1971 Winter Soldier Hearings: "What are we Doing to Vietnam?"
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Iraq Veterans Against the War is holding a new round of "Winter Soldier" hearings in Washington, DC, March 13-16. Selections from the original hearings, held in Detroit in 1971, are published here for interested readers.
MODERATOR. I'm Wilbur Forrester, former 1st Lt. in the United States Marine Corps. During my 13 months in Vietnam, I spent five months as a Civil Affairs Officer on the regimental level. The topic of our panel tonight will be "What We Are Doing to Vietnam." Certainly testimony that we've had previously in this Winter Soldier InveStigation has shown very well the effects to the ecology, the land, and the atrocities performed on the people, physically. We will not go into that type of testimony on this panel: we will focus our attention primarily on the cultural aspects. I'd like at this time for the panel to introduce themselves and give you a brief background.
SPELLMAN. My name is J.W. Spellman, and I'm a teacher.
JIM CLARK. My name is Jim Clark. I was in Vietnam from 1966 through 1969. I was there originally with the Agency for International Development. I resigned from that organization 1968 and took a position with Catholic Relief Services. I coordinated a project dealing with social welfare and the training of social workers in Vietnam under that. With AID I was a refugee officer for a year on the central coast and I spent a little over a year in Saigon as a special assistant for voluntary agencies. The remarks I will make will be primarily related to refugees and the problems associated with the generation of large numbers of refugees in Vietnam.
MARY EMENY. My name is Mary Emeny. I was in Vietnam in 1967-68 with the American Friends Service Committee. Home was a Buddhist orphanage in Da Nang and after the Tet offensive, or the Tet whatever-you-call-it in 1968, I spent a large amount of time in Hue, some in Quang Tri and Cam Lo in refugee camps and mostly working with refugees and Buddhists in Central Vietnam.
JAY CRAVEN. I'm Jay Craven. I'm a student at Boston University and I was recently on a student delegation to Vietnam. I was in North Vietnam between December 4th and December 20th just this past year.
MODERATOR. Okay, we'll open the panel with Dr. Spellman.
SPELLMAN. I should begin by saying that I make no claim to any special expertise in the field of Vietnamese studies. I may have some knowledge of Asian societies in a more general context and it is in this regard that I speak. The United States presence in Vietnam is only one aspect of American involvement in Southeast Asia which is related, in my judgment, to its cultural imperialism throughout most of the traditional societies of the world. At no time in previous human history has the cultural integrity of so many millions of people of the world been threatened as it is today by the United States. This issue this evening touches not merely questions of national self-determination or the right to decide one's own self interest, it involves, if I may say so, matters of the gravest importance regarding the quality and the quantity of the life of this species. We are not very old as far as a species goes.
By our own proclamation, we are the most intelligent, the most powerful, the most creative, and the best of all life that this planet has seen. Indeed, the Book of Genesis tells us that after creating this world, with its apex as man, God gave man dominion over it. Now, we have been around for approximately two million years and our future is reasonably uncertain. Even the dinosaurs, whom we classify as rather dumb creatures, managed to survive for about 12 million years. There are many who question the likelihood of this species surviving for that long a period. The experiments of Darwin on the Galapagos Islands and the work of other scholars have shown that adaptation to environment is crucial to survival.
As I understand these lessons, they mean that each society has its own integrity, physical and cultural. As a consequence of its adaptation, according to its past experiences, its judgment and self-interest, values which may be desirable for one society, cause the gravest physical and mental harm when imposed on another. And it is in this light that I wish to view what we are doing to Vietnam. The bulk of Western values are based on the historical experiences of the Judaic-Christian and Greco-Roman cultures. Of prime importance in that value system has been the role assigned to the importance of belief, and this concept of belief occupies a cardinal role, particularly in Christianity.
Unless, we are told, you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you shall not have eternal life. And in this sense I wish to contrast that statement with the statement of the Lord Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text: "Whatsoever divine form any devotee with faith seek to worship, that same is divine." But the beliefs of Christianity were understood as exclusive and excluding beliefs. And it was part of our heritage, and it is part of our heritage to this day, that what is good for us ought to be universal and it ought to be good for everyone.
Earlier in our history we found that those who held a different perspective than we did on religion, and we made our ultimatum very clear, after we had poured scorn and ridicule on these people, calling them heathens and pagans and superstitious polytheists, we then killed them in the name of our religion. And the Crusades and witchcraft and the religious persecutions followed. Later (and this continues today), we felt that we had the righteous responsibility to condemn those who believed in political systems (rather than religious systems) that were different from our own. Thus it became quite legitimate to kill Communists and others simply because they were Communists, and because they believed in a different form of government from ours. There are still those today who believe with all the fervor that righteousness often summons, that we ought to continue on this path of killing those who disagree with us. I believe that we are now on the threshold of a new killing crusade.
Having killed for religious beliefs and then political beliefs, I believe we are now on the threshold of killing for economic beliefs. It takes no prophet to predict that there will be destruction and riots and killings in the name of economic creeds in the future. And that these will seem just as valid as religion and politics have seemed to our predecessors historically. Such values as these are alien to Asian society. Neither Hinduism nor Buddhism, Confucianism nor Taoism have ever engaged in religious crusades because of their beliefs. Indeed, both Hinduism and Buddhism advocate non-injury as among the highest of values.
Truth, Hinduism states, is like a great diamond with many facets, and no person, no government, no institution can see all of the facets of the great diamond of truth. There are not merely two sides, but inherently truth is multi- dimensional. In that area known as Indochina, the great civilizations of India and China and the values of those societies have been merged with the beliefs of life that were held by the peoples of Southeast Asia. How Vietnam is culturally related to the civilization of China. The impact of Confucianism and Taoism is still strong in Vietnamese values, and the Buddhism which arose from India won the hearts of much of Asia as it was adopted to the various cultures of the area.
