Le Van Thong is terrified. In the confused political world of the Vietnamese refugee community he knows that some people suspect him of Communist sympathies. And last Thursday afternoon two FBI men knocked on his door.
They told him that they knew of his connections with Truong Dinh Hung, arrested on charges of espionage two days before. The FBI men said they knew Thong had protested against the United States.
He said he had only asked Truong to help him contact his family in Vietnam. He said his protests had only been against conditions in the refugee camps.
The FBI agents talked to Thong for nearly an hour, according to another member of the family he lives with in Springfield, and then they left.
In their wake - and in the wake of the whole chain of events that began with the indictment of Truong Dinh Hung and Ronald Louis Humphrey - the Vietnamese refugees community in this country is being confronted with political questions and disputes most had hoped were behind them. What is even worse for them is that it is all taking place during Tet, their new year celebration - a time when they hope to forget just such controversy.
The vast majority of Vietnamese in this country are anti-Communist according to members of the federal government's refugee task force. Nevertheless, their communities here - like so many exile communities - seethe with stories of conspiracies and plots.
"Everywhere there is mutual contempt, mutual distrust, mutual suspicion," says one refugee worker who asked that his name be withheld lest he become the object of contempt, distrust and suspicion himself for talking to the press.
People fear that their actions in this country will somehow affect the fragments of their families left behind in Vietnam. There are rumors of communist front organizations and agents. Many have seen though few admit to reading. Thai Bin, the pro-Hanoi newspaper distributed around the United States.
But now, with the arrest of two men charged with spying for the Communists, there is something more than rumor - and such concrete facts as exist have launched new waves of speculation and worry.
After the reports of the arrests, Ngugen Ngoc Bich stayed up most of the night talking on the telephone with his friends and acquaintances. Bich was an information officer for the South Vietnamese embassy here in Washington for several years and he keeps up many of his old contacts.
"Some people were happy, some not," he says. The happy ones were pleased that the United States government finally seemed to be crackling down on espionage activities they fear so much. Others were afraid that the entire affair was staged to delay the normalization of relations between the U.S. and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
A few worried that there would be long-term repercussions not yet apparent - a backlash against the Vietnamese - brought on by the publicity about alleged spy operations.
Many could not understand why Truong Dinh Hung and the relatively left-wing organizations with which he was openly affiliated should be allowed to exist in this country. "This freedom country," some would say, as if that meant that the left wing should not be allowed.
"Freedom country." It is a phrase repeated again and again by Vietnamese just learning English. But after generations of life in a society dominated by foreign powers, and uncompromising ideologies, many of the Vietnamese refugees who have come to the United States over the last three years have difficulty understanding just what a "freedom country" is.
South Vietnamese politics, in the brief periods when no single strong man held sway, was a revolving door of factions and demagogues. Now, as one person who has been involved with Vietnamese politics for several years describes it, "To all the factionalism for which Saigon was famous we have added the loss of the war, with all the bitterness and hard feelings that accompanied that."
Within an overall context of strong anti-Communist feeling there has developed a wide political spectrum divided primarily by the stands taken on normalization of relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
At the far right is a small group that advocates active support of such armed resistance as exists in Vietnam. For this group, normalization is virtually out of the question. Other factions regard normalization as inevitable, if not desirable, but want to impose firm conditions on such an arrangement: guarantees of religious freedom, an end to the "new economic zones into which the country has been subdivided," abolition of re-education camps, and the unification of families.
The issue of divided families is a constant problem for the Vietnamese living in America, socially and emotionally as well as politically. Many of the fears they voice are for their relatives still living in Vietnam. In private some Vietnamese will say that they would accept normalization without any other major conditions if it would help bring their families back together, but such a position is rarely taken in public.
Accusations of "going soft on communism" are not history in the Vietnamese-langage press here, and people who suggest that the overthrow of the communists is unlikely or impossible are lambasted in editorials accusing them of everything from being in the pay of Hanoi to "eating too many American hamburgers" - that is, growing decadent.
Given the environment it is not surprising that no powerful political party has emerged in the Vietnamese refugee community, many Vietnamese say. There are a number of people who claim to be leaders, but with the exception of such religious figures as the Catholic priest Tran Duy Nhat and the Buddhist monk Thich Giac Duc, few seem to have mouch of a following.
The only major voice here on behalf of Hanoi is the 12-page tabloid Thai Binh, which often reprints articles from the official communist daily Nhan Dan. It is published by a group called the Association of Vietnamese Patriots in the United States, but the president of the association has been unavailable for comment. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES] cal leaders among the Vietnamese in America that even when a congress of nearly 100 political activists was held in Los Angeles last December, no president or chairman was elected. According to Le Thi Anh, who attended the congress, no vice president was elected either, "because he would have acted like a president." Instead a council of vice persons was chosen to preside, each of them with equal power.
The solution that many Vietnamese would prefer, if possiblie, is to avoid politics altogether. A young man who calls himself Tony and attends classes at the Arlington Career Center, tried to sum up the feelings of his friends. "After the fall of Saigon we hate to talk politics." He was silent for a moment, and then decided to speak only for himself. "I lost everything in Vietnam because of politics. I just want to work and live in freedom country."