Author Archives: Kestersond

Russian Interference Is Not New

No, I’m not writing about the administration you think. Instead, this is about the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, which was inundated with Soviet spies in about every department, even at the highest levels. Previously, I wrote about the Roosevelt administration regarding Pearl Harbor (LINK). While I don’t believe the Soviets (Russians) influenced any of Roosevelt’s four successful elections, I do believe they had a great influence over our policy.

Enter Harry Dexter White with a Ph.D. in economics. A pre-eminent economics journalist and an advisor to Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury, Dr. White was appointed to the Treasury Department in 1934. Soon thereafter, unbeknownst to the Administration or the Treasury, he joined the communist organization known as the Ware Group, which was led by Harold Ware, a member of the Communist Party of the United States. Ware worked closely with Joszef Peter, head of the underground section of the American Communist Party, whose plan was to influence policy at several levels of the government.

Dr. White was promoted through the Treasury Department until he was placed in charge of Monetary Research, and, by 1941, was assigned as Assistant to the Secretary. Dr. White was now in the position to exercise influence on U.S. foreign policy. His authority went beyond the scope of his defined position.Angus Cameron

Dr. White was recruited as a spy by Jacob Golos, then passed to Vasily Zarubin, the head of the Soviet Embassy in New York. Zarubin started handling White for several reasons, Golos was ill and Zarubin recognized the potential of White.

In 1944, White was one of the most important figures at the Bretton Woods conference. He argued for the end of economic blocks and a greater use of free trade agreements. At the Bretton Woods conference, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was instrumental in establishing the International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other international organizations, for the end of “economic nationalism.” White’s goal was for Western nations to develop better economic and political relationships with the Soviet Union.

On September 16, 1944, the Morgenthau Plan, written by Dr. White and Mr. Morgenthau, was presented to President Roosevelt at the Quebec Conference. The plan was discussed and approved by Winston Churchill. It called for the stripping and pillaging of post-War Germany, converting it into an agrarian society. All industrial plants and mines not destroyed by military action would be dismantled or destroyed. One of the most unbelievable points called for an extensive list of Germans who would be shot upon apprehension, while the rest of the population would be held down to a standard of living no higher than bare subsistence. This plan was basically what the Soviet Union did with occupied East Germany.

Someone in White’s department leaked the plan to the press. This created a gigantic political problem for President Roosevelt, who denied its existence. Ultimately, Roosevelt had to make a statement that his Treasury Secretary had made “a serious blunder.” When Joseph Goebbels learned of the Morgenthau Plan, the Nazis used the information to scare the German people into not surrendering, which prolonged the war and the Jewish holocaust. Immediately, Germany stiffened its resistance on the Western front. Until then, it was thought the Germans might discontinue resistance to Allied forces, out of fear of their fate of Soviet occupation. Clearly, this ugly plan prolonged the war by months and caused communism to spread not only to East Germany, but to other eastern European countries.

In December 1945, the FBI sent President Truman a report showing that Dr. White was a Soviet spy. Truman ignored the warning. In 1946, White was promoted to executive director of the U.S. Mission to the International Monetary Fund. Again, the FBI sent President Truman a second report regarding Dr. White being a spy for the Soviet Union, but the President did nothing.

Elizabeth Bentley testified before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on July 31, 1948, that Harry Dexter White was a Soviet spy. Bentley told the hearing, “We were so successful getting information… largely because of Harry White’s idea to persuade Morgenthau to exchange information.” She went on to say that at least “seven or eight agencies” traded information, including branches of the military.

On August 13, 1948, Dr. White appeared before the committee. Before the hearing, White had sent a note to J. Parnell Thomas, the chairman of the HUAC, asking for rest periods of five or ten minutes for each hour of testimony, as he was recovering from a severe heart attack.

During his testimony, Dr. White denied being a communist with this statement: “The principles in which I believe, and by which I live, make it impossible for me to ever do a disloyal act or anything against the interests of our country… I believe in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of the press, freedom of criticism and freedom of movement.” He admitted knowing some of those communists identified by Bentley, but just because they played softball and volleyball together did not mean they were part of a spy network.

Thomas replied, “For a person who had a severe heart condition, you certainly can play a lot of sports.” White retorted he had played sports before he developed a heart condition.

On August 16, just three days after his testimony, Dr. Harry Dexter White died of a heart attack.

