Different Visions forVietnamIn 1954, the Geneva Accords split Vietnam intotwo parts—North and South. Although the lead-ers...
port, the Viet Minh promoted a moderate political pro-         French forces suffered a humiliating defeat at a forti-gram...
communist views. He left Vietnam for almost a decade.            Discontent, encouraged by the always-present VietHe ended...
ignited the protests came in May 1963 when officials in         In 1973, after more than 58,000 American soldiers and aHue...
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Different Visions for Vietnam

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Different Visions for Vietnam

  1. 1. Different Visions forVietnamIn 1954, the Geneva Accords split Vietnam intotwo parts—North and South. Although the lead-ers of both parts wanted an independentVietnam, they differed greatly on what theywanted Vietnam to be.I n the 1800s, during the European powers’ scram- ble for colonies, France took control ofIndochina. By 1900, this region in Southeast Asiaconsisted of three French possessions: Cambodia,Laos, and Vietnam.In Vietnam, French colonists and some wealthyVietnamese owned most of the factories in the Ho Chi Minh stood to address the Congress of the Vietnam Communistcities and productive land in the countryside. The Party in Hanoi in September 1960. (Indochina Archives, University of California, Berkeley)great majority of Vietnamese were peasants, poorrice farmers who paid high rents to landlords towork small plots of land. Versailles Peace Conference in France. His petitionDuring World War II, the Japanese seized control of called for democratic reforms in Vietnam, but he neverVietnam and eventually installed a puppet regime received any response.under Bao Dai, head of the Vietnamese royal family. While in France, Ho learned of the RussianWhen Japan surrendered in 1945, Ho Chi Minh Communist Revolution of 1917. He began to read the emerged as the main leader for Vietnamese works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, the leader of national independence. American journalist the new Soviet Union. Impressed by them, he joined W David Halberstam described Ho as “part the newly formed French Communist Party. In 1923, Gandhi, part Lenin, all Vietnamese.” he went to Moscow for training by the Communist O Ho Chi Minh International (Comintern), the organization estab- R Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) was born in a vil- lished by Lenin to promote a world communist revolu- tion. lage in central Vietnam. His name at birth was L Nguyen Sinh Cung. His father had been a civil Later in life, Ho remarked that only the communists D servant working for the French government, but quit in disgust with French rule and showed any interest in freeing the Vietnamese and oth- er colonial peoples. Today, historians debate whether worked as a teacher. Ho grew up hating the Ho was mainly a patriot, using communism to liberate French colonial occupation of his country. In Vietnam, or mainly a Comintern agent, using Vietnam H 1911 at age 21, he left Vietnam in search of to further communist revolution in the world. some way to gain independence for Vietnam. I He worked as a cook on a French steamship, Ho went on to China where he formed the Indochinese S traveling to Africa and the American ports of Communist Party (ICP). The ICP emphasized over- throwing French rule in Vietnam and confiscating the Boston and New York. He lived in London for T two years before moving to Paris in 1917. land of the rich landlords and redistributing it to the poor peasants. O In Paris, he worked odd jobs, joined with other After the Japanese took control of Vietnam during Vietnamese exiles, and was active in socialist R politics. He called himself Nguyen Ai Quoc World War II, Ho started using the name Ho Chi Minh (“Nguyen the Patriot”). In 1919, following (“The Bringer of Light,” or “The Enlightener”). Ho Y World War I, Ho wrote and hand-delivered a formed a new organization, known as the Viet Minh, to petition to the Allied Powers attending the fight for Vietnamese independence. To gain wide sup- 6
  2. 2. port, the Viet Minh promoted a moderate political pro- French forces suffered a humiliating defeat at a forti-gram, focusing on reducing peasant land rents. fied outpost called Dienbienphu. Ho’s forces con- trolled more than three-fourths of the country. TheFrom a mountain cave in Vietnam near the Chinese French agreed to negotiate with the Viet Minh. France,border, Ho recruited a guerrilla army to fight the the Viet Minh, Britain, the Soviet Union, China, andJapanese. He also began to build his reputation as the the United States met at Geneva, Switzerland, to workonly real leader for Vietnam’s independence. Ho even out an agreement to end the war.worked with and received military aid from Americanagents. The Soviet Union and China, fearing American mili- tary intervention in Vietnam, persuaded Ho Chi MinhA few days after Japan surrendered in August 1945, the to accept the temporary division of the country intoViet Minh took control of the main cities of Vietnam, North and South Vietnam. The Geneva Accords, whichincluding Hanoi in the north and Saigon in the south. the United States did not sign, scheduled elections toOn August 25, Ho entered Hanoi. On September 2, reunify the country in 1956.1945, he appeared before thousands of Vietnamese inHanoi to proclaim Vietnam’s independence. In his In the fall of 1954, “Uncle Ho,” as millions ofproclamation, Ho quoted the beginning sentences of Vietnamese called him, returned to Hanoi, the capitalthe American Declaration of Independence. of North Vietnam. The government began a rapid tran- sition to a communist society in North Vietnam. ForThe Viet Minh established the Democratic Republic of the next two years, North