Archives par mot-clé : Vo Nguyen Giap

4 octobre 2013 : Le général Giap, héros du Vietnam indépendant, n’est plus [RFI] :

Le général Giap © AFP Photo / Ho / VNA
Le général Giap © AFP Photo / Ho / VNA

[ndlr] L’information est tombée sur tous les écrans vietnamiens : le général Vo Nguyen Giap est décédé le vendredi 4 octobre 2013 à 18h09 à l’âge de 103 ans et un mois selon le décompte vietnamien et 102 ans pour les Occidentaux.

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Au Vietnam, le général Vo Nguyen Giap est mort. Considéré comme le héros de l’indépendance du pays, artisan de la débâcle française à Dien Bien Phu, il s’est éteint à l’âge de 102 ans ce vendredi 4 octobre. Retour sur son parcours hors normes.

RFI – Avec notre correspondant à Hanoï, Victor Guillot

C’est un héros, une légende vietnamienne qui s’est éteinte ce vendredi. L’homme était né en 1911, dans ce qui était à l’époque l’Indochine française.

Très vite, dès l’adolescence, le fils de mandarin se montre hostile au colonialisme français. Son aspiration à l’indépendance le mène sur les chemins du communisme. Il adhère au Parti indochinois dès les années 1930.

En 1941, il participe à la création du Viet Minh aux côtés d’Ho Chi Minh. Les destins des deux hommes sont désormais liés. L’oncle Ho confie à Vo Nguyen Giap la création de l’armée populaire vietnamienne.

C’est à sa tête qu’il vaincra les Français à Dien Bien Phu en 1954. Le militaire goûtera de nouveau au succès une vingtaine d’années plus tard, en tant que ministre de la Guerre du Vietnam Nord. Cette fois-ci, ce sera au tour des Américains de rentrer chez eux.

Au début des années 1980, celui qui se définissait comme un général autodidacte est écarté du bureau politique, avant d’être réhabilité quelques années plus tard – ce qui alimente les rumeurs de divergences de vues avec les dirigeants.

Le général Giap s’exprimait beaucoup moins depuis plusieurs années. Il apparaissait simplement de temps en temps dans la presse officielle pour une photo avec le Premier ministre ou le président.

La nouvelle de sa mort est tombée en début de soirée au Vietnam. Tien Phong, un des journaux créés lors de la guerre d’Indochine, a été l’un des premiers à annoncer cette disparition sur son site internet. Il salue le départ du « Napoléon vietnamien ».

Lire la suite : RFI, 04-10-2013.

A relire : Hanoï célèbre le controversé général Giap, RFI, jeudi 25 août 2011.

Voir également : AFP, Décès du général Giap, le vainqueur de Dien Bien Phu, Libération, 04-10-2013.

Rappels biographiques dans :

Jean Lacouture, « Giap, le volcan sous la neige », Le Monde, 04-10-2013 (publié initialement le 5 décembre 1952).

Jean-Claude Pomonti, Le général Giap, héros de l’indépendance vietnamienne, est mort, Le Monde, 04-10-2013.

Henry A. Prunier, 91, U.S. Soldier Who Trained Vietnamese Troops, Dies –

[ndlr] Article du New York Times rapportant la nouvelle du décès de Henry A. Prunier (1921-2013), membre de l’Office of Strategic Services (OSS), l’agence de renseignements des Etats-Unis pendant la Seconde guerre mondiale qui aida et entraîna les premières troupes du Viêt Minh en 1945. L’article de Douglas Martin révèle quelques détails intéressants sur le général Vo Nguyen Giap et la personnalité de l’Oncle Ho. Il souligne le rôle décisif des Américains malgré une courte présence…

Members of the O.S.S. Deer Team with Viet Minh leaders, including Ho Chi Minh, (standing third from left) during training in 1945. Henry Prunier is fourth from right.
Members of the O.S.S. Deer Team with Viet Minh leaders, including Ho Chi Minh, (standing third from left) during training in 1945. Henry Prunier is fourth from right.

