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Paper Trails: Connecting Viet Nam and World History Through Documents, Film, Literature and Photographs

Marc Gilbert
North Georgia College and State University


Part I     Part II     Part III


Figure 1: Two of the female Red Cross workers assigned to isolated combat firebases "to improve morale." [Photograph courtesy of Lon Holmberg]

Women at War

The major role played by women in Vietnamese warfare was not confined to that country's struggles with the Chinese. Women generals served in the Tayson rebellion against Nguyen and Trinh lords in the late eighteenth century and provided volunteer (as well as coerced) labor charged with maintaining the Ho Chi Minh Trail, freeing thousands of male soldiers for combat operations. Fortunately, there exist two accessible works that can be used to draw students into a better understanding of the place of gender in the political struggles of the eras of de-colonization and the Cold War. The late Madame Nguyen Thi Dinh (commander of a Viet Cong battalion south of Saigon and subsequently a delegate at the Paris Peace Talks) wrote a short account of her early life as a revolutionary entitled No Other Road to Take: Memoir of Mrs. Nguyen Thi Dinh, translated by Mai V. Elliott (Ithaca, New York, Cornell University, Data Paper Number 102, Southeast Asia Program, Dept. of Asian Studies, 1976) that illuminates the sacrifices she, as a woman, was forced to make to fight against the French, and that also explores the sources of her hostility for Ngo Dinh Diem and his American supporters. Le Ly Haslip (with Jay Wurts), When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (New York: Plume, 1993) offers a view from many sides of the conflict, first that of a messenger for the Viet Cong, then as a victim of the impact of the war on Vietnamese culture, and later as an immigrant to America. It is often said that the first few pages of this work are perhaps the best ever written on the subject of the American War in Viet Nam. A moving glimpse of the place of women in Vietnamese folklore within and beyond patriarchy, in peace and war, is offered at
    Thousands of women revolutionaries died in the wars in Viet Nam, such as Vo Nguyen Giap's first wife, who perished under torture in the French prison known to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton. Many other women endured great hardship. Yet, it is rare for even a course on the wars in Viet Nam to devote much attention to American service women, rarer still Vietnamese women combatants, and rarest of all, Vietnamese war survivors and widows. However, the sources above, and the following titles, make these subjects simple to address in a world history context: Linda Van Devanter's Home Before Morning (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, reprint 2001), Keith Walker's Piece of My Heart: Stories of Twenty-Six Women Who Served in Vietnam (San Francisco: Presido Press, reprint ed., 1997), Sandra C. Taylor's Vietnamese Women at War: Fighting for Ho Chi Minh and the Revolution (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1999) and Lady Borton's After Sorrow (New York: Viking, 1995). The 1998 film version of Taylor's work, Long-Haired Warriors, is available from the University of California Extension Center for Media and Independent Learning, 2000 Center Street, Fourth Floor, Berkeley, California, 94704-1223, Phone: 510-642-0460). It can be usefully paired with Gillo Pontecorvo's 1967 film, The Battle of Algiers, as a study in "women's work" during a revolution. Students viewing both films can be asked to examine what role women played in these wars and at what cost, how Western perceptions of women's roles made women especially valuable in anti-colonial/revolutionary work, and how women, often wrongly, believed their participation in their people's wars would yield greater rights and opportunities (though lesser advances did usually follow, in Viet Nam, the U. S., and elsewhere). A bibliography of women and Viet Nam is provided at

