From charlesreid1

Chapter 1: The War Nobody Won

  • Vietnam had influence on later administrations' foreign policy decisions
    • Carter administration decisions not to block revolutionary movements (Angola, Ethiopia, Iran)
    • After bombing in Beirut, Reagan withdrew forces - lesson learned from Vietnam
    • Grenada - "comic" operation allowing appearance of showing force without risk of getting bogged down in large conflict
    • American public rebuffed Central America communists - avoid another Vietnam in Central America
  • Lyndon Johnson - reluctant to go into Vietnam, tiptoed in
  • Contrast to (H. W.) Bush in Iraq:

Thus Bush assembled a force that, combined with that of its allies, numbered more than six hundred thousand - larger than the U.S. military machine in Vietnam at its peak.

"There's so much at stake," he said. "Are we willing to die for oil? Are we willing to sacrifice our kids for the sake of stimulating our economy? We're still paying dearly for Vietnam."

- Bill Fournier, former policeman in Auburn, Maine, imploring Congress

  • Differences between Vietnam and Gulf War... but parallels, too
    • No clear purpose
    • Failure to define concept behind attack
    • Unclear whether victory vital to US interests, or of illusory importance
  • Vietnam reconstruction - daunting task; broken economy, broken social structure, exhausted population
  • Civil war tore families apart, over 1 million fled abroad

"We should have heeded the old Chinese adage: 'You can conquer a country from horseback, but you cannot govern it from horseback.'"

- Tran Bach Dang, top Communist party adviser

"This is still very much a feudal society, whatever its ideological labels."

- Dr. Duong Quynh Hoa, physician

  • Following Vietnam war, Russian technicians sent to improve railroads, build power plants, etc.
  • "Vietnamese lamented the Russians as 'Americans without dollars.'"

Rejecting an urgent appeal for help, Moscow cables Vietnam: "Tighten your belts." To which Vietnam replies: "Send belts."

  • The US commitment to the region dated back to 1950, when President Truman decided to help the French retain their hold over Indochina to block Chinese Communist expansion.

Chapter 2: Piety and Power

  • Vietnam also known in Europe as Cauchinchina
  • Portugese explorer, Prince Henry the Navigator, endorsed to explore by Pope Nicholas V (1454)
  • Portugese explorers landed in east India, then Malacca (gateway to China Sea), then Cambodia and Vietnam
  • "Giao Chi" - Chinese characters for Vietnam; became "Cauchi," then "Cauchichina"

  • August 1883 - Tu Duc dies, French fleet appeared at mouth of Perfume river near Hué
  • French installed officials and garrisons, and exercised jurisdiction over Vietnamese authorities
  • French collected customs, managed defense and foreign relations
  • Vietnam was French posession

Clemenceau, more eloquent than ever, accused Ferry of "high treason" for bogging France down in Vietnam; his address foreshadowed speeches that French politicans were to hear, under similar circumstances, sixty years later. his words strangely resembled a private warning that deputy Secretary of State George Ball would send to Lyndon Johnson in 1965: "When our soldiers are again threatened, as they are today, we will be asked for more money and more men. We will not be able to refuse. And millions upon millions, fresh troops on top of fresh troops will lead to our exhaustion. Gentlemen, we must block this route.

But the French colonial experience would also open Vietnam to Western ideas that, along with the violence and repression and humiliation, rekindled Vietnamese nationalism.

Chapter 3: The Heritage of Vietnamese Nationalism

  • Recorded history of Vietnam - begins in 208 BC, when Trieu Da, turncoat Chinese general, conquered Au Lac, domain in northern mountains of Vietnam populated by Viets (Mongolian descendants)
  • Han dynasty annexed Vietnam as Chinese provice of Giao Chi
  • Chinese integration of territory resembled way Rome managed territories, and way French managed territories a millenia later (military districts, advisers, schools, language, roads/ports/canals/infrastructure)
  • China failed to assimilate Vietnamese, who retained ethnic singularity
  • Vietnamese began a long history of challenging Chinese dominion
  • 1418: Nguyen Trai, advisor to Le Loi (future emperor who had proclaimed himself Price of Pacification, led revolt) explained Vietnamese strategy in an essay
    • Similarities between Le Loi strategy and future strategy of 20th century Communists
    • Subordinate military action to the political and moral structure: "Better to conquer hearts than citadels"
    • Tot Dong, 1426: Chinese routed
  • China acknowledged Vietnam independence
  • Golden age of Vietnam: Le Thanh Tong, ascended throne in 1460, ruled for 38 years
  • Political and bureaucratic structure of Le Thanh Tong's administration served Vietnam until French disrupted it 400 years later
    • Six ministries shaping policy, each paralleled by department to implement decisions
    • Standing army of 2,000 men
  • By sixteenth century, Vietnam was in turmoil
    • Trinh and Nguyen clans
    • Nguyen Anh would turn to France in 18th century, lead to French intervention

