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From Tonkin to Tikrit: Communist Propaganda, the Wars in Vietnam and Modern World History

Marc Jason Gilbert
Hawaii Pacific University


     The overwhelming majority of scholarly monographs and exhibitions which address the power of propaganda in world history examine single events or processes in world history, such as the Spanish-American War or communism. Relatively few address the issue of change or continuity over time. This is not surprising given that propaganda aimed at mobilizing the masses is generally, if wrongly, regarded as characteristic of modern society alone, inhibiting longitudinal analysis. Moreover, only a very few studies have a comparative focus, possess multicultural content or attempt to show connections or interaction between societies. One recent exhibition that does do so, entitled "Wearing Propaganda," provides great insight into how Japanese, American and British societies projected support for their respective war efforts via personal clothing in 1937-1945.1 Yet, this exhibit demonstrated another common flaw in studies of propaganda: it does not examine how each society reacted to the other's propaganda, not merely in terms of immediate effectiveness, but long-term impact. For example, the image of Rosie the Riveter is well-known for aiding the American war effort and for its place in American feminist history, but does it now have any resonance in recent Japanese as well as American efforts to increase the female component of their workforces? For these reasons: should the effort by communist-led forces to place race or ethnicity at the center of their over 25-year propaganda campaign to undermine the morale of non-white forces of occupation is particularly worthy of attention by world historians. Rooted in Vietnamese traditional forms of resistance to occupiers and the Vietnamese colonial response to Enlightenment ideals as well as communist nationalities policy, this campaign was aimed at the latent nationalism, social discontent or moral values of the targeted groups. It held the potential to empower those groups at home as well in the field to alter their own situation and is a strategy that being pursued by other actors in the current Iraq War, lending the Vietnamese effort a universalism which students examining the history of propaganda may find relevant as well as challenging.

From Ancient Leaflets to Modern Pamphlets

The Vietnamese people have been among the most adept at exploiting the dual nature of warfare, which is at once political as well as military, a concept in Vietnamese called đấu tranh.2 As early as the fifteenth century, the Vietnamese fought to break the collective will of its foreign and allied domestic enemies as a means of hastening their defeat in the field. This included deliberately undermining the morale of foreign forces of occupation by various non-military means, including psychological warfare employing propaganda leaflets. Lê Lợi's successful ten year war against Chinese forces and their Vietnamese allies (1418-1427) is believed to have been aided by the circulation of leaves inscribed with political exhortations. Grease was applied to the leaves, which was then eaten by ants, cutting the message into the leaves, which were distributed by placing them in rivers and along forest paths. These messages seemed created and spread by supernatural forces and were extremely effective in aiding Lê Lợi's rebellion and ascension to the Vietnamese throne as Emperor Lê Thái Tổ.3 These tactics were part of a larger strategy called Địch vân [struggle in occupied territory]. By the twentieth century, this effort to erode the will of the occupier became sufficiently sophisticated to include appeals to the love of the occupier for their own homeland, or to their situation within it, and the corresponding injustice of their presence on Vietnamese soil. It also made reference to representations of the race, nationality, culture, and/or ethnic identity of the occupier as a means of both rallying opposition to an invader and also of defining relations with the occupier, in positive as well as negative terms, as it suited the circumstances. This strategy is apparent in the ideological roots of, and tactics employed by the communist-led Việt Minh, the Democratic Republic of Việt Nam and the National Liberation Front in propaganda campaigns aimed at non-white troops among British, French and American occupying forces in Vietnam between 1945 and 1975.4 Such success as was achieved by these campaigns can be traced to their leadership's sensitivity to a variety of contemporary trends in Vietnamese society,: communist international ideology and global political culture. These trends included the pervasive modernist universalism, from communism itself to feminism and from human rights to self-determination, which came to characterize Vietnamese anti-colonialist politics by the 1920s. These modernist values not only helped shape early Vietnamese communism's peasant based ideological orientation, but led communist leaders to reshape Vietnamese history, including its record of repelling invaders, to render the pursuit of these values more intelligible to the masses, as well as to legitimize that struggle in their eyes and those of Vietnam's would-be enemies. This orientation permitted Vietnamese communists to engage on their own terms the international communist movement's promotion of the rights of "nationalities" and National Front strategies, which evoked respect for ethnic minorities, as well as the need for solidarity among all non-white victims of Western imperialism. It also influenced Hồ Chí Minh's production of a series of documents which equated the contemporary international fight against racism and colonialism with Vietnamese national goals as is the case with the now famous evocation of universalistic ideals of the European Enlightenment in the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence in 1945. 5 These values and trends, as interpreted by Hồ Chí Minh and applied by his long-time military commander, Võ Nguyên Giáp, were translated into effective means of exploiting the vulnerabilities of non-white forces of occupation during the succeeding thirty year's war of national liberation and reunification.

The Việt Minh appeal to the 20th Indian Infantry Division in Vietnam, 1945-1946

In March 1945, the Japanese had taken over direct administration of Indochina from its Vichy administrators and placed the French colonial population under confinement. With the end of war, thousands of Japanese soldiers awaited surrender in Indochina, but the disarmed French in Việt Nam were in no position to reassert their authority. That authority was challenged by a "national front" movement called the Việt Minh led by Hồ Chí Minh. Hồ Chí Minh hoped to use the power vacuum emerging in post-war Indochina to recover the independence of the Vietnamese people that had been lost with the French conquest of the country in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. His forces entered Hanoi on 19 August 1945 and on 2 September he was installed as President of a newly formed Democratic Republic of Vietnam, with the Franco-Japanese-supported Emperor Bảo Đại voluntarily abdicating in its favor.

     Agents of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Việt Nam who had worked closely with the Việt Minh in a guerilla campaign against the Japanese, were eager to assist Hồ in establishing this new government. Hồ Chí Minh's abilities and pragmatism had impressed both these OSS officers and Abbot Low Moffat, head of the 6 President Roosevelt's personal emissaries in Asia, Lieutenant Colonels Louis Johnson in New Delhi and Peter Dewey in Sài G̣n, promoted the idea that the United States sought an orderly withdrawal of the British from India and the French from Indochina. However, as the Pentagon Papers make clear, American policy was indecisive. At the Allied conference at Yalta in February 1945, the United States agreed to the French and Dutch recovery of its colonies to Asia. Then, for months afterwards, it pushed for these possessions to instead be placed in a trusteeship system which encourage rapid decolonization and independence. Accordingly, throughout the summer of 1945, it acted to ban Allied shipping from transporting French and Dutch troops to forcibly re-occupy their respective colonies in Southeast Asia. However, at the crucial moment, the U. S. bowed to French and British demands to permit the colonial powers to re-occupy these territories and make their own determination whether or not to offer trusteeship or independence.7

     Hồ Chí Minh's contacts with pro-decolonization American agents of the OSS may have given him hope, if eventually still-borne, that post-Yalta discussions about the post-war future of Europe's colonies, such as Roosevelt's trusteeship plan, might lead to independence. This information may have encouraged the Việt Minh to put the best possible face on Vietnam's temporary occupation by allied troops in the autumn of 1945. In accordance with the strict terms of the Allied conference at Potsdam (held between July 17 to August 2, 1945), south of the 16th parallel 20,000 men of the 20th Indian Division were assigned the duty of formally taking the surrender of 70,000 Japanese that had capitulated with the end of hostilities. While led by both British and Indians, that division had no European regiments, as these had already been demobilized. North of the 16th parallel, over 200,000 Chinese troops were to perform the same duties.

