Heroes & Villains - Ho Chi Minh - Part 1

The past century of global politics is a complex story of weird, creepy, unhealthy friendships, unlikely alliances, and shifting loyalties. 

Few people represent the truth of this claim quite as effectively as the North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh was a liberator, a subjugator, a terrorist, a savior, a visionary, a censor, a philosopher, and a barbarian.

Above all else, and I write this somewhat grudgingly, Ho Chi Minh was a winner.

Ho Chi Minh, 1946. Fresh from fighting off the Imperial Japanese.

Ho Chi Minh, 1946. Fresh from fighting off the Imperial Japanese.

Nguyen Sinh Cung was born in Vietnam in 1890. At the time, Vietnam was not a sovereign nation, but rather existed as a component of what was called "French Indo-China". Vietnam was governed by an Emperor, whose government was backed by the French. Though an emperor in title, this regent was little more than an extension of French rule.

That Thanh's father, Nguyen Sinh Sac, was a member of the emperor's court. However, Sinh Sac was not a proponent of French colonialism, and would end up being dismissed for his displeasure with their rule.

When Sinh Cung turned 10, his father, in accordance with confucian naming tradition, re-named his son Nguyen That Thanh (Which apparently means "Accomplished")

 That Thanh's older sister, Nguyễn Thị Thanh (Also called Bạch Liên), was a clerk for the French-vietnamese military. From this position, she facilitated the smuggling of supplies to various anti-french forces within Vietnam. She was sentenced to life imprisonment when caught. There is little information available regarding her after this event. However, based on how totally fair and reasonable colonial governments were, I'm sure she was fine. (I'm guessing she died in prison under less-than-ethical circumstances)

At school, That Thanh learned French. This conflicted with his blossoming nationalist views, but he also felt that knowing French would turn out useful when resisting the colonial government. He also participated in a rally against the colonial taxes of the very poor (He should have brought this up in the 60's. Americans would have appreciated the resemblance). While this could have put his academic carreer at risk, it did not.

After a brief stint as a teacher in Pan Thiet, That Thanh joined the kitchen staff of a French steam-ship. The steamer arrived in France in 1911, at which time he tried unsuccessfully to enroll in a French university.

This rejection turned out to be a blessing, as That Thanh's continued work in the shipping industry gave him a chance to see the world. Also, for those of you noting the year, it meant he was given a chance to avoid the gigantic fucking horrifying war that France was about to be in the literal middle of.

That Thanh got a chance to see America in 1912, when his ship arrived in New York. His stay was brief, however, and by 1913, he was living in Britain, hopping from town to town and doing odd jobs.

At the end of the Great War, Ho Chi Minh participated in an effort to bring the issue of Vietnamese independence to the Versailles peace talks. This appeal was ignored, and Vietnam continued under French rule for the next 28 years. That Thanh's political views became more and more Nationalist, and his committment to communist doctrine strengthened in turn.

In 1920, he began using the name Nguyen Ai Quoc, meaning "Nguyen the Patriot".

Nguyen That Thanh at a communist gathering in Paris, 1920.

Nguyen That Thanh at a communist gathering in Paris, 1920.

In 1923, Ai Quoc traveled to Moscow to enroll in a Soviet University, as well as become involved in the "Comintern", which was an organization dedicated to the proliferation of the international communist movement.. After two years of university, he became a teacher in Canton, China, where he spent another two years educating not only the locals, but also displaced Vietnamese youth.

At this point in our narrative, I think its becoming clear that once he had left Vietnam, Nguyen Ai Quoc never got too comfortable in any single place. I think that throughout his extensive travels, he never lost sight of what his end-game was. He was going to forge some connections with the international communist community, and then he was going to return to Vietnam and start some serious shit with the Colonial French.

Ai Quoc developed an appreciation for Lenin, who had become a messianic figurehead of Communism. He believed that Lenin was someone who truly understood and elucidated the struggle of the working class versus the arbitrary elite.  Perhaps that's a fair assessment. However, to quote Nietzsche:

"Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you."

Were the abyss to glance at Lenin's legacy, it would blink.

In the late 20's, Ai Quoc was on the move again. He passed through Europe, moving south, skirting Africa, and finally ending up in Thailand. From Thailand, he moved back through China, then to Hong Kong, where in 1931 he was arrested by British authorities after participating in a convention that united two Communist Vietnamese organizations into a single entity.

