Posts filed under 'Vietnam'

1972: Evelyn Anderson and Beatrice Kosin, missionaries

Add comment November 2nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1972, Vietnamese communists in Laos summarily executed two American missionaries.


Evelyn Anderson (top) and Beatrice Kosin

Evelyn Anderson and Beatrice Kosin were nurses dispatched to southeast Asia with the Christian Missions of Many Lands, which does what it says on the tin.

On Oct. 27, 1972, North Vietnamese communists seized the town of Ban Kengkok, near Savannakhet.

Though several other western missionaries escaped, and were evacuated by helicopter, Anderson and Kosin were captured and tied up in a hut.

A mission to extricate them was scratched — allegedly from on high because the ongoing secret negotiations between the U.S. and North Vietnam on ending the war had just reached a turning point. Someone evidently felt this a skirmish across the border concerning (and possibly killing) good Christian heartland girls might prove politically inflammatory at this delicate moment.*

So it didn’t happen, and that October 1972 diplomatic breakthrough eventually formed the basis of the Paris Peace Accords, publicly unveiled in January 1973, that set the framework for American withdrawal and gave Henry Kissinger his controversial Nobel Peace Prize.

This was all very nice — but also very far from Anderson and Kosin, who were left to swallow to the dregs their sacrificial draught.

A coded message sent early on Nov. 2, 1972 (American radio operators intercepted it) ordered their immediate execution, and the directive was accomplished without delicacy: the hut they were held in was simply torched, with them still inside.

* Also notice that this is days before the U.S. presidential election.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Laos,No Formal Charge,Religious Figures,Summary Executions,USA,Vietnam,Wartime Executions,Women

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1964: Nguyen Van Troi, Viet Cong urban guerrilla

4 comments October 15th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1964, South Vietnam executed a 17-year-old Communist for a plot to assassinate American Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

The young electrical worker and Viet Cong urban guerrilla Nguyen Van Troi was nabbed in the spring of 1963 trying to off both McNamara, famous for the megatonnage he would bestow on Southeast Asia, and U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

(Later, when the South Vietnamese client president whose guests these men ostensibly were was being shot in an armored personnel carrier with the Americans’ blessing, Ngo Dinh Diem might have had cause to wish this youth’s inhospitable gesture had not been undone by his men. Lodge was a particularly vocal advocate in the Kennedy administration for overthrowing Diem.)

For the months leading up to his public shooting, he became an international cause celebre; North Vietnam would later milk his martyrdom with a postage stamp, an award, and numerous public streets.

The international reach of his case was underscored when a Venezuelan revolutionary cell kidnapped an American officer shortly before Troi’s execution, and threatened to shoot him in retaliation. (They didn’t.)

Against this, South Vietnam counterposed the unedifying spectacle of a 17-year-old patriot put to death, energetically declaiming at the stake while cameras rolled,

It is the Americans who have committed aggression on our country, it is they who have been killing our people with planes and bombs…. I have never acted against the will of my people. It is against the Americans that I have taken action.

Naturally, he became a worldwide leftist martyr. There’s an Estadio Nguyen Van Troi in Cuba; American actor Troy Garity, son of Jane Fonda from her “Hanoi Jane” days, is also named for Nguyen Van Troi.

Robert McNamara, meanwhile, had many, many years yet to live, and many, many more Vietnamese deaths to burden his conscience.Troi’s widow wrote a 1965 book about him, out of print but still available on the used book market.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Children,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,USA,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1941: Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Indochina Communist cadre

Add comment August 28th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Vietnamese Communist cadre Nguyen Thi Minh Khai was shot as an anti-France insurrectionary.*

Khai (Vietnamese Wikipedia page | English) surely fit the description: she was a leader of the Indochinese Communist Party in the 1930’s, working directly with Ho Chi Minh in his Hong Kong exile. She would return in 1936 to the city later named for that redoubtable revolutionary as its ranking agitator.

Khai, the most famous of the Indochinese Wars’ vast ranks of women fighters, would marry fellow revolutionary Le Hong Phong, the chairman of the party, who died in prison in 1942. Khai’s sister’s marriage made Khai sister-in-law to the revolution’s military lion Vo Nguyen Giap.**

But her prominent position also made her a target.

Arrested by the French late in 1940, she was tortured and condemned to death. She was shot with other cadres, shouting last words that the decades yet to come would pretty well vindicate.

