A day when “millions of people are happy, millions of others are sorrowful”

Late PM Vo Van Kiet, in his lifetime, was the first communist leader to describe April 30, the reunification day of Vietnam, as a day when “millions of people are happy while millions of others are sorrowful,” in an interview he gave to a MOFA’s weekly newspaper, Quoc Te [The International], in 2005. What he said was totally different from the official rhetoric on April 30 as a day of “national liberation and reunification.” It also became Kiet’s most famous quotation and has often been taken by those who keep calling for a genuine reconciliation of Vietnam so far.

The interview was conducted by journalist Nguyen Vinh [Nguyễn Vĩnh], who was then editor-in-chief of the Quoc Te, and was published on March 30, 2005. Nguyen Vinh recalled in 2013 that the article suffered from quite an unusual fate when it was planned by Vo Van Kiet himself to be published in early 2005 to celebrate Vietnam’s traditional new year, but then it was censored by a high-rank government official. The retired PM Vo Van Kiet was frustrated and he wrote some letters to that high-rank official, whom Nguyen Vinh denied to identify. But the article was still rejected until March 2005, when it was published under the title “New Urges in the New Age.”

Photo courtesy of Phap luat TP.HCM [HCMC Legal Daily]

Photo courtesy of Phap luat TP.HCM [HCMC Legal Daily]

NEW URGES IN THE NEW AGE

– Reporter: Thirty years have gone since Sai Gon was taken over, and you are now one of the few leaders of the fight alive. What do you think of that event, Sir?

Vo Van Kiet: I simply think about what should be done so that there will be no more any political leader who grows from a war as we did. The war ended thirty years ago. We have passed on the leadership to the next generation. By saying so, I just want the war to really belong to the past. The past that we really want to put behind us.

– Sir, but “putting it behind” is not a simple job.

Nothing is impossible! Peace loving and tolerance establish a fine Vietnamese tradition. The Vietnamese only go to war when they are invaded. Thirty years have gone and I think every Vietnamese of both sides can recognize that when there is no more interference from outside, we can come together to rebuild the country. And Vietnam will develop if every Vietnamese, no matter where he/she lives, stays in a harmonious community.

– Have we tried to do that, Sir?

Sometimes we should look at the results rather than the efforts we made. Personally I think there are still so many things for us to say and to do.

– So what should we do next, Sir?

Our triumph was great, but such a victory was gained with so much pain and loss. Many Southern Vietnamese families were victims of circumstance where half of the family members were of one side, the other half were of the other side. Even my family suffered from the same circumstance. So, when we celebrate a war-related event, millions of people are happy while millions of others are sorrowful. It is a deep wound of the whole nation that should be healed rather than opened up.

– Do you think every Vietnamese should join together to heal such a wound, Sir?

This is a big issue. We are administering the country. If we want every Vietnamese to join in healing the wound and rebuilding the nation, we must be truly tolerant and united. After April 30, 1975, comrade Le Duan visited Sai Gon. Upon arrival at the airport, he raised his arm and said emotionally, “This is a victory for the whole nation, not for any single individual.” Thirty years have gone by and still I find it difficult to make every Vietnamese aware of what he said.

– Why is it that difficult, Sir?

President Ho Chi Minh in his lifetime wished that when the war ended and peace came, he would visit the friendly countries to express his thankfulness to them. After 1975, our two comrades, Le Duan and Pham Van Dong, did this on his behalf. Well, appreciation of and gratitude for international support is a respect for Vietnamese tradition and ethic. However, in terms of domestic policy, I think it is high time we recognized the great achievements and contributions made by the patriotic Vietnamese who were living under the Saigon administration and now residing either overseas or domestically. I myself was among those delegated to take over Sai Gon in 1975. When we took over that intact Sai Gon after such a war, I thought we must never ignore the role played by the Duong Van Minh administration and the other forces opposite to Nguyen Van Thieu’s government and the USA.

– You mean, because Duong Van Minh capitulated?

General Duong Van Minh took office on April 28, at the time when a military expert like him could have certainly foreseen the collapse of Sai Gon. If Duong Van Minh had ordered his subordinates to make a martyr of themselves, still we would have been victorious, but Sai Gon would have been destroyed and many more lives and assets would have been lost.

In the morning of April 30, I and the Sai Gon cell of the Party, led by Mai Chi Tho, felt enormously relief upon hearing Duong Van Minh urging his soldiers to put guns down and wait for the hand-over ceremony. Only if you were at the battlefront at that time could you perceive the significance of such a decision.

Duong Van Minh (sitting, right) declared surrender on Saigon radio, April 30, 1975. Photo by Pham Ky Nhan.

Duong Van Minh (sitting, right) declared surrender on Saigon radio, April 30, 1975. Photo by Pham Ky Nhan.

– Why do you think did he make that decision?

Our 1975 triumph was irresistible. However, his decision was not just based on the fighting situation but also on the result of his previous political acts. Duong Van Minh was the general who overthrew Ngo Dinh Diem; he himself would later decline to obey the American, causing Washington to give a green light to Nguyen Khanh’s overthrow of his rule.

– And “the third force” also played a significant role, didn’t they?

Duong Van Minh’s return to the political arena is the result of the activism by the third force, or the force of those who fought the USA and Nguyen Van Thieu administration right under the Sai Gon regime. What I want to emphasize here is that whoever made contributions to our common cause, for the sake of their patriotism and by their own way, without pursuing anything for themselves, can be proud of those contributions and should continue contributing more to building our Vietnam into a wealthy, civilized, democratic and happy nation.

– Looking back on the past, do you satisfy with what we have done during the past thirty years, Sir?

We may feel happy with a Vietnam reunified and determined to overcome poverty and integrate into the world as it is now. But, looking back on the years we have gone through since the war ended, I also feel a great pity. If only we had changed earlier, possibly we would not have paid such a high price as in the period of 1975-1985.

– What can we learn from those years with lost chances, Sir?

We must go on with the Doi Moi [change/ renovation], avoid getting arrogant and stay away from the “disease” of exaggerated achievements. In the past few years, we have maintained a substantial growth rate and that is a big achievement. However, let us be noticed that for a nation whose GDP is just 40 billion US dollars more or less, a growth of 6-7% is not sufficient to meet the requirement for national development and economic integration.

If we fail to overcome the obstacles and make full use of the internal and external resources to attain a two-digit growth in the coming years, it will be impossible for us to remove the disparity between us and the region and the world. May I remind you that even when we made an extraordinary achievement on April 30, 1975, we had to pay a very high price afterwards for our arrogance? The world has advanced too far ahead of us, so we must move on quickly instead of being lost in self-satisfaction and lagging farther behind.

Vo Van Kiet 1– How should we develop our foreign policy in the coming period?

To some extent, the recent achievements we attained in foreign policy have opened the way for us to resolve a great deal of economic and social difficulties. After twenty years of Doi Moi, we are now willing to make friend and be partner with the international community. But what is the full agenda behind that slogan? What’s more, it is critically important how we identify and establish our role and position in this constantly changing world. The September 11 event, the Middle East crisis, the positive political reform in such ASEAN countries as Indonesia, the destruction caused by the tsunami in some Southeast Asian countries, etc., all of such things show us that countries today are closer and more interconnected, and there is no chance for a big success that come from solitary efforts. Our position in the world therefore depends not just on the world situation but also on our internal strength. So we need to enhance our strength and our capacity to integrate. In the time to come, I think, diplomacy should go forward and be ready to keep the country advised of both challenges and opportunities ahead, so that the nation can catch up with new urges in the new age.