As part of some hazy political maneuvering, the British announced Nguyen Ai Quoc's death at the time of his arrest, then quietly released him in 1933. This may or may not have been a decision influenced by French political pressure. The reason for this deception is dubious at best.

In my next installment, I will discuss Ai Quoc's return to the Soviet Union and mainland China, then his involvement in wicked-awesome resistance against the Imperial Japanese during World War II. Most importantly, I will discuss him finally amassing enough Experience Points to evolve into Ho Chi Minh, "Bringer of Enlightenment."

Sources

Trueman, C N. “Ho Chi Minh.” History Learning Site, History Learning Site, 27 Mar. 2015, www.historylearningsite.co.uk/vietnam-war/ho-chi-minh/.

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“Who Is Ho Chi Minh? Everything You Need to Know.” Ho Chi Minh Biography, The Famous People, 17 Sept. 2017, www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/ho-chi-minh-46.php.

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Martinez, Carlos. “Fifty Years on the Frontline: the Revolutionary Contributions of Ho Chi Minh.” Invent the Future, Invent the Future, 19 May 2015, www.invent-the-future.org/2015/05/fifty-years-on-the-frontline-the-revolutionary-contributions-of-ho-chi-minh/.

I'm obligated to note that "Invent the Future" has a very pro-communist bias. That being said, this bias, while distinct, does not diminish the quality of their articles. I believe it is important to reach out to and try to understand people I consider ideological opponents. Thus, I have seen fit to consult Invent the Future's article on Ho Chi Minh to gain a better understanding of his legacy in the eyes of someone who fully supports what he represented.

What is Bump-Fire?

The investigation of the recent shooting in Las Vegas has turned up an interesting, horrible detail. The shooter utilized special gun stocks modified to induce a phenomenon known as "bump fire". As someone who knows a decent amount about guns, I'd like to take a chance to clarify what, exactly, this means to those who have no idea.

Bump fire occurs when the recoil of firing a semi-automatic gun causes the trigger to be pulled a second time, from the force of the recoil. It is often the result of poor firing stance and discipline. In these cases, a bump firing gun is difficult to control and has poor accuracy from unplanned fire and aforesaid bad discipline. Bump firing can cause a weapon to empty its entire magazine very rapidly, a sort of makeshift "fully automatic" function.

While I had been aware that there are specially modified stocks that induce bump firing on purpose, I did not realize they were so common. I definitely didn't expect them to be so commonly legal in the United States. But my issues with US gun regulations are a subject for another article.

Well, the color's nice, but drum mags and that stupid goddamn bump-fire stock have ruined it. Also, about that magazine, wouldn't a cheaper way to jam your AR-15 just be to smear dirt on the rounds before you put them in the magazine?

Well, the color's nice, but drum mags and that stupid goddamn bump-fire stock have ruined it. Also, about that magazine, wouldn't a cheaper way to jam your AR-15 just be to smear dirt on the rounds before you put them in the magazine?

Bump firing is dangerous for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it is dangerous because it is typically the result of a poorly controlled weapon. Second, poor handling of a weapon can cause it to malfunction.

Traditionally, there is a basic principle of physics that defines the mechanics of a semi-automatic weapon. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is why recoil exists. When you fire a semi-automatic rifle, the expanding gases from the round cause the bullet to be forced out of the barrel, and usually, a tube connected to part of the barrel will cycle part of those gases back into the weapon to cycle the bolt, chambering a new round. The rest of the forces from firing are channeled backwards, into the shooter. But the handle of a handgun or stock of a rifle causes this force to be distributed evenly, rather than into a single dense projectile.

Small arms design assumes that someone is going to be holding the gun properly. If the force of firing a round is improperly distributed, the slide may not fully cycle, or the bolt on a rifle may not fully cycle. Sometimes, this just results in a jam. But sometimes, it causes slam-firing.

Slam-firing is when one of the components that fires a weapon does not fully cycle, causing it to fire the weapon again *without* the trigger being pulled. A common example of this is in old models of the Russian SKS, where the firing pin sometimes did not lock properly during the bolt's cycle, meaning it immediately struck the primer of the next round as it was being chambered.

I shouldn't have to tell anyone, gun savvy or not, how bad it is for a gun to fire a round without that round being seated properly in the gun. It can cause an explosion in the barrel that destroys the weapon and the shooter's hand. It can cause the other rounds in the magazine to "cook off", firing them all at once and destroying the shooter's hand. Most of the other possibilities here also result in someone's piano-playing days coming to a premature end.

