Mass mysticism, moving with modern arms

Monday, September 6th, 2010

As Hilaire du Berrier explains in Background to Betrayal, Vietnam had a number of factions vying for power, not just Communists and anti-Communists. The Cao Dai sect stands out as even more colorful than the Robin Hood-like Binh Xuyen bandits of the swamps:

As for the Cao Dai, it was French General de la Tour who approved bringing into the war against Ho chi Minh the private army of the Cao Dai pope.

The Vietminh were like water; they were everywhere and nowhere. The country was their sponge, and de la Tour decided to wrest a cleared space from the fluid enemy. De la Tour had informers by the thousands. The intelligence service of the French army spent piastres by the millions. Information was exchanged and traded on a regular market, but most of it was false. The truth was too dangerous. Leaks invariably led to the honest informer’s getting his throat cut.

So in 1948 the same Cao Dai forces that had in 1945 embarked on a massacre of the French at the behest of the Japanese were brought into the fight as allies against the Vietminh.

In 1945 the Japanese had armed the Cao Dai and moved their flying columns into Saigon when defeat became inevitable. Cao Dai leaders never doubted for a minute that if all the foreigners in Cochin China [Southern Vietnam] had their throats cut, the country would fall to them. The screams that punctuated that frightful night in the spring of 1945 in Saigon will never be forgotten by the Europeans who survived it.

Yet the Cao Dai pope seemed such a gentle little man when one sipped tepid champagne with him at ten in the morning! He was known as His Holiness, Pope Pham cong Tac. Beside him, in immense dignity with his flowing beard, sat the Bao Dao, defender of the faith, the last time the author visited them in their place of exile in Pnom Penh, Cambodia.

The world of the little Vietnamese is inhabited by strange spirits. Everywhere about him is a sense of mystery, and before the mystery his impulse is to band together with other Vietnamese to from a brotherhood bound by inner secrets expressed in obscure symbols. Because the all-seeing eye became one of the symbols of the Cao Dai sect, students of occult societies have attempted to link Vietnam’s powerful sect with older orders and offshoots of the Illuminati. Actually, to do so is to accord it a genealogy it does not have.

The men who sat around Ngo van Chieu’s table in 1919 while he communicated with the spirits by means of the “corbeille à bec,” a primitive, beak-shaped gadget holding a pencil which in the hands of the adept communicated the daily message, were minor functionaries with at least rudimentary French educations. Victor Hugo was the literary giant of their class, so it was only natural that he should communicate with them. The symbol of the all-seeing eye was familiar to them. They had read of the Grand Orient lodge of the Free Masonry in their French history.

Long before the master with whom they were in contact identified himself on Christmas Eve of 1925 as “Cao Dai, the Pure August One, the Oldest of the Buddhas, Sakyamuni and Jesus Christ,” Chieu had plundered the Grand Orient of its symbol, without any deep knowledge of that secret lodge or any other.

When Chieu got back to Saigon his first important convert was a hard-drinking, wildly gambling reprobate named Le van Trung, who overnight threw himself into Cao Daism with such fervor that he seized its direction from Chieu. Trung became the sect’s first pope. Till his death, or “disincarnation” in Cao Dai phraseology, in 1934, the sect never ceased to expand. Then came Pham cong Tac, the former customs official.

Asia was in a state of flux. The nha-que, the toiling little man of Asia’s human anthills, was rejecting many of his old superstitions. And Pope Pham cong Tac was a genius at administration. His discipline and leadership hardened the organization. Disjointed bands had protected the sect against incursions by Vietminh guerrillas and the French. Pham con Tac welded them into an army, the only army outside the Vietminh that possessed all the elements necessary for a crusade: a mysticism, an ideal, a large following, a cohesive organization and courageous fighters. In sum, an instrument of domination.

And Cao Dai ambitions were boundless. To push ahead, to gain more strength, to possess more followers, to control more ground, to acquire more wealth, by duplicity, treachery, brutality or religion, was their aim.

