lam Quang Thi of the South Vietnamese army, says that, "Innocent people are killed in any war, conventional or unconventional. For example: the Nazi crimes in Europe and the Japanese massacre at Nanking during WWII. The difference is that it is a policy for dictatorial regimes and an accident or breakdown in discipline for Western democracies."

On the other hand, General Lam, author of a Vietnam war memoir called "The 25 Year Century," says that while his support for the war is unwavering, he's angry at the U.S. military's indiscriminate killings in Iraq. "I think it is mandatory for the U.S. generals in Iraq to clearly spell out the rules of engagement, and any violations should be severely punished."

Phu Bui, a high school teacher in East Bay and a writer for many Vietnamese American publications, agrees: "American soldiers, whether serving the country at home or abroad, have to follow codes of conduct." Vietnamese Americans won't see Haditha as a turning point in the war, Phu predicts. Vietnamese, he says, understand the consequences of losing wars. "We had long wars throughout our history."

Sympathies too are given to the U.S. soldiers involved in Haditha. "When you put a lot of stress on people who carry guns, things like this are bound to happen sooner or later," says Hao Nhien, managing editor of Nguoi Viet. "When I think of the Haditha massacre, even if everything happened the way witnesses are claiming, I still think the Marines are also victims."

Quang X. Pham, author of "A Sense of Duty" and a former major in the U.S. Marine Corps, says that "the grunts are always under the microscope," while the media often ignores bombing from the air, which kills thousands of innocent civilians. Both My Lai and Haditha, Pham says, affect the American media and society more than the troops in the field. Pham, who flew helicopter missions in Operation Desert Storm and Mogadishu, Somalia, believes that "Haditha was an anomaly, not the norm. The troops now are not draftees and the officers are not like Lieutenant Calley [who led the killing in My Lai]."

But Pham adds that two of his Vietnam War heroes are "former helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson and his gunner Lawrence Colburn, who confronted the GIs and stopped the killing [in My Lai] at the risk of their own life."

If My Lai still haunts Americans who remember the war, for many Vietnamese who lived through that drawn-out, bloody conflict and came to America, the deaths of a few hundred Vietnamese pale in comparison to subsequent atrocities -- re-education camps, forced labor in new economic zones, arrests without due process -- that the North Vietnamese inflicted upon the South after the war ended. The lesson for many is that despite atrocities committed by all sides, to lose a war is far worse.

"I am in full support for our troops in Iraq," says Thuy Nguyen, who lost two family members to the Vietnam War and fled overseas when communist tanks rolled into Saigon. "We need a strong army," she says. "We need to win in Iraq, no matter what. More innocent people will die if we pull out."

Younger Vietnamese Americans, however, offer far more mixed views.
Hong Tran, 40, is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Washington State. "I support the quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," she writes on her Web site. "The U.S. invasion of Iraq was a mistake that cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and has increased regional instability."

Binh Danh, 31, an artist famous for his Vietnam War images imprinted on leaves, says that the Iraq war is "a big mess, and in the Haditha case, like My Lai, the American Marines took it out on the local people."

Danh says he is not too optimistic that incidents like Haditha will sway the conservative Vietnamese American community. "I feel that their own American nationalism plays out in these times, to be loyal to this country, to not question our government."

image by Binh Danh

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User Comments

pload on Jul 24, 2006 at 23:04:53 said:

Italy will not appeal.

An Si Quau on Jun 21, 2006 at 20:12:43 said:

