National Liberation Front Founding Member, Truong Nhu Tang

Truong Nhu Tang

Truong Nhu Tang, a founding member of the National Liberation Front

 It is important to give a brief overview of Truong Nhu Tangs experience as an activist and within the National Liberation Front. As mentioned above, Truong Nhu Tang was the son of a college professor and business owner. As a young boy, Troung Nhu Tang received a strictly French education, with French students as well as Vietnamese. His French peers often referred to him with racist, derogatory terms. The curriculum focused entirely on French history, arts, science, and France’s great figures. No attention was paid to Vietnamese history or culture. After primary school, he studied pharmacy for a year in Hanoi before the August Revolution in 1945. When the revolution occurred, he was already back in Saigon. Moved by nationalist fervor, he seized his father’s bird rifle and enlisted in the Vanguard Youth, his high school diploma and rifle gave him an automatic leadership position. When protestors began attacking French civilian’s, he became disappointed and returned home. The following year, Ho Chi Minh visited Saigon and met with a number of youths, including Troung. Ho Chi Minh spoke to them like a grandfather and discussed Vietnamese history, colonialism, and the struggle of the Vietnamese for their independence.[1]

Troung then traveled to Paris to begin his college career, his father had intended for Troung to become a pharmacist, but he became entranced by history, philosophy, and political science. He became overwhelmed with the desire to end French colonialism and secure an independent Vietnam. He envisioned his ideal Vietnam as having the spirit of French democracy, American economics, and the German dedication to science. Truong became entangled in the anti-war movement and began working with French communists to protest against the French Indochina War. His father was outraged after he learned of his son's revolutionary activity and cut him off from all funds. Truong was then forced to work menial jobs to support himself and finish his education, by 1951 he received a master’s in political science. The war took a heavy toll at home and was ruining his family’s business. So, he and his father reconciled, and he returned to Vietnam to help support his family. He began working as a teacher in rural regions of Southern Vietnam, and his master’s degree allowed him to become a senior instructor. Shortly after, he began working with Viet Minh guerrillas who operated near the village and helped them transport medical supplies. Then, he agreed to accompany a group of Viet Minh on a river ambush against French forces. The guerrillas created a blockade in the river, and once French patrol boats were lured into the trap, they were annihilated. French air and firepower were incapable of locating or defeating the ambushing fighters.[2]

After the French had been defeated, Troung hoped for a highly democratic government, that would have the ability to reconcile the differences between the French-educated upper class and former Viet Minh. In addition, he wanted to avoid any kind of hostile confrontation with the North, as he knew it would draw in larger foreign powers. Of course, it did not take long for him and many other Vietnamese to realize their hopes would not come to fruition thanks to the corrupt government of Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem quickly labeled all former resistance members as communists and regarded them as a threat to his power. Truong was furious that French despots had been replaced by Vietnamese despots who were now subservient to the United States. So, he and other Vietnamese nationalists began holding secret meetings until they officially formed the National Liberation Front. Their main objectives have already been stated, Truong was primarily tasked with gathering more supporters. During his time organizing, he worked as a bank manager within Saigon. He lived a double life, constantly organizing, hiding fellow NLF members in his home, and keeping up the appearances of a typical upper-class Vietnamese businessman. Interestingly, Troung claims the NLF had almost no hand in overthrowing Diem. In fact, Diem’s corruption was a motivating factor for many who decided to join the NLF.[3]

In the years after Diem's regime, Truong continued working and organizing. He was eventually arrested in 1967 and charged with being a communist. Before being sent to the National Prison, he was taken, blindfolded, to a literal torture chamber. There he saw fellow Vietnamese, some members of the NLF, chained, starved, beaten, and bloody. The torturers urged him to confess to being a communist, but Troung never was and so never claimed to be. Dissatisfied with his answer, the torturers electrocuted him “until his eyes popped out” and then forced him to drink “soapy water” that permanently damaged his digestive tract. Eventually, the main torturer, referred to as “the Butcher”, was bribed by Troung’s wife and Truong was sent to the National Prison where he was imprisoned for eight months. Curiously, after Tet, American intelligence forces secured his release. He was treated extremely well by American forces. As part of a prisoner exchange, they took Troung via helicopter to a remote location and then released him. He wandered through a jungle path until he met with a Vietcong propaganda team. They took him on a long and arduous journey until he met up with Vietcong and armed forces command, the Central Office of Southern Vietnam (COSVN). He met with the Vietcong commander, General Tram Num Trung.[4]

For the remainder of the war, he stayed in COSVN’s jungle base, and lived much like a guerrilla, near the Cambodian border in a region called the Iron Triangle. The area was separated into multiple different headquarters for the North Vietnamese forces, Vietcong forces, and NLF forces that would form the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG). He was elected by committee to be work for the Ministry of Justice. He and his comrades worked to create a pluralistic government that would eventually unify with the North once the war ended. It was an extremely harsh existence and they often had to constantly relocate and dig new tunnel networks to avoid the relentless B-52 bombings. After 1970, North Vietnam began to increasingly subordinate the NLF and PRG. Troung desperately wanted to prevent revenge killings many feared would happen if the North decided to dominate the South. Many of his fears came to fruition after the North secured victory in 1975. The North Vietnamese government completely disregarded the desires of the NLF and PRG. They lied about their promises of only holding thirty-day re-education sessions and imprisoned many people for years, including Troung’s brothers. Disgusted by what he perceived as a betrayal, in late August 1978 Truong took his family, risked everything, and fled by boat for France.[5] Truong’s story highlights the passion for independence so many Vietnamese possessed, it also demonstrates that before, during, and after American intervention there had always been an option for a free and independent Vietnam. The National Liberation Front was the largest political organization in the country, it had the support of a diverse and large section of the population. While speculation is often a pointless affair, perhaps if Western powers had taken the time to truly examine Vietnam, its culture, and people they would have discovered a peaceful means of uniting the country and prevented decades of death, destruction, and despair.

[1] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 1-12 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

[2] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 20-29 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

[3] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 40-45, 50, 80-85 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

[4] Ibid. 111-128

[5] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 169-190, 205-206, 222-225, 268-269, 296 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

 

Truong Nhu Tang