The agony of Luce's friend, Tighe

Don Luce reading a letter written to him by a Vietnamese person during the time of the struggle movement. This is audio only, filmed material picks up after this.
Maybe this is the last letter I send you because I must make the choice. The choice of my life. I am pushing to the wall to choose this side or the other side and not the middle way, I can no more use my mouth my voices my heart, my hands, for useful things, All the people here have to choose to manipulate guns. And they have to point straightly in the face of each other. One side, the Vietnamese city people and Americans, another side, Vietnamese rural people and Communists and leftist minded people. But have I to choose? What have I to choose? But all things are relative now, I can't side even with Americans or Communists but you have no choice. Or this side or the other side. With Americans you are accused of allies at Imperialism. Of pure colonialism,
Do that over again.
With Americans you are accused of allies at Imperialism. Of pure colonialism. You are in the side of foreigners. Of the people who kill your people, who bomb your country. With the eternal foreigners who always wanted to subjugate you for thousands of years, No, it's a desperate situation, I want so desperately to be still in jail. It don't pose before you a terrible problem to choose, I can't keep quietly.
I can't have a peaceful mind in these days. I can't become a mercenary in this kind of puppet army. Americans in uniform are not my friends at all. They are just foreign troops in my country. Furthermore, I can't carry the gun and kill my people, Communists or not. They're all my co patriots that I learn to love to encherish. No, I can't physically and mentally. I met many of our friends. They're so desperate.
Start again.
I can't become a mercenary in this kind of puppet army. Americans in uniform are not my friends at all. They are just foreign troops in my country. Furthermore, I can't carry the gun and kill my people, Communists or not. They're all my co patriots that I learn to love to encherish. No, I can't physically and mentally. I met many of our friends. They're so desperate. A, he dropped by to see me, he said, he said he could not fire in the battlefield without blooding in his heart.
He can't help crying for his own dilemma, B said desperately, maybe he'd side with the VC against the militarists many at my friends in Hue must have to choose or prison in this side or some kind of desperate collaboration with the other side. I want quietly to do things well. I met many of our friends, they're so depressed. A, he stopped by to see me. He said he could not fire in the battlefield without blooding in his heart. He can't help crying for his own dilemma. B said desperately, maybe he'd side with the VC against these militarists.
Many of my friends in Hue must have to choose or prison in this side or some kind of desperate collaboration with the other side. I want quietly to do my things well. To build a new environment for my country. But you can't do it without the choice of a political system. Not with foreign domination: Chinese, French, Japanese, or American.
Yeah, this is a letter that was written by Tighe, a friend of mine who'd spent several years in prison in Vietnam, was released and had received his notice to go into the army and he was trying to decide whether to go into the Saigon Army or whether to aah join the National Liberation Front, or whether to go underground and and not join either side. Eventually what he ended up doing was being drafted into the Saigon Army, was made an intelligence agent for the Saigon government within their intelligence core, and spent much of his time trying to get information about what was happening in the war to friends of his like myself. Ahm, it was one of those strange ironies of the Saigon government was selecting as their intelligence agent somebody who hated the war, aah someone who was doing everything he could to get information to outsiders about the war and stop it.

The political conflict of Luce's students in relation to the Third Force movement

