Reunification without Reconciliation?:
Social Conflicts and Integration in Vietnam after 1975
This paper discusses the failed policy of reconciliation carried out
by the leadership in Hanoi after the collapse of the Republic of
Vietnam (commonly known as “South Vietnam”) on April 30, 1975.
It argues that in spite of all promises to the contrary after the
end of the war the victorious North systematically dicriminated
Southern Vietnamese who had worked for the former Saigonese
government or the United States in Vietnam. Furthermore, I will
analyse in which way the leadership in Hanoi tried to write the
Republic of Vietnam out of history by destroying “sites of memo-
ry” (lieux de mémoire).
In the following I discuss how this policy together with the
* Associate Professor, Department of Asian History, Seoul National University
주제어: Vietnam War, National Reconciliation, History and Memory
베트남 전쟁, 화해, 통일, 역사와 기억
(2021. 5.31), pp. 459~488
460 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
building of socialism in the southern part of the country led to seri-
ous social conflicts and finally to a massive exodus of approx-
imately one million Vietnamese.
In the second part of the paper, I will show that since the begin-
ning of the reform policy in Vietnam (đổi mới) in the 1980s the
failed integration of many defeated South Vietnamese after the end
of the war has increasingly been adressed in “memory debates”
among Vietnamese abroad and at home. The fate of the former
South Vietnamese war cemetery in Biên Hòa will serve as an
In 2020 Vietnam celebrated the 45th anniversary of the victory on April
30, 1975 when a three-decade struggle for the reunification of the country
This paper focusses on one aspect of Vietnam’s postwar development
that was not brought up during the celebrations and that so far has not
been addressed at length by the historiography in Vietnam: the failed poli-
cy of reconciliation of the leadership in Hanoi after the collapse of the
Republic of Vietnam (commonly known as “South Vietnam”).1)
I argue that in spite of all promises to the contrary after the end of the
1) This article was originally presented at the Conference of the Korean Historial
Association on “Social conflict and integration in history” in October 2020. I would
like to thank the organizers for inviting me. Many thanks also to my discussant
Professor Park Tae-Gyun for his insightful comments.
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 461
war the victorious North systematically discriminated southern Vietnamese
who had worked for the former Saigonese government or the United States
and even many of those who had opposed the Saigon regime before 1975.
Furthermore, I will analyze how the leadership in Hanoi tried to write
the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) out of history by destroying “sites of memo-
ry” (lieux de mémoire) and cultural items that had been produced before
1975. I will then discuss how this policy together with the building of so-
cialism in the southern part of the country led to serious social conflicts
and finally to a massive exodus of approximately one million Vietnamese.
In the second part of the paper, I will show that since the beginning
of the reform policy in Vietnam (đổi mới) in the 1980s the failed integration
of many defeated South Vietnamese after the end of the war has increas-
ingly been addressed in “memory debates” among Vietnamese abroad and
at home. The fate of the former South Vietnamese war cemetery in Biên
Hòa will be discussed in detail.2)
2. Policy in the South after 1975: Building Socialism and
Erasing the Memory of the Republic of Vietnam
The political development after the victory on April 30, 1975 in South
Vietnam was somehow similar to that after the defeat of the French in
1954 in North Vietnam.3) Like Hồ Chí Minh after the return of the Việt
2) I would like to thank Mr. Nguyễn Xuân Vượng who accompanied me on my visit
to the former South Vietnamese war cemetery in Biên Hòa for his precious help.
3) For an excellent overview of the post-war development in Vietnam see Goscha
(2016) pp. 407-436.
462 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
Minh to Hanoi in 1954, in 1975 the leadership of the Vietnamese Commu-
nist Party (VCP) had also promised to carry out a policy of concord and
reconciliation towards the former enemy. This promise had already been
made in several announcements of the Provisional Revolutionary Gover-
nment of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG) and in the Paris Peace
Accords (Jamieson 1995, pp. 358-359; Gettleman 1995, pp. 471-487).
