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Nguyen Cao Ky
Nguyen Cao Ky
Buddha’s Child:  My Fight to Save Vietnam
ISBN: 0312281153
Buddha’s Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam
Through America's bookstores run a river of books about Vietnam, everything from pulp-fiction heroes to historical revisionism to the mea culpa of aged war leaders. But there is precious little written by Vietnamese. Finally comes Nguyen Cao Ky, at 72 still trim and energetic, to fill that void, to explode America's hoary myths and to shatter the clay armies of false idols. In a memoir as audacious and charismatic as the disarmingly young pilot who led South Vietnam's first air strike against the North, Ky presents the inside story of Saigon's intrigues and tribulations. Sure to bruise American egos and to spark controversy with its blunt talk and shocking revelations, Buddha's Child is the first lengthy account by a top South Vietnamese leader of the pivotal events and major personalities of Vietnam's bloody, two-decade debacle.
—from the publisher's website
Buddha’s Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam
Program Air Date: July 14, 2002

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Nguyen Cao Ky, former prime minister of South Vietnam, author of "Buddha's Child," you say in your book that you were upset with the publisher of one of your previous books about what you didn't get in, or something, and you had to write this book. What was that all about?
"NGUYEN CAO KY, AUTHOR, "BUDDHA'S CHILD: MY FIGHT TO SAVE VIETNAM": Well, it's just back in 1976, I remember, you know, the fall of Vietnam in '75, and so I just come over here. And some friend, you know, introduced me to someone, you know, in the publishing industry, and they said they want me to write my story. And they want to do it very fast, you know? So I had no idea, you know, at that time about publishing book and the -- so -- and because they pay me some, you know, advance money, which I can use for -- you know, to buy a business. So I agree. And we just met -- I just met with them, two or three gentlemen, for just a few hours, you know, and just one time. And after that, you know, they -- they wrote the book.

So I can say that it was not, you know, the real, true story. And that's why now, after 27 years, you know, my friends, both American and Vietnamese, you know, they -- they come to me and they said to me, "It's time that you tell the Vietnam story, Vietnam side," you know?
LAMB: You were how old when you were prime minister of Vietnam, South Vietnam? And what years?
NGUYEN: July, 1965.
LAMB: To how -- what year did you -- how many years were you prime minister?
NGUYEN: Until the election, the presidential election 1967.
LAMB: And how old were you when you became prime minister?
NGUYEN: I am 34-and-a-half. (LAUGHTER)
NGUYEN: Or 35 years, yes.
LAMB: And how old does that make you today? That picture was how old? How old are you in that picture?
NGUYEN: I think that that -- maybe 37, you know? I remember that someone, you know, during a flight to visit some country, and someone took this picture.
LAMB: As you know...
NGUYEN: But 37, yeah.
LAMB: As you know, when you walked in, I said to you, "How did you do it?" How did you, all these years later, almost look the same as you did then?
NGUYEN: Yeah. Yeah, I am 73 now, and -- yeah. Many friends, you know, especially American veteran, when they met me, they all look at me, and they said, "I think you're General Ky, but are you?" And I said, "Yes." "How come you stay," you know, no change, And that's why, you know, they recognize me. But sometime, I have some problem with my, you know, staying young.

I remember one time, you know, coming back to L.A., Los Angeles, from a trip overseas, and when I show my passport to the, you know, Customs Service, he look at the -- my passport for at least two minute. And then he look at me again, and he asked, "Your driver license." "OK, driver license." And then "Your Green Card." "OK, Green Card." While, you know, behind me, a long line of passengers waiting, you know, to have stamp on their passport.

So at the end, I asked the gentleman, "You read the name?" And, "Yes." "You know who I am?" And he said, "Yes, General Ky." "So what take you" -- and he said to me, you know, very funny, he said, "My father served in Vietnam, and he is one of the admirer of General Ky. So at home," you know, "we have the picture on the wall, picture of General Ky. But it is 35 or 40 years ago. But now," you know, "you look too young. I imagine that," you know, "General Ky," you know, "should be some sort of an old man with white hair and cannot walk."

