Latest Read: Viet Nam A History from Earliest Times to the Present

Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present by Ben Kiernan is a refreshing historical view void of French or American influence. Kiernan is a professor of History, International, and Area Studies at Yale University.
Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the PresentMy interest, of course,  French and American wars focused on Part Five: Colonies: Chapter 9 Writing and Revolution from Colonialism to Independence, 1920-54.

Kiernan delivers an amazing deep look at the American nightmare in Southeast Asia in the twentieth century. We have few if any books that look at Vietnam’s history from Kiernan’s perspective.

Still seeking to learn new insights into French rule across Indochina this was a deep, intense review of the shifting powers between Ho Chi Minh and Bao Dai. Kiernan should be credited with documenting the impact of a great famine over the previous sixty years.

This produced a very odd relationship. Bao Dai was the final emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, the last ruling family of Vietnam. Until the end of the Second World War, Bao Dai was appointed emperor of Annam under French rule. His role remained after March 1945 when Japanese troops ousted French military rule throughout Indochina. He abdicated upon the Japanese surrendered.

Yet during the previous two generations, thousands of Vietnamese starved to death. Kiernan reveals in elaborate research the role of journalism spreading in the early 1900s throughout Indochina. The most immediate impact was upon Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism throughout Vietnam. This also launched the first public political parties in 1919.

Bao Dai ruled the State of Vietnam from 1949 to 1955 under French influence during the first Indochina war. Yet he ruled from Hong Kong and China. After the French installed Dai to govern the country, Ho persuaded Dai to abdicate in August 1945. His departure handed power to the Viet Minh. Yet Dai was appointed Supreme Advisor to Ho’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Continue reading “Latest Read: Viet Nam A History from Earliest Times to the Present”

Latest read: Street without Joy

Bernard Fall‘s excellent and respected Street Without Joy provides deep insights to the French catastrophe in Vietnam culminating at Dien Bien Phu. Fall is recognized as a respected journalist who understood the failure of France. He was on the ground with French troops.

Street without Joy

Fall’s experience sharing French losses are shocking even 50 years later. And yet in war there are a number of truly heroic acts by French and American soldiers fighting a determined Viet Minh enemy.

Declassified in 2005 American pilots James McGovern and Wallace Buford where killed flying over Dien Bien Phu, just 24 hours before the French surrender.

Fall illustrates a perfect example of the French effort: in 1953 the army spent $20 million dollars to build a runway. It buckled when the first airplane landed and was abandoned.

France was complete decimated by World War II. The country literally did not have an air force until 1950. French planes supporting IndoChina included just 60 Spitfires — made from wood and canvas. Most planes were German Junkers 52s. The true irony, the French had to actually locate parts in Germany to repair Junkers damaged fighting the Viet Minh. For French pilots the demands were worse:

Nothing has thus far been said about the incredible strain of that operation on the air and ground crews of the French Far Eastern Air Force and Naval Aviation. At the height of the battle, in April 1954, many crews logged 150 flying hours. Dozens of pilots collapsed from exhaustion, but simply were doped up and returned to combat, for experienced pilots rapidly became even scarcer than aircraft. When, in the face of possible diplomatic complications, the American civilian air crews and their C-119’s were pulled out on April 24 from the Dien Bien Phu run—they were allowed to return to the run on May 1 – there remained only fifty French planes capable of flying the long and exhausting mission.
–page262

Embers of War reminds us that Parisians concerned about the welfare of the garrison, a majority of soldiers were not French. The colonial French Union permitted France under their empire to place soldiers from Laos, Cambodia, Tunisia, French Guinea and Morocco at Dien Bien Phu. As the battle inched closer a stunning 3,000 to 4,000 Moroccan troops deserted their posts and escaped into the jungle. The empire was over.

It would not be fair to say Fall ignored the horrors of war in this book. The tremendous loss of life, even French officers who lost sons fighting the Viet Minh. While tragically sobering it was not enough to change America’s focus off long term goals in Europe that played out in IndoChina ten years later.

Most strikingly President Eisenhower established Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) IndoChina in 1950. US Army Lt. General John O’Daniel was appointed Chief of MAAG Indo-China. O’Daniel actually toured Dien Bien Phu less than 90 days before the siege. He reported the garrison to be in a sound position.

Latest read: Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America’s Albatross

It took me four years to locate Why Viet Nam?: Prelude to America’s Albatross by Archimedes Patti. US Army Lieutenant Colonel Patti joined the OSS (CIA) and was assigned to Indo-China in January 1944 six months before D-Day. This is one of those rare books that layout the foundation of America’s role in Vietnam before the end of World War II.

Why Viet Nam?The strong Vietnamese opposition to French and British efforts to re-colonize IndoChina after World War II for natural resources. Sound familiar? Patti provides surprising details regarding the CIA’s established relationship with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh.

This is simply a must read to understand how the CIA, US Army and US State Department established a foundation for IndoChina during World War II.

Yet for all of Ho’s efforts Patti reveals from D-Day to the dropping of the atomic bomb that old white European leaders alone determined the future of IndoChina with a second run of colonial exploitation of Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodian peoples.

Patti was able to document the original developing political structures in Asia by the middle of World War II. Patti began meeting with Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. He writes how both developed an independant and nationalist view of Vietnam’s future vs continued European and Chinese colonialism.

Make no mistake Dean Acheson established the “creation of an American world order” while Patti was the CIA officer on the ground. The CIA and State Department’s initial records on Ho Chi Minh were established in a cable written on December 31 1942 as the CIA was seeking French relations with Texaco in IndoChina.

Continue reading “Latest read: Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America’s Albatross”

Latest read: Embers of War

Fredrick Logevall won the 2013 Pulitzer for Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. Today America continues to hold a quiet, deep divide when looking inward to find the truth regarding our long nightmare in Vietnam.

Logevall traces America’s involvement to Paris at the end of World War I. A young Nguyen Ai Quoc sought support at the June 1919 Paris Peace Conference from US President Wilson. Quoc carried a declaration addressing a free Vietnam. He never met with Wilson. At the conclusion of the conference Nguyen Ai Quoc, translated to mean “He Who Loves his Country” changed his name to Ho Chi Minh.

Embers of War

Astounding that in 1919 a young revolutionary could patiently wait 50 years for his opportunity to bring independence to Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh would become (much to our regret) one of the most famous revolutionaries in history.

He led his country to defeat two western powers in a devastating war that lasted over 30 years. His cause was a war of independence against the French and then the Americans.

Interesting to learn how well Ho Chi Minh understood America. He lived in Boston and New York City. He worked as a cook, a baker and later a production line manager for General Motors before returning to Europe.

Embers of War beautifully illustrates how the US State Department shifted policy from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman. It was only strengthened under Eisenhower. It is still difficult to imagine the level of initial support in men, money and weapons we gave to support Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh against French colonial rule after World War II. It is a stark wake up to read how CIA advisors met with Ho Chi Minh and our US Army units training his troops.

Continue reading “Latest read: Embers of War”