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James Bradley: This is JB East known as James Bradley in New Zealand, covering the eastern half of the world. It’s a big job and the guy that we have online here today is JB West known as Jeff J Brown. He’s working hard. He’s got to cover the entire West part of the world for this audience. The other day Jeff, and I were talking about two guys who changed the 20th century. Two guys who beat back major powers including the United States.
Their names are Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. Jeff, as everyone knows, has written three books about China and been into every corner of China. I’ve written a book on China and been around much of China, but I lived in Vietnam also for seven years. So, Jeff and I thought rather than just have this simple conversation between ourselves about how Mao and Ho won, we’d like to present to you right now our thoughts, our summaries of how did they do it. Mao and Ho how did they win? Jeff. J Brown. Welcome.
Jeff J. Brown: Thank you. James, first off, Mao Zedong was he was a born teacher. In fact, I saw his school Changsha, Hunan, where he studied and I actually saw the school desk where he sat and he later taught at the same school. So, he was a great teacher.
One of his other powerful attributes was he was visionary. He had a concrete, positive, viable dream for his people. And that was communism and socialism, with all the foreign parasites kicked out of the country. His mantra was and still is still to this day, with his silhouette everywhere, SERVE THE PEOPLE, which goes back to Chinese leadership for thousands of years.
Another amazing quality of Mao is he was charismatic. It’s not necessary to be a successful leader, being charismatic, and a case in point is Xi Jinping, I mean, he is not charismatic, but he’s a great leader and because he’s all for the people’s business all the time.
But, if you have the ability to draw people to your vision, it is a huge asset and you can think of people like Charles de Gaulle, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and others. So, Mao was also an incredibly good communicator and a master of propaganda. Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Mao’s plain-speaking metaphors, anecdotal stories just mesmerized the people and gave them hope for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, Mao brilliantly used media, theater, music, poetry. He was a great, still considered one of the best modern poets in China, and he also use art to inspire the people and give them hope. And I saw the school where Mao worked early on in his life helping publish newspapers and magazines. He learned media and propaganda young.
Next is accountability. It’s a very Confucist idea that with power and leadership comes responsibility wisdom and benevolence. In spite of everything that the West tries to do to, to destroy Mao’s image and demonize him and turn him into a monster, he was actually incredibly fair and reasonable. Any punishment must meet the crime. So, for example, if a PLA Soldier raped a woman, well he got a bullet in the back of the head. But, 98% of the time punishment was mostly self-criticism, public admission and study.
That meant saying, “I have screwed up” in front of your peers and then getting more and more education. So, second chances under Mao were the norm, not the exception and this also comes from the Confucist idea of being very patient very indulgent and forgiving, as long as you admit what you did was wrong and try to make it better in the future.
Like any good leader Mao is an extremely good judge of people. And because he was able to judge the strong points and the weak points of people, he was able to get the best, brightest, most honest, committed people to work for the cause, and to reject those who could not make it happen.
And it is probably no surprise, he was a tremendous organizer of people’s plans and projects and this was especially true in the military arena even though he was self-taught. Mao was a master military strategist. Chiang Kai-shek, you know, the KMT, the fascist Chinese army, the party that the communists were fighting, Mao would sit there and say, okay, the KMT armies are here, the Japanese armies were there and the PLA, the People’s Liberation Army, our armies here.
Okay, what to do? And Mao was able to make use of that tremendous vision he had, the big picture and he found the right answers, incorporating the psychology of each side, which is so important during wartime. As well, he was really able to understand in each area where they were, the psychology of the masses of the citizens, who were living and surviving through it all.
These guys are very famous in China. Although nobody in the West has probably ever heard of them, but Mao’s war council was the famous Ten Marshals and Ten Generals. I traveled all over China and in small villages and small towns all over China, you can still see pictures of Mao Zedong, you can still see pictures of Zhou Enlai, you can still see pictures of the Ten Marshalls and the Ten Generals.
And these Ten Marshals and Ten Generals were the equal to, and they maybe were even better than Montgomery, Bradley, Marshall, Patton, MacArthur, Rommel, etc. since they didn’t have any air force. They didn’t have any navy and they didn’t have heavy weaponry and they were fighting with only World War I- and World War II-vintage small arms and they still won. And the top guy is, his name was Marshall Zhu De. And he was Mao’s, you know, sort of “Eisenhower”.
