The 15th day of the month for March, May, July and October in the Roman calendar. The Ides of March was a festival day honoring Mars, the god of war.
44BC: Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic, is stabbed to death by a cabal of Roman senators. According to Plutarch, Caesar was warned by a seer to be on his guard against a great peril on the Ides of March. On his way to the Theater of Pompey (where he would be assassinated), Caesar saw the seer and joked, “Well, the Ides of March have come,” to which the seer replied, “Ay, they have come, but they are not gone.”
241 B.C.: Roman triremes sink the Carthaginian fleet in the Battle of the Aegates Islands off the western tip of Sicily, bringing to an end the First Punic War.
1507: Death of Cesare Borgia (b.1475), son of Pope Alexander VI, brother of the notorious femme fatale Lucrecia Borgia, and one of the primary hereditary princes studied by Nicolo Machiavelli in his classic treatise, The Prince. The Borgias represented the epitome of the self-perpetuating religio-politico-criminal power centers in the north-central tier of Italy, coming often into contact and conflict with the equally intense Medici dynasty of Florence. Machiavelli’s interest in Cesare’s princely career zeroed in on the fact that while his ruthlessness and cunning was effective enough to keep himself and his cronies in power, in the end, what Machiavelli described as his “princely virtue,” that is, his political power, was power actually endowed by the pope, power that was lost on Alexander’s death and the accession of a new pope who did not have the Borgia family interest at the center of his papacy.
1708: Britain’s Queen Anne withholds the Royal Assent for the Scottish Militia Bill, the last time a British monarch vetoes legislation. Coming less than a year after the 1707 Acts of Union with restive Scotland, one can understand her reluctance to sanction an independent armed force in the northern reaches of her realm.
1776: South Carolina becomes the first colony to declare independence from Great Britain by establishing its own government.
1781: German-born British musician, composer, mathematician, and astronomer Frederick William Herschel discovers the planet Uranus, using a telescope of his own design and manufacture. The brilliant polymath had been studying and cataloging the rings of Saturn, and more particularly, the phenomenon of double stars, when he happened upon a non-stellar object that appeared to move in the planetary plane. This was the first discovery of a planet visible only through a telescope. Herschel followed this with subsequent discoveries of multiple moons of Saturn, and a large number of nebulae in deep space.
1855: Birth of American astronomer Percival Lowell (d.1916), who became famous in the public imagination from his detailed observations of the surface of Mars, on which he surmised were the remains of a complex series of canals, indicating the presence of a sentient civilization on the red planet. Although his canal theory has since been disproven, it remains a staple of science fiction writing to this day. More importantly, Lowell’s mathematical modeling of the orbits of Uranus and Neptune set the conditions for the search for Planet-X, a search finally vindicated two decades later by Clyde Tombaugh, working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.
1863: Birth of Casey Jones. The railroad engineer for the Illinois Central had already become well-known for his famous whistle and from his driving consistency to “get her there on the advertised,” i.e. the advertised time of arrival. On April 29th, 1900 his train, Number 382 (photo) was “cannonballing” a load of passengers to New Orleans at over 70 mph when out of the fog there appeared the taillight of a stalled freight train. Jones ordered the fireman to jump as he immediately slammed the 382 into full reverse and laid on the whistle to warn of the impending impact. The train had slowed to around 35 mph by the time it slammed through the caboose and two other freight cars before de-railing against the siding. Jones was killed, but his sacrificial actions that saved his passengers became the stuff of legend.
1876: Alexander Graham Bell makes the first telephone call on his new invention with those immortal words: “Mr. Watson, come here! I want to see you!” Watson responded, thus completing the first electrical transmission of two-way speech.
1879: Birth of Albert Einstein
1781: Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Near Greensboro, North Carolina a short (90 minutes) sharp battle between 1,900 British Regulars under General Cornwallis against 4,000 Continental soldiers under General Nathaniel Green. Because of ground lost (and held) the battle was a technical loss for the Americans. But with a quarter of the British force suffering casualties, it was a classic Pyrrhic victory, prompting Whig party leader James Fox to declare, “Another such victory would ruin the British army.” Greene and his forces move south into South Carolina to un-do the earlier work of Cornwallis’ & Tarleton’s armies. Convinced he was still winning the war, Cornwallis advances into Virginia, where he eventually sets up his headquarters in Yorktown.
