Wilbur Forrester, 1st Lt. 11th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, Civil Affairs Officer, USMC (1968-1969)
J.W. Spellman, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Jim Clark, Agency for International Development (1965 and 1969); Catholic Relief Service in Vietnam, 1968.
Mary Emeny, American Friends Service Committee, 1967-1968
Jay Craven, Student, Boston University. Went to North Vietnam with the National Student Association, December, 1970.
MODERATOR. I'm Wilbur Forrester, former 1st Lt. in the United States Marine Corps. During my 13 months in
Vietnam, I spent five months as a Civil Affairs Officer on the regimental level. The topic of our panel tonight will be
"What We Are Doing to Vietnam." Certainly testimony that we've had previously in this Winter Soldier Invetigation has
shown very well the effects to the ecology, the land, and the atrocities performed on the people, physically. We will not
go into that type of testimony on this panel: we will focus our attention primarily on the cultural aspects. I'd like at this
time for the panel to introduce themselves and give you a brief background.
SPELLMAN. My name is J.W. Spellman, and I'm a teacher.
CLARK. My name is Jim Clark. I was in Vietnam from 1966 through 1969. I was there originally with the Agency for
International Development. I resigned from that organization 1968 and took a position with Catholic Relief Services. I
coordinated a project dealing with social welfare and the training of social workers in Vietnam under that. With AID I
was a refugee officer for a year on the central coast and I spent a little over a year in Saigon as a special assistant for
voluntary agencies. The remarks I will make will be primarily related to refugees and the problems associated with the
generation of large numbers of refugees in Vietnam.
EMENY. My name is Mary Emeny. I was in Vietnam in 1967-68 with the American Friends Service Committee. Home
was a Buddhist orphanage in Da Nang and after the Tet offensive, or the Tet whatever-you-call-it in 1968, I spent a
large amount of time in Hue, some in Quang Tri and Cam Lo in refugee camps and mostly working with refugees and
Buddhists in Central Vietnam.
CRAVEN. I'm J. Craven. I'm a student at Boston University and I was recently on a student delegation to Vietnam. I
was in North Vietnam between December 4th and December 20th just this past year.
MODERATOR. Okay, we'll open the panel with Dr. Spellman.
SPELLMAN. I should begin by saying that I make no claim to any special expertise in the field of Vietnamese studies. I
may have some knowledge of Asian societies in a more general context and it is in this regard that I speak. The United
States presence in Vietnam is only one aspect of American involvement in Southeast Asia which is related, in my
judgment, to its cultural imperialism throughout most of the traditional societies of the world. At no time in previous
human history has the cultural integrity of so many millions of people of the world been threatened as it is today by the
United States. This issue this evening touches not merely questions of national self-determination or the right to decide
one's own self interest, it involves, if I may say so, matters of the gravest importance regarding the quality and the
quantity of the life of this species. We are not very old as far as a species goes.
By our own proclamation, we are the most intelligent, the most powerful, the most creative, and the best of all life that
this planet has seen. Indeed, the Book of Genesis tells us that after creating this world, with its apex as man, God gave
man dominion over it. Now, we have been around for approximately two million years and our future is reasonably
uncertain. Even the dinosaurs, whom we classify as rather dumb creatures, managed to survive for about 12 million
years. There are many who question the likelihood of this species surviving for that long a period. The experiments of
Darwin on the Galapagos Islands and the work of other scholars have shown that adaptation to environment is crucial to
As I understand these lessons, they mean that each society has its own integrity, physical and cultural. As a consequence
of its adaptation, according to its past experiences, its judgment and self-interest, values which may be desirable for one
society, cause the gravest physical and mental harm when imposed on another. And it is in this light that I wish to view
what we are doing to Vietnam. The bulk of Western values are based on the historical experiences of the
Judaic-Christian and Greco-Roman cultures. Of prime importance in that value system has been the role assigned to the
importance of belief, and this concept of belief occupies a cardinal role, particularly in Christianity.
Unless, we are told, you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you shall not have eternal life. And in this sense I wish to
contrast that statement with the statement of the Lord Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text:
"Whatsoever divine form any devotee with faith seek to worship, that same is divine." But the beliefs of Christianity
were understood as exclusive and excluding beliefs. And it was part of our heritage, and it is part of our heritage to this
day, that what is good for us ought to be universal and it ought to be good for everyone.
Earlier in our history we found that those who held a different perspective than we did on religion, and we made our
ultimatum very clear, after we had poured scorn and ridicule on these people, calling them heathens and pagans and
superstitious polytheists, we then killed them in the name of our religion. And the Crusades and witchcraft and the
religious persecutions followed. Later (and this continues today), we felt that we had the righteous responsibility to
condemn those who believed in political systems (rather than religious systems) that were different from our own. Thus
it became quite legitimate to kill Communists and others simply because they were Communists, and because they
believed in a different form of government from ours. There are still those today who believe with all the fervor that
righteousness often summons, that we ought to continue on this path of killing those who disagree with us. I believe
that we are now on the threshold of a new killing crusade.
Having killed for religious beliefs and then political beliefs, I believe we are now on the threshold of killing for
economic beliefs. It takes no prophet to predict that there will be destruction and riots and killings in the name of
economic creeds in the future. And that these will seem just as valid as religion and politics have seemed to our
predecessors historically. Such values as these are alien to Asian society. Neither Hinduism nor Buddhism,
Confucianism nor Taoism have ever engaged in religious crusades because of their beliefs. Indeed, both Hinduism and
Buddhism advocate non-injury as among the highest of values.
Truth, Hinduism states, is like a great diamond with many facets, and no person, no government, no institution can see
all of the facets of the great diamond of truth. There are not merely two sides, but inherently truth is multi- dimensional.
