(The reader is cautioned that this article is taken from a Viet Cong's propaganda media. One wonders if General Hieu, who was Special Assistant to Vice-President Tran Van Huong, in charge of Anti-corruption, at the time this article was published, did or did not come across of it? One can be certain, though, that he was well informed on these issues. Besides, this article did not reveal anything that had not already been extensively covered by the Saigon media of that period. Tin Nguyen)
A Strange Party
A strange party dominates political life in Saigon. It is the military party, known under the colourful sobriquet of the Khaki Party. It has neither rules, program, headquarters nor emblem, yet is the pet of the Americans. Its members are generals, colonels and other officers, who have been promoted not on account of any personal merit but upon recommendation from the proconsul Bunker. Of course it holds a monopoly over all profitable businesses and is a cause of bitter resentment and jealousy.
Phan Huy Quat, who was Prime Minister Nguyen Khanh's time, once complained: "Their job (the military's) is to fight, yet they interfere in everything. They are president of the Republic, vice-president, prime minister, ministers, province chiefs, etc. Now there is only one political party left in South Viet Nam: the Khaki Party."
This party has driven all other parties into the background. Dang Van Sung, a Dai Viet chieftain and once a favorite of General Taylor's, said bitterly in the course of a banquet at the Continental Hotel: "What's the use of founding a political party? The military party rules the roost."
At every turn you run into military men. Streets are administered by sergeants, precincts by lieutenants, districts by majors, and the city itself by a colonel mayor. At the National Cultural Congress, it was the men in khaki who called the tune. Air Vice-Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, vice-president of the Republic, whose sole cultural interest is cock-fighting, gave his directives, and psywar officers praised to the skies the "literary" works of Paratroop Captain Nguyen Vu...
In the economic field, the military's hold is even more obvious. Everything is in their hands: the chemical industry (Dosuki Co. on Dong Khanh boulevard is owned by ex-Generals Don, Xuan, Kim and Thuan); the import-export trade, with yearly imports worth 500 million US dollars; banking (General Nguyen Huu Co, erstwhile Minister of Defense, is the owner of an important bank); monopolistic hold over all sources of wealth: wood and forest products in the Central Highlands, cinnamon bark and pine resin in Quang Nam and Lam Dong, fish and other sea products in Phan Thiet and Phu Quoc, the frozen shrimp trade in Vung Tau, etc., the real estate business, with high-rise buildings, luxurious hotels, princely villas with private tennis courts and swimming pools, etc. All that is firmly in the grip of the top brass.
Lesser figures in the military hierarchy own chains of snack-bars, brothels, Turkish-baths, massage parlors, laundry shops catering for GI's. The civilians are quite bitter about those military encroachments, but they are talking into deaf ears. The military rejoin that free enterprise is the rule of the game and that anyone with enough money and drive can wheel and deal as he pleases. It's all very well for them to say so, for they can throw their enormous weight around, have access to military and economic secrets, hold control over the distribution of American aid, and, most importantly, wield the guns! Many wealthy businessmen and traders from the North, who had gone south after 1954, have been driven to bankruptcy by competition from khaki-clad entrepreneurs. A highly prosperous dealer in gold and jewelry from Hanoi has taken his own life by swallowing a heavy dose of sleeping pills.
Sea Tigers and Black Vultures
The generals "get-rich-quick" methods are truly original, and their success meteoric. By 1970-71, they had become very wealthy men, even by international standards, their individual fortunes amounting to millions of US dollars. Pride of places is of course taken by such chieftains as General Nguyen Van Thieu and his Chief of Staff General Cao Van Vien.
Let us take a closer look at the matter, the doings of Admiral Tran Van Chon, the commander of the Navy, for instance. He and his predecessor, Admiral Chung Tan Cang, now military governor of Saigon, together with their underlings of the Saigon naval forces, have all got rich "at the speed of PT boats" according to the colourful simile used by Navy rank-and-filers.
Every quarter, the admiral would send personnel to the United States to take over warships handed by the US to its Saigon ally. These are truly golden opportunities both for those entrusted with the job and their bosses at home. The envoys live in the best hotels in hot cities along the Pacific coast and have plenty of occasions to familiarize themselves with American "culture" and market conditions. Their cargoes of heroin, opium and marijuana would quickly change hands, bringing them as much as 500% profit. Trips to the Philippines and to Okinawa on various "missions" are also highly lucrative and entertaining. No wonder it often happens that ship collisions are deliberately provoked to provide opportunities for sailing over to Manila for "repair".
