Interview with Archimedes L. A. Patti, 1981
Archimedes Patti was an officer in the United States Army and, after World War Two, the Office of Strategic Services. Mr. Patti describes the U.S. position on Southeast Asia during World War Two, and the emerging Vietnamese Independence Movement. He describes his first meetings with Ho Chi Minh and details the assistance of the Viet Minh in the war effort. He recalls the scene in Hanoi after the war and the attempts by the French to recoup their colony. He details his talks with Ho, and notes that the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence was quite similar to that of the United States. He concludes with his views of the Vietnam War from the perspective of one who understood the roots of the conflict and knew how it could have been avoided.
Decolonization, Nationalism, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Vietnam--History--August Revolution, 1945, France--Colonies--Asia, Japan--History, Military, United States--History--1945-, Hanoi (Vietnam)--History, United States--Foreign relations--1945-1989, Capitulations, Military, National liberation movements, Rice, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, France--Politics and government, United States--Politics and government, Vietnam--Politics and government, United States. Office of Strategic Services, Viet Nam doc lap dong minh hoi, Ho, Chi Minh, 1890-1969
U.S. policy towards Vietnam in 1945
Vietnam/T-876 (SYNC), Side 2, #2805.
Colonel Patti, I wonder if you could begin by telling me what was American policy towards Vietnam in early in 1945?
In 1945 a policy regarding Vietnam, there was no such thing as a policy per se. Ah, what there was was a general direction that the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, felt at the time that the French had abused their stay in Southeast Asia, that insofar as the Vietnamese were concerned, they had a right to independence just like all other subjugated people of Southeast Asia, which would have included the Indonesians, the Philippinos, the Burmese, the Malaysians, etc. However, the thing is more complicated than that because we had the British allies, our friends there, we had the French allies, we had the Dutch.
And, all of these people had vested interest in the area and, therefore, the American had to be very careful and had to handle it somewhat gently. Well, aside from that, getting back to 1945 when I first uh became involved actually 1944, the policy at the time was an unwritten policy. Our mission in Southeast Asia was specifically to establish an intelligence network against the Japanese.
And, at the same time, since we were involved in French Indochina in establishing this intelligence network, at the same time we had instructions from the White House from President Roosevelt through General Donovan not to assist the French in returning and recouping their former colony. That did not mean that we were to keep them out. It meant that we were not to assist them in any way possible since as you recall at the time we had the question of lend lease. The British were getting it and the French were getting them in Europe and so on.
Can we stop a sec? Yeah.
Colonel Patti, you were saying you knew that you had to keep the British, the Dutch and the other nations happy, so how did the policy develop?
The policy actually, as I say, never did exist per se, a policy. There were instructions from President Roosevelt directly to the people in the field, such as, General Wedemeyer and Ambassador Hurley and General Donovan the Head of the OSS in Washington to whom I was responsible. The instructions were that under no circumstances were we to assist the French in returning to French Indochina. However, it didn’t say that we had to fight to keep them out. It did say that we should not assist them. End. Period. And that’s exactly what we did.
Patti's introduction to Ho Chi Minh
What did this what did this actually mean? How did you, so, can you tell me what happened to you. You went in to make contact with Vietnamese Independent Movement. Can you turn, develop for me...?
All right. Let me back up a little bit by saying that when I first arrived in Indochina, or I should say China really, at Kunming where the headquarters of the Allied Forces were at the time. When I arrived there, my first intent was seek help from the Brit—French, who obviously had been living in Indochina for over 100 years, and therefore, they were the logical people to approach and I did. I approached them and I got absolutely nowhere with them. It was at a time when the French were actually evacuating from Indochina. They were actually uh retreating to China from the colony because the Japanese had taken over and that was on the 9th of March in 1945 when they took over.
So, really, the French couldn’t be of much help to me, and although they promised to assist in many ways, ah, the fact the matter is that we got absolutely no assistance. All that the French wanted to do at the time, their main objective was to return to their former colony and to take over where they had left over, uh left off. Well, now, in my efforts to get an intelligence operation going in Southeast Asia against the Japanese, I searched among the French, received no res— no, no reply, no answer, no results. The only people I could turn were the Vietnamese, since, obviously, an American in Indochina couldn’t very well get away with anything. Therefore, we had to find someone who would do the trick.
Well, in this case I had known of Ho Chi Minh back in Washington. In Washington the records indicated that there was this gentleman who had for many years been a revolutionary and had been somewhat of a nationalist and would have been a good man to be in contact with. I looked for him. Ah. I had a few leads as to where I could find him. Well, fortunately, it wasn’t very difficult for me to find him Kunming and around China. (colonel coughs). I first met...
Just change the size. Go on, you said, when did you first meet him?
I first met Ho on the China border between China and Indochina in the last days of April of 1945. I met him through the good officers of some other intelligence organizations and the Chinese, by the way. I went down, traveled down to a place called Chow Chu Chay and there I, typical spy storylike, we met with Ho in a dark evening in a small hut with very few people around and that was the first time I met the gentleman.
He was quite an interesting individual. Very sensitive, very gentle, rather a frail type, as we all have seen in pictures in recent years. He was much frailer then than he was in later years. And, ah, we spoke quite at length about the general situation, not only in Indochina, but the world at large. The Allies were winning the war. The Russians were our allies and China was doing its best, etc. I mean this was the general tenor of the conversation to start with and this went on for quite some time and all the time President Ho, Mr. Ho, Ho Chi Minh, whatever you want to call him, was smoking my cigarettes.
It all started out by smoking his and I couldn’t stand the stench of his cigarettes. I’m afraid my Vietnamese friends won’t like that remark, but this is the truth. They were pretty bad and when I offered him one, he grabbed it eagerly, and from then on he smoked my Chesterfields all the way through the evening. While smoking, chain-smoking up and down the line, we discussed the many issues. Uh.
