Saigon, U.S.A (Plus C’est la Même Chose)

…what Americans need to face is that these horrors are in fact being perpetrated with American assent, by a government kept in power solely by American military might, by men paid for by American dollars, and in a system permeated by American advisors. This is part of the black and spreading stain of shame that the Vietnam war has cast on this country’s reputation. To win a war, or to end it “with honor”—honor, no less—we condone and finance a totalitarian government in the total suppression of individual rights, and in a pattern of imprisonment and torture that should be turning our stomachs with revulsion…
–Alfred Hassler, Saigon, U.S.A. [p. 97]

This book was a plea to the Establishment by a solid Peacenik in 1970:  Pay attention to the Buddhist Third Force!  They are the ones, Alfred Hassler believed, who were the alternative to the NLF, the Communists, and the Saigon government. [1] Hassler amply documented Saigon’s repression, its 200,000 political prisoners, its extensive practice of torture, its overcrowded and inhumane jails, its anti-democratic maneuvers to stay in power, backed by the United States who, obviously, had no interest whatsoever in an independent force, because that would be one the US could not control.  Even the spokesmen of the Third Force said that they, too, would be forced to choose the NLF, if something wasn’t done.

Since the mid-Sixties through his work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alfred  Hassler threw his lot with the Vietnamese Buddhists like Nhat Hanh (as well as Thich Tri Quang, Thich Thanh Van, Thich Quang Lien, and many others, whose names are unknown or forgotten by the U.S. citizenry). This book documents  both that relationship and a study team he headed up with people like Jesuit Robert Drinan to go and investigate the situation in South Vietnam and make a report back to their fellow citizens and the government (as if our government didn’t know these things!). [2]

There is some naiveté in Hassler, as when he believed that the United States government would care about a genuine democratic alternative.  To the contrary, the US supported the repression of the Buddhist movement and tried to do the same for the NLF, with its post-Tet Phoenix Program of widespread assassination.

Those Vietnamese that came to power in 1975 were the true children of Ho Chi Minh, who had written decades before in a  Chinese jail:

Without the cold and desolation of winter
There could not be the warmth and splendor of spring.
Calamity has tempered and hardened me,
And turned my mind to steel. [3]

 

[1] Hassler: “The strength of the National Liberation Front and of the North Vietnamese derives from the authentic nationalism that expresses itself in this drive for independence. The Communists, who control both the NLF and the North Vietnamese, are Vietnamese, not Russian or Chinese, and are authentic nationalists themselves. Their control has been steadily strengthened by the very visible fact that their adversaries, who have brought by far the greatest amount of suffering to the country, are either foreigners or Vietnamese who are dependent on those foreigners.”  [p.106]

[2]  “The Vietnamese and we have indelibly stamped each other with our marks. We have destroyed beyond hope or remaking parts of their ancient culture; they have destroyed our innocence and belief in our own goodness. Neither of us can avoid the consequences of our collision, but each can gain from our future relationships if we will. It is a sign of the impact of the Vietnamese on me that I think the West in general and Americans in particular will be the greater gainers in the exchange.”  [p. 18]

[3]  Ho Chi Minh, Prison Diary.

 

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