In 1953, Senator Karl E. Mundt issued a report to the Committee on Government Operations documenting that Dr. White’s hand-picked Treasury assistants had transferred currency plates, currency paper and currency ink to the Soviet Union. This treachery assisted the Soviet Union in firming up their occupation of Eastern Europe and Germany with the use of U.S. credits. The occupation currency would eventually be redeemed by the U. S. Treasury at the cost of tens of millions to the American taxpayer.

The Russians and the Americans have been spying on each other since Lenin came into power, and it will likely go on until the end of time. This is just one example.

Were you aware that Roosevelt had spies in his Administration?

A look back to the Future

I graduated from college in the spring of 1977. At that time, we wondered what the future would look like at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We imagined flying car, robot maids, and living like the Jetsons.  Life is now seventeen years into the twenty-first century, and few or our imaginings have materialized. Our only shot at personal flying contraptions is large drones, which we’d have to learn to steer by leaning and figure out a safe way to stop and land. Good luck with that. One of the reasons we don’t have cars that fly is because of all the questions they create. At what height would we fly? Would it be controlled by current air traffic controllers or would we need a whole new control set up? Too many questions without answers. I am still stuck on steering a drone by leaning.

How does this relate to the history that we were not taught in school? Well, it does in a weird sort of way. In a short blog, it’s impossible to talk about all the promises of the past and the few that have been fulfilled. So, I want focus on the computer world–where it was in 1977 and where it is today.

During my time in college, I took some college courses outside of my major subject, including computer science programing. We dealt with punch cards and, yes, sometimes hanging chads. To show you how smart I was, I took this class self-pace. At midterm I had done, well, little. Okay, nothing. Then I made a brilliant decision—I didn’t need to know about computers, so I would get someone to do my computer work for me. Brilliant. In hindsight, even though I didn’t become a computer programmer, it would have been wise to get ahead of the curve on learning about computers.

I got my first computer in 1986. It was a Tandy with two 6” floppy disk drives. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I could type reports and edit them and save them on disks. I could even do spreadsheets—with the calculations done by a computer.

Within a year, I was hired to do a complicated report, so I purchased a computer  with both a 6” and a 3 ½” floppy disk drive. We could store twice as much on the smaller disk than on the larger one (which was still next to nothing in today’s world).  This allowed me to sit in my office and work longer hours. (We were told that computers would speed tasks up so fast that we’d have more leisure time.  That hasn’t happened yet.) Computers in that day would lock up on a regular basis. The screen came in one color—green. But, even with restarts and  lost work,  it was better than a pen and yellow pad and/or a typewriter.

Tandy 4020 SX Vintage Computer 80386 3 ISA Slots - AS IS

My wife told me about the computer room at the bank where she was employed. It contained what looked like four giant refrigerators with workstations attached to each. You had to wear a coat in that room because it was so cold. Each one of the “giant refrigerators” had big reels of magnetic tape whirling back and forth. Yes, data stored on magnetic tape was cutting edge at the time.

In the early 1990s, one of my client’s, a real computer nerd, told me that early in the twenty-first century, computer companies would virtually give away their computers because they would make all their money on software and license fees. At that time, you would pay around $5000 for a good high-end computer—and network computers were almost twice that. The home/office computer setup included a bulky monitor, a keyboard (sometimes attached to the monitor), and a large housing unit. Laptops were just starting to hit the market, but they were heavy and very inefficient, while pad computer technology was still on the drawing board. Now, home/office computers will soon be obsolete. Laptops are the driving force, with docking stations to plug in multiple monitors, keyboards, printers, etc. And those laptops have dropped in price. As to computer software—it is much more powerful, but it’s come way down in price due to competition. Annual licensing fees are where the money is on most Cadillac software.

Today, most computers have more ram than the second and third generations of internal hard drive computers in the 1990s. For that matter, thumb drives and cellphones have more storage space.

Finally, to show how computers have evolved they are more powerful than ever imagined in the 1970’s and I haven’t even mentioned the role of the internet, first starting in 1969 (called ARPAnet linking two remote computers). Sorry Al Gore. But the impact they have had on computers—and life as we know it—is beyond Al Gore’s wildest dreams.

So what stories do you have regarding predictions for the twenty-first century? How close were your imaginings to current reality?

 

 

 

The John F. Kennedy Assassination Documents

Like many individuals, I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was thrilled when I heard that President Trump was going to release the secret files that have been sealed since 1963. I was hoping the truth would finally come out. Well, a large number of files were released last week. However, a few were still held back to be reviewed by national security personnel. That was disappointing but understandable—maybe. Supposedly, the redacting of documents was only to remove the names of all individuals still living.

