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Interview with Nguyen Thi Dinh, 1981

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Summary
Nguyen Thi Dinh was a Deputy Supreme Commander of the National Liberation Front. Following the war, Madame Dinh served on the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party and became the first female Major General of the Vietnam People’s Army. She describes in detail her activities against the French, and her subsequent arrest and torture. She then details the repressions suffered under Ngo Dinh Diem, the Tet Offensive, the Phoenix Program, and the fall of Saigon.
Topics
France--Colonies, Village communities, Feudalism, Oppression, Land tenure, Youth and war, National liberation movements, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, Vietnamese, Nationalism and communism, Prisoners, Torture, War and family, Questioning, Malaria, Landlord and tenant, Women in war, Exile, Illegal arms transfers, Treaties, Vietnamese reunification question (1954-1976)
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Transcript

The role of revolution with regard to French colonization and the landlords

SR 2034
NGUYEN THI DINH
311, take 1 interview with Nguyen Thi Dinh
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Could you tell us your first understanding at the sight of the landlords and things that happened with the landlords? What happened to you and your neighbors?
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
As you know, I belonged to a very poor family with a lot of children. When, as peasants, we had a bad harvest and could not turn over enough rice to the landlord as rent, he personally came to our house to exact the rent from us. Whenever this happened, we had to kill chickens and ducks and buy alcohol to serve him. On one occasion, the landlord had the hen which I had personally raised for eggs killed for his meal. I got very irritated and asked my parents why the landlord ate my chicken.
My parents told me that if they did not allow the landlord to do so, he would cause all kinds of trouble for the family. Sometimes the landlord sent my family to jail for failing to pay rent on time just as he did to other peasant families. My family was very hard up. There were many children in the family, and we never had enough clothes to wear. Therefore, besides being a tenant farmer my father had to hire himself as a wage laborer as well. And my mother, only a month after each childbirth, had to work as a seamstress in order to help feed us.
My older brother also explained to me what it was like for the French imperialists to occupy our country, what it meant to be a citizen of an occupied country, what shame it was to lose one's country and what kind of suffering a citizen of an occupied country had to put up with. From all these, I came to realize that you must make a revolution and get rid of the colonial regime in order to free your own people and to bring to them independence, freedom, the basic necessities of life and happiness.
And as women under a feudalist, colonial regime, we never had any rights at all. We only served as child bearing machines and instruments of pleasure for the ruling class and the imperialists who trampled our dignity. Therefore, I joined the revolution.
SR 2035
Beep tone
Roll 35 of Vietnam Project
Interview with Nguyen Thi Dinh, former Deputy Supreme Commander of the NLF, continues.
312 Take 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Could you tell us the effect of seeing your brother imprisoned? Why he was imprisoned? And what you saw in prison?
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
In 1931, in all of Nam Bo (Cochinchina), in general, and in my province, in particular, the French went about arresting and terrorizing people whom they thought were participating in revolutionary activities. My brother was also one of these revolutionary suspects.
The Communist Party had been founded in 1930, and in 1931 the French stepped up their repression of revolutionaries. They thought that my brother had put up some Party's red banners and so they arrested him along with several hundred peasants who had never done anything wrong at all.
I was only eleven years of age at that time. The authorities did not allow adults to bring in food to feed the prisoners. They only allowed children like me to bring in rice and water to feed those in jail. When I went into the prison, I saw that my brother and others had their legs shackled up in long cangues and were beaten with billy clubs.
The authorities also made the prisoners lie on their backs and then rolled heavy logs down their legs, beating them on the faces and the heads in the meantime. But nobody ever gave the French any information. My brother also never volunteered any information, saying that he didn't know anything at all. When I saw all these scenes of barbaric tortures, I got very sad and angry angry at all those who used all those clubs and whips to torture poor and innocent peasants.
This anger drove me to find our more clearly for myself why it was that poor and hard working peasants could have been arrested and tortured in such cruel manner by a landlord who worked as a mandarin under the French. And I came to understand what suffering and hardship you had to go through, living under a feudalistic and colonial regime. Of course females were arrested too.
And many people were branded Communists purely because of personal reasons, personal vendettas. If the village officials and the mandarins did not like you for any reason at all, they would brand you as a Communist and would arrest you. For this reason, there were many prisoners in that jail. And since I went to the jail twice a day to bring food and water to my brother, I witnessed all the terrible tortures inflicted upon the prisoners there. When I came home, I told the people in the village what I saw, and everybody was really outraged. People got very angry at the officials and the French imperialists.

