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He said he would welcome a million American soldiers to come in
March 14, 2013 4:47 PM   Subscribe

On July 17, 1945, the OSS Deer Team, led by Major A. K. Thomas, was parachuted in the jungle 200 km north of Hanoi, to make contact with a mysterious group of resistance fighters willing to help the US against the Japanese. They were greeted cordially by the group leader, "Mr C. M. Hoo", a sick-looking older man, and his acolyte "Mr Van", a dapper man wearing a white linen suit and a black fedora (and he did like his fedora). From mid-July to the Japanese capitulation, the Deer Team trained Hoo's ragtag band, provided them with explosives and small arms and followed them during skirmishes. They also allegedly saved Ho(o)'s life. Major Thomas' full report on the Deer Mission (including the FPP title and the line Forget the Communist Bogy) is buried in the 1972 Hearings on the causes of the Vietnam war (see also the same events according to Henri Prunier, last surviving member of the Deer Team).

On September 2, Major Thomas' friend of the forest, born Nguyễn Sinh Cung, AKA Nguyên Aï Quoc, AKA OSS Agent 19 "Lucius", AKA Hồ Chí Minh was standing on a platform in the Ba Đình flower garden in Hanoi, proclaiming Vietnam's independence in front of a large crowd. "Mr Van" AKA Võ Nguyên Giáp was there, obviously, as were OSS operatives, notably the head of the Hanoi mission Major Archimede L. A. Patti, who later wrote a detailed memoir of these events, Why Vietnam? Hồ started his speech with "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness...". The OSS Mission in Hanoi was disbanded in October 1945.
posted by elgilito (23 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was completely unaware about the OSS-Ho Chi Minh connection. Is this common knowledge in the US? Were there similar hearings about the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan?

I'm only on page 5 on the committee report and it's obvious why the US has ultimately lost so many wars trying to "liberate" so many countries:
The lesson is that military power without political cohesiveness and support is an empty shell. Without the legitimacy, with political legitimacy in a government and the quest for it in South Vietnam seems never ending, the Saigon regime perpetually will require American support.
Pretty much best of the web as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:11 PM on March 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


> I was completely unaware about the OSS-Ho Chi Minh connection. Is this common knowledge in the US?

No, but then hardly any history is common knowledge in the US. It's common knowledge among those who take an active interest in the history of Vietnam and its wars; opinions differ, of course, on how much difference it would have made had the US been willing to back Ho as an anti-colonial patriot rather than trying to crush him as a commie. (My opinion: not much, in the end, because he was in fact a commie and would not have been willing to "do business" with us in the way we would have demanded.)
posted by languagehat at 5:15 PM on March 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


The lesson is that military power without political cohesiveness and support is an empty shell. Without the legitimacy, with political legitimacy in a government and the quest for it in South Vietnam seems never ending, the Saigon regime perpetually will require American support.

Max Boot has just written a book on the history of insurgent warfare. Basic takeaway is that it takes years and years and the chief goal is to keep the rebels away from the civilian population while you win their hearts and minds. It's doable, but it's not for anyone with a short attention.
posted by BWA at 5:54 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have never even heard of this story. Wild! And thank you! (Also: sweet fedora, man.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:04 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where does Ho's letter to Truman fit into all this? It sounds like it was after this all happened?
posted by symbioid at 6:06 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Interestingly, Boot was at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago last night talking about the new book. See http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/Home/max-boot-2013.aspx. I hope his speech makes it into their podcast feed soon.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:09 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Excellent post! Thanks. No this is not common knowledge for most Americans.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:47 PM on March 14, 2013


...but its a common pattern that has continued until present day. Perhaps its time to reflect on the default modus operandi?
posted by infini at 8:23 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this common knowledge in the US?

It's briefly touched on in Stanley Karnow's* Vietnam: A History, which is probably still a key text in many history courses, but since 9/11 I expect a lot of the academic interest has moved onward.

