(An unpublished manuscript from about 1969)

By Ira Bodry

Introduction Letter From A Dead Man page 1, 2
Chapter I Stubborn and patient National Resistance page 10
Chapter II Modern Viet Nam: Product of or Reaction to the Spanish Inquisition page 16
Chapter III "Mad Jack" Disguised as Uncle Sam Draws First Blood page 44
------------ Letters to and from Captain John Percival, Captain, USS Constitution page 58
Chapter IV The American Revolution and War of Independence page 90
Chapter V Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God page 95


            This book is based, in part, on documents which have only recently become available. To my knowledge there is nothing in English giving a coherent account of the period 1945 and 1946. And yet, it is this period in which the history of Viet Nam took a decisive turn: namely, reassertion of independence, this in turn provoking an attempt by France at reconquest (1945-1954). In 1946, the thinking processes and concurrent actions of DRVN [Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, the name for what the US called North Vietnam - Ed] leaders (the same men sit in Hanoi today) were laid bare in many official and private meetings with representatives of the French Government. It is therefore inexcusable to claim (as some highly placed American policy makers have) that there was no objective basis for knowing how "Hanoi" would react to the bombing, or for that matter, to any other move. The record of the DRVN leadership, whether we approve of it or not, is both clear and consistent. Unfortunately, no one who counted dared to examine that record. Such probing would have revealed not only the consistency of Ho Chi Minh and his cohorts, but also the inconsistency, vacillation and basic dishonesty of U.S. policy in that area from the time F.D.R.'s pledges were renounced in 1945 by Harry Truman until we sided openly in 1950 with a thinly disguised war of colonial reconquest. A truthful, honest and unselfish individual in the Saigon government is rare indeed. Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao was one (until assassinated in cold blood by henchmen of Gen. Nguyen Chanh Thi). Col. Pham's

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'Letter from a Dead Man,' published in Newsweek after his death follows:


            Newsweek Pentagon correspondent Lloyd H. Norman met Col. Pham Ngoc Thao, regarded as a troublesome coup-maker. Pham was exiled to the U.S. as press attaché at the Washington Embassy. Shortly after Christmas, 1964, Pham left his family in Washington, appeared briefly in Feb. 1965 as one of the leaders of a plot against Gen. Nguyen Khanh. A wanted fugitive, he disappeared. Last week, he was caught and killed, only the day before Norman received this letter from Saigon dated June 4 ... excerpts follow:

Dear Mr. Norman:

You could, from afar, think that I am a born conspirator. This is an error. I think hard before acting. If Nguyen Khanh had been useful, truly useful ... I would have supported him completely. But he was bad for the country, and so I worked to overthrow him. The Americans initially fought me tooth and nail, but afterward realized I was right. Washington dreams often, with eyes open, because it bases its actions on reports which, though they may be sincere, are incorrect. The problem of Viet Nam has been poorly understood for the last twenty years

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since 1945. If one does not begin with the facts of 1945*, a good solution will not be found, and the Americans will continue to be on the wrong side all the time ... politically, one must realize that the Resistance against the French colonialists was a nationalistic war. Therefore one must draw the resistant elements into the nationalist government... (Newsweek, 26 July, 1965. p. 40)

            One wonders whether this counsel has been adopted by anyone in high office: "Begin with the facts of 1945." It may also be of interest to observe how often U.S. Policy today commits the same blunders (even in the same order) as France did almost twenty years ago.

            Reconciliation and amity between French and Vietnamese not only failed then. It is still an unfulfilled hope. Inquiry into the background of that failure may be of use to those who wish to understand the roots of current thinking, both that of Ho and that of de Gaulle. The racial conflict involved two decades back, a vital aspect of the picture, had more than a superficial resemblance to the American racial problem. Although here are also important differences between the racial situation in colonial Indochina, an that in certain parts of the U.S. the similarities are obvious enough. In any event, this was one of the things Professor Fall and myself could easily agree on when I was fortunate enough to talk with him in January, 1966.

* Significantly, Paul Mus wrote in 1951, at a time when our Col. Pham was a high intelligence officer in Viet Name's war effort in South Viet Nam," ... the trouble (in French thinking) comes ... from initial disregard of the Vietnamese Resistance of 1945 and 1946 ...," p. 68, Sociologie d'une Guerre.

