Allies, Enemies, and Why the U.S. Lost the War
Published by: Texas Tech University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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Regiment Doc Lap’s First Battle Turns into Disaster (1946) 57With Americans: A Learning and Adjustment Experience (1955–1958) 141In Kien Hoa Province, the VC “Cradle of Revolution” (1962) 170Return to Kien Hoa, Meet with My Communist Brother (1964–1965) 214Aft er the Tet Deluge, My Peace Negotiation Proposal (1968) 315...
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Lt. Col. Tran Ngoc Chau with Rufus Phillips and John O’DonnellChau and his wife surrounded by their family in 2004 on Chau’s eightieth Chau and his wife in 1967 aft er his election to the National Assembly...
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...when I went to Vietnam in 1965—as a State Department member of Edward Lansdale’s Senior Liaison Offi ce in the U.S. Embassy—I met a number of people who became close friends, colleagues, and my mentors on the country’s com-plexities. Topping that list was John Paul Vann, the subject of Neil Sheehan’s master-work, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, and a major fi gure in the present memoir. Much of what I learned from Vann was what he him-...
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...in early 1943 I was a volunteer in the National Salvation Youth or ga ni za tion dedi-cated to struggle for Vietnam in de pen dence, and before the end of World War II was a ju nior member of the Viet Minh secret intelligence ser vice. In late 1945 I vol-unteered 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 I served as squad, platoon, company, and battalion commander. I was a regimental ...
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...on completing this memoir I want to express my sincerest gratitude to the United States of America for admitting my family and me aft er we escaped from our native country in 1979. Th e United States was generous in providing us the opportu-nity 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 As for individuals, my sincere and profound gratitude goes to Ken Fermoyle for ...
1: roots of the past, seeds of the future(august 1945)
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...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 his-tory. 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 signifi cant, not merely symbolic. Roots from Vietnam’s past were being torn out, and seeds for the future planted in their stead. It marked a turning point for ...
2: a journey of awakening (1945)
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...a few weeks aft er 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 memo-rable 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 In retrospect, I realize I had been somewhat spoiled and insulated during my ...
3: first combat: an inauspicious beginning(1946)
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...the day of reckoning arrived. Th e fi rst shot I fi red at an enemy in combat was aimed at a Japa nese 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 fi rearms allotted to our squad of fourteen men. We also had another French mousqueton, two Japa nese rifl es, a German Mauser, and a British Sten. We received about fi ft y rounds of ammunition per rifl e for this attack on the Japa nese in a former provincial ...
4: preparing for long-term guerrillawarfare (1946)
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...the French off ensive 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, ex-cept in Inter-zone V from south of Danang through Phu Yen. Such re sis tance as our forces were able to put up was no match for the experienced, well-equipped soldiers France was now putting into the fi eld. Our poorly armed volunteer army obviously ...
5: trek to the “free z” (1946)
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...we didn’t realize the diffi culty 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. Th ey pushed us to move rapidly, wanting to get as far away from the highway as possible before sunrise. Th e trek was painful. We had spent a great deal of energy over the past three days, and we had to carry an extra burden. A man and a woman in the group came down with such bad cases of infl u-...
6: regiment doc lap’s first battle turnsinto disaster (1946)
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...we began our military training aft er the political indoctrination ended, but even simulated combat exercises included political factors. Th e 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 to another, we must clean the area where we had lived, inside and out, and thank all ...
7: the first victory: a lesson in strength (1947)
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...some of the company criticized me during our review of the attack on the artil-lery outpost for not bringing out the dead with us. Th ey argued that men we had taken for dead might only have been seriously wounded. Others said that was doubt-ful, pointing out that the sudden, unexpected barrage of artillery shells left little time Everyone agreed, however, that the biggest problem was lack of information about the blockhouse. Most of the men we lost were hit by fi re from that position, yet ...
8: change of heart (1948)
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...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 aft er leaving the hospital and spending a month on convalescent leave. Nui Chop Chai (or Fish Net Mountain, because it looked like a fi sh net as it sank into the sea) rose out of a fl at plain. Th is area produced great quantities of betel for sale in and beyond Phu Yen province. Th ick bamboo hedges encircled small hamlets ...
9: changing uniforms: amid a period ofsoul-searching (1950)
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...separating from the life and cause I had embraced for nearly half a decade was diffi cult: 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 philosophies—now that I understood them. I felt strongly about the impact my ac-...
10: i become an officer in the southvietnamese army (1951)
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...h ow 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-and-Now, attending the military academy, I was committed to a career as a profes-sional offi cer. Waves of doubt swept through me, but I recalled the words of encour-...
11: surviving an onslaught (1953 and 1954)
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...perhaps as a result of my leadership of the Th ird Company of the Twenty-seventh Battalion during the fi ghting at Duc Trong, I was selected for advanced staff study at the Center for Military Studies in Hanoi. As we fl ew 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. Th e fl at, fertile rice fi elds of the Delta made the whole area an important agricultural center. Access ...