     On September 8 when the lead units of the British 20th Indian Division arrived in Sài G̣n, its commander, General Sir Douglas Gracey, was warmly greeted by an ideologically heterogeneous, if Việt Minh controlled, Committee of the South which hoped to negotiate with him regarding any political issues so as to sustain their carefully constructed image as having Allied support.8 Insofar as the Việt Minh knew, Gracey had little interest in Indochinese political affairs. The orders he shared with local Vietnamese directed him to take the surrender of the Japanese and establish order in the Sài G̣n-Chợ Lớn area and no more. Accordingly, the Committee of the South strove to assist Allied efforts and promote their own "national front" ideology by disarming local revolutionary committees. The latter were warned that "those who incite the people to take up arms will be considered as saboteurs and provocateurs, enemies of national independence . . . Our democratic liberties will be guaranteed by our democratic allies."9 Within two days of the arrival of the British troops, the Committee of the South also acted to shut down the rival hard-line Trotskyite People's Committees who had denounced any collaboration with Allied Forces and thus represented a common threat to the Committee of the South and the British. On 14 September, the Việt Minh police chief and Communist Party stalwart Dương Bạch Mai "sent an armed detachment to where the Peoples' Committees were meeting in assembly. They broke it up, tearing down the red flags that bedecked its assembly rooms, destroying its records, and arresting and imprisoning its leaders."10 Yet, within the next ten days, the Việt Minh leadership came to learn that the British and French governments had decided to act in concert to defy the wavering but clear anti-colonialist course favored by American, Chinese and Soviet decision-makers and intended to use the Allied forces in the south as best they could to restore French rule.

     The wartime British ruling Conservative Party's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had long before sworn that he had "not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire."11 Churchill would accept nothing regarding the wartime Atlantic Charter's declaration regarding self-determination of peoples that compromised Commonwealth policy, a fact President Roosevelt learned the hard way: Churchill undermined Colonel Johnson's efforts to broker an early British withdrawal from India. He also supported the return of Indochina to France as a way of further bolstering the chances that Britain might preserve its own imperial patrimony, despite Roosevelt's inclination to replace European colonies with a trusteeship system.

     Churchill was replaced in August 1945 by Clement Atlee, whose Labour Party was wedded to granting full independence to India. However, this change in government did not alter Britain's determination to preserve its post-war imperial interests, even though post-war demobilization was restricting its capacity to use British military forces as instrument of this policy. The leaders of Britain's post-war left-wing government justified the morality of this position on the grounds that they were not as yet prepared to manage the rapid decolonization that the immediate post-war fall of other European imperial regimes might initiate. Giving up Indochina too quickly also sent the wrong message to Indian nationalists, with whom the British were negotiating.12 They also told themselves that the French and the Dutch had suffered mightily at the hands of Germany and did not deserve to have their allies pull their colonies out from under their war-damaged metropoles.13 Accordingly, the War Cabinet though Southeast Asia Command directed the 20th Indian Division to Indochina and the 5th Indian Division to Java not merely to effect the surrender of the Japanese and see to the needs of Allied prisoners of war and internees, but also to re-establish civilian rule and re-install the colonial administration "when it is in a position to maintain services," in keeping with the provisions of the Yalta Conference.14

     While these orders were issued thorough by Southeast Asia Command, its chief, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and his colleagues in India, Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, and Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, stridently opposed them. All feared that the use of Indian troops to undermine freedom movements in Southeast Asia would come at a high price in India, as they anticipated that Indian nationalist leaders would be opposed to these operations. They were correct in this assumption. Ultimately, both Mohammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League, and Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Indian National Congress, launched a rare combined assault on the government's use of Indian troops in Southeast Asia. Nehru was so angry at the government's posture that he considered visiting the Indonesian nationalist leader Sukarno on the battlefield.15 However, while Mountbatten and the Indian government made sorties against the home government's anti-nationalist program in Southeast Asia, the commanders of the 5th and 20th Divisions acted energetically to give effect to the War Cabinet's views.

     Despite his assurances to the Việt Minh, Gracey lost no time moving to fulfill the War Cabinet's mandate. Gracey had no interest in the post-Yalta discussions that rendered his orders less definitive than they appeared and he ignored Southeast Asia Command's contesting of the War Cabinet's policy.16 He did so because he was in full agreement with the War Cabinet's orders. Like generations of imperial officers before him, he dismissed the possibility that the Indochinese had any legitimate political aspirations and was eager to further the Anglo-French effort to avoid going gently into the post-imperial night. He was so determined to do so that he lent support to a successful French anti-nationalist coup in Cambodia and was disappointed that he could not do the same in Laos.17 Gracey was even willing to act against Mountbatten's express orders to refrain from extending his authority outside of Sài G̣n.18

     Gracey justified his actions by arguing that he had no choice but to restore the French administration in Indochina because of the Việt Minh's struggles to suppress more radical groups, such as Trotskyites, who were ironically bent on directly attacking British troops. These skirmishes were held to be proof that the Việt Minh was both unable to control the internal political situation and also lacked the ability to prevent their men from attacking the French in his zone of operations. In fact, Gracey's own subordinates were fully cognizant of the irony inherent in these propositions and found the former especially untenable. They argued prophetically that the French would be no more likely to keep public order in Gracey's designated zone of command than the Việt Minh.19 Gracey also claimed he was forced to act by the need to control rising unrest outside his restricted zone of operations in the countryside outside Sài G̣n,20 though even there the Committee of the South was successfully extending its authority into the surrounding provinces, taking control over those revolutionary organizations that had spontaneously arisen in the villages.21 The issues of chaos and lack of security were certainly useful to what today would be called the "spin" Gracey was using to provide an acceptable personal and public face to his orders to return Vietnam to the French. That they were, indeed, "spin" is suggested by his flexibility in the use of rationales. Later, when the Cold War in Asia was gaining momentum, Gracey cited the Việt Minh's communist orientation as the original justification for his actions.22

     Gracey gave effect to his presumptive orders and predilections on 23 September, when he released 1,500 interned French soldiers and officials then under Vietnamese guard in the main Sài G̣n jail, gave them arms, and permitted them to go on a rampage, perpetrating random acts of violence against any Vietnamese unlucky enough to cross their path. Gracey and his French allies immediately expelled the Việt Minh from the City Hall and began mass arrests of Việt Minh officials. Gracey then ordered sweeps by his men of the neighboring countryside to hunt down any "Annamite" forces. These sweeps were facilitated by re-arming the Japanese troops whose surrender he had just effected, much to the further shock and dismay of Gracey's subordinates, who, seeing the march of nationalism and the transparency of French ambitions in the region more clearly than their commander, urged him to re-consider his anti-nationalist position before it was too late.23 They sought in vain to convince him that the whole situation could easily be resolved if the French would do what they believed Britain had done where the 20th had last served, in Burma: assure the indigenous people that sovereignty would soon be transferred to them.24

     Tragically, Gracey's newly arrived senior political advisor, Henry Norman Brain, quickly opened discussions with Vietnamese leaders and ultimately convinced Gracey that his opponents were not, as French officials had convinced the General, anarchists or Chinese-backed bandits, but legitimate agents of political change. Though Gracey would later bluster that he had been happy to "kick" the Vietnamese out of Sài G̣n,25 Brain's effort to dissuade him from unquestioned acceptance of the prevailing Anglo-French line slowly began to get through to the general: by December, Gracey was horrified that French officers were throwing the same vile racial epithets at his Indian and Nepali troops as they habitually directed at Africans.26 Unfortunately, by the time Brain was able to impress Gracey of the true complexity of the political situation, it was too late for an Anglo-Vietnamese rapprochement. Gracey's coup of 23 September had convinced the Committee of the South that there was no recourse open to them but armed resistance, They had thereafter commenced guerilla operations against anything that seemed part of French or British efforts to thwart the turnover of power to anyone but themselves. The violent Vietnamese reaction to what they perceived as Gracey's breach of trust rendered still-born Brain's subsequent peace overtures and was taken by Gracey as validation of his own anti-nationalist posture.27

     With the die thus cast against the Việt Minh, Gracey faced another political obstacle in completing his intended mission in Vietnam. Some units of the 20th were potentially rife with the same aspirations as the local Việt Minh forces: colonial resistance and the struggle for independence. The orders sending the 5th and 20th divisions to Southeast Asia had taken note that these were among "the most reliable," but that very notation raised the issue of untrustworthiness that had never been very far from the thoughts of British commanders since what they styled the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, or what Indians came to call The First Indian War of Independence.