In that area known as Indochina, the great civilizations of India and China and the values of those societies have been
merged with the beliefs of life that were held by the peoples of Southeast Asia. How Vietnam is culturally related to the
civilization of China. The impact of Confucianism and Taoism is still strong in Vietnamese values, and the Buddhism
which arose from India won the hearts of much of Asia as it was adopted to the various cultures of the area.
The Confucian orthodoxy assumed that there was nothing evil or inherently evil in human nature, including, it held, the
barbarian nature. But if the barbarian could be reformed by education, then tolerance and kindness were the basis, it
held, of a sound foreign policy. Prince Kung enjoined his fellow countrymen to hate the evil that a barbarian might do,
but not the barbarian himself; to be kind to men from afar in accordance with the classics, to the end that myriad nations
might be tranquilized, that China might flourish, and that not government, but virtue, might prevail throughout the
world. Mencius, the great Chinese philosopher, said that all men might have a sense of commiseration. When a
commiserating government is conducted from a commiserating heart, then one can rule a whole empire as if one were
turning it on one's palm. I say all men have a sense of commiseration; here is a man who suddenly notices a child about
to fall into a well. Invariably he will feel a sense of alarm and compassion, and this is not for the purpose of gaining the
favor of the child's parents or seeking the approbation of his neighbors and friends, or from fear of blame should he fall
to rescue it.
Thus we see that no man is without a sense of right and wrong. And Mencius went on: "The sense of compassion is the
beginning of humanity. The sense of shame is the beginning of righteousness. The sense of courtesy is the beginning of
decorum, and the sense of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. Let every man but attend to expanding and
developing these four beginnings that are in our very being, and they will issue forth like a conflagration being kindled
and a spring being opened out." To those who will listen, the greatness of the civilization of China speaks far more
eloquently than I, or I think anyone else ever could about it.
European travelers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were lavish in their praise. Duhald, whose famous
description of China may well be regarded as the synthesis of seventeenth and early eighteenth century works on China,
said of Chinese commerce, "The riches peculiar to each province and the facility of conveying merchandise by means of
rivers and canals, have rendered the domestic trade of the Empire always very flourishing. The inland trade of China is
so great that the commerce of all Europe is not to be compared therewith; the provinces being like so many kingdoms
which communicate to each other their respective production. This tends to unite the several inhabitants among
themselves and make plenty reign in all the cities."
But I think more to the point was a very classic reply given by the Emperor of China to King George III, when the King
asked the Emperor for trade and enclaves in China. (And perhaps some may regret that Western imperialism and
colonialism were too strong for this well-mannered society.) The Emperor replied to the King as follows:
Yesterday your ambassador petitioned my ministers to memorialize me regarding your trade with China. But his
proposal is not consistent with our dynastic usage and cannot be entertained. Hitherto, all European nations, including
your own country's barbarian merchants, have carried on their trade with our celestial Empire at Canton. Such has been
the procedure for many years. Our celestial Empire possessed all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product
within its borders. There was, therefore, no need to import the manufacture of outside barbarians in exchange for our
own produce. But as the tea, silk, and porcelain, which the celestial Empire produces, are absolute necessities to
European nations and yourselves, we have permitted, as a single mark of favor, that foreign hongs or business
associations should be established at Canton so that your wants might be supplied and your country thus participate in
our beneficence. But your ambassador has now put forward new requests which completely fail to recognize the
throne's principles to treat strangers from afar with indulgence, and to exercise a pacifying control over barbarian tribes
the world over. Your England is not the only nation trading at Canton. If other nations, following your bad example,
wrongfully importune nay ear with further impossible requests, how will it be possible for me to treat them with easy
indulgence? Nevertheless, I do not forget the lonely remoteness of your island cut off from the world by intervening
wastes of sea. Nor do I overlook your excusable ignorance of the usages of our celestial Empire. I have consequently
commanded by ministers to enlighten your ambassadors on this subject, and have ordered the departure of this mission.
It is regrettable that subsequent leaders of the societies of Asia were not able to speak as forthrightly or have the ability,
as the Emperor did in this reply. When we impose our values on traditional societies it is well that we ask what they get
for these losses. Thich Nhat Hanh had described some of the cultural impacts as a direct consequence of this war.
"Sporadically," he writes, "during the course of the war, there have been expressions of interest in the idea of strategic
These were intended to draw people together in an area of some protection, and to make available to them such social
services as would improve their lives and introduce the concept of cooperative efforts. On paper they look good. In
practice, like every other promise of social improvement in the history of the South Vietnamese government, they
turned out to be another device related to the military effort of that government. People were herded into villages
against their wills, and the total concept of the village became a military concept. Peasants were forced to leave villages
that had been the homes of the families for generations, and in leaving them, to leave behind not only the graves of their
ancestors, but many relics and mementoes, including family altars which perished in the same flames which consumed
the village. Thus, they went to the new strategic hamlets in a frame of mind to create a new society.
The hamlets were created to keep out the Viet Cong so that the villagers could live in them and not be intoxicated by the
Viet Cong. But the fact is that the Viet Cong themselves lived in many of the villages among their fellow Vietnamese.
Since the war has become the national preoccupation of Vietnam, the numerous professions serving the war have
become numerous and profitable. Literally hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese work at various services for the
Americans at their bases, on airfields, in their headquarter buildings, and in many other ways. Landlords are constantly
seeking to evict their Vietnamese tenants so they may rent their premises to Americans at prices that are ten or twenty
times as high as the Vietnamese are paying. It is almost impossible for Vietnamese to find housing since there are
almost no Vietnamese who can afford such prices.
Taxi and pedicab drivers avoid Vietnamese customers for the far more profitable Americans. They do not charge
according to the taxi-meter any longer. Americans, accustomed to the costs in their own country, pay ten times as much
as the normal rate for such a ride, and in so doing, of course, increase the pressure on the normal Vietnamese person.
