Hearts and Blinders

LBJ, Richard Nixon and General William C. Westmoreland are gone, but the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese continues. These days, as Little Saigon commemorates the April 30, 1975, fall of Saigon, the battle will be led by the Youth Movement for Vietnam, a group vowing to capture the loyalties of Vietnamese-American youth with no personal experience of that other war.

The Youth Movement emerged from the largest of the February rallies against Westminster shopkeeper Truong Van Tran. It comprises dozens of college-student associations but is led largely by older adults, like Do Diem, 36, a local representative for the sometime guerrilla group National United Front for the Liberation of Vietnam, and Suzie Dong Matsuda, an activist famous for her unsuccessful effort to get Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) to take someone from Little Saigon with her on her Easter trip to Vietnam.

The Little Saigon protesters say they want to forge an "information front" against critical media accounts of the mob outside Tran's video store in demonstrations that lasted for 53 days earlier this year. They target several reporters in the battle, including Los Angeles Times op-ed writer Le Ly Hayslip (whose biographies became Oliver Stone's Heaven and Earth), Times columnist Patt Morrison, the OC Weekly's Nick Schou and me. We four are named in a front-page manifesto in the March 12 edition of the Westminster-based Viet Bao Kinh Te (Vietnam Economic Daily News).

Youth Movement activists have already distributed a glossy 32-page pamphlet-with the crossed-out face of Socialist Vietnam's founder, Ho Chi Minh, hovering over tombstones on the cover-at schools, libraries and a recent festival sponsored by the group. The English-language pamphlet "Ho Chi Minh & Vietnamese Communists Crimes Exposed," falls short of sophisticated agitprop. Redbaiting is the booklet's most prominent feature, including a brief excerpt from Richard Nixon's 1985 book, No More Vietnams, in which Nixon argues that Ho collaborated with the French. The pamphlet also reprints a Los Angeles Times column by Nixon apologist and speechwriter Kenneth L. Khachigian that attacks the "extremist Left in America" and calls Ho and his comrades "Stalinist butchers," plus a compilation of readers' letters to The Orange County Register. Phu Van Nguyen, a self-described Boy Scout, writes an open letter to the LA Times complaining about Morrison.

There are two surprising contributions: one, an unsigned, nine-point article on "Human Rights Abuses in Vietnam," is a dispassionate analysis of how a one-party state cracks down on religion and freedom of speech. That sort of logic may successfully move youth to the action envisioned by organizers-taking the focus of the debate off Tran and Westminster City Councilman Tony Lam, whose Vien Dong restaurant in Garden Grove is still under siege by anti-commie protestors.

The second piece is by Andrew Lam (no relation to Tony), a longtime editor with Pacific News Service (PNS) and perhaps one of the best Vietnamese-American writers of his generation. Like almost everything he writes, Lam's "Archaic Icons Square off in Little Saigon-Uncle Ho vs. the South Vietnamese Flag," which was first distributed by PNS, is reflective, not hyperbolic. Lam admits to "mixed feelings" about Tran but also says the Little Saigon demonstrators can only see the world through a "myopic ideological lens" with "no room for discussion." Of the anti-commies, he observes, "The oppressed have become the oppressors-yielding the high moral ground to Truong." Even in Vietnam, Lam notes, Ho's ubiquitous portraits are fading, often replaced with such representations of American pop culture as a Kiss or an AC/DC rock poster. He concludes with the image of Ho's portrait in a Hanoi home, "fading with age, waiting to crumble into dust." History has passed the protesters here in Orange County; the Vietnamese over there have made their peace with the war.

That subtlety is exceptional in a pamphlet that otherwise blames Ho for all the horrors of war and beyond-there's no mention of My Lai, the secret prisons of Saigon, or South Vietnam's U.S.-backed regime. The first victim in this war of propaganda is not so much truth as perspective.


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