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Thought

Reform
The Curriculum of
Vietnamese
Reeducation

Gregg Neville
HST 485
4/23/09

After the end of the Vietnam War, some soldiers and civilians of the

former Republic of Vietnam found themselves in a dangerous situation as


2 | Neville

communist forces walked into Saigon, changing not only the name of the

city, but the ideological framework in which its inhabitants lived. In order to

effectively integrate the former Republic of Vietnam supporters into the

newly unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the communists chose to use a

system of Reeducation modeled after thought reform methods from China

and tailored to the Vietnamese experience. The designers of the

Reeducation program created a curriculum that hoped to effectively

reeducate both non-threatening civilians and blacklisted RVN supporters.

This curriculum sought to indoctrinate detainees with communist policy and

theory delivered through forced learning sessions, regular nightly meetings,

and post-release courses.

While originally being portrayed to the public as political training

courses where RVN supporters would learn communism and its ideals in

order to live within the new society, Reeducation Camps soon became forced

labor camps where starvation, torture, extreme punishment, and execution

were commonplace. The number of prisoners who were interned in these

camps numbered several hundred thousand, with estimates varying from

250,0001 to 2.5 million.2 In order to round up such large numbers of

prisoners, the SRV forces required all civilian contractors, policemen,

soldiers, and party members who had supported the RVN regime to register

for and then attend a short 3-10 day training course. Once there, the RVN
1
Metzner, Edward P. Reeducation in Postwar Vietnam: Personal Postscripts to Peace.
College Station: Texas A&M
University Press (c2001), pg. xiii.
2
Vo, Nghia M. The Bamboo Gulag: Political Imprisonment in Communist Vietnam. Jefferson,
N.C.: McFarland (2004), pg. 55.
3 | Neville

cadres loaded the men onto trucks and drove them to the camps. Here their

original 3-10 day stay would be indefinitely extended, leaving men in the

camps anywhere from a few months to several years before their official

release. Over the course of the reeducation system, hard labor amid

extreme conditions was used to reinforce the lessons of political learning

sessions. While political indoctrination was heavily emphasized early on and

became less prevalent overtime, it continued throughout the duration of the

prison camps and served as one of the main rationales for the camps.

The model for the Reeducation Camp program lay in China, where

methods of communist education and prison camps were observed by

Vietnamese communists and brought to Vietnam. In 1948, General Nguyen

Son wrote pamphlets about “correctional training,” which he had observed in

Yunan, China, while serving with the Chinese Communist Party.3 The original

ideas of General Nguyen were influential, but rejected because of political

infighting between the General and party leaders. However, this method of

thought reform was eventually implemented in communist Vietnam in 1953

by Chinese advisors.4 Correctional training usually begins with a lecture,

after which “the student body is divided into small groups, usually three

members, and the material is thoroughly discussed along with examples and

explanations. The students discuss all the material paragraph by paragraph,

and if it is necessary countless repetition follows…When lessons are

3
Hoang, Van Chi. From Colonialism to Communism; A Case History of North Vietnam.
New York: Praeger (1964), pg.
126.
4
Ibid.
4 | Neville

completely mastered, the student makes a partial confession, i.e., each

student admits in front of his group his previous errors and demonstrates

before the group how “smart” he is now by having had the opportunity of

acquiring an education.”5 Through this description of correctional training we

can see that the method contains important foundations of the Reeducation

Camp program such as discussion, self-criticism and self-evaluation.

During the pre-war period, leaders of the communist party used

correctional training and its foundations to reform the thoughts of Viet Minh

fighters who, while strong nationalists, found themselves struggling with the

growing focus on communist ideas. As communist programs expanded

within the North after independence, these methods of thought reform

helped unify the party and the state. With the fall of Saigon, the communists

found themselves now needing to unite the whole of Vietnam. The task of

handling former RVN supporters was left to the SRV Defense Ministry, but

was eventually handed over to the Ministry of the Interior because it already

maintained a network of detention camps in the North and could expand that

into the South.6 Bui Tin, a former cadre, claims that as a result of this change

“men who had been regarded as prisoners of war became transformed into

political criminals, needing to be punished.”7 This hand over and

transformation may explain the change of emphasis from Reeducation to

prison labor that occurred during the early days of the program. For it was
5
King, Edmund J. Communist Education. London: Methuen (1963), pg. 437.
6
Bui, Tin. Following Ho Chi Minh: The Memoirs of a North Vietnamese Colonel.
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press
(1995), pg. 90.
7
Ibid.
5 | Neville

during this period that the prison camp system was combined with the

methods of corrective training to create the Reeducation Camp and when the

curriculum for these camps was designed.