     Fortunately for the British, the 20th had previously proven immune to the calls of exiled Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose to join his Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army (INA). During the war, Bose, a former ally-turned-bitter-rival of Mohandas K. Gandhi, had escaped from British custody through Afghanistan with Nazi help. Bose was convinced that India's postwar administration as a free country should follow authoritarian lines and he had thus not hesitated to seek help from Germany and Japan in a bid to unseat the British in India. The Japanese permitted him to recruit his INA from British-Indian units captured in Singapore and Hong Kong, but they sought to use these forces primarily for propaganda purposes. Accordingly, the INA was sent to Kohima on India's eastern frontier to plant Bose's INA flag on Indian soil. But by then, the Japanese were a spent force in Southeast Asia and the INA served as mere cannon fodder during the subsequent Japanese retreat through Burma.28

     When the British sought to try the INA's officers for treason in 1945-6, they almost lost control of the armed forces of India. It was the fear of such a development that led Mountbatten and Wavell to try to dissuade the War Cabinet from allowing Gracey to restore French and Dutch control over their Southeast Asian possessions. Wavell was convinced the INA trials and the use of Indian troops in Vietnam and Indonesia were the most serious political contretemps then facing his government.29 In August-September 1945, these concerns were only just rising to the surface and Gracey's own troops in Indochina seemed loyal enough. However, the fluid political situation in India meant that they remained vulnerable to the propaganda of the Việt Minh. Gracey's intelligence staff provided him with copies of flyers collected by the French that made it clear that the Việt Minh was well aware of the nationalist issue among Indian troops. These appeals included direct references to Indian National Congress leaders' concerns about the imperialist role Indian troops were playing in Vietnam, demonstrating the Việt Minh's clear understanding of the global post-war situation. All reflected a sentiment Hồ Chí Minh frequently shared with Giáp: that that their success could only be achieved through mastery of the political, rather than the military, dimension of warfare, most particularly in regard to the problem of foreign forces. The following are 3 examples of Việt Minh's leaflets appealing for the support from, or failing that, for military disengagement by their fellow Asians, who they hoped would join their "sacred" and "holy" struggle:


Figure 1a

Figure 1b

Figure 1c
    Figure 1: Việt Minh Appeals to British-Indian Troops30

     As crude and as inaccurate in content as these broadsheets were, it is entirely possible that Gracey's response to his tactically delicate position—the re-arming of hundreds of surrendered Japanese troops in order to use them against the Việt Minh—was at least in part framed by Việt Minh propaganda. This step supplied him with the additional soldiery he needed to employ in "search and destroy" operations against Việt Minh units in the countryside, actions Mountbatten's orders specifically forbade. But it also allowed him to keep his own troops under closer supervision in Sài G̣n and placed the Japanese between the Việt Minh and many of his own troops, thus further isolating them from effective contact with Việt Minh propagandists. The importance of such isolation was magnified by the fact that in September, Gracey had only one brigade to deploy. Only half of that brigade was composed of a Punjabi frontier force which, from its operations on the Indo-Afghan border, could be counted upon to kill other Asian peoples with impunity. His remaining two brigades, which included reliable Gurkha mercenaries and minority Muslim troops from Hyderabad in Central India, would not be deployed in Indochina until October.

     Whether or not Gracey rearmed the Japanese out of concern for the loyalty of his own troops, the question remains as to why Gracey's Indian contingent showed no inclination to respond to the call of the Vietnamese to at least not engage Vietnamese forces. True, the re-arming of the Japanese may have helped construct something of a cordon sanitare between the Việt Minh and his troops, but there were several other explanations. Execution quite probably awaited any Indian mutineers and this may have served as a deterrent, but these troops had fought beside white troops though three years of conflict, including the siege in eastern India of Imphal and Kohima, perhaps one of the bitterest battles of the war. The agony of breaking the bonds of brotherhood forged in such combat was probably a force greater than the threat of execution. However, the lack of other bonds and the force of another may have been more important in the Indian non-response to the Việt Minh's invocation of pan-Asian nationalism.

     Despite decades of political unrest in India, its nationalist movement had made no headway among the rank and file of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops. For many, military service was perceived as a caste duty. The nature of that service, or rather to whom, was explained as early as the ancient epic poem, the Mahabharata. Loyalty is therein described as a matter of honor that could at least mitigate the moral dilemmas generated by political causes.31 Indians soldiers had been servants of the British for almost 300 years (a Marathi "jodie" or marching song ran Kabhi suk, aur kabhi duk, Angrezi nikalo, loosely translated as "Sometimes there is joy, sometimes there is pain, but such is the lot of a servant of the English."). Indian soldiers over the generations had made the traditional oath-bond that held Indian sepoys to be "true to their salt" (licked off a sword as a symbolic gesture of loyalty upon enlistment) which formed the core of their sense of personal honor. That honor was enhanced by the martial races theory that governed the construction of British Army units, wherein status was accorded Indian units according to their warrior traditions as perceived by the British. 32 Though the 20th Division was a creation of the war, its regiments were all drawn from ethnic groups proud to be regarded as of warrior stock. Finally, among the "martial" Gurkhas, Jats, Hyderabadis, Kashmiris and Punjabis serving with Gracey in Indochina were men whose great-grandfathers, grandfathers and fathers had served in these or similar regiments. The bonds of loyalty forged by the heritage of family service to the sarkar, the prevailing government they served, were all but unbreakable.

     Some of the 20th Indian Division's comrades in other divisions had, early the war, been captured by the Japanese and had joined Bose' Indian National Army. Some did so out of weariness over their incarceration, others had been stirred to shift allegiances by Indian National Army indoctrination or were moved by their own nationalist awakening to break their oath of loyalty to the British Raj. However, relatively few did so and of those defections that did occur came only after their abandonment by their white officers and even then under the direct and threatening presence of Bose's militant Indian nationalist followers who resorted to torture and even executions to drum up recruits. These conditions were in no way were similar to those facing the 20th Division in Indochina.

     Further, by definition, there was no interest in Indian nationalist politics among the Nepali Gurkhas mercenaries who were to carry the heaviest burden of combat in post-war Indochina from October 1945 to the British withdrawal in 1946.

     The Việt Minh's leaflets indicate that it had only a nascent and clearly crude field propaganda apparatus in English and none in Hindustani (Hindu-Urdu). The content of the propaganda indicates that they also lacked knowledge of the social-political complexities of Indian military service. By calling for pan-Asian solidarity, the Việt Minh actually crippled their appeal. The identities and loyalties of the generally politically naïve Indian soldiers were divided by caste, ethic group and religion, divisions promoted by their deliberate segregation into units matching those loyalties (even to the point where Indian troops communicated vertically through mostly British officers rather than horizontally between each other). 33 They thus had little sense of what it was to be an Indian, let alone an Asian.   This failure was all the more remarkable because the French had closely studied the so-called British-Indian "divide and rule" military policy both within and beyond "martial races" theory and applied it in Viet Nam as far as they were able; at some level the Việt Minh leadership must have been aware that colonial forces were sustained by such policies, if only through the experience of resisting them.34

     The Việt Minh leadership certainly would not miss subsequent opportunities to exploit the fault-lines in enemy forces designed along communal lines. This shift may be explained by the replacement of local ad hoc propaganda machines by more centralized and sophisticated operations under the direction of Vơ Nguyên Giáp, whose energies were then focused in the north.

