American Arms to the Vietminh: Prouty's Unfounded Allegation

by Dan McLaughlin
6 April 1998
L. Fletcher Prouty is a retired Air Force Colonel who worked in Special Operations and with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his military career. In these capacities Prouty was privy to sensitive defense information, including CIA and Department of Defense planning about Vietnam. Using the insight he claims to have attained from his inside position, Prouty puts forth his theory that Kennedy was killed by a "High Cabal," a group so untouchable that they are above the military, the CIA, and even the Presidency.

Prouty's claims are put forth in his book JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, a work that portrays all American foreign policy since the end of World War II as pre-planned to achieve certain financially beneficial outcomes for the "cabal." According to Prouty, Kennedy was killed because he threatened to upset the plans that had been laid out for Vietnam.

In order to determine Prouty's credibility it is necessary to examine the truth of his assertions. If it can be said that Prouty consistently represents historical events accurately and gives valid insight into occurrences, then one must not dismiss his theory on the assassination of Kennedy as too improbable to be true.

The use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively, brought about the armistice that ended the war with Japan on August 15, 1945 (Sainteny, 178). With peace achieved between the United States and Japan, there was no need for a massive land invasion. According to Prouty, the war materiel that was amassed to support a large invasion was split evenly between Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and Syngman Rhee in Korea. This is the central claim to his thesis that the "high cabal" orchestrates world affairs and conflicts to benefit themselves.

If such a huge shipment of war materiel, "amounted to what the Army called a 145,00 'man-pack' of supplies ... enough of everything required during combat to arm and supply that many men of war" (Prouty, 37), did reach both Korea and Vietnam it would seem likely that a conspiracy had chosen those locations for future confrontations. The fact that this "decision" was made before the end of the war in Europe would be further evidence of the far-reaching grasp and extent of the control the conspiracy exerted. After all, the conflict in Korea would not erupt for another five years and American involvement in Vietnam did not "officially" begin until 1965.(1) An investigation into whether or not this stockpile of materiel was shipped will determine whether or not the roots of the wars in both Korea and Vietnam wars were conspiratorial.

Background in Southeast Asia

The Japanese demand for an armistice brought the end of World War II in Asia, and consequently, the end of Japanese domination. The following day, August 16, 1945, the Vietminh seized control in Vietnam and occupied Hanoi (Sainteny, 178) without any resistance from the demoralized Japanese troops that had controlled the country until the day before. On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam, quoting from the American Declaration of Independence, in the hope that he could "persuade the United States to underwrite his cause" (Karnow, 136). American strategy was preoccupied with the end of the war in Europe, and even when it turned to Asia, the internal political struggles in China were the major attraction.

When Vietnam did become a priority to American policy-makers it was in regard to the American alliance with France, which was viewed as vital in maintaining order in fragile Western Europe (Karnow, 136). America was not particularly interested in Ho Chi Minh's move for independence; it needed to support France in its quest to retain hegemony in Vietnam in order to guarantee the stability of Western Europe. The lack of interest in Vietnam's independence was intensified with the "fall" of China to the Communists. The domino theory, that Communism would continue to spread if it was not stood up to and contained, made it necessary for America to ensure that an antiCommunist, pro-Western government was in place.

To support Ho, "a veteran Communist opposed to France," (Karnow, 136) with weapons and aid was not consistent with American priorities in the time period spanning from the end of the war until 1949, when Mao Tse-tung took over China. The situation, though, was not always this way. In the early 1940s Ho sought out American officials in the Indochinese region "aiming to persuade them to furnish him with arms, ammunition, and other equipment" (Karnow, 137) with which he could fight the Japanese, and later the French, both of whom he viewed as colonial intruders. Ho knew that if he was successful it would send a message to other Vietnamese nationalists that the world's major industrial and military power was backing him, which would in turn swell the ranks of his movement.

U.S. Aid to Ho

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the CIA, did supply aid to Ho in early 1945. The Vietminh were "supplied with rifles, mortars, grenades, and other materiel" (Karnow, 139) with which it was expected they would fight against the Japanese, an enemy shared by both Ho and the Allies. "The American in charge (at Kunming) laid down strict conditions: that the weapons not be used against the French, and that American agents be permitted into rebel-controlled areas ... five thousand weapons were airdropped to the Vietminh in the summer of 1945 by the Allies" (Halberstam, 75).

