IN all its two thousand or more years of history, Viet Nam has never been fully in control of its own destiny. We have suffered invasion by the Chinese, the Mongols, the Japanese and the French. We were administered as a protectorate of China for over a thousand years; we were a colony of France for nearly a century. We endured two and a half centuries of civil war between the Lords of the Trinh from the north and the Lords of the Nguyen from the south-a civil war in which the Dutch were heavily involved supporting the former and the Portuguese the latter.

Despite this violent, protracted interplay of external and internal forces, our people have developed strong, distinctive characteristics. And out of the crosscurrents of Chinese, Hindu and Western civilizations and religions has emerged a Vietnamese culture all its own.

Just as the bamboo in our national crest symbolizes our resiliency in the face of uncontrollable forces of nature or man, so too does it emphasize the supple strength of the Vietnamese people and their deep roots in their own land. Though our past has been full of disappointments, our future, like the fresh green shoots of the bamboo, is full of hope. Whether we will succeed or fail is in large measure a question of confidence-confidence in our government, in our constitutional processes and in our ultimate victory over communism.

Before any real progress can be made in Viet Nam, the government must earn the confidence of the people. This cannot be done unless the government has confidence in itself; unless it knows in its own heart it is working for the good of the whole nation; unless it is prepared to explain to the simple people, the villagers in the countryside, what it is trying to do in language they will understand. It must be honest with the people and honest with itself.

When the government has confidence in itself it will be able to lead the Vietnamese people. It will set broad, simple goals that all elements of the nation can work toward together. In so doing it can begin to gather a wide base of support; it can show all different groups how they can best use their capabilities to move forward toward the common end.

As one looks back on our past experience with democracy, we can see that our central problem has been of our own making: our governments have lacked confidence in themselves. As a result, once they gain power their main efforts are focused on maintaining themselves in office rather than leading the people forward out of their troubles. Consequently, instead of broadening their base, instead of encouraging all factions, no matter how diverse their views, to join together and contribute in their own ways toward a realization of the people's dream, they have squandered most of their talent and energy in neutralizing any individual or group that is not prepared to subjugate itself completely to their direction.

Caught up thus in a defensive, introverted frame of mind, past governments have usually begun by narrowing their base. In so doing they have shut out many who might be prepared to work in their own way for the national cause. Once this process sets in, personalities become involved, rumors gain credence, suspicions absorb the creative energy of the leaders. Instead of searching for ways to move forward together, schemes are devised to eliminate those who differ even slightly on how to proceed. Those who have been excluded stand aside and criticize or plot.

While the government deludes itself and its powerful allies by giving the outward impression of authority, those responsive to its authority become fewer and fewer. Before long it finds itself balanced like an inverted pyramid and requires only a push from some other self-centered group to topple it from power. This has happened more than once since 1954 and we have only ourselves to blame. It can happen again.

The trouble has been that past governments have repeatedly overlooked the self-purging characteristic of a great cause. When groups within the society begin to work for the whole people-no matter how small their contribution may be-this characteristic manifests itself. Once they become motivated by this wider perspective, their members quickly recognize those within their midst who are absorbed by selfish, personal greed or who are working for an outside power. Then the process of self-purification begins. Those few who cannot raise their eyes above their own narrow interests or who have been captured by the evil doctrine of communism soon stand out in the crowd. Once identified, the group itself takes steps to isolate and deal with them as appropriate. If the government publicly acknowledges the group's contribution to the nation's objectives and indicates its trust, the group will reciprocate by placing more confidence in the government.

Unfortunately this has not been the case. Instead the communists have been able to exploit honest differences of opinion as to how to reach our common objectives. Manipulating emotions, they have fanned frustrations into a virtual hatred of those in authority. Weakened by this communist deception and by their own shortsighted policy of exclusion, governments became so self-centered that they lost the respect of the people. As a result, the people have become apathetic, have withdrawn into their own shells and have allowed strangers from abroad to take over the brunt of Viet Nam's struggle for freedom.


The mechanism for achieving participation and dealing with diversity, for providing a workable relationship between the present government and its opponents within South Viet Nam, is the new Constitution. It provides a sound bicameral framework, based on Western democratic experience and practice, within which the nation can grow and mature. While perhaps not perfect-what constitution is?-provisions are made for its improvement and modernization through orderly amendment.

