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Vietnam War Statistics and Facts 3
By Jeff Drake
This article was written by me about two years ago and was, for me, extremely cathartic. I have not had a war nightmare since I wrote it, and I used to get a good one every couple of months or so for the past twenty years. Perhaps it was not so much the writing of the article I found so helpful, as the actual research I did prior to writing it (and I did a lot of research).
So much of the "insanity" I experienced during the war now makes a terrible kind of sense. I want to share the knowledge I have found - regarding how the U.S. initially got involved in Vietnam - with other veterans. Maybe someone else will start to understand the incredible contradictions they experienced.
HOW THE U.S. GOT INVOLVED IN VIETNAM
This article tries to answer a special question... how did the US get involved in Vietnam? Though the question is an old one, it should still hold some interest, for the facts behind US involvement in Vietnam paint a very different history than the popular one taught in our schools, or the history of the war which is currently being rewritten to match the public's highly emotional memories of the Kennedy "Camelot" years.
You may debate whether someone's intention was one thing or another, but the historical record speaks for itself. The information contained in this article did not come from unreliable sources. Much of it is contained within our government's own prehistory of the war which it fought so hard to keep from the American public - the documents which later became known as the Pentagon Papers.
When one delves into the Pentagon Papers it becomes immediately clear why the government wanted them kept secret, for they expose the many lies that our government generated in order to get the American people strongly behind the war effort. Yet, the importance of these documents goes beyond their intrinsic historical value since they establish a precedence of governmental deceit that would be practiced again and again.
The media, however, continues to ignore the contents of these documents when discussing Vietnam either in print or on the tube. And herein lies the danger - for history that is hidden or unreported, or ignored because it is unpopular, is destined to be repeated. Just ask the people of Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq and Somalia.
The Vietnam War, like any other war, was extremely ugly. But unlike other wars, there were many soldiers involved in the fighting who opposed it. There was also a tremendous cross-section of the American public that came to oppose it - not on the grounds that we were going to lose - but on the grounds that it was immoral and just plain wrong. This gathering of people from all walks of life and economic backgrounds together in cities all across the country to oppose immoral governmental foreign policy was, whether you agreed with it or not, a fantastic exercise of real democracy, and may well have been the most blatant exercise of democracy to occur in this century.
Later, this type of democratic activity would be referred to by the Trilateral Commission as a "crisis of democracy," and decried by President's Reagan and Bush as the "Vietnam syndrome" - as if public opposition to war and corrupt foreign policy was somehow sick or deranged behavior, to be avoided or somehow "cured".
As a soldier who initially supported the war effort full-heartedly and later came to oppose it, I, like many others, couldn't make sense of the military policy I was being ordered to carry out. Many of the troops rebelled against being treated as cannon fodder; others rebelled against the wanton destruction and murder that we were asked to carry out; but none of us soldiers in the field had a real understanding of why we were in Vietnam. We were told that we were there to stop the communist menace. We were also told that we were there because the South Vietnamese asked us to save them from this same communist menace. But what we experienced didn't add up to what we were being told.
For twenty years I held the South Vietnamese soldier (ARVN) in contempt because I couldn't understand why so many of the ARVN's I saw obviously had no interest in fighting "their" war - the one they asked us to participate in. What I have learned through my research prior to writing this article has completely altered my perception of the Vietnam war and hence my understanding of this particular issue.
Part of my overall misunderstanding was indeed correct. That is, many ARVNs did not want to have anything to do with fighting the Viet Cong. What was incorrect, however, was my belief that the South Vietnamese people had asked us to help them win the war. This request had not come from the South Vietnamese people, it had come from the South Vietnamese government, whose existence was due solely to American support and interests. The ARVNs, many under the age of 17, had no choice in fighting and were often sympathetic to the cause of the Viet Cong. Knowing the truth, I now feel little resentment towards the ARVNs I saw who were unwilling to fight, only sympathy. We, Americans and ARVNs, were all unwitting cogs in the same terrible war machine.
Back home our government was busy proving that "disinformation" works. Although technically illegal when used against the American public by our own intelligence agencies, it was used continually through most of the Vietnam war to keep Congress towing the party line and the American public at bay. The disinformation campaigns and associated covert activities that were perpetrated over and over again to prevent a peaceful resolution to the Vietnam conflict are well documented, but like the Pentagon Papers, ignored in media discussions and most documentaries about the Vietnam war. In-depth media analysis on the subject of how the US got involved initially in Vietnam is almost nonexistent.
This paper is not an effort to paint the North Vietnamese as heroes and the US as villains. In the jungle, it was hunt or be hunted. Reduced to animal behavior, soldiers on both sides reacted accordingly. Nor is this about guilt or accusations. I know that the blood I have on my hands will never wash clean. This is an effort to set the record straight, to enlighten, to do what I can to make a difference.
There is more to the US involvement in Vietnam than we have ever been allowed to think or know. The war has continuously been presented to the American public as "insane" and "crazy", due in part to veterans like myself, who had no other words to describe our experiences. So labeled, people are discouraged from seeking the truth about the war. It is also easy to put aside a critical analysis when faced with the images of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, or Oliver Stone's movie, Platoon. But to do so is wrong. We owe it to the future generations of young men and women who will be called on to fight and die in foreign lands, to not give up on the truth so easily.
Be warned, the history disclosed in this article may not be the history you want to hear.
The chances are high that you may not feel that it is in your interest to read my ramblings about how the US got involved in Vietnam. But here I would beg to differ. Already, the same type of arrogant mistakes the US made in Vietnam have been made again, costing the lives of thousands more innocent victims. I believe that it is imperative that more people understand how the US got involved in Vietnam so that we do not continue to repeat it.
There is right now as I write this, a movement underway to bury and/or rewrite the past with regard to US intervention in Vietnam (and the rest of the 60's as far as that goes). It has been going on for some time, with a recent resurgence connected to the myth-building activities surrounding President John Kennedy. We would be remiss not to realize that there are people in positions of power in this country who would like the American public to forget the past, people who would like to take advantage of our forgetfulness. We owe it to the veterans of Vietnam, both Vietnamese and American, to make sure Vietnam doesn't happen again.
Our government has a vested interest in not publicizing the truth about Vietnam, for the lies and misunderstandings about Vietnam give the government the support it needs to continue waging the economic war against Vietnam, a war we have already won.
We cannot wait for the truth about Vietnam to be handed to us on a silver platter. We need to seek out the facts, and when we find them - understand them, expose them, spread them around.
And it is the facts that I would like to share with you...
Surprisingly, the story behind this paper doesn't begin in Vietnam. It began last spring in Washington, DC.
It was an absolutely beautiful day to be visiting the nations' Capital. Warm sunshine washing over the huge white buildings; people bustling about with their necks craned upwards stretching to see the decorative architecture; blankets spread on the grass with kids begging for more pop, while their moms and dads try to rest their aching feet.
My wife and I were resting our feet also. We had just ran the gauntlet of names at the Vietnam Memorial.
Tired from a day of touring, we parked our butts on the topmost step of the Lincoln Memorial. Staring out across the grounds, the Washington Monument stood at attention, gleaming in its sun-bleached uniform. Struck dumb by my experience at the Memorial and my inability to remember the names of my dead friends, I just stared at the corner of the Vietnam Memorial that was visible from where I sat.
Over and over I kept thinking, "How could we let this happen? There are 50,000 names on that wall. How could this happen? What did they die for?"
Between my questions, I flashed back twentysome years as the nearby sound of a helicopter dragged me into the past...
[Screaming down Vietnam's Highway One in a convoy, draped over the side of the Deuce-and-a-half truck, I watch in fascination as the picture-postcard scenery zips past. Rice patties and farm land as far as you can see. Periodically, the picturesque view is accented with Water Buffaloes pulling ancient farm equipment, while behind them a small figure in black pajamas struggles knee-deep in the mud and water to keep up.
The villages we drive past are typical, and usually of little interest - except for today. As we push down the highway we notice thick black smoke coming up on our left, closer and closer. This village doesn't look any different than any other, except for the fires and smoke, and the fact that overhead circle several Army gunships. The alleyways between the huts are littered with bodies, some still burning. The machine-gun fire comes in intense bursts and everywhere there are men, women and children running, trying to escape. They fall to the ground in slow motion. None of them are armed. As we pass the scene, I imagine that I can hear their screams. I am imagining it, aren't I? The soldiers I am with cheer and wave from the back of our truck...]
My reverie is broken by the sound of a jet overhead, it's plume providing a patriotic backdrop to the Washington Monument. Haunted by the fresh memory, I fight back the tears. Again, I wonder about the 50,000 American dead, and for the first time I allow myself to think about the 2,000,000+ Vietnamese dead. How did it all begin? I promise myself then and there that I am going to seek a full understanding of the war and how it all got started. This article is the result of my efforts at fulfilling my promise.
For twenty years I have treated my Vietnam experience like a bad love affair - on again, off again. Sometimes embracing it with a fierce passion, other times attempting to distance myself from it but failing miserably. Often seeking to understand it, but being too close, too involved to see clearly - and in the end returning to it once again, hat in hand, to start over.
In hope of a reconciliation, I have taken the time to do quite a bit of research on the subject of Vietnam, with a specific interest in answering the following questions:
Why did the US get involved in Vietnam? Vietnam is thousands of miles away from the US. It was a backwards little country, almost primitive in comparison. What possible interest did the US have in such a place? The public was told from the very beginning that we had to stop the communist menace in Vietnam or other countries would follow suit; that we had to defend the democratic South Vietnamese government against the gathering Red hordes. Was that really true? Did our leaders really believe that?
Who were the Vietcong? What was North Vietnam all about? I went through 19 months in Vietnam thinking that the Vietcong constituted an "uprising" against a democratically elected government; that the Vietcong were essentially some kind of insurgency, a group of "upstarts" and troublemakers, indoctrinated by the North to cause trouble in the South. Everyone I knew believed the same thing. Were we right?
Repeatedly, US soldiers complained about the inability to determine friend from foe. Farmer or cab driver by day, guerrilla by night. We soldiers knew that the towns and hamlets were literally crawling with what we called, "Vietcong sympathizers," but that just seemed to be one more "crazy" thing about Vietnam. We were too busy with the day-to-day affairs of the war to worry about inconsistencies between what we were told and what we knew to be true. Besides, we weren't supposed to think about what we were doing. But who were the Vietcong? And why did they fight so hard for so little?
Why were we lied to? With the release of the Pentagon Papers, which the government had fought so hard against, the truth about Vietnam could begin to be known. In the Pentagon Papers, all the details about the planning of the war, the scheming, the misguided reasoning, are laid bare. Memos and meeting notes are compiled for your perusal. A solid foundation for understanding our involvement in Vietnam can be found in those pages. Did our government lie to us about Vietnam? Most certainly. Why?
Many believe that Russia was behind the North Vietnamese "invasion." But did you know that in the beginning of the war there was never any evidence connecting Russia with North Vietnamese military actions in the South? And as for the "invasion," there were never any confirmed sightings of North Vietnamese regular forces in South Vietnam until 1965, a full eleven years after the start of our involvement in the Vietnam war. So who were we fighting all this time? Who were we supporting and why? Who were we saving Vietnam from?
A HISTORY OF HOW THE U.S. GOT INVOLVED IN VIETNAM
Vietnam, as most everyone knows, is a country that has been no stranger to war. Many in fact, chalk up our own involvement in Vietnam as just another war in a long progression of warfare that has been Vietnam's history, as if the wars that have occurred there are somehow due to the "nature" of the Vietnamese, or just part of the existence of Southeast Asia. To be sure, warfare has been a mainstay of the Vietnamese for many years, but to assume that warfare is just a natural part of existence for the Vietnamese, like the monsoon season, and therefore look no further for the causes of these wars, does the Vietnamese a great injustice, borders on racism and in fact, denies history. To fully understand US involvement in Vietnam in a proper context, you need to go back into Vietnam's past, way, way back...
Vietnam has China for its Northern border, and extends in an "S" shape all the way to the tip of the peninsula. On it's western borders are the countries of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. There are rich delta areas in both the north and south of the country, and have been described as two rice baskets suspended on the ends of a peasant's carrying pole, for these two areas produce almost all of Vietnam's rice. Although these two regions only make up a quarter of Vietnam's total area, up to the early 1960's they supported almost all of the five-sixth's of the population of ethnic Vietnamese.
Vietnam is a melting-pot. In the northern delta area, a hilly and mountainous region, are several groups of Tai who speak languages closer to Thai and Laos than to Vietnamese. The hill and plateau areas of Central Vietnam have other, distinctly non-Vietnamese groups. These people were originally displaced from the more fertile coastal regions by the Vietnamese as they pushed south centuries ago, from their original home in the northern Red River delta. These people, together with some Tai tribes in the North, and some smaller non-Vietnamese groups scattered throughout the interior, constitute what the French termed the Montagnards - mountain people living almost exclusively in the mountains and plateau areas that make up three-quarters of the country. (The Montagnard are a people I knew and had tremendous respect for during my two tours in Vietnam.) In the southern part of the peninsula, south of the Mekong delta, reside around 700,000 Cambodians, in a district that used to belong to the Kingdom of Cambodia. In addition, during the early 1960's, there were over a million Chinese in Vietnam, living mostly in the South, especially around Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) and Cholon.
Vietnam's close proximity to China naturally led to very close political and cultural ties between the two countries. Even as early as 221 B.C., the Chinese sent garrisons to the northern Red River delta area of Vietnam. In fact, a combined Sino-Vietnamese kingdom existed there from 207 B.C. until 111 B.C.
The Vietnamese were influenced considerably by the Chinese, absorbing Confucian social and political values in addition to a hierarchical system of Mandarin bureaucracy which included a civil service examination system and the study of Chinese classics. Similar to experience in China, the Mandarin-style of administration adopted by the Vietnamese was ill suited to cope with rapid change and eventually led to problems.
Although the Vietnamese obviously admired many facets of Chinese society, enough of their own culture remained active to build up resentment to Chinese rule and mount a revolt. And in 939 the Vietnamese won their freedom from the Chinese.(1) Later in the 13th century they would again fight off the invasion of Kublai Khan, and would continually repel subsequent efforts of the Chinese to regain control up through the 15th century.(2) For many centuries, the Vietnamese effort to win and stay free from the Chinese would form the basis of their own brand of nationalism.
The ethnic Vietnamese originally lived only in the northern part of the country. Their efforts to move south were barred by an Indonesian kingdom called Champa. The Vietnamese defeated this kingdom in 1471, but it would be the 17th century before the Vietnamese would push as far as the Mekong River delta. (The Vietnamese occupation of the southern part of the country was still underway in the 18th and 19th century, when the French arrived.)
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Vietnam was ruled from the northern cities of Hanoi and Hue. It was difficult for the government located in Hue to govern the southern part of the country, but they finally managed it by the first half of the 19th century. Unfortunately, this brief period of north-south unification was brought to an end by the French.
Enter: The French
No strangers to world-affairs, the Vietnamese rulers watched as China was defeated by the French and the British. In an effort to avoid a similar fate, Vietnamese governors attempted to keep out Western influence and commerce by repressing the French missionaries already entrenched in Vietnam. Unfortunately, this was all the pretext the French needed to launch an attack against Vietnam (ever eager to expand their colonies).
In 1857, the French attacked the Vietnamese city of Tourane (now called Da Nang), and soon followed this up with the capture of Saigon in 1859. By 1867, the French had completely conquered the southernmost part of Vietnam (then called Cochin China) and made it a French colony. In 1883, the French moved against the remainder of the Vietnamese state and subsequently took over the remainder of the south (then called Annam) and the north (then called Tonkin). The Vietnamese struggled to regain their freedom and fought the French with armed resistance until 1917.
French rule was very authoritarian and concentrated in the cities (the Montagnards located in the hills were left relatively undisturbed by the French), and by 1930 there were as many French civil servants in Vietnam as British civil servants in India where the population was 12 times as large.
The French left the Vietnamese economy much as it was... predominantly agrarian, with the peasantry constituting 80 percent of the population. The southernmost part of the country, Cochin China, was by far the most profitable of the three districts of the country (North, Central and South Vietnam) and therefore the place where the French put all of their money. The reason the south was so profitable was that most of the usable land was in this southern part of the country and owned by either the French or the Vietnamese aristocracy. The majority of the Vietnamese population worked either as laborers or tenant farmers, but they were all heavily taxed. Even with the heavy taxes, Vietnam was a financial debacle for the French government, as most of the profits of their plunder went into the pockets of French investors with good connections to the French Parliament.
Although a few things such as communications, public health, and flood control, improved under the French occupation, there was one thing the French were not going to improve for the Vietnamese - their educational system. Granted, there were a few schools that some lucky Vietnamese could attend, but these educated Vietnamese were then discriminated against by the French and were refused jobs in the civil service or with French businesses. This blatant racism outraged the Vietnamese and created an atmosphere of resentment which contributed to the development of a Vietnamese-nationalist movement.(3) This movement would get unsolicited assistance from an unlikely source - the First World War. Over 1,000,000 Vietnamese fought for the French. Exposed to new political ideals and returning to a colonial occupation of their own country (by a ruler that many of them had fought and died for), resulted in some rightfully sour attitudes. Many of these troops sought out and joined the Vietnamese nationalist movement focused on overthrowing the French.
The Vietnamese made some sincere efforts at changing the colonial government, but all ended in frustration. Nationalists who attempted to change things through legal political activity soon found themselves in jail or worse. And as more and more Vietnamese turned to the nationalist movement, the French repression became more and more severe. Eventually, the only method left to the nationalists for being effective was to go "underground." In the 1920's, the first underground nationalist party was formed. Called the Vietnamese Nationalist Party, it was patterned after the Chinese Nationalist Party (known as the Kuomintang). It had one major objective: overthrowing the French.
Needless to say, the French weren't too keen on this idea and as soon as they found out about it they stomped this organization out of existence. Its leaders fled to China. Afterwards, the underground struggle for sovereignty and against colonialism was taken up by different clandestine communist organizations. (In 1930, three such groups would shed their disagreements and form a union called the Indochinese Communist Party, under a man named... Ho Chi Minh - then referred by his followers as (Nguyen the Patriot(4))
Ho Chi Minh
To get a good understanding of Vietnam's political climate prior to US involvement requires some knowledge of Ho Chi Minh. No one personified the Vietnamese nationalist movement more than Ho.
Ho was born in 1892 in the northern part of Vietnam. His father, a Mandarin official, had his life shortened by the French, who shot him down for anti-French activities. In 1911 at the age of 19, Ho left Vietnam on a French merchant ship.(5) He lived in London for a while, working as an assistant chef at the Carleton Hotel.(6) According to one of Ho's closest associates, Ho lived in the United States, in Harlem, for a short period of time. (Later, while living in Moscow, Ho wrote a pamphlet called "The Black Race," which was highly critical of American and European racial practices.(7))
Ho returned to France in 1917 or 1918 and worked as a photographers assistant. Soon, he became involved in the political activity of the Vietnamese community in France. Eventually he got some political articles published and joined the French Socialist Party. (The majority of this party, including Ho, would later break off and form the French Communist Party in 1920.(8)) Ho became the Party's specialist on colonial affairs and was sent as a delegate to Moscow for the Peasant's International meeting, representing the French colonial territories. Ho was well received and got promoted to the Soviet Comintern. He then became involved with Russian assistance to the Chinese Kuomintang. (Try and remember that this was an interesting period in history, when Russians, communists and non-communists alike, all worked together for common causes.) In 1925, while in Canton China, Ho Chi Minh shaped the Vietnamese refugees living there into what became known as the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth, the precursor to the Vietname se Communist Party.