Henry A. Prunier taught Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general who withstood the armies of France and the United States, how to throw a grenade.

The lesson came in July 1945, after Mr. Prunier and six other Americans had parachuted into a village 75 miles northwest of Hanoi on a clandestine mission to teach an elite force of 200 Viet Minh guerrillas how to use modern American weapons at their jungle camp.

The Americans, members of the Office of Strategic Services, the United States’ intelligence agency in World War II, wanted the guerrillas’ help in fighting the Japanese, who were occupying Indochina. The Viet Minh welcomed the American arms in their struggle for Vietnamese independence.

Lire la suite : The New York Times, 17/04/2013.

Pour en savoir plus sur le rôle de l’OSS auprès du Viêt-Minh, voir :

 

Đức, A Reporter’s Love For a Wounded People: « terror, murder and betrayal »

UweSiemon-Netto_DucVoici le signalement de la parution des mémoires d’Uwe Siemon-Netto, un ancien reporter allemand pendant la guerre du Viêt-Nam devenu théologien. L’homme y livre ses impressions sur le terrible conflit qui coûta la vie à tant de Vietnamiens. Sous la forme d’un plaidoyer pour le camp des vaincus (voir In Memoriam ci-dessous), il repose cette question cruciale et embarrassante : « la libération de quoi et pour obtenir quoi ? » (liberation from what and to what?), ce à quoi il ajoute : et à quel prix ? Il reprend dans son épilogue les chiffres éloquents de ce désastre. En chargeant le Nord Viêt-Nam d’avoir pris la responsabilité de mener une guerre sans retenue, une guerre du peuple « contre le peuple », il pose également la question tant critiquée à la parution du Livre noir du communisme, du degré de criminalité du système communiste. Pour le Viêt-Nam, cette dérive « criminogène » fut illustrée, selon lui, par ce triptyque macabre : « terreur, meurtre et trahison » (terror, murder and betrayal), outil de la conquête du pouvoir des dirigeants et partisans du communisme vietnamien.

Les chiffres avancés par Uwe Siemon-Netto dans son épilogue (voir ci-dessous) sont bien évidemment encore sujets à caution et peuvent être discutés, ainsi que sa vision idéalisée d’un Sud Viêt-Nam libre. Cependant, il nous a semblé intéressant de relever que son plaidoyer a été traduit en vietnamien trois jours seulement après sa parution sur la toile pour être posté sur le site des Citoyens-journalistes (Dân Làm Báo). Un discours que s’approprie désormais la dissidence dans sa critique du bilan communiste. Il va sans dire que son épilogue tend à rejoindre aujourd’hui la remise en cause d’une guerre de libération qui n’a libéré personne mais seulement placé une nouvelle oligarchie despotique à la tête du bel empire.

FG

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[extrait du Blog de Uwe Siemon-Netto]

Please find below endorsements by Peter R. Kann and Barbara Taylor Bradford of my new book, DUC – A Reporter’s Love for A Wounded People. 

Uwe Siemon-Netto, the distinguished German journalist, has written a masterful memoir of his many years covering the Vietnam War. He captures, as very few others  have, the pathos and absurdities, the combat, cruelties and human cost of a conflict which — as he unflinchingly and correctly argues — the wrong side won. From the street cafes of Saigon to special forces outposts in the central highlands, from villages where terror comes at night to the carnage and war crimes visited on the city of Hue at Tet, 1968, Uwe brings a brilliant reportorial talent and touch.  Above all, Uwe writes about the Vietnamese people:  street urchins and buffalo boys, courageous warriors and hapless war victims, and the full human panoply of a society at war.  As a German, Uwe had, as he puts it, « no dog in this fight », but he understood the rights and wrongs of this war better than almost anyone and his heart, throughout the powerful and moving volume, is always and ardently with the Vietnamese people. – Peter R. Kann, Pulitzer Laureate 1972. Former Publisher of  The Wall Street Journal  and CEO of Dow Jones