However, after April 30, 1975, it became soon obvious that the new ad-
ministration was neither interested in forming a national unity government
nor do carry out a policy of national reconciliation.
Instead, the leadership in Hanoi soon started to consolidate political
control by eliminating potential political rivals, sidelining and reeducating
all those who had supported the old regime. In addition, it was committed
to one overarching ideological project — to liberate the countrymen in the
southern part of the country oppressed by capitalism and imperialism.
Thus, to build up socialism in the south AND to achieve the reunification
of the country had been the twofold aim of the VCP during the Second
Indochina War (Vu Tuong 2019 and 2017). This also involved a system-
atic obliteration of the memory of the defunct Republic of Vietnam.
Before the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National
Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF) entered Saigon on April 30,
1975, about 65.000 South Vietnamese — mostly those who had held
high-level positions within the former administration or had directly
worked for the U.S. — had fled. Many South Vietnamese were afraid that
the North Vietnamese victors would create a bloodbath among the de-
feated like in Huế during the Tết Offensive in 1968. Other South
Vietnamese had decided to stay to contribute to the reconstruction of the
country (Hardy 2004, p. 227).
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 463
The bloodbath did not materialize. Instead, the communist security ap-
paratus announced that the South Vietnamese population had to register
and to make a personal history statement (lý lịch). These rather detailed
personal accounts had been obligatory in the North since the 1950s. Now
southerners had to provide not only personal information such as one’s
class background and political activities in support or against the revolu-
tion, but also about one’s family. The lý lịch served “as the basis for clas-
sifying southerners in political terms as supporters or opponents of the
revolution and in economic terms by documenting their peasant, worker,
or bourgeois capitalist origins.” (Leshkowich 2014, pp. 149-150). Those
with a “bad lý lịch” (lý lịch xấu) would suffer discriminatory measures in
post-war Vietnam. Their children, for example, would not get access to
universities, and they themselves would not be allowed a job in the state
sector (ibid.: 150; Denney 1990, Lê Viết Thọ 2020).
First of all, however, those with “negative political backgrounds” who
had used to work for the “puppet government” (ngụy quyền) or served in
the “puppet army” (ngụy quân) and even many who had opposed the for-
mer Saigonese government and had been part of the so-called “Third
Force”, but were also deemed disloyal by the victors, were sent to re-
education camps (trại cải tạo). The internees had to attend regularly strug-
gle sessions where they had to commit self-criticism and to perform hard
work (Sagan and Denney 1982). Many families that had been classified
as unreliable were forced to resettle in ‘new economic zones’ in remote
places. In sum, more than a million of southerners spent some time in re-
education camps; some stayed more until the 1980s (Goscha 2016, p. 419).
To punish the defeated enemies and even some who had fought against
the Saigon regime before 1975 was detrimental to national reconciliation.4)
464 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
Besides sending people associated with the former RVN regime to
re-education camps and thus purging South Vietnamese society the leader-
ship in Hanoi took also systematic measures to monitor and silence alter-
native forms of thinking and belief. This applied, for example, to the
South Vietnamese culture that the VCP had classified as “decadent” and
“poisonous” and that had been much more heterogeneous than the uniform
state-controlled culture in the North. The campaign that was launched to
restrict the influence of “decadent South Vietnamese culture” aimed at the
“music of the former regime” (âm nhạc chế độ cũ) that was labelled “yellow
music” (nhạc vàng). Records with romantic songs about love and peace
were forbidden (Denney 1982; Taylor 2001, pp. 23-55) and destroyed.5)
Similarly, books, magazines, newspapers and other printed material that
were considered to be “reactionary” and part of the “neo-colonialist cul-
ture” of the Saigon regime were confiscated and burnt. The authorities
classified all publications that had originated in the South before 1975 into
different categories. Works of writers belonging to the Existentialist school
such as Jean-Paul Sartre came into Category B “Decadent works” and
were banned (Denney 1982). That Sartre’s books were attacked during the
Cultural Revolution in South Vietnam after 1975 was an irony of history
since he had actively opposed the Vietnam War and the U.S. intervention.