When the Chinese Kuomintang fell into disarray and split into the communists and Chiang Kai-shek's followers, Ho was forced to leave Canton and went to Moscow, where he stayed until 1928.(9) Ho then traveled to Siam (Thailand) and arrived in Hong Kong in 1930, when he reconciled the differences of the three competing communist groups and formed the Vietnamese Communist Party (later renamed the Indochinese Communist Party). Party headquarters was set up in Haiphong, a northern part of Vietnam. In 1931, Ho was arrested by the British in Hong Kong and spent the next eighteen months in jail. After his release, Ho went to Shanghai, China, and then returned to Russia.(10)
While Ho was busy in Hong Kong, from May 1930 to September 1931, the Vietnamese farmers were also busy, and participated in several revolts against the French, especially in Ho's native province. Members of Ho's recently established Vietnamese Communist Party lent their assistance to the farmer revolutionaries by offering leadership, and were quite successful. Several of the peasant rebels would later rise to prominence as Ho's lieutenants later on - Pham Vong Dong, Vo Nguyen Giap, and Truong Chinh. These three got arrested along with a number of other communists and non-communist revolutionaries as the French brutally put down the resistance. During the 1930s, several thousand political prisoners were held in Vietnamese jails and penal settlements.
By the time World War II began, despite intense pressure from the French, the communists still controlled the best organized and strongest anti-French underground groups. Being an effective nationalist organization, they naturally attracted a large number of people who were not communist, but shared the desire to rid their country of the French. This was the beginning of a fusion of communism and nationalism that would later develop much further during the Japanese occupation of Vietnam and the nine-year effort by the French to destroy the Vietnamese independence forces.
The Japanese Occupation
As World War II warmed up and the Japanese moved into Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh (living in China) moved to China's southern border, just north of Tonkin.(11) The Japanese occupation of Vietnam meant that Chiang Kai-shek and his generals had an important objective in common with Ho Chi Minh and his communist organization -- the undermining of the newly established Japanese power on China's southern flank.
Following the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, the Japanese served a number of ultimatums to the French in Indochina. The French made numerous appeals to the Allies, but were unsuccessful, and eventually the French gave in to the Japanese. In their settlement, the Japanese recognized French authority in Indochina and left the French in charge of local administration and security functions. In return, the French gave the Japanese the right of passage through Indochina, as well as control over local military facilities and the country's economic resources. Not a bad deal... for the Japanese.
Unlike other Japanese occupations, where the Japanese often offered the promise of independence in return for cooperation, the Japanese depended on the French administrative structure already in place. This meant that Vietnamese nationalists were not offered independence and still were relegated to seeking out underground organizations for support. The communists, with the most developed organization, fit the bill. And since Ho and his followers were strongly emphasizing nationalism over communism, they attracted a large number of non-communists.
In fact, had Ho been closely associated with Chinese communism, the Vietnamese fear of a possible reassertion of Chinese domination might have worked against him and weakened his chances of attracting non-communists. However, since his communist development had happened in Russia, Ho was regarded as more pro-Russian than pro-Chinese. Plus, he had established himself as a Vietnamese leader well before the rise to power of Mao Tse Tung. For Ho, Vietnam came before any ideology.(12) All these factors worked to his favor.
What was left of the Indochinese Communist Party met with Ho in May of 1941 in South China, near the border of Tonkin. Here they established the Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Vietnamese Independence League), or the Vietminh, as it was generally called. (The Vietminh was a strongly nationalist party, led primarily by the Indochinese Communist party, but attempted to attract Vietnamese patriots of all political hues in a common struggle against the French. The Vietminh would become the principal vehicle of Vietnamese nationalism in the thirteen-year struggle that ended in France's defeat and the Geneva conference of 1954.)
By the end of 1943, small groups of Vietminh commandos were penetrating into Tonkin, led by Vo Nguyen Giap,(13) the future strategist of Dienbienphu and eventual Commander in Chief of the armies of North Vietnam. By 1945, the Vietminh controlled wide regions of the northernmost provinces and had engaged the full attention of most of the Japanese 21st Division.(14)
Being the only recognized force of some strength opposing the Japanese, the Vietminh received support from the American OSS (Office of Strategic Services). In return, the Vietminh helped rescue downed pilots and provided important intelligence information to OSS agents. A number of OSS officers voiced their admiration for the Vietminh and helped convince OSS leaders to back the Vietminh's struggle for independence.(15) The Vietnamese fully expected American support due to Roosevelt's Atlantic Charter, which emphasized self-determination for all peoples -- not merely Europeans. In addition, the Vietnamese listened to broadcasts from the US Office of War Information, which often cited US support for colonial peoples struggling for their freedom.
In 1945, with an Allied victory apparent, the Japanese interned French troops and civil servants, and assumed the positions of authority they had previously left to the French. They also made some feeble attempts to establish a Vietnamese nationalist government, including offering a nominal grant of independence in order to secure some Vietnamese support. The Japanese appointed Bao Dai to head this "independent" state. Bao Dai had previously been the French-controlled emperor of the southern part of Vietnam. The Japanese didn't have much time or inclination to build support for Bao Dai which meant he was incredibly weak.
With the French officials and troops locked up, the Japanese were unable to control the countryside and the Vietminh moved closer to Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh, apparently anticipating the fall of the Japanese, was prepared to strike when it occurred. Two days after the surrender of the Japanese to the Allies, pro-Vietminh elements in Hanoi staged an uprising. The next day, the Vietminh forces entered Hanoi and seized the city without resistance. A few days later, Bao Dai abdicated, turning over the Great Seal to the Vietminh and unabashedly offering to serve in Ho's government. On August 29, the Vietminh formed a "Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam," with its capital in Hanoi. On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh formally proclaimed Vietnam's independence.(16)
Meanwhile, Vietminh forces in the south moved to consolidate control over the area that was known as Cochin China. They sometimes used clumsy methods in this effort and sometimes were overly harsh. As a result, the Vietminh alienated several important groups. A prewar opponent, the Trotskyite communists resisted and were repressed by the Vietminh. Religious sects such as the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hoa blamed the Vietminh for the deaths of several leaders and were antagonized towards the Vietminh. These were important losses for the Vietminh because of these groups' well organized and clearly defined territorial bases and the fact that they had been trained and given arms by the Japanese. The French would later take advantage of this hostility by paying the sects' leaders subsidies to not support the Vietminh.
Ho's other lieutenants showed better judgment and had a great deal of success with the population. Ho's primary interest was in gaining nationalist support for his organization. His nationalist desire was bigger than his desire to court communist support, and in November 1943, Ho disbanded the Indochinese Communist Party. Communists and procommunists retained key-positions in the government, but non-communists were given sufficient scope to insure their continued support. Soon, Ho Chi Minh gained the support and admiration of both communists and non-communists alike as their outstanding leader in Vietnam's struggle against the French, and as a symbol of the new Vietnamese nationalism.
France and the Vietminh
As Japan faced defeat at the hands of the Allies, the Vietminh looked forward to Allied support in any future struggle against French colonialism. After all, the Vietminh had given valuable support to the Allies, and Ho expected support and recognition for his newly-established government, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in turn. A statement to this effect was even included in his government's Declaration of Independence, established on September 2, 1945, which stated: "We are convinced that the Allied nations... will not refuse to acknowledge the independence of Viet Nam."
[Note that it is no accident that Ho would mention his expectation of US support in their Declaration of Independence. After all, Ho was a big fan of the United States. Ho reportedly had a picture of George Washington on his wall, and kept a copy of the American Declaration of Independence on his desk.
The actual Vietnamese Declaration of Independence begins: "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."(17) Americans were looked up to by the Vietnamese.]
But France had other ideas. The French postwar government immediately undertook steps to regain control over Vietnam. The United States and Russia were apparently too interested in maintaining good relations with France (and dividing up the world) than supporting self-determination in Vietnam.
Allied plans for postwar Vietnam became clear with the Potsdam Agreement in July 1945. This Agreement stipulated that British forces were to occupy the southern half of Vietnam, up to the 16th parallel. Chiang Kai-shek's forces were to take the country north of the 16th parallel. Under Potsdam, these forces were restricted to "the round-up and disarming of the Japanese, and the Recovery of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees."
However, the actual behavior of the Allied occupation went way beyond this limited assignment. The Commander of the British occupation forces, Major-General Douglas Gracey, exceeded both the limits of the Potsdam Agreement and his superior, Admiral Mountebatten, who had specifically told him to confine his troops (British and Indian) to the "tasks which had been set." Gracey, with few troops of his own, relied upon the Japanese forces (he was supposed to be disarming) to control Saigon and the surrounding areas and keep the Vietminh forces at bay. Gracey also rearmed the 5,000 newly released French troops and permitted them to launch a coup d'etat on September 23, by which the French (once again) seized control of the Saigon government from the Vietminh.
Combined British-Indian and Japanese forces joined in battle against the Vietminh until the French could take over. By this time, Gracey had enabled the French to take over several other districts, and eliminate the new Vietminh administration. By December 1945, French forces in the British occupation zone of the South had reached approximately 50,000, and General Gracey prepared to withdraw, having fulfilled what he regarded as his mission(18) (and having satisfied his own imperialistic tendencies).
The Kuomintang army occupying the North also deviated from the Potsdam Agreement, but in a different way. Their forces of over 180,000 (far more than was required) showed more interest in looting the countryside than rounding up the Japanese. Yet, the Chinese recognized Ho's regime in Hanoi as the de facto government and allowed it to function with considerable freedom, although they had replaced some Vietminh administrators with their own in Northern Tonkin.
But the weight of the Chinese occupation (both politically and economically) was enough to force the Vietminh into accepting some of France's demands in order to secure the evacuation of Chiang Kai-shek's forces from the northern part of the country. On February 28th, 1946, Chiang agreed to withdraw his forces within three months.
With the British and the Chinese finally gone, the Vietminh came under direct pressure from the French. By this time it was obvious that Ho Chi Minh would be receiving no aid from either the US or Russia. Indeed, from Ho's perspective he had been abandoned by the international community and left alone to deal with France. Economic disaster, spurred by the Chinese occupational forces, and starvation due to Allied bombing of Northern damns, strengthened France's position. On March 6th, 1946, Ho Chi Minh felt compelled to reach a compromise with the French. Essentially, Ho was forced to make the maximum concessions possible short of forfeiting his dominant position within the Vietnamese nationalist movement. It took everything Ho could do to quell the dissatisfaction of other various nationalist groups with this agreement.
[Note that during 1945 to 1946, Ho Chi Minh had written at least eight letters to Truman and the State Department, asking for America's help in winning Vietnam's independence from the French. Ho wrote that world peace was being endangered by French efforts to reconquer Indochina and he requested that the four powers (US, USSR, China and Great Britain) intervene in order to mediate a fair settlement and bring the Indochinese issue before the United Nations.
This was a remarkable repeat of history, for in 1919 following the First World War, Ho Chi Minh had appealed to US Secretary of State Robert Lansing, to gain America's help in achieving basic civil liberties and an improvement in the living condition for the colonial subjects of French Indochina. This plea was also ignored and no admission was even made that the US had even received the letters.(19)]
Under the 1946 agreement, France could (once again) reintroduce 15,000 troops into the Northern part of the country in order to relieve the few remaining Chinese occupation forces. The understanding was that every year, 3000 French troops would then withdraw, until by 1951 none would remain. In return for this concession, France recognized Ho's Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a "free state, having its own government, parliament, army and treasury, forming part of the Indochinese Federation and the French Union." The French also agreed to stand by the results of a referendum in Cochin China (South Vietnam) which would decide whether Cochin China would reunite with the central and northern regions of the country.
Although this agreement resulted in an uneasy truce, it was soon made obvious that France had no intention of allowing Cochin China to unite with the rest of Vietnam. (Remember, that Cochin China is where France had made all of its investments and was making all of its profits). Thumbing their noses at the Vietminh, on June 1, 1946, the French set up a separate government in Cochin China and recognized it as a "free Republic." This move, together with France's recognition of North Vietnam only as a free republic within a French Union, clearly indicated that France intended to regain control of all of Vietnam. Ho had unfortunately entered into an armistice with France on the basis of promises that the French never intended to be fulfilled.
During the summer of 1946, further negotiations between the French and the Vietnamese broke down and relations between them worsened rapidly, aggravated by small incidents. This tension peaked on November 23, when the French bombed Haiphong and killed at least 6,000 Vietnamese.(20) The outraged Vietminh retaliated with coordinated attacks against the French in Hanoi, which touched off major hostilities. These events marked the beginning of a war that would soon spread throughout Vietnam.
The War with the French
For the next eight years the French fought the Vietminh. The French, due to their superior fire power continued to control the cities, but the Vietminh controlled the countryside, and more and more of it as time went by.
Question: Why did the French, who were losing money on Vietnam, continue to pour more money, time and effort into keeping it? After all, as early as 1950, the French military expenditure in Vietnam surpassed the total of all French investments in Vietnam, and although a few investors made enormous profits, they were not influential enough to determine French foreign policy. So why throw more good money down a hole?
Answer: The official attitude in Paris toward Indochina had more to do with the psychological and political factors of the French imperialist ideology than economic reasons. Take a look. France had already experienced a major defeat in World War II. Most Frenchmen would have considered having one of their colonies throw them out on their ear as a further loss of national dignity. They also feared that if the Vietnamese won independence from them, restive nationalists in their other colonies such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia would be inspired to follow their example.
By the end of 1947, the increase in popularity of Ho Chi Minh throughout all of Vietnam convinced the French that they would not defeat the Vietminh by pure military means. The French therefore attempted to establish an indigenous Vietnamese regime to compete with the Vietminh. Although France would pull the strings, they wanted this group to have enough of an appearance of independence to attract substantial nationalist support away from the Vietminh. So, the French chose Bao Dai, the former emperor of Annan (and Japanese favorite son). After much bargaining, Bao Dai agreed on the condition that all of Vietnam would be "independent... within the French Union." Additional negotiations concluded with the Elysee Agreements of March 1949, although the French didn't get around to ratifying these agreements until January 29, 1950.
Under the Elysee Agreements, no real independence would be granted the Vietnamese, only a limited autonomy. France would retain actual control of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. These countries could all have their own armies, but in time of war France was given the right to take control and could use its army as it wished. In fact, so many controls were given to the French under this agreement that the new State of Vietnam was completely under French control. The result was that Bao Dai's government didn't have enough of an air of independence to attract many nationalists. The Vietnamese, being no dummies, knew that Bao Dai was under France's orders and therefore his rule meant French rule. This left the Vietnamese with a narrow band of choices: either the French or the Vietminh. This soon grew even narrower as the French, in a bungled effort to damage the Vietminh, started labeling everyone who opposed Bao Dai as "communist." For more and more of the people, the name "communist" soon came to mean something good , something patriotic, representing nationalism and opposition to the French. (One can't help but wonder if the French weren't hoping to attract American attention by appealing to our communist-threat paranoia).
Meanwhile, the French military was failing miserably even though they had, by the end of 1949, poured $1.5 billion into the war effort. The Vietminh had the initiative and were destined to win even though they had inferior arms. This was due to their vast support and popularity, something the French could never muster (and the US military could never recognize or admit publicly).
It wasn't until 1949 that the US showed any interest in Indochina. Up to this time, Washington was more interested in maintaining France's cooperation with the European defense alliances and major US support for the French did not come until mid-1949, when the Communists took over China. Later, when Chinese troops entered Korea, the US disposition to aid the French grew even more and Washington became adamantly opposed to any French-negotiated end to the war that would leave the Vietminh in power and the Chinese free to concentrate on their Korean border. A policy to contain the Chinese occupied the Truman administration and Paris endeavored with some success to convince Washington that the French campaign in Vietnam helped sustain that policy.(21)
In 1952, the US exerted strong pressure on France to reject peace feelers extended by the Vietminh, and a French delegation scheduled to meet with the Vietminh in Burma was hastily recalled. (Bernard Fall, a renowned French scholar on Indochina, believed that the canceled negotiations "could perhaps have brought about a cease-fire on a far more acceptable basis" for the French "than the one obtained two years in the shadow of a crushing military defeat."(22)
To strengthen its policy (and provide some substance to its paranoia), Washington assigned its intelligence services the task of demonstrating that Ho Chi Min was a puppet of Moscow or Peiping (either would do). However, despite diligent efforts, Vietnam was the only country they couldn't find evidence of "Kremlin-directed conspiracy," which made it kind of an "anomaly." Nor could any links with China be detected. So the intelligence service concluded that Moscow considered the Vietminh to be "sufficiently loyal to be trusted to determine their day-to-day policy without supervision." Thus, in a twisted-logic sort of way, the Vietminh's lack of contact with US enemies somehow proved the vast designs of the Evil Empire.(23)
Truman linked his decision to send troops to Korea with increased arms shipments to the French in Indochina and assistance to Nationalist China in Formosa. In addition, France's position in Vietnam was now being described to the American public in terms of the Free World stance against communist expansionism, and Washington ceased to perceive the war in Vietnam as strictly a colonial conflict. Now linked to the Cold War, Vietnam was regarded as an area of strategic importance to the US.
The Communist victory in China led Washington to exhibit less circumspection in assessing the nature of the political struggle in Vietnam. Anticommunist-fever preempted everything else. Although Washington had never considered Bao Dai capable of delivering national support for his movement, by mid-1949, the Truman Administration began to depict him as a staunch patriot, capable of standing up to Ho Chi Min and worthy of American respect and aid. Seven months before the Elysee Agreements had been ratified, the US indicated its support of the Bao Dai regime. On February 7, 1950, a week after the ratification, the US extended diplomatic recognition to Bao Dai's government.
Military support also started. American bombers, military advisors and technicians by the hundreds were to follow. From 1950 to 1954, authorized US aid had reached $1.4 billion and constituted 78 percent of the French budget for the war.(24) The extensive written history of the American role in Indochina produced by the Defense Department, which later became known as the Pentagon Papers, concluded that the decision to provide aid to France "directly involved" the US in Vietnam and "set" the course for future American policy.(25)
Only after it became clear that the Agreements were going to be ratified and that the international community was going to rally behind Bao Dai, did Ho request diplomatic recognition from Peking and Moscow. They responded promptly. The Cold War had now officially entered the Vietminh-French dispute. The significant aid that followed as a show of support for Bao Dai helped make the Vietnamese somewhat cynical about US protestations of its commitment to national self-determination and political freedom.
The French insisted that all aid money flow to Bao Dai through France. Still representing Bao Dai to the American public as a popular figure with a sizable following, Washington continued to spin the French-Vietnamese war in a positive light, basing their information on unreliable French communiqus almost up to the very eve of Dienbienphu and publicly stating that the Vietminh's defeat was imminent. Due to Ho's being a communist, Congress and the American public were more susceptible to believing the myth about Bao Dai and less inclined to question the huge US aid commitment to France's war effort.
What must be remembered here is that for anyone to claim that Ho Chi Minh's primary interest was the promotion and spread of communism is to deny his entire life's work. It is a lie, pure and simple. And the people at the topmost echelon of our government who were spreading this lie knew better.
Despite France's own imminent defeat, the US kept up the pressure to make sure that France would not negotiate a settlement. The US used the threat of ending the tremendous US aid to encourage French compliance. (This prompted a French newspaper to comment that "the Indochina War has become France's number one dollar-earning export.")(26)
By mid-1953, France had lost her authority over all but a small portion of the country to the Vietminh. In September, France, with strong US encouragement, tried one last military effort to achieve a position of strength for their negotiations with the Vietminh. This offensive soon evolved into a series of French military reverses and the loss of more territory to the Vietminh.
The CIA airline, CAT, helped the French airlift 16,000 men into a fortified base the French had established in the north, called Dienbienphu. When the garrison was later surrounded and cut off by the Vietminh, CAT pilots, flying US Air Force C-119's, often through heavy anti-aircraft fire, delivered supplies to the French forces.