The coasts of South Viet Nam are under close surveillance by the Navy, whose vessels can cast anchor at any port and have besides "special security" zones put at their disposal. It also owns the multitude of rivercraft which ply South Vietnamese rivers. Vice-Admiral Lam Nguon Tanh has many friends and relatives among the Chinese merchants of Cho Lon. And so the sea-product trade is of course in the hands of Messrs senior officers of the Navy and their clans: fish, lobster, nuoc mam (fish brine) of top quality, swallow's nests which fetch high prices on the Hongkong market, etc.
The holds of Navy vessels are crammed not only with such merchandise as cinnamon bark from Trung Bo or fresh fruit and vegetables from the delta, but also with all kinds of narcotics for GI customers stationed in Cam Ranh, Da Nang, Cua Viet, etc. One must add of course the "war booty" stolen from the coastal population and fishing-folk in frequent raids, incursions and round-ups: gold and jewels, clothing and furniture, watches, radio-sets, motor-bikes, even fishing-boats and gear. The size of the share which could be claimed by each is determined of course by his rank. The land-lubbers, green with envy, call the sailors "corsairs", who not only rob other people but also steal from the state. Indeed, in the open-air markets in Saigon, one can find every item of Navy equipment on sale: buoys, compasses, blankets, hammocks, electric generators and what-not!
The airmen, for their part, do business in their own way, with the speed and efficiency worthy of the jet era, under the leadership first of General Nguyen Cao Ky, then of General Tran Van Minh. They deal in light-weight, high-value merchandise, gold, either in foil or in bars, diamonds, heroin... Missions to Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Bangkok, Manila or Taipei are highly profitable occasions in which base, wing, and, flight commanders operate in close co-ordination with Southeast Asia-based international dealers. The goods travel under the protection of air-force police, who keep customs officers and economic police from interfering. Once arrived at the airport, special air-force vans would come to fetch them, or even helicopters if trouble threatens. Air-force officers at the big Tan Son Nhut base also run a transit service catering for private traders who wish their specially valuable goods to travel with the maximum speed and security. Freight costs are quite reasonable: 200,000 Saigon piasters for the transport of a kilogram of heroin from Saigon to Nha Trang; 300,000 to Da Nang; and 350,000 to Phu Bai further north. The money is paid in advance and no receipt is given. The sender gives the address, in most cases a public square or a de luxe restaurant, the sign at which the receiver is to be recognized.
Big money also come to base commanders from the sale of US-supplied air equipment: spark-plugs (2,000 piasters apiece), special watches (40,000), plane wreckages (50,000 piastres a ton)...
The Marines' worship of Mammon cannot be so discreet. The Saigon press is replete with unpleasant news and rumours which greatly anger Marine Commander Le Nguyen Khang, a burly, green-bereted general whose headquarters is at No.15 Le Thanh Tong street on the Saigon waterfront. The officers with the black-vulture insignia still speak with nostalgia of great 1970 bonanza: the invasion of Cambodia in the Neakluong region. Their men systematically plundered the food and textile depots of their "ally" Lon Nol and no less systematically stripped the local population of all their property: gold, jewels, Vespa scooters, Honda motor-bikes...which were piles up on military lorries and whisked to open-air markets which had mushroomed along the frontier. A Marine brigade commander, acting on the advice of his boss Le Nguyen Khang, sent his own wife to Neakluong where she quickly set up, jointly with the spouse of Cambodian colonel Tasavat, an efficient channel linking Saigon and Phnom Penh through Neakluong for profitable trade in opium and diamonds. Thus was friendship built and consolidated between Nguyen Van Thieu's and Lon Nol's "States" and armies. The year 1970, in retrospect, proved to be the climax of Le Nguyen Khang's fortune. The pitiful show his Black Vultures performed in Southern Laos in 1971 was due, according to wags at the Saigon General Staff, to the absence of such stimuli as gold and opium which were hard to come by in the thick jungle of that battlefield.
However, in that "get-rich-quick" race, the men in the Commissariat are the fastest of them all. Its name in Vietnamese is Quan Tiep Vu, QTV for short. It takes care of supplies for the whole Saigon army: the whole of US military and economic aid to the army passes through its services. The QTV men have learnt quite a few tricks from their colleagues in the American supply services, who run the PX stores and engage in thriving black market activities.
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