Profit. In addition, taxi drivers frequently operate a profitable sideline in taking foreigners, especially American soldiers,
to girls of "friendly disposition," who will compensate the driver in addition to what he receives from his passenger.
Bars, dance halls, and rest halls catering to foreigners, thrive. The number of prostitutes increases daily and at a
frightening rate. For many it is the only way in which they can support themselves and their family.
The tradesmen and businessmen working with Americans earn large sums of money, while the majority of their fellow
countrymen are going through a major economic crisis. Inflation that occurs from the hoarding of scarce goods for
profit, the pouring in of American dollars, and the spending of great sums on non-productive war enterprises--all this
means that the Vietnamese, without access to these American funds, are in an increasingly desperate plight. Another
large group in the cities are the peasants who fled from their ancestral homes, leaving their possessions and their farms
behind. They fled not only from the actual dangers of the war, but from the frustration of a situation in which crops may
be grown only to be destroyed by one side or the other as a measure of war to keep the other side from getting them.
Planes of the United States and South Vietnamese Air Forces drop napalm bombs on these crops so that they may be
burned rather than fall into the hands of the Viet Cong. In such circumstances, priests and nuns cannot go on preaching
morality. The war has destroyed not only human lives, but human values as well. It undermines all government
structures and systems of societies, destroys the very foundations of democracy, freedom, and all human systems of
values. Its shame is not just the shame of the Vietnamese, but of the whole world. The whole family of mankind will
share the guilt if they do not stop this war. It is not possible in this land of thirty million people, 90% of whom are
engaged in agriculture, to ignore the terrible destruction that has been brought to the land and families.
Now, when one considers that 80% of the people live on approximately 20% of the land (which was so fertile that
Vietnam was known as the "Rice Bowl" of Asia), then that tragedy is heightened. When one considers the great skills of
artisans that were handed from father to son as guarded secrets, that now lie somewhere hidden amongst the body count
figures, then the loss to the world of art is, I suggest, also not insignificant. When one considers the waters which
provided over three hundred kinds of fish along the nine- hundred-mile coastline of Vietnam, which fed much of the
population, and the bombs and the chemicals now destroying that form of life, no cease-fire or truce or withdrawal will
end the effects of those ravages, which will be felt for generations. But it will not be the Vietnamese alone who will
bear this burden or who will suffer this evil, although undoubtedly their burden will be the greatest.
The Buddha has said, and I believe correctly, "Think not lightly of evil, spying it will not come to me. Even a waterpod
is filled by the falling of drops; likewise the fool gathering little by little fills himself with evil. Whosoever offends an
innocent person, pure and guiltless his evil comes back on himself like fine dust thrown against the wind, and as rust
sprung from iron eats itself away when arisen. Even so the deeds and his own deeds leads the transgressor to the states
of woe." The fifteen hundred species of wooded plants, of the tropical forest of Vietnam, that provide cover for
numberless wild animals, that have been bombed, may appear only a casual consequence of this war. But the ecological
toll to Vietnam will be counted there too.
It is difficult for us to understand how great is the feeling for family in Vietnam. Stemming from the principles of
Confucianism, the family and not the individual, not the government, was the basic core of society. Through it, honor
and loyalty and nobility were expressed. And it was this which was the thread which gave much of the expression of the
joy and the warmth and the love for which men live. For it is difficult to understand why it was necessary not only to
violate the integrity of the heart of Vietnam in this way, but also to act in such a way that even death was not enough.
The decapitations and the body slayings and the other mutilations--which religiously affected the passage of the soul to
the next life--even that has not been spared in this war. And when one goes through all of these things and much more in
terms of what we are doing to Vietnam, the list becomes enormous--and enormous is a very small word, it seems to me,
to describe these things. One asks what are the values that are being imposed on this society; values which we espouse
such as efficiency and productivity and urbanization and equality and democracy--values which may indeed be unviable
even in our own society.
There is no compelling evidence, certainly no compelling historical evidence, that suggests that democracy necessarily
provides a greater degree of justice or happiness than, say, kinship or other forms of government. The evidence with
respect to the supporting of the concepts of equality, political equality, has very little philosophic basis to support it, in
my judgment. The assumption that illiteracy equals poverty seems to me at best a false assumption. There is a vast
degree of difference between our system of education, which is essentially aimed at information for the sake of
economic productivity, and that system of education which has been at the heart of Asian education, which is based not
on information but on knowledge or on wisdom or enlightenment.
And there is a very considerable difference between wisdom and information, between knowledge and technical ability
for productive purposes. And the emphasis on wisdom and knowledge is, I am sorry to say, very little to be found in our
own academic system. Now there are some who argue that at least we have been beneficent in terms of what we have
done medically--in terms of what we have done in the area of health. Here, too, I think the evidence is not very
compelling, particularly if one looks at our own society. There are something like six out of ten adolescents who are
supposed to be in need of mental treatment, where there are few people who are not popping one pill or another into
themselves, where the competency of physicians in the area of drugs is one of the lowest in the world, where we are, in
fact, involved in a gigantic medical vested-interest situation, which under the AMA, the insurance companies, the
pharmaceutical companies, the physicians, the government, all underwrite a system of chemical medicine that is related
to the chemical productivity of the society.
One wonders how the species could have lived for the nearly two million years that it has--before the introduction of
chemical medicine. But the great systems of acupuncture, Chinese medicine, the indigenous systems of medicine--of
plant and herb medicine, that have been developed in the countries of Asia; all of these are ridiculed as being primitive
superstitions, while more and more chemicals in the forms of medicines are imposed not only on a supine and glib
American population, but which we now tout to the rest of the world as being their only salvation for the betterment of
their health. It would be a nice idea if perhaps we could have adopted the ancient Chinese system where one paid one's
physician only so long as one was well. When one was sick, one didn't pay. Under such a situation, it seems to me, we
might be disposed to make a very dramatic reappraisal of that system of medicine which we tout to the rest of the world
as being absolutely necessary for their lives.
