Why Vietnam Must Remember February 17
[18/02/2009 - Author: admin1 - Vietnam Review]
Danger lies in forgetting a cruel war
By Pham Hông Son Feb 15, 2009
HANOI—February 17 marks the 30th anniversary day of the outbreak of the Sino-Vietnamese War. It was short—just about a month—but so bloody and cruel that tens of thousands of people lost their lives. Many Vietnamese women were raped, many women and children were killed by being hacked to death with axes or forest knives, and nearly all the civilian infrastructure in six border provinces of Vietnam was completely destroyed.
As I write this, only a few days remain before this 30th anniversary of this war, but no articles in Vietnam’s official media recall this event. In several recent years, official media in Vietnam have maintained a timid behavior towards such China-related issues as the secret border agreement in 1999, and islands or landmarks shared or occupied by China.
Many activists and bloggers who tried to speak out about China’s evil have been imprisoned or intimidated. It is clear that the incumbent leaders of Vietnam do not want to commemorate such an event as this war; they are keeping silent and attempting to silence others in the face of China’s hegemony.
The Dangers of Silence
Three dangers result from that silence.
First, a danger occurs inside Vietnam. An essential factor that made up the legitimacy for Communist Party of Vietnam’s sole leadership in the last five decades has been its efforts to defend national sovereignty.
Whatever the different opinions may be about the two major struggles in the twentieth century in Vietnam, one with the French and the other with the American-backed regime, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) took the lead and became the winner.
In the long history of Vietnam, the nation’s pride lay in never bending before the attacker or invader, especially before the traditional Northern invader. A few Vietnamese leaders in history who went to the Northern neighbor for help against popular uprisings have been condemned severely.
Moreover, the CPV’s strategy in struggling for power was always to find every opportunity to accuse opponents of co-operating with a foreign enemy. But, ironically, now it is the CPV who has allowed many of Vietnam’s lands, seas, and islands to be lost into China’s hand over the last five decades.
The CPV must have observed that a simmering indignation exists among people who are aware of these concessions. A veteran soldier who fought in the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979 recently wrote in the private blog Osin: “What we call a ‘victory’ had to be paid for with blood and human heads. … And 30 years have passed since we advanced furiously straight to the northern border, but islands are still lost and the country is still silent.”
The CPV is now trying every effort to hide their concessions to the Northern invader. The CPV may succeed in silencing people to some extent, but over time, with the support of a sophisticated Internet, the truth will come to every person. And the current silence will become as dangerous as a tight lid on a hot steaming pot.
Ambitions of the Chinese Regime
The second danger is to encourage the Chinese regime’s imperial ambitions. China is vast in geography and great in culture and history. In the far past China was for centuries a superpower. So an ambition to bring back the past image of a superpower for a contemporary China is understandable and natural.
But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has held sole rule over China since 1949, took several wrong and disastrous ways to achieve this ambition. In the Mao era from 1949-1976, China conducted a series of such paranoid policies as the “Anti-rightist campaign”(1957), the “Great Leap Forward” (1958-1960), and the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1969). These campaigns only brought the death of tens of millions of people and a huge devastation of China’s ancient culture and natural environment.
Deng Xiaoping became Mao’s successor in 1978 and opened up China’s economy and sought modern technology. However, China contains within itself the seeds of an insidious disaster, such as Japan in the Meiji era or Germany in the post-WWI period encountered. Germany and Japan, which developed powerful economies by applying scientific knowledge and know-how, were both led by authoritarian politics into a catastrophic attempt at hegemony–World War II.
So the silent or compliant behavior of the CPV before China’s hegemony southward has the effect of urging the CCP to venture further on a wrong and disastrous path.
The third danger is to destabilize the regional and world peace. In the long history of earlier times, war was not a rare phenomenon for the two countries Vietnam and its Northern neighbor. Nearly every dynasty in China carried out at least one invasion into its southern neighbor Vietnam.
But Vietnam’s leaders, together with their people, were always determined to defend its sovereignty and its honor, though the leaders had to conduct a skillful diplomacy toward their giant neighbor after any victories. So for several centuries, the Vietnamese people’s resistant spirit made an indomitable shield for South-East Asia nations against Northern invasion. But now Vietnam’s contemporary leaders, the CPV, have failed to follow their ancestors’ wisdom and the shield Vietnam historically provided for regional and even world peace is being broken up.
A Way Out
In a time of economic crisis, people may neglect to care about anything other than making money. Thus, a brief war like the Sino-Vietnamese war that broke out 30 years ago may no longer draw much attention. However, the attacker’s desire for hegemony remains fierce and appears stronger.
More importantly, the attacker behaves aggressively not just toward the outsider but toward the insider, as democracy activists inside China face suppression. Just as many Chinese are today calling for democracy, so are many Vietnamese. Democracy has proven to be the best solution to settle any dispute or trouble without violence and is the best mechanism to build social harmony and national prosperity in a durable peace.
One small step toward bringing democracy to Vietnam and to China is to speak out about the meaning of February 17.
Dr. Pham Hông Son in early 2002 translated into Vietnamese the article "What is Democracy?" that was posted on a website of the U.S. embassy in Vietnam. Sentenced to 13 years in prison, he spent 4.5 years in prison and has been under house arrest in Hanoi since his release in August 2006. Author of many on-line essays focusing on political and social subjects of national interest, in 2003 and 2008 he was one of the winners of Human Rights Watch Hellmann/Hammet grants, awarded to writers suffering political persecution.