June 17, 1953

Pflastersteine gegen Tanks

The insurrection of the June 17th in the GDR was the first of many rebellions. The countries that were conquered from the Soviets during the Second World War were fighting against the People’s Republic. The People’s Republic was dictatorships with a one party system that was set up according to the demand of Moscow. With a belt of states that had a friendly attitude towards them wanted the SU to save the conquered territory and use it economical. The western side had a different kind of method dealing with their occupied zones. Moscow weakened their German territory through paying reparations (the deportation of industry for the balance of the destruction in the Nazi period) for years. The GDR’s qualification to get a grip on the normal kind of foundation again was way worst compared with its counter part. America had invested in Germany to rebuild the German economy. The resentment against the economic and political conditions in the east was always huge. 1956 after the GDR different countries like Poland tried to destroy this system. The CSSR went 1968 a different way with the “Prager Frühling”. They tried a reform from the interior of the party under Alexander Dubček.

This reform period only lasted for half a year parallel to the revolts in America (cause the Vietnam War), in Germany and France the reform was ended by the Soviet invasion in Prag. 1980 Poland tried again with the Solidarnosc-movement, coming from the workers in Danzig, with Lech Walenca as leader supported by the just elected polish pope who is still in office today to find a solution for the inner structure with the workers as participants in this power-system. 1985 this movement finally reached the Soviets with the election of Gorbatschow as secretary general of the KPdSU and his open political system. 1989 this movement lead to the fall of Honecker who was against Gorbatschow. Over Prag, Warsaw, Bucharest the feeling of getting rid of the Soviet regime was spreading out an it finally lead to tumble-down of the Soviet-Union in 1991 and the getting rid of that what was left over from the Second World War Stalin was admired and threatened like a God.

Stalin’s death in March 1953 was an event that raised hope everywhere that the new leader would relax the tied grip on Europe. The new Soviet leadership even thought about unifying Germany again at least it was expected that Walter Ulbricht the East German leader would resign but the opposite happened he tried through ambitious economy plans to get out of the crisis. Nothing really changed after Stalin’s death the causes were that small Revolts broke out all over the country and they were quickly eliminated.

It was in late may when the USSR appointed a civilian to the state of a High Commissioner of the Eastern zone of GDR this also meant the Soviet military control was kept up over that area. After a while the government announced that they would keep the collective farm program at its present level and that they would also restore the confiscated property and East German refugees who returned receive the full civil rights. All those things were made to avoid riots but there was no way avoiding what was nearly ready to appear. The communist government just had too many issues for the people.

The first protest was the Berlin uprising of 16- 17 June. The workers were fed up with the newly increased amount of money that was paid for a certain time of work. The wanted more because the work was really hard but the pay check was not worth working that hard after the chemical workers in the Halle/Saale district went out for a strike also in Berlin construction workers who built the prestigious Stalin-Allee (today Frankfurter-Allee) went on the street and demanded for a better work quota and that means better payment. This demonstration only kept on for about three hours but it was not over.

This was just the beginning of a huge protest which brought ten thousands and more people on the street. The traffic was completely shut down and the demonstration was very violent. Thousands of rebels swarmed from the “Potsdamer Platz” to the “Lustgarden” ripping down red flags from the official buildings. The rebels also overturned kiosk and police stations and smoke columns were steaming out of the government’s main office building. With this riot the resentments against the regime gained way more force and got stronger and because the riots Walter Ulbricht was asked in the Polit Bureau (the highest council and the power centre of the communist party and the country) very forcefully to step down. 

But Ulbricht made it getting the support from the Soviets against his party competents in the Polit Bureau and the riots. Ulbricht engraved the Soviet system of politics during his exile time in the Nazi period deeply in his conscience and that was also a reason why he didn’t lost his grip during this difficult period of time. The Soviet troops and the armed forces had quietly moved into East Berlin the previous night after the first riot from the construction workers happened.

Those forces were unfortunately very well armed, 15 Soviet medium tanks, 20 armoured cars  and at least 30 truckloads of machine gunners were aiming at the 50,000 man crowd storming the government headquarters. The troops had no mercy on nobody the violence was expanding really fast. This fight was totally cruel. The crowd that was close to the government headquarters was in the worst kind of situation. The tanks were just driving into the crowd of people trying to split them apart. Many people were wounded because they had been hit by a bullet or smashed by a tank. All the injured people were taken to the closest hospital. Thousands were arrested by the soviet troops and had to go through a severe penalty system.