4) Reeducation camps had already been established in the Democratic Republic of
Vietnam at the beginning of the 1960s to re-educate those who had worked with
the former French colonial administration and were suspected of disloyalty like those
(Grossheim (2014). p. 20).
5) It is also an irony of history that many of the old nhạc vàng-songs that had been
banned in Vietnam for decades have resurfaced and started to be performed again
during the reform period — but under the new name “bolero” music. Those vinyl
records from before 1975 in South Vietnam that had escaped the northern cultural
czars are now a much sought-after collector’s item (Cuong Pham 2017).
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 465
In addition to destroying music records and other cultural products of
the former RVN, the North Vietnamese also tried systematically to erase
the memory of the collapsed regime. This “condemnation of memory”
(damnatio memoriae) had been the policy of many victors in the past.
Thus, war cemeteries that had been built before 1975 and memorial
sites of the defunct regime were levelled. As one of the first measures,
the memorial statue of South Vietnamese marines in the park in front of
the Opera House Saigon was pulled down by young supporters of the
NLF (Nguyễn Ngọc Chính 2016). In the weeks following the liberation
of Saigon the victors continued to demolish other memorial sites and to
desecrate war cemeteries of the defeated Army of the Republic of Vietnam
(ARVN) (Nguyễn Công Luận 2012, p. 462).
In 1983, the Mạc Đĩnh Chi cemetery in Hồ Chí Minh-City where many
leading politicians and officers of the RVN had been buried was levelled
down on the orders of the local People’s Committee. Instead the author-
ities built the Lê Văn Tám park — named after an alleged 14-year-old
martyr of the First Indochina War (Logan and Witcomb 2013, p. 270).6)
Since 1965 fallen ARVN soldiers had been buried on the largest war
cemetery of the RVN, the National Military Cemetery in Biên Hòa near
Saigon. With an area of 125 ha this war cemetery became the final resting
place for approximately 16,000 fallen South Vietnamese soldiers — many of
them had died during the Tết Offensive in 1968, the invasion of Cambodia,
the Lâm Sơn Offensive in 1971 or the Easter Offensive in 1972.7)
6) A few years ago Vietnamese historian Phan Huy Lê revealed that the whole story
about the martyr Lê Văn Tám had been fabricated for propaganda purposes (Phan
Huy Lê 2009).
7) For the history of Biên Hòa cemetery see the documentary produced in the U.S.:
466 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
A high tower surrounded by a wall used to be the center of the cemetery.
This memorial was called Nghĩa dũng đài which means “brave and right-
eous”. It was planned to engrave the names of the fallen soldiers on the
inside of the wall and to decorate the area outside the wall with monu-
ments representing the history of Vietnam.
The entrance of the war cemetery was marked by a statue of a weary
ARVN soldier with his rifle in his lap that would be called “Thương tiếc”
The site Nghĩa dung đài was supposed to be accomplished and in-
augurated on June 19, 1975 on the memorial day of the ARVN, but this
plan did not materialize because the Saigonese regime was defeated at the
end of April 1975. Right after the collapse of South Vietnam, the National
Military Cemetery in Biên Hòa was put under the administration of Military
Zone Seven under the Defense Ministry in Hanoi, and renamed Bình An
After the collapse of the RVN the cemetery in Biên Hòa was desecrated
like many other South Vietnamese cemeteries. These desecrations are visi-
ble until this day.
Next to desecrating many tombs North Vietnamese soldiers also de-
molished the statue Thương tiếc. It is rumored that later on the statue was
melted down. Only the pedestal of the statue survived; however, it now
stands outside the cemetery on private property (Anon 2015, Nguyễn Ngọc
Chính 2012, Tường An 2013).
