Flags and memorials can't reverse the verdict of history

By John Percy

Since the final heroic victory of the Vietnamese liberation fighters on April 30, 1975, the imperialist rulers in both the US and Australis have sought to obscure the historical lessons of their defeat. They’ve been assisted in this by right-wing Vietnamese emigres organising commemorations and war memorials for the flag of the defunct puppet regime Washington tried, and failed, to impose on southern Vietnam after the Vietnamese defeat of French colonial rule in early 1954.

Today, most countries, including Australia and the US, recognise the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and its flag (a yellow star on a red background, adopted when Vietnam declared its independence in 1945) as the flag of Vietnam. The Saigon puppet regime, with its yellow flag with three red stripes, was created by the CIA in 1955. That flag became an historical relic when the Vietnamese workers and peasants completed the liberation and unification of their country in 1975 after a 14-year-long war that cost the lives of at least 3 million Vietnamese (and 58,000 Americans).

In Australia, there has been an ongoing campaign by the Vietnamese Community of Australia (VCA), the group dominated by former Saigon regime personnel, to get their defunct flag officially recognised. In 2004 the group initially conned the Fairfield City Council in Sydney’s western suburbs into paying for flagpoles and permanently flying the defunct flag alongside an Australian flag. The council eventually backed off, averting a diplomatic incident, since Australia has had diplomatic relations for more than 30 years with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

But then in 2005 Fairfield Council gave permission for this quisling flag to be flown three times a year in Cabravale Park, on “Vietnam Veterans’ Day”, “Vietnam Armed Forces Day” and on the anniversary of the liberation of Saigon, for the following three years. The agreement expires on August 18, and it is likely the VCA will be pressing for Fairfield Council to extend it. But other Vietnamese immigrants and Australians have been upset and have protested at the VCA’s antics.

Memorial attacked

Once again, on the eve of “Vietnam Armed Forces Day” (the day glorifying the puppet regime’s military forces, not the establishment of the national liberation army in December 1944) supporters of independent Vietnam acted to puncture the VCA celebrations. Overnight on June 18 the emigre war memorial in Cabravale Park was set alight and had red paint poured over it. A similar attack took place two years ago. The June 27 Sydney Daily Telegraph reported that it is believed the attack was a protest “over the flying of the old South Vietnamese flag - yellow with three red horizontal stripes - at last Thursday’s ceremony”.

The leaders of the local Returned and Services League was upset, but they shouldn’t be so surprised. How would they react if former members of Japan’s 1932-45 puppet State of Manchukuo in northern China or their descendants made attempts, with the support of Fairfield City Council, to hoist the Manchukuo flag, and through war memorials get people inured to the war crimes committed by the Japanese occupiers of China. This is the ongoing ideological battle that surrounds the Saigon regime flag issue — an attempt to reverse the political verdict of the Vietnamese nation’s history, on the ground in Vietnam, and in the streets in Australia.

‘Freedom’ and ‘heritage’

The VCA hypocritically describes the flag of the defunct Republic of Vietnam as the “Freedom and Heritage” flag. What “freedom”? All the regimes in the south of Vietnam that Washington propped up after the French colonialists were driven out in 1954 were brutally repressive dictatorships. Was it the “freedom” of multiple military coups, as Washington put its hopes on new puppet officers? Was it the “freedom” of the villagers massacred at My Lai? Was it the “freedom” of napalmed children?
And what “heritage”? Is the heritage they defend the millions of Vietnamese people horribly affected by Agent Orange and a countryside pockmarked with bomb craters and unexploded bombs (after the US occupies dropped the explosive equivalent of 400 Hiroshima bombs on Vietnam), a heritage of regimes totally propped up by US dollars and up to 500,000 US troops?

Since setting up in Sydney, the VCA has imported its “freedom and heritage” in the form of violent threats and harassment against anyone who opposes it, whether of Vietnamese or non-Vietnamese background. Peter Allen, the former president of the NSW-Vietnam Chamber of Commerce, was forced to step down after threats against his family, and Australian-Vietnamese families who have resisted the VCA’s standover tactics have been threatened, had their pets killed and excrement smeared over their cars.

The VCA’s goal is to overthrow the current Vietnamese state and return its colonels to power in Vietnam. But by pretending to be campaigning for “cultural” issues the VCA has received enormous amounts of public funding each year, mostly from the NSW government. How much of that large sum is spent on the “culture” and welfare of Vietnamese migrants, and how much actually goes towards furthering the right-wing political aims of the VCA?

The raising of the defunct Saigon regime’s flag in Fairfield sadly received active support from three local Labor Party MPs — Julia Irwin, federal MP for Fowler; Chris Bowen, federal MP for Prospect; and Reba Meagher, state MP for Cabramatta. Their actions were a desecration of the heritage of their own party’s stand on the Vietnam War, and an insult to the thousands of ALP members who participated in the movement to end Australia’s involvement in and support for Washington’s colonial war in Vietnam.

All opponents of colonial wars should be alert to and protest attempts to legitimise the defunct Saigon regime and its symbols. Such attempts aim to overturn two historical verdicts — the national freedom finally won in 1975 by the people of Vietnam through enormous sacrifices in the course of decades of wars of resistance against the Japanese, the French and the US occupiers of their country; and that won by the millions of ordinary Australians who opposed the Australian government sending troops to back the US war on the Vietnamese people.

Fairfield City Council would be wise to decline to extend the permit given by it to the VCA to raise its “freedom and heritage” flag. It is a symbol of one of bloodiest and oppressive periods in Vietnam’s long history, a shameful symbol of military dictators, torturers and executioners totally dependent on a foreign military invasion.

[John Percy is a veteran of the movement against the US-Australian war on Vietnam and the national secretary of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.]