Captain Pham Van Phu. Probably taken the same year of his capture at Dien Bien Phu. His insignia is correct and he would have been 27. He vowed never to be captured by the Communists again.
General Pham Van Phu early April 1975. He committed suicide April 30, 1975.
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).” And it is not only just cause: it is the moral 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 (1). Although hara kiri is practically a disembowelment, its practice varies from person to person. If the blade is thrust 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 few 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.