This Reeducation Camp curriculum can be split into two general

categories: Civilian and Blacklisted. This distinction was made based on a

person’s perceived threat to the SRV. Civilian reeducation courses were

created in order to indoctrinate prominent civilians, such as teachers, with

communist ideology so that they could spread it to the general populace.

The blacklisted prisoners were sent to the reeducation prison camp system in

order to politically indoctrinate them in communist ideals, while at the same

time, keeping these prisoners out of the public arena, where they could

potentially undermine the new government through disobedience, crime,

spreading discontent, or rebellion. Civilian reeducation courses were roughly

a month long and contained much of the same theoretical content as that of

their blacklisted counterparts. The important difference was that they were

allowed to reintegrate with the community after the completion of the course

while their counterparts were moved to labor camps for indefinite periods of

time.

The initial Reeducation courses for civilians were designed to rid

prisoners of their capitalist and democratic ideals, while also forcing them to

confess their participation in RVN activities. These courses were held at local

Saigon schools and lasted 20-24 days and they were titled “Officer
6 | Neville

Government Official Course.”8 The communists forced local doctors,

pharmacists, engineers, and teachers to attend because of their ability to

influence the public opinion within their neighborhoods. Through taking one

of these courses they would be versed in communism and be able to help

push communist agendas within their communities. These courses consisted

of lectures and speeches given by provincial leaders, security service chiefs,

and political commissioners. The speeches focused on praising Lenin, Ho Chi

Minh, and the revolutionary spirit of the communists who had defeated the

U.S.9 The lectures included instruction in communal living and forced

condemnations of U.S. atrocities, bombings, and gasings of North Vietnam.

Nguyen Thi Kim-Anh, a Saigon high school teacher, explained that during

these lectures, prisoners “just copied everything down and made it into a

very nice paper to turn it back in. If you said exactly what they said, agreed

with them one hundred percent, you got a perfect score.”10 Following these

lectures, students were expected to write papers on topics such as “Why We

Like Ho Chi Minh.”11 Lu Van Thanh, a liaison to the U.S. army, points out that

once having completed such papers, each student stood before the class and

expressed his “own opinion concerning his antirevolutionary activities, and

8
Lu, Van Thanh. The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls: Memoir of an ARVN Liaison Officer to
United States forces in Vietnam ho was imprisoned in communist re-education camps and
then escaped. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland (c1997), pg. 50.
9
Ibid.
10
Engelmann, Larry. Tears Before the Rain: An Oral History of the Fall of South Vietnam. New
York: Oxford University Press (1990), pg. 330.
11
Ibid.
7 | Neville

acknowledged his past mistakes in thus impeding the liberation of South

Vietnam.”12

At the end of the course, each student was required to write self

evaluations reports “relating to his biographical sketch, past activities,

education, results of the course, along with a confession and a promise he

would be loyal to the revolution.”13 These self-evaluation reports were a

distinctive feature of all Reeducation courses. Prisoners would spend days

writing these evaluations which were expected to run about 100 pages.14

Once they had written these lengthy reports they were then made to copy

them several times. They included minute details about name, rank, service

unit and declarations about wives, parents, brothers, wife’s parents, as well

as histories of occupation, employment, the ways in which family members

had died, promotions, and military activities.15 Not being detailed enough

was considered proof of guilt and the cadres positively reinforced the act of

admitting to crimes against communists and claimed that the men who did

so were sincere in their reeducation efforts. Unfortunately for many who

fabricated crimes these reports were secretly used to create justification for

their further incarceration within the camps. Some prisoners in the civilian

program found this out the hard way. Thanh explains that “as a result of this

course, we were placed on their special blacklist, and were then considered

12
Lu, Van Thanh. The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls, pg. 51.
13
Ibid.
14
Ibid.
15
Tran, Tri Vu. Lost Years: My 1,632 Days in Vietnamese Reeducation Camps. Berkeley,
Calif.: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California (c1988), pg. 20.
8 | Neville

to be harmful opponents of the new regime.”16 Once having been blacklisted

they were transferred to the indefinite captivity of the Reeducation Camps.