Uwe Siemon-Netto’s memoir about his years as a war correspondent in Vietnam is one of the most touching and moving books I have read in a long time. It is also hilarious. This renowned journalist, a longtime war correspondent for various German newspapers, made me both sad and happy. I did cry at times, but I also laughed. He took me on a splendid journey from Saigon to Hue and back again, always captivating me with his memorable talent and his unique way with engaging words and phrases. I couldn’t get enough of his anecdotes about his little friends, a group of street urchins. They slept in his ramshackle car at night, protesting they were doing him a favor by guarding it. His vivid writing brings alive all kinds of unusual cosmopolitan « characters » he met, as well as the innocent victims and brave survivors of this war, in particular the everyday people of Vietnam. His genuine sympathy for the Vietnamese and his understanding of the war that engulfed them help to make this a powerful read. – Barbara Taylor Bradford. Author of A Woman Of Substance and Secrets From The Past

IN MEMORIAM

This book has been written in the memory of the countless innocent victims of the Communist conquest in South Vietnam, notably:

  • The hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children massacred in villages and cities, especially Hué;
  • The hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamesesoldiers and officials who were executed, tortured or imprisoned after the end of the war;
  • The millions who were driven from their country and the hundreds of thousands who drowned in the process;
  • The brave ARVN soldiers who fought on when all was lost, and their valiant generals who took their own lives in the end;
  • The young South and North Vietnamese conscriptswho died in this so-called war of liberation, which brought no liberty;
  • The 58,272 American, 4,407 South Korean, 487 Australian, 351 Thai and 37 New Zealand soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam;
  • My German compatriots who were murdered by the Vietnamese Communists, notably Dr. Horst-Günther and Elisabetha Krainick, Dr. Alois Alteköster, Dr. Raimund Discher, Prof. Otto Söllner, Baron Hasso Rüdt von Collenberg and many others, who came as friends and paid for it with their lives.

UWE SIEMON-NETTO

 

Epilogue

The fruit of terror and the virtue of hope

More than forty years have passsed by since I paid Vietnam my farewell visit. In 2015, the world will observe the 40th anniversary of the Communist victory, and many will call it “liberation.” The Hué railway station, where a locomotive and a baggage car left on a symbolic 500-yard journey every morning at eight, no longer qualifies as Theater of the Absurd. It has been attractively restored and painted pink. Once again, as in the days of French dominance, it is the most beautiful station in Indochina, and taxi drivers do not have to wait outside in vain. Ten comfortable trains come through every day, five heading north, five going south. Collectively they are unofficially called Reunification Express. Should I not rejoice? Is this not just as in Germany, where the Berlin Wall and the minefields have gone, and now high speed trains zoom back and forth between the formerly Communist East and the democratic West at speeds up to 200 miles an hour?

Obviously I am glad that the war is over and Vietnam is reunified and prosperous, that the trains are running, and most of the minefields cleared. But this is where the analogy with Germany ends. Germany achieved its unity, in part because the Germans in the Communist East toppled their totalitarian government with peaceful protest and resistance, and in part thanks to the wisdom of international leaders such as Presidents Ronald Reagan and George G.W. Bush, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and partly because of the predictable economic collapse of the flawed socialist system in the Soviet Bloc. Nobody died in the process, nobody was tortured, nobody ended up in camps, nobody was forced to flee.

There is an incomprehensible tendency, even among respectable pundits in the West, to refer to the Communist takeover of the South as “liberation.” This begs the question: liberation from what and to what? Was South Vietnam “freed” for the imposition of a totalitarian one-party state that ranks among the world’s worst offenders against the principles of religious liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press? What kind of liberation was this that cost 3.8 million Vietnamese lives between 1955 and 1975 and has forced more than one million Vietnamese to flee their country, not only from the vanquished South, but even from ports in the North, causing between 200,000 and 400,000 of the so-called boat people to drown?

Was it an act of liberation to execute 100,000 South Vietnamese soldiers and officials after the fall of Saigon? Was it meant to be a display of generosity by the victors to herd between one million and 2.5 million South Vietnamese to reeducation camps, where an estimated 165,000 perished and thousands more have sustained lasting brain injuries and mental health problems resulting from torture, according to a study by an international team of scholars led by Harvard psychiatrist Richard F. Molina?