The crowd of rebels didn’t even had a tiny chance to fight against this Soviet equipment. After the Soviet and armoured police troops had taken over the riot the East Berlin the radio station announced a very important point. They called out a state of emergency in the Soviet Sector and because this state of emergency occurred was a curfew time proclaimed for that night. Everybody that violated this time received a very hard punishment so it was nearly impossible to sneak around a corner and not to be seen and punished by the Soviet troops.

After this announcement was made it seemed that the most serious local disturbances had been brought under complete control. Also other announcements called out from the East German radio station threatened the insurgents and minimized the uprising. 

When the curfew time was over there was a SED meeting which referred in many cases to the SED meeting the previous evening in which Ulbricht had said that the whole party should listen way more carefully to the criticism of the workers and what they demand for. The prime minister promised to higher the living standard and to increase the supply of needed living goods for the people.

With the election of Nikita Chruschtschow as the new leader of the party 1953 the whole situation changed. Chruschtschow started slowly to get the Stalin way of thinking out of the system the strong structure was softened and the crime was shown that Stalin committed. The GDR followed slowly and started with the building up of the central intelligence called StaSi. This kind of program was made to prevent such a thing what happened on the June 17th. The Soviet-union still tried to keep up their power with the found of the Warsaw Pact. The climax was the Wall which was built up between East and West made out of concrete but it wasn’t really worth it because it lead to a peaceful revolution which changed everything anyway.

© Benjamin Siegert, January 2002

The Vietnam War

In the year 1930 Indochina’s communist party opposed to French rule led by Ho Chi Minh and his followers. Shortly after that Bao Dai returns from France to be emperor of Vietnam under the French rule. In 1940 the Japanese troops conquered Indochina but permitted the French to keep their colonial administration in that area. The Japanese troops move into southern Vietnam this triggers of an oil boycott from the USA and Britain. 

Phan Thi Kim Phuc (1972)

This shortage strengthened Japan’s desire to risk war against the USA and Britain. A forerunner of the CIA, the OSS, saved Ho Chi Minh, totally sick from tropical diseases out of the deep jungle five years later. In the same year the Japanese troops surrender and the saved Ho Chi Minh establishes the Viet Minh, a guerilla army. Bao Dai abdicates after an uprising led by the Viet Minh. Later in September Ho Chi Minh reads Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence and establishes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi.

This was also the division of Vietnam. A fight starts between the Vietminh and the French because they blame each other for the deaths of the first Americans in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh attempts to negotiate the end of colonial rule with the French without success. The French army killed at Haiphong harbor over 6000 Vietnamese civilians. That event triggers of a war between France and the Viet Minh. The USA recognized the Boa Dai regime as legitimate. The supplies to the French in Vietnam were stopped. Chinese Communist that won their civil war supplied the Viet Minh with weapons.

The Postcolonial War

The French army is defeated May 1954 at Dien Bien Phu. Soon after that the CIA establishes a military mission in Saigon. The Geneva Conference declares a demilitarized zone at the 17th parallel. President Eisenhower pledges support to the new prime minister of Bao Dai. Soldaten werden entladen zum KampfThe USA also backed the new Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem organizing the Republic of Vietnam as an independent Nation and he also declared himself as a president. On the 8th of July 1959 the first American combat deaths in Vietnam occur.

Two servicemen are killed during a Viet Cong attack on a building. 1960 the National Liberation Front (NLF) also called the Viet Cong is founded in South Vietnam. A little bit later the USA starts building up military in Vietnam. A Buddhist monk sets himself on fire; this was one of many demonstrations that occurred between May and August. In November 1963 Diem is assassinated. North and South Vietnam attack each other, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident triggers of the Vietnam War. In Tonkin the US destroyer Maddox is attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats.

The War

A second attack happens right afterwards. The American Congress searches for a solution.  The Congress approves the President Lyndon B. Johnson to take necessary measures to defeat further attacks. President Johnson ordered the bombing on North Vietnam shortly after he had the permission to. In March 1965 the first combat troops arrived in Vietnam and President Johnson offers North Vietnam peace but they rejected the offer. Anti-War demonstrations toke place in Washington D.C. and soon in approximately 40 American cities. A new President named Thieu seized power in South Vietnam.