Long live the Communist party of Indochina. Long live the victorious Vietnamese revolution. (Source)

Readers whose Vietnamese is stronger than mine — i.e., extant in any form whatsoever — might get something out of this video:

As a national heroine, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai is the namesake of any number of public spaces in Vietnam, like schools and roads.


Paradoxical historiography: the street address visible to the right of the photo brands a revolutionary name onto an upscale coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City. (cc) image from Lawrence Sinclair.

* Some sources give an April 1941 execution date, particularly April 25. I believe this may actually be the date Khai was condemned. There are also some sources indicating a guillotine execution; though the guillotine was certainly available, the bulk of the sources seem to say that Khai was shot.

** Giap is still going strong after all these years; he just turned 100 a few days ago. Khai’s sister was not as lucky; she died in French custody at the prison American pilots would later refer to as the “Hanoi Hilton”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Shot,Torture,Vietnam,Women

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1960: Hoang Le Kha, NVA cadre

2 comments March 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1960, the former French colony of Vietnam made its last use of that most characteristically Gallic killing-machine: the guillotine.

Communist cadre Hoang Le Kha of the Vietnam People’s Army — the insurgent force also known at different times, in different manifestations, and through different eyes as the Viet Minh, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Vietcong* — earned the unpleasant distinction. According to a disappointingly truncated article (.pdf) from the Texas Tech University Vietnam Archive, the beheading took place notwithstanding an appeal pending before the International Control Commission, the multinational body charged with overseeing the supposedly temporary partition of Vietnam.

So, six years after Dien Bien Phu, what was independent Vietnam using this hated machine for?

Why, the same thing the French used it for: Terror.

The demonstrative device was redeployed in 1959 by Ngo Dinh Diem — a man whose obliviousness to blowback would soon land him in these pages — for exacting frightful, visible justice on subversive types.

According to that troubled former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara,

On May 6, 1959, Diem signed Law 10/59, which, in an ironic bow to the former French colonial masters, inaugurated the era of death by beheading, as Diem’s lieutenants traveled the countryside with mobile guillotines and platforms, looking for “communists.” Article 1 of Law 10/59 called for “sentence of death, and confiscation of the whole or part of his property” for anyone convicted of crimes ranging from murder to stealing farm implements and water buffalo. Article 3 proclaimed that anyone belonging to “an organization designed to help to prepare or to perpetrate” such crimes “will be subjected to the sentences provided for” — that is, they will also be beheaded. … Article 16 announced: “The decisions of the special military court are not subject to appeal, and no appeal is allowed to the High Court.”

He then cites Hanoi historian Tran Van Giau’s recollection of the period.

“In 1959, the most difficult period of the revolution in South Vietnam, the Ngo Dinh Diem puppet regime dragged the guillotine everywhere and carried out a bloody fascist repression.”

Though officially downplayed overseas, all-but-summary beheadings were intentionally publicized in Vietnam in an effort to cow rebels.

The Diem government had many public executions. A lot of people in the West denied that it happened but Diem made no bones about it. They advertised the executions and there were pictures in the paper of people getting their heads chopped off by a guillotine. … In 1959, when I went around with the map teams there were many military outposts where they summarily chopped off the heads of people they thought were Communists. They put the heads on stakes right in front of their outposts, sometimes with two cigarettes up the nostrils. They even invited people to take pictures of it. They were very proud of themselves.

It didn’t work.

As a result, the guillotine itself, an archaic French model, can be seen among other dreadful mementos of that horrific war at Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum.

Right alongside it is a picture of Hoang Le Kha.

(Many images — some of them graphic or disturbing — available at this Vietnamese page.)

* This is a very hasty lumping-together; the terms are not synonymous.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1968: Nguyen Van Lem

24 comments February 1st, 2009 Headsman

Around noon of February 1, 1968, in the opening days of the communist Tet Offensive, South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan summarily executed a Viet Cong prisoner on the streets of Saigon — and photographer Eddie Adams captured perhaps the war’s most unforgettable image.

An American cameraman also captured it in on celluloid. Caution: This clip shows … well, a man being shot in the head at point-blank range.

Though the image brought Adams the Pulitzer Prize, he would express discomfort with it later in life, and eulogized General Loan in Time magazine when he died in the U.S. in 1998.

The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera … photographs do lie, even without manipulation.

