(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 or not? One can be certain, though, that he was well informed on these issues. 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.
Let us visit for instance the PX on Nguyen Tri Phuong street, the biggest of them all. In spite of all the official announcements of American "troop withdrawals" it is still crammed with GI customers. The shop assistants, wearing showy make-up and miniskirts, zealously serve the latter, casting sheep's eyes at them in the hope of getting generous tips. The rooms are filled with all kinds of goods: motor-bikes, refrigerators, television-sets, tape-recorders, cameras, fabrics, the newest products from the US, Japan, France, Canada...- sold at specially low prices.
In principle the PX are off limits to the Vietnamese. But don't worry. Kindhearted GI's will supply you with everything you want, against cash. Black-marketeers wait in throngs at the doors, with wads of 500-piastre bills in their pockets. Getting a 9-inch TV-set for them will bring the GI 15,000 piastres' profit, a Honda moped 10,000. The whole business takes five minutes and about twenty steps. No wonder that many GI's have sung the praise of Saigon as new Eldorado. US commissaries, however, look at those paltry deals with scornful eyes. Their own deals are of a quite different magnitude! Let us follow for instance a US military convoy (usually from 5 to 20 trucks) along one of the main highways leading from Saigon to Vung Tau, Tay Ninh, or even nearby Bien Hoa. At a given place, the convoy would come to a sudden stop and the lorries would be quickly unloaded. The goods are immediately taken to convenient hiding places, and the convoy would start rolling again. The whole thing lasts only a few minutes. There is no discussion, no haggling. The prices have been fixed in advance and are paid on delivery: 10.000 piastres for a big crate, 6,000 for a smaller one. Their contents are not known in advance, and there lies the great interest of the deal for the buyers: Vietnamese black marketeers, either civilians or QTV men. It's something like a roulette game. When the crates are opened, they will be quite pleased if the goods are articles of clothing or blankets; mad with joy if the boxes are filled with watches, electronic valves, or lighter flints. On the other hand, cargoes of GI traning manuals, MP helmets, or toilet papers will have to be quickly disposed of. It may also happen that the crates contain some metal or plastic items of uncanny shapes: spare parts for some mysterious piece of machinery. Just too bad for the gambler-buyers, but they will make up for the losses later.
This original way of doing business is also practiced by the QTV chieftains along such routes as Saigon-Baira, Saigon-Lai Khe and Da Nang-Chu Lai.
Recently a big scandal erupted in Saigon about the theft of 420 tons of copper material and electronic equipment from the giant Long Binh logistical base. The stolen goods were loaded on the cargo ship Dong Nai bound for Singapore, at a time when the price of copper was shooting up on the world market. The deal involved big shots in many services, Vietnamese and American: the Economics Ministry, the QTV, the port administration, the customs service, American senior officers, etc. Palm-greasing, as it was later revealed, took as much as 30 million piastres, but it failed to satisfy everybody and that is why the cat was eventually let out of the bag. The goods - brand-new shell cases and signal equipment - had been taken by American military lorries to the wharves during 15 consecutive nights, in curfew hours !
The Number One Man and His Profession of Faith
When in late 1970 a number of parliamentarians meeting in the Dien Hong Conference Hall voiced bitter protests at corruption in the government, the name of General Do Cao Tri, Thieu's right-hand man, came back again and again.
Who was Do Cao Tri? He had earned quite a reputation among the paratroopers. He joined the French colonial army at the age of 17, was sent to France for training and made his first jump at the age of 18, whereupon he was promoted second lieutenant. It was in 1946. Later Tri liked to reminisce about his superiors of the time, French colonels Gilles, Ducourneau, Konal and others, and about his participation in operations of the French expeditionary corps along the Sino-Vietnamese border and in the Northwest. He never forgot to boast that he had been awarded the Legion d'honneur in 1951, stressing that he was only 23 at the time. To his subordinates he proudly repeated that he had made his first parachute jump "before General Nguyen Chanh Thi, even before General Cao Van Vien!"
He was dubbed King of Paratroopers at a ceremony of the Paratroop Division held in 1966. But his more familiar nicknames were "King of Corruption", "King of Gambling" or "Whore hopper."