It has been my long-held opinion that the Warren Commission was made up of officials with their own agendas; thus, information was overlooked and they arrived at their single gunman theory. Many still believe their conclusion: that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who miraculously used an old Carcano (an Italian bolt action rifle) to fire three shots in under six seconds; the first of Oswald’s bullets was a through and through on the President’s neck; the second shot hit the curb to the left of the limousine and then the third shot—you know, the magic bullet— killed the President and wounded Governor Connelly. To believe this conclusion, Oswald was either the most skilled of shooters or the luckiest. I have watched a few documentaries where highly skilled marksman made these three shots in under six seconds and hit the 22 MPH moving target. This was to make the Oswald assassination story believable. Think about that.  However, all available information concerning Oswald’s shooting skills reveal he was not that good of a marksman. Did he sandbag when he was tested in the military? Did the Cubans or the Soviets or the Mexicans or our own CIA “train him up” when he was supposedly working with them? It doesn’t seem plausible.

Sadly, everyone with an agenda tends to look at the dreadful day with their respective slant on the facts. Admittedly, I am one of those individuals. I believe there was a conspiracy to assassinate the President. And, by definition, a conspiracy means there were at least two—probably more—individuals involved in the crime.

I have been to Dallas and I have walked around Dealey Plaza to see first-hand where the assassination took place. I can tell you, the area gives off an eerie vibe. I have read witness statements taken by the Dallas police and detectives. Many of these individuals were never questioned again by any other agency, nor was there any follow-up on their original statements. I believe there were more than one gunman at the scene. Now, I am not saying all the gunmen present took shots. The weakness of my conspiracy theory is that the conspiracy itself had to have very few co-conspirers, because it’s hard to believe everyone involved would have stayed silent after such a heinous act—especially after much time has passed.

Frankly, I was hoping the release of the documents would put “a bow on the package” of whatever really happened that day. But I don’t think that will happen. Earlier this week, I listened to an interview of FBI Special Agent Don Adams, who investigated Joseph Adams Milteer, who had made threats against the President. Milteer was interviewed on November 9, thirteen days before the assassination. Special Agent Adams claimed that after he filed his official report, his superiors asked him not to speak about some of the things he’d learned. Additionally, they ordered him to alter some of his original report. Adams believed that Milteer either knew about the assassination plot or was one of the co-conspirators, and that Oswald was set up to take the blame. Moreover, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dictated a memo on November 24, 1963, saying: “The thing I am concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.” Hoover wanted the American public to believe Oswald acted alone.

Stories or interviews like those lead me to believe that the release of these files will do little to resolve the controversy. Some will review these new files and draw different conclusions. However, many on either side of this argument will not be swayed. Why, you ask? Because it appears that many of the real facts were either never written or were later altered, and are now buried in time. Will the American public believe that documents were not destroyed or altered? Some will say yes, many will not. All the release will do is create a conspiracy within a conspiracy.

The Diem Presidency (1960-1962)

Ngo Dinh Diem was elected president of South Vietnam because of his vision for growing the country’s economy and protecting its population. With the United States’ financial assistance, Diem industrialized several regions within the country. He came from one of the elite families of Indochina, he was educated in British Malaya, and, before going into politics, he considered going into the priesthood. His presidency was greatly influenced by his strong religious beliefs. Initially, his social reform was structured around Catholic and Confucian beliefs, such as closing brothels and opium dens, some of which ran contrary to long-practiced standards. He made divorce and abortion illegal. With this growth came the establishment of respectable universities within South Vietnam. He also promised land reform, since much of the country’s property was held by a small minority, predominately Catholic families. Moreover, the Catholic Church was the largest landowner in South Vietnam.

There was a dark side to what appeared to be positive developments. While implementing his plans for social and economic change, he was also consolidating his power against the other warlords and their families throughout South Vietnam. By 1960, the Diem Presidency and his political party, Can Lao, were on shaky ground due to his provocation of the predominately Buddhist population. Diem selected mostly Catholics to political appointments. Even in the military, Catholics climbed the promotion ladder faster than Buddhist officers. President Diem also jailed approximately 40,000 political prisoners. Additionally, his special police force, run by his ruthless brother Nhu, killed an estimated 12,000 opponents to his policies. 

