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Ha Mai Viet : Steel and Blood – South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia [2] – two book reviews

Ha Mai Viet, Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia, Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2008, 459 p.

Book Review by LtCol Raymond A. Stewart, USMC (Ret).

 

Colonel Ha Mai Viet provides his meticulously researched, impressively written and well-presented book about South Vietnam tanks in “Steel and Blood.” The author details the combat history of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Armor (AF) from “Ferocious Battles, 1963-68” through “Vietnamization, 1969-74” to the final days of the Republic in 1975—“The Capture of South Vietnam.” His is a riveting account of tank battle after tank battle, pitting the ARVNAF’s M41 and M48 tanks against the NVA enemy’s T54, T59, T34 and PT76 tanks.

Somewhat of a surprise to a Marine Corps Vietnam tanker—and possible Army armor as well—and for certain to those who declared that Vietnam was not “tank country” are the numbers and types of armored vehicles employed by both sides and the importance the VC/NVA enemy and ARVN alike placed on the use of armored vehicles in general and tanks specifically. Just one example: By 1975, the NVA had an estimated 600 T54s in or on the border of South Vietnam supplied by large, well-concealed fuel lines with sophisticated pumping and fueling stations that ran through Laos and Cambodia hundreds of kilometers from Haiphong in the north.

In battle after battle, from the Plain of Reeds through the three-front General Offensive and battles for the Central High­lands to the final assault on Saigon itself, Col Ha Mai Viet provides the reader with the often heart-wrenchingly candid and unwashed details of bloody victories and even more horrific defeats. He does not embellish the value of the ARVNAF in its successful fights nor does he minimize the faults of senior leaderships’ failed decisions contributing to catastrophic defeats. The author keeps to the rapid movement of armor and the battles in which tanks participate by extracting related details and placing them in “Notes.” There are 80 pages of notes, which add an impressive dimension of understanding of ARVNAF leadership, or lack of it.

In the second half of the book, the “Mil­itary History” segment, Col Ha Mai Viet’s attention to detail and in-depth research provide the reader the historical background of the ARVN in general terms and, more specifically, trace the establishment, growth and deployment of the armored forces (ARVNAF).

While certainly not the “grabber” that one finds in page after page of Part I, Part II is of significant value in understanding the development, structure, employment, logistics and administration of ARVNAF in terms of equipment. The author provides interesting information on the back­ground and training of the armored personnel and quite candid comments on the ARVNAF leadership.

To follow the battles, I found the paucity of maps—there are just two small-detail maps—made the reading (and enjoyment) of the book somewhat difficult. Also, com­mand structure, order of battle, and table of organization and equipment diagrams would have greatly helped in better understanding of the material.

Col. Ha Mai Viet states unequivocally that South Vietnam could have defeated the VC/NVA on the battlefield had the Uni­ted States made good on its agreement to support the South after the withdrawal of American ground forces.

This thoroughly researched book, a 10-year effort, relies on both personal knowledge and interviews of hundreds of former ARVN as well as VC/NVA soldiers and officers of all ranks and military occupational specialties. To obtain a more balanced view—and with an armored slant—of the war that took more than 58,000 American lives, this book is a highly recommended read.

Source : Leatherneck, magazine of the Marines, Marine Corps Association.

Présentation de l’ouvrage sur U.S. Naval Institute.

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Book Review by Jay Veith.

Of the several thousand tomes published about the Vietnam War, only a few English-language viewpoints written by our Vietnamese allies grace the bookshelves. The South Vietnamese perspective, constrained by cultural and linguistic barriers, is unfortunately marginalized in the war’s literature for Americans. Due to these barriers, U.S. historians, even if interested in South Vietnamese motivations and actions, are left with little except military adviser reports, obscure embassy cables, or shallow news articles. Thus reduced to bit players, the South Vietnamese have become caricatures; either cowardly incompetents or corrupt warlords, with an occasional brave soul or hard-fighting unit briefly mentioned. A more balanced and deeper picture of America’s wartime partner has long been needed.

Former armor Colonel Ha Mai Viet has offered precisely that, a penetrating insight into the battlefield contributions of the South Vietnamese tank officers who fought alongside their American friends. His book details the contributions of a small but influential element of the ARVN, its armor/cavalry forces. Unknown to most, by war’s end the armor branch had grown considerably from its French roots. In 1975, Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Brigade, the III Corps organic tank unit, was undoubtedly the most powerful brigade-size element in the ARVN. Reflecting a rare combined arms outlook, Khoi built a formidable combat out-fit from previously independent armor, artillery, engineer, and ranger units. His merged brigade was still defending outside of Saigon when the final surrender came.

Viet spent ten years traveling the globe, tracking down and interviewing many of his former comrades-in-arms. He portrays the heroic deeds of his fellow soldiers while unflinchingly condemning South Vietnamese leadership errors. Covering two main topics, Combat and Military History, Viet outlines twenty-three separate battles from the ARVN side. The bulk of the Combat section covers the Tet Offensive, Lam Son 719, the Easter Offensive, and the bloody retreat in 1975 from the Central Highlands. He also provides rich details on unknown battles such as the terrible clash at Dambe in Cambodia in 1971. The Military History part provides unique facts on the formation and growth of the ARVN armor/cavalry branch from 1954 to 1975, including unit commanders, weapons, and organizational structure.

Brilliantly translated, no future work on Vietnam battles will be complete without reviewing this publication. Colonel Viet has provided a tremendous amount of fresh information, almost all of it oral history. That is the strength and weakness of the book. Like all interviews, the ones in this book only provide the participant’s side. For example, the account by Colonel Nguyen Van Dong concerning the Central Highlands retreat, while new and highly informative, perpetuates the myth that Brigadier General Pham Duy Tat, the II Corps Ranger Commander, was responsible for the convoy on Route 7B. Tat, when presented with Dong’s remarks, categorically denied the accusations, a point of view absent from Viet’s book. This is not to cast fault, as Viet was only interested in the stories of his armor colleagues. Yet without access to That’s perspective, the unsuspecting historian would perpetuate the story. Unfortunately, as General Cao Van Vien once told the reviewer, the war remains much like the movie « Rashomon »: the truth is subjective to the individual. Colonel Viet nevertheless deserves enormous credit for his industrious research and fine account. His is a major and much needed addition to the history of the Vietnam War.

Copyright © 2009 Society for Military History
Project MUSE® – View Citation
Réf. :

  • Jay Veith. « Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia (review). » The Journal of Military History 73.3 (2009): 1020-1021. Project MUSE. Web. 27 Dec. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
  •  Veith, J.(2009). Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia (review). The Journal of Military History 73(3), 1020-1021. Society for Military History.

Ha Mai Viet : Steel and Blood – South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia [1]

Ha Mai Viet, Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia, Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2008, 459 p., $40.00 USD, ISBN: 978-1591149194.

Book Review by Dr J.R. McKay.

 

Ha Mai Viet’s Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia is an ambitious work. The author tried to produce both a history of the armoured branch of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam[1] (ARVN) and a history of the armoured branch’s unit’s roles on the ARVN’s battles with the Vietnamese Communist forces. While South Vietnam, and by default the ARVN, and its armoured branch lasted for only twenty years, this was a nation and an army that fought against its enemies for most of that time.[2]

Steel and Blood is effectively two smaller books in one. The first part is a “Combat History” of the armoured branch’s participation in battles as well as a narrative of the war from an ARVN perspective. The second part of the book, “Military History,” is a summary of the organizational history of the South Vietnamese Armor Corps, a compendium of information on that branch and a comparison of its equipment with that of its North Vietnamese counterpart.

