San Jose Councilman Lan Diep Apologizes for Calling Vietnam War ‘Pointless’ at Memorial Event

Forty-two years after the Vietnam War ended, the quagmire continues to be a point of contention in San Jose’s political scene—especially depending on one’s generation and culture. Calling the conflict a pointless loss of life would be an accurate and relatively benign assessment for many Americans. More than 58,000 U.S. service members were killed in the 20-year conflict. But for those who were forced to flee their war-torn homeland and saw firsthand the devastation—nearly 2 million Vietnamese civilians and 1.3 million soldiers (250,000 in the South) lost their lives—the term “pointless” could be seen as a personal affront. That was the case Sunday morning outside of Santa Clara County’s headquarters, as San Jose Councilman Lan Diep spoke at a “Black April” event commemorating the fall of Saigon. In unprepared remarks delivered in Vietnamese, Diep—who was born in the U.S.—enraged several attendees by noting that they were gathered “to mourn civilians, soldiers and refugees lost as a result of a pointless war.” In video of the event, a woman in the crowd shouted down Diep while an older gentleman in a military uniform had to be held back several times from charging the podium. Diep quickly apologized for his in-artful choice of words, but that didn’t stop some observers from branding him a communist, a Molotov cocktail of terms that is all too quickly thrown out in Vietnamese political disputes. “For the Vietnamese community and those who fought in the war and signed up to defend their homeland, that is honorable,” Diep told Fly. “And I was trying to say that but got sidetracked.” The Vietnamese political scene is a tightrope many outsiders fail to appreciate, as the differences in experience for refugees and their first-generation offspring can create an emotional powder keg. “I feel bad for some of these young Vietnamese politicians,” a local politico acknowledged, asking not to be named. “It's almost like being a prisoner of your community.”

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The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

9 Comments

  1. It’s nice to know that after putting my life on hold and in danger to try and keep South Vietnam free, If we had succeeded he would be there and not insulting us here!

  2. Well, in retrospective, it is kind of true. Most of the political factions that kept the two nations separate had their own skeletons in the closet. While the North was controlled by a communist Viet Kong, who had their own numerous purges and crimes, the South was also controlled initially by a brutal military dictatorship under Ngo Dihn Diem, in which 12,000 suspected opponents of Diệm were killed between 1955 and 1957 and by the end of 1958 an estimated 40,000 political prisoners had been jailed. That friction didn’t stop, with many kids in the US learning about Vietnam by the famous burning Buddhist monk image, which many buddhists and ethnic groups were being politically and socially oppressed. On top of that, there was then the assassination of President Diem and the consequential military junta that then seized control of the south. No doubt that many of the people who fought in that war didn’t see it as pointless, but in the end, at least unification has brought (relative) peace in Vietnam. What we fail to realize in our mistakes as Americans in dealing with the questions of Vietnam, is what could of happened had President Woodrow Wilson listened to Ho Chi Minh in Paris in 1919 and have America applied pressure on France to allow Vietnam political independence? Had the US applied pressure on France to abandon its colonial ways then, would it have prevented war, freeing Vietnam to form a government and military, and even prevent a Japanese invasion in the 40’s? Could we have always been allies, friends, and not have had a war to prove that Vietnam was ready to be free of western control? Instead, we focus on why we couldn’t win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese as we dropped huge amounts of bombs and chemicals across their country, in which many undetonated bombs and mines still liter the jungles and farm lands, as thousands of victims who still suffer from the effects of agent orange fill orphanages and hospitals.

  3. What a pity! His comments are both hurtful and racist to those who proudly served and those who died in Vietnam. Nothing he can say will forgive or amend his hateful words. What a hateful, ignorant little politician. What a shame for the City of San Jose!

    • Racist? Wow. In your opinion, do you think there is a politically correct way to suggest that the Vietnam War was not worth fighting? Or is it the idea itself that is offensive?

  4. The patriotic anti-communist Vietnamese Community sure taught Diep a thing or two about making such irresponsible speech like this. We will continue to look at you, Diep!!!

  5. Way to go LAN! Those of us that actually went to war and know that ALL wars are pointless, prehistoric and irresponsible will always vote for you!

    Don’t be apologizing for a damn thing. Especially hurting some war monger’s feelings. They never been to war.

    an older gentleman in a military uniform…what the hell kind of reporting is that anyways….?

    LAN for President.

    Dennis Kyne
    US Army 1988-2003
    Life memeber of VFW, DAV and the American Legion

    • There was a point for the war. It was for freedom. The people of South Vietnam fought against the communist regime to gain their freedom. So before you speak, understand the other side first.

      There are no war monger’s feelings in this. The feelings are from the people who witnessed the war first hand and fought to get freedom for their people. They all fought for a purpose and the point was for FREEDOM. You weren’t even enlisted during the Vietnam war, so sit down, research, and think before you speak.

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