The war between North and South Vietnam after 1954 largely expressed ancient regional animosities only newly overlaid with an ideological veneer. And the same tensions continued after 1975 as southern Communists balked at domination by their northern comrades. Equally inimical to Vietnam's unity was the traditional autonomy of its rural communities... A sense of Vietnamese national identity nevertheless grew into reaction to foreign intervention - crystallizing during the long resistance against the Chinese. it confronted the French from their first intrusions into Vietnam.

"A country is not conquered and pacified by crushing its people through terror. After overcoming their initial fear, the masses grow increasingly rebellious, their accumulated bitterness steadily rising in reaction to the brutal use of force."

- General Joseph Gallieni, French colonial officer and hero of WWI

  • Early guerrillas (1859) - led by Buddhist monks, lived in inaccessible zones, nagged French soldiers

"We have had enormous difficulties in enforcing our authority... Rebel bands disturb the country everywhere. They appear from nowhere in large numbers, destroy everything and then disappear into nowhere."

- Admiral Bonard, French commander in Cochinchina

The more I sense my duty the more I feel

On my shoulders its infinite weight.

A man worthy of the name must blush

If he cannot pay the debt with his life.

- Nguyen Huu Huan, poet

  • Young Vietnamese studying in Paris
    • Returned to Vietnam only to have newspapers/books confiscated
    • Could not find jobs to equal their capacities
    • French still treated them as inferiors, as servants
    • Many of them became revolutionaries
    • Economic change - transfer of financial burden from French taxpayers to Vietnamese people
    • Paul Doumer - governor-general of Indochina, mainly responsible for shift in financial burden
  • Doumer built opium refinery
    • opium addiction rose, led to increase in colonial administration income
    • led to enormous undercurrent of contradictory/counterproductive outcomes
  • French had made Indochina world's largest rice exporter after Burma and Thailand
    • commercial success impoverished peasantry
    • land-grabbing, speculation by rich led to peasants being pushed out
    • pressures of population growth
    • landless peasants - led to slave labor
  • Rubber was second largest Vietnamese export after rice
  • Hongay coal mines - output increased from (0.5 million in 1913) to (2 million in 1927)
  • Indochina integrated into French economic order as exclusive source of raw materials and protected market for French merchandise
  • Not just raw materials but MARKETS, too
  • Primitive French capitalists drove Vietnamese nationalists to extremes
    • Moderates outpaced by communists
    • French steered Ho Chi Minh, personification of nationalism, toward violence
  • Ho Chi Minh - left Vietnam in 1911 - would not see Vietnam for another 30 years
    • Went to Europe rather than Japan (hotspot for Asian nationalists)
    • Counting on Japanese against French: "drive the tiger out the front door while letting the wolf in through the back"
    • spent time at sea, 1913 went to United States, then ewent to London
  • became politically involved in Europe

When he proclaimed Vietnam's independence from France in 1945, his speech would feature an excerpt from the American Declaration of Independence.

Ho might have preferred to stick with Socialists like Longuet and Blum, whose gentle temperament he shared. But he opted for the Communists, figuring that their Soviet patrons had the potential power to spark the global revolution that would liberate Vietnam. As Ho explained years afterward, "It was patriotism and not Communism that originally inspired me."

  • 1924: Ho went to Moscow; Lenin had recently died, Soviet leaders only interested in power vacuum, not in Vietnam
  • 1930s: world economic depression, rubber and rice prices plummeted, producti oncut, unemployment, hungry peasants
  • Ho realized time was ripe for creation of united Communist party; met with leaders abroad in Hong Kong (soccer match) in June 1929, formed Indochinese Communist Party
  • 1940: tidal wave swept over southeast Asia; Japanese poured down from China, crushed French administration in Vietnam, drove British from Malaya, drove Dutch from Indonesia, drove United States from Philippines
  • Asian nation had destroyed European colonialism
  • While some nationalists rallied to Japan, Ho skeptical; aligned himself with Allies, hoping the French would be ousted, Japanese defeated, and independence as reward
  • Strained relationship with Soviets (forbade Communist resistance to Axis powers), but main concern was Vietnam

Chapter 4: The War with the French

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Dewey of the OSS - the first American to die in Vietnam.