So I asked him, "OK, now you trust me?" And he said, "OK, now." And then he asked me, "What your secret? What is the secret to stay," you know, "so young?"
LAMB: Did you tell him?
NGUYEN: I -- no. I said, "Next time" because, you know, too many people waiting.
LAMB: Let me ask you about your life since '75 first. Where have -- when did you come to the United States? Under what circumstances?
NGUYEN: I came first to Camp Pendleton, where I stay as a refugee, as a -- you know, like other Vietnamese refugees. I stay in Camp Pendleton I think for one or two months.
LAMB: California.
NGUYEN: Yeah, in California. And then after that, I joined my family here in Fairfax, Virginia. So we live here for one year. And then one day, I was invited by a television, you know, show down L.A., Los Angeles. So while in L.A. of course, I met with some Vietnamese friends. And then they convinced me that California is -- you know, have a better, you know, climate for me. So we decide to move down there since -- at the end 1976, yeah.
LAMB: Where do you live?
NGUYEN: Well, we move around. First we bought a house in Huntington Beach with the money I make from -- from the book and from the speaking tour. I remember it was only $110,000 at that time -- you know, four bedroom. Very nice house. And I only had to put about 10 percent, you know, or $12,000. And then I left Huntington Beach and then go to live in Hong Kong for almost three years.
LAMB: What years were those?
NGUYEN: From 1988 to 1991. And then when I come back to America, we go to Seattle for one year because my wife, you know, has some -- has some relative in Seattle. But after one year, you know, I found out there is too much water in that city. And you know, I'm golf, you know, player now. So I said to my wife, "We should," you know, "move back to California."

So right now, I'm -- I'm in L.A., in Hacienda Heights, you know, next to the famous Chinese temple that the former Vice President Gore visit in the presidential election.
LAMB: How many children have you had?
NGUYEN: I have seven, four boys and three girls.
LAMB: How many times have you been married?
NGUYEN: Three.
LAMB: How many grandchildren do you have?
NGUYEN: About 16 grandchildren and one great -- great-grandchild.
LAMB: And what kind of businesses have you been in since you've been to the United States?
NGUYEN: Well, you know, I just mentioned, you know, with the money from the book. Then when I moved to -- from here to California, of course, I went to the bank and opened a new account and put my money. And then, you know, the director, the president and all the -- you know, the members of the bank, of course, they recognized me. So they come out and, you know, say welcome.

And then it happened that one of the directors of that bank is in a liquor store, named Jack Hanshaw (ph). His -- his family, you know, own total about 60 or 65 liquor store in the area. He's a king of liquor store. So after we become friend, and then he asked me what my intention. I said, "I don't know. With little money I think, I want to have some small business."

And then he advised me, he said the best small business in L.A. at that time is a liquor store. And it happened that he owned many, so he said, "If you want, I can help to sell you one of my best stores." I said, "I'm happy." So I start my exile's life first become liquor -- liquor store owner.
LAMB: Still have the liquor store?
NGUYEN: No, no longer. And then after few years, one day, the Vietnamese down in Louisiana, you know, invite me, in fact, I remember, together with General Westmoreland, for a military parade in New Orleans. So while there, you know, I met with a few other friends in American community and some Vietnamese fishermen. And so we talk about the fishing business. And then, again, American banker in New Orleans -- you know, he just suggest to me, "Well, why don't you come here and help the Vietnamese fishermen," you know, "and also help us, the American," you know, "to -- to expand and develop the fishing industry." So I said, "OK."

