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Switch to Forum Live View Religous repression in Viet Nam
3 years ago  ::  Mar 26, 2012 - 3:55PM #1
Bob0
Posts: 485
In 1963 Vietnamese Monk Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death in protest of South Viet Nam's government led by Roman Catholic President Ngo Dinh Diem. It was one of the early acts that triggered a snowball effect resulting in the current Communist government of the unified Viet Nam. Possibly we shouldn't be so quick to take actions when we can't possibly see the extent of the karma they produce. Of course possibly all this repression will work out best for the Vietnamese in the end. Who can see the future while swimming in the stream?


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2 years ago  ::  Apr 07, 2012 - 12:56PM #2
Anagaminsky
Posts: 2

Mar 26, 2012 -- 3:55PM, Bob0 wrote:


In 1963 Vietnamese Monk Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death in protest of South Viet Nam's government led by Roman Catholic President Ngo Dinh Diem. It was one of the early acts that triggered a snowball effect resulting in the current Communist government of the unified Viet Nam. Possibly we shouldn't be so quick to take actions when we can't possibly see the extent of the karma they produce. Of course possibly all this repression will work out best for the Vietnamese in the end. Who can see the future while swimming in the stream?






I don't know if you were around then, but I'm old enough to have been required to register for the draft during the Vietnam era. I just missed induction; I drew a middling number in the very last draft lottery and probably would have been called up had the war drug on for another year. As it was, President Nixon began bringing our people home a few months after that last lottery. I never saw Vietnam except from high in the air looking down from a Thai Airways flight on the way to Bangkok. I remember thinking how tranquil and beautiful it looked from 30,000 feet above.


I remember quite clearly the day I saw journalist Malcolm Browne's photographs of monk Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation. That series of photos, along with Nick Ut's famous photo of a terrified Vietnamese child, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, fleeing from her napalmed village, in my opinion did more to change American's view of the real effects of our involvement than the ten million words uttered by the politicians. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phan_Thi_Kim_Phuc


To put things in context, the Buddhists of South Vietnam under the Diệm regime (backed by the US at the time) were severely repressed in favor of Catholics. Diệm was Catholic, and the South Vietnamese government under his leadership extended political power to Christians and attempted to suppress the Buddhist majority. I've read reports that you had to be Catholic to get a choice government position in Saigon in those days, for example. There are also reports of forced conversions, and all the usual ugliness when a State Religion is declared (Diệm had apparently dedicated his country to the Virgin Mary in 1959).


It all came to a head during the Buddhist Crisis of 1963. Diệm had forbidden the display of Buddhist signage (flags, in particular) during the Vesak celebration in the predominantly Buddhist city of Huế, although the Catholics had been permitted to do the same just a few days earlier at a celebration of Diệm's brother's fifth anniversary as the archbishop. A protest was lead by the venerated monk Thích Trí Quang, during which Diệm's forces killed nine unarmed Buddhist protestors; Diệm inconceivably blamed the deaths on the Viet Cong. The protests escalated. On June 3, 67 protesters had to be hospitalized when they were sprayed with some sort of chemical agent during a march to the Từ Đàm Pagoda. And, as we know, a June 11 protest by monks and nuns was the stage for Thich Quang Duc's dramatic act. The US got cold feet (in my opinion in no small part due to the US public's reaction to the photos of Thich Quang Duc's death), and signalled anti- Diệm plotters within the South Vietnamese military (AVRN) that we would stand pat should a coup be attempted. Diệm met his end on November 2 in the back of an armored personnel carrier, along with his brother Nhu. The next decade, the height of the American Vietnamese involvement, was marked by numerous coups in the South. Stability for the Vietnamese people as a whole died with those nine protesters on Vesak Day 1963.