Let us quickly review the pieces of good fortune he came across during his career. His greatest stroke of luck came in 1970 when he was put on command of the Saigon forces invading Cambodia. When his troops entered the rubber areas of Chup and Minot, he ordered the requisitioning of all property of the French plantation-owners and Cambodian local population. This looting was systematically carried out by special units even while the rest of his forces were suffering heavy losses at the hands of the liberation forces. The plunder was taken across the frontier to South Viet Nam in long convoys of trucks with QC (Quan Canh; military police) escorts. Under the tarpaulins the lorries carried 10-12 fat oxen or buffaloes apiece. About 4,000 head of cattle thus passed the frontier in one week. But what particularly enraged the French plantation-owners was the loot of the latex stocks. Thousands of tons of raw rubber were taken away by military trucks, this operation being given priority over even the evacuation of wounded soldiers. Soon, bales of raw rubber bearing inscriptions in French: "Plantation Chup" or "Plantation Minot" were offered for sale in Saigon. After more than 200 truck convoys had nearly emptied the warehouses, aircraft were called in to bomb them with napalm. Called to account by angry Cambodian senior officers, Tri answered with a shrug of the shoulders: "The latex is so inflammable. A few Viet Cong shells were enough to reduce everything to ashes. What could I do about it? As for the cattle, well, they dispersed at the noise of battle and we were too busy to pay them any attention."
Details of the operation were later supplied by an officer of the 18th Division in the course of a drinking bout: "Everything went like clockwork. The convoys were welcomed at the frontier by no less a figure than General Lam Quang Tho, commanding the 18th ID. Under his troops' protection the goods were taken to points plotted beforehand on the map, from which they were later directed to secret warehouses or taken over by confidential middlemen. The security officers couldn't lift a finger for the escort commanders were all their senior in rank and moreover possessed of mission orders signed either by General Do Cao Tri personally or his chief of staff, Brigadier General An. Such mission orders were worth millions of piastres apiece!"
That was not all. There were even more lucky strikes. For instance those two suitcases stuffed with wads of bank-notes - US dollars, Saigon piastres, Cambodian riels, Lao kips...- totaling the equivalent of over four billion piastres in Saigon currency, extracted from the sales of the French plantations and the pockets of the local population. It was a great scandal and Saigon parliamentarians kicked up quite a row about it. But General Tri, three days later, had an angry rebuke for them: "It's an unforgivable insult to the commanders in the field, a slander that damages the national prestige!" Then he challenged deputy Pham Nam Sach to a debate at his headquarters in Bien Hoa, to be followed if need be a pistol duel! Needless to say, the parliamentarian was not such a fool as to go to the tiger's den.
Indeed, in his meteoric career, General Tri had known numerous strokes of fortune. To begin with, he had pocketed heaps of money in the operations ordered by Ngo Dinh Diem against the Binh Xuyen in 1955. In 1964 he was serving in the First Corps Area when Diem and his brother Nhu were liquidated. He received the order to arrest their brother Ngo Dinh Can who was then reigning in Hue and whom he used to respectfully address as "Elder Uncle." Among the latter's confiscated property, was a box full of diamonds (242 of them in all, of which 30 were of the first water) which Tri quickly seized for himself.
From 1965 onwards, as the war expanded, Tri's fortune also knew a fantastic rise. One of his younger brothers was appointed commander of the Bien Hoa sector, the family's native region. Another was given a top job in the forestry administration while a third worked in the army's security forces. The clan's aim was to become topnotch warlods-cum-financiers.
Unfortunately for him, Do Cao Tri was killed in March 1971 when his helicopter, having on board his closest American advisers, was shot down by the guerillas soon after taking off from the Trang Lon airstrip.
His death deeply grieved Thieu. The two men were linked together by close interests, financial and otherwise. Tri's wife, Nguyen thi Kim Chi, was the daughter of Nguyen Huu Tri, the governor of Tonkin under French occupation, and a great friend and business partner of Thieu's wife.
