Thursday, October 31, 2013


My colleagues and I, we used to call this student the Japanese
poodle, due to his light complexion, flat nose and slightly wavy
hair. We did not take much time to spot him out. Whatever we
had said in our lectures, in addition to the lessons, the discussions
we had done in the corridors while waiting to return to our lecturing
podiums, all of these things were duly noted and faithfully reported
to the proper authorities. We already knew that the spies polluted
among the students. But the Japanese poodle was the most
dangerous of all because he took his task to heart, fulfilled it
conscientiously and, even invented stories whenever needed in
order to enhance or aggravate the misunderstanding which
weighed on our relations with the political Commissar who was on
duty in the Faculties. I, therefore, lent my ears to his words.
- Professor, you know that the political plate-form means in our
State, especially in the field of teaching. I would not make an
insult by believing that you do not know anything about this. You
are a heavyweight intellectual, you have given all your properties
to the Party before going into the underground resistance. You
have been assigned to important missions. Consequently, you
know the importance that the Party has put on the problem of
education. Your mission is to form the communist man of
tomorrow who will bring his contribution to the great endeavor for
the edification work of our country. Our President Ho Chi Minh
has recognized the difficulties of the task of teaching: “It takes ten
years for the planting of a tree, it requires a hundred years to form
a man.” Indeed, in order to form a man in the way the Party
wishes, it is necessary to justify for oneself the possession of a
good political plate-form.
- My young friend, I do not know from whom you have obtained
the information about my past. You have probably put me in your
grinder to give me a certain importance which flatters me. But,
please allow me to make a few rectifications. Firstly, I am not a
heavyweight intellectual since I am only 1.60 meters in height.
Thus, I am a pygmy among the great men of our country. But,
* 103 *
being a dwarf that I am, I have applauded the August Revolution
together with the entire people of our country and, from the early
times, the early calls, I have given myself to my people. If I admire
and respect the revolutionaries, if I am grateful for the sacrifices
that they have made and the success that they have gained in the
course of their heroic struggles for the freedom of the people and
the independence of Vietnam, I must confess to you that I do not
know the Party to which I have not sought to be admitted, and the
rites and mysteries of which I have not been initiated to, and this
has caused my tongue to be stiff whenever I have to cry out the
slogan “For the Party”. All the things that I have done, the
donation of all my properties and services, I have offered them to
the people.
There is nothing here but logic. I invite you to think for a
moment about the origins of power. Power is conquered by either
peaceful or violent means. But, by whatever way it is established,
power has the imperative need to justify itself in the eyes of those
who hold it or who are subjected to it. Yet, the holding of power
can only be done in one of the following two ways: one can claim
the mandate from either heaven or the will of the people.
Theocracy or democracy, these are the two possible justifications
for power. From the moment that the seizure of power is done by
force, it can claim neither support from heaven nor that of the
masses. Thus, it is compelled to have an alternative reaction for
its own defense as a justification that it does not feel necessary or
no longer has the need for, since there is nothing to be justified
and what matters is simply to carry out one’s defense. But against
whom is the power defending itself? Against the people and
another political formation. Against the rivalry of another political
organization, the power is proclaiming the monopoly of its
direction. Against the people, it is structuring a State, with its
apparatus, organs, and functioning, with the mission of executing
its orders and setting up social and professional organizations to
include in its networks the entire population, in terms of activity,
age, sex, faith, a population which spirit, heart and action are
controlled by the power. But, since the power adopts decisions,
decides on attitudes, and undertakes measures for the benefit of
its own privileges and interests which must be hidden from public
curiosity, it must seal itself inside an impenetrable secret and
shroud itself with an unfathomable mystery. The pyramidal form of
* 104 *
power triumphs everywhere, in the agency layout of the State and
its services, and in the organization of society with all its
ramifications. All over the country, from the level of the communes
and districts to that of the ministries and central services, what is
needed is to put members of the Party in the positions of
command, surveillance and control, and, thus, through the
Directorate of Personnel which nominates all the civil servants and
through the Ministry of the Interior and the Police, calm then
prevails and the leaders are able to have a really good sleep.
- Professor, it can be seen that you are devoid of any political
plate-form since you are concerned more with appearances than
with the realities, and you are digging a gap which does not exist
between the people and the Party. Our Party does not claim to be
of divine origin: such an idea alone is comical for it is outdated and
obsolete. Obviously, the Party has not been raised to power by
way of elections, that is to say, BY the people, and considers itself
compelled to maintain its mechanism and functioning in secrecy.
But I must ask you to go back to the time when the doctrine and
the communist parties took over power. The ideology that they
were advocating clashed head-on with the existing political
positions, for it aimed at the destruction of capitalism and all the
political parties born from such a regime. Since then, all the
governments subjected to capitalism have carried out a fight to
death against communism which, to defend itself, has confined
itself into hiding. The habit of secrecy and mystery has become
rooted in the communists. Furthermore, the Party is similar to a
family that does not want its intimacy to be known. It is for the
same reason of self-defense against the enemies of communism
that the State has given to itself a pyramidal structure and put its
members at all the heads of the pyramids. As you can see, even
when it has taken power, the struggle continues between itself and
capitalism. Consequently, more than ever, it has to keep its
projects in the dark and maintain a good hold on the State that it
governs in order to protect itself from the blows of the enemies at
home and abroad. The historical circumstances in which the party
was born dictate its way of being which shocks you but can be
understood. The criteria for the happiness of the people, is it not
order and security? So, our leaders are not the only ones to have
a good sleep, the entire people are also benefiting from the same
privilege. Democracy does not only mean government BY the
* 105 *
people but, even more so, FOR the people. From that viewpoint,
no other democracy is comparable to ours, since our leaders are
concerned with only one thing: the good of the people!
- You are talking about gold! For the time being, the health of our
country seems to be good. But an analysis in depth, in the
infrastructure of the State and society, reveals the faults and vices
which, sooner or later, will make our concerns legitimate.
The political monopoly of power to which the Party is hanging
and clinging, in the long run, will have disastrous effects. Firstly,
when all the positions of direction, whatever their importance, must
be taken by Party members. We know well that our leaders, as
well as their subordinates, cannot claim the possession of
adequate culture and knowledge which would enable them to fulfill
legally and responsibly the functions assigned to them in a modern
and ever complex State, in which ignorance and incompetence
must admit their helplessness. But, if these public servants who
are burdening the administration and technical services with their
incompetence, causing irreparable losses to the State Budget,
they are also breaking down the prestige of the Party and its credit
by all kinds of offenses that they are committing: theft of public
properties, corruption, embezzlement, fraud, forgery and use of
forgery… The monopoly of power generates the abuses of power
and pushes the holders of power on the slope greased with vice
and criminality. The trust of the people for the Party decreases
and is further eroding itself everyday, and is fading out slowly.
The economy, which is organized and managed by a
voluntarism of bad taste, will sooner or later produce its disastrous
and catastrophic effects. In the absence of competition,
production is standing around, and keeps on repeating its errors
and mistakes, the merchandises are stockpiling and deteriorating
in the warehouses, just good to be thrown away one day as
garbage. The manpower, both manual and intellectual, poorly
paid, stagnating in poverty and lassitude, is drowning its
dynamism in the tide of bitterness and despair. The currency is
falling down, the printing plate of banknotes is rolling without
interruption, and inflation is getting more and more serious
everyday. The secret funds are getting larger endlessly and the
leaders are wasting fantastic amounts in shameful expenses!
* 106 *
The intelligentsia, despised and reduced to occupy low level
functions, cannot give the full measure of their knowledge and
talents which they ask to offer to the service of the people. They
are criticized for their bourgeois and little-bourgeois origins and
connections, their inclinations for critique and democratic
tendencies. Such an attitude for them is unforgivable in this age of
the technological and scientific revolution!
These analyses and observations led me to sound the alarm
during a Conference I made at the request of the Front. I did not
try to open debate on the merits of democracy or to undermine the
foundations of the on-going communism. Having seen that, in the
relations between the Party and the people, the current of
autocracy is flowing from the top to the bottom, and when the
waters are collected in the sink below, they turn out to be foul with
all kinds of dirt which make it improper for domestic uses. I am not
asking to cut the flow, to block the source, but only to be able to
treat the liquid and make it clean.
Besides, I notice that the administration of justice is faulty by its
lack of independence and freedom, leading to the punishment of
offenses even quite severely, while they cannot be justified for any
penalty. On the contrary, there are crimes which are provoking
scandals and have not been punished. Such situations are
revolting to the public conscience and general opinion. Subjected
during millenniums to feudal despotism, the Vietnamese people
have not benefited from ideal conditions to accede rapidly to
democracy, but that is not the problem there. The problem is the
request, without touching anything about the apparatus of the
Party and the State, that the people have the possibility to reach
the ruling authorities and submit their grievances and remarks. It
is, if one may say so, the problem about freedom of opinion, the
exercise of which will strengthen the ties between the Party and
the people in a two-way dialogue, not only will it permit the
interlocutors to understand one another but also avoid errors that
the Party would have committed if the voice of the people had
reached it in time. Freedom of opinion, by its nature, does not
possess a democratic or socialist meaning, but any government
that is concerned with acting FOR the people must make it its duty
to promulgate it. If all these quarrels are about grammar, why then
* 107 *
should there be a fight about words? Is there a need for
happiness to wear a socialist or capitalist label?
- Professor, this is what constitutes your error. We have already
suspected that you are lacking a political plate-form. Now, we
know it for certain. First of all, you separate the people from the
Party, and this is contrary to everything that the Party has
ceaselessly proclaimed. The communists understand democracy
in the sense of an action FOR the people and have tried to do
everything in order to serve properly the people’s interests, not in
theory, on paper, but in the reality of things. Then, you see a
logomania which we consider having the utmost importance. We
are not fighting about words. The bourgeois vow us to
hegemonies, they profess endless hatred for us. They plot for our
death. Their hostility against us is carried out on the international
scene by the cold war which is freezing all relations of union
between the States and those of friendship between the peoples!
The word “capitalism” condenses all this content, hits the mind and
points the finger at the enemy who wants our death and whom we
have to kill. In the face of capitalism, this is abhorrent to us and
vice-versa, we have erected socialism which embodies our hopes
and dreams, is showing us the way to take and attain the
happiness of our people and of the proletariat world, which
symbolizes the future of humanity. As you can see, they are not
words but two conceptions of life, two modes of existence, two
slogans of struggle. In contradiction to what you are thinking, the
socialist happiness is the opposite of the capitalist happiness,
because it is that of the workers who, at the sweat of their brows,
conquer the joy of life, while happiness in the capitalist countries is
the result of exploitation, soaked with the tears and blood of the
poor! Well, you are demanding freedom of opinion for the people.
Are you aware of what this is all about? It is an open door to all
kinds of raving generated by ignorance, incomprehension, ill-will,
partialities, and sometimes insane fantasies. Many people, paid
by the enemy, take advantage of this to rail against communism
and sow animosity, hatred against the leaders. The entire society
then suffers from the resulting violence and disorder. You are
lacking a healthy plate-form, as all the intellectuals do, and are
obsessed by your prejudices, your perceptions and reflections are
* 108 *
As for us, the young communists, we have faith, in communism
and the Party. It is the Party which has eyes and ears for us,
endows us with the faculty to think and feel, forms and makes us
worthy to be the architects, builders, and members of the society
of tomorrow, that of the triumphant socialism. It is our Truth, the
Truth. We make up the new humanity, which cardinal virtues are
discipline, obedience, the spirit of sacrifice. We do not discuss the
orders, we execute them, if need be, at the expense of our
immediate interests, without hesitation, with closed eyes.
- Yes, you belong to a humanity different from ours. For us,
intellectuals, we have the shortcoming of trying to understand
before acting, to weigh the pros and cons before taking a decision,
to have a look with sufficient vigilance capable of piercing through
the wineskin-bags filled with vanity and vainness, and of grasping
quickly the ridicule of people and the pomposity of speeches.
While genuine feelings move us, the pantomimes of the hypocrites
lift up our vigor, and we are horrified by the crimes of the Greats.
We are defending ourselves with our skepticism, we are attacking
with our irony. Our critical mind saves us from the errors. Our
humanity is located at the antipodes of these green novices whose
suppurating fanaticism distorts the face and denatures the heart.
A dramatic silence overcomes the room. The audience is
holding its breath, so as not to miss any single detail of the joust
between the two humanities. When the poodle gets down from
the podium, the person succeeding him is a teacher.
There is a span of thirty years between them, but both belong
to the same humanity of the four-legged species with a wagging
tail which constitutes its distinctive sign. He has been a secondary
school teacher at a certain establishment in Central [Vietnam].
But, at the time of the Japanese occupation, he was seen having
his picture taken all dressed up in the mandarin’s ceremonial
dress, with the ivory plaque well placed on his thrown-out chest
and beaming face. It can be noticed that he has achieved the
dream of his life. Then, during the anti-colonialist resistance, since
the mandarin status has lost its prestige and been erased from the
social map with the bones of its featherless members buried under
the ruins of the feudal monarchy, our dignitary of the Court of Hue
has carefully hidden his tunic and ivory plaque somewhere, and
* 109 *
manifests a virulent anger whenever somebody reminds him of his
past, whether to flatter or accuse him. Defrocked, he has felt the
necessity of having a new skin. Back to the teaching profession
and, using the bowings and sugary smiles, he does not miss any
opportunity to provide menial services to the despots under whose
orders he is serving and gaining their favors. He has climbed up
one by one the steps of the administrative hierarchy in the field of
teaching. After the Geneva Agreements, when the resistance
government has returned to Hanoi, and the doors of the Faculties
have reopened, he manages to have himself assigned to the post
of lecturer without having to justify himself by any university
degree or research works which, usually, are required of
candidates for teaching in high studies. But the practice, which
continues to prevail without end in the Vietnamese communist
State, is to promote to functions of responsibility the fellows whose
competence only consists of a favorable judgment and esteem by
the ruling authorities. One must be a serious ignorant to
congratulate him for his stylish bearing in his mandarin’s outfit as
shown in an old picture which, in the past, he used to distribute to
the families of his acquaintances to remind them that he used to
belong to the nomenclature of the Court of Hue. He must be biting
his fingers now for having given in to the impulsions of his vanity,
been photographed and having the image of his grandeur diffused
to everybody!
If my Japanese poodle raises the antagonism between the two
humanities, the two-legged being that is making a smile with his
mouth, similar a dog wagging its tail, provokes my surprise. It is,
indeed, a big one for me to see coming down into the arena a
fellow who, always, is having an eye on the Party without much
result and has remained up to now a no-party man. Would this be
a challenge with a twinkle of hope in his eyes, should he come out
of it victorious, to be accepted in the ranks of the Party and
achieve the burning ambition of the opportunists among whom he
is already a shining member? Would it not be at last a way for him
* 110 *
to quench his thirst for being able to reprimand publicly a
University professor in front of his colleagues and students and,
for a moment, chase away the inferiority complex of a poor
creature that is aiming its craving at an objective which is out of its
reach? Is it to demonstrate to everybody that, in the world of the
no-party fellows, it is possible to find the best, represented by the
accuser who has received the benediction of the Party, and the
worst, incarnated by the accused who is under the threat of being
stricken by the wrath from Heaven? Is it not because in this
essential debate about the relations between the Party and the
Intelligentsia, between politics and the grey cells, the leaders are
reluctant to intervene directly and prefer to give the honor and
assignment to a no-party man to defend communism? Of course,
the Party could have chosen a better lawyer but, may be, those it
has contacted have declined the offer of siding with the Party and
standing up against the intellectual masses whose democratic
aspirations are known to everybody.
My accuser launches his first broadside:
- Dear colleague, in your lectures about the literatures of the
West, why have you given so much importance to the capitalist
authors and writings? The socialist literature is shown to be the
poor relative. You give the impression of leaning too much to the
side of our enemies.
- My dear eminent colleague, your observation is hilarious and I
think that if you wish to avoid sullying your renown, you should
have abstained from making such an observation. Nevertheless,
in consideration for what I believe to be a distraction of your noble
spirit being intoxicated by the ethylic fumes of politics, I wish to
remind you that western literature has existed for millenniums
while the socialist literature is about one century old.
It is my turn to point out how the term “enemy” that you have
used is out of place and improper. This word is part of the political
vocabulary which has been used immoderately by some leaders.
It does not have any literary meaning and, even in the field of
politics, has become obsolete currency, is no longer legal tender.
You have followed the courses in dialectical materialism and know
that everything changes, that the enemy of yesterday can become
* 111 *
the friend of tomorrow, and vice-versa! A professor in literature
does not lean either to the side of the enemy or to that of friends.
The great authors of literatures in the world are neither friends nor
enemies of anybody, they are the friends of man whom they seek
to know and cultivate. Let us not inflict the political manias to the
study of literature!
- We have now reached the heart of the problem. How are we
going to regulate the relations between politics and culture? We
are in the presence of two cultures: the communist culture and the
intellectual culture. Both aim at the forming of man. What do you
think of the communist culture?
- The communist culture develops the forming of man from the
present image of the best communist personalities, loved and
respected by the people who dream of imitating them. These
personalities are endowed with undeniable virtues at the highest
level of their human quality. These virtues are the love of the
fatherland and people, the spirit of sacrifice and courage which
despise death and tortures, and faithfulness in political
camaraderie. Unfortunately, so many noble and precious virtues
are handicapped, in their exercise, by the lack of culture and
inexperience in the management of the country and of man. The
communist has a pure soul but, since his knowledge is limited, he
is indulging himself in strictness and the intransigence of his
judgment of man, in voluntarism and subjectivity about his
structuring of the economy. He has the taste for simplification and
standardization, for oneness to facilitate his task in the governing
of the people and things. In his rapports with the intellectuals, he
is helpless about an inferiority complex which is stiffening his
attitude, he is expressing himself through forms of protest about
friendship and trust, but is feeling within himself distrust and
antipathy. He is of a human variety that is unknown in Vietnamese
society. If the popular masses idolize him – at least as long as he
preserves the purity of his feelings and the morality of his
conscience, and safeguards his honor and dignity -, the
intellectuals maintain a certain reserve and much vigilance in order
not to be impaled on the sword which he has readily bared, ready
to pierce through the careless or naïve who may contradict him.
* 112 *
- If communism is forged in the revolutionary struggle, which has
eliminated the militants without certain virtues and retained only
those who possess them, such virtues should serve to shape the
typical image of the communist, the intellectual is formed by the
studies he has done and by the way of life he has had in the urban
environment, where the working proletariat, barely coming into the
world, is still searching for his way and learning his role. The
colonialist Security and police, as well as the colonialist School,
isolate the intellectual from the revolutionary world, make him
impervious and unreceptive to revolutionary politics. Formed in
such conditions, the intellectual becomes impregnated with the
qualities and imperfections of the capitalist education. He opens
his mind to the democratic influences, converts himself to the
gospel taught by the philosophers from the century of
Enlightenment, adopts the ideology of the bourgeois revolution of
1789, and considers the enjoyment of man’s natural rights as
criteria for any civilized society. He acquires, therefore, the
bourgeois virtues but, without the benefit of the communist
education, he is limiting himself to a comfortable existence, afraid
of disorder and violence, and manifests his horror for any kind of
politics, particularly one of the red color! He is filled with the
precious qualities in the world of thoughts, he artfully practices
introspection, analysis, logic, and applies his gifts for critique. He
has given himself an abstract conception of man removed from the
social and historical contingencies, from the struggle of the
classes. That is the reason why his capital vice is the fear of
violence and politics. Therefore, in his contacts with the
communists, is he not eventually struck by an inferiority complex:
he feels being small, weak and coward before the heroes who
have faced death, with eyes inflamed by the hatred of oppression
and injustice.
- Thus, on both sides, an inferiority complex is surely exercising
all its weight on the relations between each other. Thus, the
resulting results lack of naturalness, warmth, sincerity, intimacy,
mutual and friendly confidence. Politeness is superficial, courtesy
is sheer diplomacy and reserve. Each one is afraid of the other’s
contempt, and the common interests are in jeopardy!
- But the intellectual must accept the inevitable. He must admit
that the communist direction is beneficial to the people, the
* 113 *
revolutionary formation of our leaders has enabled them to gain
victory in their encounters with the nationalist Party that has gone
down because of its notorious incompetence, doubtful morality
and unbridled passion for lucre, and has been discredited forever
in our country. It is a victory of the communist culture that has
made the revolutionary man a strong man like hardened steel.
- You are kicking an already open door. The communist culture is
forming man for the revolutionary struggle, the intellectual culture
is forming man for the cogitation of research. But the communist
culture must not annihilate the intellectual culture. Between these
two cultures, peaceful coexistence can come about and, better
still, a beneficial collaboration for the respective interests of the
two groups and of the entire people.
- Very well. There is no question for the communist to kill the
intellectual. The door is always open for conciliation, for mutual
understanding. The communist can, and even must, require the
help of the intellectual in his management of the economy, the
administration of the country, and the execution of the law… Such
a collaboration is necessary and advantageous for the country.
- But this is not done in the country. The positions of direction
and responsibilities are always assigned to members of the Party,
and all of them do not excel much by their competence and
honesty. The opportunists, who are having their eyes on these
posts, turn their backs to the people from whom they do not have
much to expect, and are looking to the Party that is holding the
horn of plenty and distributing the favors, sinecures, honors and
priorities. In the underworld resistance, the admission to the Party
was carried out under conditions of extreme hardship and saluted
by the unanimous applauds of the entire people. Now, the game
of intrigues and the explosion of selfish and shameful ambitions
are going full swing, the admissions are multiplying themselves,
and quantity is detrimental to quality. The enormous power that
the Party has taken on itself is leading to disastrous abuses:
corruption is reaching the cadres and a wave of immorality and
delinquency is invading entirely the State.
So, in view of such a tidal wave which is threatening the
country with an irreversible catastrophe, I am asking you: “Is it not
* 114 *
permissible for the intellectual to present the Party with this
- I am not aware of the Party’s opinion but I think that the
intellectual has nevertheless the right to refer his worries to the
leaders. The essential thing here is the respect for the forms, and
everything must take place in privacy since it concerns a family
- In the face of the imminence of the catastrophe, the intellectual
feels having the duty of formulating the problem of communism in
all its magnitude, in order to find a solution.
Well, there are the facts which require and demand reflection.
The Party is an institution which birth, organization, functioning,
have been done outside of the people, devoid of any permanent
and regular control. Everything undertaken by the Party takes
place in absolute secrecy, as in the mafia. If it were a society or
private association, set up to serve the interests of its members
within the legality, there is nothing to say. But this Party has the
pretension to rule, and actually rules the people, its decisions are
legally binding and must be applied throughout the entire country.
