tv [untitled] April 5, 2012 11:30pm-12:00am EDT
conference, ho chi minh, the famous communist leader of vietnam, he went to the paris peace conference. he tried to get vietnamese independents here. he was rebuffed by it. he turns to communism. 1920, he founds -- he becomes one of the founding members of the french communist party. in 1930, he establishes the vietnamese communist party. in may of 1941, ho and the communists set up an organization. and this is an umbrella organization of various anti-colonial groups. and they also begin building the first -- their first guerrilla bases. they build a movement based upon mao and in some respects supported by mao and the communists as well. they have their first bases on the border region. during the second world war, ho is involved in some guerrilla activities. some say he's one of the more effective anti-japanese guerrillas. some argue he doesn't do very much. he develops credibility in vietnam as an anti-french factor, as an anti-japanese nationalist.
and he downplays his communist side while doing this. he remains important to ho. in july of 1945, vietnam like a lot of other countries at the end of the second world war is dividing the two occupation zones. and in august of 1945, the emperor, vietnamese emperor, baldi, he abdicates in favor of ho chi minh. this is important politically because it gives ho credibility in this respect. now, particularly in the eyes of the vietnamese people. in september of 1945, ho chi minh declares independence. now, there would be a problem with that. now, the leaders of the communist movement, important for our purposes here, there's obviously a lot more. ho chi minh who we've talked about you can see on the slide. but these other three men here, particularly for our lecture and for your class, they're critical for us. you have the general on the far left there. he's much of the war minister of defense, runs the military committee, basically chief of the army. he has particular views on how to fight the war. on the other side, you have the party secretary, basically the second in command to ho chi minh.
in the political realm. and then you have general tan who emerges as the commander of the vietnamese forces fighting in south vietnam. now, you will have a rivalry between jiap on one hand and another on the other hand as this develops. and how it used to be prosecuting this war in the south. against south vietnam and against the united states. we'll see that here in a few minutes. sometimes the north vietnamese communists in the literature are depicted as super men and do everything right. you'll see they do a lot of things wrong. they're not all on the same page about what should be done either. so the first indochina war. they declared independence in 1945. but declaring independence is one thing. getting it is something completely different. in february of 1946, the french return. they want to reassert control over their former colonies. in december of 1946, the viet men, they staged their first attacks against the french. and this launches an eight-year
war. the communists are driven out of hanoi in the initial fighting. and then the communists withdraw into the mountainous region north of hanoi. in october of 1947, the french launched an extremely large operation called "operation lea." and they're trying to clean the communists out of this area. they hammer the communists really hard, but they have bases to fall back on and they have in some respects sanctuaries in china certainly to draw support from. in february of 1950, the head of the vietnamese communist military force, general jiap, he begins converting the guerrilla army they had built into a regular army. they begin mounting a series of successful attacks against bases and so on particularly along the china/vietnam border. there's a french offensive in late '51 and another in '52 and they fail. and the french effort famously culminates in the battle of den
bien ffu. the north vietnamese, they fight with the french, they move from being a guerrilla army, a light, small guerrilla force to being a conventional force that's able to defeat a great power on the field. now, it's a very -- it's in many ways a very stunning achievement. the geneva courts in 1954 will partition or divide, depends on your point of view, vietnam. and this will end the french involvement. and here the communists, the other communist powers actually pressure the north vietnamese in taking this deal. they're not as interested in having it. but they convince them, south vietnam is weak. it's going to fall very quickly anyway. the north buys on it. they take the deal. and you see a massive transfer of populations from the north and the south. particularly catholics leaving north vietnam and going to south vietnam. now, the north vietnamese regime at this point will enter a
period of consolidation in some respects. now, from 1954 to 1959, the north concentrated on building its structures and building the regime of north vietnam. but ho does some very typical way that the communists did this when they first take over a place. you suppress all the groups in the country that aren't aligned with you. you begin the traditional communist practice of murdering any real opponents and also any ones that you imagine to be opponents. and they killed 100,000 people all in the name of land reform which is actually pretty mild numbers for communist land reform. now, the communists at the same time they're doing this, they never abandon the struggle against south vietnam because, you know, again, this is the first step. you've got north vietnam, yes, but you haven't gotten -- the communists have not gotten what they really want. one of the primary ways they carry out their war during this period against south vietnam and something that becomes a primary tenet of the way they fight south vietnam all through the