The combat history describes a series of battles from 1963 to 1975, based upon ARVN’s battles with the Communists. It starts with an orientation on the role of the armoured branch’s units in a series of battles, but slowly transforms into a general narrative on the progress of the war. Colonel Viet tried to tell the tale of what happened, balancing between what he stated that he sought to do and providing the proverbial “bigger picture.” While this might frustrate some readers, some observations merit mention.

First, one should keep in mind that he has provided a glimpse into a perspective that is often overlooked. The common narrative with regard to the ARVN has been that it was overly oriented on the byzantine politics of Saigon and insufficiently focused on waging counter-insurgency operations until 1968, when the Tet Offensive led to the development of a more combat-oriented ethos. Colonel Viet’s book points out that a number of ARVN units often fought harder than was realized at the time or since despite the political proclivities of some of the ARVN’s general officers.[3]

Second, the author left one with the distinct impression that ARVN units tended to view their advisors less as sources of advice than sources of firepower. One gets the sense that during the earlier years, in some cases, ARVN officers may have resented advice from the technically sound yet less experienced advisors. The perception of advisors as sources of firepower appears to have become more acute after the 1972 Easter Offensive. The Nixon Administration’s policy of “Vietnamization” meant the phased withdrawal of American combat forces and increasingly shifting the burden of combat onto the ARVN. The Nixon Administration could not reverse this trend for domestic political reasons and sought to make greater use of air power as a result. This is a potential lesson for those destined for advisory duties; those being advised may be more interested in one’s capacity to influence the battle than one’s advice on how to do same.

Third, the book leaves one with the distinct impression that as the Communists made the transition from guerrilla warfare to mobile warfare, the importance of ARVN’s armoured branch increased. The early battles described organizations analogous to reconnaissance squadrons conducting economy of force operations against the Viet Cong; the later battles described ARVN tanks duelling with the North Vietnamese counterparts. Indeed, the Communist fielding of T-54 equipped units prompted the ARVN’s fielding of a number of M-48 “Patton” equipped units to cope with the threat. This also supports a broader point about the nature of insurgencies. The endgame of any insurgency is to set the conditions for assuring victory once conventional warfare begins. Colonel Viet’s accounts of battle start with clashes with the Viet Cong guerrillas in the mid 1960s and ends with tank battles between the North Vietnamese Army and the ARVN.

This section of the book, unfortunately, was at times difficult to follow. The author sought to describe both operational and tactical actions without maps, but made references to a series of place names. While there was an appendix providing general maps of South Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh trail, the inclusion of a series of smaller maps that showed the location and how the battles occurred would have helped clarify the “combat history.” Throughout this section, one was tempted to read the “military history” to get a sense of the evolution of the armoured branch’s organizations before linking it to their combat performance.

The military history was a collection of related topics designed to inform the reader about the war, the armoured branch’s evolution and its equipment. Again, the ARVN perspective was enlightening and it allows one to see the conflict through Vietnamese, albeit Southern, eyes, as opposed to the American or French perspectives. The organizational history began with the Vietnamese National Army of 1950, which was the army raised by the French within Vietnam during the war with the Viet Minh. The ARVN’s armoured branch’s roots lay in the creation of a series of reconnaissance platoons in 1950, which coalesced into companies[4] in 1951, battalions by 1953 and regiments by 1954. After the Vietnamese National Army became the ARVN in 1955, these reconnaissance regiments became armoured cavalry regiments, four armoured regiments, a school and an amphibious group. In this period, they were equipped with Second World War era equipment cast off by the French that had been donated by the United States. During the 1960s, the older equipment was replaced by M113 armoured personnel carriers and M-41 “Bulldog” tanks.[5]

The book describes the 1960s as a developmental period where the armoured branch began to specialize more. Armoured cavalry companies were the most common unit, but the branch also began to field reconnaissance and tank companies as well. Indeed, the book left one with the impression that the ARVN armoured branch fought most frequently as companies within larger entities. Indeed, the ambitious combination of the “combat history” and the “military history” was most useful in illuminating such matters. Colonel Viet followed this discussion of the evolution of the branch’s units with a compendium of facts. This had the effect of breaking a logical sequence of information in order to provide a series of interesting yet esoteric facts. He identified every commander of an ARVN armoured unit from the troop to the brigade level, the surgeons, and provided an account of their reunion at Fort Knox in 2000. Unfortunately, the multiple sources of information made this section, and indeed the book, seem less of a general history than a sourcebook or compendium of facts about the ARVN armoured branch.

Ha Mai Viet was a South Vietnamese Armor corps officer who served for 21 years, retiring as a Colonel. During that time, he had served in a number of different positions within armoured units, but his two most noteworthy positions were as an Assistant Division Commander and as the chief of the Quang Tri province.6 This meant he had fought the Communists for at least twelve years before leaving his country in its final days. His patriotism and pride in his military have been reflected in his writing. In addition, he wrote some of the accounts of specific battles from a personal perspective. Readers should take these points in mind before passing judgement on the book’s value.

Readers may be wondering what value a book about a nation that vanished a quarter century ago may have today. What can the ARVN’s experience tell us today? Is it relevant for the Canadian Forces in the early 21st century? The short answer to such questions is yes; however, this depends upon one’s perspective and interests. Those interested in comparing the evolution of different armoured branches may also wish to read those parts of the book. One should note that the ARVN’s approach to combat development was based upon trial and error in battle; they did not have the luxury of time to consider their organizations in great detail. Furthermore, reading the ARVN perspective may give pause for thought for those destined for advisory duties about what those being advised may be thinking.

Dr J.R. McKay

Endnotes

1. The RVN is better known as South Vietnam.

2. Many readers will no doubt be aware of the American participation in the war, spanning from 1964 to 1973 and the end of the war between North and South Vietnam (1973-1975), however, many may not be aware that South Vietnam had to contend with several armed groups in its infancy in 1955 and coup attempts from within the ARVN. The Communist insurgency began in South Vietnam in 1957 and North Vietnam began to provide support to that insurgency in 1959. A year later, the North Vietnamese sought to see all armed resistance groups in South Vietnam coalesce into the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLF). Readers may recognize the other, slightly inaccurate, name for the NLF—the Viet Cong. The ARVN began fighting [?]

3. There are two examples of this phenomenon. The author defends the actions and decisions of ARVN tactical commanders at the Battle of Ap Bac (January 1963) and the President’s direction that contributed to the disaster in Operation LAM SON 719 (January 1971). For details, see: Ha Mai Viet, former Colonel, ARVN, Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armour and the War for Southeast Asia, (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2008), 16-17 and 84. For examples of the criticism levelled on those two incidents, see: Lieutenant General Phillip B. Davidson, U.S. Army, Retired, Vietnam at War: The History 1946-1975, (Novato: Presidio, 1988), 573-604, and Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, (New York: Random House, 1988), 203-265.

4. Readers should be aware that due to the influence of the U.S. Army, the ARVN armoured branch used the term “Troop” to describe subunit-sized organizations and the term “Squadron” for unitsized organizations. This review uses the generic Canadian Army terminology of “company” and “battalion.”

5. The M-41 “Bulldog” came into American service during the Korean War and entered ARVN service in 1964. It weighed 24 tons, its main armament was 76 mm, it had 12 to 38 mm of armour, and it could reach speeds of 72 km/h.

6. This province was in Military Region 1 / I Corps Tactical Zone, just south of the Demilitarized Zone. He left South Vietnam in 1975, during the final days of that country.

Source : Canadian Army Journal, Vol. 12.1 Spring 2009, pp. 123-125 (pdf).