Soon before his death, Tri had uttered what could be considered the profession of faith of the men in khaki in Saigon. In an interview with French journalist Jean Larteguy, after nostalgically evoking his past service with the French and reminiscing about his superiors, Colonels Gilles and Vanuxem, Tri confided to the Frenchman: "In war there are usually two kinds of people: those who make it and those who profit by it. I do bothh! I make war and draw fat profits from it." He burst out laughing and added sententiously: "Life is so short one should make the most of it!" Four days later, Tay Ninh guerillas put an end to his life.
The Highlands Satrap
The sobriquet had been given to Ngo Dzu, another right hand man of Thieu, Commander of the 2nd Corps Area since 1968, he reigned over the Central Highlands, a vast region with immense natural wealth, populated by many ethnic minorities. The Saigon press has observed: "President Thieu's right hand, General Do Cao Tri, holds Saigon, while his left, General Ngo Dzu, grasps the Highlands."
Why did he fall from grace? The story, as widely circulated in Cho Lon plush restaurants, is as follows: It all began with an outburst of anger from President Nixon in May 1971. Drug addiction had reached an alarming rate in the US expeditionary corps. Panic-stricken members of Congress suspected a devilish trick of the adversary who was "poisoning our boys by having the drugs sold to them at dirt-cheap prices through a network of ubiquitous collaborators." The Saigon press also sounded the alarm: "A tide of heroin has surged into Viet Nam!"
Soon, however, a CIA secret report concluded: heroin was being supplied to the GI's by none other than Saigon generals. An appended list cited 24 names, all pillars of Thieu's "Republic". Ngo Dzu's name topped the list.
After a full debate by the National Security Council of the mortal danger threatening American troops in South Viet Nam, President Nixon wrote a personal letter to Thieu in which he curtly demanded that an end be put to that shameless traffic and punishment be meted out to those who for the sake of base material interests were luring their American "allies" into slow but certain death.
The content of the letter somehow leaked out. Ngo Dzu hastily came to Saigon for an "image-refurbishing" campaign in which he went so far as to challenge to a pistol duel anyone who dared to "drag in the mud the generals of the Republic and sully national prestige."
But no one was fooled. The kind of business in which General Dzu had been engaging was notorious. Anyone who set foot in Da Lat, the fashionable resort in the Central Highlands, could hear it openly discussed in its posh hotels. In Da Lat you can easily find things that are rather hard to come by in Saigon: yellow LSD pills at 19,000 piastres a bottle; green ones at much lower prices; tablets that are mixture of mescaline and LSD are proposed to tourists by peddlers. Lesser drugs are dirt-cheap: Red Rock heroin costs two dollars a bottle (100 in the US); a packet of marijuana cigarettes, complete with filter tips, 30 cents. The prosperous American executives and oilmen who came to Da Lat for a rest among its pine groves and mountain streams couldn't believe their ears!
In early 1971, while the invasion of Laos by Saigon troops was turning into a disaster, Ngo Dzu, on orders from the Pentagon, came twice to Pakse to confer with Phasouk, the Lao general commanding the sector. They agreed that the planned joint operation into Saravan-Attopeu would be another disaster, and called it off. But Ngo Dzu's time was not wasted, for he concluded a fruitful deal with Phasouk whereby the two set an opium and heroin-ferrying channel between Pakse and Pleiku. Business throve until the fall of Dac To and Tan Canh cost Dzu his post.
Ngo Dzu had a knack for profitable deals. In 1970, he had thought out a scheme which fitted very nicely into Mr. Nixon's plan for "Vietnamization." It started with the handing over of the American base at Duc Co to the Vietnamese command of the 2nd Corps Area: hundreds of tin-roofed wooden barracks equipped with air-conditioners, electric generators, radio- and television-sets, electric fans, safes, filing cabinets, bathtubs, duralumin-framed furniture, typewriters, mimeograph machines, etc. In two weeks everything was auctioned off. To whom? To the generals, their relatives, and their underlings, of course. At about one-tenth of market prices. The lion's share naturally came to Ngo Dzu, whose million-dollar bank account in Hongkong grew noticeably fatter.
