Well, Vietnam was...had its major social problems out of the lack of cohesiveness and its society. There were families, and it's basically a family structure, but once you leave the confines of a village, which is not only the basic unit in Vietnam politically and socially, but it's perhaps the only place where there is some cohesion where elected rulers, executives, actually reflect the will of the people and are accepted by the people.
Once above that level, there are rivalries afoot, and the xenophobia of a village, of even people from ten miles away of being dirty foreigners certainly extends in their...or did extend in their national political life. So that the mistrust of the foreigner, meaning someone from another province or another city or another town or village is very evident in their attempts at political organization.
Political parties have always had a hard time. They no sooner start organizing than they get splinter groups branching off. The political party that brother Nhu had and tried to put together, the Can Lao
, became splintered but held together principally because there were civil servants who were members and one person in the civil service would tend to accept another person in the civil service as somebody who was known and not a foreigner.
So that that was its main strength and also its main weakness in that to be a member of the club meant that you weren't fired from a government job because you were a member so that it became, in its membership a little bit too self-serving, of members rather than of the public and that's where some corruption started in the Diem days.
The real tragedy of Vietnam was that the Vietnamese were never able to get together and rule themselves by accepting others long enough to let them take over the executive job and being accepted by people, even though they elected people. The very last day I was in Saigon
in the summer, a lot of the small town provincial politicos had wanted to come and say goodbye to me.
And a lawyer friend of mine, a Vietnamese, had invited them into his home in Saigon
. He lived in a very small home on a dirt street and so many people showed up that there was to be a luncheon in his house and the meeting couldn't take place in his house. It was too small so we sat along the curb of this dirt street and talked to each other. And there were several hundred of these politicians from all over the country. And the neighbors came in and brought soft drinks and food for the lunch to us, they were cooking at all these different homes around.
And the theme of my farewell to them was for God's sake learn to work with each other and unless you unify, you're going to lose your country, lose your homes and probably you could lose your lives. But during the thing I would ask a man what he believed about the something. And he would tell me what he believed. Usually very idealistic, highly principled and several others would be looking at him and would say I never knew you believed in that. That's what I believe in.
And I said that's the trouble with you. You never talk to each other enough to discover that you share a great deal in common. I got back to my house to finish packing and come back home and the phone was ringing and it was then President Thieu and he wanted to see me right away...I went over to the palace to see him and he told me that the police, his police had reported to him that I was fomenting a revolution out in the streets with all these politicians from all over the country.
And I said, "no, I'm doing something I'm very angry at you about." And he said, "why are you mad at me?" I said, "it’s your job as president of the country to talk to all these people and get them in and get their views and somehow or other get them working together." I said, "that is a leader's job" and I said, "don't let a foreigner, don't let an American like myself do it. I'm leaving and they were saying goodbye. I'll never see them again I don't think.
So how about you starting to act like a president for a change." And he was quite taken aback by that. And incidentally, he turned around then and gave me the painting as a farewell gift. But he said, "I thought you were starting a revolution to overthrow me and I wasn't going to give you this painting until now." So he changed his mind.