course of this is through something they call the extermination of traders campaign. this is basically you kill any official or anybody that's against your regime or anybody that's useful to the south vietnamese regime or you abduct them as well. it's basically, this is a campaign, it's a terror campaign. this is designed to destabilize the government, discredit the government of south vietnam because if you can't protect your officials, then the government has no credibility. well, the communists can protect you. if you come to us. it's also certainly to intimidate anyone that opposes you as well. you can see the numbers here. fairly significant numbers. now also, again, preparation. this is a way of prepping the south for them to take it over. another way, in may of 1959, they begin building what is known as the ho chi minh trail. and general jiap, this is his idea. he basically begins building the supply route through laos and
later to be expanded into cambodia as well. and this is something that's very, very significant to the communist war effort in south vietnam, pivotal, pivotal for much -- for all of their war effort here once they really lunch the military struggle. now, the importance is critical here for supplies, logistics, for manpower and so on. the north devotes a lot of effort to this. at one time they had 50,000 transport workers running it. they have 50,000 north vietnamese engineers that maintain it, another 12,000 infantry that guard it with anti-aircraft weapons and so on. and it became what was a trail eventually became 12,500 miles of highways with 5,000 kilometers of pipelines for fuel. so it's a very significant investment. 2 million people used the trail during the course of the war. and peak traffic was 20,000 tons a month. they moved every possible thing can you imagine. but the primary means of actually moving the supplies, the bulk of them come 100-pound packs on somebody's back down the trail.
most of it's moved that way. and by 1975, you have 25 trails from the main trunk road that lead into south vietnam. so it very much gives the north a way to get around, get into south vietnam in ways that normally they wouldn't have had the ability to do so. it also gives them sanctuary areas in laos and cambodia which is very important for their prosecuting the war. now, again, they're trying to destabilize the south. but the president of south vietnam is a man named zem. he knows -- obviously they know what the north is trying to do. and he actually begins to mount a fairly effective campaign of suppression of the communist insurgents in south vietnam. this, by 1960, is worrying the north vietnamese because what they saw is their cadres being decimated in south vietnam. so they figure they've got to do something about it. so in january of 1959, they escalate the war. and you have here -- this sets the stage for what becomes known
as the second indochina war. and a key piece of this would be infiltration of units from north vietnam into the south. now, the north here is not just waging war. it's sometimes depicted of that. you see the north vietnamese army. there are 10,000, sometimes over 100,000, north vietnamese regular troops. you have the guerrilla forces, but you also have extremely large numbers of vietnamese troops. keep that in mind. there are multiple pieces to this puzzle here. now, the north vietnamese, their grand strategy really for prosecuting this war is what they call revolutionary warfare. what do they mean by this? well, again, the core of it comes from mao's basic tenets of prosecuting a guerrilla war. you see on the graphics in a moment. the guerrilla points, but this is something mao would agree
with as well, you've got to have the idea -- you've got to win the idea war. you've got to motivate the people politically. you do this through indoctrination, terrorism if it takes that. you also have the conventional and unconventional military means that you're going to use. it's very broad-based approach. and you also -- the north also comes to the point where they believe -- that they believed this very early, that you have to mobilize the entire population to do it. everyone is a soldier and everyone is involved in the struggle to conquer south vietnam. now, to prosecute this revolutionary warfare, the north, again, they have a multipronged approach. political as well as military elements. on the political side of it, they have several different things that in their mind fall under political struggle. one of these is deception. and deception and political action. they very much link these things together. deception is always a big part of how the north vietnamese are
going to mask what they're doing in south vietnam. they do a very good job of doing this. we fall for it pretty well. in december of 1960, they set up a successor called the national liberation front. and this was an effort to bring together various anti-dm groups under a communist umbrella. during the war, the north, of course, denies that these are just puppet groups or that they're being united under communism. later they say yeah, we fooled you. but both the military, again, both the military and political moves that they're making in the south, they try to make it look like a lot of this is coming from the south. and they try to make it look like that the military resistance in south vietnam, the insurgency, is something that comes just from the south. though it's not. it's something that's a wholly owned subsidiary of north vietnam. and again, they're very successful in doing this. they're so successful that for a lot of the conventional wisdom about the vietnam war, especially among critics of the american involvement, is that this insurgency in south