Since the mid-1960s, political and historical mythographers in the West have either naively or dishonestly accepted Hanoi’s line that this conflict was a “People’s War.” Well it was, if one accepts Mao Zedong’s and Vo Nguyen Giap’s interpretation of the term. But the Saxon Genitive implies that a “People’s War” is supposed to be a war of the people. In truth, it wasn’t. Some 3.8 million Vietnamese were killed between 1955 and 1975. Approximately 164,000 South Vietnamese civilians were annihilated in a Communist democide during that same period, according to political scientist Rudolf Joseph Rummel of the University of Hawaii. The Pentagon estimated that 950,000 North Vietnamese and more than 200,000 South Vietnamese soldiers fell in combat, in addition to 58,000 U.S. troops. This was no war of the people; it was a war against the people.

In the all too often hypocritical rhetoric about the Vietnam War over the last 40 years, the key question has gone AWOL, to use a military acronym meaning absent without leave, and the question is: Did the Vietnamese people desire a Communist regime? If so, how was it that nearly one million northerners moved south following the division of their country in 1954, while only about 130,000 Vietminh sympathizers went in the opposite direction?

Who started this war? Were there any South Vietnamese units operating in North Vietnam? No. Did South Vietnamese guerillas cross the 17th parallel to disembowel and hang pro-Communist village chiefs, their wives and children in the northern countryside? No. Did the South Vietnamese regime massacre an entire class of people by the tens of thousands in is territory after 1954 the way the North Vietnamese had liquidated landowners and other potential opponents of their Soviet-style rule? No. Did the South Vietnamese establish a monolithic one-party system? No.

As a German citizen, I had no dog in this fight, as Americans would say. But to paraphrase the Journalists’ Prayer Book, such as hardened reporters have hearts, mine was, and still is, with the wounded Vietnamese people. It belongs to these sublime women who can often be so blunt and amusing; it belongs to the cerebral and immensely complicated Vietnamese men trying to dream the perfect dream in a Confucian way; to the childlike soldiers going to battle carrying their only possessions – a canary in a cage; to young war widows who had their bodies grotesquely modified just to catch a GI husband and create a new home for their children and perhaps for themselves, rather than face a Communist tyranny; to those urban and rural urchins minding each other and water buffalos. What a hardened heart I had, it belonged to those I saw running away from the butchery and the fighting – always in a southerly direction, but never ever north, until at the very end there was no VC-free square inch to escape to.  I saw them slaughtered or buried alive in mass graves, and still have the stench of putrefying corpses in my nostrils.

I wasn’t there when Saigon fell after entire ARVN units, often so maligned in the U.S. media and now abandoned by their American allies, fought on nobly, knowing that they would neither win nor survive this final battle. I was in Paris, mourning, when all this happened, and I wish I could have paid my respects to five South Vietnamese generals before they committed suicide when the game was over that they should have won: Le Van Hung (born 1933), Le Nguyen Vy (born 1933), Nguyen Khoa Nam (born 1927), Tran Van Hai (born 1927) and Pham Van Phu (born 1927).

As I write this epilogue, a fellow journalist and scholar of sorts, a man born in 1975 when Saigon fell, is making a name for himself, pillorying American war crimes in Vietnam. Yes, they deserve to be pilloried. Yes, they were a reality. My Lai was reality; I know, I was at the court martial where Lt. William Calley was found guilty. I know that the body count fetish dreamed up by the warped minds of political and military leaders of the McNamara era in Washington and U.S. headquarters in Saigon cost thousands of innocent civilians their lives.