1883: Death of Karl Marx
1906: Death of Susan B. Anthony (b.1820), one of the leading lights of the Women’s Suffrage movement, and the first actual woman (as opposed to a stylized Liberty) to be featured on U.S. currency, the quarter-sized 1979 dollar coin. Of some discomfort to the current radical feminist movement today was her harsh denunciation of conditions that lead to rationalizing abortion, to say nothing of the act itself.
1913: Death of the great abolitionist Harriet Tubman, founder of the Underground Railroad, whose personal efforts freed more than 70 slaves from their servitude in thirteen separate expeditions. During the Civil War, Tubman served as a nurse and advisor to Union forces in South Carolina, and acted as a scout on the Combahee River Raid that freed over 700 slaves from their plantations. Her exploits before and during the war made her widely known in the press. In her later years she became deeply engaged in the women’s suffrage movement, working closely with Susan B. Anthony and other prominent leaders of the movement.
1917: Czar Nicholas II of Russia abdicates the throne in favor of his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail. With a provisional revolutionary government already consolidating power, the Grand Duke declines the honor until it can be ratified by the Duma, which itself declines to retain the monarchy. This period is known as the “February Revolution,” and marks the end of over 300 years of the Romanov dynasty.
1918: Fresh from their capitulation to the Central Powers in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the new communist government of Russia moves the capitol of the country from the splendor of Saint Petersburg, where it was founded 215 years earlier by Peter the Great, back to the ancient Kremlin fortress of Moscow.
1928: Exactly two years after its completion, the St. Francis Dam in Southern California suddenly collapses, sending a 120 foot tall wall of water tearing down the San Francisquito Canyon, completely wiping the town of Santa Paula off the map, and finally ending its run into the Pacific Ocean near the border between Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The torrent of 12.4 billion gallons of water killed a confirmed 375 persons, with over 300 more never accounted for in the aftermath of the flood. Bodies washed ashore all along the coast as far south as Mexico. You may recall the nasty undercurrents of the Los Angeles Water Wars in the 1974 movie Chinatown- this dam, and the huge personalities involved in its design and construction figured prominently in the film.
1933: Newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt sets up a wireless studio in the White House and makes the first of his 30 Fireside Chats, a media venue* that made the most of his dulcet voice and political savvy to speak directly to the American people. It also permitted significant public exposure without the concomitant exposure of his crippling polio.
1938: German troops en masse cross the border with Austria, essentially conquering the country without firing a shot. The Nazi regime refers to the action as the Anschluss, literally a “connection” that had been a pressure point between Germany and Austria since the end of the Great War, and for which a plebiscite was scheduled for the 11th March and then abruptly ignored when the reality of the imminent German occupation took hold. Adolf Hitler himself crossed the border at his home town of Braunau and spent the night in Lintz. Over the next three days he made a triumphant automobile tour of Austria, finishing the annexation of the country at a rapturous mass rally in Vienna, no longer the capitol of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the independent nation of Austria, but the newest province of the greater German Reich.
1940: Birth of Chuck Norris.
1942: After two weeks of ignoring FDR’s direct presidential order, General Douglas MacArthur abandons Corregidor under the cover* of darkness, leaving command of the besieged U.S.and Philippine armies to Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright. The island fortress had been under essentially continuous Japanese artillery and aerial bombardment since December 29th, and Roosevelt reasoned that a living MacArthur would be more useful in leading the eventual re-conquest of the Philippines than a captured or killed MacArthur. On his arrival in Australia, MacArthur issued his most memorable promise: “People of the Philippines, I shall return.” Wainwright held out under increasingly dire conditions until surrendering the citadel on May 6th
1954: Under the direction of General Vo Nguyn Giap, the communist Viet Minh army opens the siege of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu.
1957: In Havana, Cuban student revolutionaries storm the presidential palace of President Fulgencio Bautista.