This is film roll 706.
Ok, Don, let's go ahead with the aah Predicament, just looking at me.
Well, the students were angry, Uhm, I taught at the College of Agriculture and my students were caught you know in the choice between whether to join...
Wait a minute.
Most of the students in Saigon were were angry. Aah, they were nationalistic, their studies were all about the the thousand years of struggle against the Chinese, the hundred years of struggle against the French, and now every day when they leave the college they would see the American soldiers the foreigners there. The society and there's an incredible amount of corruption aah the tearing apart of the the culture aah young Saigon men aah would see that their their sisters literally aah for economic reasons were being forced into into prostitution, and so all of those angers were building up inside them.
When they tried to respond you know to make changes, to suggest changes and of course later thousands of them started going out on to the streets and they were arrested. In the mid in the mid and late sixties (ok) most of the students I knew when I was teaching at the College of Agriculture were trying to decide which side to join and actually which side became three sides. Whether to join the Saigon government, whether, to be in what was called the third force that is a sort of peace movement in the middle, or whether to join the National Liberation Front.
This...a lot of the problems which they faced were that they saw society disintegrating in front of them. Uhm many of the young women had been forced off from the farms and rural areas into the cities aah had gone to work in the bars and brothels, some of the women were literally their sisters in order to have enough money for the family, the some of the young women would go to work in the brothels for the American soldiers. Their whole life their study had been the whole the history of colonialism in their country their most popular song in the late sixties was one by Thien Cuong Sanh, aah which talked about a thousand years of Chinese reign, a hundred years or French domain, a sad Vietnam is a mother's fate, a sad Vietnam is a mother's fate.
And now they saw the Americans coming in and doing to Vietnam in their view exactly the same things that the Chinese had done for a thousand years and that the French had done for for a hundred years. So this choice that they were faced with really became much easier I mean almost none of them were going to join the Saigon government, which was really aah the colonial power, the American force. It wasn't the Saigon government, it was the Washington government calling itself the Vietnamese government. So their choice became as time went on much more between the struggle movement or the third force and uhm the National Liberation Front. Some joined the struggle movement the third force aah some joined the National Liberation Front. I remember as a teacher aah teaching extension methods aah
You know, in a sense the the Saigon government never gave the students a choice of belonging to this third force the struggle movement. I used to teach at the College of Agriculture and I remember at one point one of my students had been gone for a long time and he finally came to class and I asked him to stay after class and told him I was going to flunk him if he didn't start coining more often.
And he said I'm I'm sorry and then took off his shirt and his back was just covered with with scars where he'd been beaten and he explained that he'd been in in prison. And you know, in his case all I could do was say I'm sorry and give him an A. But for the students as a whole, the problem was that if they tried to join this third force that is the group, the Buddhists, and students that talked about peace they were not in prison, Aah now when...

Imprisonment of members of the Third Force

This camera roll 737.
The U.S. government never gave the students or the third force a choice either. Much of the economic aid, and quotes around the economic aid that was sent to Vietnam went into prison reform, which basically meant building new prisons so that as the war continued and more people were out on the streets demonstrating, aah the US was literally building the prisons for the students and the Buddhists, aah and they were sent off to jail and many cases to tortured.
An example of this was ahm and many people have heard of what were called the "tiger cages," where the Saigon government kept its political opposition. After the disclosures on the tiger cages Saigon said they were gonna do away with them aah they ordered the political prisoners to build new ones which was called the self-help project. Prisoners refused to build their own prisons, their own tiger cages, then the US Department of Navy gave a $400,000 contract to a large construction firm, an American firm, Raymond Morrison and Brown Root and Jones to build 384 new what were called isolation cells, which were exactly the same as the tiger cages except two square feet smaller.
So the the choice really wasn't a choice for the for the Vietnamese students or for the Buddhists and so on. Aah they couldn't join they couldn't support the Saigon government because it was really the American government and they were Nationalists aah they couldn't support the Saigon government because they saw it responsible for the the whole breakdown in social order aah in in South Vietnam.
And then to they couldn't support this third force the the peace movement for very long without ending up in prison and eventually somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Vietnamese were crowded into the prisons on Con Son Island and Chi Hoa and Kan Thu, in Da Nang, all over the country,

