Dr. Ta Van Tai
Dr. Tai, born in North Vietnam, came south with his family after the 1954 Geneva Conference along with a million other northern refugees. He has a law degree from the University of Saigon and a Master degree and doctorate from the University of Virginia in International Relations.
In 1965, he returned to Vietnam to work as an attorney and professor of law and political science. Having fled Vietnam in 1975 for the U.S., he earned a law degree from Harvard in 1985, passed the Massachusetts bar in 1986, and has practiced as an attorney ever since.
Concurrently, he continued his association with Harvard as a research fellow and lecturer in Chinese-Vietnamese law. His many books and articles include The Vietnamese Tradition of Human Rights, Immigrants in American Courts, and The Code of the Le Dynasty (co-author). He has returned to Vietnam in a variety of academic roles.
Dr. Tai appears in Who’s Who in American Law, Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in America, and Who’s Who Among Asian Americans.
LESSONS FROM THE VIETNAM WAR
Lessons? For whom? They are different for the different parties. An American might be tempted to fix on who “lost” Vietnam – Congress, the executive, the military or the media. A South Vietnamese would surely name the U.S. pullout as a major factor in his country’s defeat and draw some obvious conclusions. As for the victorious North Vietnamese, Foreign Minister Nguyễn Cơ Thạch once gave an arrogant reply to Robert McNamara’s proposal for a lessons-learned symposium: “We won the war; why would we need to learn any lesson from it?” Yet the Communists, it can be said, lost the peace for the first decade after the war ended in 1975, because they suffered an embargo, were denied normalization with the U.S., and presided over a backward country that kept their people’s lives miserable for many years in comparison with other Southeast Asian nations.
For the Communists, too, there are lessons to be learned. Despite an autocratic regime which does not tolerate political dissent, and which abuses human rights, perhaps they have learned some lessons. According to the World Bank in 2018, for example:
“Vietnam’s development record over the past 30 years is remarkable. Economic and political reforms under Đổi Mới [an economic reform program], launched in 1986, have spurred rapid economic growth and development and transformed Vietnam from one of the world’s poorest nations to a lower middle-income country.” (155)
Despite the complexities, I will try to answer the lessons-learned question as a conscientious historian who was a member of South Vietnamese society and is now a grateful U.S. citizen, and as a person who looks back at his motherland with his best wishes for the people there, even as he criticizes certain Vietnamese government policies. I will try to take the long view of history.
I see five lessons from the Vietnam War of 1960 to 1975, so called to distinguish it from the 1945 to 1954 Indochina War.:
- First, changing national interests in the Vietnam war led to drastic changes in the war’s nature and the strategy needed to fight it successfully.
- War should end with a negotiated peace, and with a political solution that sees an end to the intransigence that is appropriate for war but not for peace.
- The people are the final arbiter on a war’s conduct. War should be referred to the people as the ultimate arbiter. War should not be between armed forces directed solely by generals and their leaders but should be supported by the population as a whole, who should be consulted when war is declared and when peace is negotiated.
- If peace is to be enduring, war should end with reconciliation.
- South Vietnamese and American Presidential leadership was one factor in the Vietnam War’s outcome.
Hindsight, of course, makes the war’s lessons easier to understand. But a scholar’s well-researched views on the lessons of history can still serve policy-makers well, even during urgent deliberations, because they can enable sound solutions with fewer missteps. Confucius, Sun Yu, Aristotle
1.The first lesson: Changing national interests in the Vietnam war led to drastic changes in the war’s nature and the strategy needed to fight it successfully.
In Vietnam, a civil war became uncontrollable because it became an internationalized proxy war, with outside powers intervening to suit their interests, and with the United States then abandoning the fray because its interests had changed. (156)
Vietnam’s protracted, bloody Communist-nationalist civil war became an internationalized conflict promoted by the two big power blocs, and the two sides in the small country of Vietnam were touted as a vanguard of the Socialist Bloc and the bulwark of the Free World. Both sides depended on the big powers’ political, military and economic support. Once the United States started cooperating with China after Kissinger’s and Nixon’s trips to Beijing, the Americans had no more national security interest in devoting resources to defend South Vietnam.
So the U.S. abandoned South Vietnam. It made many concessions to North Vietnam (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or DRV) in the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, agreeing to a “leopard skin” ceasefire in South Vietnam (the Republic of Vietnam, or RVN) that left North Vietnamese troops in place, jeopardizing the South’s survival, and aiming to bring home American troops and prisoners of war to satisfy the American public. At the same time, the U.S. failed to replace lost South Vietnamese arms and ammunition on a one-for-one basis, as
When North Vietnam’s all-out invasion caused the South to collapse in 1975, Secretary of State Kissinger hid from Congress the promise of President Nixon in his letters to President Thiệu to come to the rescue of South Vietnam with B52 bombing and arms aid; thus, both Congress and President Ford talked at the end only about the evacuation of the Americans from Vietnam. U.S Ambassador Graham Martin, visiting Washington at that time, condemned the American stance. “I think all over the world, everyone has reached a conclusion very harmful to us. That is it would be better to be an ally of Communism than to have the woe of being an ally of the United States.”
The South Vietnamese leaders, of course, should have been aware long before 1975, of the
I began around that time to express, as a scholar-professor, my worry of the impact of decreased United States support for relevant South Vietnamese officials, such as the colonels and generals who studied at the National Defense College in Sài Gòn. (157)
With the U.S. disengagement and drastically fewer supplies, the South Vietnamese had to face by themselves the continued civil war waged by the Vietnamese Communists, who launched their final offensive with maximum assistance in arms and transportation from China and the Soviet Union. After the resignation of President Thiệu in late April 1975, the successive South Vietnamese governments of Trần Văn Hương and Dương Văn Minh tried to negotiate a cease-fire, as if the civil war could be settled among “Vietnamese brothers,” with the encouragement and good offices of French Ambassador Merillon, trying to carry on for the fading Americans.
But the victorious North Vietnamese forced the Dương Văn Minh government to accept unconditional surrender Dương Văn Minh on April 30, 1975. The political compromise that Thiệu could have pursued with the signing of the Paris Accords in 1973 was no longer available in the face of the now-lopsided imbalance of power (Thiệu himself had previously said that South Vietnam’s military potential had decreased by 60 percent). The South Vietnamese were now aiming mainly at a short humanitarian interregnum for those who feared for their lives under the Communists to leave Vietnam, as in 1954, when hundreds of thousands of refugees moved from the North to South Such a cease-fire was also meant to avoid the burial of Sài Gòn under a sea of firepower (biển lửa) at the hands of Communist troops. (158)
The Americans, even after abandoning South Vietnam as a result of their changing view of their national strategic interests, did not abandon their humanitarian instincts. In 1975, President Ford proposed to Congress that the U.S. fund the rescue of Vietnamese refugees from inside Vietnam or from the South China Sea, and bring them halfway around the world to the United States, welcoming them to their second homeland at a time when they might have been regarded as simply the flotsam and jetsam of the Vietnam War. For this, Vietnamese in the United States will always thank the American people.
