FEATURED BLOG: Dr. Lew Stern "The End of History...."
by Dr. Lewis Stern, Visiting Research Fellow
Quan Su VN, a Vietnamese military history blog, came on line sometime back in 2007. During the first quarter of this year (2010) the Vietnamese began restricting access to the website (www.quansuvn.net) imposing stricter guidelines for blogging conversations on sensitive issues (such as Sino-Vietnamese relations, and giving warnings to some of the more active participants in controversial discussions that had characterized the last two years of dialogue on this blogosphere. The Vietnamese have now controlled access to the entire website and only registered members can enter it. An application is now required from anyone who wishes to participate, and if given access, are then closely vetted by MND monitors responsive to ministerial authority.
In addition to being a blog-like opportunity for veterans to share reminiscences, the Quan Su VN website was an astounding source of authentic published PAVN memoirs, histories, after-action reports. Quan Su VN had also posted intriguing official Vietnamese histories on a range of sensitive issues. The website was a repository for online versions of unit and military region histories, histories of military branches, and memoirs of senior wartime leaders. Quan Su VN was an outgrowth of chat room conversations on Thong Tin Viet Nam Online ("Vietnam News Online, TTVNOL) on "defense education" matters. Some of the chatters on that forum, which goes back to 2004 or earlier, apparently decided to set up their own Military history site, presumably with some manner of official approval. A couple of the main posters on TTVNOL who are moderators or administrators of Quan Su VN have also done a fair amount of "chatting" on English language military history blogs - "Chiangshan" is one of them. Several U.S. bloggers, including a couple of authors, have asked for and gotten information from them about Vietnamese military history subjects. I credit Merle Pribbenow with these observations and many other insights about Vietnamese history writing efforts, as well as with sharing his notes on Quan Su VN blogging dialogue focused on such intriguing topics. Merle, a colleague from the days of the Indochina Operations Group, served as a CIA officer and interpreter in Vietnam for five years during the war, was the translator for Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975 by the Military History Institute of Vietnam, translated University Press of Kansas (http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu). Merle translated the texts of these 7 January blog exchanges.
Not all of the bloggers on Quan Su VN were in Vietnam - at least one was in Poland, one was in Australia, and several others were in unspecified parts of Eastern Europe - possibly one or two in the US as well. A couple of Chinese bloggers came on line but did not linger for long. Vasiliep, the "Global Moderator" of the entire Vietnamese Military History website, referred to by everyone as the "Commander," periodically intervenes to re-focus the discussion, yet he freely offers his personal views, and does not seek to avoid controversial issues and position.
The blog produced some extremely intriguing insights into PAVN history. For example, during the course of the last two years, the blog contained exchanges on:
- The Vietnamese provincial "Specialist Groups" which, during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, were the Vietnamese equivalent of the U.S. Army's PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan. One "specialist group" was assigned to each province in Cambodia and was responsible for conducting pacification, "nation-building," and maintaining local security in each province. The blog discussion revolved around a Vietnamese order of battle listing that one of the veterans found on the internet. The OB listing was reportedly compiled by Thai intelligence on the situation as of March 1981.
- An investigation conducted by the Vietnamese Army's Security Department (Cuc Bao Ve) of officers stationed up near the Chinese border who were "spies" for a "foreign intelligence agency" (clearly the Chinese).
- The Security Department's cooperation with the Cuban, Hungarian, and Soviet military security services. The blog offered a list of Vietnamese Security Department officers who were trained by the Soviet Army's General Security Department.
- A 1995 counter espionage case handled by the Army Security Department with the assistance of security personnel of the Ministry of Interior and with the General Staff's security agency.
- A 1972 Soviet invitation to Vietnam to sign an agreement that would facilitate sending approximately 40-50 Soviet specialists to Vietnam to help us to counter enemy jamming and to conduct electronic jamming to prevent U.S. aircraft from landing on aircraft carriers. QuanSuVN bloggers recalled that in early 1967 the Soviet Union asked that Vietnam allow them to send a cadre group (four personnel led by Lt. Colonel Sharicov) from the Electronic Warfare Research Center to Vietnam to study U.S. Air Force electronic jamming. The group would bring with them electronic reconnaissance and signal analysis equipment to conduct their studies. Quan Su VN contributors also recalled that in 1969, the Soviet Union requested permission to send another delegation to Vietnam that would bring with it a large quantity of electronic reconnaissance and signal analysis equipment and radar reconnaissance equipment covering the centimeter frequency band to collect information on the electronic systems installed on U.S. aircraft.
