The Fate of the Hòa Hảo Soldiers

29 Tháng Mười 201312:00 SA(Xem: 115)
The Fate of the Hòa Hảo Soldiers

In the immediate aftermath of the Hòa Hảo Armys demise, some Hòa Hảo soldiers were finally integrated into the National Army. Notably, the former troops of Nguyễn Giác Ngộ formed battalions 513, 522, 528, 550, 551, and 552. Nguyễn Văn Huês forces were reorganized as battalion 540, Nguyễn Thành Đầy troops became known as battalion 539, while Lâm Thành Nguyêns private army was reorganized as battalion 549. Some elements of Trần Văn Soái troops were also integrated.

Following some practice sessions at Quang Trung training Center, most Hòa Hảo units were either dissolved or dispatched far away from the areas with predominant Hòa Hảo population. Arguably, the government aimed at separating the troops from the mass of Hòa Hảo followers in order to forestall possible joint protests. As a result of this policy, the former Hòa Hảo soldiers deserted en masse. When regiment 63, which included battalions 550, 551, 552, moved to Central Vietnam, many soldiers demobilized or deserted to return to civilian life in the western provinces of the Mekong Delta. Other displaced units staged overt anti-government protests.

It should be also pointed out that the National Army officers systematically mistreated former sect soldiers. Furthermore, this mistreatment could not be interpreted as isolated cases of abuse by individual officers, but was a consistent government policy.

One former South Vietnamese Army officer and Hòa Hảo follower, Lieutenant-Colonel Lê Quang Trường, told me in an interview that former members of the Hòa Hảo armed forces had been subject to clear discrimination in the national army. They were paid at a meager stipend, which amounted to roughly one fourth of a regular military salary. Former Hòa Hảo soldiers were paid 400 dong per month while a monthly salary of high-ranking officers was set at 1,800 dong.

Notably, former Hòa Hảo forces were not treated as army units at all as they were assigned to do engineering works and to carry military supplies. For instance, when former Trần Văn Soáis troops finally rallied to the government they were reorganized into four battalions: A, B, C, and D. These battalions were ordered to clear forests and to build roads and bridges in the course of the Trương Tấn Bửu military operation. Hòa Hảo soldiers arguably perceived this mistreatment as a collective punishment for their previous anti-government opposition.

Hòa Hảo military officers fared no better as they were treated with hatred by their commanders. The National Army refused to recognize the years spent on duty in the Hòa Hảo army as a period of military service. Even those former Hòa Hảo officers, like Lieutenant-Colonel Lê Quang Trường, who had graduated from recognized Dalat Military College, still were unable to assume commanding positions in the army. Moreover, Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyễn Thành Đầy was murdered inside Quang Trung military training center. It was rumored that the government ordered the centers commander, General Trần Tử Oai, to eliminate potential rebels. Presumably, Nguyễn Thành Đầy was viewed with particular mistrust as he had previously served as Lê Quang Vinhs assistant.
On September 16, 1956, the office of the Chief-of-Staff issued a directive to demobilize regiment 63, battalion 540 as well as some formerly Caodaist troops. These units were still viewed as unreliable by the government.

Although most of the former Hòa Hảo soldiers opted to demobilize, the government declined to provide them any assistance and help sect troops to adapt to civilian life. Presumably, it was a part of a US-sponsored policy of demobilization at minimum cost. Ngô Đình Diệm and Lansdale also aimed at destroying the opposition potential of the mass movements in South Vietnam. Nonetheless, the policy failed to forestall social dissent. Former sect soldiers became disillusioned and bitterly resentful of the government in Saigon.

Most of the former Hòa Hảo military officers resigned from military service in the national army due to the mistreatment and discrimination they faced. It is noteworthy that the administration of Ngô Đình Diệm did not appoint any former Hòa Hảo military officers as province or district chiefs in the Mekong Delta. By contrast, under the Second Republic, many Hòa Hảo followers were named as province chiefs, deputy province chiefs and district chiefs in Châu Đốc, An Giang, Kiến Phong and Chương Thiện provinces, or areas with sizable population of Hòa Hảo followers.
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