Mandated neither by Heaven nor BY the people, the Party is
governing the people. In fact, there is not much to argue about
that, the elections which have taken place are sometimes entirely
rigged, by way of suggestions, counsels and pressures to have the
people elect individuals that they do not know and to whom they
refuse to delegate any power whatsoever. For its defense, the
Party proclaims that it is acting in the interest of the people, FOR
the people. The people are thus reduced to a under age minor or
a handicapped who is fed without being asked about his or her
desires or wishes! Worse still, the people are forbidden to express
their opinions, the regime is generalized by the wooden tongue
and the bowing of the head. Around the fortress, the deep moats,
the high walls, the corps of guards are protecting the sleep of the
lord, the members of his family and courtesans, against the
inadmissible intrusion of complaints and sobbing cries by the louts
who are proclaiming their miseries and misfortunes.
Is the communist culture trying to encourage lies and
hypocrisy, to legitimize fraud and deception, to fool the people?
* 115 *
- That is what you say, but personally, I see things from a different
angle. First of all, in the political domain, a decision once taken
may not produce effects in the immediate but in the long term.
Without falling into the error of wanting to consider all things under
the angle of eternity, it is undisputable that the time element must
play an important role, for a backward people, to whom the rulers
want to make the promise of a radiant future. The people need
time to understand and absorb the novelty of the principles, be
able to climb the echelons of social progress. My opinion is
different from yours. Wherever there are elections, I affirm that
democracy exists, since everything is done BY the people. And,
when a party leader does not fill his pockets, does not accumulate
a private capital, I affirm that the policies he promulgates are
working FOR the people.
- Masquerade, dear colleague, masquerade. The rigged elections
do not prove democracy. The Party does not round up its capital,
but the purses of quite a number of its members are swelling,
while waiting for the gangrene of corruption to reach all those
holders of some shred of power! You say that everything is done
BY the people. Well, let me ask you: were the people consulted
on the major policies of the Party: the agrarian reform and the
collectivization of land, the planning of the economy and
particularly the orientation of the country toward socialism? NO,
and no. The political monopoly has closed the country from the
outside world and shut the mouth from all opinions. The natural
rights of man, which are enjoyed by all the civilized people, are
unknown, and it is forbidden to just ask for its exercise, and even
to talk about it. You must be seeing things which do not exist,
through your faith about political convictions which the rulers have
sown into your brain. At the event of the August Revolution, the
entire people rose up to re-conquer their independence and
freedom. They put their trust in the word of the communist
leaders, all filled with a glorious past of sacrifice for the fatherland.
But afterwards, in the stride, the people have found themselves
under the imposition of the so-called popular democracy, then that
of socialism. We are no longer worshipping Confucius, while
conserving the noblest values of Confucianism, we have been
converted to the religion of the Marxist trinity: Marx-Lenin-Stalin,
whose portraits hanging from the high peaks are keeping watch on
* 116 *
communist orthodoxy in the audience! When and how have we
been consulted about our desires and wishes? This has not been
done, the Party is our sight, decides for us, and orders us to adopt
its views which, it is said, must bring us a future of light and
happiness. That is how the communist culture has formed our
leaders and wants to form us. It criticizes western culture for
having conceived the abstract man, cut off from realities and
groups severed from the class struggle which must bring about
happiness for all, by renovating society and rebuilding another
one. Western culture will accuse communism of having formed a
human type burning with ardor and political furor, following on the
leaders’ heels, closing their eyes and ears to the realities of the
outside world, and keeping their mouths shut for any criticizing
aspiration. It is surprising that this man, baked in the communist
oven, has alienated his individuality, and even his personality, and
substituted a double of himself whose reactions are under remotecontrol
from the outside. A Western legend has presented a man
who has sold his soul to the devil. The communist man, born from
the communist culture, has sold his soul to the Party.
- Let us suppose that it is even so, I do not see what harm that
could be? Would you push the tyranny to the point of forbidding
everybody from seeking the truth and, once the person has found
it, from following it all the way? The Christian sees in Jesus Christ
his truth, the Buddhist recognizes in Buddha his truth. Why do you
not admit that the communist man finds his own in the Party?
Each person is looking for salvation wherever he or she can
find it. We are those who have known their revelation on the road
to Damascus. That of communism.
If the organizers of the bullfight at the University hope to have
me come out of it humiliated, degraded, they are mistaken.
* 117 *
Except for a few spies, snitches who have mingled themselves in
the crowd, as it is usually the case in all communities and
meetings, the multitude have rallied to my side and are displaying
for me respectful sympathy in their looks which are warming up
my heart. No one dares to manifest his feelings otherwise, either
by the mouth or hands, due to the fear of being spotted by the
policemen and exposed to their bothering. The political fanaticism
has been met by a bitter failure and the leaders have drawn a
lesson from it.
It is for this reason that the bullfight at the headquarters of the
Socialist Party proceeds, if I may so say it, in privacy. Nothing is
abnormal at the end of the day. What is unusual is this privacy
aspect which is different from what happened at the University,
where any joker, with some instruction and knowledge of bootkicking
with me as aim, can get himself in the seat and throw out
his diatribes. In the meeting room devoid of participants, there are
only me and my three judges who are sitting behind a table
covered by a green sheet. I am facing them, seated in a chair. I
have the impression of going back to the time when I had to
defend my thesis for the doctorate-in-law, or was candidate for
some examination session. In fact, I soon realize that I am facing
the court of the Party which has been gathered to judge in secret a
comrade who has committed a serious fault, the scandal of which
has tarnished the Party, and causing it considerable damage.
In 1951, in the underground resistance, Dang Chau Tue, a
member of the communist Party, came to ask me and another
person, Dr. Nguyen Xuan Nguyen, to submit our applications for
admission into the ranks of the Party. Our behavior and activity in
the Resistance was noticed in the high spheres. Since the
communists are very keen about formalism and suffering from the
mania of collectivizing people like properties, each one according
to his age, sex, professional activity, in order to incorporate them
in the mass organizations, to educate and manage them better,
and, on the other hand, they do not tolerate that the intellectuals
enjoy individuality and freedom, they want to dragoon the
intellectuals into the Party, the high instance of which and its
governing role should be flattering to the latter. In fact, at the time,
the ambitious, the opportunists, were dreaming of being present in
the communist ranks and carried out more than one act of lowness
* 118 *
in order to be well considered in the eyes of their recruiters. Yet,
at the same epoch, quite of number of intellectuals found
unbearable the leaders’ narrowness of mind and character of
intransigence, left the ranks of the resistance to go back to Hanoi,
and from there taken off to better horizons. Consequently, without
any consultation between us, Dr. Nguyen and I considered that the
“honor” given to us was merely an act of mistrust about us: the
intention was to have us in a tighter grip through a closer
surveillance by the cells of the Party and to prevent us from
making off should we have some idea about that. We both
declined the invitation which was extended to us. But the leaders
did no accept that we could remain outside an organization. They
then proposed that we join the Socialist Party. Finally, in order to
be left in peace, we resigned ourselves to accept the proposition.
It would not be wise to show opposition by an absolute and
categorical refusal to the wish of the Party, especially in the
underground resistance, when invisible eyes kept a watch on our
movements. The risk would have been too great.
But what is that Socialist Party in which we have enrolled
ourselves? From all that I am aware of personally, it is a group of
intellectuals, the best known among them have been Nguyen
Xien, a former professor with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics,
and Hoang Minh Giam, former graduate in Pedagogy and teacher
at a private school bearing the name of Thang Long. It seems that
both of them were contacted by the communists by the time of the
clandestine underground. Therefore, from the first day following
the Revolution, Nguyen Xien has found himself assuming the
presidency of the Administrative Committee of the Bac Bo (North
Viet Nam) and, likewise, for Hoang Minh Giam to become adviser
to Ho Chi Minh before being promoted to be Foreign Minister of
Viet Nam. I vaguely know that they are the leaders of a leftist
party, with delegates at the first National Assembly who have
attracted public attention by the red ties they wear during the
meetings. In the resistance underground, I have learnt that this
party, decorated with its “socialist” label, has gathered a group of
intellectuals among the members of the resistance who consider
themselves to be a party of intellectuals, although their early
members that I happen to meet in the course of my peregrinations
while carrying out my task as attorney appointed by the court, are
manual workers without any intellectual culture. Back in Hanoi, in
* 119 *
addition to the cell of educators, with most of them being school
teachers, there is another cell of medical doctors and pharmacists,
and a third one of engineers and technicians, together with a
fourth one which operates by the recruiting of craftsmen and lowlevel
public servants for the localities, and finally a fifth cell
composed of jurists, former graduates of the Hanoi Law School,
with most of them having been mandarins in the provinces before
being reclassified in the career of judges of the Vietnamese
Prior to the Movement of the Hundred Flowers, which has
turned out to be a devastating cataclysm in the intellectual world,
the attribute “intellectual’ used to fare rather well. The Socialist
Party claims for itself a certain superiority over the Democratic
Party which brings together the “bourgeois” people, the
industrialists or traders, who have abjured their old faith, donated
their fortunes to the State, and taken their seats at the National
Front of the Fatherland. Does such pluralism of political parties
mean that the communists are professing democracy?
Alas, nothing of the sort. In this domain, as in others, they bluff
shamelessly, try to daze people, and go to great length in the art
of make-up and travesty. At first sight and in public meetings, the
communist Party shows some deference to the two brother
parties. From the height of a wall, above the two crossed flags of
the Soviet Union, with its sickle and hammer, and of Viet Nam
decorated with its gold star, the trinity of Marx, Lenin and Stalin is
overhanging the bust in plaster of Ho Chi Minh, and is looking
down movingly over the spectacle of reciprocal smiles and
bowings that are lavishly dispensed by the three Parties among
themselves and which are apparently united in a threesome
offered to the admiration of the masses!
Nothing can be more significant: the set, the scenery, the
priority. At the supreme summit, there is the communist Doctrine
represented by the dead deities: Marx, Lenin, Stalin. Lower down,
the national flags, and, further down, the national leader. At the
peak of the pyramid, on the throne is the political doctrine of the
proletarian internationalism that is ruling nations and peoples.
One can argue long on the principles, play games with words and
terms, get into a brawl by throwing punches from the texts, the
* 120 *
logomania may go on indefinitely, but, a return to the basis of facts
will lead in the end to irrefutable conclusions. In Viet Nam, in all
public meetings, the setting which has just been described gives
proof of the hegemony of politics over all other human activities. It
has subjected to its absolute power all the thought processes of
the mind and steps of the soul, the power that rules, in totality, all
the expressions of the being, it has set and imposed a scale of
characterized values, according to which the proletarian
internationalism enslaves the nationalism and individualism of the
The communist culture fashions the communist man who only
swears in the names of Marx and Lenin, believes only in the Party,
holder of the Truth, and displays a fanaticism impervious to reality
from which he is no longer able to see the phenomena and
concrete manifestations, the stranger he has become to the
feelings of humanity once such feelings are condemned by the
politics! Any progress in politics is paid in return by a backward
step in intelligence and of the heart.
Likewise, any advance in the realm of international Marxism is
equally measured by a drawback in national tradition. The wonder
felt by the observer is to see the entire people, entangled in the
ruts of a feudal past, falling in with the brother-countries and
yelling the slogans of communism. By the side of people who are
lauding the resulting efforts of the agitators, at the time of the
clandestine secrecy, and of the preachers, after the triumph of the
Revolution, there are others who are distrustful of the wrong
doings by psittacism. Whatever, it is permissible to ask oneself to
what extent is the sincerity of the popular masses rising up,
especially that of the peasants, when they proclaim their new
beliefs. This is seen during the collectivization of land in the
countryside. The more they are applauding the Party during the
agrarian reform, chastising the class of landowners and dividing
up the latter’s paddy-fields among the agricultural workers, the
more the masses are reluctant to enter into the agricultural
cooperatives, where the nonchalance of their efforts as well as
their indifference to the efficiency in production can be considered
as outright sabotage! If the urban small bourgeoisie manifest an
ardent enthusiasm for the welcoming of the Resistance
Government at its return to the capital, they also feel in their hearts
* 121 *
heavy bitterness when the collectivization of the city buildings is
taking away all their means of subsistence and driving some small
owners, condemned to scarcity and destitution, to commit suicide
by throwing themselves into the Red River. What to say about the
intellectuals who, right after their admission into the Party, are
declaiming their ultra-communism in inflammatory articles, in order
to give vent to their hatred against the revisionists of all kinds and,
in a broad manner, all those who have felt the heat and, in one or
two dozens years later, become turned coats and fall into the
errors which they castigated yesterday with a virulent verve?
On the basis of these facts, it is impossible to contest the
veracity, therefore, it is permitted to question whether or not the
fervor of the novices is sufficiently deep, sufficiently real as one
may believe it to be!
And how astounding it has been for the people to learn that
popular violence is taking place in the countries of Eastern
Europe! The most hardened zealots begin to feel doubt creeping
into their hearts when they see the great Soviet Union tottering,
that very state which has taught Marxism-Leninism to the world!
Their skepticism grows when they hear the doctrinaires yelling
their faith in the future of socialism and now calling socialist what
they used to condemn in the capitalists just yesterday: the market
economy with free competition, the law of supply and demand,
free enterprise… They are asking themselves how to differentiate
socialism from capitalism and how the same phraseology can
change meaning so quickly. They feel concerned about a minority
of countries which are still clinging to socialism, while a large
number of the “brother” states have turned their backs to it, as
some kind of nightmare which needs to be forgotten when waking
up. As for the people, they are astounded in the face of the
deluge in criminality which is drowning such a large number of
members of the ruling Party whose hypocrisy has been bared.
But, in 1956, Vietnamese communism is flying high and is
congratulating itself for its triumph. Particularly, the ruling Party is
still conserving its purity, as far as its morals are concerned, and is
honored by the people’s respect and trust. The Party is looking
fondly with its contented eyes both the socialist and democratic
parties, created by its weakness for formalism, that are expressing
* 122 *
to the best of their abilities their filial fidelity for the beloved father
to whom they owe their existence. The Party has given birth to
them, is raising them with the best of its red blood, providing them
with magnificent homes and personnel to serve them, and,
especially, has enabled them to lead a life of royalty by financing
entirely their operations. All that is required from them is to play
the role of understudy, to be more or less the noisy echo of the
ruling Party. And these two “brother” parties are following close on
the Party’s heels, like recruits marching behind their corporal.
But the joke cannot fool anybody, either locally or abroad. The
pluralism which characterizes democracy does not exist here
where there is only a caricature generated by the fantasies of a
delirious formalism that is simply fooling itself, while believing that
it is fooling others. The game has lasted for many long years and
allows the leaders to seclude themselves within the beatitude of
their satisfaction. Enormous sums of money have been spent to
that effect and the time has come for the State Budget to ask for
mercy, after having tightened its belt to the last notch! The
keeping of these two poor relatives has been too costly and
completely useless, it is decided that they should receive the kicks
in their behinds, and they have disappeared, without any fanfare,
like beggars fading away in the silence of shame with their bowls
from now on empty!
It can be understood then that, in the padded atmosphere of
calm and deference, where the world of the social parasites
demands from its profiteers docility and wisdom, the indiscretion of
a “socialist” is producing the effect of a terrorist bomb! The
scandal is too great to be hushed up or swept under the rug! It is
not enough to bring the culprit before the jurisdiction of the Front
and that of the University where he is carrying out his activity: he
must also be handed to the justice of the Socialist Party to which
he is a member, against his wish, for that matter! It is of high
urgency and necessity that all the collectivities, in which the culprit
has taken part, must dissociate themselves from the black sheep
and mercilessly pronounce his exclusion, to educate him as well
as others!
Therefore, the third bullfight is organized at the headquarters of
the Socialist Party. Different from the two preceding ones, there is
* 123 *
no audience: in the silence of the twilight, I am alone facing my
judges, the magistrate, former mandarin whose portrait I have
described earlier, all the three of them belonging to the cell of
Jurists, as I do. Three ghosts in a hell where the silence of the
solitude is greeting an unexpected discretion. I am surprised by
this and asking myself for an explanation. Is this an expression of
pity for me and a wish to lessen my humiliation? I am not aware
that pity is a natural or acquired virtue of communism, which rather
hides itself behind strict intransigence, excluding clemency with
regard to political faults which are causing prejudice, even lightly,
to its interests.
I finally understand this change in the scenery, which goes with
the one in the setting and that of the actors on center stage. I
learn that the two bullfights, at the Front and the University, have
produced an effect contrary to the one expected. I have come out
of it, not humiliated and beating my breast, but crowned by the
halo of the victor who has held his position, come hell or high
water to defend his opinions in face of the attacks which are
launched against him. It is expected to see a sinner who is
repentant and abjuring his convictions for the sake of keeping his
place in the State. But not caring much about the insinuating
threats, the sword hanging over my head, I have been an
intellectual who, with all kinds of considerations and nuances, has
put his finger on the wound and have opened the eyes of the
cowards too afraid of their masters’ vengeance, trembling for their
freedom and interests as well as those of their kind, bursting their
own crystalline lens and piercing their own eardrums so as not to
see or hear anything about the truth. It is, therefore, necessary to
limit the damages by excluding the mass from listening to a
speech for the defense which seems to become one for the
I have also learned that, if the few dozen members of the
Socialist Party have not been summoned – three jurists have
given their resignations: Dinh Lo, Vu Nhu Giai and Nguyen Huu
Dac, - that, if the session is not public in order to avoid attracting
the attention of the intellectual masses, it is because in the course
of the discussions between the judges and the accused, the
debate would open up on the subject concerning the attitude of
the intellectual in the communist world and in face of communism.
* 124 *
The onlookers must not be permitted to come and know about
perspectives which they have never considered before.
The Magistrate who is presiding the session, and also wellknown
to the reader, fires the first burst. His zeal of personwithout-
a-party who is trying to redeem himself from a
compromising past puts fire in his look, and the satisfaction to
harass by his attacks against an intellectual, whose social situation
provokes his jealousy, are communicating a furious tone to his
- Comrade, you have obtained unprecedented university
successes and been invested with the trust of our leaders who
have installed you in the central committees of ten mass
organizations, what else do you need for your ambitions? Your
pupils and students have forgotten neither the teaching you gave
them, nor the gesture you made by handing in your resignation
when a colonialist inspector came and caused you trouble, then by
returning to the practice of law at the court where you had taken
oath already by 1932 in France and where it did not take long for
you to gain the trust of your clients and, thus, acquire a prominent
place in society. It is known that, before going into the
underground resistance, you have donated to our Party three
buildings which were your entire family heritage, and throughout
the ten years during the period of the anti-colonialist resistance in
your dual quality of professor and attorney, you have rendered
good services to our State. You could have continued to enjoy the
happiness given by a well-filled way of life without having the need
of throwing yourself into a political struggle in which you have put
yourself in the wrong camp by hurling your blows against a Party
that has always pampered you and elevated you to a rank which
provokes desire in many people. That is ingratitude, surely I am
not mistaken here! Have you ever thought about the correct
* 125 *
attitude that you should have adopted in our communist world
which is under attack on all the battlefields by a ferocious enemy?
You must be aware that the attitude you have taken is causing a
considerable prejudice to yourself and, even more so, to a Party
that, by its exploits crowned with magnificent successes, is worthy
to be honored, respected, and glorified by the people in gratitude.
That is the speech for the prosecution with me being its object
and presented under the form of numerous questions. Let me
summarize and condense the main themes of accusation and
make it easier to go through their outline. Likewise, let me also
give a summary and debriefing of the answers I have given in
order to make it more convenient to grasp their meaning.
- Comrade, I do not believe you would be displeased by my taking
note of the burning feelings – and surely sincere ones, I hope -,
that you are nurturing for the Party. Not much can be said about
the honors that the Party has bestowed on me when compared to
those awarded to you by the Party for your devotion to it. I have
been included in the executive committees of a dozen of mass
organizations. You know, as I do, that these functions are purely
honorific, with neither efficiency nor actual power, in which I only
play the role of an extra, in the spirit of the National Front of the
Fatherland which preaches union and concord, indefectible
support and unreserved approbation for the Party. You, on the
contrary, have had a striking career. If, just only yesterday, you
were bogged down in the putrid marshes of feudalism, you are
today sitting on the throne of the presidency of the Appeal Court of
Hanoi, while waiting to have your seat tomorrow at the Supreme
Court. The Party has forgiven you for your past: it has given
recognition to your merits. You have done good studies in law,
you are a hard worker, you have seriously boned on all the
problems about which your opinion is requested, you have
incarnated the spirit of the perfect bureaucrat-civil servant, with
your briefcase which is always by your side and filled with papers,
and your habit of taking notes endlessly. Even more so, and
better still, you have demonstrated an imperturbable and shrewd
perception which enables you to succeed in all the functions and
careers you embrace and to satisfy your ambitions. Yesterday
you were a great mandarin at the Court of Hue, today you are
presiding the Court of Hanoi where you are making decisions, of
* 126 *
course, with the assent and under the supervision of the Party, on
the fates and even the lives of people referred to your justice. In
whichever Court you are demonstrating your talents, at the Court
of Hue as well as at that of Hanoi, you have shown yourself man
of the court, offering to two institutions which are the exact
opposite of each other, one being feudal and monarchical, the
other revolutionary and communist, the same laborious fervor, the
same devotion, the same docility! You say that my life is happily
filled. Is it similar to yours? I am afflicted with an infirmity for my
human nature does not give me the ability to play with fire and
water. A communist with a better red color complexion finds
nothing to say about your language and your profession of faith in
communism although you are not yet accepted into the Party!
Allow me to pay homage to the astuteness of your mind and
the flexibility of your character. You are always on the right side,
disregarding the vicissitudes of History, and you always win. The
“comrade” that you are judging has lost everything: the
possessions that he had acquired by the sweat of his brow and
then offered to the just cause of the Fatherland and people, his
positions at the bar-association and the University from which he
will be expelled tomorrow and which has been up to now his
- Comrade, you have gone off the subject. The question that I
have put to you is precise and I expect your answer to it. You are
surely aware of the prejudice you have done to our cause, that of
our communist State. You will tell me that the dirty linen must be
washed in private. Yes, it must be, but in the family! Yet, you are
putting it in display, in broad daylight! Our president, a thousand
and a thousand times respected and beloved, has reminded us
that only the buried dead and babies in their cradles do not make
mistakes. That our Party makes mistakes, that is in the order of
things! But this is not a reason for bringing out public opinion, in
the country and abroad, and even more so when this act comes
from a well-known intellectual like you.
- That the dirty linen must be washed in the family, this is correct.