The Military Zone 7 that administered the former RVN National Military
Vietnam Film Club, Hồn Tử Sĩ. “Nghĩa trang Quận Đội Biên Hòa [The souls of
the fallen soldiers. The war cemetery Biên Hòa]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
Ahwb7gF5VPw (Accessed August 13, 2020).
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 467
did not grant families of fallen soldiers access to the cemetery. As a con-
sequence, they were neither able to care for the tombs nor to make offer-
ings to their deceased family member as it is custom in Vietnam on the
death anniversary day, lunar New Year (Tết) etc.
In the course of time the cemetery Biên Hòa more and more fell into
decay; the tombs started to be overgrown by weeds. In addition to that,
many tombstones made of concrete were stolen. Thus, after 1975 the North
Vietnamese victors had erased the memory of the defunct RVN.
[Figure 1] Desecrated tomb on the former War Cemetery of Biên Hòa
(©Grossheim March 2016).
To consolidate complete control in the South after the military victory
in April 1975 the VCP also eliminated potential political rivals such as the
NLF. The NLF also comprised some non-communist leaders who hoped
468 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
that an independent southern state would co-exist until northerners and
southerners had agreed on how to unite the two Vietnams via elections
or negotiations. That was the procedure stipulated in the Paris Peace
Accords. However, also in this case the VCP did not care about its pre-
vious commitments; “the victors wanted their people in command.”
(Goscha 2016, p. 409). Therefore, the NLF troops were merged with the
PAVN shortly after the end of the war without consulting the NLF leader-
ship (Truong Nhu Tang with David Chanoff and Doan Van Toai 1986,
pp. 264-265). Similarly, in June 1976 the two Vietnamese states were uni-
fied into a single state, called the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, without
any meaningful debate in the Political Conference for the Reunification of
the Country or in the National Assembly. The southern delegation at the
reunification conference was not represented by a NLF leader, but by
Phạm Hùng, the number four in the Politburo of the VCP in Hanoi (ibid.:
284-286; Goscha 2016, pp. 412-413).
While discriminating against those associated with the defeated “puppet
regime” (ngụy quyền) and thus purging the old administrative apparatus,
Hanoi sent thousands of northern cadres south to extend the “Sino-Soviet
state-building project” (Goscha 2016, p. 414). They established party cells
and mass organizations at all administrative levels, and built up an effi-
cient security apparatus in the South that was integrated into the Ministry
of Public Security in Hanoi (Bộ Công An). Many of the victorious north-
ern cadres who were instrumental in transferring the political and econom-
ic system to the territory of the former RVN enjoyed privileges and often
behaved arrogantly towards the local southerners and seldom had an un-
derstanding of the specific local conditions.
This did not help when the northern cadres tried to establish a centrally
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 469
planned economy in the south as well, which meant the confiscation of pri-
vate property and the nationalization of private businesses. The first meas-
ure was implemented soon after the end of the war whereas the large-scale
nationalization of the commercial sector especially in Saigon-Cholon started
later in March 1978. The crackdown on capitalist trade affected primarily
ethnic Chinese (Hoa) who constituted the majority of the businessmen and
traders in South Vietnam (Goscha 2016, pp. 415-416).
In March 1978, the leadership in Hanoi also decided to launch the col-
lectivization of agriculture in the South. Theoretically, peasants were sup-
posed to enter agricultural cooperatives voluntarily, but in most cases they
were forced to contribute their land, tools, and equipment. Their lack of
enthusiasm to join the cooperatives was caused by the fact that most peas-
ants in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam’s rice bowl, were not landless, but
could be classified as middle peasants. During the French colonial period
big landlords had still owned most of the land in the delta, but during the
First Indochina War the Việt Minh had started to redistribute land and lat-
er in the 1960s the NLF had continued to do so. In addition, the Nguyễn
Văn Thiệu-government had launched the land-to-the-tiller program in 1970
which completed the land redistribution in the South. Another contributing
factor was the fact that due to the escalation of the war many landlords
had fled the cities.