1964: A Dallas, Texas jury convicts Jack Ruby for the murder of JFK’s presumed killer, Lee Harvey Oswald. The televised event from the previous December pretty much made it a non sequitur, and gave us one of the iconic news images of the 20th century.
1938 – AUstrian historians generally agree that Austrian National Socialists (Nazis) were in control of the country by the time the German army marched in. They also agree agree that the vote on reunification with Germany was free and fair (see Helmut Andic’s “Der Staat, den keiner Wollte” – The State that no one Wanted.” Austirans were not victims, but enthusiastic citizens of Grossdeutschland – at least as long as Germany was winning the war.
Paul Plante says
To this day, I still recall as a child listening to the radio day after day as the reports came in about the siege at Dien Bien Phu in northern Viet Nam.
Bernard Fall wrote an excellent history of the siege in the book “Hell In A Very Small Place: The Siege Of Dien Bien Phu.”
An interesting fact among the many interesting facts concerning that siege is that the Viet Minh were using American-made 105 howitzers against the French.
The 105 is a very accurate large rifle used as devastating artillery when placed on high ground as was the case at Dien Bien Phu, where the arrogant French took the low ground as the territory they were going to defend, figuring that the Viet Minh would be harmless in the surrounding hills, on the assumption that they lacked artillery.
The 105s they had were captured by the Chinese when they overran the Americans in Korea in 1951.
Those captured 105s were then disassembled and carried overland by teams coolies from Korea to the north of Viet Nam, where they were assembled in camouflaged positions on the high ground ringing the French at Dien Bien Phu.
And with the devastating fire power of those American 105s, the Viet Minh then proceeded to systematically reduce the French fortifications hill by hill by hill.
And the rest is now history.
Paul Plante says
In his book, “Ho,” author David Halberstam makes mention of Dien Bien Phu as it relates our own history in Viet Nam, as follows:
Peace (in Viet Nam) would not come easily.
In the South, the Americans, fearing an international Communist monolith, worried by Mao’s takeover of China, embittered by the K0rean War, decided to extend to Asia the policy of containment which had worked so well for them in Western Europe, not realizing that the very forces which had made them successful in Europe – the common Christian heritage and tradition – would work against them in Southeast Asia.
(John Foster) Dulles, architect of the policy, did not realize this.
Indeed at the time of the Geneva agreement (dividing Viet Nam into north and south) he said that Dienbienphu was “a blessing in disguise – we enter Vietnam without the taint of colonialism.”
There we see, of course, shades of George Kennan’s policy of containment being tried one more time in a place where it just was not going to work.
At that time, our higher-ups in this country thought that what happened to the French at Dien Bien Phu could not possibly happen to us, with all our wealth and technological superiority.
As David Halberstam tells the story, the Vietnamese thought quite differently about the equation, to wit:
In 1959, the second part of the Indochina war started.
It was fought by Southerners in the South.
Some of them, members of the Vietminh, had gone to the North in 1954, been trained there and then infiltrated their way back.
The new Communist force was called the Vietcong, although it was the direct descendent of the Vietminh,
Most observers believe hat the decision to start the war was made in Hanoi, and that the pace, strategy and orchestration was largely set in the North.
It was in all its essential elements a continuation of the first war (against the French).
The only people who failed to perceive this were the highly placed Americans running the war; because of their own background, and because of political expediency, they chose to see it more as a continuation of the Korean experience, an essentially conventional war.
In that regard, we became the equivalent of the British Army trying to beat the American colonists in our own War of Revolution back in 1776.
Getting back to Halberstam:
To Ho there was little doubt that the second war would be a success too.
No matter that the superpower America was aiding the South; he realized that the Saigon government had no base of popular support, that its defeat would only be a matter of time and suffering.
His was a modern revolutionary state; that in the south (the one we supported and died for) was a feudal, anachronistic one.
He told Bernard Fall in 1962:
“Sir, you have studied us for ten years, you have written about the Indochina war.”
“It took us eight years of bitter fighting (same length as American Revolution) to defeat you French in Indochina.”
“Now the Diem regime is well armed and helped by many Americans.”
“The Americans are stronger than the French.”
“It might take ten years, but our heroic compatriots in the South will defeat them in the end.”