Political organizations were suppressed by the French police, but police were powerless against a religion. Under Pope Pham cong Tac the Cao Dai followers bled the Japanese for money as a special auxiliary force. Prince Cong De, a cousin of Bao Dai, was brought back from Japan to serve as a puppet, and the Cao Dai were hired to acclaim him. Without a qualm they swung over to Cong De as long as the money lasted. From the Japanese they swung to the Vietminh, till the Vietminh threatened the Cao Dai pope; then they became the allies of the French, and their holy see of Tay Ninh, with it great Cao Dai temple, became a pillar in the anti-Vietminh struggle.

Delirious bands, impervious to danger and fighting as though under a hypnotic spell, out-fought the chidois (sectors) of the Vietminh wherever they found them. Soldiers of the pope were suicides from the moment they started. They killed, and died as they killed, as though life were of no importance. If the French suffered an ambush, word was sent to the Cao Dai pope and a flying brigade cleared the area. What they did with their prisoners the French never knew. Some were herded back in columns, closely guarded lest the Vietminh try to liberate them. At the end of each column marched security officers. Between vehicles moved the shock troops. In the center came mortar bearers, accompanied by their ammunition coolies. Pushed on by bayonets were the prisoners, assassination squads of the Vietminh. The villages they had terrorized henceforth belonged to the Cao Dai.

On either side of the route of march, phantoms moved through the brush, scouts by the hundreds armed only with a hand grenade to protect the flanks and alert the column in the event of attack. Along the road an efficient alarm system operated.

It was mass mysticism, moving with modern arms. When a French general could not find the enemy he had only to call on the Cao Dai pope. A lying brigade would be dispatched, and in three months they would have a fort, the Vietminh would be gone — wiped out to a man. The nha-ques, the country people, converted to Cao Daism, would be working as spies or toiling as Cao Dai slaves to feed and serve the new organization.

Each time a Vietminh drive threatened a pacified area, France’s General de la Tour had only to give the Cao Dai a bit more money, a few more machine guns, and Vietminh implantation was succeeded by that of the Cao Dai.

In the end the general realized that in areas where the Vietminh had been, a new problem presented itself. Every youngster playing beside a road, every workman in a field, the woman selling produce or weaving a basket, the decrepit beggar lying beside a tree — every human being, no matter how young or old, how weak or humble — was against the Vietminh but also against the French. When the general staff realized this, the delicate game of balance and counterbalance started.

The Cao Dai sect recognizes three saints: Sun Yat-sen, Victor Hugo, and Nguyen Binh Khiem.

A Vietnamese Robin Hood

Friday, July 30th, 2010

After Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II, France tried to reassert its dominance over Vietnam, while Ho Chi Minh‘s Communist forces fought for independence from the imperialist colonialists, but — as Hilaire du Berrier explains in Background to Betrayal — it wasn’t really that simple. There were many other factions. One of the more interesting factions was the Binh Xuyen:

“Binh Xuyen” means “toward the peace.” It was the name applied to a village in the heart of the swamps that no outside enemy could attack without signaling his presence so long in advance an ambush would be waiting for him on the way. So the village of Binh Xuyen, hidden in the impenetrable marshes to the south of Cholon, was the home base of Bai Vien, and the band which took the village’s name.

In the beginning they lived by piracy and ransom. In all fairness one must add that the region offered little opportunity to live otherwise, and their incursions were supported by the colonial economy as a form of risk natural to Asia. The Binh Xuyen were in no sense a sect, and at first they had no interest in politics. For years some hundred small bands had operated independently out of the swamps. They would make sporadic raids and disappear, without higher organization. Ex-convicts, escapees from justice, men who for one infraction or a hundred had been banned from Saigon, made up most of these gangs. The best known was led by Dong ba Duong and his brother.

During the Japanese occupation the swamp pirates became a sort of Robin Hood band. Their daring and the genius with which they exploited their geographical position, and the troubles they caused the Japanese, inspired admiration for the Binh Xuyen among the masses. Gradually they emerged as nationalists. When the Japanese withdrew, the Communists came, and in the eyes of the people, if not legally, the rehabilitation of the pirates was complete. During the brief period of Communist “legality” Bai Vien edged his men into the police as auxiliaries and acquired an amnesty for everyone as well as a complete education in Communist methods.