In April 1954, when the French military defeat was obvious and negotiations were scheduled at Geneva, the National Security Council urged President Eisenhower to "inform Paris that French acquiescence in a Communist takeover of Indochina would bear on its status as one of the Big Three" and that "US aid to France would automatically cease."(27) A Council paper recommended that "It be US policy to accept nothing short of a military victory in Indo-China" and that the US "actively oppose any negotiated settlements in Indo-China at Geneva." The Council stated further that, if necessary, the US should consider continuing the war without French participation.(28)
The Eisenhower Administration had, of course, been considering the use of American combat troops in Vietnam for some time. Apparently this move was not made only because of uncertainty about Congressional approval and the fact that every other country had refused to send even a token force to the area, as they had done in Korea, thus removing the appearance of a purely American operation.(29) "We are confronted by an unfortunate fact," lamented Secretary of State John Foster Dulles at a 1954 cabinet meeting. "Most of the countries of the world do not share our view that Communist control of any government anywhere is in itself a danger and a threat."(30) The Eisenhower Administration realized that "This need was particularly acute because there was no incontrovertible evidence of overt Red Chinese participation in the Indochinese conflict. Thwarted, Eisenhower refused to send the troops.
Dienbienphu turned out to be the biggest battle of the war and ended in the French garrison being overrun. The whole world now realized that France's military power in Vietnam had suffered a significant defeat.
Back home, Washington was buzzing with the fallout from the news. In May, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Radford, sent a memorandum to Defense Secretary Charles Wilson which stated that "The employment of atomic weapons is contemplated in the event that such course appears militarily advantageous."(31) General Charles Willoughby, MacArthur's director of intelligence, put it more poetically when he advocated the use of atomic bombs to create "a belt of scorched earth across the avenues of communism to block the Asiatic hordes."(32)
By this time, two American aircraft carriers equipped with atomic weapons had been ordered into the Gulf of Tonkin, in the north of Vietnam, and Dulles is said to have offered his French counterpart, Georges Bidault, atomic bombs to save Dienbienphu. Bidault was obliged to point out to Dulles that the use of atomic weapons in such close conflict would destroy the French troops as well as the Vietminh.(33)
The Geneva Conference
As the time for the Geneva conference approached, a CIA propaganda team in Singapore began to disseminate fabricated news items to advance the idea that "the Chinese were giving full-armed support to the Vietminh" and to "identify" the Vietminh "with the world Communist movement." The CIA believed that such stories would strengthen the non-Communist side at the Geneva talks.(34)
The Geneva Conference was held from April 26 to July 21, 1954 and officially registered France's defeat by the Vietminh. It was meant as a face-saving method for France to disengage from Vietnam. The conference agreements were designed to open the way for internationally supported accords by which outstanding problems between the contending parties could be peacefully resolved. By now, France was under considerable political pressure back home to get the hell out of Vietnam.
The US was not happy with the whole idea of the Geneva conference since it precluded any further military effort to defeat the Vietminh. In fact, while the conference was still in session in June, the US began assembling a paramilitary team inside Vietnam. By August, just days after the close of the conference, the team was in place. This, of course, was strictly contrary to the spirit of the Geneva Conference and the agreements that were made. This team, under the guidance of Colonel Edward Lansdale (whose activities were later enshrined in two semi-fictional works, The Ugly American and The Quite American), carried out a campaign of military and psychological warfare against the Vietminh.(35)
Washington was walking a political fence with regard to the Geneva conference. Congressional elections were coming up and everyone knew that Eisenhower had won his election as a Peacemaker in Korea. No one would relish another war so soon after Korea. On the other hand, Washington was determined not to allow Vietnam to go communist. This would have exposed the Republicans to the same charges they leveled against the Democrats in 1952, when the 'loss of China to communism" charge was prominent. So they decided to have it both ways -- appear to go along with the agreements while simultaneously working to undermine them. The US refused to give its full approval to the Geneva agreements, but did issue a "unilateral declaration" in which it agreed to "refrain from the threat or the use of force to disturb" the accords -- a bold-face lie.
Washington had additional concerns about a negotiated settlement. As early as 1948, top policy makers were afraid that Vietnamese independence might fan "anti-Western Pan-asiatic tendencies in the region," undermining the "close association between newly-autonomous peoples and powers which have been long responsible [for] their welfare." In Indochina, the responsible authority was France, whose tender care had left the area devastated and starving. Washington also wanted to keep China from exerting any influence "so that the peoples of Indochina will not be hampered in their natural developments by the pressure of an alien people and alien interests," unlike the US and France, of course. The hypocrisy expressed here is quite incredible.(36)
That the US had the right to restore the "close association" noted above is somehow taken for granted. It follows then that any problems in the area are going to come from nationalistic aspirations of the Vietnamese, not our own imperialistic tendencies. Thus, again in 1948, the CIA warned Washington that "The gravest danger to the US is that friction engendered by [anti-colonialism and economic nationalism] may drive the so-called colonial bloc into alignment with the USSR." In other words, we must make sure that the traditional "colonial economic interests" of the industrial countries must prevail if "friction" interferes with US global plans. The intent is that Indochina would have to remain under "its traditional subordination," as Melvyn Lefler observes, reviewing a broad scholarly consensus.(37)
Another Washington concern was Japan, sometimes referred to as the "superdomino" (John Dower). The old order had to be restored following World War II, and Japan had to be protected from what the State Department called the "concealed aggression" of the Russians, referring to internal political developments that might threaten business rule. Japan had to be deterred from independent foreign and economic policies, from "the suicide of neutralism" (General Omar Bradley) and any accommodation to China. The only hope, according to George Kennan (US Global Planner and referred to as "the father of the Cold War"), lay in restoring for Japan "some sort of Empire toward the South." In effect, the US must provide Japan with its wartime "co-prosperity sphere," now safely within the US-dominated world system, with no fear that US business interests would be denied their proper place.(38)
On April 7, 1954, President Eisenhower warned in a news conference that Japan would have to turn "toward the Communist areas in order to live" if Communist success in Indochina "takes away, in its economic aspects, that region that Japan must have as a trading area." The consequences would be "just incalculable to the free world." Walter LeFeber observed in 1968 that "This thesis became a controlling assumption: the loss of Vietnam would mean the economic undermining and probable loss of Japan to Communist markets and ultimately to Communist influence if not control." Eisenhower's public statements expressed the conclusion of NSC 5405 (January 16) that "the loss of Southeast Asia, especially of Malaya and Indonesia, could result in such economic and political pressures in Japan as to make it extremely difficult to prevent Japan's eventual accommodation to communism." Thus, Communist domination of Southeast Asia "by whatever means" would "critically endanger" US "security interests," understood in the usual se nse. The "loss of Vietnam" would therefore be of great significance. That it is somehow ours to "lose" is again taken for granted.(39) Given such doctrines, it is obvious why a diplomatic settlement at the 1954 Geneva conference was regarded as a disaster. Washington reacted vigorously.
For six months, starting with the Geneva conference, Colonel Lansdale's paramilitary team carried out the following operations, all while the United States publicly was pretending to promise not to interfere with the conference agreements:
Encouraged the migration of Vietnamese from the North to the South through "an extremely intensive, well-coordinated, and, in terms of its objective, very successful... psychological warfare operation. Propaganda slogans and leaflets appealed to devout Catholics with such themes as 'Christ has gone to the South' and 'Virgin Mary has departed from the North'"(40)
Distributed other bogus leaflets, supposedly put out by the Viet Minh, to instill trepidation in the minds of people in the north about how life would be under Communist rule. The following day, refugee registration to move south tripled. This exodus of people moving to the south after the Geneva Accords was often cited by American officials in the 1960's, as well as earlier, as proof that the people did not want to live under communism. They claimed that "they voted with their feet." Other "Viet Minh" leaflets were aimed at discouraging people in the south from returning north.
Infiltrated paramilitary forces into the north under the guise of individuals choosing to live there.
Contaminated the oil supply of the bus company in Hanoi so as to lead to a gradual wreckage of the bus engines.
Took "the first actions for delayed sabotage of the railroad (which required teamwork with a CIA special technical team in Japan who performed their part brilliantly)..."
Instigated a rumor campaign to stir up hatred of the Chinese, with the usual stories of rapes.
Created and distributed an almanac of astrological predictions carefully designed to play on the Vietnamese fears and superstitions and undermine life in the north while making the future of the south appear more attractive.
Published and circulated anti-Communist articles and "news" reports in the newspapers and leaflets. Attempted, unsuccessfully, to destroy the largest printing establishment in the north because it intended to remain in Hanoi and do business with the Viet Minh.
Laid some of the foundation for the future American war in Vietnam by: sending selected Vietnamese to US Pacific bases for guerrilla training; training the armed forces of the south who had fought with the French; creating various military support facilities in the Philippines; smuggling into Vietnam large quantities of arms and military equipment to be stored in hidden locations; developing plans for the "pacification of the Viet Minh and dissident areas."(41)
At the same time, the US began an economic boycott against the North Vietnamese and threatened to blacklist French firms which were doing business with them.
While the US was trying to appear aloof to the Geneva conference (while taking steps to undermine them), the Russians and the Chinese were pushing the Vietminh to come to a peaceful settlement. Both of these powers applied pressure to the Vietminh in order to get them to reduce their demands on the French. This restraint probably was induced by their recently adopted stance of "peaceful coexistence," which aimed at reducing international tension. Plus, they were both concerned that US support of the French might extend beyond Indochina. No doubt they realized that overly severe demands on the French would play into the hands of those US politicians who had advocated using the "bomb" at Dienbienphu.
Germany was also on Russia's mind. The Soviet Union reportedly hoped that by moderating the Vietminh's demands on the French and upholding some of France's proposals, this might induce the French to stay out of the projected US-sponsored European Defense Community. As for China, her economic programs and newly-embarked upon moderation in foreign policy, demanded that she oppose any spread of the fighting in Indochina. Besides, after Korea, China didn't want to give the US any excuse for putting troops on her southern border. Thus, the Chinese joined the Russians in advising the Vietminh to settle for an incomplete victory over the French.
The Vietminh also had their own reasons for negotiating a settlement with the French. The effort it would have taken to finish the French off completely would have been extremely costly, especially if the US were to enter the conflict. Vietminh political leaders were not willing to assume the responsibility for failing to come to a settlement. The Vietnamese people were war-weary and the Vietminh depended on their support for any continued conflict, so it was wise to end the fighting as soon as possible. And if the Geneva agreements were fully implemented, they would have met these objectives.
Under the Geneva Agreement, the Vietminh could (and did) expect to win on a political plane the struggle it was already winning militarily. It could expect to regain control over the South. The firm pledge of nation-wide elections was of key importance in the Vietminh's agreement to the temporary surrender of the 17th parallel. Without this promise of elections, the Vietminh would never have agreed to withdraw their force into less than half the country's territory.
By the time the Geneva conference opened, the Vietminh already dominated three-quarters of the country and was poised to take more. At Geneva, the Vietminh agreed to evacuate the rich rice-growing Mekong delta and the vast stretch of land between the 13th and 17th parallels that had constituted one of its major political bastions. Had the Vietminh any indication that this evacuation was going to be permanent, they would never have agreed to such a major concession. In withdrawing to the North, the Vietminh was not being asked to give up its struggle for all of Vietnam, but only to transfer their struggle from the military plane to the political plane. Either way, the Vietminh fully expected victory. This was an expectation also shared by most of the Western participants of the conference.
The Geneva conference produced two important agreements: the bilateral armistice agreement between France and the Vietminh and the later and more publicized multilateral Final Declaration.(42)
The "Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Viet Nam" was signed on July 20, 1954, by Brigadier Henri Delteil, acting for the "Commander in Chief of the French Union forces in Indo-China" and by Ta Quang Buu, Vice-Minister of National Defense of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in behalf of the "Commander in Chief of the People's Army of Vietnam." It incorporated the following features: First, there was to be established a "provisional military demarcation line" (fixed at the 17th parallel) "on either side of which the forces of the two parties of the People's Army of Viet Nam [Vietminh] to the north of the line and the forces of the French Union to the south" (Article 1). The maximum period of this regrouping was not to exceed 300 days from the date of the armistice entered into force (Article 2). Civil administration of the north was to be in the hands of the Vietminh, and the area south of the parallel was to be in the hands of the French (Article 8).
Article 14 detailed provisions for political and administrative control of the two regrouping zones pending general elections. Paragraph (a) states in full: "Pending the general elections which will bring about the unification of Viet Nam, the conduct of civil administration in each regrouping zone shall be in the hands of the party whose forces are to be regrouped there in virtue of the present Agreement." Paragraphs (c) and (d) of Article 14 provided that during the 300-day period allotted for regroupment of troops, civilians residing north and south of the parallel were to be "permitted and helped" to cross the parallel if they so desired. Both parties to the agreements promised "to refrain from any reprisals or discrimination against persons or organization on account of their activities during the hostilities and to guarantee their democratic liberties."
Article 16 banned the introduction into any part of Vietnam, North or South, of "any troop reinforcements and additional military personnel" from the outside world. Article 17 banned "the introduction into Viet Nam of any reinforcements in the form of all types of arms, munitions and other war materiel, such as combat aircraft, naval craft, pieces of ordnance, jet engines and jet weapons, and armoured vehicles." Article 18 forbade the establishment of "new military bases." The purpose of Article 19 was the neutralization of all of Vietnam. It stated: "[N]o military base under the control of a foreign State may be established in the re-grouping zone of either party; the two parties shall ensure that the zone assigned to them do not adhere to any military alliance and are not used for the resumption of military hostilities or to further an aggressive policy."
Article 29 and many others provided for the establishment of an International Commission (consisting of Canada, India and Poland) to oversee the implementation of the agreements and make sure that both sides were complying. (Its authority was undermined however, by the fact that a unanimous vote was required to get anything done.)
The day after the signing of the above armistice agreement the Final Declaration was brought before the delegates. This agreement endorsed the preceding armistice agreement for Vietnam, together with those for Laos and Cambodia. Two particular paragraphs are important enough to be quoted in full.
Paragraph 6 reads: "The Conference recognizes that the essential purpose of the agreement relating to Viet Nam is to settle military questions with a view to ending hostilities and that the military demarcation line is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary. The Conference expresses its conviction that the execution of the provisions set out in the present declaration and in the agreement on the cessation of hostilities creates the necessary basis for the achievement in the near future of a political settlement in Viet Nam."
Paragraph 7 focused on the election and reunification: "The Conference declares that, so far as Viet Nam is concerned, the settlement of political problems, effected on the basis of respect for the principles of independence, unity and territorial integrity, shall permit the Vietnamese people to enjoy the fundamental freedoms, guaranteed by democratic institutions established as a result of free general elections by secret ballot. In order to ensure that sufficient progress in the restoration of peace has been made, and that all the necessary conditions obtain for free expression of the national will, general elections shall be held in July 1956, under the supervision of an international commission composed of representatives of the Member States of the International Supervisory Commission, referred to in the agreement on the cessation of hostilities. Consultations will be held on this subject between the competent representative authorities of the two zones from July 20, 1955, onwards."
This last paragraph is often misrepresented. Please note that in no way did it render the internationally supervised elections to be dependent on the prior establishment of "fundamental freedoms and democratic institutions" in either of the regrouped areas. Rather, consistent with Article 14a of the armistice, it stated that these freedoms and institutions were the anticipated benefits of a unified Vietnamese nation to be established as a result of the nation-wide elections.
The Vietminh justifiably expected that the French would back the International Commission by arranging for the pre-election consultations and in supervising the actual balloting in mid-1956. The Vietminh had the further assurance that any administration succeeding the French prior to the 1956 elections would legally assume France's obligations and "be responsible for ensuring the observance and enforcement of the terms and provisions" of the agreements entered into between the Vietminh and France.(43)
The declaration was endorsed by the recorded oral assent of the representatives of the United Kingdom, the People's Republic of China, the USSR, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as by France and the Vietminh. The delegates had to change to an oral declaration rather than a written at the last minute, due to the refusal of US Secretary of State Dulles to affix an American name to the settlement. The US and Bao Dai's State of Vietnam refused to register even an oral assent.
The fact that the USSR, China and Great Britain all endorsed the basic provisions of the armistice no doubt further strengthened the Vietminh's belief that a feature as central as the promised elections would certainly be honored. And even though the US refused to endorse the agreements, it did make a unilateral declaration with regard to the elections. Under-Secretary of State Walter Bedell Smith stated: "In connection with the statement in the Declaration concerning free elections in Viet Nam, my government wishes to make clear its position which it has expressed in a Declaration made in Washington on June 29, 1954, as follows: 'In the case of nations now divided against their will, we shall continue to seek to achieve unity through free elections, supervised by the United Nations to ensure that they are conducted fairly.'"
With no indication whatsoever that the US would oppose the elections, the Vietminh felt confident that they would be held. The US also declared that it would "refrain from the threat or the use of force to disturb them" [the agreements] and "would view any renewal of the aggression in violation of the aforesaid agreements with grave concern and as seriously threatening international peace and security." (Knowing what we know now, it's obvious that the US was only referring to Vietnamese aggression and not our own.)
It is important to note that the US declaration made no reference at all to a "South" or "North" Vietnam. In fact, every reference in the US declaration referred to a single Vietnam. Many people believe today that the Geneva Conference split Vietnam into two separate pieces or states. It did not! What it did do is split the country into two contesting parties within a single national state. Both the Vietminh (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and the French-supported Bao Dai (the State of Vietnam) continued after the Geneva accords to lay claim to the entire country. The difference after the conference was that the argument between the two contending parties would now, by agreement, be carried out politically rather than militarily.
However, there was one important disparity in the positions of these two contestants: The Geneva Agreements authorized the Vietminh to administer the North while preparing for elections in both; on the other hand, the responsibility for administration of the South lay not with the Vietnamese party headed by Bao Dai, which was to compete in the elections, but with the French instead.
This was an advantage for the Vietminh, for while they would be administrating their regroupment zone and preparing for elections in both zones, Bao Dai in the south would be partnered with the French, thus disadvantaged by its popular image as a semi-colonial subordinate of the French administration.
The division of Vietnam was military, not a physical dismemberment of the country. There was nothing in the agreements preventing the peaceful political activity of either contestant in the zone of the other. In fact, the very scheduling of the elections demonstrated that political campaigning was to be expected. Had this not been the case, the Vietminh certainly would not have agreed to the concessions.
France signed the armistice in Geneva on behalf of all Vietnamese in the areas it still controlled including the 369,000 members of the Vietnamese National Army that constituted part of the French Union. Bao Dai couldn't sign because the military he had command of only consisted of a personal bodyguard. Although nothing prevented the French from transferring political power to Bao Dai, remember that the Geneva Agreement specified that any successor to the French would have to comply with the agreements. Knowing this, later popular arguments that Bao Dai's refusal to assent to the Final Declaration therefore provided him with the right to reject selected aspects of the agreements don't hold up.
In fact, the political "State of Vietnam" remained an artificial construction of France, quite devoid of any popular following. France, halfway through the Geneva Conference, did issue a statement promising more independence, but this was not to happen until well after the conference ended. Indeed, it was not until January 1, 1955 that Bao Dai's Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem could proclaim real independence from France, and it was another two months before the French handed control over the French Union forces to the Saigon government.
Given the fact that Bao Dai's representatives at the Geneva Conference couldn't really play a role and lacked any genuine authority among the Vietnamese, it is understandable that they would oppose an agreement that had elections as its political keystone. They could easily foresee that an election would expose the meagerness of their following and demonstrate all the more clearly that the State of Vietnam owed its existence solely to French military power rather than the will of the Vietnamese people. Vietnamese politicians who owed their position to France would be facing men in the election who were regarded by all their countrymen as the victorious leaders of Vietnam's independence struggle. But, by now France wanted out of Vietnam so bad that she was willing to pay the political price.
Of course, Washington was extremely upset about the prospect of elections in Vietnam, for Washington knew who would win. A high-ranking State Department official said: "it would be an understatement to say that we do not like the terms of the cease-fire agreement just concluded."(44) In 1961, the State Department "White Paper" declared: "It was the Communist's calculation that nationwide elections scheduled in the Accords for 1956 would turn all of Viet-Nam over to them. With total control over the more populous North in their hands, the Communists assumed they would be able to promote enough support in the South for their cause to win in any balloting. The primary focus of the Communists' activity during the post-Geneva period was on political action -- promoting discontent with the Government in Saigon and seeking to win supporters for Hanoi. The authorities in South Viet-Nam refused to fall into this well-laid trap."(45)
Trap? What trap? In fact, this "trap" constituted an essential provision of the Geneva Agreements and was the major reason the Vietminh had accepted the armistice.