  • September 2, 1945: Vietnamese declaration of independence by Ho Chi Minh
  • Ho was pragmatist - shifting tactics to suit changing circumstances
  • State Department - two camps; one camp thought Europe should run Indochina, other thought Indochina should be independent
    • European faction won
    • May 1945, shortly after Truman took office after Roosevelt's death, US recognized French claim to Indochina
    • By 1954, US spent $2.5 billion to finance French military effort in Indochina (more assistance than France received in the Marshall Plan aid from America to rebuild its postwar economy)
  • US/French operatives clashed, quarreled, had factional disputes
    • Chinese officials tried to manipulate Westerners
    • Everybody cashing in on opium, gold transactions, arms smuggling, etc.
    • Ho continued to play sides off of each other
  • Chang (warlord) slammed Ho into prison, where he languished for more than a year, weaving Chinese verses in T'ang dynasty style:

Now the wind sharpens its edges on mountain rocks

The spear of cold pierces tree branches.

The gong from a far-off pagoda hastens

The traveler's steps as boys playing flutes

Drive the buffaloes home across the twilight.

- Ho Chi Minh

  • Vo Nguyen Giap - took over Vietminh's guerrilla units after Ho
  • Logistician ranking with Wellington, Grant, Lee, Rommel, and McArthur in the pantheon of great military leaders - owing to his innate genius rather than formal training.
  • "I was a self-taught general." - Giap

"Switching from French to Vietnamese, Giap recited a couplet from a poem his father had taught him, evoking the legendary dynasty that founded Vietnam three thousand years before Christ:

"We are descended from the Hong Bang.

Ancient shame is never forgotten."

  • Giap taught his army to use rainstorms to deter pursuit, streams to cover tracks, store supplies, wave secret communications webs, root out spies and informers
  • Opposed both French colonial regime and Japanese occupation army
  • Christmas Eve 1944 - group of 34 guerrillas, dressed in pajamas, overpowered French garrison, attacked French fort
  • Commemorate birth of Vietnamese army
  • End of 1944 - MacArthur reconquering Philippines
  • de Gaulle determined to regain Indochina for France, afraid of Americans taking it
  • Parachuted French agents and arms into area, attack Japanese troops ahead of US invasion
  • March 9, 1945, Japanese tortured/killed many French, collapse of French imperial power
  • Japanese doomed to defeat
  • Questions about Vietnam's future
  • Summer 1945 - floods aggravated food shortages, 2 million people out of a population of 10 million starved to death

Peasants came in from the nearby provinces on foot, leaning on each other, carrying their children in baskets. They dug in garbage piles, looking for anything at all, banana skins, orange peels, discarded greens. They even ate rats. But they couldn't get enough to keep alive. They tried to beg, but everyone else was hungry, and they would drop dead in the streets. Every morning, when I opened my door, I found five or six corpses on the step. We organized teams of youths to load the bodies onto oxcarts and take them to mass graves outside the city. It was terrifying - and yet it helped our cause because we were able to rally the nation.

  • Starving peasants revolted against French and Japanese garrisons, uprisings, Vietminh took advantage of turmoil
  • The August Revolution

You would understand better if you could see what is happening here, if you could feel this yearning for independence that is in everyone's heart, and which no human force can any longer restrain. Should you reestablish a French administration here, it will not be obeyed. Every village will be a nest of resistance, each former collaborator an enemy, and your officials and colonists will themselves seek to leave this atmosphere, which will choke them.

  • Vietminh desperately provoked British and French reprisls, French soldiers went on a frenzy, killed people, raisd French Flags, clubbed citizens
  • Vietminh launched an attack on September 24 - marks date of beginning of first Indochina war

Though five months have passed since we declared independence, no foreign countries have recognized us. Though our soldiers have fought gloriously, we are still far from victory. Though our administration is honest and efficient, corruption has not been eliminated. Though we have introduced reforms, disorder disturbs several areas. We could ascribe these setbacks to the fact that our regime is young, or make other excuses. But no. Our successes are due to the efforts of our citizens, and our shortcomings are our own fault.

