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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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.

On this day..

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

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