Tag Archives: Ho Chi Minh

Vietnam Conflict – The Early Diem Presidency

President Ngo Dinh Diem was a controversial figure even before claiming presidency of South Vietnam. Once it became public that the United States backed him on his run for president, the French issued a statement claiming that Diem was “not only incapable, but mad.” However, Colonel Edward Lansdale and Lieutenant Colonel Lucien Conein believed Diem, a warlord from Hue, was the best available choice to keep South Vietnam from falling under the control of communism. Diem, a devout Catholic, was born into one of the elite families associated with the Vietnamese imperial family. Immediately after World War II, Ho Chi Minh, who was forming his government in North Vietnam, asked Diem to take a position in his administration. Diem turned him down. Ho had hoped to take advantage of Diem’s religion to gain support from Catholics.

In an attempt to provide close guidance, Lansdale moved into the palace with President Ngo Dinh Diem before his election and stayed until late 1956. Lansdale and Diem became close friends, and to a large extent, Lansdale was able to keep Diem focused on his presidency while continuing his psy-ops program, named Saigon Military Mission, against the North.

Lansdale was transferred back to Washington, DC, in 1957 and promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations working out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Shortly after Lansdale left, Diem changed how he conducted himself as president. Diem had campaigned for land reform and to remove the anti-Buddhist laws that had been imposed by the French. The French, which were predominately Catholic, had controlled most of the land and the wealth in Indochina for decades, despite representing only ten percent of the country’s population. Moreover, the largest landowner in Vietnam was the Catholic Church. Most of Diem’s government officials were Catholics, yet seventy percent of the country was Buddhist. Needless to say, like most politicians, Diem failed to keep his campaign promises. At the end of the 1950s, the anti-Buddhist laws were still on the books and seventy-five percent of the land was still held by fifteen percent of the population.

The North Vietnamese government pressed Diem to comply with the Geneva Accords by holding elections in July 1956, to which Diem had not agreed and which he refused to do. Ho Chi Minh harassed the South Vietnamese government by sending loyalists from the North to organize armed citizens against the Diem government. By 1959, some 1,200 of South Vietnamese government officials were murdered by the North Vietnamese or by South Vietnamese who were loyal to the North.

Diem pushed back hard. First, he arrested and imprisoned communists and socialists. Next, he went after journalists, trade-unionists and leaders of religious groups, mainly Buddhists. Even children found writing anti-Diem messages on walls were put in prison. As a result of Diem’s actions, soon 100,000 people were in prison camps. Still, the US poured money into South Vietnam and encouraged Catholic refugees from the North to come to the South to escape the communist-leaning Ho Chi Minh.

By the end of the Eisenhower presidency, there were rumblings within the US government against Diem’s governing practices—mainly, that  he was not following US suggestions. But they were stuck with the seated president because they did not believe there were any alternatives.

So by the end of the 1950s, Vietnam had a large number of issues. Were you aware of how bad this situation had become?

Vietnam – Undermining the Geneva Peace Conference

As I wrote in my previous blog on Vietnam and the Geneva Peace Conference, politicians on both sides made agreements at the conference table that neither side planned to follow. The Geneva Peace Conference Accords favored the North, mostly because it was driven by China’s Zhou En-lai and the North Vietnamese Representatives.

The first thing Ho Chi Minh did was kill off political opposition to him within North Vietnam. Next, Ho sent Viet Minh soldiers into South Vietnam to intimidate and kill innocent civilians. Soon their intimidation turned to recruiting people in the South to follow their cause—or die. To say the least, it was an effective campaign.

The United States did not earn any angel wings, either, but remember, neither the United States nor South Vietnam signed the Accords. However, they did say they would comply with those Accords.

But in this blog, I want to focus on two of my favorite real-life people—Edward Lansdale and Lucien Conein. They were true American heroes from a time when we needed men such as these. I love these guys—they’re so full of larger-than-life qualities—both good and bad. Great for writing.