- Ho Chi Minh

You fools! Don't you realize what it means if the Chinese remain? Don't you remember your history? The last time the Chinese came, they stayed a thousand years. The French are foreigners. They are weak. Colonialism is dying. The white man is finished in Asia. But if the Chinese stay now, they will never go.

As for me, I prefer to sniff French shit for five years than eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life.

- Ho Chi Minh

  • French disaster in Indochina precipitated suspicion/American takeover
  • 1947 - Truman administration suspected Ho Chi Minh's Communist connections might serve Kremlin
  • "France's desperate effort to cling to its Asian possession escalated into an international crisis - and the American commitment gradually took shape.

Chapter 5: The Light That Failed

  • 1947 - US launched Marshall Plan in western Europe to curb Communist inroads in France and Italy
  • Major US initiative - Truman Doctrine - intensified Cold War conflict
  • The containment of Communism had up until 1950 focused on Europe, but began to extend to Asia
  • Vietminh were bloodying the French in Vietnam
  • By 1954, American aid accounted for nearly 80 percent of French expenditures on the conflict
  • Foreign Affairs published an article called "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," published by "X", George Kennan, then chief of the State Dept. policy planning staff and a leading Kremlinologist
  • A quarter century later, Kennan would reflect that his concept had been distorted into a strictly military approach
  • Bao Dai - weak and unpredictable playboy, abdicated to Hong Kong
  • 1947 - French tried to lure him back
  • Hints from Ho Chi Minh that he and Bao may band together to achieve Vietnamese independence
  • Bao entrapped by French, fled to Europe, tracked down and taken back to Vietnam, forced to sign false declaration of indepenndence
  • March 1949 - Bao Dai (figurehead emperor) and Francee's figurehead signed the Elysee Agreement, confirming Vietnamese independence but maintaining French control over Vietnamese defense, diplomacy, and finances
  • 1950 - Minh issued last appeal for compromise, promised neutrality, was ignored (coincided with Mao's victory in China)
  • 1950 - persuaded Moscow and Beijing to recognize the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
  • By late 1949, Truman administration weighed in, given $75 million slush fund to spend in Asia by Congress (mainly spent in China)
  • 1950 - three days after Korean War broke out, US flew C-47 cargo craft across Pacific to Indochina (President breaking the law)
  • 1950-1954: US would spend $3 billion to finance French in Indochina
  • Became clear supporting French would undermine global containment
  • John Ohley, senior DoD official: November 1950: "We are dangerously close to the point of being so deeply committed that we may find ourselves completely committed even to direct intervention. These situations, unfortunately, have a way of snowballing."

Dean Rusk... in 1981, as a law professor at the University of Georgia, recalled:

I was a senior in college the year that the Japanese seized Manchuria, and I have the picture still etched in my mind from the newsreel of the Chinese ambassador standing before the League of Nations, pleading for help against the Japanese attack. I myself was present in the Oxford Union on that night in 1933, when they passed the motion that "this house will not fight for king and country..."

So one cannot live through those years and not have some pretty strong feelings... that it was the failure of the governments of the world to prevent aggression that made the catastrophe of World War II inevitable.

  • Vietminh army, now the Communist army, had time on their side
  • Ho and Giap studied Vietnam's past experiences against China, and studied Mao's lessons against Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek
  • Wages war in 3 phases, hit and run guerrilla strikes, then mounting larger actions, until balance of forces tilted in their direction
  • French commander General Etienne Valluy only had experience in Europe, realized task was impossible
  • Trying to defeat 60,000 enemy troops with 15,000 French troops, over nearly 80k square miles of impenetrable forest
  • Not up against small insurgent bands - up against a disciplined army
  • 1949-1950 - Giap started by harassing outposts, gradually ramped up attacks
  • "The stunned government in Paris dismissed its senior officers and civilian officials in Indochina and conferred both military and political responsibility on General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, one of France's most prominent soldiers. The appointment represented an extraordinary compliment to Giap, the former schoolteacher. He responded to the honor, gallantly proclaiming that his army would now face "an adversary worthy of its steel."
  • Late 1952 - 90,000 French dead, wounded, missing, captured over six years
  • France spent twice the sum it received in aid from US Marshall Plan
  • Internal strife in France, opposition to sending increasing amount of resources to Indochina
  • October 1952 - Giap wanted to distract French in Laos, moved 3 divisions to Laos frontier valley 11 miles long and 5 miles wide - Dienbienphu
  • April 1953 - Giap led his troops into the valley, nerly took a capital city, but pulled troops out of Laos and Dienbienphu area
  • Trap worked, French reinforced Dienbienphu
  • General Navarre flew to Paris to present project to recapture Dienbienphu and reinforce it as a staging base
  • Miscommunication meant Navarre now committed to defending Laos

