In my travels through Vietnam, I’ve talked to young people for whom the “American War” is ancient history, and to elders who lived through Japanese atrocities, French colonial capitalism and the civil war with the US-supported South. The first part of my interview with the 77-year old professor Dao Quang Hung can be found here. In Part Two of our discussion over daughter Mizen’s dining room table (she also acs as translator), we discuss US foreign policy and his perspectives on what drove the communist North to take catastrophic casualties. My questions are in italics. Some of the conversation can be uncomfortable as he describes military tactics used to kill Americans. We start with Hung’s exposition on how the North viewed America’s vastly superior military.
America is the largest country in the world. The best science, the best army, the best economy, a lot of land and natural resources. Vietnam is a small country, 1/20th of America. Why drop millions of tons of bombs, more than you dropped in all of World War II?
In a war, whichever side has power is the winner But power here is not about weapons or number of troops. It is also the method and strategy and the passion for battle that brings victory. Vietnam has this historical legacy of nonstop fighting for the rights of its people. America has a lot of bombs, guns, weapons, tanks, ships, Marines. North Vietnam ’s army is not that big. Weapons are very simple but Vietnam has fought spiritual battles for 4,000 years against the north (China) and those experiences were passed from ancestors through the generations.
(Mizen adds, “When the enemy attacks the house, the woman will still fight, even with a broom.”).
Yes, there is a certain moral code that runs to every farmer or village woman, to fight, to protect the land, to fight and win, because you love your country and you love your people.
Under the French war, we lost everything, we were a colony and they had their own (brutal) style. When the Americans came, we considered America as a new form of colonist, the worst devils, worse than the French. Uncle Ho has a famous saying, that nothing is more precious than freedom.
Before we enter into the American war, Ho and Giap went to Russia for help against America. Russia worried that America has an extraordinary army and navy and weapons, how can Vietnam win? General Giap said if both sides spread out on the battlefield face to face, Vietnam will be wiped out. But we have a strategy and we know how to win, and in reality we did. Mentally, spiritually, Uncle Ho has to raise the call and say he doesn’t care how much we sacrifice and how long it takes, despite all this sacrifice we have no fear for this war. We are united together to fight this battle, no discrimination about religion, man or woman, it created a force that we called ‘people’s war.’
You are an intelligent, educated man. What went through your mind when you heard Ho speak?
My own thought after this call to nationalism was, something stirred up in me as motivation, pride in my country, and I thought, he has no fear of this war and he knows that we will win.
Which part of it was national pride and the salvation of your people, and which part motivation by Marxism-Leninism to create a socialist state?
It was all about freedom, love of country, patriotism, 99% was that. Marxism is not clear, just a purpose to look forward to in the future.
In 1954, then, with people who were equally patriotic, why did they flee to the south?
After the French failed, in 1954 northern people fled because some of them were in the Vietnam army set up by the French, some worked with the French and were afraid of vengeance, some were Catholic who listened to priests who said God is not in the north anymore, so move to the south, some loved the country but were cheated or misled.
When we started to fight Americans, a US Air Force general (Curtis LeMay) said he will bomb Vietnam back to the stone age. McNamara said he will talk to VCs with a billion bullets, and then the Americans tried to stop provisions of weapons from the north to the south. At Khe Sanh, they put troops there and a military base and said that nobody can attack this base. But Vietnamese overwhelmed it with thousands of troops, overran the base, unafraid. Americans used airplanes to provide cover but the planes were shot down. We attacked them and shot them day and night. If they continued it would be another Dien Bien Phu.
If Americans stay, people thought Americans would win. But look at the numbers. First there are 60,000, then 100,000, then 200,000, then 400,000 then 530,000 American soldiers plus one million South Vietnam troops. American has to change three generals. Westmoreland, Abrams, if you are winning, you don’t have to change your generals.
Even if you bomb Hanoi and win, it will cause a third world war because Russia and China will not just sit by. Americans used to claim that they would stay in South Vietnam forever, but in reality they couldn’t, and they had to withdraw. How can you win, when your people don’t support the war.
