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The Continuing War: Resistance In Saigon's Prisons
(The following article is an edited version of an article written by Nguyen Khac Vien, one of Vietnam's vest known scholars. It is an account of conversations with prisoners released from prisons in the South after the Paris Agreement was signed. Currently Saigon has about 200,000 political prisoners, even though they don't classify them as such. Although Congress recently prohibited the use of any US. Funds for the maintenance of prisons or police in South Vietnam, we continue to provide President Thieu with over $1 billion a year. In addition, we maintain 4,000 U.S. civilians in military-related jobs and 1,150 men in the Defense Attache's Office. It is this support and this support alone which is keeping Thieu in power and his opposition in prison.)
They stuck an electrode near my ear and another on my breast. When they turned the magneto, I felt a shock, foamed at my mouth and my head whirled. I was trussed up and hung from the ceiling and each blow sent me twisting around. I was plunged into a big barrel full of water and they started to bang against the sides with a hammer, my whole body vibrated and lightning flashed through my head. They squeezed my legs in a vice and struck with all their force on the soles of my feet.
My baby was in front of me, a little thing of 23 months. A torturer seized its hands and placed it on a table. "Will you speak," they shouted. "No," I said. "I don't know anything." The torturer took a hammer and a pin. Pfff, the pin was driving into the child's thumb which stayed fixed to the table while the poor thing choked herself with crying. I sprang to my feet, seized a paperweight on the table and flung it at the brute's face, shouting: "Don't torture children." A great roar echoed my cry from all the prison cells. "Don't torture children." The torturer and his boss fled out of the room. I removed the pin and took my daughter in my arms.
Don't think that they were left free to beat and torture us just as they liked. It was a daily ordeal, but our struggle was also carried out at every moment. We had neither sticks nor rifles, not even a nail. But we had our voices, our songs, our arms and could pose a blunt refusal to everything.
We were compelled to salute the Saigon flag. But many among us died because they refused to do so. They tried to force us to shout slogans and sing counter-revolutionary songs. We refused. They became mad but we kept on refusing. Those that they suspected of being leaders were taken away and put in tiger cages.
They were bent on imposing their truths upon us by bludgeoning and also by arguments and we always shut them up in the end. We would climb out of these arguments with bruised limbs and heads often bleeding, some of us were maimed forever, others had paid for their firm stand with their own life, but our torturers emerged crushed and with bowed heads.
After these verbal battles, the shouts. Imagine hundreds, sometimes up to a thousand prisoners shouting all at once from every cell: "Down with the torturers," "Don't torture the wounded," "No mouldy rice," "Give us medicines." This would go on for hours at a time. The jailors were in a panic, and the overseers no longer knew what to do when blows proved ineffective.
Of course we had our own organization, our own leaders and a liaison network in order to launch a campaign, decide what slogan to use and perfect our strategy. We needed to know how far we should push our offensive, whether to stop the movement after some of our demands had been met.
We never started a hunger strike alone, separately. But by tens, by hundreds and sometimes the whole prison went on strike. That's what they were afraid of, the obstinate will, not of one, but of the whole collectivity ready, if need be, to die in support of their demands.
To let a whole prison die would arouse public opinion, they would get into trouble from their bosses, since their job was not to do away with detainees, but to "convert" them.
Do you know that at Poulo Condor (a prison) there is a liberated zone? Of course we were always enclosed by walls and barbed wire, but the torturers did not dare to venture into our sector. We took no notice of the jail's regulations, we went on with our gatherings and openly organized courses of cultural and political education.
"A survivor from Pleiku tells this story:" We used to make pens out of the iron barbs, and set squares and protractors with bits of wood and paper from scraps of newspaper. And those who had some instruction started teaching geometry to their fellow detainees. The guards confiscated our things after beating all of us. So we made them all again. This time we engaged in direct combat, openly demanding the right to learn. In the end we were able to organize courses in mathematics, literature and history.
We had collected pieces of mosquito nets and shirts. Those who had malaria saved us their tablets of quinine so as to dye the stuff yellow and we got red or rather ochre and blue by scraping the walls. And this is how our magnificent flags of the National Front for Liberation were made. We also made streamers reading: "Long live the PRG Long live the NLF," For strict implementation of the Paris Agreement," "For a policy of national concord."
"Down with Thieu's dictatorship." They wanted to confiscate them but we warned them: "That'll be a scuffle to the death." They retreated.
"They came back as victors. Two hundred thousand others are still fighting at Chi Hoa, Tan Hiep, Poulo Condor and in hundreds of other prison and detention camps scattered all over the South. Every day, every minute the struggle continues, more ruthless than ever."
IMPLEMENT THE AGREEMENT