When I started this journey I knew nothing of this beautiful country and its people, except for the bits I gleamed as a child about the Vietnam War.
Did it color my elucidation of this country.
I hope not.
Perhaps, if I was honest though, I thought that Vietnam was a country that had turned its back on God.
How indecorous and judgmental was I?
Now, having traveled there, I realise that the Vietnamese are a rich multicultural race that are tolerant and understanding. It is a melting pot that accepts all. There are no religious wars here. God is alive and well in a country that had suffered so much, since the beginning of time.
Perhaps it is the abundance of natural resources as well as seas and soils that are teeming with life, that triggers greed in the visitors to this land. The plutocrats who come, plunder and steal from its people.
Today, in a post war time its the majestic scenery, culinary delights and shopping that beckons the tourist to travel there.
For me, it is the history that calls. I want to understand how, after everything that has happened, the Vietnamese forgive. forget and move on.
I am still learning.
I do not have all the answers.
My quest continues.
I will finish the final leg of my journey to Vietnam with version of events from 1940 until the present day.
It is fleeting a simplistic, interpretation of what happened in a word that was at war and how this impacted on the people in the Mekong Delta area.
In September 1940 Vietnam is occupied by Japanese forces who are expanding throughout South East Asia and live in a ‘coexistence’ with French.
The Japanese make a concerted effort to win the minds and hearts of the Vietnamese – a policy which starkly contrasts their brutality, in China.
This coexistence is abruptly ended on 9th March 1945. The Japanese eject the French Colonial Government and seize control of Vietnam installing Boa Dai as their puppet ruler.
In the summer of 1945 two important occurrences profoundly affect Vietnam
- Over 2 million die from starvation in a population of 10 million in Northern Vietnam.
- Word War 11 ends.
On the 7th May 1945 Nazi Germany is defeated.
The Allies Leaders meet over the summer in Potsdam in Germany to establish how to prevent another World War from ever happening again. During the Potsdam conference, representatives from France request the return of all pre -war colonies of South East Asia (Indochina) to France.
Their request is granted. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia once again are subjected to French Colonial Rule.
In order to disarm the Japanese in Vietnam the Allies divide the country along the 16th parallel, with the Chinese moving down to disarm the Japanese in the North and the British into the south.
On 2nd September 1945 the Japanese surrender unconditionally.
In the late 1940’s the French are struggling to maintain control over its colonies in Indochina- Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Laos gained independence in 1949 and Cambodia in 1953.
In 1949 France promised Vietnam some- but not total independence, and tried to reinstate former Emperor Bao Dai but he was never as popular as Ho Chi Minh and the independence movement continues to grow.
In 1954 the French held garrison Dien Bien Phu in Northern Vietnam falls after a four month siege, by the independent movement of Viet Minh soldiers, led by Ho Chi Minh.
Following Independence from France in 1954 the Mekong Delta becomes part of the Republic of Vietnam and eventually the country of Vietnam
In the wake of the French defeat, The French and Vietnamese along with representatives from the United States and China meet in Geneva to discuss the future on Indochina.
They reached 2 agreements.
- A ceasefire between the French and Viet Minh and a temporary division of the country along the 17th French forces would remain in the south and Ho Chi Minh forces would control the north.
- Neither north nor south would join alliances with outside parties and General elections would take place in 1956. Laos and Cambodia were to remain neutral.
When the French departed from Vietnam, the United States stayed.
In 1955 the first US military aid arrives in Saigon. The US offers to train the fledging South Vietnamese army. Ngo Dinh Diem becomes the First President of South Vietnam.
Before the partition the majority of Vietnam’s Catholic population lived in the north, many of these people moved south assisted by US Navy programme Operation Passage to Freedom
After the partition, it was Ngo Dinh Deim responsibility to establish The Republic of Vietnam.
Mrs Nguyen Thi Mai Anh –the wife of Diems younger brother becomes Vietnams First Lady, a catholic convert herself, led the way in Deim’s programme to reform Saigon society in accordance with Catholic Values.
Brothels and Opium dens are closed, divorce and abortion made illegal and adultery laws strengthen and religious sects such as Coa Dai and Hoa Hoa that controlled parts of the Mekong Delta are dismantled.
However, Ngo Dinh Deim principles and practices are open to question. General elections do not take place in 1956.
Southern Vietnam is controlled by Ngo Dinh Deim, his family. As far as I can ascertain Ngo Dinh Deim is a cruel rather than a just leader, who alond with his brother use special police to carry out his wishes. Those who were opposed to command are imprisoned or worse with the numbers reaching thousands.
Many flee to North Vietnam.
Later, Ho Chi Minh will send them back to infiltrate the south.
They are known as Vietnamese Communists or Viet Cong for short.
Many are not communists per se, just ordinary Vietnamese who want to find a better way to live.
