Nationalist Vietnamese Flag versus Communist Flag
House Bill 2829
On February 17, the day the “Display of the Republic of Vietnam Flag” bill scheduled to be debated by the Senate Rules Committee of the Virginia Senate in Richmond, 24 inches of snow hit the area, burying it. The Senate went ahead and did the same thing, killing the flag bill.
The move to replace the official flag of the present Communist government with that of South Vietnam everywhere in Virginia had gained plenty of ground initially. On January 31, by a vote of 68-27, the Virginia House of Delegates had passed the flag bill, HB 2829. That date corresponded with the 35th anniversary of the 1968 Tet Offensive, one of the turning points of the Vietnam War. On that occasion, the Communist Vietnamese attacked South Vietnamese and American troops, suffering big losses but emerging with a propaganda victory.
HB 2829 called for the display of the former Republic of Vietnam flag in public schools and public functions in Virginia in place of the present Communist flag. Delegate Bob Hull from Falls Church introduced the legislation with the support of Delegates Black, Lingamfelter and Stump, all Vietnam veterans, as well as Senator O’Brien.
Bob Hull told the House of Delegates that the latest census showed that 34,000 Vietnamese who had fled the Communist regime after 1975 resided in Northern Virginia. In addition, he said, 1,300 Virginians had died defending the South Vietnamese flag. His Vietnamese-American constituents, he said, felt offended and pained to see an oppressor flag flying in their children’s schools instead of the flag to which they had pledged their loyalty. These people, he said, had sought his support. They wanted the Founding Fathers’ ideals of freedom and democracy to be respected.
Referring to strong protests by Vietnamese government officials, who were indignant about the bill and found it “insolent,” Hull declared that his job was to represent the views of his constituency, not those of Communist Vietnam. Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien had communicated his displeasure with the measure to the U.S. government. Unflinching, Hull went on to say that this was all about democracy, a concept Communist Vietnam did not comprehend. He wanted to give them a lesson in American-style free speech and the right to vote. He said he had an obligation to the 99.99 percent of his constituents who supported the bill.
Hull also upset the U.S. State Department, which called Hull’s bill a violation of the U.S. Constitution, since the U.S. had diplomatic relations with Vietnam and thus recognized Vietnam’s flag as the official one. Hull retorted that the State Department officials were doing their job, but he did not work for them.
Hull had to surmount another stumbling bloc. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce was concerned that, if the bill passed, Vietnamese trade would be diverted from Virginia ports, and state businesses could be denied the Vietnamese market.
Symbols and Meanings of the Two Flags
Khai Chinh, a Vietnamese writer, describes the National Flag of Free Vietnam as having a yellow background and three horizontal red bands in the middle. The flag with yellow background has been used for centuries. Modified over the years like the American flag, it was finally the subject of an ordinance in 1948 by former Emperor Bao Dai. He said that yellow, representing the ancestral land, was the traditional color of earth; and the three red stripes stood for the three regions of Vietnam: North, Central and South, united in an independent nation.
The Republic of Vietnam flag symbolizes national identity, unity, independence, freedom, liberty, and democracy, Khai Chinh continued. It was recognized by the United Nations from 1950 until the Communists took over Vietnam by force in 1975. They changed the yellow background to red, and added a yellow star, turning it into the flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This flag had been used in 1945 in the North, when Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam from France, Khai Chinh concluded.
This flag’s legitimacy, however, was questioned by Vietnamese around the world. It had been from 1930 to 1945 the official flag of the Indochinese Communist Party. It was considered then an international flag, not a national flag. The points of the yellow star represented the five protectorates of the Union of French Indochina: Tonkin, Annam, Cochinchina, Cambodia, and Laos. In 1955, the flag was modified to stand for farmers, workers, intellectuals, youth, and soldiers for each point of the star. The red background of the flag has always referred to the violence of the class struggle and the victory of the revolution. To Vietnamese nationalists, the flag stands for the antithesis of freedom and peace.
