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[Please note that this thread has been closed by the editorial staff after 2/17, Ed] From: "Douglas Macdonald" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Sat, February 15, 2014 3:20 pm I agree with my friend Ang Cheng Guan that the evidence for the situation in South Vietnam in the mid-1950s is scanty. I ended my 1/19/14 posting with the sentence: “In my view, we really do not know very much about what was going on in the countryside in the 1950s, and after.” But surely he agrees that we should try to get the most out of the evidence we have or can obtain, as do I. The Military History Institute (MHI) history is quite interesting and offers new insights into that empirical morass, even though it also treats the mid-1950s lightly. My major mistake was in not consulting Ang’s excellent book on the period, _Vietnamese Communists' Relations With China and the Second Indochina Conflict, 1956-1962_ [i] especially its updated version. I had read the book in its earlier form, but was asking different questions at the time. Part of the problem of the rather mild, in my view, disagreement between us is at least one misstatement on my part, and some loose and imprecise use of language elsewhere without conveying my meaning sufficiently or effectively. I no longer stand by my statement in my original posting (1/19/14) that the “critics of American policies” argued that the communists in the South “took no military actions” until 1956 or after. That is incorrect. Some did; some don't. That was a misstatement as a universal statement, though the particular sources I cited and quoted must be read that way. In terms of imprecise language more generally, I should have made clear to readers the distinction I personally and professionally make analytically, and is in fact commonly made among military analysts, between “paramilitary” and “military” activity. When I said in my 2/1/14 posting that the communists in the South were “militarily inactive until 1956” I was not discussing political violence per se, though I did not make that clear. What I meant was violence *by organized military units.* That is not an unimportant distinction. In usual military parlance, *paramilitary* activity is military-style action carried out by civilians, but without formal military organization. Military activity is only that carried out by identifiable organized groups along generally-accepted organized military lines. This is not simply an esoteric distinction made in military analysis. It also has force in international law, for example. The significance of the MHI history, it still seems to me, is that the Vietnamese government, or at least its military historians, now admit that the Viet Minh "stay behinds" went beyond the paramilitary violence of “helping” the sects and the Binh Xuyen, and also created and supported self-contained military units in the South as early as 1955, though under disguise for security purposes. That, to me, is new information in the context of the history of the war. It suggests a changed policy mindset, or, as I put it earlier, a "longer leash" given the southern communists than has heretofore been recognized. Creating battalions, or any other “official” military organizations, is not a small thing to the military. It strongly suggests prospective permanence. It is, from the perspective of paramilitary behavior, an escalatory step – the creation of permanent or semi-permanent military institutions and supporting facilities. The creation of “battalions” is a transnational military concept, utilized similarly by Napoleon, Zhukov, MacArthur, and Giap, as are “divisions,” etc., though as I noted in one of my posts, these terms are often defined numerically in different ways. (I have been informed by someone offline that the average NVN battalion had 500 soldiers, not 600 as I had posted.) Certainly the MHI historians recognized this and the use of language was deliberate. Since my last posting on this subject, I have come across some supporting evidence. In the “Virtual Vietnam Archives” of Texas Tech University, a manuscript in the named collection items by Sedgwick D. Tourison, Jr. Mr Tourison was a U.S. Army Warrant Officer with many years of experience in intelligence in Vietnam. He understood the language and did translations as well as publishing a highly critical book on the DESOTO patrols and OP-34A operation in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964.[ii] Tourison was also active in attempting to get compensation for South Vietnamese special forces who emigrated to the U.S. after the war. The monograph I found is an unpublished translation of a NVN army publication entitled, "The History of Logistical Operations in the Southern South Viet Nam – Southern Central Viet Nam Theater of Operations (B.2) During the Resistance Against the Americans." (Hanoi, 1986.) Tourison's English title was to have been: “Lifting the Veil : The True Story of the Viet Cong's Wartime Secret Logistical Operation in Southeast Asia.” It was never finished for publication, and needs further verification to be accepted as a credible source. Yet one has to assume that Warrant Officer Tourison was offering his best efforts to that time. It might be, in fact, the case that the "unfinished" aspect was for his introduction, not the translation at all. We simply do not know at this point. But it is important to remember that it has not gone through the formal editorial process of publication. Given those caveats, from Tourison's translation: "For example, during 1955 in Eastern Nam Bo, we [i.e., the NVN] assigned cadre to take over control of approximately 2,000 individuals who had broken away from the Binh Xuyen organization's armed forces. We moved them from the area of Ba Ria into War Zone D where they established a base in the area of Suoi Linh along the Ma Da River. Here they organized four areas to produce food to meet their daily needs. At the same time, a number of former resistance personnel under pressure from the enemy were also able to make their way to War Zone D. They too were formed into armed units such as the Chin Quy