Student life for a Vietnamese under the French

SR 2007
Beep tone.
Roll 7 of Vietnam Project, Production no. 7860, 3rd of February 1981. Music, drum sound, gong sound, noise of the procession on roll 6 continue. Sound of countryside such as ducks, etc.
46, Take 1
Could you tell us something about life of a young student under the French? What were the good points and bad points?
Tran Duy Hung:
We have to make a distinction here in order to fully answer your question. As students at the medical school and in the university we had friendly relationships with our French classmates. And your French professors also treated us quite well because they were themselves also scientists. The French colonial administrators, however, treated us and all of our compatriots very differently.
Their policy was one of acute exploitation. Therefore, we made a distinction between the good Frenchmen, which meant the French people, and the Frenchmen who oppressed us and caused us to lose our freedom and our national independence. These latter Frenchmen were regarded by us as our enemies.
47, Take 1
Do you have any recollections of the French professors with whom you had a good relationship?
Tran Duy Hung:
At the medical school a number of my classmates, Professor Ton That Tung was one of them, and I had good relationship with quite a number of French professors. Among these professors there was one (he is now dead so I can mention his name) named Mayermé who was a professor of surgery and internal medicine. He was a very conscientious person, not only in the relationship between professor and students but also in the relationship between one human being and another.
When we visited him at his house, we were never treated as students but always as his Vietnamese friends. When the Second World War came about, he left Indochina because he was a follower of De Gaulle. Afterwards, he went to the United States and became a professor over there.
We know this because when Professor Ton That Tung went to Paris, Professor Mayermé said that he was going over to Paris to meet with Dr. Tung. I sent my personal regards to Dr. Mayermé through Dr. Tung and also to tell him of my deep appreciation to such a good human being, a very learned scientist, but above all, a very good human being.
What were the sentiments of the young Vietnamese under the French? Were you humiliated? What were your real feelings?
Tran Duy Hung:
In reality, as a young Vietnamese intellectual who had become politically conscious for a long time, I never felt inferior to any Frenchman. And whenever the French behaved haughtily toward me, I just told them to their faces. I am telling you this because although the French administrators always behaved themselves very dastardly toward ordinary Vietnamese, they treated us intellectuals differently because they wanted us to collaborate with them. Hence, we never felt inferior to them.
Unlike the ordinary Vietnamese, we dared to talk back to them. And this sometimes did create a lot of tension. But although the French were generally very haughty toward the ordinary Vietnamese, they had to pay attention sometimes to their behavior because among these ordinary people were former members of the scholar gentry class who possessed in themselves a determination to protect freedom and independence and who had national pride.
The French just could not bully these scholar gentries. The French bullied the Vietnamese employees in the colonial administration. But even the workers reacted very strongly when the French oppressed them and physically abused them. Our recent history has shown that the Vietnamese workers and peasants have struggled unyieldingly when faced by cruel and despotic people.

