To My Younger Generation: Grasp the Past to Pave the Future
Part 1 – Steal The Spotlight
During the twenties, thirties and forties, anti–French colonial rule sentiment ran fervently high in Viet Nam (1). Several revolutionary parties sprung up trying to oust French colonists. Most of them failed as a result of French tight security networks and they were better armed. Many Viet Nam patriots were caught and received a death sentence while others were transported to Con Dao, a penal island in South China Sea (2), to serve a life sentence in hard labor. On February 10, 1930, an armed revolt was launched against the French around Hanoi by the Viet Quoc Party (3) but they were outgunned by the French and failed. Mr. Nguyen Thai Hoc, Chairman of the Viet Quoc Party and 12 other members of the Viet Quoc were beheaded in Yen Bai, North Viet Nam. Subsequent to this tragic defeat, most anti–French colonial rule parties retreated to South China waiting for the ripe time to fight again for independence. With some support from the Chinese Kuomintang party, all Vietnamese Nationalist parties united under the name Viet Nam Cach Menh Dong Minh Hoi (4). Dang Cong San Viet Nam (5) headed by Ho Chi Minh was also a member.
Fifteen years later, an unexpected event occurred that ousted the French. On March 9, 1945, three months prior to my tenth birthday, Japanese forces in Viet Nam launched a flash coup d'etat and toppled the French government. The following day, Japanese envoy granted Viet Nam her independence within Japan's Greater East Asia Co–Prosperity Sphere. Although it was not exactly what the Vietnamese had hoped for, at least the brutal French colonial regime was ousted. Unfortunately, the superficial independence the Japanese granted Viet Nam lasted only five months. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the second one on Nagasaki on August 9,1945. Japan could not withstand the nuclear devastation and capitulated unconditionally on August 14, 1945. This brought World War II to an end.
The capitulation of Japan and the end of World War II was the prelude to an unfortunate chain of events that destroyed Viet Nam. A few days after Japan's surrender, the first round of bad luck struck Viet Nam when Japanese military officials in Hanoi turned over the government to the Vietnamese local authority. Exploiting this anarchy period, Ho Chi Minh, used his militia forces and armed propaganda units already embedded in Hanoi to topple local governments and seized power. On August 28, 1945, Ho formally declared the country to be the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) (6) an independent nation as he proclaimed himself President while concurrently being Minister of Foreign Affairs. Ho appointed Pham Van Dong Minister of Finance and Vo Nguyen Giap as Minister of Interior. To deceive the hard line nationalist patriots, Ho invited the Emperor Bao Dai to be high counselor of his new government. Then on September 2, 1945, at Ba Dinh square, Ho recited the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence which he plagiarized from the American Declaration of Independence in front of hundreds of thousands Vietnamese who were overjoyed with the unexpected and sudden independence. I, this writer, was 10 years old and was among the crowd as a member of the Vanguard Youth Group. I held a small red flag with a yellow star in the middle not knowing at the time it was a communist flag. At the instruction of our leader, we waved the flag and sang the song “Who loves Uncle Ho Chi Minh more than us young children” as taught. By and large, most people in North Viet Nam were probably overly excited with the independence left by the Japanese not realizing that Ho was a wily, evil person and a devoted member of the International Communist Party until too late.
Following Ho's assumption of power, he gradually showed his fiendish mentality and inhumane behavior to further his egocentric power. To him, the end justifies the means. When the tide of anti–French colonial rule was at its peak, Ho roguishly disguised himself as a nationalist patriot and exhorted the struggling to dislodge the French. But after having successfully hijacked the independence from the Vietnamese nationalists, Ho struck a deal with France on March 6, 1946 allowing French troops to return to Viet Nam north of the 16th parallel to supplant Chiang Kai–shek troops who were in Viet Nam to disarm the Japanese. In return, France would recognize Ho's government. Chiang Kai–shek agreed to withdraw from North Vietnam and allowed the French to replace them in exchange for French concessions in Shanghai and other Chinese ports. Ho's plot was to get Chiang's Army out of Vietnam because Chiang might be sympathetic with Ho's potential opponents, the nationalist Vietnamese. Through this wily move, nationalist Vietnamese patriots considered Ho a traitor to the cause of revolution. By June 1946, France proclaimed South Viet Nam to be under French control as Republic of Cochinchina. In the ensuing months, clashes between French and Ho's forces, the Viet Minh (7), erupted more frequently and in November 1946, a French warship bombarded Hai Phong, a coastal city in North Viet Nam, causing heavy casualty to the Viet Minh. All these events precipitated the war between French forces and the Viet Minh leading to the Dien Bien Phu battle in 1954.
