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Mau Than Revisited

Prof.Tran Xuan Ninh

January 1998 marks the 30th anniversary of the Viet Cong's Tet offensive. The Tet Mau Than event was a turning point for the war in Vietnam that led to the fall of South Vietnam. From a military tactical viewpoint, the offensive was a complete failure. The Vietcong propaganda used to indoctrinate their fighting force about the "general uprising of the people in the South that would overtake the government" never materialized. Almost all the NVA and Vietcong force were eradicated or suffered major losses. In addition, the local VC underground in the South was forced to expose their cover in order to link up with the main force.

Viet cong's sympathizers such as Duong Quynh Hoa, Do Trung Hieu, Nguyen Dac Xuan, Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong, Ton That Lap, etc… had to escape along with the washed-out NVA. The left over guerrillas who were later uprooted by the Phoenix program would have otherwise facilitated the control of South Vietnam after the April 1975. Incidentally, the NVA were fawned upon by the so called "Ba muoi thang tu" (persons of April 30) who would not hesitate to speak ill of their neighbors to receive favors from the winning Communist. From a strategic viewpoint, the Tet offensive was a major success for the Communist. Thanks to the modernization of media report of the Tet offensive, the anti-war movement in the United States has grown from a few odd young people standing at a street corner to massive demonstrations right on the steps of the White House.

The war seen on television and magazines by the American public has given an impression that the American were losing against the omnipotent NVA and Vietcong guerrillas and were not able to predict the Tet offensive. The repeated negative messages on the media about losses of lives and billions of dollars wasted for the futile of war in Southeast Asia have changed the attitude of the proud and invincible Americans. Thousands of hippies flooded the streets of America with slogan "Make love not war". From there, Pham Van Dong, war time Prime Minister of Vietnam, did not hesitate to grab the opportunity to publicly state that they were winning the war right on the streets of Washington.

The Americans came to Vietnam with a worthy mission - to help protect the South Vietnamese from the aggressive Communist from the North and to setup an outpost for the free world. Ironically, with hundreds of thousands of troops in South Vietnam, the painted picture of Americans in Vietnam was altered from helpers to invaders by the proclamation of the American public that the war was a whole futile campaign. Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh also conspired to portray the image of the Americans in Vietnam as the aggressors and of his army as the liberators to people of the South from the American invaders. In reality he was after the expansion of Communism. Conversely since the establishment of the proletarian regime in North Vietnam and there has been a general movement by the people of Vietnam against the tyranny of dictatorship during and after the anti-French war. Even today, the lives of Vietnamese are still being tightly clamped down under Communism, as human rights are ruthlessly trampled down more than ever. The thrive for freedom and democracy and respect for human rights by the Vietnamese is continuing and will not stop until the eradication of the Communist tyrants and until life can be meaningfully lived, until democracy and human rights are respected throughout the land.

The Tet offensive should be reviewed especially for those younger than 35 as this group consists of more than 50 per cent of the population and knows very little about what happened outside of the partial information recorded by American and Communist media.

Looking back at the news covered on American media and world wide the picture being seen the most is the picture of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan who shot a Viet cong captured in Saigon; the picture of the American Embassy attacked by Vietcong guerrillas and the picture of the Hue Citadel occupied by Vietcong for almost a month. Ironically, people of the world were not informed about the fact that the Vietcong shot by General Loan had massacred a whole family where the head of the family had been the General's subordinate. People were never informed about the difficulties faced by the security force to defend the American Embassy from the Vietcong's commandos. Nobody paid attention to loss of a whole Marine company of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) in just an attempt to cross a street to regain the flagpole by the Citadel in Hue. Neither was the decapitation of nine family members of Lieutenant Colonel Tuan in the outskirts of Saigon mentioned. And worse of all, the massacre of Hue, where thousands of unarmed citizens were clubbed to death and buried alive, were treated as minor news and practically escape world's attention.