On the issue of whether the Vietnam War was a civil war or an international war by proxy, the answer is not a simple one. It was first a civil war, beginning, from 1945 and before the French attempted to return to Indochina. Then, gradually, it was internationalized by the British, the Nationalist Chinese, the French, the Americans and finally the People’s Republic of China, all injecting into Indochina their concern for their own national interests. Finally, after the 1973 Paris Peace Accords and the withdrawal of American troops and the return of American prisoners, the war returned to its civil-war status.
After the Việt Minh under Hồ Chí Minh seized power in August 1945, there was, early in September some friction between the Việt Minh and the Vietnamese Nationalist forces. The latter accused the Việt Minh of being Communists; the Việt Minh, in turn, denounced their opponents — the Việt Nam Cách Mệnh Đồng Minh Hội VNCMĐMH, or Vietnam Revolutionary Alliance) and the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (VNQDĐ, or Vietnam Nationalist Party) — as reactionaries. These Nationalist forces planned to rely on the support of China’s Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party of Chiang Kai Shek) – support they had enjoyed since their exile to China after the failed rebellion of Nguyễn Thái Học in 1930 — in their plot to overthrow the Provisional Coalition Government of Vietnam (Chính phủ Liên hiệp Lâm thời Việt Nam), formed by Hồ Chí Minh on January 1, 1946, even though they already had a few representatives inside that government.
But these Nationalist parties could not carry out their plan; they lacked unity and had no popular base inside Vietnamese society due to their years in exile. They had only the hoped-for support of the corrupt Chinese generals who were coming to disarm the Japanese. Moreover, in organizing demonstrations and countering propaganda, the Vietnamese Nationalists were less skilled than the Việt Minh , who had abundant experience in these matters since Hồ Chí Minh, with the approval of Nationalist Chinese General Zhang Fakui, returned from China to Vietnam in 1941 ( under the name of the Vietnam Revolutionary Alliance, of which the Việt Minh was a member).
Moreover, the Việt Minh had the support of Chinese Nationalist generals Lu Han and Tieu Van, whom they bribed with opium and gold collected from the people, and these Chinese generals forced the Vietnamese Nationalists to stay, albeit reluctantly, in the Communist-dominated Provisional Coalition Government of Vietnam. The Việt Minh also had support from the Third Communist International and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime intelligence agency of the United States. The Việt Minh organized meetings, marches
There was some restraint. A Communist party member asked Hồ Chí Minh, “Dear Uncle, why let those murderous traitors live? Please just give the order and we will liquidate all of them in one night.” Ho just smiled. ”If there was a mouse in this room, would you throw a stone at it or try to catch it? Using a stone will break precious things. To achieve great work, we must have farsightedness.”
The Nationalist-Communist friction might conceivably have stopped right there, allowing Hồ Chí Minh and the leaders of the Nationalist parties to avoid civil war. In previous times, as exiles in China, the two had shared dangers, and Nationalist leaders Nguyễn Hải Thần and Vũ Hồng Khanh had helped save the life of Hồ Chí Minh by intervening in Liuzhou, China with the Nationalist Chinese general who detained him. After capturing power in the August 1945 Revolution, Hồ Chí Minh tried to win the cooperation of the Nationalists for the new government before the returning French sowed disunion.
Hồ embraced Nguyễn Hải Thần of the Vietnam Revolutionary Alliance (Việt Nam Cách Mệnh Đồng Minh Hội) and implored the Nationalist parties to cooperate with him. The Provisional Coalition Government of Vietnam included representatives of the Nationalists, such as Vũ Hồng Khanh of the Vietnam Nationalist Party (Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng, or VNQDĐ), Nguyễn Tường Tam of the Đại Việt (Greater Vietnam) group, and Nguyễn Hải Thần of the Vietnam Revolutionary Alliance. The government, if coupled with Hồ Chí Minh ‘s restraining his Communist cadres from assassinating the Nationalist leaders, could have avoided the civil war. (159)
Unfortunately, later in 1946, while Hồ Chí Minh was attending the Fontainebleau Conference in France and at the same time trying to invite Nationalist intellectuals in France to come home to help Vietnam, lower-level Communist leaders back in Vietnam such as Võ Nguyên Giáp, then Minister of Interior), ordered Việt Minh assassination squads (Bạn ám sát) to kill the Nationalists and destroy their headquarters and hinterland bases. By that time, the Nationalists no longer had the protection of the Nationalist Chinese generals. The Fontainebleau Agreements were a proposed arrangement between France and the Vietminh, made in 1946 before the outbreak of the First Indochina War. The agreements affiliated Vietnam under the French Union. At these meetings Ho Chi Minh pushed for Vietnamese independence, but the French would not agree to this proposal.
In the North, the Nationalist leaders who were killed or made to disappear were Ly Dong A, and Khai Hung and Truong Tu Anh, who set the example of an ascetic life and who slept in a bed made out of a window, according to his assistant, Bùi Tường Huân, who was later a Sài Gòn Law School professor), As for Vũ Hồng Khanh and Nguyễn Hải Thần, they had to flee to China.
In the South, leaders of the Trotskyite Fourth International such as Phan Văn Hùm, Tạ Thu Thâu, Lương Đức Thiệp, Phan Văn Chánh, and Trần Văn Thạch were killed or made to disappear. Non-Communist leaders were also liquidated. These included Hồ Vân Nga, Huỳnh Vân Phương, Dương Văn, Hồ Vĩnh Ký, Henriette Bùi Quang Chiêu, Huỳnh Phú Sổ, and other Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo notables. When the South’s National Assembly met on October 28, 1946, only 291 of the 444 representatives were present, and only 37 of the 70 representatives of the Vietnam Nationalist Party and the Vietnamese Revolutionary Alliance came, the others having been arrested. Later on, the 34 attending members also disappeared. Consequently, the Nationalist parties took an anti-Communist path. Some ran for cover (“chùm chăn”) i.e., became inactive, and, later, many adopted the Bảo Đại solution, joining the camp of the ex-Emperor.
I cite this long list of victims of the Việt Minh’s liquidation campaign to provide evidence for an objective historical evaluation of the Leninist terrorist strategy the Communists used to monopolize political power, which was the root cause of Vietnam’s civil war and involved the loss of leaders who could have contributed to the nation’s development.
This terrorist strategy was not necessary for the Việt Minh’s ascendancy, which could have been achieved via electoral majority — as in Hitler’s takeover of the Weimar regime or Putin’s hold on power. The terrorist strategy only damaged the Việt Minh’s status as the standard-bearer for Vietnam’s struggle for independence against the French. After many French provocations, it was only on December 28, 1946, that the Vietnam Resistance Government, the successor to the Provisional Coalition Government, withdrew from Hanoi into the hinterland.)