In the summer of 1954, Lansdale, an Air Force Colonel and CIA agent whose specialty was counter-insurgency, led a team of agents that included  CIA agents Conein as his second in command  as well as Theodore Shackley into Vietnam to begin a series of covert operations against North Vietnam. Many of those sabotage missions failed.Their goal was to mount a propaganda campaign to persuade the Vietnamese people in the South not to vote for the Communists in future elections.

Conein’s “cover” going back into Vietnam was to arrange air transport for northerners fleeing the Communist Viet Minh. However, his assignment was to sabotage the victorious Viet Minh takeover of northern Vietnam by creating a stay-behind setup for possible guerrilla resistance. Besides sabotaging the public transportation system detailed above, Conein was to leave behind necessary supplies for a rebellion against the Communist regime. He came up with the novel idea of packing military hardware into coffins and burying them in cemeteries. However, the anti-Communist uprisings never materialized. In October 1954g, in the last days the U.S. personnel were to be in Hanoi, a special CIA-trained team led by Conein contaminated the oil supply for the public transportation. This was done so the motors would fail slowly.

Conein was never short on creativity. When the French were pulling out of Vietnam and very up-set with the Americans, Lansdale requested the new US Ambassador fortify his personal residence. The Ambassador didn’t heed his advice. So, on his way home from dinner, Conein drove by the Ambassador’s residence and tossed a live grenade on his front yard. I can just see the man laughing all the way home.

The next day, the Ambassador accepted Lansdale’s suggestion.

As election time rolled around in South Vietnam, Lansdale’s role broadened to finding a leader who could consolidate power. Both North and South Vietnam had been “governed” by territorial warlords for decades. As mentioned earlier, Ho Chi Minh did what he needed to do to consolidate his power in the North with the help of Red China and to a lesser degree the Soviet Union. In the South, Lansdale selected Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic in a predominately Buddhist country, from a number of warlords to run against Bao Dai, the former emperor and a member of the Vietnamese royal family. Bao Dai had been propped up as a figurehead by the French prior to World War II, but he fled the country when the Japanese invaded. So when election time came in October 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bao Dai and Diem for the leadership of the country. Lansdale suggested that Diem have the election commission provide two ballots, a red one for those voting for Diem and a green one for those voting for Bao Dai. Lansdale made this suggestion because of the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck while green indicated bad fortune—just another small way in which he could help influence the result.

During the voting process, Diem supporters dominated the polling places. Some voters claimed they were told to put the red ballots in envelopes and to throw the green ballots away. There was also violence against Bao Dai voters. Basically, the election was held under third-world conditions. Lansdale believed he had to consolidate power quickly because he thought it was only a matter of time before the Communists would resort to open warfare.

With the results never in doubt, Diem told Lansdale and US officials that he’d won 98.2 % of the vote. Lansdale warned him these figures would not be believed and suggested he publish a figure of around 70 %. Diem refused, as the Americans predicted, since he used the higher figures, it was the beginning of mistrust of his administration from the very beginning.

Lansdale’s next assignment was to train the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in modern fighting methods. In May 1956, the US sent 350 military advisors, which was a direct violation of the Geneva Accords.

The Geneva Peace Conference Accords called for talks to begin between the two Vietnams in July 1956 to set forth plans for elections late the following year to unify the divided country. Diem refused to comply. The US knew Diem was so unpopular that he had no chance of being elected against Ho Chi Minh. As a result, the US had to scramble to come up with a solution to this imminent crisis.

So, long before the US officially joined the Vietnam conflict by sending troops, Lansdale and Conein were there stirring the pot.

Were you aware of this part of world history? Do you think these things still go on today?

Vietnam and the Geneva Peace Conference

 

In July 1954, after the Vietnamese victory at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva Peace Conference convened. Those in attendance included delegations from the northern and southern sections of Vietnam, the United States, Communist China, French, British, and the Soviet Union. Great Britain and the Soviet Union acted as co-chairs of the Geneva Peace Conference, and the International Control Commission (ICC) was responsible for preparing progress reports and moderating issues as they arose. The success of the ICC’s work depended on the cooperation of the governments of North and South Vietnam.