In 1958 the Mekong Delta becomes a training ground for the independent movement specialising in guerrilla warfare, where it is said that over 37 armed companies loyal to communism are organised.
March 1959 Ho Chi Minh declares a peoples war to unite Vietnam.
1959 the construction of the Ho Chi Minh trail begins. Many of the construction workers are women.
The Ho Chi Minh trail expands over 1500 miles. It connects the North to Southern Vietnam and the waterways of the Mekong Delta.
The trail consists of jungle and roads which spread out along the coast of Vietnam and on through Laos and Cambodia and it facilitates the transportation of military personnel and arms from the North to the Veit Cong in the South.
In April 1960 distinguished nationalists send a petition to Deim to reform his corrupt family run government, which ignites a reign of terror against the intellectuals and Buddhists.
In November 1960 there is a failed coup to oust Deim from power.
In January 1961, the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pledges support to Ho Chi Minh to aim to reunite Vietnam.
And, in the United States President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is inaugurated as the 35th Us President in January 1961. Kennedy avidly supports liberty.
In May 1961Vice president Lindon B Johnson visits President Deim. Johnson and Kennedy pledges to support independence in the south.
Subsequently, over 400 Green Beret advisors are sent from the US to help the Southern Vietnam Army fight against the Viet Cong guerrillas.
In 1963 a new US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge arrives in Vietnam and tries unsuccessfully to encourage Deim to reform his family run government which Deim refuses to do.
The Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, drives to Saigon and burns himself to death in protest against the violation of religious freedom and discriminating against Buddhists.
On November 2nd 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother are assassinated,
November 22nd 1963 President Kennedy is assassinated and Lyndon B Johnson is sworn in as 36th President of the United States.
In November 1963 over 16,300 American Military advisors are in Southern Vietnam costing approximately 500 Million US Dollars.
From 1964 until 1969 the war escalated claiming millions of lives. Civilian Men, women and children are slaughtered by US Viet Ming and Viet Cong alike. The May Lai massacre and the massacre in Hue make for difficult reading which is not the brief of this blog. There are only victims in war and the worst victim of all, are innocent frightened children.
January 20th 1967 Richard Nixon is inaugurated the 37th President of the United States and in his opening address he states that the greatest role of any leader is that of peacemaker and start to withdraw troops from Vietnam in 1969 and continues to do so until 1972. Anti-Vietnam War Rallies fusillade America. There are several attempts to ini
However, the bombing and air raids continue making headway into Communist sanctuaries in Cambodia.
In 1973 the peace talks in Paris in an attempt to bring peace to Vietnam go pear-shaped for many complicated and various reasons, one of which included the leaders in the South refusal to recognise the role of the Veit Cong in proclaiming peace.
August 9th I in 1974 Richard Nixon resigns and Gerald Henry Forde becomes 38th President of the United States.
On 18th December 1974 the North Viennese leaders meet to plan final offensive into South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese army is supported by the Soviet Union and is said to be one of the biggest armies in the world.
25th March 1975 Hue falls without much resistance after a 3 day siege. Millions of refugees flee south.
30th March Da Nang falls. 100,000 South Vietnamese soldiers surrender. 30,000 South Vietnamese soldiers are inside but are leaderless. The city erupts into looting and chaos.
April 23rd 1975 100,000 North Vietnamese Army advance on Saigon which is now overflowing with refugees.
April 30th 1975 the last Americans leave from the American Embassy. The North Vietnamese troops storm the gates. President Minh surrenders unconditionally. The Viet Cong flag flies from the Presidential palace. Chaos reigns in the streets of Saigon.
A Final Note to Self
In April 1975 The War is over.
In southern Vietnam everything changes. Power is transferred from the ‘Haves’ to the ‘Have-nots’. Education becomes paramount for all people. Historical monuments in Saigon are renamed and relabeled, acting as a reminded that history must never repeat itself.
I wonder ……..?
In the Mekong Delta Region, life goes. Peace returns.
Not too far away in the middle of Phnom Phen, A little bubbly child called Loung Ung lives in a third –floor apartment with her beloved father, mother, three brothers and two sisters. She is blissfully obvious to the horrific fate that awaits her family.
She is five years old.
The events of April 1975 until October 1979 are narrated through her spirited child’s voice in her book. First They Killed my Father: A daughter of Cambodia Remembers. (2001) Harper Perennial.
I am neither qualified nor able to comment on the recent tragic history of Cambodia.
Instead we will do the tourist bit and travel to the most amazing temples in the world. The illustrious Angkor Watt Temples but this will not happen until late May.
I need to take some time out to meditate.
During this time I will revisit the healing ways of my Irish Heritage and will share some remedies and cures with you, before I return to finish my rendition about my search for the miraculous in Vietnam and beyond.