The Confucian orthodoxy assumed that there was nothing evil or inherently evil in human nature, including, it held, the barbarian nature. But if the barbarian could be reformed by education, then tolerance and kindness were the basis, it held, of a sound foreign policy. Prince Kung enjoined his fellow countrymen to hate the evil that a barbarian might do, but not the barbarian himself; to be kind to men from afar in accordance with the classics, to the end that myriad nations might be tranquilized, that China might flourish, and that not government, but virtue, might prevail throughout the world. Mencius, the great Chinese philosopher, said that all men might have a sense of commiseration. When a commiserating government is conducted from a commiserating heart, then one can rule a whole empire as if one were turning it on one's palm. I say all men have a sense of commiseration; here is a man who suddenly notices a child about to fall into a well. Invariably he will feel a sense of alarm and compassion, and this is not for the purpose of gaining the favor of the child's parents or seeking the approbation of his neighbors and friends, or from fear of blame should he fall to rescue it.
Thus we see that no man is without a sense of right and wrong. And Mencius went on: "The sense of compassion is the beginning of humanity. The sense of shame is the beginning of righteousness. The sense of courtesy is the beginning of decorum, and the sense of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. Let every man but attend to expanding and developing these four beginnings that are in our very being, and they will issue forth like a conflagration being kindled and a spring being opened out." To those who will listen, the greatness of the civilization of China speaks far more eloquently than I, or I think anyone else ever could about it.
European travelers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were lavish in their praise. Duhald, whose famous description of China may well be regarded as the synthesis of seventeenth and early eighteenth century works on China, said of Chinese commerce, "The riches peculiar to each province and the facility of conveying merchandise by means of rivers and canals, have rendered the domestic trade of the Empire always very flourishing. The inland trade of China is so great that the commerce of all Europe is not to be compared therewith; the provinces being like so many kingdoms which communicate to each other their respective production. This tends to unite the several inhabitants among themselves and make plenty reign in all the cities."
But I think more to the point was a very classic reply given by the Emperor of China to King George III, when the King asked the Emperor for trade and enclaves in China. (And perhaps some may regret that Western imperialism and colonialism were too strong for this well-mannered society.) The Emperor replied to the King as follows:
Yesterday your ambassador petitioned my ministers to memorialize me regarding your trade with China. But his proposal is not consistent with our dynastic usage and cannot be entertained. Hitherto, all European nations, including your own country's barbarian merchants, have carried on their trade with our celestial Empire at Canton. Such has been the procedure for many years. Our celestial Empire possessed all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its borders. There was, therefore, no need to import the manufacture of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce. But as the tea, silk, and porcelain, which the celestial Empire produces, are absolute necessities to European nations and yourselves, we have permitted, as a single mark of favor, that foreign hongs or business associations should be established at Canton so that your wants might be supplied and your country thus participate in our beneficence. But your ambassador has now put forward new requests which completely fail to recognize the throne's principles to treat strangers from afar with indulgence, and to exercise a pacifying control over barbarian tribes the world over. Your England is not the only nation trading at Canton. If other nations, following your bad example, wrongfully importune nay ear with further impossible requests, how will it be possible for me to treat them with easy indulgence? Nevertheless, I do not forget the lonely remoteness of your island cut off from the world by intervening wastes of sea. Nor do I overlook your excusable ignorance of the usages of our celestial Empire. I have consequently commanded by ministers to enlighten your ambassadors on this subject, and have ordered the departure of this mission.
It is regrettable that subsequent leaders of the societies of Asia were not able to speak as forthrightly or have the ability, as the Emperor did in this reply. When we impose our values on traditional societies it is well that we ask what they get for these losses. Thich Nhat Hanh had described some of the cultural impacts as a direct consequence of this war. "Sporadically," he writes, "during the course of the war, there have been expressions of interest in the idea of strategic hamlets."
These were intended to draw people together in an area of some protection, and to make available to them such social services as would improve their lives and introduce the concept of cooperative efforts. On paper they look good. In practice, like every other promise of social improvement in the history of the South Vietnamese government, they turned out to be another device related to the military effort of that government. People were herded into villages against their wills, and the total concept of the village became a military concept. Peasants were forced to leave villages that had been the homes of the families for generations, and in leaving them, to leave behind not only the graves of their ancestors, but many relics and mementoes, including family altars which perished in the same flames which consumed the village. Thus, they went to the new strategic hamlets in a frame of mind to create a new society.
The hamlets were created to keep out the Viet Cong so that the villagers could live in them and not be intoxicated by the Viet Cong. But the fact is that the Viet Cong themselves lived in many of the villages among their fellow Vietnamese. Since the war has become the national preoccupation of Vietnam, the numerous professions serving the war have become numerous and profitable. Literally hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese work at various services for the Americans at their bases, on airfields, in their headquarter buildings, and in many other ways. Landlords are constantly seeking to evict their Vietnamese tenants so they may rent their premises to Americans at prices that are ten or twenty times as high as the Vietnamese are paying. It is almost impossible for Vietnamese to find housing since there are almost no Vietnamese who can afford such prices.
Taxi and pedicab drivers avoid Vietnamese customers for the far more profitable Americans. They do not charge according to the taxi-meter any longer. Americans, accustomed to the costs in their own country, pay ten times as much as the normal rate for such a ride, and in so doing, of course, increase the pressure on the normal Vietnamese person. Profit. In addition, taxi drivers frequently operate a profitable sideline in taking foreigners, especially American soldiers, to girls of "friendly disposition," who will compensate the driver in addition to what he receives from his passenger. Bars, dance halls, and rest halls catering to foreigners, thrive. The number of prostitutes increases daily and at a frightening rate. For many it is the only way in which they can support themselves and their family.
The tradesmen and businessmen working with Americans earn large sums of money, while the majority of their fellow countrymen are going through a major economic crisis. Inflation that occurs from the hoarding of scarce goods for profit, the pouring in of American dollars, and the spending of great sums on non-productive war enterprises--all this means that the Vietnamese, without access to these American funds, are in an increasingly desperate plight. Another large group in the cities are the peasants who fled from their ancestral homes, leaving their possessions and their farms behind. They fled not only from the actual dangers of the war, but from the frustration of a situation in which crops may be grown only to be destroyed by one side or the other as a measure of war to keep the other side from getting them.
