Dec­la­ra­tion oath: one gen­er­a­tion's de­ci­sive mo­ment

Much has been writ­ten and dis­cussed about Vieät Nam’s tri­umphant 1945 Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, the day Hoà Chí Minh won the hearts of the na­tion, but very lit­tle is known of “The Oath” taken by many present against the French. Here, sur­vivors re­count

Outlook - - CONTENTS - ByLadyBor­ton

Much has been writ­ten on Vieät Nam's 1945 Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence but very lit­tle is known of "The Oath" taken by many present against the French. Sur­vivors re­count their in­cred­i­ble sto­ries.

aïm Thö, aged ten at the time of the 1945 Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, stood with her older sis­ter among the thou­sands fill­ing [Haø Noäi’s] Ba Ñình Square. I trust Ñaïm Thö's story be­cause she can't re­mem­ber the con­tent of the Dec­la­ra­tion, al­though she has learned it since. She does re­mem­ber that her mother gave her two haøo for ice cream.

She has told me many sto­ries but never men­tioned the Oath.

Nor had any­one else, un­til last year, when [re­tired Gen­eral] Phaïm Hoàng Cö re­counted his ver­sion of In­de­pen­dence Day. He was 20 at the time and one of the guards. Gen­eral Cö de­scribed the Oath and gave me an ar­ti­cle he'd writ­ten for Quaân Ñoäi Nhaân Daân (Peo­ple's Army) news­pa­per. There, he'd coined the term, "The Sworn Gen­er­a­tion", to de­fine those who spent thirty years, 1945-75, de­fend­ing in­de­pen­dence.

"In 1945," I asked, "how was it to swear an oath?"

"Very se­ri­ous. For­ever, life-and­death. Noth­ing was stronger than swear­ing an oath."

Gen­eral Cö's ar­ti­cle look­ing for the text. As it turned out, I had the Oath in a book be­side my desk. With the Oath in hand, I met Ñaïm Thö. "The Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was nearly seventy years ago," I said. "Do you re­mem­ber some­thing called the Oath'?"

She laughed and, as has hap­pened be­fore, seemed to trans­form be­fore my eyes into a high­spir­ited ten-year-old. She sat up straight, eyes bright and de­ter­mined, recit­ing:

"I won't be a French! "I won't work for the French! "I won't sell food to the French! "I won't guide the French! Her right arm shot up­wards, and her voice rose with ex­u­ber­ance. "Swear!"

I stared at her. She was quot­ing the doc­u­ment I had in my hand. "Then you've read the Oath in the last cou­ple of weeks."

"No. I have never seen print."

She re­sumed her usual sto­ry­telling voice. "When I was eleven, my mother and I were in Thanh Hoùa. We'd evac­u­ated to es­cape the bat­tle against the French in­va­sion of Haø Noäi. I was work­ing, rolling cig­a­rettes. My mother an­nounced we would re­turn to Haø Noäi, to French-

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in oc­cu­pied Haø Noäi! NO!' I said. In those days, no child would counter a par­ent, but I was in­sis­tent. NO!! I swore the Oath!' My mother said I was young and must study so that when we were in­de­pen­dent I could help re­build our coun­try. And so I agreed. My mother learned I was an un­der­cover stu­dent or­gan­iser in Haø Noäi only on the day I was ar­rested in late 1952."

The more I thought about the Oath, the more I came to see that the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was writ­ten for the wider world, for for­eign coun­tries. How­ever, the Oath was writ­ten for Viet­namese. I thought the Oath must have been a source of the un­flinch­ing Viet­namese en­durance through­out the French War and the Amer­i­can War. Now, I won­der if we haven't been em­pha­sis­ing the wrong doc­u­ment in terms of effect on Vieät Nam's Rev­o­lu­tion.

With the Oath in hand again, I went to see an­other friend, Leâ Thi, who was eigh­teen at the time of the Dec­la­ra­tion. Thi had learned about the Vieät Minh in 1944 from Cöùu Quoác (Na­tional Sal­va­tion) news­pa­per. She passed the news­pa­per to other like-minded stu­dents and, be­fore

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