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.

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Know Your History: Indochina 1945 from a Page in my Novel

I’m going to change up the “know your history” post this time around and use a direct quote from my new novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, to emphasize the strange WWII ties which existed in Indochina in 1945. Here’s a short paragraph from the chapter entitled “The Strange Ways of the Universe”:

On a cosmic scale, it all seemed kind of absurd. Communist trained guerrillas fighting to overthrow the Japanese, so that they could get a chance to overthrow the French, whom they really hated. Communist trained guerrillas, working with the communist Chinese in cooperation with the nationalist Chinese to fight against the imperialist Japanese with the help of the Americans. Americans, working with the communist Chinese and the communist-leaning Vietnamese, while ignoring the French of Indochina who had kowtowed to the Germans and cooperated with the Japanese, even though their Free-French brothers fought side-by-side with the Allies in Europe. So it was. July of 1945 in Indochina was a political and military mystery—common threads tangled in the strangest of ways.

Commentary: Confusing, isn’t it. But that was the truth and this confusion is what led the Viet Minh to feel confident to declare independence for Vietnam on Sept 2, 1945. They hoped greatly that the Americans would have backed their bid for independence. If only they had, history would have told a much different tale, and the Vietnam War may not have happened. But of course, it is futile to play the “what if” game with history. There is only that which “was”.  And so it was in the summer of 1945.

Three Generations – One Awesome Vietnam Story

As The Reach of the Banyan Tree gets closer to launch day, I want to highlight the one American family which always seems to be connected to Vietnam – the Carson family.

Charles Carson was a member of the OSS (pre-cursor to the CIA) and parachuted into Tonkin, French Indochina in the summer of 1945, just a month before the Japanese capitulated. His task? Train the Viet Minh resistance fighters to be more effective against the Japanese. But what he doesn’t bargain for is getting dragged into an adventure to find a truck load of missing rifles which in turn brings him face to face with a tough, but beautiful Vietnamese woman. Anything can happen from there.

Charles “C.R.” Carson II spent time in ‘Nam during the 1960s. He fell out with his father and eventually struck it rich with his grandfather in the oil business. He is brash, arrogant, slightly crooked with a good heart – maybe.

Charles “Chip” Carson III arrives in Vietnam in 1998 to do humanitarian work. He falls not only for the country but also for a beautiful young Vietnamese woman named Thuy. He just has to convince her father to let them get married.

Three generations of Carson men, whose stories in Vietnam get connected in the most unexpected and gripping ways.

It’s all about loving and leaving Vietnam.

The adventure begins July 1!

 

Ho Chi Minh & Truman: Part II

Part II of my post from yesterday: http://wp.me/p25YFc-C8  – The second part of this post even talks about Tan Trao, the mountainous headquarters of the Viet Minh which is home to the glorious banyan tree which inspired my third novel, soon to be released.

Ho took up the mantle of fighting for Indochinese independence by supporting the Allied cause against the Japanese, much like the CCP did in China. By the summer of 1945, Ho’s independence movement found itself in a favorable position with the French reeling from the Japanese takeover and Tokyo facing mounting war pressures.

Throughout the early months of 1945, Ho hoped for an Allied invasion of Indochina, which he believed would spell the end of French colonialism, commenting that “he would accept a million U.S. soldiers [on Vietnamese soil] but no French” (qtd. in Rossiter 29). Ho met with U.S. Air Force General Claire Lee Chennault in the hopes of gaining American favor by offering intelligence information on Japanese operations (Bradley 125). This solid intelligence led to a favorable impression of Ho by the OSS, which received approval to work more closely with him and the Viet Minh (Bradley 125-126). After the Japanese overthrew the remaining French administration in March 1945, Emperor Bao Dai declared Vietnam unified and independent under Japanese protection (“Summary”). But Ho and the Viet Minh did not jump on the Japanese bandwagon as they saw the bigger picture of the Allied defeat of Japan being of immediate more importance than the end of French rule. The Viet Minh resisted the urge to let their colonial animosity strike out against French soldiers retreating from the Japanese and even supplied the French with military provisions and intelligence (Marr, “Vietnam” 203). As the final summer of the war progressed, Ho and the Viet Minh worked closely with the OSS in hopes of building mutual goodwill and trust.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.