Ho Chi Minh and the Communists didn’t want any independent nationalists in the swamps, so they sent in one of their top men, Nguyen Binh, to clear out such pests:

On May 19, 1948, using Ho chi Minh’s birthday as a pretext, Nguyen Binh set his trap for Bai Vien. He invited Bai Vien to come to his headquarters in the Plain of Junks for a party. For days Binh’s troops had been on the move, quietly closing in, on the excuse that the French were planning an offensive. But there was nothing that Bai Vien did not know. He accepted the invitation and took 200 of his fiercest bodyguards with him, with orders to surge to his rescue and kill Binh if Bai Vien gave the signal.

The Plain of Junks is a vast area. As far as the eye can see, no distinguishing point marks the place where low islands of reed-covered land end and reed-covered marsh begins. Junks appear to be floating on a field of reeds and from this appearance the plain derives its name. On one of the islands of this treacherous no-man’s-land Nguyen Binh had his headquarters. Bai Vien walked into his tent. Binh said, “You have been betraying us, but I pardon you,” and proceeded to put his arms around Bai Vien and give him an accolade. At that moment the killers burst into the tent. Bai Vien cried, “To me!” and the fight was on.

Vien and his guards fought their way out, and all the way back to the village in the heart of the swamp from which they had come. Back to Binh Xuyen, the lair that gave them their name. Over a thousand of their band had had their throats cut by Bhin’s raiders while Bai Vien was at the “party.” Many were disarmed in the first onslaught and offered a chance to rally to the Reds and were then cut down in cold blood when they refused to desert their chief, Vien.

Bai Vien’s reaction was swift and decisive. He sent the lieutenant who wrote letters for him — a young man named Lai huu Tai, dignified with the rank of private secretary — to present his compliments to the French commander and to offer, if given arms and ammunition, to clear the Vietminh out of his zone and maintain order. Furthermore, he agreed to support the French central government and accept the French Union.

On his own, and without waiting for the French reply, the reprisals started. Not only did the attack on himself demand an accounting, but there was that matter of a thousand loyal friends with their throats cut. The reprisals were terrible, for the bang conh tac, the intelligence cells which were the eyes and ears and the executioners of Bai Vien, spread like a net throughout the area occupied by the Vietminh. Bai Vien’s intelligence cells were intact, and in one night they liquidated the entire network Ngueyn Binh had so patiently erected. Each morning for weeks afterward the canals and arroyos around Saigon were cluttered with drifting bodies. No questions were asked by the French authorities. From that day, May 19, 1948, Bai Vien was to remain an implacable foe of the Communists.

Picture him: For years he had been a thorn in the side of the French. Any Vietnamese arrested for nationalist activity who had no money for defense, sent a letter to Ba Vien from hand to hand through the underground as soon as he entered prison. If money and a lawyer could not obtain his release, Bai Vien, the pirate, the firsthand authority on prison deliveries, got him out. With every outwitting of the French his reputation had increased as a native Robin Hood. Now this same candid ex-pirate became the central pillar of the anti-Communist fight in the Saigon area.

On June 13, 1948, his adherence to the government was formally announced, and within two months over eight hundred guerrillas deserted the Vietminh to join him. It was the beginning of the nationalist armed forces of the Binh Xuyen, with a discipline and an esprit de corps such as has never been equaled since by any anti-Communist force in Vietnam. The possibilities of this “underground,” forged and linked by the memories of so many years of danger together, surpassed the strictly military. A world of faceless agents, hideouts, arms caches, friends and associates that no one knew or suspected; infiltrators with their own lines running through every level and business — in sum, spies, collectors, and executioners with their secret signs and passwords came with the Binh Xuyen.