So three months later, I moved down there, and again, with the help from the local bank, you know, I -- I bought a fishing boat, a dock, and I become a fisherman. But just for I think a very short period, one year-and-a-half, because I was not lucky at that time, you know? I come in at the time that they have the worst season of fishing. We go out day and night, you know, 18 days, 20 days a month, but did not catch much shrimp. So at the end, you know, I asked the bank president, "But here, you see I try my best, but because," you know, "no luck." So I gave them back, you know, the fishing boat and the dock and everything.
LAMB: Now, did you actually fish yourself?
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Did you...
NGUYEN: I went out, you know, myself, you know?
LAMB: Did you actually run the liquor store yourself?
NGUYEN: Oh, yes.
LAMB: What would people say...
NGUYEN: And of course with, you know, my son and my family.
LAMB: What would people say to you when they would come in and find you in the liquor store that knew who you were?
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah. No, I -- many -- I can tell you one example, you know? One night, I was by myself because, you know, the box -- the box boy already went home. So here's a young guy. He's Mexican. And he come andyou know. He knows me. So he said to me, "General, I want five case of beer." And, "OK." I have to go back to the cooler, you know?

And seeing that I'm, you know, going to -- to the back to bring out his beer, and the gentleman said, "Oh, oh! Don't! Don't. If you -- with your permission, let me go and find the beer myself." I said, "OK." So he went back to the -- my cooler and, you know, brought out five cases of beer. And so I look at him. "Oh, you have a big party, a lot of beer?" And he said, "Oh, yes. My wedding."

And then we talk, and then he said, "Well, I served in your -- in your country as Marine.”So I said to them, "Well, in that case, to show my gratitude, just have five case beer free for your wedding." So that's the one...
LAMB: Did he accept it?
NGUYEN: Oh, sure. Oh, first he said, "No, no, no." But I insist. And then on that day when I was there by myself, here a big tourist bus, you know, stop in front, you know, and, oh, 60 or 70 of them, German, from Germany, tourists. So they all you know, come to the -- to the store. So I thought to myself, you know, "You're going to sell a lot of liquor and beer."

But when they are in the store, they all look at me, and they said, "Are you General Ky?" I said, "Yes." They said, "Can you sign your autograph for us," you know? And I signed 60 or 70 autograph, and they didn't buy even a single can of a beer! So I -- I asked the guide, you know, of the travel agency, "Why," you know, you stop here and don't let -- don't tell me before?" And he said that it's the travel agency in Germany. Said those tourists, when they come to see Disneyland and somehow someone told them that, you know, nearby, you know, General Ky has a liquor store. So they asked the travel agency back in Germany to include one stop at my store so they can coming in and have my, you know, autograph.
LAMB: Let's go back to years ago. This picture here includes former president Nixon, President Thieu (ph). And at the time, I assume you were vice president.
NGUYEN: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: What's -- what are the circumstances of that picture? Henry Kissinger up at the top and...
NGUYEN: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: ... Ellsworth Bunker here.
NGUYEN: Yeah. Well, that's during official visit of President Nixon to Vietnam.
LAMB: Why were you vice president? That story about why you were vice president seems to bother you to this day.
NGUYEN: Well, as you know, I become premier '65, and then I -- you know, I brought back stability and unity and...
LAMB: Before you go any farther, how did you become premier?
NGUYEN: Well, you know, from -- after the military staged a coup against President Diem...
LAMB: In 1963.
NGUYEN: November, '63. And then from November '63 until July '65, before I become premier, during a period of time only about two years, there are five or six changes of government in South Vietnam. We begin with a military government. It lasted few months. And then a mixed civilian and military government. And then few months later, go back again to military.

But anyway, the last government in the South before I become premier was a civilian government. That mean the chief of state, Mr. Thieu (ph), was a civilian. Dr. Van Nguy Quat (ph), the prime minister, was a civilian. But I think because they belong to two different political group, so they continue to fight each other as chief of state and as premier. So at the end, you know, how they can govern, you know, the country with that kind of, you know, friction and fight each other?