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of National Defence, 2009

Marcelino Truong : Une si jolie petite guerre – Saigon 1961-1963

Avis de parution le 18 octobre 2012. Marcelino Truong, Une si jolie petite guerre. Saigon 1961-1963, Paris, Denoël, Denoël Graphic, 2012, 272 p.

En janvier 1961, John F. Kennedy devient le 35e président des États-Unis. Déterminé à endiguer le communisme en Asie, il lance le Projet Beef-Up, destiné à renforcer l’aide militaire et économique américaine à la République du Vietnam. C’est dans ce contexte que le petit Marcelino Truong et sa famille débarquent à Saigon, en juillet 1961. Sa mère est malouine et maniaco-dépressive, son père est un diplomate vietnamien. Nommé directeur de l’agence Vietnam-Press, Truong Buu Khanh fréquente assidûment le Palais de l’Indépendance où il fait office d’interprète quand le président Ngô Dinh Diêm reçoit des visiteurs anglophones. Il va ainsi observer de très près les manœuvres d’un gouvernement qui se débat entre nationalisme, rejet de la France coloniale, défiance et fascination pour l’Amérique.

Marcelino Truong interroge ses souvenirs d’enfance pour brosser un portrait à la fois impressionniste et objectif de la capitale sud-vietnamienne livrée aux prémices d’une guerre qui s’intensifie. Tandis que les gros porteurs US débarquent un armement de plus en plus lourd, les attentats viêt-cong se multiplient. L’état d’urgence et la mobilisation générale sont décrétés au Sud. Des coups d’Etat sont ourdis par des généraux félons, qui aboutiront, le 1er novembre 1963, à l’assassinat du président Diem. Vingt et un jours plus tard, c’est Kennedy qui tombe sous les balles de Lee Harvey Oswald. Mêlant l’histoire familiale à la grande Histoire, Truong redonne vie à une époque, un lieu et des événements qui ont fait basculer le cours du monde et réussit un roman graphique palpitant, où les causes de la plus grande défaite de l’Amérique sont examinées avec pertinence depuis le camp des vaincus.

Marcelino Truong est peintre, illustrateur, dessinateur de presse et auteur de bande dessinées. On lui doit de nombreux albums jeunesse. Son dernier ouvrage adulte, une adaptation du roman de James Lee Burke, Prisonniers du ciel, est paru dans la collection Rivages/Casterman/Noir.

Coomuniqué Denoël Graphic en pdf.

A lire : Dans les coulisses d’ « Une si jolie petite guerre » avec Marcelino Truong sur Long Cours

Nguyễn Mạnh Tường : Un excommunié – Hanoi 1954-1991. Procès d’un intellectuel

Nguyen Manh Tuong, Un Excommunié. Hanoi 1954-1991 : Procès d’un intellectuel, Paris, Que Me, 1992, 346 p. Présentation de l’éditeur ci-dessous :

Nguyen Manh Tuong, avocat et écrivain vietnamien, ancien Bâtonnier de Hanoi, est né en 1909. Il a obtenu, à 22 ans, en la même année 1932, un Doctorat d’Etat ès-Lettres et un Doctorat en Droit à l’université de Montpellier. Dès 1946, il rejoint, au maquis, le gouvernement Ho Chi Minh. Après Dien Bien Phu, il revient en 1955 à Hanoi avec une dizaine de titres honorifiques décernés par le gouvernement de la résistance dont il fut, de 1945 à 1956, le représentant dans plusieurs conférences internationales. Sa fameuse critique, sur les erreurs colossales commises par les autorités communistes au cours de la Réforme Agraire (il a été question de centaines de milliers de victimes), qu’il a prononcée à la réunion du Front Patriotique à Hanoi le 30 octobre 1956, lui a valu la disgrâce. Depuis, sa vie est pauvreté et maladie.

Un excommunié est un de ses récits autobiographiques se passant de 1955 à 1991, à Hanoi. Le manuscrit est parvenu, à l’automne 1991, à Paris, avec son désir de le voir publier. Il hésitera ensuite, pour finalement décider en ces termes, dans une lettre datée de Hanoi le 16 mars 1992 :

… « J’ai souhaité retarder la publication de mes ouvrages, parce que les circonstances récentes me mettent en alerte. Mais vous m’avez fait franchir le Rubicon et je vous donne raison : le risque est grand mais il faut tenter le risque. J’attends donc le pire en souhaitant qu’il n’arrive pas. Mais si on pousse la barbarie jusqu’à m’infliger le même traitement qu’à d’autres intellectuels accusés de médire du régime, j’attends de pied ferme des épreuves dont je connais la dureté. Je suis décidé, si l’éventualité se produisait, d’entamer une grève de la faim jusqu’à ce mort s’ensuive. A 84 ans, j’ai connu de la vie le meilleur et le pire et n’éprouve pas de regret à quitter cette vie au cours de laquelle j’ai rempli mon devoir d’intellectuel devant le peuple et devant l’histoire ! » …

Nguyen Manh Tuong devait décéder le 13 juin en 1997 à Hanoi.

* * *

Extrait :

Le droit et la politique

Entre le politicien et le juriste, il existe une divergence d’optiques, d’habitudes mentales, de pratiques intellectuelles.

La politique est un monde aux frontières floues qu’on peut franchir sans passeport et qu’on franchit souvent sans s’en douter ! Le sol y est mouvant, couvert de dunes de sable que les vents déplacent à leur gré, traversé de marais qu’on doit longer pour éviter des enlisements mortels ! Ici triomphe l’ambiguïté. Et l’imprécision des gestes comme du langage permet les interprétations les plus diverses, souvent contradictoires. Le voyageur qui s’y aventure doit renoncer au besoin de logique, de clarté et de précision, penser dans l’immédiat sans référence au passé ni appel au futur, s’interdire toute moralité ou sentimentalité, et surtout témoigner un sens aigu, dynamique de l’opportunité !

Le monde juridique, au contraire, est entouré de montagnes et de fleuves qui servent de frontières naturelles. Ici règnent la rigueur géométrique, la logique rationnelle, la précision et la clarté cartésiennes. Entre la légalité et l’illégalité, la ligne de démarcation est nette, comme entre le blanc et le noir. La terminologie cerne les idées, en fixe le contenu, ne laisse flotter autour d’elles aucune marge d’ombre où puisse se nicher l’équivoque ou qui permette une prestidigitation verbale, une jonglerie avec des mots ! Le raisonnement juridique provoque le choc des idées, et le palme revient à celui dont la logique s’appuie solidement sur des principes de droit, des textes de loi sans vaine logomachie, dans la froide sérénité de la dialectique, sous le soleil glacial de la raison !

(Un Excommunié – 1991, pp. 29-30)

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« Longue plainte d’un avocat et intellectuel vietnamien célèbre, « excommunié » par le régime de Hanoi en 1956. Le livre s’étend peu sur les années passées au maquis et insiste sur la polémique de 1956 ainsi que sur le traitement infligé à l’excommunié : isolement et pauvreté. Ce récit complète, sans les éclipser, les nombreux autres témoignages sur la répression dans le Vietnam communiste ». (Persée – Revue française de science politique, « Informations bibliographiques », 1993, vol. 43, n°5, p. 882).