The 1961 inauguration of United States President John F. Kennedy brought a fresh set of eyes to Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular. President Eisenhower had been willing to fight communist advances at every single doorstep. Kennedy defeated Eisenhower’s Vice President Richard Nixon by running on a change in policy with more emphasis on economic growth at home along with more social reform.

Kennedy was a young, inexperienced politician who brought a considerable number of fresh faces into his administration. Kennedy felt compelled to move forward with several foreign operations, since they were already developed so far  he had no choice. One of the those was the Bay of Pigs, which failed miserably due in part to his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s last-minute decision. But that development caused Kennedy to quickly stop and review many of Eisenhower’s programs—specifically, the US involvement in South Vietnam and the CIA. Kennedy removed Allen Dulles as head of the CIA and appointed John McCone, an industrialist with no government experience. However, in a surprising move, he appointed Edward Lansdale, who had run OPERATION MONGOOSE, the Cuban debacle, to a special position in the Department of Defense to assist with South Vietnam. Why, you ask? Because Lansdale had spent time in Vietnam in the 1950s and was very close to President Diem. Kennedy needed insight and experience. He had begun to wonder about the stability of the Diem Presidency and the military role the United States served in that country. Kennedy was under pressure from all sides to make something positive come from situations that had only negative options.  First, the military wanted to increase its role in South Vietnam, yet retired General Douglas MacArthur told Kennedy that Vietnam was no place for ground troops. Next, Kennedy had concerns about Diem but was unable to come up with a suitable replacement who would be willing to work with the United States. And third, there was political pressure for the Free World to confront the Communist World at every opportunity. Kennedy, a Democrat, did not want to be lumped in with Democratic President Harry Truman, who was perceived to have mishandled the Korean War. Kennedy believed there had to be a resolution for South Vietnam or it would be used against him in the 1964 re-election campaign.

Just after Kennedy was elected, an attempted military coup on Diem failed. On December 20, 1960, the North Vietnamese government, lead by Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan, saw these internal divisions within South Vietnam, coupled with the military coup, as a sign of weakness. They formed the National Liberation Front (NLF), or, more commonly called the Viet Cong.

President Diem attempted to counter the renewed Viet Cong activity with another program called the Strategic Hamlet Program, which was designed to move individuals from smaller, unprotected villages into newly constructed “hamlets” complete with housing, schools, wells, and a watchtower. Additionally, the US supplied weapons, via the South Vietnamese Army, to the people in the hamlets to aid in their protection. The program was designed to protect the population from harassment by the Viet Cong. Yet, many of the villagers resented being moved from their homes, including some who had occupied their land for many years. Moreover, many of the displaced citizens were farmers, not fighters, so they allowed the US weapons to fall into the hands of the Viet Cong. The irony of moving the population around was that 75% of the land was still owned by 15% of the population, mostly Catholics.

As unrest grew among the population, Diem started cracking down on the Buddhist Monks, whom he believed had turned political and were keeping the population upset. This served only to make Diem even more unpopular. In February 1962, there was another military coup when the Air Force bombed the Presidential Palace. Again, they failed.

This is where my novel series begins. My series will cover many of the events of the recent Vietnam Documentary presented by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. However, my novels also deal with key elements of the Vietnam Conflict that were not addressed within this well-done documentary, such as the role of the CIA and illicit drugs.

I want to show my readers the real history behind the Vietnam Conflict, not just what we were taught in school.

Do you have any special insights into what really happened? If so, please drop me an email or leave a comment. I would love to chat with you.

Ken Burns’ Vietnam Documentary on PBS

Since I am writing a series of historical novels on the Vietnam Conflict, I was drawn to watch the Vietnam War Documentary produced by Ken Burns for PBS. The ten-episode series was well researched, and Burns presented all sides of the Conflict, including the North Vietnamese prospective. The stories of individuals involved gave the narrative a personal insight often missing from such broadcasts. I was concerned about how the producer would portray US troops—but I shouldn’t have been. The depiction was excellent—except, perhaps, too much focus on the negatives created by US troops rather than those created by military and political leaders’ flawed military strategy.

The documentary started in the mid-1800s, which provided excellent insight into the mental make-up of the Indochinese people. This essential understanding of the Vietnamese was something US decision-makers did not bother to acquire.