Was Thich Quang Duc's final act ill-conceived? I can't judge; had I lived in Vietnam under the Diệm regime, I too might have been moved to a protest just as "demonstrative." It can be argued that Diệm himself was the most to blame for the eventual communist victory, as it was quite easy for Ho Chi Minh to utilize him as a rallying point, painting him as a tool of Western imperialism and colonialism. Or was Christianity to blame? I can make a quite potent argument that in Asia, at least, the disruption of traditional societies by the partnership of Christian missionaries and the military forces of Western colonialism almost inevitably lead to centuries of social upheaval, often culminating in smothering communist or totalitarian anti-Western governments eventually taking hold. The histories of Burma (Myanmar), Vietnam, China, and Korea provide cogent examples.


Was Thich Quang Duc's act a karmic cause that brought on a very negative effect? Well, Buddhist lives were being taken during the final days of Thich Quang Duc's life. With Diệm's departure, the deliberate killing of Buddhists simply as a result of religious intolerance seems to have stopped. I haven't come across reports of the present communist regime actually killing Buddhists, althought things certainly appear to still be plenty grim. So, just on a "body count" basis, one could argue that the Buddhists of Vietnam are in a marginally better circumstance now under the communists. Not that this is a satisfactory situation at all. But I will note that since US senators (and Vietnam vets) John Kerry's and John McCain's work to normalize US relations with Vietnam, the present government seems to be on a course of pragmatic economic cooperation with the US and Western powers; one would hope that the marketplace of goods will also become an influential marketplace of ideas, values and liberties. I still envision a Vietnam that truly belongs to the Vietnamese people.


As a karmic sidenote: I have this notion that Thich Quang Duc's death that day in 1963 initiated a chain of events that lead to the communist takeover, which in turn precipitated the fleeing of many Vietnamese to the US. Some of those Vietnamese people came to the Dallas, Texas area. Among them was a kindly old Vietnamese man who became abbot of a Buddhist temple in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas. One day around 1988 or so, I came to that temple and met this man. And we became friends. And one day, this old Vietnamese man gave me my Buddhist name. The abbot and I haven't seen each other in years -- my life took a dramatic about-face soon after, and I lost touch with him. In the years since, I've told perhaps only one other person what that name is; my wife doesn't even know it. But from time to time, I recall the name he gave me with great happiness and whenever I do, I picture his face, and the faces of all the Vietnamese people I've come to know and become friends with over the years. Possibly as a result of one monk's actions when I was seven years old, in a country whose soil I've never stood on. So, was Thich Quang Duc's death skillful or unskillful means? I suppose the answer depends on the karma of the answerer.

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2 years ago  ::  Apr 07, 2012 - 2:29PM #3
Bob0
Posts: 485
Interesting post. I believe less in the standard government propaganda than you seem to. Yes I'm old enough to have participated in that folly called the Viet Nam War. That was where I learned first hand that you can't believe everything our government is telling the public and that international law is a nice propaganda tool that warring sides find easy to ignore. I also learned that war is a chaotic endeavor where people die simply as a side event of war.  Things often don't work as planned.


We saw it in Viet Nam. We saw it in Gulf Wars I and II. It showed up in Iraq and again in Afghanistan. Why are people surprised when atrocities are committed by men who are put in harms way by politicians who puff their chests while the politically connected make fortunes off war? It may not be right but it is always the way of war. What fool expects soldiers to be discriminating killers? Some will, some won't.


As for the specifics of your post. Do you think the Buddhists in Viet Nam are better off now than under Diem? Seems a stretch to me. Under Diem and his successors, Thich Nhat Hahn and others could politically demonstrate, travel freely, and involve themselves in the US anti war movement. they even participated in the Paris Peace negotations.  That wouldn't happen under the Communists. Under the Communists, Thich Nhat Hahn has been allowed only one trip to Viet Nam and where he could go and who he could meet with were restricted by the government. Are the Buddhists better off now? How about in Cambodia. Do you think the Buddhists saw the karma coming of the killing fields? You do know that Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam were all the same war despite what Henry Kissinger was telling the world.


Just so I don't leave you with the wrong idea, although I spent 20 years in the Military (wrong profession) I was no hero. I started out as a draft dodger, enlisting in the Air Force. I created the karma of my actions, just as Thich Quang Duc, Henry Kissinger, Dick Nixon, Gen Westmoreland and all people do. My point being, when your knee deep in the swamp fighting the alligators it's hard to remember the karma you had in mind when you entered the swamp.