More than willing to undermine the Geneva Agreements covertly, but unwilling to give the outward appearance of contradicting the agreements, Washington went about circumventing them by forming a defense treaty for the other Asian countries that might fall like "dominoes" after a successful Communist victory in Vietnam. The Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty and Protocol (signed at Manila, September 8, 1954) which became known as SEATO was supposed to serve as a barrier against the further spread of communist political power. It was meant to provide a cloak of protection for Cambodia and Laos against aggression from communist power and inhibit the Vietminh from establishing control over the rest of Vietnam.
However, SEATO was never embraced by the major neutralist states of Burma, India and Indonesia. As a result it ended up as an arrangement dominated by the United States and its Western allies. The only Asian members it attracted were Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan (who saw the pact as a means of strengthening itself against India rather than support of American purposes in Southeast Asia). The other signatories to SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) were the US, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and New Zealand.
On the day the treaty was signed, the same parties unanimously designated the states of Cambodia and Laos as "the free territory under the jurisdiction of the State of Vietnam" (Article IV of the treaty). This fell short of a commitment by the US to aid any government or state of South Vietnam, which would have been a direct violation of the Geneva Agreements, but definitely still violated the spirit of the agreements, implying that the 17th parallel had a political character and went against the neutral status of the southernmost regroupment zone.
This was an early signal of the American intent to underwrite a separate state in southern Vietnam if, despite the inadmissibility of this under the Geneva Agreements, one could be established. Paragraph 3 of Article IV stipulated that should the states of Cambodia and Laos or "the free territory under the jurisdiction of the States of Vietnam" so request, they could be recipients of the same protection by SEATO as was accorded to the non-Indochina areas covered in the body of the agreement.
Thus, Washington utilized SEATO negotiations to offset the results of the Geneva accords. Through SEATO, the US helped provide statehood for a territory that was in fact nothing more than one of two temporary zones, thereby ignoring the stipulation that the country was to be unified in two years time. By providing protection in advance to the southern regrouping area from an attack by indigenous forces based in the other half of the same country, SEATO encouraged Vietnamese with a vested interest in this artificial division to maintain it and transform the 17th parallel into a permanent political boundary. But SEATO was only one half of a two-pronged US effort to scuttle the Geneva accords. The other prong was the US effort to inject sufficient power into the regime headed by Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem in order to render it politically viable to stand as a separate state.
During the two year break in military action secured by the Geneva Agreements, a separate state was created out of the temporary regroupment zone in the southern half of Vietnam. This transformed the 17th parallel into the political, territorial boundary explicitly forbidden under the terms of the agreements. And as the French withdrew from the South, the American attempts to build up an anti-Communist state were no longer impeded by a colonial intermediary. By early 1955, the US could deal directly with the new Prime Minister, Ngo Dinh Diem, rather than the French.(46)
In the struggle for power that began almost immediately in Saigon, the US backed Ngo Dinh Diem -- at first cautiously, but increasingly without limit or qualification. When Diem returned from the United States to be Prime Minister, he was greeted at the airport by non other than... Colonel Edward Lansdale, the CIA's man in South Vietnam who was at the time, head of the Agency's Saigon Military Mission (SMM). Diem was opposed by almost everyone - Bao Dai's followers, the pro-French religious groups, the Buddhists, the remnant nationalist organizations, and of course, the followers of Ho Chi Minh.(47)
To help create Diem's government, Lansdale's men offered the Vietnamese peasants in the north, now frightened from all the anti-Communist propaganda Lansdale and his group had disseminated earlier, free transportation to the South in Civil Air Transport (CAT) aircraft (owned by the CIA) and on ships of the US Navy. Nearly a million Vietnamese had been frightened into fleeing to the south.(48) (This was a major disinformation campaign - that worked.)
Lieutenant Tom Dooley (won't you come home?), who operated with the US Navy out of Haiphong, helped stimulate the flow of refugees to the south. As a medical doctor, Dooley was a fantastic propagandist whose primary audience seemed to be the US public. He himself wrote three books and numerous articles were also written about him. He concocted tales of the Vietminh disemboweling 1,000 pregnant women, beating a naked priest on the testicles with a bamboo club, and jamming chopsticks into the ears of children to keep them from hearing the word of God (a story repeated at the church I attended as a child in an effort to get donations and create anti-Communist fervor). The purpose of these lies was to get the American public angered and moved to action.(49) Dr. Dooley's reputation remained spotless until 1979, when his ties to the CIA were uncovered during a Roman Catholic sainthood investigation.(50) But, Dooley's and Lansdale's efforts worked. They convinced thousands of North Vietnamese Catholics to flee to the South, thereby providing Diem with a source of reliable political and military cadres, and in the process also duped the American public into believing that this flight of refugees was a massive condemnation of the Vietminh by the majority of Vietnamese (Note: CIA disinformation campaigns are technically illegal if carried out against the American public).
While all of this was happening, the Vietminh were withdrawing to the North according to the Geneva Agreements and Diem went about establishing his control over the areas evacuated by the Vietminh. By spring 1955, the Vietminh had removed all of its army from the South (approximately 100,000 men) and regrouped them to the north of the 17th parallel. The areas abandoned were turned over to the French Union which then passed them off to Diem. Diem encountered little resistance in extending his administration to these areas since the only Vietminh who remained in the south were conducting themselves peacefully while preparing for the elections.
Diem had a harder time in the larger southern regions where he came up against the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hoa religious sects. He responded with brutality and crushed those he couldn't bribe out of existence. It was said that "The total amount of American dollars spent on bribes during March and April 1955, by Diem may well have gone beyond $12 million."(51) Diem went on to abolish all other opposition and quickly earned a reputation as a very brutal ruler.
To assist Diem, the United States sent 350 additional military men to Saigon in May 1956, an "example of the US ignoring" the Geneva Accords, stated the Pentagon Papers. Shortly afterwards, John Foster Dulles confided to a colleague: "We have a clean base there now, without a taint of colonialism. Dienbienphu was a blessing in disguise."(52)
[As our politicians spent their time working up public fervor with anti-Communist rhetoric and lies to back up their paranoia, a number of activities were underway back home. For example, from 1955 to 1959, Michigan State University (MSU), under a US Government contract, conducted a covert police training program for the South Vietnamese. With full knowledge of MSU officials, five CIA operatives were concealed in the staff of the program and carried on the university's payroll as its employees. By the terms of a 1957 law, drawn up by the MSU group, every Vietnamese 15 years and older was required to register with the government and carry ID cards. Anyone caught without the proper ID was considered a National Liberation Front (Vietcong) suspect and subject to imprisonment or worse. At the time of registration a full set of fingerprints was taken and information about the person's political beliefs was recorded.](53)
David Hotham, the Vietnam correspondent for the London Times and the Economist, wrote in 1959 that the Diem regime imposed by the United States "has crushed all opposition of every kind, however anti-Communist it might be. He has been able to do this, simply and solely because of the massive dollar aid he has had from across the Pacific, which kept in power a man who, by all the laws of human and political affairs, would long ago have fallen. Diem's main supporters are to be found in North America, not in Free Vietnam..."(54)
But, American support was not just financial. The US Army began training Diem's army while the CIA concentrated on building his government and training his police. The CIA also fed American newspapers stories about Diem, his miraculous victory over the Hoa Hoa and Cao Dai sects, and even wrote a Special National Intelligence Estimate that explained how Diem's "success [was] achieved largely on his own initiative and with his own resources," which was a complete lie.(55)
Even with all the American aid, after Diem's first year running the Saigon government he still could not risk internationally supervised elections due to lack of popular support. In mid-1955, when Ho Chi Minh's government sought to begin the pre-election "consultations" called for in the Geneva Agreements, Diem refused. On July 16, 1955, Diem declared: "We have not signed the Geneva Agreements. We are not bound in any way by these agreements, signed against the will of the Vietnamese people."(56)
In 1956, Diem's interest in "free" elections was shown by a "referendum" he held in order to vest his regime with some semblance of public support. He received 98.2 percent of the bogus vote. Life Magazine later reported that Diem's American advisors had told him that a 60 percent margin would be sufficient and would look better, "but Diem insisted on 98 %."(57)
The US clearly supported Diem in this stand, although they would have preferred Diem at least paying some lip-service to the Geneva Accords by going "through the motions of trying to organize free elections in cooperation with the Communist North."(58) This refusal to participate was a clear reflection of Diem's own estimate of his political strength. On September 21, Diem declared that "... there can be no question of a conference, even less of negotiations" with the Hanoi Government.(59)
Meanwhile, the Hanoi government continued preparing for elections. After receiving Diem's refusal to meet for consultations, Hanoi sought international support for the elections and appealed to the Co-Chairmen of the Geneva Conference for help, and reminded France of its obligations. The French, embarrassed, replied by stating: "We are not entirely masters of our own situation. The Geneva Accords on the one hand and the pressure of the allies on the other creates a very complex juridical situation... France is the guarantor of the Geneva Accords... But we do not have the means alone of making them respected."(60)
On May 8, 1956, the Co-Chairmen of the Geneva Accords invited both South and North Vietnam to transmit their view about the time required for opening consultations about nation-wide elections. Hanoi responded by sending Diem a letter requesting that consultations begin immediately. On June 4, Hanoi sent the Co-Chairmen a letter saying that their request had gone unanswered and if the South continued to reject living up to the Geneva Agreements, Hanoi would request a new Geneva Conference. In August, 1956, Hanoi again repeated its request for a new Geneva Conference. Knowing this, a statement 10 years later by the Assistant Secretary of State can best be understood as an obvious attempt to rewrite the history of this period, when he stated to the American public that "...when the issue arose concretely in 1956, the regime in Hanoi... made no effort to respond to the call of the Soviet Union and Great Britain." (They being the Geneva Co-Chairs).
Hanoi continued pursuing the issue through all the accepted channels, but got nowhere. Hanoi wrote letters requesting a conference on the elections with Diem in June 1957, July 1957, March and December 1958, July 1959 and July 1960. Diem refused repeatedly and Moscow and Peking both confined their support for Hanoi to moral platitudes.
Complicating things was the fact that the North was trying to renew its trading relations with the South while all of this election pleading and rejection was going on. In the past, the highly populated North was heavily dependent on the South's surplus rice. Hanoi offered to help "the population in the two zones in all economic, cultural, and social exchange advantageous for the restoration of the normal life of the people."(61) But, as with elections, Saigon refused to even discuss the matter.
Rebuffed by Saigon and certainly unable to secure any trade relief from the US and its allies, the North had no choice but to look elsewhere for trade partners. The Soviet Union and China responded. Devastated economically by the war, Hanoi began to concentrate more on agrarian reform and the elections took a back seat to this overwhelming need. Foreign aid however, declined from 65.3 percent in 1955 to 21 percent by 1960. Historian Bernard Fall observed that Hanoi's "desire to avoid a new colonialism" was behind Hanoi's independent stance. Although receiving aid from both Moscow and Peking, Hanoi carefully played the middle of the road and never made any irrevocable commitments to either country.
Although the artificial geographical partition had left the North weaker economically than the South, by 1960 the Northern government had become far less dependent upon outside economic aid than had Saigon. Removal of American aid would have collapsed the Saigon government. Removal of Chinese and Russian aid to the North would have crippled the country's industrialization program, but the North Vietnamese state could still have stood.
The Civil War Begins
While the North was busy preparing for the hoped-for elections, Diem and his followers were busy repressing the Vietminh in the South. Vietminh members were rounded up, jailed, executed, or sent to "re-education" camps. Estimates vary, but all state that by 1956 there were around 50,000 Vietminh in jail. In 1956, the conservative publication Foreign Affairs concluded: "South Vietnam is today a quasi-police state characterized by arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, strict censorship of the press and the absence of an effective political opposition... All the techniques of political and psychological warfare, as well as pacification campaigns involving extensive military operations have been brought to bear against the underground."(62)
Diem also instigated a land reform plan that alienated much of the peasantry. Unlike the North, who had tried (and failed) to implement a Chinese-based agrarian reform, but then modified the program to better fit the people's needs successfully, Diem forced his new agrarian reform down the throats of the peasants with the predictable results.
Additionally, in one fell swoop, Diem eliminated the autonomy of South Vietnam's 2,560 villages and put in place a centralized administration, out of touch with the problems of the villagers.
Further antagonism was generated by Diem's treatment of the Montagnard people of the Central Highlands. Whereas the French had left the Montagnards to themselves more or less, in March 1955 the Montangards lost their autonomy and Diem attempted to force the Vietnamese culture on them. [This is in direct contrast to the North, who recognized the value of the Montagnards and other non-Vietnamese cultures. The North set up autonomous zones for the Montagnards to live in and helped standardize their written languages and created secondary schools in Hanoi with courses in their native languages.]
Beginning in 1957, approximately 210,000 ethnic Vietnamese from the coast were regrouped in fortified villages that the Montagnards had always regarded as their own and as necessary to their support. Two years later the Montagnards themselves were regrouped and consolidated. These issues would later become major complaints by the Montagnards against the Saigon government (20 years later, I myself would hear the lament of the Montagnards about the loss of their land while drinking rice wine with them during my own tour in the Central Highlands).
With all of this going on, it is amazing that there wasn't a Vietminh insurrection in the South earlier. There were essentially two reasons for the delay. First, Diem's repression of the Vietminh (with the help of the CIA) was very widespread. Southern Vietminh leaders were jailed or killed. It would take considerable time before new leaders could be capable of handling the smoldering rural discontent. Secondly, Hanoi continued in its unwillingness to encourage armed resistance to Diem's regime in the South.
In September 1960, Hanoi finally gave its approval for the insurrection. By then the southern unrest had reached such a peak that if Hanoi had not given its approval, they may well have lost their influence over other future events south of the 17th parallel. But, long after the passing of the date set for elections, Hanoi continued to caution against the use of violence and urged peaceful reunification.
Diem's repression led to a predictable uprising and renewed military confrontations in the South. Contrary to US policy assumptions, all available evidence shows that revival of Vietnam's civil war in the South in 1958 was undertaken by Southerners at their own -- not Hanoi's -- initiative.
On April 26, 1960, a group of eighteen Vietnamese notables - ten of them former ministers - issued a public manifesto to Diem. Their statements referred to "anti-democratic elections" and to "continuous arrests that filled the jails and prisons to the rafters." All who signed the manifesto were subsequently arrested. On November 11, paratroop units of the army encircled Diem's palace and called on him to rid himself of his family advisors and follow a political course closer to the country's needs. After stalling, Diem had his loyalists overpowered the paratroops. This caused a number of political and military leaders to go underground. Opposition to Diem obviously penetrated Saigon itself.
There was little chance of Diem wining the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese, for that would have required a social change of the kind Diem was unwilling to accept, the kind the United States has been unwilling to accept anywhere in the Third World. If either Diem or the US had been willing to accept it there would have been no need to cancel the 1956 election, but... canceled they were. Thus, there was no way for the US to avoid being seen by the Vietnamese people as just the latest arrival of imperialist occupiers, following in the footsteps of the Chinese, then the French, then the Japanese, then the French again.
By postulating that the land to the north of the 17th parallel was a separate state, any Northern support of the insurgency in the South could be viewed as "external aggression," an opinion endorsed by those who considered the conflict as an example of communist expansion. Secretary Dean Rusk ignored the highly complex causes and history of the civil war in Vietnam and developed the theme of "aggression from the North," which was to become a prominent theme as American-supported efforts of the Saigon regime proved ineffective against the rebellion.
In 1961, several fact-finding missions were embarked upon by Washington. Vice-President Johnson returned from his trip praising Diem and concluding that South Vietnam could be saved from Communism by prompt American action. He called for an increase in the size of the Vietnamese army, coupled with political and economic reform programs. Professor Eugene Staley returned from his fact-finding mission and advocated the establishment of "strategic hamlets" as part of a general strategy emphasizing local militia defense. This became known as the "Staley plan." General Maxwell Taylor and White House aide Walt Rostow led a delegation that "expressed a conscious decision by the Secretary of State to turn the Vietnam problem over to the Secretary of Defense."(63) The major theme of the Taylor-Rostow report was that the Vietnam problem was mainly a military one, which could be solved by a larger commitment of American power including, if necessary, American fighting men. These two plans would guide US policy over the next t two years.
Despite the mounting threat to his regime, Diem refused to see the extent to which the insurgency was a direct response to his own brutal rule. He kept insisting that more brutal measures would fix the problem, and became increasingly agitated by American and Western representations of the conflict as a "civil war." To Diem's twisted logic, the uprising was due to communist subversion. In February 1962, Diem's government called upon foreign correspondents to stop referring to the Vietcong as "rebels" and "insurgents" and instead "use the following terms: Viet Cong, Communists, Hanoi's agents and aggressors from the North."(64) This attitude went hand-in-hand with the idea that social and political reforms would have to await the prior establishment of full security. Diem, like Washington, did not perceive that the war was first of all a political problem and could only be solved through primarily political means.
During 1962, the United States undertook a major buildup in Vietnam in accordance with the Taylor-Rostow recommendations. The emphasis here was heavily on the military side of the program due to the unwillingness of the Saigon government to implement economic reforms. Beginning in January, large amounts of material began arriving in Vietnam along with larger numbers of American military advisors and helicopter pilots. The helicopters provided a great tactical mobility to the South Vietnamese and by mid-October 1962 the crews had begun to take the initiative in firing at the insurgents. Less than a year later, armed helicopters were often assigned to fly strafing missions.(65)
Diem's repression finally reached the point where news of the many revolts reached the American public and Diem's true character was revealed. In May 1963, a Buddhist uprising raised the veil of myth surrounding Diem. He ordered his troops to fire into a crowd of Buddhists protesting Saigon's order against displaying the Buddhist flag. The protests spread to Saigon where younger and more militant Buddhists assumed leadership of the movement. On June 11, a Buddhist monk set himself on fire to dramatize their cause. A picture of this made the evening news. Diem reacted by having his Special Forces attack Buddhist pagodas in Saigon, Hue and other cities. Diem closed the universities and arrested over 4,000 students. Since many of these students were children of military and civil service people, Diem helped contribute to his own demise by further eroding his already-slender power base. Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu also irritated military leaders by making it appear that it was the army that had desecrated the pa godas.
The Diem Coup
When popular resistance to Diem reached the level where he was more of a liability than an asset, he was sacrificed. On November 1, 1963, some of Diem's generals overthrew him and then murdered both him and his brother after they had surrendered. The coup, wrote Time magazine "was planned with the knowledge of Dean Rusk and Averill Harriman at the State Department, Robert S. McNamara and Roswell Gilpatrick at the Defense Department and the late Edward R. Murrow at the US Information Agency.(66)
Diem's death potentially opened up the chances for peace in Vietnam. General Duong Van Minh stepped in to fill Diem's shoes even though considerably less than half of South Vietnam was under Saigon's control. The NLF had virtually established a de facto alternative government in rural Vietnam. In most of the areas that Saigon considered its own, their authority was restricted to the daylight hours, with the nights being owned and controlled by the NLF. [This is a situation that would not change for the duration of the war.]
Shortly after assuming power, General Minh received a manifesto from the NLF requesting that all parties concerned with South Vietnam sit down and negotiate with each other in order to achieve a cease fire and create a climate in which free elections could take place. The manifesto further advocated a policy of neutrality and friendly relations with all countries and suggested that the reunification of Vietnam be "realized step by step on a voluntary basis."
Diem's death also encouraged talk of possible peace on the international front. The New York Times editorialized on November 10, 1963, that "a negotiated settlement and 'neutralization' of Vietnam are not to be ruled out," and that the time had come to restore the Geneval settlement by negotiations. UN Secretary General U Thant recommended that the US promote a coalition government in Saigon which would include noncommunist refugees living in France.
