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October 13, 1965 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1965-10-13

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The Bourgeois, Gentlemen of Saigon

Playwright and President of
Students for a Democratic society .
I CALl, THEM that by no means
disrespectfully, but rather with
concern for their exposure and
skepticism for a politics that may
be as deeply French-remonstra-
tive, reasonable-as it is romantic
-elegant and doomed.
There was sorfihething formal,
even solemn, about our meeting.
I Sensed that we American visi-
tors had been the subject of a
diffihult prior discussion: Was
their risk, if we were "agents,"
greater or less than their oppor-
tunity if we were not? I felt
they had prepared for us, had
arranged themselves.
Those we met with are appar-
' : ently leading members of the
group of some 150 that was Nr-
rested last February for calling
upon Saigon and Hanoi to make
peace. That evening we had a
former Minister of Defense, a top
Saigon lawyer who was a veteran
of both the Viet Minh (until
1954) and Big Minh's Council of
Notables, two professors, a pub-
lisher, a priest, a business statis-
tician and our host, formerly a
Minister of the Economy and one
whom a political opponent had
haracterized as "the most moral
man in Saigon."
He was also very well-to-do, had
a fine house and lightly polished
nails, wore gold cufflinks and a
silk tie. His table was laid with
fine linen and silver; premium
whiskey before a superb Vietnam-
ese meal.
THIS IS to the point: these
men are from th'e North and the
South; most are Catholic but some
are Buddhist or Confucian (we
would say "humanist"); but in-
common they are used to power,
privilege and security and per-
haps now they are nearly beyond
all three.
They consciously identify them-
selves with those French nobles
of the 18th Century (something
quixotic' and sad in this) who
sided with the Revolution in full
awareness that their heads would
be among the first to roll should
the Revolution succeed.
Their, view is simple and ,Our
host statedi t at once. "The'?war
must be ended at any cost." He
was an eloquent man whose face
seemed stretched with anguish.
"THOSE WHO draw historical
diagrams in guarded, aircondi-
tioned mansions and speak of
war's perhaps unfortunate neces-
sity-these are men of no parti-
cular education." We were shown
glossy photographs of the carnage
that had educated them. "This is
all one. may say of war, nothing
They claim to be fearful of
Communism. Its victory, they say,
is a personal defeat for each of

them. "But our fear is not the
people's fear. For them, Com-
munism means a change. For
them, a change is already an im-,
The philosopher warmly extend-
ed that point. "Even with peace,"
he said, "the lives of the people
are wretched. Even with peace,
they may expect to live 40 years.
Nothing the Front could do to the
people could make their lives
"THIS WOULD BE true for the
government, too, but it wants to
do nothing. Now there a a few
provinces where the government
builds schools and hospitals, but
there are no teachers, no doctors,
only soldiers. .
"The government builds these
shells to prove it loves the people.
Why not before, when it was not
too late? Now the government is
all for helping the people and
everyone in Saigon is a socialist.
But there is of course the excuse
of the war. Win the war in order
to help the people.
"But the people can see: the
government helps them only in
order to win the war. For six
years there was no war. The
people got nothing from Diem
but inferiornpromisesquickly
broken. Why was this permitted?
We had so m.u c h American
money. We might have done so
much. We bought guns and made
an army. We wanted to frighten
the people. Then they would not
go with the Communists. Can you
understand the size of the mis-
WE WONDERED if this exag-
gerated the political sensitivities
of "the people." The lawyer an-
"Only think of what you know.
For 30 years, the peasant of Viet
Nam has been at war and seen
foreign troops. First the French,
then the Japanese, then the Brit-
ish, in the north the KMT Chi-
nese, the French again, and now
the Americans are here. Any war,
and especially this kind, is poli-
tically speaking a most education-
al experience.
"Reading, no. Numbers, not so
much. But the polities of war, yes.
From his childhood the, peasant
is trained in that. It is not like-
being an American farmer."
Our host argued that this was
no longer relevant. The people
wanted only peace. "If the people
were allowed to choose between
war and the Front, 70 'per cent
would choose the Front. At least."
BUT THAT seemed misleading.
By the logic of his argument, the
people would prefer anything to,
war-even, for example, the gov-
ernment. Given the choice be-
twe'en war and a peace under the
government, would 70 per cent
still prefer peace?

