restricted access 1. The “Pacified” Province
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11 CHAPTER ONE The “Pacified” Province In 1771, as American colonists on the other side of the world were beginning to stir into revolution against the British Empire, three brothers from the village of Tay Son in what is now Binh Dinh Province, Vietnam, led a rebellion against the corrupt Nguyen warlords who dominated the southern half of the country. With the slogan “seize the property of the rich and distribute it to the poor,” the brothers raised a rebel army that swept across the country , punishing oppressive landlords and mandarins, redistributing property, sharing out food, and freeing prisoners. By the time the American colonists finally won their independence in 1783, the Tay Son brothers had seized control of all southern Vietnam and driven twenty-one-year-old Nguyen Anh, the last surviving Nguyen heir, into exile.1 The Tay Son brothers then came into conflict with the Trinh warlords who dominated the northern half of the country. By 1786, they had overthrown the Trinh and reunified Vietnam for the first time in two centuries. All this was ostensibly done on behalf of Le Hien Tong, reigning emperor of the Le Dynasty, whose ancestors had been reduced to figureheads by the Nguyen and Trinh in the 1530s. But the emperor felt more threatened than empowered by the rebels and fled north to seek the assistance of China’s Qing Dynasty in crushing them. The eldest of the Tay Son brothers, Nguyen Nhac, declared himself emperor, but the new dynasty was immediately challenged by a Chinese army that invaded in 1788. Nguyen Hue, the most militarily talented of the brothers, marched out to meet the invaders near what is now Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.2 Attacking during the Tet lunar New Year holiday, his troops surprised and routed the Qing army, which fled back to China.3 Nguyen Anh had taken advantage of the Chinese invasion by returning to southern Vietnam and launching a revolt against the Tay Son. Nguyen Hue, who had become Emperor Quang Trung, planned to stamp out the Nguyen warlords’ resurgence, but he died in 1792 before he could finish the job. Meanwhile, aided by arms, ships, and military advisors procured by the French Jesuit missionary Pigneau de Behaine, Nguyen Anh was embracing Western military technology. Forts, shipyards, and cannon foundries were established; troops were trained and equipped along European lines; and a 12 Chapter One dozen Western-style frigates were built to form the core of Nguyen Anh’s navy. Moving cautiously, Nguyen Anh, now Emperor Gia Long, gradually retook Vietnam from the Tay Son, who were feuding among themselves and whose armies had long since lost their revolutionary fervor. The reconquest would not be completed until 1802, but in 1799 the emperor’s armies captured the province that had been the birthplace of the Tay Son movement. Gia Long renamed it Binh Dinh (meaning “pacified”) to commemorate this victory.4 The emperors who succeeded Gia Long in the new Nguyen Dynasty found it increasingly difficult to resist French imperialism. In a series of wars stretching from 1864 to 1907, all of Indochina (including Cambodia and Laos) became French colonies and protectorates that would survive until the Second World War. The 1940 conquest of France by Nazi Germany ended the illusion of invincibility that had sustained French colonial rule in the Far East, and the Vichy regime’s inability to defend Indochina against the Japanese further undermined French prestige among the region’s native peoples. In September 1940 the colonial government allowed Japanese troops to enter Vietnam and establish air and naval bases within its territory. Collaboration with the Japanese continued until early 1945, when the Vichy French, recognizing that Allied victory was inevitable, planned to switch sides. The Japanese preempted them by seizing control of all Vietnam in March 1945. French colonial troops put up only slight resistance before being disarmed and imprisoned, along with the entire “European” population of Vietnam. Therefore, when Japan announced its intention to surrender after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, a power vacuum emerged in Vietnam. It was quickly filled by the Communistdominated 9L͏W1DPĈ͡F/̵SĈ͛QJ0LQK+͡L (League for the Independence of Vietnam)—better known as the Vietminh. On 14 August, as the Japanese stood by and the French languished in their internment camps, the Vietminh seized power and proclaimed the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. However, the French government in Paris responded by sending troops to Indochina...


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Subject Headings

  • Counterinsurgency -- Vietnam -- Bình Định (Province).
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Campaigns -- Vietnam -- Bình Định (Province).
  • Bình Định (Vietnam : Province) -- History.
  • United States. Army. Airborne Brigade, 173rd -- History.
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