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The Fate of OSS Agent 19
Perhaps naively, and without consideration of the conflicting postwar interests of the "Big" nations themselves, the new government believed that by complying with the conditions of the wartime United Nations conferences it could invoke the benefits of those conferences in favor of its own independence.
-- ARTHUR HALE,
U.S. INFORMATION AGENCY,
HANOI, OCTOBER 1945
In August 1945, most Americans believed their country victorious over the unjust imperialist ambitions of two oppressive nations: Germany and Japan. Peace was lovingly embraced, joyously celebrated, as if it were the natural state in which people had always, and would always, live. Soldiers sailed slowly home, confident of welcome, looking forward to the world promised by the resounding victory over fascism: a world free of want, fear, and war, a world their sacrifices had made safe for democracy.
Two months later, twelve of the U.S. Merchant Marine ships engaged in the pleasant duty of ferrying American troops home were given new orders: they were to transport some thirteen thousand French combat troops halfway around the world to Saigon, capital of what the French called Cochin China. To the people who lived there, it was Nam Bo, the southernmost region of Vietnam. Not our war, the American sailors thought, and then wondered what they were doing in the South China Sea. Many objected, as best they could, in letters to Congress and newspaper editors. In November, seamen on the S.S. Winchester Victory sent a cable to PresidentTruman in which they "vigorously protest[ed]" the use of "this and other American vessels for carrying foreign combat troops to foreign soil for the purpose of engaging in hostilities to further the imperialist policies of foreign governments when there are American soldiers waiting to come home."1
In August 1945, most Vietnamese believed their country was at last independent of all foreign rule and at peace. For over eighty years, the French had effaced the very name Vietnam, ruling it as three separate districts: Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China. For that entire period, Vietnamese had struggled against French rule in sporadic uprisings that sometimes achieved the intensity of full-scale guerrilla warfare. Resistance to French rule in turn drew upon centuries of struggle against Vietnam's most persistent threat, China. Twentieth-century Vietnamese patriots often quoted, with understandable pride, the fifteenth-century poet Nguyen Trai's boast that Vietnam had "at no time lacked heroes." The corollary was that Vietnam had at no time lacked enemies.
French surrender to Germany in June 1940 had doubled the number of Vietnam's colonial overlords. The new Vichy government acquiesced to the demands of Germany's ally Japan, which seized control of Vietnam's economic resources while leaving daily administration in the hands of the French. In their five-year tenure in Vietnam, Japanese policies devastated the economy, creating a famine in the North that killed between 1.5 and 2 million people.
By 1944, as the war against Germany in Europe merged with the war in the Pacific against Japan, Vietnamese nationalists became, in a formal sense, allies of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in a joint struggle against the Axis powers and such collaborationist regimes as Vichy France. The most effective nationalist group, by all accounts, was the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi), Viet Minh for short, established in May 1941 and led by Ho Chi Minh.* A founding member of both the French and the Indochinese Communist parties, Ho had lived most of his life outside Vietnam, organizing, mobilizing, agitating, his steady goal the independence of Vietnam. In 1919, wearing a borrowed suit and using the pseudonym Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot), he had appealed to Woodrow Wilson at Versailles to fulfill the promise of American war aims: self-determination for all peoples. But the conference at Versailles merely dismantled the Austro-Hungarian Empire, without unduly disturbing European colonial arrangements; like hundreds of disappointed nationalists, Nguyen Ai Quoc turned to the writings of Lenin and the history of Russian Bolshevism and there discovered what he called a "path" for his compatriots. A friend had given him the French translation of Lenin's "Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions," Ho recalled many years later.
There were political terms difficult to understand in this thesis. But by dint of reading it again and again, finally I could grasp the main part of it. What emotion, enthusiasm, clear-sightedness, and confidence it instilled in me! . . . Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted aloud as if addressing large crowds: "Dear martyrs, compatriots! This is what we need, this is what we need, this is the path of our liberation."2
Lenin's theses, presented to the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, were both a call for national revolution in the colonial world and an offer of help. The establishment of the Communist International (Comintern) gave revolutionaries a headquarters, a network, a source of advice and funds. The advice was not always very good and the funds were limited, but hundreds of colonial subjects concluded, with Ho, that "only Socialism and Communism can liberate the oppressed nations . . . "
What Ho and those who answered his call to join the Communist Party of Vietnam meant by socialism and communism is reflected in the first Party platform, adopted at a meeting held beyond the reach of the French police in Hong Kong on February 18, 1930. Ten "slogans" summarized the program:
Posted October 13, 2011
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Some reviewers of this work complain about the perspective of the author. The book does have a liberal, progressive, or even radical outlook but historian Marilyn Young backs up her arguments with facts, clean analysis, and a critical reading of this important history. This is fine introduction to the topic and an excellent review for those well read on this history. I highly recommend this work.
There are other conflicting accounts of this conflict but few as pointed and intelligent for a clear overview of this long interval.This radical more in the sense of dealing with basic facts than politics.