But no atrocity committed by dysfunctional American or South Vietnamese units ever measured up to the state-ordered carnage inflicted upon the South Vietnamese in the name of Ho Chi Minh. These crimes his successors will not even acknowledge to this very day because nobody has the guts to ask them: why did your people slaughter all these innocents whom you claimed to have fought to liberate? As a German, I take the liberty of adding a footnote here: why did you murder my friend Hasso Rüdt von Collenberg, the German doctors in Hué, and poor Otto Söllner, whose only “crime” was to have taught young Vietnamese how to conduct an orchestra? Why did you kidnap those young Knights of Malta volunteers, subjecting some to death in the jungle and others to imprisonment in Hanoi? Why does it not even occur to you to search your conscience regarding these actions, the way thoughtful Americans, while correctly laying claim to have been on the right side in World War II, wrestle with the terrible legacy left by the carpet bombing of residential areas in Germany and the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Reminiscing on her ordeal on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the news magazine Der Spiegel, the West German nurse Monika Schwinn recalled her encounter with North Vietnamese combat units on their way south as one of her most horrifying experiences. She described the intensity of hatred in the facial expressions of these soldiers and wrote that her Vietcong minders had great difficulty preventing them from killing the Germans on the spot. Nobody is born hating. Hate must be taught. Fostering murder in the hearts of young people involved a teaching discipline at which only the school of totalitarianism excels. In his brilliant biography of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, historian Peter Longrich relates that even this founder of this evil force of black-uniformed thugs did not find it easy to make his men overcome natural inhibitions to execute the holocaust (Longerich. Heinrich Himmler. Oxford: 2012). It was the hatred in the eyes of the North Vietnamese killers in Hué that many of the survivors I interviewed considered most haunting. But of course one did have to spend time with them, suffer with them, gain their confidence and speak with them to discover this central element of a human, political and military catastrophe that is still with us four decades later. Opining about it from the ivory towers of a New York television studio or an Ivy League school does not suffice.

In a stirring book about the French Foreign Legion, Paul Bonnecarrère relates the historic meeting between the legendary Col. Pierre Charton and Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap after France’s defeat at Dien Bien Phu (Bonnecarrère. Par le Sang Versé. Paris: 1968).  Charton was a prisoner of war in the hands of the Communist Vietminh. Giap came to pay his respects to him but also to gloat. The encounter took place in a classroom in front some 20 students attending a political indoctrination session. The dialogue between the two antagonists went thus:

Giap: “I have defeated you, mon colonel!

Charton: “No you haven’t, mon general. The jungle has defeated us… and the support you received from the civilian population — by means of terror.”

Vo Nguyen Giap didn’t like this answer, and forbade his students to write it down. But it was the truth, or more precisely: it was half of the truth. The other half was that democracies like the United States seemed indeed politically and psychologically ill equipped to fight a protracted war. This realization, alongside the use of terror tactics, became a pillar of Giap’s strategy. He was right and he won. Even more dangerous totalitarians are taking note today.

To this very day I am haunted by the conclusion I was forced to draw from my Vietnam experience: when a self-indulgent throwaway culture grows tired of sacrifice it becomes capable of discarding everything. It is prepared to dump a people whom it set out to protect. It is even willing to trash the lives, the physical and mental health, the dignity, memory and good name of the young men who were sent to war. This happened in the case of the Vietnam Veterans. The implications of this deficiency endemic in liberal democracies are terrifying because in the end it will demolish their legitimacy and destroy a free society.

However, I must not end my narrative on this dark note. As an observer of history, I know that history, while closed to the past, is always open to the future. As a Christian I know who is the Lord of history. The Communist victory in Vietnam was based on evil foundations: terror, murder and betrayal. Obviously, I do not advocate a resumption of bloodshed to rectify this outcome, even if this were possible. But as an admirer of the resilient Vietnamese people, I know that they will ultimately find the right peaceful means and the leaders to rid themselves of their despots. It might take generations, but it will happen.

In this sense, I will now join the queue of the pedicab drivers outside the Hué railway station where no passenger arrived back in 1972. Where else would my place be? What else do I possess but hope?

Source : Uwe Siemon-Netto’s Blog, 19/03/2013.

A lire en vietnamien : Trái tim của một phóng viên Đức cho Việt Nam, Dân Làm Báo, 22/03/2013.