It is also true that the Provisional Coalition Government of Vietnam could have continued with the sharing of power between Nationalists and Communists without changing a civil war into an internationalized war by
As for the United States, it could have aided Vietnam’s struggle for independence under the Provisional Coalition Government of Vietnam if it had intervened earlier and more properly in accordance with President Roosevelt’s desire to prevent a French return to Vietnam. Once Roosevelt had passed away and was replaced by President Truman, the U.S. ignored Hồ Chí Minh’s eight letters to U.S. Presidents and Secretaries of State requesting support against the French attempt to return to Vietnam. Truman thought the U.S. needed France in the incipient Cold War against the Soviet Union.
French forces were helped in their reoccupation of South Vietnam by the British army, which was in Indochina to disarm the Japanese. Pursuant to the Chunking Agreement of February 28, 1946, between France and the Republic of China, which provided among other
By way of background, on March 6, 1946, France and North Vietnam concluded a Preliminary Agreement in
On September 14,
For their part, the Vietnamese Nationalists protested Ho’s accommodations with the French. They condemned, for example, North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyễn Tường Tam’s absence at the signing of the Preliminary Agreement. They also leveled the serious charge of “traitor” against Hồ
The civil-war character of the Vietnam War was revealed by, among other things, the fratricidal murders in later years, the atrocious land reform of 1953-54 in North Vietnam, and the killing of innocent people in Huế during the 1968 Tet offensive.
As for the internationalization of the Vietnam War, we must say that at the start it was not a war by proxy, because the Việt Minh government, on its own initiative, resisted the French attempt to take back Vietnam. This was a war of national liberation in which all Vietnamese patriots participated, not one in which the Soviet Union or Communist China entrusted the fighting to the Vietnamese. (Stalin, in fact, still treated Hồ Chí Minh badly, as revealed in
Later, the French
When in 1954 the Americans replaced the French in Vietnam in support of Ngô Đình Diệm, Vietnam was engaged more fully in a civil war in which each side had its own distinct territory, government, and population. The war, however, became more internationalized and more of a war by proxy. North Vietnam took on the international mission of spreading communism with the help of the Soviet Union and China in addition to the task of
At its peak in 1968, the American military presence was 536,000 men and women on the ground. About 2,700,000 American men and women served in Vietnam from 1957 to 1975 with, in addition, the Navy and the Air Force operating from the 7th Fleet and Thailand. (162)
In his memoir, South Vietnam’s former ambassador to Washington, Bùi Diễm, described the way the Americans invited themselves into the War in 1965. After field observation visits, U.S. Defense Secretary McNamara and the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked Diễm to draft a “letter of invitation” requesting American troops for Vietnam, bypassing both the U.S. Congress and the American people. This American self-invitation was buried in the joint communiqué prepared by Diễm, then a minister in the Vietnamese Prime Minister’s Office, to save South Vietnam’s face. Even then-U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, General Maxwell Taylor, was taken by surprise. Almost all of South Vietnam’s military and civilian officials opposed the Americanization of the war, just as President Diệm in his tenure had opposed the debarkation in Vietnam of American combat troops
The growing unpopularity in the United States of the war helped give traction to the strategy of Vietnamization within the Nixon administration. By that time, however, even the survival of South Vietnam as a nation-state was no longer of concern to many Americans. The idea of entrusting the war effort to the Vietnamese, with American assistance and war-materiel support for the defense of what some called a bulwark of The Free World, was abandoned by the U.S. after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, the return of the prisoners of war, and the improved relations with China and the Soviet Union, the main powers on the other side.
A lesson: a small country entrusted with a military role by
As for the United States, one lesson from the Vietnam War is to avoid sending combat troops to fight a land war that could result in American casualties, lead to antiwar protests at home, and produce a quagmire with no respectable exit. For South Vietnam, that could have meant war-materiel support, but no deployment of ground combat units, as a U.S. contribution to the deterrence of Communist expansion. The tiger fighting for its own survival in its own territory has every incentive to fight for its self-preservation. The U.S. should think out in advance an exit strategy for any conflict in order to satisfy the American public and to counter an enemy’s protracted conflict strategy, such as that of the Chinese Communists under Mao, who talked of a “ten-thousand-year war,” or the Islamists of today. This lesson from the Vietnam War concerns the optimum strategy of entering and exiting the war, and not the war’s objective, which was to deter or limit Communist expansion in Southeast Asia. That objective was a valid one, and it succeeded to a degree. Although the domino theory – that other Southeast Asian countries would fall to communism after Vietnam fell ‒ did not happen, the American intervention gave them time to consolidate themselves. There was also a certain psychological domino effect in the area of disrespect for American determination elsewhere in the world after 1975, and it might have contributed, for example, to the detention of American diplomats in Iran. As for the leaders in North Vietnam, they considered themselves revolutionary pioneers in Southeast Asia, became overambitious in their desire to assist other communist parties in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and elsewhere. According to archives of the Soviet Union, declassified after its dissolution, weapons from Vietnam were delivered to Africa via Cuba.
But Vietnam’s overstay in Cambodia (more than 10 years), after completing the praiseworthy mission of freeing it from the genocidal Pol Pot regime, and its failure to turn power over to the Cambodian people, led Vietnam into a quagmire and earned it China’s hostility for many years. This damaged Vietnam’s security interests and led to the border war launched by China in 1979 to, in the words of Deng Xiao Ping, “teach Vietnam a lesson.” Vietnam’s Cambodian adventure has been called “Vietnam’s Vietnam.”
On the other hand, the U.S.,
The transition from enemy to friend was made clear in many declarations, especially the 2005 observation by U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine that, after a period of dark relations, “…it is clear now that Vietnam and the U.S. have no strategic differences,” and that “the U.S. respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Vietnam and will resist firmly all plots to sow disunion or threat at the borders of Vietnam. We have many common interests in regional and world security. Our current defense cooperation is the first step toward our common confrontation with the security challenges of the 21st century.”
2. The second lesson: War should end with a negotiated peace, a political solution that sees an end to the intransigence that is appropriate for war but not for peace.
South Vietnam was a small country under the tutelage of
If President Diệm had agreed with North Vietnam to national elections in 1956 in both parts of Vietnam in accordance with the unsigned Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference on Indo-China of July 1954
Moreover, the Vietnam War (1960-1975) could have ended with a negotiated peace agreement with national elections to follow, as provided by the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, but President Thiệu worried too much about such elections and resisted preparing and organizing for them. ) (165)
At the beginning of 1975, Nguyễn Văn Hiếu, a delegate of the National Liberation Front (the Việt Cộng) at the Paris Peace Talks, asked South Vietnamese General Trần Văn Đôn to relay to President Thiệu a request to include the Front in President Thiệu ‘s cabinet and to form a coalition government to resist Hanoi’s controlling influence. Thiệu told Đôn to check with the Americans, and Đôn said later that the Americans had rejected that solution. In other words, Thiệu did not dare adopt a political solution crafted by North Vietnam.
