Through first-hand ac­counts, re­live the his­toric events that led up to the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of Viet­nam

Oi Vietnam - - Contents - Text by Michael Arnold

Through first-hand ac­counts, re­live the his­toric events that led up to the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of Viet­nam


paper about the his­toric Ho Chi Minh Cam­paign that cul­mi­nated in the lib­er­a­tion of Saigon on April 30, 1975— although few com­pre­hen­sive ac­counts have been writ­ten from the per­spec­tive of the south­ern ad­min­is­tra­tion that fled into American ex­ile shortly be­fore the vic­tory of the north­ern forces. Tran Mai Hanh’s award-win­ning his­tory of the fi­nal four months of the con­flict (which was re­leased ear­lier this year for the first time in English un­der the ti­tle A

War Ac­count 1-2-3-4.75) at­tempts the am­bi­tious project of re­build­ing the whole drama of the fall of the Thieu regime as it un­folded: The book is largely based on first-hand ac­counts and sup­ple­men­tary doc­u­ments that the author per­son­ally col­lected while as­signed to the cam­paign as a special re­porter for the Viet­nam News Agency, trav­el­ing from place to place in the af­ter­math of the fight­ing and sweep­ing up those writ­ten ma­te­ri­als that had been left be­hind.

Present at the In­de­pen­dence Palace at the mo­ment of lib­er­a­tion and wit­ness to the events that took place there on that day, Tran Mai Hanh was the first jour­nal­ist to cover the tri­umph, also tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity then to re­trieve nu­mer­ous se­cret doc­u­ments and records that had been aban­doned by the out­go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the author, it was th­ese doc­u­ments— com­bined with those oth­ers that he’d pre­served from the ear­lier cam­paign vic­to­ries—that pro­vided the ge­n­e­sis for the book.

“I wasn’t as­signed to do it,” ex­plains author Tran Mai Hanh. “Ac­tu­ally, the in­ten­tion to cre­ate this book came to me quite sud­denly dur­ing the first days of the lib­er­ated Saigon, while I was think­ing that his­toric events like this can only hap­pen once, just as peo­ple only have one life. I wanted to re­build the facts that oc­curred dur­ing the days of of the Repub­lic of Viet­nam (Nguyen Van Thieu’s govern­ment) hon­estly, based on those orig­i­nal and top se­cret doc­u­ments—the tele­grams is­su­ing war com­mands, the re­li­able texts from the other side (the side of the Repub­lic of Viet­nam and Amer­ica). If I were to be suc­cess­ful in this re­con­struc­tion, the readers should know what the other side had to con­front in their last mo­ments of the war, how they thought and acted, how they man­aged their war in a way that brought them to com­plete col­lapse.”

Early on in the writ­ing process,

Tran Mai Hanh de­cided to present his ma­te­rial as a drama­ti­za­tion rather than a doc­u­men­tary work, re­build­ing the events as they oc­curred in se­quence as a his­tor­i­cal novel. “I re­al­ized that if it were writ­ten in the form of a jour­nal­is­tic mem­oir, the work would mostly be a plain record car­ry­ing events and doc­u­ments that wouldn’t res­onate for very long,” says the author. “So, I de­cided

to build a his­tor­i­cal novel in­stead, with a strict struc­ture of chap­ters and sec­tions and with typ­i­cal char­ac­ters with their moods and per­son­al­i­ties re­flect­ing the cir­cum­stances of those hor­ri­ble last days of the end of the war.”

While the re­sult­ing work reads some­what like a war thriller, the author has made a very pointed at­tempt to re­build the his­tor­i­cal facts of the last months and days of the col­lapse of the Saigon govern­ment with an ob­jec­tive, un­bi­ased, and per­sonal view of the fates of the prom­i­nent fig­ures from the other side, so as to pre­serve a truth­ful­ness in the writ­ing about the events and in­ci­dents that took place. “Through­out the nearly 600-page book,” he states, “I never put in my own per­sonal com­ments or re­views; I wrote as if the author were not there. The whole con­tent and the text, the ma­te­ri­als quoted on each page, were left to speak for them­selves. To have pos­ses­sion of those pre­cious ma­te­ri­als, I was both strangely for­tu­nate and had the sup­port of many peo­ple.”

A War Ac­count was first as­sessed and then pub­lished by Na­tional Po­lit­i­cal Pub­lish­ing House in early April 2014 as Biên bản chiến tranh 1-2

3-4.75. Over the two fol­low­ing years, the book was re­pub­lished three times and con­sec­u­tively won pres­ti­gious awards both at home and within the re­gion, in­clud­ing the 2014 Lit­er­a­ture Award from the Viet­nam Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion and the ASEAN Lit­er­a­ture Award in 2015, based on a num­ber of chap­ters that had been trans­lated into English. Faced with this pos­i­tive feed­back, the Ex­ec­u­tive Board of the Viet­nam Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion de­cided to have the novel fully trans­lated into English “to in­tro­duce and ad­ver­tise lit­er­ary works on the war for the na­tional de­fense and lib­er­a­tion and the as­pi­ra­tion for peace of the Viet­namese peo­ple.” When re­leased, the trans­la­tion was con­sid­ered to be po­lit­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s re­cent com­ments in Hanoi that “the war lessons will be lessons for the whole world.”

Writ­ing about fig­ures who had been re­garded as en­e­mies of the north­ern ad­min­is­tra­tion was a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the book’s author, who sought to deeply un­der­stand the mind­set and back­ground of th­ese high-pro­file in­di­vid­u­als from the other side. “The main char­ac­ter through­out the book is Pres­i­dent Nguyen Van Thieu,” says Tran Mai Hanh. “I even have Thieu and his wife’s ID num­bers and is­sue dates. Thieu went in for mil­i­tary ser­vice, then pro­gressed from the mil­i­tary to the In­de­pen­dence Palace where his role was as Pres­i­dent. From the In­de­pen­dence Palace, Thieu phoned all the mil­i­tary di­vi­sions, and directed the en­tire bat­tle. He was an ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent per­son; de­ci­sive, tricky, bru­tal, fol­low­ing the United States and the anti-com­mu­nists un­til the end."

The book fea­tures an ex­ten­sive ap­pen­dix that presents mul­ti­ple source doc­u­ments tran­scribed and trans­lated from the orig­i­nals, in­clud­ing writ­ten mil­i­tary com­mands, com­mu­niques be­tween Thieu and Nixon, writ­ten sub­mis­sions from the gen­eral staff and in­tel­li­gence anal­y­sis re­ports of the Saigon Army and US em­bassy from the time, among oth­ers. The doc­u­ments lend both cre­dence and per­spec­tive to this ac­count, pro­vid­ing an un­par­al­leled in­sight into the fi­nal days of the old Saigon and the stag­ger­ing cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment of its regime.

A War Ac­count 1-2-3-4.75 is avail­able di­rect from the author. See for de­tails.

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