     With the 20th Division standing firm, Gracey succeeded in his mission. His soldiers remained in place until a sufficient number of French troops arrived to assume their role after French and British diplomats persuaded Washington to reverse the initial U. S. decision to deny their transportation to Indochina in ships under allied command. Gracey himself left Việt Nam in January of 1946. In April of that year, the rear-guard of the division was withdrawn, but some accounts note that the last British-Indian soldiers were killed in Việt Nam as late as June, bringing the force's total casualties to over 40 killed and over 100 wounded, virtually all Indians. Perhaps as many as 1,000 Vietnamese died opposing Gracey's forces in Viet Nam, with perhaps two thousand more killed by the French in the same period.35

     Due the acute pragmatism of the Việt Minh, not all of the British-Indian casualties were inflicted by the Vietnamese, nor were many of the estimated casualties among their own fighters from Vietnam. In one of the great as yet unsung chapters of modern Southeast Asian history, the Việt Minh were able to turn Gracey's effort to arm Japanese troops against them inside out. Historian Christopher E. Goscha is currently engaged in exploring the circumstances under which over 5,000 Japanese chose not to surrender to Allied forces in Indochina and joined ranks with the Việt Minh, whose anti-French cause they served with valor and success, some for over a decade.36 This effort will not be examined closely here because this quite successful example of recruitment of non-white troops by the Việt Minh came when these soldiers were no longer acting as forces of occupation and also because their recruitment may have owed more to the Japanese own perceptions of their post-war future and racial prejudice than any appeal to these sensibilities made by the Việt Minh. However, there were striking points of comparison between the Việt Minh's integration of Japanese troops and its failure to recruit Indian sepoys. Most Japanese who joined the Việt Minh were from elite units whose sense of honor, warrior ethos and professionalism as imperial troops was offended by the mere contemplation of surrendering to the French, who they regarded as an inferior race who had just lost any claim to an Asian empire.37 Indian troops may have resisted recruitment by the Việt Minh out of a similar sense of personal and military honor. Yet, whereas the Japanese who joined the Việt Minh were motivated by their sense of racial antipathy to the French, the sense of racial antipathy for the British among Indian troops was blunted not merely because of their recent joint heroic service, but because the Indian army—though internally divided--was at that time the most racially integrated of all Indian imperial institutions (many officers in the 20th were Indian) and thus a possible point of pride for Indian soldiers, not prejudice. Also, whereas Indians contemplating deserting to or otherwise deferring to the Việt Minh could expect to be executed, at least some of the Japanese who did join the Việt Minh did so in the knowledge that they would be safe from that very fate: war crimes tribunals were already seeking the arrest of some of the defecting Japanese officers. The Gurkhas and Japanese units in Indochina took different paths, but shared one characteristic: both considered themselves elite units, and elite units, with or without family ties to the regimes they served, seek death before dishonor, often on their own terms.38

     However, what matters here is not the existence of parallels pertaining to these South and East Asian troops, though these are not uninformative nor are they irrelevant to the understanding of future events. It is that the Việt Minh, after years of fighting the Japanese under the most bitter and deadly conditions, let neither war-fever nor any latent xenophobia prevent them from reaching out to Japanese forces with great alacrity. Notable in this effort was the role played by the Việt Minh commander-in-chief, Senior General Vơ Nguyên Giáp. Giáp was well-versed in revolutionary theory and was well-educated in Soviet-inspired National Front and "nationalities" policy, with which he had much practice at Hồ's side while the two worked among the ethnic minority populations of the Viet Bac.39 Giáp, a historian in civilian life, was also an admirer of early modern Vietnamese national heroes Lê Lợi and Nguyễn Trái's application of politics to the battlefield. It was Giáp's view that the "fundamental feature" in their art of war was their skillful combination of various forms of struggle which included "the drive to win the hearts of enemy troops."40 It is not known what role Giáp played in the appeal to Indian troops, but his attentions were thus most likely preoccupied with recruitment of the Japanese forces and in the conduct of military affairs in the north. He certainly was at the forefront of the Việt Minh's subsequent campaigns to directly exploit race and identity politics, especially through propaganda aimed occupying forces and played a personal role in the Việt Minh's subsequent successful effort to suborn the non-white forces imported by the French to consolidate the post-war recovery of their empire in Indochina.

"Bas le armes!" Việt Minh Approaches to North African Tirailleurs

In the aftermath of Gracey's withdrawal, Hồ Chí Minh's careful diplomacy, which included a risky shift to the right that alienated many of his followers, briefly earned him recognition by France as President of a united Việt Nam. However, several factors, including France's commitment to its role as an imperial state, its strongly expressed need to retain its colonies as a means of resisting communist pressure in Europe, Hồ's avowed socialism and the outbreak of the Korean War, proved sufficient to earn for France the American support it required to contest Vietnamese revolutionary nationalism. When the Franco-Vietnamese or First Indochina War began in 1946, the French government had few metropolitan forces available to maintain its colonial possessions Indochina: only 50,000 French troops were available for service in Vietnam in 1946. The French had an additional 75,000 Vietnamese colonial troops in place, supplemented by 20,000 members of its Foreign Legion, but even this force was insufficient to do battle with the Việt Minh. As a result, the French deployed 30,000 African colonial troops, including three units of colonial artillery, the 30th Senegalese Composite Battalion and two North African infantry regiments from Morocco and Algeria, respectively. Much to the dismay of France, the Việt Minh lost no time in appealing to anti-colonial sentiment among these African forces.

Figure 2
    Figure 2: The Việt Minh Appeal to North Africans in Arabic41

Figure 3
    Figure 3: The Việt Minh Appeal to North Africans in French42

     The Việt Minh achieved more success in this recruitment campaign than with Indian Army units, but it was hard won. Việt Nam was unfamiliar cultural as well as geographic terrain for Africans. They lacked any affinity for Asian causes: Islam had little presence in the country and no resonance among the Việt Minh. The announcement at Brazzaville of planned political reforms by General Charles De Gaulle in 1944 helped defuse political unrest among French African soldiery saddened by their poor treatment in France exemplified by the massacre of unarmed Senegalese soldiers by French troops at Dakar at the close of that year. The latter event was occasioned by a demonstration by unarmed African soldiers driven to near-mutiny by French unwillingness to provide them with lost wages due to them after their release from German prisoner of war camps.43 Ironically, this action underscores the role of socio-economic incentives in colonial recruitment that bound African colonial troops to their Asian compatriots. Like the men of the 20th Indian Division, many African soldiers were from colonially constructed and/or self-perceived traditional warrior societies whose existence and hence ability to offer employment was terminated by the French. It is thus not remarkable that many came to identify themselves to some degree with French civilization, especially those whose family members had served for more than one generation as Tirailleurs or colonial troops.44 This combination of interests suggests that, as with British Indian soldiery, the bonds of tradition and service (and livelihood) developed in the shadow of a respected hegemon constituted an all but insurmountable obstacle to the identification of most Africans with other peoples suffering under white colonial domination elsewhere.

     This was certainly true among the Senegalese, but it was harder to maintain the concept of Franco-African colonial solidarity in the post-war world among Algerians. On V. E. Day, 8 May 1945, thousands of Algerians ignored orders not to display Algerian flags. These orders led to riots and French military attacks on Muslim urban areas in which 103 Europeans and as many as 45,000 Algerians died. As a result, French authorities in Indochina were, from the start, wary of the loyalties of the Algerian troops. It is thus little wonder that French officers gave the order at Điện Biên Phủ that the suspect Algerian regiment present was to be fired upon if they attempted to desert. That they did not desert en masse might indicate that, as with the British Indian troops in Vietnam, facing death for desertion may concentrate the mind most powerfully. However, that order may have been the result of the single, most successful product of all Vietnamese calls for common ground among the non-white colonial oppressed: the Vietnamese recruitment of Ouach Ouach Ibrahim, who even before Điện Biên Phủ secretly encouraged members of 2/1 Algeria Rifles to join the Việt Minh. It may even have been rumors spawned by Ibrahim's clandestine activities that led the French to their mistrust of their Algerian comrades during that battle.

     Afterwards, Ibrahim acted under Vơ Nguyên Giáp's direct command as Việt Minh liaison to African and French prisoners of war. For this service, he was given a Victory Medal, First Grade, under the name of Le Van Cao. He later married a Vietnamese woman, Hoang Thi Kim Le, and remained in Vietnam to help run the Vietnam-Algeria plantation in Ba Vi, Hà Tây province. He returned to Algeria with his wife in 1964, where he was frequently visited by Giáp and touring Vietnamese officials.45 Still, Lê Văn Cao was the exception that proves the rule. Even aided by French racism in metropolitan France and atrocities in Africa, and able to appeal to these troops in French due to, and in illustration of, their common colonial victimization, the Việt Minh were unable to overcome to any great extent the cultural barriers that separated them from France's African levies. Yet, they were able to their great advantage to sow dissention and division within enemy ranks and recruit key personnel from among them.

