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Vietnam Labyrinth

Allies, Enemies, and Why the U.S. Lost the War

Tran Ngoc Chau, with Ken Fermoyle; foreword by Daniel Ellsberg

Publication Year: 2013

Published by: Texas Tech University Press

Series: Modern Southeast Asia Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iv-v


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pp. vii-ix


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p. xi-xi

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pp. xiii-xvi

When I went to Vietnam in 1965—as a State Department member of Edward Lansdale’s Senior Liaison Office in the U.S. Embassy—I met a number of people who became close friends, colleagues, and my mentors on the country’s complexities. Topping that list was John Paul Vann, the subject of Neil Sheehan’s masterwork, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, and a major ...

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pp. xvii-xix

In early 1943 I was a volunteer in the National Salvation Youth organization dedicated to struggle for Vietnam in de pen dence, and before the end of World War II was a junior member of the Viet Minh secret intelligence ser vice. In late 1945 I volunteered for Ho Chi Minh’s Giai Phong Quan (Army of Liberation) and spent almost four years resisting reimposition of French rule. During my time with the Viet Minh ...

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pp. xxi-xxiii

On completing this memoir I want to express my sincerest gratitude to the United States of America for admitting my family and me after we escaped from our native country in 1979. Th e United States was generous in providing us the opportunity to grow from desperate “boat people” to a well-established family of twenty-eight U.S. citizens. I have been privileged to see my children graduate from universities ...

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1: Roots of the Past, Seeds of the Future (August 1945)

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pp. 3-11

as the Imperial Seal and Royal Sword were passed from Emperor Bao Dai1 to Tran Huy Lieu,2 I knew I was part of a truly momentous day in Vietnamese history. Th is abdication by the last ruler of a traditional Vietnam dynasty and transfer of power to Tran Huy Lieu, representing the revolutionary government of Ho Chi Minh,3 was significant, not merely symbolic. Roots from Vietnam’s past were being ...

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2: A Journey of Awakening (1945)

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pp. 12-20

A few weeks after Bao Dai abdicated his position as emperor, passing over the symbols of chief of state to Ho Chi Minh’s representative, I set out on a memorable four-day journey. It brought me a new understanding of, and appreciation for, the Vietnamese people. As I explained earlier, I was born into a family of mandarins who had a long history of honorable ser vice in varied provincial and im pe rial court ...

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3: First Combat: An Inauspicious Beginning (1946)

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pp. 21-30

The day of reckoning arrived. The first shot I fired at an enemy in combat was aimed at a Japanese soldier. Did I hit him? I still wonder. My weapon on that November morning late in 1945 was a French mousqueton, one of the six firearms allotted to our squad of fourteen men. We also had another French mousqueton, two Japanese rifles, a German Mauser, and a British Sten. We received about fifty ...

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4: Preparing For Long-term Guerrilla Warfare (1946)

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pp. 31-46

The French offensive continued all through the spring of 1946. Mobile armored columns transported troops quickly up and down the road network. All major towns along the national highways and railway lines were taken and occupied, except in Inter-zone V from south of Danang through Phu Yen. Such resistance as our forces were able to put up was no match for the experienced, well-equipped soldiers ...

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5: Trek to the “Free Z” (1946)

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pp. 47-56

We didn’t realize the difficulty of the task that still faced us as we regrouped on the other side of Route 21. Nor did our guides give us any time to think about what lay behind or ahead of us. They pushed us to move rapidly, wanting to get as far away from the highway as possible before sunrise. The trek was painful. We had spent a great deal of energy over the past three days, and we had to carry an extra ...

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6: Regiment Doc Lap’s First Battle Turns Into Disaster (1946)

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pp. 57-68

We began our military training after the political indoctrination ended, but even simulated combat exercises included political factors. The role of the political commissar was accentuated during this period, and instructors never allowed us to forget the importance of maintaining good relations with the civilian populace. For example, we were reminded that whenever a unit moved from one location ...

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7: The First Victory: A Lesson in Strength (1947)

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pp. 69-82

Some of the company criticized me during our review of the attack on the artillery outpost for not bringing out the dead with us. They argued that men we had taken for dead might only have been seriously wounded. Others said that was doubtful, pointing out that the sudden, unexpected barrage of artillery shells left little time ...

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8: Change of Heart (1948)

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pp. 83-100

A small, almost bald mountain stuck out as the most noticeable landmark visible from the headquarters of Regiment 83, my new assignment. I arrived here in mid-1948 after leaving the hospital and spending a month on convalescent leave. Nui Chop Chai (or Fish Net Mountain, because it looked like a fish net as it sank into the sea) rose out of a fl at plain. Th is area produced great quantities of betel for sale ...