Indecisiveness characterized President Kennedy’s administration, which focused on South Vietnamese President Diem—who was already in trouble with the majority Buddhist population in his country. All the while, the North Vietnamese, under the lead of their second-in-command, Le Duan, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, focused on moving supplies into South Vietnam. He was instrumental in the continuous growth of the conflict, no matter the action of the United States. While he was pushing the war buttons, Ho Chi Minh became a figurehead assuming the role of “Uncle Ho,” dressing like the people and walking amongst them. His personality was widely embraced by the population, while Diem’s actions isolated him from his people.  

Shortly after President Johnson was elected in 1964, he committed troops to South Vietnam—and, every time Westmoreland asked for more, Johnson granted his requests. Camps set up throughout South Vietnam became easy targets for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong’s mortars. The documentary clearly showed that Westmoreland defined battle victories by body count. Worse still, US troops were sacrificed to capture ground; soon thereafter, the ground fought and died for fell right back to the enemy. US soldiers were not allowed to pursue the enemy into Cambodia or Laos.

Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese leadership committed every citizen to their effort, body count be damned. They correctly believed their goal of staying engaged at all costs would eventually wear down the will of the United States, which had little to fight for other than stopping the spread of communism. The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong worked diligently to keep the Ho Chi Minh trail available to move supplies or men into the South. They forced women and children to work at night to repair the bomb damage to keep the road open.

There were two comments that made me proud of our men who served.  Colonel Moore stated the US troops fought gallantly at the battle of Ia Drang, and Neil Sheehan commented that soldiers in Vietnam fought as hard as the men who served in World War II. This was especially pertinent since the US military had been trained to fight the Soviets in conventional war, not the guerrilla warfare of the Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

Burn’s coverage of the Tet Offensive was spot on. Clearly, this was the moment of the Vietnam Conflict. US troops inflicted enough casualties on the Viet Cong that, as Westmoreland predicted, casualties out-numbered replacements. While the attack was anticipated, Westmoreland guessed wrong about where it would take place. Instead of only attacking the northern portion of South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong also attacked every major population center in South Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh trail. The battles were intense, but in the end, the US defeated the North Vietnamese and virtually wiped out the Viet Cong. However, these were the first battles televised live, and watching the realities of war play out in their living rooms turned a public opinion against the war effort.

By the time President Johnson was up for re-election in 1968, he realized the country had turned against him. The anti-war movement would not allow him the Democratic votes to be re-elected. Instead, the people voted for Richard Nixon, who had promised to end the war with a winning strategy. Nixon increased bombing so sorties were flown day and night. He negotiated with the North Vietnamese to basically allow US troops to leave, which was easy. The North knew as soon as the US left, they could crush the South, whose political leadership had been such a game of musical chairs it was embarrassing. The corruption of the leaders of the South was even more embarrassing.

There were two important items left out of the documentary—the role of the CIA, and the role of illegal drugs. However, these are covered extensively in my historical novels. I don’t know why Burns and PBS left them out. They did interview one CIA agent, who represented one of the two factions of the CIA.

All in all, PBS’s Vietnam War was well done. What did you think of Burn’s documentary? Do you think he got it right? Why or why not?

Vietnam Conflict – The Early Diem Presidency

President Ngo Dinh Diem was a controversial figure even before claiming presidency of South Vietnam. Once it became public that the United States backed him on his run for president, the French issued a statement claiming that Diem was “not only incapable, but mad.” However, Colonel Edward Lansdale and Lieutenant Colonel Lucien Conein believed Diem, a warlord from Hue, was the best available choice to keep South Vietnam from falling under the control of communism. Diem, a devout Catholic, was born into one of the elite families associated with the Vietnamese imperial family. Immediately after World War II, Ho Chi Minh, who was forming his government in North Vietnam, asked Diem to take a position in his administration. Diem turned him down. Ho had hoped to take advantage of Diem’s religion to gain support from Catholics.

In an attempt to provide close guidance, Lansdale moved into the palace with President Ngo Dinh Diem before his election and stayed until late 1956. Lansdale and Diem became close friends, and to a large extent, Lansdale was able to keep Diem focused on his presidency while continuing his psy-ops program, named Saigon Military Mission, against the North.

Lansdale was transferred back to Washington, DC, in 1957 and promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations working out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Shortly after Lansdale left, Diem changed how he conducted himself as president. Diem had campaigned for land reform and to remove the anti-Buddhist laws that had been imposed by the French. The French, which were predominately Catholic, had controlled most of the land and the wealth in Indochina for decades, despite representing only ten percent of the country’s population. Moreover, the largest landowner in Vietnam was the Catholic Church. Most of Diem’s government officials were Catholics, yet seventy percent of the country was Buddhist. Needless to say, like most politicians, Diem failed to keep his campaign promises. At the end of the 1950s, the anti-Buddhist laws were still on the books and seventy-five percent of the land was still held by fifteen percent of the population.