Ho Chi Minh & Truman: Part I

My new novel coming out in a couple weeks, “The Reach of the Banyan Tree”, is in no small part a by-product of my love for 20th century Vietnamese history. Unlike most Americans who study Vietnam, I became much more fascinated at the 1945 connections between the Americans and the Vietnamese rather than the Vietnam War itself. This led me to write my master’s thesis on the topic of Roosevelt, Truman, and the shifting of US policy toward Indochina at the end of WWII. All of this is clearly connected with the story I created about Charles Carson, the fictional character who helped train the Viet Minh in the summer of 1945 before the Japanese capitulated. It’s a fascinating story – both the real one of the OSS team that came to Indochina and the fictional one that I had a blast creating. The following two posts come from my master’s thesis on the topic. And while it may be thick with references and rather boring academic stuff, I hope my underlying fascination of the time period seeps through. Here is part I:

Another matter of great importance that received only cursory acknowledgment from the Truman administration in the summer of 1945 was the issue of the Viet Minh and its leader for Vietnamese independence, Ho Chi Minh. The stature of Ho Chi Minh and his resolve to overthrow the French loomed large in the subsequent two decades of American Southeast Asian foreign policy, but in 1945, his faction was, to the Americans, nothing more than a curiosity and potential pawn to be used against the Japanese. Ho Chi Minh, known by the name Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen “The Patriot”), founded the Indochinese Communist Party in the early 1930s. He arrived in southern China by 1940 to work alongside the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) guerrilla trainers, who were tasked to help Chiang’s effort in mounting a guerrilla resistance against their common enemy – the Japanese (Duncanson 60). The transformation of the CCP during the war years would not have been lost on Ho. The CCP’s image was strengthened by the United Front, formed with the Nationalists, against the Japanese invaders, demonstrating “the willingness of Communists to subordinate their own interests to national ones” (Gordon 167).  The CCP’s focus on the Japanese also convinced millions of patriot Chinese that it was using its energy on defeating the invading Japanese, when, in fact, the Japanese were the only ones who prevented the Chinese Nationalists (KMT) from completely decimating the Communist movement (Gordon 166). As Gordon states, “The CCP thus made itself appear the embodiment of moderation, reformism, and pragmatism rather than radicalism” (167).  Ho would have been conscious of the CCP’s tactics of cooperation against the Japanese as he initially came into contact with the Americans during this time (Duncanson 60). These contacts later proved useful to him during the Vietnamese drive for independence in 1945.

Ho, more a pragmatist than an ideologue, confused the KMT in some respects as to his true intentions, and eventually ended up in prison. Staffers at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the precursor to the C.I.A. – saw a possible tool for the Allies in Ho Chi Minh and suggested that the U.S. could apply pressure on China to secure his release to support the Allies’ cause (Gardner 44). Ho likewise saw cooperation with the OSS as a possible way to further the cause of Vietnamese independence, but this view was widely disputed between the U.S. intelligence community, which tended to trust Ho, and the diplomatic corps, which did not look favorably upon the enigmatic Viet Minh leader (Gardner 44). The Chinese thought Ho’s popularity “threatened their control” but, after being pressured by the Americans, they released him from prison to head the Vietnam Revolutionary League only after he agreed to follow the lead of the KMT (La Feber 1283).

Tomorrow: The Viet Minh and the Americans in the summer of 1945

 

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.

Vietnamese General Giap: 1911-2013

The revolutionary general of the Viet Minh and the North Vietnamese communists died earlier today.

(You can check out the slide show of his life on yahoo HERE!)

He was the military mind and right hand man of Ho Chi Minh. He dressed in street clothes and a fedora, making an unassuming presence. But his presence was felt on the battlefield – not that he won many huge decisive battles. He just won hug, decisive wars.

He worked with the Americans of the O.S.S. in the summer of 1945 as they received training in order to help defeat the Japanese and bring an end to WWII in Indochina. But when the Americans, under Truman’s leadership, did not back the Vietnamese claim for independence, instead backing the French and General de Gaulle’s desire to reestablish authority in their show-piece colony.

With American support waning, Giap and Ho Chi Minh declared war against the French in December 1946. The brutal French-Indochina War ended in 1954 with the French’s stunning defeat at Dien Bien Phu.  This was Giap’s signature achievement – one of the most strategic and important military victories of the 20th century. It directly led to the split of Vietnam and the Vietnam War a decade later, followed by the fall of Cambodia, Pol Pot & the Killing Fields, a war with China in 1979, the boat people of the 1980s,and complete isolation from the world. All the Vietnamese wanted was their independence, but no one could have seen the far reaching effects of that battle.

Giap continued to be involved with the military throughout the Vietnam War and became a national hero during his long, twilight years.

Two last notes. The general makes an appearance in my upcoming novel entitled,The Reach of the Banyan Tree.” It’s a completely fictional account of an American meeting him and Ho Chi Minh in July of 1945 during the waning moments of WWII. I like the scenario that I’ve created that enabled me to confidently bring these two historical figures into my story. I hope everyone will like it. Estimated arrival: mid-2014.

Lastly, next year is the 60th anniversary of the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Vietnamese officials are expecting one million visitors to the remote mountain city during the course of the year. It is one out of the two northern Vietnamese provinces which I have not yet visited. I really want to go next year. I hope I get the chance.