The subsequent dismantling of other American bases greatly benefited from the experience acquired. It no longer took as long as two weeks, but only two days to get rid of each of the American bases at Dac To, Le Thanh, Play Mo Rong, An Khe...Long columns of GMC lorries stood by, and the goods were quickly delivered to old customers at pre-arranged prices. The Americans complained to General Cao Van Vien and even President Thieu, but all they got was: "Thank you, we'll look into the matter." Of course everybody was in the know but all mouths were kept tightly shut by means of enormous bribes. Colby, the head of USAID, asked "Prime Minister " Khiem to put an end to that "sabotage" and got this polite, but firm, rejoinder: "Once handed over to the Vietnamese side, the bases become Vietnamese property and we Vietnamese know best what to do with them." In other words: "Leave us alone, will you?" The infuriated Colby could only curse the "incompetent and venal generals" of Saigon. It was the only case in which the Saigon top brass, usually so quick to obey US orders, dared to defy them.
After the Dac To-Tan Canh disaster in April 1972, Ngo Dzu was recalled to Saigon "pending investigation." He was often seen in company with Hoang Xuan Lam, the general cashiered after the fall of Quang Tri, at the city sports club. Clad in immaculate sports clothes, they were playing a lively game of tennis and enjoying it enormously.
For military disasters in no way interfere with the generals' personal comfort. They now have plenty of time to enjoy their so painstakingly amassed fortunes. They know that the inquiries are to be mere window-dressing aimed at placating public opinion and allaying the fears and confusion in the army. The worst that could happen to the generals would be their appointment to some ambassadorship abroad. A Saigon lawyer observed: "In this country court-trials are truly strange affairs. The sentences meted out sometimes cause the accused to jump for joy. In fact they are no punishment at all, but reward." Hoang Xuan Lam and Ngo Dzu, the two dismissed generals, can thus wait for their trials with tranquil hearts. New favours will no doubt be bestowed upon them by their boss, the leader of the Khaki Party, Nguyen Van Thieu.
The replacement of Ngo Dzu was also carried out in typical Saigon style. The new appointee was Brigadier General Nguyen Van Toan who, as commander of the Second Division in Quang Ngai, had been brought to book on several occasions for such offenses as the rape of a 12-year old girl, looting people's property in broad day-light, accepting several million piastres in bribe from a subordinate against the promise, later unfulfilled, to promote him to a higher rank, plundering tons of cinnamon bark, selling them with the complicity of General Hoang Xuan Lam's wife and sharing the proceeds with her...He was thus promoted to be Ngo Dzu's successor solely by virtue of his proven ability to run the profitable businesses which had been set up by the latter on behalf of Thieu, Khiem, Vien and Co.
A Few Other Sharks
The higher your rank and the bigger your power, the more plunder you commit at the expense of the people: such is the law governing the Saigon administration. Around Thieu and Vien, stand the four "pillars of the regime": Generals Do Cao Tri, Dang Van Quang, Lu Lan and Dam Van Quang. We have reviewed Tri's case. Let us glance over the careers of the others.
Dang Van Quang used to be the commander of the 4th Corps Area (the Mekong Delta) where he had plenty of opportunity to prove this ability to plunder its rice. He is now security adviser to "President" Thieu. Lu Lan, formerly head of Quang Ngai province then commander of the Second Corps Area, was also notorious for his venality and especially for his looting of relief rice for flood victims. He is now inspector general at the Ministry of Defence. Dam Van Quang, formerly a staff sergeant in the French colonial army was later promoted to be Bao Dai's aide-de-camp, then commander of his personal guard. In the American-financed regime in Saigon, he was commander of the Special Forces and has earned quite a reputation for himself in the traffic of dollars and the embezzzlement of American-aid goods and is an habitue of gambling casinos. He is now Lu Lan's deputy.
In the Saigon regime, where "corruption is the fuel and lubricant of the State machinery," as admitted by one of its stalwarts, the four generals play a major role. They maintain close and effective liaison between the satraps in the four Corps Areas, the Presidency and the Joint General Staff. For having themselves worked in the various corps areas, they know the situation quite well - the opportunities for plunder and embezzlement, that is.