Operation "Orange" - Entlaubung In January 1968 the Tet Offensive starts. Communist forces launch attacks on many South Vietnamese cities and also on the US embassy in Saigon. It took a long time for the Americans to completely wipe out the Viet Cong troops. US-Army member kill about 150 innocent Vietnamese civilians. The Paris peace talks took place in May where U.S. and Vietnamese officials tried to negotiate the problem. But nothing helped the Battle of Hamburger Hill is one of the cruelest battles in the Vietnam War. About 1000 people are wounded or killed.

The new US President Richard Nixon announces in June 1969 the first troop withdrawals out of South Vietnam. In September 1969 Ho Chi Minh passes away.

Ways to Peace

The War demonstrations are getting stronger and stronger in Washington D.C. over 250.000 people are one the street. The South Vietnamese army and the U.S. invade Cambodia and Laos. In America over 100 schools are closed due to student riots. A huge bombing happens in Hanoi right before Christmas. The USA, North Vietnam and South Vietnam sign the Paris Peace Accords. This treaty ends the American combat role in the war. Finally also the U.S. military draft ends. In March 1973 the last American combat battle troops leave Vietnam. 1975 President Thieu of South Vietnam finally resigns.

North Vietnamese forces take over Saigon; the US navy evacuates US personnel and South Vietnamese refugees. The South Vietnamese President surrenders. This event ends the war and also reunifies the country under communist control. North Vietnam invades Cambodia and a US merchant ship is brought under control. Non-communist forces in Asia and Europe support a new US embargo against Vietnam in protest of the invasion of Cambodia. Vietnam starts talks with American MIA members. The Vietnam Veteran Memorial is dedicated in Washington in November 1982.

Vietnam begins to cooperate with the US and starts withdrawing troops out of Cambodia. An US office is established in Hanoi to find out about the huge war losses in Vietnam.

Steps to Normalization

1991 Vietnam supports the UN peace plan for Cambodia. In the same year the US also lifts the Ban on organized US travel to the country Vietnam. Washington also eases the trade embargo with Vietnam and also allows the establishment of telecommunications.  Everything turns back to normal George Bush grants the permission for US companies to do studies in Vietnam and Bill Clinton eases economic shortages against Vietnam, which is just another step forward to normalization.

Verbrannte ErdeThe Americans are still trying to find out the number of the fallen US men in the war. Clinton lifts up the trade embargo, to get a full account of the Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War. In January 1995 the US and Vietnam sign a treaty to solve old territorial claims. On the 30th of April Vietnam celebrates the 20th anniversary since the ending of the war. Vietnam gives the US detailed documents on the missing Americans and 100 papers of reports about US servicemen killed during the war.

Many people still urge towards the normalization of the relations between US and Vietnam. Formal diplomatic relations with Vietnam are established, and President Clinton announces to move forward and to blind up the wounds of the war. In July 1995 Vietnam becomes a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. A big US embassy is opened in Hanoi.

The former President George Bush, the former Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor visit Vietnam to mark the first anniversary of normalization. The USA and Vietnam reach the agreement of copyright protection; this is a step forward to the most favored Nation status. The elected American ambassador Peterson arrives in Hanoi and the elected Vietnamese ambassador Le Van Bang arrives in Washington. America offers financial help to Vietnam. Treaties are signed between the US and Vietnam which allows Vietnam the access to the US market and this also completes the long term process of normalization.

In November 2000 Clinton is the first President to visit Vietnam since Nixon in 1969. He goes on that trip with his family and it seems like a historic visit. Clinton said that he thinks its time to write a new chapter. A new trade agreement is put up between those two countries to improve the trade status. The Vietnamese government voiced strong concerns and that any US interference in Vietnam’s internal affaires could jeopardize the agreement. But the relations between Vietnam and the US improved in a high degree after the war ended everything returned back to normal.

The Vietnam War was the first fully televised war. Every day people worldwide viewed the pictures of burning villages, forests, and children. So the opposition against this war grew day by day. Twenty years later with the Gulf War I, called operation desert storm, the press was censored, permitted only backstage the "war theatre". Officers explained what journalists should show about the new computerized "clean war". CNN was the only station to cover the bombing of Baghdad directly for a short time. Later on the reporter Peter Arnett was dismissed .

© Benjamin Siegert, April 2002