unit of approximate company size and established a base here. They engaged in self-sufficiency food production while conducting armed operations against the enemy. Northwest of Saigon we took control of certain other armed units such as the Ba Hong and Tu Son units as well as other break away units from the Cao Dai religious sect totaling approximately 150 individuals. We sent them to the former resistance bases in the Long Nguyen, Ben Cat and Duong Minh Chau areas to establish bases there in which they could grow and from which they could later launch operations. In Western Nam Bo, our forces focused on the mangrove swamps in the Nam Can and U Minh areas, organizing bases known as "jungle villages." Each "jungle village" formed a guerrilla organization which conducted armed self defense operations while also engaging in food production and attending school." (pp. 12-13) (The book can be found at: http://www.virtual.vietnam.ttu.edu/cgi-bin/starfetch.exe?c.hecxa0q35T0wJD3.lc8KSe.of0m1q0vCoZUSpuD6mgKnq@fNKwCsMram4hxJE3NAqWLMcaYpclvETWh2knHvx3bLromd65Ze3HC3W8ejo/2860705004.pdf There is a copyright protection; the two paragraphs represent "fair use.") In the process of vetting this information prior to submission to H-Diplo, I received some translations through the generosity of Merle Pribbenow from Hanoi histories that appear to clarify things further, but only by muddying them. Mr. Pribbenow has kindly given me permission to cite them. These histories (“Military Region 8: Thirty Years of Resistance War (1945-1975)” [Quan Khu 8: Ba Muoi Nam Khang Chien (1945-1975)] Editorial Direction: Military Region 8 Headquarters and Party Committee; Authors: Senior Colonel Cao Minh (Introduction, Overall Conclusion), Senior Colonel Nguyen Khac Phuc (Chapters 1, 2, and 3), and Major Tran Van Luc (Chapters 4-10); People’s Army Publishing House, Hanoi, 1998, and, _The Resistance War in Eastern Cochin China (1945-1975), Volume II_, [Mien Dong Nam Bo Khang Chien (1945-1975), Tap II] Editorial Direction: Military Region 7 Headquarters and Party Committee, Military Region 7 Military Science Council, Authors: Senior Colonel Nguyen Viet Ta (Senior Editor, Chapter Four), Colonel Tran Phan Chan (Chapters Six and Seven), Colonel Truong Nguyen Tue (Chapter Five), Colonel Dinh Thu Xuan (Chapter Eight), Major Ho Son Dai (Conclusion), People’s Army Publishing House [Nha Xuat Ban Quan Doi Nhan Dan], Hanoi, 1993) add further nuance and complexity to the discussion we have been having. It is clear from these materials that the SBs in the South carried out military actions and formed armed groups without the knowledge of, and against the orders from, Hanoi as early as 1955-1956. The leadership in the South was split over this decision and worried about being found out by the Central Committee in Hanoi: "The decision to form armed forces under the above-described guise [i.e., disguised as Binh Xuyen or sect members] was not universally accepted among the leadership. A number of comrades did not approve because they were afraid of violating the policy guidelines of the Central Committee. In addition, if the enemy discovered what we were doing, this would give them an excuse to increase their repression of our mass struggle movement at a time when our forces were still weak, and this would adversely affect our movement. For that reason, there was not uniformity in the organization and activities of the armed forces in the Central Inter-Province area [Region 8]." ["Military Region 8," p. 303.] In addition, as noted above and in my earlier postings, there is abundant evidence that they infiltrated both the Binh Xuyen and the religious sects in 1955, sometimes forming military groups disguised as members of these other groups: "In Tay Ninh, in March 1955, when Diem began to eliminate the Cao Dai, a secret Party chapter in the Cao Dai Army’s 25th Company, which was stationed in Bau Co, successfully conducted an insurrection under the leadership of the province Party Committee. The chapter brought personnel back to our base camp carrying 120 weapons. After recruiting young people in the local areas, an armed unit was formed under the guise of a “dissident Cao Dai” group in order to avoid any enemy reaction. Comrade Hai Hung, playing the role of a Cao Dai lieutenant colonel, served as the commander of this armed unit, and Comrade Ngo Thanh Sang, masquerading as a Cao Dai captain, served as deputy unit commander. …" [_The Resistance War in Eastern Cochin China (1945-1975), Volume II,_ p. 31.] As noted earlier, they formed companies and battalions (albeit under strength) in 1955-1956; that they created base areas from which to launch armed actions directed against the government. Clearly some of this was in self-defense, but clearly some of it was not. And joining armed sects trying to overthrow the government invites armed retaliation from that government. But in the "orthodox" version of this period, everything Diem did was "offensive" and everything the SBs did was "defensive." But this evidence makes clear that such judgments are somewhat arbitrary unless supported by evidence. I am told that political, military, and intelligence history are out of fashion in the academic American historical profession. These materials were published in Vietnam in the 1990s. We are paying a price for that inattention. It is largely through the dedication and translation efforts of former governmental people like Messrs. Pribbenow and Tourison that people who don't read Vietnamese can perhaps bring other analytical skills and viewpoints to the empirical mix, especially in the military realm. The Vietnamese appear to have been a lot more forthcoming a lot sooner than I had realized in their military histories. Doug Macdonald Colgate University [i] (Mcfarland, 1997, 2012). I own the 1997 version, and therefore had read it, but had not consulted it anew as I should have. The 1997 version obviously could not have included the 2002 document release that Ang mentions in his post. So I was using an excellent yet outdated version. [ii] _Secret Army, Secret War: Washington’s Tragic Spy Operation in North Vietnam_ (Naval Institute Press, 1995.) --