Hà Nội In Disarray : The Army's Decisive Role _Lâm Lễ Trinh
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The People's Army of Vietnam (known by its French acronym APV) emerged a winner from two difficult wars. The question is how communist ideology, reactionary and inhuman as it is, has been able to lead it to victory. There have been many attempts to answer this question, but one thing is clear: The party has exploited to the maximum the intense patriotism of the Vietnamese people and their deep hatred of imperialism.
For more than 50 years, the Vietnamese people have been misled. Those who put their faith in Marxism have been bitterly betrayed because all that they have sacrificed has been in vain. Dương Thu Hương the writer, and a former communist, writes: "Today, the people's greatest enemy is the Hanoi leadership". Novelist Nguyễn Tuân admits "If I am still alive today, it is because I still know what it is to be afraid". Poet Chế Lan Viên before dying in poverty, wrote in the poem “Bánh Vẽ" ("The make-believe cake", a figure of speech for false hope):
"Even before eating it
I know that it is a make-believe cake
Yet I have to sit at the table
And taste the cake
Because if I don't
My friends will resent me
For spoiling the night's pleasure..."
APV’s actual disarray.
On 23 March 1994, the Minister of Defense Đoàn Khuê read over Radio Hanoi an appeal to political cadres and governmental officials, warning them to remain vigilant to peaceful attempts at infiltration and sabotage by foreign powers (diển biến hoà bình in the communist jargon). Washington is proceeding step by step with Hanoi an attempt to maintain stability in South East Asia. Within the Party, there is currently no leading figure, no-one who seems to have the situation under control. Conservative military men with little education and doubtful ethics appear to be gaining the upper hand. At the same time, this faction has to deal with the Chinese threat in the South China Sea and within the country, with a serious economic crisis in spite of outward signs of prosperity (Barry Wain, Pitfalls of prosperity, Vietnam's robust economy breeds pockets of danger in The Asian Wall Street Journal, March 28, 1994). All things considered, Việtnam's disease does not come from its isolation or from the American embargo but rather from its own leadership, incapable as it is to adapt to democracy and the modern economic system.
In 1997, with the tacit if not the encouragement of the Politburo, Trần Quỳnh, former secretary of now deceaseed Lê Duẫn , and also former Vice Prime Minister, Hà Học Hợi (Vice President of the Ideology and Culture Committee), Đào Đinh Loan and Nồng Quốc Chân launched a virulent campaign against Võ Nguyên Giáp, the hero of Điên Biện Phủ, who had been retired for many years and had suddenly become “ dangerously lukewarm”.
The case of retired general Trần Độ, former Vice President of the National Assembly and another war hero who had filled many important poltical and cultural positions, has been in the headlines recently. For the past couple of years, Trần Độ has been very critical of the government and his writings have received wide publicity inside the country and out. The communist media retaliated with strong attacks for some ten months and on January 4 this year, Trần Độ, a loyal member for 58 years, was excluded from the Vietnamese Communist Party. His expulsion met with loud protests from several former officials from the army and the government (colonel Phạm Quế Dương,former army officers Phạm Vũ Sơn, Trần Tiến Dũng, Trần Bá, Hoàng Hữu Nhân....).Following Trần Độ’s example, General Phạm Hồng Sơn sent an open letter to the Politburo demanding urgent reforms.
With the fall from grace of Võ Nguyên Giáp, Trần Độ, and General Lê Đức Anh, former head of state, and the death on January 16, 1999 of general Đoàn Khuê, a conservative member of the Politburo and former Minister of Defense,the Vietnamese People’s Army is now represented by a new generation inside the Party: they are younger and of lesser weight, and they lack charisma, vision and experience. Among them are Lê Khã Phiêu, Phạm Văn Trà, Phạm Thanh Nga, Lê Văn Dũng...Lê Khã Phiêu, who is their leader and since 1997 secretary general of the Party, has only been a party member since 1986.
Favoritism, corruption and smuggling are everyday occurences at all levels within the Army.The already high rate of desertion jumped up during the invasion of Cambodia because of the strain it put on conscription in the South. Those in the Army who cannot get rich in the above-mentioned state firms practice smuggling along the sieve- like borders with Cambodia , Laos and China. Several thousand tons of rice sent as relief from the South to Northern provinces disappeared without traces.
Looking at the future: The APV’s role vis- a vis the Party
The legendary solidarity between the People and the Army, elevated to the rank of national virtue by the Communists, has become nothing more than that – a myth. The people have begun to question the Army and to distance themselves from it. Yet there are still many idealists in the lower ranks of the Army, mainly young soldiers born after the war between North and South and aware of the evils of Marxism. They constitute a frustrated bloc, silently – at least for now- looking on as the people struggle with poverty and injustice. Communism has lost all meaning for them, they know that it is not the foundation of unification but the source of great inequalities.