There was another time, in 1971, when Thiệu reacted similarly. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs G. Warren Nutter, a former professor of economics at the University of
Thiệu mentioned these points in an October 1, 1971, election speech. But he still worried about the American
Obsessed with his rigid and unrealistic policy of the Four No’s, and consequently eschewing negotiation and accommodation, and relying on only his hope for American B-52 bombers and logistical support if attacked, Thiệu resigned when the Americans drew down their military support and pressured him to resign. Thiệu went on national television on April 21, 1975, announced his resignation, and
In April 1975, every day I called my cousin, Colonel Nguyen Mong Hung, chief of the Fifth Bureau of the South Vietnamese High Command, in hopes that he would tell me the real situation. In a weak, dispirited voice, he murmured: “ Tài! The soldiers no longer fight!” (Previously, they had fought valiantly to repel the North Vietnamese attacks at Tết 1968 and in the 1972 battle of Quang Tri.) I asked officials in the political section of the U.S. Embassy, and they told me that satellite photos showed that military trucks and tanks were moving southward, bumper to bumper. The North Vietnamese probably knew that there would be no retaliation by the Americans, despite Nixon’s promises to
President Gerald Ford during an address at Tulane University on April 23, 1975, declared: “Today America can again regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished ‒ as far as America is concerned.”167 By 1975, however, the last year of this civil war, the Communist troops were receiving maximum help the Chinese and Soviets in terms of the arms, trucks
The authority to settle between 1973 and 1975 the Vietnam War
Adhering too faithfully, out of fear, to the demands of the big power would never have guaranteed that power’s friendship or respect, and therefore did not support the small power’s interests. If Thiệu had started working on a separate peace with North Vietnam early in the period of American disengagement (1973-75), a political compromise might have been found that would have avoided the decision of North Vietnam in 1975 to launch an all-out military push on Sài Gòn. The need for policy autonomy by a small power also applies to North Vietnam. During both the Indochina War (1945-54) and the Vietnam War of 1960-1975, North Vietnam depended on military and economic aid from the Soviet Union and China, whose interests were not necessarily the same as those of North Vietnam, which later discovered that following its own interests might have been more advantageous. Specifically, North Vietnam found it might be have been better off escalating the fighting, contrary to the wish of the big powers.
The 1954 Geneva Accords imposed the big powers’ decision to divide Vietnam into two parts at approximately the 17th parallel, with reunification awaiting elections in 1956. This plan was only reluctantly accepted by North Vietnam, whose representative, Tạ Quang Bửu, demanded that the line of partition be at the 13th parallel as the just prize for victory over the French at Diên Biên Phu. Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, however, worried the Americans would jump in to help South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in response to such a demand.
After consulting French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès France, Zhou Enlai proposed that North Vietnam refrain from more offensives and withdraw from Cambodia and Laos. Zhou Enlai also promised Cambodia and Laos that they would be put under the influence of China, not of North Vietnam. And he accepted partition at the 17th parallel, not the 16th , as Hồ Chí Minh had suggested in a previous meeting in Liuzhou. The Soviet Union also wanted partition at the 17th parallel.
In 1956, South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm refused to hold talks for national elections for reunification on the grounds that South Vietnam had not signed Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference on Indo-China. The United States supported Diệm’s position.
North Vietnam felt that its goal of reunification had been frustrated by the big powers’ arrangement at Geneva, even after its victory on the battlefields in 1954. North Vietnam, therefore, planned to pursue unification later. When Zhou Enlai asked Võ Nguyên Giáp in 1954, ”If the Americans do not intervene, how long it will it take to defeat the French and unify the country,” Giap answered, “only two more years.” After about six years of only a relatively low-level insurgency, North Vietnam in 1960 created the National Liberation Front, which launched the Vietnam War of 1960-1975 .
During the Vietnam War, China seemed unenthusiastic about Vietnam’s reunification. For example, Mao said: “Our Vietnamese comrades’ broom does not have a handle long enough to sweep up all Vietnam.” And Zhou Enlai once told Ngô Đình Luyện, the South Vietnamese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, that China wished to see him in Beijing as Ambassador. Although China provided food and weapons aid to North Vietnam for the war, it never wanted a strengthened, unified Vietnam capable of challenging China. North Vietnam, therefore, relied more heavily on Soviet arms aid for military campaigns like the 1968 Tet Offensive and the 1975 invasion. In any event, Soviet and Chinese military aid allowed Lê Duẩn to pursue a military solution. As long as a big power does not dare use its overwhelming force to reduce to the stone age a stubborn small country that is willing to fight “a thousand-year war,” the small country has a chance at final victory. But if the big power dares to use maximum force, the small power that pushes its ambition too far without searching for a negotiated peace will be defeated. For Vietnam in the period 1975-90, its ambition to be the dominant power in Southeast Asia was defeated by the long resistance of the Pol Pot forces with determined Chinese support. After sacrificing men and materiel in to support North Vietnam in its war against the United States, China responded to Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia by an invasion of northern Vietnam in February 1979. The Chinese troops withdrew in March 1979, but border skirmishes continued throughout the 1980’s. Armed conflict only ended in 1989 after the Vietnamese withdraw their troops from Cambodia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Vietnam and China normalized both party-to-party and state-to-state relations. Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyễn Cơ Thạch declared that from then on, Vietnam would not send young men abroad for war.
3. The third lesson: War should be referred to the people as the ultimate arbiter. War should not be between armed forces directed solely by generals and their leaders but should be supported by the population as a whole, who should be consulted when war is declared and when peace is negotiated.
Modern war often drags in the whole population. Especially in a democratic society, families across the nation must approve a war or the government will not get popular political support for it. The United States Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. On August 7, 1964, at the request of President Johnson, Congress passed the Tơnkin Gulf Resolution, which Johnson signed into law three days later, and which stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military policies and activities in Vietnam. (168)
The resolution was supposedly passed in reaction to two attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on the U.S. destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin on August 2 and August 4, 1964. In 1995, Võ Nguyên Giáp, who had been the North Vietnamese Defense Minister at the time of the supposed attacks, acknowledged the August 2 attack on the Maddox but denied that the North Vietnamese had launched another attack on August 4.169 It was later revealed that the U.S. administration had drafted the resolution six months before the supposed attacks on the U.S. destroyers.170 The resolution was repealed on January 13, 1971. Toward the end of the war, when popular support for it had declined, Congress on November 7, 1973, passed the War Powers Act over President Nixon’s veto to restrict presidential war powers.