Famine in Hanoi under Japanese occupation

SR 2008
Beep tone
Dr. Tran Duy Hung. Vietnam Project, 7860, 4th of February, 1981.
48, Take 1
Could you tell us what happened during the famine, giving us as much detail as possible?
Tran Duy Hung:
First of all, I have to tell you why the famine came about. The Japanese were occupying Indochina at that time, and the French were responsible for supplying the Japanese troops with everything they needed. Therefore, the French and the Japanese decided to collect all the rice belonging to the Vietnamese population, and particularly the population of the north, to supply the Japanese troops.
Tet of 1945 was a very desperate occasion for all of us. We had to run about looking for rice every day. There was very little rice coming from the southern part of the country. But rice in the north had to be taken into the Japanese rice granaries. In all of the provinces and even in the areas around Hanoi, the village inhabitants had to turn over their rice to the Japanese rice collectors and the rice merchants who served them.
Therefore, the north which formerly did not have too much rice was now having little rice left for the population to eat. Therefore, the inhabitants of the various provinces especially Nam Dinh, Thai Binh, Thanh Hoa and Hung Yen had to walk their way up to Hanoi in droves in order to beg for food.
But before they managed to arrive in Hanoi they had already spent many days on the road, carrying each other along the way, without anything to eat. The grown ups were carrying their children in baskets. By that time, at least 40,000 starving poor peasants in our estimate arrived in Hanoi to beg for food and to wait for handouts, for alms. We called it alms at the time.
They were lying about all over the streets, except for the streets where the French residences were. They lay on the pavements. And it was a particularly cold year that year. But at that time we could not do everything to help them. Not only that the French did not organize any hunger relief, but the Japanese specifically forbade us to carry out any hunger relief effort of our own.
But even if the French had wanted to organize some hunger relief, they would not have been able to obtain any rice anyway. Hanoi was full of agonizing sights at the time. People dug into the garbage dumps in order find any edible thing at all: Banana peels, tangerine peels, discarded greens and vegetable, and so on. They also ate rats. But this was not enough to keep them alive. Therefore, we witnessed a lot of heart rending scenes.
Every morning when we opened our door, we saw five to seven corpses of people who had died the night before. At that time I was already a doctor but I was also a Boy Scout master. Hence, I and others organized the boy scouts to get rice from their families to give out to the hungry people in a marketplace. But this really did not help that much. There were just so many starving people and they just dropped dead everywhere. So we had to organize teams to pick up the corpses and buried them.
Clapstick TAIL SLATE
50, Take 1
You mentioned forty thousand persons. Please repeat that.
Tran Duy Hung:
There were about forty thousand persons. But this was only an estimate. forty thousand peasants from the provinces adjoining Hanoi, that is, Hung Yen, Hai Duong, Nam Dinh, Thai Binh, Bac Ninh and Ha Dong, all converged on Hanoi. They thought that they could find work and food in Hanoi.
But it was really tragic for them because Hanoi did not have any food either. As a result, they had to lie about in the streets and dig into the garbage dumps in order to find things to eat. They ate everything from banana peels and tangerine peels to dead rats. But afterwards they didn't even have these things to eat anymore. So every morning when we opened our door we saw many corpses of people who had died the night before.
At that time we had a scout organization. I was one of the scout leaders. I and other scout leaders organized the scouts to ask for rice from the city population to give them out to the hungry people. This, however, was simply not enough to make much of a difference. People were just dropping dead everywhere. And the French did not have any kind of organization which they would employ to bury the dead. The French health service in the city was also completely helpless.
So we had to organize our own teams of young people pushing oxcarts to carry the corpses to the burial grounds. We had to carry out this heart rending task every day. Therefore, I can say flatly that in Hanoi we witnessed the death of at least ten thousand persons. But people died of starvation in every province in the northern half of the country.
In the northern delta provinces reaching as far south as Trung Bo, about two million persons starved to death. Two million persons was a large number of people for us at that time. When compared with the total population of fifty million now, two million is already a large figure. But two million over the total population of about ten million in the northern part of the country at that time was really a huge figure.
Therefore, this was a terrifying famine created by the Japanese occupation and the helplessness of the French. But this famine helped our popular organizations and our Party to rally the nation against the Japanese and the French. Our slogan at that time was to unite and take over the Japanese rice granaries to feed the population.
Hence, there was a movement to take over Japanese rice granaries in many places at that time. This helped the morale of the population before the August Revolution in terms of making them see that they were the masters of their own destinies and that they ought to follow the Viet Minh in the struggle to regain freedom and independence