But if it is accepted that the Party can make mistakes, that its
errors must be rectified, then how can these errors be brought to
the knowledge of the Party so that they can be fixed? Is there a
* 127 *
Service for complaints where people can bring their grievances to
its door with the hope that they will reach the proper authorities?
The trash cans are awaiting those papers which do not give off the
fragrance of praise that the leaders like to inhale. And, even more
so, does anyone have the right to profess or express opinions
which do not agree with those of the Party? I want to remind you
that, in the meetings of the Socialist Party, as soon as a dissident
idea is showing just the tip of its ear, the Presidium hastily takes
away the floor from the naïve or careless person who has thought
in position to communicate his reflections to others. The ruling
Party has assigned a few of its members to sit on the central as
well as local Executive Committees of the Socialist Party in order
to supervise and forbid any discord. The “leaders” of the Socialist
Party - with you among them – know well the consequences that
they can face should the slightest dissidence take place I their
- But this, indeed, is wisdom itself since the intellectuals do not
know, or cannot know, how to walk straight, that they stagger
every moment and need to be helped by their tutors in their correct
plate-form and sane minds. Why bother about such vulgar and
mean details when one is devoting all his efforts to the objective of
realizing the grandiose spectacle of the people united
monolithically behind a Party which is proud of benefiting from the
unanimous trust of the masses inside and from the international
support of the brother-countries, and from the progressive people
in the world?
- I admit that I am sensitive to the beauty of this picture depicting
the brotherly peoples following close on the heels of the Soviet
and Chinese elders, and shouting down the agonizing capitalism
and yelling out their faith in socialism. But I hesitate about having
to pay for this triumph of the Marxist-Leninist Doctrine such an
exorbitant, excessive and unconceivable price for the happiness of
the peoples of the world, for their subjection to values which
existence they have not been aware of up to now, values which
cynically violate their traditional beliefs, deprive them of their most
natural rights which judicious and beneficial permanence has been
demonstrated by millenniums, and values which are plunging them
into dreadful poverty and making them doubtful about the future. I
* 128 *
respect the ideas but I respect even more the individual person
whose unique salvation is preoccupying me.
I want to insist on one point. My position is one with nuances.
The ideas, I respect them, but I keep my vigilance and lucidity on
the alert: I reserve the right to examine them, to go through them
with the fine-tooth comb of my analysis, critiques and reflections,
and try to separate the weed from the grass. I am not setting
myself up as enemy of anything, I am striving t distinguish the best
from the worst. Since individuals and peoples are filled with faults
and qualities, each doctrine bears in itself vices as well as virtues.
A deserved eclecticism spares us the intransigence in the
attitudes, the injustice in the judgments, the fanaticism in the acts.
I appreciate the Marxism-Leninism in its fertile novelties, the
originality of its intellectual approaches, its dialectical perception of
the real, but I am not going to veil my eyes in the face of the
monumental, monstrous and criminal errors committed by those
who apply it and whose lack of culture, selfishness, prejudices and
shameful passions are causing injustice and inhumanity. I
proceed from facts, I examine them from their genesis and results,
I am taking my distance from the bended and formal logic
advocated by the leaders to justify their decisions while the unique
criteria to bring out the truth concerning a policy or about politics is
to ask oneself whether or not the people have thereby found a
present and actual improvement in their lot. Let us criticize neither
communism nor the communists but only the communist leaders
who, blinded by sophisticated forms of reasoning and by insane
voluntarism, turn their backs to reality, make wonderful promises
which are fooling and deceiving the masses, and mercilessly
putting to the sword the wretched unfortunates who doubt their
- It can be seen clearly that you have been deformed by the
western culture you have received. You are falling into skepticism,
you have doubt about everything, you can no longer perceive the
grandeur of the beings and things, you are losing yourself in the
details, and no longer see the overall and, particularly, you criticize
everything. One wonders if that western culture had not prevented
your steps to choose the road which could have led you to your
people and fatherland.
* 129 *
- In 1932, when I came back to Vietnam for the first time, and
especially in 1940, when I published my works in French, at the
time of the French occupation, the same reproaches were made
against me. I will not deny that I did not attend any Vietnamese
schools, carried out my studies at the Paul Bert College and, then,
at the Lycee Albert Sarraut [Albert Sarraut High School] which
enabled me to be holder of the Baccalaureate at the age of 16 and
to obtain my State doctorate-in-Letters and my doctorate-in-Law in
1932, at the age of 22. The French and western culture has made
me the man that I have become. I have acquired the qualities and
faults of the French mind: the love for clarity, precision, and logic
but also a critical approach to men and problems. I do not get
excited easily and only give my approval in a wise manner. I bow
to the real, the true, the just, but I hate hypocrisy and am filled with
horror by fanaticism, I am piercing with my arrows the false
grandeurs and ridiculous vanities. I detest politics because it
perverts man, condemns him to lies, injustice, and cruelties which
revolt the conscience. I shun power to spare myself the two
equally degrading attitudes: either to lavish on it bowings and
smiles, or to accept its fantasies, its whims, to share its prejudices,
to side with it in all events. I take leave of the Greats and keep my
distances from them. I hold on my freedom, independence of
mind and action. I am fully aware of the crimes of the capitalist
leaders but I am also able to see the cruelties of the communist
leaders. I am stuck between capitalism and communism, I seek
escape in the love of the people and traditions which grandeurs
and servitudes I know well. In the present communist world, my
attitude is that of a consistent intellectual, decided not to betray his
vocation of a clerk.
What is making me take such an attitude? To propose that the
people assume for themselves the responsibility for their own fate,
that everything must be done BY the people and for the people.
Whatever term is used to baptize such a system of government is
of little importance. The word democracy is the best, but it only
expresses one aspect of the problem: the government BY the
people. The formula must be completed by proclaiming the
government FOR the people. A democracy understood in this
sense does not care about the epithets given to it! It does not
matter whether it is called bourgeois or socialist, what is essential
here is for the people to be happy and, as master of their own
* 130 *
destiny, they achieve the dream they are longing for, in all the
domains of their activity, individual as well a social, physical,
intellectual, moral and spiritual.
- You are not unaware of what is awaiting you. Our communist
State tolerates only one attitude from the intellectuals. That of a
person who is subjected to the politics of the communist
orthodoxy, and proclaiming his faith in the party, swearing his
fidelity to it, feeling, feeling and acting in the desired direction,
according to the way ordained by the leaders. All those who move
away from this line, fall into heresy and are punished as
reactionary traitors. The last opportunity has been given to you to
repent for your audacity and impudence. Make a good use of it!
- Each one bears the responsibility of his acts. If society, that is to
say the people, could reach a high degree of culture, a level of
enlightened conscience, the boldness of a thought which is
diverging from the common path would not be punished but, on
the contrary, encouraged for the progress of the country depends
on it. But the history of humanity has proven that the masses are
not capable of clearing a way out from the jungle of ignorance,
prejudice and cowardice in order to step forward into the light and
the sun. In Athens, the capital of wisdom, Socrates has drunk the
hemlock to propose his example to reflection and imitation for all
the intellectuals of the world, those who have to play the role of
pioneers, guides, on the difficult and painful journey of the peoples
of the world towards some joy and happiness.
Yet, our country has witnessed the introduction of an absolutely
foreign doctrine, without any root from the national past. Great
patriots, whom everybody admires and respects, support the
doctrine, defend it, sponsor it, propose it, then impose it on the
population, giving the assurance that it is the key which opens the
gate of paradise on earth. People believe n the words of the
leaders and wait for the realization of their promises. It is thanks
to the consent of the people, their efforts and sacrifices, that the
country has regained its independence and freedom. The working
arms and the thinking heads are providing strong support to the
ruling Party.
* 131 *
Unfortunately, the journey undertaken is not a smooth one.
The leaders, priding themselves on their glorious success in the
military field, for which they attribute Marxism to be its essential
reason, they believe as well founded to widen and deepen its
application to all fields, most of the time in disregard of science
and reality, although communism proclaims to respect their
teaching. The agrarian reform has opened the way to a series of
enormous mistakes which the leaders must bear the responsibility.
The poverty of the people has become atrocious, in spite of the
boastings by the leaders who affirm the contrary.
In the face of such a tragedy, what should be the attitude of the
intellectual? There are those who, covering their eyes and putting
their fingers in their ears, join the choir with the multitude of
opportunists and flatterers and yell: “Victory of communism, Glory
to the Party!” These people harvest honors and privileges and are
blessed to the third generation. The public know them and deny
them their esteem. As for the minds that think and the hearts that
love their homeland and people, they cannot resign themselves to
endure in silence and apathy the bitterness of their disappointed
hopes and flouted dreams. They raise their voices to denounce
the causes of the errors and to propose alternative solutions.
They are thanked by bows of knockout, life imprisonment, under
the charge of renegades, traitors to the revolution and enemies of
the people! Their sole consolation is to know that the people
understand them, feel sorry for them, while unable to do anything
for them. They have to wait for the justice to be given by history.
No sentence is pronounced. The communists have the taste
for the clandestine way. All the decisions are taken and carried
out in a dead silence. Nothing has transpired out to the public: the
secret is well kept to avoid raising unnecessary emotions,
regrettable disturbances! The communists foresee everything and
act in consequence!
* 132 *
Thee trials: three appearances before the political tribunals of
the national Front, the University and the Socialist Party. The
fellows, appointed to the role of Saint-Just, have been selected
through strict scrutiny. The craftsmanship here is not to put on the
line members of the Party. If not, it would mean to mobilize heavy
artillery against a poor and defenseless creature, to throw tanks
and canons against bare-handed demonstrators. Besides, should
the communists fail to be up to their task, they would lose face,
and the prestige of the Party would be compromised. Therefore, it
is for the better to recruit opportunists without party affiliation but
bearers of a past for which they seek to atone and are readily
willing to receive the gobs of spits from the intellectual masses.
They are playing a rather unworthy role but the desire to reemerge
and pick up a few crumbs from the Party, is overriding the
shame of becoming the horses of the circus performing in the
arena at the cracking of the tamer’s whip. The Party is washing its
hands, and the party will take place between the “party-less”, by a
settlement of scores between “comrades”. But the chosen Saint-
Just have received careful preparation, since they are the
spokesmen of the Party. Should they carry out their tasks
properly, the Party would win and reward its valets. But if they
cannot accomplish well their mission, they will have to bear alone
the weight of failure!
I am aware of this and mobilizing all my efforts to safeguard my
honor in this combat between the pot of iron and the pot of clay.
In observing the eyes of those who are attending my trials at the
* 133 *
Front and the University, I am happy to see that I have recorded
victory, and this at the embarrassment of all the Saint-Just thrown
into my legs and trying to bite them. Everybody has taken side
with me!
The next morning, while I am regaining my strength, a friend of
ministerial rank arrives, in a flying visit, to let me know that in the
competent circle it has been decided for my incarceration. What
can I do? It is common knowledge that a very high dignitary of the
Party has personally attended the arrest of other communist
members who were even hardened revolutionaries whose
sacrifices have filled the list of achievements that they have
acquired in their lives, and whose honesty has been respected by
everybody. That was the case of V. D. H., whom I had the honor
to know in the resistance underground, and that of D. K. G. who
occupied a very high position at the head of a zone of operations
in the Resistance. If registered communists, with spotless honor,
are victims of such treatment, surely for ideological interests and in
the fight for power, what is there for a poor devil like me, without
friends in society and protectors in the Party? I cannot dream of
hiding myself somewhere since the police has put its agents, spies
and snitches everywhere. Besides, I would consider such an
attitude degrading: I would give the impression that I am denying
my convictions and ideas. What would the communists, who used
to give homage to my dignity, think?
I am resigning myself to my fate and, in anticipation of a oneway
trip without return, I have filled my suitcase with underwear
and woolen clothes. I have also made sure of putting in a copy of
Montaigne’s Essays from the Pleiade collection, together with
paper, pens, ink and pencils! I want to occupy my forced and
endless spare-time with some kind of intellectual work to save
myself from the insanity of imprisonment. May be, my jailers will
have the humanity of not taking away this last voyage luggage
which I greatly need.
I have gone inside the prisons before at the request of the
accused whose defense I have assumed and, therefore, I am
aware of the practices carried out in these places of detention.
The tough guys or gang leaders beat up the new-comers and take
their lion shares from the daily food ration of each convict, and
* 134 *
especially from the provisions which the family now and then
sends in to him as gifts. The quantity has already been depleted
in a visible manner when the bag of goods has passed through the
hands of the jailers; then, not much is left after the gang leaders
and their accomplices have levied their shares on him. The
family’s sacrifices are used to maintain the already flourishing
health of the guardians of the prison and the tyrant who, in each
cell, is oppressing the unfortunates who are locked up in there.
Force is expressing its violence and domination in cynicism and
brutality. In its unfolding, it does not burden itself with manners,
hypocrisies, and does not have to veil itself for putting people off
the scent. It is baring itself in its nudity and, if one may so say it,
sane frankness. On the contrary, when force is masquerading
itself as sophisticated logic, hiding itself behind specious
reasoning, in short, trying to justify itself not in the eyes of public
opinion but in the depths of a not yet completely dead conscience,
it provokes disgust and horror by its insanity.
In this evocation of souvenirs accumulated in the depths of my
memory throughout my years of activities in the Bar Association, I
remember the confidences I have heard on my peregrinations to
the hamlets and villages. Often, during the evenings in the
thatched huts, my hosts tell me poignant stories. In the twilight of
the sunset, at the edge of their forests, they see lines of people
marching, dragging their feet, people who are so skinny that their
skeletons seem to grow out in size. One hour passes by and, in
the night, a burst of shots pulls the inhabitants out of the serenity
of their sleep. A massive execution has just taken place, and it is
not advised for public curiosity to seek satisfaction. No one has
seen or dares find out what has happened but, from one thatched
hut to another, the news are passed on and people are
dumbfound by spine-chilling terror. No responsibility is attributed
to the leaders who may not have been informed of the event, but
the incrimination would readily be put on the zeal of the
subordinates who have tried to surpass one another in the
execution of the ordered tasks, and are amply exceeding the
desires of the masters! Whatever, and even if the rumor is not
founded, it would not be a bad thing to consider the possibility of
such an eventuality. All the governments in the world, at all times,
under any regimes, nurture a ferocious hatred against their
enemies whose annihilation they contemplate and pursue under
* 135 *
all imaginable forms. Since the persecutions and executions
cannot remain clandestinely and be wrapped in mystery, and,
consequently cannot remain undetected by public opinion, they
heap on the victims the most infamous qualifications and even
subject some of them to a servile and shaking justice, in order to
repress the tremors of their conscience and try, without success,
to fool popular perception!
All the forced trips, by decision of the Governments, are oneway.
I am preparing myself.
The distinctive feature of the Vietnamese government is not to
inform the people concerned of the measures taken against them.
There are numerous ways to express its wish. The Front no
longer invites me to its meetings. The University has taken back
the bicycle of service that I have been using to go to my lectures.
The Courts of justice have returned to me the letters of
constitution. I understand that I have been discharged of my
functions, have become a leper, a pariah, an excommunicated!
Therefore, I indulge myself in philosophy to occupy my forced
spare-time, for not finding a hood and a rattle to warn the passersby
to move away from my path.
I begin my cogitations from the well-known saying: mens
agitate molem: the spirit moves the masses. In my young age, I
was convinced of the contrary and thought that the saying was
invented by an intellectual either in full delirium of vanity to confer
on himself a superiority which he did not have or in a crisis of
despair to overcome a growing inferiority complex. The spirit, by
its immaterial nature, cannot act directly on the mass which
represents matter in its full power and is only subject to the impact
and effect of a material force. In all the conflicts between the spirit
and matter, the antagonism by one for the other is settled by the
* 136 *
triumph of matter. It is in this sense that Marxism decrees that the
masses dispose of a material force, and make history! But the
masses cannot play such a role by using uniquely the brutality of
the means from matter. Even in destruction, and more so in
construction, matter has to call on the resources of the spirit to
guide it in its two activities, destructive or constructive. Thus, the
spirit is insinuating itself into the play of matter, inserting its
influence. Only then, the spirit is moving the mass.
But the spirit can only move the mass by initiating it to its
processes, by sharpening its perception to the realities, by
teaching it the logic of its deductions. Better still, when the mass
is properly educated, the spirit continues to carry out its mission by
maintaining it in the right path. Therefore, it can be seen that the
political agitators and commissars proceed with the fight against
the political illiteracy, and intensify their efforts to control and keep
a watch on possible deviations in order to direct the masses into
the rectilinear track of ideological orthodoxy. And one can attend
a wonderful spectacle to look at the entire people professing their
faith in the new religion of communism, forming a monolithic bloc
behind the Party, believing in its affirmations, line and policies.
Never before has such a triumph of the spirit over matter been
seen. The fanaticism of the masses has reached such virulence
that, in spite of the disastrous realities which are proofs for the
gravity of the errors committed, the degeneration of the economy
and the rise of the people’s poverty, a good segment of the
population – including the honest communists – persist in keeping
their trust in the promises of the Party to regenerate the country
and briskly lead it towards socialism which is now discredited in
most of the countries which were still communist yesterday. And
this at the risk of falling over into the precipice when one is on the
edges of the abyss. Consequently, the problem is to find out if the
political indoctrination of the masses, which has led them to
myopia or even to the blindness of their intelligence, is the
expression of a mens sana or insane?
What is generating horror and scandal, and bears witness to
the insanity of the political mind, is the deformation of the being, of
his mental habits which allow him to see only one aspect of reality,
compel him to mutilate his judgment, to suppress his spirit of
critique, and to reduce all spiritual activities to the unconditional
* 137 *
approbation of the leaders and to the condemnation without mercy
of the detractors, in complete disregard of justice and humanity!
The social and historical experience has shown that as soon as
the mens insane, of political, racial or confessional origin, acts on
the masses, free rein is given is given to acts of barbarity which
are setting humanity back to a shameful past of blood and death.
The fundamental dogma which can never be forgotten, which
must dominate all conceptions of life in society, is to remind each
individual that each person has his or her own truth, we must
respect the truth of others, that the law, justice, morality, humanity,
must never permit anybody to impose his or her truth on others. It
is because the pagans refuse to admit the truth of Jesus that they
condemn him to die on the cross. It is because the leaders of the
Medieval church refuse to recognize the truth of a dissolute person
or a free-thinker that they burn him at the stake. Freedom of
opinion may be the most precious conquest of the modern world.
It constitutes the sole criteria of civilization.
When one holds one’s truth, believes in its value, and for
various motivations, one wants to communicate it to others, to
propagate it. Nothing prevents people from propagating their own
truths to others.
But what is absolutely forbidden is to use the force, violence
and brutality of terrorism to overcome the conviction of others.
Yet, the communist governments make the irreparable mistake of
labeling the differences of opinion in the category of inexpiable
crimes and punishing them heavily. The resulting effect being that
people, with concern for their personal security, abstain from
opening their mouths to inform the leaders of the evil effects of
their attitude. The State, deprived of the support and backing by
the masses, can hit the reefs and sink into the general
indifference. Unless, using violence on their own account, people
rise up to overthrow the tyranny and substitute to it a regime of
democratic pluralism, the greatest advantage of it is to enable
public opinion, whatever its diversity, disagreements, to express
itself openly for the common good. Between the truth of the State
and those of the masses, there can be any no possible coexistence.
One party must exterminate the other.
* 138 *
Therefore, I know what I am risking. But the direct, immediate
punishment is late to come: may be the handcuffs which must lock
my wrists have not yet been forged. My extermination has been
decided but the process to carry it out must be refined. Whatever,
I am filling my waiting time by saying goodbye to a way of life
which, tomorrow, will be buried in the past.
I then spend days and even nights with my eyesight, blurred by
bitterness and often by the tears, wandering over the microcosm in
which I live, days and nights that are already impregnated with the
sadness of the never more (English words used by author in
French text. Ed.) And here is the family furniture that I have
inherited from my forebears: marble-top tables, massive
armchairs, seating chairs, pedestal tables, sofas in precious wood
carved by the golden hands of craftsmen from a breed now
extinct. The flow of time has covered this furniture with a patina
which is highlighting is brilliance. Here is the ancestors’ altar with
its golden and purple illuminations, the incense-burner filled with
the ashes of the stuck-in incense sticks which are twinkling in the
half-light with their grains of fire when they are lit up, the flower
holders and vases in porcelain China where the orchids can
blossom in winter and the lotus in summer, the two hanging glass
cabinets with their doors lined by the dragons in their wooden
contortions, and where the curios and tea-sets are displayed… All
these inanimate objects are filled with the souls of my ancestors
and the years which are giving them their shining luster.
I like to remain long moments in front of my bookcase where
the Greek and Latin authors of the Guillaume Collection are
placed above the French writers of the Pleiades Collection. I
never tire myself to stroke the volumes covered in red morocco
leather which I have discovered in the old libraries of Paris or at
the second-hand booksellers on the embankments of the river
Seine. The shelves reserved for the contemporary authors pride
themselves for understanding the works of Valery, Claudel, Gide,
Montherlant, Mauriac, Maurois, Morand, Giraudoux… On the last
shelf, I have placed my Columbia record-player and some one
hundred records which I have brought back from France and
listened to every evening, changing the musicians according to my
states of mind, some Mozart when I am swinging in joy, the
* 139 *
Pavane for a Dead Infant by Ravel in my moments of melancholy,
the Dance Macabre by St-Saens if the horrors of the world are
overwhelming me, but especially, Beethoven with the Fifth
Symphony which is fuelling my meditations and reveries, and the
Appassionnata when I fell lifted up by the passion of life and
enthusiasm to create.
I spend most of my time in my “library” where the heady
fragrances of the past delight and intoxicate me. I am not a
laudatory person of time past, I know how to recognize and
appreciate the wonders of the present. Throughout its history, at
each epoch, humanity has lived its greatnesses and servitudes.
Its servitudes include the crimes for which it is not directly
responsible but which have sullied certain periods of its existence,
its greatnesses have appeared in the progress which it can be
proud of and which have contributed to the good and happiness of
the peoples. Time is filtering history: the servitudes are buried in
oblivion, except for the monstrous crimes which revolt the
conscience, and only the greatnesses shining through the passing
of time continue to exert their attraction on the minds that are
thinking! The present brings disconcerting emotions: one can
hardly have the time to marvel at the victories of science and
technique, which are propelling humanity far ahead in the future,
that one has to cry out in rage and anger in the face of abominable
acts of certain governments that are massacring their detractors
and opponents, and which unspeakable behavior throws humanity
far back to the shameful horrors of the past. The present in which
I live and the future which is awaiting me are, therefore, pushing
me to take refuge in the brilliant past of humanity, where I quench
my thirst for happiness in the enjoyment of what has been
produced by the best men in order to subtract myself from the
present and future anguishes which are inflicted on me by the
worst ones among the leaders. But, in these circumstances where
I am saying goodbye to the inanimate objects which soul is talking
to mine, I feel invaded by the sadness of loving what I will never
see again!