Arrest and imprisonment

313 Take 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Could you tell us about your getting married, your having a child, and what happened to you then?
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
I must tell you that as far as I am concerned it was still too early for me to get married at the age of nineteen. But because I wanted to do revolutionary work I had to get married. If I did not get married, then my family would not allow me to go away to join the revolution, fearing that I would get into trouble as an unmarried young woman in new and unfamiliar places. Moreover, sons of the village officials constantly came to court me.
Therefore, I was forced to find a revolutionary with whom I could be married so we could take off together to do revolutionary work. That was why I had to get married early. The other thing is that my husband was away from home constantly to carry out his revolutionary activities. Every couple of months he would come home for a couple of days and then left again. It was very fortunate, however, that I got pregnant during the first week of our living together.
Three days after I gave birth to my child, my husband was arrested. All in all, we had not lived together for even a couple of months. When my husband was arrested only three days after I gave birth to my child, everybody was really afraid that I would worry myself sick. But my husband and I had agreed when we first got married that imprisonment and death were only things that could happen to a revolutionary at any time.
If you wanted to become a revolutionary or get married to a revolutionary, then you had to accept either imprisonment or death. And we had made a pact between ourselves that we had to be able to put up with these realities before we got married. So when my husband got arrested, I stayed home with my child and continued with revolutionary activities in the local area.
The enemies in the local area had me under observation and they found out that instead of being intimidated, I became even more active, raising my child while carrying out revolutionary work. Therefore, in August 1940 when our child just turned six months old and when I was coming home from a visit with my husband at a prison in Saigon, the authorities had me followed and arrested.
When they arrested me, I thought that I could take my child with me. This was, first of all, to give me some consolation while in jail, now that my husband had been arrested. Secondly, when you had a child with you in prison you would be subjected to less torturing. But when they arrested me, they forced me to send my child home to the village. This is an example of the cruelty of the French colonizers.
They wanted wives to be separated from their husbands and children from their mothers. But I tried my best to suppress the pain of being parted from my child so that I could struggle in prison, trying to do everything I could to protect the revolutionary infrastructures and the Party and to remain true to my promise that I would rather sacrifice my life than give any information to the enemy.
314, Take 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Could you tell us what you witnessed in your prison, when you heard of your husband's death and how this affected you?
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
The very first thing they did after they brought me to the jail was to beat me up and interrogate me. They asked me to show them our revolutionary infrastructures. I told them that I only knew how to carry out revolutionary activities but not how to reveal revolutionary infrastructures. This was because I carried out my work only through messages and letters, I told them, and hence I did not get to know anyone at all.
They interrogated me for twenty-two days, beating me up in many ways while asking questions. For example, they beat me on the head, on the balls of my feet and on the palms of my hands. They beat me up to such a degree that my eyes were all black and pulpy. But I never revealed any secret. Many other people were being tortured at the same time as I was beaten up.
Finally, when they could not get me to divulge any information and could not build up a dossier on me, they forced me to send my child home and had me exiled. I was exiled to a jungle area where there were no Vietnamese around, only ethnic minority people.
These minority people looked fierce: they wore loincloths, had filed down teeth and extended earlobes. They also used Frenchmen who had committed crimes as guards for political prisoners. These guards were quite fierce. They wore long beards and carried big clubs with them, beating up anyone in sight at any time they wanted to.

Exile and return

315 Take 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Please tell us a little more about that time when you were in the jungle.
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
At that time the French colonizers selected places deep in the jungle where the conditions were extremely unfavorable to exiled political prisoners. This meant that most of the time those who went there were never able to return home again. The place where they exiled me to was only populated by ethnic minority people. These people wore loincloths, had filed down teeth and extended earlobes.
They looked fierce. And the French soldiers who were sent up there as prison guards were all criminals. Hence, they were really fierce people. As far as the women prisoners were concerned, these guards looked as if they were ready to devour us alive at any time. As for the men prisoners, they were just fair game. The French guards would beat them up on sight at any time they wanted to.
They had a little more respect for us female political prisoners and did not treat us as badly as they treated the male prisoners. Later on, during the war against the Americans, we came back to the same area again. And I must tell you that the natural conditions were really horrible there. You contracted malaria there, got bulging stomachs and yellow disease.
Some people urinated blood (trans., an effect of yellow fever. You also vomit blood because of hemorrhages) and died. So they exiled me to this place and made me do all kinds of work such as carrying water, cutting grass, for three years. This was a particularly difficult period. It seemed that I would never be able to go back to my native village and my family. During this period I had no contact with my family at all, so I did not know how my child was doing and how my husband died in jail.
I got some rumors about his death, but it was not until 1943 when I came back from prison that I learned that my husband had died on the penal island of Con Dao. Even though I got some rumors about my husband's death while I was still in prison, my hope was that I would get to see him and my child in the end. But when I arrived home in 1943, the news of my husband's death in the penal island came as a thunderbolt. You must understand how painful this was for me.
But I tried to suppress my pain and turned it into a driving force in order to be able to continue with my activities and to avenge my country and my husband. After I got out of jail my freedom of movement was severely restricted. I had to report in person every week. Even so, I managed to renew contacts with my former revolutionary friends so as to be able to continue with my revolutionary activities and help free the rest of my imprisoned comrades and compatriots.
There were still between 60 to 70 women in the prison where I was exiled to. My desire was to help free all political prisoners. And so in spite of the fact that they severely restricted my movement and had me followed everywhere I went, I tried my best to continue with my revolutionary activities.