So one night, they call up the Armed Forces Council, which, as commander of the air force, I am a member. So they call up and asked to see them at the office of the prime minister and where both they told us that they resign and handed the power back to the Armed Forces Council.
LAMB: How many are on the Armed Forces Council? How many generals?
NGUYEN: About 12, I guess. But the Armed Forces Council, few hundred, include the young officers commanding division and battalion. But anyway, that night, we spend a few hours, you know, until 2:00, 3:00 o'clock in the morning trying to persuade those two civilian leader that, you know, patch up your -- you know, your quarrel, your fight, and stay. But they definitely, you know, didn't want to stay in power. So we have to accept their will.

So the next day, at the headquarters of the marine -- marine -- Vietnamese marine, we had a meeting of all the members, big meeting, all members of the armed forces. And Mr. Thieu (ph), as the most senior officer of the army, he preside over the meeting.
LAMB: Was he chief of staff of the army, at the time?
NGUYEN: I think he was minister of defense at the time.
LAMB: This is Nguyen Van Thieu (ph).
NGUYEN: Nguyen Van Thieu (ph). So you know, he preside over the meeting. And me, you know, I sit there, you know, among the so-called "young Turk" at that time, otherwise -- yes, the young Turk, the commander of the paratroopers and the marine and the navy.
LAMB: And this is in '65...
NGUYEN: In '65, yeah.
LAMB: Or '66. This is...
NGUYEN: No, '65.
LAMB: No, '65, when you first became prime minister.
NGUYEN: So because we met that day, you know, to name the next prime minister.
LAMB: How many Americans are -- soldiers are in the country at that time?
NGUYEN: You're talking about few hundred thousand, I think. At least 200,000.
LAMB: The war was under way, then.
NGUYEN: Yes. Yes. Yes. So I remember I myself first suggest Mr. Thieu (ph), you know, General Thieu (ph), you know, become the next prime minister. But for some reason, Mr. Thieu (ph), you know, didn't accept the offer. So from Thieu (ph), we, you know, go to the next and the next and the next, all the senior and high-ranking in the army. But they all refused.

So at the end of the day at the meeting, you know, the armed forces did come to find someone, you know? So at one moment, Thieu (ph), you know, come to me and he said, "Hey, Ky, we all discussed, and we think you are the most qualified for the job." And anyway, no one dare to accept that kind of, you know, responsibilities. So I said to him, I said, "If that is the will and the desire of the whole -- of all the members, then I accept it." And the next day, I become the new premier.

Now, you know, still today there are some opinion of some people, you know, still speculate that I become premier after myself and a group of young officers staged a military coup, you know? It was not true. I never staged a coup. They picked me up. Like I say, they forced me to become premier, maybe hoping that by that way, they send me to the electric chair. (LAUGHTER)
LAMB: At the time you were premier for two years, who were the American ambassadors to South Vietnam?
NGUYEN: First, before I become premier, it was General Maxwell Taylor. And then after that, Henry Cabot Lodge...
LAMB: What did...
NGUYEN: ... was ambassador.
LAMB: What was your relationship to Maxwell Taylor? What'd you think of him?
NGUYEN: I didn't have much chance to -- to talk or to be close with Maxwell Taylor, so I don't say. But I knew, you know, ….that he one of the hero of American Army. I only met him one time, and to be frank, you know, I didn't keep very good memories about him because I think that day, you know, he -- after General Nguyen Khanh (ph), at that time, he's the leader -- you know, the top leader of the military. I think right after Nguyen Khanh (ph) staged a coup against the other general…

So Maxwell Taylor was very angry because the month before that, he and Westmoreland invited, you know, the armed forces, the military, Vietnamese, for dinner at Westmoreland's house. And in that, Taylor explained to us that is a necessity that South Vietnam, you know, keep the unity and stability. …He advised us, "No more coup. No more coup." And here, just after -- you know, a few weeks after that meeting, Khanh (ph) staged a coup. So I understand why Taylor is very upset.