Being a devout communist, Ho followed Maoist policies overzealously. In a three–year period from 1953 to 1956 which Ho executed the Land Reform Campaign, his infamous and barbaric people's tribunal killed approximately 50,000 so–called wicked landlords and about 50,000 to 100,000 were imprisoned (8) . Ho and his cadres aggressively imprisoned or even liquidated all Vietnamese patriots from non–communist parties in order to monopolize his despotic authority. Petty bourgeoisie elements were also Ho's targeted enemy. In early 1954, Ho and the Viet Minh received substantial manpower and logistical supports from the People's Republic of China (PRC) to fight the French. Ho and the Viet Minh engaged in a set piece battle with the French at Dien Bien Phu garrison. Both, French and Viet Minh wanted to attain military superiority to use as leverage for the upcoming peace negotiation in Geneva. Unfortunately, the Viet Minh forces outgunned the French and also numerically outnumbered the French defenders at the garrison by five to one to. French capitulated and agreed to sign an agreement in Geneva to end the war. The Agreement was signed in Geneva on July 21, 1954 between France, the PRC, the USSR, North Vietnamese communist Viet Minh, the United Kingdom, the State of Vietnam ( Emperor Bao Dai), Laos and Cambodia. This Agreement divided Vietnam into two separate countries at the 17th parallel. North Vietnam remained as the DRV, a communist country under Ho Chi Minh. South Vietnam became a non–communist, independent country called the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) under Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.
Part 2 – Ho Chi Minh – Patriot or Villain?
After the partitioning of Viet Nam, if Ho Chi Minh had been a true patriot, he should have contented with the independence which the country inherited bloodlessly at the departure of the Japanese. He must have known he was only a self–proclaimed President and not elected by the Vietnamese people. And he should have concentrated his conscientious efforts and committed all resources into rebuilding the war ravaged country as well as the dying economy in North Viet Nam. He should have fulfilled his slogan he used to appeal millions of Vietnamese patriots who were willing to fight and to die for: Independence – Liberty – Happiness. Why did he not leave people in the South, the RVN, to live peacefully and to pursue their way of life? Why did Ho and the Viet Minh continue to scatter deaths and catastrophe across North and South Viet Nam?
If Ho and the Viet Minh had not been too greedy wanting to gobble up the RVN by force, both countries, the DRV and the RVN would have been peaceful and prosperous. There would have been no war. But it was unfortunate for the Vietnamese people on both sides to have such an evil man like Ho Chi Minh. It was Ho who dragged the DRV of the North and the RVN of the South into a long bloody internecine.
The proxy war between the DRV, the aggressor and, the RVN, in self–defense, ended thirty–three years ago on April 30, 1975. This war had been labeled with various names by U.S. journalists. Some called it the Viet Nam War and others called it the American War, the Civil War and also The Proxy War. I agree with the term “proxy war” because the undisputable fact is: The three superpower nations were principal patrons in this conflict. Two communist giants, the PRC and the Soviet Union (USSR) supplied manpower and military assistance to the DRV to expand communism in Southeast Asia. The U.S. financed, trained and equipped the RVN to contain communist expansion. As the intensity of the war escalated to the apex, the U.S. committed its combat troops to help the RVN. Inherently poor and underdeveloped, the DRV must totally depend on their patrons, the PRC and the USSR for military and economic support to wage war against the RVN. The RVN was no exception either as without logistical aids from the U.S., the defense of the RVN would have been very difficult.
