A Meeting in Tokyo:Komatsu Kiyoshi, Wesley Fishel, and America’s Intervention in Vietnam

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations
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In the summer of 1950, American political scientist Wesley Fishel met the Japanese writer and political activist Komatsu Kiyoshi who introduced the professor to the Vietnamese nationalist leaders Cuong De and Ngo Dinh Diem. This encounter had great importance for Fishel’s career as he became one of the early U.S. specialists on Vietnam as well as an academic who actively sought to influence U.S. policy in Vietnam. The talks also presented Diem with the opportunity to widen his contacts with Americans who could help him in his effort to become the leader of an independent Vietnam. This article describes Fishel’s meetings with the Vietnamese as well as Komatsu’s attempts to promote their political fortunes. It also discusses the consequences that these discussions had for the individuals involved, especially Diem and Fishel, as well as the shared conviction of Komatsu and Fishel that foreign powers could play a constructive role in guiding Vietnam toward independence.

A Meeting in Tokyo:Komatsu Kiyoshi, Wesley Fishel, and America’s Intervention in Vietnam

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations



Vinh Sinh“Komatsu Kiyoshi and French Indochina,” Moussons 3 (June 2001); Kiyoko Kurusu Nitz “Independence without Nationalists? The Japanese and Vietnamese Nationalism during the Japanese Period 1940-1945” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 15:1 (March 1984); and David G. Marr Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power (Berkeley: University of California Press 1995) 84-86.


Tran My-VanA Vietnamese Royal Exile in Japan: Prince Cuong De (1882-1951) (New York: Routledge2005) 209 212-13 217.


Vinh Sinh“Komatsu Kiyoshi” 64.


Ibid. 61-71; Jean LacoutureHo Chi Minh: A Political Biography (New York: Random House1968) 22-23; and Resume Komatsu Kiyoshi folder “K” box P-21 Asia Foundation Papers Hoover Institution Archives Stanford CA. After the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941 Komatsu was detained by Japanese authorities apparently because of his left-wing ties. This is covered in Vinh Sinh 68-69 71 and in “Report on Komatsu Kiyoshi” memo attached to Spinks to State Department 24 Aug. 1950 751G.00/8-2450 State Department Decimal File RG 59 Records of the Department of State National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) II College Park MD. These documents were released to the author after he submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Milton O. Gustafson (Chief Civil Reference Branch) to author 31 Oct. 1990.


Memo of conversation 31 Jan. 1957attached to Coolidge to State Department 5 Feb. 1957 651G.94/2-557 CO 008 reel 52 RG 59 NARA II. Fishel recorded some of this in a later set of notes. See Notes of Komatsu 1 Dec. 1961 folder 13 box 1185 Wesley R. Fishel Papers Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections East Lansing MI.


Vinh Sinh“Komatsu Kiyoshi” 77-78; Nitz “Independence without Nationalists?” 118; “Report on Komatsu Kiyoshi” RG 59 NARA II; and Notes of Komatsu 1 Dec. 1961 Fishel Papers. More detailed accounts of the formation of the Japanese-backed Vietnamese government can be found in Marr Vietnam 1945 113-19; Tran My-Van Vietnamese Royal Exile 172-85; and Masaya Shiraishi “The Background to the Formation of the Tran Trong Kim Cabinet in April 1945: Japanese Plans for Governing Vietnam” in Takashi Shiraishi and Motoo Furuta eds. Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press 1992) 113-41.


Vinh Sinh“Komatsu Kiyoshi” 78-79; “Report on Komatsu Kiyoshi” RG 59 NARA II; and Christopher E. Goscha “Belated Asian Allies: The Technical and Military Contributions of Japanese Deserters (1945-1950)” in Marilyn B. Young and Robert Buzzanco eds. A Companion to the Vietnam War (Malden MA: Blackwell 2002) 44-48.


Kiyoshi Komatsu“Letter from South Vietnam, 1,” Mainichi14 May 1956 16.


Rankin to Acheson 12 July 1950846G.181/7-1250 box 4924 RG 59 NARA II.