No Safe Areas: Targeting the Race of American "Occupiers," 1965-1975

Much the same can be said in regard to the longer, more intense and more sophisticated effort to seek support from among the massive number of American, particularly African-American, troops in Vietnam after 1965. This campaign was the ultimate reflection of Vơ Nguyên Giáp Giáp's skill at negotiating the spaces between Vietnamese xenophobia, whether traditional or recuperated, and the need to undermine enemy morale by humanitarian appeals. His command would exhort the rank and file and the "people" to repel the invader, but cadre were also required to advance what their American opponents later called a chiêu hồi (described as an "open arms") policy, whose terminology ("ralliers," etc.) they were to deliberately borrow and turn against its Allied authors to weaken their own soldiers' commitment.46

Other than their more confident Marxist tenor, Vietnamese leaflets designed for this purpose were not much different than that circulated among the sepahi (sepoys or soldiers) of the 20th Indian Division. Some examples follow.

Figure 4
    Figure 4: A DRV Appeal to American Troops47

Figure 5a

Figure 5b

Figure 5c

Figure 5d
    Figure 5: NLF Appeals to African-American Troops48

Figure 6
    Figure 6: NLF Appeals to African-American Troops49

     As may be seen from the above, some of this generation of flyers attempted to convince all American troops that the struggle of the Vietnamese for freedom was analogous to America's own struggle for independence against their former colonial masters and that they should lay down their arms rather than shoot at the moral equivalent of their own founding fathers. These bore close resemblance to the flyers circulated among British Indian troops in 1945-46 in that the new campaign emphasized anti-colonial solidarity. However, the parallel with past propaganda practices can be most closely drawn with the leaflets whose intended audience was African Americans. These, like those earlier directed toward British Indian troops, often attempted to encourage a black soldier's sense of solidarity with the oppressed Asians in Vietnam. Certainly, at least one African American soldier had done so in the past. Daniel Fagan had defected to the Filipino cause when American forces in the Philippines broke their promises to freedom-fighter Emil Aguinaldo and established a colony there.50

     It is not known if any Vietnamese were aware of Fagan's defection, but the communist leadership was well-prepared to reach out to African-American troops. Hồ Chí Minh was an admirer of American abolitionist John Brown and may have become personally acquainted with the subjugation of African Americans in Harlem, where he is reputed to have attended meetings of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Trust.51 This, together with the long Soviet experience of using American racism as a cudgel with which to beat their capitalist foe may help explain the relative polish with which the Vietnamese appealed once again for the support or at least the withdrawal from combat of African-Americans serving in the United States Armed Forces in Indochina.52 This polish was reflected not merely in the often glossy leaflets they produced, but in the manner in which they smoothly moved from overtures to African Americans as fellow victims to associating them in the mind of the Vietnamese with the war with the French. Anti-communist Vietnamese would describe the latter effort as a contributing factor in their defeat: "How," they observed, "could people doubt the allegation when seeing that by racial features, skin color and uniform, Caucasian and African American soldiers were not different from French troops?"53

     There were, in fact, relatively few African-American deserters and still fewer defections, though there were enough to generate what some regard as one of the great myths of the war, that of the "Black [Viet] Cong." This was not a myth to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), at least as it pertained to captured prisoners of war. A CIA report of 9 November 1971 related that:

The black POW told _____that he did not want to return to the U.S. until peace came, and that he had written two letters to friends in the U.S. between January and June 1971 to encourage U.S. youth to continue their anti-war demonstrations.

These letters were mailed through the VC postal system via Hanoi.54

     That these defections were not more frequent were rooted in the same factors that impeded earlier appeals directed at British Indian and African troops. Many African Americans had entered the American military, and especially its special combat arms units, in search of upward social mobility, as professionals in one of the few such fields open to those with little advanced education. Others found comfort in the capacity of military service, again particularly in elite forces (Marines, airborne units etc.), to provide a sense of community and brotherhood, even if only with other black men. Black soldiers ate no white man's salt, but most saw military service as a means of proving their own worth as American citizens, or at least, as figures to be admired in their community.55 However, as the CIA report referenced above suggests, the true success achieved by this propaganda campaign was measured not in defections, but in the general demoralization of African American soldiery in Vietnam and through them the African-American community at home and the larger intended target, American society itself.56

     Vietnamese propaganda served to encourage the Afro-American community's leaders to see their sons' service as little more than a matter of black men dying in a white man's war. This view was encouraged by returning African American veterans, who needed little prompting in this regard due in part because of their difficulties in readjusting to civilian life, where opportunities for Vietnam-era veterans were shrinking as a result of the concurrent decline in America's manufacturing base.57 The role of African American veterans in G. I. resistance to the war, in Vietnam and at home, has not received the attention it deserves given their presence in the Vietnam Veterans against the War (VVAW) movement and on ghetto walls, where Black Panther posters featured AK-47s, the Vietnamese literal and symbolic weapon of resistance, raised in clenched black fists.58 Attention has increased with the recent publication of David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War (2005) which places blacks the center of resistance actions, from prison rebellions at Đà Nẵng and Long Binh Jail to the Fort Hood 43 who refused orders to patrol Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention "due to their opposition to racism in the Army and to the use of force against civilians." Cortright notes that black troops formed protest organizations such as GIs United Against the War and the Movement for a Democratic Military (MDM), which took the Black Panther Party as its model. These groups were described in February 1970 by Marine Commandant Gen. Leonard Chapman as "a serious threat to the defense of this country." Cortwright concluded that:

     Nearly all the overseas GI groups, most Black organizations, the various chapters of MDM, and many other servicemen's groups have called for the end of all foreign intrusion in the affairs of Third World peoples. For many GI radicals, withdrawal from Vietnam is only the first step toward the larger goal of self-determination for all underdeveloped societies and demilitarization in America...Never has such an overtly political movement developed within the ranks . . . In a very real sense, the American Army was fighting on two fronts, one against the Vietnamese guerrillas in the jungles and the other against embittered militants within its own ranks. The strain of black resistance was a key factor in crippling US military capabilities in Vietnam. 59

     African American veterans became an integral element of U. S. anti-war demonstrations, which were monitored by Vietnamese propaganda teams for their own use: Võ Nguyên Giáp made no secret that he looked to domestic unrest in the United States as a key to victory. In speaking of the Tết Offensive in 1968, he remarked that its goal was achieved if only by keeping the war's costly continuing nature on U. S. television sets. He noted that "It was our policy, drawn up by Hồ Chí Minh, to make the Americans quit. Not to exterminate all Americans in Vietnam, [but] to defeat them."60 Today his remarks in this regard (some invented by his ideological opponents)61 are used by so-called Vietnam War revisionists to claim the war could have been won had the United States not suffered from domestic unrest, not fought a television war, etc, counterfactual arguments that demonstrate they have little understanding of history and less understanding of psychological warfare: if internal divisions do not exist, they cannot be exploited. The combatant who most successfully exploits the enemy's weaknesses wins, not the one who makes the best sour grapes.62

     The Communist-led propaganda campaign against African Americans suffered from many imperfections. While National Liberation Front fighters were directed by cadre to treat captured American soldiers "leniently," they often considered these soldiers as bandits whose treatment was not covered by the rules of the Geneva Convention.63 Anecdotal evidence suggests that African Americans, to say nothing of other non-white forces deployed to Indochina, rarely felt any special consideration given to them by their Vietnamese foe. Nonetheless, the communist propaganda effort proved adept at exploiting the initial high death rate among African American GI's in Vietnam. This was generated by service in the dangerous, but high prestige combat units (Airborne, Special Forces, Marines, etc.) which African Americans favored because combat valor exhibited in such units meant rapid promotion that would be otherwise unavailable to them as the result of the lower levels of education a segregated America provided them.

