Remembering South Vietnam with an Ecumenical Christmas Card – by Mark D. Tooley


The National Council of Churches (NCC) has dispatched its 2009 Christmas card and end of the year solicitation, advertising its “ecumenical efforts for our common witness in this fragile world.”  It asserts that the NCC “makes visible the gift of our unity in Christ” through fighting for “adequate health care” (i.e. Obamacare), speaking out on behalf of the poor (demanding an ever expanding Welfare State), and advancing “economic, gender and racial justice.”  It also touts its increasing Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Christian dialogues, though probably the focus is more on the latter, almost always accompanied by silence about human rights in Islamic culture.

More telling was the art for the NCC Christmas card.  It features a Nativity scene by a Vietnamese artist, Le Van Tai, whom the card explains was resettled as a refugee in Australia in 1985 after spending four years in a Hong Kong refugee camp.   He was not reunited with his wife and family until 1992.  Le created his Nativity scene while in the Hong Kong camp, with encouragement from the Hong Kong Fellowship of Christian Artists.

Why did Le flee Vietnam to endure 4 years in a refugee camp?  Why was he separated from his family for 11 years?  How did he get to Hong Kong?  Of course, the NCC Christmas card does not answer these uncomfortable questions.    During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, nearly 2 million South Vietnamese escaped their new communist rulers by risking their lives on rickety boats that departed into the South China Sea at night, evading communist gun boats.  About one third of the escapees died at sea, by drowning, exposure, or piracy.    The more fortunate ones eventually got to places like Hong Kong, where they hoped for eventual resettlement in America, Australia, or elsewhere in the West.

Presumably Le escaped capture, had a sturdy boat, avoided pirates, and arrived in Hong Kong safely.  But he still had to languish for 4 years in a camp.  And he endured an 11 year separation from his family in Vietnam, whose communist tyrants were not always eager to allow wives, parents and children of capitalist-loving escaped boat people to rejoin their loved ones in the West, except for a price.  What would compel a Vietnamese to risk the nightmare of unsafe travel on the South China Sea, with a 30 percent chance of death, not to mention an uncertain future in a camp and years of separation from family?

Of course, the NCC’s Christmas card would not explain.  But after Communist North Vietnam’s “liberation” of South Vietnam in 1975, a vicious and impoverishing dictatorship was installed.  It did not murder millions as their Communist Cambodian neighbors did.   But the Vietnamese Communists did imprison over 1 million in re-education camps, and they did murder tens of thousands of suspected counter revolutionaries, not to mention enslaving an entire nation under a one party state that banned political opposition, religious freedom, private property, and free speech.

Meanwhile, what was the justice-seeking NCC saying about Communist-ruled Vietnam while hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees like Le were trying to escape for their lives, especially to avoid reeducation camps?   In 1977, NCC relief officials testified before a U.S. Congressional committee about a Vietnamese reeducation camp they had visited, which they likened to a “small tropical resort.”  They were much “impressed” by Vietnam’s “prudent policy” educating its people for their “new role in society.”  They further noted that the “entire process of reeducation is one reflecting the government’s commitment to encouraging and enabling people to exercise their rights, restored as full participants in Vietnam’s future.”

One NCC relief official even commended Vietnamese “reeducation camps” for helping “former [South Vietnamese] officers” be ”reconstituted back into society as full citizens.”   He contrasted this seamless process with ugly America, where “draft dodgers or deserters have not yet found that means to become full participants back in U.s. society.”  He concluded:  “As a churchperson, I would have to identify with the Vietnamese as those who have chosen the better way to heal the wounds of war.”

The head of the NCC relief agency in 1977 joined with then NCC President United Methodist Bishop James Armstrong to sign a New York Times ad defending the “present government of Vietnam,” which “should be hailed for its moderation and for its extraordinary effort to achieve reconciliation among all of its people.”   The NCC’s relief arm even channeled at least half a million dollars to Vietnam’s “New Economic Zones,” where South Vietnamese were forcibly herded as part of their involuntary integration into communism.

An NCC relief brochure of that time hailed the new Communist Vietnam as a “nation of dedicated people, hard at work, and enthusiastically building a new society from the rubble of war…’without bitterness or rancor, and eager for friendship with the United States.”   An NCC relief delegation visited Vietnam and afterwards bubbled with praise for Communist Vietnam for its “pioneering, new-nation spirit,” its “healthier economy,” its work for the “welfare of its people.”  Concluded one gullible NCC official:  “It would bring a lump to your throat to see them cooperating and working together.”  One NCC official even condemned fleeing Vietnamese refugees:  “Every country is entitled to its own people.”

Thankfully, Le did not share the NCC official’s view that he rightfully was the property of the Communist Vietnamese government.  He courageously escaped, enduring who knows what horrors, and survived to become an artist and poet apparently living comfortably in Australia with his family.  His painting of the Nativity, with a South Pacific motif, is quite good.  The NCC Christmas card, in featuring the picture, cites the Scripture from James 1:17:   “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above…”   By spotlighting Le’s work, is the NCC perhaps subtly atoning for its sins?