Sam, thank you for your thoughts. It'd be nice to not be confined in this format, the limitations of which dictate a brevity which fosters misunderstanding. Will try nonetheless. First, your statements about anti-communism sometimes blinding people is very true, and nothing wretched that any country has done should be denied or accepted. Still, the US has, however clumsily and sometimes with near-criminal negligence, contributed to a better -or less evil- world. Simply compare North and South Korea today, measuring socio-economic factors as well as degrees of comparative freedom(or comparative oppression). South Korea comes on top, while North Korean people still suffer abysmally.
Will check on writings of Cumings and thank you for bringing his name into discussion. Have not heard of him. Still, a cautionary note: there are many pseudo-historians, some who've written supposedly authoritative histories on Viet Nam, who can be shown to be intellectual frauds exhibiting little knowledge of Viet Nam, or any interest in conveying all aspect of the truth, or ANY concern for the people of Viet Nam. Unfortunately, some "historians" only parrot the story they want to tell. Also, North Korea claimed the U.S. employed germ warfare. This is blatantly false and nothing more than deceptive propaganda. Pyongyang can be expected to lie or exaggerate on other matters. Does this excuse any atrocities willfully committed by U.S. forces? Emphatically not. Let's get it all on the table.
I would also debate, in civil manner with factual content logically interpreted, assertion that majority of third world is oppressed by U.S. (or Europe or Japan for that matter). It is a cruel yet real fact that many in third world nations are more oppressed by their own kind than by any other country's or bloc's foreign policy. It should also be noted that Communist China's policies are contributing to environmental destruction in SE Asia, and death and suffering in the Sudan. As oafish and awkward and inexcusably ignorant as the U.S. has been, it is still far from being the prime source of injustice and misery in the world. Further, and as stated by others in this interchange: just where is the American "empire?" For all its imperfections, none of which are excused, denied, or to be tolerated, the U.S. has still done more to maintain a stable, less violent world, than any other country.
It's be nice to have more latitude for discussion than available here. Your desire for a more peaceful and just world, presumably following independent courses for respective countries and their people, is to be desired. Finding this path, and explaining it to others, demands a ruthless dedication to truth and reality, as best both can be measured and honestly evaluated. Do read the BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM; it is most enlightening.
Also, Ka Wah Chan's lament about Burma underscores the fact that human rights need to be placed on higer priority in ALL countries of this world; there is far too much accomodation of human rights violations, simply for wretched and amoral commercial interests.
Stephanie..if I may..your letter bespeaks more of your intense internal anger than it does objective analysis of the world, of history, of Viet Nam. While U.S. behavior in Viet Nam was too often deplorable, it was still less lethal than VC/NVA killings(this is a verfiable assertion), and there was more death and suffering after 1975, when the war supposedly ended, than during the war. Remember, Hanoi's prussian militarists were responsible for setting up the Khmer Rouge and Pathet Lao in business(read Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merrit's TRAGIC MOUNTAINS for full story of the unknown war, death and suffering in Laos). Also please read Nguyen Chi Thien's HOA DIA NGUC(Flowers From Hell). The US and GVN did a very poor job of being "good guys," but Hanoi's ideologues did a superb job of being "bad guys." Here it is: from 1945 to 1990, Hanoi's war brought violent death to over 8 million people. Tens of thousands more died from malnutriton. For what? In 2000 Viet Nam's per capita income is 20% of Thailand's. In 1950 it was 80%. Source: Le Dang Doanh, Hanoi economist. 8 million dead for this? Also, see Human Rights Watch( report on Hanoi's endemic human rights violations.
Closing comment: The Asians who have come to this country have improved it, displaying a work ethic, vibrant sense of humor, intellectual curiosity, mental acuity, respect for education, and a sense of responsibility that Americans USED to have.
Time to crawl back into the cave. May you all have a good day.

Joey JOJO Junior on Jun 21, 2006 at 19:10:06 said:

It increasingly looks like Haditha is a hoax. People were killed but they werent such innocent civilians

Mullahbruce on Jun 21, 2006 at 17:03:06 said:

This article is garbage. Nobody knows what went on Haditha. To compare My Lai, a true massacre, with a situation where these soldiers were in an ambush and under attack and in the fog of war is disgraceful.

Thuan Nguyen on Jun 21, 2006 at 08:16:29 said:

Stephanie - I want to apologize. I was rather harsh in my comments and you should feel free to express your opinions.

I deeply disagree with those who characterize America as some "imperialistic empire." America in Iraq is not France in Vietnam, the English in China or India, or elsewhere. If liberals and conservatives can agree on anything, it's that we all look forward to the day we're out of Iraq.

America has made many mistakes in its history - it still does.

But America is still good. And I firmly believe America can and must use its great power for good. The exercise of that power, however, must be tempered by the realization while America is good, it is imperfect. The constraints on our power by multilateral institutions, while inconvenient, embody this realization that America is fallible and imperfect.

And while criticism of American actions and policies by you and others are often unfair and inaccurate, they nonetheless are valued for their input.

