Ho Che Minh wrote President Harry S. Truman on Feb. 15, 1946, to request the U.S. support for Vietnam’s independence:
“Our Vietnam people, as early as 1941, stood by the Allies’ side and fought against the Japanese and their associates, the French colonialists…. But the French Colonialists… have come back and are waging on us a murderous and pitiless war…. we request of the United States as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence.”
Truman did not respond.
It was not just ideological because the Dulles Brothers, prior to becoming parts of the government, had pretty high positions in one of the giant, probably the predominant corporate law firm in the United States called Sullivan & Cromwell.
In fact, John Foster Dulles was actually the managing partner there and he brought his younger brother Allen in as a senior partner. It’s not completely correct to say that this was all ideological because it wasn’t.
A large part of this was for commercial reasons in the sense that a lot of the clients that the Sullivan & Cromwell law firm represented had these large business interests in all different parts of the globe and sometimes this included Third World countries.
That’s another reason of course the Dulles Brothers were so intent upon putting down this rebellion against the French attempt to recolonize the area.
Because to them, it was an example of an industrial or already commercialized western power going ahead and exploiting cheap labor and cheap materials in the Third World.
In large part, that’s what that law firm represented. So that’s absolutely correct. It was not just ideological.
It was also a commercial view of the world and what the Dulles Brothers stood for in relation to the use of the natural resources in the Third World.
Now, what happened at Dien Bien Phu, and I don’t think the Burns-Novick film really explained this as well as it should have, is that the French under Henri Navarre decided that they were losing the guerrilla war.
NARMIC’s top 100 defense contractors list, which continued after the war. Here is a 1977 edition.
“In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to use the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.”
So they decided to try and pull out the North Vietnamese forces, led by General Giap, into a more open air kind of a battle ground.
They took over this low-lying valley in the northern part of Vietnam, not very far from the western border.
The strategic idea was to get involved in a large scale battle where they would be able to use their air power and overpowering artillery to smash Giap’s forces.
Well, it didn’t work out that way for a number of reasons. But one of them was that the Russians went ahead and transported these huge siege cannons to Giap, and Giap used literally tens of thousands of civilian supporters to transport these huge siege guns up this incline overlooking Dien Bien Phu.
They began to bombard the airfield there, which negated a lot of the military advantage that the French thought they were going to be able to use.
When that started happening, John Foster Dulles began to arrange direct American aid. And I’m talking about military aid.
He actually began to go ahead and give them fighter planes, which he had repainted and drawn with French insignia run by CIA pilots.
I think there were about 24 of them that he let them use. Then when that didn’t work, then he went ahead and started giving them large imports of other weapons to try and see if they could hold off the siege that was going to come.
Finally, when that didn’t work, he arranged for Operation Vulture. Operation Vulture was the arrangement of a giant air armada.
It was originally planned as something like, if I recall correctly: 60 small bombers, 150 jet fighters in case the Chinese intervened and also, three, I think there were B-36 Convair planes to carry three atomic bombs.
Dulles could not get this through Eisenhower. Eisenhower refused to agree to it because the British had turned him down.
He didn’t want to do this by himself. Even though Dulles tried to convince the British to help, they turned them down twice.
Then Dulles, in a very strange move, he actually offered the atomic bombs to the French Foreign Secretary Bidault, Georges Bidault, in a separate private exchange which is a really remarkable thing to do because I’ve never been able to find any evidence that Eisenhower knew about that.
That’s how desperate he was not to see Dien Bien Phu fall. But the French refused, the guy said straight to Foster Dulles, “If I use those, I’m going to kill as many of my troops as I will General Giap’s.”
Dien Bien Phu fell, and at this point, two things happened that will more or less ensure American involvement in Vietnam.
At the subsequent peace conference in Geneva, Switzerland, it’s very clear that the United States is calling the shots.
Secondly, when the Chinese and Russians see that, they advised Ho Chi Minh to go along with whatever the western powers leaned towards.
