prior to World War II. Always a strong nationalist but staunchly anti-Communist, he had been unable to reconcile his anti-French attitudes with the Viet Minh movement during the Indochina War. As a result Diem had left his homeland in the early 1950s to live at a Catholic seminary in the United States. There he remained until his appointment as premier in mid-June of 1954.
The months immediately following the Geneva agreement found Ngo Dinh Diem struggling to create the necessary governmental machinery in Saigon, the capital of the southern zone. At best, however, his hold on the feeble institutions was tenuous. A serious confrontation was developing between the premier and the absent Bao Dai, still residing in France. Further complicating the political scene was the presence of Hoa Hao and Cao Dai armies in the provinces surrounding the capital, and the existence in Saigon of an underworld organization named the Binh Xuyen.* As 1955 opened the leaders of these three politically oriented factions were pressing demands for concessions from the new central government. Among these were permission to maintain their private armies, and the authority to exercise political control over large, heavily populated areas.
The outcome of the embryonic power struggle in Saigon hinged largely on control of the Vietnamese National Army (VNA). Although not considered an efficient military organization by even the most liberal estimates, the 210,000-man National Army was the principal source of organized power available to the quarreling leaders of southern Vietnam. Originally created by the French in 1950 to supplement their Expeditionary Corps, the VNA had since suffered from structural deficiencies. It actually had no organizational echelon between the French-controlled General Staff and the 160 separate battalions. Tied to no regiments or divisions, the Vietnamese battalions naturally were dependent on the French Expeditionary Corps for operational instructions and logistical support.**
*The Binh Xuyen originally operated from the swamps south of the Chinese-dominated Cholon district of Saigon. Controlling the vice and crime of the city, by 1954 they had gained control of the police under circumstances that reeked of bribery. A year later the organization was brutually crushed by Ngo Dinh Diem.
**Selected VNA battalions were sometimes task organized into yaupes mobiles (mobile groups) by the French for specific offensive operations. But these groups, which were roughly equivalent to a regimental combat team, were never composed entirely of VNA battalions under a Vietnamese command group.
A dearth of qualified Vietnamese officers and a degree of inattention on the pan of the French compounded the problems which stemmed from the army's structural flaw. Partially as a result of these shortcomings the morale of the VNA had deteriorated sharply in the waning stages of the French-Indochina War. At the time of the ceasefire agreement, high desertion rates were reported in almost every Vietnamese battalion. Still, it was evident that he who controlled the National Army would most likely control the government in the area south of the partition line. The danger that the pro-Western zone might become the victim of a sudden Communist attack from the north, as had been the case on the Korean Peninsula, injected another element of uncertainty into the overall situation in southern Vietnam. The conditions which settled over the area in the immediate aftermath of the Geneva settlement suggested this possibility since they were alarmingly similar to the conditions which had prevailed in Korea prior to the North Korean invasion of 1950. Like Korea, Vietnam was divided both geographically and ideologically: the North clearly within the orbit of the Soviet Union and Communist China, and the South under the influence of the Western powers. As in Korea in 1950, there also existed a very real armed threat to the weaker pro-Western southern state. Immediately after the Geneva cease-fire, the Viet Minh army regrouped north of the 17th parallel and was redesignated the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). American intelligence reported that the PAVN, which numbered roughly 240,000 disciplined veterans, was being reorganized and re-equipped with Soviet and Chinese weapons in violation of the Geneva Agreement. At the same time Western intelligence sources estimated that the Viet Minh had intentionally left between 5,000 and 10,000 men south of the partition line following their withdrawal. Also done in violation of the cease-fire agreement, this meant that Communist guerrillas could be expected to surface throughout the South in the event of an outright invasion.
A related condition heightened fears that a Korea-type invasion might occur in Vietnam. In South Korea a military vacuum had been allowed to form in 1949 when American units withdrew from the area. Apparently that vacuum, coupled with a statement by the American Secretary of
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