Third Force as moderating group

I think what what the...I think what the the Buddhists and the students or the third force movement felt that they could do would be to serve as a moderating force you know in whatever new government came in. Aah, they were concerned about the reports of a possible blood bath, You know, and I think they felt they could moderate you know the possibilities of this, aah, they wanted very much to to see the social concerns, you know, in terms of economic improvements and and aah a lot of the freedom – civil rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, that kind of thing. So they were advocating those things to happen while the Saigon government was there, aah they also felt that that it was important to have a group of moderates you know in the new government.
They felt that negotiations for example, in 1967 before the Tet Offensive the third force felt very strongly that having a moderate movement aah there would make negotiations much easier aah they could talk perhaps to to both sides and I think they felt that would be important in ending the war. More than anything else they wanted immediate ending of of the bombing, aah of napalm, of political assassinations, all of those things. Aah, Buddhists, of course, were were pacifists, aah they just didn't want to see any more people killed. Aah and the tragedy, was that really no one with power aah particularly on our side the US side ever listened to them.
Aah we put them in jail. Aah, Madame Ngo Ba Thanh, aah a lawyer, graduate of of Columbia University, the first woman to ever be aah a member of the aah International Commission of Jurists aah spent many years in jail and today her health is severely aah broken down because of at aah respiratory problems and other problems she developed in in prison. Those people, if we'd listened to them in in 1966 and 1967, aah could have helped to bring together the warring factions and could have brought the war to an end.

Thich Quanh and the imperative to preserve Vietnamese traditional culture

Roll 703.
Venerable Thich Quanq and many of the other Buddhist monks talked to to us, talked to the press, talked to everyone they could about preserving the faith, and maintaining the traditions they over and over and over they made the point that if you destroy Vietnam as a nation if you destroy the traditions and so on aah then you also destroy the faith of many people here, I think, including our own embassy people in Saigon dismissed Venerable Thich Quanq as as being crazy, aah as and the pictures that were shown of him of course were shown as a Buddhist monk with his head shaved and people sw—well how could someone so strange you know to look like that you know really speak for a nation or speak for large numbers of people but he did.
Down underneath, almost every Vietnamese at least that I knew was concerned about losing their history losing their culture, losing the traditions you know, of years and years and years, and you talked with farm people they talked about being moved off from the farms where the graves of the ancestors were and into the city slums. You know, and they were taken away from you know all of their their heritage the things they knew and put into the slums where the old people wash c1othes for the foreign soldiers the young women worked in the bars young men joined one army or the other and increasingly of course joined the National Liberation Front, the kids would shine shoes wash cars, steal from cars, beg, pimp, push drugs, so, so you had a whole tearing apart of the of the family structure and the village structure, the things that held Vietnam together for for centuries.
And so the religious leaders aah began to say that this has to stop we have to preserve the family and the culture and the history. The same thing I argue would happen here in the United States you know, if and when there is breakdown of the family structure, then the religious leaders began to speak out. And they began to organize and work toward pulling the family back together. And so much of the third force and much of the struggle in Vietnam, not only of of the third force or the struggle movement but also of people joining the National Liberation Front, was to hold the family together, allow people to stay on their farms, to say that Vietnam ought to belong to the Vietnamese.

Self-immolation as last resort for the Buddhists

I think one of the hardest things for Americans to understand throughout the war was was the immolations. On on one hand we heard about aah Buddhists believing how sacred that life is and opposing to you know killing and all of that, and then on the other hand we see these visions of of a people burning themselves to death, I talked a lot with Buddhists aah including one who later burned herself and the thing the point that they made over and over and over was that that life is the most sacred and and important possession that we have and in one case, for example, with You Chi Me, she felt that that peace was her deepest aspiration.
And she wrote you know, if being alive I cannot express myself, I will use my life to work toward aah peace. Aah, many Buddhists reached the point they felt they couldn't communicate with the world, they couldn't communicate with their nation, aah, you know, in a verbal sense and that they were ready to sacrifice their most precious possession themselves their lives.
Aah, to make that point. Aah some people said, and I believe President Johnson was one of them that that that it wasn't a meaningful thing to do or or something like that aah aah it was in a sense I mean it mobilized the whole nation it it brought people to the realization of of how important it was in a personal sense for these people, and in a religious sense that they were willing to make the supreme sacrifice for for peace it was it was tragic. Uhm, but it did call our attention.
Not only to what was happening to one Buddhist monk but in a sense what was happening to a nation and and a sense aah for the monks and the bonzes who burned themselves what they were trying to say is this is not just happening to me, it's happening to our whole nation. The whole nation is is going up in flames. So it was a last desperate attempt to to try to speak to what was happening to their country.