“I think the Americans greatly underestimate the determination of the Vietnamese people.”
“The Vietnamese people have always shown great determination when faced with an invader.”
That was a lesson I personally was to learn in 1969 as an infantryman in Viet Nam.
However, as David Halberstam tells us at p.654 of “The Coldest Winter,” that horse’s ass from down in Texas named Lyndon Baines Johnson saw things quite differently:
In 1964, as Johnson edged closer to the final decision on the war, there were three factors that tended to make him hawkish.
The first was the nature of the man himself, his own image of himself, the need to stand tall, not to back off when he was challenged, and to personalize all confrontations and to see them as a test of manhood.
Pierre Salinger’s job, Johnson told the principal Kennedy press officer when he first became president, was to sell Johnson as a big Texan who was both tall and tough in the saddle.
The second factor was an innate, almost unconscious American racism, the kind that had bedeviled so many officers in the field at the beginning of the Korean War, the notion that because Asians were smaller and from a lesser part of the world with lesser industrial and technological accomplishments, they were a lesser people and could not stand up to American technology and American troops.
Vietnam, when Johnson spoke about it at NSC meetings, was often “a raggedy ass little forth rate country.”
On occasion, like Ned Almond (in Korea referring to the Chinese), he used the word “laundrymen” to describe the combatants.
Sometimes too, as he came close to the final decision on whether to send combat troops to Vietnam, Johnson’s racism showed in the way he spoke of the Vietnamese as being like Mexicans, the kind of lesser people you had to show some strength to before they got the message and gave you the respect you deserved.
The Vietnamese, he would say, were not going to push Lyndon Johnson around, because he knew something about people like this, because back home he had dealt with people just like them, the Mexicans.
Now, Mexicans were alright if you let them know who was boss, but “if you didn’t watch they’ll come right into your yard and take it over if you let them.”
“And the next day they’ll be right there on your porch, barefoot and weighing one hundred and thirty pounds, and they’ll take that too.”
“But if you say to ’em right at the start, ‘Hold on, just wait a minute,’ they’ll know they were dealing with someone who’ll stand up.”
“And after that you can get along fine.”
Yeah, right, Lyndon, baby, tell that horse **** to all the names on the wall and see if you can get any of them to believe you, you fool.
And thus was American history written as a result of the fall of Dien Bien Phu.
Paul Plante says
At p.11 of “The Making of a Quagmire – America and Vietnam during the Kennedy Era,” the author, David Halberstam, details our involvement with the French in Indochina before Dien Bien Phu took place, as follows:
In the early fifties the French were still predicting imminent victory, backed now by the Americans, who were their silent partners and were giving military and economic aid.
Our military echoed the optimism of the French, even while the Vietminh strengthened their rural control.
By 1952, Giap had divisions of troops, and was growing stronger.
In the field, the French line officers’ respect for the enemy continued to grow.
In 1954, the end came, militarily and politically.
The French, seeking a set-piece battle, found themselves encamped at Dienbienphu, a fort deep in the mountains near Laos, reachable only by air.
There the French high command hoped the Vietminh would attack, there they would break the back of Giap’s forces.
The French conceded the high ground to the enemy, and were dug in down in a valley.
They believed that the Vietminh could never bring artillery and anti-aircraft guns to the site – and even if they did, they could not use them properly.
On March 13, 1954, the battle began.
The French clearly were out-gunned; the Vietminh had not only the high ground but the artillery, and they knew how to use it.
The French artillery commander committed suicide the first night, and very soon the outcome of the battle became a foregone conclusion.
The French fought bravely (actually, many did not), but there was no way for them to be reinforced; planes bringing in air supplies ran into concentrated anti-aircraft fire from perfectly camouflaged positions, from guns which had been brought in piece-meal, on the backs of coolies.
The French lost sixteen thousand two hundred men – captured or killed – and they lost a war.
That loss at Dien Bien Phu then ended up costing France its Mediterranean colonies, as well, because the French had colonial troops from Algeria and Morocco there with them, and like the Americans fighting with the British during the French and Indian Wars over here, those colonial troops got to see first-hand just how weak the French were, having been beaten by “les Jaunes,” as the arrogant French called the Vietnamese people in a derogatory manner, and so they rebelled as well.