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  • L’ouvrage est disponible en anglais en ligne sur le site Ai Huu Luat Khoa.com (Nguyen Manh Tuong, An Excommunicated – pdf – Bich Hop Publishings, 2008).
  • L’ouvrage est disponible en vietnamien en ligne sur le site Viet Studies
  • Il a été réédité en 2003 sous le titre de Kẻ bị khai trừ par Tiếng Quê Hương.
  • Voir le CR de lecture en vietnamien de cet ouvrage : Trịnh Bình An, « Đọc “Kẻ bị khai trừ” của Nguyễn Mạnh Tường« , 22-02-2012, sur DVC Online.

Georges Boudarel : Cent fleurs écloses dans la nuit du Vietnam [1991]

[ndlr] Paru à la fin de l’année 1991 alors que la fin de l’URSS est annoncée et que les mouvements démocratiques dans les pays de l’Europe de l’Est arrivent au pouvoir, l’ouvrage de Georges Boudarel rappelle les débuts de la dissidence communiste vietnamienne en RDVN entre 1954 et 1956. A l’appui de sources encore largement méconnues à cette époque, il explore les tenants et les aboutissants de la contestation interne et les acteurs de la demande d’une démocratisation du régime. La célèbre affaire des revues « Humanisme et Belles Œuvres » (Nhan Van – Giai Pham) est savamment décortiquée et illustrée par des références littéraires produites par les accusés. Elle sonne le départ d’une épuration brutale au sein du parti sous le masque d’une réforme agraire radicale. L’ouvrage épuisé aujourd’hui est paru alors que débute une autre affaire franco-française sur la décolonisation : « l’affaire Boudarel ».

Boudarel, Georges, Cent fleurs écloses dans la nuit du Vietnam. Communisme et dissidence 1954-1956, Paris, Jacques Bertoin, 1991, 301 p.

Présentation de l’éditeur

Georges Boudarel relate dans cet ouvrage une période charnière de l’histoire du Vietnam, entre le colonialisme et l’indépendance, le stalinisme et la libéralisation, la Chine et l’URSS. Fort de son expérience controversée sur le terrain, il produit ici un travail d’historien nourri par sa connaissance de la langue et du peuple vietnamien, par l’analyse systématique des sources, pour la plupart inédites en français (presse quotidienne et périodiques vietnamiens), et de nombreuses œuvres littéraires d’une qualité surprenante.

L’auteur nous révèle que des intellectuels, des militaires et des écrivains ont très tôt inscrit dans la tradition politique du Vietnam un regard critique qui subsiste encore aujourd’hui. La répression fut spectaculaire. Georges Boudarel nous fait vivre dans l’intimité des familles villageoises la réforme agraire qui, sous couvert de redistribuer les terres, instaura au Vietnam un régime de terreur et de délation.

Ce livre s’achève sur des perspectives et une question. La richesse de la dissidence, apparue voici près de quarante ans au Vietnam, fera-t-elle que ce pays, exceptionnel à bien des titres, sera aussi celui qui saura réformer le système communiste sans abandonner son idéologie ?

Dans sa page de remerciements, Boudarel revient rapidement sur les conditions d’élaboration de cet ouvrage.

Ma collaboration avec le Viet Minh de 1950 à 1964 est à l’origine de ce travail. Membre du parti communiste vietnamien jusqu’en 1964, j’ai plus ou moins partagé certaines des vues que je critique aujourd’hui. Ma propre évolution dans le cadre vietnamien m’a permis de connaître certains des contestataires ou des officiels dont je parle et de rassembler à l’époque une documentation imprimée, ouvrages et périodiques.

Cette étude entend toutefois se situer sur un plan historique aussi objectif que possible. Pour éviter les approximations, j’ai donc tenu à dépouiller le quotidien du parti communiste Nhan Zan (le Peuple) de 1954 à 1960 et à opérer nombre de sondages dans les diverses publications en quoc ngu de l’époque.

Je n’aurais pu réaliser cette recherche et ce travail sans l’octroi par le Social Science Research Council de New York une bourse de la fondation Ford. Celle-ci me permit notamment de trouver des matériaux à l’Institut des Etudes Etrangères d’Osaka grâce au professeur Masaya Shiraishi, en Australie grâce au Dr David Marr, à la School of Pacific and South-East Asian Studies à Canberra et aux Etats-Unis où j’explorai les trésors de l’université Cornell et du centre de recherche de M. Douglas Pike à Berkeley. Je tiens à leur exprimer ici tous mes remerciements.

Sur le parcours controversé de l’auteur :

Jean-Claude Pomonti, « Georges Boudarel, ancien commissaire politique stalinien », Le Monde, 29 décembre 2003. A lire sur le blog de Patrick Guénin, Le Viêt Nam, aujourd’hui (1997-2003).

Pierre Marie Giraud, « Boudarel, commissaire politique dans un camp vietminh et universitaire », Agence France Presse, 29 décembre 2003. A lire sur le blog de Patrick Guénin, Le Viêt Nam, aujourd’hui (1997-2003).

Pour le rappel succinct de « l’Affaire Boudarel », voir l’entrée Wikipedia à son nom.

Gérard Tongas : J’ai vécu dans l’enfer communiste au Nord Viêt-Nam [1960]

Tongas, Gérard, J’ai vécu dans l’enfer communiste au Nord Viêt-Nam, Paris, Les Nouvelles Editions Debresse, 1960, 463 p. La couverture porte en plus la mention : « et j’ai choisi la liberté ».

Quelques appréciations succinctes de lecture.

L’auteur, proviseur du Lycée Balzac de Hanoi, fait partie des rares Français qui ont fait le pari de rester au nord du 17e parallèle après l’arrivée des autorités Viêt-Minh. Il a donc vu la mise en place d’un système, qu’il dénonce. Il évoque une « atmosphère de terreur permanente » (p. 139) et une mise en condition de la population par une technique éprouvée de manipulation : « Comment le nationalisme et le désir d’indépendance sont exploités par les communistes et servent leurs propres progrès » (p. 116). Il n’est pas pour cela tendre avec la France. Il dénonce par exemple l’exode massif des Français d’Indochine, incapables de comprendre et a fortiori d’accepter la situation nouvelle. Gérard Tongas montre d’autre part que les autorités gouvernementales  n’ont pas su saisir la chance pour la France de rester présente dans cette partie du monde (voir le récit de la mission ratée de Sainteny). Qui dit que tous les dirigeants Viêt Minh étaient pour le départ de la France ? En agissant ainsi, on a encouragé les cadres les plus anti-français et donc favorisé Pékin et Moscou. (cf. Alain Ruscio (dir.), La guerre « francaise » d’Indochine (1945-1954). les sources de la connaissance, Paris, Les Indes Savantes, 2002, p. 902).

 * * *

Témoignage de Gérard Tongas qui fut, à partir de 1953, proviseur du Lycée Français « Honoré de Balzac » à Hanoï. Celui-ci relate comment les autorités administratives françaises ont tout laissé tomber à partir du moment où les accords de Genève furent appliqués sur le terrain. Témoignage édifiant sur les pratiques et la mainmise communistes sur tout un peuple que l’Occident a lâchement abandonné. Ceci préfigurera ce qui se passera moins de dix ans plus tard dans les départements français d’Algérie. Ouvrage courageux et peu courant qui fut mal diffusé à l’époque, faisant montre d’un anticommunisme politiquement incorrect. (Librairie Impériale, Maison Madelain).

* * *

Malgré un titre très « guerre froide » l’auteur un des rares français à être resté au Nord Viêt Nam après 1954 retrace les premières années de la RDVN. Au delà de sa déception vis à vis du régime, une foule d’anecdotes et d’informations rendent cet ouvrage indispensable pour comprendre cette période. (Carnets du Viêt-Nam).

