Thirty Five Years After The War, Betrayal is Vietnam's Story

New America Media, Commentary, Andrew Lam Posted: Apr 28, 2010

HANOI - A headline in a local paper here seems to say it all: “The Main Method is to Use Love.” The story: Women and Children trafficking activities along the Vietnam- China border.

One of these “love methods” went something like this: A man from the city seduced a young woman from a village, then took her across the border to China after their wedding. When they got there, the honeymoon turned into a slave trade: the groom sold his naïve bride to a brothel, then promptly disappeared.

Or it can be “familial love method:” The destitute widow whose farmer husband died in an accident decided to sell her daughter. What the daughter thought was going to be a shopping trip across the border to China to buy new clothes turned instead into a nightmare. The young woman was sold into a brothel and eventually resold to an old man as a child bride.

In both cases, the victims were undone by loyalty and love. For them the central theme that defines their lives is, inevitably, betrayal.

Trial of human traffickers in Vietnam

But betrayal is not simply the story of trafficked women and children, which has reached epidemic proportions. In a sense, it has become the story of Vietnam itself. Empires rose and fell, colonizers came and went, civil wars fought, and lives and lands devastated, but that central theme of being tricked, of being betrayed, continues to frame the history of this country.

There are, of course, many kinds of betrayals. Thirty-five years ago, the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) was abandoned by the United States and its arms supplies dwindled to a few bullets per soldier at the end of the war, while the northern Communist tanks came rolling southward.

Yet, betrayal is not restricted to those who lost the war. It plays itself out with even deeper irony among those who supposedly won. The Viet Cong –- guerillas in the National Liberation Front based in the South –- quickly found that they did not exactly “win” when Saigon fell. Within months, their units were dissolved or integrated under Hanoi commands, their own southern leadership forced into retirement. Though, of all factions, they suffered the highest casualties, the Viet Cong found themselves losing their autonomy and ending up playing underlings to northern leadership.

But many northern communist officials themselves were not saved from being betrayed either. Among a handful of well-known dissidents in exile is Colonel Bui Tin, the highest-ranking officer from Hanoi to enter Saigon at the end of the war to accept South Vietnam’s official surrender. Tin, as it turned out, fled Vietnam to France a decade or so later. The cause: he was dismayed with peacetime Communism in which re-education camps and new economic zones were created to punish the south, while untold numbers died out at sea as boat people. It was not what he’d expected when the North was trying to “liberate” the South from the Americans during the war. Tins’ books, "Following Ho Chi Minh: Memoirs of a North Vietnamese Colonel," and “From Enemy To Friend: A North Vietnamese Perspective on the War,” became a powerful testimony of Vietnamese corruption and arrogance, coupled with a passionate plea for democracy.

And even Ho Chi Minh, father of Vietnam’s Communism, it turned out, wasn’t safe from betrayal either. According to a few in Vietnam who knew the inner working of the party, Uncle Ho apparently spent the last few years of his life under house arrest, his lover murdered and children taken away from him. It is what the novelist Duong Thu Huong, now living in exile, wrote about in her latest book, “Au Zénith,” a novel based on the unofficial history of Ho Chi Minh’s last years. Huong herself knew betrayal intimately. Once a member of the youth brigade in the Communist movement, she later was under house arrest for her books criticizing Communism, especially in “Paradise of the Blind.” Government officials called her “traitor slut.”

Vietnam in the present tense is a Vietnam at the far end of Orwell’s dystopia, as parodied in Animal Farm, where “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Corruption is rampant, and according to Asia Times Online, “land transfers have become critical issues in Vietnam. Some observers predict that, as in China, questionable state land reclamations could lead to widespread social unrest and derail Vietnam's socioeconomic development.”

While Marxist Leninist theory is still being taught in schools and colleges, the poor farmers are often driven off their land for a pittance of compensation so that the rich and powerful can have their golf clubs. While impoverished women and children in rural areas are now commodities to be sold across the borders, often with the help of local officers, the city glints with new wealth, and high rises continue to sprout like mushrooms.

One needs not look far to see it in Saigon. Billboard advertising for Chanel perfume and Versace bags are now overshadowing all the old Communist slogans romanticizing laborers and farmers and socialist paradise. Massage parlors are but a stone’s throw away from Ho Chi Minh’s cheerful bust in downtown Saigon, a city that’s renamed rather inappropriately after a man who championed austerity.