12: with americans: a learning andadjustment experience (1955–1958)
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...dalat looked much the same when I returned in October 1954. Th ere 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 offi cers and civilians had virtually abandoned the city. Some 100 wealthy Vietnamese and Chinese families, who had prospered substantially due to their connections with the French regime, now occupied the ...
13: my first lesson of insurgency—from a woman (1959–1961)
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...some time aft er 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 op-erating so successfully there at the time. Th e 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 had accumulated during the trips. “I want you to study this material and prepare a ...
14: in kien hoa province, the vc “cradleof revolution” (1962)
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...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 aft er 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 president’s offi ce-bedroom, with no inkling that this was a pivotal day for me, that ...
15: at the heart of the buddhist crisis(1963)
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...the Buddhist crisis developed in early 1963 aft er an ill-advised move by the Diem government. Th e administration ordered enforcement of an old law stat-ing that only national fl ags could be fl own in public. In theory, the order meant that fl ags of Catholics, Buddhists, and other or ga ni za tions could no longer be displayed to celebrate signifi cant days or festive seasons, as had been customary in Vietnam for many years. In fact, the order came exactly at the time of year when Buddhists tradi-...
16: death of the republic—for a better way? (1963)
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...little did I think as I rode to the airport the morning of November 1, 1963, that I would fl y 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 offi cer of the First Division sta-tioned in Hué. It surprised me to see him there because he had nothing to do with my geographic area. I wore civilian clothes (as always during my time in Danang), ...
: return to kien hoa, meet with mycommunist brother (1964–1965)
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...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 At the time, Kien Hoa was in the Th ird Military Region, now commanded by General Lam Van Phat, none other than the former colonel of the Second Division ...
18: director of pacification cadres (1966)
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...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, subdu-ing the traditionally vivacious and bustling at mo sphere of the city. Now it was more of a boisterous, exciting beehive than it had ever been, a frenetic mixture of military and civilian activity that mirrored the confusion of the time. Signs of the war sur-...
19: an american or vietnamese program?(1966)
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...i fought strenuously to change the thinking of CIA representatives involved in the pacifi cation cadre program. I tried my best to convince them that the census and grievance elements needed to play the leading role in each pacifi cation cadre team and that this could not be done successfully with just fi ft y men. I explained again how the census and grievance elements would work together to canvass all the members of every family in every hamlet to be pacifi ed. Th ey would come to know ...
20: observations on the war andpacification (1967)
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...my responsibility for inspecting pacifi cation in I Corps required frequent travel to Central Vietnam. Most of Saigon would still be sleeping as I headed to the airport. Th e 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 terminal. Hundreds of staff offi cers, logistical personnel, government offi cials, and ...
21: pacification or military occupation(1967)
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...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 ...
22: taking a political path (1967)
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...as I rode in the Jeep back to Saigon late that night, I was reminded of a dramati-cally 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,” Th ere was little activity around them now because of the curfew (which usually ...
3: reaction to the tet offensive (1968)
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...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 ...
24: after the tet deluge, my peacenegotiation proposal (1968)
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...because of a last-minute change in my fl ight 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 fi ghting. She lost contact with her parents, who lived about eight kilometers away, during the fi rst three days of the off ensive but learned later that ...
25: loyalty and honor (1969)
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...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 interna-tional 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 fi rst ...
26: trial and tribulation (1970)
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...three days later I learned, in Chi Hoa prison,1 that my retrial (intended to vali-date the decision of the tribunal) would take place the next day. My fellow in-mates 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 fi ve military vehicles. Each vehicle had its sirens blaring and its lights fl ashing, and was fi lled with armed mili-...
27: resisting reeducation (1975–1978)
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...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. Th en I was fi lled 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. Th ree Viet Cong, wearing their usual black ...
28: coming to america (1979)
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...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 inqui-ries about leaving the country. I wanted observers to be aware and then satisfi ed that I was discouraged and had fi nally accepted my fate. Meanwhile, we actually concen-...
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...for the long-term benefi t 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. Th is most important factor is awareness other countries’ national cultures, the product of their own special histories. Failure to recognize and take into account ...
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Chau and his wife, Bich Nhan, aft er they were married in 1951. She is an amazing woman who had to cope with many problems over the years, including supporting and keeping the family together during Chau’s seven years of imprisonment, arranging for their escape as “boat people,” and working on an electronic assembly Chau and Nguyen Phuoc Dai, one of his lawyers during the trial. She was a senator ...
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All footnotes ending with [KF] were written by Ken Fermoyle, the writer who worked with Tran Ngoc Chau on Vietnam Labyrinth for more than twenty years. All other information, comments, and explanations are those of Tran Ngoc Chau.1. Last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, founded in the early nineteenth century.2. Tran Huy Lieu was a revolutionary, a professor, and a writer with the pen name of ...
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Th e letter n following a page number indicates a note on that page. Th e number fol-...
about the authors
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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-fi ve-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 ...
Page Count: 480
Series Title: Modern Southeast Asia Series