* * *

Dominé par le souci de rectifier les affirmations officielles de Hanoi, ce témoignage anecdotique sur le Nord Vietnam d’après 1954 tombe trop souvent dans la polémique ou le dénigrement systématique (Persée, Revue française de science politique, « Informations bibliographiques », 1962, Vol. 12, n°1, p. 283).

Plan du livre [9 parties]

Le Nord Viêt-Nam, ses caractéristiques et ses problèmes.

La République démocratique du Viêt-Nam.

Politique intérieure.

Politique étrangère.

La vie économique.

La vie culturelle et la jeunesse.

La vie sociale.

Religions et superstitions.

L’avenir du Nord Viêt-Nam.

 * * *

Notre avis :

Le titre de l’ouvrage de Gérard Tongas est un clin d’œil assumé à l’ouvrage de Victor Kravchenko publié en 1947 sous le titre J’ai choisi la liberté. La vie publique et privée d’un haut fonctionnaire soviétique, ouvrage qui fit couler beaucoup d’encre dans une France d’après-guerre encore fascinée par l’Union soviétique. Ce pavé de Tongas de plus de 450 pages est parfois d’une lecture un peu indigeste car très dense, touffu et fourmillant d’anecdotes. L’ouvrage est un témoignage à chaud, un cri du vécu, à prendre donc avec les précautions d’usage. Si l’auteur semble régler quelque peu ses comptes avec ses rêves et une administration française fuyante, son témoignage sur le lourd climat politique de Hanoi dans les années cinquante est unique en son genre. Avec la perspective et la profondeur de champ que l’on a acquis depuis sur le fonctionnement du communisme vietnamien, l’ouvrage de Tongas ne ferait pas rougir les meilleures pages du dissident Bui Tin sur son pays. Gérard Tongas, contrairement à ce que l’on pourrait penser, ne fut pas un anticommuniste primaire mais un homme de conviction, socialiste et humaniste, connaisseur de l’Asie, spécialiste de l’empire Ottoman et d’Atatürk. Il fonda et dirigea la revue mensuelle Orient-Occident, une « revue politique, économique, scientifique, sociale, littéraire et artistique » de 1947 à 1953.

FG

La nouvelle historiographie sur Ngô Đình Diệm et la Première République du Viêt-Nam

Depuis une dizaine d’années, les recherches sur la Première République du Viêt-Nam (1955-1963) de Ngo Dinh Diem se sont considérablement développées. Les études américaines cherchent à comprendre l’engagement américain et le départ de la guerre au Viêt-Nam. Elles réexaminent également le fonctionnement du régime et la personnalité du Président de la Première République. Elles s’intéressent aux conséquences de la chute de Diem (assassiné avec son frère Nhu le 2 novembre 1963) et au rôle des services américains auprès du régime sudiste.

De leur côté, les récentes études vietnamiennes ou témoignages de personnalités proches de Diem tendent à revaloriser le rôle de ce leader et de son régime auparavant fortement critiqués dans les mémoires du général Do Mau (1986), lui-même impliqué dans le coup d’Etat de novembre 1963.

Notons que deux nouvelle études américaines sont à paraitre en 2013 (Chapman et Miller).

  • Chapman, Jessica M., Cauldron of Resistance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and 1950s Southern Vietnam, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2013 (à paraître).
  • Catton, Phillip E., Diem’s final failure. Prelude to America’s war in Vietnam, Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, Modern War Studies, 2003, 312 p. See presentation ; book review by Edward Miller

Often portrayed as an inept and stubborn tyrant, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem has long been the subject of much derision but little understanding. Philip Catton’s penetrating study provides a much more complex portrait of Diem as both a devout patriot and a failed architect of modernization. In doing so, it sheds new light on a controversial regime.

Catton treats the Diem government on its own terms rather than as an appendage of American policy. Focusing on the decade from Dien Bien Phu to Diem’s assassination in 1963, he examines the Vietnamese leader’s nation-building and reform efforts—particularly his Strategic Hamlet Program, which sought to separate guerrilla insurgents from the peasantry and build grassroots support for his regime. Catton’s evaluation of the collapse of that program offers fresh insights into both Diem’s limitations as a leader and the ideological and organizational weaknesses of his government, while his assessment of the evolution of Washington’s relations with Saigon provides new insight into America’s growing involvement in the Vietnamese civil war.

Focusing on the Strategic Hamlet Program in Binh Duong province as an exemplar of Diem’s efforts, Catton paints the Vietnamese leader as a progressive thinker trying to simultaneously defeat the communists and modernize his nation. He draws on a wealth of Vietnamese language sources to argue that Diem possessed a firm vision of nation-building and sought to overcome the debilitating dependence that reliance on American support threatened to foster. As Catton shows, however, Diem’s plans for South Vietnam clashed with those of the United States and proved no match for the Vietnamese communists.

Catton analyzes the mutually frustrating interactions between Diem and the administrations of Eisenhower and Kennedy, and reveals patterns in this uneasy alliance that have eluded other observers. He also clarifies many of the problems, setbacks, and miscalculations experienced by the communist movement during that era.

Neither an American puppet, as communist propaganda claimed, nor a backward-looking mandarin, according to Western accounts, Catton’s Diem is a tragic figure who finally ran out of time, just a few weeks before JFK’s assassination and at a moment when it still seemed possible for America to avoid war.

  • Hoang Ngoc Thanh & Than Thi Nhan Duc, Why the Vietnam war? President Ngo Dinh Diem and the US: His Overthrow and Assassination, Tuan-Yen & Quan-Viet Mai-Nam Publishers, 2001, 562 p.
  • Jacobs, Seth, America’s Miracle Man in Vietnam: Ngo Dinh Diem, Religion, Race, and U.S. Intervention in Southeast Asia, Durham, Duke University Press Books, 2005, 392 p. See the book presentation ; see the Roundtable on H-Diplo (pdf) ; and the book review by Nick Cullather (pdf). For other articles by the same author, see its own page at Boston College.

America’s Miracle Man in Vietnam rethinks the motivations behind one of the most ruinous foreign-policy decisions of the postwar era: America’s commitment to preserve an independent South Vietnam under the premiership of Ngo Dinh Diem. The so-called Diem experiment is usually ascribed to U.S. anticommunism and an absence of other candidates for South Vietnam’s highest office. Challenging those explanations, Seth Jacobs utilizes religion and race as categories of analysis to argue that the alliance with Diem cannot be understood apart from America’s mid-century religious revival and policymakers’ perceptions of Asians. Jacobs contends that Diem’s Catholicism and the extent to which he violated American notions of “Oriental” passivity and moral laxity made him a more attractive ally to Washington than many non-Christian South Vietnamese with greater administrative experience and popular support.

A diplomatic and cultural history, America’s Miracle Man in Vietnam draws on government archives, presidential libraries, private papers, novels, newspapers, magazines, movies, and television and radio broadcasts. Jacobs shows in detail how, in the 1950s, U.S. policymakers conceived of Cold War anticommunism as a crusade in which Americans needed to combine with fellow Judeo-Christians against an adversary dangerous as much for its atheism as for its military might. He describes how racist assumptions that Asians were culturally unready for democratic self-government predisposed Americans to excuse Diem’s dictatorship as necessary in “the Orient.” By focusing attention on the role of American religious and racial ideologies, Jacobs makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of the disastrous commitment of the United States to “sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem.”

  • Jacobs, Seth, Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America’s War in Vietnam, 1950-1963, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006, 220 p.