Many prisoners were blacklisted due to their perceived danger to the

SRV and placed within the Reeducation Camps, where their experiences

became heavily influenced by intense labor and harsh working conditions.

Within these camps, as in the civilian courses, political training was still a

part of daily life and continued throughout their imprisonment through

learning sessions, nightly meetings, and post-release courses.

Throughout their experience in Reeducation camps, prisoners were

forced to attend learning sessions every three to four months.17 These

consisted of varying numbers of prisoners listening to cadres or special

guests giving lectures either outside or within a main hall structure within the

camp. The length of these sessions could vary from a few hours to 15 days,

during which prisoners were made to study and discuss the session and then

to critique their responses to the content. The curriculum of these learning

sessions can be broken down into two content groups: policy sessions and

theory sessions. Sessions devoted to communist policy focused on camp

rules and regulations as well as important communist programs to which

prisoners were expected to contribute. Sessions devoted to theory focused

on political indoctrination of communist ideals and were the only real

attempt at reeducating former RVN supporters to integrate them with the

16
Lu, Van Thanh. The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls, pg. 51.
17
Metzner, Edward P. Reeducation in Postwar Vietnam, pg. 12.
9 | Neville

communist public. Together these two content aspects of the curriculum

were the basis of Reeducation.

Soon after their arrival at the Reeducation camps, prisoners found

themselves gathered into a conference hall for their first learning session.

This session often focused on learning the camp rules and regulations. A

political officer would inform them of the basic rules which they were to

follow. These rules included not being allowed to go outside the gate or visit

other camps, not being allowed to beat each other, being forced to

participate in nightly meetings where they would critique their work day and

sing revolutionary songs, not being allowed to sing old regime songs, being

forced to plant a vegetable garden and to do calisthenics every day, and

being made to attend a weekend meeting where they would critique each

other’s work and elect one person who was most “progressive.” 18
These

rules became the framework for everyday life within the camp. They also

included rules for clean and neat living, having to write home to families in

order to boost morale and having to watch a movie once every quarter

year.19 Through these rules the cadres were able to control the prisoners and

force them to participate in further thought reform and labor. Reeducation

policy created the “progressive” award throughout all camps. It was an

award given to a prisoner who was elected by his peers for working and

studying the hardest and making the most strides toward reeducation. The

cadres informed the prisoners that the people who won this award would be
18
Le, Huu Tri. Prisoner of the Word: A Memoir of the Vietnamese Reeducation Camps.
Seattle, WA: Black Heron Press (2001), pg. 27-28.
19
Tran, Tri Vu. Lost Years, pg. 13.
10 | N e v i l l e

the first to be released. It worked very effectively to encourage good

behavior up until the point when prisoners began to see that no one was

going home. Le Huu Tri, a prisoner, described his feeling after this session,

“I knew that if I wanted to return home soon I would have to obey the camp

rules and work hard.”20 Prisoners were also lulled into a sense of trust by the

communists through other sessions.

One such session that the communists designed to create this sense of

trust was one in which they explained the “Act of Clemency.” The act of

clemency was the policy that “South Vietnamese were guilty of betrayal, and

therefore, owed a blood debt.”21 A political officer explained that, “Your

crimes deserve the death penalty. But the revolution, out of clemency, has

permitted you to be reeducated.”22 This lesson tried to play toward a

communist image of being merciful. Prisoners were expected to trust and

thank the cadres for allowing them to live after they had betrayed the SRV by

fighting against it. Later on, as time went by, they were taught Reeducation

Policy and what it entailed. This caused many to lose hope as they now

realized how long they would remain in the camps.

The cadres eventually came to give learning sessions on the policy of

Reeducation itself. The cadres explained how this policy was used to deal

with the former RVN supporters in a session titled: “The Thirteen Points of

Reeducation.”23 These points were little more than a breakdown of groups of

20
Le, Huu Tri. Prisoner of the Word, pg. 28.
21
Nghia M. The Bamboo Gulag, pg. 144.
22
Tran, Tri Vu. Lost Years, pg. 13.
23
Le, Huu Tri. Prisoner of the Word, pg. 73.
11 | N e v i l l e

the RVN supporters in order to give them a sentencing of years in the camps.

