Here’s an excerpt from chapter 5 of the new novel, King of Soul, now being researched and written. We’re talkin’ ’bout 1965:
The manipulations of human history had conspired to contrive a vast, geographical hook. The hook itself was forged in the shape of a country; it was a skinny little wire of a nation, slung long and slender along the 900-mile S-curve of an Asian sea strand. Upon this seacoast hook the fearless pride of Pax Americana would be fearlessly snagged, fish-like. But the snagging ended up requiring an extremely long expedition, for the catch fought on the line for eleven years before being reeled in.
This was Ho’s intention all along; he was a very patient angler. Ho was not a novice; he had been around the world a time or two. He’d been to London and to Paris, Hong Kong and Can-ton. He had spent part of the 1930’s in Stalin’s Russia, and had learned a thing or two by observing Uncle Joe’s tactics. Ho Chi Minh understood what it would take to get his fish on the line, and how to handle the catch once it was snagged. The expedition would take 11 years, but eventually South Vietnam was dragged up into the Viet Minh boat.
Uncle Ho had learned a thing or two.
Around the world, especially in defeated France and in bold America, there was talk about Ho Chi Minh—who was he and who did he think he was and what the hell was he capable of.
Some folks never saw the hook at all. When they looked at that odd-shaped southeast Asian country on the map, it resembled something else, with its long arc curving around the western shore of the South China Sea. . . . . maybe a domino?
No. Vietnam was no domino; there was nothing straight nor square about the place. Nothing predictable. But we didn’t know that until much later in the game.
The shape of Vietnam did, however, have resemblance to a sickle, like that sickle of the infamous hammer and sickle. It was a curved blade, hauled upon the lean, hard backs of legions of peasant laborers. As the years of the 1960’s rolled by, the sickle was forged into a weapon, to be skillfully wielded in the hands of militarized Viet Minh insurgents and Viet Cong guerillas. And that army of sickles was backed up by the persistent pounding of Uncle Ho’s communist hammer.
Vietnam was a hammer and sickle; that’s all. It wasn’t some great domino scenario that toppled the Republic of the South during the 1960’s, ultimately rejecting President Diem and killing him, and then later ousting Thieu and Madame Nhu, like Ho had swung up at Dien Bien Phu.
After the French pulled out—with tail between their legs in 1954—when the Americans pulled in, hellbent on showin’ the world how to defeat communist incursion, it was pretty slow going for awhile. B’rer Ho Chi Fox, he lay low, waitin’ to see what B’rer Rabbit-ears would pickup on his radio, because B’rer Rabbit did have a pretty fancy radio, and a lot of heavy equipment to back it up with, and a heap o’ ordnance to fling around with a lot of fired-up thunderations. B’rer Rabbit-ears could sho’nuff make some powerful destructions when he put his mind to it.
By the time things got really cranked up in 1965, the man in charge of yankee warfare had come up with a plan. But there was a problem.
The problem was an old one; stated simply, from a mathematical viewpoint, it was this: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
No way around it; shortest distance between Hanoi and Saigon was a straight line. But the line didn’t go through Vietnam; it went right through two other countries.
If Uncle Ho were to set a taut insurgent line of troop transport from, say, Hanoi to Saigon—like from the handle of the sickle to the endpoint of the sickle’s curved blade—it would pass, not through the south part of Vietnam, but through Laos and Cambodia.
This was a problem. It wasn’t so much a problem for Ho—his stealthy, low-lyin’ insurgent diehards just crawled right under the rules of international proprietary expectations; they slouched through Laotian jungles and beneath Cambodian canopies like it was nobody’s business. After a while, the clandestine route they had cut for themselves was called by the name of the one who had commissioned it: the Ho Chi Minh Trail.