I don't really have a conclusion for this article, so I'll just dispense some firearms advice. The primary problem with guns in this country has nothing to do with legislation. It has to do with poor discipline and a culture of disrespect.

The modern firearm is a fascinating, technically ingenious work of art, the result of over a hundred years of incredibly clever people being incredibly clever. When you mishandle or misuse a firearm, you are disrespecting those inventors, you are disrespecting how clever they were. You are disrespecting a work of art.

The Colt M1911 handgun design is over a century old. As of 2017, it is still one of the greatest handguns in the world.

The Colt M1911 handgun design is over a century old. As of 2017, it is still one of the greatest handguns in the world.

Furthermore, the second amendment of the US constitution has an oft overlooked stipulation. It's the first part of the amendment, even.

"A well regulated Militia"

Now, I don't claim to be an expert in everything, but I'm pretty sure "A well regulated Militia" is not synonymous with "A stupid bastard waving a Glock around and pretending he's cool."

It's not cool, it's dangerous, disrespectful, and contrary to the true meaning of the right to bear arms.

John Moses Browning, the Patron Saint of Firearm Design. Do not do injustice to this man's memory.

John Moses Browning, the Patron Saint of Firearm Design. Do not do injustice to this man's memory.

Got 'Em! USS Archerfish Sinks the Shinano, and its Deadly Cargo!

So I've had an idea for another history-oriented series of posts, called Got 'Em! The theme will be hard targets, impossible engagements, and daring bluffs that people walked away from victorious. Also, it'll be an exercise in writing article titles in the style of an old stag mag. There will be less focus on full histories, and more focus on action.

First up is the story of the USS Archerfish, an American submarine that wiped out multiple Imperial Japanese superweapons in a single strike.

archerfish1.jpg

November 28, 1944. The USS Archerfish, under Commander Joseph Enright, spotted a large ship leaving Tokyo Bay under heavy escort. For the entirety of the engagement, including his after action reports, Enright incorrectly determined his target to be a Hayataka-class Carrier.

A Taiho class carrier. The Hayataka was essentially an upgraded version of this.

A Taiho class carrier. The Hayataka was essentially an upgraded version of this.

However, the Archerfish's enemy was a far more important target, as was the contents of its cargo holds. The carrier was actually, the Shinano, which had been constructed from one of three Yamato-class hulls. It was the largest aircraft carrier in the world at the time, built on the hull of the largest battleship ever to exist.

Assume the bridge is around 1.5x the size of the one on the Taiho, and you might have a sense of scale.

Assume the bridge is around 1.5x the size of the one on the Taiho, and you might have a sense of scale.

Archerfish pursued, her engines struggling to keep them close to the enemy ships. The Japanese ships apparently spotted the Archerfish, and made a few rudimentary evasive maneuvers, but then seemed to lose contact with the submarine. At one point, one of the destroyer escorts (Most likely the Isokaze) broke formation and moved towards Archerfish, and promptly sped right past the sub, none the wiser. This, combined with a large heading adjustment by the Shinano, left Archerfish in a perfect position to launch an attack.

Commander Enright's Chart of the pursuit of the Shinano

Commander Enright's Chart of the pursuit of the Shinano

All six forward tubes launched torpedoes at the Shinano. The Archerfish Crew reported all six hits. The Japanese crew of the Shinano only reported four. It is possible that secondary explosions caused by a hit were registered as additional hits. My theory regarding secondary explosions is lent weight by the fact that a fireball was spotted climbing the side of the Shinano after the first torpedo hit.

The Shinano began listing, and the sound equipment on the Archerfish was filled with the noise of a large ship hull breaking up as its engines stopped, never to start again. On the Shinano itself, the captain fought to keep the ship on course, thinking the damage was less extensive than it was. Below decks, multiple failsafes and bulkheads failed to operate as intended, and the massive ship continued to take on water past the point of no return. of around ~2500 crew, only around half would survive.

As it became clear the Shinano was lost, the destroyers broke formation and started dumping depth charges. But even that was too late, the Archerfish escaped with minimal damage, and racked up the most tonnage sunk in a single target by a submarine.

It wasn't until a post-war review that the crew understood the full extent of the target they had destroyed. First, what they thought to be a further modified Hayataka had instead been the Shinano, the largest carrier of the Japanese fleet and, at the time, largest carrier in the world, built from a hull meant to carry the largest battleship ever built. Furthermore, the Shinano had been carrying cargo of a deadly, horrifying nature.