Impressions of Ho Chi Minh

51, Take 1
What was your impression of Ho Chi Minh when you met him for the first time? What kind of impressions did he make on you?
Tran Duy Hung:
It was on August 26, 1945 that I met Uncle Ho Chi Minh for the first time. I was Chairman of the People's Committee of Hanoi at that time. The first thing he did was to summon me to the house in which be was drafting the Declaration of Independence. When I arrived, I saw that he was extremely thin, his cheeks sunken, his skin dark tan. I said, "Greetings, Sir."
He replied: "No, call me Uncle." Therefore, I felt a certain closeness right away. I had heard of his name and seen his pictures before. During the period when he was still carrying out clandestine activities, he was known as Nguyen Ai Quoc. And I had had only the highest respect for Nguyen Ai Quoc. I knew that this man I was meeting with now was Nguyen Ai Quoc, but for some reason he made me feel very close to him right away and that there was no distance of any kind between us.
He said: "I know that you're a medical doctor. But now what do you think of your becoming the mayor of this city?" I answered: "If the organization and you ask me to do medical work, I would feel very at ease about it. I'll do my best. But what would I do if I were appointed mayor of this city? I've never worked as a mayor before."
Then Uncle Ho quickly, "What about me? I've never been president of a country before. But whether we were president of a country, mayor of a city, or secretary in a village, we are not revolutionary mandarins. We are only servants of the people." This statement moved me quite a lot and caused me to think. Until today, all my activities are guided by this advice from Uncle Ho.
That is to say, a cadre must be a faithful servant of the people. I have just mentioned only my impressions of the first meeting with Uncle Ho. But later on I was one of the few people who had the joy of living very close to Uncle Ho all through the period from the August Revolution to the end of the War of Resistance against the French and then until the day he departed this world to join Karl Marx and Lenin.
But Ho Chi Minh was not just open and kind to me alone. He treated everybody else likewise. At the same time he was a father and a teacher to us, he was a close comrade. He always made people feel at ease and never created any impression of any kind of distance between him and someone else at all.

Independence Day in Hanoi, 1945

Beep tone
Roll 8, Vietnam Project 7860
Could you give us your recollections of Independence Day, September 2, 1945? You were right there. What was it like actually?
Tran Duy Hung:
First of all, it was an extremely beautiful day weather-wise. And on that day Hanoi was so animated that I can say that I've not seen another day like that since. There was a forest of red banners all over the city. Beginning early in the morning, workers, peasants and other segments of the population converged on the Ba Dinh Square. The Square was smaller than it is now. In the middle of the square there was a flower bed.
Several days before the event took place, we built a simple platform above this flower bed. Around this square platform we placed honor guards armed with sticks (there were very few guns) to provide security. On the outer ring we had religious leaders from all the religious organizations: Buddhist monks in brown, Catholic priests in black, and nuns were holding their pennants looking as if they were conducting religious ceremonies in the pagodas.
And the people themselves all dressed in their best clothes. It was a beautiful sight. Hanoi at that time had a total population of only 240,000. But there were more than 300,000 persons at the rally because people came from the provinces and from the outskirts. People filled up the Square as well as the large grassy knoll on which the mausoleum is now located. My responsibility at the time was to take Ho Chi Minh and members of the Provisional Government to the platform by car around 3 p.m.
But by 1 p.m. reports came back to the effect that the crowd was so thick that no car could possibly get through. And that was correct because it took us more than one hour just to move ahead for about two kilometers. The people just swarmed all over us to cheer President Ho and to try to see what he looked like. Most of them had never seen him before. I can say that the most moving moment was when President Ho Chi Minh, the members of the Provisional Government, Chairman of the People's Committee of Northern Vietnam and I ascended the platform and the national anthem was sung.
It was the first time that the national anthem of Vietnam resounded in an official ceremony and it was also the first time that the national emblem, a red banner with yellow star, was raised to the top of the flagpole. Uncle Ho then read the Declaration of Independence, which was a short document. I must say that our loudspeaker system at that time was really very bad. It was composed of only a few loudspeakers. So, as he was reading on, Uncle Ho stopped and asked: "Compatriots, can you hear me?"
This was only a very simple question, but it when into the hearts of everyone there. After a moment of silence, they all yelled out loud: "Yes, we hear you!" Then Uncle Ho continued with the speech. In that Declaration of Independence there was a sentence which particularly struck us: "All men are created equal." This is a sentence from the American Declaration of Independence.
And the speech ended with: "The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength to safeguard their independence and freedom." After everybody had listened to this sentence, we all yelled: "Long live Vietnam! Long live President Ho! Independence or Death!" And I can say that we just simply did not yell out with our mouths but all with our hearts, the hearts of over 400,000 persons standing in the square then.
When President Ho Chi Minh and the rest of us went home, it was another sight. But this time the people orderly made way for us. That night people celebrated in the streets, and in every home there was a party. Passers by in the streets were invited into people's homes in order to drink some tea and eat some candied fruits.
It was approaching mid autumn Moon Festival then, and so people had candied fruits in their homes. In any case, people treated each other as if they were all in the same family. This was because the most exalted goal of their long struggle had been attained. That is to say on this day in which we declared the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam we regained our independence and freedom.
53, Take 1
Can you tell us about the presence of American on that day?
Tran Duy Hung:
That's right. After Uncle Ho finished reading the Declaration of Independence, an airplane a small one circled over us. We did not know whose plane it was. We thought it was a Vietnamese plane. But when it swooped down over us, we recognized the American flag. Even so, the crowd cheered enthusiastically. I think that this was a good thing to have happened. It was a plane belonging to the American delegation in Hanoi. It added to the atmosphere of jubilation at the meeting.