After Kennedy's death, U Thant met with President Johnson and reportedly conveyed a message from Ho Chi Minh proposing talks on a settlement. By December, further pressure for neutralization of South Vietnam came from Cambodia's Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who (again) invited South Vietnam to join his country in a neutral confederation.
However, the US quickly made it clear that it was against any kind of neutralist solution. By mid-December, Secretary of Defense McNamara told Saigon's leaders that Washington did not see neutralism in Vietnam's future and that President Kennedy's plans for withdrawing from Vietnam had been revised.(67)
Any doubts regarding a US rejection of any kind of compromise and its intent on prosecuting the war were removed with Johnson's New Year message to General Duong Minh which stated:
Neutralization of South Vietnam would only be another name for a Communist takeover...The US will continue to furnish you and your people with the fullest measure of support in this bitter fight...We shall maintain in Vietnam American personnel and material as needed to assist you in achieving victory.(68) Even though General Minh took stern measures against neutralism by suppressing several proneutralist newspapers and organizing anti-French, antineutralism demonstrations, he soon came under criticism from the United States and from his own generals for failing to stop the neutralist sentiment growing in Vietnam. On January 30, 1964, General Nguyen Khanh overthrew General Minh's junta in a coup. He justified this as a necessary step to halt the neutralist movement that had grown under General Minh.
A week after Khanh's accession to power, the NLF again called for negotiations to end the war, but by then Saigon's course toward continuing the conflict had become more decided. The Khanh junta rejected both neutralism and negotiations and squarely aligned itself with the United States. The US, in turn, expressed its willingness to work with the new regime.
However, during the first six months of Khanh's rule, previous ground loss to the Vietcong was not regained, and the areas it controlled even expanded. This led to increased frustration for American officials. The rise in military and economic aid and the modest influx of American forces was proving ineffective.
Meanwhile, Barry Goldwater (on the stump for the Presidential election) was advocating more force by taking the fight into North Vietnam itself. This reinforced an argument the Pentagon had been making along the same lines for years. It also reinforced Khanh's position since he was also advocating an extension of the war into the North and delivered a major address called bac tien ("to the North").
Two days after this address, Nguyen Cao Ky, the commander of the Vietnamese Air Force, announced that it was prepared to bomb North Vietnam at any time and that they could destroy Hanoi. General Maxwell Taylor, the new US Ambassador, reportedly reprimanded Ky for making such a provocative statement (and Khanh for permitting it). Khanh responded by saying that as far as he understood the situation, there were no basic policy differences expressed, only differences about timing and about what to announce publicly.(69)
Concerned about an escalation of the war, Secretary General U Thant again suggested a peaceful settlement. The first steps toward this, he said, could be taken at a reconvened Geneva Conference. France backed this recommendation. French President de Gaulle warned against the "tremendous risk" of a generalized conflict. He said that the impossibility of achieving a military decision meant "returning to what was agreed upon ten years ago and, this time, complying with it."(70)
Both Moscow and Hanoi (as well as Paris) sent communications to the fourteen nations that had participated in the 1961-62 Geneva Conference on Laos, urging that it be reconvened in order to deal with the renewal of fighting there.(71) China, the NLF and Cambodia indicated their support quickly. Considering the mounting intensity of the Sino-Soviet dispute at the time, China's endorsement of the Soviet proposal was unusually prompt and positive. Peking appealed for a reconvening of the conference to "stop the US imperialist aggression and intervention in the Indochinese states, safeguard the Geneva agreements, and defend the peace of Indochina."(72)
Neither the Secretary General of the UN, the French President, nor the Soviet government received any encouragement from the US. The Johnson administration quickly rejected the idea. (Indeed, there was no interest expressed at exploring any of the opportunities for peace which seemed to be opening up.) President Johnson stated that "We do not believe in conferences called to ratify terror,"(73) The next day the US announced that it would increase its military mission in South Vietnam 30 percent (from 16,000 to 21,000).(74) Johnson was no doubt eager to forestall any possibility of a Republican attack on him during the upcoming 1964 election. Being accused of being "soft on communism" wouldn't wash well with the public.
In Vietnam, the war was entering a new phase. Air Vice-Marshal Ky stated publicly in a news conference of July 23 that South Vietnamese commando teams had been engaged in sabotage missions inside North Vietnam "by air, sea and land."(75) Two days later Hanoi Radio charged that the Americans and their "lackeys" had fired on North Vietnamese fishing craft, and the Hanoi government lodged a formal protest with the International Control Commission. On July 30 Hanoi accused the South Vietnamese naval vessels of again raiding its fishing boats in Tonkin Gulf under the protective cover of an American destroyer, and additionally bombarding two North Vietnamese islands. This elicited another North Vietnamese protest on July 31.
On August 2, according to the official US version of events, North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched an unprovoked attack upon the US destroyer Maddox while it was engaged in a "routine patrol." Hanoi admitted to the attack, but said it was in reprisal for the bombardment of nearby North Vietnamese islands.
[Senator Richard B. Russel suggested that the North Vietnamese might have been "confused" because there had been some South Vietnamese naval "activity" in the Gulf of Tonkin, but State Department officials rejected the explanation.]
Hanoi and Washington thus both agreed that North Vietnamese PT boats had deliberately engaged the Maddox on August 2, but differed as to where the engagement took place, the reason for the attack, and its outcome.
According to the US, on August 4, North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched a second attack, this time against the Maddox and another destroyer, the Turner Joy, at a time when they were 65 miles from shore. Neither destroyer suffered any damage or casualties and were reported to have destroyed the attacking boats. Hanoi insisted that this second attack never, in fact, occurred. As Senator Fulbright later observed:
But this Gulf of Tonkin incident, if I may so, was a very vague one. We ere briefed on it, but have no way of knowing, even to this day, what actually happened. I don't know whether we provoked that attack in connection with supervising or helping a raid by South Vietnamese or not. Our evidence was sketchy as to whether those PT boats, or some kind of boats, that were approaching were coming to investigate or whether they actually attacked. I have been told there was no physical damage. They weren't hit by anything. I heard one man say there was one bullet hole in one of those ships. One bullet hole!(76) [This "Tonkin Gulf Incident" was indeed fabricated by the US, as was discovered in the early 1970's when the Maddox and Turner Joy logs and transmissions were revealed. There had been no attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats.]
The American response, putting damage and doubt aside, was prompt. President Johnson went on television at 11:30 p.m. on the evening of August 4, thirteen hours after the attack. He informed the American public that retaliatory action was already underway. "Air action is now in execution against gunboats and certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam which have been used in these hostile operations." Prior to issuing this statement, he had met with the leaders of both parties in the Congress and informed them that "I shall immediately request the Congress to pass a resolution making it clear that our Government is united in its determination to make all necessary measures in support of freedom and in defense of peace in Southeast Asia." They had, he said, given him "encouraging assurance" that "such a resolution will be promptly introduced, freely and expeditiously debated, and passed with overwhelming support."(77)
The next day President Johnson asked Congress to "join in affirming the national determination that all such attacks will be met," and to approve "all necessary action to protect our Armed Forces and to assist nations covered by the SEATO treaty." The resolution passed 466-0 in the House, 88-2 in the Senate (with only Senator Gruening and Morse opposing). It authorized the President to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." The measure further stated that the United States was prepared "as the President determines to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom."
The die was cast. The so-called Tonkin Gulf Incident was just one of many fabrications made by our government to further the cause for war. One such ridiculous fabrication was a 1966 US Army training film called, "County Fair," in which the sinister Vietcong were shown in a jungle clearing heating gasoline and soap bars thus creating a vicious "communist invention" called... napalm.(78)
Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, was the man most responsible for "giving, controlling and managing the war news from Vietnam." One day in July 1965, Sylvester told American journalists that they had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good. When one of the newsmen exclaimed: "Surely, Arthur, you don't expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government," Sylvester replied, "That's exactly what I expect," adding: "Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you're stupid. Did you hear that? --- stupid." And when a correspondent for a New York paper began a question, he was interrupted by Sylvester who said: "Aw, come on. What does someone in New York care about the war in Vietnam?"(79)
In order to support State Department claims about the nature of the war and the reasons for American military actions in Vietnam, further fabricated information had to be generated. A former CIA officer, Philip Liechty, stated in 1982 that in the early 1960's he had seen written plans to take large amounts of Communist-bloc weapons, load them into a Vietnamese boat, fake a battle in which the boat would be sunk in shallow water, then call in Western reporters to see the captured weapons as proof of outside aid to the Vietcong. In 1965, this is precisely what occurred. The State Department "White Paper," titled "Aggression From the North," which came out in February 1965 relates that a "suspicious vessel" was "sunk in shallow water" off the coat of Vietnam on 16 February 1965, after an attack by South Vietnamese forces. The boat was reported to contain at least 100 tons of military supplies "almost all of communist origin, largely from Communist China and Czechoslovakia as well as North Vietnam." The white paper noted that "Representatives of the free press visited the sunken North Vietnamese ship and viewed its cargo."
Liechty said also that he had seen documents involving an elaborate operation to print large numbers of postage stamps showing a Vietnamese shooting down a US Army helicopter. Liechty stated that the professional way the stamps were produced was meant to indicate that they were produced by the North Vietnamese because the Vietcong would not have had the capabilities. Liechty claimed that letters, written in Vietnamese, were then mailed all over the world with the stamp on them "and the CIA made sure journalists would get hold of them." Life Magazine, in its issue of February 26 1965, did in fact feature a full color blow-up of the stamp on its cover, referring to it as a "North Vietnamese stamp." This was just two days before the State Department's white paper appeared.
In reporting Liechty's statements, the Washington Post noted:
"Publication of the white paper turned out to be a key event in documenting the support of North Vietnam and other communist countries in the fighting in the South and in preparing American public opinion for what was going to follow very soon: the large-scale commitment of the US forces to the fighting."(80)
Part of the "large-scale commitment" to the war effort involved more operations conducted by the CIA on behalf of Washington. In 1965, William Colby oversaw the founding of the agency's Counter Terror (CT) program. In 1966, due to agency sensitivity to the word "terror," the name of the CT teams (there were multiple teams) was changed to Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs). Wayne Cooper, a former Foreign Service officer who spent almost eighteen months as an advisor to South Vietnamese internal-security programs, described the operation: "It was a unilateral American program, never recognized by the South Vietnamese government. CIA representatives recruited, organized, supplied, and directly paid CT teams..."(81) The function of these teams was to use terror - assassination, abuses, kidnappings and intimidation - against the Viet Cong leadership. Colby also supervised the establishment of a network of Provincial Interrogation Centers. One center was built (with agency funds) in each of South Vietnam's forty- four provinces. An agency operator or contract employee directed the activities of each center's operation, which consisted of torture tactics against suspected Vietcong. Usually such torture was carried out by Vietnamese nationals.
In 1967, Colby's office devised another program that would later be called Phoenix, to coordinate an attack against the Vietcong infrastructure. Again, CIA money was the catalyst. According to Colby's own testimony in 1971 before a congressional committee, 20,587 suspected Vietcong were killed under Phoenix in its first two and a half years.(82) Figures provided by the South Vietnamese government credit Phoenix with 40,994 VC kills. Colby admitted to this same committee that there was no proven method for knowing whether their victims were Vietcong or not.
On January 27, 1973, the US signed the "Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam" in Paris. Among the principles to which the US agreed was the one stated in Article 21 of the Agreement:
In pursuance of its traditional policy, the United States will contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and throughout Indochina.
Five days later, on February 1, President Richard Nixon sent a message to the prime Minister of North Vietnam reiterating and expanding upon this pledge. The first two principles put forth in the President's message were:
1) The Government of the United States of America will contribute to postwar reconstruction in North Vietnam without any political conditions.
2) Preliminary United States studies indicate that the appropriate programs for the United States contribution to postwar reconstruction will fall in the range of $3.25 billion of grant aid over 5 years. Other forms of aid will be agreed upon between the two parties. This estimate is subject to revision and to detailed discussion between the Government of the United States and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Since that time, the ONLY aid given to any Vietnamese people by the United States has been to those who have left Vietnam and those who have been infiltrated back to stir up trouble. People who have formed groups to provide aid to Vietnam have been targeted for harassment by the Federal government.
Over 2,000,000 Vietnamese dead. But are the real victims of the Vietnam war yet to be born? The United States dropped tens of millions of pounds of herbicide on Vietnam. Included in this were large quantities of dioxin, which has been called the most toxic man-made substance known. Three ounces of dioxin placed in the New York water supply, it is claimed, could wipe out the entire populace. Studies done since the end of the war indicate abnormally high rates of cancers, particularly of the liver, chromosomal damage, birth defects, long-lasting neurological disorders, etc., in the heavily sprayed areas. The evidence is not yet conclusive, but further studies have been difficult to perform due to the US long-standing isolation of Vietnam. Thousands of American veterans of Vietnam have been fighting for disability compensation due to their own exposure to the toxins. For years, citing "lack of evidence," several herbicide manufacturers finally agreed to a settlement in 1984. It is extremely unfortunate that the "evidence" our veterans needed was waiting to be collected in Vietnam. Every year that passes pushes the possibility of collecting it farther and farther away.
During the Vietnam war, many young Americans refused military duty on the grounds that the United States was committing war crimes in Vietnam, and that they too, if they took part in the war, would be guilty under the principles laid down at Nuremberg.
These principles were generated after the Second World War, when the International Military Tribunal convened at Nuremberg, Germany. Created by the Allies, the Tribunal sentenced to prison or execution numerous Nazis who pleaded that they had been "only following orders." In an opinion handed down by the Tribunal, it declared that "the very essence of the [Tribunal's] Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state."
In 1971, Telford Taylor, the chief Untied States prosecutor at Nuremberg, suggested rather strongly that General William Westmoreland and high officials of the Johnson administration such as Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk could be found guilty of war crimes under criteria established at Nuremberg.(83) Yet, every court and judge, when confronted by the Nuremberg defense, had dismissed it without according it any serious consideration whatsoever.
"The West has never been allowed to forget the Nazi holocaust. For 40 years there has been a continuous outpouring of histories, memoirs, novels, feature films, documentaries, television series... played and replayed, in every Western language; museums, memorials, remembrances, ceremonies...Never Again! But who hears the voice of the Vietnamese peasant? Who can read the language of the Vietnamese intellectual? What was the fate of the Vietnamese Anne Frank? Where, asks the young American, is Vietnam?"(84)
I cannot guess what affect, if any, the information contained in this article will have on you, the reader. I know that for myself, learning about the internal political situation in Vietnam; the pervasive internal support for the communists; the continued avoidance by the US of every possible chance for peace; the lies, propaganda and disinformation campaigns perpetrated not only against the Vietnamese, but against the American public by our own government; the incredible dishonesty of our own elected officials, saying one thing, doing another, agreeing to promises and commitments, but never intending to keep them; all these things have changed my fundamental understanding of the Vietnam war, and given me the answers as to how and why the US got involved in the first place.
It is one thing to say, "Oh sure, everyone knows the Vietnam war was wrong." But, it's another thing to actually dig into the available information and find out just how wrong it was. The US attack on Vietnam (and can it be called anything else?) didn't have to happen. It was avoidable. The 58,000 Americans didn't have to die, nor did 2,000,000 Vietnamese. The anger American families, who lost loved ones, have directed toward the Vietnamese is misdirected. The US government is responsible for their deaths, and the anger of the American public should be directed at it and the people who orchestrated the war.
The power to change the course of history was in our government's hands. Imperialistic arrogance, personal gain and prestige, greed, anti-Communist hysteria, and the desire to control, drove the decision-making process that led the US to war. The commanding officers and government officials who directed the war are indeed guilty of war crimes. But they will go unpunished.
The facts about the Vietnam war are available, but are not discussed. As I said before, if the truth does not come out, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. And we already have. It appears as if the only people to have learned something from all the deception surrounding Vietnam, is the government. Our elected officials have learned that knowledge is power, and knowledge hidden and kept from the American public, provides the power to do what one wants, without oversight and second-guessing.
Control the information and you control the way people think. Thus, you can convince the American public that tiny, backward countries like Grenada and Nicaragua pose a serious military threat to the United States; that the US does not carry out wars against the population of a country, but rather, against satanic individuals, like Gaddafi, Noriega, Hussein, and Aidid. The total number of people we kill is kept from us, lest the American public get weak of heart. That international law is meant to be broken by the US when it suits our needs is a given, as in Panama. The murder of several thousand fleeing Iraqis is a direct violation of the Geneva convention, but so what? It was, in the words of a jet pilot involved in the mass murder, "A real turkey shoot!"(85) If the issue is never discussed by our media, it never reaches the status of being an issue.
My purpose in relating this all too brief history to you is to inform. My own ignorance of the facts led me willingly to the battlefields of Vietnam. When the next war comes, and it will, I want you to question everything the government tells you. This isn't the military, where you are trained not to question authority or think about the consequences of your actions. We owe it to the young men and women who will fighting and dying in the next war to hold our government and military officials responsible for their decisions. But more than this, we owe it to ourselves to seek out the history of our previous military interventions, learn the facts, teach our young, lest we forget...
1. Cited in The United States In Vietnam by George McTurnan Kahin and John Lewis (Delta, 1967): This was after the collapse of the Tang Dynasty, and it was from Nan Han, a small successor kingdom confined to South China, that the Vietnamese won their independence.
2. Ibid: For fuller accounts of this early period, see D. G. E. Hall; A History of Southeast Asia, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan 1963); John F. Cady, Southeast Asia: Its Historical Development (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964); Joseph Buttinger, The Smaller Dragon (New York: Praeger, 1958)
4. Ibid. The most comprehensive biography of Ho Chi Minh available in English is to be found in Bernard B. Fall, The Two Vietnams (New York: Praeger, 1964), especially pp. 81-103. All subsequent citations from Fall's work refer to this book. Another substantial account is to be found in Jean Lacouture, Cinque hommes et la France (Paris: Editions du Deuil, 1961), pp. 11-108. A large part of Ho Chi Minh's writings for the period May 25, 1922 through September 10, 1960 are available in a four volume edition (Ho Chi Minh, Selected Works [Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1960-62.
5. Ibid. Philippe Devillers, Histoire du Vietnam (Paris: Editions du Deuil, 1952), p. 57; Fall, op. cit., pp. 83-84.
6. Ibid. Fall, op. cit. p. 87; Donald Lancaster, The Emancipation of French Indochina (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 79.
7. Ibid. Fall, op. cit. pp. 87-88. This pamphlet is not included in Ho's Selected Works. For his ideas on race relations in the United States, see in Volume I of this series, "Lynching, a Little Known Aspect of American Civilization," pp. 99-105, and "The Ku-Klux-Klan," pp. 127-132.
8. Ibid. Lancaster, op. cit., p. 80; Fall, op. cit. p. 90.
9. Ibid. Lacouture, op. cit., p. 31; Devillers, op. cit., p. 59.
10. Ibid. Fall, op. cit. p. 97. There is considerable agreement that Ho spent this period in Moscow.
11. Ibid. Lacouture, op. cit., p. 36; Fall, op. cit., p. 97-98.
12. Ibid. According to a statement by Diem to Southeast Asia Seminar, Cornell University, February 20, 1953, it was Ho's leadership as a nationalist that enabled him to rally such wide Vietnamese support.
13. Ibid. Ellen J. Hammer, The Struggle for Indochina (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1954), pp. 112-113.
14. Ibid. Harold Isaacs, No Peace for Asia (New York: Macmillan, 1947), pp. 148-149.
15. Ibid. Devillers, op. cit., p. 152; Fall, op. cit., pp. 100-101; Lancaster, op. cit., p. 143; Hammer, op. cit., pp. 130-151; Isaacs, op. cit., pp. 148, 164.