- Continuous efforts by Vietnam during the 1960s to collect and reassemble 20 U.S. aircraft of eight different types, including F-4s, F-105s, F-8s, AD-4s, drone reconnaissance aircraft, etc. http://www.quansuvn.net/index.php?topic=1229.90. Quan Su VN bloggers noted that Hanoi also collected a large quantity of intact components, equipment, and weapons from U.S. aircraft, along with equipment carried by the pilots. Some of these items were given as gifts to the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Hungary. Bloggers suggest that it is quite possible that the Soviet suggestion to Vietnam about conducting jamming directed against U.S. Navy aircraft was the result of the above-mentioned studies and research. While not astounding revelations, this level of public discussion in detail was significant and unprecedented.
- The "Anti-Party Affair," a major moment in Vietnamese Communist Party history in the late 1960s that represented a crystallization of factions over military strategy in the war against the U.S. Merle Pribbenow, "General Vo Nguyen Giap and the Mysterious Evolution of the Plan for the 1968 Tet Offensive,"Journal of Vietnamese Studies 3:2 (Summer 2008), pp. 1-33. The Vietnamese have published essentially nothing about the Anti-Party Affair in any openly-available publications, and absolutely nothing about the army involvement in it, which is what makes this piece of special interest. One incident mentioned involved a "foreign embassy" and a planned demonstration by "foreign volunteer troops" -- probably the Chinese Embassy and Chinese troops in Vietnam trying to hold "Red Guard" demonstrations to try to fan a "Red Guard" movement in Vietnam at the height of the Maoist Red Guard era in China. The piece speaks about "modern revisionism," and the term "international dogmatism" refers to the radical Maoist form of Chinese communism. The reference to the "Anti-Party" group serving as "the puppet of a foreign country" is reference to the contacts members of the "group" had with the Soviets. Details about the legal action being taken against eight mid-level (major to colonel) and high-level (senior colonel and general officer rank) officers after the affair was wrapped up have never been mentioned before in accounts of this internal party security issue.
The enterprise of writing wartime military history had moved forward as a result of the boost received from this quasi-official blog site powered by PAVN veterans seeking a voice, military historians and publishers seeking relationships with external history-writing institutions, and the publication of recent histories that offer explicit information rather than merely boilerplate and ideology. Though several Vietnamese military historians have participated in the Texas Tech Vietnam War Center annual conferences on Vietnamese war history during the late 1990s and early 2000, in the late 1990s the Vietnamese demurred in responding to DoD invitations to events aimed at making the shared interest in wartime history one of the opening gambits in the normalization of bilateral defense relations. See Stern, Defense Relations Between The United States And Vietnam: The Process Of Normalization, 1977-2003, North Carolina, McFarland, 2005. However, in the last quarter of 2008, a group of Vietnamese military historians and representatives of the Military Publishing House proposed a self-funded visit to the U.S. before the end of the calendar year. They expressed an interest in a visit military publishing houses and historical organizations in the DC area. In particular, they were interested in how the Department of Defense writes and publishes military history books, unit/campaign histories, and leader biographies. They were also interested in how the Department of Defense run museums. The Military Publishing House made inquiries regarding the possibility of an agreement that would facilitate the publication and distribution of their products in the United States, and that would enable U.S. official service histories to be translated and published in Vietnam. In November, the Defense Ministry notified OSD Policy that the visit had been postponed. The visit was eventually took place in September 2009. See Lew Stern, "Making History: Vietnamese Military Historians and the Normalization of U.S.-Vietnamese Defense Relations," INSS “Research Note,” 10 September 2008.
The nature and quality of inquiry and dialogue on Quan Su VN regarding PAVN sensitive military operations, China-Vietnam relations, Hanoi's Paris Peace Talks strategies suggested a level of interest in these memories on the part of PAVN veterans and commissioned officers, a professional interest on the part of the Vietnamese historians, and a new frame of mind about this kind of activity on the part of the MND's policy managers.
It is probably not by accident that the blog was controlled at this point, following the plenary session in April announcing the agenda setting documents for the next national congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
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