This article appeared on the website Book Hunter, April 30, 2016.
- Why do you choose to return and live in Vietnam?
It’s a choice I made, to accept an opportunity to come here as a veteran, an American citizen, and in some small ways contribute to what I discovered in 1992 as a tourist, my first time returning to Viet Nam after the war. I witnessed people all over Viet Nam working hard to recover from the war and to rebuild not just the country’s infrastructure, damaged by so much destruction and devastation, but also to rebuild their lives and their communities after many years of war and a constant struggle to survive.
I thought perhaps I could somehow contribute something positive, something constructive, instead of being part of the destruction that was brought about by war. I felt that I had some responsibility to do my part in helping, if I could, as a war veteran and as a concerned American citizen.
I have been fortunate to have that opportunity, as a veteran, representing and working with American veterans organizations such as Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), and Veterans For Peace (VFP). Our work has focused on trying to repair, reduce, or eliminate the consequences of the war related to the legacies of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and Agent Orange / dioxin (AO).
- Could you tell me why did you get involved in the Vietnam War and when did you realize the truth about this war?
I enlisted in the U.S. Army because I was about to be drafted, and I thought perhaps I could get a better deal and avoid the war if I enlisted for three years, to choose my assignment, instead of two years as a draftee which would allow me no choices whatsoever. Actually it made no difference; nothing changed, I was sent to Viet Nam and assigned to a military intelligence unit in Saigon. I had no choice over anything.
When I arrived in Viet Nam I did not have a concrete idea about the war. I assumed that President Johnson and the U.S. Congress had a reason for “stopping the communists” in Viet Nam, and I was just doing my part as a loyal and patriotic American. I didn’t like the idea of the war, I didn’t want to come here as a soldier, but I did not resist.
However, in just three or four months I realized that something was terribly wrong, and what the U.S. government had been telling the American people was confusing, misguided, misleading, deceptive – it was a lie. And that was a very hard realization for me to accept, because I had always believed that the American government would never lie to the people. But I had to accept the terrible reality that the war was a huge and costly exercise in death and destruction that was making some American companies rich and which was causing untold loss, agony, and grief for so many innocent people – Americans and Vietnamese alike. In my work as an intelligence specialist, I saw many classified and unclassified documents and reports that only reinforced my belief that the war was wrong. I saw that we were providing inaccurate information to the American people about the costs and the likely outcome. It seemed certain to me and my fellow soldiers that America could never win in Viet Nam, yet no American government had the courage to tell the truth and to quit the war.
The Tet Offensive in 1968 was a huge turning point. It was very costly for the Vietnamese – thousands of soldiers killed, major sacrifices and losses – but it was a huge psychological victory that convinced the American people that the war was futile. It could never be won. Yet it still took seven more years for the war to finally come to a bitter and exhausting end.
- Nowadays, there are many Vietnamese young people beilieve that “The Vietnam War is a civil war and the North of Vietnam invaded the South of Vietnam, and the US government was the savior of The South.” What is your opinion about this?
The “civil war” interpretation of the confrontation which has been too conveniently characterized as a “north-south” struggle is a figment of the creative minds of historians and apologists who refuse to face reality. If Vietnamese young people believe that, they have been sadly misled by myths, distortions, and rewrites of history. Yes, there have been geographic and cultural divisions within Viet Nam, language variations and ethnic distinctions. Some of these go back many centuries. They are more accurately described as three general demarcations: north, central, and south. The north-side political and military divide was a creation of outside powers, the result of negotiations in Geneva in 1954 to set the terms of the French withdrawal after their defeat at the hands of the People’s Army of Viet Nam at Dien Bien Phu. Terms of the Geneva Agreement called for a separation of the fighting forces – the Vietnamese to the north and the French to the south – to allow for a peaceful and orderly withdawal of the French forces. In 1956 national elections were to be held, when a unified government for one Viet Nam would be chosen by vote of all Vietnamese citizens, nationwide.
However, during that period, the U.S. began to replace the French and to establish a new “government” in the south, under Pres. Ngo Dinh Diem, which had never existed before. The 1956 elections were cancelled because, as U.S. President Eisenhower said openly, there was no doubt that Ho Chi Minh would have been elected overwhelmingly in a popular democratic vote. And the U.S. could not allow that. So the U.S. government, using the CIA and other agencies, established the southern regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, recognized it as a legitimate government, and supported Diem and his newly created army and police forces with money and weapons.
We know the rest of that tragic history.
If the U.S. had not intervened, no one can say with certainty what would have happened. However, as my best friend in Saigon – a South Vietnamese soldier – said to me in 1968, “There would be no war in Viet Nam if you Americans were not here. No one supports the southern government. As long as you Americans are here, we will have no peace. So please leave, my friend. Then we will have peace. It may take six months. It may take two years. But Vietnamese can talk to Vietnamese. If you are not here in our country, we will make peace.”
- In the globlisation Vietnamese people and American people can share and do business together. Is it possible for Vietnamese goverment and the US government be friends in the future?
The Vietnamese people have long extended the hand of friendship to Americans. Americans have responded with appreciation and respect. The U.S. and Vietnamese governments have established diplomatic relations and a good working relationship based on friendship and mutual respect. There is no reason why this should not continue long into the future. As Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap said to me the first time I met him, “Our two countries must never fight again.” I believe that as firmly as Gen. Giap stated it to me.
Yet Viet Nam must also be very cautious, very thoughtful in its relations with the U.S. and with all other foreign countries, steadfastly maintaining its independence in policy, statements, and deeds and actions, avoiding any tangling alliances that reduce Viet Nam’s flexibility and ability to protect the country’s and the people’s best interests. Viet Nam must continue to maintain a very careful balance between China and the U.S., for example, and not let one power push Viet Nam off balance vis-à-vis other nations. Viet Nam especially should be very wise in decisions regarding weapons procurement and military cooperation. Viet Nam’s greatest defense is the will of its people. Military machines and technology will never be adequate, can never substitute for the strength, unity and determination of the ordinary people of Viet Nam. Viet Nam’s leadership needs to always remember that. Other nations would be wise to recall Viet Nam’s thousand-year history which provides ample evidence of that reality.
- How can Vietnamese people be friends with American people regardless the relationship between vietnamese government and the us government?
Nowadays it’s quite simple. With the Internet and global communications, individuals and groups of interested friends can be in easy contact, which the governments in both countries should encourage. Sharing ideas, concerns, questions, solutions is energizing, creative, the connections nurture new opportunities that can benefit both peoples and both countries. Institutions such as the Vietnam-USA Society and many other organizations under the umbrella of VUFO – the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations – carry on a very active “people-to-people” diplomacy program which is an important channel of communications.
Neither government, the U.S. or Viet Nam, has any reason to worry about strong and active contacts between people young and old of both countries. This is a natural bridge that links hands of friendship in support of understanding and peace. Such dynamics are a huge asset for the governnments of Viet Nam and America, which make the task of governing easier, more beneficial for all concerned, and likely to create policies that more accurately reflect the unity and support of the people.
Nếu bạn đọc nào quan tâm có thể liên hệ trực tiếp tới bác Chuck Searcy theo thông tin liên hệ dưới đây. Bác hiện sống ở Hà Nội và rảnh rỗi từ 1/5 – 7/5/2016 (trừ thứ 3 và thứ 4).