The examples above just illustrate a few flaws in the world's media as far as the coverage of the Hue massacre and the whole Vietnam war in general. The world' media have reported only half of the truth in the intention to serve some short term political agenda. It is necessary to mention this fact for the following reason:

1- To provide any independent researcher with information so that they do not have to restrict themselves with only lopsided data which will shape inaccurate conclusions.

2- To provide a reason for any scholar to carry out their research based on a more complete selection of historical facts.

3- Due to the lack of historical facts from the Republic of South Vietnam side, it is necessary to provide an accurate edited version by collecting and assessing information from the eye witnesses. We cannot continue to blame others for their partial view of the war if we remain silent. The publication of the "History of the Vietnamese Marine Corps Army of the Republic of Vietnam" was a first effort toward this goal.

4- To identify the essence of the struggle for freedom by our people, the nature of the power elite of Communist Vietnam, the intricacy of our relationship with friends and foes, our national interests versus foreigners interests, the transient nature of foreign intervention through deceptive rhetoric.

5- To remind those involved in the struggle for freedom to be on the constant alert to maintain an objective view on news reported from the media.

In retrospect, people may condemn the Vietcong for violating the truce during Tet. The only period that the general population could find a peaceful time to be with their family. However, worldwide history has shown that agreements were made to be broken and Vietcong were not the only ones doing it. Death and losses during the Tet offensive were tremendous and were inevitable things that happened during wartime. The paramount issue drawn from the Tet offensive was the brutal nature of their campaign and this reflects the barbaric rationality the Communist leaders. The beheading of nine family members, including children, in Hanh Thong Tay (near Saigon) and many similar gory executions are still in the minds of the eyewitnesses. The massacre of thousands of people in Hue was not a result of personal vendettas but was rather a strategy of terror based on the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist determination to eliminate their enemies using "revolutionary violence". The picture of victims trapped in cages floated on rivers, decapitated, organs removed are normal Vietcong practices throughout their guerrilla warfare, to name a few. Or to imprison almost half of the population in the South, immediately after 1975 conquest, as this half are considered as enemy of the state. It is the cruelty of this regime and their fanatic policies that have caused major setbacks to both the mentality of the people and the economic growth of the country.

The damage done since 1975 far outweighed the physical destruction caused by the war. The collective effort and the tenacity of Vietnamese population, under the so called "clear-sighted leadership of the Party", has not helped the country moved forward. The brutality of the policies can be clearly extracted from Ho Chi Minh's assertion " we are willing to burn the whole Annamese cordillera (Truong Son) to liberate the South if need be."

During the period between 1979 and 1981 throughout a number of Human Rights conferences, in concert with the Human Rights activist Ginetta Sagan, the self-reproached anti-war activist Joan Baez and many International amnesty organization around the world publicly criticized the wickedly cruel policies of Communist Vietnam against their imprisonment of all South Vietnam servicemen/women in the so called "re-education camps". "It is a normal treatment that the losers should get from the winners" was the blunt defense used in Communist responses. Such reactionary defense did not gain the brutal totalitarian regime any friends.

It was not necessary to disclose all cruel treatments that Hanoi has bestowed upon its own troops - a doze of its own medicine - but a few incidents during the Tet offensive cannot be overlooked. People never questioned the reasoning behind the second offensive in May 1968 where the offensive side consisted of crippled remnant force from the first offensive back in January. These feeble attacks were promptly overcome and did not create any worldwide attention. By perusing the facts on the battle fields during the Tet offensive the answer would prick out using just common sense: Communist leaders have relentlessly sacrificed the lives of thousands of young men. For those few men that survived the loss of the first offensive wave, their lives again were forfeited in the second offensive wave. As far as Hanoi was concern, it was wise to have to continue to support the crippled demoralized remnant force. Worse than that it was not proper to have this losing force rejoined the newly recruited as their battle stories may affect the fighting spirit of those that had not been there. To kill two birds with one stone. We can now understand why NVA soldiers were chained to their tanks or artilleries and why each "bo doi" (North Vietnamese Infantry man) was given 5000 piastres (Dong) so they could spend once South Vietnam was completely occupied by the North. The mother-of -all wicked strategies: Coercion, Deception and death traps.