Planes of the United States and South Vietnamese Air Forces drop napalm bombs on these crops so that they may be burned rather than fall into the hands of the Viet Cong. In such circumstances, priests and nuns cannot go on preaching morality. The war has destroyed not only human lives, but human values as well. It undermines all government structures and systems of societies, destroys the very foundations of democracy, freedom, and all human systems of values. Its shame is not just the shame of the Vietnamese, but of the whole world. The whole family of mankind will share the guilt if they do not stop this war. It is not possible in this land of thirty million people, 90 percent of whom are engaged in agriculture, to ignore the terrible destruction that has been brought to the land and families.
Now, when one considers that 80 percent of the people live on approximately 20 percent of the land (which was so fertile that Vietnam was known as the "Rice Bowl" of Asia), then that tragedy is heightened. When one considers the great skills of artisans that were handed from father to son as guarded secrets, that now lie somewhere hidden amongst the body count figures, then the loss to the world of art is, I suggest, also not insignificant. When one considers the waters which provided over three hundred kinds of fish along the nine- hundred-mile coastline of Vietnam, which fed much of the population, and the bombs and the chemicals now destroying that form of life, no cease-fire or truce or withdrawal will end the effects of those ravages, which will be felt for generations. But it will not be the Vietnamese alone who will bear this burden or who will suffer this evil, although undoubtedly their burden will be the greatest.
The Buddha has said, and I believe correctly, "Think not lightly of evil, spying it will not come to me. Even a waterpod is filled by the falling of drops; likewise the fool gathering little by little fills himself with evil. Whosoever offends an innocent person, pure and guiltless his evil comes back on himself like fine dust thrown against the wind, and as rust sprung from iron eats itself away when arisen. Even so the deeds and his own deeds leads the transgressor to the states of woe." The fifteen hundred species of wooded plants, of the tropical forest of Vietnam, that provide cover for numberless wild animals, that have been bombed, may appear only a casual consequence of this war. But the ecological toll to Vietnam will be counted there too.
It is difficult for us to understand how great is the feeling for family in Vietnam. Stemming from the principles of Confucianism, the family and not the individual, not the government, was the basic core of society. Through it, honor and loyalty and nobility were expressed. And it was this which was the thread which gave much of the expression of the joy and the warmth and the love for which men live. For it is difficult to understand why it was necessary not only to violate the integrity of the heart of Vietnam in this way, but also to act in such a way that even death was not enough. The decapitations and the body slayings and the other mutilations--which religiously affected the passage of the soul to the next life--even that has not been spared in this war. And when one goes through all of these things and much more in terms of what we are doing to Vietnam, the list becomes enormous--and enormous is a very small word, it seems to me, to describe these things. One asks what are the values that are being imposed on this society; values which we espouse such as efficiency and productivity and urbanization and equality and democracy--values which may indeed be unviable even in our own society.
There is no compelling evidence, certainly no compelling historical evidence, that suggests that democracy necessarily provides a greater degree of justice or happiness than, say, kinship or other forms of government. The evidence with respect to the supporting of the concepts of equality, political equality, has very little philosophic basis to support it, in my judgment. The assumption that illiteracy equals poverty seems to me at best a false assumption. There is a vast degree of difference between our system of education, which is essentially aimed at information for the sake of economic productivity, and that system of education which has been at the heart of Asian education, which is based not on information but on knowledge or on wisdom or enlightenment.
And there is a very considerable difference between wisdom and information, between knowledge and technical ability for productive purposes. And the emphasis on wisdom and knowledge is, I am sorry to say, very little to be found in our own academic system. Now there are some who argue that at least we have been beneficent in terms of what we have done medically--in terms of what we have done in the area of health. Here, too, I think the evidence is not very compelling, particularly if one looks at our own society. There are something like six out of ten adolescents who are supposed to be in need of mental treatment, where there are few people who are not popping one pill or another into themselves, where the competency of physicians in the area of drugs is one of the lowest in the world, where we are, in fact, involved in a gigantic medical vested-interest situation, which under the AMA, the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the physicians, the government, all underwrite a system of chemical medicine that is related to the chemical productivity of the society.
One wonders how the species could have lived for the nearly two million years that it has--before the introduction of chemical medicine. But the great systems of acupuncture, Chinese medicine, the indigenous systems of medicine--of plant and herb medicine, that have been developed in the countries of Asia; all of these are ridiculed as being primitive superstitions, while more and more chemicals in the forms of medicines are imposed not only on a supine and glib American population, but which we now tout to the rest of the world as being their only salvation for the betterment of their health. It would be a nice idea if perhaps we could have adopted the ancient Chinese system where one paid one's physician only so long as one was well. When one was sick, one didn't pay. Under such a situation, it seems to me, we might be disposed to make a very dramatic reappraisal of that system of medicine which we tout to the rest of the world as being absolutely necessary for their lives.
I hold the same view with respect to the concept of Western law, which seems to me one of the most iniquitous systems of law in the world, and I will explain why. I recently reviewed a book by a scholar from the Sorbonne who was complaining that in India there were great problems in getting Western law introduced at the village level. He was pointing out, which is correct, that the traditional law is free, it is flexible, and it is merciful, as opposed to our own system of law, which is _____ expensive, very rigid, and very harsh. He was wondering why the villagers were so adamant to this progressive system of law that we have in the West, which, once again, we think all the world ought to adopt.
