The Hòa Hảo Resistance

29 Tháng Mười 201312:00 SA(Xem: 1732)
The Hòa Hảo Resistance

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 and subsequent Communist take-over of the Hòa Hảo Holy Land, some pockets of the Hòa Hảo armed resistance remained in the Mekong Delta. One former commander, Trần Minh Quang, recalled that on July 12, 1975 his clandestine unit was engaged in a violent clash with an army battalion of the 2nd An Giang Division and a mobile police company of the Phú Tân district headed by Nguyễn Văn Dầu, aka Ba Dầu. The guerrilla force of Trần Minh Quang lost 20 men in action and 15 were wounded. According to estimates of the resistance fighters based on the number of fresh graves at the cemetery near Tân Châu military base, the government forces lost nearly 40 soldiers and policemen. Subsequently Trần Minh Quang was detained, spent few years in prison camps and then fled to the United States in 1981.

Nguyễn Giang Sơn, who had taken part in the final attempts to defend the Hòa Hảo areas in early May 1975, told the author in an interview that following the May 4 order to lay down all Hòa Hảo arms, he opted to disperse his units and continue resistance in the Đồng Tháp area. His forces also operated near Ô Long Vĩ Mountain, close to the Thất Sơn area. Nguyễn Giang Sơn acknowledged that isolated resistance groups had been plagued by a scarcity of ammunition and medications. Some groups halted resistance merely because of their inability to take care of their wounded comrades due to a lack of necessary drugs, he said. Eventually, Nguyễn Giang Sơn was detained and released in 1982. In 1985, following an abortive attempt to revitalize his resistance force with the help of friends from Long Xuyên, Cần Thơ and Sa Đéc, Nguyễn Giang Sơn left Vietnam and sought asylum in the US.

Other anti-government activists also indicated that resistance groups suffered heavy casualties in their combat against the Communist authorities. Notably, Đồng Quang Chi, Đồng Quang Chi, letter to the author, December 28, 1978. stated that between 1975 and 1978, his unit lost some 300 men, arrested or killed in action, although the unit itself was just 150-men strong.

However, the Hòa Hảo followers remained generally hostile towards the Communist authorities and the Hòa Hảo resistance continued. According to Nguyễn Văn Hoành, Nguyễn Văn Hoành, letter to the author, January 17, 1987. in 1985, his insurgent unit took part in six incidents of armed clashes with government troops. Three combat engagements reportedly took place in the Thơm Rơm area, Thốt Nốt district, Long Xuyên province. Notably, during a battle near Rạch Rít Bridge, Trung Nhứt community, Thốt Nốt district, 18 government troops were reportedly killed. Nguyễn Văn Hoành, who settled in the US in 1986, claimed that he had managed to eliminate a party boss and a police chief of the Trung Nhứt community. He also alleged that his forces sustained minor lost, only two were killed in action and three were wounded, while seizing 24 weapons.

Yet another refugee and former Hòa Hảo officer, Vương Học Thiêm, Vương Học Thiêm, letter to the author, June 20, 1981. argued that although Hòa Hảo activists were unable to sustain large-scale resistance, they employed various methods of opposition. They reportedly distributed leaflets, obstructed the economic measures of the authorities, inspired discontent among those peasants who had been previously pro-Communist, discovered secret agents of the government and provoked divisions among Communist cadres. Moreover, resistance fighters targeted the most hated bosses among Communist officials.

On the other hand, numerous accounts indicated that the Hòa Hảo followers were keen to camouflage their opposition in order to avoid direct confrontation with the superior Communist military machine. For instance, Lý Thiết Hùng who left Vietnam in 1985 indicated that worship and ritual activities decreased significantly in many Hòa Hảo villages because adepts did not want any official scrutiny. Nonetheless, Communist officials endeavored to visit predominantly Hòa Hảo villages for tax collection and other administrative purposes only when they were protected by sizable armed units. Upon entering a Hòa Hảo hamlet, these armed guards set up defense positions as if they were behind the enemy lines and expected an armed assault. Moreover, many Communist officials who dared to travel throughout the Hòa Hảo areas without adequate protection suddenly disappeared without traces. The authorities were unable to find any positive evidence whether these officials were kidnapped, murdered or emigrated illegally. It has been argued that acts of resistance mentioned above were spontaneous and did not have any formal leadership. Lý Thiết Hùng, Văn Nghệ Tiền Phong weekly, No 17, January 15, 1985.

International media outlets also indicated that the Hòa Hảo resistance did continue in the wake of the fall of Saigon in 1975. For instance, according to The Los Angeles Times, thousands of Hòa Hảo followers opposed the official policies in various provinces of the Mekong delta. The author quoted official sources in Hanoi as saying that in November 1977 the government troops carried out a large-scale operation in the Chợ Mới area. As a result of military action, 35 insurgents were killed, 250 were detained and 15 surrendered. The authorities also seized 50 weapons and 5,000 cartridges. Furthermore, Hai Mẫn, the military commander in the Chợ Mới area conceded that there were at least 23,000 former Hòa Hảo soldiers and officials there. Subsequently, government troops in Chợ Mới district often were on military alert. It was not surprising that the Hòa Hảo community sustained its considerable anti-Communist potential, notably in the An Giang area, yet this capacity of resistance was generally underestimated by Western observers. George McArthur. Sect members Fight Red Rule in Mekong Delta Area. The Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1978.