It was the age-old secret society of Asia, with all the attributes of a modern army and political party under a born leader. The leader of such a secret society can do anything. Lost in the immense ocean of Asian humanity, he enriches whom he pleases and kills those with whom he is at war. Bai Vien was at war with the Vietminh, and he conducted it more efficiently than they did, as his survival attests.
Saigon, for all its French veneer, was a sprawling, dirty, oriental agglomeration of humans. When this anthill was turned over to Bai Vien and his auxiliary politic it followed that he would tax it inhabitants in his fashion. He would naturally know what the dishonest citizens were up to and whether or not the honest ones were threatened. All this was accepted with oriental fatalism. Those living in steaming rabbit-warren alleyways or passing their lives on junks had never known anything else, and under the Vietnminh it had been infinitely worse. Since the money Bai Vien collected was used to support the army that out-fought, out-schemed and out-massacred the Communists, that army was really self-supporting — the only one the American taxpayer was not required to keep in luxury.

The Vietnamese Alphabet

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

One reason I found Hilaire du Berrier’s Background to Betrayal dry and somewhat confusing is that it describes many ministers of government with strange names. Vietnamese names, written in the Vietnamese alphabet, are indeed quite strange to American English-speakers — but once you know the basics, it becomes much, much easier to “pronounce” Vietnamese in your head as you read along.

First, it helps to know that the Vietnamese alphabet — that is, how the Vietnamese use the Roman alphabet — is not based on French, as you might suppose, but on Portuguese, the language of early traders and Catholic missionaries. So the pronunciation of, say, Dien Bien Phu is pretty straightforward, and you can ignore your high-school French lessons, which might lead you to drop those trailing ns and to nasalize the preceding es.

Not everything is so straightforward for English-speakers though. Anyone who went to school with Vietnamese classmates knows that the Vietnamese name is Nguyen, and it is not pronounced nuh-GOO-yen. It’s much closer to nwin. That’s because ng is a common digraph in Vietnamese; those two letters together represent the single sound at the end of sing or in the middle of singer — but the Vietnamese use that sound at the beginning of many words, which we don’t do.

Another common digraph is nh, which makes sense if you know any Portuguese, because that’s the Portuguese way of writing ñ (Spanish) or gn (French, Italian). So the Minh in Ho Chi Minh is more like the mign in filet mignon.

The digraph ch is usually pronounced as in English; sometimes it’s just a hard c. The digraph kh is pronounced like ch in German. The digraph ph is pronounced as in English, like f. (I’m not sure why they don’t use f.)

The digraph th is — surprise! — not really a digraph the way it is in English; it’s pronounced like a t followed by an h; it is not pronounced as in thigh or thy.

Once you know the digraphs, you’re pretty safe, because most of the consonants are otherwise pronounced more or less as in English — but there are a few exceptions. For instance, Vietnamese has two forms of d, one which does sound like our d, but with a glottal stop in front of it, and one that sounds like either a z, in the northern dialect, or an English y, in the southern dialect. So Bao Dai sounds like bow die, with no surprises, but Ngo Dinh Diem sounds like no din yee-em; the second d sounds like a y.

In English, we soften a g in front of an e or i. In Vietnamese, they do the same, but it becomes a z, not a j. So Giap is zap.

In Vietnamese, an x is simply an s. An actual s can be either an s or an sh, depending on dialect.

As for all the accents, or diacritics, ignore them — unless you already speak a tonal language, like some form of Chinese. You have very little hope of learning tones by reading an article on the Net.

Anyway, I hope this explanation makes some strange names a bit less strange to you.

Not Worth the Effort

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

When I first started reading Hilaire du Berrier’s Background to Betrayal, which describes the situation in Vietnam leading up to the war, I found it dry and somewhat confusing, and I was even considering putting the book down — and then I came to this passage:

If the reader’s head is swimming as he peruses the descriptions of these ministers of government with their strange names, let him pause for a moment before he puts the whole confusing business out of his mind as not worth the effort. For that is just what the men to whom American conservatives looked for information did for nine long years, while South Vietnam rotted.