Both the timing and the conditions of this agreement are important. The airdrop occurred in the summer before the Japanese surrendered, when speculation of a long and drawn out land invasion of Japan with an estimated million casualties was common. It made sense that the Allies would want to extend their war into Japanese-occupied areas. The conditions put forth specifically stipulated that the weapons be used only against the Japanese forces. Granted, this is a promise that could be easily broken, but to do so would be risking the end of American assistance.

According to Jean Sainteny, a French official sent to negotiate with the nationalist Vietminh in 1945, "Ho Chi Minh went to their (U.S.) headquarters ... and obtained from the Americans their weapons and instructors he needed for the fight against the Japanese" (Sainteny, 37) (emphasis mine). If American policy was to arm Ho's forces, it was only when the goals of the Vietminh were aligned with the goals of the Alliance.

This does not prove Prouty's assertion that stockpiled materiel for an invasion of Japan was diverted to Ho. It does prove that many different sources that espouse a range of views on the war in Vietnam document the progress of Vietminh's attainment of arms. None of these sources mentions any shipment from Okinawa in 1945.

It seems that if there was a "High Cabal" conspiracy creating conflict in Vietnam it would not have stipulated that the Vietminh could not use their weapons against the French, and it also would have supplied them with more than 5,000 weapons. Prouty's own argument is that the Vietminh were armed to create maximum conflict that American policy-makers could point to as a reason to jump into the struggle.

The actual historical record proves that America was deeply committed to helping the French interest in the area and that after the Japanese surrender any help Ho Chi Minh had secured for his Vietminh was terminated.

U.S. Aid to the French

By 1949 the U.S. was promising $15 million in aid to French forces and over the next four years that amount increased to over $2 billion (Karnow, 162). Clearly, the dedication to the French presence in Indochina was overwhelming. "Ho was trapped. The United States, despite his repeated pleas, had decided to support France" (Karnow, 152). After the war, George Frost Kennan's containment policy and the Truman Doctrine combined to make any nation or movement that appeared to have Communist affiliations out of favor within America's foreign policy plans. This anti-Communism was heightened by the Korean War, which appeared to prove that Communism had an international design. Vietnam, then, was a crucial toehold within Southeast Asia, and since "Truman administration officials conceded that Ho's Communist 'connections' might serve the Kremlin's purposes" (Karnow, 160), he became the enemy.

All this information only serves to establish the context of the time period. It does not seem likely that American objectives would have allowed for arming a Communist in the immediate postwar period. However, if one follows Prouty's theory, the goals of America's foreign policy would be cloaked in secrecy. It is necessary to look closer for evidence of this arms shipment. According to Prouty, U.S. Navy transport vessels were "reloaded" with the "vast load of war materiel" and sent to Haiphong, the port of Hanoi, "almost immediately" after the Japanese surrender (Prouty, 17-18, 37). It seems likely that the arms would have reached Hanoi, a city the Vietminh had seized, by September.

The first problem (and there are many) with Prouty's claim is its timing. According to Dave Fuhrmann, a researcher on the Kennedy assassination who has examined Prouty's claims, the port at Haiphong was mined and was therefore not open to shipping. Spector corroborates this. "When a naval task force arrived off the port of Haiphong in mid-October to load the Chinese, it was discovered that mines sown in the harbor by the U.S. Army Air Force during World War 11 had never been cleared" (Spector, 68) [emphasis mine]. If the harbor was not cleared for the United States to supply the Nationalist Chinese forces of Chiang Kai Shek during their occupation of the area north of the sixteenth parallel, it would have also been mined earlier when the "phantom" shipment of arms was sent to the Vietminh. It is also worth mentioning that the window of opportunity for getting those weapons into the Hanoi would have been limited, since Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese forces occupied what would become North Vietnam on September 16, 1945 (Sainteny, 178).