This system of law, of which I speak, involves again, as it does in the field of medicine, an extraordinary vested- interest group which handles the whole business. That is to say, the lawyers are the legislators, the lawyers write the laws, the lawyers are the judges and the lawyers are the prosecutors. The lawyers in fact have the entire system sewed up to such a degree that the law, in its relationship to the people, is a vast gap. A gap which does not exist in the traditional societies of Asia. Any mother, I'm sure, will tell you that if you want to treat people justly, you do not treat them equally. And I suggest to you that the greater the degree of equality you have in a society, the lesser the likelihood of justice in society. I go further than this. If you examine some of the traditional lawbooks of these societies you don't find very many laws. And I am almost disposed to put to you a hypothesis which goes something like this: the greater the number of laws in a society, the less the amount of liberty that society will have. For every law is, by definition, a limitation on the ability to exercise options. When you constantly confine these options, as we do in our legal system (and you have this most incredible vested interest enforcing this), then I believe that our system of law and our concept of law in this society is essentially bankrupt. It is morally bankrupt, just as I believe that our system of medicine is bankrupt, just as I believe that our system of education in bankrupt. And why, in the name of any kind of morality or humanity, we should think that we are giving other societies (which we call "underdeveloped," "backward" societies or, less pejoratively, "Third World") we are giving them any kind of a deal by foisting upon them the rot which many of us cannot even stand in our own society, seems to me a most incredible kind of reasoning.
This goes beyond the suggestions that I make here. We have great ideas about employment in our society. I do not recall in history any other society, including the most dominant slave societies, where people worked for 50 weeks out of a year in order to get a two-week holiday. Not even the most thoroughgoing slave societies had the kind of voluntary slavery which seems to be a hallmark of our society. And now it seems that we have conned the blacks and women and all kinds of other groups into feeling that we're offering them a great deal by joining this kind of slavery. I suggest to you that if the indices of well-being would change with simply one word, and instead of employment we used the concept of self-employment, that this would be one of the most underdeveloped societies in the world. Self-employment is creative employment. Self-employment is the kind of thing you see throughout Southeast Asia--whether it's the family running a teashop or a person taking fruits and vegetables down to the railway station--whatever it is, it is self- employment.
It is not the huge, mechanized complex that we have here. Just change that word from employment to self- employment and we will be the "underdeveloped," "primitive" society, and I think it would not be a bad change to understand what the basic values consist of in terms of economic development. But we insist that these nations of Southeast Asia--Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, wherever we go, that we are to industrialize them and we are to put them working on the same kind of mill-value system that we have. I believe that this exchange is unjust. I believe it is unequal. I believe that what we are doing to Vietnam goes far beyond Vietnam; that it goes far beyond Southeast Asia; that it goes beyond this generation; and I believe that it also goes beyond reasonable belief. It goes beyond any concept, any viable concept of humanity. I may say that it is hard, it is difficult for anyone to sum up the truly awful consequences of what this means in terms of the species. For if this species is not diversified, if this world adopts this value system, which we are imposing and exporting to the rest of the world, then the danger becomes far more than rhetorical. We have this big thing on health and on diets we well. How the people of Asia managed to live until our nutritionists told them where they ought to get their protein is also remarkable, a kind of observation that does not seem to occur to our foreign advisers and to their experts. The whole field is just so incredibly immoral, though I know that so many people do this with the best intentions in the world, but with the most damaging and disastrous consequences.
MODERATOR. I may have a problem with the other panelists, trying to follow this. Thank you, Dr. Spellman, thank you very much. Jim Clark?
JIM CLARK. It's going to be a pretty hard act to follow. I'm reminded of a story that was told about Sam Rayburn one time when a young representative had just addressed the House. He got down and said, "What did you think of what I said?" And Rayburn said, "What you had to say was both new and interesting. But unfortunately, what you had to say that was new, wasn't interesting, and what you had to say that was interesting, wasn't new." And I'm afraid that's the boat I'm in. Before I get into my remarks, just addressing myself shortly to some of the things that Dr. Spellman has said reminds me--when I was in Phu Yen, I was new in the country-- this was back in '66. I went out to a refugee camp. The conditions were really deplorable. There were about 3,000 people living on a sandspit in tin huts with rooms about eight-by-eight with seven people in each room. There was a reception camp with buildings that were about forty feet long, and twenty feet wide with 400 to 500 people in each-- impossible as that sounds, but it was true. I went out there, and I was really depressed about the situation. I thought there must be something we can do. The first thing that struck my mind was that I was going to build some latrines, some outhouses for these people, because I noticed they were defecating out on the side, across the road. So I went off and I got some barrels (because you couldn't dig a hole in the sand) and I put these barrels into the ground. I got some people to help and we built a cement block house with a tin roof on it.
I came back a couple of days later and these places were locked up. I went to the fellow who was in charge of each area, and I said, "Why have you locked up these latrines, these wonderful things that I've built?" And he took me over and he opened them up and there was rice inside. And he said, "You know, you Americans are a strange breed. In the first place, such a fine structure makes a much better place to keep my rice, which is much more important to me than a place where I can defecate. You probably never thought of it, but if you defecate in one place all the time, it's going to smell. And besides that, if you continue it, eventually you're going to have to clean that up. Besides that, the way that you defecate, sitting up like that, it's very uncomfortable. If you squat it's healthier and you'll appreciate it better. In the last place, closing yourself up in a roomâ€¦it smells, all you look at is a blank wall. At least when I go across the road I can contemplate, I can look across the horizon." I went home and I started thinking about that and I thought, maybe we could get an AID [Agency for International Development] mission to the United States to teach us how to defecate.
The refugee situation in Vietnam is deplorable. Perhaps levity is out of place. But often, when something is this bad, you find yourself reacting in such a way that you have to treat some of the tragedy that you see in this manner to be able to accept it. I'll briefly go over the reasons for the generation of refugees in Vietnam, where they're located, who the refugees are and some of the economic implications that Dr. Spellman has already referred to. One observer of the Asian scene writing in the Southeast Asian Quarterly a while back, referred to Vietnam--American involvement there--as the rape of Vietnam. I contend that perhaps rape is too strong a word. In reality, probably what actually happened (to use a simile) would be that it's more like a young fellow who dated the girl across the tracks. And through a backseat affair, got her pregnant. Later on he decided that she was really quite worthless, a dirty little girl full of corruption and other things. But unfortunately he had got her pregnant, and now he faced the problem of trying to find an honorable way out of his predicament. I don't know what all the errors are in relation to our involvement with Vietnam, but there have been several. And I don't know how we can get out of this problem. Between 1964 and the fall of 1969, the American effort in Vietnam, directly or indirectly, produced an internal generation of refugees, which was on a level probably unknown before in the world. Twenty-five percent, to use some estimates, of the entire population of the country have been displaced.