Some important points were decided at the conference. Vietnam was to be divided into a northern and a southern section. The partition was to be in place for only two years, after which elections were to be held to reunite the country under one elected leader. North Vietnam’s capital was in Hanoi, while South Vietnam’s capital was in Saigon. The independent states of Cambodia and Laos were also established.

Another point from the conference was the agreement that  no foreign troops could enter Vietnam during the two-year period of division. Ho Chi Minh reluctantly signed off on the agreement, though he believed it cheated him out of the spoils of his victory over the French.

Zhou En-lai, Chairman Mao political “right-hand man” and the leader of the Chinese delegation, encouraged the division of Vietnam in an attempt to hold the burgeoning power of Vietnam in check. Keeping the Southeast Asian nations fragmented made them more susceptible to Chinese influence, thereby enabling the Chinese to increase their power and influence in the region. The Chinese remembered the lessons from their imperial past. However, neither the southern section of Vietnam nor the United States would sign the final conference agreement. Additionally, neither South Vietnam nor the US believed the French would stay in Vietnam until the elections, scheduled to be held no later than 1956. Though both the US and the new government of South Vietnam had refused to sign the Geneva agreements, the US declared it would “not use force to disturb the Geneva settlement.” Instead, it would seek “to achieve unity through free elections, supervised by the United Nations to ensure that they are conducted freely.”

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) trained Vietnamese troops in China and provided military supplies, then moved two hundred thousand of their own troops to the Vietnamese border. This would be a key issue throughout the Vietnam Conflict

Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh was unwilling to sit idly by while the peace conference accords played out. He wanted to take advantage of his momentum from the defeat of the French. He pushed communist ideology merged with a strong nationalism. He gathered a wide following in the North and formed guerilla groups, which would ultimately become the National Liberation Front (NLF), more commonly called Viet Cong, whose purpose was to reunite the country under communist rule.

The US did not sit on their hands either. They feared the spread of communism throughout southeast Asia (the Domino Theory—one falls to communism and they all fall), and knew both North Vietnamese and Communist China would try to push their influence on the South.

However, there were conflicts within the US government, as well as divisions within organizations. The CIA analysts, with an extensive working knowledge of Indochina, were aware that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army were not willing to do more than assist the French. Much of their concerns were based on US military studies which concluded that Indochina’s location and terrain were not suited for effective US military action. The Joint Chiefs concluded, “From the point of view of the United States, with reference to the Far East as a whole, Indochina is devoid of decisive military objectives, and the allocation of more than token US armed forces to the area would be a serious diversion of limited US capabilities.”

President Eisenhower had a different opinion than the Joint Chiefs. He did not believe the French would stay engaged in the region. Even when the Joint Chiefs of Staff advised the President that getting involved in Vietnam was devoid of decisive military objectives. However, Eisenhower maintained his belief in the Domino Theory and insisted the US couldn’t sit idly by while South Vietnam was overtaken by communists.

After the Geneva Peace Conference, the US government scrambled to develop a policy that would, at the least, save South Vietnam from the communists. Enter two of my favorite real people to write about: Colonel Edward G. Lansdale of the CIA, who would lead a team of agents; and Lieutenant Colonel Lucien Conein, a CIA agent in Saigon who was to begin a series of covert operations against North Vietnam. Lansdale and Conein had a flare that any author would love to exploit. An author doesn’t have to use hyperbole when writing about them—they are naturals for intrigue and drama. Lansdale has been a featured character in all of my novels thus far, and Conein appears in my Vietnam series.

When politicians meet to discuss how to implement “Communist Containment” it is often our servicemen and women who are put in harm’s way without winnable objectives. Containment with rules of engagement was never a friend to our service men and women.The situation is compounded when politicians try to micro-manage the conflict. As happened during the Vietnam era, our servicemen and women become Pawns—mere game pieces to be played by politicians.

Do you agree? Why or why not?

