To My Younger Generation: Grasp the Past to Pave the Future

byHoi Ba Tran

Part 1 – Steal The Spotlight

Duringthe twenties, thirties and forties, anti-French colonial rule sentiment ranfervently high in Viet Nam (1).Several revolutionary parties sprung uptrying to oust French colonists.Most ofthem failed as a result of French tight security networks and they were betterarmed.Many Viet Nam patriots were caught and received a death sentence whileothers were transported to Con Dao, a penal island in South China Sea(2), to serve a lifesentence 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 andfailed.Mr. Nguyen Thai Hoc, Chairman ofthe Viet Quoc Party and 12 other members of the Viet Quoc were beheaded in YenBai, North Viet Nam.Subsequent to this tragic defeat, mostanti-French colonial rule parties retreated to South Chinawaiting for the ripe time to fight again for independence.With some support from the Chinese Kuomintangparty, all Vietnamese Nationalist parties united under the name Viet Nam CachMenh Dong Minh Hoi (4).Dang Cong San Viet Nam (5) headed by Ho Chi Minh was also a member.

Fifteen years later, an unexpectedevent 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 Frenchgovernment.The following day, Japaneseenvoy granted Viet Nam her independencewithin Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.Although it was not exactly what theVietnamese had hoped for, at leastthe brutal French colonial regime was ousted.Unfortunately, the superficial independence the Japanese granted Viet Nam lasted only five months.On August 6, 1945 dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the second one on NagasakiAugust 9,1945Japan could not withstand the nuclear devastation andcapitulated 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 anunfortunate 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 localauthority.Exploiting this anarchyperiod, Ho Chi Minh, used his militia forces and armed propaganda units alreadyembedded in Hanoi to topple local governments and seized power.On August 28, 1945, Ho formally declared the country to be the DemocraticRepublic of Vietnam (DRV) (6)an independent nation as he proclaimed himself President while concurrentlybeing Minister of Foreign Affairs.Ho appointed Pham Van Dong Minister ofFinance and Vo Nguyen Giap as Minister of Interior.To deceive the hard line nationalistpatriots, Ho invited the Emperor Bao Dai to be high counselor of his newgovernment.Then on September 2, 1945,at Ba Dinh square, Ho recited the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence whichhe plagiarized from the American Declaration of Independence in front ofhundreds of thousands Vietnamese who were overjoyed with the unexpected andsudden independence.I, this writer, was10 years old and was among the crowd as a member of the Vanguard YouthGroup.I held a small red flag with ayellow star in the middle not knowing at the time it was a communist flag.At the instruction of our leader, we wavedthe flag and sang the song “Who loves Uncle Ho Chi Minh more than us youngchildren” as taught.By and large, mostpeople in North Viet Namwere probably overly excited with the independence left by the Japanese notrealizing that Ho was a wily, evil person and a devoted member of theInternational Communist Party until too late.

Following Ho’s assumption ofpower, he gradually showed his fiendish mentality and inhumane behavior tofurther his egocentric power.To him,the end justifies the means.When thetide of anti-French colonial rule was at its peak, Ho roguishly disguisedhimself as a nationalist patriot and exhorted the struggling to dislodge theFrench.But after having successfullyhijacked the independence from the Vietnamese nationalists, Ho struck a deal withFranceMarch 6, 1946allowing French troops to return to Viet Nam north of the 16th parallel to supplant ChiangKai-shek troops who were in Viet Nam to disarm the Japanese.In return, Francewould recognize Ho’s government.ChiangKai-shek agreed to withdraw from North Vietnam and allowed the French to replace them in exchange forFrench concessions in Shanghai and other Chinese ports. Ho’s plot was to get Chiang’sArmy out of Vietnam because Chiang might be sympathetic with Ho’s potentialopponents, the nationalist Vietnamese.Through this wily move, nationalist Vietnamese patriots considered Ho atraitor to the cause of revolution.ByJune 1946, France proclaimed South Viet Nam to beunder French control as RepublicCochinchina.In the ensuingmonths, clashes between French and Ho’s forces, the Viet Minh (7), erupted more frequentlyand 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 betweenFrench forces and the Viet Minh leading to the Dien Bien Phubattle in 1954.