Still, if one believes in the "High Cabal" it may still seem possible that these arms somehow reached Ho's forces so that a conflict could be started. Prouty's conspiracy theory involves arming the Vietminh to begin a long-running conflict that would require increased U.S. defense spending. The Vietminh, then, would have used their "145,000 'man-pack' of supplies" that had been "quickly moved ... into hiding for the day when it would be needed" (Prouty, 37) to create problems for the French. The historical record tells a different story.

The battle of Hanoi, which took place in December 1946, more than a year after the arms shipment from Okinawa would have arrived, was marked by the Vietminh's employment of guerilla tactics throughout the city: sabotaging power plants, murdering French inhabitants, and burning down houses. The Vietminh fought with "a hodgepodge of ancient French muskets, old American Remington rifles, British Bren automatics, Japanese carbines, and spear, swords, and machetes as well as homemade contrivances called Phan Dinh Phung grenades ... They fought from street to street against French tanks, artillery, and machine guns" (Karnow, 157-158). The Vietminh would have capitalized on the possession of superior weaponry had they had it at this point in their conflicts. Conspiracy or not, the use of superior weaponry would have been employed by the Vietminh at this point in their rebellion to ensure that they would win their key city.

Mysteriously, Prouty possibly accounts for this fact by claiming that general Giap would have put the arms into hiding until 1954, when the appropriate time for their use would have arrived. Then, they would have taken up their well-crafted American weapons and crushed the French at Dien Bien Phu (Prouty, 38). What Prouty fails to mention is that by 1949, the Communists had taken over China, the largest nation in the world, and were supplying the Vietnamese troops with arms shortly thereafter. Some of these arms were American: "The Chinese Communists also supplied the Vietminh with advisers and modem American weapons captured from Chiang Kai-Shek's routed Nationalists" (Karnow, 181-182).

U.S. Arms in Communist Hands

Mao Tse-tung and his Communist government aided the transition of the Vietminh from a group of rag-tag revolutionaries to a sophisticated armed-force. Until the "situation changed drastically in 1949, when the Chinese Communists reached the Vietnamese border" (Karnow, 183) the Vietminh were biding their time and waiting to make their move; not the strategy of a military group that has the means to mount offensive attacks, which they would have if the "phantom" arms had actually been sent to them. Interestingly, Ho's forces gained sophisticated weaponry only when "China could provide the Vietminh with automatic weapons, mortars, howitzers, and even trucks, most of it captured from American materiel, some of it Soviet equipment earmarked for the Korean War" (Karnow, 184). The outside support that Ho had sought from America five years earlier arrived from Mao Tse-tung after his Communist movement achieved success.

Another, less significant way in which the Vietminh gained sophisticated weaponry was through banditry and theft. Ho came up with plan to steal weapons from the most over-extended French outposts. "If there were ten men inside the post the Vietminh would strike with thirty men. The next day there would be ten more weapons" (Halberstam, 75). Much of this was American military equipment which the British had given to French units upon ending their occupation of Vietnam (Karnow, 150). When the French withdrew from Langson in 1949, they left behind "artillery, mortars, 8,000 rifles, and more than a thousand tons of ammunition" (Karnow, 185) all of which helped the Vietminh to push the French out of the Chinese frontier section, along the border of China and Vietnam. This established a direct connection between the Chinese and the Vietminh and allowed for the flow of materiel to go unchallenged by the French.

These methods of gaining military equipment provide alternative ways in which the Vietminh could have secured sophisticated, and in many cases American, military goods. Another possibility is that shipments of American arms that were intended for the Nationalist Chinese forces that occupied northern Indochina shortly after the Japanese surrender were somehow stolen and fell into Vietminh possession. Dr. Stephen Hauser, Marquette University's Vietnam historian, claims that many of the countries that the United States traded with would buy goods from America and export them to the Vietminh. Although this did not take place in the immediate postwar years, it may account for the Communist forces having American technology and weaponry later in the war.

The point of including many possibilities and scenarios is to prove that there are many rational explanations for the Vietminh's possession of American weapons. Simply finding proof that Ho's forces fought with American materiel does not prove that it was directly exported to them for the purpose of causing an international incident in which the U.S. military-industrial complex would get rich.

