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Page 15
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<< 14. Barry Romo in Vietnam, 197216. Coming Home In Vietnam >>

Report from Hanoi: Vietnam Revisited

By Barry Romo

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Reprinted from the April 1973 issue of VVAW's Winter Soldier.

In December an American peace delegation was invited to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by the Vietnam Committee of Solidarity with the American People. The group consisted of Joan Baez, Telford Taylor, Reverend Michael Allen, and myself, Barry Romo.

I felt strange about the upcoming trip, wondering how the Vietnamese would receive me, considering that I was a former infantry lieutenant in the Americal Division. As we got off the plane in Hanoi, the people met us with bouquets of flowers and handed me a beer. I knew there would be no problem.

When we walked through the streets of Hanoi I couldn't help but compare life in the north to the section of the south controlled by Saigon. In the south I had seen a cheap carbon copy of America. The influence was more pervasive than the American oil companies we guarded and the advisors we provided for the Thieu regime. The radios blared American music, the people spoke broken English. Vietnamese women, forced out of economic need, had operations on their eyes to make them round, and silicon injected in their breasts in order to become more attractive to American soldiers. The people lived in hovels made of C-ration cartons and scraped food out of American garbage cans.

By contrast, in the north I saw Vietnamese running their own lives without advisors from other countries. I saw no advisors during the two weeks I was there. The people had good homes and plenty of food. There was no one starving or begging. The Vietnamese watch Vietnamese movies, listen to Vietnamese music, even smoke Vietnamese cigarettes and drink Vietnamese beer! It was then that I realized that this was the true nature of Imperialism. The people in the south had lost, not only control over their resources and political freedom, but their culture as well. Their oppression, Imperialism, is total: political, economical, and cultural.

On the first night of our visit, the committee sponsored a dinner for our delegation and for some government and union officials. We were served by waiters and waitresses, but in contrast to their counterparts in the United States, they were very relaxed. The workers were not overly impressed with us or the officials, but at the same time, were very friendly and concerned. For instance, if there was a toast, they would put down their trays and drink with us. If they wanted a cigarette, they took it off the table. They would also make sure our glasses were full, ashtrays close, and our area cleaned. This was an attitude of respect, not servitude.

On the third day, the Nixon administration, in an act of desperation, initiated the most massive bombing in history. Centering his attacks on civilian areas, he destroyed homes, schools, nurseries, and hospitals in an attempt to terrorize the people into submission. We lived under American bombs until we left ten days later. During this time we observed the massive destruction, the human pain and sorrow, watched the people cry; and cried with them. It is not the suffering that I remember now, but the examples of heroism, kindness and strength of the Vietnamese. I remember people standing in the streets shooting at Phantom jets with old K-44 carbines. I remember our friends from the committee apologizing to us because the electricity was out due to the bombing. I remember a toast to the friendship of the Vietnamese and the American people while B-52s were destroying hospitals. I remember the statement made by one of the Vietnamese to us, "It is good that you are here to share in our suffering, because after the war you will also really share in our joy."

This was not an isolated incident either. Our delegation walked the streets alone without guides almost every day. We watched the people and their attitudes were the same throughout.

We had always been taught that North Vietnam was a totalitarian society. Yet the people were armed and the police were not. Their officials walk the streets unarmed and without body guards. The Vietnamese constantly echo the statement by Ho, "Nothing is more precious than freedom and independence." This is more than an empty phrase. The Vietnamese were fighting jets with rifles for "Freedom and Independence." There can be no doubt that the strength and determination that has persevered through the bombing would be turned against their officials if they were stifling freedom. What I had seen was a system of socialism that had allowed for work that was not oppressive nor degrading and provided for real "Freedom and Independence."

Barry Romo is a long time member of VVAW.

Mike Allen, Joan Baez,and Barry Romo walking through the rubble of Gialam Inernational Airport
after it had been bombed by American B52s during their visit to Hanoi in December 1972.

Press Conference after return from Vietnam - Barry Romo, Telford Taylor,
Joan Baez, and Michael Allen in New York City, January 1, 1973.

<< 14. Barry Romo in Vietnam, 197216. Coming Home In Vietnam >>