Being a devout communist, Hofollowed Maoist policies overzealously.In a three-year period from 1953 to 1956 which Ho executed the LandReform Campaign, his infamous and barbaric people’s tribunal killedapproximately 50,000 so-called wicked landlords and about 50,000 to 100,000were imprisonedHo and his cadres aggressively imprisoned or evenliquidated all Vietnamese patriots from non-communist parties in order tomonopolize his despotic authority.Pettybourgeoisie elements were also Ho’s targeted enemy.In early 1954, Ho and the Viet Minh receivedsubstantial 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 Phugarrison.Both, French and Viet Minhwanted to attain military superiority to use as leverage for the upcoming peacenegotiation in Geneva.Unfortunately, theViet Minh forces outgunned the French and also numerically outnumbered theFrench defenders at the garrisonbyfive to one to.French capitulated andagreed to sign an agreement in Geneva to end the war.TheAgreement was signed in GenevaJuly 21, 1954between France, the PRC, the , North Vietnamese communist Viet Minh, the United Kingdom, the State of Vietnam ( Emperor Bao Dai), Cambodia.This Agreementdivided Vietnam into two separate countries at the 17thparallel.North Vietnam remained as the DRV, a communist country under Ho ChiMinh.South Vietnam became a non-communist, independent country called theRepublic of Vietnam (RVN) under Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.

Part 2 – Ho Chi Minh – Patriot orVillain?

After the partitioning of Viet Nam, if Ho Chi Minh had been a true patriot, he should havecontented with the independence which the country inherited bloodlessly at thedeparture of the Japanese. He must have known he was only a self-proclaimedPresident and not elected by the Vietnamese people.And he should have concentrated hisconscientious efforts and committed all resources into rebuilding the warravaged country as well as the dying economy in North Viet Nam.He should havefulfilled his slogan he used to appeal millions of Vietnamese patriots who werewilling to fight and to die for: IndependenceLiberty – Happiness.Whydid he not leave people in the South, the RVN, to live peacefully and to pursuetheir way of life? Why did Ho and the Viet Minh continue to scatter deaths andcatastrophe across North and South Viet Nam

If Ho and the Viet Minh had notbeen too greedy wanting to gobble up the RVN by force, both countries, the DRVand the RVN would have been peaceful and prosperous.There would have been no war.But it was unfortunate for the Vietnamese peopleon both sides to have such an evil man like Ho Chi Minh.It was Ho who dragged the DRV of the Northand the RVN of the South into a long bloody internecine.

The proxy war between the DRV, theaggressor and, the RVN, in self-defense, ended thirty-three years ago on April 30, 1975.This war had beenlabeled with various names by journalists. Some called it the Viet Nam War and otherscalled it the American War, the Civil War and also The Proxy War.I agree with the term “proxy war” because theundisputable fact is:The threesuperpower nations were principal patrons in this conflict.Two communist giants, the PRC and the SovietUnion (USSR) supplied manpower and military assistance to the DRV to expandcommunism in Southeast Asia financed, trained and equipped the RVN to containcommunist expansion.As the intensity ofthe war escalated to the apex, the committed its combat troops to help the RVN.Inherently poor and underdeveloped, the DRVmust totally depend on their patrons, the PRC and the for military and economic support to wage war against theRVN.The RVN was no exception either aswithout logistical aids from the ,the defense of the RVN would havebeen very difficult.

During the war, the DRV had lotsof advantages over the RVN.Theirdespotic regime aligned well with the PRC and the , in this proxy war.All communist regimes were despotic in nature and had no checks andbalances in their government.In theDRV, there was no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech or freedom ofassembly.There were nosensational-oriented press corps because all news media, from prints tobroadcast, were closely censored and strictly controlled by the party.Political opposition in their country wouldbe viewed as reactionary or counter-revolutionary and would bring fatalconsequences.If Jane Fonda and RamseyClarke were Vietnamese citizens visiting Washington to praise America while publicly denouncing Ho Chi Minh, they would havebeen quietly liquidated upon returning to Hanoi.Of course, therewere no anti-war movements to interfere with their war efforts.Their troops were thoroughly and carefullyindoctrinated with hatred of America.In their people’sarmed forces, the political advisor had more authority than the unit commanderdid in decision-making and punishing wavering elements. Therefore,superficially, their rear base appeared solid and united. The red bloc ultimatedrive was to conquer the RVN and expand communism in the region but tactfullycloaked under the name of “Fighting theAmericans To Save Our Country”.Thecaddish Ho Chi Minh must have been praised for his skill to carry fire in onehand and water in the other!

