Ngo Vinh Long, a Vietnamese scholar and writer famous for anti-war demonstrations that angered the South Vietnamese government in the 1960s, died on Oct. 12 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bangor, Maine.
Although Long’s vocal activism made him the target of death threats from fellow Vietnamese refugees who accused him of being a communist sympathizer in the aftermath of the war, the cause of Long’s death was liver cancer, according to his son, Ngo Vinh-Hoi.
Ngo Vinh Long was born in Vinh Long Province in southern Vietnam on April 10, 1944.
After fleeing Vietnam in the 1960’s to escape arrest for demonstrating against the war, Long became the first Vietnamese student to attend Harvard University. Although he purposefully delayed his education to remain in the U.S. as a student, he earned a Ph.D. in East Asian History and Far Eastern Languages in 1978, just two years after becoming a permanent resident. Long became an official U.S. citizen in 1991.
Long was the subject of media headlines from the moment he landed in Boston in October 1964, when he warned that “the Vietnamese were not going to give in.” During his first year at Harvard, Long traveled with Harvard historian Howard Zinn and political activist Noam Chomsky on an anti-war lecture circuit as the only anti-war Vietnamese perspective. According to Long, he would speak last to ensure audience members interested in hearing his perspective would stay for the entirety of the lectures.
As an undergraduate student, he helped organize the Harvard cohort of an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C. He also participated in the 1972 occupation of the South Vietnamese consulate in New York as a graduate student.
In 1981, several hundred Vietnamese Americans gathered at Harvard to criticize Long during a conference he was asked to speak at regarding post-war Vietnam. One Vietnamese audience member hurled a gasoline bomb at the scholar, narrowly missing him and injuring two police officers, although the bomb did not explode.
“That’s the price you have to pay when you want to be useful,” Long was quoted as saying. “As an intellectual or as a specialist. You have to speak out your mind, you have to be at the forefront. But when you are at the forefront you get shot in the back.”
After repeatedly changing residences following the 1981 incident, Long became a professor of history at the University of Maine in 1985. He remained a faculty member at the institution until his death.
He is survived by his wife, Mai Huong Nguyen, his four children and two grandchildren.