 

 

 

President Johnson and the Vietnam Conflict

Fifty years ago this month, the United States elected President Lyndon B. Johnson to a full term by a landslide. President Johnson, a.k.a. LBJ, won by more than sixteen million vote over the right-wing, ultra-conservative, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. The Electoral College results were even more one-sided; President Johnson received 486 Electoral College votes to Goldwater’s fifty-two.

Johnson had campaigned that he would continue the late President Kennedy’s policies, if elected, which included maintaining a low number of troops in Vietnam. Conversely, the Republican candidate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, campaigned that he would consider using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Additionally, Goldwater was opposed to one of Johnson’s main platform issues—Civil Rights legislation. While I have always believed this was the critical factor in Goldwater’s loss, this blog will focus on Johnson’s Vietnam policy, since I am writing a series of books on Vietnam. What got me started on this series of books is that, several years ago, I saw a bumper sticker which said, “We were winning Vietnam when I left!”Silhouette fedora

As World War II was winding down, President Roosevelt made a deal with Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of free China, to occupy Vietnam. The Chinese would take the North and the United States and France would take the South. They agreed to hold unification elections, as soon as possible. However, China went through a monumental change: the communists won the Civil War, therefore, North Vietnam was occupied by the communists. Then North Vietnam picked Ho Chi Minh to be their leader. Ho Chi Minh had led the country in their defeat of the French, who was trying to re-claim Vietnam as one of their territories. He was viewed as a liberator. Therefore, one of the largest obstacles to peace in Vietnam was overcoming the North, being led by Ho Chi Minh. The South could not come up with anyone to match this charismatic leader. Therefore, the United States refused to allow “free” elections, because they believed those elections would lead to the country falling into the hands of the communists.

The Democratic Party had been vulnerable for having “lost” China to the communists and being satisfied with letting the Korean Conflict end in a draw. The CIA still had two strong opposing factions. One side put forth what would become known as the Domino Theory, which in essence claimed that if Vietnam fell, all of Southeast Asia would fall, and the US would lose a strategic defensive position in the Far Pacific. This theory was held by four administrations; Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. First, President Kennedy, then President Johnson, repeatedly stated that they were not going to be the US Presidents who “lost” Vietnam and Southeast Asia. In the lead up to the election, Johnson quietly grew the US ground forces in Vietnam; however, the United States public was not informed this action.

So what did LBJ do after elected? He did exactly what he wanted! He believed his landslide was a mandate. Kennedy had believed that he could fight the Vietnamese without committing a large number of troops, instead using limited engagements, quick-strike operations with Special Forces, CIA-trained men, or Green Beret. He had consulted with retired General Douglas MacArthur, who might have had the most knowledge of the Asian Theater of anyone alive at that time. MacArthur had advised Kennedy that air and naval support, in conjunction with the South Vietnamese Army, was the way to win this conflict, but it was absolutely not the place for ground troops. Johnson, on the other hand, was beholding to “Big Oil” and the “Military Industrial Complex”; therefore, he needed a way to escalate the Vietnam Conflict to appease the people who funded his re-election. He was given the perfect scenario, the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”, which in reality was nothing more than a false flag to escalate the United States’ role in Vietnam.

The situation was further compounded by Johnson trying to manage the Conflict from the White House, as opposed to taking the advice of officers on the ground. Johnson’s mismanagement was instrumental in the malaise created in Vietnam. Moreover, the US troops were the first to have rules of engagement placed on them. Additionally, many of the South Vietnamese people did not respect our troops, and in many cases, they viewed our troops as occupiers, much like the French. Conversely, our troops knew that many of these Vietnamese were friendly during the day and Vietcong soldiers during the night. This made for a terrible situation where a large numbers of troops were encamped.

Vietnam became a quagmire, and while our troops were winning the fighting, it was totally misrepresented in the press back in the United States. Ultimately, Johnson chose not to run for re-election, and the American public turned against the Vietnamese Conflict and our troops who fought there. While there were atrocities, such as Mai Lia, most of our soldiers acted and fought honorably, but were treated poorly by the U.S. public.

What is your opinion of the Johnson Administration and their handling of the Vietnam Conflict?