16. See excerpt of the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam cited at the end of this article.
17. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History by William Blum; Ho Chi Minh and Vietminh working with the OSS, admirers of the US; Chester Cooper, The Lost Crusade: The Full Story of US Involvement in Vietnam from Roosevelt to Nixon (Great Britain, 1971) pp. 22, 25-7, 40. Cooper was a veteran American diplomat in the Far East who served as the Assistant for Asian Affairs in the Johnson White House. He was also a CIA officer, covertly, for all or part of his career; French collaboration with the Japanese: Fall, op. cit. pp. 42-9; Ho Chi Minh's desk: Blanche W. Cook, The Declassified Eisenhower (New York, 1981), p. 184.
18. Cited in The United States In Vietnam by George McTurnan Kahin and John Lewis (Delta, 1967): According to Harold Isaacs, General Gracey stated to him: "We have discharged our obligation to them. Now it is up to them to carry on." Isaacs, op. cit., p. 162.
19. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History by William Blum; Washington Post, 14 September 1969, p. A25. Lansing was the uncle of John Foster and Allen Dulles. He appointed them both to the American delegation at the Versailles peace Conference in 1918-19, where it was that Ho Chi Minh presented his appeal.
20. Cited in The United States In Vietnam by George McTurnan Kahin and John Lewis (Delta, 1967): Estimate of the French naval officer who assumed command in the area in December 1946. Devillers, op. cit., p. 337.
21. Cited in The United States In Vietnam by George McTurnan Kahin and John Lewis (Delta, 1967): The Vietminh had gained the military initiative well before the communists came into power in China. Their military strength against the French was already clearly established before they were able to secure even modest military assistance from Communist China, although during the final phases of the war, material supplied by the Chinese was to help considerably in major battles. The French did not allege a military-assistance agreement between the Vietminh and the Chinese communists until April 1950. See Ambassade de France, Service de Presse et d'Information, Document No. 26 (New York, November 10, 1950).
22. "The Two Vietnams," by Bernard Fall (New York, 1967), pp. 122, 124.
23. "Year 501, The Conquest Continues," by Noam Chomsky, South End Press, 1993
24. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History; US Global Interventions Since World War II by William Blum: Zed Books, Ltd. 1986
25. Cited in The United States In Vietnam by George McTurnan Kahin and John Lewis (Delta, 1967): "The Pentagon Papers" (NYT edition), 1971; p. XI.
26. Ibid., Fall, pp. 43.
27. Ibid., The Pentagon Papers, p. 11.
28. Ibid., The Pentagon Papers, p. 36.
29. Ibid., The Pentagon Papers, pp. 5,11; D. Eisenhower, The White House Years, 1953-56 (NY, 1963) pp. 340-41; S. Adams, Firsthand Report (NY, 1960) pp. 121-2.
30. Ibid., Adams, p. 24.
31. Ibid., The Pentagon Papers, p. 46.
32. Ibid., The Times (London) 2 June 1954, quoting from an article by Willoughby.
33. Ibid., Bernard Fall, Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu (Great Britain, 1967) p. 307; Parade Magazine (Washington Post) 24 April 1966; Roscoe Drummond and Gaston Coblentz, Duel at the Brink (New York, 1960) pp. 121-2.
34. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History; US Global Interventions Since World War II by William Blum; Joseph Burkholder Smith: Portrait of a Cold Warrior (New York, 1976) pp. 172-4.
36. Cited in Rethinking Camelot by Noam Chomsky: Melvyn Leffler, Preponderance, 166, 258; FRS, 32-3. See Year 501 by Chomsky, ch. 2.1-2
38. Cited in The United States In Vietnam by George McTurnan Kahin and John Lewis (Delta, 1967): The Pentagon Papers, I 597, 434f. AWWA 33f.
40. Ibid., Fall, (Two Vietnams), pp. 153-4
41. Cited in The CIA: A Forgotten History; All other actions: The Pentagon Papers, Document No. 15: 'Lansdale Team's Report on Covert Saigon Mission in '54 and '55,' pp. 53-66.
42. Cited in The United States in Vietnam by George Kahin and John Lewis: See Anthony Eden, Full Circle (London: Cassell, 1960), p. 142.
43. Cited in The United States in Vietnam by George Kahin and John Lewis: Article 27 of the Franco-Vietnamese Armistice Agreement. See also the treaty of June 4, 1954, between France and Bao Dai's State of Vietnam, which made clear that the latter's independence was to entail assumption of all obligations "resulting from international treaties or conventions contracted by France in the name of the State of Vietnam, and all other treaties and conventions concluded by France in the name of French Indochina insofar as these affect Vietnam." Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Vietnam, Bureau of Archives, Treaties on Vietnamese Independence and Franco-Vietnamese Association, cited in Ngo Ton Dat, "The Geneva Partition of Vietnam and the Question of Reunification during the First Two years (August University, 1963), pp. 452-453. The writer of this dissertation served at the Geneva Conference as aide to prince Buu Loc, who was Bao Dai's Prime Minister prior to Ngo Dinh Diem.
44. Ibid., Statement by Assist. Secretary Walter S. Robertson, Dept. of State Bulletin (Washington: Department of State, December 1961)
45. Ibid., A Threat to the peace (Washington: Department of State, December 1961), p. 3
46. Cited in The United States in Vietnam by George Kahin and John Lewis: Diem was from a Roman Catholic mandarin family that had served the vestigial and effectively French-controlled imperial Annamese court at Hue. After working in the imperial administration for four years, Diem resigned in 1933 because of a dispute with Emperor Bao Dai. In 1946, following a long period of political retirement and study, Diem was offered the premiership by Ho Chi Minh. He turned it down in part because he held the Vietminh responsible for the murder of his brother. After an unsuccessful attempt to develop a rival political force, he left Vietnam in August 1950. He spent the next four years abroad, mostly in the United States, where he lobbied for support among religious, political, and academic leaders. The influence of Cardinal Spellman and the American Friends of Vietnam, a group that has often been referred to as the "Vietnam lobby," is difficult to gauge, but it was probably significant in gaining support for Diem in th e United States.
47. Cited in Deadly Deceits, My 25 Years in the CIA by Ralph McGehee: p. 131
49. Ibid., Dr. Tom Dooley, Three Great Books (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, Inc., 1960), pp. 48, 98, 100.
50. Ibid., Jim Winters, "Tom Dooley the Forgotten Hero," Notre Dame Magazine, May 1979, pp. 10-17
51. Ibid., Bernard B. Fall, The Two Vietnams (New York: Praeger, 1964), p. 246; Osborne, "The Tough Miracle man of Vietnam," Life, may 13, 1957; New York Herald Tribune, April 1, 1955.
52. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History by William Blum: Emmet John Hughes, The Ordeal of Power (London, 1963) p. 208; Hughes was a speech writer for President Eisenhower.
53. Ibid., Michael Klare, War Without End (New York, 1972) pp. 261-3; David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, The Espionage Establishment (New York, 1967) p. 152.
54. Cited in Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky: In R. Lindholm, ed. Vietnam: The First Five Years (Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1959), p. 346.
55. Cited in Deadly Deceits, My 25 Years in the CIA by Ralph McGehee: Department of Defense, United States Vietnam Relations 1945-1967 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1971) (Hereafter referred to as the Department of Defense Pentagon Papers)., Vol. 10, p. 958
56. Cited in The United States in Vietnam: Documents Relating to British Involvement in the Indochina Conflicts 1945-1965, Command 2834, (London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1965), p. 107
57. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History by William Blum: Life Magazine, 13 May 1957.
58. Cited in The United States in Vietnam: New York Times, August 9, 1955.
59. Ibid., The Times (London), September 22, 1955.
60. Ibid., Le Monde, February 25, 1956; Journal Officiel de la Republique Francaise, Debats Parlementaires, Conseil de la Republique, February 24, 1956.
61. Ibid., Vietnam News Agency, February 7, 1955.
62. Ibid., William Henderson, "South Viet Nam Finds Itself," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 35, No. 2, January 1957, pp. 285, 288.
64. Ibid., New York Times, February 15, 1962.
66. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History by William Blum: Time, 30 June 1975, p. 32 of European edition.
67. Contrary to the myths surrounding Kennedy and the Vietnam war, carefully following Kennedy's speeches, notes and reported conversations demonstrates that Kennedy only intended on withdrawing US troops "after" a clear defeat of the NLF and not before. When it became obvious that the war was going to last longer than first predicted, war plans had to change.
68. Cited in The United States In Vietnam by George McTurnan Kahin and John Lewis (Delta, 1967): New York Times, January 1 and 2, 1964
69. Ibid., Peter Grose in the New York Times, July 24, 1964. See New York Times also: July 26, 1964.
70. Ibid., "President de Gaulle Holds Tenth Press conference," Ambassade de France, Service de Presse et d'Information, New York, No. 208, July 23, 1964, p. 11.
71. Ibid., Hanoi Radio, July 24, 28, and 29, 1964; Moscow Radio, July 26, 1964, as quoted in Documents Relating to British Involvement in the Indo-china Conflict, 1945-1965, Command Paper 2834 (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1965), p. 239.
72. Ibid., Peking Radio, August 2, 1964. See Peking Review, Vol. VII, No. 32, August 7, 1964, p. 22.
73. Ibid., The New York Times, July 25, 1964.
74. Ibid., NYT, July 28, 1964.
75. Ibid., See NYT, July 23, 1964. South Vietnamese commandos had been conducting such operations against the North Vietnamese since 1957 and particularly since 1961. See NYT, January 1, 1962 and July 26, 1964; and le Monde, August 7, 1964.
76. Ibid., "Why Our Foreign Policy Is Failing," an interview with Senator Fulbright by Eric Sevareid, in Look, May 3, 1966, pp. 25-26.
77. Ibid., NYT, August 5, 1964.
78. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History by William Blum: Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington) No. 10, August - September, 1980, p. 43.
79. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History by William Blum: Congressional Record, House, 12 May 1966, pp. 9977-78, reprint of article by Morley Safer of CBS News.
80. Ibid., Washington Post article reprinted in San Francisco Chronicle, 20 March 1982, p. 9.
81. Cited in The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence by Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks., p. 236.
82. Ibid., Even Colby has admitted that serious abuses were committed under Phoenix. Former intelligence officers have come before congressional committees and elsewhere to describe repeated examples of torture and other particularly repugnant practices used by Phoenix operatives. However, according to David Wise, writing in the New York Times Magazine on July 1, 1973, "Not one of Colby's friends or neighbors, or even his critics on the Hill, would, in their wildest imagination, conceive of Bill Colby attaching electric wires to a man's genitals and personally turning the crank. "Not Bill Colby... He's a Princeton man.'"
83. Cited in The CIA, A Forgotten History by William Blum: San Francisco Chronicle, 9 January 1971 (New York Times Service); also see Telford Taylor, Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy (New York, 1970).
85. CNN News.
Uncovering the Coverup
By Zalin Grant
The question lingers.
There's no sure answer, no certainty, except to those who have chosen a position. If you were against the war, your answer is most likely to be no, not possible, absurd, why would they hold them?, makes no sense, just a pipedream of people who couldn't--wouldn't--admit the United States lost the war.
I was against the war. Long before most people. And here is the way I saw it.
It goes back, I'm convinced, to the secret letter Henry Kissinger sent the North Vietnamese, dated February 1, 1973, and signed by President Richard Nixon. It promised the communist regime upward of $3.25 billion in war reparations, or "reconstruction aid," as a final exasperated ploy to get Hanoi to sign the peace agreements without further stalling. Nixon was under the gun to get out of the war once and for all.
The letter had seven numbered clauses. The first stated: "The Government of the United States of America will contribute to postwar reconstruction in North Vietnam without any political conditions."
The other six clauses had to do with the amount and type of aid, and discussed setting up a Joint Economic Commission to administer the aid program.
Attached to, but separate from, the letter was a one-sentence amendment: "It is understood that the recommendations of the Joint Economic Commission mentioned in the President's note to the Prime Minister will be implemented by each member in accordance with its own constitutional provisions."
Though it's not certain that Henry Kissinger, White House national security adviser and chief negotiator of the peace agreements, actually sent the amendment to the North Vietnamese, the addendum was a clever, not to say devious, piece of work. For it allowed Kissinger and Nixon to claim, when the contents of the letter were revealed two years later, despite their efforts to keep it secret, that the amendment meant that the $3.25 billion was contingent upon congressional approval which, under the political circumstances prevailing at the time, was like writing someone a multi-billion dollar insurance policy and then adding in fine print at the end, "This policy is valid except in cases of illness, injury, or death by any cause." Indeed, Congress later passed a law that forbade direct aid to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The reason for Nixon's and Kissinger's attempts to keep the letter secret (it was read by the North Vietnamese to a U.S. Congressional delegation visiting Hanoi in 1975, minus the amendment, and then pried out of the State Department) was not difficult to fathom. It was one thing to think the Vietnamese would turn over all American prisoners of war at the time of the cease-fire if they had nothing further to gain but the agreed-upon withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from South Vietnam, and quite another to believe they would give everybody back--their only insurance, in effect--if they had been promised a definite sum of money, particularly if that sum amounted to three times their GNP.
The North Vietnamese were not so stupid as to get caught holding back American prisoners of war from the Hanoi Hilton or one of the other detention camps in North Vietnam. But the scenario was set in Laos for them to carry out a little blackmail, to get their money without ever having to admit they had not returned all the POWs.
Laos gave the Vietnamese what the Nixon administration liked to call, when plotting its own devious moves, "plausible deniability."
It stemmed from the fact that Laos was treated by both sides as a separate conflict from the Vietnam War. Washington maintained the charade of Laos's independence and “neutrality” by using the CIA to run the ground war, while downplaying the heavy bombing by the U.S. Air Force, to the point of claiming for some years that planes lost in Laos were shot down over North Vietnam.
The North Vietnamese, for their part, held to the fiction that they had no troops in Laos and promoted the myth that the Pathet Lao guerrillas were fraternal allies completely independent of Hanoi, rather than the order-taking puppets they were.
Consequently, when the 1973 Vietnam cease-fire was signed, 528 Americans were listed as missing in action in Laos, and no POWs were returned, except nine who had been moved directly to Hanoi immediately after their capture. The fate of the 528 presumably would be determined when the Laotian conflict was resolved.
But the Americans held in Laos disappeared without a trace, as if into a black hole. Based on statistical probability alone, it was highly unlikely that they had all died or been killed at the time they were shot down.
In fact, the Pentagon had more than statistical probability to go on. It had detailed intelligence, including 300 reports (97 from CIA) and even photographs, that indicated some of them had been held in prison camps or caves in northern Laos, near North Vietnam's border, a hundred miles or so from Hanoi.
And a high-ranking Pathet Lao official had announced to his American visitors in 1969 that his guerrilla group was holding more than 158 American POWs. Given the number of missing in action and the realistic likelihood that many of them were in fact dead, this figure sounded about right.
Therefore, it was not farfetched to speculate that the Vietnamese intended to use the American POWs in Laos as leverage to make sure that Washington coughed up the $3.25 billion in war reparations that had been promised them--according to the first clause of the secret Nixon-Kissinger letter--"without any political conditions."
If the money arrived on schedule, so might the American POWs from Laos. The Vietnamese would be able to claim in the face of world opinion that the two happenings were absolutely unrelated. And if the money didn't arrive--well, Hanoi could afford to wait and see what time would bring.
From the beginning, however, Nixon and Kissinger refused to play the game. Undoubtedly they knew they could never get Congress to give Hanoi $3.25 billion. And they probably considered the secret letter, all along, as a trick to get the Vietnamese to sign the peace accords without further stalling.
So Nixon and Kissinger moved quickly to remove the POW/MIA question as a potentially damaging political issue. As far as they were concerned, all prisoners of war had returned from Indochina. Let the nation celebrate and forget.
In January 1973, Nixon and Kissinger assured the POW/MIA families that an accounting of all Americans who died or did not come back would be accomplished within the same 60-day period that the living POWs were returned from North Vietnam. Then, less than two weeks after the last POW arrived in the United States, the Pentagon announced that the remaining 2,500 MIAs would be reclassified as dead within the year--this despite the fact that the Pentagon still carried 138 of them as POWs, meaning strong evidence, including in some cases photographs and tape recordings, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the men were alive and in North Vietnamese hands after their capture, and were not listed as dead by Hanoi.
The Pentagon's move stunned the POW/MIA families. The U.S. government's treatment of the families had been disgraceful from the earliest days of the war. They had been lied to, at times harassed by FBI agents when they took positions against the war, and treated in general with a sugar-coated contempt. More than one POW wife said, "We were made to feel as if we had done something wrong by having husbands who were captured."
The families were often treated even worse by antiwar activists, who called their husbands and fathers "war criminals," harassed them with greater fervor than FBI agents, and lost no chance to manipulate them in scoring points against the administration's Vietnam policy.
The National League of Families of American Prisoners in Southeast Asia was formed in 1969, not out of support for the U.S. government, but out of frustration that the Nixon administration was doing little to insure that their captured relatives were receiving proper attention. The National League clumsily tried to launch a publicity campaign to bring attention to the question. The families gained support from a Texas billionaire named H. Ross Perot, then 39, who loaded a group of the wives on chartered airplanes for a whirlwind tour of Asia and Paris in late 1969 and early 1970, in an attempt to force Hanoi to come clean on the POW question. The trip was not successful, although it did focus international attention on the POW issue--and on Ross Perot.
The Nixon administration was surprised by the success of the POW wives in gaining publicity, and quickly moved to take advantage of it. From then on, the Nixon administration relentlessly hammered Hanoi with the charge of being "inhumane" to American prisoners of war.
In one of the endless ironies of the POW/MIA question, the administration's cynical use of the issue did in fact gain better treatment for the POWs and probably resulted in saving the lives of some prisoners. Under international pressure, Hanoi improved the living conditions of POWs in the jungles of South Vietnam, where a number had already died of malnutrition, and lessened the torture of those held in North Vietnam.
Like the Nixon administration, the antiwar movement realized the emotional potential of the POW/MIA issue. Some of the dozens of loosely organized antiwar groups measured up--or down--to Nixon and Kissinger in using the issue for their own perceived higher goal. At the instigation of Hanoi, the Committee of Liaison, co-chaired by Cora Weiss and David Dellinger, was formed to pass on POW letters to family members, more often than not including propaganda tracts written by the committee.
Yet neither the Nixon administration nor the antiwar movement was on hand in 1973 to support the families of the MIAs who were about to be declared dead without further investigation. If anything united the two opposing groups who had fought so bitterly during the war, it was a unanimous feeling of indifference about the fate of the MIAs. The prowar elements were not about to give in to North Vietnamese demands for war reparations, and the antiwar elements were not going to do anything to challenge people they considered the aggrieved party and heroes of the conflict.
So it was with a feeling of isolation that the National League of Families filed a lawsuit against the United States government in 1973 to keep their relatives from arbitrarily being declared dead without further inquiry. A federal court agreed with the families and issued a restraining order to stop the Pentagon from reclassifying the MIAs. From there the families turned to Congress to resolve their plight.
Slowly, without much help from the journalism establishment, which also wanted to be done with questions concerning Vietnam, the families were able to muster enough political support to force a congressional investigation of the issue.
It was during this interlude, between the time of the signing of the cease-fire and the opening of the congressional investigation, that I personally began to understand what the families were up against. My awakening came as the result of a meeting I had with Henry Kissinger in November 1973, along with three other journalists--Walter Cronkite of CBS, Peter Arnett of the Associated Press, and Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Nearly 20 newsmen of various nationalities, including several Americans, were captured on the roads in Cambodia in early 1970, mainly by Hanoi-directed units of the Viet Cong. A committee of journalists was formed, headed by Walter Cronkite, to collect information on their capture and to try to free them.
The weight of our evidence, which was fragmentary and carefully stated, indicated that some of the newsmen were still alive three years after their capture and that Hanoi clearly had knowledge of their fate. We were at the White House to turn over the information to Henry Kissinger and to ask him to intercede with North Vietnam.
Walter Cronkite began his war reporting in World War II; Peter Arnett won a Pulitzer prize in Vietnam; Dick Dudman, a veteran Washington correspondent, had been captured on a trip to Cambodia and had endured some weeks as a prisoner of the communists; I had done my ROTC-required military service as a Vietnamese-speaking army intelligence officer, then worked for Time magazine and later for The New Republic, putting in five years in the war zone.