Vietnam conducted a “classVietnam with Ho Chi Minh as president. Hoping to war.” The government confiscated privately ownedwin the support of all elements of Vietnamese society, land and businesses. The government executed up toHo argued against immediately changing Vietnam into 15,000 “cruel landlords” and others accused of trea-a communist society. son. Nearly 1 million more, many of them Catholics,France, however, was not ready to give up its colony. It abandoned their homes and fled to non-communistsent troops to retake Vietnam. By the end of 1946, South Vietnam. Ho admitted that “errors have beenFrench troops had driven the Viet Minh out of Saigon made,” but did little about them.and Hanoi. France then re-established its colonial gov- As the time neared for elections to reunify North andernment headed by Bao Dai, the former Japanese pup- South Vietnam, a new anti-communist leader emergedpet. in South Vietnam with his own ideas about Vietnam.The Viet Minh revived its war for independence, thistime against the French. The French occupied all of Ngo Dinh DiemVietnam’s major cities and little else. In the country- Ngo Dinh Diem (1901–1963) was born into an impor-side, the Viet Minh worked to gain the support of the tant Vietnamese Catholic family. More than 80 per-peasants by giving them land confiscated from cent of the people of Vietnam were Buddhists. But thewealthy landlords. official religion of France was Catholicism, and being Catholic helped Diem rise in the French colonial civilCommunist China supplied some advisors and military service. At age 25, he became a provincial governor. Inaid to the Viet Minh. But Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin 1933, he was named minister of the interior. But Diemnever trusted Ho Chi Minh. He did not think he was a quickly grew frustrated with French rule and resignedtrue Marxist and offered the Viet Minh little help. But from the government. He stated that he would not “actthe United States viewed the war as a struggle against against the interests of my country.”international communist expansion. It had seen Chinafall to communists in 1949 and communist North For the next 12 years, Diem lived in Hue, which wasKorea invade South Korea in 1950. President Harry then the capital of Vietnam. When the Viet MinhTruman started providing the French with military aid briefly took control of Vietnam in 1945, they tookand advisors. Diem into custody. Seeking support from Catholics in the country, Ho Chi Minh invited Diem to join the VietThe French attempted to destroy the Viet Minh using Minh government in Hanoi. Ho pointed out that boththeir superior army and weapons. But Ho’s guerrilla of them wanted the same thing: an independentfighters prevented the French from occupying the Vietnam. Diem refused Ho’s offer. The Viet Minh hadcountryside. The war dragged on. Then in 1954, killed one of his brothers, and Diem held strong anti- (Continued on next page) 7
  3. 3. communist views. He left Vietnam for almost a decade. Discontent, encouraged by the always-present VietHe ended up living in the United States and making Cong, grew against Diem. As the guerrilla war intensi-contacts with many influential Americans. fied, a new American president, John F. Kennedy, took office.Following the Geneva Conference in 1954, Bao Dai, thehead of the government of South Vietnam, appointed The United StatesDiem as prime minister. Bao Dai thought that Diem’s In April 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower had pre-American contacts would prove useful. The next year, dicted that if all Vietnam became a communist nation,Diem deposed Bao Dai and made himself president of nearby countries would also fall to communism “like aSouth Vietnam. row of dominoes.” President Kennedy agreed with thisDiem formed an anti-communist government that relied “domino theory” and believed the United States had toheavily on his family members and other Vietnamese take a stand against South Vietnam falling to the com-Catholics. But he lacked support from most other South munists.Vietnamese. Fearing that Ho Chi Minh would easily Like Eisenhower, Kennedy did not send U.S. combatwin the elections planned for 1956, President Dwight troops to South Vietnam. Instead, he ordered moreEisenhower backed Diem’s refusal to go ahead with American military advisors and equipment to build upthem. Diem’s army so it could defeat the Viet Cong. KennedyHo Chi Minh worried that the Americans might inter- also wanted to provide economic aid directly to thevene if he launched a full-scale war of liberation in impoverished peasants. Finally, he concluded that DiemSouth Vietnam. Even so, in 1959, Ho agreed to begin must increase his popularity by relaxing his tight gripguerrilla warfare against Diem’s regime. North over South Vietnam’s government and allowing moreVietnam, aided by military supplies from China, began democratic freedoms.to send fighters and arms into South Vietnam over a Diem welcomed U.S. military help, but thought thatmaze of jungle trails, called by Americans the “Ho Chi sending economic aid directly to the peasants wouldMinh Trail.” make them too dependent on the Americans. He alsoIn 1960, Ho helped form and began supporting the resented Kennedy’s attempts to interfere with how heNational Liberation Front (NLF) and its guerrilla force, ran his government.the Viet Cong. Among other things, the NLF promised In 1961, Diem and his brother, Nhu, launched a newto establish a “democratic regime,” distribute land to self-help program. It relied on the people to fortify theirpoor peasants, end illiteracy, and refuse a military existing settlements, form self-defense militias, andalliance with any other nation. create their own local government and economy. DiemTo counter Ho Chi Minh’s vision for a communist believed