On May 3, 1964, before the Viet Nam war started getting hot, the New York Times ran an article entitled “Dienbienphu: Battle to Remember” by Bernard B. Fall, which informed us as follows:
ON May 7, 1954, the end of the battle for the jungle fortress of Dienbienphu marked the end of French military influence in Asia, just as the sieges of Port Arthur, Corregidor and Singapore had, to a certain extent, broken the spell of Russian, American and British hegemony in Asia.
In many ways, Dien Bien Phu changed world history in ways that still impact us, however subtle that impact might be.
Getting back to the NY Times:
The Asians, after centuries of subjugation, had beaten the white man at his own game.
And today, 10 years after Dienbienphu, Vietcong guerrillas in South Vietnam again challenge the West’s ability to withstand a potent combination of political and military pressure in a totally alien environment.
Five years after that, I myself was there in Viet Nam as a part of the West’s challenge of its ability to withstand a potent combination of political and military pressure in a totally alien environment, and like the French before us, we failed the test.
And such is history written, by those who were there when it happened, and by those who made it happen.
Paul Plante says
Getting back to history here and Dien Bien Phu, at p.100 of “Ho,” author David Halberstam continues as follows:
For eight years the war dragged on.
To the French it was always victory, always heavier Vietminh casualties, always winning the war.
But always there were more Viets, until slowly it began to dawn on some French officials that this was a war of attrition, and that despite the heavier Vietminh casualty rolls, it was finally the French who were being worn down and exhausted.
That experience was the same one that we were going to experience ten or so years later, but in our arrogance, of course, we couldn’t see that back then.
Getting back to Halberstam:
It was a Giap and Ho had predicted: the colonial power was tiring of a war which among other things was turning out to be poor economics; Indochina was costing France far more than it was worth.
Thirty years earlier in Comintern circles, where others had presented grandiose schemes for toppling Western powers, Ho had written that the way to do it was through long and punishing colonial wars which would sap the very fiber and vitality of the colonial country until both colony and country came apart.
It was for daring to think that way that we, the mighty United States of America, once revolutionaries ourselves, went to Viet Nam to punish the Vietnamese people.
And again back to Halberstam:
He was not far from wrong.
That the French could not defeat the Vietminh, the little yellow ones, was a frustrating lesson.
Front-line French officers cabled back their reports of losses and of growing Vietmi9nh strength.
But the French high command steadfastly refused to listen; it was sure it could win the war.
In 1967 and 1968, we were being told the same exact things by our high command – the famous :light at the end of the tunnel,” as it was called back then by the fools uttering the phrase, as if a blind fool in a position of authority saying something made it true.
And again back to Halberstam:
At home, the opposition to the war steadily mounted.
To the French command in Hanoi it was those politicians back home who were causing problems, aiding a cowardly enemy who refused to come out and fight.
To the English, of course, during our revolution, we were to them the cowardly enemy who refused to come out and fight, and by doing that, we won, and by emulating our experience against the French, it was the Vietminh that won.
And back to Halberstam once again:
Finally, as the war dragged on, as the French casualty lists grew longer, the French command decided to set a major trap for the Vietminh.
They would position a French garrison (roughly 16,000 men) in a distant outpost as bait.
The Vietminh, who were new to modern warfare, simple people, really, would gather to attack, and as they did, the French would destroy them with artillery and air power.
It must be noted here that the French got that idea from the Americans who had used those same tactics against the Chinese in the Korean War three years earlier.
Back to the story:
This was the set-piece battle the French wanted so badly.
The name of the outpost was Dienbienphu.
The planning was done by men who had underestimated their enemy from the start, who understood neither his talent, his objectives, nor his thinking.
A friend of mine visited the outpost shortly before the battle began.
It was in a valley, he noted, surrounded by high peaks in the distance.
It gave him a somewhat uneasy feeling – the first rule of warfare is to take the high ground.
“Who has the high peaks?” he asked a French officer.
“Who knows?” said the Frenchman, shrugging his shoulders, implicitly indicating that if anyone had them, it was the Vietminh.