Prouty relies solely on his own account of the entire scenario. He does not give the reader the name of the "harbormaster" that shared the destination of the shipment with him and, as a result, it is impossible to verify this account with its source. A glaring weakness that cannot be overlooked is that only Prouty, out of all the people who would have been involved directly or indirectly with this arms shipment, has come forth to tell about it. In light of the severe criticism that all decisions and policy regarding Vietnam came under, it is especially surprising that no one would have mentioned this rather significant event. Stanley Karnow's extensive and in-depth history of the struggle in Vietnam, which makes many references to arms, does not make any mention of anything that could come close to what Prouty asserts. Neither does David Halberstam. Jean Sainteny, a French diplomat who was there at the time and mentions that America did arm Ho to fight the Japanese, makes no mention of such a shipment in his narrative.

Sainteny would certainly mention this shipment since it would have served to frustrate the efforts of his country in Vietnam.

This claim, like many of Prouty's, grabs a string of truth and weaves an entire blanket out of it. This method of blowing the truth out of proportion serves to fit Prouty's theories about the assassination and the foreign affairs of America. The string of truth Prouty weaves his conspiracy out of is that Ho Chi Minh was supported with a small amount of American arms with which to fight the Japanese. Perhaps Prouty put this together with the fact that the Vietminh were in possession of American arms throughout their conflict with the French and assumed that the only way this was possible was if the United States exported materiel to arm the Vietminh in their rebellion.

The fact that America did not arm Ho Chi Minh and the Vietminh and that a huge arms shipment never occurred is a serious blow to Prouty's "High Cabal" conspiracy. If conflict in Vietnam was not pre-planned then a conspiracy that puppeteers world events is no longer believable. Prouty's proof for the international power of the "High Cabal" rests in his claims about Vietnam being set up as a conflict that would necessitate huge defense spending. Undoubtedly, Vietnam did cause large-scale budget increases in defense, but not because the die had been cast in Vietnam. The conflict was a reaction to the fears of Communism overrunning Asia and threatening American interests.

Quite simply, America did not need to go around creating flash points with which they could inflate defense spending; they were already in place. Following the war, the power vacuum in Europe threatened to give in to Communism, with specific Communist conflicts in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and even Norway. Why them would the United States create a situation which mirrored the ones that were already available to them? Prouty's information about the supposed arms shipment from Okinawa to Hanoi is simply false. Without any citations with which one can validate this claim, one has to conclude that Prouty created it to fit his theory.

It has been proven that Prouty misrepresented the historical facts about an arms shipment to Vietnam. The same sources that otherwise specifically track the armament of the Vietminh, including their possession of American arms, do not mention this huge shipment. This not only affects Prouty's credibility on this issue, but also his assertion that a powerful conspiracy directs international events to benefit themselves. If the power of this "High Cabal" is called into question, then Prouty's whole construct that he bases the execution of Kennedy upon is weakened, if not destroyed. This analysis proves that Prouty stretches the truth to fit his theory, which casts suspicion on any other claim he has to make regarding the war in Vietnam, the CIA's antics, the foreign policy of the United States, or the assassination of Kennedy.

Works Cited

Fuhrmann, Dave. "Prouty Book Critique 2." Date visited: 4/28/98.

Fuhrmann, Dave. "Prouty Critique #10." Date visited: 4/28/98.

Halberstam, David. Ho. New York: Random House, 1971.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: The Viking Press, 1983.

Prouty, L. Fletcher. JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1992.

Sainteny, Jean. Ho Chi Minh and His Vietnam: A Personal Memoir, Chicago: Cowles Book Company, Inc., 1972.

Spector, Ronald H. Advice and Support: The Early Years, 1941-1960. United States Army in Vietnam. Washington D. C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1985.

Tonnesson, Stan. The Vietnamese Revolution of 1945: Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh and de Gaulle in a World at War. Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1991.

1. Since this is an analysis of Prouty's claims I will use the dates he relies on. "The first battles of the Cold War were going to be fought by U.S. military units in those two regions (Korea and Vietnam) beginning in 1950 and 1965" (Prouty, 18).
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