Thursday, May 14, 2009

Senator Jim Webb - Keynote Speaker at the "Journey to Freedom: A Boat People Retrospective" Symposium on May 2nd, 2009 at the Library of Congress

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Senator Jim Webb, addressing the Keynote speech at the Symposium. The Honorable Jim Webb mentioned his wife Hong Le Webb, who was a boat person at the the age of 7, later resettled in New Orleans, and having to work in a shrimp factory to earn her way through schools. She passed selective tests for Gifted and Talented children, continued to advance through schools, graduated from Cornell University and now is an acclaimed attorney working for a prestigious law firm in Washington D.C.

Senator Webb introduced the Senate Resolution: "May 2nd, Vietnamese Refugees Day" on April 30, 2009. The resolution, S. Res. 123, was unanimously passed last night (April 30, 2009) in the U.S. Senate.


The Vietnamese Americans presented Appreciation Plaque to The Honorable Jim Webb:
"IN APPRECIATION OF YOUR PERSONAL SACRIFICES IN THE VIETNAM WAR AND YOUR ENDURING CONVICTIONS IN FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY FOR VIETNAM."

[From left to right: Prof. Bich Ngoc Nguyen, Mrs. Thuy Thanh Vu, Dr. Hung M. Nguyen, Senator Jim Webb, Genie Ngoc-Giao Nguyên, Hoan Dang, Sister My Hanh Truong, Dr. Hado Conley, Dr. Billington.]

On 34th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, Webb Resolution in Support of "Vietnamese Refugees Day" Passes Senate

Delivers Senate Floor Speech to Mark Anniversary


Washington, DC—On the 34th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, Senator Jim Webb D-VA introduced a Senate resolution expressing support for designating May 2, 2009 “Vietnamese Refugees Day.” The resolution, S. Res. 123, was unanimously passed last night in the U.S. Senate.

The resolution commemorates the arrival of the Vietnamese refugees in the United States, documents their harrowing experiences and subsequent achievements in their new homeland, honors the host countries that welcomed the boat people, and recognizes the voluntary agencies and nongovernmental organizations that facilitated their resettlement, adjustment, and assimilation into mainstream society in the United States.

“The events following the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, have never really been given the proper attention,” said Senator Webb in a speech on the Senate floor. “As a consequence of that bitter day in April, 1975 there are now more than two million Americans of Vietnamese descent. We are better off as a nation for their contributions to our society, at every level. It was not always easy for these refugees when they arrived, but they won the rest of us over with their perseverance, their reverence for education, and their dedication to their families.”

Webb continued: “It is important that Americans understand this journey, because those who lived it deserve a fair place at the table as we continue to work toward better relations in the Vietnam of today. It is important to build a proper bridge between our country and Vietnam, for the good of both countries, for the health East Asia, and for the benefit of all the people inside today’s Vietnam.”

To read Senator Webb’s resolution expressing support for designating May 2, 2009 “Vietnamese Refugees Day,” please visit: http://webb.senate.gov/pdf/vietrefday.pdf

Senator Webb’s full remarks on the anniversary of the fall of Saigon follow:

“Mister President, today is a day that, for Vietnamese around the world, is as significant as the distinctions that are often made in other cultures between B.C. and A.D. Thirty-four years ago, on April 30th, 1975, the Communist forces from North Vietnam finished their conquest of the south, and the struggling, war-torn country of South Vietnam ceased to exist. Many who fought on the communist side and others who supported them believe that the motivation for pursuing this war was the unification of the country and independence from outside influence, and in many ways the position that they took, and the loss of 1.4 million communist soldiers on the battlefield in pursuit of that position, is understandable. But it is just as understandable to recognize and honor the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the people of South Vietnam, who fought long and hard at a cost of 245,000 battlefield deaths, for a government that, like our own here in the United States, allows true political and individual freedom.

“Those aspirations fell to the wayside as North Vietnamese tanks entered Saigon, in blatant violation of the 1973 Paris Peace accords, and instituted a harsh, Stalinist system of government that was marked at the outset by cruel recriminations toward those who had resisted its takeover. And thus, for millions of Vietnamese around the world, April 30th is a reminder of the loss of everything, including their homes, their way of life, and their hopes for a prosperous and open future for the country that they loved.

“Americans in general tend to avoid or ignore this day, and the significance it has not only on the Vietnamese but also on our own history. But it is important for us to look back on that day and on the war itself, not in anger but in fairness, in a way that gives credit where credit is due. And it is also important, for all of the reasons that led many of us to support that war endeavor, that we commit ourselves to working together to build the right kind of dialogue with the present government of Vietnam in order to help bring a better future for the Vietnamese people, and a more stable strategic environment in east Asia as a whole.

“Frankly, I believe this war still divides Americans in a way that they still feel but no longer openly discuss. I’m not sure we can even agree on the facts, much less the rightness or wrongness of our policies, that caused us to commit our military to that battlefield, with the eventual loss of 58,000 dead and another 300,000 wounded. Was it right to go into Vietnam? Was it important? If you ask those in academia, the predictable answer, growing ever more predictable as the years cause us to summarize the war ever more briefly, is that it was a mistake. And yet, here is a piece of data that should still cause all of us to think again. In August, 1972, eight years after the Gulf of Tonkin incident that brought us full-bore into Vietnam, even at a time when the nation had grown weary of bad strategies, after tens of thousands of combat deaths, and years of massive antiwar protests, a Harris Survey showed that 72 percent of Americans still believed that it was important that South Vietnam not fall into the hands of the communists, with only 11 percent disagreeing.