I hold the same view with respect to the concept of Western law, which seems to me one of the most iniquitous systems
of law in the world, and I will explain why. I recently reviewed a book by a scholar from the Sorbonne who was
complaining that in India there were great problems in getting Western law introduced at the village level. He was
pointing out, which is correct, that the traditional law is free, it is flexible, and it is merciful, as opposed to our own
system of law, which is _____ expensive, very rigid, and very harsh. He was wondering why the villagers were so
adamant to this progressive system of law that we have in the West, which, once again, we think all the world ought to
This system of law, of which I speak, involves again, as it does in the field of medicine, an extraordinary vested- interest
group which handles the whole business. That is to say, the lawyers are the legislators, the lawyers write the laws, the
lawyers are the judges and the lawyers are the prosecutors. The lawyers in fact have the entire system sewed up to such a
degree that the law, in its relationship to the people, is a vast gap. A gap which does not exist in the traditional societies
of Asia. Any mother, I'm sure, will tell you that if you want to treat people justly, you do not treat them equally. And I
suggest to you that the greater the degree of equality you have in a society, the lesser the likelihood of justice in society.
I go further than this. If you examine some of the traditional lawbooks of these societies you don't find very many laws.
And I am almost disposed to put to you a hypothesis which goes something like this: the greater the number of laws in a
society, the less the amount of liberty that society will have. For every law is, by definition, a limitation on the ability to
exercise options. When you constantly confine these options, as we do in our legal system (and you have this most
incredible vested interest enforcing this), then I believe that our system of law and our concept of law in this society is
essentially bankrupt. It is morally bankrupt, just as I believe that our system of medicine is bankrupt, just as I believe
that our system of education in bankrupt. And why, in the name of any kind of morality or humanity, we should think
that we are giving other societies (which we call "underdeveloped," "backward" societies or, less pejoratively, "Third
World") we are giving them any kind of a deal by foisting upon them the rot which many of us cannot even stand in our
own society, seems to me a most incredible kind of reasoning.
This goes beyond the suggestions that I make here. We have great ideas about employment in our society. I do not recall
in history any other society, including the most dominant slave societies, where people worked for 50 weeks out of a
year in order to get a two-week holiday. Not even the most thoroughgoing slave societies had the kind of voluntary
slavery which seems to be a hallmark of our society. And now it seems that we have conned the blacks and women and
all kinds of other groups into feeling that we're offering them a great deal by joining this kind of slavery. I suggest to
you that if the indices of well-being would change with simply one word, and instead of employment we used the
concept of self-employment, that this would be one of the most underdeveloped societies in the world.
Self-employment is creative employment. Self-employment is the kind of thing you see throughout Southeast
Asia--whether it's the family running a teashop or a person taking fruits and vegetables down to the railway
station--whatever it is, it is self- employment.
It is not the huge, mechanized complex that we have here. Just change that word from employment to self- employment
and we will be the "underdeveloped," "primitive" society, and I think it would not be a bad change to understand what
the basic values consist of in terms of economic development. But we insist that these nations of Southeast
Asia--Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, wherever we go, that we are to industrialize them and we are to put them working on
the same kind of mill-value system that we have. I believe that this exchange is unjust. I believe it is unequal. I believe
that what we are doing to Vietnam goes far beyond Vietnam; that it goes far beyond Southeast Asia; that it goes beyond
this generation; and I believe that it also goes beyond reasonable belief. It goes beyond any concept, any viable concept
of humanity. I may say that it is hard, it is difficult for anyone to sum up the truly awful consequences of what this
means in terms of the species. For if this species is not diversified, if this world adopts this value system, which we are
imposing and exporting to the rest of the world, then the danger becomes far more than rhetorical. We have this big
thing on health and on diets we well. How the people of Asia managed to live until our nutritionists told them where
they ought to get their protein is also remarkable, a kind of observation that does not seem to occur to our foreign
advisers and to their experts. The whole field is just so incredibly immoral, though I know that so many people do this
with the best intentions in the world, but with the most damaging and disastrous consequences. I can express my feeling
on this perhaps best with a poem, a short poem from Tagore, the great Indian poet, who said this:
Mother, I shall weave a chain of pearls
For thy neck with my tears of sorrow.
The stars have wrought their anklet of light
To deck thy feet.
But mine will hang upon thy breast.
Wealth and fame come from thee
And it is for thee to give or to withhold them
But this, my sorrow, is absolutely mine own,
And when I bring it to thee as my offering
Thou rewardest me with thy grace.
And if there were a prayer that would be appropriate for this situation and for this country, I would, again, take that
request from the same poet, who said, "Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high; where knowledge is
free, where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic wars; where words come out from the
depths of truth, where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection, where the clear stream of reason has not lost
its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and
action, into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake."
MODERATOR. I may have a problem with the other panelists, trying to follow this. Thank you, Dr. Spellman, thank
you very much. Jim Clark?
CLARK. It's going to be a pretty hard act to follow. I'm reminded of a story that was told about Sam Rayburn one time
when a young representative had just addressed the House. He got down and said, "What did you think of what I said?"
And Rayburn said, "What you had to say was both new and interesting. But unfortunately, what you had to say that was
new, wasn't interesting, and what you had to say that was interesting, wasn't new." And I'm afraid that's the boat I'm in.