vietnam, this is all resistance to the oppressive dm government. no, it's not. now, the communists also, while they're doing this in the first stages in the early '60s, they're expanding their shadow government in the south, trying to bring as much of it under their control as they possibly can. by 1962, the vc in the south, they probably had 300,000 members and probably 1 million supporters. certainly the movement's growing. now, again, terror continued as a primary weapon while they're doing this. and you can see from the quote here how important this is to the way that they prosecute the war. and also, what is important, while they're doing these things against the south, the political and the military, they're also negotiating with the south. and later with the united states as well. but at the same time, negotiation is a political tool in their arsenal. but at the same time, they fight while they're negotiating. and this is important to think about dealing with the north vietnamese. they have a particular philosophy when doing this. a quote from a general -- excuse me, a north vietnamese general
named vin in 1966. quote, in fighting while negotiating, the side which fights more strongly will compel the adversary to accept its conditions. in other words, you know, and during this war, they're constantly negotiations or negotiations for negotiations. in the north vietnamese mind, the more you're negotiating, the harder you fight. because to them, this indicated seriousness. fighting hard indicated seriousness. so when you're negotiating, you fight harder to put pressure on the enemy, and maybe you get a better deal out of it. so that's the important thing when dealing with them. the military struggle element of this is, of course, very, very critical. and you have the conventional part as well as the unconventional elements of the north vietnamese effort. when vietnam is divided in 1954, the north vietnamese leave behind probably 10,000 or 15,000. supporters, who become the cadre
for the vc. who had come north in 1955 to get training. all of these guys become the leadership for the insurgency in the south. it's basically the vc as we call them. i just call them the vc the rest of the time. and they build this vc, the communists very good at organizing things. they organize the vc as kind of a three-tiered force. you have the main force. these are guerrillas that have become stage three. they're basically designed -- they're conventional units. maybe not as heavily armed, but they're conventional units designed to fight the south vietnamese army. you have regional forces, guerrillas who work full time and assigned regions in the south. and then you also have this local vc militia in the areas they control that the south -- that the communists control in you have regional forces in
assigned regions in the south and kind of this local vc militia and the areas they control. that this south, excuse me, the congress control in south vietnam. now, hanoi makes sure that it keeps a very tight control on this organization. and what is going on in the south. in 1961, they establish something called the central office of south vietnam. and this is set up in cambodia. and they do this to run the war in the south. it's basically their command. to run the war in south vietnam. and while they're doing this, they decide the south into various districts so they can organize throughout the country, even down to the village level. now, in 1961, the north intensifies the military as well as the political struggle against the south. and what they're hoping at this point when they do, when they do this is, they think that they can politicize the situation enough and make it violent enough to where they can provoke a general uprising against the south vietnamese regime.
one of the strands that often runs -- certainly always runs through the north vietnamese military thought here is they can create a situation of instability and terror in the south that is strong enough and indoctrinated enough people where they'll get provoked uprising in south vietnam. they never get this but they're hoping it's going to be part of it. this is not unusual for other communist movements to have the same type of view and they're generally just as unsuccessful, at least with a mass uprising. now, critically, at the same time here, they have another issue that's starting to bother them. the u.s. has pretty extensive advisory groups in south vietnam. and the north is worried that if they have too much success in the south too quickly, this would provoke u.s. intervention and u.s. escalation. they develop this problem of balancing, well, how much pressure do we put on the south vietnamese to make this regime collapse if it becomes too clear that we're making it collapse, maybe we'll provoke the americans into becoming bigger and stronger and then this will make it more difficult to make the regime collapse.
but at the same time, we've dot to put pressure on it to win it. so what do we do? so it's a difficult thing for them. and eventually it will be their military efforts and their pressure that will help convince them to support south vietnam more strongly. now, importantly, the north also in 1961 decided that this would probably be a long war. that it would be a protracted struggle and they needed to keep that in mind and they would have to at the same time be patient and still have to worry about the american intervention, too. in december of 1962 after a failed attempt to negotiate a coalition government with the u.s. and with the south, the communists decided that, well, they really had to intensify military action. that was going to be the primary route for doing this. and they began concentrating in the central highlands of south vietnam building base areas, building this as a base area for also fighting the war in the south. now, this action, certainly what they're doing, it provokes a response from the kennedy administration. and the kennedy administration replies with some fairly -- in some respects, a fairly successful methods.