One recent evening out in the new part of Saigon’s district 7, at the ultra chic 3-storied restaurant called Cham Charm – built to resemble Angkor Wat with black granite and flowing water running down both sides of the sleek staircase –- there were Mercedeses and Lexuses and even a Ferrari and a Rolls Royce or two dropping by with paparazzi snapping photos at the entrance. It was the famed singer Hong Nhung’s birthday and wealthy friends -– mostly those connected to the current regime – were throwing a private party for her. Champagne flowed, wines were poured, and a splendid spread of oyster and sushi and lobster were served to a guest list of 350 VIPs. At one point, Nhung called her “comrades” to join her on stage, many of whom are now either multi-millionaires themselves, or married to them. Together they sang a Communist propaganda song –- something about marching to respond to the call of their nation. While waiters in bow ties served champagne, the projector showed images of Nhung’s past: A youth in Communist uniform, singing. No one sang songs about betrayal at the golden gala, of course, but still one could cut the irony with a silver spoon. betrayal -

Cham Charm Restaurant

Not far from the gala, one aged musician in his ramshackle apartment said he was profoundly bitter: “Xa Hoi Chu Nghia (Socialist Republic) has turned into Co hoi chu nghia – (the society of opportunists.)” He once knew Uncle Ho and served him with devotion but now, in failing health, had become a vocal critic of the Hanoi regime. He is especially pained that Vietnam three years ago had ceded land to China along its northern border and even signed a multibillion dollar deal to plunder Lam Dong province, its once pristine verdant slopes for bauxite, destroying the ecosystem in the process.

More worrisome, the disputed Spratly Islands have fallen into China’s hand as well, leaving Vietnam’s waters vulnerable to Chinese domination. Rare mass protests in Vietnam have taken place but to no avail. “The government officials are corrupted to the core,” the aged musician observed. “All they bow down to is money. I wore my uniform and went out and protested. I’m sad to watch the government deceive its people year after year. If you give away land to China, you might as well sell the blood of the people.”

Which may explain why, in a world whose motto is “to make money is glorious,” and whose moral compass is thereby broken, children could be sold by their mothers, wives sold by their husbands, precious land on which precious blood spilled sold by the government.

It would follow that in such a world those who hold on to old virtues suffer the most. It was reported that the girl who was sold by her mother, when rescued, said she didn’t blame her. She was willing to suffer for the family’s sake, she told social workers. And the patriotic old musician, once an idealist, now cries in his sleep. And the exiled dissidents watch in dismay as Vietnam is swallowed up by materialism.

The rest are rushing ahead at breakneck speed. Because to survive in Vietnam, so goes a new law of the land, one must first and foremost learn to betray the past.

Vietnamese version:Ba mươi lăm năm sau cuộc chiến, phản bội là câu chuyện của việt nam

NAM editor, Andrew Lam, is the author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora and the upcoming memoir: East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres due out in September. He recently visited his homeland, Vietnam.

Related stories

One Vietnamese Refugee’s Experience on an 'Unforgiving Sea'

Escaping a Cambodian Brothel: One Woman's Story

Why I’m Working as a Saigon Massage Girl

cham charm
Private room at Cham Charm restaurant

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User Comments

Thinh Phan on May 01, 2010 at 13:40:21 said:

Mr Huu below seems to take this article seriously enough to betray his own rage.. but dissidents are continued to be arrested

and abuses continue to pile up〈=e

while the country continues to be a supply country as far as human trafficking is concerned

while people who want to bring information of the bauxite issued are attacked

and buddhist monastaries are being razed (this one built by thich nhat hanh) in central vietnam

So much for happiness... even Mr. Hu's favorite Uncle Ho is rolling in his glass cage

Nguyen Huu Tuan on May 01, 2010 at 10:03:40 said:

According to the recent AP-GfK Pool, 81% of Vietnamese satisfy with the Government\'s direction, only 7% said no.

Vietnamese people do not actually care about your lies here, don\'t BETRAY your self like this meaningless action.

Calix Vu-Bui on Apr 30, 2010 at 10:48:01 said:

The Vietnamese version of the article 35 Years After War... is not linked right. Could you please forward me a link that works so I can share this with a few who don\'t read English.

Sean Tran on Apr 29, 2010 at 16:46:42 said:

Coming from South, North, or Central Vietnam doesn't matter much. The crux of the matter is the monopoly of power by the VNmese communist party.

