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

 

One Month from Today: The Reach of the Banyan Tree

I was excited about the release of both of my first two novels, but with my third novel on the horizon, I’m a little more excited than usual.

Why?

I guess it is because of the story and the back story of writing it. I was living in Thai Nguyen Vietnam (where much of the story takes place) and I remember sitting down one day to start my first novel.  I had a basic concept in mind and a particular scene that I wanted to write (yes, this scene is in the novel now). I wrote a few paragraphs and became disgusted that I couldn’t write anymore. I felt inadequate and uninspired.

From that point it took me ten years to finally finish my first novel in 2011, and that novel was not the one I started in 2001. But now, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, IS that novel. I did it. It took my 12 years but I finally wrote the novel I always wanted to write.

Now it is only one month away from releasing, so, naturally, I am very excited.

In June I’ll be high-lighting some of the unique characters, settings, and places which make this novel special. (at least I think so)

I hope many readers will enjoy it.

My last great Vietnam novel. Only 30 more days!

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Mixing real historical figures into a work of fiction. Vietnam 1945.

My untitled third novel that I’m currently working on is set during two different time periods in Vietnam. The first is 2000 and the second is 1945.

Nineteen-forty-five is the crucial year in modern day Vietnam. It’s the year that the Japanese completely overthrew the remnants of the French Empire in Indochina. It’s the year that the Vietnamese freedom fighters – Viet Minh – were trained by the Americans in July. It’s the year that they declared their independence on September 2, 1945, in vain looking for a western nation (namely America) to support their desire to move beyond both Japanese imperialism and French colonialism. Alas, the nascent Truman administration felt it prudent to back French claims and support de Gaulle as he reasserted French presence in the world after the war.  It’s the year that set the course for the French-Indochina War which would last from 1946-1954, resulting in a split Vietnam which would lead to the Vietnam War of the 1960s. It’s a fascinating year with larger than life characters who exert themselves on the scene: Roosevelt, Truman, Churchill, Chiang, de Gaulle, Ho Chi Minh.

Okay, enough with the history lesson.

I found myself writing about the fascinating interaction between the O.S.S. and the Viet Minh in July 1945. Of course, my story is fictional and it has a crucial bearing on the story that I am writing along side it set in 2000. But, when it comes to 1945, I couldn’t resist putting Ho Chi Minh into my writing. But I realize I must do so with caution.

Ho Chi Minh is revered in Vietnam as ‘Uncle Ho’ who never married and spent his life in one single pursuit – freedom for his nation and people. I’ll let the historians argue about the veracity of that statement. However, regardless of your view, there is a lot to admire about Ho Chi Minh. He spoke, they say, upwards of 11 languages or dialects. He was good at English and wrote letters and spoke freely to the OSS officers who visited him that summer. He had general goodwill and admiration for Americans and he hoped that Truman would back his legitimate claim on Vietnam. He even wrote several unanswered letters to Truman trying to get across his point.

Was he a communist? Yes.

Was he a pragmatist? Yes.

Did he put dogma ahead of practicality? I think not.

He was a patriot who loved his country much like George Washington loved his country.  In fact, Ho Chi Minh even used this comparison to George in some of his rhetoric questioning America’s relentless support for the French who ruthlessly raped Vietnamese resources for 80 years.

So, I had fun today thinking how I could bring this real-life character into my story. Of course, his role is minor, but I wanted it to be memorable. Hopefully I’ll achieve this. I’m not going to give any specifics at this point, but I will say this:

Uncle Ho is making an appearance in my third novel.

Should be fun!