Smuggling arms to the South

SR 2036
Roll 36 of Vietnam Project
Nguyen Thi Dinh
316 Take 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Could you tell us about the first time you engaged in smuggling arms?
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
You must already know that in 1946 we began our war of Resistance against the French. At first, we did not have any weapons except for bamboo spears. In the northern part of our country, however, arms were being produced. Therefore, I was appointed to go to the north to report on the situation in the south and to ask for arms supplies so that the south could fight against the French and could ensure victories.
I went by sea, and it was a very arduous trip because the French were patrolling the coastal areas very tightly. We had to camouflage ourselves as fishermen in order to get through. After I arrived in the north, I had the honor to meet with Uncle Ho on May 19, 1946. He asked me about the situation in the southern region and I told him how the French betrayed the April 14th Agreement and started a war in the south, carrying out terror campaign and murder against the southern population.
At which point Uncle Ho told me that he carried the south in the depth of his heart, and therefore I should tell him what we needed so that the central government could supply us accordingly to enable us to fight against the French and to drive them out of the country. I replied that the southern population needed guns. Uncle Ho said that the central government could only supply us with so many guns because the government did not have many at that time.
The main thing, he said, was to capture the enemy's guns and use these guns against them. I then told Uncle Ho that the central government should give us as many guns as it could afford so that we could use these guns as a kind of initial capital to get more guns eventually. The central government then gave me a boatload of guns, ammunition, money and documents. There were few guns but there was a lot of ammunition.
The reason for this was that whenever we were able to capture enemy's guns, we would not be able to capture a lot of ammunition along with them. So it was important for us to carry a lot of ammunition to the south. It was also very important for us to bring back documents with which we could educate and politicize the population. And money was of course also important to our activities. So this was my mission, and it was an extremely hard one.
I can guarantee you that at that time there was no boat traveling on the high seas. Any boat which went out into the sea would either be shot down by the patrol boats or the airplanes or captured when they happened to detect you. Therefore, there was simply no boat out there on the sea during the day or at night. But I was resolved to make the trip in spite of all the difficulties because the people in the south were waiting for the weapons.
It was a sailboat without any motor so we had to depend totally on the winds. So when the winds stirred up, we put out to sea. But as we got out there we hit a storm. The storm was so big that none of us in the boat thought that we could escape death. But we nevertheless tried our best to struggle with the winds and the waves in the hope that we would somehow make it to the south to bring the people there the much needed weapons.
We were caught in this blinding storm for five days and five nights and never for once saw land. When we finally saw land, we really did not know where we were, what province it was. We were not regular seafarers and could not recognize the landscape. We were just simply thrilled to see land. Fortunately for us, I finally recognized that it was my native province, Ben Tre.
I then lowered a round basket row boat onto the water. I must tell you that before leaving for the trip I had already practiced rowing this basket you row it in this way and using guns such as submachine guns, Thompson guns... rifles, carbines and pistols. This is to say that I had practiced using all the guns in the boat so that whenever we happened to run into the enemy, I would be able to use the guns within my reach to shoot at them.
The other thing is that we had rigged up a bomb in the boat. Should it become impossible for us to protect our load during a gun battle with the enemy, then we would have to pull the strings and explode the entire boat. We were determined never to allow the enemy to capture the boat. We had been quite lucky in that the storm had provided a cover for us.
Now that we were reaching land, we did not know what was awaiting us because we had been away for nearly a year and we did not know what new military posts the French had set up and where. We also failed to get any response from our people on the shore to our signal. Therefore, I had to row ashore to try to locate our revolutionary infrastructures. And it was really fortunate that I located our revolutionary infrastructures in the end. These people then came out and took our boat into the forest to turn it over to our command post there. I handed this boat loaded with guns to Brother Tran Van Tra...
317 Take 1 Clapstick
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
I was actually not safe yet when we reached the shore. We had to go to a very large jungle area where there were no houses around there at all. I had to hide my basket boat in the bush and wade, a long distance in order to locate somebody to find out where we were actually. I walked for two hours in this jungle area, from around eight p.m. to around ten p.m., before I ran into somebody. This person suspected that I was working for the French and was getting there in order to snoop out our infrastructures.
They tried to fool me by saying that that was an area under the control of the puppet regime and not of the revolution. It took about two hours, after a lot of give and take, that the people there finally believed in me, that I was the real person. They had told me that that area had once been under the control of the Viet Minh but that it was now under the control of the Nationalist Government, or the puppet regime.
They demanded that our boat out there should be searched and they were drawing up a formal report form with which to list down the items in our boat. On the top part of this piece of paper I saw written the words: "The Democratic Republic of Vietnam." I felt very happy then because I knew that this was our infrastructure. So I beckoned a young man there to the outside and gave a small piece of paper which I had hidden in my hair to that comrade. This comrade unfolded the piece of paper and read it and became extremely happy.
This was because that was the infrastructure that the province command had given the responsibility to welcome me back from the north. They had been on the lookout for me because they had received a wire from Hanoi. But because of the storm they thought I was not arriving after they had been on the lookout for me for a long time. So then they were overjoyed when they read the message and found out who I was.
A torch was then lit and someone climbed up a tall tree to signal my friends in the boat out there on the sea that I had already made contact with the infrastructure. I had told my comrades in the boat that I would signal them if I became successful in making contact with our infrastructures; if I failed to return after a certain time, however, they were supposed to move the boat to another place to avoid capture by the enemy; but if they saw that I was tied up and taken out there, then the order was to shoot and kill me and my captors so as to protect the boat.
When I could not get any response from our boat, I went in search of it. I searched from three to six a.m. before I finally located the boat. But I was afraid that by now my friends on the boat had suspected that I had been arrested and would open fire on me, so I did not dare to approach the boat directly. Instead, I went around the boat, smiling and signaling with my handkerchief. My friends knew then that I had succeeded in locating our infrastructure and allowed the boat to be pulled in.
We then wired Brother Tran Van Tra, who was at that time the commander of a whole military region in the south. He is now a full general. When Tran Van Tra came to meet with me, I handed everything over to him: the guns, the ammunition, the documents and the money. It was in December 1946.