There were two basic mistakes in the Vietnam War strategy of the United States: The first mistake was the decision to escalate the war gradually to produce a graduated deterrent effect. There was no strategy to win a rapid victory in a few months with overwhelming firepower and to avoid tiring out both the Vietnamese and American people in a protracted conflict, which is the usual strategy of the Communists. The error of not trying to achieve a decisive victory within a short time to take account of the lack of patience of the American public was shown in the protracted Paris peace talks. The long wait for a negotiated peace yielded only a leopard-skin cease-fire in place followed eventually by the hasty withdrawal of the Americans in the wake of the Communist offensive ending on April 30, 1975.
The second mistake was the lack of popular participation in the constitutional process, including a declaration of war by Congress. There should have been a better strategy for mobilizing American public opinion. But President Thiệu revealed President Nixon’s letters of support only in the last days of the War when he gave some of them to Professor Nguyễn Tiến
As for South Vietnamese popular support, President Thiệu should have presented the secret Nixon letters to the National Assembly to enable the representatives of the people of Vietnam to appeal to the U.S. Congress in a kind of people-to-people diplomacy. Without the above actions, South Vietnam was subject to United States diplomacy, which in the final analysis disregarded South Vietnamese public opinion.
Without the above actions, South Vietnam became the victim of the kind of one-man-show diplomacy of Kissinger, who followed the diplomatic style of early 19th century European leaders Metternich and Talleyrand, the powerful foreign ministers who at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 rearranged, without consulting the people’s representatives, the European chessboard nine days before Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815
Especially noteworthy was the opposition religious bloc that had boycotted the regime previously for suppressing its struggle for a constituent assembly, the Ấn Quang Buddhists.
One prominent civilian leader with the ability to increase popular support for the regime was the charismatic law professor Nguyễn Văn Bông, Rector of the National Institute of Administration, which trained middle-to high-level civil servants. Bông wrote about democracy and about a loyal opposition. Bong had a large following within the national administrative apparatus. He and colleagues such as professor Nguyễn Ngọc Huy organized the National Progressive Movement (Phong trào Quốc
Ambassador Bunker said Professor Bông was a household name in Vietnam. When Kissinger came to visit President Thiệu to encourage the naming of Professor Bông as Prime Minister, the Communists assassinated him, using men directed by the R Office (the Communists’ core leadership group in the South) to firebomb his car as he was driven home from his office. Among the Vietnamese Communists, there were some wise ones who did consult the people on the issue of war and peace. After Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978 ‒resulting in China launching a bloody border war to “teach Vietnam a lesson,” in the words of Deng Xiaoping ‒ Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyễn Cơ Thạch said that Vietnam would never again send young Vietnamese abroad to fight. Thach’s position on disengaging Vietnam from Cambodia while protecting Vietnam’s interest in a different way than the Chinese way did not endear him to China and caused China to encourage the Vietnamese Politburo to force his retirement.
4. The fourth lesson: if peace is to be enduring, war should end with reconciliation.
Post-war reconciliation requires humanity, modesty
On April 30, 2005, i.e., 30 years after the downfall of South Vietnam, I published an article on the website Talawas calling for reconciliation among Vietnamese in the spirit of and following the example of Nelson Mandela of South Africa. On December 5, 2013, the whole world mourned the passing of Mandela, the world’s model of a peaceful liberator and conciliator. Speaking to media such as the BBC, many Vietnamese wondered why Vietnam had not had the luck to adopt such a pathway to reconciliation. The Vietnamese Communists might have opened their doors to welcome back overseas Vietnamese for visits, trade
But there is still one obstacle to reconciliation: the wounds remaining from the long years of internment in “
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The result is that the overseas Vietnamese who spent years in concentration camps after 1975, and their families, cannot forget the suffering, the ruined health, the social dislocation or the painful readjustment to life after their internment that in some cases included the loss of wives and children.
Among the ordinary citizens of Vietnam, especially among relatives and friends on both sides, reconciliation has been easy; there have for some time been many cases of families reuniting after decades of living apart, full of tears and laughs, with no more estrangement. The younger generations especially, not yet born or still children when the war ended, have merged naturally with one another when overseas Vietnamese returned home, or when people have left Vietnam to go abroad for study or other reasons. Indeed, romances have sometimes developed.
But closure requires an official apology from the high officials of government responsible for the cruelty of the re-education camps instituted in 1975. Many of these officials were in their thirties and forties in 1975, and are now in their seventies or eighties
Đỗ Mười, former General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, named two policy mistakes: (a) the 1953 to 1955 land reform that violated the rule of law, according to Professor Nguyễn Mạnh Tường and others, and the 1979 anti-bourgeois campaign that destroyed businesses and delayed Vietnam’s growth for a generation.
Đỗ Mười may have been the right person to make such an
After World War II, General MacArthur allowed the Japanese Emperor to remain on the throne. even though the American occupying forces would administer Japan. The United States provided reconstruction aid to Japan and Germany, which became close American allies.
In strictly military terms the United States was not defeated in Vietnam. Nevertheless, it decided on unilateral disengagement after the Paris Peace Accords. Thus, the U.S. could not impose peace terms and for a while, it suffered from the so-called Vietnam syndrome.
But then, with its superpower status, it was in a position to regain its confidence.
Reconciliation was, however, at first stopped by Vietnam’s ridiculous suggestion of American war reparations after the Communists had violated the Paris Peace Accords with their offensive of 1975. One result, as mentioned above, was that in 1975 the U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Vietnam that would last until 1994
On April 9, 1991, U.S. officials had presented a “road map” to Vietnamese and Cambodian officials that called for the normalization United States diplomatic and economic relations over two years, provided that: (a) the Vietnamese increased their cooperation in accounting for U.S. personnel listed as missing in action (MIA); (b) Vietnam withdrew all its and advisers from Cambodia; and (c) U.N.-supervised elections and the seating of a new National Assembly took place in Cambodia. (173)
President Clinton lifted the trade embargo on February 3, 1994, after the Vietnamese government had increased its cooperation in finding the remains of the 2,238 Americans still listed as MIA’s and under pressure from U.S. companies wanting to do business in Vietnam. (174) On July 11, 1995, President Clinton announced the formal normalization of diplomatic relations.