Against this background many peasants could simply not understand
why they were supposed to join the cooperatives. The whole system of
collectivized farming with fixed prices and no reward for individual hard
work removed incentives. Many peasants offered passive resistance to ag-
ricultural collectivization (Kerkvliet 2005, Trung Dang 2018). As a result,
productivity decreased and at the end of the 1970s Vietnam was experi-
470 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
encing a famine.
As another reaction to the crackdown on private business and the col-
lectivization of agriculture many southerners decided to leave the country.
Not only because of the nationalization of private commerce, but also due
to the deterioration of Sino-Vietnamese relations after the end of the war
in 1975 ethnic Chinese constituted a large group among the refugees.
In the weeks before April 30, 1975, about 150,000 Vietnamese mostly
associated with the crumbling Saigonese regime had left the country. After
the end of the war smaller numbers continued to flee usually via the South
China Sea. In 1978, due to the radicalization of Hanoi’s economic policy
the number of refugees increased dramatically. Most of them went by boat
and luckily ended up in Hong Kong or on the shores of Indonesia,
Malaysia, the Philippines or Malaysia. Those less fortunate perished in the
South China Sea or were killed by pirates.
When at the end of 1979, Indonesia and the other maritime Southeast
Asian countries declared that they could not accept any new arrivals,
Vietnam agreed with UNHCR on the Orderly Departure Program (ODP)
that allowed Vietnamese to leave their country for family reunion.
Approximately 600,000 Vietnamese made use of the ODP. In sum, be-
tween 1975 and 1995 about 840,000 Vietnamese had fled (Goscha 2016,
Many of those who had left Vietnam after 1975 were originally from
North Vietnam and had come to the South after the end of the First
Indochina War and the signing of the Geneva peace accords in 1954.8)
8) See the example of the family of Duong Van Mai Elliott whose father had worked
for the French colonial administration, fled in 1954 to the South and then had to
leave Vietnam for the U.S. in 1975 (Duong Van Mai Elliott 1999).
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 471
Although in 1954 they had lost their home, they could at least stay in
Vietnam. In contrast, in 1975 they experienced a much bigger loss, they
had to leave their home country. This fate of several generations of
Vietnamese and their painful experiences are reflected in a nostalgic song
by composer Phạm Duy that became popular among the overseas com-
munities in the U.S. and elsewhere: “1954 cha bỏ quê, 1975 con bỏ nước”
(1954 you, father, lost your home, in 1975 I left my home country).9)
Historian Christopher Goscha offers a clear explanation for the exodus
of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese: “This internal hemorrhaging of
modern Vietnam was proof that national reconciliation had been a failure.”
(Goscha 2016, p. 423).
3. Reform Policy and National Reconciliation? The Case of
the ARVN Military Cemetery of Biên Hòa
When, in the 1990s the number of refugees decreased and Vietnam em-
barked on the đổi mới reform policy, the former National Military Cemetery
of Biên Hòa was still off limits to visitors and continued to decay.
Sometimes soldiers who guarded the place turned a blind eye on civilians
who wanted to visit the graves of their relatives; however, it was still not
possible to care for the graves on a regular basis (Dan Southerland 2005,
Mydans 2000, Xuân Ba 2014).
Since Vietnam had launched an open-door policy at the beginning of
the 1990s more and more overseas Vietnamese returned to Vietnam for
9) See the version of Elvis Phương: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTZPlQYD-
CY (Accessed August 13, 2020).
472 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
family visits or to work. This was also due to a fundamental change in
the policy of the Vietnamese government towards the diaspora. Whereas
before overseas Vietnamese (Việt Kiều) such as “boat people” were usu-
ally considered a threat, now the Vietnamese authorities encourage them
to come home and invest. Thus, in May 2004 in the important Resolution
36/NQ-TW the Politburo of the VCP officially recognized “the Viet Kieu
community and their potential in making a significant contribution to
Vietnam’s economy.” (Pham 2011, p. 17).