"At that point," Giap recalled to me, "I had no idea where - or even whether - a major battle might take place." Early in October 1953, he rode by horseback to Ho Chi Minh's headquarters, a bamboo shack located in a hilltop village in northern Vietnam. Ho chain-smoked and interrupted with questions as Giap, referring to a map, briefed him on the situation. Dienbienphu never came up in the discussion. "The art of war is flexibility," Ho said.

Starting in November, Giap began to move thirty-three infantry battalions, six artillery regiments, and a regiment of engineers into the region, some over long distances. Reflecting afterward on the massive deployment, military historians judged that, in a conflict like the Indochina war, the mobility of individual soldiers outweighs the mobility of armies. That principle guided Giap in his struggles against France and, later, America. As he told me in 1990, his voice bursting with conviction: "In war there are two factors - human beings and weapons. Ultimately, though, human beings are the decisive factor. Human beings! Human beings!"

Thus the ground was laid for Dienbienphu, which would equal Waterloo, Gettysburg and Stalingrad as one of the decisive battles of history. It was also Giap's epiphany.

  • Giap determined 50,000 troops would be needed to defeat French, presented plan to Ho, got green light
  • Sense of urgency came from truce in Korea, death of Stalin (March 1953), proposals from Soviet Union to resolve conflicts in Asia
  • Soviets coming to table with Allies and Chinese Communists to carve up Asia
  • 1953 - Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai foresaw that France would leave Indochina, and that US would step in
  • To avoid having US on China's doorstep, favored negotiated settlement giving France future stake in Indochina and preventing US from filling vacuum
  • Bao Dai and anti-Communists feared French would strike a deal with Ho and leave them out
  • Eisenhower and his Secetary of State, John Foster Dulles, saw deals as a crumbling wall of containment
  • Truce in Korea was just to allow Chinese to redirect aggressions
  • Ho's experience of betrayal by French led him to take the attitude that he would fight the French until he could dictate the terms of a peace agreement
  • Chinese exerted some influence on Ho - massed 200,000 men on Vietnamese border
  • French wanted to get out and avoid large scale regional war
  • November 1953, Ho offered to end war by peaceful means; Soviets had agreed days before to meet with and discuss Germany with the US, Britain, France - by implication, discuss Indochina
  • Deadline for France and Indochina
  • General Walter Bedell Smith (head of US delegation to Geneva talks): "You don't win at the conference table what you've lost on the battlefield."
  • Vietnamese troops accomplished the extremely difficult task of positioning artillery pieces and antiaircraft guns above the hills
  • By middle of January, 50,000 troops in the hills, 20000 strung out along supply lines
  • French numbered 13,000 with half unqualified for combat
  • French had posts called porcupines, bristling with weapons and encircled with barbed wire and minefields
  • French possessed tanks

Giap perceived that his artillery was vulnerable to air raids. Remembering his losses in the Red river offensive, he realized that a similar setback would be fateful to the Vietminh cause.

He lay awake through the night before the battle, plagued by a splitting headache - and his predicament. At last he concluded that he could not risk defeat.

"It was the most difficult decision of my life. Suddenly, in the morning, I postponed the operation. My staff was confused, but no matter. I was the military commander, and I demanded absolute obedience - sans discussion, sans explication!