Zhu De was one of the greatest tactical leaders of the 20th century and together with Mao’s strategic vision, they were absolutely unbeatable. A case in point is Zhu De drove MacArthur and the US Military all the way from the Yalu River on the Chinese border down to a small corner in Korea. He kicked MacArthur in the US Army’s butts, the only reason they couldn’t keep it up is because they had supply line problems. And Mao decided it was just not worth all the loss of life to finally drive the Americans off the Korean Peninsula.
Mao and his twenty military leaders, I want you to think about this: beat the entire Japanese Imperial Army, which was usually ten times larger; then after the Japanese were defeated in 1945, they beat Chiang Kai-Shek’s KMT, again ten times bigger, along with hundreds of thousands of stay-behind Japanese troops. Then what? This is a dark secret that most people don’t know. But, after the Japanese left, the United States sent in 100,000 red, white and blue US Marines, boots on the ground in China to try to defeat Mao and the Red Army, who had the full force of the US Air Force, and the Navy, using just like Ukraine today, using billions of dollars in weapons. But, they all lost to Mao, the Ten Marshalls, the Ten Generals, because they had the full backing of the Chinese people who wanted them out, and to be liberated with communism and socialism.
Finally, I would like to point this out, Mao knew he could not do all of the above without the women folk, whom he famously said, “Women hold up half the sky”, which is one of his famous quotes. He empowered them to full equality with men. Millions of women fought and died shoulder-to-shoulder with their comrade brothers.
And they were the ones who helped lead and create organizing the liberated areas for agriculture, education, medical care, and manufacturing handicrafts that were useful to all the people.
Finally, the reason Mao won was because, it is extremely difficult for most westerners, who are in denial. But the reason Mao won was and still is communism-socialism. Communism and socialism resonated with the Chinese people as I said in my “China Trilogy” books, China has been communist-socialist, their society and economy have been organized for thousands of years with communism socialism, thus beat all of the people I mentioned above, and it still is beating the competition today’s world. So, that is a very succinct description of why Mao and his people won against all those foreigners. Thank you. Thank you, James.
James: Well, I’ll take over with Ho Chi Minh. Folks, I’d say that if you’re reading in English, if you’re an American, it’s very difficult to figure out why Ho Chi Minh won. I’ll tell you a story. My journalist friend Norman Solomon went to the Washington Post headquarters in the 1990s and he said, “Hey that Tonkin Gulf incident never happened and you reported it as a fact and newspapers often run corrections; did you ever run a correction that you were wrong about the Tonkin Gulf situation?”
And this editor said, “Why? I don’t know talk, to Joe”. And then he talked to Joe, and I don’t know, talked to Harry. Finally, he found an old editor who had been there in the sixties and the editor looked at Norman and said, “Norman, if we made that correction on the Tonkin Gulf situation, we have to correct eleven years of reporting.” In other words, all the reporting about the Vietnam War was bologna and then if you like some more bologna, watch the Ken Burns documentary.
I think it’s twelve Parts on the Vietnam War. What Ken Burns did, is he took all the incorrect bologna that the American newspapers and magazines had reported and then regurgitated it and mixed it and you can get an idea. I was lucky enough to go to Vietnam for seven years and I went out and I asked the people who actually fought. So, here’s my short rendition of how Ho Chi Minh beat the French and the United States, two huge empires.
Number one was, know your enemy. Sun Tzu’s famous dictum number one, know your enemy and everyone shakes their head. Oh yeah, yeah, you know, I’m out in the field. I better think about my enemy. No, no, no, no, this is Ho Chi Minh. Not think about your enemy, know your enemy. Ho Chi Minh got on a ship as a young boy, took off to study the enemy. He didn’t return for thirty-one years. Folks, thirty-one years of studying the enemy. See, Mao Zedong has a huge population and he never left China.
And it was good enough to know the Chinese people. Ho Chi Minh was from a small country and he understood that he had to know the Big Powers. He had to know the forces impinging on Vietnam. So, he’s been thirty-one years. He went to Boston, he went to New York, he went to London, Paris, Moscow, Hong Kong. He was all over the place for thirty-one years ,with one idea in his burning mind.