In spite of this general policy shift, in 2005 the Bình An cemetery was
still a no-go zone and guarded by soldiers; signs warned “No pictures!”
Slowly, however, things took a turn for the better. In the same year,
Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, former RVN Vice-President, suggested to Vietnamese
Prime Minister Phan Văn Khải that the authorities should restore former
ARVN war cemeteries and allow family members to care for the tombs
of their deceased (Anon 2005b).
In April the same year, former Vietnamese Prime Minister Võ Văn Kiệt
opened a debate in Vietnam and with overseas Vietnamese on the question
of national reconciliation. In an interview he said “If there are a million
people who feel joy on the 30th April, there are also a million people who
feel sad on this day.” In 1975 — Võ Văn Kiệt argued — the conditions
for a fast reconstruction of the country had been good, because many
South Vietnamese had been prepared to make a contribution and almost
all officers, soldiers and civil servants of the former Saigon government
just wanted to live a peaceful life. However, after defeating the Republic
of Vietnam and the United States the leadership in Hanoi had been drunk
with victory and self-complacency — Võ Văn Kiệt added. If the VCP had
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 473
opted earlier for an economic policy similar to the economic reforms
launched after 1986, Vietnam would not have experienced the period of
the “lost years” from 1975 to 1986.
Võ Văn Kiệt had sufficient prestige to make such bold statements that
differed from the celebratory narrative of the 30th April as a “Day of
Liberation” for the whole Vietnamese people (Anon 2005a; see Trần Hữu
Quang 2013, p. 418, 424).
His comments were welcomed by many Vietnamese inside and outside
the country and led to some interesting debates about the question of na-
tional reconciliation (Grossheim 2008). Võ Văn Kiệt himself supported the
idea of opening the Biên Hòa cemetery to the public and had talks with
representatives of Bình Dương province and Hồ Chí Minh City (Trần Hữu
Quang 2013, p. 421).
[Figure 2] People’s Cemetery of Bình An = Fo r m e r N a t i onal Mi l i tar y C e m e t e r y
of Biên Hòa, after 1975 administered by the Vietnamese Ministry
of Defense (©Grossheim, March 2016).
474 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
As a result of all these efforts, at the end of 2006 the new Vietnamese
Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng decided on the transfer of the Bình An
cemetery from the administration under the Defense Ministry to the civil-
ian authorities of Bình Duong province. The formerly closed military cem-
etery thus became a normal civilian cemetery (BBC 2007).
On a state visit to the U.S. in 2007, Vietnamese President Nguyễn Minh
Triết confirmed the decision and emphasized that overseas Vietnamese
would also be allowed to visit the Bình An cemetery. In the same year
the Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister visited the cemetery together
with Nguyễn Đạc Thành, ARVN veteran and President of the Vietnamese
American Foundation (VAF), an American and paid his respect to fallen
South Vietnamese soldiers. The VAF and other NGOs were allowed to
restore hundreds of tombs (Trọng Thành 2014, Tường An 2013.).
This also applied to family members in general who wanted to restore
the tombs of relatives. In many cases families decided to build new tombs
while preserving the original tombstone. Thus, since more than a decade
the building of new tombs on the former National Military Cemetery of
Biên Hòa has been in full swing (Thành Trung 2013, T. T. 2007).
Besides, a memorial tablet and an incense burner were erected in front
of the former memorial site Nghĩa dung. However, the new memorial tab-
let has no inscription und thus looks somehow incomplete.
The Vietnamese press covered the opening and restoration of the former
ARVN Military Cemetery, albeit not the official party organs such as
Nhân Dan (The People), but only more open-minded newspapers like
Thanh Niên (Youth). Several blogs in and outside Vietnam also reported
the news and uploaded stories about visits to the Bình An cemetery (e.g.