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9: Changing Uniforms: Amid a Period of Soul-Searching (1950)

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pp. 101-115

Separating from the life and cause I had embraced for nearly half a decade was difficult: I had made up my mind but it wasn’t easy. I was leaving a great deal behind: the people I had learned to love; comrades-in-arms I had both taught and learned from, and had faced death with more than once; men I respected, like Ho Ba, Nguyen Duong, and Tran Luong. Unfortunately I could not share their ...

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10: I Become an Officer in the South Vietnamese Army (1951)

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pp. 116-129

How ironic, I thought to myself as I awoke early one morning early in 1951. Here I was, a devout Buddhist, a man once in training to wear the saff ron robe and carry the begging bowl of a bonze, a Buddhist priest. As a youth, I thought my life would be devoted to meditation and prayer, yet I had just spent nearly four-anda- half years fighting in a revolutionary ...

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11: Surviving an Onslaught (1953 and 1954)

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pp. 130-140

Perhaps as a result of my leadership of the Third Company of the Twenty-seventh Battalion during the fighting at Duc Trong, I was selected for advanced staff study at the Center for Military Studies in Hanoi. As we flew over the Red River Delta toward Hanoi in a lumbering C-47 aircraft in early 1953, my mind wandered back over the importance of this ancient city in Vietnamese history. The flat, fertile ...

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12: With Americans: A Learning and Adjustment Experience (1955–1958)

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pp. 141-155

Dalat looked much the same when I returned in October 1954. There was one major change, however, both in the town and at the academy. As elsewhere in Vietnam, the French were conspicuously absent. Aft er decades of enjoying Dalat as their favorite resort, French military officers and civilians had virtually abandoned the city. Some 100 wealthy Vietnamese and Chinese families, who had prospered ...

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13: my first lesson of insurgency—from a woman (1959–1961)

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pp. 156-169

Some time after the vendor episode was resolved, General Xuan was appointed head of a team of offi cers being sent to Israel to study the kibbutz program operating so successfully there at the time. The object was to see what elements of the program, if any, could be adapted to our country. When he returned about two weeks later, he gave me a stack of documents, brochures, reports, and other items he ...

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14: In Kien Hoa Province, the VC “Cradle of Revolution” (1962)

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pp. 170-184

I worked to the best of my ability for the president in my assignment on the National Security Council, but it was frustrating to be witness to a bureaucracy consistently at odds with the realities of the countryside. One day after Counselor Nhu and I arrived back from a trip to the provinces in early 1962, a phone call from Gia Long Palace summoned me to a meeting with President Diem. I walked into the ...

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15: At the Heart of the Buddhist Crisis (1963)

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pp. 185-198

The Buddhist crisis developed in early 1963 aft er an ill-advised move by the Diem government. The administration ordered enforcement of an old law stating that only national flags could be flown in public. In theory, the order meant that flags of Catholics, Buddhists, and other organizations could no longer be displayed to celebrate significant days or festive seasons, as had been customary in Vietnam for ...

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16: Death of the Republic—For a Better Way? (1963)

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pp. 199-213

Little did I think as I rode to the airport the morning of November 1, 1963, that I would fly into the midst of a bloody coup. Something unexpected occurred at the airport. While I waiting to board the plane for Saigon, I met Colonel Do Cao Tri, an old friend from Dalat and now commanding officer of the First Division stationed in Hué. It surprised me to see him there because he had nothing to do with ...

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17: Return to Kien Hoa, Meet With My Communist Brother (1964–1965)

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pp. 214-225

My return to Kien Hoa was happy and sad, joyous and disheartening: happy and joyous because the people welcomed me so warmly, and sad and disheartening because conditions had deteriorated considerably in little less than a year. I say that I received a warm welcome on my return, but there was one notable exception. At the time, Kien Hoa was in the Third Military Region, now commanded by ...

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18: Director of Pacification Cadres (1966)

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pp. 226-235

As I rode through the streets of Saigon on the last day of 1965, I realized how dramatically the city had changed since the austere days of the Diem regime. Bars and nightclubs had been closed by presidential order during that time, subduing the traditionally vivacious and bustling atmosphere of the city. Now it was more of a boisterous, exciting beehive than it had ever been, a frenetic mixture of military ...

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19: An American or Vietnamese Program? (1966)

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pp. 236-247

I fought strenuously to change the thinking of CIA representatives involved in the pacification cadre program. I tried my best to convince them that the census and grievance elements needed to play the leading role in each pacification cadre team and that this could not be done successfully with just fifty men. I explained again how the census and grievance elements would work together to canvass all the ...

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20: observations on the war andpacification (1967)

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pp. 248-264

My responsibility for inspecting pacification in I Corps required frequent travel to Central Vietnam. Most of Saigon would still be sleeping as I headed to the airport. The exception was along the three kilometers of Cong Ly Boulevard that linked the center of the capital to the huge MACV complex and Vietnamese military headquarters—both adjacent to Tan Son Nhut airport—and the small Air America ...

