Letter to Town Council of Newhaven, East Sussex, United Kingdom
From: The Vietnamese American Community of the USA
Dear City Council,
Building a statue of the tyrant Ho Chi Minh at your town is a bad idea. Ho Chi Minh is no hero of our people, but a mass murderer who killed about 80,000 peasants in the so-called Land Reform, who launched the bloody war against the independent Republic of Vietnam resulting in the lost of millions of lives. But the most critical thing he’s done is the establishing of an inhuman regime that has oppressed our people in 70 years. Vietnam under Communism now is decades behind our neighboring countries. Please, cancel the project.
Reply by Newhaven Council Town Council
Jacky Main <Jacky.Main@newhaventowncouncil.gov.uk>
Dear Vietnamese American Community of the USA,
I am very sorry to hear that you are upset by the plans to place a monument on West Quay referring to Ho Chi Minh’s historic link with the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry.
The interest of the Vietnamese Embassy in Newhaven came about as an unforeseen consequence of a project in Newhaven to put some colourful banners up by the harbour in the town in 2013. There are 10 banners in total, each with a quirky historical fact about Newhaven on them, all starting with “Did you know?” One of the banners says “Did you know that Ho Chi Minh once worked as a pastry chef on the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry?” Other banners are about other well-known people who once had a connection with the town – some good (like Edward Gibbon, who wrote the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) and others bad (like Lord Lucan, a famous murder suspect). Some of the banners are not about people at all.
Our local newspaper, the Sussex Express ran a story about the banners. This was picked up by the BBC, who found it quite extraordinary that Ho Chi Minh might have once worked on the ferry and they ran a piece on regional TV news focusing on this particular quirky historical fact. This in turn was picked up by the Vietnamese Embassy, which approached the town council wanting to form friendship links with Newhaven. The Vietnamese Ambassador came down to Newhaven to unveil the banner; there was a reception to celebrate Ho Chi Minh’s birthday in a local hall and the memorial stone on West Quay was also unveiled. This event was organised at very short notice; the existing stone was always intended however to be temporary – it was merely a marker for where the eventual memorial is to go.
It is entirely clear to us here in Newhaven that many terrible things happened in Vietnam during the war there, perpetrated by both sides. We fully understand that for many people the memory of these atrocities lives on.
Wars always produce acts of great evil and horrific war crimes. These acts are usually carried out by both sides. The view of war time leaders which is passed down to history tends to be radically different depending which side the observer’s ancestors fought on. Vietnamese refugees living in other countries and American veterans perceive Ho Chi Minh as the embodiment of evil; the Vietnamese people who want to form friendship ties with Newhaven call him “Uncle Ho” and speak of him with great affection as the kindly father of his people. We would expect that neither image is particularly accurate – both images are the creations of opposing sides in a bitterly fought war.
Neither the banner, nor the monument (from our view point) is meant to be honouring a hero – they are just supposed to arouse people’s interest in the town and its history.
The Vietnamese War ended in 1975. Great Britain was never involved in it – we did not send any troops at all. We in fact established diplomatic relations with the new government of Vietnam in 1973 before the war ended.
We have to make friends with countries that we have fought against once wars are over, otherwise the world could not operate. If this didn’t happen we British wouldn’t be able to talk with or trade with the Germans, or the French for instance. The Germans systematically murdered thousands of Jews during the Second World War; the Japanese treated British prisoners of war with great barbarity – but Britain is friends with both countries now. And in this case, actually the British never fought against Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Embassy is very interested in Newhaven because of its historic links with their revered leader Ho Chi Minh and is offering opportunities for Newhaven businesses to form trading links with Vietnam and schools to exchange for the educational benefit of children in both countries. They want to promote tourism and anticipate that large numbers of Vietnamese tourists will want to come to visit Newhaven to see a town which has a connection with Ho Chi Minh and this can only help with the regeneration of Newhaven.
Newhaven Town Council understands that the Vietnamese Embassy sees this quirk of history as an opportunity for them to promote better public relations with Britain. We feel that it can only be to the benefit of people both in Vietnam and here in Newhaven to have friendly relations with the current regime. It is by talking openly to each other and learning about each other that we can influence each other – and, we would hope, prevent future wars and future war crimes.
At present we do not know exactly what is proposed, but we are not expecting it to be a statue of Ho Chi Minh himself, but rather something more abstract which refers to the quirk of history and the present day friendship links. Whatever it is, it will be a gift from Vietnam and will be subject to the usual planning regulations, which will give everyone an opportunity to assess its appropriateness.
Jacky Main| Clerk to the Council
Newhaven Town Council
18 Fort Road, Newhaven
East Sussex, BN9 9QE
T: 01273 516100
F: 01273 611175