During the war, the DRV had lots of advantages over the RVN. Their despotic regime aligned well with the PRC and the USSR, in this proxy war. All communist regimes were despotic in nature and had no checks and balances in their government. In the DRV, there was no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech or freedom of assembly. There were no sensational–oriented press corps because all news media, from prints to broadcast, were closely censored and strictly controlled by the party. Political opposition in their country would be viewed as reactionary or counter–revolutionary and would bring fatal consequences. If Jane Fonda and Ramsey Clarke were Vietnamese citizens visiting Washington to praise America while publicly denouncing Ho Chi Minh, they would have been quietly liquidated upon returning to Hanoi. Of course, there were no anti–war movements to interfere with their war efforts. Their troops were thoroughly and carefully indoctrinated with hatred of America. In their people's armed forces, the political advisor had more authority than the unit commander did in decision–making and punishing wavering elements. Therefore, superficially, their rear base appeared solid and united. The red bloc ultimate drive was to conquer the RVN and expand communism in the region but tactfully cloaked under the name of “Fighting the Americans To Save Our Country”. The caddish Ho Chi Minh must have been praised for his skill to carry fire in one hand and water in the other!
On the contrary, the RVN, being an ally of the U.S. and the free world, was toddling into a newly adopted Western democracy. After centuries under feudalism, the general public was not ready to deal with the sudden changes and, for the most part, not prepared to exercise their freedom responsibly. During the war, while the public was unprepared and government officials also were not adequately trained to act and serve their constituents in a democratic fashion. Consequently, during the transitional process, there were unavoidable flaws, difficulties and dissatisfactions from the citizenry. Aside from these internal socio–administrative problems, the politburo in Hanoi exploited the situation to intrigue political dissidents, misled students and Buddhists followers to trigger chaos and confusions. Their underground communist cadres shrouded under political and religious dissident cover was the impetus behind anti–war demonstrations in Hue and Saigon leading to the overthrow of the Diem's regime in November 1963. Following this disastrous event, the RVN encountered a period of political turmoil which to a certain degree, adversely affected the war efforts. It appears the expression “misfortunes never come alone” suited well to an ill–fated country like the RVN. While the situation in the RVN was not so favorable, her major ally, the U.S., was also facing a series of serious domestic political chaos. Anti–war movements erupted wildly on many America's streets:
• The Kent State University fatal shooting incidence heightened anti–war sentiment.
• The Pentagon Papers led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
• Jane Fonda, Ramsey Clarke, and some religious ministers went to Hanoi to praise the communist and denounced U.S. war policy publicly on North Vietnam's radio.
Public support of the proxy war plummeted dramatically and the U.S. badly needed a strategy to exit Vietnam.
Part 3 – The Beginning of the End
The seriousness of domestic unrest in the U.S. compelled President Nixon to engage in political negotiation with Hanoi. On January 25, 1969, the Paris Peace Talk opened in Paris, France for the U.S. and Hanoi to negotiate an agreement to end the war. Knowing the anti–war sentiment in America had weakened, if not destroyed the U.S.'s will to continue the fight; Hanoi haughtily pushed for a military victory and kept stalling negotiation. After two years of deadlock because of Hanoi's intransigence, the U.S. sought to talk to Hanoi's patron, the PRC. Through back channel diplomacy, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Assistant to President Richard Nixon for National Security Affairs met with Chou En–lai, Prime Minister of the PRC in Peking, China to propose a fast solution to the Indochina conflict. The Memorandum of Conversation between Dr. Henry Kissinger and Prime Minister Chou En–lai clearly shows that the U.S. wanted a quick political fix instead of destroying or defeating the North Vietnamese communist. The meeting was in Peking, China on June 20, 1972. Kissinger and Chou initially talked about world events before embarking on the issues in Indochina, specifically Vietnam. Below are verbatim excerpts from this historical document which determined the fate of the RVN:
– Prime Minister Chou: Yes, that might be one of the historical factors. And an additional one that there are such big competitions in the world. Now let's go on to the Indochina question – I would like to hear from you.
– Dr. Kissinger: The Prime Minister said he had some observations he would like to make to me. May be we should reverse the places and let him talk first.