For example, the future of Vietnam, the future of Indochina. He wanted to particularly know what the position of the United States was vis-à-vis the French and vis à vis the Vietnamese. Obviously, I could not give him an official position since I was not instructed, but I did indicate to him that in recent pronouncements by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and even de Gaulle had indicated that the time had come really for some sort of change in government in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam. French Indochina we called it in those days.
And, I assured him that ah, the precepts of the Atlantic Charter were rather valid. I didn’t know at the time that the Atlantic Charter was not an official document. I wasn’t aware of it, but I thought it was a good thing and he agreed. He said, well, I can still remember the fourteen points of Wilson, and he started rattling them off including the famous point about the self-determination of people who govern themselves and it seems to me that America hasn’t changed, that they really believe in what they say and, although we didn’t succeed in getting our independence back in 1919, after the First World War, it looks as though now you people are going to give the Philippines their independence. You promised them that and it looks like you’re going through with it. I hope that uh this will apply also, be a good omen for the Vietnamese people, the people of French Indochina.
And, during the course of conversation he told me some rather sad stories of what the colonial French had done in Indochina in terms of depriving the people of their...
Stop a minute.
Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh as sources of information for the U.S.
What sort of things was Ho chatting to you about?
Ho particularly emphasized the situation in Indochina at that particular time. It was a period that followed a terrible famine where about 1½ to two million people had died, died of starvation, of malnutrition and all sorts of disease. Now then, the cause. The reason why this happened was according to Ho at the time, that the French and the Japanese had been in collusion more or less to take advantage of the situation. When the floods uh destroyed all of their crop, when the rice crop had been uh eliminated pretty much, what was left in the south, instead of using it to alleviate the, the famine in the north, what actually happened was the French used it to produce alcohol.
We'll go back. Don't worry, we'll do it again.
Colonel Patti, can you tell me the sort of thing that Ho talked to you about. About the famine and about the French during the war?
Uh. During that period, that evening, Ho Chi Minh covered many, many subjects. Ah, the first one, being the situation in Indochina, the situation where the French had actually deprived the Vietnamese of livelihood for a long period of time for their own self-interest. The French were using the rice which was supposed to have been sent up north to take care of the famine victims, was actually converted into alcohol rather than into food. The alcohol produced two effects. One was that it was not very healthy for the Vietnamese to start with, but secondly and perhaps most important primarily was that the alcohol was a revenue producing product for the French because they had to be bought through the French monopoly. Okay. So much for that. The other thing was that the French were also selling to the Japanese for home consumption for the homeland in China, in Japan, for home consumption, a large portion of a large number of tonnage of rice.
Well, now, this Ho felt was a betrayal of his people and he was hoping that something could be done that when the Allies came in that they would look after this particular problem. Well, now that was one of the subjects that he was very much concerned with. He said the future of the Vietnamese people for the next generation is going to be affected by this famine. Their health is going to be affected. And, truly enough, I mean he showed me some photographs that had been taken in those days and also some of my agents took some of those photographs which are dreadful. I mean we look at the Cambodian pictures today and compare them with those, well, there’s no comparison. Really, those were sad.
Now, the other thing that Ho was concerned with at the time was exactly what could he do for the Allies. And, I suggested at the time I said as far as the Allies are concerned all we need at this point is that you, if you can, provide us with some source of intelligence. We need intelligence on the Japanese. He says, no problem. Well, that sounded good. No problem. I had heard this in Italy and I had heard it in North Africa from the partisans in Yugoslavia, from the partisans in Italy and those, of course, in the south, and when they said no problem it meant usually you’ve got all the money and just pay us and we’ll be happy to give you what you want.
Give us only ammunition, not for any reason other than for their own political purposes. Well, now, Ho Chi Minh really didn’t ask for anything. He wanted no money. He wanted no weapons. All he wanted was a line of communication between his Viet Minh people and the Allies. That’s all he wanted. That’s all he asked and I was surprised.
Not only was I surprised, but when I reported it back to Kunming and Chongqing that very request that he wanted nothing in return for intelligence, they wouldn’t believe me. We had a hard time trying to convince our superiors in Washington that really we were going to get something for nothing, and we did. And, that was number two, the question of the famine, the situation. Number three, he was very anxious to know what the American position was going to be vis à vis the Vietnamese and I think I spoke to that earlier.
Okay. How did you actually find the Viet Minh as intelligence gatherers? Were they good? Were they sound? Did they, did they inflate what was going on and were they reliable as far as you were concerned?
That’s a very good question. As a matter of fact, I believe I spent some time in, in uh discussing this in the book. When the first intelligence arrived from Ho’s people in the field, it was fantastic. The order of battle was so accurate. The target information was so accurate that our people, both in Chongqing and in Kunming were absolutely, well, they were surprised to the point that they actually had to change a good bit of their order of battle.
They had to change some of their target information. General Chidault [unidentifiable], for example, no his information was not only accurate, it was rather professional for an amateur type of an organization such as the Viet Minh was at the time. No, this information was good. Very good. And, he continued to give us that information all the way through the month of May, June and July. All the way through. Almost to the end.
What were the French like for you at this period?
The French, on the other hand, might have been able to get good information. They probably got it and they passed it to the British or they passed it to themselves. I don’t know. There was a collusion between the British and the French ...
Just stop there a minute.
Early U.S.-French relations concerning Vietnam
Could you tell me what the French were like as an ally at this time?
At this time the French actually were in a bad position. First of all, those who had fled Indochina in 1945 after the ninth march coup of the Japanese were actually in China. They had left. Those who remained in Indochina were either in prison or else they were confined pretty much to their own environment, their own quarters. So, in effect, the French were of, well, let me back up here a minute. We have several types of French all of a sudden here.
Change the, could you change the size. Yes, you, you were saying...
We have the French from France. We have the French from Vichy and the French from uh liberated France, we have the French from Giraud or North Africa and we had the French, the colons of Indochina and we had the French in the armies, most of them now, not most, but a large number, about 5000, in uh in China.
