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 6

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.

The first napalm, developed at Harvard University and supplied by the United States, was used by the French against Vietnamese troops in December of 1950. Before that the Vietminh were confident of victory. But the massed attack techniques that had worked so well for the communist Chinese were ideal targets for napalm bombs. In one battle the Vietminh suffered over 3500 casualties out of a force of 10,000. Defeated, they retreated back into their mountain sanctuaries. [434-435]

Dwight David Eisenhower ("Ike") became President of the United States in January 1953; it was not at all clear at that time which side would prevail in Vietnam. President Eisenhower had campaigned for a "rollback of communism" and offered more military assistance to the French. A new commander, General Henri Navarre, adopted an aggressive stance, partly to convince the U.S. to give more aid. In September Eisenhower signed a new aid pact. But public support in France was ebbing, and Navarre's request for 12 additional battalions was rejected. [446-447]

As part of a more defensive strategy, Navarre decided to occupy and fortify Dien Bien Phu. [448] The Vietnamese, after careful preparations, attacked there in January 1954. In March Eisenhower refused the French request for direct air support (bombing). On May 6 the French were defeated. Previously planned peace talks opened in Geneva, Switzerland on May 7. The French held Hanoi and much of the South, but were pessimistic about the military situation. On July 21, 1954 a peace treaty was signed calling for two regroupment zones (Vietminh in the north, France & allies in the south, divided at the 17th parallel) to be followed by national elections within 2 years. [452-459]

The Eisenhower administration quickly decided to not accept the results of the Geneva Accords. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced the United States would intervene in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Ho hoped the regroupment zones, the price of peace, would not end up dividing the country. [459-461]

After the signing of the Geneva Accords the DRV decreed fairly generous treatment terms for former civil servants, businessmen, etc. They did take over businesses owned by the French. Religious freedom was declared. However, over 800,00 Vietnamese headed for the south, many of them Roman Catholics egged on by priests. This created some difficulties since the Catholics had been close to the French and made up much of the business and educated elite. [465-466]

Ngo Dinh Diem was named the new prime minister in the south by Bao Dai. Diem had lived in the U.S. in the early 1950s and spent some time at a Catholic seminary. Eisenhower and U.S. officials in general were not optimistic about Diem's abilities. Diem's government was based in Saigon, but was filled with refugees from northern and central Vietnam, creating antagonism with locals from the very start. [468]

However, nearly 900,000 Roman Catholics remained in the north. On the one hand some were suspected of secret loyalty to the French or Bao Dai, on the other seminaries were established and the government recognized the authority of the Pope in the internal affairs of the church. [486]

In South Vietnam (RVN: Republic of Vietnam) suspected communists were executed, over 2000 executions taking place between 1957 and 1959; many more people were imprisoned. Because of attacks, communist party membership plummeted to under 2000 members by the end of 1957. Diem, however, managed to alienate many people in his attempt to crush all political opposition: all opposition parties were declared illegal. Diem did launch a land reform program, at U.S. urging, but the loopholes and accompanying corruption meant little was done. In fact, peasants who had received land confiscated from the French and their puppets during the revolution were forced to return it. [510-511]

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