Examples of these group break downs are: policemen, noncommissioned

military officers and soldiers, commissioned military officers and soldiers,

civilian contractors for the RVN government, public servants, and civilian RVN

party members.24 For each group the political officer would read out the

sentence and number of years they would remain in the reeducation

program. Providing a sentence and justification for punishment to the

prisoners ended the original motivation of early release for prisoners to work

hard and receive the most “progressive” award.

To encourage prisoners to work hard once they knew that release was

far off, the cadres created a policy called The Labor Production and they

made this policy the focus of learning sessions. The labor production

consisted of “The Production Battle” and the knowledge that those who

participated in it would receive extra food.25 The battle consisted of a

competition held over three days, where the most “progressive” men would

compete to see who could hoe the fastest. If they were lucky, they were

chosen as part of the “Golden Hoe Group” which would go on to work at a

new camp, which they had been informed had homes, running water, and

free visitation.26 Unfortunately for the prisoners, the goal of this policy was

to identify hard working prisoners in order to transfer them to an area where

they would build a new camp in the middle of the jungle. This learning

session while completely devoted to a policy of creating new camps and not
24
Le, Huu Tri. Prisoner of the Word, pg. 73.
25
Ibid., pg. 80.
26
Ibid., pg. 83.
12 | N e v i l l e

to reeducation was in many ways similar to another session that was more

tailored to reeducation and reintegration with society.

One of the final policy oriented learning sessions prisoners received

had to do with New Economic Zones (NEZ). The NEZ program forced people

from the underemployed and crowded cities onto unused areas of land in

order to calm tensions in the cities and to boost agricultural output for the

country. The learning session explained this policy to the prisoners by

showing that the NEZ policy was the right response to the needs of the

country, explaining past experiences of organizing labor forces and how to

establish a NEZ the right way, and explaining the duty of each individual in

relation to the NEZ policy.27 These session lasted one week and finished with

a discussion of “How should reeducation camp inmates respond to the

question of setting up NEZs?” In response to this question they were

eventually forced to sign a pledge saying they would go and work at NEZs

upon release. One inmate explained that a cadre had “read directives from

the Central Committee on Reeducation, telling us to write home and urge our

folks to apply for resettlement in new economic zones. Only if his family

registered to go would a prisoner’s case be reviewed and might he be

discharged.”28 It is very likely that this learning session did not contain

information about the true conditions of the NEZs, nor did it point out that

reeducation prisoners were in many ways already doing this kind of hard

27
Tran, Tri Vu. Lost Years, pg. 122.
28
Huynh, Sanh Thong. To Be Made Over: Tales of Socialist Reeducation in Vietnam. New
Haven, CT: Council on Southeast Asia Studies, Yale Center for International and Area Studies
(c1988), pg. 140.
13 | N e v i l l e

labor and were perhaps intended by the communists to be pushed into these

areas after release to remain away from the general public.

The content of these learning sessions was not all policy related.

Throughout their time in the camps and especially during their first months,

prisoners had to participate in learning sessions designed to indoctrinate

them with communist theoretical content. These learning sessions included

lessons on general communist/Marxist theory, the glory of labor, American

Imperialism, and the idea that the RVN had been America’s pawn. These

lessons were ideological in nature and were designed to truly reeducate the

prisoners in communist doctrine in order to reeducate them and provide

them with the necessary view of society for reintegration with the rest of the

country.

The prisoners’ first encounters with Reeducation learning sessions

were classes focused on educating them in communist and Marxist ideology.

The cadres presented the origins of the communist part in Vietnam, the rise

of Ho Chi Minh, and how the party’s only goal had been Vietnamese

independence.29 They also spent time teaching “the Maxist-Leninist

principles that led to a better life with equality, freedom, and justice.”30

These sessions were usually the prisoners’ first wake up call to the new world

in which they found themselves. They were forced to pretend to agree with

everything the cadre were telling them about communism and to vow that

they would follow it as best as they could. They were expected to know
29
McKelvey, Robert S. A Gift of Barbed Wire: America's Allies Abandoned in South. Seattle:
University of Washington Press (c2002), pg. 153.
30
Lu, Van Thanh. The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls, pg. 82.
14 | N e v i l l e

these lessons throughout their stay in the camps and were often lectured on

ridding themselves of individualism and family ties.31 The cadres often

informed them that the best way to rid themselves of these things was

through hard labor for the good of the country.

