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Meanwhile, the north was undergoing a series of upheavals under its new leaders. The ravages of war had left the north severely short of food, and only huge shipments of Burmese rice paid for with Soviet credits prevented mass starvation in 1955. As soon as Ho's cadres took power in Hanoi, an internal struggle broke out between a "southern" faction, which wanted to pursue the armed struggle to unify the country by initiating military operations in the south at the earliest moment, and a "northern" faction, including Giap, which argued for putting the north on a proper economic and political footing first. In the event the southern faction won, but the debate took time and in the meantime North Vietnam was swept up in the throes of a land reform and collectivization campaign which wreaked havoc on the fragile social peace that had accompanied the euphoria of victory over the hated French. To identify "class enemies," the Communist Party passed decrees which divided the populace on the basis of elaborate classification schemes based on detailed comparisons of numbers of hectares tilled, quarts of rice held, salaries earned and paid and numbers of piglets owned. The irony was that of all Vietnam the north, where some ninety-eight percent of the peasantry owned the land which they tilled, was least in need of land reform.


In the event, widespread resentment of high-handed cadres and fear of the arbitrariness of the classification decrees and the tribunals that enforced them broke out into mass disturbances in several areas. The worst of these erupted in early November 1956 in the form of open resistance among the peasantry Ho Chi Minh's home province of Nghe An, witnessed by Canadian ICC members. So threatening was the situation that the North Vietnamese government, like the French colonial regime faced by a similar situation a quarter of a century earlier, ordered in the Army. The 325th Division restored order at a cost of many thousands of peasants killed and imprisoned, lower estimates running to about 6,000 victims. The carnage was considerable, but went all but ignored in a world preoccupied simultaneously with the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian uprising. President Ho Chi Minh publicly apologized for the excesses and the program was toned down; all of this took time, but failed to stay the inexorable logic of war. By the spring of 1957, the "southern" faction had won out: in March, the 12th Vietnamese Communist Party Plenum ordered universal Military conscription, and the beginning of hostilities I the south was not far behind. By August , guerrillas were mounting attacks o isolated government-controlled villages and outposts and by October, the viet Cong could field substantial guerrilla forces. space, but Diem and his government, after promising start, proved unable to exploit the advantage. The difficulties began with Diem himself. A closed, private personality he had little sense of priorities and an almost paranoid fear of being overthrown. He tended to trust only Catholics and placed enormous power and trust in the hands of his family, producing serious internal stresses in the Army and government. Though Diem himself was driven by patriotism and was personally incorruptible, the same could not be said for all of his relatives, and corruption and blatant favoritism flourished as his family and Catholics appointees - most of them northern refugees - assumed the lion's share of power. His secretive and manipulative younger brother Nhu became his right-hand man and, in the view of some, his evil genius; his elder brother Thuc rose to become Archbishop of Hue and head of the Church in the South, and his younger brother Ngo Dinh Can, though he held no official position, carved out for himself what amounted to afiefdom asdefacto governor of Hue. The government and army became polarized along religious lines as "dependable" Catholics received the plum posts regardless of ability or demonstrated competence. Particularly obnoxious to many was Ngo's wife, Madame Ngo DinhNhu, who, since Diem never married, became to all intents and purposes the first lady of South Vietnam. Beautiful, possessed of an acid tongue, insensitive, and utterly intolerant of those whose beliefs diverged from her own, she became a potent symbol of the degree to which the Diem regime was out of touch With those whom it governed. He characterization of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks protesting Diem's religious policies in the summer of 1963 as "Buddhist barbecues" gave the regime a well-deserved notoriety in the world press.




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