Testimony from South Vietnam

I have just arrived from South Vietnam. I decided to come here before this Tribunal for two main reasons. One, because in the six years I spent in Vietnam, I saw a certain number of things which revolted me; and when the opportunity occurred to come here, I seized it immediately. Secondly, because a number of my Vietnamese friends, who are rendered silent at the present time, asked me to come here and speak in their stead. It is particularly difficult now to continue after this film that you have just seen, which illustrates to you much better than I could do, what is happening at the present time in South Vietnam. I was not able to bring much photographic evidence: the export of this kind of thing from South Vietnam is difficult. I have not so much seen the actual events, as the effects that these have produced. I shall begin by giving a general and rather superficial view of South Vietnam at the present time, especially, to show you the present reality of South Vietnam. It is recognizable to everyone, without the necessity for a great intellectual effort. You have just seen the South Vietnamese landscape; you have seen the bomb craters. Everyone who flies over South Vietnam now can see that the landscape resembles a human skin that suffers from smallpox. There are eruptions everywhere caused by bomb craters which are especially close to isolated habitations, little hamlets, little valleys. Everyone who flies over the land can see it and can draw his own conclusions. k flying over the country, also, you see vast areas which are destroyed and devastated by chemical products. It is a grave landscape - a landscape of ashes. You see, especially in the coastal {306} region, in the province of Quang Nam, close by Phou Yon, chains of villages, habitations and rice fields, that have been abandoned a blanket of death - a landscape of death. One need not be an expert to draw conclusions.
     In the towns controlled by the Saigon administration and the Americans, you see whole artificial forests of barbed wire. The American troops, the province heads and the district heads have surrounded the house of every person who collaborates with the Americans with a hedge of barbed wire. The isolation of the Americans and the South Vietnamese officials from the population is immediately visible. There is a desolate chasm between the populated streets and the habitations of the Americans, of the American officers and the South Vietnamese civil servants. For anyone who knows how to look, this already gives a rather clear picture of what is happening in Vietnam. When one goes a little more deeply into events and into the techniques used by the Americans, one can distinguish several main ways by which the war is conducted. The most standard technique is `search and destroy' operations. That is what you have seen just now on the screen. What happens is that a number of helicopters will land in a village. The soldiers enter the houses, they take a certain number of people who live there, especially young ones and women. They arrest them on the pretext that they are suspected Viet Cong and they take them to interrogation centres. The rest of the population has endured this ceaselessly. It is a nightmare of the thirty-year war. After a time the helicopters fly off, and the population remains, stricken with terror and fear.
     Now what happens to these prisoners? I have had occasion while working at the Central Hospital of Hue to see about fifty prisoners from the neighbouring prisons who were sent to the hospital in extremely serious condition, sometimes just before they died. I can testify to a certain amount of medical data on these prisoners and especially relate material from dossiers which concern their stories and the manner in which they became prisoners. Many Vietnamese medical students helped me - as much as they could - to establish these files. I shall read to you two examples from these original dossiers that I have before me. I shall not publicly name the prisoners because they are still in prison, and I don't want to risk their further suffering. But the {307} names will be in the file I will submit to the Tribunal.
     Mr `X', a farmer of thirty years, is living in Pen Dim, in the province of Quang Dien. He has been an orphan since childhood. He is married with two children. Condition: poor. He had been in prison three years before being sent to the hospital with a condition of beri-beri. The man had been arrested in a raiding operation without any evidence of his guilt. He was suspected of being a Viet Cong. He was tortured by kicks on his chest, head, his belly, and then by electric wires wound around the forefinger. After this, he preferred to sign the confession that was presented to him already written. Penalty: four years of prison. After this he was evacuated to the prison of Hue, where he was imprisoned.
     The second example, a young girl of twenty, living in Top Ku, in the province of Tun Tang, a farmer's daughter, unmarried, living with her parents in a large family. She had been in prison for two years. The arrest was quite identical with the first case - she had been arrested in the course of a raiding operation as a Viet Cong suspect. She was tortured, beaten with sticks and given the electric torture. She was made to drink soapy water. The result was that she signed an avowal and was convicted to two years in prison. These are typical cases, and I shall submit them to the Tribunal. There are a few others. There are also, of course, some men and women who do not confess and their stories are much worse. They are tortured for a much longer time. No judgement by a court is usually pronounced, and they remain in prison or in a prisoners' camp for an indefinite time. This, in a few words, constitutes the raiding operations, the so-called `search and destroy' operations by the Americans. This is what happens to the people when they are caught up in them. I am convinced therefore - I convinced myself, rather - when I spoke with these unfortunates among the poor fifty, that I could suspect that perhaps at least two or three of them had participated in the fighting. But most of them were simple peasants who lived quietly at home, and whose only wrong was of not having fled in time.
