Thursday, June 23, 2005

On Flags

Possibly inspired by P.M. Pham Văn Khải's visit to the United States (or not): 

The California state Assembly considers a resolution that would formally recognize the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam in lieu of the current Vietnamese flag, as eight other states have done.

Experts say the trend could create tension amid warming relations between the United States and Vietnam. Robert Siegel talks with [Vân or Văn (?)] [Trần], a Republican assemblyman from the 68th district.

That's from NPR, and you can even listen to the audio of the tbroadcast if you choose. Before commenting any further, let us compare the two flags. This is the current flag of Việt Nam. It was also used by the North before 1975.

This was the flag for North Vietnam. Now it is the flag for the whole country.

This is the old South Vietnamese flag, as used between 1955 and 1975.

This is the old South Vietnamese flag.

The first catches the eye, and is simpler. The second reminds me of a cricket wicket being bowled out, or possibly a trio of skidmarks. (Or as one wag described it a few decades ago: "If they're not red, they're yellow.") Of course, the first has a very Communist pedigree, which of course disturbs all the anti-Communists out there. As Wikipedia puts it:

The flag of Vietnam was adopted on November 30, 1955. The flag ratio is 2:3 with a yellow five-pointed star in the center, symbolizing the leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party. Red represents success and revolution. The five points of the stars represent the workers, the peasants, the soldiers, the intellectuals and the young.

But for the majority of Vietnamese nowadays, the flag simply represents their country. When I think of the flag, I think of things like the SEA Games of late 2003, when this country beat Malaysia in a soccer game. Immediately, the youth hit the motorbikes, and the motorbikes hit the streets. There were thousands - possibly tens of thousands - of young men and women hooning down the main roads on their scooters, flying and waving the flag as they drove. Number of Yellow Stars on a Field of Red observed? By myself - a few thousand or so. Number of Hammer and Sickles seen? (Such flags were also available from the same roadside stalls selling the national flag.) Well, I remember seeing... um, ah, er... zero. When it comes down to it, it's just a case of "Our country just beat their country at the footie - let's go out and celebrate!" In such circumstances, ideology is irrelevant. 

For this and other experiences, I think Assemblyman Trần's resolution is pointless. I understand he dislikes the current government. After all, he was 10 when his family was evacuated from Sài Gòn in 1975. That's old enough to remember vividly. But the bill sounds like a sop to the Vietnamese-American community. Listening to the broadcast, the primary motivation was that 8 other states of the Union had done it; why not also the one with the largest population in the country? Oh, and it is "free speech" to wave the South Vietnamese flag, and that's one of the good things about the United States. Perhaps, but is is "free speech" to get the State Government of California to follow suit? It sounds more like a waste of taxpayers' money to me. It would annoy Mr. Khải, but cheekiness by itself is not a rationale of the fiscal conservatism that Mr. Trần avowedly represents.   

But the real problem is that South Vietnamese flag represents a country 30 years dead, and it's been dead longer than it had ever been alive in the first place. Moreover, it never even possessed all of the country in the first place. Personally, I think the likelihood of the flag flying again here in the future is nil. Let it rest.