The Geneva Accords and the rebellion against the French

Interview with Le Minh Dao, senior cadre.
Could you tell us what the situation was like after the signing of the Geneva Agreements? And when Diem first came to power? And when was your father killed and under what circumstances?
Le Minh Dao:
In Ben Tre province, in 1954, which was during the period just after the signing of the Geneva Agreement, we had a popular movement which coordinated with the regional armed forces in rising up to take over administrative power. This was in support of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign which had come to an end in the north. During this period our forces, and especially the popular movement rose up and, especially by rallying the Vietnamese soldiers who were in the French colonial army, staged an uprising.
We were not able to liberate the district towns then, but we had been able to liberate most of the rural areas or more than half of the province. We captured thousands of guns from the enemy and organized many new forces. During this victorious momentum, in response to the call of the government to restore peace in Vietnam, the armed struggle movement in Ben Tre had to stop temporarily. And all the armed forces were regrouped to the north. This is to say that we carried out the Geneva Agreements although we had the momentum of liberating the entire province.
Because of the cause of peace and because of the interest of the entire people, we had to stop fighting. The people of Ben Tre stopped the armed struggle in 1954 for that reason and not because of battle fatigue or any other kind of failure. Therefore, when peace came the revolutionary movement in Ben Tre left behind a very strong and victorious momentum for the population. After the signing of the Geneva Agreement, cadres who were left behind like me to legally organize the implementation of the Agreement had only one month of peace to enjoy.

Diem's reprisal against the resistance

Le Minh Dao:
After the Vietnam People's Army regrouped and the Diem regime took over the administration of the south, repression began. And we, people who had participated directly in the resistance against the French and people who had helped organize the popular movement against the French, were the special targets of Diem's revenge.
Therefore, after only a month of freedom of movement we had to hide among the population. Without the protection of the population we would not have been able to survive. Even I myself who had been a person who had been quite exposed during the Resistance that is to say, a cadre who was relatively very well known and who was now sought after very vigorously by the Diem regime, was never captured by the Diem regime, thanks to the popular organizations and their protection.
In order to revenge the fact that I did not come out and surrender to the Diem regime like other people, Diem had my father and my father in law killed. But I was only one cadre who suffered a lot of personal losses during the Diem regime. There were many other cadres and many other inhabitants of Ben Tre who suffered the same kind of vengeful acts by the Diem regime.
That is the first point I would like to tell you. But from 1955 on the repression against former members of the Resistance became more brutal and vigorous. The Diem regime sent groups of secret police sometimes called the National Secret Police, sometimes called the Ngo Regime Secret Police into our Province to mill around there. If they became suspicious of someone or wanted to carry out revenge on somebody they would just arrest and kill this person right away, having no need to go through the provincial administration. This was how fascistic they were.
As for the commanders of the local military posts, the marine units and the mobile forces, there is just no way I can tell you all the arrests, the terroristic acts and other brutal things that they carried out. This was especially the case beginning in 1955 when the new waves of repression started and when Diem established four zones for agrovilles in our province. This is to say, four huge areas of massive relocation of the resident population.
One zone was in the village of The Thuan, along the coast of Binh Dai district. Another was called the An Hiep Agroville, which was along the Ham Luong River and in the district of Ba Tri. The third was the Thanh Thoi zone, along the Co chieng river and in the district of Mo Cay. And the fourth was the An Hiep Agroville of this district of Chau Thanh.
. It was in these zones that the repression and oppression were extremely brutal. The inhabitants in all the adjacent areas were relocated here. And it was not until later that they built the strategic hamlets, This was only a policy that they carried out again and again. As early as 1955, the same kind of massive repression of the resident population had already been carried out.
The other target of repression was the young people. It can be said that life was extremely harsh for the young people under the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. This meant that all the young men had to enter the various armed forces to do their so called military duty. And from 1955 on, especially from 1957 on when the campaign of "Advance to the North" was in full tilt, the young people were being confronted with the danger of a destructive and painful North South war and all its horror. For this reason, besides the former Resistance fighters the young people was the second target. And the third target was the peasants.