The dark period for the Communists following the Geneva Accords

318, Take 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
What were your feelings after the signing of the Geneva Agreement? Because of the Geneva Agreement, the people could not continue to fight anymore. What did they think of this? And what did you think?
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
It can be stated that when the Geneva Agreement the entire population was extremely happy. This was because people had had to go through nine years of arduous struggles. Although the country was not then completely liberated, the northern part of the country was totally liberated. And, according to the stipulations of the Agreement, it was only two more years before the south too would be completely liberated.
The people in the south truly believed that there would be national reunification in two years. Therefore, people were more than eager to send their husbands and sons to the north for regroupment and training. After the Agreement was signed, I myself also thought that I would have the opportunity to go to the north like the rest of the men. This was because all of the members of our government and armed forces left for the north.
We strictly abided by the Geneva Agreement. But when there were no members of the government and the armed forces in the south, the population became both happy and concerned at the same time. People were afraid that with all the cadres gone, the French and the Bao Dai troops would come back to terrorize the people again.
Therefore, the popular demand at that time was that the government should leave some cadres behind to lead the population and to ensure that the other side carry out the Geneva Agreement. For this reason, the government left behind some cadres. Among these cadres who were left behind was I. Frankly speaking, I was really longing to go to the north. I really wanted to go there in order to be near the central government and to meet with Uncle Ho.
But since I was given the responsibility to stay behind to help the people in the south struggle for the implementation of the Geneva Agreement, I calmly accepted my assignment. I realized that it was just as important for me to stay behind. During this period I helped rally and direct the people in the struggles to get the Geneva Agreement implemented. When the Americans got rid of Bao Dai and installed Ngo Dinh Diem, repression against former members of the Resistance began.
They arrested, assassinated, murdered and imprisoned former participants in the Resistance. This was followed by the forced registration of all families which had sons, husbands or other members who had now regrouped to the north. A Communist Denunciation Campaign was carried out in which people were forced to denounce the communists and burn the revolutionary banners. Then they resettled the resident population into newly constructed areas called the khu tru mat (lit., "secrecy controlled areas".)
All families which had members or relatives now in the north were rounded up into these concentration camps and were not allowed to live outside. By 1959, they carried out the 10/59 Law Code which they had passed by taking the guillotines around the country and publicly executing patriotic people. This was the period when the revolution in the South met with its darkest hours. It could be said that the revolution was almost wiped out then.
And all the Saigon soldiers at that time were yelling the "March North" slogan, clamoring for an invasion of the North and an attack on the socialist camp. Therefore, the population in the South, from an old man to a young child, was extremely outraged by the Americans and the Ngo Dinh Diem clique. At that time, our infrastructures in the south had been nearly eliminated.
As I have indicated in my autobiography, in my native province of Ben Tre only some 160 cadres out of a total of 2,000 who had remained in the South managed to survive. But before the anger of the population, we were able to call on the people to rise up and staged a general uprising which people have nicknamed "The Miraculous Uprising."
319, Take 1
Clapstick
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
The period before the general uprising has been considered the darkest period in our struggle. The comrades who fought side by side with me were decapitated, had their bellies slit, were buried alive, and murdered in many other barbaric ways. Hundreds of my comrades in arm were killed in the most sadistic manner. There were mothers like Mrs. Ke whose husband and children were all revolutionaries. They arrested her and tortured her, telling her to reveal the whereabouts of her husband and children. In spite of all the torturing, she resolutely refused to divulge any information at all.