A lot of generals came to Vietnam after the war and had the same question: How did you win, and they asked General Giap. It’s very simple, he said, it was because Americans had not known much about the Vietnamese people,. A thousand years ago, a skillful Chinese military general Sun Tsu said know yourself, know the enemy, and in one hundred battles, you have a hundred victories. Americans sent troops, with a thousand ways to attack Vietnam. Americans want to kill us like they killed the Indians, want to destroy us. In the same way, we questioned ourselves whether we can win or not. Our first challenge was Nuih Tan mountain in Danang. One night, we took it as a first challenge or a first trial. We took it so we can see if we can win or not. One hundred American soldiers, and in one night we killed all of them in that base. After that, we determined that we had the confidence to win this battle with Americans.
We lost five million dead and injured, millions have Agent Orange infections. A lot of suffering. In Vietnam, we have unexploded ordnance under the ground and they try to get at them, and it will take another 300 years to get rid of them. If we talk about crimes committed by Americans here, it is incalculable. Vietnam still accepts those sacrifices. We still fight to the last breath because we want to follow Ho’s words that nothing is more precious than freedom. If we paid the cost 2-3x more than what we sustained, we will continue to fight.
I was teaching. Uncle Ho predicted that before America leaves Vietnam, it will destroy Hanoi, like it destroyed North Korea. If Hanoi can survive and resist the bombing, then America will surrender.
Uncle Ho predicted they will use B-52s to bomb Hanoi so we wrote a book for all air force soldiers how to resist the bombing. By the first Haiphong and Hanoi bombings, we had been preparing for a year and had 100 anti-aircraft batteries, but were defeated by evasive methods affecting our radar targeting. On the second night, they shot down a B-52 in Hanoi. To win the battles, we had to fight 12 days and nights. Hanoi residents spread out from the city to the villages. I had two kids by that time. We watched it like fireworks. I saw the plane explode as it was shot down.
There is a book by an former Sandinista guerrilla in Nicaragua where she laments the fact that their original ideals were largely unrealized. Where has communism succeeded in Vietnam?
Just one thing: from hell to heaven. During war times, there was no education, no medicine.
But was that the horror of war or was that the difference between colonial capitalism and communism?
If anyone in a village had a half chicken to eat, the whole village knows. We were provided 2.5 grams of meat for food. We no longer have to run away from fighting, bombs, and we can focus on living. We are still struggling with life, to become noble. we are still struggling to build up what we want.
What do you like and what don’t you like about Vietnamese communism?
Whether communist or capitalist, the first thing I like are the leaders who sacrificed for the liberation of the country. The communist leaders who sacrificed for us, who brought us from hell to heaven. I respect them and love them. Certain people have taken advantage, like a worm in the soup bowl. Nothing is perfect in any country, among one hundred communist or capitalist leaders, who is perfect?
In 1945, when Uncle Ho proclaimed freedom for his country, we had to go through another thirty years to fight and shed blood to have true independence and freedom. And so the same for a perfect communist, socialist country, we have to struggle and build. No party or person is perfect. Compare it to a human body, a healthy and unhealthy side.
What would you want to say to the American people?
Americans have to respect the charter of the United Nations, international law.
You can help another country, but you have to be sure of how you help them, by bringing happiness, not criminal misery, bombs and killing. That’s not help. Make them bloom like a flower, don’t bring destruction and chaos.
Americans should be responsible for its crimes: millions killed, Agent Orange, bombs, 300 years of unexploded ordnance. We need help.
You say In God We Trust on your money, and presidents still lay hands on the bible. Then obey one of the ten commandments from the Lord: Do Not Covet. You shall not covet. The final commandment.
As much of his family have become Christian, I asked about Marxist restrictions on freedom of religion.
It’s not about Marxism; if the religion is about pure faith in God, there is no judgment. We have a history of Christians, Catholics from France and America send spies that carry politics along with their bibles. That’s why they have to watch out. During the French war, Le Hew Tu, father of the French church, had his own army and wiped out a village and all its people. He allowed the French army to put cannon on top of the church.
As a Christian, ask if you love your enemy. If you claim yourself as Christian, you have to love your enemy and not covet. Don’t cause war, and make yourself rich by causing war. It’s OK to get rich, just not by causing war. Now Americans are always attacking: is that how you love your enemy?