Inside the Shinano were the first 50 completed MXY-7 Ohka ("Cherry Blossom") rocket planes. These were designed to be the ultimate Kamikaze aircraft. The Ohka's mostly wooden airframe was propelled by a series of three rocket motors, fired all at once or one at a time depending on the situation. All of this enclosed over a ton of explosives.

Normally I'd say that what I've just said describes a fucking rad way to die. However, I think the mere fact that the Imperial Japanese approved the standardized production of this plane shows a horrific lack of morals and regard for the lives of their soldiers.

Normally I'd say that what I've just said describes a fucking rad way to die. However, I think the mere fact that the Imperial Japanese approved the standardized production of this plane shows a horrific lack of morals and regard for the lives of their soldiers.

Because of this sudden break in the production and distribution of the Ohka, the entire program was set back far enough that very few were ever utilized, and only three attacks against American ships were successful.

Diagram of the damage done to the USS Hugh W. Hadley. The "Unidentified Aircraft" mentioned were determined to have been MXY-7 Ohka sucide planes. Though the Hadley survived the attack, it was damaged beyond repair.

Diagram of the damage done to the USS Hugh W. Hadley. The "Unidentified Aircraft" mentioned were determined to have been MXY-7 Ohka sucide planes. Though the Hadley survived the attack, it was damaged beyond repair.

The Hadley's survival was partially due to one of the Ohkas failing to detonate properly, instead passing clear through the ship. Even a large breech in the hull is a lot easier to handle when it hasn't been compounded by the detonation of a metric ton of explosives.

The Hadley's survival was partially due to one of the Ohkas failing to detonate properly, instead passing clear through the ship. Even a large breech in the hull is a lot easier to handle when it hasn't been compounded by the detonation of a metric ton of explosives.

Alongside the 50 Ohka aircraft, the Shinano was carrying 5 Shinyo-class suicide motorboats. Shinyos were a simple motorboat packed down with explosives, acting as a man-guided torpedo.

I don't know what to say. The Japanese made a lot of these and it was horrible.

I don't know what to say. The Japanese made a lot of these and it was horrible.

A quick rundown of the Archerfish's accomplishments in this engagement is in order.

  1. The Archerfish snuck up on a high value target, slipping literally right underneath destroyers bristling with anti-sub equipment, who were aware of its presence.
  2. The Archerfish sunk the largest aircraft carrier in the world (at the time), which had been built around the hull of the largest battleship class ever.
  3. Along with the Shinano, the Archerfish destroyed the first shipment of one of the sickest terror weapons ever devised, as well as some of its close relatives.

I will now conclude with a photo of Commander Enright.

Kind of a lanky, goofy looking guy. What a perfect person to be taking down Axis terror weapons.

Kind of a lanky, goofy looking guy. What a perfect person to be taking down Axis terror weapons.

Heroes & Villains - "Baby Doc" Duvalier

I'm of the belief that a nation shouldn't feel an obligation to like their neighbors. People shouldn't *have* to like anyone. I do feel that nations and people are obligated to acknowledge and notice their neighbors. Here in the United States, I think we've been doing a less than stellar job at recognizing our neighbors.

I am not immune to this. I know basically nothing about Haiti beyond that they suffer greatly from earthquakes and were once a French colony. This article is at least a partial extension of my effort to learn a little bit more about our Haitian neighbors down in the Caribbean.

This entry of "Heroes & Villains" will be focusing on Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Until now, the subjects of these entries have been people who are either solidly Heroes, or who fall into a grey area between Heroism and Villainy. Duvalier very solidly falls into the category of Villain. Furthermore, I notice some striking similarities between Baby Doc and another, more current world leader. More on that later.

Let's begin with a brief history of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Baby Doc's father. In the late 50's, François Duvalier took control of Haiti on the time-honored "terrifying nationalist" political platform. Within a few years, he had disposed of his political opponents and declared himself President-for-Life.

And here I thought Brezhnev was going to be the most Bond-villain looking person I ever wrote about.

And here I thought Brezhnev was going to be the most Bond-villain looking person I ever wrote about.

Between 1957 and his death in 1971, Papa Doc built up a private paramilitary police force, crushed all attempts to overthrow him, and ended the lives of over 30,000 Hatian citizens. He also kept the head of a political opponent in his closet and claimed he communicated with the spirits of the dead through it, which, while horrible and evil, is pretty fucking metal. After 20 years of running a well organized oppressive terrorist government, François died in 1971, and power was transfered to his 19 year old son, Jean-Claude.