So he called Khanh (ph), asking Khanh (ph) to see him, to meet him at the American embassy. But Khanh (ph), you know, for some reason, didn't want to go. So Khanh (ph) come to me and said, "OK, Ky, go to see the American ambassador." so I went to see Maxwell Taylor, and with me, General Thieu (ph), at that time, you know, army, Jiang Ti (ph), paratroopers, and Kung (ph), the navy commander. So four of us, you know, representing Khanh (ph) and Armed Forces Council. We went to the U.S. ambassador.

But you know, as soon as Taylor came and opened the door for us, you know, looked very angry and he just said, "OK, sit down."
LAMB: In your book, you say he said immediately, just "sit down."
NGUYEN: Yeah, sit down.
LAMB: Not even a greeting. Not a hello or anything. Sit down.
NGUYEN: No, just sit down.
LAMB: What was your reaction?
NGUYEN: Of course, we sit down. But then, we listened. So he very angry told me now, he said to me, to us, well, you know, after dinner, you know, two weeks ago, I asked you - I told you this and that. But now, you know, you still, you know, stay so cool.

So he said something - I waste my dinner. OK? So the other three Vietnamese fellows, you know, didn't know how to react to such, you know - you know, such tone. So I - my reaction was I - you know, I said to Taylor - I said, well, Mr. Ambassador, you know, I'm very poor man. I didn't have this beef every day.

So I remember, you know, the dinner with you. You gave me the best steak, you know. And I really, you know, appreciate that. So don't think that you waste your steak. I really, you know, like it.

But now, come to the matter of my country. That's different thing. We act - we do thing because we think it's good for our country.

And that's it. We end the discussion, and we say goodbye and good home.

And then, when we report that attitude to General Win Chaing (ph), he also very angry. You know? He want to call upon the press for press conference right away and declare the ambassador persona non grata.

But then some friends - I think American; I don't remember who - has come to me, and said to me that, you know, Maxwell Taylor is an army hero. Now - and we don't have many hero. So as a friend, I ask you to - real friendship - not to destroy, you know, American hero.

So I understand that. So I go back to Chaing (ph) and to other fellow. I said no. It's not the right way to do.

But maybe in the American sign, they see the problem with Taylor if he continue to stay as U.S. ambassador, you know. Very difficult relationship between Taylor and us.

And so when I become premiere, Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge come as a new ambassador.
LAMB: What did you think of him?
NGUYEN: I can say I like him. I like him very much. He's a true gentleman first, a diplomat. And I think among American official, he's the only that understand me, see very clear what kind of man I am, and what personality correct that - yes, I think he's very close friend with. And I really respect and like him.
LAMB: You were born in Son Tay, in the north.
LAMB: Have you been back, either to Son Tay or Hanoi, or Saigon since 1975?
LAMB: Do you ever intend to go back?
NGUYEN: Not intention. But desire and hope, yes, someday I will be back.
LAMB: Are you an American citizen?
NGUYEN: Not yet.
LAMB: Are you going to become one?
NGUYEN: I'm thinking - yes, maybe.
LAMB: Why?
NGUYEN: I don't know. You know, my wife and my family - my son, you know - they always pushed me to apply for American citizenship. They said we are all now, and this - you living here for 27 years - it is about time. So maybe, yes.

I think after 27 years, you know, if my mother country is Vietnam - is still Vietnam - but my father country, now, is America. So to have dual, you know, identity - is nothing wrong with that.
LAMB: Let me read what you said in your book, on page 332. You said, "If Americans knew how to deal with other people, they could bring peace to the world. Alas, they have not learned enough yet. The true American feels that he is 100 percent welcome anywhere he goes.

"The way Americans understand and treat other peoples almost guarantees that the world will suffer more trouble. I say this not as an angry critic, but as a sorrowful friend, as one who understands and admires America and Americans, as one who has enjoyed America's great generosity and warm American friendships in ways that no other Vietnamese leader can claim. I have been blessed often by Buddha, but equally by America."

