Have you ever wondered what went on in Viet-nam and Saigon during the period between World War II and the mid to late 1950s when Americans started arriving in Viet-nam – and why?
I did, in my continuing quest to learn how I became a Saigon Kid.
This took me on a journey of discovery about why and how America even became so heavily involved in Viet-nam and Southeast Asia in the first place. All I’d ever heard was “to stop the spread of communism”, which always seemed reallyyyy vague to me. I mean, really now, what was so important about gaining and maintaining control of this country (Viet-nam) that few people in the USA had even ever heard of and was just a speck on the globe.
During my quest for information about why one day my dad came home and said, out of the blue, to my mom and I while eating dinner, “How would you like to go to Indochina?”. To which we replied, “Where!?! Where is it!?! What is it!?! Why!?! I’ve never heard of it!!” … I kept coming across references to opium trade, golden triangle, French 2eme Bureau (equivalent to USA CIA), Bay Vien, Binh Xuyen, Continental Palace Hotel, CIA, French Connection, Bao Dai (emperor of Viet-nam), Rung Sat, Viet Minh, Grand Monde, Ho Chi Minh, Cloche d’Or, Hall of Mirrors, Saigon’s Corsican community, Corsican underworld, Marseille, Mathieu Franchini, and many other references all evolving around opium trade and the piaster-gold trade.
Then one day I came upon an excerpt from the writings of a man named McCoy about the Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia and the Cold War Opium Boom. As I read it an *Ah ha! moment occurred* – suddenly everything about what went on in Viet-nam (before American involvement), why America became so involved in Southeast Asia, and *why* my dad was sent there by the State Department (making me a Saigon Kid) all began to make sense.
Many of you may remember the movie several years ago “The French Connection”. Guess what it was based on actual events and the French 2eme Bureau, American CIA, support and involvement in the opium trade from Southeast Asia through Marseille to the New York underworld.
I think you’ll find it very interesting, as I did, how the First Indochina War (French War), the American Indochina War (Viet-nam War), and South Viet-nam governments, were funded and supported by the opium trade. As well as, how the Corsican underworld and the Bihn Xuyen ran and controlled the Saigon and South Viet-nam government, including the Police Departments and the Army.
Saigon and Cho-Lon were pretty wild prior to the mid 1950s – I’m not sure I’d have wanted to live in “The Pearl Of The Orient” back in those days.
I’d be very interested in what any of our French Saigon Kids remember about living in Saigon prior to the late 1950s when it was run and controlled by *gangster*.
As always, you are welcome to leave your comments below.
NOTE: The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia is available on Amazon. This is a fascinating read of CIA involvement in International drug trafficking on one side of the fence and The War On Drugs in American on the other side of the fence.
McCoy has well documented his allegations almost to the point of over documentation. This book was originally published in 1972. Shortly thereafter all copies were removed from circulation by the U.S. Government.
Here are a couple of reader reviews of the book:
Academic study exposes CIA’s involvement in Laos secret war:
This in-depth academic study researches the central role that opium plays in the economy, politics, and wars of the region. It follows the trial from the highlands of Laos, where the opium is grown and harvested by the Hmong tribes-people, to the Golden Triangle, where it is refined into heroin. Published in 1972, this was the first printed account of the USA’s massive engagement in a “secret” war in Laos. It documented the use of CIA helicopters to bring Laotian opium to market in Vietnam (where, ironically, it was sold to addicted US soldiers.) This was done to finance weapons for the army of Hmong highlanders, being led by CIA “advisors”, who were fighting the Laotian communists.
There was only one edition of this book; immediately after its first printing, the entire publisher was bought by the U.S. government, and all warehoused copies were destroyed. However, with a bit of luck it can still be found in used bookstores.
A riveting and invaluable expose:
“The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia” is a brilliant, riveting and invaluable expose that details the CIA’s involvement in drug-running. Through McCoy’s analysis, one can follow the CIA’s drug-running trail from right after WWII, through the French Connection in Marseilles, to the golden triangle in Laos and Burma and on into Afghanistan.
“The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia” reveals the purpose behind the CIA’s involvement in drugs: at least since 1954 in Guatemala, the US has been involved in massive international terrorism throughout Central America. being clandestine, the CIA needed untraceable money and brutal thugs, so the CIA turned to narco-traffickers – like Manuel Noriega (long on the CIA payroll before his demise).
“The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia” remains one of the more important, relevant (in light of US involvement in the euphemism called a drug war in Columbia) yet obscure books of the previous quarter-century – a book that ultimately posits the question of whether the CIA, as an instrument of state policy, reflects the values of the American populace. Fascinating reading.
You can buy this book on Amazon by Clicking Here .
Or, download a free copy (pdf format) by Clicking Here .
About the Author
Alfred W. McCoy is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He holds a doctorate in southeast Asian history from Yale University and is the recipient of the 2001 Goodman Prize from the Association for Asian Studies. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Interview with Alfred McCoy – November 9, 1991
McCoy came out with a follow up book in 1991 – “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade” .
Described as – The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
By all accounts, this is the standard reference on the explosive topic of drugs and politics; the reputation is well deserved despite several shortcomings. The volume is lengthy, the style impersonal, the language carefully measured, the conclusions temperate in the extreme. All in all, qualities befitting a scholarly navigation through minefields that customarily produce heavy-handed hyperbole. Distinguishing Mc Coy’s work is the inclusive historical background each topic receives as it evolves over the pages into the familiar news stories of the day. Thus, the roots of heroin addiction among GI’s in Vietnam is traced back in time to Kuomintang exiles of northern Burma and to the politics of intrigue among the many power-brokers of southeast Asia. The reader emerges from this hundred page excursion knowing a great deal more about the Golden Triangle than he perhaps wanted, but nonetheless is thoroughly informed about that murky but crucial region.
Oddly missing from the book is a similar historical account of Turkey’s role as a major supplier of First World markets. Though mentioned sporadically, Turkey remains largely outside the text’s focus, despite its traditional connection to Mediterranean traffickers. Also eclipsed is Mc Coy’s all-too-brief discussion of Latin America’s part in the developing world of drug trade, about which so much new material has surfaced since the book’s 1991 publishing date. Unfortunately, readers looking for material on these critical areas should look elsewhere.
No book on the drug trade is complete without a discussion of the role the CIA has played in boosting the industry’s world-wide network. Here Mc Coy’s cautious approach is particularly damning in its findings. In a brief but telling conclusion, CIA policy is indicted for protecting drug lords in the name of national security, and for directly contradicting Drug Enforcement Agency’s efforts to interdict major traffickers. Worse, he sees a growing tolerance for narcotics as an informal weapon of covert warfare whose trajectory now extends beyond Cold War confines. Considering the evidence amassed of at least indirect CIA complicity in a variety of hot spots, such conclusions are hardly overblown. However, his hope for both a reformed CIA and domestic War on Drugs are, it would seem, tenuous at best, given the global size of wealth and power that is at stake. As his book has shown, Cold War or no, the political economy of illegal narcotics, with its often useful underworld connections and expanded instruments of repression, is simply too powerful a tool for empire builders of any stripe to surrender.
It is available on Amazon by Clicking Here .
Sorry, I’ve not been able to locate a free download of it yet.
Click Here to see the Wikipedia articles concerning McCoy’s writings – very interesting.
Click Here to see the Wikipedia article about McCoy and his back ground.