But the days pass by. No gang of jailers has come in the
prison car to take me away, in handcuffs. I begin to be surprised.
But I finally understand that my extermination will not be carried
out by life detention in a prison or some jail. It will be done, in the
* 140 *
long run, by the throes of hunger. The torture is more refined
since it will last for an undetermined period of time, exactly like the
journey in the desert, in the material sense of the expression. Like
a traveler abandoned by himself on the sea of sands, with neither
food nor water, without shelter against the sun, without blanket
against the cold of the night, I will drag my life until my body
becomes dehydrated, bloodless, reduced to an emaciated
skeleton, exhausted by thirst, hunger, the torrid heat of the sun,
the freezing cold of the night, I will collapse on a dune and give my
last breath. The many sufferings, all adorned with hideous masks
of the dead, are surrounding me, sneering, performing a gruesome
dance inside and around me, harassing me with their sardonic
laughter and shooting blows, so that the expiation of my audacity
for having thought differently from the Party becomes the supreme
pain before death comes to sing its gloomy litanies over my
whitened bones in the sand! Only an executioner endowed with a
diabolic imagination can invent the torture of hunger in the capital
city of a civilized country, right in the twentieth century, in the midst
of a society with satiated members who are spending a fortune for
a banquet. And to stir up the suffering of the “culprit” by forcing
him to witness the same torture of hunger inflicted as
condemnation to his wife and children, in spite of their innocence!
And the party is washing its hands! It rationalizes with cynicism:
“I have an employee I am displeased with. I dismiss him. What’s
wrong with that?” There is a pertinent retort for him: “This is not a
simple dismissal since, in your system of State stores and
rationing vouchers, a person that you have dismissed cannot buy
his rice anywhere, for himself and his family, once he is deprived
of money and rationing vouchers which are given only to the State
employees! Furthermore, to what penal provisions, of which code,
can you refer to in order to punish an offense of opinion which is
not recognized by any international legislation with regard to
human rights? Are you not aware of the exceptional gravity of the
sanction you have pronounced in your system of communist State
by playing on the confusion between the administrative and the
penal? You have condemned to a long and slow death an entire
family while only its head justifies your displeasure! Is such a
deceit worthy of a State which considers itself “civilized”? But the
lamb does not rationalize with the wolf!
* 141 *
The wolf can declaim that it is keen in giving liberty and
happiness to the lamb, it remains the wolf, and the argument that it
is using to convince the lamb of the latter’s culpability does not
prove anything except its cruelty and deceit. The most sacred
texts and the most solemn promises are merely tricks of
illusionism which purpose is to safeguard the appearances while
trampling on reality. The formalism is only prestidigitation, but an
abominable prestidigitation because it aims not at amusing people
but at cutting the throat of innocence.
At all times, the people, appalled by the crimes of feudal
monarchy, have dreamt of justice and wished for a righter-ofwrong
to come, a Bao Cong to protect the humbles from the
despots. But the wish that one formulates in the depths of one’s
soul never comes to be. The Greats continue to oppress,
persecute, bully the weak and the innocent. In despair for the
cause, since the State institutions do not guarantee justice, there
are men who are blinded by their selfishness and perverted by
their passions, and do not care “to give what is due to each
person” and have equity prevail, the people have to call on divine
intervention, on the ever-permanent justice which declares “Ac gia
ac bao,” he who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind, cruelty
spawns cruelty in return!
The positive minds do not like to wait for the justice of fate with
its too slow unfolding! They think capable of making up for the
slowness of the ever-permanent justice by elaborating a whole
system of principles and organizations aimed at answering the
popular aspirations. Law is the fine flower of civilization, the
tribunal which applies the rules and dispenses justice, such as the
Human Rights Declaration which inaugurates the era of
democracy, are very much the precious conquests of humanity.
Unfortunately, this magnificent apparatus only demonstrates the
idealism and ingenuity of intelligence and only functions effectively
when the power expresses its goodwill to have it operational. If, in
the bourgeois parliamentary democracy, the people, by the voices
of their representatives and the game of elections, have at their
disposal the legal means to contain the overflow of power and its
abuses, on the contrary, in the communist countries, the
monopolizing and dictatorial power of the leaders plays with the
law, only applies it for their own interests, structures the organs of
* 142 *
popular representation and the administering of justice in such a
way that they become its docile servants. The law deprived of its
force, or enslaved to the force of power, is merely a toy in the
hands of the leaders and has to admit its helplessness! While
waiting for the blessed ay when that ever-permanent justice
functions in full swing, when cruelty receives its punishment, when
the popular masses, disgusted by the leaders’ injustice, will lose
patience and rise up to “make History,” the people, in the
communist world, in face of the despots’ shut-out hearts and the
dumb heaven not answering the prayers and aspirations of the
humans, have no other solution but to retreat into their resignation
and despair!
It is in this state of mind that I start my journey in the desert
which is to last from 1958 to 1990, throughout some good thirty
years. In the sand of despair which is drying my tears, I drag my
body tortured by deprivation, a heart bleeding with poignant
sadness and galling bitterness. No flash of joy has come to light
up the darkness of the gehenne where I am wasting away in
solitude, but trying to save myself, come hell or high water, so that
I can one day cry out my martyrdom.
Blessed are the leaders. They have spared me the regime of
detention in a prison where I would have served as whipping boy
for the inmate gang bosses, the heads of the cells, victim of the
exploitation by the jailers and greedy hoodlums for provisions as
well as brutalities. I am also spared the re-education camp where
the prisoners, lined up in groups under the command of the
corporals, must endure the re-education by manual work on the
land. I have particularly avoided the regime of long, long term
imprisonment, sometime until death, in a bare and narrow room of
a police station in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mystery
and secrecy, or to be locked up then day and night without any
permission to see the sun or breathe the outside air, even for one
* 143 *
minute, the punishment consists of undergoing forced inactivity in
a perpetual night filled with the infernal uproar from the pots, pans
and copper basins which the muscular arms of the jailers take turn
to bang on with the aim of torturing the victim and leading him into
insanity! And, while the head and ears are tortured by the endless
banging of the metallic sounds which are piercing the eardrums,
the stomach has to endure the painful attacks of colic and enteritis
caused by the damaged food given to the prisoner. The adulators
of the communists celebrate the heroism which the latter have
demonstrated in the course of their imprisonment in the “tiger
cages” of Poulo-Condor, and throw out sincere diatribes against
the inhumanity of the colonialists. One wanders to what level of
passionate and vibrant eloquence will they reach when they
become aware of this regime of re-education which is destined to
inspire faith in communism!
Blessed are the leaders who have spared me such sufferings.
The ones that they have inflicted on me, whether from their own
wish or without their knowing, are terribly much more gentle, of
diabolic humanity. It’s for people to judge.
The first drama that my family and I are the victims is one of
For several months now, having been compelled to buy our
provisions and goods of first necessity on the black market, we
need rationing vouchers which, since my destitution, I am no
longer granted and, in spite of all imaginable savings, our funds of
reserves are diminishing day by day. Right from the start, in view
of the increasing hardship of our conditions and the modicum of
our resources, we have inaugurated the era of restrictions. First of
all, we have eliminated breakfast which is a luxury of the
bourgeois. Then, for our meals at lunch and dinner, meat and fish
gradually disappear fro our table. Our consumption of rice and
vegetables become less and less at each meal. And the day has
come for us to do with just a bowl of rice soup. My wife and
daughter are losing weight at sight. All the light has gone out of
their faces which display long and drooping features. They are
asking themselves how is it possible for some women to have the
need to fast to preserve their figures!
* 144 *
It is useless to think about borrowing money from friends for
they are also going through the same fate and, like us, are getting
by barely and not die of hunger. My wife thinks she may sell
cigarettes at the roadside, but how to have the funds for the first
investments and to oil the paws and muzzles of the policemen and
tax collectors with bribes so that they would let you earn your life
with difficulty? Where to find the outlet for the supplies of the
goods, often by way of smuggling? If only she did not have to sell
her swing machine to buy rice for the family, she could have done
clothes making and sell them at the market. If she were younger,
she could have cycled to the countryside to buy vegetables and
resell them on the pavements of the populous quarters. But all
these nice projects cannot be carried out and my poor wife is
crying in grief for doing nothing to earn a little bit of rice for the
My daughter has taught mathematics, but forty kilometers out
of Hanoi and during seven years, simply for not having her parents
in the Party! She is compelled to give her resignation in order to
present herself to the competitive examination at the Normale
superieure (Teachers’ College) where she chooses the section of
Letters and French. But, after five years of studies and a brilliant
success at the graduation examination, she waits for a teaching
job at a high school in Hanoi. In vain! One day, there is a vacant
position at the Chu Van An School. Another girl is aspiring to it. It
is suggested that a competitive examination be given to the two
candidates before a jury of teachers. My daughter obtains their
votes. But it is the other who is nominated because her father is
member of the Party. While waiting for job, she is cycling
everyday twenty kilometers back and forth to undertake training as
ceramics worker at a cooperative located in the suburb of Hanoi.
But when the time comes, instead of giving the trainee a miserable
indemnity, the trainee is obliged to pay for the expenses of the
studies! She wants to make a very contribution to the family
budget but desperately cannot do so.
I want to give French lessons at home. But as soon as I do
this, a band of policemen, surely informed by the spies and
snitches who are surrounding me, erupt in my home to inform me
that under the communist regime, there is nothing private, not
even the lessons which are given by hard working teachers! What
* 145 *
to do then? I cannot pedal a pedicab as some younger colleagues
of mine are doing, not because of “what-people-may-say” which I
do not careless, but simply because I have reached the age of not
being able to do so: either no client would call on my services, or
should there be one, the little money that I would get after one or
two trips are not enough to pay for the medicines which I need to
recover my strength and wilting health. Since there is no stupid
profession, I do not see any shame in sitting by the roadside to
repair bicycles, as the retired superior officers of the Army are
doing. But misfortune dictates that my literary and linguistic
knowledge makes me helplessly disarmed in the face a bicycle,
like an eunuch in front of a naked woman!
At the first stages of our difficulties, an old female servant that
we have taken into our service since the time of the Resistance,
more than ten years ago, having understood that our financial
situation is without remedy, has asked us to end her function. We
have considered her as a member of the family and never thought
of asking her to leave, and are determined to share with her the
best and the worst. But it is she who has taken the initiative,
tactfully, and there is nothing else for us to do but to accept her
departure. Our goodbyes are heartbreaking. On either side, we
are not able to hide our tears.
We have a dog given to us by friends. It is very intelligent and
we love it madly. But it is getting on with age, and since we no
longer have the means to provide it with meat and fortifying food, it
can no longer stand up from its cot and looks at us, all of us, with
its kind eyes of faithful animal, surely filled with tears, and
profound sadness for having to leave its masters. We break into
tears when it gives its last rattle of death. Of the domestic
animals, we are only left with a layer-hen having an extraordinary
fecundity. We cannot bring ourselves to put it to death since it has
responded to our call for help by giving us an egg almost
everyday. Different from a duck egg, which can be cooked and
mixed with a fish sauce in which one can dip boiled leaves of
cabbage, a chicken egg can be consumed only by one person.
We take turn, one after another, in eating that egg which is the
very last tonic food left to us! Since we cannot offer our hen any
grains of either rice or corn, everyday, at twilight, when the
markets are deserted of the merchants, I set out to wander around
* 146 *
it to pick up, unseen and unknown by the curious onlookers, the
peelings of vegetables with which I feed our hen.
At such a regime, one is always hungry. My wife and daughter
have their complexions becoming paler and paler, and their bodies
thinner and thinner. They dare not say anything anymore, afraid
of causing me sorrow, and try to hide their tears, when they are
alone in the evening, in their beds. I know it but pretend not
knowing anything. For my part, more than once, do I not feel my
eyes getting wet. Of hunger but, even more so, of pity to see my
loved ones endure the torture of having an empty stomach. To
leave them my portion of rice, only one bowl, I pretend a loss of
appetite and, particularly, give the pretext of having shared a meal
with a friend to whom I made a visit. A repeated lie which no
longer convinces anybody, but since I have persisted to refuse my
bowl, they have to share it between the two of them to avoid
wasting it.
I am, therefore, condemned to an almost chronic hunger. An
immense lassitude, without any bearings, is spreading all over my
body, like the swelling of a river over flooding the land of an entire
area, leaving above water only the tops of the trees and the peaks
of the hills. I feel immerged in a torpor which is piercing, now and
then, in blazes, the lucidity of my consciousness. I try to get up
and make a few staggering steps but to fall back right away on my
couch, taken by a wave of weakness which is dissolving
completely the remaining strength in my muscles. At the same
time, my stomach is contracting and distending itself in periodical
movements which are causing me horrible pain. The spasms
which are shaking me compels me to go through the alternatives
of tension and rest, before being drowned in the rising tide of
unconsciousness which is depriving me at the same time both my
ability to think and to feel. I come out of these crisis, with pains in
the back and bruises in the soul. I have done my apprenticeship
of hunger!
In such circumstances, life goes on like an automatic roundcircuit
chain action which turns round and round continuously on a
conveyer-belt, in a perpetual movement, in the void, instead of
normally having to manifest itself in a balanced layout, harmonious
coordination, of the three activities seeking a live objective: that of
* 147 *
motion performed by the limbs, that of the mind which thinks, that
of the heart which vibrates with emotions and sentiments! Now,
whatever objective is lost, has disappeared, the blaze of hope,
anger, hatred, bitterness, has died out, the reflections are in a
whirlwind, doing a frantic saraband, gruesome dance, then slow
down their fantastic ride, drag on, expand, and reach the end by
fading away, like ghosts at the coming of day. The broken being
drifts aimlessly, like a buoy in the sea, at the mercy of the waves
and winds! He no longer lives, just lets life goes on, an invading
lethargy which is rising from his feet to his head, like the hemlock,
without provoking any start, any reaction either. An immense,
tiring, morbid, weariness is spreading to the cells of the body,
reaching the fibers of the soul, a prelude to death which is coming
stealthily in muffled steps.
If the drama of hunger is played by only one character and
consists of a monolog disrupted by tragic silences, the
negotiations which I undertake to sell the salable belongings are
carried out as a tragi-comedy where laughter mingles with tears.
The seller, who is swallowing his tears, and cries out within himself
the sufferings and humiliations of which hunger is the major cause,
does not fail to smile at the lies and mimics of the buyers who are
trying to trim down the sums of money that they have to pay to get
the riches, the value of which they know well and the prices of
which they try minimize to the utmost.
What we are selling first are the luxury outfits which my wife
and I used to wear at the time of our splendors, at banquets and
festivities to which we were invited, before the Revolution came to
upset the social order and tear people away from their thousandyear
old traditions and habits which it considers unacceptable in a
world where the holiness of the leaders and the purity of their
morality must serve as model to the entire people! Our jewelry in
gold has already been sold off in the Resistance underground, to
permit our family hold out and remain in it. But, back in Hanoi, our
* 148 *
relatives and friends have showered us with luxury clothes: tunics
in silk, satin, brocades, velvets from China, clothes that my wife no
longer has occasions to wear. For myself, I have brought back
from my missions to Peking, Vienna, Brussels, custom-made suits
by master-tailors suppliers to the staffs of the embassies.
Now, the customs have changed. All the women are parading
in the uniform imposed by the feminine cadres of the Party: the
white shirt and black trousers. All the men are dressed up in the
outfit launched by Stalin and Mao, then by the Vietnamese
communist leaders and cadres: jacket with an upright collar, wide
trousers. The women’s tunic and white trousers, the men’s collar
and tie are condemned by the communist rigor as bearing the
mark of the capitalist bourgeoisie. One can either laugh or cry
about this. One laughs for seeing the entire population display the
obviously simple and inexpensive uniform, which kills the
individuality of the human beings, their personality, the distinctive
features which permit how to understand them, to sympathize with
them and even be in communion with them. It is impossible for a
foreigner, or even a local native to differentiate people, one from
another. One laughs at the masquerade, but one can perceive the
grandeur. The whole people, who are enslaved to the will of a
leader to the point of obeying him, even in his whims and
fantasies, constitute a monolithic bloc with a crushing weight and
excessive mass. The grandeur of it is undeniable, as much as the
danger it represents to the peoples’ security and to world peace!
In Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, only the army and the
youth put on the uniform, and the crimes perpetrated by fascism
still fill humanity with horror and abomination. How to measure the
apocalyptic damage caused by the people marching in militarily
step on the order of a master whose exorbitant power, with neither
restrain nor limitation, can generate an insane megalomania and
bring about a catastrophe of planetary magnitude.
One laughs and cries. But, worse still, one feels sorry for the
people who are condemned to the domestication of the
intelligence, the suicide of the soul and of the heart!
Therefore, I understand that I will not obtain much from the sale
of luxury clothes in a capital city ruled by the communists’ rigor in
the wearing of clothes. There are no shops for used clothes in
* 149 *
Hanoi. The masculine and feminine uniforms, cut out from cheap
fabrics, locally made, do not last long and, when one gets rid of
them, one is throwing away just rags to the garbage cans.
I go to a tailors’ cooperative: they politely decline my offer: “We
know well that your clothes have great value. But to whom can we
resell this kind of outfits which no one wears anymore? All that we
can do with them is to cut them up and turn them into children’s
clothes. But that would be a shame! The ordinary cadres do not
have the money and, even if they had, they will not give their
children such clothes, fearing to be criticized by their colleagues
who would detect in them the germs of capitalist infection! As for
the children of the Greats, they are dressed up like princes by the
care of the cadres working in the field of diplomacy and foreign
trade, and bringing back from their missions abroad the gifts
offered to the Greats from whom they solicit favors and
I have been hanging around the streets for days, dragging my
bundle from the Hue street to the Silk street, then from the Sugar
street to the Cotton street. No one wants my used clothes.
Finally, when I land at the Sails street, my pitiful look catches the
attention of a good woman who asks me about the cause for my
troubles and problems. It is she who has saved me by giving me
the address of a theatrical group that may be interested in buying
my used clothes to dress up the male and female actors when
they have to perform on stage. I have taken the advice and at last
manage to liquidate my bundle.
I have brought myself to do some thinking. I do not know
whether or not the cloth makes the monk, but the costumes, which
I used to put on at the time when I was enjoying a minimum of
independence as part of my behavior, cannot be turned inside out
to become outfits for the valets. And, since it is not within my
means and capabilities to play the role of an understudy or actor,
these clothes may as well be worn by professional comedians
whose double life takes place during the day in society and at
night on the stage, between the real and the imaginary. This is in
the logic of things!
* 150 *
I have also learned from the wardrobe keeper of the theater
who has bought my clothes that, nowadays, a young lady of good
condition, who is getting married and wishes to wear a nice outfit,
is unable to acquire one due to the lack of money. So, what can
she do? She comes to the theater to rent for one day a nice stage
dress in order to appear like a legendary princess or the daughter
of a Great! A young girl gets married only once in her life. She
can be excused for committing an innocent cheating, the only
effect of it is to elude for a few hours the realities which prose is
insipid and deadly boring, to escape into a poetry of dream which
is dissolving the unfulfilled desires, and to permit the human being
to lie to oneself. All the societies in the world abound with the
Emma Bovarys who burden the heart with unsatisfied hungers, set
up in contrast to the miseries in which they are languishing a
somewhere else brightened by joy and freedom. In Viet Nam,
each person is suffering from dichotomy between the automaton
that plays, on the outside, the game of orthodoxy to avoid the
punishment by the community and assert his qualities of sly
comedian, and the living character who, in the inside, is covering
his repressed hopes with shadows and silences, his disappointed
wishes, his thirsts aspiring to quench their fires by some
mysterious springs which no political lynx is capable of detecting.
The used clothes, even of luxury, junked out at low prices in a
country subjected to strictness and poverty which are freezing the
most legitimate desires, cannot feed my family for long. The
saving of each bite at its highest level can only help us not to die
of starvation, provided that we accept to have blurred eyesight,
unsteady walking steps, the heart out of breath, and to bear the
painful cramps of the stomach which is grinding emptiness. The
water bindweeds which we use most of the time for meals are
making our complexions pale. People believe that we are sick
with malaria. It is better to let them think so: we are thus spared of
the shame of having the empty stomach!
After the clothes, come the turn of the linen, china and
silverwares. It is easy for me to wrap up the twenty four napkins
and the two tablecloths in their dazzling white color adorned with
embroideries of dragons and unicorns. The two sets for twelve
settings each, one for oriental meals, with its assortments of
bowls, saucers, ivory chopsticks, and the other for the western
* 151 *
meals with knives, forks and spoons in engraved silver, plates and
glasses in crystal of Bohemia, we lay them out on the table
covering its entire surface. The sunrays of the twilight, which
strike at an angle on this china and silver, bring out their splendor.
The bowls and plates, the silverware, are shimmering in an icy
whiteness, while the glasses of crystal are throwing out sparks.
For a while, we are dazzled. It seems to me that, during my
journey in the desert, a spectacle with such magnificence has thus
ever revived in my memory the souvenir of sumptuousness from
my past. I am staggering with sadness and bitterness, and it
would not take much more for me to collapse on the ground under
the painful chock of my present servitudes compared to my
grandeurs of yesterday. A page has been turned in the history of
my life, and I am shedding burning tears on that half of my
existence and the being that I was and who is now well dead!
I understand that I do not have to knock at the doors of the
Greats: they are often feasting, but on the house, on the occasion
of a visit to Hanoi by a political, economic, cultural personality of
the communist world. Likewise, the Greats, even when their
pockets are overflowing with gold, never commit the impudence of
displaying an undeserved opulence which would feed the rumors
about them and risk to discredit them in the eyes of the Party. I
cannot carry the china, and just limit myself to pack up the
tablecloths and napkins in a bundle which I put on the carrier of
my bicycle. I know where to go.
I enter the hall of the largest hotel of Hanoi reserved for the
visiting and smart foreign clientele. I unpack my bundle and invite
the responsible official of the hotel to come to my home and have
a look at the china and silverware. He pouts and simpers like an
old biddy in front of a popinjay trying to win from the latter a few
favors. He confesses: “This is beautiful merchandise. I do not say
the contrary. But what do you want me to do with it? The clientele
of the brother-countries are poor like Job. They never order an
extra, just stick to the ordinary menu, never drink whiskey, and
when they do not forget the tip, they show themselves to be mean.