Before I get into my remarks, just addressing myself shortly to some of the things that Dr. Spellman has said reminds
me--when I was in Phu Yen, I was new in the country-- this was back in '66. I went out to a refugee camp. The
conditions were really deplorable. There were about 3,000 people living on a sandspit in tin huts with rooms about
eight-by-eight with seven people in each room. There was a reception camp with buildings that were about forty feet
long, and twenty feet wide with 400 to 500 people in each-- impossible as that sounds, but it was true. I went out there,
and I was really depressed about the situation. I thought there must be something we can do. The first thing that struck
my mind was that I was going to build some latrines, some outhouses for these people, because I noticed they were
defecating out on the side, across the road. So I went off and I got some barrels (because you couldn't dig a hole in the
sand) and I put these barrels into the ground. I got some people to help and we built a cement block house with a tin
roof on it.
I came back a couple of days later and these places were locked up. I went to the fellow who was in charge of each area,
and I said, "Why have you locked up these latrines, these wonderful things that I've built?" And he took me over and he
opened them up and there was rice inside. And he said, "You know, you Americans are a strange breed. In the first place,
such a fine structure makes a much better place to keep my rice, which is much more important to me than a place
where I can defecate. You probably never thought of it, but if you defecate in one place all the time, it's going to smell.
And besides that, if you continue it, eventually you're going to have to clean that up. Besides that, the way that you
defecate, sitting up like that, it's very uncomfortable. If you squat it's healthier and you'll appreciate it better. In the last
place, closing yourself up in a room...it smells, all you look at is a blank wall. At least when I go across the road I can
contemplate, I can look across the horizon." I went home and I started thinking about that and I thought, maybe we
could get an AID [Agency for International Development] mission to the United States to teach us how to defecate.
The refugee situation in Vietnam is deplorable. Perhaps levity is out of place. But often, when something is this bad,
you find yourself reacting in such a way that you have to treat some of the tragedy that you see in this manner to be able
to accept it. I'll briefly go over the reasons for the generation of refugees in Vietnam, where they're located, who the
refugees are and some of the economic implications that Dr. Spellman has already referred to. One observer of the
Asian scene writing in the Southeast Asian Quarterly a while back, referred to Vietnam--American involvement
there--as the rape of Vietnam. I contend that perhaps rape is too strong a word. In reality, probably what actually
happened (to use a simile) would be that it's more like a young fellow who dated the girl across the tracks. And through
a backseat affair, got her pregnant. Later on he decided that she was really quite worthless, a dirty little girl full of
corruption and other things. But unfortunately he had got her pregnant, and now he faced the problem of trying to find
an honorable way out of his predicament. I don't know what all the errors are in relation to our involvement with
Vietnam, but there have been several. And I don't know how we can get out of this problem. Between 1964 and the fall
of 1969, the American effort in Vietnam, directly or indirectly, produced an internal generation of refugees, which was
on a level probably unknown before in the world. Twenty-five percent, to use some estimates, of the entire population
of the country have been displaced.
The estimates run anywhere from two million and on up. The agrarian economic base of the country has been destroyed.
The cultural identity factors of the population have been severely strained. Health and welfare problems, totally beyond
the experience of the Vietnamese in terms of the extended family and the nature of the people to generally solve their
own problems, have been spawned. We're facing a problem now where we're going to leave. We're picking up our toys
and we're going home. And we're going to leave this country ravaged. An investigation of the nature of the refugee
problem and how the problem affects the economic base of the country may result in a perspective which may be
beneficial in evaluating the current state of affairs. Who are the refugees? Where are the refugees from? Where are the
refugees currently located? And what may we expect in terms of the refugees in the future? Traditional discussions of
Vietnam generally begin with the migration of refugees from the North. In 1954 some 900,000 people did leave; some
700,000 of these people were Catholics. They had the benefits of an educational system; they had money. When they
came to South Vietnam, their resettlement was not that difficult a problem. This group also, this original group, is
distinguished by the fact that they, unlike the people who would become refugees later, did make a choice. To borrow a
popular phrase among propagandists, they voted with their feet. They made a choice and came South.
This cannot be said of the vast majority of the 2.5 million people who were to follow them. The refugee camps and
towns in the provincial capitals today are swollen by people who once populated the rural areas of the country. Dan
Ronk, an experienced Vietnam observer, wrote recently that the peasant population who left their ancestral homes and
livelihood to seek refuge in the cities represent at least 80% of the total number of persons who once populated the
farms and rice paddies. Ronk reasoned that this displacement was by the design of the American military. Reasoning that
the Chinese revolution serves as a base for revolution in Asia, Mr. Ronk assumed that Mao's dictum regarding the
revolutionary forces as a fish in a sea of people, was a determining factor in American military planning. By denying the
Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese elements the environment to wage war, victory could be achieved. It is doubtful in
my mind that American policy makers would admit to such special warfare methods. However, the fact that so much of
the war population was displaced, lends credence to this concept. The argument suggested by Mr. Ronk of total
premeditation of refugee generation is weakened by the diversity of reasons given by refugees for their eventual
The principal aim of the military was to seek out and destroy the Viet Cong. To achieve this end, the enemy were
bombed, shelled, deprived of their supplies of food and medicine, and continually harassed. In the process, many
noncombatant civilians were made to suffer; either at the hands of American and allied forces, or at the hands of NLF
and North Vietnamese military units. An analysis of the reasons given by the refugees themselves finds that they are
divided in their reasons for leaving. The causal agents of movement differed from area to area. The degree of enemy
activity and the degree of allied action in response to the activity were important determinants. The pattern which was
normally adhered to was an air drop of leaflets encouraging the population in NLF-controlled areas to evacuate.
However, an analysis of movement based on refugee interviews would imply that the leaflets served more to ease the
conscience of allied forces engaged in future action than to actually result in refugee generation or migration.
