Viet Minh and USA Relations in 1945

Part of my Master’s Thesis that I wrote a couple years back dealt with the Viet Minh, the Vietnamese nationalistic rebels who warred with the Japanese and French during and after WWII. The Americans had some very interesting interactions with them in the summer of 1945. Some have called these interactions nothing less than a missed opportunity which may have drastically altered the future geo-political alignments in southeast Asia. No matter what may have changed, the Viet Minh-USA relations in 1945 are fascinating – so fascinating, in fact, that I based a good portion of my third novel on a Viet-Minh-American connection. So in this post, I just want to highlight a paragraph from my thesis which outlines the politics of the region in the summer of 1945. I’m sure I’ll connect it to my novel at a different time.

 

After the initial contacts between the Viet Minh and the Allied forces in southern China, the U.S. sent some OSS officers to Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh headquarters in Tan Trao, one hundred miles north of Hanoi (Marr, “Vietnam” 286). The OSS officers spent several weeks training Viet Minh forces (Marr, “Vietnam” 364), which the Americans believed could be used to help fight the Japanese. The views of certain officers who came into contact with Ho during that time bolstered the claim that the Americans, perhaps in hindsight, had missed an opportunity by sidelining the Viet Minh’s nationalistic movement in favor of French restoration. OSS lieutenant Dan Phelan, who began his mission to Vietnam leery of the possible communist connections of the Viet Minh, soon raved about the Viet Minh, stating that they were “patriots deserving full trust and support” (qtd. in Marr, “Vietnam” 289). Other military personnel with boots on the ground in Indochina expressed the opinion that Ho could be trusted as a democrat at heart who cared about American ideals (Bradley 136-139). But the fractured nature of affairs in Washington had already delineated military operations with political realities as OSS assessments of the developments of Indochina had no bearing on policy toward the French. The OSS troops in Vietnam that summer were not privy to the fact that the non-French trusteeship model for Indochina was sidelined and that the administration had shifted its goals to the assumption that the French would once again rule Indochina (Marr, “Vietnam” 291). However, from a military standpoint, Washington did not want to limit the use of any groups, including the Viet Minh, to further military objectives (Marr, “Vietnam” 291). As the summer plodded on, the Americans helped train the Vietnamese, who were preparing for the end of the war to declare their independence, and hoped that this eventual announcement would be backed by the U.S. These naive hopes were later crushed by the Truman administration’s continued support of France’s control in Indochina.

Know Your History: Americans Helping the Viet-Minh in 1945

On July 16, 1945 a group of American OSS officers (Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA) parachuted into the Viet-Minh HQ in Tan Trao, Tonkin. (Tonkin was the name for northern Vietnam during the French colonial period.) This small group of officers were charged with helping to train the Vietnamese to fight against the Japanese, who had taken control of French Indochina during WWII.

The Viet-Minh was headed by communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. The goal of the Viet-Minh was to be on the correct side of victory at the conclusion of WWII. They anticipated correctly that the Allies would eventually win in the Pacific Theater, and they tried to be as helpful as possible to the Allies by providing intelligence to their command headquarters in southern China. Ho Chi Minh even helped walk a rescued American pilot, who was shot down, back to safety to China. The trust that was built up led to the OSS parachuting into Tan Trao to help train their troops.

The goodwill found between the Americans and Vietnamese in the summer of 1945 would never be that close again for the next two generations. By August, President Truman had thrown his support behind the French’s pre-war claim on Vietnam, thus casting aside the Viet-Minh patriots who declared their independence during a mass rally in Hanoi on September 2, 1945.

By December 1946 Ho Chi Minh’s forces realized that the French would never relinquish control over Indochina, and they declared a war of resistance against their colonial masters of nearly 80 years. The French-Indochina War lasted until 1954 when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, bringing about an end to their colonial reign in Asia. Ironically, the Americans were the ones who bankrolled the French during the war, even though the French were fighting against the same soldiers that the Americans had trained in 1945.

Author’s Note: My third novel set to release in July 2014 is deeply wrapped around these exciting events! It’s called The Reach of the Banyan Tree. Tan Trao is famous for the massive banyan tree that sits in the middle of where the Viet-Minh trained that summer.