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

Quietly, the people of Haiti hoped their new leader would prove less bloodthirsty than his father. Technically, he was. Unfortunately, this meant Jean-Claude Duvalier chose to stay aloof and ignorant of the evils of his father's established regime. His private army continued to menace the people of Haiti, and the nation continued to stagnate and suffer.

He looks so naive. And looks do not deceive here.

He looks so naive. And looks do not deceive here.

Papa Doc always put on a good show of claiming he was being misrepresented by the press of other nations. Throughout his run as president-for-life, he insisted that Haiti was a major economic and social power in the Caribbean and that shunning him was a mistake for his neighbors. I have my doubts that Francois Duvalier actually believed any of this, but then again, we're talking about a man who kept the severed head of a political enemy to facilitate communication with the dead.

Jean-Claude, on the other hand, truly believed he was the rightful heir to a glorious legacy that was the greatest thing to ever happen to the Haitian people. Baby Doc's was not a calculated, planned evil, but rather an evil born from delusion and egomania. His father's private army, the Tonton Macoute, continued its reign of terror over the people of Haiti. The Haitian economy continued to stagnate, and the nation fell yet further into poverty. As of the time of me writing this, Haiti continues to be in a very unhealthy economic position.

I feel that Baby Doc shares many traits with the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. Both inherited control of their nation from their father. Both seem impossibly naive compared to their fathers. And both do not seem to understand what actually occurs during their own regimes.

Baby Doc and Kim Jong Un were taught from a very early age that they could do no wrong, that their regime was the greatest thing possible for their nations. They were taught their whole lives that objections from outsiders to their government were the result of those outsiders being evil, misguided, and jealous of their success. And in regards to both of them, the rest of the world is not at all sure how to handle the situation.

To be honest, I expected to have a lot more to say about Baby Doc, but he's actually kind of lackluster compared to his father. There is, however, one anecdote worth passing along. One that highlights Baby Doc's shortcomings when it comes to the world of villainy.

One of my main sources for this article was an article by Majorie Valbrun. Valbrun's family fled Baby Doc's Haiti when she was very young. For most of her life, he was the horrifying monster under the bed and in the closet, but also actually real. Valbrun grew up to be a successful American journalist, and, following his exile from Haiti in the 80's, she tried desperately hard for many years to get an interview with him.

Finally in 2003, she got that interview. Valbrun got to meet, shake hands with, and take some selfies with the monster that was behind pretty much everything bad that had ever happened to her or the people she cared about. It's not surprising that her first order of business at the venue of the interview, a hotel in Paris, was to have a nervous breakdown and contemplate avoiding the interview altogether.

How to put this politely..... It looks like someone took the figurative sands of time and literally scoured Duvalier's face with it.

How to put this politely..... It looks like someone took the figurative sands of time and literally scoured Duvalier's face with it.

But then Valbrun discovered something very perverse. Duvalier was a pretty poor excuse for a monster. He expressed pride that he could meet a successful American reporter who was born in his Haiti, which I imagine was pretty disarming. Then he spent a fair portion of the interview talking about how the rest of the world had it out for him, that they just didn't understand the good he was doing for his people. It became clear that he, himself, had no idea what sort of a regime he was in charge of. He had no idea that his private army was raping and murdering the population of Haiti into compliance. They were just his national guard.

Ignorance is never an acceptable excuse for terrorism, but given the parallels my mind draws between Jean-Claude Duvalier and Kim Jong Un.... perhaps it's an explanation for how casually it is administered.

I'm feeling pretty down as I conclude this article. To try and end on a mirthful note, I'd like to observe that, in my opinion, the trustworthiness and overall qualification of the leaders in this photo are, in ascending rank, arranged from front to back.

I'm feeling pretty down as I conclude this article. To try and end on a mirthful note, I'd like to observe that, in my opinion, the trustworthiness and overall qualification of the leaders in this photo are, in ascending rank, arranged from front to back.

 

Main Sources for this Article :
Valbrun, Majorie. "Baby Doc Duvalier terrorized my country and haunted me. Meeting him wasn’t what I expected." Washington Post . 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 June 2017. <https://goo.gl/YVihE5>.
Hanes, Stephanie. "Jean-Claude Duvalier, ex-Haitian leader known as Baby Doc, dies at 63." Washington Post. N.p., 4 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 June 2017. <https://goo.gl/qJpaU9>.