The estimates run anywhere from two million and on up. The agrarian economic base of the country has been destroyed. The cultural identity factors of the population have been severely strained. Health and welfare problems, totally beyond the experience of the Vietnamese in terms of the extended family and the nature of the people to generally solve their own problems, have been spawned. We're facing a problem now where we're going to leave. We're picking up our toys and we're going home. And we're going to leave this country ravaged. An investigation of the nature of the refugee problem and how the problem affects the economic base of the country may result in a perspective which may be beneficial in evaluating the current state of affairs. Who are the refugees? Where are the refugees from? Where are the refugees currently located? And what may we expect in terms of the refugees in the future? Traditional discussions of Vietnam generally begin with the migration of refugees from the North. In 1954 some 900,000 people did leave; some 700,000 of these people were Catholics. They had the benefits of an educational system; they had money. When they came to South Vietnam, their resettlement was not that difficult a problem. This group also, this original group, is distinguished by the fact that they, unlike the people who would become refugees later, did make a choice. To borrow a popular phrase among propagandists, they voted with their feet. They made a choice and came South.
This cannot be said of the vast majority of the 2.5 million people who were to follow them. The refugee camps and towns in the provincial capitals today are swollen by people who once populated the rural areas of the country. Dan Ronk, an experienced Vietnam observer, wrote recently that the peasant population who left their ancestral homes and livelihood to seek refuge in the cities represent at least 80 percent of the total number of persons who once populated the farms and rice paddies. Ronk reasoned that this displacement was by the design of the American military. Reasoning that the Chinese revolution serves as a base for revolution in Asia, Mr. Ronk assumed that Mao's dictum regarding the revolutionary forces as a fish in a sea of people, was a determining factor in American military planning. By denying the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese elements the environment to wage war, victory could be achieved. It is doubtful in my mind that American policy makers would admit to such special warfare methods. However, the fact that so much of the war population was displaced, lends credence to this concept. The argument suggested by Mr. Ronk of total premeditation of refugee generation is weakened by the diversity of reasons given by refugees for their eventual migration.
The principal aim of the military was to seek out and destroy the Viet Cong. To achieve this end, the enemy were bombed, shelled, deprived of their supplies of food and medicine, and continually harassed. In the process, many noncombatant civilians were made to suffer; either at the hands of American and allied forces, or at the hands of NLF and North Vietnamese military units. An analysis of the reasons given by the refugees themselves finds that they are divided in their reasons for leaving. The causal agents of movement differed from area to area. The degree of enemy activity and the degree of allied action in response to the activity were important determinants. The pattern which was normally adhered to was an air drop of leaflets encouraging the population in NLF-controlled areas to evacuate. However, an analysis of movement based on refugee interviews would imply that the leaflets served more to ease the conscience of allied forces engaged in future action than to actually result in refugee generation or migration.
Planning for refugee generation may have been unrealistic in expecting persons to leave their homes and livelihood and their extended families for migrations to areas of high unemployment and, in some cases, local hostility. If military leaflet-dropping was unrealistic, as surveys seem to indicate, the resulting deaths and casualties raise some questions as to the morality of allied actions. The assumption that persons not leaving free fire zones were enemies also was a generalization having severe moral implications. The hostility toward refugees by urbanites went beyond urban-rural conflict. Refugees were, in many cases, the families of NLF forces. Assistance to such people was often viewed negatively by Vietnamese government personnel as aid to dependent enemy. I had a conversation with a province chief in Phu Yen one day. He was quite blunt with me and he expressed the opinion, "Why should I help these people, who have sons and fathers out fighting in the countryside and who, if they had the opportunity, would slice my throat?" I tried to convince him, of course, at that time, that if he'd start acting like a decent human being towards these people and accepting them as people, the situation might change around. Persons living in enemy-controlled areas could be encouraged to leave directly or indirectly. A direct movement would result from forced movement, where allied forces would be airlifted into an area, round up residents and airlift them out. Though this was not a common method, it did occur from time to time. Notable examples would be the Iron Triangle Operation of 1967 and several efforts in the DMZ in the North.
Refugees might also be encouraged to leave through heavy military bombardment or artillery. Among refugees in Vinh Long Province in the Delta, about 20 percent of all families had either experienced wounds or deaths in their families as a result of allied artillery. In Phu Yen Province 18 percent listed such artillery as reasons for their becoming refugees. Direct intervention resulting in refugee movement would also include instigation of battle or conflict in densely populated areas. Eight percent of the Vinh Long refugees and 4 percent of the Phu Yen refugees listed family deaths, or deaths of neighbors in such battles, as reasons for their migrations. Approximately one- fourth of the refugees in Phu Yen cited ground military operations as a primary motive for their decision to move. When artillery ground operations and forced movement are added together as causal factors, the total percentage represented is 47.2 percent Thus about half of all the refugees were generated by direct intervention of American and allied forces. This group cannot be said to have voted with their feet. The indirect generation of refugees results from allied pressure on NLF forces to a level that causes the enemy to increase demands on the local population to a degree which becomes intolerable to some members of the population. The bombing of supply routes and the fire power brought down upon NLF and North Vietnamese forces resulted in shortages of both personnel and supplies.
As tax rates and the drafting of local youth is on the upswing, the potential degree of dissatisfaction with the occupying forces will increase. In Phu Yen, about 30 percent of the refugees listed coercive activities and general hardships from VC activities as the primary cause for their decision to move. It should be acknowledged that the situation in other provinces would be different in accordance with the variables related to the degree of allied activity, religion and the period of time that any particular faction was in control. The second form of indirect movement would be those persons who migrated to urban areas to take advantage of specialized local economic advantages. In Phu Yen the construction of a large airbase offered high-paying day labor jobs to women and older men. Persons who could only be marginally employed in rural areas found employment in areas where there were large concentrations of allied forces. Prostitution, laundry services, truck and vehicle washing services, and snack bars were primary examples of such new entrepreneur vocations. Seven point two percent of the Phu Yen refugees listed economic and social reasons for their reasons for movement.