Finally she said to her torturers: "My husband and my children are in my heart. If you guys want to find them, you can slit open my heart." And so the torturers beat her to death. Or there was the mother of Comrade Tu Chi, a member of the Provincial Executive Committee. She was over 60 years of age at that time and had 6 children who were with the revolution. They arrested her and beat her up so badly that she became only a bundle of bones and skin. Even so this woman exercised every day in the hope that she would survive until the day the revolution succeeds.
But they continued to torture her, telling her to reveal the whereabouts of her children who were all important cadres at the district and provincial level. Finally, they tortured her to death in prison because she refused to reveal the identity and whereabouts of her children. Then there were the women who were my courtiers. They arrested these women and beat them up to make them reveal my whereabouts. And one of them was finally sentenced to sixteen years imprisonment because she refused to divulge any information.
This lady is still alive now and is now in charge of social and disabled veterans' affairs in Ben tre province. Then there were women like Ms. Hanh who is now a member of the Provincial Executive Committee of Ben Tre and who, when arrested, was 50 kilograms in weight. But after the torturing, she weighed only 19 kilograms. In torturing her, they even rubbed and stuffed milled black pepper and red pepper into her vagina. And there was another girl who had a broken beer bottle inserted into her vagina during the torturing.
Blood spurted out but she remained close mouthed. I can testify that several hundred women were tortured as described. And the number of women arrested in the province was close to a thousand. Therefore, I can tell you frankly that during that period we lived by the hours and by the day, and never by the month. This is to say that now you see me alive, the next moment you'll see me dead. This was because we were empty handed. And they waged a unilateral war against us, using secret police, regular troops and other forces.
But because the people's hatred of the enemy was so intense they did everything to protect us and to hide us. The people helped us to the extent that even children like that boy Thanh I mentioned to you, used every means at their disposal to protect us. Without this boy Thanh I would have certainly been killed. And, of course, I never told this boy what to do. He just employed his wits at the right moment. For example, after I went down into a tunnel to hide, the water level inside the tunnel rose and spilled over the entrance to the tunnel.
This would have made it easy for the enemy to detect that tunnel entrance. But this boy dumped a basket of rice chaffing which we use to feed pigs with over that place to hide it. Or the story of the deaf and dumb girl who had two male cadres in the house. The enemy surrounded the place and they had no place to run to so they ran into the bathroom. When the girl saw this, she rushed after the two men into the bathroom, stripped herself completely naked and poured water over her body, pretending to take a shower.
So when the soldiers rushed in and tried to knock down the bathroom door searching for the two men, the girl made sputtering sounds in way of protest. Her mother then told the soldiers that she was taking a shower and that she was deaf and dumb. And so the soldiers withdrew. Another example is the case of our cadres who ran out into the open fields where they were completely exposed and where there was no place for them to take cover. Out in the fields there were peasants thrashing their rice.
So the peasants hid the cadres under the rice stalks and then led their buffaloes round and round these stacks of rice stalks, making it look like they were really thrashing the rice. And so the soldiers who chased after the cadres went away when they did not see anything suspicious there. There were hundreds of examples of this kind in which the people would do anything to protect the cadres. And as far as cadres were concerned, those who wanted to live could either surrender to the enemy or go to other places to find peace.
But there were many cadres like me who would rather sacrifice their lives than allow the nation to be enslaved, as Uncle Ho had said. So we tried our best to surmount all difficulties in order to contribute to the success of the revolution in the South.