Drafted by the 117 deputies of the National Constituent Assembly, it urges the people of Viet Nam to put aside the past and take their responsibility before history. Recognizing the many long years of foreign domination, partition, dictatorship and war, it enjoins the nation to look ahead to the future, "to welcome progressive ideas in order to establish a republican form of government of the people, by the people and for the people." Such a government is charged by the Constitution to oppose communism, unite the nation, unify the territory, and assure independence, freedom and democracy for future generations.

In moving ahead toward these goals, today's government must deal with two kinds of opposition. The first is composed of the National Liberation Front and its Viet Cong infrastructure throughout the country. This is the disloyal opposition. It is wholly responsive to Hanoi and to the international communist apparatus. It is the true enemy within our midst. Relatively small in numbers, it is well-organized, highly disciplined and ruthless. It maintains and seeks to expand its authority through terror. As an organization it cannot be dealt with by suasion or compromise-much less by coalition.

The second group is made up of those who feel they have been excluded from participation in the process of government because, for one reason or another, they have differed with those in authority as to how best to move forward the national objectives. The new Constitution provides a mechanism for this loyal opposition to make its voice heard through a House and Senate composed of elected representatives of the people.

As we work to build a government responsive under the Constitution to the whole people, we must guard against a mandarinate approach to the administration of the provinces and districts. The rural farmers have learned through bitter experience to be suspicious of officials sent down to them by the central government. The villagers' loyalties are first to the family, then to the ho, or clan, and then to the village. If the government is to win their support, it must seek local participation and advice in the selection of local officials. Again it is a question of mutual trust. The government must show its confidence in the people by appointing the district chief whenever possible from among the residents of the district. Similarly, the province chief should be a man who was raised in that province.

The Constitution states that "during the first Presidential term, the President shall appoint province chiefs." It also provides for a House of Representatives of between one and two hundred members elected "from separate constituencies no larger than provinces." This permits us to plan for the day when each district will have its own representative in the legislature. Ultimately, Article 71 of the Constitution directs that province chiefs themselves "will be popularly elected through universal suffrage by direct and secret ballot."

The nature of the war requires that our nation be governed by a strong central government. Local officials must be responsive to the central authority. But if that government is to be strong, the local officials must be men of the people rather than outsiders. The term of the first president (he is elected for four years and can be reëlected once) provides an adequate period during which we can make the orderly transition toward the goal of local administration so wisely envisaged in the Constitution.


As the loyal opposition begins to play a responsible and respected role in the government, communication between the "rice roots" and Saigon will increase and intelligence will begin to flow from the people upward to the government. This will be that rare kind of personal intelligence about the communist infrastructure which is needed to identify the individual members of the clandestine Viet Cong organization that for so long has brutally terrorized our population.

To understand why our intelligence has been so inadequate, we must realize that those who live in the rural areas have for years been caught between two mobile armed forces. The villager has suffered much from both sides. Is it any wonder he has become cautious, taciturn, withdrawn? He rarely trusts anyone beyond his immediate family. His loyalties are patriarchal. His code is the traditional Code of the Le's1 which defines his relationship to his elders. Where the wisdom of the patriarch deems it safe to share confidence beyond the immediate family, information is exchanged cautiously within the ho. Since the clan is composed of all families having a common ancestor, and as the span of lineage can be reckoned as far as the ninth generation, the ho can be quite extensive.

But even within this blood relationship, it must be remembered that most Vietnamese families have been torn apart by the long, long war. For my generation, the fighting started in 1930 with the Yen Bay uprising, years before the Japanese invaded our country. And when Viet Nam was partitioned at Potsdam and at Geneva, so too was nearly every Vietnamese family. Contact and communication, even among kinsmen, were severed.

Despite these difficulties, rural intelligence nets can and must be formed. However, they can start only from within a family, within a village. They must be protected and nurtured as carefully as an orchid seedling. It is futile to expect-as government after government in Saigon has done-that outsiders from the capital can be sent into the villages to gather intelligence. Reliable intelligence nets, if properly tended, can grow within the ho. Beyond the ho, there are the sects, the religions, the secret political societies, minority groups like the montagnards or the Chams, and even embryonic labor organizations (such as the taxi drivers of Saigon) that also can make important intelligence contributions.

Foreigners cannot hope to establish or operate such networks. They are wise to concentrate instead on the scientific and technological aids which can help locate larger enemy formations in the field. When these two complementary intelligence systems can be joined together, our commanders will no longer have to fight the war blindfolded as they have in the past.