Go back over that, and explain to us more. "If Americans knew how to deal with other people, they could bring peace to the world."
NGUYEN: That kind of feeling toward American - you know, I learn - even when I was young officer, I remember when I went to Maxwell Air Force Base, you know, …- what they call it?
LAMB: Training?
NGUYEN: Command - command and stop school. And then...
LAMB: In Alabamba?
NGUYEN: Yes. In that school we have other foreign students, all officers.
LAMB: And this was, what, in the '60s?
NGUYEN: '59.
LAMB: '59.
NGUYEN: So, when you talk about, you know, a foreigner, and we talk about American - America, we come to the same conclusion: that more American give aid to people, more that people don't like him. Even very innate, you know, among us. It's not our feeling, but it's a fact, you know.

And from that day, you know, I begin to think a little more about why is that - more you come - and with - you know, good will and good intention to help. But then still, people don't like you.

And then today, you know, older and more experiences, then understand better. I think because, one, people are jealous. But also, right after World War II ended, and then the world was divided into camp - one with Russia and China; you know, the red empire - and this side, the so-called free world, and the leader across the United States.

And of course, you know, during what they call the cold war between the two, international communism propaganda help a lot, especially among the third world, to formulate, you know, some kind of opinion about America, and mostly unfavorable. And that's why most the country in the third world, even those who receive, you know, aid, money from United States, don't like America.

And the third reason I think the American himself. Now is much better. But, you know, back 50 years ago, very poor knowledge about the outside America.

So I think all that, you know, misunderstanding, not really from American, but also from the outside - from people like me - even when I become premiere and closer ally with American. And at that time, I thought that I - you know, I'm the one that understand America and American.

But then, you know, English I hear after 27 years, really truly live in America, daily, and watching, I realize that 27 years ago, even as prime minister, you know, of a country and a partner with America - at that time, I knew nothing about the system, the society, the way of thinking; nothing.

So I think that kind - the lack of understanding from American and from other friends - that the key of why - although with the big and good intention to help other, people still don't love you, or don't like you.

And I think today more than in the past, American will have a big and very difficult role to play. Because never before human history that you have one country that become the sole and the true powerful in both fill economic and military - America is sole leader of the whole world today.

So what kind of responsibilities I think - you have to learn more. Not about the Vietnamese, but about other people - Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein, you know. A friend or enemy. You should help, you know, with true understanding, so you can act, you know, as a true leader.
LAMB: Let me read some more. "People like Thieu (ph), who ended up being president - " and you were the vice president in, what, '67?
LAMB: " ... and his cronies - " I take it from reading the book, you didn't like him.
NGUYEN: Yes. Yes. Because I - well, first, you know, Thieu (ph) pass away last year.
LAMB: In Paris?
NGUYEN: No, here.
LAMB: Oh, he had - did come back...
NGUYEN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Didn't he live in Paris, though, for awhile?
NGUYEN: In London.
LAMB: In London?
NGUYEN: First.
LAMB: And did he come here to die, or did he - had he...
NGUYEN: No. You know, right after the fall of Vietnam - few days before the fall - Thieu (ph), with the help from American, went to Formosa, Taiwan. And then the American government send Mrs. Anna Chennault (ph) to Taiwan to tell Thieu (ph) that he's not welcome in America. And they help him, you know, to go to England.

So he live in England for - I think for three or four years, or five years. And then he move here, Boston. Boston. He just, you know, passed away about - a few months ago.

So as Asian, you know, to criticize that man, person, for us is not the right thing. So...
LAMB: But you did.
NGUYEN: ... you know, I - yes, I...
LAMB: You did criticize him in the book.
NGUYEN: ... I can - I can answer your question. But please don't force me to go in - you know, to talk about Thieu (ph), what he did, or his personality.