Early activities of the Long-haired Army

320 Take 1
Clapstick
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
Why did we wait until 1960 before staging the general uprising? This was because after nine years of the Resistance War, the population was already quite tired of war. Secondly, it was because the North had just been liberated and the desire to rebuild the north in peace was a common national desire. The North had to live in peace in order to become stronger.
Therefore, although there were difficulties and death in the South, the effort at the time was to cling on to the Geneva Agreement as a form of struggle. Each day there was peace in the South, each day the North would become stronger. Therefore, we abided strictly by the Geneva Agreement and struggled for peace. Our most earnest desire was peace.
But when we realized that we could not remained peaceful any longer, our Party and our government decided to use armed struggle in order to rally the people to fight against the attempt to turn the South into an American colony and to use it as a base for attacking the North. Therefore, in October 1959 we had Resolution No. 10 which stated that armed struggle was now allowed by the Party.
We could no longer use peaceful means. The people were asking for armed struggles, and armed struggles we must have. When we studied this Resolution, it was just like hungry people being fed with a really delicious feast. It was just like a rainstorm during a drought. We cadres were very happy and the people were also very happy, even though we were really empty handed at that point...
SR 2037
Nguyen Thi Dinh
Roll 37, Vietnam Project
321 Take 1
Clapstick
Interview with Nguyen Thi Dinh continues.
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
When we received the Resolution, we were all overjoyed. The people were very happy because they had used peaceful means to struggle for peace, but the enemy did not want to have peace. Therefore, it was now time to employ armed struggle in order to bring back to the people their rights. Since the people wanted armed struggles, we told them that to do so we had to capture the enemy's guns and use these guns against the enemy. So we made bogus replicas of guns, produced machetes and all kinds of explosive charges in order to fight the enemy. We also placed our infrastructures within the enemy's ranks.
This meant that we had our own people in their armed forces, for example, and used these people to help us take over army posts and forts or to rally the soldiers back to the revolution. On January 17, 1960, there was a general uprising. The entire population rose up and, depending on our strength and weakness in a certain locality, took their gun models, their machetes and their drums and marched to the various military posts and forts ordering the soldiers to come back to the revolution or be punished.
The first battle took place in Dinh Thuy . We attacked a company of their so called popular Self Defense Forces and took over a notorious police garrison. In only three hours, and without any gun in our hands, we managed to capture thirty guns. This was our first really precious capital. We gave each village in the province a gun, a real gun this time. We dressed our women as men and boys, making them think that we had a lot of fighters.
This was because at that time they were still unafraid of women. And then we had several thousand persons surround a post of only about thirty or so soldiers each. These people who surrounded the post would then beat on their drums and their gongs, set off bamboo firecrackers to simulate gunfire, and then sent members of their families into the fort to ask them to come back to the revolution.
At first, the soldiers in the post thought that these were soldiers coming back from the North. And so we taught our people the northern accent to make the Saigon soldiers really believe that these were revolutionary troops coming back from the North. Then we sent the members of the families of Saigon soldiers to inform them that a lot of revolutionary troops had returned from the North, armed with all types of guns.
Therefore, the Saigon troops withdrew into their posts. We then sent their parents and wives to see them, conveying our message that if they did not come out to surrender they would certainly meet with death when their posts got stormed. So in only two nights, we were able to take over five military posts. In places where the posts were not taken yet, we put up haystacks at a distance (and in the direction of other posts) and set them on fire, saying that these were other posts which had been stormed and burnt down and that the soldiers in the remaining posts had better surrender.
So they thought that was really the case and trooped out of their posts to surrender. After they came out and surrendered, they realized that all these so called revolutionary troops from the North were females. So these Saigon soldiers said that the women had really fooled them and that if they had known they would have never surrendered. They also said that they would not have been afraid of actual artillery shelling from our side, but they were really intimidated by the beating of the gongs and the drums. This was because the beating of the gongs and the drums was done in a really systematic way.