If not, they feared that the Americans would intervene immediately. In fact, Richard Nixon in a private talk with American newspaper editors, actually floated the idea of using American ground troops to intervene at Dien Bien Phu.
What happens now is that, John Forster Dulles goes ahead and orally agrees that there will be general elections held in two years in 1956, and whoever wins, will then unify Vietnam.
He didn’t sign it because the lawyer that he was understood that that would expose him later, but he did advise his representative at the conference to go ahead and say they will abide by that decision.
This begins, for all intents and purposes, the American intervention in Vietnam and it begins – and this is really incredible to me that the Burns-Novick series never mentioned – Ed Lansdale, and how you can
make a series, an 18-hour series about Vietnam and American involvement there and not mention Lansdale is mind-boggling.
They did show his picture but they didn’t say his name. The reason it’s so mind-boggling is that Allan Dulles now made Lansdale more or less the action officer for the whole Vietnam enterprise.
In other words, the objective was, number one to create an American state in South Vietnam, and number two, to prop up an American chosen leader to be the American president of this new state.
Lansdale did it and I’ll tell you, it’s an incredible achievement what he did. Because he set up this giant psychological propaganda campaign, that scared the heck out of all the Catholics because the French had occupied the country.
We found some letters, John Newman and myself, up at Hoover Institute near Stanford in which he essentially admitted that he was really working for the CIA the whole time.
He had done a lot of covert operations, most famously in the Philippines before he was chosen by Allen Dulles to lead this giant – which I’m pretty sure at that time – was the biggest CIA operation in their history.
What he was doing here with this pure psychological warfare to get all these people to come south.
And if you expose who Lansdale is, there isn’t any way that you can say that this was not a CIA-run operation.
This whole idea is to thwart the whole Geneva agreement, and number two to thwart the will of the people of Vietnam.
Because the reason this was done of course, and Eisenhower admitted this later, was that there was no way in the world that the CIA could find any kind of a candidate that was going to beat Ho Chi Minh in a national election.
The CIA did these polls and they found out that Ho Chi Minh would win with probably 75 to 80% of the vote if there was an honest, real election.
That’s why the CIA under Lansdale decided first to get all these new people into the south and then prop up this new government in the south to separate it from what they then called Ho Chi Minh’s area in the north.
Now, understand: that didn’t exist before. France had colonized the whole country.
So now you had the beginning of this entirely new country created by the CIA. There’s no other way around that statement and I really think that the Burns-Novick film to be mild, really underplayed that.
There would have been no South Vietnam if it had not been for Lansdale.
He’s the guy who created the whole country. Now, they picked a leader, a guy named Ngo Dinh Diem who was going to be their opposition to Ho Chi Minh.
Well, the problem with picking Ngo Dinh Diem was number one, he spoke perfect fluent English; number two, he dressed like a westerner that is, he wore sport coats and suits and white shirts and ties and number three, he even had his hair cut like an American.
His family was the same thing: his brother Nhu and Nhu’s wife Madame Nhu.
How on earth anybody could think that somehow Diem and his family was going to win the allegiance of all the people in Vietnam and win elections… well, that wasn’t going to happen.
What Lansdale did is and … You got to admire the way these guys think even if you don’t like the goals they achieve, the way they do it is very clever.
Lansdale, number one, wanted to get rid of Bao Dai because he did not want to have anymore – him and John Foster Dulles had agreed – they had to get rid of the stigma of French colonialism.
They sponsored a phony plebiscite, an up or down plebiscite on bringing Bao Dai back in 1955.
Now, anybody who analyzes that election in 1955 will be able to tell you very clearly that it was rigged.
To give you one example, Bao Dai was not allowed to campaign. It was pretty easy to beat somebody if the other guy cannot campaign, and Lansdale, for all practical purposes, there’s no other way to say this, he was Diem’s campaign manager.
It was CIA money going in and running his campaign and there’s a famous conversation where Lansdale, because he has all this money and because they’ve already built up a police force in South Vietnam, he essentially tells Diem that, “I don’t think that we should make this very blatant. I don’t think you should win with over 65% of the vote.”