Planning for refugee generation may have been unrealistic in expecting persons to leave their homes and livelihood and
their extended families for migrations to areas of high unemployment and, in some cases, local hostility. If military
leaflet-dropping was unrealistic, as surveys seem to indicate, the resulting deaths and casualties raise some questions as
to the morality of allied actions. The assumption that persons not leaving free fire zones were enemies also was a
generalization having severe moral implications. The hostility toward refugees by urbanites went beyond urban-rural
conflict. Refugees were, in many cases, the families of NLF forces. Assistance to such people was often viewed
negatively by Vietnamese government personnel as aid to dependent enemy. I had a conversation with a province chief
in Phu Yen one day. He was quite blunt with me and he expressed the opinion, "Why should I help these people, who
have sons and fathers out fighting in the countryside and who, if they had the opportunity, would slice my throat?" I
tried to convince him, of course, at that time, that if he'd start acting like a decent human being towards these people and
accepting them as people, the situation might change around. Persons living in enemy-controlled areas could be
encouraged to leave directly or indirectly. A direct movement would result from forced movement, where allied forces
would be airlifted into an area, round up residents and airlift them out. Though this was not a common method, it did
occur from time to time. Notable examples would be the Iron Triangle Operation of 1967 and several efforts in the
DMZ in the North.
Refugees might also be encouraged to leave through heavy military bombardment or artillery. Among refugees in Vinh
Long Province in the Delta, about 20% of all families had either experienced wounds or deaths in their families as a
result of allied artillery. In Phu Yen Province 18% listed such artillery as reasons for their becoming refugees. Direct
intervention resulting in refugee movement would also include instigation of battle or conflict in densely populated
areas. Eight percent of the Vinh Long refugees and 4% of the Phu Yen refugees listed family deaths, or deaths of
neighbors in such battles, as reasons for their migrations. Approximately one- fourth of the refugees in Phu Yen cited
ground military operations as a primary motive for their decision to move. When artillery ground operations and forced
movement are added together as causal factors, the total percentage represented is 47.2% Thus about half of all the
refugees were generated by direct intervention of American and allied forces. This group cannot be said to have voted
with their feet. The indirect generation of refugees results from allied pressure on NLF forces to a level that causes the
enemy to increase demands on the local population to a degree which becomes intolerable to some members of the
population. The bombing of supply routes and the fire power brought down upon NLF and North Vietnamese forces
resulted in shortages of both personnel and supplies.
As tax rates and the drafting of local youth is on the upswing, the potential degree of dissatisfaction with the occupying
forces will increase. In Phu Yen, about 30% of the refugees listed coercive activities and general hardships from VC
activities as the primary cause for their decision to move. It should be acknowledged that the situation in other
provinces would be different in accordance with the variables related to the degree of allied activity, religion and the
period of time that any particular faction was in control. The second form of indirect movement would be those persons
who migrated to urban areas to take advantage of specialized local economic advantages. In Phu Yen the construction
of a large airbase offered high-paying day labor jobs to women and older men. Persons who could only be marginally
employed in rural areas found employment in areas where there were large concentrations of allied forces. Prostitution,
laundry services, truck and vehicle washing services, and snack bars were primary examples of such new entrepreneur
vocations. Seven point two percent of the Phu Yen refugees listed economic and social reasons for their reasons for
The final category of movement cannot be assigned to either direct or indirect allied involvement. In hamlets and
villages which were only marginally controlled by the Saigon government there occurred constant reprisals and terror
against government and Vietnam officials. School teachers, health officials, and any functionary of the government was
endangering himself and his family by remaining in insecure areas. Nighttime assassinations and abductions were quite
common. In Phu Yen 16.5% of the refugees could be so classified. The reliability of this data gathered must be
questioned to some degree in terms of the faction which was responsible for taking the interviews. A Hawthorne effect,
or an effect of people saying what you want them to say, is obviously probably at work here. When we tried the same
forms with non-refugees, as to why their neighbors had left the countryside, 95% gave Viet Cong action as the primary
reason. Though solid argument in support of Mr. Ronk's theory seems inappropriate, the results in terms of denying
food, labor and a tax base to the insurgents, are partially confirmed from our interviews. Fifteen percent of the refugees
reported threats by the Viet Cong against them if they were to seek refuge in government areas. There are also on record
several refugee hamlets which suffered from attack by the Viet Cong. The reasons for the attack were not always clear.
In some cases the reasons were related to the population turning against the Viet Cong infrastructure members. In
others, the Viet Cong were attempting to get farmers to resume planting and harvesting rice crops necessary to the food
supply. In summary, one can assume that several variables played a contributing factor to refugee generation. Fear of
either allied or Viet Cong forces are represented in approximately 90% of the refugee population. It would appear
unrealistic to view the refugees as totally committed to either of the contending factions. Their eventual reasons for
migration were rooted in their concern for their personal security, not because of political ideology. Persons who
became refugees were not all located in government subsidized camps. People with relatives in the cities, with saleable
skills, with cash savings often avoided the horrors of camp life and resettled themselves. Conversely, the people who
lacked vocational skills, who lacked contacts in urban areas, who possessed no cash savings and, most of all, who had
no wage earner in the family, tended to populate the official refugee camp. The persons seeking assistance in the refugee
camps (and who would eventually number close to two million persons) were those members of society who would
most likely be assigned to the lowest socioeconomic realm of society.