Faculty Record folder 9 box 1184Fishel Papers. Fishel’s papers have contemporary accounts of this conference in issues of the Japan Times Weekly and the Japan Times in folder 7 box 1259 of the Fishel Papers. “Diary” James J. Halsema “1940 Japan-America Student Conference” <http://www.ceas.ku.edu/publications/epp/Halsema%20Diary/jasc1.html> (acc. 1 July 2006).


Faculty Record folder 9 box 1184and Fishel to McClure 6 June 1951 folder 14 box 1184 Fishel Papers.


Faculty Record Box 1184Folder 9 ibid.; Wesley R. Fishel The End of Extraterritoriality in China (Berkeley: University of California Press 1952).


Michael E. LathamThe Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization Development and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press2011) 61.


Wesley R. Fishel“The Far East and United States Policy: A Re-Examination,” Western Political Quarterly 3:1 (March 1950) 8 10 11 13.


Memo of conversation 8 Jan. 1951794.00/1-851 box 4229 RG 59 NARA II. I thank Edward G. Miller for providing me with a copy of this document.


William Conrad GibbonsThe U.S. Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships Part I: 1945-1960 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press1986) 90 and Mark Moyar Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War 1954-1965 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006) 33. Unfortunately neither Gibbons nor Moyar provide documentary evidence to support their claims.


Heath to Acheson 28 July 1950751.00/7-2850 box 3667 RG 59 NARA II and Gullion to Acheson 23 June 1950 Foreign Relations of the United States vol. 6: East Asia and the Pacific (Washington DC: GPO 1976) 829-31.


Memo of conversation 31 Aug. 1950attached to Sebald to State Department 5 Sept. 1950 751G.00/9-550 box 3667 RG 59 NARA II; emphasis in the original.


Sebald to Acheson 26 Mar. 1951791.00/3-2651 and Acheson to SCAP 24 Mar. 1951 791.00/3-2451 LM 090 reel 33 ibid. For the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its ties to the U.S. government see Peter Coleman The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress of Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe (New York: Free Press 1989) and Frances Stonor Saunders Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta 1999).


Acheson to Sebald 27 Mar. 1951791.00/3-2751 and Sebald to Acheson 31 Mar. 1951 791.00/3-3151 LM 090 reel 33 RG 59 NARA II.


Memo of conversation 8 Jan. 1951794.00/1-851 box 4229 ibid.


Tran My-VanVietnamese Royal Exile214-17. Last-minute concerns about Cuong De’s activities can be found in an exchange of telegrams between the State Department and the U.S. Mission in Japan on 5 and 7 March 1951 894.181/3-551 and 894.181/3-751 LM 090 reel 33 RG 59 NARA II.


Letter by Ngo Dinh Diem 3 June 1951folder 33 box 1184 Fishel Papers. The recipient of the letter is not identified but its contents and its presence in Fishel’s Papers strongly suggest that Fishel was the recipient.


Kiyoshi Komatsu“Letter from South Vietnam, 2,” Mainichi15 May 1956 8.


Memo of conversation 31 Jan. 1957attached to Coolidge to State Department 5 Feb. 1957 651G.94/2-557 CO 008 reel 52 RG 59 NARA II.


Fishel to Komatsu 12 Feb. 1959folder 17 box 1184 Fishel Papers; Kyo Komatsu “A Japanese Franc-Tireur Talks with Gide and Malraux” trans. and ed. Wesley R. Fishel and Midori H. Scott Centennial Review of Arts and Science 4 (Winter 1960).


Notes on Komatsu 1 Dec. 1961folder 13 box 1185 Fishel Papers.


Vinh Sinh“Komatsu Kiyoshi” 82.


Memo of conversation 8 Jan. 1951794.00/1-851 box 4229 RG 59 NARA II.


Vinh Sinh“Komatsu Kiyoshi” 79 80. Although she focuses on Manchuria Louise Young provides an excellent account of the actions and motivations of Japanese wartime intellectuals in Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (Berkeley: University of California Press 1998) 241-303.


Nitz“Independence without Nationalists?” 133.


Cited in Vinh Sinh“Komatsu Kiyoshi” 74.




Fishel“The United States and Far East Policy” 12-13.


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