On the contrary, the RVN, being anally of the and the free world, was toddling into a newly adoptedWestern democracy.After centuries underfeudalism, the general public was not ready to deal with the sudden changesand, for the most part, not prepared to exercise their freedom responsibly.During the war, while the public wasunprepared and government officials also were not adequately trained to act andserve their constituents in a democratic fashion. Consequently, during thetransitional process, there were unavoidable flaws, difficulties anddissatisfactions from the citizenry.Aside from these internal socio-administrative problems, the politburoin Hanoi exploited the situation to intrigue political dissidents,misled students and Buddhists followers to trigger chaos and confusions.Their underground communist cadres shroudedunder political and religious dissident cover was the impetus behind anti-wardemonstrations in Saigon leading to the overthrow of the Diem’s regime in November1963.Following this disastrous event,the RVN encountered a period of political turmoil which to a certain degree,adversely affected the war efforts.Itappears the expression “misfortunes nevercome alone” suited well to anill-fated country like the RVN.Whilethe situation in the RVN was not so favorable, her major ally, the , was also facing a series of serious domestic politicalchaos.Anti-war movements erupted wildlyon 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 warplummeted dramatically and the badly needed a strategy to exit Vietnam.

Part 3 – The Beginning of the End

Theseriousness of domestic unrest in the compelled President Nixon to engage in politicalnegotiation with HanoiJanuary 25, 1969,the Paris Peace Talk opened in ParisFrance for the Hanoi to negotiate an agreement to end the war.Knowing the anti-war sentiment in America had weakened, if not destroyed the ’s will to continue the fight; Hanoi haughtily pushed for a military victory and kept stallingnegotiation.After two years of deadlockbecause of Hanoi’s intransigence, the sought to talk to Hanoi’s patron, the PRC.Through back channel diplomacy, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Assistant toPresident Richard Nixon for National Security Affairs met with Chou En-lai,Prime Minister of the PRC in PekingChina to propose a fast solution to the Indochinaconflict.The Memorandum of Conversationbetween Dr. Henry Kissinger and Prime Minister Chou En-lai clearly shows thatthe wanted a quick political fix instead of destroying ordefeating the North Vietnamese communist.The meeting was in PekingChinaJune 20, 1972.Kissinger and Chou initially talked aboutworld events before embarking on the issues in Indochina, specificallyVietnam.Below are verbatimexcerpts from this historical document (9)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 theworld.Now let’s go on to the Indochina question – Iwould like to hear from you.

– Dr. Kissinger:ThePrime Minister said he had some observations he would like to make to me.May be we should reverse the places and lethim talk first.

– Prime Minister Chou:Theseare questions on which there are disputes, and we would like to listen to youfirst to see your solutions of the problem.

– Dr. Kissinger:Is thePrime Minister’s suggestion that after he’s heard me I will be so convincingthe disputes will have disappeared, and there will be no further need for himto make observations?

– Prime Minister Chou:I haveno 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 isuseful for you at any rate to understand how we see the situation.And it will take the situation from the startof the North Vietnamese offensive on March 10.

I believe that I have explained to the Prime Minister whatour general objectives in Indochina are.It is obvious that it cannot be the policy ofthis Administration to maintain permanent bases in Indochina, or to continuein Indochina the policies that were originated by theSecretary of State who refused to shake hands with the Prime Minister.It isn’t… we are in a different historicalphase.We believe that the future of ourrelationship with Peking is infinitely more important for the futureof that what happens in Phnom PenhHanoiSaigon

When President Johnson put American troops into Vietnam, you willremember that he justified it in part on the ground that what happened in Indochina was mastermindedin Peking and was part of a plot to take over theworld.Dean Rusk said this in a statement.You were then engaged in the CulturalRevolution and not, from my reading it, emphasizing foreign adventures.

So that, the mere fact that we are sitting in this roomchanges the objective basis of the original intervention in Indochina.For us who inherited the war, our problem hasbeen how to liquidate it in a way that does not affect our entire internationalposition and − this is not your primary concern − the domesticstability 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 theNorth Vietnamese in 1967 when I was only at the periphery of the government, ata time when it was very unpopular, because I believed there had to be apolitical end to the war.

So from the time wecame 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 Indochinesepeninsula and probably the strongest entity.And we have had no interest in destroying itor even in defeating it.After the endof the war, we will have withdrawn 12,000 miles.The Democratic RepublicVietnam will still be 300miles from Saigon.Thatis a reality which they don’t seem to understand. (Page 28 – 29)

To reassure Chou En-lai the U.S.would normalize relationship with Hanoiin 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 makea new relationship.If we can make itwith Peking why can we not do it with Hanoi?What has Hanoi done to us thatwould make it impossible to, say in ten years, establish a newrelationship?(Page 31)

And below is Dr. Kissinger’s statement in the last paragraphon page 37:

Dr. Kissinger:Sowe should find a way to end the war, to stop it from being an internationalsituation, and then permit a situation to develop inwhich the future on Indochina can be returned to the Indochinese people.And I can assure you that this is the onlyobject we have in Indochina, and I do not believe this can be sodifferent from yours.We want nothingfor 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 toaccept it in Indochina. (Page 37)