The final category of movement cannot be assigned to either direct or indirect allied involvement. In hamlets and villages which were only marginally controlled by the Saigon government there occurred constant reprisals and terror against government and Vietnam officials. School teachers, health officials, and any functionary of the government was endangering himself and his family by remaining in insecure areas. Nighttime assassinations and abductions were quite common. In Phu Yen 16.5 percent of the refugees could be so classified. The reliability of this data gathered must be questioned to some degree in terms of the faction which was responsible for taking the interviews. A Hawthorne effect, or an effect of people saying what you want them to say, is obviously probably at work here. When we tried the same forms with non-refugees, as to why their neighbors had left the countryside, 95 percent gave Viet Cong action as the primary reason. Though solid argument in support of Mr. Ronk's theory seems inappropriate, the results in terms of denying food, labor and a tax base to the insurgents, are partially confirmed from our interviews. Fifteen percent of the refugees reported threats by the Viet Cong against them if they were to seek refuge in government areas. There are also on record several refugee hamlets which suffered from attack by the Viet Cong. The reasons for the attack were not always clear. In some cases the reasons were related to the population turning against the Viet Cong infrastructure members. In others, the Viet Cong were attempting to get farmers to resume planting and harvesting rice crops necessary to the food supply. In summary, one can assume that several variables played a contributing factor to refugee generation. Fear of either allied or Viet Cong forces are represented in approximately 90 percent of the refugee population. It would appear unrealistic to view the refugees as totally committed to either of the contending factions. Their eventual reasons for migration were rooted in their concern for their personal security, not because of political ideology. Persons who became refugees were not all located in government subsidized camps. People with relatives in the cities, with saleable skills, with cash savings often avoided the horrors of camp life and resettled themselves. Conversely, the people who lacked vocational skills, who lacked contacts in urban areas, who possessed no cash savings and, most of all, who had no wage earner in the family, tended to populate the official refugee camp. The persons seeking assistance in the refugee camps (and who would eventually number close to two million persons) were those members of society who would most likely be assigned to the lowest socioeconomic realm of society.
If we look at a breakdown of the age groups of the people who were in these camps, we find that in the age range 20-45, males are outnumbered by females by 50 percent. The females in the 20-24 age group are underrepresented in terms of the total population. Among children and young people, the males slightly outnumber the females. As a percentage of the total the under twenty-one group represents nearly 50 percent of the total population. The fact that over 50 percent of the population is under twenty could be expected from similar studies of other emerging nations. However, the population distribution may be important in terms of the future economic state of the country, and the government expectation related to future refugee conditions. What inference can we make from the demographic make-up of the in-camp population? To begin with, we might note that the large base of children associated with the population pyramid is characteristic of rapidly expanding populations. Past population statistics seem to confirm this trend. The next growth rate of Vietnam has been estimated to be from 1-2 percent. However, considering the large number of children in refugee camps, we must assume that there is a higher birth rate amongst the refugee camps than outside. Concerning the growth of Vietnam, population-wise, it has grown rather rapidly. In 1937 the population of South Vietnam was only four and a half million people. In 1959 it was 13.8 million. And we can expect from statistical progression ratios that by 1994 the population of Vietnam will approach thirty million people. The distribution of the sexes, combined with our knowledge of their former rural locations, seems to suggest that many of the males remained behind in the rural areas. Presumably, since these areas were controlled by the NLF, many of the persons absent from the population are probably troops with the NLF. Thus, the hostility of many government officials, particularly military officers toward dependent enemy, merits some consideration. An occupation survey among persons in refugee camps in 1967 found 3,000 persons, out of a sample of 62,000 adults, listing their occupation as soldier. If we assume that approximately half are males, we can assume that one in ten males are soldiers; this would be about one-half of the national average. Therefore, the other half must be someplace else. Prior to assuming that all males absent who are not represented in the population are Viet Cong, one could consider that many have been killed in prior allied engagements or artillery bombardments. Such deaths would contribute to the welfare status of in-camp refugees in that there is no wage earner in the family.
The evidence at this point would seem to suggest that the missing male population is either dead, has remained behind to work the family field, has become a fighting member of the NLF, or is part of the government forces. The rural origins of the typical refugee family create the expectation that most former refugees followed a farming vocation. This expectation was confirmed by an occupational survey administered in 1967. Most former refugees followed farming as their primary form of occupation. The survey covered 113,000 people and the results bore out the agricultural emphasis. At the same time that the occupational survey was made, persons interviewed were asked if they desired to learn a new trade. Nine out of ten said they weren't interested in doing that because they wanted to go back to the countryside. Seventy-three percent of those interviewed expressed a desire to return to their original villages. When asked when they would return, they indicated they would return when the war was over or when it was secure and safe from both of the contending factions. Returning to the demographic data mentioned earlier, we can see that the number of family heads, traditionally the elders of the extended families, may not be fully appreciative of contrary desires by younger members of their families. That is, after you've seen Nah Trang, who wants to go back to the farm? With over 50 percent of the members being young persons, there is reason to believe that many of the people will have no desire to return to the life of the rural areas.
Many of the refugees have been away from their former homes for periods of four years or more. In October of 1965, there were over 700,000 refugees. Studies of rural-urban migration indicate a positive correlation of time in urban participation. The longer one remains in an urban area, particularly after two years, the greater one's involvement and identity with the urban structure. It is unlikely that these people will want to go back and farm the fields. Other factors mitigating against a return of the refugee population to the farming areas are continued insecurity or future insecurity as the allied troop withdrawal continues. In that current land reform measures require that a person receiving title be farming the land, some farmers may return to find that the land they once farmed as tenants now belongs to someone else. These factors which mitigate against the return of refugees to their homes may be crucial to the future of the country. The government policy towards refugees has always been one of assuming that one day the refugees will return and the problem will evaporate. If refugees do not return, or if a substantial number remain in the cities, problems of welfare and urban slums will no doubt continue.