So, really they all had different objectives and different philosophies. The ones that I was dealing with at the time were those who now had turned from colons, from Vichyites to de Gaullistes and they were in China. And, these were the people with whom I dealt in trying to get them to cooperate in obtaining intelligence information for us. They, in turn, perhaps, and undoubtedly, with the Paris directive, were more concerned with returning to Indochina as formerly the colonialist. So that really they didn’t cooperate with us very much. When I spoke of using the Vietnamese, they threw up their hands in horror and said, My, no, you don’t want to deal with those people. First of all, they're stupid. In the second place they're infantile. In the third place, they’re communist.
Well, that was their view. At least for my sake, that’s what they were saying. And, I said, well, if we can’t get you to cooperate, why can’t we get someone else to cooperate for both of us. For the French as well as the Americans. You’re part of the Allied team. And, they tried to discourage me to do that. They wouldn’t, they wouldn't have it. Well, I went about it on my own. And, sought out Ho Chi Minh, and after working with the French for about the month of April, May, and June receiving absolutely no results from them, and the kind of information they were providing was usually either late intentionally or else it was distorted intentionally, and it was useless to us. As a matter of fact, on several occasions which I have written about, they caused the death of some Allied soldiers because of their misinformation. So, I had to resort to the only source which were the Viet Minh and that’s where we come in. With the Viet Minh.
Japan and France in Vietnam during the last days of WWII
What did you, you say that Ho didn’t want any money. What did your units do after having moved in people?
After having failed to get any cooperation with the British we turned to Ho and said all right Mr. Ho would you give us a hand. And, he said by all means, just tell us what you want. Give us the communications and we’ll go to it. Ah. At the time the very first information that came in was so accurate that it really, our headquarters were surprised and had to revise a good bit of their information.
When I was questioned at the time as to how I was getting this information and what it was costing me and I pointed out that it was absolutely free and there was no charge for it, they said, well there must be a catch somewhere, and they, when I speak of they, I'm speaking of the general staff at the US Army Headquarters in Kunming and also the US Embassy in Chongqing. And I assured them that they could use the information or throw it away but this is what it was and I wasn’t paying anything for it. They went ahead and accepted it for a while. And, that’s the way it went all the way through. Well, finally we had a problem. We had a line of communication between Nun Ing [unidentifiable] China and Hanoi.
This line of communication was really the line that the Japanese were using to retreat from Southeast Asia, from Malaya, from Burma, etc., and they were coming out through that line. We had to cut that line and there was no way of cutting that line because the Chinese couldn’t and the French wouldn’t do it and there was no other way but except to use the OSS at the time, which we did, and the OSS approached Ho Chi Minh General Giap at the time was the key man. We approached General Giap and uh suggested that he give us a hand in destroying this line. Now, I’m speaking of a line which runs roughly about several hundred miles. It’s not a short line. We would have cut it every twenty miles or so, cut it off. And, uh we parachuted a small team...
Film ran out.
End of Side 2, @2805
Vietnam/T 867 (SYNC), Side 1, #2806
Vietnam/T 867 (SYNC), Side 1, #2806
Tell me how you came to send in the Deer Team and what they did?
To recount, actually, we had this line of communications between China and Indochina and Hanoi. We had destroyed it, in order to destroy it, we had to bring in some saboteurs. The only saboteurs available were to the OSS and we had eighteen called the Deer Team under Major Thomas. This team consisted of a number of perhaps fifteen or twenty at the most Americans and we supplemented them with the Vietnamese. And, two or three Chinese.
The team, in order to be able to accomplish its mission, we felt should start from Hanoi. Or, in the general vicinity of Hanoi. I discussed it with some of Ho Chi Minh’s agents in Kunming and they suggested that we send a team into the jungle headquarters of the Viet Minh where Ho Chi Minh was then in charge.
The Deer Team was parachuted into the area of Ho’s jungle headquarters which was a place called Kim Leung [unidentifiable]. And, there for the first time, we saw what kind of troops the Viet Minh were. They were a very willing, fine young nationalist, really what we used to say gung-ho type. Uh. They were willing to risk their lives for their cause, the cause of independence against the French . And, but, they were disorganized in terms of really they would be an able group when operating as four or five individuals for one specific mission, but when it came to an organized operation such as destroying a long line of communications, they lacked the, both the weapons and the know-how.
The Deer Team was charged by me at the time to go in and see if he couldn’t organize about 200 men, the Viet Minh and that is exactly the Deer Team was all about. They went in and they organized out of about some 500 some odd Vietnamese we selected with the help of General Giap and the help of several other Vietnamese leaders. Chu Man Tan was another general. Selected 200 A out of those 200 we spent the next four weeks training these young men and to the art of uh using automatic weapons, in the art of using demolition equipment, in the art of actually infiltrating and exfiltrating into various dangerous areas. So, when we were through with them, they were reasonably well qualified to undertake the mission. Unfortunately, the war was over by that time.
Prelude to the end of WWII in Vietnam
What...[incomprehensible]...Can you tell me about the prelude to the end of the war? What was happening, what was happening that the Deer Team didn’t have to do its major work? What was happening in in Vietnam? What was happening after the coup by the Japanese? Do you have knowledge of yourself?
After the Japanese coup, of course, the Japanese had taken over and they used, they continued using some Frenchmen as administrators, but in general, they had taken over lock, stock and barrel which previously they had not. Previously, they had used the uh, the French. Now, in Indochina at that time, since the French were no longer in power, what we had we had a sort of vacuum because the leaders were all in jail. And, the colons wanted to continue the war as long as possible. In the meantime, we had in, well, let me see, where do we want to go from here, I’m...
Let’s stop for a minute.
Yeah, stop there for a minute.
Sure. What I want...
Okay. What happened to the Deer Team?
After the Deer Team parachuted into jungles, into Ho’s jungle headquarters and they did their bit of training for about three to four weeks, something dramatic happened, of course, the United States dropped a couple of bombs. One on Hiroshima, one on Nagasaki and that, of course, brought things to a halt. Eventually, in the matter of a couple of days, by the 15th, the 10th of August, Japan had capitulated and we find that the Japanese are no longer fighting. We are not concerned in continuing the operation of the Deer Team had first been first been established for. The team was now in the status of suspended animation, so to speak. They remained with Giap’s forces. They went on to a couple of small skirmishes against the Japanese outposts and finally into Hanoi where they arrived about the 16th of August. No, the 16th of September, I’m sorry. It took them a long time to get down there.