Oppression of the peasantry and the ongoing struggle

Le Minh Dao:
As you must have realized, the Resistance war against the French started from among the rural population. Therefore, in the rural areas in the South in the entire country and, in Particular in Ben Tre province, almost all the peasants followed the revolution. Most of the fighters and cadres came from the peasant population. Therefore, when Diem took over power, especially from 1953 and 1957 on, he carried out brutal repression against the peasants.
All the lands which the revolution had distributed to the peasants and was being cultivated by the peasants, was confiscated by the Diem regime and its local henchmen. These people were people who were having a lot of hatred against the lower classes. Those peasants who refused to turn over their lands were given electric shocks, imprisoned, and even shot on the spot. For this reason it can he stated that during the Diem administration targeted people like me could live in peace for only one month before we had to plunge ourselves again into the struggle for the defense of the rights of the masses.
During this period since after the signing of the Geneva Agreement the policy that we carried out, all the way from the top leadership to the leadership in the province of Ben Tre, was to struggle to maintain peace. It was both our hope and our concrete activities to see to it that the Geneva Agreement be respected and implemented, that peace be maintained and that unification of Vietnam he carried out. We had no thought of armed struggles at all. But our people were more realistic, the masses; were more realistic.
From the 1949‑1950 period to 1954 when the country was temporarily under occupation, a lesson which the people drew from the whole thing was that they had to rely on their own strength for their own liberation. And this attitude, as I just told you a while ago, was represented by the fact that while the Geneva Agreement was being signed almost all of the rural area had been liberated and that the entire province was about to be liberated. And so when the Americans and the Diem regime stepped up their repression, the population increased their demands for armed struggle.
Many people said to us: “Your kind of political struggles would lead in a draw or to defeat. You'd get a draw or a defeat, but you'll never gain victory. If you guys wanted to bring out liberation, to protect yourselves and us, you'll have to do just like you did in 1954. That is to say, you'll have to resort to armed struggles.” Their demands were very pressing. There were cadres like Brother Le Van Thao, who has already sacrificed himself, who said to my other comrades: "We should ask the government to allow us to fight in the 1954 manner for only five days to vent out all our frustrations and outrage, and then after that it would be alright if we get executed for our action." He did live for a while to fight with us. But he died in a battle.
I just wanted to tell you these small anecdotes to tell you how much the people demanded armed struggles. But the really special thing about it all was that when we still did not allow them to engage in armed struggles, they were still supporting and protecting us nevertheless. But while they were doing all of these, they told us that we were certainly heading toward defeat if we did not resort to armed struggles. Even under this tremendous popular pressure, our leadership was nevertheless resolute in their effort to avert bloodshed. Our leaders were resilient in their struggle for peace.
But the Ngo Dinh Diem regime and their American supporters were not willing to stop. I want to tell you that repression, land expropriation and the press-ganging of the young people into the army increased on a daily basis. This was especially the case in 1959 when the Ngo Dinh Diem regime issued the Law Code no. 10/59, declaring that anyone who dared to oppose the regime that is to say, first of all former members of the Resistance like us and then next the peasants who did not want to turn over their land and the young people who were drafted but who did not want to follow their fascist policies and who showed any kind of sympathy toward the revolutionary movement would be executed.

Tran Thi Ke's martyrdom as provocation of the revolution

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Please tell us what armed struggles were all about and what the demands by the population for armed struggles meant.
Le Minh Dao:
Beginning in mid 1959 when the fascist activities were at peak and when the Diem regime took the guillotine around the province and threatened to execute anyone who dared to oppose him, the population stepped up their demands for armed struggle. At that time a very heart rending incident occurred in the province. The enemy came and tortured a family similar to my family. This was Comrade Ba Giang’s family.
They arrested his wife, Mrs. Tran Thi Ke, and tortured her right on the spot. She was 53 years of age then. She was very courageous. She said "My husband and my children are in my heart. If you want to arrest my husband and my children, you'll have to blow up my heart.” The enemy beat her to death right on the table where she was tortured. Therefore, the people in the province became extremely outraged.
This was especially the case with people who had been subjected to repression previously. Therefore, facing with all the demands from the people, our leadership committee, which was at that time led by Sister Nguyen Thi Dinh, decided, after much deliberation of the opinions of the people from everywhere and from all walks of life, that the time had come for us to increase political struggles in order to save ourselves.
But political struggles alone would not solve anything at all. We had to accept the suggestions of the masses and organized the much needed military struggles to accompany the political struggles, especially in areas where armed struggles were much needed. This meant that we had to attack certain targets in certain areas and at a certain time when the situations there permitted us to do so.