Tuấn Nguyễn 2015).
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 475
[Figure 3] Old gravestone in front of new tomb on the former National Military
Cemetery of Biên Hòa (©Grossheim, March 2016).
[F i gur e 4] Em pty memo rial t a blet a nd i n cen s e bu r ner i n fron t of the f orm er
(©Grossheim, March 2016).
476 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
The opening of the former ARVN Military Cemetery is certainly an
important contribution to national reconciliation. More efforts by the
Vietnamese authorities also to look for the remains of fallen ARVN
soldiers that are still missing in action in great numbers would be a further
step towards reconciliation with the former enemy.
However, initiatives by overseas Vietnamese NGOs or the U.S. govern-
ment that promised financial support to look for the remains of fallen
Vietnamese soldiers on the condition that the Vietnamese authorities
should also look for those of ARVN soldiers have so far been rejected
by Hanoi (BBC 2011, Hà Mi 2010).
Those who search the remains of fallen South Vietnamese soldiers do
this quietly lest to arouse the attention of the local authorities. Until this
very day it remains a difficult task and they lack official support (Bùi Thư
The limits of national conciliation are still drawn by the Vietnamese
Communist Party and its Central Department of Propaganda and Education
(Ban Tuyên Giáo Trung ương). The Vietnamese “memory machine”
(Grossheim 2020) continues to cling to the orthodox binary narrative of
the war. Thus, in museums, history textbooks and news reports it celebra-
tes those who fought and sacrificed their lives on the side of the victors
as heroes and martyrs (liệt sỹ) whereas those who had worked for the de-
funct RVN are labelled as American “puppets” (Mỹ ngụy).
Likewise, the VCP aggressively defends the official master narrative
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 477
against any challenges. The important Resolution 4 issued by the Central
Committee of the VCP in October 2016 (Ban Chấp Hành Trung ương.
Đảng Cộng Sản Việt Nam 2016) explicitly warns against “the distortion
of history, making fabrications, and slandering […] of the leaders of Party
and state.” (ibid). In this context to uphold the celebratory narrative of the
Vietnam War and the post-war development becomes instrumental. That
is why the gatekeepers in Vietnam lash out at those who try to revise the
orthodox picture of the Republic of Vietnam as a completely illegitimate
political actor and who depict the Vietnam War as a civil war (Hà Nguyên
The fact that the relevant volume of the new history of Vietnam also
made use of the term “chính quyền Saigon” (Saigon government) and only
rarely used the term “ngụy quyền” (puppet government) is a mere flash
in a pan (Trần Đức Cường (ed.) 2017). It is characteristic that the volume
on Vietnam’s post-war development only addresses the story of the boat
people in the chapter on security issues without providing any contextual
information of why almost one million of Vietnamese fled their home
country (Trần Đức Cường (ed.) 2017, p. 447.)
In the same vein, in an interview to the Vietnamese television on April
30 2020 Vice-Minister of Defense Nguyễn Chí Vĩnh praised the post-war
development in Vietnam as a huge success enjoyed by all Vietnamese
(Phạm Duy Thành and Minh Tuấn 2020). He argues further that due to
the policy of the VCP and the state those associated with the old regime
in the South “did not feel discriminated as long as they were patriotic”
(ibid.). National reconciliation, Nguyễn Chí Vĩnh says, had been im-
10) For an example on new research on the Republic of Vietnam see Tuong Vu and
Sean Fear (eds.) 2020.
478 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
plemented successfully because of the lenient policy of the Party and
Vietnamese state. Furthermore, the victory on April 30, 1975 first of all
had brought profit to the revolution, but when the country started to devel-
op even those Vietnamese linked to the defeated RVN had benefitted from
When Nguyễn Chí Vĩnh talks about “development” he certainly does
not mean the economic and social development between 1975 and 1986
which had been devastating and disappointing, but probably refers to the
subsequent đổi mới policy. The development after 1986 has indeed been
a success story that brought prosperity to a majority of Vietnamese.