During the roadmap period, from 1991 to 1995, the United States looked like the winner of the peace. It imposed conditions for reconciliation, and Vietnam was eager for normalcy after its wars in Cambodia and on its northern border with China. Moreover, during the Vietnam war, the United States, with some atrocious exceptions, such as My Lai, acted humanely toward the civilian Vietnamese. In fact, American civilian aid programs gained much goodwill among the South Vietnamese people. These programs even gained some goodwill from the North Vietnamese, who were so eager to reconcile with the Americans that they were willing to forgive the terrible destruction caused by wartime bombing. (175)
The advantages are obvious for the Communist Vietnamese regime of a reconciliation with overseas Vietnamese, who are scattered across all five continents. Only when their resentment over the re-education camps subsides, will Vietnam’s diplomats be able to roam the world easily and proudly, without meeting with boos and demonstrations. As for the recipients of the apology, i.e., the Vietnamese who suffered, what can we learn about them and for them? Some overseas Vietnamese are beyond reconciliation; no apology can make them forget the North’s murderous land reform program, the slaughter of innocents during the Tết offensive in Huế, or the destruction of the South’s middle class. Only the collapse of the Communist regime will satisfy them. For my part, I think that the majority of the people who were mistreated in the camps can and should gradually calm their anger, recognizing that they are, in their moral position, the final winners.
The victims should also make a distinction between the few implementers of the “re-education” policy and the great majority of the Vietnamese people. A Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust said at the 2005 anniversary of Allied victory, “We cannot attribute this crime to the whole German people,” and described her survival as the victory of all humane people against Nazi wickedness. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, later President, declared, “Only by forgiving the past can we move toward the future.” In South Vietnam itself, when the hungry and ill-clad prisoners were paraded along the road from
Without forgiveness and national reconciliation, those overseas Vietnamese who remain angry will never enjoy visiting their fatherland, the streets or the villages where they grew up, or meet again their relatives and friends in Vietnam. At most, they will send back their wives and children; they themselves might go back clandestinely for a short visit.
Besides dealing with the re-education camp days, one must also be concerned about the future of the people inside Vietnam, so that they are able to live under the rule of law and enjoy their human rights. Today there is rampant discrimination, as exemplified by the report of an official trying to
Overseas Vietnamese want their compatriots inside Vietnam, among them their relatives and friends, to be able to enjoy the democratic rights they have tasted abroad. Hồ Chí Minh himself copied from the American Declaration of Independence for that of
5. The fifth lesson: South Vietnamese and American Presidential leadership was one factor in the Vietnam War’s outcome.
Did the assassination of President Diệm create the condition for the loss of South Vietnam to the Communists?
Some authors, such as Dartmouth College Professor Edward Miller, think the United States might have been better off backing Diệm. I disagree.
Miller thinks the United States had wrongly backed the 1963 coup, and that if Diem had survived, South Vietnam would not have been lost. But the fact is that, in 1975, the North Vietnamese won by brute force of arms and not via popular support; thus, even if Diệm at that point had had the support of the people, it would have made no difference. The North Vietnamese were determined to wage a protracted conflict, with the support of the Soviet Union and China, to a victorious end
Meanwhile, there was the attrition of U.S. public support for the war that led to South Vietnam’s defeat. The mistake that led to the 1975 defeat was not Diem’s death 12 years before, but Johnson’s unwise, unilateral decision to introduce U.S. ground combat units into South Vietnam in 1965. This pre-empted a strategy of having the South Vietnamese fight their own war and handed the North Vietnamese the propaganda advantage of calling the South Vietnamese American stooges. President Kennedy, had he lived, might have done differently.
Diệm, moreover, would not have protected American interests, either by preventing the Vietnam war when that was
The war might have been prevented by consenting to elections in 1956 in accordance with the 1954 unsigned Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference on Indo-China, Elections leading to peaceful unification of the country would have given the North no reason to create the National Liberation Front in 1960 to carry out an insurgency, which was followed by full conventional war. If the North Vietnamese gained
By 1963, when Diệm had been overthrown, it was too late to persuade him to run a democratic government with respect for human and religious rights and with the ability to gain the people’s support for the war against the Communists. Diệm’s rule was autocratic and nepotistic. An American scholar called him “the last Confucian mandarin.” Diệm followed the old imperial practice of giving free rein to his brothers, and his whole clan trampled on the civil rights of the people.
In May 1963 in the Buddhist stronghold of Huế, Catholics were encouraged to fly Vatican flags to celebrate Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục’s 25th anniversary as a prelate. A week later, Buddhists were prohibited from hanging the Buddhist flag during celebrations marking the birth of Buddha. This resulted in a peaceful protest meeting of young Buddhists at the radio station, which the Army and security forces dispersed with bullets and grenades. Nine civilians were killed. (177)
This brutal suppression, added to previous years of discriminatory practices in favor of the Catholics, started six months of peaceful protests throughout South Vietnam, including a monk’s self-immolation that shook consciences around the world. Further suppression involved raids on many temples and the imprisonment of monks.
A younger brother of Diệm, Ngô Đình Cẩn, was a feudal overlord in Huế to whom civil servants had to kowtow and pay tribute. Another younger brother, Ngô Đình Nhu, Diệm was Diệm’s counselor (Ông Cố Vấn). Nhu’s wife, Trần Lệ Xuân (known as Madame Nhu or the Dragon Lady), wielded excessive power, including control of the feared secret police of the government’s Personalist Labor Revolutionary Party (Cần Lao Nhân Vị Cách Mạng Ðảng).
The Diệm regime’s suppression of Buddhist religious rights in 1963 provoked a major political crisis and helped deprive South Vietnam of the legitimacy and popularity necessary for waging war. In addition, the suppression of the Buddhists, together with the nullification in 1959 of the election of Dr. Phan Quang Đán, one of only two successful opposition candidates for the National Assembly, were clear examples of the Diệm brothers’ contempt for human rights and democracy. This reduced President Diệm’s legitimacy and stood in contrast to his wise resistance to the proposed introduction of American combat troops into South Vietnam. According to Dr. John Prados of the National Security Archive: (178)
- A White House tape of President Kennedy from October 29, 1963, “captures the highest-level White House meeting immediately prior to the coup [against Diệm].” The tape “confirms that top U.S. officials sought the November 1, 1963 coup against then-South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem without apparently considering the physical consequences for Diem personally (he was murdered the following day).”
- “The documentary record is replete with evidence that President Kennedy and his advisers, both individually and collectively, had a considerable role in the coup overall.
- “The CIA also provided $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters the morning of the coup, carried by Lucien Conein, an act prefigured in administration planning.”
- The NSC staff record of the discussion shows that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy warned “against precipitate action” and was “seconded by Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Maxwell D. Taylor and CIA director John McCone.”
- In addition, the transcript of Diệm’s last phone call to U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge shows Lodge asking “what the attitude of the U.S. is” towards the coup then underway. Lodge “dissembled” that he was not “well enough informed at this time to be able to tell you.”
- The weight of the evidence “supports the view that President Kennedy did not conspire in the death of Diem.” Both Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. recorded that when President Kennedy learned on November 2 of the death of Diem, “Kennedy blanched at the news and was shocked at the murder of Diem.” Historian Howard Jones noted that “CIA director John McCone and his subordinates were amazed that Kennedy should be shocked at the deaths, given how unpredictable were coups
The South Vietnamese military were afraid Diệm might stymy the coup, as he had done in 1960, and then execute them. Consequently, they did not spare the life of Diệm, as Burmese General Ne Win and his followers had spared the life of Prime Minister U Nu, who was instead detained in an army camp from 1962 to 1966.
