Viet Nam celebrates teachers on November 20. The date was chosen in 1957 after a conference of the Warsaw Pact, enemies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The Vietnamese citizen who would teach our Allies the most about Viet Nam did not make his career in schools. Huu Ngoc instead joined the revolution.
The Peoples’ Army began as propaganda teams sometimes armed with a revolver. Young boys left school to run messages beneath French noses.
Educated men and women taught the others all they knew, giddy in the liberated zone. Their elders had studied inside French prisons.
Everyone succeeded in their studies. There is a studio photograph of Ngoc and his wife radiant in pith helmets after the victory at Dien Bien Phu.
During the war he and rallier Georges Boudarel taught soldiers of France after their capture. Ngoc’s best students were returned to spread revolution in the other colonies.
Later his comrade Bouda fled West through the Warsaw Pact. He carried a trunk full of books and magazines by the embattled writers of Ha Noi.
Pham Duy had long since fled the revolution for liberty in Saigon. Nguyen Chi Thien had begun his thirty years in jail.
Between those fates a host of artists and intellectuals starved in the shadows of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam. Ngoc instead served his people through their government.
In thirty years of war he remained trusted with foreigners. His chief Nguyen Khac Vien and then Ngoc himself ran the Foreign Languages Publishing House.
The company sent books around the world. After his own retirement Ngoc would meet visitors in a room off the courtyard of the publishing house.
Lady Borton took me there when our countries reconciled. I worked for the English section upstairs on a manuscript about the Paris peace talks twenty years before.
In his office Ngoc would ask me questions for the book he was editing about the United States for Vietnamese. He already had written one about France.
He imported as well as exported culture, matters too important to offend. After explaining “Yankee Doodle Dandy” I would go around the side to the archives.
I was completing an index Lady had started to articles Ngoc had seen published in Vietnamese Studies. Wikivietlit follows on that work.
These weekly posts imitate Ngoc’s column for Vietnam News. Best wishes to the revolutionary who teaches foreigners.
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