Figure 7a

Figure 7b
    Figure 7: NLF Appeals to African-American Soldiers64

     Though African Americans represented 11% of the population and 8% of the military in 1961-66, in 1965 they incurred 23.5 % of U. S. army combat deaths. This ratio was noted by the military and redressed subrosa by its assignment of more African American soldiers to support units, leading to a death rate of rank and file servicemen of 11.5% by 1969 and 12.5% of all casualties at war's end.65 However, such quiet, long-term corrective measures did nothing to invalidate the propaganda aimed at African-Americans, who were quite correctly appalled at the early casualty figures.

Figure 8
    Figure 8: Poster of A Black Panther Activist in V. C. uniform w/AK-47 by Emory Douglas66

     The protests of Martin Luther King and others who believed that the lives of black men were being sacrificed out of proportion to their numbers in the general population had, as their enemy hoped, a demoralizing effect on the front lines. As veteran Ralph Thomas noted, "For blacks such as myself . . . reading Malcolm X. . . . black history . . . Martin Luther King and other . . black militants, Eldridge Cleaver, etc. . . . naturally led into a political reading. . . ."67 Another veteran, Philip Key, added:

     A lot of guys felt that we shouldn't, you know, risk our life or put our life on the line when there was a war back in America, when we wasn't free, you know, like when dogs were being turned on to our peoples, young children were being bombed in churches. It was very confusing. Most blacks still was, you know, very supportive. Most blacks was very supportive of the system, what they had to do.68

     In the end, as Key's final words suggest, insofar as soldiers in the field were concerned, a commitment to the "system" proved stronger than any appeal to race consciousness.

     The relative ineffectiveness of the direct Vietnamese appeals to British Indian, African and American African troops illustrates the manner in which minority perceptions of their best interests, particularly as a means of acquiring acceptance, honor, respect and material advancement, proved stronger than racial appeals. But the damage done to the American war effort by Vietnamese propaganda aimed at African Americans was considerable. By contributing to the general collapse of morale that occurred towards the close of the war, it may have helped limit the scope of the Nixon administration's planning for its endgame for Vietnam. It certainly forced American war managers to seriously consider whether it was worth losing the American army to win in Vietnam. Col. Robert Heinl, writing in Armed Forces Journal in 1971, noted that racial conflict in Vietnam was contributing to a state in which:

the morale, discipline and battle-worthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at anytime in this century and possibly in the history of the United States. By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having _refused_ combat, murdering their officers and non commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.69

As the product below suggests, this view of the place of race in the America's armed forces have changed since then:

Figure 9
    Figure 9: Post-War G. I. Joe

     African-Americans in the United States military have made many advances, none more obvious than in Iraq. The First Squadron, 10th Cavalry, or the Buffalo Soldiers, a unit that since 1866 was traditionally composed of all Black rank and file under the command of white officers, is now a racially integrated unit operating near Tikrit under the leadership of Lt. Col. Reginald Allen, the first African American to command that unit in combat. Allen remarked in an interview that "the incredible thing about the Buffalo Soldiers, especially those who served early on, is that they loved this country enough that through the racism, through the bigotry, they still wanted to serve."70 However that commitment to service is waning, at least in the Army, where recruitment among African Americans dropped over 21% since 2002. Potential recruits cite the opening of more opportunities for Blacks in the American economy as the reason for their decision to forgo what once was a means of gaining just such opportunities. Some observers outside the African American community suggest that this drop off is the result of a combination of two factors: the relegation of most African-Americans to non-combat units and the high casualties being sustained by these low-status units. That such recruitment remains at closer to normal levels for the Marine Corps, whose deliberate evocation of tribal loyalty approaches that of General Gracey's Gurkhas, reminds us that the attractions of combat arms for minorities (as well as whites) remains. However, many African Americans take another, one that rejects the idea that African Americans have made much progress or now refuse service for mere material or status advancement. It is the very one to which the Vietnamese once appealed. As Randy Odaga, a Howard University student recently remarked, "I believe African Americans do not want to fight in a war when they are treated like second rate citizens in their own country."71

     This view gained traction as time passes. In 2004, American Muslim groups, Black Muslim leaders and African-American Civil Rights groups are called on the African-American community, 61% of whom opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom, to end what they saw is a war to extend "White Supremacy and White-owned capital, not freedom."72 Posters appeared urging black defections even in the field:

Figure 10
    Figure 10: Poster Urging an End to Participation of Blacks in the Iraq War

     By 2007, despite massive financial inducements and enhanced educational benefits and a Project 100,000-style program that permits the enrollment of enlistees with a variety of education deficiencies and even mental disorders, recruitment of blacks as well as whites had fallen drastically.73 That same year, Fox News, which offers the fewest news reports on the war in Iraq than any other broadcasting system, noted Associated Press' articles indicating that black recruiting had fallen by as much as a third since the Iraq War had begun.74


Vietnamese communist leaders, drawing on what they construed as traditional Vietnamese political acumen when facing forces of foreign occupation, a growing sense of global citizenship and Soviet models of both the treatment of "nationalities" and National Front tactics, sought to undermine the participation of non-white troops of Western colonial powers in the suppression of Vietnamese national goals, including appeals to these soldiers' sense of anti-colonial solidarity and nationalist fellow-feeling. These efforts included attempts to convince the Japanese, as well as British Indian troops, operating in Vietnam in 1945-6 that in the name of pan-Asian solidarity, they should refuse to cooperate with the Anglo-French effort to restore European imperial rule in post-war Indochina. This "race card" was exploited more directly during the subsequent communist-led wars for national liberation waged against France in 1946-1954 via appeals to Africans serving among French colonial forces. Later, Vietnamese communists sought to prompt both ethnic majority and minorities among American troops to end their participation in their country's intervention in Vietnamese affairs by reminding them that they themselves were children of revolutionary movements past and present. However, they particularly targeted the non-white racial/ethnic identity of these troops, much as they had their British Indian and African predecessors, who they hoped would come see themselves as fellow victims of white oppression. Each of these efforts was complicated by the need to also exploit what communists held to be the traditional Vietnamese xenophobic zeal to destroy the occupier, but any ambivalence arising from the call to resist/embrace the occupier was effectively resolved, at least in terms of propaganda generation, by a combination of universalism within Vietnamese modernism and associated elements of Hồ Chí Minh's political philosophy. Together, these influences also provided a potent means to overcome the ethnic hatred that Hồ Chí Minh saw as a threat to the unity of the oppressed Vietnamese. This unity, he believed, would grow as a source of strength for the Vietnamese people by the very act of promoting Vietnamese solidarity with all victims of capitalist-imperialism, a step that was in his view necessary for the liberation not only of the Vietnamese people themselves, but the oppressed everywhere.75 In this he was aided by subordinates like Vo Nguyen Giáp who were able to articulate these views to their subordinates who were, in turn, able to convey them, if not always with complete success, to their forces in the field. The effects of the resultant propaganda campaigns ranged from minor tactical to major strategic success, but its post-war legacy is mixed. Vietnam has honored those foreign troops of color who joined their cause and has shown considerable official respect for the foreign ethnic minorities that served against them. It honors its own ethnic diversity through museums and exhibitions. Vietnamese delegations also actively participate in human rights forums. However, the Vietnamese record of discrimination against Amerasians and its repression of dissident ethnic minorities in the name of national security indicate that their nation still ranks among those revolutionary polities of many ideological hues that have yet to fully achieve their self-stated goal of human equality. Nonetheless, the war in Iraq suggests that, despite these failures and the virtual collapse of communism, calls for solidarity against Western hegemony on the basis of whatever common cause its enemies can exploit to weaken the resolve of the soldiers employed against them are unlikely to soon pass into the dustbin of history.

Biographical Note: Marc Jason Gilbert is the National Endowment for Humanities Endowed Chair in World History at Hawaii Pacific University.



