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Events Prior to the Vietnam War

By: Joanna Kocsis  "Recognizing what we have done in the past is a recognition of ourselves. By searching our past, we are searching how to go forward in our present lives. It seems that most of us take the past either too seriously, or we fail to consider that the past is done and cannot be refurbished. But let us learn how to progress forward, guided by its presence." Overview:  The unrest in Vietnam goes as far back as 1885, when Ham Nghi, the 13-year-old emperor of Vietnam fled Hue for the mountains in Central Vietnam in the first act of resistance against French Colonial rule. The intricately planned flight took place following a series of insulting comments made by French military commanders who were trying to deny Ham power in Hue. The hiding spot that the royal family was fleeing to was captured by the French, so the family had to head farther into the mountains. Thus began the 12 years of guerilla war, setting the pattern of hide-by-day fight-by-night tactics used by most Vietnamese guerillas. While Ham Nghi's advisor was in China trying to gain Peking's support, Ham was captured by the French and spent the rest of his life in exile in Algeria. Phan Boi Chau organized an anti-colonial movement in 1900, accepted an offer from Japan to send 200 students to be educated in Japan, and eventually introduced Vietnam to the idea of a constitutional monarchy. Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ai Quoc means the Patriot), a 29-year-old Vietnamese man, presented a petition for Vietnamese independence at the Versailles Peace Conference, causing France great embarrassment. The petition was dismissed, but the Patriot pursued his goal, and twenty-five years later he changed his name to the Vietnamese translation of "He who enlightens". Ho Chi Minh. The leader of the constitutionalists, Bui Quary Chieu, made a devastating mistake at the funeral of the "Father of Vietnamese Independence", Phan Chu Trinh, by calling for Franco-Vietnamese harmony in his speech. This indicated that the communists were behind the times. Alexandre Varrene was installed by France to rule Vietnam and he saw little disruption during his reign. However, on December 25th, 1927, the Vietnamese Nationalist Party was established, modeled after the Chinese Kuomintang. By 1929 the party had 1500 members. However, the party's destruction was near. Vietnamese workers approached the party to ask them to assassinate a French bureaucrat, but the party declined. The workers took matters into their own hands and the Frenchman was soon killed. The French government saw the event as a direct threat and arrested at least 400 VNP members.  Nguyen Thai Hos, the party's founder, called for an uprising against the French despite his suspicion that the NVP would lose. On February 9th, 1930, the day scheduled for the revolt, Nguyen decide that he would postpone the act for a week. The information did not reach all of the parties involved however, and many people put the original plan into action. The VNP was suppressed within nine hours and Nguyen Thai Hoc was beheaded. 1938- General Georges Catroux, the new Governor-General of Indochina became gravely concerned with the Japanese, who had invaded China in July of 1937 and continued to fight there, at Vietnam's doorstep. The French Government was too worried about the Nazis to pay attention to the battle threatening one of their colonies.  1939-France went to war with Japan's ally, Nazi Germany. Japan began to spread propaganda about Vietnam's deportation of resources to China along a route called Tokin. The Japanese could have used this time to take over some of France's colonial states, but instead of risking a loss to France they were awaiting Germany's defeat of France, when territory would be easier to gain.  1940-Spring- The Nazis took over France, but only occupied the North. The rest of the country, along with the colonies, fell under the control of the Nazis' puppet government, the Vichy administration. In June of that year Japan demanded that Vietnam stop supplying resources to China along the Tokin route. Catroux had been denied support from both the United States and Britain. This forced him to give in to the demands of the Japanese. The Vichy government was not pleased with Catroux's actions, so he was replaced by Admiral Jean Decaux. Not long after their first demands had been fulfilled, the Japanese ordered control of Tokin as well as the use of all of the air bases in Vietnam. The Nazis ignored the Vichy's plea for help and Vietnam was weakening. Japan saw this as an opportunity to take advantage so they convinced Thailand to request the return of land in Cambodia and Laos, which they had lost earlier that century. France was also weak and had no choice but to allow Japan to arbitrate the dispute. The result was land for Thailand and 80% of Vietnam's rice exports for Japan!  In 1941 Japan solidified their control over Vietnam and the Vichy government quickly signed all of Vietnam's rice, rubber and mineral exports away to Japan. 1941 also saw the rise of the Viet Minh, a nationalist group seeking independence from France. After recovering from earlier defeats and regrouping in China the Vietnamese Communists gathered in the Vietnamese village of Pac Bo to organize all Vietnamese "whether workers, peasants, rich peasants, landlords, or native bourgeoisie, to work for the seizure of independence." They were called the Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh (Vietnam Independence League). The league would become known to the world as the Vietminh. The Vietminh and its National Salvation Associations were, of course, led by Communists, but adherence to party doctrine was not necessary for membership or participation.  In 1942 the Vietminh joined the Vietnam Liberation League, but soon their communist views began to threaten the Nationalists, who eventually convinced the Chinese to drive them underground. Members of Vietminh sought refuge at their base in Cao Bang Province. Within a year of Nguyen's time in Chinese prison he could sense China's displeasure with the Liberation League. He arranged a meeting with the Chinese general, Chanc Fa-K'uei, and offered the services of his party to organize a new intelligence and guerrilla network against the Japanese. Chanc was weary of Nguyen's Communist ties and urged him to change his name. Thus emerged the man who would lead the Vietnamese from 1943 on: Ho Chi Minh. The U.S. mission in China bankrolled virtually the entire Chinese war effort.  In 1943 the Vietminh officially established their military wing, the Vietnamese Liberation Army. In 1945 retreating Japanese troops were used to reinforce Japan's stronghold in Vietnam. They were to keep Vietnam at all costs. On March 9, 1945, Japan ended nearly one hundred years of French rule in Indochina: Shortly before midnight on March 9 Japanese soldiers entered the governor general's palace and arrested Admiral Decoux. Simultaneous attacks secured all the major administrative buildings, public utilities, and radio stations for the Japanese. French troops throughout the country were caught off guard. When the French fled to the mountains, they found a well-coordinated network of guerillas, which were willing to help anyone who would fight against the Japanese. The Vietminh helped many Frenchmen escape to China.  In April 1945 the Vietminh prepared for national liberation. Vietminh's intelligence tie to the United States had intensified with the defeat of the French, to allow the U.S. to keep tabs on the actions of their Japanese enemies. The British, with the support of the French, had set-up their own commandos in Northern Vietnam. These commandos were soon joined by French soldiers fleeing the Japanese coup. The Americans often joined forces with the Vietminh rather then the Anglo-Franco troops. There was agitation between the two rebel groups.  In August 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the Vietminh (rather than the allied forces), leaving them a substantial amount of weapons. The Vietminh was heavily supported throughout the country. Ho Chi Minh himself wrote the Declaration of Independence for Vietnam.  On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh addressed a crowd assembled in Hanoi, and indeed, the entire world, with these words:  "We hold truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (This statement is extracted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776.) Ho also declared the following: "We, the members of the Provisional Government representing the entire people of Vietnam, declare that we shall from now on have no connections with imperialist France; we consider null and void all the treaties France has signed concerning Vietnam, and we hereby cancel all the privileges that the French arrogated to themselves on our territory." Within days, Emperor Bao Dai abdicated, promising to support the new government as a private citizen.  This peace in Vietnam was to be short-lived. Already the French were regrouping, waiting to reenter the country on the heels of the British occupation force in southern Vietnam. There would be a year of negotiations with Vietnam, an attempt to create a new relationship between Vietnam and France. But the die was already cast. France, now under the political leadership of Charles de Gaulle, was simply unwilling to give away the "jewel" of its empire. Fighting between the French and the Viet Minh broke out in 1946 and continued until 1954.  The French reinforced their garrison at Dien Bien Phu in November1953 to prevent the Viet Minh from gaining control of northern Laos and the middle and lower Mekong River Valley. The outpost was strategically linked to the cities of Hanoi, in northern Vietnam, and Louangphrabang, in northern Laos. The Viet Minh, led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, began attacking the French at Dien Bien Phu on March 13, 1954. The base was finally overrun by the Viet Minh forces on May 7, 1954.  The battle forced the French to negotiate peace agreements at a conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, and the war was brought to an end on July 20, 1954. According to the terms of the agreements, the Geneva Accords, Vietnam has been temporarily divided at the 17th parallel into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The French have relinquished control of North Vietnam to the Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh. South Vietnam remains under the government of Bao Dai, the former Vietnamese emperor who was named as head of state by the French.  The situation is currently unresolved. Many people are displeased about the outcome of the recent battle at Dien Bien Phu and an outbreak of violence is suspected soon. Debaters are encouraged to develop a resolution on this matter (even thought that history shows that the UN did not play a role in the Vietnam war.)
Delegates should be aware of the importance of Vietnam vis--vis, its sensitive geographical location, its natural resources (for example, tungsten being vital to the war efforts) and the so-called U.S. domino theory concerning the implied spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia.