As Presidential candidate Donald Trump wrongly accused “thousands of people in New Jersey” (read: Muslim Americans) of celebrating the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the real celebrants — hard core communists of Vietnam — flew by, right under the radar.
Oh what a difference thirty-some years made. There once was a time when every little thing happening in that Southeast Asian nation got magnified onto every front page in the U.S.
Now, the American press seems more interested in getting over their own Vietnam syndrome than actually presenting news from that neck of the woods.
So it was that numerous statements by Vietnamese officials and their pundits that the U.S. somehow “deserved” the attacks got no mention in the U.S., while some imaginary celebration by some invisible “thousands” got heaped upon the heads of innocent Muslims.
Now, a lot of this was fleeting, happening at local meetings and on TV and radio with no archives. But at least one prominent piece was in print: Hanoi’s literary enforcer wrote poetically in an official Communist Party publication that the U.S. deserved the attack as payback for its hypocrisy. So now we have it.
The evidence is the special Lunar New Year (“Tet“) issue of “Sai Gon Giai Phong” newspaper of 2002, in a poem written by the government’s foremost poet-laureate and its former Deputy Prime Minister, To Huu (Tố Hữu).
Now, unlike our New Year’s Day, Tet in Vietnam is a mega holiday, frequently described as a “combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and everyone’s birthday rolled into one.”
So, for that momentous occasion, it is a tradition for Vietnamese print media to publish special Tet issues. It’s often a bound volume, more than 100 pages long, large size, with all-star cast of writers, and often sold as a special souvenir publication.
Sai Gon Giai Phong is a daily newspaper that’s also the official organ of the Vietnamese Communist Party Committee in Ho Chi Minh City. In other words, it’s the newspaper to read for the official position of the government in the country’s most populous city.
The piece in question is a poem by To Huu , one of the last poems he wrote. It is hard to understand the place To Huu (1920-2002) held in Vietnamese society because democratic countries don’t tend to have someone like him. The Soviets had Maxim Gorky, and the Vietnamese had To Huu.
It worked like this. To Huu had a talent with words, and he joined the communist revolution early. He was prolific with writing poetry extolling the communist values that the Party wanted. Party leaders made To Huu the man in charge of all other writers, making sure they fall in line, and in turn they made his poems required readings in school and in official publications.
To Huu’s poetry included glorifying the war against the French, the Americans, and the South Vietnamese; romanticizing revolutionary life; as well as bizarre pandering to communist idols, such as the line “I so love my baby when he first spoke, his first words were to call Stalin’s name.”
In time, what To Huu wrote became communist gospel. He was the chief persecutor of intellectuals but also the regime’s leading intellectual, by fiat. His last government position was as Deputy Prime Minister, where he was given the economic portfolio and promptly presided over the country’s worst inflation ever, rising to 700% by 1986.
Nonetheless, he remained the preeminent poet for the regime and the gold standard of communist literature in Vietnam.
So it was that for when the official organ of Ho Chi Minh City’s rulers published its special Tet issue for 2002, that is, published at the end of 2001, To Huu was given prominent space for his “looking forward to 2002.” And he did, with the usual anti-capitalist and pro-Party tropes.
Five years after resuming diplomatic relations with the U.S. and of annual “Human Rights Dialogue” between the countries, To Huu still warned of baits laid by the wolves of capitalism:
“Beware my people, the gilded traps“
and of the enemy out there:
“Still there are tigers and wolves wearing human faces.”
And this is what he said of what happened on September 11:
“The one who brags about ‘human rights’
Is still dropping bombs
And then suddenly calamity fell
Upon an arrogant superpower”
There we go.
It was not Muslims that were celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers. It was the communist rulers of Vietnam.
But then again, if once upon a time every little action in Vietnam got covered by the American press, nowadays grievous crimes visited by the Vietnamese government on the Vietnamese people only receive perfunctory reports.
No wonder you haven’t heard of it.
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