EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the July 18, 2005, issue of National Review.
Relatively few Americans spend their time thinking about the plight of the millions of people living under Vietnamese Communism. The visit of Vietnamese prime minister Phan Van Khai to the United States last month provided an opportunity to change that. Khai’s trip — the first official visit by a Vietnamese leader since the end of the Vietnam War — was welcomed by some as a chance for the U.S. to “bury the ghost of a past conflict” (the words of the Houston Chronicle’s editorialists) and to show, as Sen. John McCain put it, “that enemies can become partners and partners friends.” To thousands of Vietnamese Americans across the country, however, it was instead an occasion to point out the extent to which the Hanoi government abuses its citizens, and to call on the Bush administration to use its leverage to push for change.
Take Nina Nguyen, who flew from her home in Hawaii to the capital to participate in two demonstrations while the prime minister was in town. The director of a television station for Vietnamese Americans that promotes religious and civil liberty in Vietnam, Nguyen fled the Communists in 1975 (she was evacuated by American airlift). “I don’t fight for me, because I have freedom in America,” she says. “I fight for 80 million people living in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communists are terrorists. They used force to overcome the Republic of Vietnam — they took away the traditional country we learned from our history.”
Her sentiment is hardly uncommon. Nguyen Tai Dam, the founder of a Vietnamese-American organization in northern California, organized a demonstration in San Francisco that he estimates around 200 people attended. “We have to fight for our brethren in Vietnam — to let their voices be heard to the free world.” Dam was a lieutenant colonel in the Republic of Vietnam’s armed forces during the war, and, like most officers in that army, he was imprisoned afterward by the Communists, in his case for ten years. “Without these protests and demonstrations in the U.S., I am sure that the Vietnamese government would oppress its people even more. And without these demonstrations on the outside, the people inside the country wouldn’t have the courage to voice their concerns.”
A group of Montagnards, a predominantly Christian tribal people who live in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, also organized a demonstration during Khai’s visit, along with fellow ethnic minorities the Hmong and Khmer Krom. . .
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