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Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street

Nguyen Thai Binh Street, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

There’s a street in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City called Nguyen Thai Binh Street.

The United States had intensified its bombing of both northern and southern Vietnam earlier in April. 1972. Nixon, Kissinger and their henchmen in the Pentagon called the campaign Operation Freedom Porch. The northern cities of Hanoi and Haiphong were carpet-bombed with wave after wave of United States Air Force B-52s dropping their explosives across both metropolises. Meanwhile, the US Navy was preparing to mine Haiphong Harbor.

On April 20th, 1972 a rally against the US bombing northern Vietnam and the mining of its harbors took place in Seattle, Washington at the University of Washington. It was one of hundreds such protests against the US actions taking place that week around the world. I attended one in Frankfurt am Main, Germany that ended up being broken up by police with truncheons and water cannons. People I knew in Maryland and DC wrote to me about similar police attacks at protests in DC and at the University of Maryland. Following their stories about the bombing raids, the military’s daily newspaper Stars & Stripes (published for men and women stationed overseas) provided its readers with a brief summary of demonstrations against the latest US attacks. So did the International Herald Tribune and various European newspapers available at the newsstands in downtown Frankfurt.

Anyhow, back to that rally in Seattle. One of the reasons for the protest there was unique to that city. It involved a student at the University who was being threatened with deportation because of his antiwar activities. That student’s name was to become the name of the street I opened this story with: Nguyen Thai Binh. Born in southern Vietnam, Binh was attending the university on a scholarship provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Now, despite the claims made by the agency and many of its staffers, USAID was (and is) essentially a branch of the CIA. It is the carrot that operates along with the stick; the good cop who works with the bad cop.

Nguyen Thai Binh was studying agriculture at the school. After living and studying for a couple years, he became involved in the movement against the US war on the Vietnamese. As the date for his graduation neared, he described his studies in an open letter: “A ‘leadership’ scholarship of the US Agency for ‘International Development’ brought me to this country four years ago. During that time, besides gaining some technical knowledge which is useless to serve my country in this war situation, I have studied the massive social, economic and cultural damage caused by the war of US aggression in Vietnam….”

Nguyen Thai Binh was learning the true nature of his host and sponsor. In response, he spoke at teach-ins, rallies and other protests against the war. Indeed, he spoke at the April 20, 1972 rally in Seattle. Furthermore, he and several other Vietnamese students from around the United States occupied the Saigon government’s consulate in New York in early February 1972. Binh and the others were arrested. According to documents composed and filed by the US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), Binh stepped up his antiwar activities after the arrests. His role in the movement in Washington state was drawing the notice of the authorities. Binh graduated with a degree in fisheries management on June 10, 1972. He was given deportation orders around the same time. The US government was not going to allow him to tell the truth about their war, especially since those truths were coming from a Vietnamese citizen who they had believed was on “their side.” Binh was unbowed. He continued his activities while he readied himself for his trip back to Vietnam.

Binh began his journey back to Vietnam on July 1, 1972. His plane from San Francisco stopped in Honolulu, Guam and Manila. It was on the final leg of the journey from Manila to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) that Binh passed a note to a flight attendant demanding the plane be flown to Hanoi. When the pilot refused to acknowledge the first note, Binh wrote another. When the plane landed on the tarmac in Vietnam, the pilot and a retired police officer on board wrestled Binh to the floor of the plane and killed him. They then threw his body out of the plane. Binh’s anger and despair at the death and destruction perpetrated on his country and its people had sent him to the edge. His antiwar speeches and activities seemed to have no effect on those who ran and profited from the war machine. Like those antiwar US citizens who crossed the rubicon into violent resistance, the never-ending butchery and slaughter of the imperial war machine had claimed another.

Antiwar activists memorialized Binh at rallies and in print after his death. Friends in Seattle enlisted others, including the Yale chaplain Reverend William Sloane Coffin, to form the Friends of Nguyen Thai Binh. His papers are in the University of Washington Archives. The Vietnamese memorialized Nguyen Thai Binh by naming the aforementioned street in his honor.

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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