It would be unfair to tax them of stinginess, since I have heard that
in the “brother” countries, like in Viet Nam, the civil servants are
reduced to have the strict minimum, and even below that!”
* 152 *
I see that you are at an advanced age. You must have known
better times.
My interlocutor glances around him to make sure that no one is
listening. Then, he answers me: - The communist cadres teach
that our people, under the double weight of the mandarin and
colonialist oppression, had a miserable life. I do not know
anything in the other localities but, where I used to live, people
were not as unhappy as it has been said. There were, of course,
rich people and poor people, but still they had enough to eat and,
if their clothes had to be mended, they were nevertheless able to
have clothing! French colonialism did not appear much in a visible
manner. It kept itself in the high spheres and, if it exploited and
oppressed, it was done by intermediaries.
- Through the so-called native administration, at the top of it
was the class of mandarins.
- But, to be just and truthful, these mandarins, now graduates of
the Law Faculty of Hanoi, knew well what was waiting for them
if they were caught red-handed. Of course, they rode in
automobiles and led an opulent life. But they conceived
corruption under an angle of moderation and, if I may say so,
of humanity. The penal law which they knew well was a good
safety railing. Besides, the Phonh Hoa satirical press, the
writings of the Tu Luc Van Doan group, by multiplying the
jeers about them, put up a social safety railing against their
desires for outrageous exploitation. The result being that, in
the countryside, although the poor cottages remained, the
peasants no longer uttered any protests. None that I am
aware of…
- But in town, how was the situation?
- The city dwellers lived comfortably, thanks to the jobs in the
administration and in the large commercial and industrial
enterprises, or in the small trade. The streets were clean, the
roadways as well as the sidewalks. Any violation of the rules
of social hygiene was punishable by fines. There were no
robbers or bandits, except for a few little pickpockets who
might operate at the markets but, in the town, calm and
* 153 *
security prevailed. I am not a professor who analyses and
disserts, I simply note the facts, describe the situation, without
searching for the causes or making commentaries. I owe to
my graying hair to respect the truth, to preserve my honor and
- Have you not thought of taking a well deserved rest?
- I have thought of it and made a request for it, but the
authorities have ordered me to remain in my post an train new
recruits. I have been maitre d’hotel for twenty years. On
Saturdays and Sundays, people danced and I served
champagne. For the great diners, our Norwegian-bomb and
ham-pie-in-crust were in great demand by a generous
clientele who were not stingy on the tips. It was the beautiful
life! I was like fish in the water.
- And now?
- Times have changed! All the waiters are from the police or
have acquaintances with it. They spy on people, search their
suitcases, listen to what people say and make reports to their
”responsible parties.” I am included in their network of
surveillance. I am exasperated by this. Besides, if only they
carry out well their work here, I would close my eyes about
their marginal activities. But they are ruining everything, the
toilets, faucets, vacuum cleaners, and break the china.
Unfortunate, that is, but what can I do!
- The pleasure of talking to you makes me forget the purpose of
my visit. Let me get to it: can you buy my napkins and
- We would certainly need it at the restaurant for the banquets
and gala dinners. But I am only the fifth wheel of the coach.
You would have to talk to the political commissar. He is the
one to decide on everything.
This man, worn out under the harness, and who is devoting his
last activities to be useful, does not have any say on the matter.
That is how things go in the communist world. Our first Tet, we
* 154 *
celebrate it in sighs and tears. We have fasted over four meals to
be able to decorate the family altar with a bunch of green
bananas, incense sticks, a few flowers and a glutinous rice cake.
We are happy in our misfortune since the traditional offerings are
present on the altar; even if they are not of quality, not of the
quality that one would wish for, nothing is lacking! While we are
waiting for the incense to burn out, the anguish, which breaks our
hearts, fills our eyes with hard repressed tears. Tomorrow, the
day after tomorrow, what will we become, when we have
liquidated all the things we possess? Of course, we can drag on
for days and months, but when will we get out of the tunnel? This
question is obsessing us night and day, and causing us to lose
It is now the turn of my library and records collection to take the
road of shadow and death! I have made up the list of about one
thousand books and some one hundred records which, during so
many years, have been my delight. I am naïve to believe that
these cultural treasures, unique in Viet Nam, will be greeted with
warmth and bring us something to put between our teeth for many
years to come. Alas!
I set myself to go to the Service [Department] of the Central
Archives and Libraries to which I have offered a copy of each of
my works, to begin with my doctorate theses and all the writings
which I have published afterwards.
I expect to be well received. The director of the Central Library
used to be a librarian, civil servant of the colonialists and had his
training on-the-job, as it is said. He did not go through the Ecole
des Chartes [School of Charters]. The first authentic charterer
was Ngo Dinh Nhu, but it did not turn out well for him; he engaged
himself into politics and even the worst possible kind of politics for
he was condemned by both the people and the communists! This
double condemnation was equivalent to a death sentence.
Sooner or later, he was to be crushed by the weight of fatality.
Therefore, my director of the Central Library has made a better
choice. He has got himself admitted into the Party and, back in
Hanoi, was catapulted to the position of Service [Department]
Director where he was a simple employee previously. This small
* 155 *
detail helps understand better his language, when he is going to
oppose a formal refusal to my offer for the purchase of my library.
- Comrade, I continue to call you by this name because we, the
Communists, hope that you will come out of the errors resulting
from the French culture which you pride yourself in and which we
loathe. You stand in opposition to communism, you brag about
being realistic because you base yourself on facts to formulate
your critiques, and you call on justice to reveal the successes
against the failures. You pretend to respect this logic which we
consider obsolete, deplorable, you remain faithful to your vocation
of a clerk who does not want to betray! A capitalist country such
as France, that prevails in its liberalism, accepts this attitude. But
for us, we condemn it. We condemn it in the name of
communism, which we consider to be the sole holder of truth, and
which is teaching us that the wisdom of the citizen consists in the
respect, obedience to the authorities. These authorities see
further and clearer than we do. They incarnate the good, and, if
you do not side with them, do know that the bad is awaiting you
with its vices and horrors! Between us, I am asking you: did the
Party not shower you with its favors? Ten executive committees in
the mass organizations, what intellectual can boast himself with
such a record? And what do people ask from you? That you
close your eyes on the failures -, which we all know like everybody
else but on which we throw the mantle of Noah -, and highlight the
victories which reminder is more exalting than that of the defeats.
You are required to keep total silence on the defective part of the
real, without demanding that you lie to your conscience by
inventing imaginary successes. Such an attitude is advantageous
to the Party and to yourself. Why not adopt it, as many
intellectuals have done and only swear in the name of the Party
and collect considerable benefits, for themselves as well as for
their families? On the contrary, by persistently remaining faithful
to the French culture, in an objective perception and filled with
justice, the real, you make yourself guilty of misdemeanors, with
their disastrous consequences which you have to bear today!
- Comrade, I thank you for your good advices! If you were a
Mermaid, I would not have any sailor to tie me to the mast like
Ulysses, who liked to listen to the Mermaids while trying to evade
from the fascinating appeal of their beautiful arms! You make me
* 156 *
think rather about the Snake which, in the Garden of Eden,
whispered into Eve’s ear pernicious suggestions to which she
gave in. Fortunately, I am not a woman and, nowadays, besides
the apple there are other tasty fruits from which one can choose.
Whatever, I must admit the Crafty that you are enjoys persuasive
eloquence! Allow me to respond to your argumentation. About
the French culture that you condemn, it has penetrated into my
body and flows in my blood. It has shaped up the man that I am,
always seeking justice, passionately interested in objectivity and
realism, but particularly filled with the faith in man, the love of man,
and determined to fight and spare him of the cruelty and arbitrary
of despotic power. You ask me to obey the authorities, all right,
since I do not wish anything more than order and peace. But the
respect of the authorities and of authority itself does not prevent
one from opening one’s eyes on their faults and errors! If I remain
silent, that will surely help the government of the people, but the
government discredits itself and loses the trust of the masses.
Therefore, the problem here is to know what would be the best
attitude to have in such circumstances: to say nothing and
reconcile oneself with the favors of the authorities, come to agree
with them and avoid their blows, or take action and give the right
to the will of the masses in order to open the eyes of those in
power and put an end to the people’s misfortunes which are
ruining the people’s trust in their leaders; consequently, get two
birds in one shot, reconcile the State with the citizens, so that both
can march in step towards the good and happiness of the national
community. I accept to obey the authorities, but in keeping my
eyes open, my head lucid, and my pen ready! I think this is the
only correct attitude of an intellectual who has self-respect, loves
his people and is concerned with their good, while wishing no
harm to the interests of the Party! Should you also think that this
attitude is correct, the merit belongs to the French, the
Mediterranean culture that has formed me that way.
- I just restrict myself to note that our two positions do not bear
each other out. In any case, I regret, but I cannot buy your library
which I do not underestimate its value. Actually, I do not dispose
of funds for such acquisitions. Furthermore, I do not see the
usefulness of this literature which is of millenniums or centuries old
and which ideology, dating from the time of slavery, western
* 157 *
feudalism and capitalism, is of no use for the formation of the
communist Vietnamese.
On my way home, I feel taken by the obtuse aspect of a
judgment born from political fanaticism which is tearing my heart
apart. I am blaming myself for forgetting the word of the Gospel
that advises not to give pearls to a pig, margaritas ante porcos. It
has taken a whole morning for my indignation to dissipate.
The cruel truth, which is making me cry out of rage, is not to
expect much from the intellectuals who have been admitted into
the Party. However, some of them, sometime, after a number of
years, unable to continue with lying to themselves or repress the
upsurges of their out of breath conscience, let their intellectuality
explode, and bang the door in their expression of contempt for the
Party and its rigors. They cut the bridges by taking the opportunity
during a mission abroad of not returning home and, in a world of
freedom, they are then able to give free reign to the violence of
their diatribes. Should they have remained in the country, they
would have been condemned for life in prison, from where they
would only come out horizontally with their feet first. But the large
majority of the intellectuals, misled into the ranks of the Party,
have abdicated their dignity and become flatterers whose zeal
provokes the smile and contempt of the masses.
The painful lesson that I have learned from my interlocutor is,
from now on, to refrain myself from talking about culture with a
communized intellectual. But, since it is necessary to get
something to eat in the coming months, I am compelled to find a
buyer, even at low prices, for my collection of records and my
library. It is fortunate that the music-lovers, even belonging to the
Party, profess enough taste and broadmindedness to appreciate
the music of the great masters of Europe. After a few contacts, I
am lucky to liquidate my phonograph and my classical records!
But the difficulties remain with regard to the foreign literatures. Of
course, Greek and Latin are no longer studied in Viet Nam, the
Bude collection has no success. And although French has been
overthrown by Russian and even by English which is beginning to
come back, there are teachers who still read French and are
buying a few volumes from me. The Odyssée of the translation by
V. Berard, and the Eneide of the translation by A. Bellessort have
* 158 *
found buyers but the French authors of the Middle Age, the 16th,
17th, 18th centuries, and even the 19th century, do not interest
anybody. As for the contemporary authors, I have sold a few
novels by Maurois and Mauriac, but the difficult authors like
Valery, Gide or Claudel are met by a cold clientele. Since hunger
cannot be ignored for long, I have to hang around the streets
everyday and meet the second-hand bookshops which sell or rent
to a few amateurs books by great authors.
I finally understand that I must not entertain illusions about the
fate of the unsold books from my library. I have to resign myself to
get rid of them by their weights in the hands of the merchants for
waste papers, who will resell them for the making of paper pulp.
The books are stacked on the pan of the Roberval balance and
weighed. The weight is recorded and I am paid the price for it. My
heart is beating wildly each time I put on the luggage-rack of my
bicycle the volumes that I have to sell them as junk. No, they are
not just paper, they are shreds of my flesh that I am tearing apart.
And when the buyer throws them in a corner of his shop, I look
elsewhere to refrain from shedding my tears! No father can look
at his child being thrown into the fire by the executioner! The
torture that I endure is renewed each time, and I have the
impression that arrows are piercing through my heart! Often, I ask
my wife and daughter to replace me so that I do not have to
subject myself to this grief! Once, back in my home, the emotion
which has taken me when looking at all these riches scattered in
the winds and, especially, in the vat for paper pulp, riches which I
have devoted so much patience and love to gather, and which
have fed my mind and enhanced my blood, or the weakness
caused by hunger and the lack of necessities which makes my
legs feel like jelly and tremble, or both of these things together
have vanquished my will and forces. About a hundred meters
from my house, I fall from my bicycle and cannot get up. I have to
sit at the side-walk and, with my eyes seeing things which spin
around me, I catch up my breath, during a dozen of minutes,
before being able to stand up and on foot drag my bicycle back
While I am hanging around in the streets trying to sell
something, my wife helps me in my efforts by proposing to the
ladies of the nomenclature the underwear and feminine
* 159 *
accessories, well kept in their luxury boxes and covers, and flasks
of Chanel, Patou perfumes, in their cardboard packaging wrapped
with gilded paper and ribbons of moiré. Unfortunately, she does
not obtain any success with clients who have just come out of their
native hamlets with many of them still wearing their teeth
lacquered in black. They open wide their eyes before these luxury
objects which they have never known and heard of before. Their
lords and masters married them at the time of the clandestine
struggle for a double reason: to comply with the political line which
advocated that the city or rural proletariat, oppressed and
exploited by feudalism and colonialism, with their unsophisticated
customs remaining in their native purity, without being
contaminated by the harmfulness of capitalism. Besides, these
rural women, whose faithfulness and perseverance were
substitutes for beauty, accepted to stay in their isolation for years
in the absence of their husbands who were occupied by the
revolutionary struggles and only returned home just for the time to
shake off the spies on their tails, and to be forgotten for a while
before starting again their combat for the triumph of the proletariat.
Now that the triumphing revolutionaries are installed in the
highest positions of power, they are bringing their better-halves to
Hanoi to make them taste the delights of communist luxury which
is in no way different from the capitalist luxury: the same villa
guarded by ferocious dogs and vigilant valets, the same gleaming
automobile, the same well-styled domesticity. The only difference
with the bourgeois aristocracy is that all this luxury is paid by the
State, which is valiantly bearing the expenses by eating away the
budget set for fundamental expenditures. Another difference is
that the noble espouses of the Greats do not hold any positions of
responsibility and never appear at the official ceremonies and
receptions. It is difficult to understand here the logic which
normally demands that there must be equality between the sexes,
at least in society. It is also possible that the leaders are aware
that their better-halves, unfamiliar with the splendors of life in high
society, unable to smile or talk properly, not knowing how to use a
fork, would bring them disgrace. They just let their espouses be in
the chair at home like sacred relics to be preserved in shrines with
purple and golden illuminations.
* 160 *
My wife comes back exhausted by her contacts with the ladies
of the communist high nobility. She has gone through great efforts
and patience to explain to them the refined pleasures that a
woman of high class can get from quality products, coming straight
from Paris, the capital of luxury and light. She has managed to
reach her aims and bring home enough to feed herself for some
But other communist high class ladies, as all true daughters of
Eve are attracted by luxury, are frightened. The money they
spend for these things is deducted secretly from the common
coffers which are always funded by the official contributions. If
these women are unscrupulously drawing from the State funds,
they make the impossible to avoid causing harm to the prestige of
their husbands and jeopardize their promotion. It is easy, since
they do not appear in public and dispense the ethereal pleasures
of fine lingerie and sensuous perfumes only in their conjugal
On my part, I have well tried to give private lessons of French.
There is no lack of students: they are aware that the knowledge of
a foreign language, besides Russian which is taught at the high
schools and faculties, constitutes a good asset in their search for
employment. Some are inclined for English. Those with
attachment for French come knocking at my door. The most
motivated are those who have the ambition to go and serve in
Algeria or Madagascar where they will be paid royally. Even when
the State is taking its cut of 70% to 90% of their earnings and
wages, to pay its debts, what is left for them can easily meet their
But, in order to go to these lands of plenty, one does not only
have to grease generously the palms of the civil servants of the
labor and foreign affairs departments, but must also pass the
examinations to check one’s knowledge of French at the
embassies of Algeria and Madagascar.
A new horizon opens up for my ambitions. But, at the first
course that I am holding at my home, a band of policemen appear
at my lodging. Their chief is a stocky guy, short-legged, with low
forehead, ferreting eyes, and fluttering nostrils like a bulldog
* 161 *
sniffing a succulent bone. The whole gang invades my livingroom,
and their chief, without waiting for my invitation, sprawls in
an armchair. At the surprise which appears on my face, he
answers by a question in pounding each word to emphasize the
sense of gravity:
- Do you know what has brought us to your home?
I have learned for many years now that I must not be surprised
by anything: the worst absurdities, the worst insanities, the worst
turpitudes can be unleashed in a world without faith or law, where
any values, how noble they may be, can be thrown to the heap of
scrap, except those of Communism and its ill-servants, which cult
is practiced and adoration imposed. I am shaking my head in a
negative sign. He is settling himself comfortably in the armchair,
crosses his short legs in a solemn way, rubs his hands and casts
on me his widely opened eyes which are rolling with anger:
- You pretend to be a fool. You know well that you are a rotten
intellectual, filled with reactionary ideology. You dare raise
your head and demand democracy! What more do you want
from that which already exists? Do you not see on the façade
of our buildings, on the stationary of our official documents the
motto of our State: Liberty – Independence – Happiness? For
whom this liberty, this happiness, if it is not for the people?
The Party has brought us the glory of a triumphing revolution,
an unbelievable victory over colonialism. If we do not believe
in the Party, in our president venerated a thousand and
thousand times, who else can we believe in?
- I thank you for your lesson which I know by heart. But are you
honoring me now by your visit to repeat it one more time?
He does not answer me immediately. By an opulent gesture of
a Roman prelate, he raises a little finger. One of his henchmen
rushes up, takes out from his bag a small thermos bottle filled with
tea, pores out the drink into a small cup and hands it to his master
a drinking straw of bamboo, of which no home in the countryside
can be lacking. I observe the scene. It is thus exactly the way, in
the old days, how the mandarin behaved when he was moving
around, everything is there: the escort accompanying him, the
* 162 *
thermos bottle of tea, the drinking straw, and especially the
gesture of the little finger of which the servants know the meaning.
Let us hope that in this ancient way resides a new revolutionary
The revolutionary mandarin takes a sip of tea and, right away,
his valet presents him with his pipe filled with tobacco. With a
lighter, the valet lights up a flame from a dried wood twig; his
master brings the pipe near to his mouth, inhales a puff and blows
out the smoke in blue curls. Then, with eyes spinning in
exhilaration, half closed, he puts his neck to rest against the back
of the armchair and, in a slow and solemn voice, he lets the
following sentence drop out from his fleshy lips:
- You have not learned anything. You have committed a fault
of exceptional gravity. But the Party, in its magnanimity, feels
pity for your rashness and good faith. It has not condemned
you to imprisonment, it has contented itself with taking away
the honors it has given you. To thank the Party for its
generosity and goodness, you should have shut yourself away
in solitude, to meditate on your heinous crimes. On the
contrary, you open a course of French, get into relations with
the youth that you can contaminate and lead it away from the
Party. It is for this reason that all private courses are
With majestic bearing and in senatorial steps, he leaves the
house, followed by his pack. The magnanimity of the Party has
denied a lifejacket to the shipwrecked person. Blessed is its
charity of not prolonging exceedingly further the life of a poor
creature who is dragging on his martyrdom, well deserved, in the
communist tide, useless to himself and even more so to those who
are governing him.
The negotiations about my furniture turn out to be long and
hard. The furniture is of importance: armchairs and living-room
sofas, display cabinets for curios and souvenirs, desk, library,
carpets of Hang Kenh, lacquer panels of Coromandel, all in
ancient fashion made of gu wood, large vases in China porcelain
with tripods, incense-burners in solid copper, flower pots in crystal,
masters’ paintings in gilded frames… Le Pho, the painter, has
* 163 *
drawn the models of the sideboards, armchairs and lounge table,
the other pieces of furniture reproduce ancient models, but the
entire furniture has been executed by master-craftsmen from Ngo
Tram. At the time of my splendors, all this cost a fortune but, in
the exercise of my career of attorney, I simply needed to open the
floodgates for money to flow in. Life is short and subject to
vicissitudes. If one can afford a suitable setting to one’s desires,
why should one do without the noble and pure enjoyment of
beauty and the esthetic? In the past, as long as the future did not
make my horizon become hazy with specific dangers, I was happy
to live without having to question myself about my tastes and
passions. But as soon as I know that sooner or later I have to bid
an eternal goodbye to the objects which have given me ineffable
and unforgettable delight, I have devoted my free time to enter into
a dialogue with each piece of furniture to remind myself of the
souvenirs which are linked to it and revealing the moral and
spiritual being that I am. I am trying to find myself again, to
recognize myself in the things to which I have hanged scraps,
shreds of myself and of my past.
Why did I not buy for my use the furniture of western design,
more comfortable, with purer lines, simpler tones, more
harmonious arrangement that would suit better my Cartesian
mind, agree with my love for logic and clarity? Why then such an
unexpected but excited and prolonged burning for the past, that of
the people and tradition?
I suddenly remember that in 1936, during my final return to the
country, I have engaged myself in the study of the Chinese
language, participated in the drawing up of Vietnamese grammar
by Tran Trong Kim and Bui Ky, and collaborated in the drafting of
the dictionary by Khai Tri Tien Duc. To what motivation did I obey
in maintaining myself in that attitude, I who have never ceased to
exalt the beneficial effects of the French culture which has formed
me. I can answer that question only by saying: “I come back to
the past and traditions of my people not at the price of a struggle
and persevering efforts, but by letting myself slip down a natural
slope, with facility and ease. People, even endowed with
extended scientific knowledge, who are opposing the French
culture that I have received at School and the Vietnamese culture
in which I have lived during my entire existence, prove that they do
* 164 *
not have a healthy and correct perception of what culture is. A
culture worthy of its name never distinguishes itself by its
exclusivity, never aspires to a monopoly, never confines itself
inside an enclosure of detention. On the contrary, culture is an
upper space swept by all the winds, accessible to all the good wills
without any discrimination of whatever kind, it is a source of clear
springs capable of quenching all the thirsts. Each people have
their own national culture, but all the cultures merge into The
Culture, the ultimate and unique aim of which is to form man in his
generality, his quintessence, his major and irreducible virtues, in
what he specifically possesses as human, and to raise him to the
highest level of his humanity. Since all the national cultures merge
into The Culture, as the rivers into the sea, how is it possible to
conceive oppositions, contradictions and antagonism between the
cultures and The Culture?
