Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Gen Tran Bach Dang: We Believe in in Forgiving and Forgetting
General Tran Bach Dang
"We Believe In Forgiving and Forgetting"
I was in the leadership of the National Liberation Front in Tay Ninh province in the spring of 1975, working in the high command planning the spring offensive against the government of South Vietnam. Of course I was in close touch with General Van Tien Dung who was commanding the People's Liberation Army.
The Cao Dai religion is centered in Tay Ninh, of course. And the Cao Dai, although mainly a religion, did have a militant part with their own soldiers. But they split into two sides. One functioned as a supplementary force for the South Vietnamese government, but the other part worked also with the NLF people.
The Montagnards were in Ban Me Thout and the Central Highlands in 1975. Some of them were in FULRO, an organization that was formed by the CIA. But there was another group of Montagnards led by Mr. Ibid Aleo. That group had been working with the NLF for a long long time. And other Montagnards joined the Army of General Van Tien Dung when the battle of Ban Me Thuot began. They turned on the South Vietnamese soldiers and joined us. There was also another group that had been working with us in the Central Highlands all along.
You should know also that we had also infiltrated the highest ranks of the government of Nguyen Van Thieu. We had infiltrated it a lot. A lot! There was some lower infiltration of our staff, too, but only at the lower levels and never at the higher levels.
I want to clarify an important point. Gen. Dung was only a part in a big system. He was the front battle commander. He had nothing at all to do with tactics and with timing. He had other duties on the front. The chief commander at that time was General Vo Nguyen Giap.
The main concern was how to get rid of the intervention of the American government in Vietnam. We were focusing in the Paris Agreement on how to get rid of the American presence in the South. Once that force was gone, the plan for taking over the South was an easily calculated step.
Once the Americans were gone it was easy because then at last it was just Vietnamese against Vietnamese. The Vietnamization of the war, that is what we wanted. Now it was between the Vietnamese.
By the beginning of 1975 when we took Phuoc Long we knew that we could advance faster than we had planned because we knew there would be no American intervention. And the South Vietnamese army did not strike back successfully in Phuoc Long Province. Before they had always fought back. But the ARVN did nothing to take back the town of Phuoc Binh, so we believed that this time we could move and move fast.
After the fall of Phuoc Long, the South Vietnamese President Thieu sent a Congressional delegation to the US to ask for aid for more ammunition and supply. The delegation was led by Mr. Nguyen Van De, the chairman of the military committee in the Congress. He went to the US and talked to President Ford and asked for $300 million in military aid and represented the picture of South Vietnam, and when President Ford listened to what he had to say, Ford knew there was nothing that he could do to prevent defeat in the South. And when the delegation came back to Vietnam Mr. Dey prepared a report and sent it to Hanoi to the Revolutionary force in Hanoi to let them know what happened. Mr. Dey, you see, was a South Vietnamese congressman but he was also working for the NLF. So he kept us posted on what was happening.
That is the degree to which we had infiltrated the government of South Vietnam. We had infiltrated them at the very highest levels. So De met with president Ford and asked for $300 million but he represented the NLF too. So he presented his case in such a way that the US government said that no, that it would do no good. So right away he prepared a report to inform the us as to what the US government was thinking. When we got that report we knew that there was no way at all that the US government would intervene again in Vietnam.
You see we didn't have to infiltrate the American Embassy or the American Central Intelligence Agency in Saigon at low levels like secretaries. We went higher than that. We actually maintained very high posts within those organizations, not just secretaries or something like that. Only in high places did we infiltrate. Absolutely in the highest positions. Big People. We sent in a colonel from the NLF who was also became a colonel in the South and then he worked with the American military intelligence system. And then another one of our infiltrators, Mr. Phan Xuan An, wrote stories for Time magazine a lot. The special advisor to Mr. Thieu was also one of us -- Huynh Van Trong. As a special advisor for Mr. Thieu, he met with Kissinger and Nixon and spoke with them but all the time he was working with the NLF. Ha-ha!
We did not use women who were sleeping with American officials or intelligence officers. You see why we did not have to work that way.
We did find that our infiltration of the American Embassy and the Central Intelligence Agency were not that important because they really didn't know much about what was going on.
I had been in Saigon many times and was in Saigon in 1975. I was not afraid of being betrayed by anyone. No I wasn't afraid because the system was very tight and I had organized everything here so I knew that our security system here was good. I came to Saigon. I was the first secretary of the Party in the South stationed in Saigon, and in the 1960s I was here. Then in 1975 I was in Tay Ninh province until I moved with the revolutionary forces back into Saigon once more.
I came into Saigon on April 30th. I came with the headquarters unit and moved into the city with them on the morning of April 30th.
I did not go to the Presidential Palace. That was not my assignment. I was delegated to oversee the receiving of all the mass media functions within the city. That was my job.
I was in charge of the looking after the ideological and psychological aspects of the city.
Were the Southerners afraid of a bloodbath when the NVA arrived? I don't believe that the people were afraid of a bloodbath. Remember I came from the city, and in 1968 I organized and directed the Tet offensive in Saigon. I knew the people of the city and knew what the people were thinking. They came out to the street to welcome the incoming Army so I knew that they were not afraid at that time.
This place where we are talking now was the home of the former deputy U. S. ambassador, William Porter. When this William Porter and Mr. McGeorge Bundy and other high American government officials were visiting him here, who do you think was living next door to this house? I was! Porter and high American officials were here, right here in this courtyard talking, and I lived next door. Right over there. I could see them and hear them. There was nothing for me to fear in Saigon. I was protected by the populace here. The people knew who I was and what I was doing.
