Aftermath of Vietnam Civil War Spills over into U.S. Courts 38 Years after End of Conflict

Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Duc Tan

Decades after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the conflict has continued to be waged between those in the Vietnamese community located in Washington State.


Duc Tan, a refugee and school teacher, was labeled a communist and an undercover Viet Cong agent by five Vietnamese-Americans in an August 7, 2003, public notice and local community news stories because they said that a Santa Claus apron found near a booth run by Tan’s organization at a community fair included gold stars resembling those used on the Vietnamese communist flag.


The following year, Tan sued the men for defamation, winning a $310,000 jury award in 2009.


Norman Le and the other defendants appealed the verdict to a state appellate court, which sided with them while concluding that “the right to call someone a communist is protected by the First Amendment.”


So Tan took the matter to the state’s Supreme Court. There, the high court, on a 6-1 vote, reversed the Court of Appeals ruling and reinstated the jury award.


Tan was a schoolteacher in South Vietnam. When the Vietnamese Communist Army captured Saigon in April 1975, Tan was sent to a “re-education” camp. After six months he was released after signing a loyalty oath. He worked as a schoolteacher for the Communist Party until September 1978 when he fled Vietnam with his family. They settled in Olympia, Washington, in 1979. Tan became the principal of a Vietnamese language school for children and the director of education for the Vietnamese Community of Thurston County (VCTC).


Like Tan, Le was punished by the communists after the fall of Saigon. But he did not sign a loyalty oath and spent nine years and seven months imprisoned in a labor camp. Like Tan, Le settled in Washington and joined the VCTC. However, he left the organization when its leadership refused to use include the word “nationalist” when they renamed the group, an action Le interpreted as exhibiting support for communism.

-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Supreme Court Reinstates Jury Award for Olympia Man falsely Accused of Being a "Communist" (by Jeremy Pawloski, The Olympian)

Viet Cong Cry Will Cost Prison Camp Refugee (by Jeff Gorman, Courthouse News Service)

Modern Day McCarthyism: The Case of Duc Tan (by Nguoi Viet Tay Bac, New America Media)

Duc Tan v. Norman Le et al. (Washington Supreme Court) (pdf)


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