FWIW, Karnow seems to agree with languagehat: "Ho's real feelings toward the US are difficult to gauge. A master tactician, he was assaying every option. [Of the Americans, he said] 'They are only interested in replacing the French. They want to reorganize our economy to control it. They are capitalists to the core. All that counts for them is business.'"

* R.I.P.

Perhaps its time to reflect on the default modus operandi?

Only if the reflector believes that it was a failure. Generally, something that happens 25 years down the road isn't considered a failure if it worked for 25 years.
posted by dhartung at 11:47 PM on March 14, 2013


For the most part Wars with them only really teach us the names of countries
posted by Blasdelb at 12:44 AM on March 15, 2013


So, ultimately I have the naïveté and opportunism of OSS operatives to thank for the ubiquity of excellent Vietnamese restaurants here. (We'll just ignore the massive toll in human lives involved, and the wrong lessons drawn from it like "keep the insurgents away from the population", rather than, say, find out what the population's legit grievances are and actually address them instead of propping up corrupt strongmen as was done in the South.)
posted by Philofacts at 1:25 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fascinating. I knew that the US had once been friendly with Bin Laden, and with Saddam, but I didn't know about Ho Chi Minh.
posted by Acey at 4:20 AM on March 15, 2013


Generally, something that happens 25 years down the road isn't considered a failure if it worked for 25 years.

Not even bin Laden and Saddam, as mentioned above, or the resistance in Afghanistan or the original training for the ISI etc etc etc? That is, the basic concept of 'blowback' ?
posted by infini at 4:52 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The lesson is that military power without political cohesiveness and support is an empty shell. Without the legitimacy, with political legitimacy in a government and the quest for it in South Vietnam seems never ending, the Saigon regime perpetually will require American support.

For those that are interested, I can strongly recommend "The Perfect War" by William Gibson.

The book reveals that the Vietnamese had been fighting the Chinese for about 1400 years on and off before US invaded. They would be invaded by the Chinese, subjugated, and after a few years would kick out the invaders. This happened time and time again.

Then they did it to the Japanese after World War II, then to the French in the 50s. When the US showed up, it was business as usual. The Vietnamese always knew they would win.

This is just one of the many eye-openers in Gibson's book. It has changed my view of war.

Gibson is interviewed in depth about the book here
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 5:32 AM on March 15, 2013


The OSS, along with the State Department and the US Army, also sent a mission to meet with communist rebels to the north in China, they got to hang out with Mao.
posted by Atreides at 6:03 AM on March 15, 2013


Where does Ho's letter to Truman fit into all this? It sounds like it was after this all happened?
Context matters. On that very day (28 Feb 1946), the Chinese (who were occupying the North as agreed at the Postdam conference), consented to let the French troops come back to Hanoi. In the South, the Communists had been kicked out from Saigon and the French had taken over. The US administration was still undecided about what to do. On one hand the July-September honeymoon was over and the HCM-friendly OSS operatives were gone. On the other hand the Americans did not trust the French, and knew very, very little about the Vietnamese so HCM may have seen an opening there. But at the very same time he was negotiating the 6 March agreement which led to the recognition of the independent Vietnam by the French (and to boiling anger from the hardliners on both sides). Historians have been trying for decades to figure out the total chaos of 1945-46 Vietnam, and the general unavailability of primary Vietnamese sources doesn't help.
posted by elgilito at 6:42 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other hand the Americans did not trust the French, and knew very, very little about the Vietnamese so HCM may have seen an opening there.