What type of divorce can separate animus from anima, what
discord can take place between the French culture which has
formed my mind and the Vietnamese culture which has shaped my
Having put my mind at rest, at peace with myself, I look
movingly at each piece of furniture. Each one of them is part of
my past and soul, and all of them represent a half of my being and
existence. Tomorrow, after tomorrow, they will leave me, one by
one, to unknown destinations, and then a day will come when the
strength of my memory is only able to give me a tarnished,
vanishing image, like these landscapes seen from the window of a
train carriage, thrusting at full speed, into the beginning of the
night. Never before have I appreciated more the piercing
melancholy of the verse: “To leave, it is to die a little…”
The first client who appears is a communist cadre in his green
kaki uniform with the straight-up collar and wearing sandals made
out of discarded tires salvaged from the trash cans, an outfit which
gives his political affiliation away. He does not have the look of a
needy but his eyes, lost in surprise, go from one piece of furniture
to another, wondering how an intellectual can order such furniture
and spend his days in it. I can read his thoughts which are jostling
in his head. He is surely saying to himself that I must be a
“reactionary” of high caliber to be able to live in such luxury:
* 165 *
indeed, he believes that, in all societies, as in Viet Nam, the
intellectuals are pushed back into the ranks of the povertystricken,
crushed by the contempt of the leaders, and if one of
them departs from this rule, he is nothing but a reactionary
dishonestly enriched. Watching his stares and gestures, I notice
that, if he is not going to be incorrect with me, he is not giving me
the respect that is required. Obviously, he is carrying out orders
from his masters. But for what purpose? It is him who asks the
first question: “Why are you selling your furniture?”
- As you must know, all the people of the intellectual circles in
Hanoi do it. I have committed, it seems, errors because of
which I have been excluded from the Bar Association and
from teaching. Without resources, in need of feeding myself
and my family, I am selling what I have owned for many years.
This furniture is the last possession that I still have.
- You have said: “it seems”. Therefore, you do not recognize to
be guilty and have a grudge against the Party. Should one
despair of seeing you return to the path of reason?
- My dear friend, I do not know if you are aware that any
judgment bears the weight of subjectivity from the person who
has formulated it. In the chock of subjectivities, who can claim
to be right? In a democracy which is worthy of its name, it is
the law by the greater number that decides. In other regimes,
it is the law of force that holds power. A judgment prompted
by force and relying on force does not have the conclusive
value of truth. It is invalidated by history, and this even in the
lifetime of those who have pronounced it, when, after time and
circumstances have passed by, these persons are brought out
of their obtuse dreams and beat their breasts. But you have
not come here for a discussion with me, and I am not either in
the mood to do it. So, please let me know the purpose of your
- I am mandated to come and see how you are doing, and find
out how much you are asking for your furniture.
- Really, the Party has its eyes on everything and does not let
anything escape its sight. But I think the police reports must
* 166 *
have provided it with sufficient information on my modest
person. No, I am not on the article of death, not yet anyway,
but may be for soon. Anyway, I thank the Party for the
generosity and magnanimity it has demonstrated by not
condemning me to the guillotine or execution stake. That may
as well be better for me. I thank the Party for the solicitude
with which it is seeking news from me. The furniture which I
am putting up for sale now is the only remaining possession I
have, and it is my last recourse for salvation. I hope to obtain
what is needed to ensure the subsistence of my family at least
for the next dozen years or so.
- A dozen years? But what price are you asking for?
- Before answering you, I would like to know if, actually, the
leaders wish to buy my furniture and to what use do they want
to make of it.
- Oh, I do not have a precise idea about the destination of your
furniture. But I think that our diplomatic relations are growing,
it is easy to find a place in a reception hall or lounge for your
I have found then the word for the enigma. In fact, the
purchase of the furniture is only a pretext to justify the unexpected
presence of a henchman at the home of a condemned, a dead
man with a deferment. I think that in the high sphere it is
considered that I am “irredeemable” and, as the common saying
goes, why raise a wasp in the sleeve of your jacket? There are
people who do not wish to kill me because they do not want to stir
up emotion in the intellectual and popular circles. But there are
people who hope for my death to spare the Party troubles which
may be caused by my pen or voice. Therefore, knowing what to
expect from the intentions of the Party about me, I easily find the
answer to be given to their proxy:
- I would like to ask you to thank, in my name, the authorities
that are delegating you to come and see me. I would
appreciate if you could inform them that I am grateful to them
until my death for what they have done for me. Holding my
fate in their hands, instead of condemning me to death for my
* 167 *
“crime,” for justice and humanity, they prefer to condemn me
to life! To a dying life, but to life still! If now, my furniture is
acceptable to them, they can take it, as they have taken my
heritage composed of three buildings which I have offered to
the people. If they do not wish to present the face of
grabbers, they can grant me the compensation they want. I
would have thus offered to the Party everything I possess, as
if I were a good communist!
I am not mistaken. I have never seen again that good-fornothing
person, or anyone else from that bunch. The only idea
that the Party comes to buy, at a low price the furniture of value
from a person it has condemned to live in hunger, appears to me
so funny that I could not, at the time, refrain myself from roaring
with laughter. One can blame the Party for its errors but not for
such cynicism, no, no!
Sometime afterwards, a distinguished person appears at my
home, in suit and tie, something which, at the time, indicates a
Vietnamese from overseas. Why? Because only a foreigner or a
Vietnamese diplomat just passing through Hanoi can elude the
communist uniform. But, when a Vietnamese diplomat has ended
his mission abroad and becomes again an employee of the
ministry of external relations, he has to be reconverted back to the
religion of the straight-up collar and sandals, so that only the
overseas Vietnamese wear the European suits.
My Vietnamese visitor introduces himself as a businessman
who has the intention to set up a luxury hotel in Hanoi for the
foreign tourists. Just looking at him, one already knows what
country he comes from and what social circle he belongs to.
Rather tall in height for a Vietnamese, he displays a light
complexion which belongs to people who reside in a temperate
zone where the sun shines on people without darkening their
skins, his face is hairless, dominated by a broad and high
forehead crowned by a flock of hair well combed and perfumed
with a discreet fragrance. Behind golden-rimmed spectacles, his
eyes are focused at his interlocutor as an effort to penetrate the
thoughts of the latter. He talks in a composed tone, pronouncing
his words and syllables distinctly to avoid making any slip of the
tongue which would reveal his secret intentions but also to give
* 168 *
more seriousness to his language and expressions. But his smile
is friendly, welcoming, aspires to sympathy and seems to make
possible a sincere and understanding dialogue. He introduces
- I left the country thirty years ago and have settled down in the
United States where I have set up an agency for imports and
maritime transportation with my small fleet of merchant
shipping. At home, I do not miss any Vietnamese or English
broadcast about Viet Nam. I am corresponding with all the
Vietnamese in France, Canada, England, Australia, Germany
and naturally in the United States. I am not a communist, but I
try to comprehend that ideology and never hesitate to support
its efforts, as long as they are motivated by a concern for
patriotism and not because of doctrine. We, the Vietnamese
living overseas, are not afraid of words: whether it is
communism or socialism, or any other kind of “ism,” as soon
as it concerns itself with the welfare of the people and the
search for ways to lessen their poverty and suffering, we bring
our contribution, particularly, for humanitarian aide, for
example, in cases of famine or floods. We are teaching our
children the mother tongue of our native country, we educate
them about its customs and traditions and we are happy to
see that the generation of our off-spring have shown that they
are worthy of the attention given to them and hold high the
honor of bearing the Vietnamese name and homeland.
- We are informed of all the things you have done for the
country and our people. Especially, for the population in areas
of periodic disasters who do not hesitate to declare that the
rice, which is saving them from famine, does not come out of
charity by the Government but by popular patriotism in the
country and even more so from overseas!
- We are happy about this. The tradition of dum boc, the mutual
aid coming from people of the same mother, is not recent but
has existed since the time of Au Co. We have only one regret
on this matter: it is, may we so say it, a misunderstanding
which exists between the Government and us. During
decades, it has called us by all kinds of names, it has heaped
on us the most despicable insults, considered us traitors to the
* 169 *
fatherland. We can admit that politics is obsessing reason.
But from there to be antagonistic to the considerable mass of
the overseas Vietnamese, so rich in men of talent, of science,
in technicians and managers in all the branches of the
economy, and particularly men possessing great financial
power which can bring useful assistance to the recovery of the
country, it is an insanity, an unforgivable folly. If the friends of
Viet Nam are deploring it, its enemies are congratulating
themselves, for Viet Nam is depriving itself of the cooperation
of its own children and, thus, accelerate the ruin of
- It is fitting here to remind oneself of the ancient saying
according to which Jupiter is blinding those he wants to doom.
But, now, the government is pampering the overseas
Vietnamese, exalting their patriotism!
- Many of us are bursting out laughing! Money does change the
face of things and the heart of people! One should be grateful
for the dollars which are making the miracle of
metamorphosis, bleaching the dark fiends of Satan and
turning them into angels of paradise! But I have to note a fact
which appears significant to me. Some of us have undertaken
a persevering struggle for the defense of human rights in Viet
Nam. The malediction that the communists have casted on
them only shows nothing but the ferocious hatred that the
communists have for human rights: they take the side of the
bad cause and that of the small number of dictators. They
stubbornly refuse to see the obvious truth embodied in the fact
that the defense of the human rights does not mean treason to
the fatherland and people. Those who are mixing up one for
the other are setting themselves as outcasts from humanity.
They are to be pitied rather than feared! The time for
punishment will come sooner or later!
But, what has provoked my astonishment is the infantilism with
which the communists are afflicted. With regard to all the
conquests over capitalism that one has appropriated, the market
economy, the law of supply and demand, the theory of prices, the
liberal economy baptized and called the economy of five
components, profitability etc… one just sticks on them the socialist
* 170 *
label and the trick is done: one can get on one’s high horse to
shout out the cock-and-doodle-doo of socialism. One has started
with democracy for quite sometime now, but, since one has been
speaking ill of capitalism, one has to adorn democracy with the
epithet “socialist”! And, now, the logomania is going full swing:
slogans are launched, with cries of renovation, but nothing has
changed: corruption and embezzlement are spreading more and
more their areas of infection, but no pontiff has been sent to the
courts, or been condemned by an infamous sentence, worse still,
escape to foreign countries can be arranged for high caliber
culprits, or eyes are closed for their emigration, out of fear that the
judiciary investigations, arraignment, or court hearing, would
compromise too much the big shots and provoke the very
understandable indignation of the people. Meanwhile, the suckers
of the people’s blood can put aside in safe places the funds they
have stolen and, after a token stay of pure form in a kind of prison
where they can lead a life of a rich sultan, be pardoned, recover
their freedom and enjoy in tranquility and honorability the products
of their crimes. The explanation for such an attitude is easy to find:
the communists do not consider the crimes of penal law committed
by their political comrades belonging to the Party should be
subjected to the rule of law and repressed with severity. In fact, if
the Party has to suffer from a decline in prestige and disgrace
which is taking away from it the trust of the people, it does not
qualify the guilty individuals of political enemies. Since my arrival
in Viet Nam, I have been given news by many of my friends which,
although revolting, are true. The enemies, who are charged by the
leaders’ hatred and condemned to mysterious deaths, are political
enemies who have deviated from the “line” of the Party and,
especially, are threatening to displace them from their positions of
command, at the supreme level, the present holders of such
functions. In fact, it is the sordid struggle for power which is
camouflaged under the red peplum of politics! But what is
astounding, unimaginable is that, inside as well as outside the
Party, there are people of high intellectual notoriety and with
unanimously respected virtues who are taking part in this game,
accept the justifications of the Party, raise their fists and march in
the ranks of the Party, yelling the ordered slogans. Here,
admiration must be given to the communist education which has
succeeded in convincing people, apparently with healthy minds,
not to believe what they see with their eyes and hear with their
* 171 *
ears but, on the contrary, to proclaim the credo of the Party, add
faith to all that the Party decides and decrees as the sole holder of
truth and prophet of the Marxist-Leninist Gospel. Such fanaticism,
which turns the multitude into robots, transforms human beings
into automates acting on outside command, is upsetting the minds
that think!
- I only see the remedy in the intellectual culture, which
develops rationality, maintains the spirit of critique, forms
judgment, preaches realism and objectivity, advocates clarity
and precision in the perception and comprehension of
phenomenon, logic in reasoning and the greatest skepticism
about all the Don Quixote who are riding their high horses and
throw out their bragging, who do not gain any conviction, and
only manifest naivety, ignorance, imbecility! It is the French
culture which I recognize everyday its advantages, which
helps me preserve, maintain, develop what is human in me, in
the midst of a world fraught with conformism and servility.
- The sense of critique and the skepticism are less developed in
the Anglo-Saxon countries where I live, but the realism and
pragmatism are holding us back on the slope of errors and
prejudices, and the conformism breaks itself on the rock of the
interest. So, what I see in Viet Nam is plunging me into
astonishment. During my pilgrimages in various regions of the
country and particularly in the North, I have not been able to
understand the resignation of the rural masses that are
swallowing their poverty and suffering without uttering any
protest, without searching for either the causes or remedies.
When I left the country, more than thirty years ago, the people
were active, dynamic, and the gibes that they sprayed the
leaders with demonstrated the good health of the heads and
common sense. The people’s dynamism fed its anger in the
face of poverty and injustice. Where did the fire burn out, that
which lifted up the masses in the August Revolution? Why
have the people become so lifeless, and immobile in apathy,
why do they accept to shed tears in a passive and may be
desperate resignation? Do they no longer have any trust in
the resources of their minds and the strength of their hands,
they who have written splendid pages of History?
* 172 *
I cannot find anything more appalling than the spectacle of sixty
million people going adrift, like human wrecks. They have been
deceived, fooled, betrayed, because it is incomprehensible that
people can only lament about their poverty while the natural
resources are plentiful and waiting to be exploited. My business
relations have taken me to Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea.
Thirty years ago, were the people of these countries able of
claiming to be superior to the Vietnamese people? Have they not
begun from poverty, known the same social, economic and moral
conditions, lived through the same kinds of antagonism? And, yet,
they are now benefiting from a better standard of living, enjoying a
minimum of comfort in their dwellings, more freedom in their lives,
with more smiling optimism on their faces. Why is it that such a
minimum of well-being, which gives to existence its value and
meaning, is denied to the Vietnamese people who have nothing to
yield to their neighbors on so many points? It is important for each
person in Viet Nam to ask the question and find the solution which,
nevertheless, must be at hand.
- I pay homage to the relevance of your observations and the
quality of your judgment. I can see well that you have been
inspired by a sincere and warm love for the people to whom
you belong. But I do not share your optimism when you feel
that the solution to our ills is at hand. In my opinion, the
essential problem is that of the education of the masses.
Education teaches values for which faith and respect must be
imposed. The man will become what the School wants him to
be. The Spartan education, which produces soldiers, subjects
its youth to the black grinder, and military exercise. But
education can function and give its best effects only if the
social practice is assisting its efforts. The values infused into
the youth have meaning and efficiency only if, in the whole
country, everywhere, people are exalting and honoring these
values. At the time of feudalism, people were taught and
imposed the respect of Chinese writing and the masters who
propagated it. An illiterate peasant, if he happened to see on
the ground a piece of paper with writings inscribed on it, he
would pick it up and throw it into the fire. The masters, in the
social hierarchy, were placed even higher than the fathers. If
it was that way, it was because the father was considered to
give life but the master formed man. To form man, that was
* 173 *
the supreme and sole purpose of education. So, man worthy
of the name must display the virtues that, only by themselves,
elevated and exalted the humanity of man. The School
instilled in it the principle, morality applied it in the family and
social sphere. The monarchical State, therefore, promoted
the scholars, particularly those who had succeeded to the
triennial competitive examinations to accede to the highest
positions at the Court. The names of the laureates were
engraved on the steles of stone, and every village took pride
for having given birth to mandarins, among whom there were
some who did most good for their fellow countrymen and were
raised to the rank of genies emeritus and honored in the
pagodas. The literatures, both oral and written, advocated a
model to be followed with the case of mandarins having
integrity and loyalty to their kings and people and castigated
without mercy the bad mandarins who had climbed up the
ladder of honors uniquely by their servility and lowness. In
such a society, immorality could not get in and find a place.
The popular masses did not have the need to demand
punishment of the prevaricators and embezzlers; immorality
did not cover the whole society, the entire country, with its
black tide!
The radical, fundamental difference which distinguishes the
society of yesterday and the one of today is that its purpose has
changed. Yesterday, man and virtue were honored. Today,
communism and its political internationalism are being praised to
the skies. When the political values have dislodged the intellectual
and moral values, it is a whole revolution, but the members of the
Party are unaware of it. They ceaselessly cry out: “Renovation”
but the slogans cannot replace action; the decadence of man and
morality follows or goes with the ruin of the economy, aggravates
the suffering and poverty of the people.
- I have immediately noticed this as soon as I disembarked from
the plane at Tan Son Nhut. The intellectuals are cycling the
pedicabs, while the politicians are riding in automobiles, the
intellectuals are washing motorcycles by the roadsides,
repairing bicycles or sell vegetables at the markets, while the
leaders are taking it easy in their sumptuous villas and
expanding their waistlines by honoring the banquets with their
* 174 *
presence. The intellectuals are pulling the devil by its tail,
while the politicians, not satisfied with emerging themselves in
luxury, they themselves and their families as well, gather gold
and foreign currencies which they confine in Swiss banks. In
the meantime, the coffers of the State [Services] do not have
cash liquidity, employees are laid-off, and the remaining ones,
who are maintained in their functions, are permitted to engage
in commerce, even on the ground floor of the administrative
buildings, and receive important commissions when they are
able to conclude profitable contracts for the Department
[Service] which is employing them. The door is open to State
black-market, tax frauds and theft of considerable sums of
money, thanks to the illegal surcharge for the commissions. In
no country, can such a situation be imagined: the State
indirectly favors delinquency!
- The crucial, capital, urgent problem is to reform man, the
engine of all activities in society, for education to give itself the
supreme objective: the man of culture and virtue. Of course,
the conception of man’s culture and virtue must adapt itself to
the progress of modernity: it cannot remain and stagnate at
the Confucian stage. It would be ridiculous at the age of the
atom, electronics and conquest of space that the culture of
man could neglect the knowledge of science. But the
scientific culture is teaching man only a wide and deep
perception of the physical world. If it equips man with a logical
method of thinking, on the double basis of induction and
deduction, it is of no assistance in the exploration of the moral
world, in the comprehension of the movements of the soul, in
the explaining of the sentiments of the heart, their genesis,
evolution and extinction. Here, literature reveals its
competence. The culture of the modern man edifies and
unfolds itself on both the scientific and literary planes.
Likewise, the virtue of the modern man merges itself with the
requirements of the new society. People no longer fight by
throwing deathblows to one another, combatants are no
longer required of bravery, sacrifice, valiant generosity, on the
battlefields, no one defies death anymore for one’s God or
beloved belle! No, the modern man situates himself by his
clear and just outlook, his foresight of what will happen
tomorrow, his precise judgment about his adversary and the
* 175 *
juncture of events, his endurance which enables him to bear
the temporary setbacks in order to reach a future success. He
acquires these virtues in the course of his experience from life,
through his struggles but also in literature. But his most
decisive virtues may well be integrity, honesty, justice, the
sense of dignity and honor, humanity and tolerance.
- I approve you entirely. But the man of culture and virtue
constitutes an ideal which is difficult and long to be achieved.
The major difficulty comes from the virulent resistance that the
State is opposing to the replacement of its ideal of man.
Although it is intelligent and open enough to understand that
its ideal of man in the international and communist proletariat
has already been condemned and destined to join the wax
museum Grevin for History of the Medieval Knight, it is
clinging, may be not so much because of a parent’s self-pride
but for the sake of selfish interests of the Party that wishes to
survive. To reach this goal, it launches the slogan of
renovation. But, in the entire country, wherever I go people
just talk about corruption of the civil servants, with almost all of
them being members of the Party. Only such dignitaries can
occupy the highest positions and carry out the high mission of
filling more easily their pockets. The people demand their
punishment, the Party proclaims the principle of it, but until
now only the little fries have been brought to justice and
whose isolated and individual delinquency does not
compromise the big shots. It is an error of not punishing or
deferring too long the punishment of the high caliber culprits.
The Party is discrediting itself by refraining from punishing
them as well as by doing it. It is discrediting itself even more
by stopping at half-measures, procrastinations, reshaping of
the economy, and it is provoking the astonishment of
everybody by sticking the “socialist” label on measures and
solutions which have always belonged to capitalism. If, really,
they are socialist, then why wait for the economic debacle to
put them in execution? If they are not invented by socialism, it
is dishonest to appropriate the property of others, especially
after having dragged capitalism into the gutter for so many
decades? In fact, the ambiguity can be explained: cornered
into defeat, but unable to admit it because of having to lose
face, it prefers to become the laughing stock of the public! It is
* 176 *
an error. Here, as anywhere else, frankness rules. There is
nothing to gain by cheating the people with loaded dices. Not
only one admits one’s helplessness, but one also sullies one’s
honor. Is it a shame to recognize an error if the lesson which
has been learned is bringing favorable conditions for a
victorious return game, the next time?
- May I ask what are your intentions?
- I come here to see again the country, but I have friends who
are waiting to know my opinion before investing in Viet Nam.
Well, what I have seen does not encourage me to undertake
anything. I must say to you, the Vietnamese market is
interesting, the natural resources are plentiful and unexploited,
labor is abundant, but communications and transports are
defective, the customs officers are fussy, the policemen are
bothersome. The legislation, in spite of the recent reforms, is
not yet satisfactory and, especially, the government which has
tried hard to put on itself some paint, under a crude makeup,
still shows the red color of its complexion. It persists in
defending its political monopoly, ignores democracy, does not
recognize human rights, despises and ill-treats the
intellectuals. A French journalist, who lauded the glory of the
Vietnamese people at the time of Dien Bien Phu has recently
returned to Viet Nam, has written: now, hypocrisy and lies
have been added to ignorance and incompetence.
Conclusion: it is necessary to wait.
- Wait! You wait and so do we. All, we wait for better days for
Viet Nam!
