Tu Sat (War Suicide) in Vietnam
Nghia M Vo
         To die for one's country is not only an act of bravery, it is THE act of bravery. For soldiers, it is just an extension of their military career, a part of their duty. As leaders have asked their soldiers to sacrifice themselves for the good of the society, it is only right for leaders to go through the same motion. They should practice what they have preached.

         As war is seen as a noble act, tu sat serves as redemption in case of defeat. It is also a way to tell the enemy: "You might have won the battle/war but you don't deserve to win because you don't have the chinh nghia (just cause)." It is not only just cause: it is the belief that the cause they are fighting for deserves their total sacrifice.

         Although tu sat or tuan tiet means war suicide, there is no good corresponding word in English because the act itself is not practiced in the Christian West. Secondly, the word suicide does not convey the moral and courageous implication of the act. It is a closer equivalent of hara kiri or seppuku. Although hara kiri is practically a disembowelment, its practice varies from person to person. If the blade is inserted deeply enough, it could cause an immediate death through arterial bleeding. If inserted superficially, the still-alive victim would be beheaded by the assistant. While tu sat and hara kiri are technically different, the end-result is the same: the death of the person through his own hand or the hands of an assistant.

         Vietnam is one of the rare countries in the world where leaders killed themselves when they lost a war. We will review these cases of tu sat during the pre- and anti-colonial wars and the anti-communist war.

         I. PAST TU SAT
         At least seven leaders are known to have killed themselves for their country during the anti-colonial war: Vo Tanh, Ngo Tung Chau, Vo Duy Ninh, Truong Cong Dinh, Phan Thanh Gian, Nguyen Huu Huan, and Hoang Dieu. Many more officials could have committed suicide throughout history although their deeds have not been recorded.

         1. Vo Tanh and Ngo Tung Chau
         Vo Tanh was one of the military warlords from Go Cong in the Mekong delta who had defeated the Tay Son around Gia Dinh Thanh (Saigon) in 1783. Nguyen Anh-the scion of the Nguyen dynasty-realized he needed this valiant free spirit's assistance if he wanted to succeed in his fight against the Tay Son. He recruited him in 1787 and gave him his sister as concubine. From then onward, Vo Tanh participated in most of Nguyen Anh's battles against the Tay Son and proved to be one of his best generals. In March 1799, Vo Tanh's troops besieged Qui Nhon-a port city in central Vietnam-which after four months of resistance surrendered. Nguyen Anh changed the city's name to Binh Dinh (Pacified). He left Vo Tanh and Ngo Tung Chau in charge of the city and returned to his base in Saigon.

        Please read the rest of the story in THE MEN OF VIETNAM.