And that was how to make Vietnam free, how to know the enemy. So, people look at the protests that happened in the 1960s in America, the anti-Vietnam war protests and they think about those grew up in America. But how come it was in Ho Chi Minh’s brain in the 1930s? Ho Chi Minh was teaching his followers that a key was, if we fight the foreigner, the foreigner will be seen as a pressing the Vietnamese and protests will grow up around the world. Ho Chi Minh foresaw the protests that America had against the Pentagon in Central Park and it was in his head 20-30 years before they happened.
The second reason why Ho Chi Minh won is because he was a fantastic teacher and leader. In the 1930s, Ho was secretly in Hong Kong and Vietnamese would secretly get to Hong Kong. And they would learn from him. He was teaching them, how they would take Vietnam back. And his pupils later stuck by his side. He chose Pham Van Dong to run the economy.
Pham Van Dong was a young student of Ho Chi Minh in Hong Kong in the 1930s. ??? Dong died in the 1930s, while running the economy of Vietnam. Generals Giap is famous as the number one winningest general of the twentieth century. Ho Chi Minh chose General Giap in the 1930s. He chose these two guys Pham Van Dong and General Giap in the 1930s, they stuck with him all the way through and they beat the French and the Americans. Great teacher, Great leader.
The third reason is Mind Over Matter. This is an Asian idea. And this is probably one of the number one reasons, but it was very difficult for me to understand this and might be difficult for a Western audience to really appreciate. But in 1945, a little wiry guy named Ho Chi Minh stood up in Hanoi and he declared that the Vietnamese people were free because we think we are free. We are free because we think we are free. That idea, while the French came in and fought a long war, then the Americans came in and ran a long war.
So, in Western readings, it looks like Ho Chi Minh declared independence in 1945, but they didn’t achieve it until 1975. No. In talking to the Vietnamese, they achieved Independence in 1945, they were like in the Daoist-Buddhist mindset. You know, you’ll become what you think about and it was in 1945, when Ho Chi Minh stood up and said we are free because we think we are free. That beat the French and the Americans.
Another point is that there was only one Vietnam, there was no South Vietnam and North Vietnam. I interviewed an 85 old year-old Vietnamese guy who fought for fifteen years on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He said, “Mr. Bradley, you Americans had such great imaginations. The New York Times draws a line across Vietnam and says there’s two countries, North Vietnam and South Vietnam”. He says, “I’m a young guy and I’m thinking I got to get a visa to go across the line to go visit my uncle. He said, “You never convinced us there was a South Vietnam, that was a joke. Every Vietnamese knows, there is only one Vietnam”.
And if you read the speeches of Ho Chi Minh and Pham Van Dong, they always begin, with, “There’s only one Vietnam”. The Vietnamese never conceived of a South Vietnam and North Vietnam. You know, President Diem. President Diem was the first dictator that America installed in this Potemkin state called South Vietnam. And they taught him and they schooled him. They showed him films of political rallies.
They said, look, here’s President Eisenhower in a rally and he’s speaking and waving and giving a pep talk and you know, that’s democracy. So, President Diem thought, okay, I’ll be Democratic. So, he booked the stadium and he went in a motorcade and he stood up on stage and all his leaders were behind him, and he gave a great speech about how South Vietnam is a wonderful democracy. There was only one problem.
The stadium was empty. He didn’t understand the first thing about democracy. There was not a South Vietnam and a North Vietnam, there was only one Vietnam. There will always only be one Vietnam. There always will be only one Vietnam.
Another reason why Ho prevailed was Vietnamese history. You know, if you think of beer in Germany, do the Germans know how to make beer? And I’m from Wisconsin. If you needed some cheese, would a Wisconsinite be able to make some cheese? You know, how about rice? How about do you think the Japanese know anything about rice? The whole history of Vietnam, if you grow up in Vietnam, your history is all about repelling the invader. I mean, America came in so powerful, that was nothing to the Vietnamese. They had a history of two thousand years, folks.
Wake up, two thousand years of fighting the Chinese. If you’re Vietnamese and you learn about your history, that’s all you learn about, is how you repelled the invaders. I interviewed a guy who lived on a river and US Navy boats were going up and down his river and he thought, what can I do about these navy boats? And he told me, I thought back to the famous River Battle of 1281. What? This is the 1960s and an uneducated little Vietnamese boy is thinking about a River Battle from the year 1281.