again, there's in argument about this. they reply primarily with a strategic program. this was an effort basically to consolidate populations in rural areas of vietnam. and in some areas it's successful, in some it isn't. it's not managed as well as it could. this is something that for our purposes this frightens the north vietnamese. they see in this areas it's successful from separating them from the guerrillas, and they dislike this a lot. the other counterinsurgency things that the kennedy administration and other administrations are doing, these are things that worry the north vietnamese immensely. now, they also worry that as american involvement is increasing, that they're going to get a war with the u.s. just like they got with the french. now, but the kennedy administration in 1962, they decided to basically neutralize laos and negotiate about it. and this gave the north vietnamese hope that they could
convince the u.s. to withdraw their support from south vietnam. now, in december of 1963, excuse me, in late 1963, this gentleman here will be killed in a coup. and this -- when this happens, this is very helpful to the north vietnamese. they look at this now as being a great opportunity because there's a power vacuum that emerges in south vietnam. and the north now decides that really military effort probably would be their primary tool that could be used for taking over south vietnam. now, to do this, to fight this war, of course, they can't do it on their own. particularly the military resources they need to do it. that north vietnamese do not have the ability to produce them. and so again, we talked about in the beginning how there's a coalitional aspect to the struggle. here's where it comes in, the aid from china and soviet union. the communist regime in china is particularly helpful. and ho made a good effort to cultivate a special relationship
with mao tse-tung, and he usually consulted the chinese about every major decision having to do with the war. now, the chinese, they didn't want to see the u.s. establish in south vietnam either. they looked at vietnam in many respects like they did korea. to them, south korea was a place for american bases. well, north korea -- excuse me, south vietnam was in their mind as well. it's like taiwan where the americans, maybe they could build bases. they didn't like that. in mao's view, the chinese should help the north vietnamese as much as they possibly could. and china became heavily involved in doing so. they helped build the north vietnamese army in the 1950s. massive amounts of military aid. during rolling thunder, the american am booing campaign of north vietnam in the late '60s, the chinese gave lots of help to the north vietnamese. for example, this were 80,000 chinese workers that were building roads and railroads in north vietnam during rolling thunder. and this was pivotal because the north, this chinese help is
pivotal. the north has little help of the north has little hope of convincing the u.s. to negotiate or u.s. to leave just with its own resources. by the mid 1960s, they were worried there was going to be another fight. after 1964 during the gulf of tonkin, as the professor will talk about where you have the first of the shooting between north vietnam and the american navy. this convinces the chinese that they had to commit troops to north vietnam as well. and they have to do this because they're afraid, well, maybe the americans might come into north vietnam. but for chinese troops there, probably they won't. the chinese also started making preparations to fight the americans if they had to. when the u.s. sent major combat units into vietnam in april of 1965, the north vietnamese leaders also feared that they might get an intervention in north vietnam. again, they're looking at korea. the ghost of korea hangs over both sides here in thinking about what to do.
and so in april 1965, the chinese give the order to send troops to north vietnam. and between 1965 and 1969, there are 320,000 chinese troops that serve in north vietnam. at one time there's as many as 170,000. this is critical in many ways. to the north, they want these chinese troops because the more chinese troops there are in north vietnam, that's two things. one, it acts as a trigger. if the americans come north, there will be a war with the chinese. and this is helpful to the north vietnamese. plus, if there are chinese troops in north vietnam, the north vietnamese can infiltrate more of their regular units into the south or cambodia or laos. when you think about american options next week, think about american options for dealing with this war, keep in mind the chinese presence here and the factor that that brings to the table. now, in 1964, the north decided that they would consolidate their control over the central highlands and they would extend
into other parts of lowland areas of vietnam. and they're thinking that now they're getting prepared for what they think is going to be a final offensive against the south. and after the gulf of tonkin incident and the fact that they couldn't negotiated a settlement, the north decided at this point they really had to start committing regular north vietnamese army units to the south because they're fearful the americans are going to come in. they fear they have to match any escalation that's going to happen in the south. they also try to think, well, if we act quickly enough is what they're thinking, maybe we can push the south vietnamese regime over the top before the americans are able to get enough stuff in here to prop it up. it doesn't work quite the way that they planned. but that's certainly what they're thinking. at the same time, they're trying to balance support from the communist bloc, the soviets and the chinese, because you've had this split. which would be something that the north vietnamese do a very good job of continuing to get stuff from both sides. now, at this point, 1965, you