Memories of the Flags
“The three million Vietnamese refugees who voted with their feet and fled the Northern Communists in 1975 have been displaying the yellow flag with three red stripes everywhere. They are in the world, whether in their homes or in public places,” said Mr. Giap Ngoc Phuc. Mr. Phuc, 85, is a former chairman of the board of the Vietnamese Community in the Maryland, Washington, and Virginia area, having been elected first in 1993 by 30 Vietnamese organizations and having served for four terms.
“The former Republic of Vietnam flag has flown proudly alongside the American flag at Vietnamese malls at the Eden Center in Virginia, in Houston, in California, and elsewhere in the world since the 1990s. A friend and I keep a permanent stock of 100 flags in our store rooms at all times for display at Vietnamese celebrations and demonstrations against the Communists.”
The well-respected Mr. Phuc continued, “My children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and those of the Vietnamese around the world, identify that flag as the flag of freedom. We have not forgotten the millions of our compatriots who died defending that flag against the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, and the Communists. We will venerate that flag until the end of our lives. We will not yield to Communist domination wherever we live.”
Nguyen Cao Quyen, a former army officer, diplomat and military magistrate in Vietnam, and presently President of the Vietnamese Political Prisoners of War (VPPW), East Region, said, “ In the Washington area, there are 400 of us who were imprisoned in re-education camps and prisons in Vietnam. We have 21 branches around the country and are the strongest bloc in the U.S. opposed to the Communists. Altogether, we represent 110,000 ex-prisoners and family members, and we are grateful to the U.S. for having granted us asylum under the Humanitarian Operations (HO) bill passed by Congress in 1990. We recognize only the national flag -- the one we lived and died for.”
“When I see the Communist flag, I remember my 14 years of imprisonment. The mental torture was worse than the physical beatings. I had to cut wood in the jungle under the grilling sun and build houses for our captors. I had to grow food, not for my fellow prisoners and myself, but for them. To control our minds, they kept us constantly in a state of hunger. We were allowed three thin slices of meat twice a year; otherwise, we had to eat manioc or sweet potato mixed with water, with two pieces of green vegetables. That’s all we got.”
Mr. Quyen went on, “ We were not allowed to see anyone in our family. We had
to recite Marxist Leninist theories, and every evening write confessions. One day, I refused to sign a paper saying I had served as a CIA colonel. They bound my feet and put me in solitary confinement for 21 months. For me, the red flag represents lies, torture, prison, hunger, oppression, blood, and death. I was luckier than my fellow inmates; many died of malaria, dysentery, malnutrition, ill-treatment or torture.”
Asked what he does nowadays to help himself recover, he replied, “ I network with the Vietnamese Political Prisoners of War, and in 2000, a group of friends and I founded the Democracy Forum for Vietnam. We invite speakers to talk on issues such as human rights violations, religious and political oppression, and the censure of writers. The war in Vietnam has gone, but the fight for a just cause still goes on in our hearts and minds,” Mr. Quyen exclaimed.
Mrs. Nguyen Thi Le, chair of the Preservation of the Nationalist Flag Committee, had this to say. “ I have been enlisting parents and other community members to go to school officials and present them with our flag, the one with the yellow background and red stripes. We urge them to display it instead of that insulting flag used by the Communists. That flag brings back to us the horrible emotions and terrible nightmares of the past. We don’t want our children confused by that bloodstained flag. It represents a dictatorship, not the civilized society and the bright future our children long for.”
Dr. Dang Vu Chan, a psychiatrist treating mentally disturbed Vietnamese who had been tortured in Vietnam and still suffered post-traumatic syndrome, said that it was still a severe problem among overseas Vietnamese. Te healing process, he said, is not finished yet.
For the Vietnamese community, the struggle to have its yellow flag recognized in Virginia will go on. Delegate Bob Hull said that he would introduce the flag bill again, and it will undoubtedly continue to have the Vietnamese community’s strong support.