Well, Lansdale decided he should be out of the country during the actual election so it wouldn’t look too obvious.
So Diem then went ahead and decided he wanted to win with over 90% of the vote and that’s what it was rigged for. And as everybody who analyzed that election knows it was so bad that you actually had more people voting for Diem in certain provinces than actually lived there.
That’s how bad the ballots were rigged. But it did what they wanted to do. It got rid of Bao Dai, so now in a famous quote by John Foster Dulles, he said words to the effect that: Good, we have a clean face there now. Without any kind of hint of colonialism.
Now, you can believe he said that, it’s actually true. And it shows you the disconnect between the Dulles Brothers and Eisenhower with the reality that’s on the ground there because Diem is going to be nothing but a losing cause.
Now that Diem is in power, Lansdale then goes ahead and advises him to negate the 1956 election and that’s what happens. The agreements that were made in Geneva were now cancelled, and this is the beginning of two separate countries.
You get the north part of Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh and with its capital at Hanoi and you get South Vietnam which is a complete American creation with its capital at Saigon led by Diem.
By the end of 1957, and this is another problem I had with the Burns-Novick series – they try and say and imply that the war began under Kennedy. Simply not true.
And by the way, this is something that Richard Nixon liked to say. He liked to say that, “Well, when I became President I was given this problem by my two predecessors.” No no, not at all.
In the latter part of 1957, I think in either November or December, the leadership in the North, that is Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan and General Giap, they had decided they were now going to have to go to war with the United States.
They began to make war plans at that early date and those war plans were then approved by the Russian Politburo.
And both Russia and China, because in some ways it had been their fault that this happened by advising Ho Chi Minh to be meek and mild at the Geneva conference; they agreed to go ahead and supply Ho Chi Minh with weaponry, supplies and money.
The war now begins. In the first Indochina War, France against the Vietnamese, the rebels in the south were called the Viet Minh.
While now the Viet Minh are converted into the Viet Cong. This rebel force in the south now begins to materialize again except their enemy is Diem.
Now begins the construction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail which crosses down through Laos and Cambodia and this is going to be a supply route to supply these rebels in the south and actually infiltrate troops into the south.
The other way they’re going to do it is through a place called Sihanoukville in Southern Cambodia, there they’re going to bring in supplies by sea.
Now, for all intents and purposes, the war now begins in around 1958.
There begins to be hit and run raids against the Diem regime in the south.
The United States now begins to really build up, not just a police force, which they had done before, but they now begin to build up a military attaché in the south.
By the end of the Eisenhower regime, there’s something like about, if I recall, about 650 military advisers there with the police force that is trained at Michigan State University under a secret program.
The battle in the countryside now begins in earnest: 1958, 1959, 1960. Diem, as he begins to be attacked, now gets more and more tyrannical.
He begins to imprison tens of thousands of suspects in his famous tiger cages.
These bamboo like 2′ by 4′ cages which people are rolled up like cinnamon rolls and kept prisoner, there were literally tens of thousand of those kinds of prisoners by 1960. He actually began to guillotine suspects in the countryside.
As more and more of this militarized situation takes place, it begins to show that the idea that the United States is supporting a democracy is a farcical idea: because it’s not a democracy in the South because the police force is run by his brother Nhu and Diem is very much pro-Catholic and anti-Buddhist and unfortunately, for the United States, about 70% of the population in South Vietnam was Buddhist, even with the hundreds of thousands of people who fled south.
The situation, and by the way, Lansdale was still there. He’s still supervising Diem, trying to hold on to this thing because he had so much invested there.
As time goes on and the situation becomes more militarized, there actually comes to be a coup attempt against Diem in 1960, and the American ambassador in Saigon, I think his name was Elbridge Durbrow, he even lectures Diem that you’ve got to democratize this country, or else you’re going to be the symbol of this whole militaristic situation and you’re going to be under a state of siege, and this won’t work.
That’s the situation that occurs during the election of 1960 with Kennedy versus Nixon. That’s the situation that whoever wins that election is going to be presented with.