The question seemed to divide
them and they spoke among
themselves in Vietnamese; it was
as if they had descended from
view for a moment. They surfaced.
nodding. Our host said we would"
perhaps find the answer to that
somewhat difficult, but he would
try to explain why they now be-
lieved the answer was no, although
there was a time when they would
have said yes.
His explanation was substan-
tially what we had heard a few
nights before from an "under-
ground" journalist of no apparent
faction, the psuedonym Cao Giao,
who looks strikingly like Ho -
younger by maybe 25 years, but
with the same high features and.
long wispy chin whiskers and the
same slight frame.
He speaks quickly and with
arresting precision. He was small,
fine hands that fly continuously.
At the least sign of an interrup-
tion, he stops mid-sentence, pulls
his beard, and lays his head skep-
tically to one side: "Yes? Yes?
You fail to understand?"
He left the Viet Minh after
1954, for two years was a leader
of the Duy Dan southern socialist
party, was then jailed for a while,
by Diem, but by 1959 was in
Diem's, service as a trainer of the
guerrillas whom Diem was ex-
porting into North Viet Nam. He
now edits an opposition paper
whose name he must constantly
change to evade the censor.
said, "is a mere imposture. Who
doubts it, who does not know?
You Americans are fond of saying
the Viet Nam problem is complex.
But this is only an excuse for not
thinking. The problem is not com-
plex, it~is only difficult.
"Viet Nam requires just two
things, independence and develop-
ment. But these cannot be sepa-
rated. The government that does
not satisfy the one will not be
allowed to satisfy the other. A
Saigon government that embraces
the Americans could develop Viet
Nam but cannot make it inde-
pendent. One that does not could
make it independent, but cannot
develop it.
"Do we struggle with this dif-
ficulty? Now wei have only gov-
ernments whose officials prepare
at once for a forced retirement in
Europe. .The first act of a new
head of state is to deposit large
sums of American dollars in the
banks of Paris. Do you think this
is disguised? It is part of the
salary, office routine.
"I KNOW the Communists very
well. They will make us .a drab
people. They do not tolerate the
bizarre, the lonely spirit. Hanoi
is a gray city. But they promise
independence a n d development,
and they can easily deceive the
people. ;
"This is why they grow. We do

not give them the opportunity of
exposing themselves as liars. We
provide them with excuses for
their faliures, we justify the ty-
ranny they would impose in any
case and we hand them an explan-
ation for their attachment to the
"Here are the realities:
"FIRST: THE Viet Cong are
winning the war because they are
winning the people. This is dis-
graceful for us and tragic for Viet
Nam. Why does it happen? They
started small and grew large. We
started large and grew small.
"This happened because we had
nothing to say to the people. Now
the people are asked to fight with
us for what this KY has the Im-
pudence to call 'freedom.' Non-
sense. What freedom did we ever
show them? What freedom do
they want whose ancestors, like
themselves, die from hunger and
sickness even when there is peace.
"We must stop defending this
'freedom' which does not exist and
rise instead to attack the VC as
traitors to the nationalist revolu-
tion. Then maybe the people would
come with us.
"SECOND: A permanent solu-
tion for Viet Nam cannot be seen
through Cold War eyes. We do
not want to be swallowed by
China. But we cannot stand like
sentries on America's side. That
is to betray Asia and thus our-
"You must learn this. If you
force us to be with you, you are
really forcing us to be with China.
For us to be with you, in your way,
you must simply invade us and
conquer us. We are not insane.
We know our country must exist
not only today but 100 years from
today. And therefore, five.
"THIRD: THE Vietnamese de-
test foreign meddlers. Worse yet
in their eyes are the Vietnamese
who collaborate with foreign med-
dlers. This was true when the
French were here. It remains true
now that Americans are here, no
matter how different America's
reasons: are. For the Vietnamese
who speaks only his own tongue,
it is .v.ery hard to tell the, differ-
ence between the Frenchman and
the American. Both are very tall."
Did this mean he wanted a
United States withdrawal?
"Militarily, no. Things are very
bad now. But politically, yes. Or
things will only get worse."
But what could that mean? How
could these be divided? Cao Giao
was not so clear. His lucidity for
a moment flickered badly. 'Per-
haps an international bank for
aid, an international army for de-
fense. But then he flared.
"This is your problem because
you have made it your problem.
We Vietnamese did not make
these decisions. The Vietnamese
did not divide Viet Nam.
"But for your own sake, if you
understand nothing else, you
must understand this, the fourth
reality: Any Vietnamese solution
to the problem of Viet Nam is
better than any non-Vietnamese
solution. Grasp this and begin.
Ignore it and be beaten."
peace plan rests on two assump-
1) Both the Government and
the Front prefer outright military
victory. 'But since neither side is
strong enough to win or weak
enough to lose, continued pursuit
of victor: has become absurd and
can result only in the destruction
of Viet Nam.
2) Viet Nam, "a small country
cowering on the frontier of the
Cold War," can survive only if she
attains "equilibrium" vis a vis the
two contending giants. The main
features of the plan are as fol-

a) A MONTH-LONG cease-fire
agreement is signed by the two
armies, the central political pur-
pose being to test the good faith
of each side. If the cease-fire
should fail, then Viet Nam had
no chance in any case. The agree-
ment 1) would not demand the
departure of northern NLF troops
or the withdrawal of U.S. men
and equipment; 2) would ban
arms shipments and troop move-
ments' on 'both sides.
b) T h e cease-fire freeze 'is
guaranteed by the signatures of
the generals who are actually di-
recting the war, not by politicians.
It involves no political recogni-
This is a subtle point. It means
that the Front is encountered di-