One of the most respected columnists in Washington refused to look into the Vietnam picture. “America isn’t interested in what is happening out there,” he protested. It was not true. America was devouring an ocean of newsprint on South Vietnam — tripe put out by the United States Information Service, the State Department, and the most despicable high-pressure public relations campaign ever put over on a civilized nation. But the men and publishers to whom thinking Americans looked for sound information would not make the mental effort to familiarize themselves with the area and its leaders so they could do an intelligent report.

As du Berrier explains it, South Vietnam rapidly devolved into a police state after the French were forced out — which FDR and Stalin had agreed to — as the new leadership focused its efforts on wiping out any competition for power — and US dollars — from other anti-Communist factions. Those ministers of government with strange names are just a tiny piece of the puzzle, which involves French socialist politicians, American university professors, journalists, and international socialist NGOs — oh, and gullible American politicians, of course.

North Dakotan Monarchist

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Hilaire du Berrier explains how a boy from North Dakota became a monarchist:

When I was 9 years old I was given a book on Napoleon’s cavalry, and my mind was made up. One of the first things I did when I came to Paris was to join the French monarchist party.

I think that one of the most sublime speeches a head of state ever made was the reply that King Alphonso XIII gave to the men from Madrid who came to ask him to abdicate. His Majesty was in the Maurice Hotel in Paris, heard them through and when they were finished he stood up, addressed them and said: “You have asked me to abdicate. But abdicate I cannot. For I am not only the King of Spain, but I am the King of all the Spaniards. And I not only have my own reign, but those of my family who have gone before me, for which I must someday give a rigorous accounting.”

I was walking in the Rue de Rivioli one day, and there was a tall man approaching. I recognized him, and I tipped my hat. He tipped his hat. It was Alphonso. After that I would have followed him anywhere.
Did you ever read [Oswald] Spengler? He put it this way: “Tradition is cosmic force at its highest energy.” And he said, “Modern man rejects everything he does not understand and destroys with an epigram institutions reared by the inarticulate wisdom of the centuries.”

Hilaire du Berrier

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Hilaire du Berrier — pioneer aviator, daredevil, adventurer, writer, monarchist and spy — does not sound like a real person — or a North Dakotan:

He was born of fifth-generation Huguenot parents in 1906 at Flasher, N.D., in what was then and is now a tiny town on the prairie (pop. 300). A friend of his father was old Albert Wind-Did-Blow, whose squaw put a new pair of beaded moccasins on the tiny feet of this first white baby born in the county while uttering a prayer that the papoose would grow up to be a great warrior. His parents gave him the name Harold, which he hated and shortened to Hal. Always a contrary child, Hal du Berrier was shipped off to military school at the tender age of 11 to get straightened out, lasting until a month before graduation.

It was the beginning of the Age of Flight, and du Berrier desperately wanted to go to flying school. Instead, his mother sent him to study art. He worked as a commercial artist for a while in Chicago, but at the age of 20 he threw it all over and ran away with the circus — a flying circus.

Barnstorming around the United States, du Berrier learned how to do the loop-the-loop in a biplane before learning how to land, walked on the wings, jumped from one plane to another and hung by his toes from a rope ladder. He started his own “Du Berrier’s Flying Circus.” But in the end it was too tame, too much of the same-old same-old. What he wanted was action.

When his uncle was appointed as the U.S. representative to a commission in Paris, Hal jumped at the chance to go along for three months. In France, the bureaucrats said it would be illegal to register someone named “Hal,” because the name wasn’t on the official roster of saints. They agreed that St. Hilaire, the name of one of Napoleon’s generals, would be the closest legal match, with the appropriate saintly cachet. Now Hilaire du Berrier, he didn’t return to the United States for 16 years.