“But what if they are there and they have artillery?” my friend insisted.
“They do not have artillery, and even if they did, they would not know how to use it,” the Frenchman said.
What stupidity and arrogance that was on their part.
But we were even more stupid than the French when we got there, and more arrogant.
And such is the stuff of history.
Paul Plante says
As to Giap, the architect of Dien Bien Phu, at p.71 of “Ho,” auther David Halberstam tells us of him as follows:
Now as he (Ho Chi Minh or “He Who has been enlightened”) strengthened the military arm of his party he had the perfect aid, the brilliant, intense Giap, an aristocrat, an educated man with a history degree, who differed from the upper-class mandarins of the Dai Viet in that he had become a full-time revolutionary at an early age; he had forsaken his past while they wanted to hold on to theirs, and to make it fuller.
Actually Giap gained a doctorate in economics at the University of Hanoi. but taught History at Thang Long School on leaving the university.
Back to the narrative:
To Western eyes, Giap, who would become one of the great military leaders of the twentieth century, always seemed more militant than Ho, more full of revolutionary fervor, more filled with bitterness against the white man.
He had escaped from Vietnam with the end of the Popular Front in 1939, but his wife, also a revolutionary, was captured by the French and died in prison.
Giap always believed her death resulted from mistreatment and he became even more passionate a revolutionary.
As an aside, while Giap was in China, his sister, who shared his anti-French sentiments, was arrested and then executed in Vietnam, and it is said that there can be little doubt that the death of his wife and sister at the hands of the French had a marked impact on Giap who almost certainly decided as a result of these two personal bereavements to dedicate his life to removing France from Vietnam..
Getting back to the narrative:
It was Giap who took Ho’s ideas and translated them into military terms, who understood how to train and organize troops, and how to exploit the Vietminh’s political superiority against the French military superiority.
Before that, from 1942 to 1945, Giap helped to organise resistance against the Japanese Army that had invaded China and Vietnam and it was during this time that Giap perfected the guerrilla tactics that Mao Zedong was to use so effectively against the Japanese.
And back again to the narrative:
He (Giap) needed a military base secure from both the Chinese and the French (and the Japanese too).
For this reason he fashioned a wartime friendship with guerilla Chu Van Tan, the leader of the Thos (a tribal ethnic minority in the mountainous regions of northern Vietnam near the China border), who, in like most montagnard tribes, were anti-French.
The physical impregnability of the base areas of the Thos gave Giap his redoubt.
There in December 1944, with two revolvers, seventeen rifles, fourteen flintlock rifles, one light machine gun, and thirty-four men, Giap formed the first platoon of the People’s Liberation Force.
It was this army that within the next nine years was to grow to six divisions and, as one of the world’s great infantry forces, defeat the French at Dienbienphu.
There in the mountain hideaway, Giap worked out his essentially simple guerilla strategy.
What did his people have above all else in a showdown with the French?
What did they lack most?
Weapons and materiel.
Therefore what should be the heart of the strategy?
Go for weapons.
Wherever the French were most overextended – in tiny outposts where they were isolated and pinned down, a perfect target, where the Vietminh would know exactly how many Frenchmen with how many weapons were waiting, where no Vietnamese would warn them of the approach of the Vietminh, and finally where the Vietminh could strike in the early morning.
The first time I was wounded in 1969 was during an assault on our fixed position by the Vietcong at three o’clock in the morning.
If you weren’t dead when the sun came up, generally, unless you tripped a booby trap, you would get to live for another day.
And so much for gun control – if people without them want them, then like the Vietminh, they will take them from those who do have them, which is perhaps one of the reasons we have a Second Amendment in this country.
Back again to the narrative:
If there were ten men inside the post the Vietminh would strike with thirty men.
The next day there would be ten more weapons.
Then they would hit posts of thirty men.
And soon a hundred, and then more.
Always striking in superior numbers, always striking where success was almost certain.
As Giap’s forces grew, he sent them father into the country to organize villages, to extend the network.
Ah, what a different world for some 58,220 dead Americans it might have been if we young Americans back then were knowledgeable about this history.
And so life goes.