The North Vietnamese government pressed Diem to comply with the Geneva Accords by holding elections in July 1956, to which Diem had not agreed and which he refused to do. Ho Chi Minh harassed the South Vietnamese government by sending loyalists from the North to organize armed citizens against the Diem government. By 1959, some 1,200 of South Vietnamese government officials were murdered by the North Vietnamese or by South Vietnamese who were loyal to the North.

Diem pushed back hard. First, he arrested and imprisoned communists and socialists. Next, he went after journalists, trade-unionists and leaders of religious groups, mainly Buddhists. Even children found writing anti-Diem messages on walls were put in prison. As a result of Diem’s actions, soon 100,000 people were in prison camps. Still, the US poured money into South Vietnam and encouraged Catholic refugees from the North to come to the South to escape the communist-leaning Ho Chi Minh.

By the end of the Eisenhower presidency, there were rumblings within the US government against Diem’s governing practices—mainly, that  he was not following US suggestions. But they were stuck with the seated president because they did not believe there were any alternatives.

So by the end of the 1950s, Vietnam had a large number of issues. Were you aware of how bad this situation had become?

Vietnam – Undermining the Geneva Peace Conference

As I wrote in my previous blog on Vietnam and the Geneva Peace Conference, politicians on both sides made agreements at the conference table that neither side planned to follow. The Geneva Peace Conference Accords favored the North, mostly because it was driven by China’s Zhou En-lai and the North Vietnamese Representatives.

The first thing Ho Chi Minh did was kill off political opposition to him within North Vietnam. Next, Ho sent Viet Minh soldiers into South Vietnam to intimidate and kill innocent civilians. Soon their intimidation turned to recruiting people in the South to follow their cause—or die. To say the least, it was an effective campaign.

The United States did not earn any angel wings, either, but remember, neither the United States nor South Vietnam signed the Accords. However, they did say they would comply with those Accords.

But in this blog, I want to focus on two of my favorite real-life people—Edward Lansdale and Lucien Conein. They were true American heroes from a time when we needed men such as these. I love these guys—they’re so full of larger-than-life qualities—both good and bad. Great for writing.

In the summer of 1954, Lansdale, an Air Force Colonel and CIA agent whose specialty was counter-insurgency, led a team of agents that included  CIA agents Conein as his second in command  as well as Theodore Shackley into Vietnam to begin a series of covert operations against North Vietnam. Many of those sabotage missions failed.Their goal was to mount a propaganda campaign to persuade the Vietnamese people in the South not to vote for the Communists in future elections.

Conein’s “cover” going back into Vietnam was to arrange air transport for northerners fleeing the Communist Viet Minh. However, his assignment was to sabotage the victorious Viet Minh takeover of northern Vietnam by creating a stay-behind setup for possible guerrilla resistance. Besides sabotaging the public transportation system detailed above, Conein was to leave behind necessary supplies for a rebellion against the Communist regime. He came up with the novel idea of packing military hardware into coffins and burying them in cemeteries. However, the anti-Communist uprisings never materialized. In October 1954g, in the last days the U.S. personnel were to be in Hanoi, a special CIA-trained team led by Conein contaminated the oil supply for the public transportation. This was done so the motors would fail slowly.

Conein was never short on creativity. When the French were pulling out of Vietnam and very up-set with the Americans, Lansdale requested the new US Ambassador fortify his personal residence. The Ambassador didn’t heed his advice. So, on his way home from dinner, Conein drove by the Ambassador’s residence and tossed a live grenade on his front yard. I can just see the man laughing all the way home.

The next day, the Ambassador accepted Lansdale’s suggestion.

As election time rolled around in South Vietnam, Lansdale’s role broadened to finding a leader who could consolidate power. Both North and South Vietnam had been “governed” by territorial warlords for decades. As mentioned earlier, Ho Chi Minh did what he needed to do to consolidate his power in the North with the help of Red China and to a lesser degree the Soviet Union. In the South, Lansdale selected Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic in a predominately Buddhist country, from a number of warlords to run against Bao Dai, the former emperor and a member of the Vietnamese royal family. Bao Dai had been propped up as a figurehead by the French prior to World War II, but he fled the country when the Japanese invaded. So when election time came in October 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bao Dai and Diem for the leadership of the country. Lansdale suggested that Diem have the election commission provide two ballots, a red one for those voting for Diem and a green one for those voting for Bao Dai. Lansdale made this suggestion because of the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck while green indicated bad fortune—just another small way in which he could help influence the result.