Thuan Nguyen on Jun 20, 2006 at 06:33:40 said:

I'm as Democrat as they come. Liberal on most issues, moderate on foreign policy and national security issues.

I don't agree w/ how we got into Iraq, but I realize immediate withdrawal could be a disaster. I do think the Administration's decisions and policies in Iraq are a case-study in incompetence, mismanagement, and utter failure that have caused this country's national security and international standing very significant long-term damage. BTW, I got nothin' but love for the troops, because they have to soldier on despite incompetent civilian leadership.

But what the hell kind of nuttiness is Stephanie Nguyen talking about? This VietUnity nuttiness must be the biggest load of b.s. I've run across since I had to drop some LaRouche supporters on their ass when they accosted me on the street.

Imperialist? Empire America? Are they smoking crack at these elitist liberal universities these days?

Just like they say, "Sometimes stupid friends are worse than wise enemies." I probably shouldn't worry...wannabe Communists like these usually turn conservative later in life (just look at Mary Matalin).

It's a gosh darn ironic luxury to be able to grow up in America and be some young wide-eyed "radical" enthralled by socialist ideology.

But in the meantime, I have to deal with this wacko talk on my side of the spectrum. You would think after 1948 and Henry Wallace, my Party didn't have to deal with this b.s.

For now, as a Vietnamese Democrat and speaking for the overwhelming majority of us, I completely disavow this VietUnity insanity. Must be a damn front for Lyndon LaRouche, trying to besmirch my Party.

Talk that "peace and solidarity, blame America first" jazz with the comrades oppressing Vietnam, Stephanie...because there is NO home for this crap in America's Democratic Party.

Shandon Phan on Jun 19, 2006 at 09:40:42 said:

YOung Vietnamese Americans - we could be more open-minded or more naive. It could go both ways. Living in blue-state California and with a lack of understanding about their motherland's history or the heroic 200-year history of their new homecountry didn't help. I read accusations of inhuman crimes carried out by the American Empire by some fellow Viets on here and can't help but question their grasp of U.S. history and its current foreign policies.

Want to defeat and dismantle the U.S. Empire?

What is the U.S. Empire? Is the U.S. an empire as in the sense of the German Empire, the British Empire? How much of land did the U.S. take? How many countries have we colonized? Such emotional rar rar talks with little substance might win some audience in Iran or Venezuela with Hugo Chavez.

Hong Tran is not a serious candidate, both in terms of her experience and her campaign platform. She might want to follow Howard Dean with a grassroots-based campaign model but her messages will only resonate among the anti-war liberal radicals.

The wrongful acts of a few Marines who broke down under the pressure of the "fog of war" do not and cannot represent the honorable living code of all Marines or American soldiers. While separate and independent investigations are taking place, I think our troops need our support more than ever for them to continue their missions in an ever increasingly hostile and complex environment. Check out for the Marines' ongoing humanitarian work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Vietnamese Americans, we shall not forget the tragic history of not being able to protect our young and fragile democracy in South Vietnam 30 something years ago. While Iraq is definitely not the same as Vietnam, we know too painfully fromour own experience that American troops' morale and combat effectiveness depend on our own support here back home. And I am glad that Vietnamese Americans, along with Cuban Americans, Korean Americans, Iraqi Americans, etc. remain steadfast in our support for our troops. As as one who advocate for "principled realism," I think it is no longer a debate about whether or which way we should go into war, the right debate right now should be what mistakes were made in our approach and how we can win this difficult war.

1) To understand the complexity of the Palestine issue, check out From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman.
2) "Shock & awe" is a term often misused by the media and here in your particular liberal war cries. Check out the current issue of The National Interests for a good explanation on the correct meaning of the term by its inventor, as well as a good discussion about why the Iraq war should be conducted with the "shock and awe" approach but haven't been yet.

Larry on Jun 16, 2006 at 02:41:21 said:

"Our lives depend on it, because national liberation and self-determination cannot exist unless the U.S. Empire is defeated and dismantled by all justice and peace-loving peoples from around the world."

"U.S. Empire is defeated" WOW!!! Let's discuss about facts mam... How many countries have American conquered after victorious campaign in the last century? Let's see, after WWII in Europe, American acquired acres and acres of land in order to bury their DEAD... I wish you learned a little about history before talking about NON-SENSE.