For almost a decade, the tyrannical Ngo Dinh Diem governed South Vietnam as a one-party police state while the U.S. financed his tyranny. In this new book, Seth Jacobs traces the history of American support for Diem from his first appearance in Washington as a penniless expatriate in 1950 to his murder by South Vietnamese soldiers on the outskirts of Saigon in 1963.

Drawing on recent scholarship and newly available primary sources, Cold War Mandarin explores how Diem became America’s bastion against a communist South Vietnam, and why the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations kept his regime afloat. Finally, Jacobs examines the brilliantly organized public-relations campaign by Saigon’s Buddhists that persuaded Washington to collude in the overthrow–and assassination–of its longtime ally.

In this clear and succinct analysis, Jacobs details the « Diem experiment, » and makes it clear how America’s policy of « sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem » ultimately drew the country into the longest war in its history.

  • Miller, Edward, « Vision, Power, and Agency: The Ascent of Ngo Dinh Diem, 1945-54 », Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 35, No. 3, 2004, pp. Pdf online at Viet Studies.
  • Miller, Edward, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam, Harvard University Press, 2013 (à paraître).
  • Moyar, Mark, Triumph forsaken. The Vietnam war, 1954-1965, Cambridge – New York, Cambridge University Press, 2006, 512 p.
  • Nashel, Jonathan, Edward Lansdale’s Cold War, University of Massachusetts Press, 2005, 278 p. (sur le conseiller de Diem à son arrivée au pouvoir)
  • Shidler, Derek, « Vietnam’s changing historiography: Ngo Dinh Diem and the America’s leadership ». This paper was written for Dr. Shelton’s History 5000, Historiography, in the fall of 2008: online article

 

Quelques études ou témoignages récents en langue vietnamienne :

  • Minh Võ, Ngô Đình Diệm và Chính Nghĩa Dân Tộc, California, Hồng Đức, 2008, 450 tr.
  • Minh Võ, Hồ Chí Minh, Ngô Đình Diệm và cuộc chiến Quốc – Cộng (Tâm Sự Nước Non 2), Diễn Đàn Giáo Dân/ Tiếng Quê Hương, 2011, 430 tr.
  • Ngô Đình Châu, Chính biến 1-11-1963  Tổng Thống Ngô Đình Diệm, California, Thằng Mõ, 2009, 330 tr.
  • Nguyễn Hữu Duệ, Nhớ lại những ngày ở cạnh Tổng Thống Ngô Đình Diệm, San Diego, cA, 2003, 270 tr.
  • Nguyễn Văn Lục, Một thời để nhớ. Những sự thật về cố Tổng Thống Ngô Đình Diệm và nền Ðệ Nhất Cộng Hòa, California, Nguyệt San Diễn Đàn Giáo Dân, 2011, 396 tr.
  • Nguyễn Văn Minh, Dòng họ Ngô Đình ước mơ chưa đạt, Garden Grove, Hoàng Nguyên xuất bản, tái bản lần thứ ba, 2-2004.
  • Phạm Văn Lưu & Nguyễn Ngọc Tấn, Ðệ Nhất Cộng Hòa Việt Nam, 1954-1963: Một cuộc cách mạng, Melbourne – Los Angeles – Paris, Center for Vietnamese Studies, 2005, 229 tr.
  • Văn Bia, Đời một phóng viên và những ngày chung sống với Chí Sĩ Ngô Đình Diệm. Hồi Ký của Ký Giả Văn Bia, Lê Hồng XB, 2001, 360 tr.
  • Vĩnh Phúc, Những Huyền Thoại và sự thật về chế độ Ngô Đình Diệm, California, Văn Nghệ, 1998, 482 tr. [réédité en 2006].

Sisouk Na Champassak : Tempête sur le Laos [1961]

[ndlr] Témoignage direct du prince Sisouk na Champassak (1928-1985) sur la guerre civile laotienne. Paru en 1961, Tempête sur le Laos retrace les événements politiques du Laos de la Seconde guerre mondiale jusqu’en 1960. La vision est celle d’un officiel du gouvernement royal alors très impliqué dans les affaires politiques et internationales de son pays. L’auteur explique sa démarche dans l’avant-propos qui suit. L’ouvrage est paru initialement en langue anglaise sous le titre Storm over Laos, a contemporary history (New York, Praeger, 1961).

Avant-propos de l’auteur

Ce livre n’est qu’une esquisse. C’est une série de témoignages et de récits vécus des événements qui ont pesé lourdement sur le destin de mon pays depuis 1945. Depuis seize ans, le royaume du Laos vit dans l’insécurité et la guerre, et pourtant l’opinion internationale n’a jamais été clairement informée de la nature que mène le peuple du Royaume du Million d’Éléphants contre les ingérences de la République démocratique du Nord Vietnam et de ses empiètements successifs d’abord, sous le couvert d’une prétendue libération des pays de l’ancienne Indochine française, et ensuite, au nom d’une croisade idéologique. Dans ce livre je me suis borné à relater les faits, surtout depuis la Conférence de Genève de juillet 1954 en essayant de les analyser sans préjugés ni passion. J’ai été mêlé de près ou de loin dans tout cet enchaînement de drames qui déchirent mon pays. J’ai collaboré avec Son Excellence Katay Don Sasorith, alors premier ministre, en tant que son directeur de cabinet et représentant du gouvernement royal auprès de la Commission Internationale de Contrôle ; j’ai servi Son Altesse le prince Souvanna Phouma, en qualité de secrétaire général du Conseil des ministres ; et j’ai eu l’honneur de faire partie du gouvernement de son Excellence Phoui Sananikone, comme secrétaire d’Etat à l’Information et à la Jeunesse, gouvernement au sein duquel le général Phoumi détenait le portefeuille du secrétariat d’État à la Défense nationale. Je connais le prince Boun Oum Na Champassak dont je suis l’un des proches parents et pour lequel j’éprouve le plus grand respect et la plus grande affection. En outre, j’ai participé à toutes les négociations et conversations avec les leaders du Pathet-Lao depuis la première prise de contact à la plaine des Jarres en janvier 1955, jusqu’à la Conférence de Vientiane, en août 1956. En passant par le rendez-vous Katay D. Sasorith-prince Souphannouvong de Rangoon.

Mon but n’est pas de faire l’apologie de telle ou telle politique de ces hommes au pouvoir depuis la naissance du Laos indépendant, mais de montrer à l’opinion publique les diverses étapes de ce qu’il convient d’appeler les « approches du communisme international pour la conquête de l’Asie du Sud-Est », et surtout les difficultés de toutes sorte qui assaillent un pays petit enclavé, né dans l’équivoque de Genève, et placé en sandwich entre les deux camps antagonistes dans une zone de tension où pressions et dépressions atteignent souvent leur maximum.

Je souhaite que ce livre puisse ramener les laotiens égarés dans la communauté nationale afin d’édifier un Laos uni, neutre, et indépendant. Je forme également le voeu que les Laotiens de quelque bord qu’ils soient fassent notre propre évolution au lieu de faire la révolution des autres.

Réf. Sisouk Na Champassak, Tempête sur le Laos, Paris, La Table Ronde, « L’ordre du jour », 1961, 266 p.

 

Couverture de l’édition new-yorkaise
(Frederick A. Praeger, 1961)

 

Prince Sisouk na Champassak (March 28, 1928 in Pakse, Champassak, Laos – May 10, 1985 in Santa Ana, California, United States). He was the eldest son of Chao Bounsouane na Champassak, who was in turn the eldest son of the last King of Champassak, Chao Ratsadanay. His brother is Chao Sisanga Na Champassak.

Prince Sisouk was a member of the Na Champassak royal family or house. He served as Secretary General of the Royal Government in the Kingdom of Laos. He is the author of Storm over Laos, a history of Laos from World War II until about 1961.