Posters have begun to appear in Vietnam and in refugee areas encouraging refugees to return to their villages. The reasons go beyond the urban problems of welfare and overcrowding. Crops are not being planted, and the country's important economic base crop, rice, is in need of labor capital. In addition, security in the countryside requires a population from the urban areas, who can reasonably be expected to support the central government. The final consideration, which would appear to confirm the fact that many refugees will not be returning to their rice fields is related to a political decision made by the United States government in 1968. Reacting in part to increased pressures from voluntary agencies, the press, and Senator Edward Kennedy's Refugees Subcommittee, a decision was made to reclassify refugee camps, which had received all of the assistance required by law, as having been resettled into New Life hamlets. What this meant was that after receiving a cash payment, so many sacks of cement, so many sheets of roofing, and having met communal requirements related to a classroom for every hundred children and one toilet for every twenty families, the refugee camps were delisted. The degree of this type of delisting of refugees can be seen in noting that in the first ten months of 1968, 168,000 refugees were resettled on location, as compared to 86,000 who were listed as having returned to their villages.
The process was guaranteed to reduce the number of refugees. Unfortunately the condition of the refugee, his future and the future of the country were not considered. It would be like if we had a welfare program in the States and we said, "Well, we'll give everyone $100 and after that we'll say that he's not welfare any more." It's just totally unrealistic. One can imagine the tragedy of this measure if similar government measures were to be incorporated into the welfare programs we have for the poor in the United States. The actual location of the refugee camps should also be mentioned as a factor in understanding the social and economic impact of the problem. The most populated areas of the country, the area around Saigon and the Delta area, account for only 20 percent of the refugees. The northern areas of the country account for the remainder. In part, this relates to the firmer hold by the NLF and North Vietnamese units in that part of the country, and the greater intensity of fighting in the area. Unfortunately, the economic potentiality of the northern area is extremely limited. The topography of the north is mountainous and severe.
And what land that is available for cultivation is highly prized. As the refugees flooded into the secure provincial capitals it became impossible to employ them or to assist them by providing land on which they might farm. In the majority of cases the refugees were placed upon barren, uncultivatable land. To return to the free fire zones was impossible and employment locally was equally impossible. Unemployment rose from a level of .8 percent before migration began to a post-migration level of 33.4 percent. Only 2 percent of the refugees from Phu Yen province continued to earn an income from farming. Among those who were able to find employment, many were forced to accept wages substantially lower than they earned before becoming refugees. In Phu Yen, income levels average 50 percent lower than pre-migration income levels, the average wage being about thirty cents a day. Thus, the location of refugees was a primary factor leading to high unemployment.
Summing up our knowledge of the refugee family, our profile would suggest that the average refugee is a farmer who sought refuge from indirect or direct allied action and is not stressing a political preference when he migrates. When he arrives in the secure area he will not be able to farm, will face some political hostility, will probably be a child, an old person, or a female, be unemployed, or marginally employed. In addition, the period he will remain in a refugee camp will be an extended one, greater than two years. His chances of being administratively resettled are greater than his chances of returning home. The true economic impact of the refugee problem has not yet been felt in Vietnam. The reason for this is because great volumes of United States dollar support of the government of Vietnam, in a wartime private or indirect report factor, related to United States military factor, related to United States military expenditures and construction and services to well- paid allied forces, is in effect. The pre-war economy of Vietnam was like many Asian countries a two-crop agrarian economy. There were other exports, including some tea. But rubber production from French rubber plantations and rice production from the Mekong Delta were predominant. The effects of the war on South Vietnam's exports cannot be minimized. In 1961 South Vietnam's exports were valued at $76 million. By 1964 the export values were down to $48 million. In '65, again down to $35 million. In '66 down to $20 million. In 1967 a brief increase in exports took place, but was followed by a further decline in exports in '68. Rice became an import in 1965. Where South Vietnam had exported $33 million worth of rice in 1964, it imported $15 million worth in 1969. Rubber production fell from an export dollar value of $43 million in 1961 to $8 million in 1968. As production and exports fell, the dollar deficit expanded and foreign exchange reserves fell.
To function the government of Vietnam became more dependent on the United States. In 1969, the American government was underwriting, directly or indirectly, 60 percent of the South Vietnamese budget. The form that this aid to South Vietnam took was in indirect and direct aid. Direct aid was generally either food for freedom imports, or support of the costly commercial import program. The commercial import program allows Vietnamese citizens to purchase foreign goods with piasters. The piaster, being inflated by increased government issue of notes, and the absence of domestic articles to buy with monies being generated by American Forces, is thus made valuable. The United States government would use dollars to purchase consumer items and sell the items to the Vietnamese government at favorable exchange rates. The government would then sell the items to the local citizens. The indirect gain offered by the United States was similar to that generated in tourist economics. By waging a war that destroyed the normal source of export income, the economic base was changed radically. The new export item was similar to that offered by college towns or small down-state capitals in the United States. Vietnam was dependent upon GIs spending money on the local economy. If the GIs are to be withdrawn, the economic export item would evaporate and the country would be without any base to support the economy, except monies received through direct aid. Generally, by being dependent upon GIs, as you withdraw the GI (and having done away with the rice and rubber export crops) the Vietnamese economy no longer has anything to have its roots in. And the people who once did the farming, as I pointed out earlier, cannot go back nor can we expect them to go back and get the rice crops and the rubber crops going. I think that when we recognize these factors, these statistics, boring as they are, do point out that the future of Vietnam is in very serious trouble. The people have been uprooted, their culture has been destroyed, the extended family has been severely broken up, we have overcrowding in the cities and tremendous slums. Saigon has grown from a city of 600,000 in 1960 to close to three million today with people living in the streets. There is no future hope, economically, that these people are going to get back on their feet in the immediate future. I suggest that we have a very serious problem in Vietnam that we have not given consideration to. In our rush to get out, in our desire to get out, I ask those of you who think on this to consider, when we do leave, what we are leaving behind and is there anything that we can do? Is there any way that we can get out? I don't think we know what we are doing there or we haven't proven that we have. Is there any way that we can get out and help these people? Is there anything that we can do other than leave this tragedy?