Reaction of the peasantry to Diem and their co-optation by the Communists

Le Minh Dao:
Arising from the above ideas, we began to prepare ourselves. When we began the preparations, our analysis was that the brutality of the regime had caused the entire population and not just the former followers of the Resistance to oppose it. Even its own soldiers and their families were now opposed to the regime. Therefore. if we started armed struggles to go along with political struggles then we were repeating our 1954 experience. And we were really capable of doing this.
Our action would certainly have the support of the peasants and even of people in the enemy's ranks. This was Sister Dinh’s analysis. And we all unanimously agreed with her. And our experience during the preceding period and our resilience now demanded that we should take that action. For that reason, we began with the preparations. And on January 17th we opened fire in many areas in Mo Cay district and in certain areas in the districts of Binh Dai, Ha Tri, Giong Trom and even in the outskirt of the provincial city.
And during this uprising we dismantled a number of enemy local administrations and a number or enemy repressive structures in the hamlets and villages. It was during the same uprising that we were given certain support by the families of the soldiers and by patriotic soldiers who captured weapons and turned them over to us. With these weapons, we organized the first armed units which Comrade Phuc became the first commander of as I mentioned a while ago.
After that this uprising had to contend with a very ferocious reaction from the enemy. On March 18, 1960 two months after the uprising the enemy deployed 12,000 troops against our base which was headed by Sister Dinh and others at that time. We had about one company of armed fighters there at the time. This was in the area which we called "The Cradle of General Uprising," in the region of Binh Khanh, Phuoc Hiep and Dinh Thuy.
We fought them back and the end result was that we caused severe casualties to the enemy without suffering any ourselves. Before this all out enemy attack, in this 9th revolutionary region, Sister Dinh and a number of local comrades organized a popular movement which included over 1,000 persons who brought water buffaloes, rattles, pigs and other domestic animals to the Mo Cay marketplace.
At the same time, there was also support from the churches and pagodas, from the schools and from the inhabitants of Mo Cay against the deployment of such a large force to carry out repression against a rural area like that. This protest and our military counter attacks created stresses and strains on the enemy. And the end result was that, after twelve days, we were able to maintain the liberated area this "Cradle of General Uprisings" which included the three villages of Dinh Thuy, Phuoc Hiep and Binh Khanh.
We managed to keep our forces intact and destroy an enemy invading unit of several hundred troops. And, of special significance, was our ability to get over 1,000 inhabitants to participate in the struggle and to force the enemy to withdraw their troops. After this test, our revolutionary movement continued to grow. Political struggles multiplied as a result, and military struggles expanded from this area to all the other places in the province.
And after that, as I have already pointed out to you on the map, even when the enemy established strategic hamlets everywhere and had placed over 1,000 military posts and bases in 864 hamlets in this province, our political movement, our military forces and our leadership and command structures continued to exist here nevertheless.

The new struggle against the Americans

Le Minh Dao:
In certain periods the enemy sprayed so much toxic chemicals in the province that two thirds of it were completely denuded and that there was no more green color in this area. And yet our organization and the revolutionary movement continued to exist there. And, finally, we won. So I want to stress that we started this struggle in this area at the beginning of 1960. But by mid 1960 and by the end of 1960 people all over the South did likewise.
This is to say, political struggles in coordination with military struggles in a general offensive against the enemy. Later on, when the Americans arrived, we continued to be able to maintain these forms of struggle. And, as you know, when the Americans came our Resistance grew bigger and the peace and democratic movements in the world, the liberation movements and even you yourselves gave us support. Therefore, the struggle inside the country, in coordination with the struggles abroad which included the progressive American people which helped boost our morale and our spirit, became much stronger.

Policies against the resistance and their reaction

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Roll 88 of Vietnam Project
Interview with Le Minh Dao continues.
Please describe to us again the Diemist policies which were most detrimental to the welfare of the people.
Le Minh Dao:
There were three policies carried out by Diem in the southern part of Vietnam in general and in our province in particular which caused tremendous opposition from the population. One was the "Communist Denunciation Campaign." This policy was purportedly against the Communists. But in reality it was against all those people who had participated in the struggle against the French. The second was the policy of confiscating the land which had been given by the revolution to the peasants.
This was an attack on the livelihood of the people, the result of nine years of struggle. And the third policy, especially from 1957, 1958 and 1959 on, was the "March Against the North" campaign in which young people were drafted into the army in preparation for an invasion of the north which would create a destructive North South war. This was a strong violation of the desire of the people or peace and national reunification. It can be said that this was one of the policies that created the strongest reactions on the part of the Ben Tre population.
In mid 1959, Ben Tre decided to wage armed struggles on its own. After the armed struggles started, what was the reaction from the Central Government?
Le Minh Dao:
From December 1959, our leadership committee which was headed by Comrade Nguyen Thi Dinh decided to stage the General Uprisings. This meant that we were using popular armed violence in order to dismantle the administrative structures of the Americans and the Diem regime. And we were building up from that. We opened fired on January 17.
And after that we learned that since the middle of the year and especially since the end of 1960 that other provinces followed suit. It was only later on, when the movement became widespread, that we began to be in frequent contact with our superiors. By that time there was now a general uprising in all of the south. As I found out, in the West the strongest movement was in Tay Ninh province. Down here it was our province, Dong thap province, My tho province (which is now Tien Giang province), and Ca mau province (which is now Minh Hai).
From then on, we just marched forward until final victory. But by the beginning of 1960, as far as I know, there was only the province of Ben Tre and a number of local areas elsewhere. But the movement there was not as strong as ours. But from the middle of the year to the end of the year the movement became widespread in all of the South.