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The OSS and Ho Chi Minh: Unexpected Allies in the War Against Japan (Modern War Studies) [Hardcover]

Dixee Bartholomew-Feis


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Book Description

15 July 2006 Modern War Studies
Some will be shocked to find out that the United States and Ho Chi Minh, our nemesis for much of the Vietnam War, were once allies. Indeed, during the last year of World War II, American spies in Indochina found themselves working closely with Ho Chi Minh and other anti-colonial factions - compelled by circumstances to fight together against the Japanese. Dixee Bartholomew-Feis reveals how this relationship emerged and operated and how it impacted Vietnam's struggle for independence. The men of General William Donovan's newly-formed Office of Strategic Services closely collaborated with communist groups in both Europe and Asia against the Axis enemies. In Vietnam, this meant that OSS officers worked with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, whose ultimate aim was to rid the region of all imperialist powers, not just the Japanese. Ho, for his part, did whatever he could to encourage the OSS's negative view of the French, who were desperate to regain their colony. Revealing details not previously known about their covert operations, Bartholomew-Feis chronicles the exploits of these allies as they developed their network of informants, sabotaged the Japanese occupation's infrastructure, conducted guerrilla operations, and searched for downed American fliers and Allied POWs. Although the OSS did not bring Ho Chi Minh to power, Bartholomew-Feis shows that its apparent support for the Viet Minh played a significant symbolic role in helping them fill the power vacuum left in the wake of Japan's surrender. Her study also hints that, had America continued to champion the anti-colonials and their quest for independence, rather than caving in to the French, we might have been spared our long and very lethal war in Vietnam. Based partly on interviews with surviving OSS agents who served in Vietnam, Bartholomew-Feis's engaging narrative and compelling insights speak to the yearnings of an oppressed people - and remind us that history does indeed make strange bedfellows.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas (15 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700614311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700614318
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 17.3 x 23 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,994,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Specialists as well as general readers interested in intelligence in the Second World War, modern Vietnamese history, and the roots of U.S. involvement in thirty years of subsequent conflict in Indochina will find this book of particular interest.... Highly recommended."

About the Author

Dixee Bartholomew-Feis is an associate professor of history and Director of International Education at Buena Vista University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Minh for all Seasons 17 July 2006
By M. Pitcavage - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The OSS and Ho Chi Minh, by Dixee Bartholomew-Feis, was an unexpected pleasure. Books written on the OSS or the British equivalent in World War II, SOE, so frequently fall headfirst into a muddy miasma of internal politics, blame and counter-blame, and a fixation on minutiae that they often obscure more than they illuminate. Thankfully, Bartholomew-Feis gives a well-written and lucid account of the OSS in Viet Nam on the cusp between war and peace in 1945. She steps neither into the "Ho was a nationalist and if only they had listened to the OSS then the Vietnam war never would have happened" camp nor into the "Those naive fools helped Ho get to power and brought communism to Southeast Asia" camp, for which every reader should be grateful.

At first, her book gives one pause. She starts off with dual mini-biographies of Ho Chi Minh and F.D.R. and one wonders where on earth she will go with those. However, once she actually gets from contextual background to Vietnam itself, and begins to display the depth of her research and understanding, the book is on much firmer footing. The OSS encountered the Viet Minh in an intelligence-gathering context, so she focuses first on the intelligence networks in Vietnam and how the Allies used them (introducing the reader to a fascinating "free-lance" intelligence network that gave intel to the British, US and Chinese), then shows how the OSS gradually was introduced into this intelligence context. In the process, she illuminates the tensions between the French in Vietnam and the Vietnamese Communists, between north and south Vietnam, and between the Japanese occupiers and both the French and Vietnamese.

Bartholomew-Feis does a good job describing the various OSS missions into Vietnam at the end of the war and the personalities behind them. What is perhaps most striking is how few, how young, and how junior most of these American personnel were, yet the great responsibilities they had in representing their country in matters relating from intelligence to strategy to policy and diplomacy. Almost as fascinating is how, virtually without exception, all of the Americans (conservative and liberal alike) were impressed with Ho Chi Minh, who must positively have oozed charisma. It is quite interesting to compare the personal relationships between the American OSS representatives and Ho and his close collaborators on one hand with the much more bitter, taxing, and dysfunction relations between the British and Tito (see Dedjier's diaries on his views of the British, for example) or the British and the Albanian communists or the British and the Greek communists. Perhaps the only real comparison is with Mao Zedong who managed to win over a bevy of Westerners from left-wing reporters like Edgar Snow and Agnes Smedley to Marine officers like Evans Carlson. In any case, it is quite interesting to see how genuinely friendly the Vietnamese were towards the Americans, more so than almost all of the other communist movements with which the OSS worked.

Bartholomew-Feis does write, rather often, of how the Vietnamese "manipulated" the Americans, yet some of the incidents of which she writes sound not so much as a deliberate underhanded manipulation so much as they seem a genuine (if perhaps temporary) convergence of interests. She is on firmer footing when she describes how the Vietminh used their rather tenuous official contacts with the United States as a way to gain status and legitimacy. The Vietminh were quite clever in that regard.

Overall, Bartholomew-Feis does an excellent job in covering a difficult and--given the fact that any book on this is heavily burdened with foreshadowing to begin with--sensitive subject. It would have been nice to have seen more use of Vietnamese sources but overall the book is well-researched and Bartholomew-Feis demonstrates a considerable grasp of her subject.