So, that was the end of the aid that the United States gave, if any aid was given it was very, very small, to the Vietname— to the Vietnamese, the Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh and that was the end of that. Now, in the meantime though, the Viet Minh were very, very active in organizing themselves and setting themselves for the postwar uh world.
Uh, on the 13th and the 16th of August they held a party convention and then a people’s congress in the jungles at a place called Tan Trao. There, of course, they formed a provisional government and they elected Ho Chi Minh as the president of the provincial government. At no time did the United States or any of its members participated in those proceedings. However, the Deer Team which had been in the jungle was uh visible to the delegates in Tan Trao and, although they really took no active part, their presence alone I suppose did influence some of the delegates to feel that Ho Chi Minh had some influence with the Americans and the Allies. On the 22nd of August we finally, that is we finally, I mean we the American OSS team headed by myself went and landed in Hanoi.
Attempt of the French to regain power during Patti's arrival in Hanoi
All right, just tell me. You land in Hanoi. Describe the scene for me. What was there?
In Hanoi, actually, we didn’t land in the city, we landed on the outskirts at an airport called Gia Lam. Originally, we had been intended to come in at Bach Mai, a nearby airport itself, but at Bach Mai we found that the Japanese had destroyed the airfields, had placed a number of obstacles on the runways and, therefore, we couldn’t land there. I was surprised but, nevertheless, that’s what happened.
So, we decided to try the next airport to the east, which was called Gia Lam and there’s where we landed. When we landed we caught the Japanese by surprise. They were all fully armed and they had tanquettes and they were all quite shocked to see us come in. They hadn’t been warned. And, frankly, I was shocked too. As a matter of fact, not only shocked, but I was scared. I could just see them starting, opening up with their little submachine guns out there and it would be a massacre. However, in the background, behind the Japanese, I saw a huge mob, no, let’s put it better.
Long ranks of people and three tall flags flying high. One was the Union Jack, British Flag; another was the Dutch flag, another one was an American flag, and I am not quite sure that I saw a French flag, but I don’t think I did. But, there were these three huge flags flying on masts which were probably, I would dare say, five times the height of a man. Therefore, I’d say about twenty-five or thirty feet high. Now, who were these people? They were the prisoners of war. They were Indian prisoners of war. They were British prisoners that had been captured at, in Malaya. earlier in the war in ’42.
That’s the picture that we got when we arrived. It was in broad daylight. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon, or 2:00 in the afternoon when we landed, and the Japanese didn’t really know what to do with us and I probably bluffed my way a little bit by saying that we had come to accept the surrender for Chiang Kai Shek and that didn’t sit so well with them. In fact, it was a major who approached me and he didn’t like it one bit, but, nevertheless, they were very correct. They were absolutely perfect from the military viewpoint. They saluted and they bowed and they maintained their stance and they were in every respect soldiers.
And, I treated them alike. I mean I was very happy to see that they weren’t shooting. Unfortunately, I had taken with me five Frenchmen. One of them being Major Sainteny, the Chief of the Intelligence Service in China. And, he started to make demands immediately for the use of the Bach Mai radio station, demands to have a car, demands and I tried to calm him down and tell him to wait until we see someone in authority, that these people weren’t the people to talk with. They were only field soldiers, but we succeeded, and finally, we were brought into a small hut where the Japanese treated us rather well. They gave us ice cold towels to dry our brow. The place was pretty hot at that time and they provided us some excellent uh Japanese beer, which I dare say is good as I’ve ever had and we finally arranged to see...
Colonel Patti, you arrived in Hanoi, you have the French with you, what were the French up to? What was going on?
The French, in effect, as I said were trying to recoup their colony. They didn’t succeed in convincing either General Wedemeyer or the Chinese, so that the French were frozen in China. The only way for a French presence at that particular moment was to have Major Sainteny and possibly a small contingent, so you were satisfied with four more Frenchmen to come along with us, with the American into Hanoi. Be the first French to arrive. Unfortunately, they were prohibited by the Allies to fly the Tricolor. They were prohibited from indulging in political warfare, they were prohibited from actually dealing with the Viet Minh by directive from Chiang Kai Shek, the supreme Allied commander in that country. So...
Speed. Take nine.
The French are trying to get back into Vietnam...
So, as I pointed out earlier, the French were brought in by my team which was then known as a mercy team. Mercy team meaning it was a team that was to assist the prisoners of war ah to be repatriated. In other words what, the problem was we didn’t know how the Japanese would react after the dropping of the two bombs and we wanted to be sure that the Americans were not hurt. So, we had prepared teams to go into each one of the prisoner of war camps to protect the allied POW’s. All right. So, mine was one of several of these teams.
In going into Hanoi we brought with us this small contingent of French people to assist us in a sense in dealing with the French POW’s whom we knew, they had about four to five thousand at least. So we brought them along. Now...Why don’t you cut it.
Can you tell me what the French were up to? What happened to the French?
After we landed at Gia Lam at the airport, actually, we were packed into cars and taken in a convoy into the city of Hanoi. The city was really rather quiet. There was nothing exciting going on, but there were people lined up alongside of the streets. We did see a number of Japanese soldiers and trucks, but things were reasonably calm except for the signs that uh...Well, there flags, flags flying almost everywhere. A red flag where they, with a gold star in the center. That was the Viet Minh flag. Then there were also banners run across the streets which uh said Vietnam to the Vietnamese. Out with the French. Welcome the Allies. And, all that sort of thing. There were quite a number of those, and I was quite impressed.