For Adams, the lie was the omission of context — that the plainclothes Lem had allegedly just been caught having murdered not only South Vietnamese police but their civilian family members; that Loan was a good officer and not a cold-blooded killer.

Adams’ editor has said that many such summary executions were taking place during the Battle of Saigon — a broader context to the image no matter its specific fairness to the executioner.

But of course, the shot gained its deeper resonance from the growing disgust with the Vietnam War … and from its concise tableau of a century’s brutality. Here is a frozen image of Orwell’s boot stamping on a human face, forever.

Like any great work of art, Adams’ serendipitous photograph took on a life of its own … and a tapestry of meanings richer than its creator could ever have intended.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Scandal,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USA,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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2004: Nam Cam, Vietnamese crime lord

4 comments June 3rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2004, at Ho Chi Minh City’s Long Binh execution ground, Vietnamese mafioso Truong Van Cam was shot with four of his lieutenants for ordering the murder of a rival crime lord.

An anti-communist soldier during the Vietnam War, “Nam Cam” (“Cam the fifth sibling”) survived a communist re-education camp and ingratiated himself sufficiently with the powers that be through the late 1970’s and 1980’s to ensconce himself as a wealthy and influential power broker within the country.

Nam Cam emerges from court after hearing his death sentence on June 5, 2003.

His arrest in 2001 for ordering a hit in a characteristic underworld turf war mushroomed into a vast corruption scandal, implicating a network of official protectors who ran interference for his criminal syndicate.

More than 150 people stood trial with Nam Cam — including “two expelled members of the 150-member Communist Party central committee, the former head of the state radio system, and the former director of police in Troung Nam Cam’s base of operation, Ho Chi Minh City.” (Source)

The doomed capo reportedly indulged the comfort of gloating that “the Communists may have thought they defeated South Vietnam, but I have shown that they are rotten to the core with corruption.”

The more things change …

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Infamous,Murder,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Scandal,Shot,Vietnam

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2005: Nguyen Van Van

1 comment January 14th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Nguyen Van Van, the onetime coach of Vietnam’s national taekwondo team, was shot for murder in Ho Chi Minh City.

The wire story does not appear to be available in a current archive but was secondhandedly cited here and here. Here’s how it ran:

Martial arts master executed

From correspondents in Hanoi
January 14, 2005

A FORMER coach of the Vietnamese national tae kwon do team was executed by firing squad in Vietnam for murder, a court official said today. Nguyen Van Van was put to death today at Long Binh execution ground in the southern Ho Chi Minh City, an official from the city People’s Court said.

A municipal appeal court handed down in June 2004 the death sentence to Van, who was only sentenced to life imprisonment at his first trial in March of the same year, for murdering a man in an ambush on December 19, 1996.

The incident took place at a cafe after one of Van’s sons got involved in a brawl with a customer. Accompanied by family members, Van stormed into the cafe where he injured the cafe owner and stabbed to death his brother-in-law, Le Hong Quan.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Public Executions,Shot,Vietnam

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1963: Ngo Dinh Diem

10 comments November 2nd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam, was executed in the back of an armored personnel carrier along with his younger brother and secret police chief, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the day after their government had been overthrown in a military coup.

Born into the Buddhist country’s Catholic elite, Diem was brought up as a French colonial administrator but fled Vietnam in 1950 under a death sentence from Ho Chi Minh’s nascent Vietminh. Over several years living and lecturing in the United States, he established his anti-communist bona fides with influential conservatives and was returned to his native country as Prime Minister when the U.S. inherited the foundering French war against nationalist guerrillas.

Fearing communist victory at the polls, Diem blocked scheduled 1956 elections to unify North and South Vietnam, making an interim division permanent. But Diem made an inconsistent American client, often spurning Washington’s advice and alienating the Buddhist majority with heavy-handed authoritarianism that eventually prompted Buddhist monks to begin public self-immolation as a form of protest.

The government responded by arresting monks.

By now more a liability than an asset, Diem was ousted with the blessing of a fellow Catholic head of state, John F. Kennedy.

This first successful coup — Diem had already quashed attempted putsches in 1960 and 1962 — began a cycle of internecine revolts in which weak South Vietnamese governments were toppled in rapid succession … leaving Saigon ever more visibly the puppet of Washington, and dragging the United States ever more deeply into the Vietnam War.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Heads of State,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Vietnam

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