The Battle with the French for Hanoi

54, take 1
Could you tell us of the battle with the French forces who entered Hanoi in 1946?
Tran Duy Hung:
After the treaty of March 6, 1946, signed by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the French government, French forces were allowed to be stationed in Hai Phong and Hanoi. At that time in Hanoi there were many incidents of confrontation between the French troops and the city inhabitants. And by November 1946 the situation became especially tense.
This was because at that time there were elements within the French forces who were extremely war loving and battle hungry. We called them the French "red berets" because they wore red berets. As they walked down the streets, they usually shot rounds after rounds in the attempt to provoke us. The biggest provocative act occurred on Yen Ninh Street, which was on the northern section of Hanoi.
The French troops came in and just showered their bullets on the houses on both sides of the street, killing forty persons. We went up there to meet with them, but nothing could be solved. It was December 6, 1946. The inhabitants of the city were extremely outraged and they asked for revenge. In every section of the city people knocked holes in their walls in order to gain access from house to house. They also put up barricades in the streets.
All this was done in order to be able to fight back in case of further provocations. On December 19, at 8 p.m., the French forces opened fire on us. And so we had to defend ourselves. The first battles in Hanoi were extremely fierce. There were about ten thousand French troops in Hanoi at that time, and armed to the teeth.
They had half track armored cars, tanks, heavy artillery, and, of course, airplanes. On our side we only had very crude weapons. Our self defense units fought very courageously, but they had few weapons. The first, and most bitter, battle occurred around the Hoan Kiem Lake. On the night of the 19th, on the garden of the Bac Bo Phu (lit., "Administrative Building for Northern Vietnam': This used to be the palace of the French Resident Superior of Tonkin) there was a French unit armed with tanks which wanted to take over the Bac Bo Phu at dusk.
Defending the palace was a platoon of self defense forces; and they fought until dawn of the next day. Many sacrificed their lives. During the first several days of the battle, the French forces could not extend the area of their control beyond the places in which their troops had been stationed. Later on, they continued to get pinned down in the center of the city, around the Don Thuy area. And they were never able to advance to the heavily populated areas of the city. How did the battle develop?
At that time we had a kind of revolutionary optimism, but a kind of revolutionary romanticism. We fought with all kinds of weapons. We used old French-made rifles and muskets of the 1914, 1915 vintage and a few Bren guns. We did not have any machine guns at all. We used mostly knives, machetes and swords. Let me tell you of a battle that took place at the intersection of Kham Thien. The French troops at that time were on the other side of the railroad, and we were in the houses in the Kham Thien neighborhood.
There was a huge dirt pile there. We had very few fighting men there, but we made a tremendous ruckus. The French forces were really scared stiff in their positions. It was the night before Christmas, and we went over to the French and told them that we would not fire a single shot that night in order to allow them to celebrate Christmas. They agreed to the ceasefire. This demonstrates our spirit at the time because instead of taking advantage of their being stricken with fear, we allowed them to enjoy their traditional religious holiday.
After Christmas, the two sides opened fire on each other again, but through a huge barricade. This barricade was made with sections of rails buried in the ground. And the inhabitants of the neighborhood took out their cupboards and furniture of all kinds to make a barricade about five meters high. Even the half track armored cars could not run down the barricade. And although we had very few fighting men as I said, we always had ample supplies and reinforcements because we could move through the holes inside the houses as well as behind the houses. The inhabitants of the area gave our fighting men excellent logistical support. The old folks cooked the meals and the women brought them to the fighting men.
