ao dai: A traditional long gown with slits on each side, worn over silk pants.
black market: An illegal market in which goods or currencies are bought and sold in violation of government rationing and other controls. The black market activities happened in actual markets throughout Saigon and also included sales and bartering of private goods between neighbors and friends.
boat people: A term that usually refers to refugees, or asylum seekers, who emigrate in boats that are sometimes old and crudely made. The term came into common use during the late 1970s with the mass departure of Vietnamese refugees from communist-controlled Vietnam, following the Vietnam War.
cadre: In Vietnamese re-education camps, cadres were much like drill sergeants in an army. They had proven themselves to be supportive of communism, and they had learned about the ideology, so they could teach the prisoners how to think and act.
capitalism: A social and economic system where assets are mainly owned and controlled by private people, where labor is purchased for wages, capital gains belong to private owners, and a free market with competition helps to determine the price of goods, services and property.
Chairman Mao: Regarded as one of the most influential individuals in modern world history. Supporters praise him for modernizing China and building it into a world power. China’s population almost doubled during the period of Mao’s leadership, from around 550 to over 900 million. In contrast, critics have labeled him a dictator whose administration oversaw systematic human rights abuses, and whose rule is estimated to have caused the deaths of between 40−70 million people, mainly through starvation, forced labor and executions. It is likely that his rule caused the most people to be killed by genocide in human history.
communism: An economic and social system envisioned by the nineteenth-century German scholar Karl Marx. In theory, under communism, all means of production are owned in common, rather than by an individual. In practice, a single authoritarian party controls both the political and economic systems.
democracy: A form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determinism.
fascist, fascism: A governmental system usually led by a dictator with complete power, which suppresses opposition and criticism, controls all industry, commerce, etc. In a fascist society, government control is more important than individual freedom.
Ho Chi Minh: He led the Viet Minh independence movement from 1941 onward, establishing the communist-ruled Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, and defeated the French Union in 1954 at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. He officially stepped down from power in 1955 due to health problems, but remained a highly visible figurehead and inspiration for those Vietnamese fighting for his cause—a united, communist Vietnam—until his death. After the war, Saigon, capital of the Republic of Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chí Minh City.
Jean Baptiste Nho Dinh Diem: The First President of South Vietnam. His nationalism and drive to end communism made him a prominent figure. However, his favoritism of Catholicism and discontentment with Buddhists made him a target of generals from the Army of South Vietnam. The Army planned a coup d’état against him and his brother Nhu. America was humiliated by the corruption of Diem’s administration, and they did not want to help Diem and his government. On November 2, 1963, Diem and his brother were assassinated.
Joseph Stalin: Rose to power within the Russian Communist Party from 1898 through the Russian Revolution in 1917 and beyond. Following Lenin’s death, Stalin outmaneuvered rivals and by 1929 became the sole leader of the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union. A shrewd and ruthless political infighter, he built a tyrannical but powerful totalitarian state. Millions were “liquidated” in massive “purges.” Stalin’s outlook was shaped by his belief in a historically destined global victory for communism.
jute grass: Tall annual herb or sub-shrub of tropical Asia having velvety leaves and yellow flowers and yielding a strong fiber. The grass is used to make baskets, mats and hats.
Karl Marx: Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics, collectively known as Marxism, state that human societies progress through a class struggle: a conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a proletariat that provides the labor for production. He called capitalism the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” believing it to be run by the wealthy classes purely for their own benefit, and he predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, capitalism would inevitably produce internal tensions that would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism.
New Economic Zone: After the communist takeover, private enterprises were seized by the government and their owners were often sent to New Economic Zones to clear land. The farmers were coerced into state-controlled cooperatives. Transportation of food and goods between provinces was deemed illegal except by the government. Thousands of people who were sent to New Economic Zones died of starvation and malaria.
Nguyen Van Thieu: President of South Vietnam from 1965–75. He was a general in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), became head of a military junta, and then became president after winning a scheduled election. He established rule over South Vietnam until he resigned and left the nation a few days before the fall of Saigon and the ultimate communist victory.
passive resistance: Resistance by nonviolent methods to a government, an occupying power, or specific laws, for example by refusing to comply, demonstrating in protest, or fasting.
pho soup: Delicate noodle soup, made from beef bones, ginger, onions and aromatic spices.
piaster: The standard monetary unit of Vietnam at the time the events of this book occurred. The piaster was replaced by the dong in May, 1978. The value of the dong was significantly changed many times by the communist government to help them control opposition. During the war, a piaster was worth only about a penny in American currency.
propaganda: Presenting facts selectively (possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political, religious or commercial agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of ideological or commercial warfare.
Red Scarfs: A youth organization set up by the communist government to help influence the children, educate them on communist ideology and in many cases obtain information about their parents.
National Service: A program set up to control people with the potential to organize against the government. Although it was positioned as a volunteer program, people were required to leave their families and work in remote areas, draining swamps and clearing jungle to develop farmland.
socialism: An economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy. “Social ownership” may refer to cooperative enterprises, common ownership, state ownership, or citizen ownership of equity. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them. They differ in the type of social ownership they advocate, the degree to which they rely on markets or planning, how management is to be organized within productive institutions, and the role of the state in constructing socialism.
solidarity cell: A group of people in Vietnam that report to a communist leader. Usually the group is structured around a business such as the making of baskets and mattresses. All the production is given to the leader who sells it and theoretically divides the profits equally. The communists used solidarity cells to organize and control the population.
Tet: The Vietnamese New Year celebration, occurring during the first seven days of the first month of the lunar calendar.
Vladimir Lenin: As the leader of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, he took a senior role in orchestrating the October Revolution in 1917, which led to the overthrow of the Russian Provisional Government and the establishment of the world’s first constitutionally socialist state. Immediately afterwards, Lenin implemented socialist reforms, including the transfer of estates to soviet workers. With Lenin as its leader, the Bolshevik faction later became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which presided over a single-party dictatorship of the proletariat.