This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
William Atwood is introduced and provides the introduction to the Ambassador of the Republic of Vietnam to the United States, Bui Diem. Atwood notes that he is founder and owner of the Saigon Post in South Vietnam.
Diem speaks, discussing the recent elections, noting that journalists have agreed that the election was held fairly and honestly.
He discusses the problems facing Vietnam - how to create a foundation for a democracy, how to create an efficient government to cope with the huge problems the country is facing, how to aid citizens in rural areas.
He discusses responses (or lack of) by the North Vietnamese to proposals made by South Vietnamese.
Questions and answers follow.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 72266
Municipal archives id: T5578
Text from document found in tape box.
ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE AMBASSADOR OF VIETNAM AT THE OVERSEAS PRESS CLUB, NEW YORK CITY
SEPTEMBER 13, 1967
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed a great honor for me to be here today to address such a distinguished gathering. The fact that you have the kindness asking me to come and discuss about the situation in our country reflects clearly the deep interest you have in our problems.
The problem of Vietnam now transcends all other issues in international relations. It has become the epicenter in the universal controversy on war and peace. Especially during the past two months, the Vietnamese elections have made headlines. Various opinions have been expressed. For one reason or another, many of them are critical. The central issue revolves around the question of fairness, and the uproar reached its climax during the two weeks prior to the voting. The elections are now over and the evidence all points to the fact that they have been fairly and honestly conducted, as testified by the reports of many newsmen and foreign observers on the spot. We had, in fact, during the past weeks nearly one thousand correspondents from all around the world and observers from 24 countries covering the elections, not only in Saigon but also in remote places. In this regard I wish to quote my favorite paper, the respectable New York Times which is, nevertheless,by no means biased in our favor; "A pool of 12 reporters for American newspapers, who have studied the voting throughout the country, concluded that the election has been conducted honestly". In my humble opinion, I would say that if one has doubt about the possibility for the observers to look at everything during their few days stay, the conclusion from the pool of correspondents mentioned by the New York Times is at least worth to be seriously considered.
So one more step on the road of nation-building has been successfully achieved. Let us examine with objectivity what are the prospects ahead -
You all know that Vietnam is currently in the middle of a terrible war of aggression and subversion. While the military struggle against the communists must necessarily go on strictly for self defense reasons and until the day the enemy shows signs of a willingness to stop it, we have come to realize that, a nation cannot successfully meet the communist challenge without working actively toward a more positive social order. During the whole period of French colonial domination, progress in our: society was hampered, and the socio-economic set-up underwent profoundly disturbing changes. The advent of national independence necessary called for a new concept of nationhood which would satisfy the basic aspirations of the people. This search, however, has been a long and painful sequence of trials and errors for our people. For many years, the connivance between the forces of colonialism, communism, and personal dictatorship had succeeded in hindering a free dialogue among the Vietnamese and in precluding the harmonious reaching of a national consensus. As a result of this oppressive situation, the popular aspirations were to surface boisterously in the aftermath of the Revolution against personal dictatorship in November 1963. However, following instances of unruly clashes now and then between existing social and political forces, we seem now to have arrived at a stage where these forces are beginning to regroup along positions on the major issues confronting the nation rather than on the basis of religion or regionalism.
What are these major issues? You have seen that during our election campaign, peace was one of the overriding issues but along with peace there were also others.
On the political front, how to start the setting up of political structures which are almost non-existent at the present time, how to achieve a workable system of cooperation between the legislative and executive branches in view of laying down the solid foundations and lasting traditions for our democracy still at its early stage, and, last but not least, how to have a broad based and efficient government so as to cope with the huge problems we are facing right now.
On the economic and social front, how to provide for our people in the rural areas a decent life which means security as we" as a better standard of living, how, in terms of peace coming back one day to our land, to solve the problem of reconversion for our economy to catch up with the delays we suffered from the war itself, and once again, last but not least, how to eradicate the countless social injustices which stem from a century of colonialism, feudalism, and dictatorship.
