France and the US

29 Tháng Mười 201312:00 SA(Xem: 319)
France and the US

The American insistence on prompt demobilization of Vietnamese military personnel arguably came as one of the reasons for the failure to integrate the religious armed forces. In early December 1954, the US side informed the Vietnamese government via the Training Relations Instruction Mission, or TRIM, that due to the ongoing peace process the Vietnamese armed forces were to be cut from January 1 on. Initially, the program aimed at cutting the Vietnamese National Army down to 100,000 by July 1, 1955.

Washington also announced that from January 1 on, US aid was to be given directly to Diệm government, not through France. On December 28, 1954, the French government finally ratified the agreements that gave total independence to Diệms regime. Three weeks later, on 20 January 1955, the French agreed to turn over full control of the Vietnamese armed forces within five months.

However, it should be pointed out that by the end of 1954 the Vietnamese National Army was 200,000-strong and it included 6,500 officers and 27,000 warrant officers. Fast demobilization sparked a number of violent incidents. Notably, in Nha Trang and Đà Nẵng groups of warrant officers refused to demobilize and armored vehicles were needed to quell the disturbances. Quân lực Việt Nam Cộng Hòa tong giai đoàn hình thánh 1946-1955. Phòng 5, Bộ tổng tham mưu QLVNCH, Saigon, 1972, p. 250.

Subsequently, in April 1955 the US mission announced new demobilization target dates. This implied a slower demobilization of the Vietnamese - 150,000 by May 1, 125,000 by August 1, and 100,000 by November 1, 1955. Moreover, the US advisers suggested cutting the Vietnamese National Army down to 85,000-90,000 and eventually enrolling extra conscripts in order to reach the 100,000 level, which was considered as a proper minimum.

Theoretically, sizable cuts of military personnel should have brought positive economic results. However, post-war Vietnam lacked any meaningful social security system, hence, many demobilized soldiers and officers remained unemployed thus causing serious social problems.

Moreover, Hòa Hảo forces had started armed struggle against the Communists long before a nationalist government in Saigon was formed. Therefore the Hòa Hảo followers viewed themselves as forerunners of the anti-Communist opposition. Correspondingly, members of the Hòa Hảo community felt outmaneuvered and were disgruntled when the transfer of power from the French to the Vietnamese government was carried out without any consultations with the Hòa Hảo leaders.

Not surprisingly, the Hòa Hảo leadership and most followers believed they were victims of a biased government policy. Leaders of the Hòa Hảo community were keen to forestall any government interference into the internal affairs of the congregation.

On the other hand, masses of Hòa Hảo adherents were particularly frustrated as they witnessed the transfer of power from the French administrators to Vietnamese government officials in the western provinces. The disillusionment was caused by the fact that the government employed many former Việt Minh officials who had previously oppressed Hòa Hảo followers. Since anti-Communist feelings were notably strong among the Hòa Hảo adepts, they refused to cooperate with former Việt Minh cadres.

Nonetheless, the government of Ngô Đình Diệm insisted on integrating all of the various Vietnamese armed forces into one National Army. The authorities were keen to force the religious movements into submission. Therefore political and military conflict became unavoidable.

Prime Minister Nguyễn Văn Tâm fully realized the complexity of the sect problem and pursued flexible policies, notably because of his personal ties with General Trần Văn Soái. Although all the cabinets prior to Ngô Đình Diệms government failed to achieve a viable solution to the sect problem, they refrained from the use of force to integrate the sect troops.

French commanders repeatedly warned against violent solutions to the sect problem. The French recognized that the Hòa Hảo followers viewed the central government with a measure of mistrust due to a variety of historical and psychological reasons. For instance, there were few educated people among the Hòa Hảo activists hence, the faithful were afraid of being cheated by cunning outsiders. Yet the French argued that problems with the Hòa Hảo could have been solved with a condition of mutual confidence and recognition of the Hòa Hảo congregations interests.

Moreover, Lương Trọng Tường who served as Trần Văn Soái representative in Saigon, also warned against arrogant practices of Diệms government which did not want to discuss anything with the Hòa Hảo congregation. Lương Trọng Tường pointed out that the government failed to consult with Hòa Hảo leaders even over matters relative to the appointment of province chiefs in the Hậu Giang area. For instance, although some 250,000 people of An Giang provinces total population of 350,000 were Hòa Hảo followers, the government appointed the An Giang province chief without any consultations with Hòa Hảo leaders. Moreover, issues of the Hòa Hảo troops integration into the National Army were decided without talks with the communitys leaders.

It should be pointed out that the integration of the Hòa Hảo and Cao Đài armed forces became a complex political and social problem. Dissolution of the armed minorities and their subsequent integration into the state institutions amounted to a major institutional reform, which required a measure of consensus among the parties involved. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm finally selected a military solution to the sect problem.
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