I have read scores of books on the OSS and SOE dealing with various resistance movements in World War II and I think this is definitely one of the better ones. Scholars and general readers interested in intelligence gathering during World War II, the origins of the Indochina War, Vietnamese nationalism, and the end of the Second World War will all be interested in this well-written study. I recommend it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be among first book's read 21 Sep 2008
By S. M Darragh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There is very little to add to M. Pitcavage's review above other than to recommend that this should be among the very first books read by anyone interested in Vietnam. While Professor Bartholomew-Feis' initial chapters appear to treat Ho Chi Minh as a "nationalist", she presents enough evidence from those who met him that they may judge for themselves. Particularly valuable are the evaluations from Chinese, American, and French sources noting Ho's exceptional charisma, and his unfailing ability to detect what his listeners wanted to hear, and tell them exactly that. And while she does appear to buy into the "French colonialism as unspeakable suffering" school of thought, I would have liked to see at least some statistics to paint a more accurate picture of what it was the French did or failed to do in developing Indochina up until 1940. Likewise, she repeatedly refers to "100 years of colonialism", when in fact it dated from 1864 in Cochinchina, 1884 in Annam (as a protectorate) and from 1884 (protectorate) 1886 (protectorate in highlands, colony in Red River Delta)in Tonkin.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and bittersweet footnote 4 Dec 2010
By pinecone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is an excellent examination of an interesting and bittersweet footnote in Vietnamese and American history. I recommend this book to students and to anyone with a strong interest in American-Vietnamese relations and HCM.

In the epilogue, Bartholomew-Feis observes:

"The Americans on the ground found their words and actions taken very seriously by the Vietnamese and the French, both of whom saw U.S. support as a powerful element in determining the future of Indochina. But it must also be remembered that the Vietnamese, in particular Ho Chi Minh, were also important actors in this relationship. Many have written that Ho had an affinity for America and Americans because he always asked questions and had comments and was ready to engage in pleasant dialogue. Although this may be true, a more objective view is that he was simply a politically astute and polite host and had the social graces, especially on a one-on-one level, to make a visitor feel important. He could speak of French history and society, of his travels to the United States and of American history, and one would suspect the same, when the occasion presented itself, of Thailand, China or the Soviet Union. He knew how to use the rhetoric, even when sincere, that would appeal to the visitor of the moment. Vis-a-vis his relationship with the men on the ground, his conduct was both sincere and expedient --- based on the hope that they might send back favorable reports that might help garner him U.S. recognition.

Part of this wish came true. The men did, overall, send back positive reports. But the rest was a false hope that imbued both his own country and the Americans there with considerably more power than either of them had at the time. In fact, if not for the U.S. war in Vietnam, after the dust of 1945-46 had settled, few would have looked back on the exchanges between the Americans and Viet Minh or questioned American motives and activities at all. The reports the Americans on the ground had filed would have quietly settled into the dust, completely devoid of the controversy and heartache that marks most things touching on the U.S relationship with Vietnam."

Another footnote of interest is the "Full Transcript of the 1997 OSS/Viet Minh Meeting." According to Bartholomew-Feis, the "meeting, sponsored by the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, was a forum to enable the veterans from both sides to renew old friendships and share their common experiences from World War II. The transcript of that conference provides an excellent source to compare and contrast the veterans' reminiscences of a time when they were young men on the ground in Vietnam."
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important, Often Overlooked Time in US Foreign and Defense Policy 8 Feb 2010
By Rob Bittick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a very well written and researched book about a short time at the end of WWII when Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh were allies with the US against the Imperial Japanese. The author explores the relationships between OSS personnel and the Viet Minh very well. I recommend this book to those who have an interest in US Foreign and Defense Policy during World War II concerning French Indochina (especially intelligence), what lead up to the later French (1950s) and US (1960s and 1970s) conflicts in Viet Nam, and in the history of Viet Nam in general.

This book raised several questions in my mind:
Was Ho Chi Minh:
- using the US to achieve his political goals?
- naive about the incompatibility of communism with US civil society?
- sincere about his admiration of the United States?
I came away from this book with the conclusion that the answer to all three is, yes. However, the author makes it clear that Ho Chi Minh was a true communist, and that independence from foreign rule was his supreme goal in whatever he did.

Also, reading about the US OSS training the Viet Minh reminded me of the US CIA later training the mujahideen in the USSR-Afghan war. In both cases, the US ended up fighting their former allies in a different time and different political context.

I also found it interesting that some Japanese soldiers may have deserted and help train the Viet Minh after Japan surrendered.

There are other interested facts about this time that makes reading this book worthwhile.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Primer to Vietnam Conflict history of the 20th Century 21 Nov 2011
By Geoffrey P. I. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Anyone interested in learning more about the back story to the Vietnam conflict should get a copy of this book.
I bought my copy 4 years ago recovering from injuries in the Army. I enjoyed reading the various back stories
this is a complex book and I dont want to give away too much detail. I have to say I was followed by Mad Hippis
in a very very left wing part of the pacific north west who followed me to my car. If they read the book maybe
they wouldnt be following me. Some veterans who think they may want to read it should and post their review
on here at Amazon.com. All poliitics aside this was a facinating read.
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