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Commentary: The Vietnam Flag Issue -- Here We Go Again

By Mark Ashwill

Buffalo, NY – Every so often, a state legislator or city council member, usually from places like Virginia and California, which have large numbers of Vietnamese-Americans, introduces a resolution calling for the public display of the flag of the former South Vietnam. This latest example of the political equivalent of tilting at windmills is Senate Concurrent Resolution 17, introduced earlier this year in the California Legislature by Assemblyman Tran Thai Van, of Orange County.

SCR 17 would make the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam the symbol of "freedom, democracy and human rights" for all Vietnamese-Americans in California for use in state-sponsored events. The incentive for politicians who draft such proposals is a sincere albeit misguided belief in the righteousness of their cause, as well as the prospect of winning a few brownie points and consolidating one particularly vocal segment of their base.

Talk about beating a dead horse! South Vietnam is a country that ceased to exist when Saigon fell or was liberated, depending upon your point of view, in April 1975. It is a relic of history that lives on only in the hearts and minds of its former citizens and supporters. Yet here we are, 30 years later, and the beat goes on. An analogy would be to have Vietnamese provinces, cities and towns pass resolutions to recognize the flag of the Confederate States of America as the one and only symbol of the United States of America.

For the record, the national flag of Vietnam is red with a gold star in the center. It is a flag that the U.S. pledged to recognize and respect when it established full diplomatic relations with Vietnam ten years ago. It is not a point of debate but a fact, regardless of your opinion of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which was officially created from a unified Vietnam in 1976. The three red-striped yellow flag of the former South Vietnam continues to wave only in the cyber winds of the Internet, and in the homes, community centers and psyches of those embittered Vietnamese-Americans who stubbornly cling to the past.

These include the literal and figurative old guard who occasionally march around in their military finest to nostalgically salute a geopolitical ghost and angrily denounce and demonize a country that they do not know. Others are even training in remote areas of the U.S. preparing for that glorious and elusive day when they will retake the "old country." They conveniently overlook the fact that if Vietnam could liberate itself from China, France and the U.S., it could dispatch a ragtag band of aging emigres in short order.

To propose any official recognition of the flag of the former South Vietnam as a symbol of the Vietnamese-American community is an outrage and insult both to the Vietnamese people, 3 million of whom perished in a war that was ultimately about national liberation, not Communist expansion, and to many Vietnamese-Americans who, while politically conservative on the whole, do not comprise a monolith. It's also a thorn in the side of the U.S. State Department, whose primary concern is promoting U.S. national interests abroad.

Much to the dismay of his fellow Vietnamese-Americans in southern California, even the former South Vietnamese prime minister and vice president, Nguyen Cao Ky, a long-time critic of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, made the pronouncement last year that "it is the duty of every Vietnamese to be united and build a new Vietnam to be a dragon in Asia. Just forget the past and just look to the future." There are many other Vietnamese-Americans - in government, business and the non-profit sector - who have become actively involved in Vietnam.

Let's follow the lead of the progressive and younger Vietnamese-Americans and Vietnam itself. Let's bury this issue once and for all. Learn from but let go of the past and move on. Live in the present and look to the future.