Lack of cultural communication between the Americans and the Vietnamese

Camera roll 709.
Yeah, well, one of the problems I think in in the whole war that that Americans always thought that the Vietnamese would react the way that we react to things or we would react, and to just to get an example of this, aah you had what were called the country fairs, aah the US Military would come in with a rock and roll band aah Kool Aid, hot dogs, a dentist and a dentist chair, and while all of this was happening, aah and Vietnamese don't like Kool Aid and hot dogs awfully well and and so the the kids were having their teeth pulled and so on this was also used as sort of a cover for the Marines to search the village to see if they could find any young men.
And at course it became a very frightening kind of experience for for the villagers, uhm, we would often try to find out if Viet Cong came into a village and then we would bomb the village. The theory was that the villagers would realize that we had bombed the village because the Viet Cong had come in therefore they should keep the Viet Cong out.
The villagers, on the other hand, argued that the bombing was by airplanes only the Americans and the Saigon government had airplanes therefore they began to join the Viet Cong or the National Liberation Front in growing numbers to drive the airplanes away. Aah, another example of this I remember I was in in Quang Ngai or outside in an area called Ba Long An...Let me give an example of how the...let me give an example of the American soldiers in this case aah pilots and Vietnamese farmers saw things very very differently.
I was in Ba Long Anh, a very remote area near Quang Ngai Province, aah and was talking with an old farmer and he was just telling about the helicopter gun shifts and he said that it used to be when the helicopters came we would run and many of us were killed. He said now when the helicopter comes we stand there and we look right at the...we point our heads you know right at the helicopter and no one's hurt. You know, I thought this was an amazing example of of aah understanding of geometry or something like that they would make a smaller target and or something, I don't know.
It also takes a lot of bravery. When I talked with with one of the pilots over a beer later, you know, he said well, you know we could still get them if we wanted to, but the fact that they just stand there means that they're not afraid. They're not Viet Cong. Ironically when I asked this farmer, you know, how did you learn to stand there, he said, well, the Liberation soldiers came and they took little sticks of wood and they showed us that if we were to lie down we would make great big targets for the airplanes, but if that we would stand up we would make little tiny targets, you know as the airplane looked down on top of us.
So, ironically, what we thought meant they weren't Viet Cong is what they had learned from the Liberation soldiers or the the Viet Cong. I mean, all of this, I think just are little examples you know of how hard it is for us as foreigners to come in to Vietnam and to try to understand what the Vietnamese wanted and and of course some of the problems were that we really didn't try to understand Vietnam or the Vietnamese. Aah we never had an ambassador in Vietnam who who could say hello in Vietnamese.
Spoke Vietnamese. We never had decision maker there who who spoke Vietnamese at the upper levels anyway. The only one I know who who tried was aah, was McNamara, I remember, came one time and he was going to aah to speak in the Saigon square and I was as a teacher was asked to bring all my students. We all got there and McNamara had learned how to say "Long Live Vietnam" in Vietnamese. But not speaking Vietnamese very well, he got the tones mixed and he shouted out, not long live Vietnam, but "the Southern duck wants to lie down."
Well, my students of course started cheering and throwing their hats up in the air and McNamara thought he was doing very very well so he kept shouting, "The southern duck wants to lie down." And, you know, we just never really understood the culture, the people, the history, aah we we talked about you know China supporting Vietnam and we have to stop the southward movement of China and I remember arguing for years you know that the best way to prevent the southward movement of China, if that's what you're concerned about, you know, is a strong aah Vietnam and the State Department people thought I was crazy.
Aah, I mean one of the lessons of Vietnam ought to be you know that if you're going to spend $150 billion and lose 50 thousand soldiers and be involved in the death of more a million other people, you know, you ought to have an ambassador that could speak the language aah you ought to really understand the history and the culture and at that point maybe you would decide not to get involved.