Sam on Jun 15, 2006 at 10:59:41 said:

An Si Quau, while I haven't read the books you mentioned, I believe and accept that your anger towards communist governments is legitimate and justified... I guess my point is that just because we reject communism, we don't have to embrace what the U.S. is doing in the world. I think our anti-communism often blinds us to the oppressive policies of the U.S... and, unfortunately, No Gun Ri was not an anomaly. Since the AP broke the No Gun Ri story, over 60 additional incidents of similar brutality have been documented in South Korea alone... and North Koreans have been speaking out about these types of massacres by the U.S. military for decades. Even here in the U.S., Elders in my community (Korean) speak about having to dodge U.S. jets shooting at them to survive. In fact, according to U.S. historian Bruce Cumings, much of the 1 million civilan deaths during the Korean War was due largely to U.S. bombs and bullets targeting civilians in an effort to "shock and awe". Based on these experiences, I would have to disagree with you that the U.S. has made the world better. I think the majority of the third world suffering under U.S. oppression (or imperialism as Stephanie puts it) would agree. We should be creative in moving forward towards a more peaceful, just world without having to choose one or the other of the "evils".

Andrew Lam on Jun 15, 2006 at 10:04:59 said:

i appreciate the discussion re my article. I should have added in the piece above had space permitted that 2 years ago Sergio Bendixen and NAM did a multilingual poll found that a whopping 71 percent of Vietnamese American said they would vote for George W. Bush, and only 27 percent for Kerry. ( That point of view may have changed somewhat but it would help if there's another poll conducted as the primary draws near.

Stephanie Nguyen on Jun 15, 2006 at 08:27:56 said:

Andrew Lam\'s article is interesting, but its basic premise - Viet Am community is the most pro-war & conservative U.S. ethnic group - is arguably untrue. One need only examine the political geography of the Filipino or Korean community here in the States.

While the 2006 Viet Am community at large may still be considerably conservative, there are other Vietnamese American political voices putting out their progressive perspective.

Look here:

March 20th, 2006 marks the 3-year anniversary of the imperialist shock and awe occupation of Iraq by the United States and its allies.

In these 3 years the peoples of the world have been shocked by the criminal conduct of the U.S. government and awed by its arrogance, greed, and total disregard for humanity. In these 3 years the world has witnessed the U.S. unleash senseless violence and destruction, and crush the civil liberties, self-determination, and other basic human needs of oppressed communities at home and abroad.

In these 3 years the peoples of Iraq have experienced a most staggering loss of innocent life, illegal military occupation and plunder, and the sham of U.S installed democracy, while in the U.S. people of color, the poor, and working poor suffered the preventable devastation of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, and the outright racist government neglect that goes on to this day.

As Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans committed to true global justice, VietUnity firmly and fiercely opposes the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq, and all acts of U.S. imperialism against Palestine, the Philippines, Latin America, and all oppressed peoples around the world.

As Vietnamese, we know that the consequences of U.S. imperialist war outlive generations and are completely irreparable. We know about Agent Orange one of the deadliest toxins known to humankind and how the U.S. sprayed it on the people and land of Viet Nam from 1962 to 1971. We know that although it has been over 30 years since the U.S. war on Viet Nam, Agent Orange victims in Viet Nam, S. Korea, the U.S., and throughout the world are still suffering and dying.

We are also aware of the use of depleted uranium what some call the new Agent Orange in Iraq against her peoples for the past 10 years, and we know that there will be long-term irreversible harm done to the lives of our sisters and brothers in the Middle East.

In international solidarity with all communities of color and third world peoples who have been and continue to be at the forefront of militant resistance and struggle against U.S. imperialism, VietUnity demands an end to the illegal military occupation of Iraq and to Bushs permanent war against people of color, women, young people, queer and transgender communities, and the poor.

We call upon all our Vietnamese American sisters and brothers, all our sisters and brothers of color, and all our allies to not only be against war, but to unite and put our words into mass creative organized efforts. Our lives depend on it, because national liberation and self-determination cannot exist unless the U.S. Empire is defeated and dismantled by all justice and peace-loving peoples from around the world.

Hoa Binh va Doan Ket! (Peace & Solidarity!)