While in Paris, he learned that the Emperor Haile Selassie needed a few good men, especially aviators, to stave off the impending invasion of the Mussolini war machine. By now the transplanted American had become a committed monarchist, responsive to the call of gallantry and honor. The emperor’s army and air force (four planes) were no match for the mighty Italian juggernaut, and in 1936 du Berrier found himself in an Italian truck being driven into Addis Abba, Ethiopia, as a prisoner of war. But he was in luck. The Italian newsreel propagandists couldn’t get the camera shots quite right, and the victorious forces had to reenter the capital three times, celebrating over and over until the film was in the can. In the hubbub, du Berrier escaped on the overnight train to Djibouti.

Returning to Europe, he was relaxing at the castle of Baron Banffy at Cluj, Transylvania, when he read in a newspaper that Spanish military forces under Gen. Sanjuro were organizing to restore his hero, King Alfonso XIII, to the Spanish throne. Arriving in Spain on the ubiquitous overnight train, he promptly ran into a grave personal defect in his situation. Gen. Francisco Franco, the commander in chief desperate for aid, had accepted assistance and advisers from the Italian army. Alas, the Italians had escaped-prisoner du Barrier on their bad list. Spurned, he decided to do his bit for the king as a spy by signing up for the Communist (or so-called Loyalist) side. During the period of his one-month contract, he flew missions while making extensive notes of the types and quality of the aircraft supplied by the Soviet Union, secrets he intended to publish afterward in newspaper articles — and did. Unfortunately, he was denounced by US. Communists fighting on the Loyalist side, and was taken out to be shot. But when his name was called, higher officers decided that it would be bad form to shoot an American, since it might offend Eleanor Roosevelt and other U.S. patrons of the Communist forces. He was allowed to escape on the overnight train.

For a while du Barrier was a familiar sight in the cafes of Paris, sporting spats, cane and monocle, seen in the company of other expatriates such as Ernest Hemingway, Man Ray, Louise Bryant and Kiki of Montparnasse, and writing for the French newspapers. Then one of his flyboy buddies came with the news that there was going to be a “show” out in Asia, and he hastened there to fly for Chiang Kai-shek.

There was much to do in China, and soon du Berrier was in Japanese-occupied Shanghai running a Nationalist spy ring making covert radio transmissions to Chungking twice a day. To protect himself, he allied and trained with a supersecret alternative wing of French intelligence, a unit directed by Gen. Raul Salan, the Renseignement Guerre Numero Un. Du Barrier set the ring up in a large house in the French quarter of Shanghai and to cut expenses rented out a room on the first floor to an actress estranged from her husband. One day the actress disappeared, fled to the north, married Mao Tse-tung and became better known as Jiang Qin.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the French spirited away du Berrier’s radio and incriminating papers, but his position became more tenuous every day. Finally, the sound of heavy boots came on the stairway in the night and he was hauled away as a spy. Japanese interrogators took him to their torture chamber to make him identify the members of his spy ring. He never broke, but the torture left his face partially paralyzed, and ended his flying days.

Vietnam 2.0

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Afghanistan, Mencius Moldbug claims, is Vietnam 2.0:

Persons interested in the 1.0 edition may consult one of the few informative English-language histories of that war, Background to Betrayal, by the incredible Hilaire du Berrier.

Note that as the moderate, pragmatic, realistic left-wing option (Diem/Karzai) is revealed as a complete and utter disaster, the Overton Window of DC shifts to include the radical left-wing option (helicopters on the roof). In other words, as the moderate left-wing quack cure (strength through weakness) fails, the extreme left-wing quack cure (victory through defeat) becomes a legitimate policy option. Since it is inevitable, hopefully it will be embraced as quickly as possible. Americans should prepare themselves for lots of good Afghan food in their diverse urban areas.

No apology is ever offered for completely ignoring the obvious and original strategy, ie, actual conquest, occupation, or any other form of right-wing domination, foreign or domestic. Hiring General Fonseka is not a legitimate policy option. No one in the reality-based community asks: how did Afghanistan/Vietnam work before we broke it? How have these kinds of problems been solved here in the past, or elsewhere in the present? Instead, the leftism response to the failure of leftism is always: the failure is caused by insufficient leftism. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Taliban do with their state. At least there won’t be any liberals there.