– Prime Minister Chou: These are questions on which there are disputes, and we would like to listen to you first to see your solutions of the problem.
– Dr. Kissinger: Is the Prime Minister's suggestion that after he's heard me I will be so convincing the disputes will have disappeared, and there will be no further need for him to make observations?
– Prime Minister Chou: I have no such expectations, but do hope the disputes will be lessened.
– Dr. Kissinger: I will make our candid assessment. I know it doesn't agree with yours, but it is useful for you at any rate to understand how we see the situation. And it will take the situation from the start of the North Vietnamese offensive on March 10.
I believe that I have explained to the Prime Minister what our general objectives in Indochina are. It is obvious that it cannot be the policy of this Administration to maintain permanent bases in Indochina, or to continue in Indochina the policies that were originated by the Secretary of State who refused to shake hands with the Prime Minister. It isn't… we are in a different historical phase. We believe that the future of our relationship with Peking is infinitely more important for the future of Asia that what happens in Phnom Penh, in Hanoi or in Saigon.
When President Johnson put American troops into Vietnam, you will remember that he justified it in part on the ground that what happened in Indochina was masterminded in Peking and was part of a plot to take over the world. Dean Rusk said this in a statement. You were then engaged in the Cultural Revolution and not, from my reading it, emphasizing foreign adventures.
So that, the mere fact that we are sitting in this room changes the objective basis of the original intervention in Indochina. For us who inherited the war, our problem has been how to liquidate it in a way that does not affect our entire international position and − this is not your primary concern − the domestic stability in the United States. So we have genuinely attempted to end the war, and as you may or may not know, I personally started negotiations with the North Vietnamese in 1967 when I was only at the periphery of the government, at a time when it was very unpopular, because I believed there had to be a political end to the war.
So from the time we came into office we have attempted to end this war. And we have understood, as I told you before, that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam is a permanent factor on the Indochinese peninsula and probably the strongest entity. And we have had no interest in destroying it or even in defeating it. After the end of the war, we will have withdrawn 12,000 miles. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam will still be 300 miles from Saigon. That is a reality which they don't seem to understand. (Page 28 – 29)
To reassure Chou En–lai the U.S. would normalize relationship with Hanoi in about 10 years, Dr. Kissinger promised:
– Dr. Kissinger: It is on one level. But on the other, when we make an agreement in Indochina, it will be to make a new relationship. If we can make it with Peking why can we not do it with Hanoi? What has Hanoi done to us that would make it impossible to, say in ten years, establish a new relationship? (Page 31)
And below is Dr. Kissinger's statement in the last paragraph on page 37:
Dr. Kissinger: So we should find a way to end the war, to stop it from being an international situation, and then permit a situation to develop in which the future on Indochina can be returned to the Indochinese people. And I can assure you that this is the only object we have in Indochina, and I do not believe this can be so different from yours. We want nothing for ourselves there. And while we cannot bring a communist government to power, if, as a result of historical evolution it should happen over a period of time, if we can live with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina. (Page 37)
It was unknown if the PRC exerted any pressure on Hanoi after this Kissinger – Chou meeting. Nevertheless, Hanoi mulishly kept stalling negotiations while continuing to attack South Vietnam. Hanoi's stubbornness infuriated President Nixon and he ordered a massive bombing campaign in North Vietnam to force Hanoi back to the negotiation table. The eleven–day deadly air raid during Xmas 1972 had accomplished what the U.S. wanted. Hanoi was on their knees and obediently returned to Paris for negotiation. From the operational and strategic point of view, the bombing must have continued to achieve a military victory when Hanoi had exhausted their air defense capability. But we, the U.S., unilaterally decided to stop the bombing, willingly declined a military victory, and was content to further negotiation with Hanoi!!!
Sir Robert Thompson, a renowned British counterinsurgency expert commented on the Xmas bombing campaign: "In my view, on December 30, 1972, after 11 days of those B–52 attacks on the Hanoi area, you had won the war, it was all over! They had fired 1242 SAM's, they had none left, and what would have come in over land from China would be a mere trickle. They and their whole rear base at that point would be at your mercy. They would have taken any terms. And that is why of course, you actually got a peace agreement in January, which you had not been able to get in October".
