In the spring of 1972, North Vietnamese forces launched the Easter Offensive, the largest offensive operation up until that point of the war, that was intended to inflict maximum damage and capture as much territory as possible ahead of the eventual signing of the Paris Peace Accords.
In what must have represented the People’s Army of Vietnam (Nguyễn Thanh Châu painted “Let’s Go” in March 1972 from the . Born in the Delta in 1939, Châu spent much of his wartime career as an artist in South Vietnam, particularly in the provinces of An Giang, Mỹ Tho and Đồng Tháp, where he was part of a unit fighting along the Mekong River. During his time with units of the NLF and , Châu would usually make a quick pencil sketch directly on the battlefield, which he then painted with watercolours at a later stage. Every month or two, he would take his sketches to the central military base in , where he could safely complete his art works.) and the (NLF) forces’ eagerness to start the meticulously planned Easter Offensive,
In the painting below, Châu depicts a scene in a mangrove forest in the(fig. 1). The mangrove forests were convenient hiding places for NLF soldiers during the war, where they lived and slept. In the foreground, a man and woman are embracing and saying goodbye, while others are waiting in a boat. A man stands guard at the front of the boat. Although a relatively simple watercolour, the loving couple perhaps more than anything else signifies the danger and trepidation for and NLF soldiers at the start of the Easter Offensive.
North of Ngô Viễn Chí was stationed with B1 Z1, a unit attached to the military zone’s Logistics Bureau, giving him access to military supply depots, military weapons depots and hospitals. This bureau had 10 departments. Chí and another artist, Quý Viện, worked in Department 2, the political department. Though both artists were in the same department, they went to different units to paint. At that time, weapons would be mainly be repaired or improved to provide to the 7th and 9th Infantry Divisions of the People’s Army of Vietnam ( ), both operating in South Vietnam. In his painting (fig. 2), Chí records a worker drilling holes into a faceplate used as an improvised mount for mines.in Bình Phước Province, skirting the southern Cambodian border along the stretch known as the Fish Hook and an area widely believed to be the headquarters of Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), artist
Moving north to the coastal province of Bình Định, bordering Gia Lia Province, Trần Hoàng Sơn sketched a group of soldiers moving through a bamboo thicket holding rifles with bayonets attached (fig. 3). In what conveys the determination ofand NLF forces against their much larger allied enemy, Sơn titled his sketch Have to Overwhelm the Enemy with Bayonets and Daggers – describing not only their determination but also the brutal close-quarter fighting that typified much of the conflict.
Sơn also sketched a reconnaissance soldier (fig. 4). Although he did not specify where the sketch was made, judging by the date (just a day after sketching the soldiers above) we can assume that he was still in Bình Định Province. Sơn titles the work Reconnaissance Soldier at the Front, referring to Bình Định’s border with Gia Lai Province, an area of South Vietnam that housed the US military base Camp Holloway near Pleiku.
To the southwest of Trần Hoàng Sơn’s position in Bình Định Province, Nguyễn Thế Vinh was encamped in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, an area notorious for resistance. However, as well as depicting a soldier in full military dress equipped with a rifle, Vinh includes a girl from a ethnic minority (fig. 5). Possibly a member of the minority judging by her black blouse and black skirt embroidered with red trim, she sits playing a khèn, a popular type of flute among minority ethnic groups in Vietnam.
The proposed by American advisors to the South Vietnamese government – searingly Programcriticised by – they were also slaughtered by the in revenge for their support and allegiance to South Vietnam.of the central highlands were constantly persecuted by both opposing forces during the . Due to their location on the , they were seen as vital allies or potential enemies by the and the NLF, as well as (ARVN) and American troops. At once displaced under the
Lastly, in a painting that honestly conveys the nature of the conflict at the start of the Easter Offensive in Vietnam, Nguyễn Ðức Thọ captures a soldier sitting in the hollow of a tree in Quảng Trị Province (fig. 6). Thọ had been based in the Trường Sơn mountains of Quảng Trị Province since the beginning of the year, and his experience with the units there led to fascinating stories.
In his own words, Thọ describes the scene:
In another fact of ingenuity, Thọ noted how the remaining hollow trunk acted as a chimney to release the cooking smoke far from the soldiers’ actual position, further protecting their location from reconnaissance planes and bombing raids.
If nothing else, this direct evidence of the northern Vietnamese’s affiliation to the natural environment goes some way to explain their successful resistance against a much larger and better-equipped opposition.