Are American Christians the Vietnamese Brother’s Keeper?
I, a theology student in the German Democratic Republic, desire to address American Christians concerning the issue of Vietnam. Our student congregation was recently visited by an American theologian who informed us that the U.S. had formed an economic blockade of Vietnam. She told us that the reparations promised in the Paris Agreement of 1973 were still unpaid, and that the American public had largely succeeded in forgetting about Vietnam. I was angered. Of course, the U.S. claims to be a Christian country and President Jimmy Carter utilized his faith as an integral part of his presidential campaign. I therefore want to address my fellow Christians in the U.S. as Christians.
I went to the Vietnamese embassy here in Berlin (East) to inquire about the present state of relations between the USA and Vietnam. They told us there, that they were grateful to the American people for all help offered during and since the war. (They insisted on referring to the entire nation, though I interpret this to mean only the American peace movement.) I learned that there are presently no diplomatic relations between the USA and Vietnam, although the Vietnamese side is most hopeful that they can be established. Vietnam hopes that Article 21 of the Paris Agreement, which promises financial aid, will be adhered to.
I also visited the American embassy. There I was assured that Vietnam is still an issue in some American circles. I was told that some Americans support the payment of reparations, while others feel no obligation towards fulfilling Article 21, believing that ensuing North Vietnamese military activities violated the agreement.
The Vietnamese, who fought for 16 years against the Americans, apparently never speak of Americans as their enemies. I have a number of Vietnamese friends now studying here in the GDR who fought in the war for three, five, seven or 10 years. I’ve not noticed any animosity towards Americans on their part. And I ask you Americans: Do you still consider Vietnamese Marxists to be bogeymen? Do you still hold them to be your mortal enemies, assuming that they have “conquered” and “enslaved” South Vietnam?
If I ask a Vietnamese from which part of Vietnam he hails, he will usually answer that he comes solely from Vietnam, “from the middle”, or mention the name of some obscure country district. I cannot speak of the North conquering the South, but rather only of reunification. The Vietnamese never accepted the artificial division of their country. Their politics were always directed towards reunification.
I believe American politicians were aware of this situation during the signing of the Paris Agreement. Was it not the Americans’ sole
concern to save face during their withdrawal? It is therefore most dishonest to justify one’s own inactivity by pointing a finger at the Vietnamese. Perhaps the USA’s refusal of payment is
defendable according to the letter of the law, but it is not defendable in terms of morality.
Even of you do not agree with my political assessment of this issue, you must at least take seriously the numerous Bible verses similar to Proverbs 25:21: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head and the Lord will reward you.”
Here I do not wish to dwell on the grave natural catastrophes in Vietnam during the past year: the drought, the floods, the pest epidemic. My primary concern in writing this is not simply to help the needy; I am more concerned about fostering a world where justice, and not the “rights” of the mighty, reigns.
Only the Americans can right the moral wrongs done to the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese were strong enough to force the Americans out of their country, but they are not strong enough to force the U.S. to treat them in a just manner. I cannot accept the “right” of the mighty to refrain from reparations payments and to establish an economic blockade. Should you Americans not be doing everything possible to make good that which has been done to the Vietnamese people even if their government does not have the power to force your government to do so?
Evangelical theology student
December 5, 1978
Translated by Bill Yoder, Lodz/Poland, 705 words
Appeared in 1979 in the journal of the “International Fellowship of Reconciliation”, then headquartered in Nyack, New York
Note from January 2022: Katharina has been known as Rev. Dr. Katherina Dang since her marriage in April 1986 to a former Vietnamese student in East Berlin. She retired as a pastor in Berlin-Marzahn in 2019. Katharina refers in her piece to the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973; a ceasefire, which did not hold. The war finally ended when Saigon was taken on 30 April 1975.