But by 1945 American policy was already turning towards confronting communism so this doesn't make a lot of sense in that context. The Americans were never keen on helping the British (or the French) to maintain their overseas empires. This was one of the few matters where Roosevelt and Stalin were more or less in agreement throughout the war. This suggests Truman was of a different mind... but had not the Americans (MacArthur and the OSS) already installed Syngman Rhee in Korea as a "democratic" leader the year before to oppose the communists? I mean if Truman only wanted an anti-Japanese champion they already had one of the best in Kim il Sung. Why would the Americans cozy up to Uncle Ho in 1946 when they were already actively opposing Kim il Sung in 1945?
posted by three blind mice at 7:48 AM on March 15, 2013


But by 1945 American policy was already turning towards confronting communism so this doesn't make a lot of sense in that context.
Well, yes, I'm just suggesting that some factions within the Viet-Minh may have tried to renew their relation with the US just in case. This was retrospectively a dead end, but the US were pretty indecisive in Vietnam until 1950, when they started funneling money and equipment to the French (see Statler, Replacing France, pp 17-18).
posted by elgilito at 8:26 AM on March 15, 2013


"Was America, through the OSS, responsible for the rise of Ho Chi Minh and his subsequent war against the United States?"

A typical thought from our leadership. Ho was always a leader seeking independence, he didn't go to war against the US, he fought a foreign invader, just as the Iraqis and Afghans have. Of course he was friendly with the Russians just as he was friendly to us. His biggest problem was China and both the US and Soviet Union were the only foils to China. The Viet Nam war just another result of our stupid foreign policy decisions. A problem that continues to this day.

This is not news I've known of this since 1964, there were 2 or 3 books that I read that spoke of it. It's only the willful ignorance of the public that's makes this post a revelation.
posted by shnarg at 10:29 AM on March 15, 2013


> The book reveals that the Vietnamese had been fighting the Chinese for about 1400 years on and off before US invaded. They would be invaded by the Chinese, subjugated, and after a few years would kick out the invaders. This happened time and time again.

Gibson's book is quite good on its own terms—a furious account of bad US decisionmaking—but it is not a general history of the war and it certainly didn't "reveal" that the Vietnamese had been fighting the Chinese for a long time, a fact that was always known to anybody who paid any attention to the history of the region. And he shouldn't be trusted on Vietnamese stuff (as opposed to US-in-Vietnam stuff); he talks about a "popular insurgency" in the South in terms that suggest he didn't know, or want to acknowledge, that while there was genuine opposition to rule by US puppets, the armed insurgency was entirely a creation of the North, armed by the Russians and strictly led by Northerners (who did away with the genuine Southern resistance leaders as soon as they entered Saigon).

> Of course he was friendly with the Russians just as he was friendly to us.

Huh? He wasn't "friendly" with anybody, he just made tactical use of whoever he could, but insofar as it makes sense to talk in those terms, he was friendly with the Russians, who were both ideological and practical allies, and not at all friendly to us, who were both ideological and practical enemies. He was just hoping to distract us with rhetoric for a while until he could get settled in power. (Of course, he quickly lost all but nominal power; Le Duan was actually running the show during most of the war.)
posted by languagehat at 1:20 PM on March 15, 2013


The word friendly was used in brevity. Ho has said many times on record that he admired the American ideals of liberty(if not the veracity of same). He was above all things a nationalist and would do or say anything to achieve those ends. The Southern leadership were Catholics who fled the North. The were viewed by Ho's faction as francophiles and traitors. The Catholics ruled over a predominantly Buddhist and Animist population who viewed them as Carpetbaggers. Hence the burning Buddhists. Until JFK the war was a Terry and The Pirates spook fest. Cardinal Spellman took the Diems on an a tour of American shakers and movers (incl JFK) and the war became a War.
Whoever actually pulled the strings in N.Viet Nam is immaterial, Ho was the icon of the movement.
posted by shnarg at 4:12 PM on March 15, 2013


> Ho has said many times on record

Oh well then, it must be true!

> Whoever actually pulled the strings in N.Viet Nam is immaterial

....OK....
posted by languagehat at 6:01 PM on March 15, 2013


This is a great and fascinating post. Thanks, elgilito.
posted by homunculus at 2:51 PM on March 16, 2013


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