The big drums were the command drums. When a big drum was sounded, all the small wooden gongs followed suit. This was because during the reign of Ngo Dinh Diem, every family was forced to have a wooden gong with which to sound the alert at any Communist intrusion into the village. And so we used these gongs against them when we placed their posts under siege. It was at this moment that our "Long-haired Army" surrounded the posts and sent the wives, children and parents of the soldiers in the posts to meet with them and call them out.
So in only ten days of general uprising in this province, we liberated about a dozen villages and captured several hundred guns. We then organized a real army composed squads, platoons, and companies a centralized army. We then built combat villages surrounded with spiked moats. After the initial shocks, the enemy realized that there was no such thing as northern troops returning to the South. And so they sent 13,000 soldiers into the area to make a search and destroy operation, hoping to wipe out completely this budding revolutionary force.
But instead of wiping us out, we wiped them out and captured many more guns. This was thanks in part to the fact that when the Saigon troops stayed in the homes of the villagers, these villagers – especially the children – stole their guns and ammunition and sneaked these things to us. They had intended to make a week long operation against us. But they were forced to withdraw after three days. This was because we went on the attack around nightfall, around six p.m. or so.
If we engaged them during the day, they would have been able to wipe us out because they had all the facilities available to them. But at nightfall, it was hard for them to see us. Moreover, they were quartering their troops so closely together that when the attack started their own crossfire helped kill many of them. After this search and destroy operation, we sent 5,000 women to the Mo Cay market place (which I mentioned in my autobiography) and staged a demonstration there, demanding an end to search and destroy operations and compensations for the dead and the wounded.
The women brought their children, their pigs, their cows and their buffaloes to this district town, making it look like a real evacuation. And they said that they would continue to remain in that place until the Saigon troops were withdrawn. This was a successful demonstration. The Saigon troops were forced to withdraw. After this event, whenever the Saigon authorities saw a large group of women heading for a village headquarters, a district town or a military post, they would say: "Here comes the Long-haired Army."
They would then send their troops out to stop the women from going to these places to stage demonstrations. So this was the origin of the Long haired Army. And it was Uncle Ho who formally gave us this name. From a demonstration involving 5,000 women, we then organized struggle rallies involving 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 women a day. But our Long-haired Army did not just hold political struggle rallies alone.
They also carried out proselytizing activities among enemy troops and engaged in armed combat. As far as armed combat was concerned, the women employed guerrilla tactics, using both guns and mines. Many times, the armed attacks by the women were carried out from within the bellies of the enemies themselves, and in broad daylight. I can say that many of our heroines in this southern part of the country were people who fought from within the belly of the enemy.
An example is Ta Thi Kieu. I have her picture here. She took over an enemy's military post empty handedly. She went into the post with members of the soldiers' families and organized a drinking party in there. When they got drunk, she snatched one of their guns, jumped up on top of a bunker and signaled the guerrillas hiding on the outside to come in help her take over the post. In the province of Ben Tre we have six heroines, one of them is Ta Thi Kieu.
In any case, we came to the conclusion that the Long-haired Army never failed in its activities. This was because the enemy, the Americans, were politically weak. And so when we attacked him by political means, he was certainly going to be defeated. The more they terrorized the population, the quicker they would lose. Therefore, our government and Party always held high esteem for the Long-haired Army.
This was because we used a three pronged attack on the enemy: armed struggle, political struggle and proselytizing campaigns among the enemy troops. Sometimes members of the Long-haired Army even carried out proselytizing activities among the American troops, causing them to become anti war, to refuse to go out on search and destroy operations and to desert their units. As a result, I think the Americans were quite leery of Vietnamese women. But although they were quite leery, they liked Vietnamese women at the same time, enabling the women to attack them. For example, we placed our own girls in the various hotels and offices to service them.
When it became necessary for us to attack the Americans, these women would be the ones to place the bombs and the mines. We even had people in the High Military Command of the Americans. In fact, we had people in every enemy office and were able to have a firm grasp of the enemy's situation as a result. And whenever we decided to attack, our targets were always very significant targets. We never hit the ordinary American targets.

