Nguyen Thi Dinh
Nguyen Thi Dinh
Born in 1920
Ben Tre Province, Vietnam
Died in 1992
Viet Cong military leader
Nguyen Thi Dinh was the best-known female revolutionary of the Vietnam War. She began her career at the age of sixteen, when she began recruiting peasants to join the fight to gain Vietnam's independence from France. When the country was divided into Communist-led North Vietnam and U.S.-supported South Vietnam in 1954, Dinh remained in South Vietnam and led the resistance to the government of Ngo Dinh Diem (see entry). She was one of the founding members of the National Liberation Front opposition group, which later became known as the Viet Cong. During the Vietnam War, Dinh organized a number of antigovernment demonstrations by large groups of women. She became the highest-ranking female member of the Viet Cong.
Fights for Vietnam's independence from France
Nguyen Thi Dinh was born in 1920 in Ben Tre province in southern Vietnam. She grew up as one of ten children in a poor family of farmers. At the time of her birth, Vietnam was a colony of France. One of her older brothers was part of a group of Vietnamese revolutionaries who fought to gain their country's independence from French rule. Dinh admired her brother and began participating in anti-French resistance activities when she was sixteen.
In 1938 Dinh married a fellow revolutionary who was a member of the Indochinese Communist Party, which had been founded by Ho Chi Minh (see entry) and other future North Vietnamese leaders in 1930. The following year, French authorities arrested her husband shortly before she gave birth to a son. In 1940 Dinh was arrested as well and sent to prison in Ba Ra, South Vietnam. She was released three years later due to poor health, but her husband died in prison in 1944.
Around that time, France suffered a series of military defeats during World War II (1939–45) and surrendered to Germany. Unable to protect its colonies in Indochina, the French government allowed Japan to occupy Vietnam and set up military bases there. A group of Communist-led revolutionaries known as the Viet Minh viewed the Japanese occupation as an opportunity to gain control of the country.
In 1945 the Allied forces (which mainly consisted of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) defeated both Germany and Japan to win World War II. As soon as Japan was defeated, the Viet Minh launched a military campaign to take control of Vietnam. This so-called August Revolution was successful, as the Viet Minh captured large areas of the country. In September 1945 Ho Chi Minh formally declared Vietnam's independence from both the French and the Japanese.
But it soon became clear that France was not willing to give up its former colony. After a year of negotiations, war erupted between the French and the Viet Minh in late 1946. Dinh joined the Viet Minh and began fighting against French forces in Ben Tre province. She also remained active in the Communist Party and was elected to the executive committee of the Women's Union. As an important member of the Viet Minh resistance in the South, Dinh visited Ho Chi Minh in the northern city of Hanoi in 1946. She convinced the Communist leader to send money and a shipment of weapons to help the Viet Minh fight the French in the South.
Leads resistance to the Diem government
After nine years of war, the Viet Minh finally defeated the French in 1954. The Geneva Peace Accords, which formally ended the war, divided Vietnam into two sections—Communist North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and U.S.-supported South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem. According to the terms of the peace agreement, the two parts of Vietnam were supposed to hold nationwide free elections in 1956 in order to reunite the country under one government. But U.S. government officials worried that holding free elections in Vietnam would bring power to the Communists who had led the nation's war for independence from France. They felt that a Communist government in Vietnam would increase the power of China and the Soviet Union and threaten the security of the United States. As a result, the South Vietnamese government and its American advisors refused to hold the elections.
Many people in Vietnam were angry when the Diem government failed to hold the elections as scheduled. The Communist leadership of North Vietnam remained determined to reunite the country, by force if necessary. In addition, some citizens of South Vietnam grew resentful of Diem, who put many of his political opponents in prison and used other harsh measures to maintain his hold on power. "There are two seasons in the South," Dinh wrote in her memoir No Other Road to Take, "the dry season and the rainy season. But under the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem . . . the people were battered by wind and rain all year round."
Over the next few years, several groups of South Vietnamese citizens began organizing opposition to the Diem government. In 1960 Dinh became a founding member of the National Liberation Front (NLF). This Communist-led group consisted mostly of people who had supported the Viet Minh during the war against the French. Its main goals were to overthrow the Diem government and establish a new government in South Vietnam that included Communist representation. The NLF, which later became known as the Viet Cong, recruited peasants throughout the South Vietnamese countryside to fight Diem's army using tactics of guerrilla warfare. Dinh and other Viet Cong fighters believed that Diem and his American supporters were interfering with the independence and reunification of Vietnam.
Dinh played an active role in the South Vietnamese resistance to the Diem government. She was elected to the central committee of the Ben Tre Communist Party. She also trained and armed former Viet Minh supporters, recruited peasants to join the revolutionary movement, and led guerrilla attacks against government troops in the countryside. In addition, Dinh organized a number of large-scale demonstrations against the Diem government.
Organizes the Long-Haired Army
In March 1960 Dinh led a group of women in a mass protest in the village of Phuoc Hiep. As part of Diem's campaign to wipe out the Viet Cong presence in rural villages, a group of South Vietnamese army soldiers had occupied Phuoc Hiep. The soldiers had arrested and executed twenty young men, then buried the bodies around the army post as a warning to other villagers not to become involved with the Viet Cong. Dinh and other NLF leaders met to decide how to respond to this violence. "We discussed ways to put a stop to the enemy's killing while still maintaining the initiative," she recalled in her memoir. "Everyone unanimously agreed that we should organize immediately a large group of women who would push their way into Mo Cay district town to denounce the crimes of the soldiers in Phuoc Hiep."
Dinh recruited 5,000 South Vietnamese women from six different villages to participate in the demonstration. They marched to the district headquarters in Mo Cay and remained there for five days and nights. The women sang revolutionary songs, tried to convince the soldiers to join the Viet Cong, and refused to leave until their demands were met. Finally, the government agreed to withdraw its troops from Phuoc Hiep. Throughout the Vietnam War, Dinh and the NLF often used groups of women in large-scale protests. The women demonstrators became known as the Doi Quan Toc Dai or Long-Haired Army.
Dinh remained active in the Communist Party and in the NLF for the rest of the war. She served on the NLF central committee and acted as head of the NLF Women's Union. In 1965 she was named deputy commander of the NLF armed forces, which was the highest combat position held by a woman during the war. In 1975 the Communist forces from North Vietnam and the NLF captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon to win the Vietnam War. The country was finally reunited under a Communist government and renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. After the war ended, Dinh served on the central committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party. In 1982 she was named head of the Women's Union of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. She died in 1992.
Eisen, Arlene. Women and Revolution in Vietnam. London: Zed Books, 1984.