  • The reader

    It would be nice if the author could explain why the French have returned to Indochina in 1945.


    Did I derail the author's concept about Vietnam's recent history?

    My bad….

  • USMCSniper

    Read James Webb's “Sleeping with the Enemy”

  • andyFree

    The Vietnamese people survived an immense atrocity imposed by us – and then turned on all the people who'd collaborated with us. We'd do exactly the same.

    In fact, some of us did exactly the same, turning on the completely innocent loyalists who'd failed to join in their treason.

    Everywhere the US has been since 1945 it's had this same effect, making bad situations much much worse. Often, as in Vietnam, utterly pointlessly – these were nationalists yearning for self-government. Ho Chi Minh was very pro-American and modelled his Declaration of Independence on that of the US.

    Even if Ho hadn't wanted to be friendly, any “Communist threat” they posed would have been to China – and in fact the Chinese attacked them in 1979. This came after Vietnam had attacked and overthrown the Communist Pol Pot – so much for solidarity!

    Back in 1945, these words were not spoken by the Nazis but the US “… Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind … it is essential … that human rights should be protected by the rule of law” – how about living up to what you say you believe in?

  • Barry Cooper

    This is the seminal piece for anyone who wants to begin to grasp the extent of the horror that followed the failure WE CHOSE with respect to South Vietnam:

    To be clear, the North Vietnamese Communists did not do anything that had not been done previously when Ho Chi Minh took over the North to begin with. There were mass executions (some 10,000 in the North, and some 65,000 in the South), mass relocations (“your family may have lived here for 500 years, but you and your property belong to us now””), mass torture, and horrific conditions that so dwarf the crimes of the South Vietnamese regime at its worst that only fools would attempt to compare them.

    If you type Vietnam massacre, or Vietnam atrocity, you get information on Lt. Calley. Newsflash: the Communists committed 100's of My Lai's, under the direct orders of their head of state.

    Giap alone was responsible for the execution through assassination of hundreds of Vietnamese nationalists in the mid-40's.

    Here is the reality: when Nguyen Ai Quoc changed his name to Ho Chi Minh in the 1920's, after joining the Communist International, HE WAS A COMMUNIST. When he spent the 30's in Soviet Russia, at the personal invitation of Joseph Stalin HE WAS A COMMUNIST.

    There WERE genuine anti-colonial Vietnamese nationalists. Ai Quoc had them KILLED. HE was never anything but a tool of the Communist Party, dedicated to mass murder, and mass slavery.

    The books to read are Michael Lind's “Vietnam: the necessary War”, and Lewis Sorley's “A Better War”. Read Sorley's book first, and you will see that even the places where Lind tried to argue our policy of abandonment sort of made sense fall apart.

  • Barry Cooper

    I will add, read those books, then look at one of the standard propaganda pieces, like Karnow's, or Sheehan's, and look up the name Creighton Abrams, who was Commander of U.S forces from 1968 to 1972 or so.

    Why is he barely mentioned? Simple: he did his job well, pacified the South, and made it possible for us to win, and that FACT is simply unpalatable for the adult appearing, currently washed products of the ME generation that cut it's teeth sealing horrific fates for millions.

    Reality is not what you want it to be. It is what it is.

  • 1Indioviejo1

    Because of people like the ones at NCC, leftist professors, and leftist School teachers Unions, America is worst off than we were in the 1950's. By infiltration, they have managed to destroy and brainwash America's youth for at least three generations. The Greatest Generation begot, the worst generation. We baby boomers destroyed our inheritance. As a Vietnam veteran I feel offended every time I see or hear my contemporaries still trying to justify their Marxist projections, without owning up to their responsibility in the tyrannies engendered by their stupidity/evilness.

  • Elaine

    All I can say is yuk.

    Satan must be laughing himself silly. I just wonder how large Hell is. It must grow by the minute.

  • Evangelina Metenosky

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  • Anna Bui

    I am working to create a comprehensive web site which consolidates information about Refugee Camps in SE Asia. The site will be created by and for refugees. We have many stories, and much information, as well as those who want news of family and friends, etc… scattered all over the web and the world. Therefore I want to have 1 web site for all VN refugee info. To do that, I need help from many people.

    Please send me (and pass this along to your friends):

    boat numbers
    Number of people in the boat
    Date left VN
    Date arrived at refugee camp, name of camp
    Whatever pictures you have of the camp and the refugees
    Your story, in either English or Vietnamese; and whether you would like it edited for grammer and punctuation, or prefer that it be published as is
    Any other details you may have

    I've already registered the domain name for this website: and Both will point to the same place.
    I am working on the website, and have begun to visit refugee camp sites. With your help, we will be online soon.

    Please join us on face book at:

    Thanks very much for your time and help.