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            The first question which people, whether they are radio interviewers, or fellow travelers (on a Pennsylvania R.R. lounge car), throw at the author is: "Have you been over to Viet Nam?" The most erudite "No, but..." leaves the auditor coldly indifferent to whatever follows. So it seems essential to demolish the almost universal prejudice, to try to show it is neither necessary nor sufficient to "have been there," in order to have something to say on the subject worthy of attention. First of all, it is not necessary. The innumerable, firsthand accounts, most of them translated from the French, offer a passable substitute for personal presence, may in fact provide the ingredient usually missing in the American approach: an overall, historically valid perspective.* Historical perspective is most useful if one wishes to "catch" pompous officialdom in glaring misstatements which go by unchallenged by opposition Senators equally ignorant of the past.** Most of these gentlemen have been to Viet Nam, some have served there. Deeply ingrained with what must be called superficial anti-colonialism, they recoil from the possibility that an official and officious Vietnamese source may be the worst as far as objectivity on the history of a colonial past shrouded in oblivion or unpleasant memories. Aside from a solid historical framework.

* General Nguyen Van Vinh, one of the top commanders of PAVN, the army of the DRVN, said in 1966 to Wilfred Burchett: "We do not consider very competent either the generals in the field, ARVN, or the overall direction from the Pentagon. We think they (i.e. the U.S.A.) are especially week in overall analysis." Burchett, Viet Nam North. p. 144
** See Report on Senate Hearings,j "Situation in Viet Nam. Hearings before Se. Mansfield's subcommittee on Organization of the Department of State ... 86th Congress..." 30 and 31 July 1959. None of the Senators now prominent in criticizing administration policy challenged egregious historical errors of witnesses flown in from Saigon to give the official version.

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or unpleasant memories. Aside from a solid historical framework, a certain feeling for the downtrodden, a feeling deliberately discouraged in the fearful fifties, is essential. Affluent America of 1967 is, from Suburbia on in, very poor indeed as far as capacity to feel deeply what oppresses others. Callous, indifferent, passive cruelty, impersonal handling of suffering these are standards which few question in the great centers of wealth and learning. In Viet Nam today, both the leaders and followers "on the other side" are imbued with hot and romantic feelings towards their struggle.* How can a callous, cold and duly certified "expert" on Operations Research, such as abound in the Pentagon, grasp a state of mind capable of combining the logic of Leninist insurrection with the veneration passion of ancestor worship? ** Practically all those who are read in America today are not only morally mutilated as indicated above, they are also arrogant from their status as knowing and all-judging commentators, commentators of such preeminence they are not required to take the trouble to study any subject before pontificating on it.

            As to sufficiency, the fact that the late, esteemed Professor B.B. Fall had been to Viet Nam many times before 1965 did not keep him from misjudging the situation. Professor Fall then expressed the opinion that North Viet Nam would collapse within six months of a U.S. air war.***

*Pham Van Dong, premier of the DRVN, told Jean Lacouture in 1961: "But we Communists, especially Vietnamese Communists, are romantics ... fortunately." Lacouture, Between Two Truces, French Edition. p. 56.
**As far back as 1930 the young revolutionary student Nguyen spoke of the Communist Party with the same reverential tone his elders used when talking of their ancestors. Louis Roubaud, le Viet Nam. p. 210.
***Briefing given by Professor Fall to the "Friends Committee on National Legislation. Mr. Ed Snider, then head of FCNL, reported this to the author.

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            Another widely acclaimed "expert," Robert Shaplen, who had made dozens of trips to Viet Nam between 1946 and 1966, stated in August of that year that it was very much his feeling that negotiations between the U.S. and the D.R.V.N. would take place shortly.*

            The Chief of U.S.I.A., Saigon,** in a contrite substitute for psychotherapy, produced a most important volume on his two year tour over there. Perhaps the most significant passage in that book states flatly: "...The unpleasant truth was that few of us *** in 1962 (nor for that matter two years later) really had faced up to the depth of our ignorance of the peasant and the nature of the war in which he was of such pivotal importance. Top American officials mouthed platitudes. A standard opening was "This is a war for the hearts and minds of the people." All of us, in truth, were long on eloquent pronouncements, but woefully short on knowledge of what we were talking about." **** The U.S. Mission in Viet Nam, all of whom had not only been there, but remained for long periods, were "operating in a world of illusion..." *****

            Lack of background, a lack which "having been there" could not efface, was by no means limited to U.S. officials. Prize-winning critics shared it. David Halberstam pines in recollecting that, for no valid reason discernible to him, U.S. procedure in Viet Nam differed from that followed in Africa, that here were two areas

* ABC-TV program Scope, the War in Viet Nam. Interviewed by Howard K. Smith.
** John Martin Mecklin.
*** "us" means the people in the American Embassy in Saigon as well as their colleagues outside it.
**** Mecklin, Mission in Torment. 1965, p. 73.
***** Ibid. p. 100
(See also statement by Sec. Defense Robt. S. McNamara toward just that he, McNamara, after more than seven trips to Viet Nam, finally admitted he had never acquired a grasp of the fundamental realities.)