In many ways the most important of all lessons that the Reeducation

camp would reinforce within the camps through not only learning sessions,

but daily labor, was the idea that “Labor is Glory.” They would be lectured on

the glory of labor and production for the country and how all labor

contributed to the cause of the country. During these sessions it was

explained to prisoners that Reeducation was a manual-labor training course

and that cadre would train them to be masters of different manual skills.32

The rationale behind this training for prisoners that was that, “under the

former regime, they [the prisoners] represented the upper strata of society

and got rich under US patronage. They could but scorn the working people.

Now the former social order has been turned upside down, and after they

have finished their stay in camps they have to earn their living by their own

labour and live in a society where work is held in honor."33 Thus through the

glory of labor they would be able to reintegrate and participate in a

communist society of working class people. Only by throwing off their ties to

American ideals of individualism and wealth, could they expect to be

released.

31
Ibid., pg. 67.
32
Le, Huu Tri. Prisoner of the Word, pg. 46.
33
Sagan, Ginetta. “Reeducation in Unliberated Vietnam: Loneliness, Suffering, and Death.”
The Indochina Newsletter, Oct.-Nov. 1982.
15 | N e v i l l e

In order to remove these ideals from the minds of the prisoners, the

cadres used several learning sessions which detailed the imperialist

ambitions of America and the ways in which they had been working against

the betterment of the Vietnamese people. The content of this session

focused on the idea of Americans as imperialist and as the main enemy of

Vietnam and communism. With titles such as “The American Imperialists are

the Number One Enemy of Our People and the People of the Entire World,”34

the cadres would begin by presenting “The Five Steps of Aggression of the

American Imperialists.”35 They would explain that the American imperialists

had had designs on Vietnam ever since they had sent their first military

mission into the country in 1945, going on to “pull the rug” from under the

French, creating the civil war between the RVN and the communists, invading

Vietnam in the “War of Aggression,” and creating what the “Special War”

after their withdrawal. 36 Through these five steps of aggression, prisoners

were made to believe that American interests had always included the

occupation and subjugation of Vietnam from the beginning of their presence

in the country. They outlined American imperialist ambitions by claiming

that Nixon had made statements declaring the American frontier to end at

the 17th Parallel.37 Working to show SRV power and glory through their defeat

of the Americans, they studied the “Great Victory in the Spring of 1975” over

the Americans and how the North hadn’t beat the U.S. militarily, but by
34
Hawthorne, Lesleyanne. Refugee: the Vietnamese Experience. New York: Oxford
University Press (1982), pg. 143.
35
Ibid.
36
Ibid.
37
Hawthorne, Lesleyanne. Refugee, pg. 147.
16 | N e v i l l e

crushing their will to fight.38 The cadres also made sure to point out such

facts as that “the American presence reached its peak when 600,000 troops,

including those of “satellite states,” fought alongside 1 million nguy soldiers,

that at one time, 90 percent of American war industry had been put at the

service of the war in Vietnam, and 80 percent of American scientists had

been given the task of devising plans and finding means to conquer

Vietnam.”39 These lessons were expected to be unquestionably believed by

the prisoners, even though many of them had been a part of the RVN military

and knew them to be false. These men questioned problems in the cadre

thinking such as the idea that America had been defeated, when as far as

the prisoners were concerned, it was the RVN that had been defeated after

the Americans had pulled out.40 These questions were quickly answered with

more propaganda and those who asked them were disciplined for performing

poorly in the session. In order to further convince the prisoners to stop such

questioning the regime, the cadres also sought to paint the RVN as having

been used by the Americans.