And, I turned to my colleague next to me, Jean Sainteny, and I said, Jean, it doesn’t look like it’s gonna be very good, is it? And, he shook his head and was absolutely stunned by the display of anti-French sentiment, and also by the display of the red flag with the gold star. Anyhow, we finally traveled, came into the center of town, not the center of town really, but somewhat to the southeast of the city of Hanoi where the Hotel Metropole was located, not too far away from the Residence Supérieure, which was the the the, the hou— the main mansion that housed the governor of Tonkin at the time. We arrived there...
The Viet Minh's assumption of power in Hanoi
Can we just change the size? You arrived at the Metropole...?
When we arrived in, at the Hotel Metropole, we were greeted by a large number. By a large number I mean perhaps 100 Frenchmen and women and children. When they saw the French uniforms, of course, they went out of minds. They really were elated. They were happy. They were joyous and there was a lot of embracing and a lot of kissing and handshaking, patting on the back and, of course, they couldn’t tell the difference between the French and the Americans except until we opened our mouth and they could tell that we were Americans, but they treated us all as Frenchmen. And, they thought for awhile that the French had returned and they were ready now to do in every Vietnamese in town.
And, you could see in those very few minutes that the Vietnamese were being pushed aside by these French people who, up to that moment, seemed to have been quite subdued, and then the scuffle began.
Can you just tell me a little bit more? What actually gave you the impression they were going to deal with the Vietnamese? Did they say something to you? Were they aggressive or...?
They were aggressive and they were actually uh being rather rude to the Vietnamese in and around the hotel. They weren’t many. Unfortunately, for the French, there were too many Japanese policemen and quite a large sizable detachment of Vietnamese gendarmes, and the, of course took control immediately. It took a matter of about five minutes at the most before they were back in the picture again and the French were being shoved back and they suddenly realized that Sainteny was only accompanied by four men and not by a whole contingent of French flying the Tricolor which uh was very, very sad really. So, the mood changed almost immediately.
The Japanese came to me and they said well, look, we’re gonna have trouble here with the French. We’re gong to have to do something about it. How can we solve this question? I turned to Sainteny and suggested that he find another place to stay preferably on French territory, such as, a French embassy or a French...I didn’t know at the time what they had so I suggested a French embassy. Or, some French consulate or somewhere, and he was a little bit adamant at first and the suggestion was made that the governor general’s palace was available and the suggestion was made, not by Sainteny or any Frenchman, but it was made, in effect, by the Japanese themselves. And, after some chit chat back and forth they finally agreed that that is where they ought to go. They got permission from the Japanese headquarters and away they went. In the meantime, the French in the hotel became restive.
They became very restless because they, the Vietnamese had been upset by the initial reaction of the French. The initial reaction being that of being aggressive and I’d like to say pushy. They were shoving them around. They were again starting to talk about the boys. The boys being a pejorative term for the Vietnamese. Also, referring to them as the Annomites which they didn’t like and so on. So, there was some uh turbulence there that had to be kept under control.
Stop a minute.
How did you find Hanoi and what was going on?
As the first night in Hanoi which was somewhat of a busy night trying to get communications with Kunming in Chongqing and the French now pretty well established at the governor general’s palace, which incidentally was also shared by the Japanese headquarters, ah, the next day I spent surveying the area, looking around and seeing what was going on, and I found out for the first time that really we were free to move around, the Americans, while the French were in a golden cage. They were prisoners pretty much. They couldn’t go anywhere. As a matter of fact, they were prohibited by the Japanese from moving out.
The situation in Hanoi at the time politically was rather unsettled. First of all, we had the Citadel. The Citadel has, was the old former garrison, the French garrison, with some three, four thousand, we didn’t know exactly how many French prisoners. Some of them criminals, some of them military. And, some of them political. They were being guarded by the Japanese. And, that was a sort of irritation to those French who were not inside of the jail but were outside and yet limited. They were also a source of irritation to the Vietnamese in town, and the Chinese community, as well. So, everyone was looking for a scapegoat and the French were it.
So, the situation there was that the, from the inside, General Mordant , the former general in command and actually the head of the counter-revolutionary group, was agitating the starts in turmoil so that actually a French uprising would come about naturally. It never did. Perhaps to some measure because I felt that it wasn’t wise and did everything I could to keep the lid on, as we say. The Japanese were too busy trying to find out what had happened to Japan. They weren’t quite sure yet whether they were to surrender or not. Therefore, the communication with Tokyo. They had communications with Saigon where the southern army headquarters was. They had communications with everywhere they could possibly communicate. So really what they— and, also at the same time, were trying to deal with me who was making noises about this surrender.
They had no instructions and they couldn’t really discount me entirely and yet they were in no position to take. So that politically the situation was that the French were anxious to show their colors again. The French were anxious to take over the reigns of government which now were in the hands of the Vietnamese, as it had been passed over to them by the Japanese. The situation with respect to the Japanese was that they were in a state of uh of uh of nothing. They were neither conquered yet, although they had lost the war. They had no instructions to surrender and that they didn’t know whether really the war was over or this was just a farce.
Just run out of film.
That's two rolls gone.
End of #2806.
Ho Chi Minh's Declaration of Independence
Vietnam/T 867 (SYNC), Side 2
This is a [inaudible] of Mr. Patti’s house. (No voices. Birds chirping in the background) (Long pause)
Roll 810. Snd. Roll #2807
This is a [inaudible] of Mr. Patti’s house. (No voices. Birds chirping in the background) (Long pause)
Roll 810. Snd. Roll #2807
Can you tell me how the Vietnamese took power in Hanoi and...?
Between the period of the 15th and the 19th of August actually, the governor, that is, the Emperor Bao Dai was still in power. Power limited, to be sure, but nevertheless, he was really the head of gov— the head of state. However, when they tried to rally around him in the city of Hanoi proper, they found that the support was rather weak. The Viet Minh who had been prepared for that type of an activity or insurrection, so to speak, took control of the crowds, of the mobs, in the streets that were at the time assembling to find out what was going on, and they pretty much took over the city. And this was a city committee of Hanoi. They were part of the Viet Minh structure.