Fighting the war blindfolded is a tactical reality that complicates our military effort in South Viet Nam. However, broader strategic considerations complicate it even more. These can be discussed only in the context of the cold-war struggle going on around us. From our viewpoint, the intensity of this global conflict has grown rather than diminished since World War II. Although this wider conflict is beyond our scope and resources as a small emerging nation, we still have our part to play. Like the King's pawn in the Roy Lopez opening, we seem to have become central to the outcome of the entire chess game. Powerful external forces are brought to play in our defense and powerful external forces seek our destruction. Yet the battlefield is our land and our people. The tragedy is that brave men from at home and abroad are dying to keep us free; and brave men-in this case, our own brothers-are dying to unify us under communism.

The conflict also involves strange political aberrations called sanctuaries. The communists have sanctuaries in Cambodia and in Laos. Our friends have sanctuaries in Thailand and Okinawa. These are part of the rules of the worldwide conflict, but the rationale is sometimes hard for us to understand.

In the final analysis, the strategy of the struggle is the strategy of containment. Externally it is the strategy of containment of communist expansion; to this we are pledged as an army, as a nation and as a people. Internally, whether we like it or not, it is a strategy of containment of the conflict within the borders of Viet Nam. At first it was confined to the South. Then the North was made to feel the brutal steel of war. Now, in the interest of peace, which we all so earnestly seek, the war has ceased north of the nineteenth parallel.

The present strategy, the result of this illicit union of external and internal containment, is a monster child called attrition. Much as we loathe it, we have had to live with it since 1954. But within the borders of South Viet Nam, global and ideological considerations become somewhat academic. As we see it, the war in our country is simply the defense of our homes against aggression.


As we step back from the present conflict and look at the entire post-1954 period, we can see that our biggest mistake was to have gone too fast when we should have gone slow; and to have gone too slow when we should have gone fast. In the early days of the Republic we pressed too rapidly to destroy the political power of the sects, and in so doing turned them against the government rather than making them our allies as we gradually integrated them into the fiber of the nation. We went too quickly in building strategic hamlets, and too slowly in arming and equipping the villager to defend his home. We rushed forward with the trappings of democracy, while our government lagged in gaining the confidence of the people.

Our next big mistake was to place loyalty to self, to family, to friends ahead of loyalty to nation. This was doubly wrong when our Republic was fighting to survive in 1955, and it is close to treason to do so now as we struggle against an invasion by regular troops from the North. It is this virus of selfishness which spreads tolerance of corruption among our officials and contributes heavily to the people's lack of confidence in their government.

Another mistake which so many of the South Vietnamese made was to embrace the illusion that they could somehow stand apart from the conflict, disassociating themselves from both their government and the communists, while giving lip-service to either side as the occasion required.

The final mistake was to think, as nearly half of all Vietnamese at one time or another have done, that they and their country could ride the tiger of communism-hopefully being able to settle for a Titoist form of independence-without being eaten when they stepped down from the tiger's back.

The symbolic bird of Viet Nam is the phoenix and, like the phoenix, Viet Nam has throughout its history risen again and again from the ashes of enemy conquest and its own internal mistakes to be a stronger, wiser nation.

The hopes of the Vietnamese are the hopes of any rural people: to live in peace, to own their land, to trust their government and to give their children a chance for a better life. They are entitled to see these simple wants fulfilled. Today, half blinded by the haze of war, they are confronted by the choice of which path to follow to their dream. Some, disillusioned by the past, are caught up temporarily in the communist illusion. But as a nation, the Vietnamese know very well how to recognize the reality of freedom. Since 1954 millions have already seen through the promise of the communists and have chosen the hard lot of the refugee rather than to remain in a "People's Republic." Millions more only await the opportunity to make a similar choice with their feet.

It is one thing to divide a country on a map, but it is not so easy to divide a people, to sever the bonds of family, culture and history. The Vietnamese people are one; they cannot be separated into northerners or southerners. We know that partition can never be a lasting solution. We have pledged in our Constitution to unite the nation and to unify the territory. When that time comes, when today's cruel and unnatural political curtain is lifted, Vietnamese North and South will again be brothers, standing arm in arm squarely on the side of the Free World. 1 Written during the Le Dynasty by Emperor Le-hanh-Ton (1460-1497).

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