WHO WAS NGUYEN THI DINH (1920-92)

Dr. Ernest Bolt, University of Richmond

Nguyen Thi Dinh was the most important southern woman revolutionary in the war according to Dr. Sandra Taylor. From a peasant family in Ben Tre (Kien Hoa province in the Mekong Delta), she fought with the Viet Minh forces against the French in her teens, was in jail 1940-43, and helped lead an insurrection in Ben Tre in 1945 and again in 1960 (against Diem's government).

She was a founding member of the National Liberaton Front (NLF) in her province and became an official within that part of the NLF. In 1965 she also became chair of the South Vietnam Women's Liberation Association. About the same time she was appointed deputy commander of the Viet Cong, the highest ranking combat position held by a woman during the war.

Her memoir, first published in Vietnamese in 1968, is No Other Road to Take (1976). The southern area of Vietnam in which she lived and fought is one of the most studied by scholars, but her personal story offers some important details about people's war and tactics.

On tactics, she relates the process of first winning over the families of men and women who would become soldiers -- one village and its hamlets one at a time. Revolutionaries would go into posts and appeal to husbands and sons to join the revolution. She describes an attack on troops (South Viestnamese) when they were still asleep. The attackers, disguised as ordinary merchants, obtained weapons for guerrilla forces. Revolutionaries also appealed to village and hamlet officials -- police and landlords -- who were regarded as reactionary tyrants.

They also organized meetings with peasants to discuss land distribution and to turn them against landlords. They worked hard to keep the enemy from knowing their growing strength. She writes that many involved in the revolution were women, the "long-haired army" which she helped organize. Also important were carpenters and blacksmiths who produced knives and machetes (as weapons).

After the war ended, Madame Dinh continued to be active within the Vietnamese Communist Party and served on the Central Committee of the party. But her greatest activities, until her death in 1992, were as a leader in the women's movement in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

One must examine Madame Dinh's book to view several photos and to appreciate the dramatic quality of her brief memoir. Students will also find a useful and documented "Translator's Introduction" by Madame Mai Elliott.

 

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