Les débuts de la guerre d’Indochine : Hanoï en décembre 1946 [archives ina]

Le 19 décembre 1946 marque le début de la guerre d’Indochine : après le bombardement du port de Haiphong le 23 novembre 1946 par la Marine française, le Viet Minh, dirigé par Hô Chi Minh (président de la République démocratique du Viêt Nam, dont l’indépendance a été proclamée à Hanoi le 2 septembre 1945), décide de lancer une offensive ayant pour but la libération de la ville de Hanoï. À 20 heures, une explosion dans la centrale électrique de la ville annonce le début de l’insurrection. Des ressortissants français sont massacrés et des maisons pillées. Ho Chi Minh appelle tout le peuple vietnamien à se soulever contre la présence française : « Que celui qui a un fusil se serve de son fusil, que celui qui a une épée se serve de son épée, que chacun combatte le colonialisme. » (source : You Tube / INA)

Les débuts de la guerre d’Indochine : Hanoï en décembre 1946

16/01/1947. Le ministre de la France d’Outre-mer, Marius Moutet, se rend à Hanoï un mois après le déclenchement de l’insurrection vietminh.

Contexte historique

A l’automne 1946, les relations entre la France et le Vietminh se détériorent, et chaque camp renforce ses positions militaires. Les opérations prennent de l’ampleur : la marine française bombarde le port de Haïphong le 23 novembre, causant la mort de centaines de civils. Ho Chi Minh et le général Giap se préparent à une action contre la France.

C’est dans ce contexte qu’à Paris, Léon Blum devient chef du gouvernement, et propose à Ho Chi Minh de reprendre les négociations. Ce dernier accepte, mais sa lettre, transmise de façon non urgente par les autorités militaires françaises, arrive à Paris le 20 décembre. Or, à Hanoï, la situation se dégrade : le 19 décembre, à 20 heures, l’électricité est coupée par le Vietminh, dont les hommes forcent les maisons et tuent des civils. Ce « coup de force de Hanoï » est un échec, mais il radicalise encore les positions des militaires français et vietnamiens. Ho Chi Minh lance le 21 décembre un appel à la lutte à outrance. La guerre d’Indochine a commencé.

Le ministre Marius Moutet est alors chargé d’une mission de conciliation par Léon Blum. A sa descente d’avion, il est pris en charge par l’état-major, qui veut lui faire partager son point de vue : on ne peut pas négocier avec le Vietminh, il n’est pas digne de confiance. Alors que Ho Chi Minh envoie un message à Marius Moutet pour lui proposer une rencontre, la lettre, interceptée par les services de l’amiral d’Argenlieu, n’arrive pas à son destinataire, qui visite Hanoï en ruine. Marius Moutet tire pour conclusion de sa visite que le Vietminh n’est pas un interlocuteur valable, et la thèse de Thierry d’Argenlieu l’emporte : « avant toute négociation, il faut une décision militaire ».

Éclairage média

Ce reportage est emblématique de l’analyse de certains militaires français, à un moment où le pouvoir politique envisage de négocier avec les nationalistes vietnamiens. Précédé par une bande-annonce qui souligne le caractère exceptionnel et authentique des images, le document s’ouvre par une vue aérienne de Hanoï et de sa banlieue, où brûlent des maisons : c’est la guerre.

A sa descente d’avion, le ministre Marius Moutet rencontre d’abord les autorités militaires, avec les généraux Leclerc, Valluy et Morlière – qui remplace Thierry d’Argenlieu en déplacement à Paris – puis civiles (Jean Sainteny). Le temps accordé aux militaires l’emporte grandement sur celui donné à Jean Sainteny, que l’on aperçoit essentiellement lors du salut aux couleurs, avec le bras en écharpe car il a été blessé lors des combats. Le montage montre ensuite une voiture blindée en patrouille dans la ville. Deux types d’images sont utilisées : des images tournées de la voiture même qu’empruntent Marius Moutet et le général Morlière pour inspecter la ville, et des images de combats de rues tournées à d’autres moments. Des cadavres de soldats français sont filmés en plan rapproché, ainsi qu’une colonne de jeunes adolescents vietnamiens faits prisonniers « les armes à la main » selon le commentaire. A ces scènes de guerre succède la visite de la résidence de Ho Chi Minh, entourée de tranchées qui abritent des soldats : la découverte, en apparence fortuite, d’un casque japonais au fond d’une tranchée suggère que le Vietminh n’est que l’incarnation d’un ennemi étrange qui a perdu la guerre mais se refuse à l’admettre. La lutte du Vietminh ne présente pas alors de caractère national, c’est une guerre étrangère, non légitime.