The Tet Offensive and the Phoenix Program: later struggles between the N.L.F. and their opponents

322 Take 1
Take 1
Interviewer:
Please tell us of the Tet Offensive of 1968.
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
During the period when I was the Deputy Supreme Commander, although I also participated in the general command and leadership of the entire armed forces, my special job was to direct the guerrilla war. Included in this guerrilla war was the campaign of struggles by women as I have already described. Therefore, we organized many conferences on guerrilla warfare. This was because, in order to defeat the Americans, we had to fight both with our regular army and our guerrilla forces.
But the beginning of it all was guerrilla warfare in which the entire people participated in the fight against the enemy. This is to answer to your question on what my duty was while I was at the Supreme Command. Now, with regard to the 1968 Tet Offensive, our main objective was to cause damage to the enemy forces, expand the liberated zones, and strike the enemy at its nerve centers so as to create self doubt and confusion.
In the local areas, our objective was to expand the liberated zone. It was not our objective to liberate the South yet. This was because an objective comparison of our forces with those of the enemy at the time indicated to us that it was not yet time to liberate the South. However, it indicated that we could stop the enemy's encroachments and expand our liberated zones, and, above all, to cause confusion within the enemy's ranks.
Therefore, our biggest victory at the time was to be able to force the United States to sit down at the four party negotiating table in Paris. Before the Offensive, the United States wanted to negotiate only with the North. The other victory was to force the Americans to de escalate the war against the North, to stop the bombing of the North. So these were our strategic victories, although after the Offensive the enemy counter attacked us and created some difficulties for us.
Interviewer:
Could you tell us about the assassinations of your cadres?
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
It was the Americans who organized the Phoenix Program. And there were many phoenixes throughout the periods, from Ngo Dinh Diem to Nguyen Van Thieu, and not just one Phoenix Program. This program, however, was most dangerous because they were able to infiltrate our infrastructures, using Vietnamese to kill Vietnamese. This was the crux of the program: using Vietnamese to kill Vietnamese.
What they did was to train and organize demoralized and disenchanted people to come back into our areas and to reveal our infrastructures to the Americans. We considered this a most dangerous program for us. We were never afraid of a military operation involving a full division of troops, for example. But for them to infiltrate a couple of guys deeply into our ranks would create tremendous difficulties for us.
But although they did create tremendous difficulties for us at first, in the long run we were able to infiltrate our own people into the Phoenix Program organization and were able to obtain information on their activities as well as information on the most reactionary traitors so that we could eliminate them.
In general, I must say that the Phoenix Program was a most dangerous program because its operations were clandestine and because its operators wormed themselves into the ranks of the revolution and the people in order to detect and eliminate our infrastructures. But the American Phoenix Program also failed miserably. It was never able to achieve its objective. They were able to eliminate many of our infrastructures, but they were never able to do so completely. They did make use of our cadres, but this turned out to be a double edged sword.

Triumph of the N.L.F.

323 TAKE 1
Clapstick
Nguyen Thi Dinh:
The liberation of the South was an occasion of joy for most people. But for me, it was a very happy moment. For over thirty years, my wish as a revolutionary was to be able to help bring about independence and happiness to my people. This was also the hope of the entire population and the objective of the government and the Party.
Although I myself had lost a lot during the struggles against the French and the Americans, during my revolutionary life – I lost my husband and my child and suffered extreme hardship – I could see that the revolution had brought much happiness to me and to my people. And as far as the National Liberation Front was concerned, it gained a lot of prestige not only in the South and in the North but also all over the world. I myself was on the Central Committee of the National Liberation.
I know that the enemy were also quite respectful of the National Liberation. This was because the members of the National Liberation Front were people of ability, distinction and correct political stance. And the contribution of the National Liberation to the revolution in the South was extremely significant. It was able to rally the population around it and created a unified force with which to bring the revolution to its successful day. The revolution did not succeed just because of the armed forces, the cadres, and the Party members.
The Party members were supposed to provide the leadership, but the entire people must be unified and consolidated into a solid block before the revolution could succeed. And it was the National Liberation Front which achieved this objective by unifying the various strata of the population and the various religious groups. After the 1968 Tet Offensive, the Provisional Revolutionary Government came into being. The PRG also gained a lot of prestige domestically as well as internationally and contributed much to the revolution in the South, to the struggle for the liberation of the South and the reunification of the country.
Therefore, at the present time, whenever you mention the National Liberation Front or the Provisional Revolutionary Government you would illicit tremendous trust and respect from the population. Indicative of this trust and respect is the attitude toward people like Brother Nguyen Huu Tho, Brother Huynh Tan Phat, many other comrades and I myself. In spite of all difficulties and hardship, we struggled until the end, until the liberation of the South and the reunification of the country. So in conclusion, the National Liberation Front was an organization for unifying the entire people to ensure the victory of the revolution in the South.
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