The patriotism of the malcontents within the Army will be put to the test in the coming days. In disarray, le government of Hanoi is aggravating the tension in silencing the press, firing “ the deviationists” all over the place, subjecting the US to violent and endless attacks and accusing of all kinds of crimes, this in spite of the normalization of relations between the two countries. Cadres are on the alert, local authorities are waging a fierce campaign against “ degrading foreign literature” just like in the old days of the blooming of the “ Hundred Flowers”.
The PCV, searching for subversive elements, is keeping a close watch on the Army. Nhân Dân, the Party’s mouthpiece, and Quân Đội Nhân Dân and Tạp chí Quân Đội (the Army’s) publish virulent articles exhorting their respective cadres to remain faithful to Uncle Hồ’s thinking and to refrain from selling their souls to the white devils. Nhân Dân is less agressive than the other two publications. Editorial writer Đặng Vũ Hiệp, an ultra- conservative general writing for Quân Đội Nhân Dân does not beat around the bush: he accuses the US of plotting to “ sabotage Vietnam politically, economically, diplomatically and socially...to divide and neutralize our country”.
In November 1995, the periodical Defense published an interesting editorial by Trần Mô under the tittle “ The peaceful War” ( the new name for Peaceful evolution which Hanoi now finds dated). In it, Mô states that “ no nation is capable of destroying Marxism in Vietnam. Communists can only be destroyed by Communists”. Was this not tested and proven true in the Soviet Union?
The Politburo is on alert. The greatest danger comes from within. Everything is done to track down and neutralize this internal enemy: traps, false accusations, systematic purges, physical elimination, forced retirement, corruption, bargains, false opposition, fake “ liberation” fronts, phantom revolutionary governments, and so on, the usual Marxist arsenal of subterfuges!
What is clear from the multiple popular demonstrations last year in North and South is that the Vietnamese people is no longer afraid to raise their voice. The fear has gone. This is a sign of the times. Those demonstrations have become a habit, an irreversible trend the local authorities have learned to accept while all around them Communism collapses on itself, bleeding from numerous internal wounds This does not mean however that the Marxist apparatus will fold without a struggle. The PCV will fight to the end. In its final phase, it will call to its rescue its creature and its shield, the Army.
How will the Army respond at that decisive ? In other words, how efficient is the counter- revolutionary communist machine? Will APV react as a faithful ally of the Communists and silence the vox populi? Will it rebel against orders and rise as an adversary of the regime, converted to democratic ideals like the Romanian forces under Ceaucescu and the Soviet divisions under Gorbatchev and Yeltsin? Geologist (and dissident) Nguyễn Thanh Giang – arrested last week by communist police- believes that “ there won’t be one young combatant who is prepared to obey a repressive order from above”. As for Nguyễn Hộ, Nguyễn Ngọc Lan, Tiêu Dao Bão Cự and Hoàng Tiến, they firmly believe that the Good Cause will triumph over the Evil Spirit.
It is however unlikely that military will be able to control the tidal wave of popular anger. A third alternative would be for the Army, under the leadership of new elements, to play the role of arbiter between the people and the government and try and find a path to democracy. Whatever happens, the Army is sure to have an important part to play. Let us hope that it will know to take the right decision.
* * *
Those Vietnamese who are against Marxism must set aside their own internal disagreements and come together within a large union to fight the Communists with peaceful means and bring about democracy and respect for human rights. This union must also include former communists (whether they call themselves Reformists or Revisionists) as long as they are sincere converts to the democratic cause. This means that they must be categorically opposed to the one- party system and wholeheartedly support free elections and the right to self- determination. Hanoi maintains that Việtnam “ practices democracy and respects human rights”. It is therefore not anti- constitutional to demand that Hanoi actually do what it says it is doing. The repression of a peaceful, legally organized campaign, especially if it takes place in full view of an international public, would spark off a deep crisis with unforeseeable consequence.
The current crisis is aggravated with Hanoi crushing inside dissidents and manipulating wild pawns like Trần Trường. Hanoi is also dead wrong while reacting stubbornly against the protests from international human rights groups and many foreign governments related to its blatantly oppressive policy.
It is in the interest of the United States that Việtnam should have a stable administration and a competent army. The reality is that this army is divided internally and the victim of widespread corruption. Washington will do what it can to reach its objectives but it doesn't look like democracy is its major concern.
The Army is proud to have liberated the Vietnamese people from colonialism. Ironically, this tool and spearhead of the party has brought on another kind of imperialism, equally evil and hateful, that of the Komintern. The Army now has the responsibility to restore democracy and fulfill the people's legitimate aspirations.
There is a growing number of genuine reformists within the ranks of the Army, who realize that opting for Marxism has been a mistake. Their regrets and experience are powerful weapons. In his memorandum "Viewpoints and life" Nguyễn Hộ makes the following confession: "When I was a communist, I was a prisoner. Since I resigned from the Party, I have become free. My thoughts have wings, they soar..."
The Tienanmen uprising shook China in June 1989. How would the Vietnamese People's Army react to a similar event that becomes a real possibility in today’s Vietnam.
The key to all these problems rests in the hands of the military reformists. Let us hope that they are able to seize the opportunity before they get overtaken by events.

Thuy Hoa Trang
March 24.1999

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