Figure 2: Ho Chi Minh: A Life


The Life of Ho Chi Minh in Global Perspective

The place of the Vietnamese revolution and that of its foremost leader, Ho Chi Minh (1990-1969), in world history has recently been illuminated by William Duiker (pronounced Dye'ker), in his Ho Chi Minh: A Life (New York: Theia Books, 2000). It is not intended here to review this seminal work on the subject, but to point out that it provides a global view of the one-time globe-trotting Ho, his early membership in the Communist party, his difficulties with Stalin and the Comintern, and Viet Nam's struggle to survive its reliance on its two strongest, yet predatory allies, the Soviet Union and China. Duiker's book helps identify and clarify what specialists have long known about Ho Chi Minh: that his allegiance to communism was tripartite: only communism offered to bring an end to the class-ridden social system of Viet Nam (where inferiors never spoke to their superiors without being spoken to); only communism seemed adequate to the challenge of taking a poor agricultural society and economy into the modern world; and only communism offered the means and necessary foreign support for the overthrow of the French colonial order in Viet Nam. Ho Chi Minh's self-conception as a nationalist is revealed in his letter to Robert Lansing, the American Secretary of State, asking for the application to Viet Nam of Woodrow Wilson's declaration of support for the concept of "Self-Determination of Peoples" during the Peace Conference at Versailles in the wake of the Great War:

[June 18,1919]

To Hs Excellency, the Secretary of State of the Republic of the United States, Delegate to the Peace Conference [Lansing


We take the liberty of submitting to you the accompanying memorandum setting forth the claims of the Annamite people on the occasion of the Allied victory. We count on your kindness to honor our appeal by your support whenever the opportunity arises. We beg your Excellency graciously to accept the expression of our profound respect.

Since the victory of the allies, all subject peoples are frantic with hope at the prospect of an era of right and justice which should begin for them by virtue of the formal and solemn engagements, made before the whole world by the various powers and the entente in the struggle of civilization against barbarism. While waiting for the principle of national self-determination to pass from ideal to reality through the effective recognition of the sacred right of all peoples to decide their own destiny, the inhabitants of the ancient Empire of Annam, at the present time French Indochina, present to the noble Governments of the entente in general and the honorable French Government the following humble claims:

1) General amnesty for all native people who have been condemned for political activity.

2) Reform of the Indochinese justice system by granting to the native population the same judicial guarantees as the Europeans have and the total suppression of the special courts which are the instruments of terrorization and oppression against the most responsible elements of the Annamite people.

3) Freedom of Press.

4) Freedom to associate freely.

5) Freedom to emigrate and to travel abroad.

6) Freedom of education, and creation in every province of technical and professional schools for the native population.

7) Replacement of the regime of arbitrary decrees by a regime of law.

For the Group of Annamite Patriots

Signed] Nguyen Ai Quoc

56, rue Monsieur le Prince-Paris1

N. B. Nguyen Ai Quoc ("Nguyen the Patriot") was one of the pseudonyms of Nguyen That Thanh, later Ho Chi Minh.

    This document can be used to help students understand the wide disparity between the application of Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" (for the full text of that document, see to western and non-western societies. 4
    Ho Chi Minh's failed effort to be admitted to the Peace Conference, and the historical context of that denial of entry, is traced in the Public Broadcasting System Education videocassette, Between the Wars: Versailles-The Lost Peace, and is readily available for purchase online at
    Ho Chi Minh's commitment to communism was illuminated by his subsequent taking of the ostensibly friendly French Socialist Party to task for not being more forthcoming in their support for Vietnamese independence in 1930 and in his program for the Communist Party of Indochina that same year, which embraced equality for men and women, as well as a commitment to freeing the masses suffering under colonial rule (see for the full text of the latter document).
    Much to the benefit of instructors of world history, the American Forum for Global Education's Viet Nam and Cambodia Project has prepared a complete "Discussion Based Question" approach to Ho Chi Minh's writings that offers a nine-question document analysis set. It can be accessed at

