A Bridge Between The Past And The Future

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A Bridge Between The Past And The Future

Lam Le Trinh / Lam Le Trinh Homepage, Acceuil, Trang Nha

Note from the editor: this is an extract from a speech delivered by Dr. Lam Le Trinh in Oklahoma City on April 30, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the annexation of South Vietnam by the communists.

. For the past two decades, it is traditional on April 30th of every year for the American media, the Hanoi government and the Vietnamese diaspora to commemorate the end of the Vietnam war, each in its own way. In spite of assurances to the contrary by Washington, the United States is still suffering from the "Vietnam syndrome". The communists in Hanoi are haunted by the perceived threat of "peaceful evolution". And the Vietnamese immigrant community is struggling to form a unified bloc.

How long will the United States, the Hanoi government and the Vietnamese diaspora carry their respective baggage? Which way is Vietnam heading? What is our legacy to our children? To be able to pass the torch, something must be created. Is the new Vietnamese generation, in Vietnam and abroad, ready to take over?

So many questions which remain unanswered today.

Two facts are clear:

First of all, who would have thought, 25 years ago, when the Northern troops invaded South Vietnam, that the all-powerful Soviet Union would collapse in 1989, taking down with it its Eastern European satellites? No-one could have predicted either how quickly the people would become disenchanted with Marxism, while Ho Chi Minh's doctrine finds itself powerless to get the country of its impasse? Ho and the party shamelessly exploited the love of the Vietnamese for their country and put patriotism at the service of international Communism. This was the most scandalous abuse of trust in the heroic history of our unhappy nation. And today, Vietnam is in an impasse, at all levels, political, ideological, cultural, economic and social.

The second important fact is that the old men of the Politburo, die-hard champions of the "development of socialism at all costs" as well as the nationalists hardliners who want "to get rid of Marxism to the last man" are inevitably on their way out. In Vietnam and abroad, there is a dangerous generation gap which needs to be bridged. Two generations of Vietnamese have seen the day since the end of the war, two generations who do not feel hatred or resentment and are as indifferent to building up Marxism as they are to its destruction. Many of these youths ask themselves "Who am I? Where do I come from? Who can help me? Who should I believe?" in their painful yet exciting search for identity.

These two facts highlight the problem of transition between generations. It is the rebirth of Vietnam that is at stake. The differences of views and opinions between young and old need to be addressed. The young generation (forty and younger, and three-quarters of the population) is responsible for the reconstruction of our country. These new young leaders have to make a choice between good and bad, progress and stagnation. They are free to judge and act. They must choose wisely: final objectives, direction, means, modes of action, speed of implementation. In Vietnam, the struggle between communists and nationalists which has gone on for over half a century, has become a fierce confrontation between democratic and totalitarian forces. Final objectives have to take into consideration national sovereignty, multipartism, respect for human rights and social justice. In other words, the authoritarianism of a single party, the planned economy and class struggle, which are so important to Hanoi, are quite unacceptable.

With the technological know-how it has acquired, the new Vietnamese generation in the diaspora represents a national resource of great value. The problem is how to win over the hearts and minds of these young people who have no ideological links with the past and who are looking to the future. They must look objectively at the experience and deeds of the older generation from both sides of the divide, weigh them and draw from them the necessary lessons. And they have to do this in order to solve the diversions and contradictions, not the feeling of hatred, that exist between the two sides after thirty five years of ideological war and foreign intervention.

It is time for the two sides to put an end to the mutual recriminations and propaganda war. On the other hand, preaching democracy is not all. It has to be practiced first by those who call themselves the supporters of democracy before it can be developed in our country.

During this transitional period, the new generation needs the unconditional support of its elders. Realistic, open and honest debate about what went wrong in the past must take place. To go back to the source is the best way towards progress. This way, we will discover the life force of our country and we will be able to start again. It is counter-productive to try and excite emotions and force the issue when we can accomplish so much more through reason. We must trust our youth and respect their competence and common sense and the experience of democracy that they have acquired through living and growing up in free countries.

Towards the end of 1994, during a literary symposium in Paris, writer Duong Thu Huong had remarked that "The Vietnamese people has vast experience of fighting foreign invaders but no experience of fighting domestic invaders". History has indeed demonstrated time and again that Vietnam, a tiny nation, has successfully repelled foreign invaders. Contrary to Duong Thu Huong's statement, it has also known many civil wars, under the Le, the Trinh, the Tay Son and more recently between the Communist North and Nationalist South. The Gianh and Ben Hai rivers have often been dividing lines in our country. All the invasions Vietnam has known, either foreign or domestic, have tried to rob the people of its right to self-determination and to impose on it a slave mentality. The right to self-determination is the supreme right of a people, not the absolute right of those who seize power.

The domestic invasions in Vietnam were aimed at occupying territory and dominating its inhabitants. Ho Chi Minh and his party set up the worst kind of dictatorship because their goal was to put the Vietnamese people under communist control and to morally destroy it through materialist atheism. For seven decades, Ho and his disciples tried to create, through brainwashing and propaganda, the "new Vietnamese man", a rootless follower of Marxist-Leninism, an enemy of religion, a propagandist for the social class struggle. Before 1985, the Communists ruled the country with the slogan "Long live the proletariat, death to the capitalists!". With the advent of Doi Moi after 1985, they created a new social class - the "red" capitalists - who went on ruling the impoverished nation. Those who had once called themselves the "servants of the people" now formed a mafia of arrogant, corrupted bourgeois, more cruel than the former colonialists.


Our main preoccupation should not be "When is the Vietnamese Marxist government going to collapse?" (that will happen soon enough!) but rather: "Are we ready to replace that regime with better institutions? If so, which ones? What have we done so far to prepare ourselves?"

Our other concern is that the supporters of democratization in Vietnam do not seem to agree on the urgent necessity to play an active part in the behind-the-scenes talks that are presently being held between Hanoi and the world powers (the United States first among them).

Most Vietnamese dream only of this: have enough to eat, to be protected from the abuses of the rulers, to be free to honor one's ancestors and to move around, to own a patch of rice-field and to be free to elect one's representatives. Those who can make this dream come true will have the unconditional support of the Vietnamese people and thus gain legitimacy.

Instead of relying on foreign aid, why not try to help ourselves? The Vietnamese is hard working, has courage to spare and is modest in his wants. The country has ample resources if they can be managed wisely. Why not wake up and strengthen the conscience of the people? Once unified and energized, it can be an irresistible force. History has shown that any alliance with a foreign power - however formidable - ends up in failure if it does not have popular support. Democracy is viable only if it takes root among the people. Democracy cannot be imported. Political regimes and ideologies are ephemeral. The people alone remains, indestructible.

This is our last chance. If Vietnam meets with another failure, it will fall farther back into poverty and under-development. If this happens, it will take our young generation much much more time to catch up and look civilized nations in the eyes. History will not forgive. All Vietnamese will carry the blame, whichever side of the divide they are on, whatever age they are.

Lam Le Trinh

May 18, 2000 Homepage

-- (Ng_Quyền@New_Việt_Nam.com), October 05, 2004

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