Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Insurgency, Decolonization, and Foreign Aid in Vietnam
David Bath, University of Mississippi
Martin Clemis, Valley Forge Military College
Participant's Paper Title: Agrowar: Rice and Irregular Warfare in South Vietnam
Participant's Paper Abstract: This article examines the military and political significance of rice during the Second Indochina War. It explores the convergence of irregular warfare, nation-building, and the environment through the prism of allied rice management efforts in South Vietnam. Specifically, it discusses two agricultural policies implemented by the United States and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) to advance pacification efforts in the countryside: crop destruction and the dissemination of IR-8 'miracle' rice. Although the operational goals of these programs were antagonistic?one destroyed rice crop while the other boosted its production?their overall objective was identical. Chemical crop destruction and the use of genetically-modified high-yield rice strains were both meant to win the war and secure the peace in South Vietnam by defeating the communist insurgency, strengthening the rural economy, and building bridges between the villages and the Saigon government. Within the context of an agrarian irregular warfare environment, where both sides of the conflict competed for control of population and resources within a specific geographical region, no other agricultural commodity was as important to the RVN and the PLAF / PAVN as rice. 'Rice means life itself in Vietnam and was used both as a weapon and as a tool for peace,' one American advisor recalled after the war. Overall, the paper is intended to enrich our understanding of the war in Vietnam by examining aspects of pacification that warrant greater attention within the literature, particularly the role of natural resources, agriculture, and the pursuit of peace via scientific and technical means.
Xiaobing Li, University of Central Oklahoma
Participant's Paper Title: Building Ho's Army: Chinese Military Assistance to North Vietnam
Participant's Paper Abstract: Building Ho's Army: Chinese Military Assistance to North Vietnam Xiaobing Li University of Central Oklahoma (Individual Paper Abstract) As a communist state bordering Vietnam, China actively supported Ho Chi Minh's wars against France in 1950-1954 and then America in 1965-1970. Even after the signing of the 1954 Geneva Peace Agreement, China continued its military assistance to North Vietnam. Western strategists and historians have long speculated about Chinese military assistance in the Vietnam War. It was not until recently, however, that newly available archival materials, as well as documents from China, indicate the true extent of Chinese involvement. This paper covers the chronological development and military assistance experience of Chinese military in Vietnam. It explores the history background of Vietnamese and Communist movements, and examines Chinese military advisors and assistance to the Viet Minh during the French-Vietnamese War of 1946-54. Through military training and aid, Beijing continued to provide financial aid, weaponry, equipment, war supplies, and other materials in 1955-64. The main focus is on China's direct intervention in Vietnam in response to Rolling Thunder from 1965 to 1968. It examines the Chinese war preparation, logistics, and intelligence at the next commanding level in Beijing. The paper also discusses the Sino-Soviet rivalry in Vietnam. In retrospect, international communist support to North Vietnam, including troops, training, advisory, logistics, and technology, proved to be the decisive edge that enabled the NVA to survive the American Rolling Thunder bombing campaign, and helped the National Liberation Front (NLF, Communists in South Vietnam, also known as the 'Viet Cong') prevail in the war of attrition and eventually defeat South Vietnam. Chinese support prolonged the war, making it impossible for the United States to win. An international perspective may help students and the public in the West to gain a better understanding of America's longest war.
Kevin Li, Yale University
Participant's Paper Title: Violent Entrepreneurship as Political Practice: Empowering the Binh Xuyen during the Decolonization of Vietnam
Participant's Paper Abstract: My paper is about the rise of violent entrepreneurs who came to reconfigure political power in postcolonial Vietnam. At the end of World War II, colonial-era gangsters in southern Vietnam organized local farmers, laborers, fugitives, and military deserters into a confederation of armed groups to resist French reoccupation, calling itself the Binh Xuyen (BX). It played a key military and political role on both sides of the First Indochina War (1946-54)?first as part of the communist-led Viet Minh insurgency, then as an anti-communist bulwark against it. The group eventually marshalled a private army of three thousand, assumed control of the national police, and took its place among the major political forces of the country. This paper looks at how these 'figures of criminality,' in the span of a decade between 1945 and 1955, achieved both regional power and mainstream political notoriety. A key contention is that the conjuncture of decolonization, civil conflict, and the resulting fragmentation of sovereignty in southern Vietnam paved the way for an erstwhile marginal category of actors to emerge as key powerbrokers.

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