Vietnamese Anti-Colonialism and Nationalism: Document-based Approaches

Document-based approaches to Viet Nam's place in world history can be quite fruitful. Two sources for such an approach are Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield, The Human Record, Volume II, Since 1500 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1998) and Philip Riley, et. al, The Global Experience: Readings in World History to from 1550 (New York: Prentice Hall, 2001). Though the content differs with each edition, the 1998 edition of Riley's anthology contains an excellent selection from Elegy by Nguyen Dinh Chieu, the great blind poet who called to the Vietnamese aristocracy to join the peasants in resisting the initial phase of French colonization. That edition also contains excerpts from the Vietnamese Communist Party's Platform of 1930 and the Declaration of Independence of 1945, along with an interview with the Republic of Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem. Each document is accompanied with questions that urge comparison and change over time. The 2002 edition of The Human Record offers another look into that same period via Phan Thanh Gian's "Letter to Emperor Tu Duc and Last Message to His Administrators," and a ringing attack on French colonial administration ("Letter to the French Chamber of Deputies") by the soon-to-be executed Nguyen Thai Hoc, whose view is doubly of value as it is, like the above-mentioned interview with Ngo Dinh Diem, a rare document. See below for other document sets that do not accompany their materials with study questions. Much of what follows offer 'DBQ' approaches to Viet Nam's place in world history with supporting questions for student readers. 8

Partition as a Means of Decolonization

Among the most important processes effecting both the decolonization process and modern world history is partition. Virtually all European colonial powers considered or gave effect to partition as an exit strategy from possessions where colonial policy and local resistance had given rise to indigenous factions whose differences the colonial order could produce or re-enforce, but not resolve. The partition of the Indian subcontinent is often referenced by world historians as an example of this process, but they often fail to note that, at the very least, this process was set in train by the partitioning of indigenous states in Africa (Western Africa, Somalia, etc.) and Viet Nam (Cochin, Annam, Tonkin). Rarely do world historians consider that the first instance of partition as a colonial exit strategy was Ireland, and that the French considered a similar approach in Viet Nam (retaining Cochin-china for themselves or a puppet regime) even before the partition of India and Palestine in 1947-1948. Viet Nam itself was partitioned as a colonial exit strategy, through its division in 1954 was initially designated as a cease-fire and a temporary, not a permanent, international border—until the United States chose to enforce it as such as part of its anti-communist Cold War crusade. Instructors can very easily locate maps of colonial partitions and those partitions that served as exit strategies and thus expand their treatment of the decolonization process while adding little to the already heavy burdens of content and time that weighs upon courses in world history. For partition maps:

For Ireland-- and also

For Palestine-- and

For South Asia-- and also

    An example of a "change over time essay" using partition as colonial exit strategies (in this case, India) can be found at
    Students can be given the task of examining each partition experience, perhaps role playing through the self-justifying motives of colonial masters, the pro- and anti-partition rationales of participating indigenous peoples and parties, and the partition's ultimate victims and benefactors. Students can then (or alternatively) compare these events, identifying larger patterns within colonial traditions (French, British, etc.) and indigenous attitudes (religion, political ideology. etc.) Students may also be assigned to compare the literature of partition, such as Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan (1990 Grove Press reprint) and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (Penguin reprint, 1995). For the most recent comparative literature approach to this subject, see Joe Cleary, Literature, Partition and the Nation-State: Culture and Conflict in Ireland, Israel and Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Vietnamese Anti-Colonial Movements Compared: Viet Nam and Indonesia

Those who have the time to more closely explore the outcomes of decolonization patterns can greatly profit from the use of a self-contained segment (Episode 3) of the Annenberg-funded Pacific Century series that compares the lives, circumstances and political philosophies of Ho Chi Minh and Sukarno entitled, "From the Barrel of a Gun." This film is narrated by Peter Coyote, who was then still not far removed from his years as a "Digger" in political struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. The film is a model work of concise documentary analysis that tries to show how, when examining historical events, content is determined by context. Students will readily be able to see several important issues of the type that have been addressed in Advance Placement World History examinations, such as why did the Vietnamese choose the communist path and Indonesia the non-communist authoritarian route to development; what role did the Japanese occupations of both countries during the war play in their choice of development paths; and what was the outcome for the peoples of both societies in the near- and long-term?
    Both Viet Nam and Indonesia faced a process of re-colonization, rather than de-colonization, after the Second World War. Much as they had done after the First World War, the Western powers began reevaluating their colonial policies as the Second World War came to a close. As on the previous occasion, though alternatives abounded, the victors did not wish to stray too far from the status quo in Asia. However, conditions did not favor such a course. The Japanese Empire had greatly damaged the European ruling mystique, and in French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies, they had ended European hegemony, howsoever temporarily. Britain, while jailing much of the Indian subcontinent's nationalist leadership for the war's duration, had still all but set the date for the end of the British Raj. Yet the temptation for putting the Imperial Humpty Dumpty back together was too still too strong to abandon without a fight. As a result, Britain was instrumental in supplying troops to return Viet Nam to French control and Indonesia to the Dutch authorities. They did so under the license of wartime Allied agreements regarding the shape of post-war world. Instructors may make use of the following document to illustrate this process:

Headquarters S. E. Asia Command
2 September 1945

From Supreme Commander S. E. Asia.
To. G.O.C. Imperial Forces.

