C. David Thomas
Letter to the Editor, March 23, 2000
The recent demonstrations against my exhibition of portraits, book and discussion on Ho Chi Minh at the Pacific Bridge Gallery and the Oakland Museum have only reinforced my belief that the time to examine this complex and important leader is long overdue. But more importantly, the demonstrations have also made me question how to bring the Vietnamese-American communities into that examination. Clearly, for those who took part in the protests, personal pain and suffering prevent them from taking part in any serious discussions on the subject.

For me, a disturbing part of these demonstrations was the personal attack on Nguyen Qui Duc. Duc, a very well known and respected Vietnamese writer, curator, speaker and scholar, who agreed to take part in the panel discussion at the Oakland Museum. Attacks like those will prevent the important Vietnamese voice from being heard.
I firmly believe that the Vietnamese-American communities must be involved in any meaningful discussions about Ho Chi Minh but fear of further intimidation by members of the anti-Communist factions of the may make this impossible. I don’t know how many scholars have the strength to endure the pain and isolation inflicted on Vietnamese who take on difficult topics like Ho Chi Minh.

I ask those more moderate members to publicly condemn this type of intimidation and to support Vietnamese intellectuals from your communities as they take part in these important discussions. Otherwise, it will continue to be the Americans studying the Vietnam War and your critically important voice will continue to be left out. Ho Chi Minh will be studied. His undeniable importance to the twentieth century insures this investigation.

For those demonstrators who want my exhibition closed and all mention of Ho Chi Minh to end because of the pain it causes you, I ask you to reconsider and take a close look at the American Jewish experience. Many of you are fond of comparing Ho Chi Minh and the Communist government to Hitler and the Nazis. Rather than attempt to prevent any serious study of Hitler, the American Jewish community has taken the lead in carefully examining and exposing Hitler and Nazi Germany. Wouldn’t it be far more productive and healing for you to direct your energies away from intimidation and disruption and rather take part in the inevitable careful study of Ho Chi Minh and his government? I don’t believe that this would be any more painful than protesting but it would allow a broader audience to understand your viewpoints. Demonstrations have a short shelf life but books last forever.

Since 1987, I have worked extensively with the Vietnamese-American communities to use art as a vehicle to overcome the painful history of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam and to build new bridges. It is because of this work that I believe last weekend’s demonstrators represent only a small fraction of the many Vietnamese-American communities spread across the U.S.. I plan to continue my work in Vietnam and the U.S. and believe that those who know and work with me will understand my efforts to draw attention to an important subject which I feel has been long overlooked.

I would like to thank the Oakland Police for my personal protection and Geoff Dorn and Beth Gates at the Pacific Bridge Gallery and the Oakland Museum for the protection of my first amendment rights.


C. David Thomas

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