And uh within a matter of four or five days, they had full control of all the utilities, maintained law and order, fire protection and everything was pretty much as though nothing had happened. The insurrection was bloodless, there wasn’t a single person hurt. There was some pushing around but no one was wounded, and there was no bloodshed of any kind. By this time, the first troops came in to the city of Hanoi, General Giap’s troops arrived. And, they spread themselves around and they were beginning to take on a semblance of a national military unit. They had uniforms, they had weapons. Some of the weapons were given by the Americans and that’s what they were sporting around.
And, this went on for a number of days. As a matter of fact, on the 26th General Giap arrived with a delegation of four more Vietnamese and to visit me at the villa where I was staying. I was staying at a villa near the Petit Lac which was formerly the villa or the home of the minister of finance. He came to visit me to say that President Ho was welcoming the American Delegation to Vietnam and was there anything they could so to make our stay pleasant. I thanked them and told them that there wasn’t anything really, that we were pretty well taken care of, not by the, that we were pretty well taken care of by the Japanese at this point, since this was a military matter, and it was being dealt between the uh the Allies and the Japanese.
And, we had a rather pleasant discussion in the villa for about an hour. We went over several issues. One again, what the role of the United States would be, would the French return and what would the Vietnamese do and how could they do it and what was their plan, etc. At the end of about an hour, Giap took his leave and asked that we come out to the front door with him. We came out to the front door and much to my surprise there was a huge gathering of military. To the one side, and almost directly in front of the villa was a band of of about fifty pieces and there were flags flying right in front of the band. One was an American flag and another was a British flag, a Chinese flag and a Russian flag and the Viet Minh flag. All five flags about the same size and I would describe them in size about 5 x 10 feet. Huge flags.
They struck the Star Spangled Banner, of course, and we went through the usual routine.I saluted in the military salute and Giap with his clenched fist. Later on, some of the French accused us of saluting the hammer and sickle or the the yellow star. Well, as can be seen from photographs taken at the time, actually, it was Star Spangled Banner, the Stars and Stripes that I was saluting at the time. Later, I saluted the Union Jack and the Viet Minh and the Red flag and so on, the Chinese flag. We went through this routine five different times. After the initial ceremony, the next thing that happened was there was a passing review or ah first the Giap’s troops went by, then they were followed by various labor groups, followed by young boy scouts and young students.
At the end of the ceremony, I had received an invitation to go meet with General, with President Ho at a hideaway place. We went there, had lunch, and we had another long discussion about other things, and it was the first time that Ho had been in Hanoi city, the first time in his life, in fact. He had never been there before. And, it was the first time in his life, in fact. He had never been there before. And, it was the first time that I met Ho in Ho Chi Mi— in uh, in Hanoi. And, from then on, of course, until about the second, until the 2nd of September, the day the Declaration of Independence was the uh, was pronounced, I met with, not only with President Ho...
Stop a minute. [Incomprehensible]...
Tell me about your meeting with Ho in Hanoi?
The first time I met with Ho in Hanoi was on the 26th of August, 1945, and it was also the first time that Ho had arrived, had been in Hanoi himself. He had just arrived and after the ceremony with Giap, and his delegation, we went directly to his home and there we had lunch and after lunch we spent several hours discussing uh various issues, the same ones over and over again.
This went on for several days until about the, until actually, the day of Declaration of Independence. In the interim, of course, I had been circulating around the city trying to find out what was going on among the French, what was going on among the Chinese, and, of course, the Japanese, as well. Then we had also the problem of looking after the POW’s that were now in two camps. One was in the Citadel, the other at Bach Mai.
And, in addition to which, there was a tremendous amount of anti-American propaganda going on. The French were really trying to subvert American intent and American purpose in being there. And, it was my job at the time under the, a Political Warfare Program to try to stem this particular operation.
Finally, on the first of, well, first before that...probably be around the 28th I think or the 29th, two days after I met him, two days or three days after I met Ho, he asked me to come in and stop in and see him at which time he wanted to show me something, and what he wanted to show me was a draft of the Declaration of Independence that he was going to declare several days later. Uhh. Of course, it was in Vietnamese and I couldn’t read it and when it was interpreted to me, I was quite taken aback to hear the words of the American Declaration of Independence.
Words about liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness, etc. I just couldn’t believe my own ears. And, at first, I felt somewhat silly, even wanting to stop him, but, of course, I didn’t. I mean it was not my place, and we went through that. We revamped it slightly. I couldn’t remember the exact words, and, of course, I didn’t. But, I could see that he had the order in which life and liberty and happiness were in the wrong order and finally, the we set them straight. And, that was on the one day, and that very same day he invited me to attend a ceremony that he was going to hold on the 2nd of September at Place Ponier which was a square near, not too far away from governor general’s palace.
And there he was to declare for the first time the independence of Vietnam for the world to hear. And I told him that I didn’t know whether I could attend or not. Of course, I couldn’t attend it in an official capacity, but I would be glad to come in as an observer. He invited me to stand next to him on the podium or rather on the dais or platform that they had erected or were going to erect, and I reserved until later whether or not I would accept. On the day prior to the, that is the 1st of September, there were tremendous comings and goings. People coming from all over the suburbs in beautiful costumes, to me quite colorful. And, they represented the various tribes and various people from the mountains, the Montagnards the various people that came in. And uh hey were all happy and gay, and it seemed to be rather a festive mood. Very pleasant.
The streets were festooned with Red button and the Red flags and, again, the same old ah, ah, signs across the streets reading Viet Nam to the Vietnamese, and welcome Allies and so on. Freedom, anti-colonial slogans and what not. And, this went on the whole day. Finally, that evening I had dinner again with Ho and his entourage of ministers and it was sort of the last before the first day, so to speak. It was the last day of their, what they considered their agony and the beginning of their triumphant uh takeover of the government and their independence finally achieved.
When I parted that evening, I had long discussions with some of the Chinese who had just arrived, and they were very, very apprehensive as to what would happen to them, the Chinese community. And, I told them not to worry, that Ho had assured me that nothing would happen to either the French, Chinese or the Japanese. They wouldn’t believe me, as a matter of fact, but that’s exactly it. Nothing happened to them because Ho at the time saw that peace was maintained, that the security of these various groups was preserved and that’s the way it went. The following day, of course, early in the morning the crowds began to gather into the city. They were streaming in from all directions from outside, and they came in in family groups more or less. The military were already formed and they were in place around the square. The crow—...