Re. Directive ASD 4743S.

You are instructed to proceed with all speed to the island of Java in the East Indies to accept the surrender of Japanese Imperial Forces on that island, and to release Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees. In keeping with the provisions of the Yalta Conference you will re-establish civilian rule and return the colony to the Dutch administration, when it is in a position to maintain services.

The main landing will be by the British Indian Army, 5th Division, who have shown themselves to be most reliable since the Battle of El Alamein. Intelligence reports indicate that the landing should be at Surabaya, a location that affords a deep anchorage and repair facilities. As you are no doubt aware the local natives have declared a Republic, but we are bound to maintain the status quo that existed before the Japanese invasion. I wish you God speed and a successful campaign.

Supreme Commander S.E. Asia2

    Students can be tasked with analyzing what colonial purposes were served by this directive, the colonialist's attitude toward "native" rule and peoples, and the colonial assumptions embedded in the Yalta Agreements (for example, what does the term "loyal" mean in this context?). They can also measure these orders against the view taken of post-war agreements by the Vietnamese in 1919 and 1945 (see above letter to Robert Lansing and the telegram dated February 28, 1945 that appears below).

Figure 3: Gen. Gracey []


    The arrival of British-Indian troops under General Douglas Gracey sent to accomplish parallel tasks in Viet Nam were not established "in country" until after Ho Chi Minh had, as mentioned above, declared Viet Nam an independent nation before a crowd of thousands in Hanoi on September 2, 1945:

"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"

This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America m 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.

The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: "All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights." Those are undeniable truths.

Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty.

They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center and the South of Viet Nam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united.

They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots- they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood. They have fettered public opinion; they have practiced obscurantism against our people. To weaken our race they have forced us to use opium and alcohol.

In the fields of economics, they have fleeced us to the backbone, impoverished our people, and devastated our land.

They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials. They have monopolized the issuing of bank-notes and the export trade.

They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty.

They have hampered the prospering of our national bourgeoisie; they have mercilessly exploited our workers.

In the autumn of 1940, when the Japanese Fascists violated Indochina's territory to establish new bases in their fight against the Allies, the French imperialists went down on their bended knees and handed over our country to them.

Thus, from that date, our people were subjected to the double yoke of the French and the Japanese. Their sufferings and miseries increased. The result was that from the end of last year to the beginning of this year, from Quang Tri province to the North of Viet Nam, more than two nillion of our fellow-citizens died from starvation. On March 9, the French troops were disarmed by the Japanese. The French colonialists either fled or surrendered, showing that not only were they incapable of "protecting" us, but that, in the span of five years, they had twice sold our country to the Japanese.

On several occasions before March 9, the Vietminh League urged the French to ally themselves with it against the Japanese. Instead of agreeing to this proposal, the French colonialists so intensified their terrorist activities against the Vietminh members that before fleeing they massacred a great number of our political prisoners detained at Yen Bay and Cao Bang.

Not withstanding all this, our fellow-citizens have always manifested toward the French a tolerant and humane attitude. Even after the Japanese putsch of March 1945, the Vietminh League helped many Frenchmen to cross the frontier, rescued some of them from Japanese jails, and protected French lives and property.

From the autumn of 1940, our country had in fact ceased to be a French colony and had become a Japanese possession.

After the Japanese had surrendered to the Allies, our whole people rose to regain our national sovereignty and to found the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.