     The success of these raiding operations from the American point of view has been very limited. In the last two years, the year 1967 especially, another method has been invented. This other process has as its objective to destroy all potential bases for the Liberation troops in such a way that certain areas or districts are {308} stripped of all the inhabitants who happen to live there. This process is especially used in regions where raiding operations have had no lasting effect. In the minds of the Americans, then, the only alternate solution is to remove the entire population. To settle them elsewhere, and during this process of resettlement, to try to find the people who were collaborating with the Liberation Front and put them into prison, into so-called refugee camps which are well-controlled and distributed in groups and within which a confidence man is placed. But one cannot succeed in eliminating a whole population from an area; the people won't go of their own volition. They are attached to their rice fields, to their villages. The mass worship of ancestors plays an important role in the Vietnamese culture. Every peasant Vietnamese wants to live, to marry, to have his children, to die, in the place where he was born - in his own village. So people do not leave. To make them leave they have to be driven, they have to be forced to become refugees. To do this, the Americans use various procedures. According to a relatively recent vocabulary, all this is called to `generate refugees'. This expression is used by most of the American civil service; it is, of course, not used at press conferences.
     How does one generate refugees? First, one declares a certain region to be a `free fire zone', or a `free strike zone', or a `free target zone', which are the technical terms for this. The Americans then send over planes; the planes drop leaflets in which the population is warned to go to the district headquarters or the chief town. Then, because of a `military necessity', real or imaginary, on the part of the Americans, there will be napalm bombing and machine-gunning at will in such a zone, which explains the official designation `free fire zone'. Despite all this, only some of the inhabitants leave. If the bombings become intensified, after a few weeks of increased bombing, two thirds of the population can no longer endure life in such a `free fire zone'; they then come to these urban centres. But some still stubbornly remain and the third procedure is forced evacuation. Forced evacuation is not possible everywhere; there are regions where the forces of liberation are too strong for the helicopters to land, but none the less the Americans try. Two provinces where forced evacuation has been practised are Quong Sin and Pu Yen in central Vietnam. There, more than half the population was turned into refugees. {309}
     The planes and the helicopters take these people at the point of a gun. They have no possibility of taking their possessions with them. This is a kind of punishment because they did not accept the invitation of the Americans initially. In these provinces massacres occurred. In these two provinces the South Korean divisions the Americans brought in are operating. I base this testimony not on my own experience, but on the experience of an American friend, who has lived for two years in these provinces and who was a witness to all this. I cannot mention his name because he is still in Vietnam. Several times there were cases, when, in the course of a raiding operation, an NLF soldier fired on a Korean and total massacre of the village was the response. There have been new `Ouradours and Lidices' in these two provinces on several occasions. To give you some figures on the extent of this technique, in the province of Binh Dinh, an American told me that in the month of February 1967 there were 173 evacuated towns, in other words, about half the population of this province. The same is true of the province of Phou Yen. In all, one can count about 2,000,000 refugees in South Vietnam, and I need no longer explain what the term refugee means. Other estimations go as high as 4,000,000. Before, eighty per cent of the population lived in the country, now only fifty-five per cent.
     Now I would like to speak of some of the psychological and material effects of this process. In a rural culture, when the people leave their homes, the cohesion of village life is broken; the people no longer have their rice fields. They are settled around the great American bases; they have to be settled there, because these are the only places where at least a few of these unfortunates can find work. These unfortunates, almost all of whom had land - albeit small plots - in central Vietnam, now have to work as coolies, as boys, this for the men. And the women work as bar hostesses and prostitutes.
     Very often the children begin careers as thieves, pickpockets and as procurers for their mothers and sisters. The uprooting that such a situation leads to, when it is prolonged over a period of years, is altogether obvious. The effects are obvious, but in addition, the Americans can achieve two other aims. They produce the necessary manpower for the maintenance and building of their bases. And secondly, they can create an almost complete economic {310} dependency in these people. For their existence they're dependent on the American camp. The mode of life of these people has been everlastingly destroyed; how can they begin again? They are bound for their subsistence to the existence of the American bases. This, of course, as the Americans see it, is not without psychological effects. There is created around the American bases the kind of lumpen proletariat that is anarchic, dependent, but which presents certain advantages for the Americans as compared to an integrated peasant population which is too readily revolutionary. These are the new plans which have been executed particularly since the arrival of Robert Komer who is responsible for `pacification' in South Vietnam.
     But this undertaking has not really succeeded. In the province of Phu Yen, theoretically one of the most effectively `pacified' provinces by this process, after six months in the refugee camp, a new revolutionary organization has been rebuilt because the people had nothing: the promises were not kept. Because their relatives had been killed, this organization reconstituted itself and what is happening now is that the Americans have to re-raid these so-called refugee villages. In Vietnam at the present time we have refugee villages of the second and third power, the people having had to leave the village that they had been brought to time and again.