1 See the exhibition's catalog by Jacqueline Atkins, Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).

2 Đấu tranh has been variously defined, though generally it refers to "sustained application of total military and nonmilitary force over long periods of time in pursuit of an objective." Ronald Cima, Vietnam : A Country Study (Washington D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress 1987) at

3 The term "leaflets" here is thus used in the literal sense. See Van Ngan, "Superstitions in Vietnam," in Vietnam Bulletin, no. 17, dated November, 1969 available at

4 It is beyond the scope of this essay to examine any propaganda aimed non-white troops from Korea, the Philippines, the U. S. territory of Guam, Asian-Americans and those of Latino descent.

5 See Patricia Pelley, "History of Resistance and Resistance to History," in Keith Taylor and John K. Whitmore (eds.), Essays into Vietnamese Pasts (Ithaca, New York, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1995), pp. 237-243. For the "modernism" expressed in Hồ Chí Minh's writings, see David Marr's essay, "Hồ Chí Minh's Declaration of Independence" in K.W. Taylor and John K. Whitmore (eds.), Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, pp. 221-231. William J. Duiker addresses the modernity and universalism in other key Vietnamese documents in his essay "What Is to Be Done? Hồ Chí Minh's Duong Cach Menh," also in K.W. Taylor and John K. Whitmore (eds.), Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, pp. 207-220. These concepts are embedded also in Hồ Chí Minh's "Program for the Communist Party of Indochina," a speech delivered in Hong Kong on 18 February, 1930 and available at

6 See Abbot Low Moffat's interview, the Public Broadcasting System, Vietnam: A Television History, Episode 1, Roots of a War (1945-1953) Transcript (c. 1997) archived at

7 The complicated nature of Roosevelt's position on trusteeship and how that position evaporated is dissected by the authors of the Pentagon Papers, Senator Gravel Edition, Volume 1, Chapter I, "Background to the Crisis, 1940-50," (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 1-52 (also found at

8 See William Duiker, The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam (Boulder: Westview, 1986), pp. 111-122.

9 See the Trotskyite history of the period, Jim Hensman's, Vietnam: The Derailed Revolution, 1945 at

10 Ibid.

11 Winston S. Churchill, "Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Speech at Mansion House, London," 10 November, 1942. For full text, see

12 Wavell to Pethwick Lawrence, November 13, 1945, L/PO/10/23, British Library, Oriental and India Collections, London.

13 Pethick Lawrence to Wavell, 12 October 1945, L/PO/10/22, British Library, Oriental and India Collections, London.

14 See "Headquarters S. E. Asia Command, 2 September 1945, from Supreme Commander S. E. Asia to G.O.C. Imperial Forces. Re. Directive ASD 4743S." Document available at

15 See, for example, Wavell to Pethick Lawrence, 9 and 12 October, 1945, L/PO/10/22, British Library, Oriental and India Collections, London.

16 The War Cabinet had back-channel communications with military commanders in South East Asia.

17 See Gracey Papers, Kings College, London, 4/17. To be fair to Gracey, he was afraid that unrest in Cambodia might interrupt the traffic in supplies on the Mekong. However, counter-coups rarely guarantee stability and the Cambodian people were to pay a high price for Gracey's pro-French actions.

18 See L/WS/1/729, p.79, British Library, Oriental and India Collections, London.

19 Gracey Papers, Kings College, London, 4/15.

20 See L/WS/1/729, p.79, British Library, Oriental and India Collections, London.

21 See Ngo Van Xuyet, "Le Mouvement IVè Internationale en Indochine, 1930-39," Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no. 40 (December 1989), pp. 21-60.

22 Speech by Gracey before the Royal Central Asian Society quoted in Colonel Melvin Hall, "Aspects of the Present Situation in Indochina," Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society no. 40, nos.3 and 4 (July-October, 1953), p. 213.

23 Gracey Papers, Kings College, London, 4/15.

24 Gracey Papers, Kings College, London, 4/15.

25 Quoted in the speech by Gracey before the Royal Central Asian Society cited above as Colonel Melvin Hall, "Aspects of the Present Situation in Indochina," Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society, p. 213.

26 Gracey Papers, Kings College, London, 4/10.

27 A close discussion of Brain's failed negotiations with the Committee of the South is but part of a magisterial analysis of the transfer of power in post-war Vietnam by the late Daniel B. Valentine, who conducted interviews with Mountbatten and many other participants for his unpublished dissertation, "British Facilitation of the French Reentry into Vietnam." (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1974).

28 See Peter Ward Fay, The Forgotten Army: India's Armed Struggle for Independence, 1942-1945 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994).

29 Wavell to Pethick Lawrence, November 27, 1945, L/PO/10/22, British Library, Oriental and India Collections, London.

30 Facsimilies of original leaflets in the Gracey Papers, Kings College, London, 4/17 and 4/20. The print in the original of these leaflets was too light to be suitable for reproduction here. Errors in grammar, spelling and style are as in the original.

31 While moral choices lay at the core of this epic, even the "enemy" combatants are seen as eventually rising to a heavenly state after their death as a reward for their loyalty to their leaders, as, even though the latter may have been immoral in their effort to hold onto power, they were good kings and rulers.

32 For an extended discussion the "martial races theory" as applied to the Indian army, see Stephen Cohen, The Indian Army: Its Contribution to the Development of a Nation (London and New York: Oxford, 2001) and Heather Streets, Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914 (Studies in Imperialism), Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005.

33 My thanks to Omar Khalid, author of Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India (Gurgaon, India: Three Essays Collective, 2003) whose comments upon reading an early draft of this essay provided the spatial paradigm employed here.

34 For the French effort to use military policy to exploit ethnic divisions in Indochina, see essays by Henri Eckert, Tobias Rettig, Sarah Womack in Karl Hack and Tobias Rettig (eds.), Colonial Armies in Southeast Asia (New York: Routledge, 2005).

35 See the causality list in the Gracey Papers, Kings College, London, 4/8. Ironically, British losses in Vietnam proved to be a fraction of those suffered by British Indian and other units in the Dutch East Indies. Whereas the Việt Minh document provided above erroneously claimed that Gracey had died, it was the commander of a British brigade in Java, Brigadier General A. W. F. Mallaby, who was ambushed and killed. Over a thousand Japanese, rearmed by the British as in Viet Nam, were also killed in combat with indigenous insurgents. Over 900 British and Indian troops and 10,000 Indonesians died before sufficient Dutch forces arrived to allow British troops to be withdrawn in December 1946. The reasons for this ferocity and the success of this resistance (independence was granted in 1949) can be traced to the fact that the Japanese, in desperate need for Indonesian resources, had permitted a large degree of self-rule in the Dutch East Indies, insofar as local leaders, such as Sukarno and Hatta, were given important administrative responsibilities. British forces in Indonesia thus had to pay paid a high price for opposing a government-in-place that was far more entrenched than Hồ Chí Minh's new administration in Viet Nam. The Vietnamese had spent the previous four years fighting the Japanese, not preparing for self-rule. Moreover, Indonesian nationalists like Sukarno and Hatta had never been members of Communist international movement like Hồ Chí Minh, so that once their more radical rivals had been extinguished in two campaigns by the Dutch, all that remained necessary for the triumph of Indonesian nationalism was four years of conflict which would have certainly been prolonged had Western powers early on viewed Indonesia as a possible domino. For relevant documents and an account of the early struggle in Java by an eyewitness, Ted Bates, see

36 Christopher E. Goscha, "Belated Allies: The Technical Contributions of Japanese Deserters to the Việt Minh, (1945-1950)," in Marilyn Young and Robert Buzzanco, eds., A Companion to the Vietnam War (London: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), pp. 37-64.

37 See evaluation dated 8 January1946 in L/WS/1/717, 137/28, British Library, Indian and Oriental Collections, London.

38 Before the War of 1857, Indian troops were willing to fight and die with older weapons than employ the new Enfield rifle, whose cartridges greased with cow and pig fat would lead to ritual pollution, while during the Falkand Islands War of 1982, it is said that some Gurkhas deliberately went into one battle armed only with the kukri (their much-storied killing knife) to demonstrate their superiority over and contempt for Argentine troops.

