Vietnam and the Philippines
Last Thursday the Socialist Republic of Vietnam marked the 76th anniversary of its National Day. It was on Sept. 2, 1945, just as Allied leaders and Japanese officials were signing the documents of surrender on-board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, that Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam before a crowd of half-a-million gathered at Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. Almost 50 years earlier, on June 12, 1898, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed to the world the establishment of the First Republic in Asia.
There are a number of interesting details about the two events.
During World War II, Japan occupied French Indochina in collaboration with officials loyal to Vichy France. Ho Chi Minh then organized a guerilla organization — the Viet Minh — to fight against Japan. Some of Ho’s forces were trained by members of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency. An OSS team code-named “Deer Mission” parachuted into the jungles of northern Vietnam, supplying them with carbines, submachine guns, mortars, grenades, and other military equipment. In turn, the Viet Minh provided good intelligence on Japanese movements, rescued downed American pilots, and conducted sabotage activities behind enemy lines. This cooperative effort against the common enemy continued until the end of the war.
Just two weeks after the surrender of Japan, Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence in Hanoi. His first lines were the second paragraph of America’s 1776 Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” An OSS officer Maj. Archimedes Patti, provided him with a copy of the American document and helped draft his declaration. As Ho spoke, a flight of US P-38 fighters swooped down over the crowd and their appearance was mistaken for an American salute to the new nation.
Since the Viet Minh had helped in the fight against the Japanese and in light of the earlier anti-colonial rhetoric by Allied leaders, Ho was under the impression that the United States would be supportive of his bid for independence or some form of autonomy. In the end, Roosevelt followed by Truman, decided in favor of the restoration of French rule in Indo-China. France was given the necessary aid in terms of war matériel and equipment to achieve its return. Ho summed up what the Vietnamese had finally been forced to conclude: “We apparently stand quite alone; we shall now have to depend on ourselves.” In May 1954, Viet Minh forces emerged victorious after defeating the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
In the case of the Philippines, at the start of the Spanish American War in 1898, Aguinaldo who was in exile in Hong Kong, returned to the Philippines onboard the USS McCulloch. Pressed by Aguinaldo for a statement about American intentions after the war, US officials would only say that the US was “a great and rich nation” and was not after colonies. The US consul general in Singapore, Spencer Pratt, called on Aguinaldo to ally himself with America and “you will surely defeat the Spaniards.”
On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence from the balcony of his home in Kawit, Cavite. The proclamation contains the following lines: “The colors of blue, red and white commemorate the flag of the United States of North America, as a manifestation of our profound gratitude towards this Great Nation for its disinterested protection which it lends us and continues to lend us.” By August, the Americans after more of their troops had arrived, captured the City of Manila after a sham battle with Spanish forces, locking out the Filipino Revolutionary Army. In February 1899, war broke out between US and Filipino forces. So much for the “disinterested protection” lent by the US.
In both cases, Vietnamese and Filipino freedom fighters thought they had the support of the US. In the end, the US would suffer the loss of 58,000 men in a brutal 10-year war against Vietnam. We would end up a colony of the US for the price of $20 million. Today we are no longer a colony; we are a client nation still clinging to the coattails of Uncle Sam.
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