This is merely to suggest that none of us were babes-in-the-woods when it came to analyzing the actions of the Asian communists and the U.S. government.
Nor were we gripped by the emotions of the issue. I, for example, had collected much of the committee's information by interviewing hundreds of captured Viet Cong and several thousand Saigon troops who had been held in Cambodia as POWs. Yet I made no secret of my belief that some of the newsmen had shown poor professional judgment which had resulted in their capture. Nevertheless, as colleagues and friends, it was our duty to try to help them.
Henry Kissinger appeared persuaded by our evidence and the likelihood that some of the newsmen were still in communist hands. He promised us he would make representations to Hanoi in the strongest way. Thus the four of us battle-grizzled reporters were as shocked as the youngest and most naïve POW wife when we got a look at the letter Kissinger sent the North Vietnamese.
“A group of American journalists representing many members of their profession from all political persuasions, have come to me to inquire if anything further could be done to determine the fate of some of their colleagues who have been missing in Cambodia. Investigations and searches that they have conducted independently have led them to believe that their colleagues might be alive. They asked me whether the DRV [North Vietnam] was in a position to assist in this matter. I told them that we had no basis for believing these American journalists were alive, or that the DRV was in a position to assist. Nevertheless, I told them I would make one further inquiry....”
No basis for believing the Americans were alive?
That was certainly not what he told us. Kissinger's letter was a clear invitation to the North Vietnamese to deny, as they did, that they knew anything about the newsmen. The normally unflappable Cronkite was outraged. So were the rest of us. Cronkite tried, without success, to get an explanation out of Kissinger for what we felt was a double cross.*
[Footnote: Fifteen years later, on April 20, 1988, Colonel Joseph Schlatter, head of DIA's POW/MIA office, testified before Congress that a number of the post-1975 "unresolved" first-hand sighting reports of Caucasians still being held in Indochina pertained to journalists captured in Cambodia. The classification "unresolved" was as close as DIA came to conceding that an intelligence report about unaccounted-for MIAs could be true.]
In fact, the possible explanation did not become clear until two years later, when the secret Nixon-Kissinger promise of $3.25 billion to the North Vietnamese was revealed. If Kissinger had made a strong approach to Hanoi about the newsmen, the communists might have replied with a reminder of the secret letter, might have even sent a copy to the Cronkite committee, which was in touch with the North Vietnamese through other channels. And that, as we say in the business, would have made a damn good story.
As it happened, the journalists who were concerned about their missing colleagues were forced, like the POW wives, to stake their hopes on the House committee specially formed to investigate the question of the missing in action in Indochina.
And that is when the MIA issue really turned political.
People who knew and liked U.S. Representative G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery, Democrat of Mississippi, simply shook their heads when asked about his role in investigating the POW/MIA question. Although it was a fairly safe bet that Sonny Montgomery would never be enshrined in a Pantheon of Great Thinkers who have walked the halls of the U.S. Capitol, his colleagues knew him as a gentleman of courtly Southern manners who possessed an integrity that matched the scale of anyone in Congress. He was considered a supporter of the military and proudly wore his stars as a general of the National Guard.
The only way to interpret Sonny Montgomery's role in the POW/MIA question (Interpret is the word: I tried repeatedly to interview him, but his press secretary turned me down, saying "Sonny doesn't like to talk about it anymore.") is to assume that he sincerely believed the United States should forget about the Vietnam War and move on, an attitude shared by millions of Americans, not all of them by any means unsympathetic to the pain of the families of the missing in action.
Sonny Montgomery and the staff of his House Select Committee on MIAs decided to do America a favor and end the question by declaring that all the missing in action were dead and that a proper accounting of their remains, except in few cases, would be impossible.
The conclusions of his committee, arrived at in 1976, was based on, Montgomery said, an "exhaustive" intelligence investigation. Which was simply b.s. There was hardly any investigation and the one carried out was at best perfunctory.
The only objective conclusion to be reached after an examination of the facts should have been one of a standoff: The families could not prove that any of their relatives were alive, but neither could the U.S. government or Sonny Montgomery prove that they were all dead.
Jimmy Carter, the new president in 1977 agreed with his fellow Southerner, and in one of his first acts of diplomacy sent a commission headed by United Auto Workers President Leonard Woodcock to tell Hanoi that he was turning a new page in the good book, and that he hoped to normalize relations with Vietnam.
The peace-and-reconciliation strategy, developed by Carter and his Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Richard Holbrooke, was based on the premise that good deeds would reap their own rewards which would result, among other things, in an accounting by Hanoi of the MIAs and a return of any American remains. Carter paved the way for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's admission to the United Nations, began steps to establish diplomatic ties, and then ordered the Pentagon, over the objections of the families, to start once again reclassifying all the MIAs as dead.
The Vietnamese communists looked on the Sunday School diplomacy of Carter with unhurried interest, to ascertain just how much they might gain from this new American attitude. From the day the 1973 peace agreements were signed, the Vietnamese had said over and over that the MIA question could be resolved only when the $3.25 billion Nixon-Kissinger had promised them was in hand.
Henry Kissinger, when called upon in 1977 to explain his negotiating techniques, declared that the promises established by the secret letter were null and void because the money was contingent upon congressional approval, or because the North Vietnamese had not adhered to the terms of the peace agreements, or because...etcetera...etcetera.
The Carter administration's hope for an MIA accounting through normalization ended in late 1978 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The administration shifted gears and adopted a hard-line policy that effectively ended any immediate hope of resolving the issue. No American remains were returned from Vietnam from 1978 to 1981. Not that the issue was getting much attention from the American public, except by the families and a few MIA buffs who began to charge that the government was engaged in a cover-up.
The believers in a conspiracy were answered by Sonny Montgomery who, besides heading the 1976 House Select Committee that declared all American MIAs dead, had served as a key member of the Woodcock Commission. Leonard Woodcock himself was cautious in stating the conclusions of his commission, which had spent barely three days in Hanoi and 24 hours in Laos. But Sonny Montgomery was once again vocal in declaring that no Americans were still alive. Montgomery went further by stating his belief that the Vietnamese would never be able to provide the remains of more than 100 to a 150 of the American dead.
Sonny Montgomery was following the line first encouraged by Henry Kissinger. But Kissinger, now out of government and in the consulting business, was indicating privately that the official line was a sham.
"Of course the Vietnamese have several hundred [MIA] cases they could account for immediately," Kissinger told Congressman Robert Dornan, an MIA activist. "I resist using the word `warehousing,' but in a sense they have this information, if not the boxes of bones, warehoused, to be used for political purposes."
Did Kissinger base his assessment on secret intelligence reports or simply on personal speculation? In either case he proved to be right. And "warehousing" turned out to be the appropriate word. Some months later, in November 1979, one of the most credible sources ever to surface on the MIA question appeared in the United States to testify that the communists had warehoused hundreds of American remains in Hanoi.
The source was a Vietnamese of Chinese extraction who was expelled from North Vietnam during the anti-Chinese hysteria of the late nineteen-seventies. He had been a professional mortician in Hanoi since 1951, was known to the French government, and had been photographed by Americans when the communists turned over two MIA remains to Senator George McGovern.
The mortician told a congressional investigating subcommittee that he had processed 452 remains of American servicemen. Subtracting the 26 already returned by Hanoi, that meant the communists were holding on to at least 426 remains. Another refugee, whose credibility was not so easily established, claimed the Vietnamese had warehoused 600 additional remains in Haiphong. The mortician described the professional procedures the Vietnamese used from the moment an American aircraft was shot down until the time, in the event the pilot was killed, that his remains were placed in a box.
More ominously, he said that the communists intended to do exactly what they had done with the remains of French servicemen for twenty years after the French war ended in 1954: barter bones for cash.
The mortician's testimony persuaded even the most skeptical that the Vietnamese had been lying all the time about the unavailability of further remains and the impossibility of giving a more detailed accounting of the MIAs. And if they were lying about that, it didn't require a great leap of logic for many people to suspect they also might be lying about not holding live POWs. The number of Americans who believed POWs were left behind and believed there was a cover-up going on in Washington began to increase.
Ironically, the charges of a cover-up began to grow at precisely the moment the country elected the first president since the Vietnam War who appeared genuinely dedicated to trying to resolve the issue. Ronald Reagan had spoken out about MIAs as California's governor, and his administration quickly moved to give the question the kind of priority it had never before received.
Instead of basing its policy on the presumption that all MIAs were dead, as had preceding administrations, the Reagan administration declared that no one could exclude the possibility that some Americans were still alive.
The two Reagan administration officials primarily responsible for developing MIA policy over the long-term were Richard L. Armitage and Richard Childress. Rich Armitage was a bald, bullet-shaped Annapolis graduate who had resigned his commission and failed as a businessman in Bangkok, then caught on with Senator Bob Dole and afterward was appointed an assistant secretary in the Pentagon.
Armitage had served in Vietnam, as had the smoother and more handsome Dick Childress, an army lieutenant colonel and contact point for the issue on the National Security Council. There was an element of re-fighting the Vietnam War, this time to win, in the attitude of both men toward the MIA problem.
(Later, when I asked Armitage why the administration didn't just give the Vietnamese the promised Nixon money in an attempt to resolve the question, he exploded, "Well, fuck them!")
Both Armitage and Childress showed sharp claws in the unending political catfights that arose over the cover-up issue, quick to bat down anyone who tried to trespass on what they considered their turf. When a move was made to appoint Ross Perot head of a presidential commission to try to clear up the MIA question, Armitage and Childress went all out to defeat the attempt. They considered Perot a loose cannon and a threat with republican political aspirations of his own.
Yet, for all of that, no two officials worked harder than Armitage and Childress to bring the MIA question to the forefront of American consciousness. And even given the serpentine politics that entwined the issue, it was stretching reason to believe that either one of them was involved in a cover-up. They had, in fact, brought the director of the National League of Families, Ann Mills Griffiths, whose pilot-brother was missing, into the administration's policy planning and diplomatic moves concerning the issue--unlike Jimmy Carter, who had refused to include her in the Woodcock Commission because he believed a family member would be "too emotional."
Ann Griffiths, in her forties at the time, was anything but emotional--an attractive, hardworking divorcée who was as much a political operator as Armitage and Childress, and who was blunt-spoken to the point of calling Pentagon officers who fell for Vietnamese propaganda ploys "incredibly naïve" and those who believed in a cover-up "liars and crazies." Her attitude toward life could be perceived by the sign taped to her desk, "Thank You For Smoking," which she did exuberantly, while drinking endless cups of coffee, refilled without asking by her young four-woman staff.
Eventually, Griffiths herself was linked to a cover-up by some of the conspiratorialists because she had been given access to government secrets concerning the MIAs, thus, they said, had been coöpted. The National League of Families was bitterly split between those who believed the government was doing everything realistically possible to resolve the issue and those convinced that a cover-up was going on.
The belief that Americans had been left behind in Indochina was given its biggest boost in June 1985 when retired Lieutenant General Eugene Tighe, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified before a congressional subcommittee that he was convinced U.S. POWs were still alive, and said, "The human reporting that came out of Southeast Asia on live Americans held there against their will was among the most detailed of human reporting I have ever seen." General Tighe charged that DIA's analysts had developed "a mind-set to debunk" what he considered very credible reports on the POWs.
Tighe's testimony confirmed what some observers had suspected all along: that DIA had done a perfectly lousy job in collecting, analyzing, and acting on information about POWs still held. For Tighe had been the DIA official most closely connected with the problem during the seven critical years from 1974 to 1981. If DIA analysts had a negative mind-set, why hadn't he fired or transferred them? And why didn't he speak out about this "most detailed of human reporting" before he retired in 1981?
What the former director didn't say was that the whole DIA approach to the MIAs during the early years was farcical. Only five to eight officers worked on the matter at DIA headquarters in the Pentagon, and Tighe tried at one time to cut back on that number. The impressive sounding Joint Casualty Resolution Center in Bangkok, which was the on-scene collection agency for Indochina, had a staff of three, no secretary, and not even a car. And with all the thousands of refugees flowing out of Indochina who were potential sources of information, DIA processed only an average of thirty reports a year during the four critical years, 1975-78. DIA finally gave more attention and resources to the problem beginning in 1979, after Congress held the agency's feet to the fire. But important and irretrievable time had been lost.
Standing logic on its head, the cover-up believers, instead of running General Tighe out of town on a rail for his self-confessed incompetence, actually hailed him as a hero for revealing the truth about the "conspiracy." The conspiratorialists, some of whom vehemently disagreed with each other, had grown to influential proportions by 1991. They included assorted ex-army and intelligence officers, two former congressmen, an ex-POW and navy captain plus many others. Although no one should question these men's motives too quickly on such a complicated and emotional issue, the plain truth was that a number of them had used the issue to raise substantial sums of money.
One man who apparently believed in a cover-up and who obviously couldn't be suspected of taking advantage of the problem to enrich himself was Ross Perot. But Ann Griffiths and the orthodox branch of the National League of Families feared that if Perot were allowed to take control of solving the problem he might go to Hanoi, throw his gazillions on the table, and then if no quick response came from the Vietnamese, declare all the MIAs dead and the issue closed--and move on to his next America-saving project, leaving the families abandoned with no recourse after their 20-year quest for a resolution.
While Ross Perot's move-any-mountain-slash-all-red-tape approach was wholly admirable, he did indeed appear to have a short attention span.
With so much money being bandied about by the freelancers who were trying to solve the problem in their own way, alleged sightings of Americans in Indochina suddenly skyrocketed, going from thirty a year shortly after the war was over to 1200 reports by 1985. Many of those were phony dog tag reports inspired by the Vietnamese communists themselves to confuse and distract the intelligence agencies, perhaps out of mischief or perhaps because they were feeling the heat of the chase.
After one group floated balloons from Thailand to Laos announcing a million dollar reward for information on POWs, the only surprise was not that many dirt-poor Asian farmers began to report seeing missing Americans but that Elvis wasn't included in the sightings. One hustler, taking time off from his job of flimflamming tourists in Bangkok, hired an Australian to pose as a POW in the jungle and then offered to sell the video to the U.S. government for several millions, a scam that actually got as far as the negotiating stage.
Yet, after the money-making scams were exposed, after the doctored photos were discarded, after the fabricated reports were discounted, and after all the waffling qualifiers known to government were attached to the remaining information--still, the weight of evidence strongly indicated that some American POWs had been left behind.
Who were they? Where were they? How many?
Couldn't be determined. But there, they seemed to be.
Still, why a cover-up?
One theory advanced by conspiracy believers was that it would "embarrass" government officials to admit POWs were alive and abandoned for more than twenty-five years. But if ever two individuals seemed born to be embarrass proof, they were named Nixon and Kissinger. And who couldn't imagine Ronald Reagan, upon receipt of a live POW, making one of his lump-in-the-throat speeches that would have stirred a spontaneous movement to repeal the amendment prohibiting a third presidential term? And wouldn't George Bush, if a POW release had taken place during his term, have declared that he was out of the loop and knew nothing about it, but, hey, let's all bow a sec and thank God they are home. Bill Clinton? Well, fill in your own blanks here.
Another theory was that the CIA feared its alleged dealings in the opium trade in Laos might be revealed if a POW were allowed to return home. But the CIA's involvement with opium was an old charge and hardly seemed a compelling reason for a cover-up. After all, who would be surprised to learn at this late date that the CIA had signed a blood contract with the Devil himself to smuggle dope, kill whales, and overthrow Christianity?
Actually, the CIA had never shown much of an interest either way in the MIA question. Instead, the agency appeared quietly content to let DIA bounce the tarbaby on its knee.
What the conspiratorialists seemed unable to accept was that if any Americans were left behind, as the weight of evidence suggested they were, it was because of a "cover-up" based on indifference, ignorance, and incompetence--not because of a narrowed-down conspiracy from which the people of the United States could find a satisfaction and catharsis in watching those responsible be hanged.
Finally, of course, it dwindles into the lingering question, we are back where we began.
Will the question ever be answered?
Stranger things have happened in Indochina.
Massacre at Hue
Submitted by: Kiet Nguyen
(Excerpt from the Viet Cong Strategy of Terror, Douglas Pike, p. 23-39)
The city of Hue is one of the saddest cities of our earth, not simply because of what happened there in February 1968, unthinkable as that was. It is a silent rebuke to all of us, inheritors of 40 centuries of civilization, who in our century have allowed collectivist politics-abstractions all-to corrupt us into the worst of the modern sins, indifference to inhumanity.
What happened in Hue should give pause to every remaining civilized person on this planet. It should be inscribed, so as not to be forgotten, along with the record of other terrible visitations of man's inhumanity to man which stud the history of the human race.
Hue is another demonstration of what man can bring himself to do when he fixes no limits on political action and pursues incautiously the dream of social perfectibility.
What happened in Hue, physically, can be described with a few quick statistics. A Communist force which eventually reached 12,000 invaded the city the night of the new moon marking the new lunar year, January 30, 1968. It stayed for 26 days and then was driven out by military action.
In the wake of this Tet offensive, 5,800 Hue civilians were dead or missing. It is now known that most of them are dead. The bodies of most have since been found in single and mass graves throughout Thua Thien Province which surrounds this cultural capital of Vietnam.
Such are the skeletal facts, the important statistics. Such is what the incurious word knows any thing at all about Hue, for this is what was written, modestly by the word's press. Apparently it made no impact on the world's mind or conscience. For there was no agonized outcry. No demonstration at North Vietnamese embassies around the world.
In a tone beyond bitterness, the people there will tell you that the world does not know what happened in Hue or, if it does, does not care
The Battle of Hue was part of the Communist Winter-Spring campaign of 1967-68. The entire campaign was divided into three phases:
Phase I came in October, November, and December of 1967 and entailed "coordinated fighting methods," that is, fairly large, set-piece battles against important fixed installations or allied concentrations. The battles of Loc Ninh in Binh Long Province, Dak To in Kontum Province, and Con Tien in Quang Tri Province, all three in the mountainous interior of South Vietnam near the Cambodian and Lao borders, were typical and, in fact, major elements in Phase I.
Phase II came in January, February, and March of 1968 and involved great use of "independent fighting methods," that is, large numbers of attacks by fairly small units, simultaneously, over a vast geographic area and using the most refined and advanced techniques of guerrilla war. Whereas Phase I was fought chiefly with North Vietnamese Regular (PAVN) troops (at that time some 55,000 were in the South), Phase II was fought mainly with Southern Communist (PLAF) troops. The crescendo of Phase II was the Tet offensive in which 70,000 troops attacked 32 of South Vietnam's largest population centres, including the city of Hue.
Phase III, in April, May, and June of 1968, originally was to have combined the independent and coordinated fighting methods, culminating in a great fixed battle somewhere. This was what captured documents guardedly referred to as the "second wave". Possibly it was to have been Khe Sanh, the U.S. Marine base in the far northern corner of South Vietnam. Or perhaps it was to have been Hue. There was no second wave chiefly because events in Phases I and II did not develop as expected. Still, the war reached its bloodiest tempo in eight years then, during the period from the Battle of Hue in February until the lifting of the siege of Khe Sanh in late summer.
American losses during those three months averaged nearly 500 killed per week; the South Vietnamese (GVN) losses were double that rate; and the PAVN-PLAF losses were nearly eight times the American loss rate.
In the Winter-Spring Campaign, the Communists began with about 195,000 PLAF main force and PAVN troops. During the nine months they lost (killed or permanently disabled) about 85,000 men.
The Winter-Spring Campaign was an all-out Communist bid to break the back of the South Vietnamese armed forces and drive the government, along with the Allied forces, into defensive city enclaves. Strictly speaking, the Battle of Hue was part of Phase I rather than Phase II since it employed "co-ordinated fighting methods" and involved North Vietnamese troops rather than southern guerrillas. It was fought, on the Communist side, largely by two veteran North Vietnamese army divisions: The Fifth 324-B, augmented by main forces battalions and some guerrilla units along with some 150 local civilian commissars and cadres.
