Railroads in some countries are considered unreliable. There are many reasons for foreign tourists to be afraid of traveling on such cross-country trains. Possible accidents might be tragic crash with automobiles at crossings, fire, jumping the rails or even attacks by armed robbers.
But in Vietnam today, train passengers are threatened by stone attacks from young boys in remote areas and neighborhoods along the railroads, particularly on the trans-Vietnam route portion from the Northern border areas to Hanoi and fartheer to the South.
The deadly rock throwing has Vietnam railroads known as the only train transportation in the world that is under the danger of rock attacks. Railroad authorities have to cover car windows with steel mesh to protect passengers from injuries by rocks and bricks, according to reports on the state-controlled newspaper Lao Dong (Labor), August 2, 2003 edition.
The report is a surprise to foreigners, not to the Vietnamese. In June 1976, the trains carrying former South Vietnamese officers to the many prison camps in the regions north of Hanoi. The former officers had been incarcerated since Saigon succumbed to Communist forces on April 1, 1975. When the trains were crossing the provinces north of Hanoi, they became targets of many a rain of fist-size rocks shot at the open windows. A dozen prisoners suffered cuts and bruises, some in critical conditions but no one was fatally injured.
The former RVN officers all thought that the attacks had been planned by Communist authorities to retaliate against their South Vietnamese enemies, or at least to frighten them. Later on, when the officers had chances to talk with people in villages near the camps, they put the question to the villagers as whether the former RVN prisoners were targets of stoning planned by the Communist Public Security.
The civilians' answers were a surprise to them: "They hit any train they meet when they feel like stoning, they don't care who the passengers are; of course not because you are South Vietnamese military men."
A year later, one of the Nhan Dan (People) daily news reports on train attacks with rock appeared in late 1977. Details in the 1977 report were not different from the most recent articles in Nhan Dan and Lao Dong. So far since 1976, there have been many similar reports, but the barbaric attacks seemed unchanged. The reports of stoning incidents before August 2, 2003 had already appeared to be more alarming (Lao Dong daily August 29, 2002; Nhan Dan daily on April 15, 2003; Lao Dong on June.5, 2003).
The most remarkable detail is that the mischievous crime has not been actively punished nor prevented by local authorities for the last 25 years. In the related articles in 1977, in 2002 and on Aug. 2, 2003, all confirmed the same fact: Local authorities are lacking of determination and necessary action to solve the problem.
Directives for solutions from higher authority consist mostly of theoretical measures such as educating the youth, launching campaigns to teach school students about railroads protection (We Love the Tracks at Our Home Village, Conference on Railroad Safety...) But all such non-practical solutions seem to fail.
The August 2 report is especially causing concerns. As the attacks sharply increased, not only rocks are used. According to the Lao Dong article, attackers now are hurling mud and human waste at passengers if car windows are protected solely by steel mesh. Rocks are used against double-pane windows.
The increase is worrying the Communist government as more and more foreign tourists are traveling on railways. It must be an unforgettable experience for a foreign tourist who is hit by such injurious stinky projectiles. News of the incidents might be causing heavy blows to the tourist industry. That certainly renders Communist leaders' much concerns.
The state-owned railroads administration has spent a lot of money for installing, repairing and replacing glass windows without much success, as admitted by Tran Thanh Cuong, deputy chief of military protection service, a division of the General Railroads Administration. He admitted that all efforts to deal with the problem have not changed the situation.
The incidents take place mostly in remote areas. Catching culprits is almost impossible, and if one is caught, it is also impracticable to bring the case to the court. Most attackers are teenagers from the poorest families.
Sources from Hanoi's Ministry of Communications and Transportation on August 1, 2003 assert that in the first 7 months of 2003, there were 126 stoning incidents, among which 32 in Quang Binh, 9 in Yen Bai and 9 in Lang Son provinces, injuring 13 victims, damaging 122 windows. The attacks rose 150 percent higher than in 2002.
It should be noticed that railroads stoning has spread into the region below the 17th Parallel of the former Republic of (South) Vietnam only in the last decade. In the above-mentioned sources, there are 4 cases in Binh Dinh, 3 in Thua Thien and 3 in Quang Tri, the three northernmost provinces of the former RVN.
Hoang Tran Manh, a high ranking official of the Railroad Administration and some others like him, have to admit that "the more conferences, the more stone attacks" and everything fails "despite our highest ability." And "the more modernized trains are sufferring the more attacks."
It is not very difficult to have an explanation even though Hanoi newspapers said they don't know why. For most of the last 50 years, the Northerners have lived in extreme poverty and in a society where ethics and moral standards were deliberately lowered to meet Communist political requirements. Young people were taught to be faithful to the Party more than to become honest and benevolent citizens. In fact, hunger and immorality under a Communist regime beget brutality.
Such factors contribute to the symptom that could be called Communist sadism. The number of gristly murders (dismembering, eviscerating, beheading) is far higher than in the South even now. Public security police were allowed to torture criminal prisoners with much more brutality than treating a mad dog. People seem to enjoy a mental pleasure when seeing another being painfully hurt and suffering hardships, even verbal abuse.
Some may say that such sadism derives from brutal suppressive measures by security institutions of the Communist regime. The bloody Land Reform in 1953-55 is a good example. In the reform, the scenes of at least 15,000 opponents executed in public by lapidating, burying alive beside hanging and shooting have imprinted deep marks of atrocity on the minds of many generations.
Local authorities don't react positively to the stoning as they are having many other things to do with much higher priorities. Political security and making big money for the Party and government always go first. Besides, local governments are often overburdened with many tasks assigned by the Party central authorities. To implement so many given tasks, local officials are entrusted with high autonomous ruling power that sometimes overrides central orders. In that situation, safety of train passengers is not one of their concerns.
The Communist revolution has engendered many social problems, and stoning at railroads cars just for fun is one of them. Such teenagers' behavior is like a tiny black spot on a tooth that usually goes unnoticed but it may be a sign of a very serious disease of the entire jaws.
In South Vietnam, there have never been attacks at railroad passenger cars before April 1975. In the South, severity and rate of crimes as well as of social evils have always been much lower than in the North. It is true, even today.