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Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Cao Dai & Nui Ba Den: Tay Ninh: Vietnam memories: The war 1965 1975

The Cao Dai & Nui Ba Den: Tay Ninh: Vietnam memories

Tay Ninh featured in Graham Greene's classic novel on Vietnam, The Quiet American. It was amongst my essential reading. I wondered though whether quiet was the appropriate word. The US presence in Vietnam was anything but quiet when I was there and I thought a little more reserve on their part might have helped, but that is not their way.

Tay Ninh is known as the home of the Cao Dai sect. This was begun in the mid 1920's. Their rather strange looking church or cathedral or whatever one wishes to call it was built in the early 1930's. I had visited it by road with PB the year before on one of our excursions. The road had been terrible and I had done most of the journey in second gear.

On the other hand flying over that area one saw an utterly desolate landscape pock-marked by the craters of the bombs dropped by B52's and the forests destroyed by Agent Orange.

They had their own army during the period of French rule and after an initial hesitation this had sided with the French against the Viet Minh. With the arrival of Diem this had been abolished. Probably more to do with eliminating any threat to his regime than any strain of catholic purity.

Tay Ninh was dominated by Nui Ba Den. The Mountain of the Black Virgin. This stood three thousand feet up. It had been captured by the US in 1964, who then set up a signals post on the top. The US army controlled the summit and the base. The Viet Cong controlled the middle. The story relates to a young Cambodian girl, perhaps the daughter of a chieftain. This area had previously belonged to Cambodia, as in fact had all the Mekong Delta. The centre of Vietnam had belonged to the Chams.

When I asked about the Chams the Vietnamese seemed to dismiss them as an historic curiosity. When I asked about the Cambodians, these were dismissed with an utter contempt. When I asked about the Montagnards these were dismissed as uncouth savages; the Vietnamese were a very proud people and did not hold the races they had conquered in very high esteem.

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