But I can say that I'm the only one that understand and know Mr. Thieu (ph). He - you know, every time talking with me, he always expressed the fear that if we do something against the will of American, you know, they will do like with him, you know, advise, and kill him. That's something Thieu (ph) always, you know, scared about.
LAMB: Can I stop you, and just ask you, did the Americans - were they responsible for the assassination of Zim (ph)?
NGUYEN: The assassination, I'm not sure. But the coup against Zim (ph), yes. I know all those Vietnamese general, you know. Without consentment, without the support from - yes, a consentment from American, they are to stage a coup against Mr. Zim (ph).

But now, to kill the brother - I don't know. Because, you know, I ...
LAMB: Zim's (ph) brother.
NGUYEN: Yes. Zim's (ph) brother. I don't know whether it's, you know, order from American, or if the Vietnamese themselves, you know, took that decision.
LAMB: Let me read what you said here again. "People like Thieu (ph) and his cronies, for example, were willing to accept the American point of view because it offered them a path to personal enrichment."
LAMB: Did he take money from United States?
NGUYEN: No. I mean, to be in power, you know. Thieu (ph) and - you know - he stand to us, as I said, you know - they think they need, you know, the support of American.
LAMB: You say here ...
NGUYEN: And then can make money, you know, in that position. Yes.
LAMB: But Americans should understand that every Thieu (ph) - for every Thieu (ph), there are thousands more who expect to be treated...
LAMB: ... as equals, even if they were not born in the United States, even if they are small and brown, and eat strange foods, and worship gods of whom Americans have never heard.
NGUYEN: That does mean that you treat the people as, you know, slave.
LAMB: Did Americans treat Vietnamese this way?
NGUYEN: No, I don't think so.

But you have a good intention. But again, as I said, you know, the lack of understanding tradition, custom - and some of the time because, you know, you are too impatient.

So - and then, you know, the way you treat other - especially, you know, the weak and small people give them the impression that, you know, you treat them as a slave...
LAMB: Let me ask...
NGUYEN: ... which I know is not true.
LAMB: Let me ask you about another person who has an image in this country that you write about in here, and you say it's the wrong image. There's the famous picture of General Lon (ph) assassinating a Viet Cong on the streets of Vietnam. And you say that's been unfair to him; that he was a good friend of yours and a good man.
NGUYEN: Well, before, I expressed my own opinion. I can tell today that even Mr. Adams, the one that took this picture...
LAMB: Eddie Adams.
NGUYEN: Yes. I remember - I think certainly, you know, in an interview, when people ask his opinion, again, about the picture - and he expressed some kind of regret that - and he said something like - because he did know what happened before, what that Viet Cong, you know, do to all - you know, to Vietnamese in Saigon.
LAMB: What year was that picture taken?
NGUYEN: During the Tet Offensive.
LAMB: '68.
NGUYEN: Big Tet - '68. OK? So...
LAMB: And here is a picture you have in the book of Lon (ph).
NGUYEN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Didn't he just die also?
NGUYEN: Lon (ph) die, yes.
LAMB: Here in - he was here in town.
NGUYEN: In Washington, about three years ago. Very poor man.

You know, he come here, with help from the family. He opened very small, you know, Vietnamese restaurant, very small one. Well, you know, his wife cook, and he serve. But he didn't make it, because the place is too small. And he chose that - he come out clean.

And he - and, you know, as a chief of police, you know, for many years. Very powerful man.
LAMB: Chief of police in Saigon?
NGUYEN: Of Vietnam.
LAMB: The whole Vietnam.
LAMB: Or South Vietnam.
NGUYEN: Yes. National chief of police. And like I said, the guy come out with no money at all.
LAMB: Is all this hard for - I mean, there a million Vietnamese people in the United States - is all of this hard for...
NGUYEN: Two million.
LAMB: ... two million?
LAMB: Really?
NGUYEN: Almost two million now.
LAMB: Is it hard for you - thinking back on the days when you were prime minister and vice president - to do what you had to do in the last - since '75 in this country?
NGUYEN: No, to be frank. Well, maybe because I'm born that way, you know.

