Whitewashing

Claudia Krich, a Davis, California resident, wrote a short essay about her experience during the fall of Saigon upon viewing the acclaimed documentary, Last Days in Vietnam in 2015. Unfortunately, her account is wildly inaccurate and to top it all off, her essay was recently republished on the anniversary of the fall of Saigon by Viet Nam News, one of the state-run media outlets in Vietnam.

Her story is a classic example of whitewashing. I do not mean to downplay her own personal experiences in Vietnam during those final days. I was not there for myself, and I couldn't possibly imagine what it was like for her, as a white American. However, at the same time, as a white American, she consistently spouts talking points straight from the victors, while inaccurately describing the events that occurred.

I'll be going step-by-step through her essay in order to refute her numerous falsehoods.

The assumption has been that after the Americans left, there was a terrible bloodbath in Vietnam, but history should get both sides of this story correct, now, 40 years later. There was no bloodbath.

Using the low estimates by R.J. Rummel, the communist regime in Vietnam between 1975 and 1987 is responsible for the following deaths:

  • Approximately 165,000 in the reeducation camps
  • Between 50,000 to 250,000 extrajudicial killings
  • Approximately 50,000 deaths in the New Economic Zones
  • Between 200,000 and 400,000 deaths at sea by the boat people (This is an UNHCR estimate, as Rummel actually estimates anywhere from 100,000 to 1,000,000 perished at sea)

In total, Rummel estimates that a minimum of 400,000 and a maximum of slightly less than 2,500,000 directly perished or died from causes stemming from political violence between 1975 and 1987. This does not account for the refugees who were abducted, killed, or disappeared during the 1975 Spring Offensive.

Additionally this does not take into account the mass rape and assaults that took place on the high seas against the boat people.

As the South Vietnamese government began to crumble, we fled to Saigon. But we learned later that the transition had been peaceful. In fact, the Liberation Front had entered the town 24 hours after the South Vietnamese officials had already left.

The Newport Bridge in Saigon, seen here on April 28, 1975, was the scene of heavy fighting as it was one of the primary entry points into Saigon. The bridge was wired with 4,000 lbs of explosives, but the ceasefire was declared before ARVN soldiers could blow the bridge.

The Newport Bridge in Saigon, seen here on April 28, 1975, was the scene of heavy fighting as it was one of the primary entry points into Saigon. The bridge was wired with 4,000 lbs of explosives, but the ceasefire was declared before ARVN soldiers could blow the bridge.

Perhaps in Quang Ngai, there was little fighting, as the majority of ARVN troops had fallen back to southern positions to defend the capitol, Saigon. Many civilians had also fled southwards as well.

To imply that were was no resistance in the transition is folly. South Vietnamese troops fought to defend their country up until the very end, even within the city of Saigon itself.

A few weeks before the end of the war, the South Vietnamese dropped an American CBU 55 bomb on civilian Vietnamese, killing everyone and every creature in range that breathed oxygen. The United States also tested agent orange and white phosphorus on the Vietnamese population.

I will not dispute the use of Agent Orange and white phosphorus during the conflict. That much is true. However, her citation of the usage of CBU-55 bombs is wildly inaccurate. Yes, the CBU-55 was used by the South Vietnamese on the final days of the war. However, it was dropped against PAVN positions during the Battle of Xuan Loc, not against civilian targets. If she’s implying that the North Vietnamese soldiers are innocents, then it would appear that Krich is more misguided than I had hoped.

We dropped carpet bombs and cluster bombs and, of course, planted hundreds of thousands of land mines. And there was the C5A aircraft that was packed with children, but unbalanced, that crashed in mid-April 1975, killing 138 people.

Is Krich implying that the C-5A cargo plane that crashed, carrying hundreds of Amerasian children, was somehow due to the machinations of the United States—that the Americans wanted to kill hundreds of children? Those children were already being neglected by the South Vietnamese due to their mixed-race origins, those Amerasians left behind after the fall would be relegated to discrimination and oppression by the new communist regime.

Saigon’s population had been mostly shielded from the war until the end, while those who lived outside the city suffered for years and years. In April 1975, the danger and the war reached Saigon and the residents panicked.

Saigon saw its fair share of fighting during the war, most notably during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Here, ARVN M113 APCs are clearing streets in the Cholon district of Saigon.

Saigon saw its fair share of fighting during the war, most notably during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Here, ARVN M113 APCs are clearing streets in the Cholon district of Saigon.

Krich is forgetting that the Tet Offensive happened and that there was significant fighting in the capitol city. Additionally, she is implying that the Saigonese somehow were disconnected from the conflict… almost as if they deserved what was coming for them?