Although a fervent Catholic, it would be unfair to characterize President Diệm as an anti-Buddhist bigot. One of Diệm’s Foreign Ministers, the Buddhist Vũ Văn Mẫu, upon resigning in 1963 during the Buddhist crisis, received a moving
The period from 1967 to 1971 was one of relative success for South Vietnam both militarily including the turning back of the 1972 Communist offensive, the recapture of territory in the lead-up to the Paris Accords, and democracy in South Vietnam from 1967 up to 1971 when President Thiệu ran a one-man election). This relative success at democracy-building occurred without Ngô Đình Diệm and with American help. Thus, the (hypothetical) survival of Ngô Đình Diệm as an autocratic, anti-democratic president from 1963 until 1975, alone, would not have saved South Vietnam for the U.S., as Professor Edward Miller implies. His rule during that period might have even worsened the situation.
What about the impact on the war of the leadership style of President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu? Many overseas Vietnamese have accused President Thiệu of contributing to the downfall of South Vietnam in the last days of the war by issuing confusing, inconsistent, and panicky military commands, and by ordering the withdrawal of the armed forces from the Central Highlands, Huế and Đà Nẵng. Overseas Vietnamese have also condemned his farewell speech to the nation on April 21, 1975 ‒in which, as stated above, he announced his resignation and excoriated the Americans for the “inhumane act” of refusing “to aid an ally” and for “abandoning” South Vietnam. (179)
Thiệu was a soldier-politician who did not rise to the level of
Despite these criticisms, we must recognize that the people of South Vietnam—with the elites at the top, including the presidents–achieved remarkable nation-building successes during both the six-year period of relative peace from 1954 to 1960 and the long war-time period of 1960 to 1975.
The Vietnamese Communists learned from the Chinese Maoists) how to fight a war of national liberation, including how to conduct a peasants’ revolt and how to wage war against city areas. Based on lessons learned from the Chinese, the Vietnamese retreated to the countryside and highlands when the French returned to Hải Phòng and Hà
With Chinese coaching, the Vietnamese established a bloody land reform program soon after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Under the Vietnamese program, landless peasants were goaded by propaganda to a paroxysm of hatred against landlords for imaginary or exaggerated crimes. This led to executions of the landlords and the redistribution of their property, which induced the peasants to give their political support to the Communist regime
By contrast, Presidents Diệm and Thiệu both pushed for a more peaceful land reform. Diệm sent officials to Taiwan to learn about the moderate land reform program carried out by President Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang party. There, under the “land-to-the-tiller” policy, landowners received land bonds and stock in state-owned enterprises in return for transferring land to peasants. (180) Harvard scholars considered it one of the world’s ten grand strategies for national development.
The land reform programs of Presidents Diệm and Thiệudiffered. Diệm put equal emphasis on land redistribution and the reduction of land rental rates for tenant farmers. Thiệu emphasized confiscation of the land in favor of the peasants (“land to the tiller”) with fair compensation for landlords. He was very proud of his land reform program, which earned him the gift of a statue commemorating land reform successes from the country’s peasants as “a token of gratitude to the President.” (181)
Under Presidents Diệm and Thiệu, South Vietnam achieved some successes in the administrative, economic, social, educational and legal fields despite the ongoing war. A National Institute of Administration (NIA), for example, expanded over the years, and trained middle- and high-level civil servants in the same manner as the famed Ecole Nationale d’Administration in France. The Americans supported the NIA with the help of Michigan State University.
State enterprises were strengthened in banking, sugar, cement and other sectors. Private enterprise was also encouraged under the Center for Industrial Development. Foreign investment laws were promulgated, including oil and gas regulations, with the latter resulting in the discovery of oil in the South China Sea by Mobil Oil in 1973. (182)
Social reforms in South Vietnam included the enhancement of workers’ rights with modern labor laws and a strong labor movement, with leaders such as Trần Quốc Bửu, who received advice from the AFL-CIO. Also advanced was gender equality, which was already defended in Vietnamese traditional law, but further promoted by the new family law which was pushed by Trần Lệ Xuân (Madame Nhu) during President Diệm’s regime, and which abolished polygamy. Moreover, Vietnamese women’s economic activities blossomed as they replaced the men fighting the war.
Secondary and university education made remarkable progress, with new teaching and research approaches that
The South Vietnamese government put in place new international trade and investment laws, as well as new civil, criminal, commercial, procedural, administrative, and labor law codes. By contrast, the Vietnamese Communists in North Vietnam, and from 1975 to 1986, throughout Vietnam, abolished law schools and governed with only a relatively few disparate laws, even though they had French-trained lawyers available
The achievements of South Vietnam in nation building during wartime were such a success that when Prime Minister Võ Văn Kiệt asked advice from Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew after the Đổi Mới period started, Lee replied, “Just ask the experts who managed South Vietnam prior to 1975.” (183)
By the time of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, the South Vietnamese, with American support, had achieved many civilian and military successes, including the retaking of Quang Tri in 1972 after bloody battles with the attacking North Vietnamese troops.
Another victory for the South Vietnamese in tactical military terms was the Tết offensive of January and February 1968, when the Communists suffered heavy losses and failed to produce a popular uprising. The South Vietnamese exploited this victory by consolidating control over most of their territory by the time of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.
At the same time, however, the Tết offensive was a strategic political victory for the Communists, because it played a key role in turning American public opinion against the war. Many Americans thought the offensive showed that they had been deceived by their government’s overly optimistic portrayal of the military situation. Faced with diminished popular support, Johnson on March 31, 1968, announced on TV: “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President.” (184)
The South Vietnamese collapse came later, in 1975, mainly because of the phasing out of American arms aid between 1973-1975.
In foreign relations, the Republic of Vietnam, which lasted from 1955 to 1975, became an independent state within the meaning of the 1933 Montevideo Convention definition of a state, i.e., with territory, population, government and ability to conduct foreign relations, and was entrusted with the administration of the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea (Biển Đông) by the 1954 Geneva Accords. Thus, under international law, South Vietnam was one of the two Vietnamese states with a legitimate claim of sovereign rights over the Paracels and the Spratlys, buttressed by its record of having fought valiantly in 1974 against a Chinese naval attack and illegal occupation of the Paracels in order to hold on to its legal claim.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam had to recognize South Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels and part of the Spratleys in order to assert its own claim of sovereignty in its protest to the UN against China’s placement of the H981 oil rig on the continental shelf of Vietnam in 2014. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) had, in other words, to acknowledge itself as the successor state to the Republic of Vietnam (ROV), thereby recognizing the ROV as a legitimate state, to advance the SRV’s own claim of sovereignty. (185)
Draft done on Patriots Day, April 16, 2018, in Massachusetts, USA
Author Tạ Văn Tài, Ph.D. in Political Science/Foreign Affairs (University of Virginia), LL.M. (Harvard Law School), former professor, Law Schools of Saigon, Sài Gòn, Hue and Can Tho Universities, National Institute of Administration, Vạn Hạnh University, Political Warfare College and National Defense College, Vietnam; also former lecturer and research associate, Harvard Law School.
