By Nguyen Anh Thu
North Vietnam’s capture of Saigon during the tumultuous days of April 1975 is a pivotal moment in Asia’s post-colonial history, but the story of what happened next is relatively little-known, both in and outside the country. Huy Duc, a veteran Vietnamese journalist, is aiming to shed new light on the reunification of Vietnam and its aftermath in a new book called “The Winning Side.”
Now based in Boston, Mass., where he is a Nieman fellow at Harvard University, Mr. Duc spent 20 years working in Vietnam, writing for local newspapers such as Tuoi Tre, Thanh Nien and Saigon Tiep Thi. He also published until 2010 the blogosin.org, which was ranked as the most popular blog in Vietnam, according to his Nieman profile.
For the past three years, he has worked on bringing reunification-era Vietnam to life through in-depth interviews with witnesses, including people who went on to become key post-war leaders in Vietnam and shapers of what is now one Asia’s most promising emerging economies.
Among other things, Mr. Duc has detailed the often harsh treatment meted out to the country’s ethnic Chinese citizens, who, like today, are largely concentrated in Saigon, renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the takeover. They accounted for a large proportion of the Vietnamese who sought to flee the country in the months following reunification. Mr. Duc also focuses on the plight of the country’s intellectuals and their hardships in Communist-run re-education camps.
Describing why he wrote the book, Mr. Duc, who served eight years in the Vietnamese army, said many people in Vietnam today believe that 1975 marked the North’s straightforward liberation of the South. Instead, he said he sought to explore and explain subsequent conflicts with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and with China, as well as the struggle of ordinary people to survive the upheaval.
Published as an e-book via Amazon, the Vietnamese-language “The Winning Side” combines two volumes — “Giai Phong” or “The Liberation,” and “Quyen Binh” or “The Power” — and has already set alarm bells ringing in some quarters for its sensitive political content. At present, only the first volume has been published.
At least two local publishers turned down the option to publish the book. Chu Hao, editor and general director of Vietnam-based Tri Thuc Publishing, said in a telephone interview that now is not the right time to publish the book in Vietnam. He describes the work, though, as “a true history of Vietnam written through the perspective of a professional journalist.”