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Vietnam and the Geneva Peace Conference

 

In July 1954, after the Vietnamese victory at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva Peace Conference convened. Those in attendance included delegations from the northern and southern sections of Vietnam, the United States, Communist China, French, British, and the Soviet Union. Great Britain and the Soviet Union acted as co-chairs of the Geneva Peace Conference, and the International Control Commission (ICC) was responsible for preparing progress reports and moderating issues as they arose. The success of the ICC’s work depended on the cooperation of the governments of North and South Vietnam.

Some important points were decided at the conference. Vietnam was to be divided into a northern and a southern section. The partition was to be in place for only two years, after which elections were to be held to reunite the country under one elected leader. North Vietnam’s capital was in Hanoi, while South Vietnam’s capital was in Saigon. The independent states of Cambodia and Laos were also established.

Another point from the conference was the agreement that  no foreign troops could enter Vietnam during the two-year period of division. Ho Chi Minh reluctantly signed off on the agreement, though he believed it cheated him out of the spoils of his victory over the French.

Zhou En-lai, Chairman Mao political “right-hand man” and the leader of the Chinese delegation, encouraged the division of Vietnam in an attempt to hold the burgeoning power of Vietnam in check. Keeping the Southeast Asian nations fragmented made them more susceptible to Chinese influence, thereby enabling the Chinese to increase their power and influence in the region. The Chinese remembered the lessons from their imperial past. However, neither the southern section of Vietnam nor the United States would sign the final conference agreement. Additionally, neither South Vietnam nor the US believed the French would stay in Vietnam until the elections, scheduled to be held no later than 1956. Though both the US and the new government of South Vietnam had refused to sign the Geneva agreements, the US declared it would “not use force to disturb the Geneva settlement.” Instead, it would seek “to achieve unity through free elections, supervised by the United Nations to ensure that they are conducted freely.”

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) trained Vietnamese troops in China and provided military supplies, then moved two hundred thousand of their own troops to the Vietnamese border. This would be a key issue throughout the Vietnam Conflict

Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh was unwilling to sit idly by while the peace conference accords played out. He wanted to take advantage of his momentum from the defeat of the French. He pushed communist ideology merged with a strong nationalism. He gathered a wide following in the North and formed guerilla groups, which would ultimately become the National Liberation Front (NLF), more commonly called Viet Cong, whose purpose was to reunite the country under communist rule.

The US did not sit on their hands either. They feared the spread of communism throughout southeast Asia (the Domino Theory—one falls to communism and they all fall), and knew both North Vietnamese and Communist China would try to push their influence on the South.

However, there were conflicts within the US government, as well as divisions within organizations. The CIA analysts, with an extensive working knowledge of Indochina, were aware that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army were not willing to do more than assist the French. Much of their concerns were based on US military studies which concluded that Indochina’s location and terrain were not suited for effective US military action. The Joint Chiefs concluded, “From the point of view of the United States, with reference to the Far East as a whole, Indochina is devoid of decisive military objectives, and the allocation of more than token US armed forces to the area would be a serious diversion of limited US capabilities.”

President Eisenhower had a different opinion than the Joint Chiefs. He did not believe the French would stay engaged in the region. Even when the Joint Chiefs of Staff advised the President that getting involved in Vietnam was devoid of decisive military objectives. However, Eisenhower maintained his belief in the Domino Theory and insisted the US couldn’t sit idly by while South Vietnam was overtaken by communists.

After the Geneva Peace Conference, the US government scrambled to develop a policy that would, at the least, save South Vietnam from the communists. Enter two of my favorite real people to write about: Colonel Edward G. Lansdale of the CIA, who would lead a team of agents; and Lieutenant Colonel Lucien Conein, a CIA agent in Saigon who was to begin a series of covert operations against North Vietnam. Lansdale and Conein had a flare that any author would love to exploit. An author doesn’t have to use hyperbole when writing about them—they are naturals for intrigue and drama. Lansdale has been a featured character in all of my novels thus far, and Conein appears in my Vietnam series.

When politicians meet to discuss how to implement “Communist Containment” it is often our servicemen and women who are put in harm’s way without winnable objectives. Containment with rules of engagement was never a friend to our service men and women.The situation is compounded when politicians try to micro-manage the conflict. As happened during the Vietnam era, our servicemen and women become Pawns—mere game pieces to be played by politicians.

Do you agree? Why or why not?

 

 

 

How did the United States get involved in Vietnam?

I would say most of you know the story of how the United States’ involvement in Vietnam ended. As Saigon fell on April 29 -30, 1975, US civilians followed instructions given in a booklet. The song “White Christmas” played over the US-based radio station, which signaled US civilians to  get to the American Embassy or other pre-determined location because the final evacuation was underway.  Most of us have seen pictures or videos of personnel fighting to get to the top of the US Embassy, where they boarded helicopters that delivered them to US Navy ships off-shore. There are pictures or videos of people fighting to climb over the Embassy gates the communists approached Saigon.

But how did the United States get involved in this far-away country that seemingly had little to do with our national security? In two words: “Domino Theory.” The Domino Theory, perpetuated by the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and President Eisenhower, predicted that if Vietnam fell to the communists, most of the countries in the Far East—from Thailand to the Philippines—would also fall.

But let’s back up a little more. At the Cairo Conference in Egypt (November 22-26, 1943), U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek agreed on how to remove the Japanese from Indochina after winning the war in the Pacific. Generalissimo Chiang was given the title of “Supreme Commander of China” which included parts of Thailand and Indochina, which included Vietnam. It was agreed the Chinese Nationalist Army would disarm and remove the Japanese from the northern portion of Vietnam, while the British would liberate the southern portion.

Soon thereafter, Ho Chi Minh, a devout communist and the leader of the Viet Minh Underground fighting against the Japanese, asked France to return to Indochina to help remove the Chinese. Ho did not want the Chinese Nationalist Army in his country. Ho’s request to the French seemed strange, since Ho was loyal to both Stalin, the Secretary General of the Soviet Union, and Mao, Chairman of Communist China. However, President de Gaulle was quick to respond by sending forces to Indochina. In 1946, with the French forces in place, Ho Chi Minh asked Chiang Kai-shek to withdraw all of his troops. Chiang was in the midst of a vicious civil war with the communist Mao for control of mainland China, so he was glad to pull out—with the exception of a few divisions in the northern region. Moreover, the British were more interested in securing their former territories of India, Burma and Singapore, so soon after removing the Japanese, the British pulled out of the southern portion of Vietnam.

The French attempted not just to liberate Vietnam, but to re-establish the territory as it had been before World War II. However, the Vietnamese wanted none of that; they wanted their independence. According to historical records, in 1946, Ho Chi Minh wrote a letter to President Truman requesting support from the United States as an independent State. Truman never answered. Some historians say Truman wasn’t familiar with Ho Chi Minh, which was why he didn’t answer. I’ll not get into that debate here.

Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh, which had fought the Japanese throughout World War II, were very proficient at jungle fighting. The French struggled to fight the Viet Minh, and, in 1954 at the battle of Diem Bien Phu, the French were defeated and pulled out of Indochina.

Immediately, the United States moved in to take their place because of the “Domino Theory.” For the next fifteen years, President de Gaulle accused the United States of undermining their efforts in Indochina for the sole purposes of taking over the territory for themselves, which was never the goal of the United States.

So the United States officially entered Vietnam in 1954—even though the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor of the CIA, had been in Indochina since the beginning of World War II.

How many of you knew this background story?