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Stuart Kaufman offers an interesting perspective on the American Vietnam War. But it is often the case in a war that more or less lasted for twenty five years or so that anything one says about the war and the literature that deals with it depends on what period you are talking about. The point about the apparent paramilitary action taken by soldiers attached to the Northern regime (NVN) in their loyalties prior to 1956, to me at least, is not so much a comment on the nature of the NVN. In the debates over the war, then and now, it is often posited that the NVN only took up the gun in the South in response to Diem’s unprovoked attacks on them when they were only acting politically and not violently, patiently waiting for the 1956 election. No one I am aware of, though surely such people exist, faults Diem for putting down the revolt of the sects. They were, after all, trying to overthrow his government violently, some groups allegedly with French help. But the NVN “stay behinds” are portrayed as peacefully “struggling” politically, and Diem, according to this view, was in the wrong morally and legally for attacking them with his police and army. It follows from this that the US was wrong morally and legally for backing him. (This is part, but only part, of the charge that Vietnam was an “immoral and illegal” war for the US.) It seems to me that can no longer be said with as much credibility, since the “stay behinds” had begun paramilitary operations in disguise as early as 1955. It also, it seems to me, raises questions about the sect activity itself, and whether it was as widespread as thought at the time and now. How much of it was actually the “stay behinds”? When I have time, I will return to the recently declassified (2009) CIA history by Thomas Ahearn, “CIA and the House of Ngo,” which is quite illuminating (at: http:// www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/.../2-CIA_AND_THE_HOUSE_OF_NGO.pdf ) I have read the history, but I do not remember any mention of the activity under discussion here. It might be interesting to note that the official history[i] also maintains the fiction of the post-1956 origins of armed resistance (pp. 14, 18, 20.) This is even while they note that some of the groups disguised as Binh Xuyen members had as many as 100 fighters in them. (Not too much should be made of this. The NVN later publicly criticized the US for bombing their troops in Laos and Cambodia while officially denying they had troops in Laos and Cambodia.) Two of the outfits were called “the 2nd and 4th Binh Xuyen Battalions,” (p. 17) which suggests approximately 1,200 men in those groups.[ii] It is true that they failed to penetrate the sects adequately, though they recruited members from them in the attempt. But that is why they disguised themselves as members of the sects, to hide their own activities. Although specific military actions are not noted until 1956 (a prison break of 600 cadres and recruits,) it seems highly unlikely that the “stay-behinds” would disguise themselves as Binh Xuyen troops in 1955, actively being hunted by the government, if they were “struggling peacefully.” It seems much more likely they disguised themselves so that the Binh Xuyen would be blamed for their actions. As for Diem’s “incompetence,” that view of him has actually been softened in the literature since the war period, and especially in recent years. In the official history, it is stated that in 1954 there were 60,000 communist party members in South Vietnam; in 1959 there were 5,000 due to “the categorization of Party members and the policy of ‘reassignment’ and ‘dieing away’ [sic].” (Footnote 34, pp. 453-454.) That is an 88% reduction, albeit from a variety of causes. Is that really “incompetent”? There is much speculation about his overreach in doing so that alienated the populace at large, but such excesses are poorly documented and often posited by Western reporters based in Saigon, and then repeated by hostile narrators in the so-called "Pentagon Ppers.". CIA reporting in the countryside was also quite spotty in the early days. In my view, we really do not know very much about what was going on in the countryside in the 1950s, and after. Doug Macdonald Colgate University ----------------------------------------------------------------- [i] The Military History Institute of Vietnam, Translated by Merle L. Pribbenow, *Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam,* (Univ. of Kansas, 2002). [ii] The number of soldiers in a full battalion varies from country to country, from as few as 600 to as many as 1,200. I have chosen the lower end of the scale, but that might be an exaggeration in this case. That is, they might not have been full battalions. --