EMENY. When Dr. Spellman was speaking my head started going wild with memories and all the time Jim's been talking I've been writing down things. One of the things I have been thinking about an awful lot lately is the whole concept of genocide. Genocide, it seems to me, is just the ultimate extension of a policy of population control. I think in terms of three kinds of levels of control. There's physical, there's economic, and then there's psyochological and political. We've heard a lot about physical control in all the stories we've heard and I can tell you just examples of my own, but I won't now. Economic control: there has been a 300 percent inflation in the last four years. But there is the psychology or the political, and in Vietnam there is an incredible will to live. This is, I guess, what I would like to talk a little bit about. We think of Vietnam in terms of the Vietnam that we have experienced, which is the Vietnam of maybe ten years, twelve years ago. Well, we've been there for longer than that. But we've been actively involved for ten or twelve years. But the history of Vietnam, the history that the Vietnamese know, is a history of 4,000 years or more. That whole history is a history of struggle. A struggle for suvival, and most of it a struggle for survival against outside people, outside invaders. Home for me was a Buddhist orphanage and there was a song that kids in the orphanage sang. Kids all over Vietnam sing it, you know, five year old kids, which sums up their history in a nutshel. It goes like this: "A thousand years as slaves to the Chinese, a hundred years a colony of France, twenty years of this war. The inheritance that the mother gives on to her child is the inheritance of the sad Vietnam." And it goes on.
Dr. Spellman talked about self-employment and creativity. This is really evident in Vietnam. As I said, home for me as a Buddhist orphanage. And the kids ran the orphanage. I was sort of attached to the staff you might say; but learning more from the kids than from anybody else. There were two nuns on the staff and two other young fellows; there were three older women who did most of the cooking. But everything was done by the children. The older people were there as advisors. And anybody who has spent any time in Vietnam can see what people of all ages, but especially the children, do make with our leavings. There are, I don't know, how many rings made out of American metal floating around. All kinds of things are made with leftovers of American goods. This kind of creativity is everywhere. Dr. Spellman talked about self-employment and creativity. This is really evident in Vietnam. As I said, home for me was a Buddhist orphanage. And the kids ran the orphanage. I was sort of attached to the staff you might say; but learning more from the kids than from anybody else. There were two nuns on the staff and two other young fellows; there were three older women who did most of the cooking. But everything was done by the children. The older people were there as advisers. And anybody who has spent any time in Vietnam can see what people of all ages, but especially the children, do make with our leavings. There are I don't know how many rings made out of American metal floating around. All kinds of things are made with leftovers of American goods. This kind of creativity is everywhere. There's poetry everywhere, and the people are encouraged in this kind of creativity. But an extension of this is the awareness, total awareness, that our own survival is in us. For Vietnam that means that their survival is in their own history--their seed for survival, their strength for survival--is in their own history, in their own culture and it's going back to that. It's in that they get the strength to keep going. So you see what things are very central to the culture of Vietnam: the whole concept of the family, and the central object in the home of the Vietnamese is the altar, the family altar. Now when the people are made refugees, everything's taken and they can't take the altar with them because it's usually a permanent structure. But when they go, they'll build a new one. I'm sorry that I don't have slides of these here. I have pictures and anyone who's interested in looking can see afterwards. But I have here a picture taken in Hue, shortly after Tet, and the house is completely destroyed, but the family is moving back. The first thing they do is set a chair in the corner and put the family altar on it. And another one of the camps just south of the demilitarized zone where again there are no materials, nothing to make anything out of. The first thing they do is to build the family altar with the only available materials, which happen to be ammunition boxes supported on mortar tubes. It's this kind of creativity in maintaining their own culture that the Vietnamese keep insisting is their own survival. And it comes out in all their songs; it comes out in the poetry; it comes out in the daily way of living.
CRAVEN. I was on a delegation of students that went to Vietnam. From the time we arrived in Vietnam till the time we left, I must very honestly say that I had the most incredible human experience that I have ever had. Before our plane landed in North Vietnam we had been flying over Laos, and much of the landscape in Laos looked very barren. In some places you could see the results of the American bombing, and parts of Laos looked like the surface of the moon. It was reported that there are between 800 and 1,200 bombing sorties flown every single day. But as our plane descended beneath the clouds over North Vietnam, we were all very struck with the lush vegetation and with the whole fertility of the land. And as we came closer to the ground, we saw peasants and water buffalo working the fields in the kind of sight that I've never seen before, and nobody in our delegation had ever even conceived of before. We arrived at the airport and were met by 75 Vietnamese who were holding flowers. When we came to the airport, we were embraced very warmly. During the time that we were in Vietnam this became a very kind of commonplace occurrence. The Vietnamese themselves expressed tremendous solidarity and tremendous love for one another. And it is not an uncommon sight, in the streets of Hanoi, to see people walking down the street, young girls, or even soldiers, women and men, embracing each other, holding each other's hands--all of them always very happy. At the airport, we went into a side room, and we met the group that was hosting us; a group called the Committee for Solidarity with the American People. We had several toasts; we were introduced to each other, and we were told roughly what our itinerary would be for our stay in Vietnam. We were asked to make any requests for things that we would like to do. We were asked to mention any kinds of people that we would like to see, and what particular interest we might have where we could understand better how similar kinds of people live and work in Vietnam. We got into our bus to go to our hotel in Hanoi and, as we traveled on the road to the Long Binh Bridge, we saw the shells of a bombed train depot and an old factory, as well as the millions of Vietnamese who were riding their bicycles, or riding in water buffalo or horse carts, with whatever goods they might be taking to the market in H