  • Giap adopted more cautious strategy, moved guns up higher into hills, infantry would crawl toward positions in series of tunnels
  • Shovels were principal weapon, soldiers dug tunnels and trenches, sometimes only 5-6 yards a day
  • Eventually, surrounded with several hundred miles of tunnels
  • Preparation for new assault took 2 months
  • March 13 - Giap gave signal to advance
  • Vietminh howitzers destroyed French targets
  • March 15 - Colonel Charles Piroth, French commander, killed himself with a grenade in disgrace
  • "The lowering clouds hindered their aircraft from bombing and strafing Giep's men and made parachuting supplies to their beleaguered garrison nearly impossible. The French now knew that, on the eve of negotiations, they were doomed on the battlefield and also at the conference table - unless they received a formidable dose of ouside help. Only th US could furnish that aid fast and effectively. but another engagement would have to be fought in Washington."
  • French proposed plan for air strikes and support from planes based in Philippines
  • General Matthew Ridgway (army chief of staff) had no confidence in air strikes and saw no end goal or military objectives in Indochina
  • Eisenhower said he would need Congressional approval and British approval
  • Dulles and VP Nixon tried to get the legislation passed
  • Request rejected by several influential senators and representatives (incl. Lyndon Johnson of Texas, leader of Democratic minority in Senate)
  • Eisenhower refused to go it alone, British refused to participate
  • By late April, clear that US was not going to get involved
  • May 7, 1954 - red Vietminh flag flown over the French command bunker at Dienbienphu
  • Next morning in Geneva, 9 delegations assembled at League of Nations building
  • Seventy days of intrigue, mistrust, and playing one side off the other
  • In the end, no military or political solutions were reached
  • Zhou Enlai offered to prevent medling in Laos and Cambodia, foresaw possibility of two Vietnams
  • Backroom deals between Chinese Communists and French, facilitated by Soviets, left US (Bedell Smith) and Vietnamese anti-Communists (Bao Dai) out of the loop
  • Agreed to partition Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel
  • They agreed to split Vietnam temporarily, elections to re-unify Vietnam after 2 years
  • French won more in the conference room than they had on the battlefield
  • French would withdraw from the north, Vietminh would withdraw from the south
  • Ngo Dinh Diem rejected eneva accords, predicted another war in Vietnam's future

Chapter 6: America's Mandarin

  • Ngo Dinh Diem - ascetic Catholic steeped in Confucian tradition, mixture of monk and mandarin
  • Diem expected obedience, distrusted non-family members, unable to build constituency beyond Catholics and central Vietnam natives
  • Saw Communist uprising in narrow military terms, not in broad magnitude of politicial/social/economic revolution
  • Diem captured by Vietminh agents in September 1945, brought to Ho
  • Conversed, Ho offered to join forces, Diem left
  • Diem absconded for Europe and US, at Geneva conference Bao Dai met with Diem to ask him to be prime minister
  • On June 18, 1954, Bao Dai placed Diem before a crucifix and persuaded him to swear to defend Vietnam "against the Communists and, if necessary, against the French."
  • Bao Dai had dug his own political grave
  • General J. Lawton "Lightning Joe" Collins - former army chief of staff
  • Advised limits on aid, saw Diem as hopeless, suggested US withdraw

Instructed to sabotage the transportation network int he north in anticipation of the Vietminh takeover, Conein and his colleagues laced the oil destined for Hanoi's trams with acid, and they concealed explosives in the piles of coal that fueled railway locomotives. Conein proposed blowing up the Standard Oil and Shell storage tanks located at Haiphong, but his idea was rejected on the grounds that "we'll need them when we go back."

- p. 237

  • National Geographic article, 1955
  • Massive movement of refugees from north to south
  • Nearly a million Vietnamese made the journey - forerunner of tremendous flight of "boat people" from Vietnam after communists gained control of entire country in 1975
  • Majority Catholics, communities had fled
  • Anti-Communist refugees fleeing from North Vietnam to South Vietnam provided Diem with a political base
  • Reference to This American Life: more important to prepare for the occupation than to prepare for the conflict - but not as appealing

Had Ho been as realistic in coping with the economy as he was in waging war, he would have offered incentives for his people to spur production. Instead, motivated by ideology, he proceeded to categorize peasants in five classes, ranging from "landlord" to "farm worker"; the idea was insane. In contrast to the south, where large holdings were common, very few peasants in the north possessed more than three or four acres. But Communist leaders concluded that "landlords" and other "feudal" elements represented 5 percent of the rural population, and they dispatched platoons of cadres to liquidate them.