Paul Plante says
As a fitting close to this story of the Vietnamese and their quest for independence and what we in this country should have known before replacing the French over there as the next imperialist oppressor in the eyes of the Vietnamese, but quite obviously did not, at p.81 of “Ho,” author David Halberstam tells us as follows:
On September 2 (1945, close of WWII), Ho made his declaration of independence speech, blending the American Declaration of Independence with the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.
The French, he said,. had systematically violated those rights in Vietnam.
Then he said that the Vietminh, representing the downtrodden Vietnamese people, had seized power not from the French but from the Japanese.
“Since the autumn of 1940 our country has ceased to be a colony and had become a Japanese outpost . . .”
“We have wrested our independence from the Japanese and not from the French.”
“The French have fled, the Japanese have capitulated, Emperor Bao Dai has abdicated, our people have broken down the fetters which for over a century have tied us down; our people have at the same time overthrown the monarchic constitution that had reigned supreme for so many centuries and instead have established the present Republican government.”
Anyone familiar with Section 4 of Article IV of our United States Constitution, which states “(T)he United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion,” will readily discern that in 1945, the Vietnamese, in declaring independence from a monarchical constitution and setting up a republican government in their country were really emulating us.
Thus, the sense of betrayal they felt when we went to replace the French as their lords and masters after Dien Bien Phu was something people in this country and our higher-ups in Viet Nam could never really understand, since by then we largely had no sense of our own history, and the struggle to be independent.
But to grunts out in the field like myself in proximity to ARVN forces, that betrayal of our values was thrown in our face, and it was made clear to me, anyway, that to them, we were the real enemy of the Vietnamese people, not the Viet Cong.
At p.73 of “Ho,” the author helps us to perhaps better understand that sense of betrayal, as follows:
Circa 1944, during WWII
The Americans were a puzzle: they were at once imperialistic and anticolonialist, a potential counterforce to the French.
So Ho would make himself useful to the Americans.
He would help return their downed fliers and speed them useful intelligence about the Japanese.
In return, they would give him arms.
This would be doubly significant.
Not only were the arms themselves crucial, but the fact that Vietnamese peasants would know that powerful Westerners were backing Ho would be a great aid in gaining legitimacy.
And that was exactly what happened.
And then FDR died and Harry S. “The Buck Stops Here” Truman sold the Vietnamese down the river by giving them back to the French and some 58,220 Americans died as a result of that betrayal of our own values.
And such is history made!
Paul Plante says
And as a footnote to this history above here, yes, you are reading that correctly when it says that the hated Ho Chi Minh of the Viet Nam War era was once considered a friend of ours, during WWII.
And yes, you are reading that right where it says that we armed the Vietminh during WWII, the Vietminh being the Vietnamese peasant army that beat the French at Dien Bien Phu, and then became the Viet Cong to fight us.
As to arming the Vietminh and Ho Chi Minh, at p.75 of “Ho,” author David Halberstam gives us the following:
In early 1945 Ho apparently visited Kunming, where he presented his case for weapons to the American mission there.
The American in charge laid down strict conditions: that the weapons not be used against the French, and that American agents be permitted into rebel-controlled areas.
The Americans later claimed that they gave Ho only a few revolvers, although there is considerable evidence that five thousand weapons were airdropped to the Vietminh in the summer of 1945 by the allies.
Also according to both French and Communist accounts, the number of Vietminh troops in the country at the time of the fall of Japan, was five thousand.
Five thousand weapons may not have been many by Western standards, but it was far more than any other resistance group had.
The Vietminh’s sense of weaponry made its organization seem much more impressive – the number of weapons multiplied in the minds of the population and the opposition (indeed, one handmade weapon could control a village in the early days of the war).
Steadily, Giap infiltrated his troops farther into the country; by June 1945 he controlled six provinces in northern Vietnam, and he was extending that control all the time; more important, Giap’s was the only nonforeign military force.
As I say, in war, applied psychology often counts for more than do bullets flying, when it comes to winning hearts and minds.
And how many times since then have we done the same exact thing – arm militia groups in foreign countries who we then end up fighting?
Isn’t insanity doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result?
Seems so to me, anyway.