And in 1281, they put thousands of bamboo stakes in the river and at high tide, Chinese ships came in, the tide went out and the ships were stuck. So, this little boy, organized the villagers and they put thousands of a bamboo stakes in the river. The American Navy came and got pronged on these bamboo sticks when the tide went out, and they shot everyone in the ships. He knew his history.
You know, when the first time the Americans bombed North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh got on the radio and he assigned different strokes for different folks and this is key. The next point is everybody fights people’s war, modeled on Mao and Vietnamese history. The saying is if the foreigner puts one foot on our land, everyone stands up, even the women. So, Ho Chi Minh got on the radio after America bombed. And he said, you know, all the grandparents, you don’t have great mobility, you’re going to make punji sticks in mines, and you kids, all you young girls, you’re going to go meet at this garage over here in Hanoi, and we’re going to truck you down to the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
So, I interviewed women who was 13 years old at that time, just imagine being thirteen years old, you’re sitting in school, Ho Chi Minh’s voice comes over and she said, at that moment, I knew I had died. I knew I gave my life for the country, and I would do whatever Uncle Ho said. And she went to this meeting point. She got on a truck and she spent eight years on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Interviewed a guy who was a buffalo boy. So, the Americans would walk by this stupid buffalo boy, the buffalo boy would be sitting on a buffalo, picking his teeth while he was memorizing every single thing that the Marines had on them, what time they came, which way they went and he was reporting to his local elders who would later fight the Marines. I met a woman, Mrs. Min, a dignified 65-year-old woman, looked like a high school principal. I went into her house.
I got my computer ready for the interview and I looked at her eyes and they were glistening and she said, “Mr. Bradley,” she said, “when I was 13 years old, the Americans walked into the family yard and shot my father through the head and I saw that.” She said, “Since then, I promised myself I would kill every American I ever met.” And then she was silent. And I said, well, how’d you do? And she said, “Very well, I killed five of you, you were noisy and easy to hit.”
So, she’d sit in the tree and the noisy Americans would come along all bunched in groups and she pick off one and then disappear and they never found her. She said, “Mr. Bradley, do you think I was happy killing these people”? She said, “I wasn’t, but you came to our front porch, you knocked on our door and burst in. We have to defend our homes and I defended the Vietnamese home.
Another reason they won is Ho Chi Minh said, “Cede the day”. Ho Chi Minh said don’t fight during the day.
The Americans have, you know, they rule the skies and they have superior arms. He said to fight at night and I met a fighter up on Route 9, the artery that the Marines used to go across Vietnam, way up north near Khe Sanh. And, you know, if you look at the films, when I was a little kid, I remember watching Walter Cronkite and you’d see the marines out on Route 9 during the day, big tractors and jeeps, and the Marines controlled Route 9, what I didn’t realize is, Mr. Khi told me, he said, the Marines every day at 4 p.m. they would retreat.
And they would put up barbed wire and they retreated into their hardened nighttime camps, and that’s when we would attack. He said, we ruled Route 9 every night. He said, we weren’t foolish to fight during the day, that’s when we slept in and did our business. He said, we fought at night, it’s easy to be successful at night. So, folks, if you want to watch a real film of the Vietnam War, you got to put on night goggles and see when actually happened, not this Ken Burns garbage.
Another reason that Vietnam won was the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This was their major supply artery that ran down between Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos, a horrible place with snakes and tigers and insects that are still to be named. And the first people that went down there, went down with some shovels and slept in the mud. Eventually, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was a five-lane highway and they were running gasoline from Hanoi down to the outskirts of Saigon down south and think of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it’s the most bombed spot in the entire world.
So, in other words for us to get a plane over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, we had to train a pilot probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, right? Train that pilot. How do we get that plane to Vietnam? We had to ship that plane to Vietnam. We had to put it together in Vietnam. Those bombs cost a fortune, so cost millions and millions of dollars to drop a bomb on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Well, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was all covered by leaves and tropical forest.