South Vietnamese soldiers in Saigon discarded their uniforms, turned in their weapons at improvised collection centers, and joined the crowds. North Vietnamese soldiers camped in the city parks, washing laundry and hanging it on clotheslines strung between trees.

Yes, ARVN soldiers discarded their uniforms—so that they could not be targeted for reprisals from the new regime.

They all spoke the same language, of course. In fact, many families that had been split between the north and the south met again in those first few days, after decades apart. The soldiers met each other, took pictures, and shared stories.

You know, I highly doubt soldiers, who up until that very moment when the ceasefire was declared, were in any mood to “share stories” with the enemy.

We spent the next few months being taken for Russians as we lived normal lives in Saigon. We observed the new government organizing to recover from war; improve general health care, housing and education; increase access to water and electricity; and “re-educate” the South Vietnamese high-level government officials who were still there.

WHAT? Let’s analyze this step by step:

  • There was no universal health care system if you were a former supporters of the regime. It was nearly impossible to find medical supplies, modern drugs, or a hospital you could afford after the fall of Saigon.
  • Housing was seized from those deemed the “bourgeois.” It was redistributed to members of the new regime. Many families were forced to relocate to "New Economic Zones," often in inhospitable regions, were they were forced to work the land. Without adequate shelter, medical access, or even food, many died.
  • Children of ARVN soldiers, former government officials and bureaucrats were discriminated against. There was no possibility of them attending higher education or in some cases, secondary education. Those of mixed-race heritage were called "the dust of life," relegated to living on the edges of society.
  • Reeducation involved forced political indoctrination, hard labor, and torture. Some high ranking South Vietnamese military commanders remained imprisoned up until the 1990's.

Somehow Krich thinks Vietnam transformed into a socialist paradise overnight. If she returned to Vietnam today, she would see that there is still no socialist paradise there.

But there were no firing squads; there was no murder, no torture. The new government was committed to reconciliation as the only way to unite the country and make progress.

As I’ve said before, there were all three of those. There are documented cases of extrajudicial executions and torture in the reeducation camps. If reconciliation means mass political violence, then Krich might need to return to school for vocab lessons.

Of course, many Vietnamese fled then and in later years. The money-poor new government immediately had to deal with a large number of refugees streaming in from Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge had taken over. They had to deal with antagonism and fighting with China, and they had to be careful in their relationship with Russia not to alienate others.

“Of course, many Vietnamese [who faced certain death, torture, discrimination, and economic privation at the hands of the new regime’s policies] fled then and in later years.”

The United States embargo caused tremendous suffering. Vietnam, once a major rice producer, had needed to import rice during the war due to the destruction of rice fields. It took a lot of time and a lot of land-mine removal before they could return to growing their own rice.

Historically, this doesn’t make any sense. Which Vietnam is she writing about? During the war there were two, and the North was never a major exporter of rice. The bread-bowl of Southeast Asia is in the Mekong.

If she’s trying to get at the whole “mass famine” topic in post-war Vietnam, well you can chalk that one up to failed socialist land reform policies which collectivized farms, nationalized industry, and redistributed land. People starved because of post-war policy. Famine was widespread, and although at least some of the reduction can be blamed on the impact of the war on agricultural areas, the collectivization of rice plantations did much to stifle any production that occurred after the war.

It is true that rich Saigonese lost most of their wealth. Much of that wealth had been acquired during the American war and through contacts with Americans. The post-war effort tried to reconstruct the country and to redistribute wealth.

Yes, the rich Saigonese lost their wealth. So did the middle-class and poor too. The only people who profited off of the fall of Saigon were communists. Many had their belongings and property seized without compensation or were outright killed for so-called "counter-revolutionary" thinking, as members of the "bourgeois." Now Krich is stating that the rich Saigonese were corrupt and were war profiteers, doing business with the Americans. Undoubtedly there were cases of such, but she places the blame squarely on the South Vietnamese for being, what misguided? Class traitors?

Redistribution of wealth doesn’t work when you literally seize property and livelihoods, leaving those you just redistributed from to die.

But the new government tried to avoid retribution and there was no killing of enemies. They even wanted to be friends with America, despite the long, deadly war.

As mentioned above, there was much retribution and killing of enemies.

And now, America is enriched with many new Vietnamese-American citizens, and Vietnam is enriched with a peaceful relationship with America.

America is enriched with many Vietnamese-American citizens because the new Vietnam did not want them.

It’s a shame that Claudia Krich allowed herself to be deluded by communist propaganda and has not taken the opportunity to learn from unbiased history or even speak to any former South Vietnamese refugees. If she saw their scars, both physical and emotional, and listened to their stories, she would realize that the piece she wrote is an insult—not just to the South Vietnamese, but to history itself.