“Over the years, we’ve lost the reality of those concerns. Too often in today's discussions that examine the Vietnam War, we are overwhelmed by mythology. I hear it said quite often that this was a war between the United States and Vietnam. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could be more offensive to the millions upon millions of Vietnamese who supported the South Vietnamese government and its long-term goal of a stable democracy. Our attempt to help that government was no different than the manner in which we assisted South Korea when it was attacked after being divided from North Korea, or the motivation that caused us to support West Germany when the demarcation line at the end of World War II divided Germany between the Communist east and the free society in the west. We were not successful in that endeavor in Vietnam for a number of reasons. But it would be wrong to assume that this was an action by our country against the country of Vietnam, or that it was motivated by lesser ideals.

“We hear a lot of dismissive talk about the domino theory and the supposedly unjustified warnings about what was going on in the rest of the region with respect to efforts that were backed by the Soviet Union and Communist China in the runup to our involvement. But these were valid concerns at the time. The region had seen a great deal of turmoil during and after World War Two. Most of the European colonial powers had receded throughout Southeast Asia, largely because of the enormous costs of that war, leaving poverty, war damage and unstable governments behind. Japan had withdrawn from the territories it had invaded and occupied. Governmental systems throughout the region were in transition, many in chaos. The communists had moved into power in China. Within a year North Korea invaded South Korea, and were joined on the battlefield by the Chinese. Indonesia endured an attempted coup, sponsored by the Chinese. In fact, Lee Kuan Yew, the brilliant leader who created modern Singapore, has said many times that the American effort in Vietnam was a key contribution in slowing down communism’s advance throughout the region, and allowing the other countries in the region to stabilize and prosper. The point, simply made, is that there was a great deal of strategic justification for what we attempted to do.

“This brings us to April, 1975. A North Vietnamese offensive had begun in the aftermath of a vote in this Congress to cut off supplemental funding to the Government of South Vietnam. This was combined with a massive refurbishment of the North Vietnamese Army, with the assistance of China and the Soviet Union, that allowed the offensive to kick off at a time when our South Vietnamese allies were attempting to reorganize their positions in order to adapt to the reality that they were going to get markedly less funding in terms of vital supplies such as ammunition and parts for their American-made weapon systems, as well as medical supplies.

“The events following the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, have never really been given the proper attention, probably because proper attention would embarrass so many people who had downplayed the dangers of a communist takeover. A gruesome holocaust took place in Cambodia, the likes of which had not been seen since World War II. Two million Vietnamese fled their country -- usually by boat -- with untold thousands losing their lives in the process, and with hundreds of thousands of others following in later years.

“This was the first such Diaspora in Vietnam's long and frequently tragic history. Inside Vietnam a million of the South's best young leaders were sent to re-education camps, where 240,000 stayed for longer than four years. More than 50,000 perished while imprisoned, and others remained captives for as long as 18 years. An apartheid system was put into place that punished those who had been loyal to the U.S., as well as their families, in matters of education, employment and housing. The Soviet Union made Vietnam a client state until its own demise, pumping billions of dollars into the country and keeping extensive naval and air bases at Cam Ranh Bay.

“As a consequence of that bitter day in April, 1975 there are now more than two million Americans of Vietnamese descent. We are better off as a nation for their contributions to our society, at every level. It was not always easy for these refugees when they arrived during the late 1970’s, to a country that had been so torn apart by the war itself. But they won the rest of us over with their perseverance, their reverence for education, and their dedication to their families. Our gain, at least in the short term, was Vietnam’s loss.

“It is important that Americans understand this journey, because those who lived it deserve a fair place at the table as we continue to work toward better relations in the Vietnam of today. Not to undertake a new round of recriminations. Not to re-live the bitterness of the past. But to build a proper bridge between our country and Vietnam, for the good of both countries, for the health East Asia, and for the benefit of all the people inside today’s Vietnam.

With respect to the region, Vietnam remains one of the most important countries in terms the manner in which the United States should be preserving all of its legitimate interests on the East Asian mainland. With the steady accretion of Chinese influence to the north, the expansion of India to the southwest, and the evolution of Muslim influence in Southeast Asia in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the southern reaches of the Philippines, Vietnam, along with Thailand and Singapore, are absolutely vital to our posture as an Asian nation.

“With respect to the Hanoi Government, with which I have had a long and not always pleasant relationship since 1991 when I first returned to Vietnam, I have a great appreciation for the very significant strides they have made since those early days. The relationships that are now evolving between Vietnam and the United States are healthy. In the long term I believe they are going to be successful. And even though I remain proud of my Marine Corps service in that war so many years ago, I welcome them. When I first returned to Vietnam in 1991 I went to Easter Mass at the Hanoi cathedral. There were perhaps 20 people in the church, all of them elderly. Last Christmas I attended Christmas Mass and there were at least two thousand people in the church, overflowing into the courtyard. People can argue around the edges, but this is progress. We need to reward those strides with reciprocal behavior, even if we remain at odds on some issues. There is a lot to be proud of in terms of the transformations that have been going on in Vietnam. Vietnam is growing. It is growing economically. It is growing politically. It is reaching out to the rest of the world. It is acting responsibly in the international arena. We have much work to do. We have much work to do in terms of encouraging more openness and greater political freedom. But we are on a pathway where, with the right kind of continued dialogue, I believe that is going to occur.

“And so I would like to re-emphasize that the best legacy for those of us who care deeply about this issue, and who remember all the tragedies of the war, will be for us to see Vietnam, the Vietnam of today, as a strategic and commercial partner and also as a vibrant, open society whose Government reflects the strength of the culture itself, a strength that has been demonstrated over and over again by the Vietnamese who have come to this country and who, I am proud to say, are now Americans.”

http://rightdemocrat.blogspot.com/2009/05/jim-webb-remembers-fall-of-saigon.html

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