During the voting process, Diem supporters dominated the polling places. Some voters claimed they were told to put the red ballots in envelopes and to throw the green ballots away. There was also violence against Bao Dai voters. Basically, the election was held under third-world conditions. Lansdale believed he had to consolidate power quickly because he thought it was only a matter of time before the Communists would resort to open warfare.

With the results never in doubt, Diem told Lansdale and US officials that he’d won 98.2 % of the vote. Lansdale warned him these figures would not be believed and suggested he publish a figure of around 70 %. Diem refused, as the Americans predicted, since he used the higher figures, it was the beginning of mistrust of his administration from the very beginning.

Lansdale’s next assignment was to train the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in modern fighting methods. In May 1956, the US sent 350 military advisors, which was a direct violation of the Geneva Accords.

The Geneva Peace Conference Accords called for talks to begin between the two Vietnams in July 1956 to set forth plans for elections late the following year to unify the divided country. Diem refused to comply. The US knew Diem was so unpopular that he had no chance of being elected against Ho Chi Minh. As a result, the US had to scramble to come up with a solution to this imminent crisis.

So, long before the US officially joined the Vietnam conflict by sending troops, Lansdale and Conein were there stirring the pot.

Were you aware of this part of world history? Do you think these things still go on today?

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?

Vietnam Conflict Series

I have not written a blog in a while, as my time has been split between my day job and working on my novels. But I need to catch everyone up on my latest project—a novel that features the Vietnam Conflict.

What got me started?

About ten years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “When I left Vietnam, we were winning.” Wow. When was that? I don’t remember anyone ever saying that. It caused me to reflect back to that time. Was there really a time when we were winning in Vietnam?

Not long after that, the traveling version of the Vietnam Wall came to Parkersburg, then my home town. I made a point to see it. Why? My parents were friends with a family whose son was killed in Vietnam in 1965. I was still a kid—I didn’t understand. But now that I was older and wiser, I wanted to find his name on the Wall. I didn’t know him, don’t remember even meeting him, but I wanted to find his name. The Wall was so massive, I quickly realized I couldn’t easily find it, so I went to the information tent to ask which panel I should scan. Well, when I mentioned his name, a woman there turned around and asked me how I knew this soldier. After telling her, she admitted to me she thought they would get married some day. I’ve often heard there’s no such thing as a coincidence, and that may be true.  I am convinced I was supposed to meet that woman to bolster my intrigue.

After finding his name, I felt compelled to find out how he’d been KIA (Killed in Action). So, like any normal person, I went to the World Wide Web and looked for his military death record. No record. Weird. A family member at the time was a high ranking officer in the military, so I asked her to see if she could find out anything. Nothing. Only the acknowledgement “KIA.” Now, that was really weird. I found stories about his death in two different newspapers from two different cities. One was from the city in which he grew up—Parkersburg, West Virginia—and the other from the city in which he had last resided—Columbia, South Carolina. Which creates another coincidence, since these are also the cities in which  I grew up and in which I currently live.  But neither newspaper story mentioned where he had died other than “in action.”

Later, I was able to find out that this soldier, a captain in the Army, was killed by a shrapnel from a roadside explosive device, but I still couldn’t find out where.  So, I still sit here today and ask how was a captain killed in early 1965—before the Marine landing later that year—by a roadside explosive device, not have a location of death? I can’t do a Paul Harvey “and now you know the rest of the story” here, because I don’t know the answers myself.

As I have talked to other people, I’ve discovered the records of many who served in Vietnam have been purged of the locations in which they served. In some cases, it has prevented them from receiving treatment from VA hospitals.

All of these events have pushed me into wanting to write something positive about what our troops went through in Vietnam—and not only give some positive coverage to our troops, but delve into why the United States even got involved in Vietnam.  Once I finish this novel, I promise you will learn things about the “real history of the world; what we weren’t taught in school”—particularly about this conflict.

If you or someone you know has a story about the Vietnam era you’d like to share with me, please do. I’d love to hear your stories. Thank you.