Since the era of "Doi Moi" Communist leaders have reiterated the "forget the past" policy. Some American veterans, now politicians, also advocate "forget the past, look forward to the future" slogan. Interestingly, it is hard for history to be forgotten when people are constantly reminded to forget the past. Those that died and were massacred during Tet Mau Than have remained silent. The war invalids from both sides of Vietnam did not have much of a voice either. Materially, properties have unjustly been confiscated and transferred within the corrupted hands under the post '75 slogan "thrive fast, thrive strong toward Socialism" and the Doi Moi slogan "Market Economy under Socialist Direction". Therefore the history that was requested to be forgotten was a convenient history that was applied only to fit the agenda of the Machiavellian totalitarians. Forget not the triumph over the American Imperialist, the leadership role of the Party and the slogan " fight Americans to save our nation" (Chong My cuu nuoc) can now be conveniently disposed - as "we need the American dollars". The fate for the "Forever friendship with our great Soviet allies" rhetoric can also be predicted. "Must we also forget about the free world" where freedom and democracy are the keys to the success in the Global Economy. And Thou shall collaborate with those economic tyrants to slowly change the political system, where freedom and democracy will permeate down to the destitute mass.

The deep wounds of the war have begun to heal for its participants. The review of Mau Than is not meant to regurgitate the ugliness of the war to the later generations. Looking back at Tet Mau Than, as a historical reference of a period in the war, to reflect and compare it with contemporary facts so a solution can be arrived for the future. What conclusions can one draw from based on the solicitous open arm policy toward the Americans today and the determination to sacrifice lives during the war then. Was the lives sacrificed, under the leadership of Communist Vietnam, in vain? Is there a difference in the image of an American teaching English, assisting in animal husbandry in Vietnam back then and the image of an American returning to Vietnam today to provide humanitarian in response to the much Communist implorations? Those South Vietnamese that had received training in the US were accused of being agents of CIA. Meanwhile those receive training from the same source today are considered as front runners of the revolution.

In conclusion, the mentioning of Tet Mau Than and the war instigated by Communist Vietnam is not more than a reminder of the ruthlessness of the Communist villains. More than half a century has passed since the Second War ended and the Jewish Holocaust has been frequently mentioned by world's media and the search for the war criminals are still continued. These exercises are preventive methods for any future atrocity recurrence, a sound reasoning. The toll of the war, labeled liberation of South Vietnam, which was really the result of Communist expansion was tabulated to close to 3 millions dead and injured according to the latest statistics from Hanoi. These statistics did not include those killed during the Land Reform (1954), the misadventure into Cambodia in the late 70's and those that died at sea in search of freedom (Boat people exodus) and those that died in concentration camps as well as those living corpse that were released from the gulags. Not to mention the dispersion of the population in a Vietnam classified as the one of the poorest and most backward country in the world.

The intensity of damage caused by the Communist in Vietnam exceeds the toll of the Jews killed by the Nazi as the destruction in Vietnam has spanned more than two generations. The Vietnam war ended near a quarter century ago, Tet Mau Than happened 30 years ago, the wickedly cruel Communist government is still here, the Communist ringleaders are still here; though their outer appearance is now "Doi Moi", no more "non coi, dep rau" (tire sandals, expedition helmet). General Le Kha Phieu a cunning, longstanding Communist member and just got elected as the First Secretary of the Communist party of Vietnam. Recently, in December 1997, Ton That Lap, the Hue massacre informer, led a group of performers to Canada and Australia to polish the image of the regime.

It is the utmost importance that our generation and the future generation aware is made of the Communist brutality during Tet Mau Than.

-- LeTrungNam (, February 04, 2005

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