On the other hand, in scientific reasoning, one must check the authenticity of the beginning, the reliability of the foundation before building on circumstancial evidences, and leading to reliable observations and convincing conclusions. Throwing into the stream of the writing the sudden assumption that Ho chi Minh was the champion of austerity is dangerously naive, if not irresponsible. In plagiarism, Ho chi Minh was not only a pro. He was a graduate of Moscow's Third International school of con artists. A Vietnamese proverb says: "A sheep can shed its wool but can't change its behavior!" Notwithstanding the meticulous and desperate polishing of his image by the Vietnamese communist politburo (VCP), Ho chi Minh could barely cover his trails of debauchery and dissolute extravagances. In his memoirs, under a pen name of Tran dan Tien, he extolled himself a patriot celibate, engrossed in the emancipation of French-dominated Vietnam. It turned out that he had many "concubines" wherever he showed up. Chronicles published by the VCP revealed Moscow's generous monthly allowances bankrolling Ho's subversive missions in SE Asia. With such abundant wealth in hand and ample evidences of promiscuity, Ho's virginity and frugality are white lies.

Lies and betrayals are closely related. It takes a thousand lies to defend one. In no time, the Soviet Union, the natal place of quintessential deception was drowned in lies. Andrew Lam's article exposes the obvious reality of communist Vietnam. It is swamping in betrayals and it is facing the demise of its progenitor.

GE on Apr 29, 2010 at 08:32:06 said:

Thanks for the terrific article. Concise, insightful, and fearless. It’s very important for those of us who have fallen in love with Viet Nam (but as outsiders who carry much guilt baggage), to stay alert to what’s happening. Sometimes (fooled by charm) we don’t see, or correctly interpret, what’s staring us in the face, forgetting that in modern society dystopian realities pervade even the places we lionize, becoming cranks in the bargain (“useful idiots” was, I think, the term Stalin used, the bastard). But one wants to believe in really does...even after all the cruel realities of the past century... I can tell that you do.

damn the chinese on Apr 29, 2010 at 06:12:26 said:

while there are points in the article that i do not agree with, majority are valid, especially about the Chinese. We, as Vietnamese, should never forget the Chinese have never been and will never be our friend as long as they still possess the arrogance and greed to control the neighbors.

The-Anh Nguyen on Apr 28, 2010 at 21:23:57 said:

Human Rights and suppressing the press are my two concerns. I do not think that countries who are violating human rights should be a member of WTO or IMF. Matter of fact sanction and embargo should be placed on them. Clearly, most Vietnamese Americans (American)should write to their senators and urge for a renewal in support of human rights. If you look into the local vietnamese paper here, you will see the bruises of catholic followers from beat down, and the knocking down of the cross allegedly done by the government police and hired gang members. Hope is bad for communism for their direct believe is destroying individualistic to achieve common goals, but human rights should never being jeopardized.

Frustrated on Apr 28, 2010 at 08:08:47 said:

Before I was half way through this article I could see it was written by a disillusioned Viet Kieu.

If you lived in Vietnam you will realise that:
- Two of the three most powerful leaders in Vietnam are from the South (despite the fact that the agreement post 75 was for 1 from North, 1 from Center, and 1 from the South). Rumor is next year at the 5 year party congress that all 3 leaders will be from the South (Party, Congress and Prime Minister)
- the observers you quote about China's land grabs are not at all relevant to Vietnam. Ask any land developer about compensation payments to existing land users, and they will tell you stories about years of delays as the existing owners did not agree to the prices offered, and objected which required a long process so that just compensation was paid (ie, market rates, or above in some cases).
- The trafficking of females is not a chinese problem, but more a Korean problem (which you would know if you actually lived in Vietnam...but you don't - so why the article on the premises that you have). Many country families are very poor, and the opportunity to receive a payment from the Korean husbands is too much to refuse - far more so than the Chinese you dislike.

The Vietnamese on Apr 28, 2010 at 05:06:03 said:


Stop referring the socalled Colonel Bui Tin.
It has been proven that during the fall of Saigon, Bui Tin was only a small time reporter of the PAVN-newspaper and therefore in no postion to receive the surrender of the RVN. Later he was part of the censorship in the state's media. He thought that the regimes in PRC & VN would also fall like those in East-Europe & SU. He thought wrong...

Stop complaining about the Spratley Island! The Vietnamese military is going to receive frigates/multirole fighter-jets and submarines. Vietnam cannot afford more of those expensive toys.
But Chinese buildup is on a much higher scale/league. There is no way Vietnam can challenge PRC's dominance. Reality is a b*tch!

Stop spreading the myth of "northern" leadership!
Le Duan - the strongman from 1958-86 - came from the central coast!
PS If one does not know, who Le Duan is, then one should stop talking about Vietnamese history in the 20th century.
Look at the current members of the Politburo, the majority of them come from the South or the Central Coast!

The author of this report is right to point the dark spot of today's Vietnam, but name me one flawless country?

Right, there ain't one. But many Vietnamese communist once believed that they could achieve it.......




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