enter the next phase of the war, the american war. as the north vietnamese called it. in 1965, the u.s. starts sending major forces into south vietnam. the soviets at this point heavily commit to supporting the north vietnamese. when the u.s. intervenes, the north here faces a completely new war. and they've got to figure out, okay, how do you counter american power? you've got on one hand american land power but on the other hand you've got american air power as well. both of these things worry them. now, when the u.s. becomes heavily involved, the north, again, they're continuing to prosecute their strategy the way they had before. you've got the political elements of it, but you've also got the military elements of it. and part of the political element of it, this deception and propaganda campaign, when the u.s. becomes heavily involved, the north tries to do everything it can to undermine the american will to fight this
war. and also, they continuously try to portray the american mission as impossible. there's no way the americans can win. you can't do anything here. and you could make an argument that they're so successful in this, that's the conventional wisdom in much of the world today that this is impossible. america can't win no matter what they do. a communist victory is inevitable. they also mask and lied about their motives and their actions. they did this wonderfully, wonderfully well. and they did everything they could do to discredit the u.s. actions in the war. and they were often aided in this by sympathetic elements in the western press, anti-americanism both in the united states and abroad, and they proved very, very successful here. and all of this that they're doing is made easier by the fact that most foreigners don't know anything about vietnam. and they don't know anything about southeast asia. and also you have this strange -- this really odd moral relativism that emerges of a narrative about the war, particularly on the western dialogue about the war. everything that america does becomes portrayed as something that's illegal, immoral. you can't do it. it's criticized.
but the constant and just constant atrocities of the communists are just ignored. forgotten about. that didn't really happen. we won't talk about that. it's a very odd situation that emerges. now, but on the military side of it, again, when the americans come into the war, they have some problems about how to deal with the americans. one of the problems they have is usair power. how do you deal with air defense? they had the brilliant idea, in some ways effective, just have everybody shoot at the planes as much as they can. start with that. but they moved quickly to get help from the chinese and the soviets. they get soviet migs, ground defense stuff and build a defensive and very dangerous air defense network against the united states. now, the ground war, though, dealing with this is the most -- arguably the most important for our purposes here.
and they have to figure out how to fit this ground war against the united states. again, the north -- the generals and the political leaders in north vietnam, they don't agree about how to do this. they fall into two camps here. again, you have the tan bloc that i mentioned in the beginning. they argued that you have to match american escalation and you've got to fight hard the whole time. you've got to do this hoping you can push the south vietnamese regime over the edge before the u.s. builds up too much. they also wanted to increasingly commit north vietnamese army forces to the south and vc units to fighting the americans. they wanted to go to phase three very, very quickly here. now, general jiap has a different view. he's the head of the army, but he wants a slower approach. he argued stay in phase two. protract the war. drag it out. the u.s. will get tired eventually and leave anyway. it can be really bloody if we don't. so let's be a little more patient here. jiap loses the debate on strategy. the vietnamese decide they're going to go for the knockout blow. in july 1965, jiap launches an operation trying to cut south vietnam in half.
north vietnamese defeat at the hands of the american 1st cavalry division. they reassess. they said perhaps phase three isn't the right thing to did here now. they back away from phase three from conventional warfare. and they decide for a while jiap wins the internal debate about how to prosecute this war. as u.s. troop strength rises in 1965, up to 100,000 men by the end of the year, the communists decide, okay, we'll go back to protracting the war. well, concentrate our attacks and yes, we'll fight the u.s. some, but primarily we'll just fight on the periphery. we're not going to go for the big battle, the big blow. this only lasts a while. the north vietnamese reassess. when they're assessing, they do a very good job of identifying what we planned to do. they really assess the united states strategy very, very well. in 1965 they predict the u.s. will build up its forces there,
protect its bases in the population centers, try to build up the south vietnamese army and south vietnamese government. and at the same time, they believed that the u.s. effort would be undermined by a lack of public support for the war. and they also believed the u.s. effort would be undermined by the fact the south army was weak. you've still got this rivalry in the vietnamese high command, how do you prosecute this war? general tan, again, who commands the communist force in the south, he believed that the u.s. would not have enough troops to do what westmoreland was doing, to prosecute the attrition war that he's going to do. and he believed that the u.s. would end up having the same problems and the same fate as the french had. and so he adopts a very aggressive form of phase two where he's really going to -- he's not going to go full conventional war against the americans, but he's going to very aggressively fight the