In the 1960s, the Cold War was on, in Indochina the French were out, and the Americans were quietly in because communism was spreading in Southeast Asia.
Neither President Kennedy nor President Johnson publicized U.S. military advisers being in Vietnam. LBJ knew war was brewing and Americans would soon know about what was going on.
He couldn’t hold onto the secret much longer, so in the summer of 1964 he sent the destroyer USS Maddox into North Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin and later released a story that the Communists twice had attacked the ship.
The first attack happened. The second never did.
Johnson hoped the fake Tonkin story would fire up American public support for being in Vietnam — similar to claims by many that President Roosevelt knew about the pending Pearl Harbor attack but let it happen anyway to justify America’s entry into World War II.
Much of the government’s chicanery in those days would become public years later in Congressional hearings — including one chaired by Idaho Sen. Frank Church (D).
Historical events rarely happen in isolation. Usually one event leads to another. Tracing the dots connecting earlier events to Tonkin, the Vietnam War and into the present probably started in 1620 with the arrival at a church mission in Hanoi by French Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes.
Rhodes soon faced troubles with the Vietnam Royal Court that resented the increasing influence of Catholicism. The influential Court courtesans for example feared for their status in a society being changed by foreigners who insisted on Christian monogamy.
The 1800s was a period of turmoil in Southeast Asia with Asian and European powers competing for hegemony that resulted in constantly shifting land borders and ownership — with France ever in the thick of it.
Following France’s victory over China in the Sino-French War of 1884-85, French Indochina was formed from joining Annam, Tonkin and Cochinchina (all today’s Vietnam). Additional French colonies in Cambodia and Laos — previously under Siamese control — were added a few years later after a war with Siam in 1893. (The name Siam became Thailand in 1938.)
World War II changed everything in Southeast Asia.
Still smarting over those earlier territorial losses, the Thais experienced a surge of nationalism and wanted their old lands back. They sensed German-occupied France was in no position to attend to its possessions on the other side of the world — though the pro-German Vichy French government did have official authority over those colonies.
That didn’t last long however, with the Japanese taking over in 1940 — and angering the U.S.
President Roosevelt then ordered an embargo on steel and oil exports to Japan. The Japanese retaliated by attacking British and American interests from Hong Kong to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 (Dec. 8 in the Far East).
That same year, the Viet Minh was formed as a Vietnamese underground force fighting for independence — resisting both the French and Japanese.
FDR told Secretary of State Cordell Hull privately he didn’t want the French back in Indochina. He also asked Chiang Kai-shek if he wanted Indochina. Chiang said no, but later sent in 200,000 troops to accept the Japanese surrender, and stayed there until 1946.
After the war, the French tried getting their old colonies back, which President Harry S. Truman supported — reversing FDR’s position.
Ho Chi Minh, who spoke English fluently wrote frequently to Truman asking for U.S. aid and support of Vietnamese independence, but the president never responded — possibly because of the Cold War and Ho’s long history of supporting communism, as well as the Truman Doctrine declaring communism must be contained.
Afraid of a domino effect of spreading post-war communism, Truman no doubt saw the French as helping block that spread in Southeast Asia.
Ho gave up trying to gain closer relations with the U.S. and would soon become America’s arch-enemy.
U.S. Naval Institute historian Claude Berube wrote, “Ultimately, out of the chaotic and momentous conclusion of World War II — almost imperceptibly — the die was cast for the coming storm that over the next three decades would pit the world’s greatest superpower against an indigenous movement led by men who, at its birth, sought the friendship and support of the United States.”
President Eisenhower stayed out of the Franco-Vietnamese War. “I cannot conceive of a greater tragedy for America than to get heavily involved now in an all-out war in any of those regions,” he said.
But then he quietly sent in military aid to help the French in Vietnam.
The French failed however to reclaim Vietnam and finally pulled out for good after being defeated by the Vietnamese at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The ensuing Geneva Accords — not signed by the U.S. — called for a temporary split of Vietnam into North and South, to be reunited after elections two years hence.
The split happened — but not the elections.