SR 2010
Beep tone
Roll 7860...
Turnover, 55 Take 1
Tran Duy Hung:
At that time a French unit was stationed on the other side of the railroad, separated from us by a huge dirt barricade. We made this barricade with sections of rails buried in the ground. We connected and supported these rails with railroad cross ties, and then filled the inside up with dirt. Behind this barricade we piled up beds, dressers, cupboards and tables and chairs.
The barricade was so solid that even half track armored cars would not be able to run it down. The French opened fire on us now and then from their positions as we climbed on top of our barricade to shoot at them. On December 24, 1946, which was Christmas Eve, we knew that according to French tradition they wanted to celebrate the occasion peacefully. So we sent a group of delegates over to the French and proposed a ceasefire for the night.
The French commander and his troops applauded our initiative. Over on our side, instead of gunfire, we set off firecrackers and celebrated Christmas Eve with the French. So you can see how optimistic and how romantic we were. When the actual fighting occurred, we had very few men. But behind us the inhabitants caused a lot of ruckus. They even played music. There was something quite amusing at that time: We had some young men whom we called "gentleman defense units."
They dressed really beautifully. They used the decorative shoulder braids captured from the French these were made of red and yellow cords as belts or as sword straps, mainly for ornamental purposes, you see. And when these guys charged the French, there were people behind them who sang out loud revolutionary songs. That was how we fought. Although the fighting men on the front line were few, the support people were many.
This was because the old people and the women stayed around to provide us logistical support and to feed the soldiers. The daily meals were not prepared by our self defense units but by the old folks and the women. The vegetables in the garden patches were all gathered to feed the fighting men. We fought in the same way throughout the city. And in many places, each apartment was taken and retaken many times.
The most decisive battle was the battle of Dong Xuan marketplace. After that battle, the French managed to advance nearly to the center of the area defended by the Capitol Regiment, which was the main force defending the city. This was an area inhabited by ethnic Chinese. By that time we had defended Hanoi for about two months and had pinned the French down there, making it impossible for the French to leave the city. Therefore we had accomplished our objective.
We had been ordered to defend the city for a week so as to allow the nation to organize the resistance to the French. But we had defended the city for two months. So by that time the decision by our leaders was to allow the Capitol Regiment to withdraw from Hanoi in order to prepare for a long resistance. How did we organize things so as to be able to bring this about? The French forces surrounded the First Corps area.
The only route out was to crawl beneath the Long Bien Bridge. French forces were being stationed on the bridge itself. How was it possible for our forces to get to the riverside, crawl under it in order to reach the outskirt of the city? So we decided to keep a small force inside the city to keep the French pinned down there while getting the rest of our troops to the bridge through a tunnel.
Meanwhile, we just exploded all the firecrackers which we had in Hanoi. The next day, when the French did not hear any more shots and moved in, they discovered that we had already left. So you can say that although we had to withdraw from Hanoi, the French were the big losers at that time. So that was how the battle of Hanoi went, signaling the beginning of a long resistance.