He became Minister of Finance and Minister of Defense in the pre-1975 Royal Lao Government. After fleeing Laos in May 1975, as the country fell to the communist Pathet Lao, he immigrated to France. In 1981, he became a key political leader of the resistance against the communist Lao PDR government, together with General Vang Pao. He died in Vang Pao’s house in Santa Ana, California. (source : Wikipedia – page consultée le 10 octobre 2012).

Book review :

By Gordon Leonard, in Political Research Quartely, Volume 15 (4): 738-740, December, 1962.

Book Review by Kathryn C. Statler: Triumph Imagined

Moyar, Mark, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006, xxiii+416 p.

Book Review by Kathryn C. Statler:

Triumph Imagined

In The Man in the High Castle, novelist Philip K. Dick presents an alternate outcome to World War II by envisioning a world in which the Axis powers won the war. Dick’s classic came to mind after reading Mark Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, as both books offer lessons on history, truth, and interpretation. In the first of a two-volume project, Moyar attempts a new look at the evolution of American intervention in Vietnam from South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem’s 1954 assumption of power to Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 decision to send combat troops to South Vietnam. Opening with a brief sketch of Vietnamese history, Moyar then traces the development of South and North Vietnam as Saigon (with U.S. support) and Hanoi (backed by the USSR and China) attempted to outmaneuver one another politically and militarily. As his narrative unfolds, Moyar challenges scholars of the Vietnam War to question earlier assumptions and knowledge about North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist credentials, Diem’s ineptitude, the accuracy of prominent American journalists, the Buddhist protest movement, Johnson’s escalation of the conflict, and the domino theory’s viability. Moyar concludes that Saigon and Washington could have won the war if Diem had stayed in power or if the Johnson administration had provided a stronger military response. Although encouraging us to « think otherwise » through its well-written, researched, and forcefully argued interpretations, Triumph Forsaken is, in many respects, a counterfactual explanation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and fails to revise the historical record.

The book begins with Moyar’s designation of « orthodox » and « revisionist » camps. Early scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s (the orthodox school) criticized American actions in Vietnam and insisted that the war could not be won. Revisionists typically viewed the war effort as noble and winnable if the United States had either (1) made better use of its conventional military power or (2) adapted to guerilla warfare. Identifying himself as a revisionist, Moyar dismisses the vast majority of scholarship produced in the past two decades as continued orthodoxy, claiming that it is concentrated in a « relatively small number of areas, » concerned « primarily with American policymaking in Washington and Saigon, » and dominated by one school of thought that sees America’s involvement in the war as « wrongheaded and unjust » (p. xi). These statements are easily called into question by a perfunctory survey of the interdisciplinary, multi-archival, and international literature that has emerged. Equally perplexing is Moyar’s contention that his interpretation of « the facts » differentiates his volume « from all of the existing literature in its breadth of coverage both inside and outside the two Vietnams and in its use of a more comprehensive collection of source materials » (p. xiii). This is quite a claim-and one that fails to hold up under scrutiny. [1]To the extent that Moyar forces us to rethink orthodoxies, his work is commendable; but in the end, his revisionism is unpersuasive in large part because he simply does not marshal the evidence to support his version of events. In selectively quoting and caricaturing the arguments of others, he repeatedly fails to grapple with the avalanche of scholarship that contradicts his own. [2]

Before delving into some of the book’s key flaws, its strengths deserve mention. Moyar’s descriptions and analysis of military encounters and technologies are first rate. Moreover, his chapters on peaceful coexistence and insurgency are expansive in their coverage of the evolution of South and North Vietnamese thinking, particularly Diem’s attempts to govern and guarantee stability from the national down to the local level. Moyar also gives a clear analysis of the various crises of succession in South Vietnam following Diem’s assassination. Finally, Moyar offers much greater detail about American military leaders, who emerge as the heroes of the book, in contrast to the « brainy civilians, » who, in Moyar’s opinion, had no conception of Vietnamese political, military, and cultural realities (pp. 349, 416). [3] Moyar also reminds us that the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies often fought effectively and ethically.

Unfortunately, the weaknesses of the book far outweigh its strengths. Moyar has a tendency to leave out pesky details that might derail his interpretations, committing a number of factual errors in the process. For example, he incorrectly claims Truong Chinh was a supporter of Soviet policy when in fact he had a pro-Chinese orientation, he fails to offer any evidence at all to explain how the French and Vietnamese forces were on « the verge of crushing » the Viet Minh in early 1954 (pp. 28, 297, 322), and he mistakenly concludes that congressional leaders gave united action-proposed multilateral intervention to lift the Viet Minh siege at Dien Bien Phu-their « consent » and were « willing » to send ground forces if other nations contributed large numbers of troops. Rather, Congress insisted on allied participation and immediate French independence for Indochina-neither of which was likely to materialize-before agreeing to united action. Nor did united action come down to « whether Britain would go along, » which was secondary to congressional obstructionism. Finally, the British declined united action not because the « potential danger to Malaya and other British interests was not sufficiently large to justify a possible war, » but because they wanted to give negotiations at the upcoming Geneva Conference a chance to succeed (p. 29). [4]

Readers will be forgiven for asking « what Geneva Conference? » as Moyar skims over one of the most important points in the decision-making process on Vietnam. According to Moyar, the Geneva agreements suffered from a « congenital defect » in that they lacked « the endorsement of the new South Vietnamese government and the U.S. government, » both of which were « certain » to be leading actors in the future (pp. 30-31). However, it was far from certain in July 1954 that Washington and Saigon would emerge as the decision makers. It became clear that the Geneva agreements would fail only after Diem began to consolidate his control; U.S. officials made the conscious decision to replace France in South Vietnam in the military, political, economic, and cultural realms; and London, Paris, Moscow, and Beijing made other concerns a priority over implementing the accords. Moyar’s painfully one-sided depiction of the French villainy in resisting Diem’s attempts to wipe out his enemies during this period results from his heavy reliance on anti-French American and South Vietnamese sources. Like the Americans, the French were divided on Diem’s prospects for success and were not engaged in round-the-clock « plotting » and « calumny » against him (pp. 41-53).

Moyar provides valuable analysis of Diem’s rise to power and the strengths of his 1954-1963 government, although he is not the first to do so, as his book suggests. A general trend in the scholarship during the past decade has rehabilitated Diem’s image to some degree. [5] Still, Diem’s many weaknesses are almost completely absent in the book. Moyar chooses instead to blame the Buddhists and David Halberstam’s and Neil Sheehan’s press coverage for rising American and South Vietnamese hostility to Diem. However, not all Buddhists were « fanatical » and « covert communists, » and many American officials shared the journalists’ concerns about Diem (pp. 217, 228, 317). Every American ambassador from Donald Heath to Frederick Nolting left South Vietnam far more pessimistic than when they arrived. And, although not apparent in Moyar’s account, a number of military officials also held deeply negative views of the Diem regime and its successors. [6] In the end, Moyar’s claim that if Diem had lived « it is highly doubtful that the war would have reached a point where the United States needed to introduce several hundred thousand of its own troops to avert defeat » and that it was « quite possible » that South Vietnam « could have survived under Diem without the help of any U.S. ground forces » is impossible to prove and unsupported by the evidence (p. 286).