Terrible, isn't it?
It’s the 2nd of September, 1945.
Actually, all the people had all assembled out in Place Ponier. This was on the 2nd of September of 1945, the day that to be the first day of the new government. The new nation. A new nation was being born, Vietnam. They had built a raised platform about twenty feet high and sort of squarish from where I could see from down below, and it was covered with a white and red bunting.
The, there was a microphone or probably two. I can’t remember really how many, but there was one microphone standing out there up in front of the platform, and then whistles blew, were blowing all over the place, and I heard orders being shouted. Something comparable to, "Come to attention," I suppose, I didn’t understand what they were. They were Vietnamese. And, you heard some clicking of heels and clicking of rifles and you could understand that they were all coming to attention. Something was happening.
It was about oh a little after one in the afternoon, I guess. It was a very warm day. The sun was shining real bright. There was a very slight breeze because high above the platform you could see a flag sort of fluttering gently, very, very gently. There was a slight breeze but there was none down below. Within a matter of seconds, the orders were shouted all around and some trumpets blew and some, there were some rolls of drums and someone spoke up on the on the platform calling everyone to attention I suppose or something in Vietnamese announcing the arrival of, of the President of the Provisional Government.
I didn’t understand any of this in Vietnamese, but it was interpreted to me by one of our interpreters that was standing by. Uh I could just barely see from where I stood, which wasn’t very far away. It was probably about 50 to 75 feet away from the platform down below. I could just barely distinguish the gentleman or a man really coming to the microphone. At first, he seemed to have a piece of headgear and then later on he took it off.
And, I recognized after a few moments that it was Ho Chi Minh. He started to talk and a hush fell over the crowd. An immense crowd all around, but you just could hear a pin drop. He started to talk and I suppose he was merely greeting people, and suddenly I heard him raise his voice and say something in Vietnamese and I nudged our interpreter, what is he saying. He said, Can you hear me? Because immediately thereafter there was a shout from the mob saying, Yes, we can hear you. He said something about can you hear me clearly, and the mob replied, Yes, we can. And, from that moment on he had captured the whole nation, so to speak. He had captured everyone.
They were all with him and they were listening, while he, not only started with his Declaration of Independence, but then went out and recounted the entire history, or pretty much the history of the Vietnamese and the history of the French Colonial period. And, that was the way it went for almost ¾ of an hour. Then it was followed by other members of the cabinet. Giap was the next one to speak. Then several others spoke after that. I don’t recall the order exactly at this moment.
Giap's meeting with Sainteny
Talking about Giap, I wonder if you could tell me how Giap got on with the French at this period? I believe he met Sainteny. And I wonder if you could tell me how that came about?
Well, that was a very interesting situation there. It so happened that Sainteny was asking me to arrange a meeting for him with Ho Chi Minh. I tried. I approached Ho on it and Ho said it was pointless at this time to meet with Sainteny who had neither credentials nor was there anything in common to discuss.
In fact, what Ho meant was and I knew too, that Sainteny was not a French delegate nor a French representative, nor a French anything except a French citizen. He had no authority to speak for the Paris government or for De Gaulle. So, that, in effect, at that moment Ho didn’t feel it was appropriate for them to meet.
However, If the Frenchman had anything to say, said Ho, I’d be happy to send my deputy. And, he selected Vo Nguyen Giap who later became General Giap who later became the famous or fabulous uh tactician, strategist of the Vietnam war. Having arranged the meeting for the following day which was I believe the 27th of August, we met at the governor general’s palace. Ho with a delegation of, well, one more with uh Mr. Huynh and several other Vietnamese who didn’t come in, came into the governor general’s palace and there they met with Sainteny.
I was present, of course, and the situation was somewhat tense in that Giap felt as a man in authority and Sainteny, the Frenchman, felt that he had no authority, not he, but that Giap had no authority, and therefore, he was to treat it as an Annomite rather than as a representative of another government, not recognizing Ho’s government at all at the time, even though it was provisional.
Well, after some very difficult moments they finally sat down and some coffee and tea, both coffee and tea was brought out and served in typical good French fashion and very well done, at which time Sainteny took the lead and started to berate Giap by saying what did he mean by telling the Allies that the French were not welcomed, that the French had no role in dealing with the Japanese, and etc., etc., and didn’t he know that, did Giap know that after all the French were the rulers of that government.
Well, Giap, who had been reared in French schools and knew French finesse and politesse restrained himself, was very, very, very circumspect. He didn’t answer, he didn’t fight back. Except that he said, finally, he said, I didn’t come here to be lectured, at which point he was about to get up and walk out, and at which point I got up and held everything in place (chuckles) as much as I could, and, of course, Sainteny saw that he had lost the hand there and took a new tact. He said, oh, we’re here to help and do anything we can and you people will be receiving all sorts of privileges that you never had before. Of course, that irritated Giap again. These were not privileges but rights as far as he was concerned.
Well, this is the way it went. It went for, till finally, Giap decided he had had enough of it and got up, took his leave and walked out and that was the end of that. I lagged behind a few minutes at Sainteny’s request and, of course, before I left Sainteny caught me very unexpectedly with a very unusual and strange offer.
He said, very confidentially, that the Paris government had laid aside a huge sum of money in francs for the exclusive use of the American commercial interest, financial interest with whom could he get in touch with? With whom could he pursue this offer? I was seething, of course. I was very unhappy. I was mad, I was...I didn’t say a word. I just could barely speak.
Is that because you thought it was a bribe? Could you say you thought it was a bribe?
