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Monday, November 24, 2008

A Brief Biography of Ho Chi Minh

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

A Brief Biography of Ho Chi Minh

Like those for most of us, a biography of Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) can begin with his family of origin that, in Central Vietnam, strongly opposed French rule in his native country.

His father refused to learn the French language, lost his job as a teacher in French schools, and became an itinerant servant to Vietnamese peasants, primarily writing letters for them and providing medical services. A sister joined the French army and began a campaign of stealing guns in hopes of arming a revolution against the French. However, she got caught and was sentenced to life in prison.

Key dates in the life of Ho Chi Minh include:

* 1917 In Paris, Reads works of Karl Marx

* 1920 In Paris, Plays key role in origins of French Communist Party

* About 1923 Summoned to Moscow for training

* 1924 Moves to China side of Chinese-Vietnam border, forms revolutionary group of Vietnamese exiles

1930 Founded Indochinese Communist Party

1931-1933, Imprisoned by British in Hong Kong

1941 Formed Vietminh which, with U.S. as ally, fought Japanese in Vietnamese jungles

1945 Declares formation of Democratic Republic of Vietnam for a united Vietnam; but WW II victorious countries award northern half of Vietnam to China, southern half to Great Britain

1946 France negotiates to regain control of Vietnam

1954 Vietminh, after eight years of war, drive French from Vietnam; world leaders in Geneva split Vietnam at 17th parallel, giving north half to Communists under Ho’s rule, south half to anti-communist government

1960 Ho forms National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, aka Vietcong, and launches guerilla warfare tactics

1965 First U.S. combat troops arrive in Vietnam

1969 Death of Ho Chi Minh, heart attack

1975 North Vietnamese conquer South Vietnam, rename Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital, Ho Chi Minh City.

Educated in French schools in Vietnam, Ho sailed to France and, in 1919, tried to approach U.S. President Woodrow Wilson carrying written list of abuses he claimed the French had committed against Vietnam. Unable to make that contact, he became a member, if not a founder of the French Communist Party.

After his training in Moscow, Ho reportedly became a covert agent often disguised as a Chinese journalist or Buddhist monk. During those years before his return to Vietnam in 1941, Ho is said to have used many aliases, been reported dead many times, and, throughout it all, fought an ongoing battle with tuberculosis.

Ho was so popular in Vietnam that U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower wrote in the 1950s that Communist Ho Chi Minh possibly would collect 80 percent of the vote were an all-Vietnam popular vote held.

Pulitzer Prize winner Stanley Karnow once wrote of the Vietnamese leader’s character, “There was no flexibility in Ho’s beliefs, no bending in his will.”

Any biography of Ho Chi Minh, whether short or long, likely will lack answers to many questions, for the man was both complex and, because of his chosen vocation, secretive.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Vietnam War and America

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

The Vietnam War and America

It’s easy for those in the United States to look at the Vietnam War and America as one all-inclusive package. However, the war itself began years before the U.S. first sent combat troops there in 1965, and lasted after the last U.S. troops were sent home in 1972.

During the course of the conflict between Communist-backed North Vietnam and a long series of pro-allied South American governments, the U.S. sent about 2.6 million people to serve in and around Vietnam, about 500,000 of them as combat soldiers, and more than 58,000 U.S. men and women lost their lives there.

The U.S. dumped more than four times the bomb tonnage it did in World War II--about eight million tons--in an undeclared war that, as such, had no official start date. Hence, the Vietnam War was a war of undetermined length.

Key dates and events:

* 1941 Exiled Communist activist Ho Chi Minh returns after 30 years and allies with U.S. to fight Japanese

* 1945 Allies divide Vietnam along 16th Parallel; famine in Hanoi kills two million people, opening doors to Minh’s quest for power

* May 7, 1954 After 56-day siege, French surrender at Dien Bien Phu Air Base; their rule in Vietnam ends

* Jan. 1955 First direct shipment of U.S. military aid arrives in South Vietnam

* July 1955 Minh negotiates agreement to receive Soviet military aid

* March 1959 Minh declares People’s War to unite Vietnam under his leadership

* May 1961 U.S. sends 400 Green Berets to train South Vietnamese soldiers

* Nov. 22, 1963 U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated

* Aug. 4, 1964 U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson orders first U.S. bombing of North Vietnam

