Disputed Land, Disputed Souls


A North Vietnamese soldier helping a wounded South Vietnamese soldier in 1971.

“Almost 50 years ago, Hoang Thi Lien became a full member of the People’s Revolutionary Party, the political leadership of the Vietcong. To win this honor she had to help the Communists execute her illicit lover, a former village chief who was the father of her second son. It was the sort of moral bargain many Vietnamese had to make in a time and place when battles were fought on the unsteady terrain of people’s hearts and minds, while the actual landscape was under neither side’s firm control. Tears welled up in her eyes as Ms. Lien, now 84 and fragile from a stroke, recalled the man, Pham Van Binh, whom she set up to be captured, dragged into the jungle and executed. ‘He was not cruel to me,’ she said in her small house in the village of Cam Lo in Quang Tri Province, with yellowing certificates of merit to the revolution on the wall. ‘I was forced to do that,’ adding, ‘I was a loyalist to the revolution.’ Ms. Lien had also wept as she said goodbye to her husband, Le Dang Hong, when he and his Vietminh comrades were sent to North Vietnam in July 1954 under terms of the Geneva Agreement that ended the war against the French and divided the nation. She was 21 years old, and three months pregnant. The boy she bore five months later, Le Dang Phac, never met his father, who never returned home and was killed by American Rangers at the battle of West A Shau Valley in September 1969. Until 1962 Ms. Lien and her son lived as unofficial prisoners in the strategic hamlet of Quat Xa, controlled by the South Vietnamese Army and American advisers in daytime, and by the Vietcong at night. Even her relatives in the village stayed aloof because they feared being associated with the wife and son of a Communist fighter. ‘My mother and I felt hurt but we blamed nobody because of the overlapping control from two adversaries,’ said Mr. Phac, now 63. ‘In that time of suspicion, the husband could not believe his wife and vice versa; parents distrusted their children, and siblings suspected each other.’ To further alienate Communist warriors from their families, the regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem encouraged officials to form sexual relationships with the wives of rebels. While this may have been the impetus for Mr. Binh’s ill-fated affair with Ms. Lien, her oldest son, Mr. Phac, said they loved each other. …”
NY Times (Jan. 25, 2018)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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