Because at that moment I realized what he was doing. He was offering the American officials a bribe not to interfere in French interest in Indochina. And, I as much as told that to Sainteny. In fact, I said, I don’t think there’s anyone in Kunming or in Washington or in Chongqing who’d be willing to accept an offer such as you are making. However, it is my duty to report it and I’ll do that. I’ll let you know. And, I did. The answer came back within hours from Kunming and Chongqing both from the embassy and from the military headquarters saying have no part of this. Stay completely out.
China's seizure of banking and finance in Vietnam
I wonder if you could tell me, not only are the Vietnamese dealing with the French at this point, they are also dealing with the Chinese. Can you...?
End of #2807.
Vietnam/T-876, 2808/2809, Side 1 - State 6/Take 15.
At what period did the Chinese occupying army come in, and what did they get up to?
The Chinese didn’t arrive until almost the 12th, 13th or 14th of September. It was later on, of course, that they really took over. When they arrived they were under General Lu Han, who represented Chiang Kai Shek, and his role was that of accepting the Japanese surrender. His period of occupation was supposed to be extremely limited to about three or four months, perhaps five at the most.
And really, there was no occupation as such because the Japanese were still armed and still in command, and they remained so all the way through until the day when they finally left pretty much on their own. Oh, the French that helped later on, early 1946, to evacuate some of the Japanese. But in the main, the Japanese took care of themselves for the, in the interest of the Allies, strange as this all might seem. Well anyhow, getting back to the Chinese, the Chinese were very, very busy people.
They undertook to assume control of all the Vietnamese assets and properties in the area—both in the bank of Indochina, which had already been pretty well depleted by the Japanese to start with, and later they took over what was left. They also bought all of the cinemas, the bars, the hotels they could lay their hands on that belonged to the Vietnamese and to the French at a price next nothing so that before they were finished, they really had full control of all the financial and banking assets in not only Hanoi, but in Hai Phong and in other nearby centers.
Strangely enough these people are none other than the fathers and mothers of what today we call the “boat people,” who are fleeing Indochina, the same people. During that period, of course, they were able to, with the help of the Kuomintang in Chongqing to secure or to get for themselves all the valuables that were available in the area. That’s really in the main what the Japane— uh the Chinese occupied themselves with. That’s all they did. Nothing else. They had no other task to perform.
Would you like to um wipe your face? Carry on running. Sorry, you cut it.
Patti on the Indochina Wars
Colonel Patti, the American war in Vietnam lasted a long period of time. What did you think of whilst the war was going on? Did anybody consult you or consult your work, and do you think it needed patent?
Let me answer the first question, rather the second question first. In my opinion the Vietnam War was a great waste. There was no need for it to happen in the first place. At all. None whatsoever. That’s the first answer. The second answer was no, no one ever consulted me in all of the years I spent in the White House.
Could we do that again? Could you pose the question in your own mind somehow or other? [Incomprehensible]...Could you say, “During all the years of the Vietnam War...”
During all the years of the Vietnam War no one ever approached me to find out what had happened in 1945 or in ’44. In all the years that I spent in the Pentagon, Department of State in the White House, never was I approached by anyone in authority. However, I did prepare a large number, and I mean about, oh, well over fifteen position papers on our position in Vietnam. But I never knew what happened to them. Those things just disappeared, they just went down the dry well, as far as I was concerned, even though I was in a high level position to be able to see that they got to the right people.
For example, when finally in 1973 I started to search for my papers, my documents, and by chance and good offices of the Central Intelligence Agency, I was able to find my documents. They were then stored in the CIA files. I found that the documents that I had sent back to the United States in 1945 through our registry office, which at the time was being run by a young lady by the name of Julia McWilliams. Julia McWilliams, by the way, is generally know to the American public as the uh Julia Childs, the uh, the master of culinary art on TV.
The way she had wrapped them and the way she had packaged them, the way she had sent them was the way I received them in 1973 in the CIA at Langley office. They had never been looked at. The question rises from time to time as to whether or not the same situation doesn’t apply to Iran, to Afghanistan, to El Salvador, to any other trouble spot in the world. That perhaps there are people who may know the causes that actually led to what followed and have never been approached or asked to give at least, if not their views, at least to give what facts they have. That is a question.
As you look back over that war as an American, what do you think about it?
The first French Indochina War, which was fought by the French exclusively, was in itself a mistake. From the very beginning the United States became involved in 1945, in late fall of 1945, by allowing the French to return to Indochina with American Liberty ships, armed and equipped with American equipment, which was all a lend/lease equipment which they had really no right to use for that purpose.
In 1950 I found in the records that President Truman had at that time authorized the allocation of $10 million, which really had not been appropriated by Congress for that purpose, but for the purpose of assisting the Chinese in China. Took the $10 million and sent it to the French to give to the people in South Vietnam, to pursue the war, to continue the war.
I found that in 1954 and during the Geneva Conference after the fall of Dien Bien Phu, after the French had been defeated, that we again had a chance to pull out and we failed to pull out at that time. This was the third time we had failed to pull out but got ourselves in deeper and deeper. And finally in the 60’s, again, we got involved to the point where it became an American war lock, stock and barrel, which costed us something to the tune of 56,000 men which we left in far away Vietnam, and also to the tune of 300,000 men which are today sitting in veteran’s hospitals maimed, without arms, legs, or sight, or anything else, and in bad shape; plus having torn apart a nation, the United States, which was worse than the war between the states, by the way. It was, it was a terrible situation. No, it need not have happened. It happened. But, we had every reason to not let it happen. Ho Chi Minh was on a silver platter in 1945. We had him. He was willing to, to be a democratic republic, if nothing else. Socialist yes, but a democratic republican. He was leaning not towards the Soviet Union, which at the time he told me that USSR could not assist him, could not help him because they just los—won a war only by dint of real heroism.
And they were in no position to help anyone. So really, we had Ho Chi Minh, we had the Viet Minh, we had the Indochina question in our hand, but for reasons which defy good logic we find today that we supported the French for a war which they themselves dubbed “la sale guerre,” the dirty war, and we paid to the tune of 80 percent of the cost of that French war and then we picked up 100 percent of the American-Vietnam War. That is about it in a nutshell.
Okay, let's cut.
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