Le reportage renforce cette analyse en enchaînant sur la visite de l’Institut Pasteur d’Hanoï, qui illustre l’argument traditionnel en faveur de la colonisation : la France apporte le progrès – ici la santé – et la civilisation à un peuple qui ne peut que souscrire à cet effort humanitaire. La colonisation et l’action de la France sont justes, les refuser est incompréhensible.

Source : INA / Jalons pour l’histoire du temps présent

Stein Tønnesson: Counterfactual History – Could War in Vietnam Have Been Avoided?

In this post, Stein Tønnesson, author of Vietnam 1946: How the War Began, recalls a debate he had with a colleague about events leading up to war between France and Vietnam, and whether or not war was inevitable.

Last year I shocked my colleague David G. Marr, who is working on a monumental study of Vietnam 1945-50, by stating that if the war between France and Vietnam had not broken out on December 19, 1946, it would have broken out in 1947 instead, in October at the latest.

“Why?” he asked:  “What about Barjot et al warning about the costs in money and manpower?” He knew from reading Philippe Devillers’ and my books that Admiral Pierre Barjot and others had been warnings that France could not afford a drawn-out war, but they were disavowed by Chief-of-Staff General Alphonse Juin, and the mood in French politics was not such that it would let money decide in a question of national prestige.

On the Vietnamese side, Marr continued, “it’s possible that Ho Chi Minh and Giap would have lost authority over local militia who became fed up with talks dragging on for months and months, and started shooting Frenchmen of their own volition.” But if this happened only in the south, Ho Chi Minh might have washed his hands of the troublemakers and signed a settlement for northern Vietnam, plus a clause promising a referendum on union with Nam Bo [the southern region] in an unspecified future. Marr asked: “Could the French government of the day have proceeded on that basis?” I did not answer then, but I answer now that the French would have insisted on maintaining full control of the northern port city Haiphong as well, and I doubt that Ho Chi Minh was prepared to give up the south even temporarily in exchange for an agreement covering only the north. This was what he had resisted in 1946.

If December 19 had not happened, then France and Vietnam would probably have maintained a kind of uneasy modus vivendi for a few months longer with a series of unsuccessful talks, while both parties prepared for war. And once the French communists had been forced to leave the French government in May, and the position of the Socialist Minister of Overseas France Marius Moutet was so much weakened that he had to give up his portfolio to the more bellicose Christian Democrat Paul Coste-Floret in October, the French government would have decided to strike out. It was only then that the French government excluded any prospect of resuming talks with Ho Chi Minh and launched Operation Lea on October 7 in an attempt to capture the Vietnamese president and his government.

After I had presented my arguments, it was my turn to be shocked when Marr asked: “If war would have occurred in 1947 anyway, what’s the point of your exquisite analysis of Nov-December 1946?” Ahem! It’s true that I’ve spent much of my adult life researching the circumstances of the outbreak of the First Indochina War in 1946. Why have I prioritized my life in such a silly way if I don’t think the war could have been avoided?

Well. First, the story of how it happened is a fascinating tragedy. I’ve been consumed by it the way you can be consumed by a tragic novel. Second, it does provide a case study of how lower level bureaucrats and commanders can obstruct a government’s decision-making; this is useful political science. Third, the hesitations on both sides before the prospect of a drawn-out war are interesting in themselves, especially for peace researchers who would like to see more such hesitation. Fourth, even if the war could not probably have been avoided, it would have made a difference if the fragile peace of 1946 had lasted half a year longer. This would have given President Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap more time to strengthen their forces, institutions and support both nationally and internationally.

