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
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-
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