when I arrived in Hanoi
precise instructions we were given were very marginal to the point of
being nonexistent. But they did include contacting the leading political
figures in the place and ah, reporting an assessment of who they were
and what they represented, and ah, who their conflicting interests were,
and so forth.
Well, by the time I'd actually arrived in Hanoi
, Ho was already in the "Residence" as a provincial provisional
president of Vietnam under this arrangement that pertained at that time,
which was early 1945
. And I believe it was
December. In any event, so he was high on the list of people I was
supposed to be getting in touch with. So indeed I did.
sent a message through, through the concierge of the hotel, as a matter
of fact, I had no other way of figuring out how to do this. And I had an
answer back rather quickly saying that President Ho would be pleased to
receive the emissary of the United States or Major White, the emissary
from the United States, and ah, so on several occasions I went to see
oddly enough he used to ask me to come in the evening. He'd explain to
me that he was sort of an evening type. And ah, he liked to drink scotch
whiskey and he had a bottle of Red Label, and he'd never tasted Black
Label, and he also smoked. He was a big smoker, heavy smoker. He smoked,
I don't know where he got 'em either, I tried to get some for him too,
but I never could succeed. But he smoked Pall Mall's. And chain smoked.
Anyhow, we'd go in the evening and he'd ask me, he was really a thirst
for information, he wanted to know all I knew about the figures in the
world that time. And having been not in any particular, been a long time
from the United States, and so I was wasn't particularly aware, but I
did see copies of Time Magazine
those overseas editions, so forth and so on.
he'd ask me who Stafford
Cripps was and how good a socialist really was he, and what
was an English socialist, for example, and what was a French socialist, and ah, it
wasn't that he was dumb on these subjects, but I think he was listening
for other kinds of attitudes and views and information.
Well anyhow, one evening I wasn't at all surprised then to get a call
from the Residence saying that President Ho would be very pleased if you would join him.
So I just assumed this was one of these coffee klatch things and went on
over. I found him sitting, the odd thing about this one was that it was
six-ish in the evening, and it was much earlier than our usual late
night talks. And so we were sitting in his study, just two little seats
with a little table and even then there was a bottle of whiskey.
was kind of interesting that I thought there was a, um, a man in short
white pants, which was customary uniform of that period in time, who
would come up to say things to Ho every once in awhile, and of course, in Vietnamese, which I
don't speak, but there'd be a little discussion, anyhow the guy would
occasionally turn up with more cigarettes or a paper to sign, or some
such thing. He was later identified to me as General Giap. And ah, I thought
he was a houseboy at the time.
anyhow, so this particular evening we just talked, I forgot small talk,
and then the room began to fill up. And ah, first arrivals were two
rather elderly Vietnamese, as we were able to identify in those days as
Mandarin types, the kind of traditional costumes, the hands up their
sleeves, the lacquered hats, and so forth. And I was introduced to them
and ah, then pretty soon others arrived.
Much to my astonishment began people showing up in uniform. Pretty soon
himself arrived with his chief of staff and one other aid, and then the
Chinese arrived. I often
forget that there were two Chinese generalissimos at that time, General
Chaing Kai Shek to
be sure, and the other Lu Han
in the south of China
. Lu Han, this was still 17th
parallel period when after Yalta, Vietnam had been divided and the Chinese were nominally, or more
than nominally but were the occupiers of the northern half. So he was
there and that began.
Well this was designed to be a, what I've called elsewhere as a "bury
the hatchet" type dinner. But I had no formal invitation to this. Ho just simply said, "we
assume you'll join us at the table." I'd been a general's aid in the
United States before, and I know quite a lot, a fair amount of protocol
in military circles, and clearly this was an unusual arrangement.
And I thought perhaps, oh, we'd just been carried away by good
feelings, or something, and didn't really expect me to sit at the table.
'Cause I could see the dining room through open doors and there were
place cards all around, and these very senior officers, at least two
field marshals – Leclerc and Lu Han –
and their several staffs were seating themselves in various places. The
British were there too.
And anyhow, I looked, I made myself the last one to go in so that if
there was not any seat left, I could back pedal out backwards. But to my
astonishment, and even horror, the seat on Ho's right was the only one empty. So I groaned
inwardly but strode up and took a look at it and sure enough it said
sat down, or we were standing behind our seats, and the general
discussion before everybody sits down, you know how that goes, so I
said, "Mr. President, I think that some of your guests might find the
protocol seating arrangement not quite as they usually organize these
things." In short, what's a major doing sitting on your right when you
have these very senior people?
Anyhow whether this was part of the famous Ho dissimulation or not, he looked up at me and
gave me a kind of a waggy smile and said in English ('cause he did speak
English if he wanted to organize a sentence, he could speak a sentence
of English without any trouble.) And he said, "I didn't think I could
talk to anybody else."
What he meant by this cryptic phrase I don't know, but clearly ah, he
was more comfortable politically than he was with the French and clearly more so than
the Chinese, who were busy
at the time in a
most outrageous fashion. And clearly, well I suppose even so more at
home, or less not at home with me than even the British. Anyhow that was the
way that happened. It was a very difficult dinner, I can tell you that.