Sunday, February 9, 2014

How has a Small Vietnam Become a Dominant Power over Indochina Today?

ដោយ ខែ្មរវឌ្ឍនកម្មៈ

Emperor Le Dai Hanh
Vietnam is a small nation that originated from a place called Xich Quy about 2500 BC, currently around Guangxi and Guandong provinces of Southern China.  Through its long rough history, Vietnam has at least 20 different names starting from some familiar names such as Dai Co Viet, Dai Viet, Nam Viet, and Vietnam from a reign of Emperor Gia Long (Nguyen Phu Anh) until today.  Though Vietnam had gone through numerous and prolong wars, every time it had happened, Vietnam emerged as a stronger nation.  Today, Vietnam has become the dominated power over Indochina, and based on its historic evolution and steady expansion, it's more likely to expand its border beyond Indochina in long future.  Starting from around 10th century, after independent from China suzerainty over 1000 years, Emperor Le Dai Hanh started expansion southward to Champa and Kampuchea Krom, and the emperor's legacy was continued by Ho Chi Minh, known as "journey toward the west."  Now we should look into some factors that make such a small nation to be the dominant power in Indochina and the region.

 Under Chinese suzerainty over 1,000 years, the Vietnamese  had learned war tactics and adapted themselves to fight their much larger enemies--Chinese and Mongol dynasties, France, and the US.  Vietnam long history has revealed some patterns of war tactics that the Vietnamese had deployed against their enemies--avoid  being caught alive, trick enemies and ambush, and preemptive strikes.  These tactics had been used for generations from the common era through the Vietnam War Era. In around 40-43 AD, Queen Trung Nu Vuong led revolt against Han Dynasty rule but failed,then she committed suicide. In 225 AD, Lady Trieu Thi Trinh led another revolt but failed again, then she committed suicide by throwing herself into the river rather than being caught alive.  And in 1841, General Truong Minh Giang committed suicide by poisoning himself when his military campaign failed in Cambodia.

Another common tactic is to lure the mighty enemies into their disadvantageous positions and counterattack or ambush them. Emperor Le Dai Hanh facing his mighty enemies-- the Song dynasty's troops--he tricked the advanced Song troops into a dead valley and ambushed them, killing their commander and defeating them in 981.  In 1284-88, the Tran dynasty facing imminent invasion from Mongol army, under Mongke Khan and Kublai Khan, the Tran army avoided the open field battle with the Mongol army, but they had lured the enemies into their disadvantageous positions: swampland and tropical forests and counterattacked them in guerrila tactics to defeat them.  Such a style of warfare was well practiced during the Vietnam War from 1964-75 against the US troops and their allies.  Most American troops were killed by ambushes and explosive traps more than open field battle.

In conventional warfare, the Vietnamese like to use preemptive strike or surprised  attack when the enemies were not in battle readiness.  In 1418, Le Loi, a commander of Lam Son armies, launched a preemptive strike against the Ming dynasty troops, killing 300,000 of them and thwarted them completely.  This tactic was also being used during the French war and the Vietnam War; in 1954, the Vietminh launched a surprised attack on French base at Dian Bien phu where the whole French troops surrendered and brought an end to the war. In 1968, the Vietcong troops simultaneously launched a surprised attack on all the US army positions across the country on the Vietnamese New Year Eve known as a "Tet Offensive."   Such a preemptive strike made the US troops more nervous and confused since they could not use air support and heavy weapons against the Vietcong infiltrators in close ranges. Albeit both sides suffered the heavy loss, the Vietcong had made Americans psychologically felt intimidated by the power of the their underestimated enemies. Since then, the US military advance had been hailed, and the war fell into a stalemate that forced the US to withdraw its entire troops from Vietnam in 1973 before the collapse of its ally regime in 1975.

The Vietnamese invasion in Cambodia 1979 was well-designed and employed different tactics. As Cambodian army much smaller and weaker, Hanoi launched a surprised and overwhelmed attack akin to Hitler attacked Poland in 1939,  rolling advanced columns from multiple directions simultaneously to deprive the enemies from reinforcement and to break their morale.  The goal is to reach a super target--the capital city Phnom Penh, the command center--then spread their advanced columns toward different provincial towns.  Battambang City was under the Vietnamese control on January 13 but most areas in the province were still under the Khmer Rouge control until the Khmer new Year.  After conquering the country, the Vietnamese troops were well entrenched themselves in the fortified positions across the country, especially on the western part since most Khmer resistance forces concentrated on that area.  It is quite different nature of war from 1970s war when Khmer Rouge had seized nearly 70 percent of the country, but during the Vietnamese occupation 1979-89 war, the Khmer Rouge and the other resistance forces retained control the country less than 5 percent mostly along Thai-Cambodia border.

Vietnam's steady growth of territory and power from tiny nation state to dominant power over Indochina has strongly alarmed its smaller neighbors, especially Cambodia which had already lost more than one third of its territory (Kampuchea Krom) to Vietnam in 19th century, and currently it still has struggled to liberate itself from Vietnam's political and economic control.  In the past Vietnam had deployed its war tactics to defeat its bigger enemies and to conquer its neighbors.  Now, Vietnam has deployed its economic and political tactics to conquer proper Cambodia through economic concession and political interference. 

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