The 1965 and 1972 bombings of Hanoi by the Americans

56, Take 1
The first bombing of Hanoi. Please describe what happened. What was the reaction in the city and also what was your personal reaction?
Tran Duy Hung:
The first time was in February 1965. A reconnaissance airplane fired rockets on the southern outskirts of Hanoi. But the first big bombing was in June 1965. Four airplanes came and bombed our gasoline depot in Duc Giang. By that time we had already been well prepared. Air defense units had been organized for the city and the city population had been trained many times. We had had many drills.
When an alert came then the city population could go both to the bomb shelters and also to individual foxholes. But our combative forces were not limited to air defense and air force units. We had self defense units in all the factories, in all the neighborhoods and all the schools. We had about ten thousand persons armed with rifles. Hence that day was the first big day of trial. The American planes did hit the Duc Giang oil depot. It burnt for two days and one night. But nobody in Hanoi was afraid.
On the contrary, when a unit fired at the planes everyone stood up in their foxholes to see whether any planes were hit. When one plane was actually hit, everybody jumped out of their shelters and cheered. We did go around and talk with people later and found out that nobody was afraid that day. Therefore, we thought that was a very significant trial. This was because, confronted by such formidable air power, the population was nevertheless quite calm and quite orderly. They listened to the instructions and went into the shelters when the alert came and left the shelters when the bombing ended. It was a great day of trial, a kind of victory. An American plane was downed.
57, Take 1
Let us now talk a little bit about the B-52 bombing of 1972 and your personal recollections of this.
Tran Duy Hung:
In December 1972, when the Americans were preparing to bomb us with their B-52s, we were also preparing the entire city for this eventuality. By December 16, 1972, we had evacuated nearly 500,000 persons from the city. To be exact, 480,000 had been evacuated. Preparedness was excellent both in term of fighting and in term of responding to the alert. On the night of December 18, 1972, at 20:15 hours, everybody went to his or her position as soon as the alert was sounded.
In my particular case, I was celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the National Liberation of South Vietnam with some southern comrades. When the alert sirens sounded, I immediately contacted the command unit which told me to go home immediately because the B-52s were coming. As soon as I arrived home, I heard gunfire. But it was not until 15 minutes later that I heard the rumbling noise which we had dubbed "rice miller" noise. I saw rockets and anti aircraft shells descending from the sky.
But I just donned on my helmet and left the shelter to go to the united command headquarters of the city. There I was told that two B-52s had been downed some distance away. So we decided to drive there immediately and that we would not have any announcement made until we could touch the remains of the planes with our own hands. Therefore, it was not until the next day, after we had obtained all the necessary information on the B-52s, that we announced that two B-52s had been shot down.
The first day of the bombing witnessed an extremely effective organization of the population. But December 21st was the fiercest day of the bombing. The B-52s carpet bombed the Bach Mai Hospital area. It was 5 o'clock in the morning then. As soon as I found out that Bach Mai Hospital was hit, I rushed down there at once. There was smoke and rubble everywhere. It was a heart rending scene. Beneath the hospital were bomb shelters in which we had placed our patients.
But there was a whole row of buildings which collapsed on the shelters where there were patients. We had to bring cranes around to lift the concrete slabs. But this was not enough. So me had to bring workers and welders there to cut the slabs in order to rescue the people inside the shelters. There was this really heart breaking scene which I witnessed: A father, who was also a staff member at the hospital, put his arm into a shelter and found his dead child there. But there was no way to get the child out.
When he realized that if the body of the child could not be removed then nobody could crawl in any further into the shelter in order to save those who were still alive. So the father decided that the body of his child had to be cut up into pieces. That was an agonizing decision. But in face of the common tragedy, the father made his sacrifice. This is only one example at Bach Mai Hospital.
Now, as far as the Kham Thien section of the city was concerned, they bombed it on Christmas day. They did not drop any bomb on Christmas Eve, on the night of the 24th. But on the night of the 25th, at 10:15 p.m. they carpet bombed an area of over one square kilometer, a heavily populated area. There were ten thousand inhabitants left in this area. We had evacuated twenty thousand from the same area before the bombing started. And the bombing came just about the time when people were going to bed, so 182 persons were killed and over one hundred wounded.
I went there immediately after the bombing to find out what the situation was like. The next day President Ton Duc Thang also went there to visit with the people. And those people who remained in the city continued with their productive work as well as helped bury the dead and take care of the victims. In another attack on the 26th of December, a B-52 dropped down right in the center of Hanoi. On the 25th all the armed units and the population of the city chanted that they were determined to revenge the deaths of the people on Kham Thien.
The next day, at 8 p.m., a formation of B-52s arrived over Hanoi again. One of them managed to get to the center of the city and was shot down behind the office of the President. Its remains were scattered over an area about eight hundred meters wide. One of its engines dropped into a house and killed two persons, causing the house to burn down in the process. The cockpit dropped into middle to the Ngoc Hep Park. So I can tell you, comrades, that this was a very fierce battle. But in the end the people won.