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Historical Dictionary

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HO CHI MINH TRAIL

The Ho Chi Minh Trail did not begin during the American War in Vietnam; it came to life during the French Indochina War. Moreover, at the outset, the trail was not an overland but rather a maritime or coastal route. This North-South supply route running between Inter-Zones IV and V to Zones VII, VIII and IX in the south had been secretly called the Ho Chi Minh liaison road (Duong lien lac Ho Chi Minh) since at least 1947. Besides arms and supplies, this route also moved important cadres back and forth (including Le Duan), ensured vital communications, transferred money and gold, and strengthened the leadership of the northern-based central committee over the southern resistance.

With the arrival of the Cold War in 1950 and the military and diplomatic intensification of the Indochina War, the Vietnamese were forced to “push” the maritime trail inwards into Indochina as the French Navy increased its surveillance of the coastline and sea. Indeed, since 1949, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam had begun plans to create on overland route to link southern Indochina to its northern half in order to spread Chinese aid southwards via overland trails. In his report to the Ministry of Defense in 1951, General Nguyen Binh, commander-in-chief of southern armed forces, explained in detail preparations underway to create an overland “route crossing all of Indochina” from Inter-Zone IV via southern Laos and north eastern Cambodia in order to supply southern Vietnam “once the Ho Chi Minh [maritime] liaison route presently doubling route no.1 is blocked”.

The shifting of the Ho Chi Minh Trail towards the spine of Indochina was thus a direct result of the Chinese communist victory, the outbreak of the Korean War, and the real threat of increased U.S. intervention in Indochina by sea and overland from Thailand. Nguyen Binh predicted that if the war widened and the United States entered it against the Chinese and Vietnamese, then the weight of the conflict would shift rapidly to southern Vietnam. In such a scenario, a secret supply trail would be needed to keep the southern resistance alive. The famous Ho Chi Minh overland trail – allegedly created in 1959 – got its start, at least conceptually, a decade earlier, at the Cold War conjuncture of 1949–50. See also HOA BINH, BATTLE OF