How rich are they? It's difficult to say. An indicator is Quang's boast in the course of a drinking bout that his own fortune had grown even larger than that of Nguyen Huu Co, the ex-minister of defence, now a big bank owner whose known wealth is believed to have passed the 6 million US dollars' mark. Each month Co and his wife draw two million Saigon piastres' rent from their real estate: a 3-story apartment house in Dalat, 60 bungalows rented to Americans at the Nha Trang seaside resort, a luxurious villa in Vung Tau, two modern hotels in Saigon...The real estate, which everybody can see and estimate, is worth billions of piastres. But the bank accounts and the cash remain a mystery. There are only some eloquent pointers. For instance, this story about Mrs Co, whose great passion is gambling. Once, having lost 300,000 piastres in one single evening, she casually lighted a cigarette and sait with a shrug of the shoulders: "It's nothing, nothing at all. The price of three soldiers."
What is certain is that the fortunes of the Saigon generals far surpass that of the Ngo Dinh Diem family, which in fact had been incorporataed into their own after Diem's fall in 1963. The so-called "confiscation of the Ngo family's property for the benefit of the State" was just flinging away a sprat to catch a whale.
During their time in power, Diem, his brother Nhu, and Nhu's wife, Le Xuan, had their hand in just about every profitable business in the land. They held the monopoly of the rice trade in Trung Bo and the export of cinnamon bark, white sand, scrap iron, rubber, lobsters, duck feathers, etc., which brought them several billion piastres each year in profit. Now the businesses are firmly in the hands of Ngo Dzu, Hoang Xuan Lam and Dang Van Quang.
The Tan Mai undertaking in Bien Hoa, which in Diem's time held the monopoly of forest exploitation and wood processing, is now entrusted to a retired general, a friend of Dang Van Quang's.
Diem had great interests in the textile industry. His brother, Bishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, ran the Cogido paper mill, which is now controlled by Generals Cao Van Vien and Lu Lan. In the food industry, Mme Nhu had invested large sums of money in the Intraco Company: a meat-canning factory in Gia Dinh, a fish-canning one in Phan Thiet, a 200-hectare breeding-area for lobsters in Vung Tau, a freezing plant for shrimps and lobsters in Van Don (Saigon). The major shareholders in those undertakings are now Saigon generals.
Diem in his time was surrounded by such faithful servants as his nephew Nguyen Van Buu and his valet Nguyen Huu Khai. The Saigon generals retinue is much more numerous: their brothers, nephews, cousins and of course their parents and their wives. Not to mention their subordinates.
As security adviser to the "President", Dang Van Quang is in fact working most of the time with the latter's wife for he manages the couple's opium traffic and bank accounts in Rome and Berne. "A real Kissinger", said a journalist to a parliamentarian, who quickly replied: "Kissinger can't hold a candle to Quang as far as financial management for the boss is concerned."
The general's spouses are equally notorious. These ladies sponsor so-called charity organizations which are a convenient screen for less innocent activites. Thus Mme Thieu is President of the Women Serve Society association, while Mesdames Quang, Lan and Quang are members of its central committee. For their financial operations they have an army of efficient aides and so have plenty of time for American-style orgies.
Their respectable number causes them to form a special privileged class. For whereas there are only 137 generals (from brigadier up) the number of their consorts is much larger. Once a brigadier general was killed in battle: no less than eight widows came to his funeral, from places as distant as Da Nang, Hue, Da Lat, Can Tho, and one from each of three Saigon districts. Each tried to express her grief louder than the others, in order to justify claim to a larger share of the 600-million-piastre heritage!
As said above, charity is the favourite occupation of the generals' wives. Victims of natural calamities, war refugees, widows and orphans are the object fo their watchful solicitude. For they are watching out for the least typhoon that may swoop down on their unfortunate compatriots. Not that they are much concerned about their fate. But they are awfully interested in the share they never fail to get from the relief funds collected from the public: usually no less than sixty per cent.
Vietnam Courier #4 (September 1972)