The Death of Historian Phạm Văn Sơn
Van Nguyen Duong
         Phạm Văn Sơn was one of the rare few historians in South Vietnam before 1975. His masterpiece was Việt Sữ Toàn Thư-Complete History of Vietnam.

         I had the privilege to work under him from 1958 to 1960. He was at the time a major and commandant of the School of Army Intelligence and Psychological Warfare at Cây Mai; I was a first lieutenant instructor and security officer of the school. It was during that period that he edited, re-issued, and re-named his work Việt Sữ Tân Biên--History of Vietnam-New Version.

         I decided to help him out in my spare time. He introduced me to librarian Lê Ngọc Trụ at the National Library--located at Gia Long street--to be instructed in the search for documents. Lê Ngọc Trụ, who was also a scholar and instructor at the Saigon College of Liberal Arts, showed me many documents and French books about the Trịnh Nguyễn War. These and other important documents helped Phạm Văn Sơn to edit his work.

         In 1960, the Cây Mai School became the Army Intelligence School while Psychological Warfare was taught at the newly built School of Psychological Warfare; Major Phạm Văn Sơn was transferred to the Joint General Staff of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (JGS-RVNAF) as its Head of the Military History Branch. He was gradually promoted to Colonel and kept this rank until the fall of South Vietnam.

         I think that under his expertise and direction, the Military History Branch of the RVNAF wrote several priceless volumes about the modern Vietnamese conflict from 1954 onward. Phạm Văn Sơn was very cautious, unlikely to be rash in his duty and unlikely to let his subordinates be rash. He often told me, "Try to be as accurate and precise as possible so that what you write about history would be of value. The more precise your gathering of facts, relics, and documents, the easier their comparison, study, and analysis would be." That was his strict and careful way of working. It was no wonder that in 1972, when the An Lọc battle was still raging with fights going on street by street, section by section between the South Vietnamese and the communists, when the terrible shelling of the enemy had not subsided yet, when no helicopter was able to land in An Lọc without the risk of being blown apart, I witnessed his being present there to try to understand the truth about this violent battle.

        Please read the rest in Forum 7: FACES OF THE WAR.
Back