Then during the Kennedy and Johnson years, the U.S. became deeper involved in Vietnam — all in the name of stopping the spread of communism. At first, most American aid was quiet — but nevertheless leading to war.
The Viet Cong was infiltrating the South and launching a reign of terror, as the U.S. was increasing its support of the “democratic” South — and bringing Ngo Dinh Diem from America and parachuting him in to be president.
What followed was all-out war, with American allies jumping in and more U.S. troops sent by JFK and LBJ.
Then came the Tet Offensive in 1968 — a pivotal event.
The North Vietnamese hoped to defeat the U.S. military by a surprise attack across the South. The attack failed and communist losses were heavy, but it showed the world that the Viet Cong were not “on the ropes,” as American news reports had been claiming.
Then the U.S. stopped bombing Northern Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh trail, and started negotiations to end the conflict. Ho was patient. He continued fighting, believing it would just be a matter of time before Allied resolve would wane and he’d achieve his objectives at the negotiating table.
President Nixon ended the Vietnam War in 1975 — leaving the country to the communist North.
A major fallout of the Vietnam War was ballooning illegal activities by America’s intelligence community — especially the CIA, FBI and NSA
After nationwide anti-war protests, violence and Watergate, whistleblowers, concerned citizens and news media sources began probing, and politicians started their own investigations.
Accusations against Intel agencies included illegal assassinations of world leaders, warrant-less surveillance, break-ins, wire taps, mail opening, drug trafficking, harassing anti-war activists, and countless other sins.
In 1975, a Senate investigating committee chaired by Idaho Sen. Frank Church conducted hearings on the alleged abuses. Other investigations also took place.
Church said on NBC’s Meet the Press, “In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air.
“Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left such is the capability to monitor everything — telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.
“There would be no place to hide.
“If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government — no matter how privately it was done — is within the reach of the government to know.
“Such is the capability of this technology.
“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss.
“That is the abyss from which there is no return.”
Funny how some things never seem to change.
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Contact Syd Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ho the linguist…
Ho Chi Minh was in exile for 30 years, during which time he learned fluent French, English, Russian, and Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese — often speaking directly to communist leaders without using an interpreter.
Privacy is dead…
PRISM is a National Security Agency (NSA) electronic surveillance program that snoops on private data collected by internet servers like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Gmail, Outlook and others that started at 9/11 and burgeoned under today’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
NSA can ask those companies for information on specific persons of interest, but “The U.S. Government insists that it is only allowed to collect data when given permission by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”
On July 8, 2013, the New York Times said PRISM is “a perversion of the American justice system” when “judicial secrecy is coupled with a one-sided presentation of the issues…The result is a court whose reach is expanding far beyond its original mandate and without any substantive check.”
Americans saved Ho Chi Minh…
An interesting point in the history of the Vietnam War: It might never have happened if American OSS (later CIA) intelligence agents had not parachuted into Vietnam weeks before the end of World War II to meet with Ho Chi Minh.
According to an article by Claude G. Berube of the U.S. Naval Institute, assistant intel team leader René Defourneaux said Ho Chi Minh appeared to be “a sick old man clearly suffering from some disease…our medic thought it might have been dysentery, dengue fever, hepatitis…
“Ho was so ill he could not move from the corner of a smoky hut.”
Medic Paul Hoagland treated him with herbs and probably saved his life.
FBI during Vietnam…
Under a covert and often illegal program called COINTELPRO during the Vietnam War, the FBI was “surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting American political organizations, anti-war protesters, the Civil Rights movement—and even Martin Luther King Jr. — and others.
Deadly CIA dart gun…
“A CIA secret weapon used for assassination shoots a small poison dart to cause a heart attack, as explained in Congressional testimony in the video. The dart from this secret CIA weapon can penetrate clothing and leave nothing but a tiny red dot on the skin.
“On penetration of the deadly dart, the individual targeted for assassination may feel as if bitten by a mosquito, or they may not feel anything at all. The poisonous dart completely disintegrates upon entering the target. The lethal poison then rapidly enters the bloodstream causing a heart attack.”