- The wait may be long, at least I can feel that. Here, I have
gone through the alternatives of hope and despair. I am in
hope when I think of the Vietnamese potentials in natural
wealth and men. But I am in despair when I witness the
dreadful poverties that the people have to endure still,
particularly in the countryside. Of course, there are now more
brick houses than before but, alas, not everybody can live in
ease, there are even regions in Central Viet Nam which
continue to suffer of shortages and often of famine. This is
intolerable! I hope when I hear the Party and the people shout
* 177 *
“renovation,” and all the more so when the Party is consulting
the people about the reforms to be done. But I despair to see
that only the orthodox opinions are acclaimed while the
heterodox ones are doomed to the hegemonies while waiting
for harsh sanctions to come. I hope when I see the Party
organizes its internal consultations, but I despair when I see
on television members of the Party, with a unanimity too
touching to be natural, proclaim their faith in the Party, as the
Party is asserting its faith in Marxism-Leninism. I am asking
myself if, between these two faiths, there is faith in the people
and improvement of their fate. And, particularly, I feel my
mind going off the rails when I hear the Party advocates a
market economy which can only make sense in liberalism. I
hope when I hear the leaders proclaim that democracy rules,
that human rights are respected, and I despair to learn that
thousands of intellectuals, for having praised democracy and
expressed freely their opinions, are meditating behind bars in
order to find out whether they or the leaders are right. I hope
when I see that the peoples of Eastern Europe have swept
away the communists and their leaders, but I despair when
Viet Nam seems to be the last bastion of communism and
closes its eyes and ears to what is happening in the world. I
hope when I read in the press the names of the Vietnamese
laureates who have triumphed at the international university
competitions. But I despair to see in Viet Nam the intellectuals
being relegated as outcasts from society and forced to engage
in the hardest manual works, the least honorable, to avoid
death by starvation, while the Party members installed in their
posts of direction take it easy in their magnificent automobiles
and send their children to “study” abroad and eventually return
home to replace them in their high functions. I only name the
few facts which have impressed me and I challenge anyone to
prove me the contrary. What must be done to remedy this
lamentable situation?
- The facts that you have enumerated are not invention on your
part. We, in the country, suffer from them but never make any
allusion to them because even the mere act of crying out that
Midas has donkey ears is charged of crime. There are only
the opportunists in thirst of honors and profits who can talk at
any street corner and say that Messalina is the most virtuous
* 178 *
woman in the world. The leaders profess, as the popular
saying goes, that one should not show one’s bare back for
people to see. Yet, I am not pushing to the extremism and
want to overthrow communists. A mind that thinks is horrified
by “novelties” which can provoke social disturbances of high
gravity, with possible damages to the interests of properties as
well as persons. I am doing the same thing that the old
woman did when she went to pray each day for the good
health of the tyrant of Syracuse because she was afraid that
his successor would be much more cruel than him.
Therefore, I put my trust in a regenerated Party. On the other
hand, it does not matter whose hand can bring about the
welfare and happiness of the people, which should be the
major concern of not only governments but also the entire
people. Personally, I am horrified by politics and even more
so by politicians all hidden behind their masks of hypocrisy
and lies, rotten by culpability and vanity. How could it be
otherwise since they are men, that is to say, beings with whom
the good has to struggle against the evil and seldom
triumphs? I put all of them in the same bag.
- Can you make an exception for those communists who were
receiving, yesterday still, praises sung by millions of people in
the world?
- The communists have killed half of my life, condemned my
entire family to endure the throes of hunger by depriving me of
my means of livelihood in teaching and law practice. But the
poor guys are simply suffering from infantilism and psittacism:
the have bullied the intellectuals with the Stalinist and Maoist
example. I forgive them: they know not what they are doing!
But what I cannot let them off with is for depriving me of the
happiness to form during decades many generations of
intellectuals as I did prior to their conquest of power, that is to
say, an entire youth endowed with a high level of knowledge in
the French language and literature, men equipped with French
wisdom and a culture of quality which would have enabled
them to govern their vessel through the reefs of existence. I
have not been able to transmit to them the flame which has
illuminated my mind and lighted my steps in the human
* 179 *
- How did this wisdom and culture inspire your attitude with
regard to politics and especially in the face of the
- I open Montaigne. It is my breviary, my resources for the last
sacrament. There are so many good lessons that the
communists can learn, if only they had some culture, from the
Essais. By way of the “sane examples of the Elders” and of
Montaigne, they could have learned that one should not lodge
anything in one’s head “by just authority and on credit,” that
anyone “following another does not follow anything.”
Translated into clear language, this means that one must not
kneel before anybody, neither Marx nor Lenin, neither Stalin
nor Mao. They must neither shut themselves up nor lock
themselves in a closed world, but open themselves to the
“commerce of men,” “rub and sharpen our minds against that
of another person,” enter into this vast world, “scrutinize where
we should look for to find out the good angle,” and “thus, with
the pieces borrowed from others,” one must transform them
and mix them up in order to “turn them into one’s own work,
namely, one’s judgment.” “The gain of our study is to become
better and wiser.” There, in brief, is what the communists
should have learned in order to form themselves before
governing others!
And now, in face of the communists, what attitude must one
adopt in order to preserve the integrity and authenticity of one’s
own being? Let us listen to our master: “me, I fold back my life
inside, I plant it, and I entertain it.” The order “belong to yourself”
can only be carried out at the “back-shop.” “This corner alone must
be shielded from the conjugal and filial and civil community.” From
that observatory where we are observing ourselves, we can “be
the spectators of other people’s lives,” to judge and adjust” our
own lives… “The only fear has been to rely on my own self and
necessity.” Since we are living through difficult times, and
witnessing “at that notable spectacle of our own death,” let us be
aware that “in that confusion where we have been in the past thirty
years, any man can see himself every hour on the verge of the
entire collapse of his fortune.” Therefore, the only dignified
attitude, - even if we were compelled to take a public position,
* 180 *
must be the one of “misunderstanding neither the laudable
qualities of our adversaries nor the reproachable ones of those
who have followed us.” In short, let us keep our vigilance and
clear perception, avoid partisanship and prejudices which affect
the position we hold in a social and particularly political
community. The utmost wisdom is to follow our author: ”I am not
engaging myself so deeply and so entirely: when my will gives me
to a party, it is not by a violent obligation which is infecting my
comprehension.” It is for avoiding to infect their comprehension
that quite a number of intellectuals have declined the offer to be
admitted into the Party.
- Well, I understand you perfectly. But, in the present situation,
what are your reflections? How to get out of the impasse in
which we are held, against our will?
- The extreme right wants to pursue communism to its most
hidden nooks. The extreme left wants to defend communism
come hell or high water, even if it means having to carry out
some reforms and make some concessions. I think that the
solution must have more nuances. What is the golden rule
which forbids us to forget and dominates the frenzied combat
between the adversaries in presence? If man is the point of
departure and that of arrival for any education and culture, the
people must be the point of departure and the point of arrival
for all politics. Let us be realists! Are we not making fun of
any ideology which is simply giving a pretext to the logomania.
What are the people demanding? Not much and yet a lot.
Not much because they wish for a reasonable material life: a
decent dwelling, decent food, clean clothes. In the intellectual
and artistic life, they only ask for the possibility to acquire
instruction and culture, to be entertained in a healthy manner.
In the political life, they dream of being consulted about the
major problems which concern their present and future
interests and to be able to express, in all sincerity, their
thoughts and reflections. In the social life, they demand
education and the practice of morality, the purity and
cleanness of the customs and standards of behavior on the
part of the individuals and, all the more so, of the rulers. They
consider that all the doctrinal quarrels and the like are purely
grammatical ones, as says Montaigne. They are not
* 181 *
concerned with knowing whether a measure taken is capitalist
or socialist. The essential thing is that it contributes to the
welfare of the population: the rest is simply rattling and
Currently, the communist party is governing the country. It has
known its grandeurs and servitudes. It cannot deny that the
people are not exercising any right to have a look into the secrets
of its functioning: it is a separate world, beyond the earthy world.
The political monopoly, which it is defending with significant furor,
has forged its cohesion and consolidated its bloc, but has pushed
the Party into committing unforgivable crimes which disastrous
gravity it has recognized. Now, it wants to become incrusted, it
has well organized the network of its forces and to dislodge it from
its positions would require bloodshed. It has proclaimed its
willingness to reform itself by fundamental and essential
renovations. Let us give it a delay of grace, a reprieve. If, thanks
to dynamic efforts, costly sacrifices, it is regenerating itself, has
decided to carry out in good faith and sincerity the principle that it
has up to now only professed: by the people, for the people, why
do we not give it the opportunity of the last chance? If we
proscribe it as a political party, we are playing the political game,
we are showing it the same fanaticism for which we are blaming it.
Our indulgence will make it think, and it will try to be more
deserving of the people’s trust by giving satisfaction to their rights
and interests, and to respect the will of the people.”
We do not have to bargain about the price of my furniture. It is
well beyond all my expectations since what is paid is the double of
the amount that I intended to ask my buyer.
From the most ancient times, man used to live in community.
All the needs, which require the possibility to be met, exceed the
* 182 *
forces and capabilities of a human being or family and are fulfilled
by way of aid, assistance, and cooperation from the community,
especially in the fields of defense, staple cultivations, habitat,
clothing, education. This multi-faceted activity provides for the
maintaining of the individual’s material life, is concerned with the
development of the being’s physical body, and protects the
integrity and continuity of the existence.
But, beyond the limits of the physical being and material
existence, spreads the boundless and infinite world of sentiments
and the heart. The community neither wants nor can interfere in
this. This backroom-shop constitutes a laboratory where the inner
decisions take place and dictate to the individual the actions which
have bearing on his or her personality and express his or her will.
There is interference between the two worlds, the exterior by
creating the conditions which compel the being to respond, and
the interior by the interplay of these reactions, making him or her
to intervene with the exterior world. The mechanism of this double
movement guarantees the balance of the individual, the
exchanges between the two worlds situate and maintain the being
in a complex network of actions and reactions which give him or
her the impression of life.
Yet, communism puts a check to the contacts and exchanges
between the two exterior and interior worlds, severs the relations
from each other, and the engine no longer functions with full
efficiency but does it only in slow-motion, and considerably
reduces the rotation of the wheels and chains. In the extreme
case when the individual is entirely excluded from the exterior
world, he or she loses the use of the senses and then of the head
which can no longer think, and of the soul which is sinking into a
growing numbness. The individual can become insane; anyway,
his or her ancestors do not have to wait long to meet him or her
again. In the jails, the prisoner who has committed an offense is
punished by isolation in an individual cell. It is thus the hardest
punishment which can be inflicted to a being. Above this, there is
only the death sentence.
In my personal case, there has not been any verdict of
punishment pronounced against me, no prison, no cell. But, in the
communist citadel, there are nameless forms of punishment,
* 183 *
informal ones, which are equivalent to a death sentence, in the
long run. Such is the case of excommunication that political
fanaticism has picked up from the medieval arsenal of criminology;
excommunication is the most decisive weapon of religious
fanaticism. It is forbidden for any faithful to provide residence,
food or clothing to an excommunicated who has been deprived of
shelter, subsistence and apparel, and is no longer able to lead his
or her life to a normal end. The excommunication that I am
subjected to only closes the doors of the University and the Court
of Justice. The ten executive Committees of the mass
organizations have never pronounced any exclusion against me
but simply stop inviting me to their meetings. This attitude of the
communists is meaningful: they are adepts of half-measures,
strokes of the knife in the back, poisons in the cup of tea and, it is
said, craftily simulated accidents. The crime bears no signature.
In the eyes of the law, one pleads the lack of evidence, but all the
more so, in society, one avoids scandals, upheavals in political
public opinion, one exonerates oneself from any responsibility and
retains one’s honorability in the civil and political society. The
Machiavellianism is conscious but camouflaged with art.
As far as I am concerned, I am not thrown in prison, or put in
handcuffs. I am not arraigned to face any political or criminal
court. I am not taken away from my home or family. But the entire
human and social community knows; in order to avoid troubles, all
contacts with me, whatever they may be, must be severed. My
house is sheltering a pestiferous person, it is not wise to come
near it. In the street, when people see me, even from far away,
they take a detour to avoid me and, if a person is thrust by
heroism or lack of consideration, knocks at my door, as soon as
coming out of my house, he or she is politely invited to go to the
police station, tortured by questions about his or her identity,
family, social class, but particularly concerning his or her relations
with the criminal that I have become. Much obliged, the person is
informed that he or she is put on the blacklist and from then on his
or her activities will be under watch. It is not necessary to have
good eyesight to see that all the crossroads leading to my house
are guarded by one or two acolytes who can change their
identities but not their function of argus or cerberes, which is to
arrest people who by ignorance and ill-fate come to ring at my
door. It is such a comedy, both funny and tragic, each time I have
* 184 *
to go out for an errand, I am ostentatiously tailed. The friends
who, by chance, notice me from afar, at once turn back and vanish
like shadows in the night. If for health reasons I happen to take a
small stroll in the neighboring streets, whenever I pass near the
policemen put on my tail, I never fail to give them a big salute with
my hat which displeases them greatly. They and I know well the
kind of game we have to play … They must be aware that I have
full knowledge of the orders they have received from their masters,
and that my cunning will never allow their vigilance to catch me
with my guard down. Of course, all my mail is open and most of
the time, does not reach me. All the particulars are inscribed in
my file with regard to persons who send me letters and, of course,
investigations have been carried out about them. All the big dogs
sent to bite me, cannot stick their fangs in me since they fail to find
my naked flesh! After long, very long years of watch, their masters
have come to admit their helplessness and must act in
At the start of the cycle of my misfortunes and in the course of
my adversities, it has been my great amazement to see a political
personality of high caliber coming to my home, comrade Ha Huy
Giap; I do not know whether it is at his own will or at the request of
someone that he pays me a visit. He has expressed concern for
my health and asked a few harmless questions about my
activities. I have heard previously about him in rather good terms,
but I did not have any opportunity of meeting him. Our
conversation does not reach the depths of intimacy, but I think I
can guess the friendly motives which have guided him. One must
be a member of the Central Committee, a significant personality of
the Party, to take a chance in making a visit to an
excommunicated. Whatever it is and whatever the nature of the
sentiments that have inspired him, his visit has produced the effect
of a sunray into the darkness of my solitude.
In spite of the radiant and shining visit by Ha Huy Giap, which
was just a flash of lightning in my night, I am suffering from the
cold of the isolation to which I am condemned. I have not been
separated from my family but the tears overflowing the eyes of my
wife and daughter, which they carefully conceal as not to
aggravate my sadness, I know, continue to drip down in my
absence. On my part, I avoid looking at them in the eyes so that I
* 185 *
do not have to detect the furrows marked on their cheeks by
wakefulness and hardship. Whenever a power puts into the
balance the weight of its authority, declares that in its own
perspective an unredeemable crime has been committed, the fear
it spreads in society is such that no one dares open his or her door
or heart to the “criminal”! The latter is, therefore, cast into forced
isolation which he or she has to endure its painful torments. No
roof accepts to shelter his or her sleep, no clothing can protect him
or her from the ice-cold harshness of the night and winter, no food
to warm up his or her belly and give strength for his or her feet to
move, no friendly ear to listen to his or her lamentations, and no
sympathetic voice to offer the charity of a wail.
They have looked at me and I at them, and we have not
recognized one another. Yes, the excommunicated is alone
everywhere, even in his own country!
Yet, it is an isolation in the midst of strangers, although they
are from your race, and how painful this may be, it is nothing
compared to the one from which you can feel the anguish within
your own family, the persons who are dearest to you, by the side
of the companion of your life and the flesh of your own flesh! This
isolation has a rare quality, sprung up from the very love which
has created the sacred ties between them and you. They suffer to
see you suffer. They have conceived in their minds that it is their
duty as well as by their affection to lessen your pains by hiding
their own. The motivation is in itself commendable, it is noble, and
deserves respect and honor but, unfortunately, the father or
mother, whose misfortunes they wish to lessen, partly or the least
possible, suffer twice more for not being able to share among the
three of them the same sighs and tastes of bitterness. The
distressing, dramatic game in which the three of us are playing
consists of making the other, the two other, believe that each of us
is vigorously bearing the assaults of adversity and is maintaining
his or her serenity and inner balance which expresses peace of
the soul. But what is killing us is the fact we know that we are
fooling ourselves by wanting to fool the other, or the two other. No
one is a dupe but, from both sides, one pretends to be comforted,
even knowing that more tears will come in the solitude of the night.
* 186 *
Therefore, I am in pain for knowing that my wife and daughter
suffer because of me, and are damaging their health by the
sleepless nights which are dragging on and on, repeating
themselves everyday. This thought tortures me day and night,
lacerates my heart, causes restlessness in bed, compels me to get
up and take a few steps in my room before being able to lie down
again! In our house, the three inhabitants do not close their eyes
and, with the help of hunger, walk unsteadily and, if they happen
to be overcome by an unexpected sleepiness, it is due to
exhaustion which has consumed their energies and strength. It is
a miracle that we survive from so many trials, a single of them can
easily take away our lives.
If each crisis can make me ache to death, each lull, depending
on its duration, can wear me out even more. The suffering tears
me apart, crushes me, rips me, pierces my heart with its sharp
needles, and pulls out shreds from my soul with its pointed teeth.
It is a real force, one of character and positive, if I may so say it,
which I can measure the intensity, dynamism, power, evolution
and revolutions, pauses and renewals. On the contrary, the new
feelings of anguish which are torturing me belong to a category
with a totally different nature and so far unknown to me. In
contrast to the pain which I qualify as positive and breaking my
spirit as well as ripping my heart, the suffering by which I feel the
negative effects dilutes the will, weakens my nerves, slackens the
springs of my energy, deforms entirely my physical and moral
being, turns me into a rag good to be thrown to a trash can. This
suffering, like a rising tide, spreads in me, floods me with languor
and inertia, and only leaves in me a fragment of consciousness by
which I perceive the weight of emptiness. Formerly, I led a boiling
existence, giving lectures at the University, pleading cases at the
Court of Justice, and composing my literary essays. I used to
have the feeling of overflowing with vitality, of burning with the
fever to act and express myself. Now, I doze off into languidness,
collapse into passivity, have the impression of drifting away on a
boundless sea without any horizon, and melting into the vastness
of a motionless fluid. Time, which seemed to me the most
precious treasure before, although unfolding too rapidly to my
liking and despair, is now an empty frame devoid of its content,
leaving a colorless space which conveys nothingness, injures the
eyesight and annihilates the spirit. I tighten my mind to fill this
* 187 *
absence of audio-visual sensations. I stare at each leaf on a tree
in the street, at each passer-by strolling along, at each car moving
on the road, I am like a blind man who has just regained the
eyesight, is examining the realities of the world and starry-eyed as
well as delighted by its novelty. But all my quests prove to be
fruitless and their conceit throws me into an intolerable despair.
All this time, which I try to spend in frivolities, continues to confuse
me, to harass me with its vacuity.
The idea of roaming about in town comes to my mind, of fixing
my attention on all the living beings, all the houses and all the
animated spectacles which make up so many sequences for a
documentary film on the life of the capital city. No tourist has
pushed his or her curiosity as far as I have. But all these
occupations, the uselessness of which I know better than anyone
else, do not allow me to fill my timeframe. All these soulless
things do not meet the unsatisfied desires of my thirsting soul in its
broken surges. I compare myself to the traveler crossing the
desert, bending under the weight of gold on his shoulders and
asking nothing else but to exchange that gold for a cup of water.
I drift to the Ba Dinh Club where, in my former spare-times, I
used to play tennis. Time for the end of the office hours has not
yet come and the courts are deserted. Sitting at a bench, it is
quite a surprise for me to see something rolling against my feet
which, at first, I believe it to be a ball of wool. It is a tiny young cat,
born just a few days ago and, according to the usual practice, its
mother must have made the firm decision to abandon it so that the
little kitten can discover the world by itself. I took the animal in my
hand, caressed it and was filled with compassion and tenderness
for it. The kitten and I are two wrecks in life, suffering from the
same hunger, victims of the same isolation, and afflicted by the
same fate. After making a tour of the neighboring houses and
failing to find out the owner of the kitten, I thank the chance, or
Providence?, which has given me a companion of misfortune and
distress, from which a silent conversation is going to fill my time
and offer me a sentimental communion that I have not dared to
ask from my wife or daughter so as not to bore further into their
sufferings. Between them and me, silence is more eloquent than
words and does not squeeze out more tears from their eyes. It
* 188 *
would also be the same between the kitten and me: the language
of the eyes would be enough for our sentimental exchanges.
Back at home, I share with the kitten my tasteless rice! At my
great satisfaction, it is happy with just that and gains weight
rapidly. While I go on with my meditation at the edge of my
window, it remains on my lap and, at night, it sets itself by my side.
Therefore, I am able to take my first steps and come out of the
endless tunnel of my isolation, and give myself a reason to live by
filling up the void of my existence. I cannot take myself for walks
in the streets because my watchdogs always follow me from a
distance. I cannot register myself for training sessions at the Ba
Dinh Club because the rackets, balls and canvas shoes are
insanely expensive and beyond my reach. But what is most heartbreaking
for me is to see my old companions of sports avoiding
me and running away from me! These flights are all the more like
strokes of the knife slashing my heart, and it is impossible for me
to play the role of the outcast or leper. I understand the attitude of
my comrades for tennis who all are high ranking public servants,
members of the Party, of course, and are much concerned before
anything else about their administrative and political future.
Consequently, they would be horrified to shake hands with a
plague-stricken person and have a tennis set with him! They are
just men, the poor souls, and it is not possible for me to expect
from them less indignity, cowardice and degradation.
My cat, growing up fast and well taken care of by my attention,
has reconciled me with life by reviving in me the taste for
intellectual activity which used to fill me in the past with pure states
of joy. How am I going to re-start the engine of my intellectuality? I
carry out a review of what I have done since 1932, date of the
presentation of my theses for the State Doctorate of Literature and
the Doctorate of Law. In the choice of my subjects for study, I
have given an equal share between East and West, between
France and Viet Nam. My main thesis in literature was on Musset,
my thesis in law was concerned with the individual in the ancient
annamite city (Code of the Le kings,) and with regard to my
complementary thesis in literature, it was aimed at making known
to the French public a French author who had written about Viet
Nam of the late 19th century: Jules Boissiere. It is the same
consideration for balance between the two worlds which has
* 189 *
inspired me about the four books published in French by the year
1940. The first one, Sourires et Larmes d’une Jeunesse [Smiles
and Tears of a Youth], presented the psychology and the
intellectual, social activity of Vietnamese youth trained in France
and to whom was given the construction of the East of tomorrow.
It was this construction of the East which inspired me two other
books, one devoted to French values: Pierres de France [Stones
of France] and the other to Mediterranean values (Spain, Italy,
Greece): Apprentisage de la Mediterranée [Apprenticeship of the
Mediterranean]. The fourth work was a theater play with the
setting for the conflict, on a sentimental plane, between the
Traveler, who personified the West in his needs for mobility and
change, and the young girl, who represented the feeling in her
faithfulness and steadfastness: Le Voyage et le Sentiment [The
Journey and the Sentiment].