Wishing you small tranquil days,

Bob
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2 years ago  ::  Apr 26, 2012 - 8:39PM #4
Anagaminsky
Posts: 2

"As for the specifics of your post. Do you think the Buddhists in Viet Nam are better off now than under Diem? Seems a stretch to me. Under Diem and his successors, Thich Nhat Hahn and others could politically demonstrate, travel freely, and involve themselves in the US anti war movement. they even participated in the Paris Peace negotations.  That wouldn't happen under the Communists. Under the Communists, Thich Nhat Hahn has been allowed only one trip to Viet Nam and where he could go and who he could meet with were restricted by the government. Are the Buddhists better off now? How about in Cambodia. Do you think the Buddhists saw the karma coming of the killing fields? You do know that Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam were all the same war despite what Henry Kissinger was telling the world."




Sorry for taking so long to reply! I've been a bit busy lately...


Actually, under Diem, Buddhists weren't allowed to demonstrate freely in the South, hence the massacre at Hue in May 1963, which left several would-be protestors dead, and at a later demonstration in June, 67 people were hospitalized after the authorities sprayed protestors with some sort of chemical agent.


Diem's government instituted a ban on public assembly around this time. The government even attempted to silence foreign journalists through the secret police of of Ngo Dihn Nhu (Diem's brother), who attacked American journalists Peter Arnett and David Halberstam, and photojournalist Malcolm Browne as they attempted to cover the Buddhist protests in July of '63. Martial law was declared on August 21. Shortly after midnight on that day,  troops under the command of Colonel Le Quang Tung, on Nhu's orders, carried out massive raids on Buddhist institutions in the South, arresting around 1400 Buddhists, according to reports I've read. The Wikipedia article on the Buddhist Crisis repeats the claim that several hundred Buddhists were also "disappeared," a claim I've heard before by Vietnamese expatriates here in the U.S.


The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh was actually exiled by the South Vietnamese government immediately after the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, not the communists. The communist government was the one which allowed him to finally return for a visit in 2005, although apparently they're quite relieved that he's calling France his home now instead of Vietnam.


That being said, however, communism certainly hasn't been that much better for the Buddhist people of Southeast Asia. In my view, communism was just about inevitable once theistic religion from the West arrived and disrupted the social fabric of these various Asian societies. Both theism and communism are (again, in my view) cults of personality -- one worships a deity as the ultimate personality, and the other worships a human leader (Mao, Pol Pot, Lenin) and elevates that personality to the status of a deity. The struggle of the individual to figure out right from wrong on his own and come to self-understanding, as promoted in most Buddhist teaching, is severely curtailed under both Western theism and communism; both want to dictate how one should believe and impose sternly-enforced rules for social relations, conduct and "morality." I can't help but notice that most communist insurgency movements have taken on many of the worst characteristics of Western theistic religion, with fanatical devotion to "holy books" (Mao's Little Red Book), frenzied purges of the  "heretics" (the Cultural Revolution in China; Stalin's purges in Russia; the Khmer Rouge's evacuation of the "elitist" cities to rural "re-education camps"), and state-mandated observance of "holidays" like May Day, with solemn yet ornate parades and 4-story-tall photos of the gods of collectivism gazing down in approval on the participants. We even have communist "shrines," such as the preserved body of Stalin, in his glass coffin, on permanent display in communism's holy of holies, Red Square.


I think the Buddhists of communist Southest Asia (Vietnam, Kampuchea, and Laos) are now better off than they were in the 60's/70's, but only marginally. At least in Kampuchea, an entire generation has come of age having no experience of the Killing Fields; the carnage has stopped there. But the repression of Buddhists continues in Vietnam -- only now it presents a milder face than the brutal, ugly tactics of the Diem regime.


Ultimately, I feel that Southeast Asia will not be truly happy again until those two cults of personality -- communism and theism -- have lost their grip on men's minds in these societies.

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