he does speak for it to Saigon,
that Saigon hears (though its face
is averted), and that everybody
knows this.
c) THE CEASE-FIRE is con-
trolled during the one-month test
period by a mixed commission of
Government and Front officers.
The politics of this continues the
thrust of point b-to be generous
in realities where one is close-
fisted in symbols.
d) The inevitable peace con-
ference follows by a month the
making of the cease-fire, which
will be continued under the super-
vision of a strong International
Control Commission. This confer-
ence must agree to the rapid for-
mation of a strictly , provisional
and custodial government for the
It will be made up of delegates
from Hanoi and Saigon, who pro-
vide for the interests of the Front
and the United States. The main
business of this government and
the ICC is to plan for and oversee
general elections.
The provisional government must
hold these elections within four
or five months of its formation.
Sooner is too soon; later is too
e) THE FIRST election elects
a National Assembly either direct-
ly or through an electoral college.
The assembly's fi'st Job is to draft
a constitution that among other
things stipulates a method for
election a president. A presiden-
tial election is then held and the
government is established.
f) Saigon should even now be
forming "worthy cadres" who will
go to work -with the people at the
onset of the settlement period.
These cadres must be prepared
with an ideology that transcends
Viet Nam's Buddhist-Catholic,
rural-urban and traditionalist-
modernist splits. Their program
must be basically socialist, but it
must be detailed by the people
themselves, who alone are author-
itative on popular needs.
g) It is unrealistic to expect
and unwise to demand that
America disappear overnight. Her
interest in Vietnamese neutrality
-independence of China-will
show her the prudence of support-
ing a socialist economic program
first In the South and then, after
reunification ("someday"-
throughout Viet Nam.
And si'ce no state can demand
moral heroism of another, the
Vietnamese must not trifle with
America's insecurity. They must
allow a provisional American mil-
itary presence. Thus, Da Nang
will remain a U.S. base-a strate-
gic position, but one from which
there will be minimal interference
in Viet Nam's internal affairs.
WHAT IS claimed for this plan
is that it removes the two out-
standing present obstacles to ne-
gotiations: if the U.S. can go so
far to accept the Front, the Front
can accept an American interest.
If the U.S. can cooperate with
genuine social change aimed only
at improving the quality of Viet-
namese life, then the Front can
acknowledge a provisional U.S.
military presence.
Who knows if others will see
such virtues in the plan? Who
knows if others will even hear of
it? -Shortly after these interviews,
Ky proclaimed "neutralism" a
capital crime against the state.
Was this only bluster? Or have
the Bourgeois Gentlemen been si-
And this act poses the toughest
question of all: If Ky has chosen
to seal their fate, has he not
thereby moved toward seling his
own? And that of any following
lackey Saigon regime?
NOT ONLY from the Bourgeois
Gentlemen but from almost every-
one we talked with in Saigon and
Hue, we got this impression: The,

Front has never represented a
truly desirable solution for Viet
Nam. But neither has the Gov-
InmNovember of 1963 there was
a moment of hope. But as coup
upon coup condemned that hope,
the wait-and-see loyalism of the
anti-Communist middle and up-
per classes was forced to become
a curiously apolitical neutralism
which allowed one to speak only
of peace.
But coup still followed coup,
each violent a n d peremptory
change bringing with it a deeper
reach of exasperated Americans
into the structure of the southern
For patriotic and proud Viet-
namese, Ky is thus a national
humilitation-unlike ' Quat per-
haps, one that cannot be ignored.


Before February 1965-that is, before the United States began to use jets in-
side South Viet Nam-only about two per cent of VC deserters cited air action as a
reason for leaving their side. Since then the rate has risen to 17 per cent. Indeed, as
many an Informed observer in Saigon will concede, what changed the character of
the Viet Nam war was not the decision to bomb North Viet Nam, not the decision to
use American ground troops in South Viet Nam but the decision to wage unlimited
warfare inside the country at the price of literally pounding the place to bits.
There are hundreds of perfectly well-substantiatetd stories to the effect that
this merciless bombing hurt thousands of innocent bystanders and that one of the
reasons why few weapons are found in many cases is that the heaps of dead in the
battle zone include many local villagers who didn't get away in time...
In all likelihood both Asian Communist countries (China and North Viet Nam)
... simply thought of the American effort as being, of course, somewhat larger and
more modern than what the French had been doing, but essentially of the same kind.
Well, the truth is that the sheer magnitude of the American effort in Viet Nam ren-
ders all such comparisons futile.
--Bernard Fall in The New Republic

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when U.S. Marines and Saigonese troops descended on the village to rout out suspected Viet
Cong. Perhaps the smaller boy is looking back at the many who stayed, a large number of
whom were killed in the operation.

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