China Beat Archive



A. Tom Grunfeld

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April 20, 2009 in the China Beat


Copyright April 20, 2009 A. Tom Grunfeld. Used by permission.


During the wars in Indochina, Americans exhibited little interest in the histories of the nations their country was ravaging. This is not so dissimilar from today, as the United States wages wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without any discernable uptick in the sales of history books which would allow for a greater understanding of current events in a broader historical perspective.

The vast majority of Americans remained ignorant of the history of Vietnamese-American relations; especially of one of the most fascinating and improbable events – the brief period when the Vietnamese nationalist and communist leader Ho Chi Minh worked for the US government.

During the war the US wartime intelligence service, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), was operating in southern China and Southeast Asia out of Kunming in Yunnan province. Their activities in Vietnam consisted of collecting reports from French agents then living under loose Japanese rule. In March 1945 the Japanese took full control of Vietnam and arrested all French citizens, including the OSS contacts, leaving American intelligence blind in that region.

Just about then a group of Vietnamese nationalists emerged out of the jungles escorting a downed U.S. flyer to safety in Kunming. The group was led by Ho Chi Minh who had been agitating, in one way or another, for Vietnamese independence for 25 years. The OSS knew from their counterparts on the French side that Ho, a leader of the nationalist Viet Minh, was a communist but instructions from Washington were to ignore that as he was too valuable at that moment and communists, after all, were wartime allies against the Japanese.