For the past few months, the most talked-about story in the presidential campaign has involved the Vietnam War: who served, where, and when. Almost daily, I turn down press calls for my comments, since I was the one thirty-three years ago who discovered John O?Neill. We, as a nation, are still haunted by Vietnam.
Another thing that is as true today as it was thirty-five years ago is that the Communists in Vietnam are enemies of human rights and religious freedom.
Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly knows this all too well. Three years ago, Vietnamese policemen surrounded his church and arrested him. His crime? ?Undermining national unity.?
As Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer, wrote in the Washington Post, Reverend Ly?s real crime was ?informing the rest of the world? about the way Vietnam treats Christians and other ?religious minorities.? For daring to testify before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Ly was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
While Ly?s case drew international attention, including a congressional resolution calling for his release, it?s not unique. Just ask the Montagnards of Vietnam?s central highlands. Chances are that if you have heard of them at all, it was in the movie Apocalypse Now in which they were depicted as savages.
The reality is that many of them are Christians who simply want to be left alone to practice their faith and raise their families, something the Vietnamese government won?t allow them to do. As Genser tells us, the past six months have seen increased persecution of Montagnard Christians.
Unfortunately, as BreakPoint readers have often learned, state-sponsored or condoned persecution of Christians is not unusual. What is unusual is that in the case of Vietnam our government enjoys leverage over the persecutors. This means that we can bring religious freedom to the table as a prerequisite for American favor.
Improved relations with the United States, especially in the area of trade, is an important part of Vietnam?s plans for economic development. To that end, the United States and Vietnam negotiated a bilateral trade agreement three years ago. In his comments, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said that the pact would help bring ?economic freedom and opportunity to Vietnam.?