Strangely, while casting a critical eye at official American statements and documents, Moyar gives far less scrutiny to the rhetoric of non-American actors and to American military leaders. For example, in his use of translated Vietnamese sources, both communist and non-Communist, Moyar accepts at face value claims of Ho Chi Minh’s deference to the international Communist movement, the North Vietnamese dismissal of the 1956 elections, and the strength of the South Vietnamese armed forces (pp. 4, 9, 58, 181-84). [7] Moreover, in pressing his point that an invasion of the North was the best option for the United States in 1964, Moyar argues that Johnson’s rejection of the military’s proposals for « hard action » in Laos and Vietnam and his choice of gradual escalation convinced Hanoi that the United States would not put up a fight for South Vietnam (pp. 348-49). If hard action had been pursued, according to Moyar, the North Vietnamese would have retreated into the mountains and China would have abstained from the fighting, but there is little evidence to indicate that Hanoi and Beijing would have followed this script. Even worse, Moyar engages in speculative pop psychology when he explains Johnson’s unwillingness to embrace hard action through a college incident in which Johnson « did not stand and trade punches, but instead hopped onto his bed, lay on his back, and kicked frantically with his long legs to keep the would-be adversary away » (pp. 288, 331).

Finally, Moyar’s claim that American leaders and their allies believed that if South Vietnam had fallen in the 1960s, a « high probability » existed that many dominoes would have been knocked over in Southeast Asia must be addressed. In his scenario, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, and Indonesia would have toppled, with potential fallout in the Philippines, Taiwan, Burma, and Japan. Moyar also asserts that much of the international community, including SEATO and NATO members, publicly and privately supported the United States in Vietnam. There is little, however, aside from a few selected quotations from worried American officials and international leaders trying to acquire more American aid, to substantiate these arguments (pp. 138-42, 377-91). If other leaders were so concerned with the domino effect, then perhaps they would have done more than offer token troops, rhetoric, and humanitarian aid. SEATO never took an official stand asking members to assist South Vietnam, NATO countries sought ways to disengage the United States from Vietnam, and, in the end, only the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea sent troops to Vietnam, and of those, the Philippines, Thailand, and South Korea leveraged their aid for important U.S. economic and military concessions as well as a complete U.S. subsidy of their forces in Vietnam.

Moyar excels at creating an alternate history to American intervention in Vietnam, an exercise that undoubtedly has its uses in stimulating thinking and challenging traditional viewpoints. The problem, of course, is that we will never know the course of events if Diem had lived, or if the United States had invaded North Vietnam, or if South Vietnam had fallen in the 1960s instead of 1975. Ultimately, Moyar offers no compelling evidence that triumph was forsaken, but, by imagining that it was, his book makes for an interesting read.

 


 

[1] I refer readers to Edwin Moïse’s excellent bibliography on the Vietnam Wars, available from http://www.clemson.edu/caah/history/FacultyPages/EdMoise/bibliography.html.

[2] See, for example, Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley, CA, 1999), xiii and David Anderson, « One Vietnam War Should Be Enough, » Diplomatic History 30, no. 1 (January 2006): 2-8 for the full context of their quoted comments in Triumph Forsaken (p. xii).

[3] See, for example, Moyar’s one-sided criticism of Ambassadors Elbridge Durbrow and Henry Cabot Lodge (pp. 68, 99, 115, 236-74).

[4] See Joint Resolution Draft, 2 April 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower Library (EL), Dulles Papers, Subject series, box 8; Draft of the Congressional Resolution, 17 May 1954, Dulles Papers, Dulles-Herter Correspondence, 1953-1961, microfilm, reel 5; William Knowland oral history, EL, OH-233 (2 of 3), 1967; top-secret report, 23 April 1954, Archives Nationales, Paris, 74AP/38; 7 April 1954, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Asie 1944-55, Indochine, vol. 290; top-secret memo of Dulles-Eisenhower conversation, 19 May 1954, Dulles-Herter, reel 5.

[5] For a sampling of this literature, see Philip Catton, Diem’s Final Failure: Prelude to America’s War in Vietnam (Lawrence, KS, 2003); Edward Miller, « Grand Designs: Vision, Power and Nation Building in America’s Alliance with Ngo Dinh Diem, 1954-1960 (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2004); and Kathryn Statler, Replacing France: The Origins of American Intervention in Vietnam (Lexington, KY, 2007), chaps. 4, 5, 8.

[6] See Robert Topmiller, The Lotus Unleashed: The Buddhist Peace Movement in South Vietnam, 1964-1966 (Lexington, KY, 2002) for a counterargument to Moyar’s claims about the Buddhist movement. See Robert Buzzanco, Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era (New York, 1996) for American military concerns about South Vietnam’s prospects for success.

[7] For works that address Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist credentials and Hanoi’s belief that the 1956 elections would be held, see Robert Scigliano, South Vietnam: Nation under Stress (Boston, 1964); Carl Thayer, War by Other Means: National Liberation and Revolution in Vietnam (Sydney, 1989); Robert Brigham, Guerrilla Diplomacy: The NLF’s Foreign Relations and the Vietnam War (Ithaca, NY, 1999); and William Duiker, Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam (Boston, 1995).

Review of Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 by Mark Moyar, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006. Pages: xxiii+416. $32.00.

Reviewed by Kathryn C. Statler, in Political ReviewNet – Diplomatic History, Volume 32, Issue 01, pp. 153-157.
Online date : 10/04/2008

Pour en savoir plus :

Autres avis de lecture sur le site officiel de Mark Moyar.

Voir le débat suscité par cet ouvrage sur l’historiographie américaine de la guerre, en 2007 – en ligne sur pdf : H-Diplo

US Internal Security Assistance to South Vietnam : Insurgency, Subversion and Public Order

Avis de parution.

Rosenau, William, US Internal Security Assistance to South Vietnam. Insurgency, Subversion and Public Order, London – New York, Routledge, Cold War History, 2012, 232 p.


Editor’s presentation

This new study of American support to the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam illuminates many contemporary events and foreign policies.

During the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, the United States used foreign police and paramilitary assistance to combat the spread of communist revolution in the developing world. This became the single largest internal security programme during the neglected 1955-1963 period. Yet despite presidential attention and a sustained campaign to transform Diem’s police and paramilitary forces into modern, professional services, the United States failed to achieve its objectives.

Given the scale of its efforts, and the Diem regime’s importance to the US leadership, this text identifies the three key factors that contributed to the failure of American policy. First, the competing conceptions of Diem’s civilian and military advisers. Second, the reforms advanced by US police training personnel were also at odds with the political agenda of the South Vietnamese leader. Finally, the flawed beliefs among US police advisers based on the universality of American democracy.

This study also shows how notions borrowed from academic social science of the time became the basis for building Diem’s internal security forces.

This book will be of great interest to all students and scholars of intelligence studies, Cold War studies, security studies, US foreign policy and the Vietnam War in general.

Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements

Abbreviations

Introduction

1. Einsehower, US Foreign Internal Security Assistance, and the Struggle for the Developing World

2. Shoring up America’s Man: The Origins of Police and Paramilitary Assistance to South Vietnam, 1954-56

3. The Struggle for Reform: The United States and Diem’s Internal Security Forces, 1956-58

4. Competing Conceptions: The United States, Diem, and the Civil Guard, 1955-1961

5. John F. Kennedy, Foreign Internal Security Assistance, and the Challenge of ‘Subterranean War’

6. ‘Ridiculous Representatives of Mr. Diem’: Paramilitary Forces and the Strategic Hamlet Programme, 1961-1963

7. American Universalism and the ‘Triumph of Technique’: The Kennedy Administration and Civilian Police Reform in South Vietnam

Conclusion

Appendix: Intelligence Documents Denied under the Freedom of Information Act

Notes

Bibliography