The truth is that we have wrested our independence from the Japanese and not from the French

The French have fled, the Japanese have capitulated, Emperor Bao Dai has abdicated. Our people have broken the chains which for nearly a century have fettered them and have won independence for the Fatherland. Our people at the same time have overthrown the monarchic regime that has reigned supreme for dozens of centuries. In its place has been established the present Democratic Republic.

For these reasons, we, members of the Provisional Government, representing the whole Vietnamese people, declare that from now on we break off all relations of a colonial character with France; we repeal all the international obligation that France has so far subscribed to on behalf of Viet Nam and we abolish all the special rights the French have unlawfully acquired in our Fatherland.

The whole Vietnamese people, animated by a common purpose, are determined to fight to the bitter end against any attempt by the French colonialists to re-conquer their country.

We are convinced that the Allied nations which at Tehran and San Francisco have acknowledged the principles of self-determination and equality of nations will not refuse to acknowledge the independence of Viet Nam.

A people who have courageously opposed French domination for more than eighty years, a people who have fought side by side with the Allies against the Fascists during these last years, such a people must be free and independent.

For these reasons, we, members of the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, solemnly declare to the world that Viet Nam has the right to be a free and independent country and in fact it is so already. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their independence and liberty.3

    Students can be directed to analyze what sources were cited by Ho Chi Minh in support of Viet Nam's independence and why these were chosen, as well as why they were so well known to him; why, according to the Vietnamese, France had betrayed its "civilizing mission" in Viet Nam; why the Vietnamese had reason to expect fair treatment from the victorious allies in the Second World War; and whether the declaration of independence was, indeed, a true expression of the will of the Vietnamese people. Students may also read Office of Strategic Services Archimedes Patti's oral history testimony on the writing of the Vietnamese declaration of Independence, and the contemporary pro-Ho Chi Minh reflections of the State Department's Abbot Low Moffat at Students may enquire as to why these experienced leaders saw Ho Chi Minh in far different terms than their Cold War successors. Patti's Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America's Albatross (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1997) and David G. Marr's more scholarly Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1997) are authoritative accounts of these events.
    The Vietnamese authorities subsequently learned that Gracey intended to use his troops and those Japanese soldiers he was covertly re-arming to re-establish French control. They did not know that British officers under Gracey—not aware of his express orders—begged him to support the Vietnamese and had a hard time accepting the re-arming of the Japanese or understanding why the Vietnamese began shooting at them, as Sergeant Stan Thomson remembers:

In October 1945 we were sent to Saigon in Indo-China . . . to round up the Japs and ship them back to Japan.  They were concentrated at Cap St. Jacques.  Owing to the upheaval with the local population wanting their freedom from the French, they were often shot at and killed our men in the belief that we were holding the fort until the French forces arrived.  It got so bad at one point that we actually armed some of the Japs!!!  I got a funny feeling when I saw a Jap sentry practicing bayonet drill when he thought he was not observed.4
    The Vietnamese revolutionaries appealed to the non-white rank-and-file Indian contingents of the British forces of occupation to abstain, as fellow Asians, from assisting in the re-colonization of their country:

Indian Soldiers!
The Indian people are shedding much
blood for freedom. Why do you shed blood for?
your own enemies: The colonisers?
You must back your countrymen by
fighting against all imperialists and colonisators.
India and Vietnam are in the same situa-
tion. Their people just help each other in their
struggle against their oppressors. British and
Indian Vietnamese friendship for ever !5

    Students can be directed to examine this document, whose errors in English reveal a Francophone education, as an example of the fledgling or tenuous nature of an "Asian" identity, the difficulty of forming common cause against Asia's colonial masters, and the resultant violence and factionalism among Asian liberation movements. Also interesting is the complete failure of this appeal, not the least because these Indian troops (including Nepalese Gurkhas, Sikhs from northwest India, and Muslims form Central India) were minorities within India and were professional soldiers who had fought with, and suffered alongside, their British overlords against the Japanese. French authority was re-established by early 1946 at the cost of 40 killed and 100 wounded British Indian troops and more than a thousand Vietnamese lives, and Viet Nam's "Thirty Year War for Independence" had begun. A subsequent appeal to the President of the United States to prevent the French from re-establishing their regime failed to earn a response:

Hanoi february 28, 1946


president hochiminh vietnam democratic republic hanoi

to the president of the united states of america washington dc

on behalf of the vietnam government and people i beg to inform you that in course of conversations between vietnam government and french representatives the latter require the session of cochinchina and the return of french trips troops in hanoi stop meanwhile french population and troops are making active prepartions for a coup de main in hanoi and for military aggresion stop i therefore most earnestly appeal to you personnally and to the american people to interfere urgently in support of our independence and help making the negotiations more in keeping with the principles of the atlantic and san francisco charters



    Ho Chi Minh subsequently sent eight letters to gain the attention of the President of the United States that evoke the tumult of contemporary global affairs. One of these letters, dated February 16, 1945 (not declassified until 1972) is one of many of Ho's writings at Ho Chi Minh then wrote:


Our VIETNAM people, as early as 1941, stood by the Allies' side and fought against the Japanese and their associates, the French colonialists.

From 1941 to 1945 we fought bitterly, sustained by the patriotism, of our fellow-countrymen and by the promises made by the Allies at YALTA, SAN FRANCISCO and POTSDAM.

When the Japanese were defeated in August 1945, the whole Vietnam territory was united under a Provisional Republican Government, which immediately set out to work. In five months, peace and order were restored, a democratic republic was established on legal bases, and adequate help was given to the Allies in the carrying out of their disarmament mission.

But the French Colonialists, who betrayed in wartime both the Allies and the Vietnamese, have come back, and are waging on us a murderous and pitiless war in order reestablish their domination. Their invasion has extended to South Vietnam and is menacing us in North Vietnam. It would take volumes to give even an abbreviated report of the crisis and assassinations they are committing everyday in this fighting area.

This aggression is contrary to all principles of international law and the pledge made by the Allies during World War II. It is a challenge to the noble attitude shown before, during, and after the war by the United States Government and People. It violently contrasts with the firm stand you have taken in your twelve point declaration, and with the idealistic loftiness and generosity expressed by your delegates to the United Nations Assembly, MM [Secretary of States James F.] BYRNES, [Undersecretary of State Edward] STETTINIUS AND [Senior U. S. Adviser at the U.N. organizational meeting in San Francisco and later Secretary of State] J[ohn].F[oster]. DULLES.

The French aggression on a peace-loving people is a direct menace to world security. It implies the complicity, or at least the connivance of the Great Democracies. The United Nations ought to keep their words. They ought to interfere to stop this unjust war, and to show that they mean to carry out in peacetime the principles for which they fought in wartime.

Our Vietnamese people, after so many years of spoliation and devastation, is just beginning its building-up work. It needs security and freedom, first to achieve internal prosperity and welfare, and later to bring its small contribution to world-reconstruction.

These security and freedom can only be guaranteed by our independence from any colonial power, and our free cooperation with all other powers. It is with this firm conviction that we request of the United Sates as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence.

What we ask has been graciously granted to the Philippines. Like the Philippines our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED SATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.

I am, Dear Mr. PRESIDENT,

Respectfully Yours,

(Signed) Ho Chi Minh

    Students can be asked to answer how the French re-occupation of Viet Nam was or was not in violation of the Atlantic Charter (see or and the subsequent "San Francisco Charter" which refers to the signing in that city of the Charter of the United Nations (see for full text) on 22 June, 1945 and entered into force on October 22, 1945. Ho Chi Minh's evocation of the fact that he worked closely with Allied military forces against the Japanese in 1941-1945, and of the Philippine model, is also worthy of examination. 21
    A somewhat parallel course of events took place in Indonesia. Pursuant to the orders of Southeast Asia Command, British Indian troops landed in Indonesia where, as in Viet Nam, they also met resistance when their intentions became known. The commander of the British brigade in Java, Brigadier General A. W. F. Mallaby, was ambushed and killed by Indonesian patriots. 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 ferocity of the Indonesian resistance can be traced to the fact that the Japanese, in desperate need for Indonesian resources, had permitted a degree of self-rule in the Dutch East Indies, insofar as local leaders, such as Sukarno and Hatta, were given important administrative responsibilities. This regime had served the Japanese war effort well by concealing the horrible fate met by workers conscripted to serve the Japanese as laborers. Having paid what they considered to be a high price for their wartime political opportunities, the leaders of this regime welcomed the decision of Japan on August 9th to give the former Dutch colony its independence on August 24th. Sukarno and Hatta had been summoned to Japanese headquarters in Saigon to receive this news, but it proved unsafe to do so. On August 17th, Sukarno and Hatta exploited the surrender of the Japanese on August 15th by publishing a declaration of independence of the Republic of Indonesia, the Proklamasi:

Kami bangsa Indonesia dengan ini menjatakan Kemerdekaan Indonesia.

Hal-hal jang mengenai pemindahan kekoeasaan dan lain lain diselenggarakan denga tjara saksama dan dalem tempo jang sesingkat-singkatnja.

Djakarta, hari 17 boelan 8 tahoen 1945.

Atas nama bangsa Indonesia.


[We, the people of Indonesia, hereby declare Indonesia's independence. Matters concerning the transfer of power and other matters will be executed in an orderly manner and in the shortest possible time] 7

    Indonesia would have a less difficult road to travel to freedom than Vietnam. Never having been members of Communist International Movement like Ho Chi Minh, Sukarno and Hatta were not as wedded to socialism. They also had already demonstrated in their relations with the Japanese that they possessed a proven immunity to the guilt associated with sacrificing the poor of Indonesia in the name of development. Once Sukarno's and Hatta's radical rivals had been extinguished in two campaigns by the Dutch, only four years of protracted conflict was required for the triumph of Indonesian nationalism, as opposed to thirty years in the case of Viet Nam. In 1949, the Dutch more or less amicably ended their 300 hundred year dominion in this corner of Southeast Asia. 23
    Students might explore why Viet Nam's declaration of independence was so much longer than that of the Indonesian declaration, and why the cost to the colonial occupiers was so much greater in Indonesia than Viet Nam in the short term, while the cost to all parties was so much greater in Viet Nam in the long term. 24

Figure 4: Ngo Dinh Diem, Nation-builder


The Gallery of Failed Cold War Nation-Builders


    In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt defended his support for the brutal, but non-communist, dictator of Nicaragua as "an S.O.B., but our S.O.B." Thirty years later, another American President and follower of FDR, Lyndon Baines Johnson, deliberately referred to the Republic of Viet Nam's president, Ngo Dinh Diem, in the same terms. Students might profit from engaging in the study of these leaders, perhaps alongside the Shah of Iran and the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos, to comprehend the complex nature of the Cold War. Since Ngo Dinh Diem is not well-served in either in books or on the internet, students can begin with William Head's entry on Ngo Diem in Spencer's Tucker (ed.) Encyclopedia of he Vietnam War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) and use it as a baseline for an Internet search examining the many web sites that treat the Shah of Iran (such as and also Nicaragua's Somoza family dynasty ( Each of these leaders relied on personalist religious philosophies (Catholic or Muslim), secret police or paramilitary action, and authoritarian development strategies that exhibited little sensitivity for the interests of the masses as well as over-confidence in American support. Students can explore these themes and discuss why each of these anti-communist nation-builders initially attracted many friends.


Part I     Part II     Part III  




1 From The National Archives, Washington D. C., translated from the original French, cited in Marvin E. Gettlemen, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Young, and H. Bruce Franklin, Vietnam and America: A Documented History (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1995), 19-20.

2 See, which includes marvelous oral history content.

3 Text available thanks to Vern Weitzel at

4 See SGT, Stan "Tommy" Thomson's account at

5 This is a facsimile of original document in the Gracey Papers, Kings College, London, 4/20.

6 Facsimile of original document reproduced at

7 This facsimile of the Proklamzsi and its English translation reproduced at A constitution was adopted on August 29, and a nationalist government installed on August 31, 1945.



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