     I want to accentuate this - what was the American reaction to these successive failures? First of all, a total Americanization of the war and of the civil administration in South Vietnam. For six months, the Americans have centralized their civil services in each province, giving to these services a name which, though often changed, finally ended by practically reconstructing the French Annamite Protectorate of the old days. More and more the Americans have taken civil administration directly into their own hands. Secondly, these excessive failures and the humiliation that they have led to have had a psychological effect. There has been a change in attitude that can be observed in the American soldiers, generally at the end of the third or fourth month of their stay in Vietnam. When they arrive, they are very often full of goodwill; their brain is still fresh with sentences they have been taught. They believe they came here to `protect the Vietnamese population from Communist take-over', but at the end of the time they realize {311} that they have no friends, that apart from a thin layer of collaborators and profiteers nobody wants them. No one has responded to this abstract love with which they came; and so the paternalism, the protectionism with which they wanted to surround the Vietnamese, transforms itself into a kind of aggressive racism. By the end of this time they have become accustomed to calling each Vietnamese a `gook' or `slant'. These are people with slant eyes, and are words of insult which the Americans fling at every Vietnamese without distinction. So what has happened is a kind of crumbling of the edifice of theoretical justification which the Americans had erected for themselves. This results in acts of blind fury; they shoot down prisoners in anger - as you saw on the screen. Another technique which was not on the screen but which the Americans themselves have bragged about in my presence is to throw prisoners alive from helicopters - without parachutes, of course. They also practise torture; but a certain distinction must be made. The Americans, with their hygienic spirit, have an obsession with not getting their hands dirty. So they use the South Vietnamese police and the South Vietnamese so-called élite troops to carry out the tortures - you saw this in the motion pictures a moment ago. As you saw, in eighty per cent of the cases, the tortures are executed by the South Vietnamese troops while the Americans remain to the side with the tape recorders: they record what the people say. The Americans hypocritically say, `These are cruel people. One can do nothing about Asiatic cruelty.' These tapes go into calculating machines, and they give statistics: statistics are assimilable to the quiet conscience of the Americans. This was, for me, one of the most disgusting aspects of American behaviour in Vietnam as was their blind bombings of villages.
     I would like to relate to you an anecdote - there are a certain number of German nurses who served on the hospital boat, Helgoland. During the first month of their stay in Saigon they were invited by Americans to go in helicopters on a man-hunt as a diversion. I have this information from a man who is now the Director of the Helgoland. A man who has been a witness to this type of cruelty, more and more of which is occurring.
     I want to take advantage of this opportunity to speak to you of a little village in South Vietnam called Phu Loc which is in the {312} province of Quang Nam near Da Nang. The thing of which I speak happened in the month of September 1967. The village of Phu Loc was already a village for refugees built just a year ago. The village is close to the American logistic base a few kilometres from the great city of Da Nang. One day, some Liberation Front soldiers came into this village which is a Catholic village, mainly anti-Communist. They came into this village and attacked the American base with mortar fire. The Americans answered with artillery fire on the village. The next day the priest of the village went to the Americans, imploring them not to use drastic means, and he proposed to help them plan an ambush so that they could capture the ones who were guilty. The Americans refused this; the following day the same thing happened, there was an NLF mortar attack. But the next morning a company of Americans came and ordered the inhabitants of the village to leave their houses. They then levelled the entire village, thereby humiliating this priest who at the outset was as anti-Communist as the other villagers. The result was that all the inhabitants fled into the Liberated Zone which fortunately was not very far away. I have a few slides of the village of Phu Loc which I owe to a young American who also worked in Vietnam, who, knowing that I was coming here, gave them to me. They show the effects of American shelling and I will leave them with the Tribunal. In the last few years it has become obvious to almost everyone that what is happening has never been a civil war between Vietnamese, but that it is a war of invasion that the Americans are waging in Vietnam. It is not that this is a new event, but it is only that with the presence of 500,000 Americans this has become visible and undeniable for everyone. Many simple people don't think too much, but they see what is before their eyes. Especially among the young people we find a growing awareness that the Liberation Front has become the only body existing in Vietnam which has the support of the vast majority of Vietnamese. This consciousness is relatively new in its magnitude. The government of Thieu and Ky struck down the Buddhist revolt. For a long time it was hoped that the Buddhists might constitute a kind of third force between the Front and the Americans. This hope has been destroyed and no longer exists.
     The result therefore is that many youths who first belonged to the Buddhist movement, became members of the Front of National {313} Liberation. What is happening is not only that the Americans are producing refugees, but they are producing more and more conscious Vietnamese nationalists who are ready to fight against them.

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