It was unknown if the PRC exerted any pressure on Hanoiafter this Kissinger – Chou meeting. Nevertheless, Hanoimulishly kept stalling negotiations while continuing to attack South Vietnam. Hanoi’sstubbornness infuriated President Nixon and he ordered a massive bombingcampaign in North Vietnamto force Hanoi back to thenegotiation table. The eleven-day deadly air raid duringXmas 1972 had accomplished what the wanted.Hanoi was on their knees andobediently returned to Paris for negotiation.From the operational and strategic point of view, the bombing must havecontinued to achieve a military victory when Hanoihad exhausted their air defense capability.But we, the U.S.,unilaterally decided to stop the bombing, willingly declined a militaryvictory, and was content to further negotiation with Hanoi!!!

Sir Robert Thompson, a renowned British counterinsurgencyexpert 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 wonthe war, it was all over! They had fired 1242 SAM’s, they had none left, andwhat would have come in over land from China would be a meretrickle. 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 apeace agreement in January, which you had not been able to get inOctober”.

The RVN steadfastly refused to sign the Paris Peace Accordformulated by the U.S.and the DRV because it was dangerously in favor of the DRV.However, under repeated threats juxtaposedwith serious promises by President Nixon to severely retaliate against Hanoiin the event of their violation, the RVN had no choice but to sign theagreement on January 27, 1973.A few months following the signing of theParis 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 stemmingfrom the Watergate scandal. On September 1974, U.S. Congress cut military aidto the RVN to the bone causing incalculable destruction to the morale of combatsoldiers and the general public.Duringthis time, the PRC and the USSRquadrupled their logistical support to Hanoipaving the way for the April 30, 1975outcome.

In conclusion, the U.S.had to do what it must do because, as Kissinger explained to Chou in themeeting: For us who inheritedthe war, our problem has been how to liquidate it in a way that does not affectour entire international positionandbecause ofthedomestic stability in the United States.The fear of communist expansion or the domino theory disappeared withthis Sino-U.S. rapprochement.Additionally, this would also open the potentially huge, lucrativemarket in mainland Chinafor U.S. Corporations and investors.Toachieve all these benefits, the U.S.arbitrarily accepted the deal with Chinain June 1972 at the expense of the RVN.

On the thirty-third anniversary of the close of thatembittered chapter, as a former Vietnamese combatant of that war, I earnestlywish to reassure the younger generation of the Vietnamese American:

In defense of ourdemocracy in South Viet Nam against the communist, your elder generation had given, for the mostpart, their utmost best under the worst of circumstances. You can shamelesslylook at any ignorant or misled bigot straight in the eyes with no inferiorcomplex.These bigots may probably have been dully-influenced by slantedreports, books written by defeatist or liberal writers.You could help direct them to search forrecently declassified national security documents and many impartial, honestaccounts of the war portrayed by unbiased, honest writers.

To all my Vietnamese brothers-in arms:

-Of course we, the RVNand the ARVN, like most nations on earth, were not perfect. We had our share ofinept political leaders as well as incompetent field commanders.We realize there were times our leader’shands were tied by our major ally.Wealso understand we sacrificed many best years of our lives fighting despotismto protect liberty and freedom so our citizens could dissent and even undermineour effort.Yet we had foughtcourageously against overwhelming odds and hundreds of thousands of our friendslost their lives for the just cause.Wedid not win because the outcome was determined by superpower politics. Obviouslyit was way beyond the soldier’s responsibility.If we, the RVN, had it our way, unquestionably,the outcome of the war would have beendifferent.

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.Thelast U.S. military unit left Viet Nam since March 1973.The final collapse of the RVN occurred onApril 30, 1975. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the U.Sdid not losethe war in Vietnam militarily. You have fulfilled the call of duty admirably.We salute you.We thank you for serving and for helping usin Viet Nam.Ironically, politics dictated theoutcome.But don’t be bothered; only ignorantor misled individualswould buy the notion that America lost the war in Vietnam militarily.

Correct spelling of Viet Nam must be two separate words.

Also known as Poulo Condore, a penal island for politicalor high-risk prisoners.

Viet Nam Quoc Dan Đang or Viet Quoc. Vietnamese NationalistParty.

Viet Nam Cach Menh Dong Minh Hoi aka VietnameseRevolutionary Allied League.

Vietnamese Communist Party.

Democratic RepublicViet NamViet Nam Cong Hoa in Vietnamese.

Viet Minh abbreviated for Viet Nam Cach Menh Dong Minh Hoi

From Le livre noir du communisme,by Stéphane Courtois et. al, 1997.

Forcomplete details of Kissinger – Chou meeting, please check the link below: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB193/HAK%206-20-72.pdf

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