Madame Ngo Ba Thanh's rejection of the foreign diplomats' advices

SR 2097
Beep tone
Roll 97 of Vietnam Project
Interview with Madame Ngo Ba Thanh.
701 Take 1
Could you tell me, please, the story of your visit, your meeting, at the British ambassador's, beginning with a little of the background of why you were invited and taking it all the way through to your being released from prison two years later.
Ngo Ba Thanh:
Eh, well, at that time I used to be invited for those sort of, well, diplomatic forays, actually. But then we discussed friendly, but also arguing very hard. And, that very night, I would remember, I think, all my life because it was really impressive. I was the only Vietnamese, the only woman and that was... I mean the company was really impressive, starting with the British ambassador there, it's Etherington-Smith – ha, ha, I remember his name – as host. And as guest, most if not all, the ambassadors, political and military attachés from those, at that time, allies which would include Ambassador Cabot Lodge, the so called specialist on ah... ah... eh... specialist on... eh... Thompson was on... uh... what we called guerrilla, British, and uh... General Westmoreland, uh... and the... that would include all the various British, Australian, New Zealand embassies' people.
And so we uh... were discussing on the very hot issue... the ... those people said that, well, "You were the most clever woman. We were right so far in wanting peace and self determination, but this time we've got the answer. Because we are going to the very root of the problem which means we are going to bomb North Vietnam. And only after that... uh... this will be done that we've got peace for good. And we would like your idea on this."
And I said that, "Well, my idea, you know, because we were discussing on and on for years, the more you go with the military... uh... solution, the more people got sympathizing with the other side and you've got more Communist people, or supporters. This time I am going to tell you in advance that this is going to be a terrible failure. Because this time I am going to join the group which is openly against American involvement that way." Ah.
They were then trying to convince me and once more they argued. And General Westmoreland, for example, you know, he was saying to... he was on my right side, very gallant, very uh... uh... spiritual, certainly. He was telling me that he was the youngest four star, American youngest four star, and then his life, his future, is committed as well as the honor of America. And the others were telling this... Thompson was telling me something which... I was smiling at the time...
He was telling me that "You know you are a very good girl but very candid. And you know that some time children think that they are grown ups. So they don't want to listen to their parents' advises. And this is your case." And I was trying to tell him that if he thinks the relationship between Great Britain and Vietnam was that kind of relationship then he was wrong. Because I understand that matured... that my country should be on equal footing with theirs and that the comparison was quite bad.
And so, one or the other was explaining their military involvement, the economic... in all fields... and telling me that this time was going to be last chance. Westy was telling me that, Well give me another eighteen months. And I was just saying: "Now, look, General, I am willing to give you twenty-four months just as I have been giving you several times already you know. But this time will be your last chance. I'll be generous. And I hope that next time we are going to see again you'll be right.
But I'm afraid to tell you that you'll get very disappointed. It's going to be a terrible mess: You are going to lose the war and your future and your four stars and all that." And, well apparently he did not like this sort of joke, you know. But still. So, one or the other was explaining the military program and all that. So finally we agreed that we are disagree.
But still we just separated on good terms, toasting me good health and all that. And, apparently, it seems as if we're going to have next meeting next week. But the next morning I was invited to go to the police headquarters and I spent two other years because I spent several times already. And after two years I was released. Of course, no charge. Except that it was a preventive arrest that eventually I would disturb the victory of the allies and working for the enemies.
So by the time I got released, of course all those cameramen and newsmen came and interviewed me. So they said: "What is your first question?" And I said: "My first question is: 'Where is Westy?' Because I am here now, ready, and on time for the meeting, but he is not. But I understand that, meanwhile, he, after the would I say it?... venture so he lost his position. So I don't know how are the four stars now."
But, so some journalists asked me whether I would like to send a message to him. And I said: "Yes. But I feel sorry what I told him before was right. But I gave him all the chances that he wanted to." me still that was a big shock because when I was in jail I did not expect that things would happen that way. I knew that the military situation was deteriorating, but not to the extent that all my friends, you know, most of the intellectual groups joined the Alliance and they all went to the other side and formed the GRP.
And so things even went too fast for me during the two years that I spent in jail. And I was told then that wave got a democratic government, that we've got the best example of Western democratic style of government and now that was my government and that I'd better understand that and be a good citizen. And that was how things went on. And then from that period of time on, I had to switch completely. There was no more party, no more toast, no more discussion at the democratic dinner. But I find myself demanding peace and self-determination and independence in the street.

Thanh's determination to be freed

702 Take 1
Ngo Ba Thanh:
Well, at that period of time, in my capacity as president of the International Women Association I got a channel through which I could get in touch with the different embassies so I was just invited just every week to the several different embassies for dinners and sort of things. So that very night, at the British ambassador's house, that I was invited.
And there that was a real interesting meeting because as guests we also got the US ambassador, Cabot Lodge, we got the British guerrilla warfare specialist Thompson and General Westmoreland and, well, the several political, military advisers from the different embassies. To really try to understand each other, you know, in getting to this heart of the very issue of whether or not the US would get involved in North Vietnam.
All right.
703 Take 1
Ngo Ba Thanh:
I was then, at that time, isolated in Bien Hoa isolated because they really wanted to keep me from contacting other prisoners. That was after the Paris Agreement so everyone was very much excited. And I understand also that most of my friends were sent to the other side already, or prepared to, rather. But I us took it as a pest. So I took my luggage and I asked the guard to bring me to the director office.
And then he was surprised to see me... and I said... uh... I am ready now to go. He said: "Yes, but I didn't receive any information about this. I haven't heard anything about your being released," But then I said: "Now, how could it happen because the whole world knows this already. The Paris Agreement was signed and Thieu on the other (one) side and the GRP on the other side recognize the Third Political Segment." And I... was...uh...
704 Take 1. Clapstick.
Ngo Ba Thanh:
And so I took my prisoner's luggage – it was not very much and asked the guard to bring it to the director's office, saying: "Well, I've come to say goodbye to you. And, according to the law, to get my twenty piasters for the allowance for a prisoner to go home." And he said: "Yes, but so far I haven't heard from I mean anything for your being released." I said: "Well, I am surprised because the whole world knows that. The Paris Agreement has been signed and that all the political prisoners are supposed to be released. And I am I. But I don't want to disturb you anymore. Just give me my twenty piasters and I'll go home. I'll take a train on my own. I know the way."
So he said: "No, please, you're a very important personality now. Oh, we've got to get the beautiful car to escort you home. So please just wait until you get out. This matter is done." So very politely he invited me some tea and he bring me back down in a very impressive way. Because he somehow also got Thieu. He was impressed by the way I did it.
And then I was there for one more day, another day, and so we went on and nothing. And I started to understand that, whee, those people were not kidding and that they arranged to still keep me. And so I decided – I concluded that really the Paris Agreement is not going to be respected and since the Third Political Segment was recognized then, so it was my chance.
But then they told me that I was not a political prisoner. But instead of that, a criminal one. Which means that the Paris Agreement was not supposed to be applied to me. So then I took the hardest decision of all the period of time I was jailed there. I had to go on a hunger strike to the end so the struggle was freedom or this. But I did not imagine that I would have to go that far, which means six months. And at the end twenty kilos of losing weight. And then finally they had to release me. That is to say to send me home because the doctor said that, well, that was all that he could do. And so I was under arrest until the liberation.