OLYMPIA, Wash. — The cold war may have ended, but in the Vietnamese community here in Washington State, the muscle memory persists.
Aging refugees who lived through the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon in 1975, many of them scarred by the experience, have not forgotten, nor forgiven. Even now, an accusation of sympathy with the Communist government — real or imagined — can shatter a reputation.
Or settle a score.
That is apparently what happened in the case of Duc Tan et al vs. Norman Le et al, according to the Washington Supreme Court, in a civil defamation case that has offered a rare glimpse into the gut-punching, passionate inner life of Vietnamese America.
Tensions and worries about free speech have surged in recent days all over the nation amid the controversy over federal monitoring of telephone and Internet traffic for national security. And many of those anxieties are heightened in immigrant communities, especially those from the Middle East, where the terminology of religious extremism can raise red flags.
Here in Olympia, the combatants were men of spare build and thinning hair. One was accused of being a Communist, the other of being a slanderer. Both worked for the South Vietnamese government or military. Both became leaders in local groups that strove to keep Vietnamese language and tradition alive in Western Washington.
Read more : Kirk Johnson, New York Times, 22/06/2013.
A version of this article appeared in print on June 23, 2013, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: ‘Communist’ Is Still a Dirty Word In Vietnamese Immigrant Enclaves.