Monday, February 27, 2006


Amazing Things One Learns on C-Span

I generally think of The Independent Institute as one of the world's largest collection of nuts, but they had a pretty good show recently. Larry Korb, former NSA head Lt. General William C. Odom, and only one Heritage hack. Inter alia came this revelation: Ho Chi Minh was an "agent" of the OSSduring World War II --Gen. William Odom (on C-Span but no URL available) This is truly an amazing statement. It has long been known that the US worked with Ho Chi Minh against the Japanese, but if he was actually an agent, that's a new ball of wax. Agents are employees of the U.S. Government. When an agent does something, he represents you and me. Outside of the ranks of agents, there are a cloud of deniables, including NOCs, contractors, hangers-on, etc. Granted, the OSS was run much more loosely than its successor, so maybe Odom is using the term in the more generic sense. But I would guess that a bit of important historical truth just leaked out.
Doesn't surprise me. Ho Chi Minh's original planned constitution for Vietnam was lifted nearly word for word from the US Constitution. He admired the US greatly until we spurned him during the postwar anticommunist hysteria.
There was more to it than simple admiration, PW. There was a lot of practical politics.

First, it was a talking point in favor of continuing the wartime alliance into peacetime, serving to make the US more sympathetic to resisting a likely re-colonization attempt by France.

Second, Vietnam and China were long-time rivals. While no one could have predicted in 1942 that Chiang would lose hold on power, Vietnam doubtless wanted a big power guarantor even if the dark horse Chinese communists came to power.

But... yeah. Things could have worked very differently if Luce, Nixon, and Madame Chiang hadn't been so mad as to wreck the United States as part of preventing the Chinese people from determining their own future. One can imagine the US sanctioning a democratic/ nationalist/ Euro-socialist regime in Hanoi in exchange for ports and military aid. Ho was enough of a pragmatist to realize that independence was worth more than ideological attachments to Marxism.

The effects could have been huge, because the window of opportunity for communism began to close with the blocade of Berlin and then Khruschev's disclosure of Stalin's crimes less than a decade after the end of World War II. Korea might never have happened. The Cold War itself could have begun with the US having laid down such clear markers for self-determination that guys like Castro would never have considered communism as a viable alternative.

As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
This isn't news. It's common knowledge. Marilyn Youngs's The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990, Chapter 1 is "The Fate of OSS Agent 19 (1945-1946)." That's Ho Chi Minh.
Paul, thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I intend to buy a copy. And I thank you for your correction of my error that historical truth may have slipped from Odom's lips (heaven forfend!)

However, I have to dispute your chararacterization of this as "common knowledge."

A Google search on "Ho Chi Minh" and "Agent 19" comes up with 61 hits, some of them not actually containing the search terms in text (a more inclusive search, using "Archimedes Patti" instead of "Agent 19" comes up with 461 hits). To put this in context, the absolutely unknown "Charles Utwater" gets 173 hits, while Dahr Jamail gets half a million.

Even the hits one gets are a little ambiguous. One I came up with, a biographic sketch written by Stanley Karnow, seems to have been included only because there are pointers. In text, I can't find any reference to this.

Even more to the point is this example:

One thing Ho Chi Minh wanted at the time was recognition of the Viet Minh as legitimate representatives of the Vietnamese. Instead, in addition to our advisory role and a few weapons, the OSS gave Ho Chi Minh an official appointment as OSS Agent 19 and a code name of "Lucius." Closer examination of this collaboration by several scholars shows that few documents apparently passed among the two sides or between Ho Chi Minh and the OSS headquarters in Kunming. It is important to remember that President Franklin Roosevelt's death came February 12, 1945, before the Deer Mission started.

The implication is that the title of Agent was honorary and only occurred in the last days of the war. Odom didn't mention Ho Chi Minh casually.

Anyway, thanks for your comment. I will do my best to make sure that what was uncommon knowledge becomes more common.
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