39 See Cecil Currey, Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam's General Vo Nguyen Gaip (Washington, D. C.: Brassey's, 1997), pp. 63-68. For the significance and fate of these and other highland peoples, see, Mark W. McLeod, "Indigenous Peoples in the Vietnamese Revolution," in the Journal of World History, 10: 2 (1991): 353-389.

40 "Nguyễn Trái: A Great national Hero, An Outstanding Man of Culture," in Vơ Nguyên Giáp, Selected Writings, pp. 539-561, 551.

41 Flyer courtesy of Christophe Dutrône.

42 Ibid. Obverse of same flyer in Arabic.

43 See Yves Benot, Massacres coloniaux 1944-1950: la IVe république et la mise au pas des colonies françaises (Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 1994) and Sembène Ousmane, dir. The Camp of Thiaroye, 1988.

44 Myron Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Senegalais in French West Africa, 1857-1960 (Portsmouth, N.H: Heinemann, 1991).

45 See article "Golden Hearts in Vietnamese community in Algeria," in Bản quyền thuộc Báo điện tử Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam [The Communist Party of Vietnam Online Newspaper] (September 15, 2004) archived onsite at

46 My thanks to SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.) for this reference posted at and for the Vietnam era images that follow.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 See William Schroder, Cousins of Color (New York: Twenty First Century Publishers, 2004).

51 See William Duiker, Ho Chi Minh: A Life (New York: Theia, 2001), p. 50.

52 This was an international effort whose production values were superb. Its products have been masterfully collected and illustrated in Susan Martin (ed.), Decade of Protest: Political Posters from the United States, Vietnam, Cuba, 1965-1975 (Santa Monica, CA: Distributed Art Publishers: 1996). Though this work is now rare, many of these posters are available online on the homepage of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics that sponsored this publication and the exhibit upon which the book was based (see

For another source of this material, see

53 Quoted from the essay entitled "Why We Lost South Vietnam" on the Việt Quốc webpage at

54 Document courtesy of Kief Schladweiler, from the "Deserters and Collaborators" section of the Afro-American Involvement in the Vietnam War website at

55 See Martin Binkin and Mark J. Eitelberg, Blacks and the Military (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1982); Herman Graham III, The Brothers' Vietnam War: Black Power, Manhood, and the Military Experience (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003); Wallace Terry, Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans (New York: Random House, 1984); James E. Westheider, Fighting on Two Fronts: African Americans and the Vietnam War (New York: New York University Press, 1997); Elisse Yvette Wright, "Birds of a Different Feather: African American Support for the Vietnam War in the Johnson Years, 1965-1969." (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 2002).

56 Giáp has been quoted as saying that the American home front was always his real target, but as for the support he enjoyed from the anti-war movement in the United States, it is hard to question the Central Intelligence agency's own investigation that judged it innocent of any meaningful contact with the Vietnamese foe, despite recent critics of the anti-war movement who allege significant contact between figures such as John Kerry and Vietnamese communist officials. See Charles DeBenedetti, "A CIA Analysis of the Anti-War Movement: October, 1967" in Peace and Change, vol. 9, no. 1 (Spring 1983), pp. 31-41. Kerry's subsequent meetings with Vietnamese delegates in Paris are not known to have any measurable effect on the war.

57 See Marc Jason Gilbert, "Lost Warriors" in Robert Slabey (ed.), The United States and Vietnam: From War to Peace (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Press, 1996), p. 92.

58 See Black Panther poster designed by Emory Douglas, Minister for Culture of the Black Panther Party, Image PG_03232, Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Los Angeles, California.

59 Dan Cortright, Soldiers in Revolt: G. I. Resistance During the Vietnam War (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005).

60 Vơ Nguyên Giáp, interview on CNN for its Cold War Project at

61 "The suggestion that VVAW lengthened the war comes from convicted arms dealer, perjurer, and media personality Oliver North. In a cited quote from North (Greg Lewis, "Fellow Travelers, Useful Idiots, and Other Innocents," Washington Dispatch, 2/19/2004), North alleges that Giap in a 1985 book stated that John Kerry and VVAW lengthened the war and insured the ultimate Vietnamese victory. Giap published no 1985 book. THERE IS NO SUCH QUOTE in either of General Giap's two post-war publications (Võ Nguyên Giáp, Unforgettable Months And Years, Southeast Asia Program, Dept. of Asian Studies, Cornell University, 1975 or How We Won the War (coauthored by Van Tien Dung) RECON Publications, 1976)." Quoted at the VVAW website at The capitalizations are as they appear at the website.

62 "The Wall Street Journal (August 3, 1995, A8) published an interview with Bui Tin who served on the General Staff of the North Vietnam Army and received the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975.  During the interview conducted by Mr. Stephen Young, Mr. Tin was asked if the American antiwar movement was important to Hanoi's victory.  Mr. Tin responded "It was essential to our strategy," referring to the war being fought on two fronts, the Vietnam battlefield and back home in America through the antiwar movement on college campuses and in the city streets.  He further stated the North Vietnamese leadership listened to the American evening news broadcasts "to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement." This has become a staple of discourse among those who believe such remarks indicate that the war could have had a different outcome if such opposition did not exist and interpret them as suggesting a direct connection between Hanoi and the anti-war movement (see their website at a notion rejected by the C.I.A. (see fn. 55 above). It should be noted that U. S. attempts to foment internal unrest in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from the 1950s onward failed.

63 See NLF leaflet which declares that "An Extraordinary Congress of the Vietnam Front for Liberation held in August of 1967 approved of a Political Programme of which Article 12 . . . provides for LENIENT AND HUMANE TREATMENT TO RALLIED ARMYMEN AND PRISONERS-OF-WAR.' For full text of this document and supporting commentary of "experts" who categorized such assurances as pro-forma and/or believed that many of the enemy considered U. S. troops were engaging in an illegal war that placed them beyond the pale of International agreements regarding the treatment of prisoners, see

65 "Vietnam War Casualties by Race, Ethnicity and National Origin," The American War Library at Many political conservatives today see the issue of higher African-American casualty rates as a Liberal myth, rather than recognize that a deliberate wartime adjustment was made to produce a final casualty total that more closely reflected parity in the ratio of deaths per capita by these two races. See John Perazzo, "Black Patriotism vs. Liberal Lies,"

(March 20, 2002) at

66 This poster is part of the collection of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles, California. Repeated efforts over a two year period were made by the author and the Center to contact Mr. Douglas, the Minister for Propaganda for the Black Panther Party, in regard to the nature and use of this image over a two year period. These efforts unfortunately failed.

67 Interview with Ralph Thomas, Public Broadcasting System, Vietnam: A Television History Episode 8, Vietnamizing the War (1968-1973) Transcript (c. 1997) at

68 Interview with Philip Keys, Ibid.

69 Robert Heinl, "The Collapse of the Armed Forces," Armed Forces Journal, June 7, 1971, at

70 See CNN report filed January 9, 2004 at

71 Tiffany Settles, "Fewer African American Recruits in the Armed Forces," Black College View, November 14, 2004 at

72 Margaret Kimberley in The Black Commentator; See also interview by Judy Valenta with John Shabazz, Abernathy for Public Broadcasting Systems "Religion and Ethics" program, November 12, 2004 at

73 Sarah Abruzzesse, "Iraq War Brings Drop in Black Enlistees,"New York Times,

August 22, 2007, sec. A, page 12.

74 See Fox News, "Millitary's Black Recruitment Numbers Way Down," June 24, 2007 at,2933,286434,00.html.

75 "Hồ Chí Minh's ultimate goal was to liberate humankind from all oppression . . . Hồ Chí Minh's humanism does not differentiate races and colors of skin. However, Hồ Chí Minh's humanism absolutely has nothing to do with altruism or compassion. His love for human kind is closely associated with his boundless confidence in the creative power of man and human conscience." Vơ Nguyên Giáp, Selected Writings (Ha Noi: The Gioi Publishers, 1994), p. 614 (the italics are his).




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