Women’s History Month: Remembering Vietnamese Female Freedom Fighters

As the past century slipped into a new millennium, various commentators mused about the greatest events, personalities, etc., of the previous hundred years.

Progressives might have asked a different question:  “What was the bravest, most inspiring people’s struggle against seemingly (or actually) impossible odds?”

Some would choose the doomed-to-fail effort of the volunteer International Brigades to defeat incipient fascism during the Spanish Civil War.  Nothing equals their awesome courage to take on Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler in defense of liberty and the Spanish Republic.

Others feel the honor definitely goes to the Vietnamese, who had the unwavering fortitude and will to vanquish three imperialist powers in succession, the Japanese, the French, and the Americans.

This article’s purpose is to recognize the place Vietnamese women hold in that magnificent legacy.

That female Vietnamese soldiers were fighting for their nation’s freedom was evident to anyone who paid attention to news footage in the Sixties and Seventies.  We’d see them in their helmets, eyes trained skyward, as they hurriedly aimed anti-aircraft guns at approaching U.S. aircraft sent on cruel, indiscriminate bombing missions.

Or they’d be filmed running across rice paddies, carrying nothing but the AK-47s that became the feared nemesis of invading American troops.

One of the best war movies ever made, Full Metal Jacket, features a riveting scene in which a U.S. soldier and a Vietnamese woman fight to the bloody death.  She loses, but he is deeply affected by her sacrificial tenacity.

Quite awhile back, the National Geographic Channel presented a documentary on Vietnamese combat photographers, one of whom was the only person from either side to be able to take pictures in the terrible battle for Quang Tri in 1972.

His access to the heart of that city was made possible only because he was escorted across treacherous terrain by two 17-year-old Vietnamese militia women,”beautiful and brave,” about whose ultimate fate he was deeply concerned.

Having already fought in two wars against foreign aggressors, Vietnamese females played a pivotal role in beating the third.

Beyond involvement in direct combat, they transported war equipment, medicine, and food to the frontlines, and took over traditional male jobs to free more men for battle.  They also participated in clandestine and specialized activities requiring remarkable courage.

Vietnamese movie director Luu Trong Ninh devoted his 1997 film, The Crossing at Dong Loc, to a team of young women entrusted to detonate U.S. bombs that hadn’t exploded on impact. He emphasized their high-spirited vitality, hardly the expected emotion for anyone charged with so grimly dangerous a task.

In the South, Buddhists and various “third force” women played a very important role. They advocated peace, organized demonstrations, and in some cases, set themselves ablaze to dramatically protest Vietnam’s colonized status and puppet-regime corruption.

Personal stories from the era are nothing short of astounding.

Hoang Thi Nghi was already a seasoned veteran of anti-French struggle when she was assigned to southern Vietnam to prepare for impending U.S. intervention.

She was instrumental in establishing and running a major network of moles and sympathizers within Saigon forces until 1969, when she was betrayed and sent to Con Dao prison, known as “Hell on Earth.”

Over 500 women were eventually held at Con Dao, all charged with political crimes. Despite routine torture, they resisted at every possible chance. “We would hurl cans of urine at them. If they retaliated with tear gas grenades, we would just throw them back.”

When Saigon was liberated on April 30, 1975, Nghi’s group foiled a plot to use mines to blow up the entire compound and kill all of its inmates.

Individual heroism in behalf of the Vietnamese people’s collective cause was common.

Ngo Thi Tuyen was a local militia woman who became a legend. Honored for numerous sacrifices, she is especially remembered for having transported two boxes of anti-aircraft shells to Ham Rong Bridge in Thanh Hoa province. The crates weighed 98 kg — twice her body weight.

Buried all throughout Vietnam, in both well-tended cemeteries and lost locations known to no one, lie the remains of thousands of Vietnamese females who gave their lives so that their homeland could be spared foreign domination.

America’s Vietnam intervention was no “mistake.”   Allegiance to absolute truth over patriotic prejudice forces every honest soul to fully acknowledge that our friends and family members — and, in countless cases, we ourselves — were on the wrong side in a dirty conflict in which the Vietnamese were most definitely the “good guys.”

As we’ve noted, many of them weren’t men at all.

For as long as females have compelling reason to resist male abuses and political or religious constructs rooted in injustice, powerful inspiration will be drawn from what the “beautiful and brave” women of Vietnam did to help guarantee their country’s sovereign self-determination.

Their stirring example will never be forgotten.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary with a Heartland perspective for various outlets since the '60s. Read other articles by Dennis.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on March 5th, 2010 at 9:42am #

    And having a chance to fight the fascist structure of society, was another booster to their moral.
    We now hear very little ab this country. Even the MSM doesn’t run dwn vietnam. Obviously fascist media had also learned s’mthing: that condemnation of those brave people just wld not help their fascist cause.
    And with 98% of US pop fascist now for 300 yrs, america is safe from any contagion.
    I an very proud of vietnamese, cubans and n. koreans. They are a beacon of light and very good examples to follow. tnx

  2. Rehmat said on March 6th, 2010 at 4:57am #

    Iranian women played a vital role during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. This was one the world’s greatest peaceful revolution in the modern history of resistance against Western-Israel alliance.

    Women have devotedly played a crucial role in the Islamic Revolution by uncovering the enemies” conspiracies and have been a firm support for the society. They have been as active as men in all arenas and have contributed to the growth of the Islamic Revolution. In some cases, they have involved in much more important, active roles than men. They have been fighting not only directly but also indirectly by encouraging their husbands and children. They have been responsible in bringing up some strong, pious children to present the Islamic society, which has always been critical to the Islamic Revolution…..

    Imam Khomeini – Reformer and Revolutionary