Notes on
Ho Chi Minh, A Life by William J. Duiker
For The U.S. War Against Asia
by William P. Meyers

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Page 4

Source: Ho Chi Minh, A Life by William J. Duiker. Hyperion, New York, ©2000, first edition. Numbers in brackets indicate page numbers for this edition.

It was clear to Ho Chi Minh at the end of World War II that the United States would play a key role in replacing Japan and perhaps the European colonial powers in Asia. He hoped the U.S. government would follow up on FDR's anti-colonial rhetoric, but feared a rivalry with the U.S.S.R. would tilt the U.S. towards France. On assuming power President Harry Truman quickly signaled that the U.S. alliance with France was more important than anti-colonial rhetoric. The U.S.-dominated, new United Nations, like its League of Nations predecessor, did not take a stand against colonialism. Within the State Department the Asia specialists tended to be against handing Vietnam back to the French, but the European specialists argued for backing France in order to push back at the U.S.S.R. and its communist allies. [330]

In late August 1945, with the Vietminh now in control of Hanoi, Truman met with de Gaulle. The outcome was a statement that "the United States did not dispute the French claim of sovereignty in Indochina." But the statement was not widely broadcast, and its effect did not reach U.S. representatives in China until October. Back in August Ho had offered Patti special concessions to U.S. commercial interests if Washington would support independence. But in September the OSS ordered Patti to refrain from political discussions with the Vietminh. [331]

In the south of Vietnam the Vietminh were not as successful as in Hanoi, partly because they were more politically fragmented. British occupation forces arrives on September 12. British Major General Douglas Gracey was a racist and imperialist who favored the return of colonial rule. Essentially the British simply assigned the south of Indochina back to the French. Gracey ordered Japanese troops to disarm all Vietnamese. Soon Gracey released and re-armed the fascist French, who then clashed with Vietminh troops. Many French civilians then rioted, assaulting any Vietnamese they could find. [333-335]

The senior U.S. official in Saigon, Colonel Dewey, was sympathetic to the independence movement and confronted Gracey, who demanded Dewey leave the country. But Gracey soon pulled French troops off the streets and used only Japanese troops for police. Dewey was allegedly killed by Vietnamese soldiers when he was mistaken for a French officer. Ho Chi Minh wrote a letter to Truman expressing his regret for the incident. [335-336]

In early October French troops began arriving in Saigon. If the Vietnamese wanted independence, they would have to fight for it. [337]

Under the Allied agreement, the Chinese (Nationalist Government) military had occupied northern Vietnam to decommission the Japanese troops. Ho and the Vietminh wanted the Chinese to keep out the French. The Chinese did not favor the French, but were concerned about communist influence in the Vietminh; they preferred to work with right-wing Vietnamese nationalists. They wanted the Vietnamese cabinet to have more right-wing members. To show good will Ho ordered Ngo Dinh Diem to be released from prison. Diem (like most fascists) was Roman Catholic and hated communists. Because of the significance of the Catholic population, Ho appointed one Catholic to his cabinet and attended the ceremonies of various religious groups including Catholics. [348-349]

By November 1945 it was clear both China and the U.S. intended to turn all of Vietnam back over to the French government. There was still some hope, however, that liberal elements in France might be prevailed upon to grant independence. [350-355]

Elections were held (except in small areas the French controlled) on January 6, 1946. Although the Vietminh received 97% of the popular vote, as the only national party known to most voters, 70 seats were assigned to opposition members in the national assembly. The new government continued to hope to negotiate independence in return for an alliance with the French. But Charles de Gaulle ordered General Leclerc to use military force to re-establish French sovereignty. [353]

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