All these problems are huge ones. We are fully aware of their magnitude. We don't pretend to be able to solve everything overnight, but we are determined to go ahead because we are deeply convinced that the solutions to these problems constitute the best answer to the communist challenge. I come back here to our elections as an example of how we try to have a realistic approach to our problems. We know that by having elections, we run the risks of subversion and division at a time when the nation must unite in the face of the enemy. We know too that under the present circumstances of war, democracy cannot be the matchstick to solve the economic and social problems. Yet we have decided to take up the challenge and I am proud to say that we have been vindicated by the results of the elections.
This does not mean, however, that we are going to succeed in every field of endeavor. Human beings as we are, we have our own limitations but it is simply a matter of survival for us; we have no other alternative but the difficult path I have just outlined briefly. Now let us get back to our major issue: peace. It should be reminded in the first place that the war in Vietnam is mainly for us a war for self defense - Neither the United States and the other allied countries which are helping Vietnam nor the Republic of Vietnam harbor any ambition for territorial expansion; all of us have spared no effort in the search for peace. We do not seek to destroy the communist regime in North Vietnam, or in China or anywhere else.
You all remember that the Republic of Vietnam came to existence in the aftermath of Geneva as a result of partition of what was then known as the State of Vietnam - Although not a signatory to the 1954 Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, the Republic of Vietnam has been determined to loyally observe it in the hope of contributing to the stability of the region, and of saving its resources for the heavy task of reconstruction. South Vietnam did not accept the partition with light heart,but whether we want it or not, that was already a "defacto" partition, and we are not the ones who deliberately, through an aggressive policy, try to upset it. All we want is to be left alone so we can have the liberty to shape up our own future and way of life, and that is precisely what the communists are trying to prevent us from achieving. Apparently, it sounds like a propaganda line, and definitely I wish to avoid it, but the problem of peace is too vital a problem for us. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that regular units of the North Vietnamese army are presently on our territory, the Demilitarized Zone is no longer respected, and not only our army but also our civilians who have nothing to do with the war, are brutally attacked day and night by the communists.
One question being asked is this: You want peace, why don't you want to talk peace with those who are fighting you? In this respect, I repeat here that already many times in the past, we have made proposals for peace talks with those who are fighting, I mean the Hanoi regime. Last March 19, our government submitted an aide-memoire to the United Nations Secretary General, suggesting direct talks_between North and South. Vietnam on the details of an eventual armistice, and other problems as may seem fit. On April 18, our government officially approved the Canadian proposal for peace, and made specific offers for a pullback of forces from the Demilitarized zone on both sides. We also offered to meet representatives of the Hanoi regime for any further peace discussion. In mid-May, we proposed a twenty-four hour truce during the Buddha's birthday festival on May 23. The North Vietnamese never responded publicly to this proposal, nor positively to any other that we or friendly nations have made.
Another question is; The Viet Cong are fighting you, how about talking with them? To this question, our answer is: we know for sure, and all the evidence indicates it, that the National Front of Liberation in South Vietnam is only a facade shielding hard-core communist cadres and regulars from the North Vietnamese army. We Vietnamese who happened to be forced to fight during these past twenty years have learned well that peace is too important a matter to be treated through expedient or temporary solutions. The problem should be tackled at its root, I mean the communist Hanoi regime. As long as this regime is not willing to have peace, I am afraid it is rather difficult for us to have peace alone; and the only alternative open to us is our self-defense policy and, this, for the sake of our own survival.
One last question being asked is this: How could we envision the prospects of peace after taking note of this apparent deadlock?
The results of our recent elections once again give lie to the claim of the National Liberation Front to represent the South Vietnamese nation. We earnestly hope that the communists will soon come to recognize the reality of the new situation. The government in South Vietnam is there to stay, in a legitimate way, with the consent of the South Vietnamese population. The people, by the exercise of their choice through the ballot box, have eloquently rejected the way of life that the communists are trying to impose on them by force. The possibility is now remote for the communists to take over South Vietnam either through military means or through subversion. Perhaps after realizing all this, the communists will adopt a more realistic approach to the crucial problem of war and peace. Only then will the people of Vietnam, both in the North as will as in the South, begin to see the promising prospects of an early settlement. Meanwhile, we only hope that, with the help from allied countries, our determined efforts to bring about a free and decent life to our people will greatly contribute, if not to the immediate settlement of the conflict, at least to the shortening of this too long and cruel war of aggression.