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about equally "underdeveloped," * and yet such drastic changes... Such yearning to to Africanize the Vietnamese problem is at the heart of his contemptuous attitude towards any Vietnamese government, an attitude which turned to hot and lasting anger when the extra-territoriality then still available in much of Africa to the unofficial, yet semiofficial N.Y. Times man was denied. Two of the major authorities on Viet Nam, writing a half century apart, might have proved enlightening to Mr. Halberstam had he taken the trouble to consult them, a most unlikely event. In 1902, Paul Doumer, Governor General for five years in Indochina, began his memoirs. He wrote: "They (i.e. the Vietnamese) reproach us (i.e. the French) for our inexplicable preference for Blacks, whom they consider their inferior in intelligence and courage." ** Paul Mus, perhaps one of the leading contemporary scholars, in 1952: "Let us keep in mind, that some Vietnamese have traditional repugnance to see themselves put on the same level as the 'Blacks'" ***

            One way of looking at the war now raging is as an effort on the part of the Johnson Administration to degrade the people of South Viet Nam to the condition of the Negro masses in this country: many permanent welfare clients, moral decay, complete dependence on Washington for an essentially aimless existence, with no real hope of escape. In short, a complete lack of self-respect.

* The use of "underdeveloped" with the scornful implication of under-civilized is Mr. Halberstam's choice. His view is in Making of a Quagmire, 1965. Pp. 30-32.
** Paul Doumer, l'Indochine Francaise. Second Edition. p. 86.
*** Paul Mus, Sociologie d'une guerre. 1952. p. 47.

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            Another aspect of the futility of merely "having been there" is the scant possibility of genuine communication between ordinary Vietnamese and foreigners, Americans especially. As far back as 1950, Robert Shaplen determined empirically that ordinary people in Saigon, as opposed to prominent politicos, would not talk to foreigners.* This was clarified in 1966 by an emphatic explanation given by a highly regarded young Vietnamese now studying here.** He claimed that in South Viet Nam today only the influential few have any immunity from arbitrary arrest and summary punishment without trial. Open criticism of the government to a stranger, much less a foreigner, is therefore very dangerous. Aside from danger, there is also a kind of hostile aloofness, which crushes confidence before it sprouts.***

            A further obstacle rarely emphasized is the intellectual perspective adopted by Imperialism. A revealing feature of all official American accounts is that they leave the impression Viet Nam didn't really exist prior to 1954. The following quote from J. Nehru (1942) is relevant: "What has astounded me is the total inability to the British to think in terms of the new world situation, in terms of realism---realism being more than military realism, it means political, psychological and economic

* "Chien and Dr. Huyen (i.e. important political figures) were willing to talk to American correspondents... With a Vietnamese friend, I spent several mornings wandering around the city (Saigon) trying to engage people in conversation...(no success)... 'If you want to know about us, take us to the police station,' snapped a fisherman, turning his back...Shaplen, The Lost Revolution. 1965. Pp. 73 et seq.
** This young man whom I shall call V. was highly recommended by the Embassy of the "Republic of Viet Nam" in Washington. He was a student leader in Hue.
*** V. exhibited this until I was able to penetrate his reserve. Michael Field, correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, wrote in his book, The Prevailing Wind, p. 292: "It demands great patience to penetrate the crust of suspicion in which most Vietnamese encase themselves."

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realism also... Englishmen, whoever they may be, cannot think of India except as an appendage of England. Their history of India begins with their occupation of India." *

            Finally, almost a half century ago, Bruce Lockhart, a young British diplomatic agent in Russia, had an interview which he later put into his book: "Lenin smiled. 'Like all your countrymen think in concrete military terms. You ignore the psychological factors. This war (it was the early part of 1918, and Lenin was referring to the Great War) will be settled in the rear and not in the trenches.'..." **

* Nehru's remark is quoted in Theo H. White, Thunder out of China. 1946. p. 93.
** Bruce Lockhart, British Agent. 1933. p. 237

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Go to Chapter 1

CONTENTS: Background  
Introduction Letter From A Dead Man page 1, 2
Chapter I Stubborn and patient National Resistance page 10
Chapter II Modern Viet Nam: Product of or Reaction to the Spanish Inquisition page 16
Chapter III "Mad Jack" Disguised as Uncle Sam Draws First Blood page 44
------------ Letters to and from Captain John Percival, Captain, USS Constitution page 58
Chapter IV The American Revolution and War of Independence page 90
Chapter V Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God page 95

Editors notes: This unpublished manuscript by Ira Bodry, was written and typed sometime between 1968 and given for publication to Walter Teague in 1970. Unfortunately some of the citations are unreadable and a few may be missing. Where possible such items are indicated. The preparation of this text for the the web and a scanned and notated version were prepared by Walter Teague and other volunteers from 1999 through 2013. This publication is copywrited by Walter Teague, Adelphi, Maryland. (C).

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