these “strategic hamlets” would protect theVietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem organized a series of projects people from the Viet Cong and inspire a truethat depended on the people to volunteer their labor and Vietnamese path to a new nation.resources for the good of all. Diem wanted to spark a This new program, however, suffered from the samecooperative pioneer spirit among the South Vietnamese fault as the pioneer settlements. It again burdened theto defeat the communists and build a new nation from peasants by demanding their labor and time.the bottom up. Diem, however, believed this effort Government officials focused more on forcing the peo-required strong leadership from the top to compel uned- ple rapidly to construct fortifications rather than devel-ucated peasants to work together for their own good. oping among them a “revolutionary spirit,” as DiemDuring the late 1950s, Diem tried to organize model wanted.pioneer settlements, which the peasants would build As the “strategic hamlet” program floundered, morewhile farming nearby plots of land. But Diem’s officials and more young men from peasant villages of Southoften uprooted families from their traditional villages to Vietnam joined the Viet Cong. They saw the Dieminhabit these new settlements. Once in the settlements, regime as the enemy.the peasants resented Diem’s government forcing themto take time away from tending their crops to construct In the cities, Buddhists began openly protesting Diem’sthe model towns. discrimination against them. Diem had long favored the Catholic minority over the Buddhists. The spark that 8
  4. 4. ignited the protests came in May 1963 when officials in In 1973, after more than 58,000 American soldiers and aHue stopped Buddhists from flying flags during a festi- million Vietnamese had been killed, North Vietnamval. The Buddhists noted that Catholics had been reached an agreement with President Richard Nixon toallowed to fly flags at a recent festival. When thousands withdraw all U.S. military forces. When the lastof Buddhists gathered to hear a speaker, the Vietnamese Americans left Saigon in 1975, Viet Cong and NorthArmy sent troops to break up the gathering. The troops Vietnamese regular troops swiftly took control of Southfired their guns and eight children and one woman died Vietnam.in the stampede trying to escape. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 before achieving his visionDiem claimed that the troops were not his, but Viet of an independent and communist Vietnam. TheCong. When Diem refused to investigate the incident Communist Party leaders who followed him imposed afurther, Buddhists began protesting. They held rallies harsh regime that crushed any dissent and forced peas-and hunger strikes. Diem ignored them. Then individual ants to work on large government-owned farms. As aBuddhists began setting themselves on fire. American result, thousands fled the country. Saigon was renamedofficials urged Diem to take action. Diem turned them Ho Chi Minh City.down. His sister-in-law and close advisor, MadameNhu, further incited the protestors with public insults. For Discussion and Writing 1. What mistakes do you think Ho Chi Minh, NgoReferring to the Buddhists, Diem’s sister in law told a Dinh Diem, and the United States made in develop-reporter, “Let them burn, and we shall clap our hands.” ing their visions for nation-building in Vietnam?As protests increased, Diem decided to clamp down. 2. Do you think the Vietnam War was a civil war or aTroops raided Buddhist temples in many cities, drag- war of aggression? Why?ging off more than a thousand people, injuring andkilling some. Protests only increased, with many young 3. What advice about South Vietnam would you havepeople joining in. given to President Johnson in 1963? Why?As chaos mounted, generals in the Vietnam army start- For Further Readinged plotting against Diem. On November 1, 1963, they Catton, Philip E. Diem’s Final Failure. Lawrence, Kan.:overthrew his government. The next day they executed University Press of Kansas, 2002.Diem and his brother Nhu. The United States did not Duiker, William. Ho Chi Minh, A Life. New York: Theiadirectly participate in Diem’s overthrow, but welcomed Books, 2000.it. President Kennedy and his advisors knew about thegenerals’ plot ahead of time and did nothing to stop it.But the executions shocked President Kennedy. He had A C T I V I T Yexpected the generals would send Diem into exile. Your Vision for AmericaPresident Kennedy believed that the new military gov- A. What is your vision for America in the 21st century?ernment in Saigon would defeat the Viet Cong and Form 10 small groups. The members of each groupmake South Vietnam a barrier to communist expansion should discuss and describe what they would wantin Asia. Kennedy hoped the Americans could withdraw America to be like in one of the following areas byfrom South Vietnam in a year or two. Just three weeks the year 2050:later, however, on November 22, Kennedy was assassi- 1. schools 2. business and worknated. 3. technology 4. transportation 5. health care 6. environmentThe Final Failure 7. leisure time 8. role of the federal governmentThe new U.S. president, Lyndon Johnson, carried on 9. role of America 10. space explorationKennedy’s policy in Vietnam. But the South Vietnam in the worldgovernment was shaky. In 1965, Johnson ordered U.S. B. Each group should report the vision it has devel-troops into Vietnam. Eventually, 500,000 American sol- oped for its area. The other members of the classdiers took over most of the fighting. U.S. troops were should then have a chance to express their opinionsable to hold back the Viet Cong. But the South on the group’s vision.Vietnamese government remained weak. 9

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