Yet it would of course have been neat if I could have said in my book Vietnam 1946 that if war had not broken out on December 19, 1946, there would not have been any Indochina War, no Dien Bien Phu, no Diem murder, no Tonkin Gulf incident, no Vietnam War, no Tet offensive, no Kissinger sideshow, no Cambodian genocide, no need for Deng Xiao-ping to teach a lesson—just a peacefully decolonizing Southeast Asian Yugoslavia with Ho Chi Minh as Asia’s Tito. Neat, but not honest.

Oslo, February 28, 2010
Stein Tønnesson

Source : University of California Press Blog, 28/02/2010.

Our thanks to Stein Tønnesson for permission to publish his article on this Seminar Blog.

 

* * *

« Le crépuscule tomba. Sur toute la ville régnait un silence anormal. Il faisait un froid sec. Les maisons semblaient se recroqueviller en se chauffant sous la lumière jaunâtre des lampes électriques. La ville paraissait se coucher tôt par crainte du froid. Mais des lames de fond déferlaient dans son intérieur… »

Tel était, selon le général Giap, le climat qui pesait sur Hanoï au moment précis où éclata la première guerre d’Indochine. Toutefois, ni Giap ni les autres témoins ne se sont montrés bavards sur ce qui s’est réellement passé ce soir-là. Les adversaires n’auraient-ils pas quelque chose à cacher ?

Stein Tonnesson essaie ici de lever le voile. A l’aide de documents inédits des archives françaises, britanniques et américaines, il se livre à une analyse minutieuse des calculs, des luttes de clans et de personnes, des processus d’information et de décision qui se sont exprimés, qui se sont noués et dénoués durant les quatre mois précédant la bataille de Hanoï, et qui, en définitive, provoquèrent la guerre. Analyse minutieuse et inquiétante : les responsables politiques sont-ils réellement « responsables » à partir du moment où ils sont mis devant les faits accomplis ? Et, plus généralement, en certaines circonstances, les hommes disposent-ils réellement de la maîtrise des événements ?

Réf. : Stein Tønnesson, 1946: Déclenchement de la guerre d’Indochine. Les vêpres tonkinoises du 19 décembre, Paris, L’Harmattan, Recherches asiatiques, 1987, 275 p.

Stein Tonnesson: Vietnam 1946 – How the War Began

Based on multiarchival research conducted over almost three decades, this landmark account tells how a few men set off a war that would lead to tragedy for millions.

Stein Tønnesson was one of the first historians to delve into scores of secret French, British, and American political, military, and intelligence documents. In this fascinating account of an unfolding tragedy, he brings this research to bear to disentangle the complex web of events, actions, and mentalities that led to thirty years of war in Indochina. As the story unfolds, Tønnesson challenges some widespread misconceptions, arguing that French general Leclerc fell into a Chinese trap in March 1946, and Vietnamese general Giap into a French trap in December. Taking us from the antechambers of policymakers in Paris to the docksides of Haiphong and the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam 1946 provides the most vivid account to date of the series of events that would make Vietnam the most embattled area in the world during the Cold War period.

Réf. : Stein Tønnesson, Vietnam 1946: How the War Began. With a foreword by Philippe Devillers, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2010, xxiv-361 p.

Contents

List of illustrations
Foreword by the series editors
Foreword by Philippe Devillers
Acknowledgments
List of abbreviations
Introduction

1. A Clash of Republics
2. The Chinese Trap
3. Modus Vivendi
4. Massacre
5. The French Trap
6. Who Turned Out the Lights?
7. If Only . . .

Notes
Glossary
Bibliography
Index

Stein Tønnesson was Director of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, from 2001 to 2009. He is author of The Vietnamese Revolution of 1945: Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh and de Gaulle in a World at War among other books.

Source : University of California Press

  • Review of Vietnam 1946: How the War Began by Ben Kerkvliet, New Mandala, 10/05/2010.

Aperçu Google Books