Briefly the Battle of Hue consisted of these major developments:
The initial Communist assault, chiefly by the 800th and 802nd battalions, had the force and momentum to carry it across Hue. By dawn of the first day the Communists controlled all the city except the headquarters of the First ARVN Division and the compound housing American military advisors. The Vietnamese and Americans moved up reinforcements with orders to reach the two holdouts and strengthen them. The Communists moved up another battalion, the 804th, with orders to intercept the reinforcement forces. This failed, the two points were reinforced and never again seriously threatened.
The battle then took on the aspects of a siege. The Communists were in the Citadel and on the western edge of the city. The Vietnamese and Americans on the other three sides, including that portion of Hue south of the river, determined to drive them out, hoping initially to do so with artillery fire and air strikes. But the Citadel was well built and soon it became apparent that if the Communists' orders were to hold, they could be expelled only by city warfare, fighting house by house and block by block, a slow and costly form of combat. The order was given.
By the third week of February the encirclement of the Citadel was well under way and Vietnamese troops and American Marines were advancing yard by yard through the Citadel. On the morning of February 24, Vietnamese First Division soldiers tore down the Communist flag that had flown for 24 days over the outer wall and hoisted their own. The battle was won, although sporadic fighting would continue outside the city. Some 2,500 Communists died during the battle and another 2,500 would die as Communists elements were pursued beyond Hue. Allied dead were set at 357.
In the chaos that existed following the battle, the first order of civilian business was emergency relief, in the form of food shipments, prevention of epidemics, emergency medical care, etc. Then came the home rebuilding effort. Only later did Hue begin to tabulate its casualties. No true post-attack census has yet been taken. In March local officials reported that 1,900 civilians were hospitalized with war wounds and they estimated that some 5,800 persons were unaccounted for.
The first discovery of Communist victims came in the Gia Hoi High School yard, on February 26 ; eventually 170 bodies were recovered.
In the next few months 18 additional grave sites were found, the largest of which were Tang Quang Tu Pagoda (67 victims), Bai Dau (77), Cho Thong area (an estimated 100), the imperial tombs area (201), Thien Ham (approximately 200), and Dong Gi (approximately 100). In all, almost 1,200 bodies were found in hastily dug, poorly concealed graves.
At least half of these showed clear evidence of atrocity killings: hands wired behind backs, rags stuffed in mouths, bodies contorted but without wounds (indicating burial alive). The other nearly 600 bore wound marks but there was no way of determining whether they died by firing squad or incidental to the battle.
The second major group of finds was discovered in the first seven months of 1969 in Phu Thu district-the Sand Dune Finds and Le Xa Tay-and Huong Thuy district-Xuan Hoa-Van Duong-in late March and April. Additional grave sites were found in Vinh Loc district in May and in Nam Hoa district in July.
The largest of this group were the Sand Dune Finds in the three sites of Vinh Luu, Le Xa Dong and Xuan 0 located in rolling, grasstufted sand dune country near the South China Sea. Separated by salt-marsh valleys, these dunes were ideal for graves. Over 800 bodies were uncovered in the dunes.
In the Sand Dune Find, the pattern had been to tie victims together in groups of 10 or 20, line them up in front of a trench dug by local corvee labour and cut them down with submachine gun (a favourite local souvenir is a spent Russian machine gun shell taken from a grave). Frequently the dead were buried in layers of three and four, which makes identification particularly difficult.
In Nam Hoa district came the third, or Da Mai Creek Find, which also has been called the Phu Cam death march, made on September 19, 1969. Three Communist defectors told intelligence officers of the 101st Airborne Brigade that they had witnessed the killing of several hundred people at Da Mai Creek, about 10 miles south of Hue, in February of 1968. The area is wild, unpopulated, virtually inaccessible. The Brigade sent in a search party, which reported that the stream contained a large number of human bones.
By piecing together bits of information, it was determined that this is what happened at Da Mai Creek: On the fifth day of Tet in the Phu Cam section of Hue, where some three-quarters of the City's 40,000 Roman Catholics lived, a large number of people had taken sanctuary from the battle in a local church, a common method in Vietnam of escaping war. Many in the building were not in fact Catholic.
A Communist political commissar arrived at the church and ordered out about 400 people, some by name and some apparently because of their appearance (prosperous looking and middle-aged businessmen, for example). He said they were going to the "liberated area" for three days of indoctrination, after which each could return home.
They were marched nine kilometres south to a pagoda where the Communists had established a headquarters. There 20 were called out from the group, assembled before a drumhead court, tried, found guilty, executed and buried in the pagoda yard. The remainder were taken across the river and turned over to a local Communist unit in an exchange that even involved banding the political commissar a receipt. It is probable that the commissar intended that their prisoners should be re-educated and returned, but with the turnover, matters passed from his control.
During the next several days, exactly how many is not known, both captive and captor wandered the countryside. At some point the local Communists decided to eliminate witnesses: Their captives were led through six kilometres of some of the most rugged terrain in Central Vietnam, to Da Mai Creek. There they were shot or brained and their bodies left to wash in the running stream.
The 101st Airborne Brigade burial detail found it impossible to reach the creek overland, roads being non-existent or impassable. The creek's foliage is what in Vietnam is called double-canopy, that is, two layers, one consisting of brush and trees close to the ground, and the second of tall trees whose branches spread out high above. Beneath is permanent twilight. Brigade engineers spent two days blasting a hole through the double-canopy by exploding dynamite dangled on long wires beneath their hovering helicopters. This cleared a landing pad for helicopter hearses. Quite clearly this was a spot where death could be easily hidden even without burial.
The Da Mai Creek bed, for nearly a hundred yards up the ravine, yielded skulls, skeletons and pieces of human bones. The dead had been left above ground (for the animists among them, this meant their souls would wander the lonely earth forever, since such is the fate of the unburied dead), and 20 months in the running stream had left bones clean and white.
Local authorities later released a list of 428 names of persons whom they said had been positively identified from the creek bed remains. The Communists' rationale for their excesses was elimination of "traitors to the revolution." The list of 428 victims breaks down as follows: 25 per cent military: two officers, the rest NCO's and enlisted men; 25 per cent students; 50 per cent civil servants, village and hamlet officials, service personnel of various categories, and ordinary workers.
The fourth or Phu Thu Salt Flat Finds came in November, 1969, near the fishing village of Luong Vien some ten miles east of Hue, another desolate region. Government troops early in the month began an intensive effort to clear the area of remnants of the local Communist organization. People of Luong Vien, population 700, who had remained silent in the presence of troops for 20 months apparently felt secure enough from Communist revenge to break silence and lead officials to the find. Based on descriptions from villagers whose memories are not always clear, local officials estimate the number of bodies at Phu Thu to be at least 300 and possibly 1,000.
The story remains uncompleted. If the estimates by Hue officials are even approximately correct, nearly 2,000 people are still missing. Re-capitulation of the dead and missing
After the battle, the GVN's total estimated civilian casualties resulting from Battle of Hue 7600 Wounded (hospitalized or outpatients) with injures attributable to warfare -1900 subtotal 5700 Estimated civilian deaths due to accident of battle -844 subtotal 4756 First finds-bodies discovered immediately post battle, 1968 -1173 subtotal 3583 Second finds, including Sand Dune finds, March-July, 1969 (est.) -809 subtotal 2774 Third find, Da Mai Creek find (Nam Hoa district) September, 1969 -428 subtotal 2346 Fourth Finds-Phu Thu Salt Flat find, November, 1969 (est.) -300 subtotal 2046 Miscellaneous finds during 1969 (approximate) -100
TOTAL YET UNACCOUNTED FOR 1946
 SEATO: South East Asia Organization.  PAVN: People's Army of Vietnam, soldiers of North Vietnam Army serving in the South, number currently 105,000.  PLAF: People's Liberation Armed Force, Formerly called the National Liberation Front Army.
The killing in Hue that added up to the Hue Massacre far exceeded in numbers any atrocity by the Communists previously in South Vietnam. The difference was not only one in degree but one in kind. The character of the terror that emerges from an examination of Hue is quite distinct from Communist terror acts elsewhere, frequent or brutal as they may have been.
The terror in Hue was not a morale building act-the quick blow deep into the enemy's lair which proves enemy vulnerability and the guerrilla's omnipotence and which is quite different from gunning down civilians in areas under guerrilla control. Nor was it terror to advertise the cause. Nor to disorient and psychologically isolate the individual, since the vast majority of the killings were done secretly. Nor, beyond the blacklist killings, was it terror to eliminate opposing forces.
Hue did not follow the pattern of terror to provoke governmental over-response since it resulted in only what might have been anticipated-government assistance. There were elements of each objective, true, but none serves to explain the widespread and diverse pattern of death meted out by the Communists.
What is offered here is a hypothesis which will suggest logic and system behind what appears to be simple, random slaughter. Before dealing with it, let us consider three facts which constantly reassert themselves to a Hue visitor seeking to discover what exactly happened there and, more importantly, exactly why it happened. All three fly in the face of common sense and contradict to a degree what has been written. Yet, in talking to all sources-province chief, police chief, American advisor, eye witness, captured prisoner, hoi chanh (defector) or those few who miraculously escaped a death scene-the three facts emerge again and again.
The first fact, and perhaps the most important, is that despite contrary appearances virtually no Communist killing was due to rage, frustration, or panic during the Communist withdrawal at the end. Such explanations are frequently heard, but they fail to hold up under scrutiny. Quite the contrary, to trace back any single killing is to discover that almost without exception it was the result of a decision rational and justifiable in the Communist mind. In fact, most killings were, from the Communist calculation, imperative.
The second fact is that, as far as can be determined, virtually all killings were done by local Communist cadres and not by the ARVN troops or Northerners or other outside Communists. Some 12,000 ARVN troops fought the battle of Hue and killed civilians in the process but this was incidental to their military effort. Most of the 150 Communist civilian cadres operating within the city were local, that is from the Thua Thien province area. They were the ones who issued the death orders.
Whether they acted on instructions from higher headquarters (and the Communist organizational system is such that one must assume they did), and, if so, what exactly those orders were, no one yet knows for sure.
The third fact is that beyond "example" executions of prominent "tyrants", most of the killings were done secretly with extraordinary effort made to hide the bodies. Most outsiders have a mental picture of Hue as a place of public executions and prominent mass burial mounds of fresh-turned earth. Only in the early days were there well-publicized executions and these were relatively few. The burial sites in the city were easily discovered because it is difficult to create a graveyard in a densely populated area without someone noticing it. All the other finds were well hidden, all in terrain lending itself to concealment, probably the reason the sites were chosen in the first place.
A body in the sand dunes is as difficult to find as a seashell pushed deep into a sandy beach over which a wave has washed. Da Mai Creek is in the remotest part of the province and must have required great exertion by the Communists to lead their victims there. Had not the three hoi chanh led searchers to the wild uninhabited spot the bodies might well remain undiscovered to this day. A visit to all sites leaves one with the impression that the Communists made a major effort to hide their deeds.
The hypothesis offered here connects and fixes in time the Communist assessment of their prospects for staying in Hue with the kind of death order issued. It seems clear from sifting evidence that they had no single unchanging assessment with regard to themselves and their future in Hue, but rather that changing situations during the course of the battle altered their prospects and their intentions.
It also seems equally clear from the evidence that there was no single Communist policy on death orders; instead the kind of death order issued changed during the course of the battle. The correlation between these two is high and divides into three phases. The hypothesis therefore is that as Communist plans during the Battle of Hue changed so did the nature of the death orders issued. This conclusion is based on overt Communist statements, testimony by prisoners1 and hoi chanh, accounts of eyewitnesses, captured documents and the internal logic of the Communist situation.
Thinking in Phase I was well expressed in a Communist Party of South Vietnam (PRP) resolution issued to cadres on the eve of the offensive:
Be sure that the liberated ... cities are successfully consolidated. Quickly activate armed and political units, establish administrative organs at all echelons, promote (civilian) defence and combat support activities, get the people to establish an air defence system and generally motivate them to be ready to act against the enemy when he counterattacks..."
This was the limited view at the start - held momentarily. Subsequent developments in Hue were reported in different terms. Hanoi Radio on February 4 said: "After one hour's fighting the Revolutionary Armed Forces occupied the residence of the puppet provincial governor (in Hue), the prison and the offices of the puppet administration... The Revolutionary Armed Forces punished most cruel agents of the enemy and seized control of the streets... rounded up and punished dozen of cruel agents and caused the enemy organs of control and oppression to crumble...
During the brief stay in Hue, the civilian cadres, accompanied by execution squads, were to round up and execute key individuals whose elimination would greatly weaken the government's administrative apparatus following Communist withdrawal. This was the blacklist period, the time of the drumhead court. Cadres with lists of names and addresses on clipboards appeared and called into kangaroo court various "enemies of the Revolution."
Their trials were public, usually in the court-yard of a temporary Communist headquarters. The trials lasted about ten minutes each and there are no known not-guilty verdicts. Punishment, invariably execution, was meted out immediately. Bodies were either hastily buried or turned over to relatives. Singled out for this treatment were civil servants, especially those involved in security or police affairs, military officers and some non-commissioned officers, plus selected non-official but natural leaders of the community, chiefly educators and religionists.
With the exception of a particularly venomous attack on Hue intellectuals, the Phase I pattern was standard operating procedure for Communists in Vietnam. It was the sort of thing that had been going on systematically in the villages for ten years. Permanent blacklists, prepared by zonal or inter-zone party headquarters have long existed for use throughout the country, whenever an opportunity presents itself.
However, not all the people named in the lists used in Hue were liquidated. There were a large number of people who obviously were listed, who stayed in the city throughout the battle, but escaped. Throughout the 24-day period the Communist cadres were busy hunting down persons on their blacklists, but after a few days their major efforts were turned into a new channel.
Hue: Phase II
In the first few days, the Tet offensive affairs progressed so well for the Communists in Hue (although not to the south, where party chiefs received some rather grim evaluations from cadres in the midst of the offensive in the Mekong Delta) that for a brief euphoric moment they believed they could hold the city. Probably the assessment that the Communists were in Hue to stay was not shared at the higher echelons, but it was widespread in Hue and at the Thua Thien provincial level. One intercepted Communist message, apparently written on February 2, exhorted cadres in Hue to hold fast, declaring; "A new era, a real revolutionary period has begun (because of our Hue victories) and we need only to make swift assault (in Hue) to secure our target and gain total victory."
The Hanoi official party newspaper, Nhan Dan, echoed the theme:
"Like a thunderbolt, a general offensive has been hurled against the U.S. and the puppets... The U.S.-puppet machine has been duly punished. The puppet administrative organs... have suddenly collapsed. The Thieu-Ky administration cannot escape from complete collapse. The puppet troops have become extremely weak and cannot avoid being completely exterminated."
Of course, some of this verbiage is simply exhortation to the faithful, and, as is always the case in reading Communist output, it is most difficult to distinguish between belief and wish. But testimony from prisoners and hoi chanh, as well as intercepted battle messages, indicate that both rank and file and cadres believed for a few days they were permanently in Hue, and they acted accordingly.
Among their acts was to extend the death order and launch what in effect was a period of social reconstruction, Communist style. Orders went out, apparently from the provincial level of the party, to round up what one prisoner termed "social negatives," that is, those individuals or members of groups who represented potential danger or liability in the new social order. This was quite impersonal, not a blacklist of names but a blacklist of titles and positions held in the old society, directed not against people as such but against "social units."
As seen earlier in North Vietnam and in Communist China, the Communists were seeking to break up the local social order by eliminating leaders and key figures in religious organizations (Buddhist bonzes, Catholic priests), political parties (four members of the Central Committee of Vietnam), social movements such as women's organizations and youth groups, including what otherwise would be totally inexplicable, the execution of pro-Communist student leaders from middle and upper class families.
In consonance with this, killing in some instances was done by family unit. In one well-documented case during this period a squad with a death order entered the home of a prominent community leader and shot him, his wife, his married son and daughter-in-law, his young unmarried daughter, a male and female servant and their baby. The family cat was strangled; the family dog was clubbed to death; the goldfish scooped out of the fish-bowl and tossed on the floor. When the Communists left, no life remained in the house. A "social unit" had been eliminated.
Phase II also saw an intensive effort to eliminate intellectuals, who are perhaps more numerous in Hue than elsewhere in Vietnam. Surviving Hue intellectuals explain this in terms of a long-standing Communist hatred of Hue intellectuals, who were anti-Communist in the worst or most insulting manner: they refused to take Communism seriously. Hue intellectuals have always been contemptuous of Communist ideology, brushing it aside as a latecomer to the history of ideas and not a very significant one at that.
Hue, being a bastion of traditionalism, with its intellectuals steeped in Confucian learning intertwined with Buddhism, did not, even in the fermenting years of the 1920s, and 1930s, debate the merits of Communism. Hue ignored it. The intellectuals in the university, for example, in a year's course in political thought dispense with Marxism-Leninism in a half hour lecture, painting it as a set of shallow barbarian political slogans with none of the depth and time-tested reality of Confucian learning, nor any of the splendor and soaring humanism of Buddhist thought.
Since the Communist, especially the Communist from Hue, takes his dogma seriously, he can become demoniac when dismissed by a Confucian as a philosophic ignoramus, or by a Buddhist as a trivial materialist. Or, worse than being dismissed, ignored through the years. So with the righteousness of a true believer, he sought to strike back and eliminate this challenge of indifference. Hue intellectuals now say the hunt-down in their ranks has taught them a hard lesson, to take Communism seriously, if not as an idea, at least as a force loose in their world.
The killings in Phase II perhaps accounted for 2,000 of the missing. But the worst was not yet over.
Hue: Phase III
Inevitably, and as the leadership in Hanoi must have assumed all along, considering the forces ranged against it, the battle in Hue turned against the Communists. An intercepted PAVN radio message from the Citadel, February 22, asked for permission to withdraw. Back came the reply: permission refused, attack on the 23rd. That attack was made, a last, futile one. On the 24th the Citadel was taken.
That expulsion was inevitable was apparent to the Communists for at least the preceding week. It was then that Phase III began, the cover-the-traces period. Probably the entire civilian underground apparat in Hue had exposed itself during Phase II. Those without suspicion rose to proclaim their identity. Typical is the case of one Hue resident who described his surprise on learning that his next door neighbour was the leader of a phuong (which made him 10th to 15th ranking Communist civilian in the city), saying in wonder, "I'd known him for 18 years and never thought he was the least interested in politics." Such a cadre could not go underground again unless there was no one around who remembered him.
Hence Phase III, elimination of witnesses.
Probably the largest number of killings came during this period and for this reason. Those taken for political indoctrination probably were slated to be returned. But they were local people as were their captors; names and faces were familiar. So, as the end approached they became not just a burden but a positive danger. Such undoubtedly was the case with the group taken from the church at Phu Cam. Or of the 15 high school students whose bodies were found as part of the Phu Thu Salt Flat find.
Categorization in a hypothesis such as this is, of course, gross and at best only illustrative. Things are not that neat in real life. For example, throughout the entire time the blacklist hunt went on. Also, there was revenge killing by the Communists in the name of the party, the so-called "revolutionary justice." And undoubtedly there were personal vendettas, old scores settled by individual party members.
The official Communist view of the killing in Hue was contained in a book written and published in Hanoi:
"Actively combining their efforts with those of the PLAF and population, other self-defence and armed units of the city (of Hue) arrested and called to surrender the surviving functionaries of the puppet administration and officers and men of the puppet army who were skulking. Die-hard cruel agents were punished."
The Communist line on the Hue killings later at the Paris talks was that it was not the work of Communists but of "dissident local political parties". However, it should be noted that Hanoi's Liberation Radio April 26, 1968, criticized the effort in Hue to recover bodies, saying the victims were only "hooligan lackeys who had incurred blood debts of the Hue compatriots and who were annihilated by the Southern armed forces and people in early Spring." This propaganda line however was soon dropped in favour of the line that it really was local political groups fighting each other.