So, they couldn’t tell exactly where the bomb was going. Well, the bomb might hit, you know, one of the highways and leave a big hole. Well, guess what? When the bomb landed there was a battalion of little girls with shovels, who knew what to do and they replaced the dirt as the traffic was diverted to the second highway or the third highway or the fourth highway.
It didn’t matter how many times they bombed, because they had different arteries to divert to and they had battalions of little girls with shovels to replace the dirt. Millions of dollars to bomb, small pennies to fix the damage. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the reason that McNamara, Secretary of Defense McNamara gave up. He saw that no matter what we do, the Vietnamese can bring in more supplies than we can keep them from having.
Another reason Vietnam won is that the enemy was so visible. I went to Da Nang. My brother was a Marine who fought in Vietnam. The Marine’s base was at Da Nang and Da Nang was this huge miles-long base, huge American power, airplanes bringing in Marines, completely surrounded by fencing and barbed wire. Wow, real American power. And then a guy took me up to the Marble Mountains, right near the Da Nang air base. And she said, this was a hospital for wounded Vietnamese Viet Cong. We took our hospital wounded and we propped them up in wheelchairs.
And we gave them binoculars and they wrote down everything happening on the base. It’s unbelievable. But when my brother got out of his plane onto the Da Nang base, there was somebody probably writing down, you know, exactly who he was and what time he landed and what equipment he had on. And then the Da Nang Air Base was run with Vietnamese help. They had Vietnamese barbers, Vietnamese bartenders, Vietnamese singing girls. Well, all these Vietnamese were spies for the fighters out in the field.
Vietnamese Fighters told me, you know, when a helicopter took off with Marines out of Da Nang, it had to go in a straight line to its goal. We knew what the goal was, we not only knew where they were going to land, we knew the route that they were going to take before they even took off. Folks, the enemy was very visible and the Vietnamese were invisible.
General Westmoreland had a big headquarters in Saigon and he would have, as a general, you know, big meetings rooms, colonels and other generals there, and they would come and go. And there was a lot of traffic and there was a guy in a traffic booth with a ledger and he would check your security badge and okay, you can come in park over there and you can come in park to the left of that. Well, that guy directing traffic used to send those notes up to Hanoi, up to Ho Chi Minh every single day. You cannot beat the Vietnamese.
So, I’ll end up with a story. In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger was in Paris negotiating with the Vietnamese and he was telephoning Richard Nixon the president and they would talk about how they were going to, you know, negotiate and they would often threaten the Vietnamese. If you don’t do this, we will bomb this way and we’ll bomb Hanoi and you’ll see bombing like you never saw before.
Well, Kissinger was a little paunchy Kissinger, never fought in a war, calling Dick Nixon. You know with his pen and paper and legal pad sitting on his couch, they had no idea who they were talking to. They were negotiating with Le Duc Tho in Paris. Well, when Le Duc Tho would call back to Hanoi and tell the leaders what Kissinger was demanding and threatening, the Americans had no idea.
I lived outside the prison on the island of Con Dao. It was a French prison, 7ft thick, dark walls, the Americans took it over. While in the French time Le Duc Tho and the three leaders of Vietnam at the time of the Paris peace talks, they had all been tortured in that French prison. They had been stripped of their clothes and beaten nude in the courtyard. They had been hung upside down. They had been tortured terribly. So, Le Duc Tho and these three other leaders, and paunchy Kissinger is threatening them.
These guys had been tortured. This prison on the island of Con Dao, they later called it the University of the Revolutionaries. Because so many of Ho Chi Minh’s leadership had been tortured there, they were graduates of the University of Revolutionaries. Folks, it was ridiculous that we were threatening such hardened patriots.
So, in summary that’s my summary of how Ho Chi Minh beat not only the French, but the Americans, and that’s the reason that the former Saigon is now named Ho Chi Minh City.
Jeff: Yeah, and I always call it that, out of respect for Uncle Ho, because he was quite a guy. Well, thank you James for a wonderful interview.
James: Well, thank you, Jeff.
Jeff: Yeah, now for all of the friends, fans and followers of JB West and JB East, from two experienced, people who have your back, you can have a much greater appreciation for why Mao Zedong won in China and why Ho Chi Minh won and Vietnam.
James: JB West, this is JB East signing off.
Jeff: All right. Talk to you later. Bye-bye.
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