The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

December 2002

History As Q And A


Bui Tin, From Enemy to Friend: A North Vietnamese Perspective on the War (translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2002. 213 pp., $24.95

Among the many fascinating individuals involved in the Vietnam War is Bui Tin. Born near Hanoi in 1927, Tin was educated in Hue. When the August Revolution occurred in 1945, Bui Tin, like the majority of Vietnamese, supported it and became politically active in Vietnamís struggle to cast off the French. Bui Tin joined the Viet Minh of Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh. Sometimes fighting, sometimes in his other incarnation as journalist for the Vietnam Peopleís Army newspaper, Bui Tin stayed on the front lines throughout both wars and into Vietnamís postwar reconstruction.

Bui Tin was one of the survey party who trekked south in 1964 to recommend that the Ho Chi Minh Trail be turned into a real road network. Later, his articles documented the struggles of Vietnamese fighters and workers against the constant attacks on the Trail, and the efforts of soldiers to traverse it. After the Paris Agreement, Bui Tin was spokesman for the North Vietnamese delegation on the National Committee for Reconciliation and Concord.

He is probably best known for his role in the fall of Saigon when, as a Peopleís Army colonel, he accepted the surrender of Saigonís presidential palace. It was Tin who countered Col. Harry Summersí observation that Hanoi had never defeated American  troops in the field with the simple rejoinder, "This may be so, but it is also irrelevant."

Disillusioned in the mid-1980s with postwar corruption and the continuing isolation of socialist Vietnam, Bui Tin went into exile in Paris where he has remained part of the Vietnamese diaspora. Since then he has orbited to the other side of the opinion spectrum on the war and From Enemy to Friend is an expression of that journey. This is no memoir (for those hoping for a sequel to Tinís Following Ho Chi Minh. Rather, it is a reflection on the war framed as a series of questions and answers. In it Bui Tin expresses views on a wide range of subjects, from the quality of Vietnamese soldiers, South and North, to the U.S. bombing, to postwar Vietnam and the doi moi policy.

Some examples:

Americans miscalculated Hanoi's determination to support and reinforce the fighters in the South

Both the South Vietnamese and the North Vietnamese armies had some good generals (he cites Do Cao Tri and Ngo Quang Truong for the AVRN)

The war was unwinnable, but "the total collapse of the U.S. war effort was [not necessarily] the only outcome"

Tin recalls his "handshake of peace" with Army sergeant Max Beilke, the last American fightingman to leave Vietnam, who later was killed on September 11, 2001, when the hijacked American airlines flight struck the Pentagon. Beilke was at the Pentagon working on Veterans' issues.

There is much more, including an introduction by Vietnam veteran and former Secretary of the Navy James Webb. Tin's observations and insights demonstrate the need for more in-depth work on the history of the Vietnam war, particularly from the Vietnamese perspective. Tin, who was at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, twice came down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and rose to become a colonel in the People's Army of Vietnam. He devoted the best part of his life to the cause of Vietnamese independence. From Enemy to Friend provides a highly readable and interesting perspective and makes one wish that more Vietnamese views on the American War were available in English to deepen our understanding of America's longest war.


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