- p. 240

  • Thousands died under the Communists, thousands more were put in forced labor camps
  • In August 1956, Ho publicly confessed that "errors have been committed" and promised that "those who have been wrongly classified as landlords and rich peasants will be correctly reclassified."
  • Giep: "We attacked on too large a front, and, seeing enemies everywhere, resorted to terror, which became far too widespread... Instead of recognizing education to be the first essential, we relied exclusively on organizational methods such as disciplinary punishments, expulsion from the party, executions..."
  • In 1956, Diem launched a campaign of his own against Vietminh, mirroring the repression happening in the north
  • Diem cracked down harder than the French, had police and informers in every village; former/current Vietminh sympathizers were hunted down
  • National Liberation Front - organized by Communists at end of 1960
  • Diem's publicists labeled them Vietcong (Vietnamese Communists)
  • May 1957 - Diem visited the US, Eisenhower called him the "miracle man" of Asia
  • Diem blundered by ignoring American advisers and experts, allowed landlords to keep large holdings of land, little land available for distribution; peasants were required to pay for land the Vietminh had given them for free during hte war against French
  • Khu Tru Mat - agrovilles, farm communities designed to isolate rural population from Communists 9similar to "strategic hamlets" later)
  • These communities isolated/alienated peasants; while they looked ideal (photo-op communities), they uprooted peasants from native/ancestral villages, caused peasants to lose their land to build places they could not live, forced labor
  • Leaders in Saigon and in Hanoi made the same mistakes, used same kind of rhetoric

The lives of peasants are dictated by the arduous and endless cycle of their crops. They plow, sow and harvest, resigned to the droughts, floods, pests and diseases that blight their rice, corn, sugar, peanuts and potatoes. Their daily tasks bend their backs and age their wives far beyond their years, and the hunger of each day stunts their children. Their every waking hour is concerned with survival. But in Vietnam, along with the ancient toil and the whims of nature, peasants had borne the burden of war for a generation.

- p. 248

Five or six Vietcong guys stopped my bus one morning to check the identity cards of the passengers. They dragged two men off the bus, and their chief said to them: "We've been waiting for you. We've warned you many times to leave your jobs, but you haven't obeyed. So now we must carry out the sentence."

They forced teh two men to kneel by the roadside, and one of the Vietcong guys chopped off their heads with a machete. They then pinned verdicts to their shirts saying that the murdered men were policemen. The verdicts had been written out beforehand. it was horrible to watch.

Afterward, the Vietcong guys gave the passengers back their identity cards, saying: "You'll get into trouble with the authorities without these, and we don't want that to happen."

- p. 248

Crouching in the doorway of his shack to shield himself against hte dusty wind, one peasant explained forlornly that his rice ration had been trimmed and that he had not received the allowance he had been promised to cover the cost of building his hut. "I can't understand what has happened," he said.

- p. 250

  • United States had sunk over a billion dollars into Vietnam, unhappy with Diem
  • Diem was in position of power, since US needed an anti-Communist leader in power
  • As one American official in Saigon said, Diem was "a puppet who pulled his own strings - and ours as well."
  • Diem more concerned with maintaining/consolidating his power, defending himself from internal enemies

Statistics reflected the toll of Vietcong terrorism. Between 1959 and 1961, the number of South Vietnamese government officials assassinated soared from twelve hundred to four thousand a year, and the murders evoked precisely the reaction from Diem that the Vietcong wanted.

- p. 255

But the entire history of Vietnam is a series of lost opportunities that might have averted the worst.

- p. 256

Chapter 7: Vietnam is the Place

  • Eisenhower replaced by Kennedy in November 1960
  • Kennedy more concerned with Europe and Latin America than Asia
  • Kennedy had rough first year in office - narrow margin of victory over Richard Nixon, defeat at Bay of Pigs, confronted Kremlin over divided Berlin, shaken five months into office when Nikita Khrushchev bullied him during summit meeting in Vienna
  • Kennedy to James Reston of NYT: "Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place."
  • Pressures from many in his administration
    • Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, expounded toughness toward Asian Communism
    • Rusk allied with Robert McNamara, Ford Motor Company executive who believed that investment could produce desired results
    • Senator J. W. Fullbright also firm supporter of involvement in Vietnam
  • April 1961 - Kennedy created task force for preventing Communist domination of South Vietnam, headed by George Ball, deputy under-secretary of state
  • Diem recoiled from idea of US troops in Vietnam; larger American presence would compromise nationalist pretensions, give US greater leverage

Chapter 8: The End of Diem

Chapter 9: The Commitments Deepen

Chapter 10: Disorder and Decision

Chapter 11: LBJ Goes to War

Chapter 12: Escalation

Chapter 13: Debate, Diplomacy, Doubt

Chapter 14: Tet

Chapter 15: Nixon's War

Chapter 16: The Peace that Never Was