* March 8, 1965 First U.S. combat troops (3,500 Marines) arrive in Vietnam, joining 23,000 U.S. military advisors

* Jan. 31, 1968 Viet Cong, North Vietnamese Army launch Tet Offensive against about 100 South Vietnamese villages

* Mar. 16, 1968 More than 300 Vietnamese civilians massacred by U.S. Army soldiers at My Lai

* April 30, 1969 Peak U.S. troop levels in Vietnam, 543,000

* Sept. 2, 1969 Minh dies of heart attack, age 79

* Nov. 15, 1969 Largest anti-war rally in U.S. history, 250,000 in Washington D.C.

* May 4, 1970 U.S. National Guardsmen shoot and kill four demonstrating students at Kent State University, Ohio

* Aug. 23, 1972 Last U.S. combat troops leave Vietnam

* June 19, 1973 U.S. Congress passes Chase-Church amendment forbidding further military involvement in SE Asia

* April 30, 1975 Viet Cong flag flies over Saigon, South Vietnam; war officially ends

The Vietnam War and America never will encompass the entirety of a war the U.S. wasn’t destined to win, yet when the U.S. withdrew troops, then its funding to South Vietnam, it took the Viet Cong less than two years to achieve what Ho Chi Minh had set out to accomplish 16 years earlier.

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The 1947 Marshall Plan

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

The 1947 Marshall Plan

Thanks in large part to U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who birthed the idea, the 1947 Marshall Plan offered about $13 billion in aid to 17 European countries physically, economically, and politically devastated during World War II.

Those countries receiving reparation aid from 1948 until 1952 were:

* Austria
* Belgium
* Denmark
* France
* Germany
* Great Britain
* Greece
* Iceland
* Ireland
* Italy
* Luxembourg
* the Netherlands
* Norway
* Portugal
* Sweden
* Switzerland
* Turkey

George C. Marshall’s plan, first introduced in a June 5, 1947, commencement address at Harvard University, suggested that the European nations themselves establish a plan for reconstruction, with the U.S. offering assistance.

Key dates for the Marshall Plan include:

* July 12, 1947, commencement of a two-month, 17-country European conference in Paris to draft a reparation plan

* April 2, 1948, U.S. Congress, with some revisions to the European plan, passes act authorizing the Marshall Plan

* April 3, 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signs the legislation into law

* December 31, 1951, due to escalation of the Korean War, the planned four-year Marshall Plan concludes six months early

The problems facing European countries immediately following World War II were widespread and shared:

* capital equipment, if not obsolete, was in need of wholesale repair

* depleted gold and dollar reserves made it difficult, if not impossible, to import essential items

* food shortages and inflation demoralized work forces

* coal, steel, and other basic resources were in short supply

* the European winter of 1946-1947 was said to be the most severe in 100 years

The American aid shared through the Marshall Plan to the 17 European nations was given in dollar grants, grants-in-kind, and loans. The two countries receiving the largest percentage of funds distributed through the Marshall Plan were Great Britain (23 percent) and France (20 percent.)

Ways in which Marshall Plan funds were spent included:

* the purchase and shipment of surplus American agriculture products, most notably wheat

* the purchase and shipment of capital goods

* financing a program that sent European businessmen to the U.S. to study American production techniques

* distributing information and holding counseling sessions for owners of small businesses

* conducting economic surveys of infrastructure needs in different countries and implementing some of those findings

The success of the Marshall plan can be charted mathematically:

* Western Europe’s aggregate gross national product increased 32 percent

* Western Europe’s aggregate agricultural production jumped 11 percent above prewar levels

* Western Europe’s industrial output exceeded 1938 figures by 40 percent

Sir Winston Churchill, a man of much wisdom, described the Marshall Plan as “the most unsordid act in history.”

Possibly the most important lesson learned from the 1947 Marshall Plan is how economic weapons can help solve diplomatic problems, even develop newer and stronger allies in the process.

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