Having discredited the Americans, the cadres set their sights on the

RVN regime. Under such titles as “False Military Men and False Government

Officials Were Slaves of the U.S. Imperialists,”41 these sessions laid out the

ways in which the RVN had been tools of the Americans. They explained that

the former administration was the political tool of American Imperialism

38
Ibid., pg. 143.
39
Tran, Tri Vu. Lost Years, pg. 52.
40
Ibid., pg. 55.
41
Metzner, Edward P. Reeducation in Postwar Vietnam, pg. 12.
17 | N e v i l l e

because the nguy army was the war machine of American Imperialism and

the political parties and those who chose to live under and work for the

former regime were reactionaries, and in an indirect way, the servants of

American Imperialism. 42 This session was used not only to undermine

support for the RVN, but to make clear that those who had supported it were

guilty of aiding the American Empire. One cadre explained to a prisoner that

“Any antirevolutionary activity is, without a shadow of a doubt, planned or

instigated by the Americans.”43 The session went on to explain ways in which

the Americans had betrayed the RVN, such as claiming that the coup against

Diem, the American puppet, had been instigated by the distribution of

pictures showing perceived attacks against Buddhist monks by Diem’s

soldiers, which were actually pictures taken by the CIA of the Chinese

punishment of Tibetan counter-revolutionaries.44 By showing the former

regime to have been a pawn of the Americans, the cadre could combine such

lessons with those of the “Act of Clemency” in order to show justification for

the containment of prisoners while at the same time undermining the

accomplishments of the former regime even further, causing the prisoners to

lose hope in being saved by some remnant of the RVN. Having presented

their content of reeducation, the sessions often concluded in assessment

tasks.

Most learning sessions concluded with some form of assessment

designed to monitor prisoner’s responses to the content. These would often


42
Tran, Tri Vu. Lost Years, pg. 63.
43
Ibid., pg. 63.
44
Hawthorne, Lesleyanne. Refugee, pg. 143.
18 | N e v i l l e

include group discussions in which prisoners were made to voice their

opinions on topics and critique each other’s ideas. 45 These discussions could

last for several days and were led by cadres and statements within them

were highly monitored and susceptible to punishment. At the end of each

session prisoners were made to write a report that had five parts.46 The first

part was a viewpoint and opinion section that had to explain how the

prisoners would adopt and apply the lessons to help the revolution, as well

as reaffirm their belief in reeducation and communist principles. The next

part centered on labor and had to describe the highest forms of physical

labor, telling whether the prisoners were fulfilling them, and if not why, in

order to show that they were cleansing themselves of the old ways through

hard work. The third section focused on regulation and cooperation and had

to list the rules of the camp and then confess whether or not the prisoners

had broken any of them since the last session. This was followed by a

reeducation section which had to list what activities the prisoners had

participated in to be actively involved in reeducation, such as studying,

singing, newspaper reading, film watching, etc. The final section was to

explain future plans and was required to describe what they would do in the

future, how they would change, and how they would improve themselves.

Once written, these papers would then be critiqued the following day where

prisoners were scolded for writing too much and using good handwriting, as

these were seen as habits of bourgeoisie classes and were not needed in

45
McKelvey, Robert S. A Gift of Barbed Wire, pg. 91.
46
Ibid., pg. 91.
19 | N e v i l l e

communism.47 Following the writing and critiquing of these reports, prisoners

would return to their barracks and continue with everyday life within the

labor camps. After the first few months of intensive Reeducation, the gaps

between learning sessions would grow larger and larger, but this didn’t mean

that prisoners stopped receiving reeducation; instead they were forced to

participate in regular nightly meetings to review the participation within the

camps.

Throughout their detention in Reeducation camps, prisoners were

forced to attend regular nightly meetings after working 12 hour days. During

these sessions prisoners would be taught proper methods for harvesting,

sowing, planting and plowing, as well as how to further understand the

communist party line and the goals of reeducation.48 These could last

several hours and their main purpose was “to evaluate the workday for each

individual who in turn, should personally discuss his own strong and weak

points.”49 They would stand before each other and recite a self-criticism of

themselves based on the same five points that they were made to write

reports on following learning sessions. Each person would then repeat this

same mundane criticism and criticize each other’s performances for the day.