(155) “Vietnam Overview,” https://www.worldbank.org, accessed 13 August 2018.
(157) See my article “American money, Vietnamese blood,” published in the 1970 issue of the National Defense Journal (Tập San Quốc Phòng). There, and in my lecture at the Vietnamese National Defense College on President Nixon’s Vietnamization of the war, I predicted that when the Americans no longer had their husbands or sons fighting and risking death, they would be more stingy in providing military aid to South Vietnam, even as the Vietnamese continued to shed blood. I also opined that without the American backbone, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization would be a paper tiger. Probably the high-ranking officers at the National Defense College agreed with me, although we still hoped for better days when we together visited an American aircraft carrier and armada in the South China Sea and listened to General Ngô Quang
(158) This reduced objective was conveyed to me in April 1975 from Professor Bùi Trường Huân, Dương Văn Minh’s Minister of Defense and my brother-in-law.
(159) The story was told by Vũ Hồng Khanh in a
At first, General Zhang said, “This Communist guy, we must cut him into two pieces,” but he later released Lý Thụy (Hồ Chí Minh so he could go stay with Khanh, Nguyễn Hải Thần and Lý Sanh. Khanh related that Nguyễn Hải Thần was fond of the lively [Noted from James Yellin: Hồ
Years later, in 1977, after Vũ Hồng Khanh had been arrested in South Vietnam and put in a re-education camp in the north, Minister of Security Tran Quoc Hoan visited him in the camp and ordered the release of Khanh and allowed him to live with his eldest daughter, then aged 53, who remained in North Vietnam after 1954, in their home province of Vĩnh Phúc.
(160) Bulletin Hebdomadaire Ministère de la France d’Outremer, no. 67 (March 18, 1946) translated in Harold R.Isaacs (ed.), New Cycle in Asia (1947), pp. 161-162 cited in “Agreement on the Independence of Vietnam, » www.vietnamwar50th.com, accessed August 26, 2018.
(161) The Ambassador in France (Caffery) to the Secretary of State, September 17, 1946, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, The Far East, history.state.gov, accessed August 26, 2018.
“Vietnam War Allied Troop Levels 1960-73,” www.americanwarlibrary.com, accessed August26, 2018;
“Vietnam: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Military Service History,” https:www.va.gov, accessed August 26, 2018.
(163) Indochina Documents Prepared by the International Secretariat of the Geneva Conference The Final Declaration on Indochina,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, The Geneva Conference, Volume XVI, history.state.gov, accessed August 22, 2018.
(164) The Four No’s were: no negotiations with the Communists; no Communist or neutralist political activities south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ); no coalition government with the Communists; and no surrender of territory to the Communists. [Source: Phillip B. Davidson, Vietnam at War: The History: 1946-1975, (Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 740.
(165) As pointed out by
1955: when the United States redesignated MAAG, Indochina as MAAG, Vietnam and also created a MAAG, Cambodia.
1961, when President John Kennedy decided to substantially increase the level of U.S. military assistance to South Vietnam.Source: “Info paper Vietnam War and US Start Date,” www.vietnamwar50th.com, accessed 14 August 2018.
(166) “President Nguyen Van Thieu resigns (1975),” Alpha History, https://alphahistory.com, accessed August 22, 2018.
(167) “President Ford’s Speech on the Fall of Vietnam, 24 April 1975,” www.vietnamwar.net, accessed August 22, 2018.
(168) Our Documents, Tonkin Gulf Resolution (1964), https://ourdocuments.gov, accessed August 15, 2018.
(169) The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution,” Britannica.com, last updated July 29, 2018, https://.britannica.com, accessed August 15, 2018.
(170) “Tonkin Gulf Resolution.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, cited in Encyclopedia.com, http://encyclopedia.com, accessed August 15, 2018
(171) According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the number of Chinese killed in the massacre has been subject to much debate, with most estimates ranging from 100,000 to more than 300,000.
[Source: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Nanjing Massacre.” Britannica.com, last updated June 20, 1918, https://britannica.com, accessed August 17, 2018.]
(172) I myself saw the ceremony on television in a Beijing hotel.
(173) Don Oberdorfer, “U.S. DETAILS PLAN FOR NORMALIZING VIETNAM RELATIONS,” April 10, 1991, Washington Post, https://washingtonpost.com, accessed August 16, 2018.
(175) During the process of normalization, they invented the story of the giant tortoise in Hoan Kiem Lake (Hồ Hoàn Kiếm) in Hanoi emerging from the bottom of the lake, where it, or its lineage, has lived since the Le Dynasty (Nhà Hậu Lê) liberated Vietnam from Ming China. The tortoise had two characters on its back: Mã Quy (Horse Tortoise). If pronounced in reverse, words with similar sounds, Mỹ Qua,
(176) Report of Japanese reporter Yoshigata Yushi, April 2005.
(177) “Buddhist crisis,” Wikipedia, accessed August 24, 2018.
(178) John Prados, “JFK and the Diem Coup: Declassified Records, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 101, posted November 5, 2003, nsarchive.gwu.edu, accessed August 18, 2018.]
(179) “President Nguyen Van Thieu resigns (1975),” Alpha History, https://alphahistory.com, accessed August 22, 2018.
(180) ‘SA 55. LAND REFORM IN TAIWAN by Chen Cheng (preface) 1961, www.landisfree.co.uk,
accessed August 18, 2018.
(181) I saw this statue still standing in 1991 in the hallway of Independence Palace (now Unification Palace), when I attended an Investment Forum there, with Vietnamese Communist Party General; Secretary Nguyễn Văn Linh and other high officials milling around. Ironically, a few years earlier, the government of unified Vietnam had had to abandon its failed land reform program, which included agricultural cooperatives in South
(182) Mobil told my law office in 1974 that there was no commercial-quantity oil in the wells they had drilled and then capped in South Vietnamese waters. But they had lied to us because the Communists were approaching. After the war, the Vietnamese-Russian joint venture Vietsopetro drew oil from South Vietnamese waters. That was the beginning of the oil era in Vietnam
(183) Lee described this in detail in his memoir From Third
(184) “Johnson Says He Won’t Run,” The New York Times, www.nytimes.com, accessed August 20, 2018.
(185) The Socialist Republic of Vietnam put this argument on the website of its Mission to the UN.