Oi Vietnam

THE FINAL FOUR MONTHS

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

- Text by Michael Arnold

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

MUCH HAS BEEN SET DOWN ON

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 goo.gl/PL2Rcf for details.

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