From 1940 to 1945, disturbances of exceptional gravity took
place in the world and in Viet Nam: henceforth, France no longer
directed its activities on the Vietnamese territory where the
Communist revolution had triumphed since 1945, and governed
the people. From 1945 to 1956, together with my family, I had
gone underground with the anti-colonialist Resistance movement.
Back in Hanoi, I picked up again my teaching course of French
literature at the University and reopened my lawyer’s practice
there. Thanks to the Party, and having asked for nothing, I was
seated on ten executive Committees of the mass organizations.
From 1958 on, I was condemned to be relieved of all my functions
for having defended democracy; I have related these incidents at
the beginning of this volume.
Such have been my intellectual and literary activities since
1932 to this day. To what creations am I going to harness myself
to? This is of capital importance. The essential problem to which
I have directed my entire intellectual life is that of the meeting
between West and East, in opposition to the thesis of Rudyard
Kipling who denies such possibility. I give myself the task of
aiding the mutual comprehension of these two worlds, on the basis
of which their meeting can take place. Each world has its own
scale of values which sometimes clash with one another. The
meeting, on the basis of comprehension, goes along with a
reciprocal aid between the two worlds in order to complete and
* 190 *
shape themselves for the better good of humanity. It is in this
direction that I will engage my thinking to complete the work of my
But the East, and particularly Viet Nam, is running into a
number of difficulties in the search for solutions to some problems
which are both important and urgent. For example, there is the
problem of forming the new man. In Viet Nam, the educational
reforms have followed one another without producing any
satisfaction. It may be necessary to carry out a reshaping of the
political conceptions, but the Vietnamese communist Party looks
with a very bad eye at those who advocate such a way of
resolving the problem of education. Therefore, it would be
necessary to make the ruling authorities meditate on the French
pedagogic ideas which, over two centuries from Erasmus to
Rousseau, have succeeded in forming the man, and more
precisely the modern intellectual man, for without him the technoscientific
revolution cannot be achieved. My first research works
will address this point.
Another major problem of concern for the Vietnamese
intelligentsia is to find out how to solve the problem about the
relationship between politics and literature. Many Vietnamese
writers and artists cannot accept that politics rules over literary
creativity. The Party has declared that politics has the duty of
governing literature and the finality of literature is to serve politics
in its general line and special policies. All the men of letters, who
comply with this principle and commit their talents to it, receive
honors and privileges for themselves and their families. But the
remaining majority balks at following such an orientation. The
problem is, therefore, as important as that of educating men.
Consequently, it is necessary that I put forth my thoughts on this
matter. Without wanting to convert the recalcitrant to the thesis of
the Party, I feel it may be useful to show the literary men how the
problem was resolved in the Greek Antiquity and Latin Antiquity.
Ancient Greece offers us the model of Eschyle (Aiskhylos,) one
of the masters of Greek tragedy whose work enjoys the admiration
and respect of both the State and people. It does not matter
whether politics adapts itself to literature or vice-versa. The
essential in Eschyle’s work is that it gives out the fragrance of
* 191 *
politics and celebrates the glory of the people having triumphed
over foreign aggression. The Vietnamese reader finds in it the
echo of his or her people’s own glory.
Likewise, this is found in the work of Virgil (Vergilius.) The
policy of Augustus is to stimulate agricultural production; it belongs
to the poet to sing the beauties of the countryside and poetry of
agriculture. Augustus proposes further a policy of concord and
union to cement the foundations of the Empire after having given
birth to it. Viet Nam would find itself again in the dithyrambic
praise of agricultural life as well as in the policy of the fatherland’s
national Front.
Now, the masterpiece of Eschyle: the trilogy of Oresteia should
also interest Viet Nam since it evokes the passing from private
vengeance to the legal punishment of the State and, on the other
hand, the passing from the enslaving oligarchy to the enslaving
democracy. Democracy begins its ascension and receives the aid
of Peace, the Erynnies, goddesses of vengeance, having turned
themselves into the Eumenides, divinities of gentleness and
To free myself from the horrors of the void, the penetration of
which into my being immobilizes me in languor and gloom, both
my day and night cogitations have led me to elaborate a working
program which can last for twenty years, according to my
Therefore, within the framework of my meditations on the
meeting of the two worlds, in the pursuit of my intention of
supplying the construction site with the western building materials,
I insist on the contributions by the Greek and Latin Antiquity. Such
contributions can be immense, and I have to choose those which
concern directly the problems of current Vietnamese affairs and,
precisely, those which are facing the intellectuals and men of
letters. And as it has turned out, during the long years spent with
the underground movement, it was proposed to us to study
Marxism, and this was the opportunity or never for me to put into
practice whatever I had been able to draw from Marxism which
helped me comprehend better the evolution of societies and the
happening of historical events. So, as the Vietnamese public and
* 192 *
their rulers are the first ones to be interested by my research
works, I will write in Vietnamese and not in French.
My efforts have resulted in four books which are: 1. – Doctrines
pédagogiques de l’Europe, du XVIe au XVIIIe siecle (d’Erasme a
Rousseau) [Pedagogic doctrines of Europe, from XVIth to XVIIIth
Century (from Erasmus to Rousseau)]. 2. – Eschyle et la tragédie
grecque [Eschyle and the Greek tragedy]. 3. - The Vietnamese
translation of Oresteia by Eschyle with a study as introduction. 4.
– Virgil et l’épopée latine [Virgil and the Latin epic]. Each of these
books is of about 500 typewritten pages.
I have sent a copy of each of these books to the Commissions
of the Central Committee of the communist Party (the Commission
for Education and the Commission for Letters and Arts;) I have
received congratulations and obtained the Imprimatur
(authorization for publication.) Unfortunately, the State Publishing
Houses, to which I have trusted with my manuscripts, have
answered me by saying that they do not have the funding for the
printing. I yield. That is communism!
I have established a working plan for a rather long period of
time, without much concern about whether or not I will be able to
complete it before my death. Twenty years will bring me to the
75th year of my existence. Will I live that long to reach my goals?
Whatever! The essential thing for me is to break the embrace of
the void, to emerge from the depressing boredom in which I am
gluing myself, and to exhaust my time by plunging into the waters
of salvation resulting from a useful and delightful activity. My
Calvary has ended and I must surely display a better appearance
since my wife and daughter no longer shed tears when looking at
me. To their tenderness is added that of my cat which is growing
up in a visible manner, purring on my knees while I work, and
rubbing its head against my legs whenever I stand up. The poor
thing! It is lacking of all the stuff which fill the kind of luxury cats
that the Greats have in abundance: chunks of meat, laps of milk or
chicken soup. I murmur into my cat’s ear that it was born under a
bad star since it has landed in the house of an excommunicated
who is himself scrimping on his rice, under the pretext of keeping
the “waistline” as a young beauty would do in dreaming of new
conquests. I force my cat to take care of its looks, to maintain its
* 193 *
feline elegance, whenever it exhibits its hollow flanks on the mat
which is put on the floor and serving as table for our meals. The
poet is right when declaiming: “Oh work, the sacred law of the
word!” It is work which has saved me: in it, I feel like being in my
element, like a fish in water. I am born again in the joy of life, and
this joy will not leave me for one minute during the days that are
left for me to breathe the air of the sky and time!
The successive sales of our belongings have provided us with
some resources, the modicum of which equals the frugality of our
meals. The bowls of rice that the three of us swallow, for lunch as
well as dinner, now reach twelve bowls per day, and the share of
vegetables has also increased. It is a real feast for us when we
allow ourselves a banana on Sundays! Our isolation has
remained the same: no member of our larger family dares knock
at our door and no friend passes by our window. They all make a
detour to avoid having to use the street where we are dwelling. I
no longer get out of my house, or leave my working desk, so as to
spare my acquaintances a meeting with me that they fear more
than the fires of hell.
However, by ways unknown to me, my friends, from far and
near, do not forget me. Often, when getting up in the morning and
opening my front door, I find an envelope filled with banknotes
under the door leaf. We weep of emotions and despair for not
ever being able to express our gratitude to our benefactors whose
names we do not know! Often, with the fall of the night, between
dogs and wolves, it happens that I take short walks in the street.
My argus-tails follow me at a distance, but it is difficult for them to
recognize the faces of people who cycle by me quickly and slip
into my hand an envelope or a tiny package. Not seen, not
known! The whole operation takes place in the flash of light: the
policemen just see dust in their eyes!
All these acts of generosity from which I benefit make me
ponder. I notice the helplessness of the authorities to stop the
circulation of news. They have decreed my civil death and
forbidden all my communications with the outside. In the country,
the fear of punishment, whether direct or indirect, seizes the naïve
persons or the audacious ones who dare contact a plague-stricken
of my kind, and abolishes all feelings of goodwill. Therefore, as I
* 194 *
am cut off from both the outside world and inside the country, it
seems that my natural death would sooner or later have to follow
my civil death. But this hope is futile. The most secret news leak
out in society, they propagate themselves at an unimaginable
speed, thanks to the modern communication medias and the
curiosity of people who are burning to know what is scheming
behind the scene in the government offices.
I note a second helplessness on the part of the authorities:
perhaps, they do not wish my death which would dirty their hands,
and they must avoid with care not having to bear the responsibility
for it before the people; for sure, they would they would not
welcome my disappearance with a bad eye. They have tried
everything to eliminate a member of that confounded breed of
intellectuals: by denying them the means of subsistence. My
family and I are not starved to death by hunger: we have suffered
cruelly and lost many kilograms of our flesh, our faces bear the
stigmas of the hollow bellies and empty stomachs, but we hold on!
Returns from the successive sales of our belongings have helped
us drag on through the languishing days during many years but we
do not give to those who detest us the satisfaction of being told
about our passing away. And, when our resources run dry, the
generosity of our friends from the outside and inside the country
have thrown us the lifebuoys which enable us to keep our heads
above water instead of sinking down to the depths of nothingness.
Many friends from Viet Nam, and from France as well, have
thought that after forty years of silence I must have been crossed
out from the list of the living. But I have answered them: “I am not
a crazy weed that one can tramp on, or flatten to the ground, for
that grass will stand up again and smile at the light as soon as it
receives a drop from the dew, rain, or tear. Our source for
livelihood, which began to dry up, has been fed again by the fierce
torrent of generosity from our friends and acquaintances in the
country and in the world. They are nameless, shapeless and
without any concert among themselves, they have invented
ingenious ways of fooling all the world authorities in spite of all the
obtuse cruelty and sharp vigilance. These friends and
acquaintances have formed an informal but dynamic front, one of
compassion and charity, to extend a helping hand to the victims of
persecutions by blood-thirsty despots. Their surges are motivated
by pure altruism, and their unselfishness ignores all calculations of
* 195 *
egoism. The objective that they wish to reach has two prongs but
represents the double faces of the same problem: on one side, the
sense of the human and intellectual fraternity, on the other side,
the horror of tyranny and barbarism. The struggle in the defense of
the intellectual is the assault against the blind and inhuman
autocracy since the latter torments the former! An intellectual,
kept in the integrity of his person and the lucidity of his spirit, is an
armed soldier against the autocrat who manifests himself by the
repetition of his vain promises and impotence which calls on the
police force to retain his throne.
By the end of twenty years of efforts, I have completed the
working program to which I have subjected myself. Thanks to the
company of Montaigne, Rousseau, Eschyle, Virgil, I have come
out of my isolation and solitude, I have blossomed to the light of
creation and to the sun of an inner freedom. From 1958 to now,
during nearly forty years of my existence, I have lived through the
worse trials which could be given to an intellectual, to a person to
endure. Yet, those years have been the most magnificent ones I
have come to know. I have blossomed, I am joyful for having
triumphed from the adversities that people have set up to block the
path of my life, for having directed my activity in the sense of my
likings and preferences, and for having offered my humble
capabilities to the service of my people. My will has overcome the
malevolence and perversities of those who have vowed for my
undoing. But I forgive them by repeating a well-known saying:”
They know not what they are doing.” One forgets Cinna but
remembers Augustus and his clemency.
In 1989, at the age of eighty four, French and Vietnamese
friends invited me for a trip to France. It was after the 6th
Congress of the Vietnamese communist Party which, for the first
time, proclaimed the wavering liberalism, and that was the
opportunity for me to apply for a passport to go to France. I did
not expect approval to my request considering the heavy weight of
my political file. To my great stupefaction, with a delay of two
months, I was granted the passport and exit visa from Viet Nam.
Unfortunately, the French government took many long months
before delivering me an entry visa. Decidedly, it’s the world
upside down!
* 196 *
I disembark at Orly Airport one October afternoon. French and
Vietnamese friends give me moving reception. After sixty years, I
rediscover the homeland of my intelligence and, at the same time,
the fine and thoughtful hospitality of the golden hearts. My health,
shattered by forty years of material privations and mental distress,
collapses. For the first time in my life, at the age of eighty four, I
check in at a French hospital where I receive devoted care. Ten
days later, I resume contact with my friends and continue with my
activities. I was the object of a televised interview by Channel
TF1. I gave two conferences, one in Clermont, Herault province,
near Montpellier, where I went o look for some documentary
materials on J. Boissiere who was the subject of my
complementary thesis for the State Doctorate in Letters, and the
other at the Sorbonne of Paris VII [University]. I paid a visit to the
President [Batonnier] of the Paris Bar Association.
The major event, unexpected, unpredictable and unforeseen,
which has seized and overwhelmed me, has been the popular
uprisings in the countries of Eastern Europe. Each day, during
long hours, I try to follow the unfolding of this movement on
television and in the press, to understand what these popular
masses want to say when they are yelling their hatred for
communism and have dethroned the leaders and despots of all
kinds who, by their obtuse minds, meaningless personalities, lack
of capabilities for the governing of a country, have followed the
steps of Stalin and worn out their trousers to theirs knees for
having knelt down before Marx and Lenin! To think of it seriously,
those who observe and study communism, more in its practical
applications than in its doctrinal teaching, realize that it is difficult
for its leaders to maintain their positions in the administration of a
country and the governing of its people since these leaders
happen to violate brazenly with impunity the laws of economic
science and trample with rage the permanent needs, the deeprooted
beliefs of man. At such a rate, how long will they be able to
keep on standing with such a basic lack of balance? But no one
could have guessed that its breakdown would happen so rapidly.
Journalists have come to find out about my opinion concerning
events which may take place in Viet Nam. They ask me the
question: “In your opinion, when will the Vietnamese regime
collapse?” I answer them: “I do not resort to astrology and do not
* 197 *
read the cards. Patience, patience in the azure! Each atom of
silence is the chance for a ripe fruit!”
Having spent a life during eighty years in my country, I begin to
know the Vietnamese people. Since forty years of my existence
are under the communist hegemony, I have come to understand
those who practice its doctrine. Therefore, I feel that a revolution
through violence, in order to get rid of these leaders, would be
inopportune, ineffective and undesirable, because it would
generate unimaginable upheavals, irrepressible unrests, and civil
war that the people will have to shed tears of blood!
The rational and logical criterion requires that talent goes in
pair with virtue. Thus, if the intellectuals are overflowing with
talents, their virtues do not yet inspire trust. They sin by their
opportunism, selfishness, and conceit. The successful
industrialists and merchants possess fortune and experience in
the sector of business and the economy but they are suffering at
times of political short-sightedness and often lacking of moderation
and wisdom. Patriotism and righteousness are the most
respected virtues but talent must spring from the intellectual and
scientific culture. Which political party could include in its ranks
men who associate patriotism and righteousness with the
intellectual and scientific culture? Likewise with regard to
pluralism which sheds so much ink and saliva, and against which
the Vietnamese communist Party rants and raves with incoherent
tenacity, how would it be proclaimed and recognized, and is there
in sight any party, in the near future, capable of obtaining the
popular votes in order to assume the government of the country.
Another reason catches our attention. Whether or not one likes
communism, one must admit that the communist leaders have
suffered martyrdom because of their patriotism. The generations
of their off springs and successors in the Party cannot claim the
same prestige. Nevertheless, there are among them people of
integrity, if not of talent, who deserve a salute of the hat and find
themselves mingled with a multitude of others who may not be
devoid of talents or virtues but are essentially clinging to the Party
since they have to organize and safeguard their personal interests.
These communists are fiercely determined to sell dearly their lives
for the defense of the Party. Even more so in the popular masses,
* 198 *
there are hundreds of thousands of people – in the Army,
factories, and rural classes – who have benefited from the
ideological education during many years but, however, lack in
culture, judgment and critical mind; these people, therefore,
adhere to fanaticism, believe hard in the truths taught by the Party
and are prepared to offer their blood and, if necessary their lives,
for the defense of Ho Chi Minh’s Party against all the adversaries
and enemies who would like to overthrow and annihilate it! On the
one side, there is the Army and, on the other, millions of exalted
fanatical persons, they are the two fortresses which would
eliminate the liberators of Viet Nam. The latter better stop
entertaining illusions or playing Don Quixote!
The mysteries of democracy consist in its functioning, in the
analysis of the natural rights and liberties of man and,
consequently, they require a minimum of knowledge about public
law and international legislation. The conditions of democracy are
in relations with the economy of the country, the prosperity of
which, even at a reduced level, is necessary for its achievement,
for the enjoyment of the liberties and human rights. What
communism has done for the propaganda of the Marxist-Leninist
ideology, the same must be done for the propagation of
democracy. To put democracy into practice, there is the need to
learn the principles and organize the institutions which enable it to
function. In its essence, in its complete meaning and full effect,
democracy consists of two indissoluble and inter-related functions:
that of government by the people and that of government for the
people. It would be shameful to play on words and pretend that
the government for the people is enough. It is an imposture. If it
is not the people who act and exercise control, no one can do that
instead. Under the pretence that one is acting for the people, one
is perpetrating all kinds of infamies and taking measures which
undermine more or less seriously the interests of the people.
The people have the right to ask the Party a few questions: in
face of the high tide of democracy and liberalism, why do you
persist in denying reality and clinging desperately to a credo which
has become irremediably obsolete? Between your doctrine and
the interests of the people and fatherland, which side are you on?
The flowers which you have imported and put in the vase have
faded. Until when will you persist in worshipping a mummy that
* 199 *
cannot be resuscitated? And, even more so, do tell the people the
true reasons for your hatred for pluralism! The attitude of the
fanatics is shameful, with the majority of them having received
your education and instructions, with the rest of them being the
sheep of Panurge who, without any culture, have no
understanding at all about the realities of the world and are
impervious to its innovations and transformations. Were you
sincere with yourself, you should know that. Now, you are
compelled to admit your lamentable failures in society and politics
where the monopoly of power leads to a hypertrophy of power
which opens the way to the explosion of moral decay and penal
criminality among the possessors of authority and force.
Furthermore, you must admit that you have suffered a lamentable
Waterloo defeat. It is due to your ignorance and psittacism which
have led you to follow the example of the big brothers, and you
display contempt for science and reality, in short, for the scientific
laws. The result does not have to wait long to come: the debacle,
which precipitates the economy-at-will to go into ruin, with millions
of manual and intellectual workers being condemned to
unemployment and horrible destitution while the economy, which
is seeking a take-off can hardly lift itself above ground in
insignificant sectors of minor industrial, agricultural, or handicraft
production, is only capable of doing some hedgehops! Indeed,
with regard to society, politics, and the economy, the collapse is
total; is there anything left unharmed in this State the foundations
of which have given way and the decay no longer possible to be
concealed? The hollow sounds of proclamations and promises
offend people who are glued in an endless misfortune and asking
themselves why the Party does not apply to itself what it teaches
the delinquents: “Offense confessed is offense half forgiven?” How
will the Vietnamese communists resolve the antagonism between
the interests of their party and those of the fatherland and people?
The decision that you take on this conflict serves as basis for the
judgment that people and History will pass on you and your Party.
There is the opinion which recognizes that you have made
some first steps on the road of “renovation”. Therefore, you have
started to make confession of your errors. But you, as well as the
people themselves, can you be content with half-measures which
merely have some therapeutic effect in a few sectors where they
are decreed, while the illness is affecting the entire body of the
* 200 *
State and its structures? You please yourself with the pride of
having made sacrifices even at the expense of your lives,
sacrifices which you have paid homage to your Party. Would your
heroism now shun from the sacrifice of your Party on the altar of
the fatherland and people? Viet Nam and the history of Viet Nam
are awaiting for your answer.
Hanoi, May 13th, 1991
Professor and Mrs NGUYỄN MẠNH TƯỜNG
* 201 *
Table of Contents
First Part
Second Part
1. The Nhan Dan and the Giai Pham
2. A Vietnamese magistrate
3. The thunder announcing the storm
4. The first bullfight corrida at the Fatherland National front
5. The second bullfight corrida at the University
6. The two humanities
7. The two cultures
8. The third bullfight corrida at the Vietnamese Socialist
9. Attitude of the intellectual in the communist world
Third Part
1. The sword of Damocles
2. Preparations for the journey without return
3. The drama of hunger
4. The tragi-comedy of making deals
5. The drama of excommunication, isolation and solitude
Biographical notes
* 202 *
Biographical notes
NGUYEN MANH TUONG, Vietnamese writer and attorney-at-law,
former President (Batonnier) of the Hanoi Bar Association, was
born in 1909, at the age of 22, obtained in the same year a
Doctorate-in-Letters and a Doctorate-in-Law at the University of
Montpellier, France. From 1946, he joined the underground
resistance movement with the government of Ho Chi Minh. After
Dien Bien Phu, he returned to Hanoi in 1955 with a dozen
honorific titles from the government of the Resistance, the
representative of which he served at several international
conferences. The famous critique about the enormous errors
made by the communist authorities during the Agrarian Reform (it
was said to have caused hundreds of thousands of victims) which
he made at the meeting of the Fatherland Front in Hanoi on
October 30, 1956, earned him the disgrace. Since then, his life
was poverty and illnesses.
An Excommunicated [Un Excommunié in French] is one of his
autobiographical accounts covering the period between 1955 and
1991 in Hanoi. The manuscript reached Paris in the fall of 1991,
with his desire to see it published. He then had some hesitation
but finally made his decision in the following terms in a letter dated
March 16, 1992 from Hanoi:
“… I have wished for the delay of the publishing of my works
because the recent circumstances have put me on the alert.
But you have made me cross the Rubicon and I think you are
right: the risk is great but it must be taken. I am expecting the
worse and hope that it will not happen. But, if they push the
barbarism so far as to inflict on me the same treatment given
to other intellectuals who are accused of speaking ill of the
regime, I firmly await the trials of which I know well the
hardship. I am determined, should it come, to begin a hunger
strike to death. At the age of 84, I have known the best and
the worse of life, and do not have any regret to depart from
this life during which I have done my duty as an intellectual in
the eyes of the people and history!

No comments: