Modern World History


Indo-China which constituted three areas – Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was part of the French empire in south east Asia .It was the scene of non stop conflict from the end of second world war .In the won their independence from the French. The second phase (1961-1975) began with civil war in South Vietnam, the USA intervened to prevent the further spread of communism but had to retreat. Before the Second World War the French had exercised direct rule over the area around Saigon and had protectorates over Annam, Tonkin, Cambodia and Laos.

During the World War II the French were defeated by the Germans in 1940.For French Indochina this meant that the colonial authorities became allies of the German-Italian Axis powers. The French collaborated with the Japanese forces after their invasion of French Indochina during 1940.The French continued to run affairs in the colony but ultimate power resided in the hands of the Japanese.

In May 1941 the Viet Minh was founded as a league for the independence from France. The Viet Minh also opposed Japanese occupation in 1945 for the same reason. The United States and Chinese National Party supported them to weaken Japanese influence over Vietnam.

During 1944-1945 a deep famine struck northern Vietnam due to combination of poor weather and French/Japanese exploitation. About 1 million people died of starvation. Exploiting the administrative gap that the internment of the French had created, the Viet Minh in March 1945 urged the people to ransack the rice warehouses and refuse to pay taxes. Between 75 to 100 warehouses were raided. This rebellion against the effects of the Famine and the authorities were partially responsible for the popularity of Viet Minh and they recruited many members during this period.

In August 1945 The Japanese had been defeated and surrendered unconditionally. In French Indochina this created a power vacuum as the French were still interned and the Japanese forces stood down. Into this vacuum the Viet Minh entered and grasped power across Vietnam in the August Revolution. After the defeat the Japanese army gave weapons to Vietnamese.

During the war the whole area was occupied by the Japanese and resistance to both Japanese and French was organized by the League for Vietnamese Independence led by Ho Chi Minh.The Vietminh was an alliance of all shades of political opinion which wanted to foreign domination.

On 2nd September 1945,Ho Chi Minh the leader of the Viet Minh declared the independent democratic republic of Vietnam in Hanoi. This was unacceptable to French who fought eight year long armed struggle. From 1946 until 1954 the Vietnamese fought for independence from France.

The major allied victors of World War II the United Kingdom, the United States and Soviet Union agreed that the area belonged to the French. As the French did not have the ships, weapons or soldiers to immediately retake Vietnam the major powers came to an agreement that British troops would occupy the south and Nationalist Chinese forces would move in from the north. When the British landed they rearmed the French forces as well as parts of the surrendered Japanese forces to aid them in retaking southern Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh initially attempted to negotiate with the French who where slowly re establishing their control across the country. In January 1946 the Viet Minh won elections across the central and northern Vietnam. The French landed in Hanoi by March 1946 and in November they ousted the Viet Minh from the city. The Viet Minh began guerrilla war against the French forces and this marked the beginning of eight year struggle which ended with the French being defeated at Dien Bien Phu (1954). The defeat was a humiliating blow for the French and it caused the political crisis. The government resigned and new and more liberal premier Pierre Mendes realizing that public opinion was turning against the war decided to withdraw.

The Vietminh was successful because they were masters of guerrilla tactics and had massive support from the people. The French were still suffering from the after effects of the world war and had failed to send the troops. The decisive factor was from 1950 the new Chinese communist government supplied the rebels with arms and equipment.

By the Geneva Agreement (1954), Laos and Cambodia were to be independent; Vietnam was temporarily divided into 2 states. Ho Chi Minh’s government was recognized in North Vietnam. South Vietnam was to have a separate government for the time being but elections were to be held by 1956 for the whole country that would then become united. The elections were never held and a repeat performance of the Korea seemed likely. A civil war gradually developed in the South Vietnam that eventually involved both the north and the USA.

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