If we look at a breakdown of the age groups of the people who were in these camps, we find that in the age range 20-45,
males are outnumbered by females by 50%. The females in the 20-24 age group are underrepresented in terms of the
total population. Among children and young people, the males slightly outnumber the females. As a percentage of the
total the under twenty-one group represents nearly 50% of the total population. The fact that over 50% of the
population is under twenty could be expected from similar studies of other emerging nations. However, the population
distribution may be important in terms of the future economic state of the country, and the government expectation
related to future refugee conditions. What inference can we make from the demographic make-up of the in-camp
population? To begin with, we might note that the large base of children associated with the population pyramid is
characteristic of rapidly expanding populations. Past population statistics seem to confirm this trend. The next growth
rate of Vietnam has been estimated to be from 1-2%. However, considering the large number of children in refugee
camps, we must assume that there is a higher birth rate amongst the refugee camps than outside. Concerning the growth
of Vietnam, population-wise, it has grown rather rapidly. In 1937 the population of South Vietnam was only four and a
half million people. In 1959 it was 13.8 million. And we can expect from statistical progression ratios that by 1994 the
population of Vietnam will approach thirty million people. The distribution of the sexes, combined with our knowledge
of their former rural locations, seems to suggest that many of the males remained behind in the rural areas. Presumably,
since these areas were controlled by the NLF, many of the persons absent from the population are probably troops with
the NLF. Thus, the hostility of many government officials, particularly military officers toward dependent enemy, merits
some consideration. An occupation survey among persons in refugee camps in 1967 found 3,000 persons, out of a
sample of 62,000 adults, listing their occupation as soldier. If we assume that approximately half are males, we can
assume that one in ten males are soldiers; this would be about one-half of the national average. Therefore, the other half
must be someplace else. Prior to assuming that all males absent who are not represented in the population are Viet
Cong, one could consider that many have been killed in prior allied engagements or artillery bombardments. Such deaths
would contribute to the welfare status of in-camp refugees in that there is no wage earner in the family.
The evidence at this point would seem to suggest that the missing male population is either dead, has remained behind
to work the family field, has become a fighting member of the NLF, or is part of the government forces. The rural
origins of the typical refugee family create the expectation that most former refugees followed a farming vocation. This
expectation was confirmed by an occupational survey administered in 1967. Most former refugees followed farming as
their primary form of occupation. The survey covered 113,000 people and the results bore out the agricultural
emphasis. At the same time that the occupational survey was made, persons interviewed were asked if they desired to
learn a new trade. Nine out of ten said they weren't interested in doing that because they wanted to go back to the
countryside. Seventy-three percent of those interviewed expressed a desire to return to their original villages. When
asked when they would return, they indicated they would return when the war was over or when it was secure and safe
from both of the contending factions. Returning to the demographic data mentioned earlier, we can see that the number
of family heads, traditionally the elders of the extended families, may not be fully appreciative of contrary desires by
younger members of their families. That is, after you've seen Nah Trang, who wants to go back to the farm? With over
50% of the members being young persons, there is reason to believe that many of the people will have no desire to
return to the life of the rural areas.
Many of the refugees have been away from their former homes for periods of four years or more. In October of 1965,
there were over 700,000 refugees. Studies of rural-urban migration indicate a positive correlation of time in urban
participation. The longer one remains in an urban area, particularly after two years, the greater one's involvement and
identity with the urban structure. It is unlikely that these people will want to go back and farm the fields. Other factors
mitigating against a return of the refugee population to the farming areas are continued insecurity or future insecurity as
the allied troop withdrawal continues. In that current land reform measures require that a person receiving title be
farming the land, some farmers may return to find that the land they once farmed as tenants now belongs to someone
else. These factors which mitigate against the return of refugees to their homes may be crucial to the future of the
country. The government policy towards refugees has always been one of assuming that one day the refugees will return
and the problem will evaporate. If refugees do not return, or if a substantial number remain in the cities, problems of
welfare and urban slums will no doubt continue.
Posters have begun to appear in Vietnam and in refugee areas encouraging refugees to return to their villages. The
reasons go beyond the urban problems of welfare and overcrowding. Crops are not being planted, and the country's
important economic base crop, rice, is in need of labor capital. In addition, security in the countryside requires a
population from the urban areas, who can reasonably be expected to support the central government. The final
consideration, which would appear to confirm the fact that many refugees will not be returning to their rice fields is
related to a political decision made by the United States government in 1968. Reacting in part to increased pressures
from voluntary agencies, the press, and Senator Edward Kennedy's Refugees Subcommittee, a decision was made to
reclassify refugee camps, which had received all of the assistance required by law, as having been resettled into New
Life hamlets. What this meant was that after receiving a cash payment, so many sacks of cement, so many sheets of
roofing, and having met communal requirements related to a classroom for every hundred children and one toilet for
every twenty families, the refugee camps were delisted. The degree of this type of delisting of refugees can be seen in
noting that in the first ten months of 1968, 168,000 refugees were resettled on location, as compared to 86,000 who
were listed as having returned to their villages.
The process was guaranteed to reduce the number of refugees. Unfortunately the condition of the refugee, his future and
the future of the country were not considered. It would be like if we had a welfare program in the States and we said,
"Well, we'll give everyone $100 and after that we'll say that he's not welfare any more." It's just totally unrealistic. One
can imagine the tragedy of this measure if similar government measures were to be incorporated into the welfare
programs we have for the poor in the United States. The actual location of the refugee camps should also be mentioned
as a factor in understanding the social and economic impact of the problem. The most populated areas of the country,
the area around Saigon and the Delta area, account for only 20% of the refugees. The northern areas of the country
account for the remainder. In part, this relates to the firmer hold by the NLF and North Vietnamese units in that part of
the country, and the greater intensity of fighting in the area. Unfortunately, the economic potentiality of the northern
area is extremely limited. The topography of the north is mountainous and severe.
And what land that is available for cultivation is highly prized. As the refugees flooded into the secure provincial
capitals it became impossible to employ them or to assist them by providing land on which they might farm. In the
majority of cases the refugees were placed upon barren, uncultivatable land. To return to the free fire zones was
impossible and employment locally was equally impossible. Unemployment rose from a level of .8% before migration
began to a post-migration level of 33.4%. Only 2% of the refugees from Phu Yen province continued to earn an income
from farming. Among those who were able to find employment, many were forced to accept wages substantially lower
than they earned before becoming refugees. In Phu Yen, income levels average 50% lower than pre-migration income
levels, the average wage being about thirty cents a day. Thus, the location of refugees was a primary factor leading to
Summing up our knowledge of the refugee family, our profile would suggest that the average refugee is a farmer who
sought refuge from indirect or direct allied action and is not stressing a political preference when he migrates. When he
arrives in the secure area he will not be able to farm, will face some political hostility, will probably be a child, an old
person, or a female, be unemployed, or marginally employed. In addition, the period he will remain in a refugee camp
will be an extended one, greater than two years. His chances of being administratively resettled are greater than his
chances of returning home. The true economic impact of the refugee problem has not yet been felt in Vietnam. The
reason for this is because great volumes of United States dollar support of the government of Vietnam, in a wartime
private or indirect report factor, related to United States military factor, related to United States military expenditures
and construction and services to well- paid allied forces, is in effect. The pre-war economy of Vietnam was like many
Asian countries a two-crop agrarian economy. There were other exports, including some tea. But rubber production
from French rubber plantations and rice production from the Mekong Delta were predominant. The effects of the war
on South Vietnam's exports cannot be minimized. In 1961 South Vietnam's exports were valued at $76 million. By
1964 the export values were down to $48 million. In '65, again down to $35 million. In '66 down to $20 million. In
1967 a brief increase in exports took place, but was followed by a further decline in exports in '68. Rice became an
import in 1965. Where South Vietnam had exported $33 million worth of rice in 1964, it imported $15 million worth
in 1969. Rubber production fell from an export dollar value of $43 million in 1961 to $8 million in 1968. As
production and exports fell, the dollar deficit expanded and foreign exchange reserves fell.
To function the government of Vietnam became more dependent on the United States. In 1969, the American
government was underwriting, directly or indirectly, 60% of the South Vietnamese budget. The form that this aid to
South Vietnam took was in indirect and direct aid. Direct aid was generally either food for freedom imports, or support
of the costly commercial import program. The commercial import program allows Vietnamese citizens to purchase
foreign goods with piasters. The piaster, being inflated by increased government issue of notes, and the absence of
domestic articles to buy with monies being generated by American Forces, is thus made valuable. The United States
government would use dollars to purchase consumer items and sell the items to the Vietnamese government at
favorable exchange rates. The government would then sell the items to the local citizens. The indirect gain offered by
the United States was similar to that generated in tourist economics. By waging a war that destroyed the normal source
of export income, the economic base was changed radically. The new export item was similar to that offered by college
towns or small down-state capitals in the United States. Vietnam was dependent upon GIs spending money on the local
economy. If the GIs are to be withdrawn, the economic export item would evaporate and the country would be without
any base to support the economy, except monies received through direct aid. Generally, by being dependent upon GIs, as
you withdraw the GI (and having done away with the rice and rubber export crops) the Vietnamese economy no longer
has anything to have its roots in. And the people who once did the farming, as I pointed out earlier, cannot go back nor
can we expect them to go back and get the rice crops and the rubber crops going. I think that when we recognize these
factors, these statistics, boring as they are, do point out that the future of Vietnam is in very serious trouble. The people
have been uprooted, their culture has been destroyed, the extended family has been severely broken up, we have
overcrowding in the cities and tremendous slums. Saigon has grown from a city of 600,000 in 1960 to close to three
million today with people living in the streets. There is no future hope, economically, that these people are going to get
back on their feet in the immediate future. I suggest that we have a very serious problem in Vietnam that we have not
given consideration to. In our rush to get out, in our desire to get out, I ask those of you who think on this to consider,
when we do leave, what we are leaving behind and is there anything that we can do? Is there any way that we can get
out? I don't think we know what we are doing there or we haven't proven that we have. Is there any way that we can get
out and help these people? Is there anything that we can do other than leave this tragedy?
EMENY. When Dr. Spellman was speaking my head started going wild with memories and all the time Jim's been
talking I've been writing down things. One of the things I have been thinking about an awful lot lately is the whole
concept of genocide. Genocide, it seems to me, is just the ultimate extension of a policy of population control. I think in
terms of three kinds of levels of control. There's physical, there's economic, and then there's psyochological and
political. We've heard a lot about physical control in all the stories we've heard and I can tell you just examples of my
own, but I won't now. Economic control: there has been a 300% inflation in the last four years. But there is the
psychology or the political, and in Vietnam there is an incredible will to live. This is, I guess, what I would like to talk a
little bit about. We think of Vietnam in terms of the Vietnam that we have experienced, which is the Vietnam of maybe
ten years, twelve years ago. Well, we've been there for longer than that. But we've been actively involved for ten or
twelve years. But the history of Vietnam, the history that the Vietnamese know, is a history of 4,000 years or more. That
whole history is a history of struggle. A struggle for suvival, and most of it a struggle for survival against outside
people, outside invaders. Home for me was a Buddhist orphanage and there was a song that kids in the orphanage sang.
Kids all over Vietnam sing it, you know, five year old kids, which sums up their history in a nutshell. It goes like this: "A
thousand years as slaves to the Chinese, a hundred years a colony of France, twenty years of this war. The inheritance
that the mother gives on to her child is the inheritance of the sad Vietnam." And it goes on. But that's one side of the
history; the other side is this incredible will to live, which is summed up in another song that I would just like to read
the translation from. This is a song by a young many who lives in Saigon, who is in prison for writing songs like this,
because in South Vietnam today it is illegal to be for peace. Literally, it's illegal. But his song goes like this:
Last Updated Wednesday, March 17 2004 @ 08:01 PM MST; 6,267 Hits