When I become the commander in chief of the air force - you can ask them - I still treat, you know, people, you know, who served with me as a good friend. And then when they picked me as premiere, I don't think I feel, you know, different. For me, the position mean responsibility, but that's all.

So when I come here, you know, I become liquor owner or fisherman, I feel no different, to be very frank. No difference at all.

And, you know, maybe that my secret to stay young . Yes. Nothing bother me.
LAMB: Let me read something you said in your book. You say, "For if you are different, I have some respect and interest in you. If you are average, I am not interested."
LAMB: What do you mean by that? I'll read it again.
LAMB: "For if you are different, I have some respect and interest in you. If you are average, I am not interested."

Well, anyone - to be an average man, you know, is not the problem. But if you are different, and then, you know, you belong to a very small group of elite .

I think I'm about that way, you know. I didn't learn from anyone . I didn't spend time to, you know, mediate or to think about what I have to do to become this and that.

And that's why, again, I think the title, "Buddha's Child," you know - I like it.
LAMB: What does it mean?
NGUYEN: It means I come from Buddha. My mother, in desperation to have a boy, went to the famous temple in North Vietnam and prayed Buddha to have a son. And then, one year after, I was born.

So my mother and my family, you know, believe that I'm really, you know, the son of Buddha.

And also …- you know, my associate to write this book...
LAMB: Marvin Wolf?
NGUYEN: Yes. After listening story of my life, one day he said to me, Well, General, I think, you know, you have - you really have the heart of Buddha.

So this title, you know - he himself - maybe with sing …pressed, you know - suggest to me this title, "Buddha's Child..."
LAMB: And he'd been in Vietnam, by the way, your co-author...
NGUYEN: Yes. He was Vietnam veteran, you know, a reporter for I think 101st Division. But he serve in Vietnam, yes.
LAMB: You tell a story in here that, when I read it, I thought maybe you were trying to send a message as to why we didn't, together, win the Vietnam war.

And it was a story in 1962 of the Dirty 30 (ph), the raid - you led a raid into North Vietnam. It's the sandals versus the shoe story. You remember it?
NGUYEN: Yes, but, you know - I was the very first, you know, pilot, you know, to work closely with the CIA, at that time - to cross the border at night, to drop our, you know, special team in North Vietnam, back in 1961. And then later, I was the very - you know, I was commanding the air force to lead our aircraft to cross the border to bomb North Vietnam.

And also many time, I asked, you know, President Johnson and other people to stop this war, and to win this war. You have to go offensive, or not. Otherwise, if you continue to fight the war, with so much limitations, you know, and always in the defensive, at the end of the day, you're going to lose.

But for some reason, they never listened to me. Yes, the one time, Secretary Dean Russ said to me something like, You know, if we go north, you know, the Chinese may come south . And then, for the American, they don't want to see, you know, a second Korean war.

So, you know, we always in the defensive, with so much limitations.
LAMB: Let me interrupt, only because we're running out of time. The sandals versus the shoe story was when you dropped your South Vietnamese people dressed in the black pajamas in the north. CIA led, CIA generated - and you said the CIA misread the fact that when they dropped people in in the north, they had shoes on, but the North Vietnamese wore sandals.
NGUYEN: Yes. Well, what we learned later is that - you know, under the communist system, they organized people and trained the people, and have very tight and very effective system to control, you know, the people.

So when a new foreigner infiltrate, you know, in their hamlet of village, you know - if you don't pay attention to the detail, you know - even your accent, and the way you eat, you know - they would recognize right away that you are infiltrator, you know. Yes.
LAMB: Unfortunately, we're out of time.

There's a lot more in the book that we weren't able to talk about.

Nguyen Cao Ky, the author, former Prime Minster of South Vietnam. The book is called, "Buddha's Child."

Thank you very much.

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