The RVN steadfastly refused to sign the Paris Peace Accord formulated by the U.S. and the DRV because it was dangerously in favor of the DRV. However, under repeated threats juxtaposed with serious promises by President Nixon to severely retaliate against Hanoi in the event of their violation, the RVN had no choice but to sign the agreement on January 27, 1973. A few months following the signing of the Paris Agreement, U.S. Congress passed an Amendment on June 19, 1973, forbidding all U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. On August 9, 1974, President Nixon resigned his presidency stemming from the Watergate scandal. On September 1974, U.S. Congress cut military aid to the RVN to the bone causing incalculable destruction to the morale of combat soldiers and the general public. During this time, the PRC and the USSR quadrupled their logistical support to Hanoi paving the way for the April 30, 1975 outcome.
In conclusion, the U.S. had to do what it must do because, as Kissinger explained to Chou in the meeting: “For us who inherited the war, our problem has been how to liquidate it in a way that does not affect our entire international position”, and because of “the domestic stability in the United States”. The fear of communist expansion or the domino theory disappeared with this Sino–U.S. rapprochement. Additionally, this would also open the potentially huge, lucrative market in mainland China for U.S. Corporations and investors. To achieve all these benefits, the U.S. arbitrarily accepted the deal with China in June 1972 at the expense of the RVN.
On the thirty–third anniversary of the close of that embittered chapter, as a former Vietnamese combatant of that war, I earnestly wish to reassure the younger generation of the Vietnamese American:
–In defense of our democracy in South Viet Nam against the communist, your elder generation had given, for the most part, their utmost best under the worst of circumstances. You can shamelessly look at any ignorant or misled bigot straight in the eyes with no inferior complex. These bigots may probably have been dully–influenced by slanted reports, books written by defeatist or liberal writers. You could help direct them to search for recently declassified national security documents and many impartial, honest accounts of the war portrayed by unbiased, honest writers.
To all my Vietnamese brothers–in arms:
–Of course we, the RVN and the ARVN, like most nations on earth, were not perfect. We had our share of inept political leaders as well as incompetent field commanders. We realize there were times our leader's hands were tied by our major ally. We also understand we sacrificed many best years of our lives fighting despotism to protect liberty and freedom so our citizens could dissent and even undermine our effort. Yet we had fought courageously against overwhelming odds and hundreds of thousands of our friends lost their lives for the just cause. We did not win because the outcome was determined by superpower politics. Obviously it was way beyond the soldier's responsibility. If we, the RVN, had it our way, unquestionably, the outcome of the war would have been different.
And to my American brothers in arms:
Through negotiation, our politicians settled with major world powers to end the war in Viet Nam politically. Following orders, you must withdraw from Vietnam. The last U.S. military unit left Viet Nam since March 1973. The final collapse of the RVN occurred on April 30, 1975. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the U.S. did not lose the war in Vietnam militarily. You have fulfilled the call of duty admirably. We salute you. We thank you for serving and for helping us in Viet Nam. Ironically, politics dictated the outcome. But don't be bothered; only ignorant or misled individuals would buy the notion that America lost the war in Vietnam militarily.
(1) Correct spelling of Viet Nam must be two separate words.
(2) Also known as Poulo Condore, a penal island for political or high–risk prisoners.
(3) Viet Nam Quoc Dan Đang or Viet Quoc. Vietnamese Nationalist Party.
(4) Viet Nam Cach Menh Dong Minh Hoi aka Vietnamese Revolutionary Allied League.
(5) Vietnamese Communist Party.
(6) Democratic Republic of Viet Nam or Viet Nam Dan Chu Cong Hoa in Vietnamese.
(7) Viet Minh abbreviated for Viet Nam Cach Menh Dong Minh Hoi
(8) From Le livre noir du communisme, by Stéphane Courtois et. al, 1997.
"A GENERATION WHICH IGNORES HISTORY HAS NO PAST AND NO FUTURE"