If the US had left behind some lower level people in the Embassy when they left in 1975 that would have been very beneficial for both sides. Ambassador Graham Martin did not have to leave. Vu Van Mau demanded that the Americans leave because he said the National Liberation Front demanded it. The directive though was not meant for the Embassy or the diplomatic people, but it was meant to get the Defense Attache Office military people -- we wanted them out of the country. So that was a very big mistake. The Americans misunderstood that and withdrew the Embassy people. The Americans were just too scared and they left. But they were not required to leave by us. We didn't want them to leave, in fact.
Before we attacked Phuoc Long province at the end of 1974 our plan was to capture the South by 1976, that is true. The thing was, though, that it was out of our hands. We hit Phuoc Long and then Ban Me Thuot. We intended then to go to Kontum and Pleiku or east. What happened after that was all the fault of the South Vietnamese troops. They just took off and ran away. So the rapid emergency replanning of events had to take place because of the withdrawal of their troops voluntarily. Suddenly we did not have to wait until 1976 to complete our plans. We were aware that Brigadier Ted Serong had proposed to President Thieu a withdrawal plan, but we just did not think that Thieu would ever order it to happen. I want to point out that the plan of Serong -- you see we were aware of the details of the plan at the same time that they were presented to President Thieu, and we analyzed them, too -- was to take groups from the Central Highlands and protect the South. But President Thieu ordered a withdrawal and it was a chaotic withdrawal and that was the end of the story. What happened was that after taking over Ban Me Thuot we had a meeting of high ranking officials to ponder the possibility of American intervention. It was attended by Le Duan. And the conclusion was that there was no way that the Americans would participate in this fighting or that they would intervene in the fighting to save the South. So we decided to achieve the final victory in 1975, a year early.
I slept over there in the high rise nearby on the night of April 30th. At that time I was too busy with my new duties, overseeing the mass media, working 24 hours a day, and so I didn't have any personal or private thoughts that day. I was just too engrossed in my work at that time. At that time we had 400 reporters in Saigon, and so it was important to keep the news going out to the foreign reporters. So for the first week of May I was very busy keeping the news going out.
There were some western reporters here. Not all of them had run away. There were still some here. Alan Dawson was here and I met with him, I recall.
As to Ambassador Graham Martin's account as to why we shelled Tan Son Nhut airport on the night of April 28th, 1975, because the South Vietnamese Air Force had been allowed to fly its F5E planes to Thailand, well, that is just a made up story, make believe. There never was any agreement with the Russians about a time for the Americans to get out. That is not true. Somebody made it up. The Russians controlled nothing in Vietnam at that time. Nothing. This thing was planned entirely by the North Vietnamese government. The Russian government was not even informed as to what we planned or what was happening.
The real purpose that we shelled the runway of Tan Son Nhut on the night of April 28th not because the Air Force had withdrawn their airplanes. We shelled the airport, simply because that is when the artillery units arrived within shelling distance of Tan Son Nhut. That is why they shelled it. Because we could.
We did not shell the Americans during their withdrawal because there was a delegation from the South Vietnamese who came to Tan Son Nhut to negotiate with people at our base at Camp Davis. General Minh took power on the 28th and directed that people come to the air base and talk to us and because of that we stopped all of our plans to attack the city. We had planned to shell the city with 150,000 artillery shells, but because of appeals from a delegation from Tran Van Minh, we stopped shelling the city after the night of April 28th. The men who were sent out were Father Chan Tin and Mr. Trung Ngoc Lieng and they came to Tan San Nhut to negotiate with the NLF.
Minh directed these people to come and talk to our side. We had a representative group from the North stationed in Tan Son Nhut at the time, and there was communication going on at that time.
As for the security of the flight path from the US Embassy to the sea, if you wanted to hit the helicopters, you had to position yourself in a place where you could hit them. But the place where our guns would be stationed was in a marshy area and so we could not hit those planes. And second there was no reason to do that since there were only civilians on board and not military personnel and so we did not want to hit those individuals. We had nothing against them.
Two points. First, because this side was victorious, if we were to lose the war, there would have been bitterness and hatred, but because we won we are happy and not hateful. Second, the cultural trait of the Vietnamese, we believe in forgiving and forgetting. When the two sides were enemies we had to fight, but once the war was over there was no more reason to be hateful, That is a cultural trait of the Vietnamese.
In 1954, when we tried to liberate the whole country and only got half of it, at that time we felt bitterness and hatred. But now we are victorious and so bear no hatred.
Of course the American government now owes the Vietnamese a moral obligation. There is no doubt about it. Whether or not that obligation is a financial one, that depends on how one believes. That is in dispute. There are differences of opinion on that. However, I believe that the American government should just contribute to the rebuilding of Vietnam, but not by paying a war-time reparation.
I have met with a number of journalists and researchers during the past months. And some of them were Americans. And they have the same question: What should the Americans do in Vietnam now that the war is over?
The past is over. We can label the past anything we want to -- mistake, evil, miscalculation. Whatever you want, you can call it. Personally, I believe it was something that was regrettable. I want to stop at that. I call it regrettable. Regrettable. It was a mistake. But what was done was done. We cannot bring back the past. We cannot bring back the dead. And so now we have to try to go on because we all live on the same planet and if we carry on hatred it will not do anyone any good at all.