An Si Quau on Jun 15, 2006 at 03:10:34 said:

Sam suggests we "evaluate the good and bad of U.S. military based on facts." This is agreed, and once pursued will reveal that U.S. policies, however bumbling and occasionally brutal, have done far more to make a better world than any other country. "Facts" will also show that "anti-communist emotions" are and were soundly based and morally and politically justifiable. Reading THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM and THE BLACK FILE OF VIET NAMESE COMMUNISM(by Frenchman Michael Tauriac) supports this assertion. That being said, the U.S. policy has been unacceptably inept at times, and in good part because of its attempt to accomodate, if not propagate in the news media, false assertions of inherent and consistant U.S. immorality. This does not avoid discussion of such disgusting subjects as My Lai. If I had my way the perpetrators of this putrid atrocity would still be in prison, for life, and I would not stand in a long line to argue against their execution for war crimes. Still, My Lai, as with No Gun Ri, was a vile deviation, not uniform policy. Those taking moral umbrage at U.S. violations of decency are remarkable in the extent to which they do not apply the same standards of judgement toward any form of totalitarian idiocy, be it communism, fascism, or jihadism.
Yes, the Viet Namese-Americans should support the cause of the Hmong, just as the Hmong should support the cause of Viet Nam's Montagnards, or Mennonites, or jailed Buddhist monks. We are all Americans now, and the Viet Namese and Hmong who've come here have contributed greatly to America, all the more ironic because both were disgustingly betrayed by moronic U.S. policies, and the then fever-storm of "anti-war" hallucinations.

Sidney Tran on Jun 15, 2006 at 03:02:18 said:

Wow, Sam, you're analysis is sooo insightful! NOT.. Why don't you list your last name on there? What shame do you have if you hold the moral high ground in your position? Individuals are capable of doing bad things and in war even soldiers of democratic countries commit evil deeds but that does not make the whole military, political leaders, and institutions of that country as representative of evil.

In a free society there are checks and balances to the system like a free press. The very notion that you cite press report about an atrocity proves this point! Would that be the same case in a totalitarian society where everything is controlled by the state? I think you know the answer.

Ka Wah Chan on Jun 15, 2006 at 01:43:08 said:

Like the article described there're so many 60's-70's generation of Vietnamese-Americans population in California's Orange County are supporting Republican President Bush's War in Iraq. Supposed Democratic Sen. JOHN KERRY or Republican Sen. John McCain is elected as our next '08 U.S. President, I am interesting to know how the Vietnamese-Americans' opinions think about whether or not the U.S. should use military mission to liberate the Burmese people's democracy freedom to oust the Myanmar's military government. Do Vietnamese-Americans like to see more Hmong refugees who're still left behind since the U.S. military departured from the Vietnam War; can the Hmong refugees get assistance from the U.S. to get out from the Laos' jungles or a new resettlement for the 5,000+ Hmong homeless who have been kicked out from the Thai government near Northern Thailand border ?

Sam on Jun 14, 2006 at 06:01:28 said:

It seems that many Vietnamese-Americans, like Korean-Americans, continue to see the U.S. as "good" and about justice, freedom, etc. This notion of the U.S. is naive and very different than the experience of Vietnamese and Koreans who had their houses and farms bombed, relatives massacred, and sisters raped by the U.S. military. Americans often explain away these atrocities as being the "better of two evils"... they claim that it's a small price to pay for the much worse evil of communism, terrorism, or whatever. I think U.S. human rights abuses are just as evil as any other... and much more widespread than what we see in the U.S. media... which indicates that it's a U.S. policy of brutality NOT just isolated incidents. In fact, recent evidence in a U.S. massacre of Koreans shows that shooting refugees was a policy (See It's time that our communities evaulate the good and bad of the U.S. military based on facts and not just our anti-communist emotions.

Sidney Tran on Jun 13, 2006 at 09:39:23 said:

War is dreadful, tragic and horrendous. But there are worse things in life. If we retreat from Iraq, then we should be prepared to reap the whirlwind of Islamic radicalism. Do people think Al Qadea in Mesopotamia will stop once the US withdraws from the Middle East? Did they stop after World Trade Center in '93, Khobar Towers, Embassies in Africa, USS Cole, and World Trade Center '01?




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