Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pham Duy Remembers the Fall of South Vietnam

Pham Duy, poet and singer. [1921-2013]

In 1974 I was a composer and a singer and a writer and I made living in that way.
I entertained soldiers and civilians throughout the country. I spent time with him and performed also for the American soldiers.
We never believed that the Americans would abandon us, we could not conceive of it. Not even myself. I could not foresee the defeat. You Americans send men to the moon, so how could you possibly lose in Vietnam.
It was like a bad nightmare, a bad dream. With the loss of Ban Me Thuot I saw that everything was lost.
In 1968 we won. And when Phuoc Long fell in late 1974 I thought we would win it back. But when Ban Me Thuot fell in March 1975, that was the end, as I saw it.
I envisioned after that time, a military collapse. When the communists win, for me I cannot stay around. You cannot live with them. You cannot.
I never thought it would be retaken. When they killed the French journalist, the Saigon police, they did not want the news to get out.
My own personal freedom as an artist in South Vietnam? There was not very much censorship. There was relative freedom. I was never constrained. Thieu was a corrupted man, but he was not a very good dictator.
I had traveled internationally and performed, so I had been outside of Vietnam. One day before Saigon fell I left.
As for some coalition government in the end, I had no faith in it. I knew the communists. I am sixty five years old. I spent seven years with Ho Chi Minh and with the Viet Minh in the war against the French. I left the the North in 1952 and I knew about the Communists at that time. General Giap was once my teacher. I was his student in Hanoi, I went to high school there, the Thang Long school, a private school.
He was a very intelligent man and very popular with the students. We thought he was a nationalist. But unfortunately he was a communist too. His wife was killed by the French, his former wife.
He taught us the history of Vietnam. He taught us how to love our country. Ho Chi Minh was a hero when I was young, but unfortunately he became a communist, too.
I was anti-French and anti-colonialist. But I did not agree with the communists about what to do. I saw the people's tribunals where the tried their enemies, between the proletariat and the land owner there was no middle class. More than one million people left Vietnam in 1954, the Stalinists is what made them do it. They were far more fond of the Russians than they were of the Americans, no matter what they said.
In 1954 Ho promised three things, liberty, independence and happiness. Now after 45 years we have no freedom, you cannot go from village to village without passport, we don't have independence, we depend on the Soviets. and We don't have any happiness.
In Ho's blood was the communistspirit. He was like Pham Van Dong, Pham Van Dong's mind, like the mind of Ho, stops at about 1940, all of them. Even if they become disillusioned they cannot quit. They were all on the back of the tiger.
They were evil, even more than evil.
I am now collecting the oral poetry that comes out from Vietnam. About 60 million people are unhappy there.
I left VN on the 30th of April, by American plane, out of Tan Son Nhut, I was with the last pilot who flew out of the airport.
I took one last look. We saw but we did not see anything. All the people on the plane were Vietnamese. They took us to the Philippines.
I heard of the surrender in the Philippines. The surrender saved lives and it saved Saigon. So maybe he was a hero, Duong Van Minh, the last president of South Vietnam, he did the right thing since there was no hope by then.
The South Vietnamese soldiers that I knew had good morale, even in the last hours, they were still fighting, the Airborne were fighting at the Newport Bridge, everything was falling around them and they were still fighting.
Even now after 13 years I still dream about Vietnam. How could I not. I can never get it out of my mind.
I was born in 1921 in North Vietnam. I was educated at high school and the school of art in Hanoi. I traveled widely. I have been all around the world. People in Vietnam compared me to Woody Guthrie. I studied music in Paris, I came to America three times before the end of the war.
In 1966 I came to America. The Americans did not understand what was going on. I spoke with some military officers in Washington and again in 1969. I told them that the Communists were not fighting us in Vietnam but in Washington, D. C., I said that after I saw the peace demonstrations. The war had come to America. I thought that maybe the Americans were too naive.
I think you misunderstood us and we misunderstood the free world -- the Vietnamese. We did. We did not see the war in Vietnam like a game between the great powers. We saw it as fighting between communism and freedom, and Vietnam was like the front in that conflict. And we thought that you would never abandon us, that you would fight there until the end.
I think that the assassination of Diem was a turning point. There was no good leader after him. The man who was elected our leaders, they were not prepared, they could not lead.
They were our leaders, but they were not politicians, that was the problem.
Now the Vietnamese must and will make a new life here. They will become Americans on the outside. But they will always be Vietnamese in their hearts, and they will return to Vietnam to see the country of their heritage. Their hearts will always belong to Vietnam.
What do I think motivated General Giap and the other communists. Their goals are power. Power! They have an ideology that is very good to hear, and people listen to them. But when they act, they show they are empty. Once they take over the first people to be punished are those who do not agree with them 100 percent. I know what they would have done to me, they would have killed me like a dog once they took over, so I could not stay. I had once associated with them in the North. Oh, I got to know them very well and I knew they could not let me live if they won.

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