MARTIN ELFANT Sun Life of Canada 1001 Century Building Houston, Texas CA 4-0686 on Vietnam roundly condemned in Dr. Robert Palter’s “Vietnam: History and Policy.” Dr. Palter finds fault with my interpretations of Vietnamese history as expressed in a letter to the Observer some time back concerning an article by Rabbi Levi Olan, “Vietnam: A Dance in a Cemetery,” which I found so riddled with inaccuracies I felt compelled to write. I disagreed with the Rabbi on three specific points: that the communists led the anticolonial struggle in Vietnam prior to the Second World War; that the Viet Minh rebellion was colored with the hues of the American Revolution; and that there could be found legitimacy, as measured by the Geneva Accords, in the Viet Cong insurgency. Having witnessed the butchery of the Viet Cong, I was unwilling to let pass a contention that these people represent the true hope for the future of Vietnam. Dr. Palter accuses me of “outrageous falsehoods” in my criticism of Rabbi Olan. Naturally I cannot concur, and, indeed, find that Dr. Palter has committed a few of his own. First of all, I am not, as he claims, an apologist for “whatever the U.S. government chooses to do in Vietnam.” I do not feel the present conduct of the war is accomplishing our goal, which should be destruction of the Viet Cong infrastructure, because too little thought is given to vitally needed reforms of the Saigon administration, the Vietnamese military, and the American war apparatus. We still labor under the archaic, and I might add liberal, notion that social and political problems can be solved by drowning them in foreign aid money. However, the piercing cries of the New Left for Vietnam withdrawal, cessation of bombing, ending napalm, etc., are of little value in crystallizing and constructively criticizing defect of the Johnson policy because of their distinctly nihilistic approach to the problem. IN DEFENSE OF the facts I put forth in my letter: the Vietnamese nationalist party, the VNQDD, was the leading anti-colonialist organ in Vietnam prior to World War II. Dr. Palter goes to great pains to disprove this by referring to communist organization against the Japanese during the war, but as I made clear in my letter I was discussing the days before the war. Dr. Palter also contends I said the VNQDD was “the only genuine 12 The Texas Observer anti-colonialist party in Vietnam in the 1930’s.” I said they were the leading, not necessarily the only, anti-French party. The VNQDD formulated the February, 1930, Yen Bay mutiny which was, not as Dr. Palter says, a “minor uprising,” but the first modern rebellion against the French. The communist role in this and later nationalistic endeavors is most interesting. Dr. Bernard Fall writes of Yen Bay, “But the communists, realizing the hopelessness of the enterprise \( and perhaps not unwilling to see the French do away with the non-communist competivolt was championed by the communists, according to Fall, “in order to provide the young party with revoluntionary experienceand martyrs.” Ho Chi Minh watched the entire 1930 uprisings “from the safe haven of Hong Kong.” Vietnamese historians regard the Yen Bay revolt as the first present day manifestations of Vietnamese nationalismand it was the non-communists, direct predecessors of today’s South Vietnamese intelligentsia, who fomented this. A few years later Ho Chi Minh’s Indochinese Communist Party found all sorts of good points about French colonialism with the coming to power of the Popular Front in France in the mid-1930’s. The slogan, “Down With French Imperialism,” was dropped from the communist program in 1936, along with demands for Vietnamese independence and an effective legislature. It is interesting to note what happened to the nationalists. French author Romain Rolland’s Committee for the Defense of Indochinese Nationals listed 699 executions without trial during 1930 alone. That was the price early battlers of French colonialism paid. In the late 1940’s, numerous non-communist survivors of this colonial repression were murdered on orders of Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh. What of Ho Chi Minh? Dr. Palter insists on comparing Ho’s life during this period with that of Ngo Dinh Diem, who later became America’s answer to Uncle Ho. I would not attempt a defense of the Diem presidency of South Vietnam, but I do assert that Diem was more a true nationalist than Ho, having never subverted his dedication to Vietnam to a foreign political philosophy. Diem was a tragic figure in a nation full of tragedy; he was a weak man, and for this reason lost effective rule over his nation to his nefarious brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu. But he was a patriot, and suffered for his nation and his beliefs, and few ever successfully questioned his personal honesty or integrity. He escaped murder by the communists, the fate one brother suffered, during imprisonment at Ho Chi Minh’s hideout afterWorld War II because Ho realized what a great asset he would be if won to the communist side, and even offered him a ministry in Ho’s government. N GO DINH DIEM’S finest hour came in 1955 when he united the broken Vietnamese state in the south not, as Dr. Palter suggests, with French aid, but against resolute colonial opposition. He defeated the religious and military sects, deposed the corrupt monarchy, and induced the withdrawal of the colonial French. South Vietnam was never intended by the French to be a free republic; it was to be their section of Vietnam after the Geneva Accords regroupment. It became free because of Diem’s insistence that the French withdraw, which they did in 1956. I pointed this out in my letter on Rabbi Olan’s article, and I cannot see why this recitation of events in Vietnam in the spring of 1956 so mystifies Dr. Palter. Violations of the Geneva Accords, executed in July, 1954, continue to be a source of historical confusion. Dr. Palter is right; only the Armistice was actually signed; not the Declaration. The communists signed the Armistice; the United States was a party to neither document. Article 1 of the Armistice outlines withdrawal of communist forces north of the decommunists have violated. Article 5 requires withdrawal of hostile troops from the demilitarized zone. This the communists have violated in a most vivid manner. Article 10 called for a complete cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. Within two years the communists had violated this. Since the French claimed to be signing the Armistice for the French Union forces in Indochina, which then included the South Vietnamese, the present war being waged on South Vietnamese soil by North Vietnamese army troops \( People’s Army of Vietviolation of this Geneva Armistice. In this light, the statement of Dr. Palter that, “the adherence of the Viet Minh [reads People’s Army of Vietnam in the Armistice] to the terms of the cease fire has not been seriously questioned,” takes on the color of the ridiculous. T IS A WEAK argument to blame the commencement of the present war on Diem’s police state, as Dr. Palter and a number of -dissenters insist on doing. Certainly the activities of the Diem regime acted as an aid in communist recruitment, but they were a good deal less “grim and bloody” than oppression in the north, particularly the Nghe An revolt in November 1956, which resulted in the communists killing or deporting upwards of 6,000 farmers who rose up against the communists in Ho Chi Minh’s own home province. Diem’s police raids appear rather minor in comparison, and the Viet Cong assassinations and attacks on government installations were under way long before the police state nature of Diem’s regime became well known. The Economist of March 19, 1955, reports communist attacks in an area south of the 17th Parallel. The “Viet Minh activity in the southern zone,” to which I alluded in my letter on Rabbi Olan’s article, refers to these attacks and assassinations the communists undertook once they realized the French were not going to deliver them South Vietnam through the promised
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