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NGUYỄN MẠNH HÀ (1913–1992)

Leading Catholic politician in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the early years of the Indochina War. He was educated in France, a graduate of the Institut des Sciences politiques (Sciences Po). He held a doctorate in law. His father was a naturalized French citizen and so was he. He never joined the communist party, even though his French wife (Renée) was the daughter of Georges Marrane, a senior leader in and deputy for the French Communist Party. Nguyen Manh Ha returned to Vietnam in 1938 and became active in the Catholic Action associations in northern Vietnam. During World War II, he worked in the labor department of the Haiphong Municipal Council.

A committed nationalist, he joined the DRV, serving as minister of the National Economy between September 1945 and March 1946. He was part of the Vietnamese delegation attending the Fontainebleau Conference in mid-1946. He was described at this time as under-secretary for the National Economy. He became chairman of the Association Vietnam – France in that same year and was a member of the Jeunesse ouvrière chrétienne formed in northern Vietnam in 1942 (He had founded its Haiphong chapter). He remained, however, in French-controlled Hanoi following the outbreak of war on 19 December 1946. During this time, he promoted a peaceful resolution to the Franco-Vietnamese conflict. He refused, however, French offers to cross over to their side. To their intense irritation and that of their Vienamese allies, Nguyen Manh Ha preferred attentisme. He was opposed to French colonialism, but he was also wary of the DRV’s communist core. He served as news editor of Cong Luan, shut down by the French in 1948 for its allegedly subversive ideas. He was critical of the forced labor camps the French set up in central and southern Vietnam and maintained secret contacts with leaders of the DRV during the entire Indochina War. He refused Prince Buu Loc’s offer of a government position in May 1949. In 1951, General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny expelled him from Indochina. Nguyen Manh Ha’s hope was to create something of a “Third Force” to bring peace to an increasingly divided Vietnam. See also ANTICOLONIALISM; CATHOLICS, EXODUS FROM NORTH; CATHOLICS IN VIETNAM AND THE WAR; CHRISTIANS AND OPPOSITION TO THE INDOCHINA WAR; COLLABORATION; CROSSOVERS; HOANG XUAN HAN; LE HUU TU; VATICAN.