They would then choose a “most progressive” person for the day. The cadre

would then comment that everyone had not worked hard enough and usually

conclude the meeting with a quote from Ho Chi Minh.50 The nightly meetings

47
Metzner, Edward P. Reeducation in Postwar Vietnam, pg. 59.
48
Lu, Van Thanh. The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls, pg. 82.
49
Ibid., pg. 65.
50
Ibid., pg. 66.
20 | N e v i l l e

were usually used as a way for cadres to set up the work for the next day

and explain camp announcements, while using the criticism to maintain a

fear among the prisoners of being called out by their fellow prisoners for not

working hard. The prisoners were forced to participate in these meetings

almost every night for the duration of their time in the camps and they were

forced to work hard and hope that one day they would finally be Reeducated

and eligible for release.

After finally being granted release after many years spent in

reeducation camps, prisoners found themselves required to attend a final

course. This began within the camp and was a sort of curriculum review as

prisoners spent two days going over “chapter after chapter, document after

document, and then directives and new instructions from the government.”51

Once being released back into the public, prisoners were still required to

attend courses at local hamlet chief offices every night for three and a half

hours.52 During these post camp courses they would relearn all the things

they had been taught before and engage in self-evaluations once more to

prove that they were working hard and trying to reintegrate, hoping to show

that reeducation had changed them.

The curriculum of reeducation influenced prisoners in many different

ways. Thanh explains that during the original civilian courses “our minds

were strained to the maximum during those days.”53 And afterwards he

pointed out, “I began to realize then that it would be difficult for me to adjust
51
Lu, Van Thanh. The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls, pg. 118.
52
McKelvey, Robert S. A Gift of Barbed Wire, pg. 157.
53
Lu, Van Thanh. The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls, pg. 50.
21 | N e v i l l e

to this new life…because of this “bamboo curtain.””54 For those within the

prison camps the physical daily labor added to the emphasized the

curriculum. Once having been moved to the camp system, Thanh described

how prisoners “were worn out with fatigue. In addition, we were mentally

depressed because we were being inundated daily with foolishly corroded

reasoning, the so-called communist logic, and we had hardly a moment of

peace, even in our sleep.”55 Le Huu Tri, a prisoner, detailed how he and his

fellow prisoners came to realize that the cadres often lied to them, that “the

more we believed the cadre, the more we were tricked by them,” and

because of this “I became depressed about the communist policies and I lost

my enthusiasm for our work.”56 Col. Tran Van Phuc explained that, for him,

the time spent in the camp was “clearly burned into my memory because of

the great and constant pain endured during the separation of my family.”57

The mental and physical exhaustion that resulted from the combination of

labor and content within the reeducation curriculum worked hand in hand to

indoctrinate the prisoners. Yet, for many, the lying and harsh treatment

practiced by the cadres turn them away from communism early on,

undermining the goals of reeducation and leading many to attempt escape.

By rounding up the RVN supporters, the SRV cadres sought to

separate non-threat civilians from blacklist threats to their unification of

Vietnam. They attempted to do this through short reeducation courses that

54
Ibid., pg. 52.
55
Lu, Van Thanh. The Inviting Call of Wandering Souls, pg. 82-83.
56
Le, Huu Tri. Prisoner of the Word, pg. 89.
57
Metzner, Edward P. Reeducation in Postwar Vietnam, pg. 10..
22 | N e v i l l e

would indoctrinate those influential civilians, while at the same time, creating

the Reeducation Camp system in order to indoctrinate dangerous prisoners,

while keeping them out of the general populace. Within the camps, the

cadres forced the prisoners to attend learning sessions in which they learned

communist policy and theory. Policy courses on camp rules, the Act of

Clemency, Reeducation, the Labor Production Movement and New Economic

Zones were coupled with theory lessons on the history of communism, the

Glory of Labor, the threat of American Imperialism, and the manipulation of

the RVN by the Americans. The physical labor of the prison camps

demoralized prisoners and set them up for thought reform. It was in this way

that the reeducation curriculum sought to indoctrinate and influence the

political views of hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese that would one

day reintegrate and help a unified Vietnam rebuild.

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Hawthorne, Lesleyanne. Refugee: the Vietnamese Experience. New York:
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Hoang, Van Chi. From Colonialism to Communism; A Case History of North
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Huynh, Sanh Thong. To Be Made Over: Tales of Socialist Reeducation in
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King, Edmund J. Communist Education. London: Methuen, 1963.
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