However, to make this possible the VCP first had to give up the
Stalinist central-planning model and establish a market-oriented model
based on supply and demand. This applied first of all to the agricultural
sector that became a motor of economic development after agricultural co-
operatives throughout the country had been dissolved.
In other words, Vietnam’s successful reform policy was contingent on
the abandonment of a communist vision that had dominated the worldview
of the VCP for decades. As mentioned before, to build up socialism had
been one of the main aims to wage a war against the US-backed regime
in the South — next to reunification (Goscha 2016, pp. 441-442). By em-
bracing capitalist-oriented reforms the Party also implicitly admitted the
failure of its policy in the North after 1954 and in the South after 1975.
This is a causal relationship that Nguyễn Chí Vĩnh prefered not to
If one compares his self-complacent comments about the great victory
in 1975 that supposedly all Vietnamese enjoyed and about an alleged suc-
cessful national reconciliation made possible by a tolerant policy of the
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 479
VCP with the thought-provoking words of late Prime Minister Võ Văn
Kiệt had said in an interview 15 years earlier, then they are certainly a
step backwards on the road to national reconciliation.
It is no wonder that Nguyễn Chí Vĩnh’s views caused indignation
among many overseas Vietnamese (see e.g. Nguyễn Quang Duy 2020).11)
The gist of the matter is this: to truly recognize the Republic of
Vietnam as a legitimate actor in the modern history of Vietnam and to an-
alyze why so many Vietnamese left in 1978 and the following years
would simply undermine the celebratory master narrative propagated by
VCP and as a consequence undermine its legitimacy. For the moment the
gatekeepers in Hanoi have prevailed and it seems that the Vietnamese
Communist Party only allows reconciliation on its own terms (Cao Đức
11) For a non-Vietnamese view of the state of national reconciliation in Vietnam see
480 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
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원고 접수일: 2021년 4월 12일
심사 완료일: 2021년 5월 3일
게재 확정일: 2021년 5월 10일
Martin Grossheim / Reunification without Reconciliation? 487
화해 없는 통일
년 이후 베트남의 사회적 갈등과 통합
이 논문은, 1875년 4월 30일 베트남공화국(통칭 ‘남베트남’)이 붕괴된
이후 하노이(통칭 ‘북베트남’) 지도부가 추진한 화해 정책의 실패에 대해
서 다룬다. 본 논문에서는 우선 북베트남이 전쟁에서 승리한 이후, 그동
안 하노이 지도부가 공언했던 것과는 다르게 사이공 정부나 미국을 위해
서 일했던 남베트남 사람들을 체계적으로 차별했음을 지적한다. 나아가
하노이 지도부가 베트남공화국을 역사에서 지우기 위해서 소위 “기억의
장소”(lieux de mémoire)들을 파괴하는 과정을 분석한다.
하노이 지도부가 베트남 남부에서 사회주의 체제를 구축하는 과정에
서 위와 같은 정책을 추진함으로써 심각한 사회적 갈등이 발생하였고,
이는 결과적으로 약 100만 명에 이르는 베트남인들이 대거 국외로 망명
하는 사태로 이어졌다.
1980년대 베트남의 개혁정책(đổi mới)이 시작된 이래, 국내외의 베트
남인들 사이에서는 “기억 논쟁”(‘memory debates’)이 활발하게 진행되고
있으며, 이 과정에서 전쟁에서 패배한 남베트남 사람들을 통합하는 데
실패하였다는 사실도 자주 지적되고 있다. 비엔호아(Biên Hòa)에 소재한
*서울대학교 인문대학 동양사학과 부교수
488 인문논총 제78권 제2호 (2021.05.31.)
남베트남 전몰자 공동묘지가 겪어야 했던 부침은, 본 논문의 주장을 뒷
받침하는 좋은 예시가 될 것이다.