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21: Pacification or Military Ocupation (1967)

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pp. 289-300

...during all my travels I received briefi ngs from province chiefs and other offi cials. I visited the new life hamlets and talked with cadre teams. Th e same statistics were cited and the same rosy picture painted wherever I went: increasing numbers of hamlets were being pacifi ed, and clinics, bridges, wells, roads, and other facilities were being built. People were being registered by categories (age, type of work, reli-gion, or ga ni za tions, etc.) in the People’s Self-Defense Forces in their villages. And ...

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22: Taking a Political Path (1967)

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pp. 277-298

As I rode in the Jeep back to Saigon late that night, I was reminded of a dramatically diff erent side of the war, but one no less tragic in its way. On a stretch of several miles of the road that linked the Bien Hoa airbase to the Saigon highway, I passed at least a hundred small, primitively built nightclubs and bars with their names spelled out in glowing, garish neon: “Paradise on Earth,” “Hollywood Tonite,” ...

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23: Reaction to the Tet Offensive (1968)

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pp. 299-314

...i was invited to give a series of lectures at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, DC. I also had appointments in Honolulu, Los Angeles, and New Before departing I had another meeting with President Th ieu, and pointed out that he needed to broaden his political base. “Th e Catholics support you, but you “I know you are closely connected with the Buddhists,” he replied. “Can’t you do “You know I am with you personally, but that doesn’t solve the problem,” I told ...

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24: After the Tet Deluge, My Peace Negotiation Proposal (1968)

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pp. 315-333

Because of a last-minute change in my flight schedule, I was not able to notify my family of my arrival time. So my wife and the children were happily surprised when they found me standing at the front gate, but no happier than I was to see that they were all safe. My wife quickly reassured me that our other relatives also escaped harm during the fighting. She lost contact with her parents, who lived about eight kilometers away, during the first three days of the offensive but learned later that ...

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25: Loyalty and Honor (1969)

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pp. 334-343

Hien’s arrest came as a shock. As I left my house for the National Assembly building one day in April 1969, I had no idea that it marked the beginning of what would become an international cause célèbre and the most disastrous eight years in my life. I enjoyed the early-morning drive through Saigon’s quiet streets, planning in my mind the work I wanted to accomplish before other Assembly members and staff arrived. My first ...

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26: Trial and Tribulation (1970)

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pp. 344-365

Three days later I learned, in Chi Hoa prison,1 that my retrial (intended to validate the decision of the tribunal) would take place the next day. My fellow inmates treated me kindly, bringing me food and tea. I wore the black cotton garb issued to convicts and was ready when the deputy warden came for me the following morning. We drove to the court in a convoy of four or five military vehicles. Each ...

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27: Resisting Reeducation (1975–1978)

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pp. 366-380

I sat bolt upright in bed as barking dogs woke me in the middle of an early summer night in 1975. It took a few seconds for me to realize that I was in a private home, not the prison I left just several weeks earlier. Then I was filled with foreboding as I heard men forcing entry into the house. My heart sank as a voice boomed out of a loudspeaker. “Tran Ngoc Chau, Tran Ngoc Chau! Are you there?” I threw on a robe over my pajamas and ran downstairs. Three Viet Cong, wearing their usual black ...

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28: Coming to America (1979)

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pp. 381-394

We planned our departure carefully. Constant surveillance complicated matters, but our awareness of scrutiny allowed us to make some deceptive moves. We purchased a small piece of land in Gia Dinh for raising pigs and told friends that we might settle there. To further confuse matters I made some clumsy and futile inquiries about leaving the country. I wanted observers to be aware and then satisfied that ...

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pp. 395-397

For the long-term benefit of my grand-and great-grandchildren, and fellow Americans with whom they will live together for generations to come, I am writing this epilogue to summarize the most important factor relating to foreign policy—and that which is also exactly what Americans ne glected or ignored in Vietnam. This most important factor is awareness other countries’ national cultures, ...


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pp. 198A-198H


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pp. 399-423


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pp. 425-436

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About the Authors

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p. 437-437

Tran Ngoc Chau escaped from Vietnam via Indonesia among the masses of boat people seeking refuge in the late 1970s, reestablishing himself and his family in the During Ken Fermoyle’s sixty-five year career as a writer, editor, photojournalist and author, he has published thousands of articles in major publications and served as book and magazine editor. He and Tran Ngoc Chau launched a business venture ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780896727779
E-ISBN-10: 0896727777
Print-ISBN-13: 9780896727717
Print-ISBN-10: 0896727718

Page Count: 480
Illustrations: 10
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Modern Southeast Asia Series