Official media mouthpieces of Communist Vietnam also acknowledged security problems in predominantly Hòa Hảo areas. For instance, on September 21, 1976 the official Hanoi Radio announced that a special military unit had been formed by the authorities in the predominantly Hòa Hảo areas. The unit, which was called Cửu Long, was supposed to maintain security, implement the policies of the Communist party and help carry out rural development and irrigation projects. Within weeks after its inception, the Cửu Long unit detained nearly 100 local people whom Hanoi Radio described as “rebels resisting revolutionary authorities.”

In the ensuing period, the official Hanoi Radio as well as press outlets in Saigon and Hanoi repeatedly cited the Hòa Hảo resistance movement. Not surprisingly, the official media referred to the Hòa Hảo fighters as “bad and anti-revolutionary elements.” Phần tử xấu, phản cách mạng.

In late 1984 a number of previously detained nationalist, anti-Communist activists were condemned by Communist courts. Among them, five people were sentenced to death and three - Trần Văn Bá, Hồ Thái Bạch, Lê Quốc Quân - were executed. Many Hòa Hảo activists simultaneously received long prison terms.

Occasionally, the official Vietnamese media covered incidents of the Hòa Hảo resistance in greater details. Notably, on May 11, 1986, Peoples Army Daily, or Quân Đội Nhân Dân, reported an arrest of 55 Hòa Hảo resistance fighters in the Trung An community, Thốt Nốt district. This account, which was signed by Hoàng Huân and further disseminated by the official Hanoi Radio on June 2, deserves a measure of scrutiny because it includes some important details relative to the Hòa Hảo resistance and the government crackdown.

First of all, the official army mouthpiece acknowledged that the Hòa Hảo congregation enjoyed a mass support in this area. For instance, the article said that 95 percent of Trung An communitys 23,000 population were followers of Hòa Hảo Buddhism. According to the official information, after 1975 some 2,000 former government and Hòa Hảo soldiers and officials dispersed and remained in Trung An. Many of them managed to evade forced re-education in prison-like camps. They formed “dozens of anti-revolutionary organizations and plotted to overthrow local revolutionary authorities,” Quân Đội Nhân Dân alleged. Many of these organizations were reportedly organized as “regiments,” or Trung đoàn. There were the Chí Nguyên Regiment, the 3rd Regiment Quyết Tử, the 4th Regiment Tân Lập, the 18th Regiment Chủ lực Miền Tây, as well as the Vietnam National Restoration Party, or Đảng Việt Nam Phục Quốc. The official propaganda claimed that the 18th Regiment headed by Nguyễn Văn Chín and the 3rd Regiment headed by Dương Chí Hồng committed more “crimes” than other insurgent units. The authorities reportedly detained 55 resistance leaders and activists while some opposition leaders died in clashes and 71 armed fighters allegedly surrendered.

Generally speaking, the official propaganda outlets accused “reactionaries,” or bọn phản động, of “misusing Hòa Hảo religion in order to enroll adherents and falsify policies of the Communist party, notably the agricultural reform.” The authorities alleged that adherents used Hòa Hảo doctrines as “poisonous propaganda” to renew old hatred connected with the death of Huỳnh Phú Sổ and create divisions between the authorities and the local population.

Resistance activists were also blamed for “disseminating superstitions such as permanent vegetarianism, growing long hair and doing charity work among the younger generation.” Specifically, the Hòa Hảo activists were accused of secretly infiltrating government agencies, forming clandestine Administration Committees, or ban trị sự, and illegally setting up 13 places of worship in the Trung An community.

In response, Communist officials declared their eagerness to “punish severely those who misused the religion in order to harm revolutionary authorities.” The government representatives alleged that ordinary followers of Hòa Hảo Buddhism were “deceived by subversive elements.” The authorities also promised not to punish rank-and-file adepts, even those implicated in alleged anti-government plots.

Therefore, even censored publications of the government-controlled media outlets indicated that the Hòa Hảo resistance movement went ahead despite Communist reprisals. Moreover, the authorities even accused the Hòa Hảo resistance fighters of plotting “to overthrow” local government hence it might be argued that the Communists were yet to view their positions in the Mekong Delta as sufficiently strong. The official publications may serve as a confirmation that Hòa Hảo activists went ahead with their armed struggle as well as political dissent, notably opposition against government-sponsored agricultural reform.

The official media outlets also conceded that the Communist authorities failed to win the hearts and minds of the Hòa Hảo younger generation. Young people remained loyal to the Hòa Hảo legacy and traditions. Despite reprisals against the religious community there were many devoted Hòa Hảo followers who continued works of charity. Communist officials denounced unsanctioned charitable activities because, unlike official anti-religious policies, charitable works were instrumental in strengthening the religious authority of Hòa Hảo activists.

All factors described above indicate that Hòa Hảo followers have undergone dramatic economic, social, religious and political changes. A question arises as to whether the Hòa Hảo adepts have experienced a dramatic transformation to become supporters of the Communist authorities, or have they sustained their religious values and loyalty to the founder of Hòa Hảo Buddhism? The apparent evidence strongly indicated that Hòa Hảo adherents were looking forward to seeing the eventual demise of the Communist regime.
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