Thu, Sep 22, 2005 - Page 9 News List

The real stuff: what a Vietnamese army doctor saw

AFP , HANOI

"But a wish is just a wish, reality is reality. The heartrending groan of patients is ringing in my ears. There is so much work to do: it is complicated, difficult and even frustrating," wrote Thuy Tram, who later died from a bullet wound.

There is much hatred for Americans and a great anxiety to eject them from Vietnamese soil.

Tame stuff it would be in most countries but for Vietnamese fed on a fulsome fare of undimmed valor, this is refreshingly new.

"In the diary, the war is described as something fierce. During the war, the soldiers were often sad and had to suffer a lot. The war was not always heroism and passion," said Thuy Tram's sister, Dang Kim Tram.

Vietnam has been through decades of wars against French and US forces. The victorious regime has always painted a glowing canvas of communist troops brimming with determination and derring-do in evicting invaders.

Every year, vast sums are spent by publishing houses and filmmakers on works that are given a wide berth by the public. Historians say many heroic figures presented therein are patently unreal.

"I had not felt much for the Vietnamese soldiers' wartime conduct as they were always depicted as saints, untinged by sadness or fear although they were in the thick of fierce and bloody wars," said Nguyen Ngoc Duong, 27, a translator.

Moments of sadness have been infra dig for Vietnamese propagandists: Soldiers have invariably displayed whole-hearted devotion to the nation, with no thought of personal happiness or unhappiness.

A novel published in 1991, by a former soldier and renowned writer Bao Ninh, described bloodshed and suffering.

But its title was changed from The Sorrow of War to The Fate of Love as propaganda officials decreed the country's struggle against foreign enemies could never be one of sorrow.

While Ninh's puncturing of Vietnamese communist mythology was pathbreaking, it was nevertheless seen as a work of fiction whereas Thuy Tram's account is treated as the real stuff.

About 200,000 copies of her diary have been printed, a record as compared to the usual 2,000 copies for new releases in Vietnam.

"The diaries of Dr. Thuy Tram impressed me as there are real thoughts of a real person in war, with moments of sadness, loneliness, pain," said Duong, the translator.

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