WORLD WAR II IN VIETNAM
Vietnam and most of Southeast Asia was occupied during most of World War II by the Japanese. The Japanese captured Southeast Asia very quickly but had not planned very well for occupying it. In many ways the Japanese ruled through violence and repression rather than reasonable and humane governing. Southeast Asians that might have welcomed them as liberators were quickly turned off by Japanese brutality. The Japanese occupation raised a desire for independence but did not prepare the countries for it.
The Japanese took over Burma in 1942 and installed a puppet regime of Burmese nationalists. The Burmese initially welcomed the Japanese invasion because they saw it as a way of breaking free of British colonialism. In 1944 the Nationalist turned against the Japanese and helped the British and American drive the Japanese out. Thailand essentially remained neutral. The Japanese occupied Vietnam during World War II but allowed the French to remain and exert some influence.
The signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Agression pact in August 1939, caused France immediately to ban the French Communist Party and, soon afterwards, to declare illegal all Vietnamese political parties including the ICP. The colonial authorities began a crack down on communists, arresting an estimated 2,000 and closing down all communist and radical journals. The party consequently was forced to shift its activities to the countryside, where French control was weaker--a move that was to benefit the communists in the long run. In November the ICP Central Committee held its Sixth Plenum with the goal of mapping out a new united front strategy, the chief task of which was national liberation. According to the new strategy, support would now be welcomed from the middle class and even the landlord class, although the foundation of the party continued to be the proletarian-peasant alliance. [Source: Library of Congress *]
After the fall of France to the Nazis in June 1940, Japan demanded that the French colonial government close the HanoiKunming railway to shipments of war-related goods to China. In an agreement with the Vichy government in France in August, Japan formally recognized French sovereignty in Indochina in return for access to military facilities, transit rights, and the right to station occupation troops in Tonkin. On September 22, however, Japanese troops invaded from China, seizing the Vietnamese border towns of Dong Dang and Lang Son. As the French retreated southward, the Japanese encouraged Vietnamese troops to support the invasion. The communists in the Bac Son district border area moved to take advantage of the situation, organizing self-defense units and establishing a revolutionary administration. The French protested to the Japanese, however, and a cease-fire was arranged whereby the French forces returned to their posts and promptly put down all insurrection. Most of the communist forces in Tonkin were able to retreat to the mountains. In similar short-lived uprisings that took place in the Plain of Reeds area of Cochinchina, however, the communist rebel forces had nowhere to retreat and most were destroyed by the French. *
The French had little impact on the war in their territories in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) . The Japanese forced the Vietnamese to grow jut and other industrial crops instead of rice, plus they made sure their soldiers had priority over the Vietnamese people when it came to food. In 1945, at the end of the Japanese occupation, 2 million Vietnamese, 20 percent of the north's population, starved to death.
According to Lonely Planet: "When France fell to Nazi Germany in 1940, the Indochinese government of Vichy France collaborators acquiesced to the presence of Japanese troops in Vietnam. For their own convenience the Japanese left the French administration in charge of the day-to-day running of the country. For a time, Vietnam was spared the ravages of Japanese occupation and things continued much as normal. However, as WWII drew to a close, Japanese rice requisitions, in combination with floods and breaches in the dikes, caused a horrific famine in which two million of North Vietnam’s 10 million people starved to death. The only forces opposed to both the French and Japanese presence in Vietnam were the Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh received assistance from the US government during this period. As events unfolded in Europe, the French and Japanese fell out and the Viet Minh saw its opportunity to strike. [Source: Lonely Planet]
Ho Chi Minh Establishes the Viet Minh in Early World War II
In 1941, Ho Chi Minh established the League for the Independence of Vietnam (better known as the Viet Minh), a Communist-led nationalist guerilla movement, that later was perceived by Vietnamese as the legitimate guardians of their national identity. The Viet Minh was the only group that staged any armed resistance against the Japanese in Vietnam in World War II. They received support from the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the C.I.A.) and controlled large portions of northern Vietnam by the spring of 1945. The Viet Minh also carried out extensive political activities during World War II. Despite its nationalist programme, the Viet Minh was, from its inception, dominated by Ho’s communists. But Ho was pragmatic, patriotic and populist and understood the need for national unity.
In early 1940, Ho Chi Minh returned to southern China, after having spent most of the previous seven years studying and teaching at the Lenin Institute in Moscow. In Kunming he reestablished contact with the ICP Central Committee and set up a temporary headquarters, which became the focal point for communist policymaking and planning. After thirty years absence, Ho returned to Vietnam in February 1941 and set up headquarters in a cave at Pac Bo, near the Sino-Vietnamese border, where in May the Eighth Plenum of the ICP was held. The major outcome of the meeting was the reiteration that the struggle for national independence took primacy over class war or other concerns of socialist ideology. To support this strategy, the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, Viet Minh for short) was established. In this new front group, which would be dominated by the party, all patriotic elements were welcomed as potential allies. The party would be forced in the short term to modify some of its goals and soften its rhetoric, supporting, for example, the reduction of land rents rather than demanding land seizures. Social revolution would have to await the defeat of the French and the Japanese. The Eighth Plenum also recognized guerrilla warfare as an integral part of the revolutionary strategy and established local self-defense militias in all villages under Viet Minh control. The cornerstone of the party's strategy, of which Ho appears to have been the chief architect, was the melding of the forces of urban nationalism and peasant rebellion into a single independence effort. [Source: Library of Congress *]
In order to implement the new strategy, two tasks were given priority: the establishment of a Viet Minh apparatus throughout the country and the creation of a secure revolutionary base in the Viet Bac border region from which southward expansion could begin. This area had the advantages of being remote from colonial control but accessible to China, which could serve both as a refuge and training ground. Moreover, the Viet Bac population was largely sympathetic to the Communists. Viet Minh influence began to permeate the area, and French forces attempted, but failed, to regain control of the region in 1941. The liberation zone soon spread to include the entire northern frontier area until it reached south of Cao Bang, where an ICP Interprovincial Committee established its headquarters. *
A temporary setback for the Communists occurred in August 1942, when Ho Chi Minh, while on a trip to southern China to meet with Chinese Communist Party officials, was arrested and imprisoned for two years by the Kuomintang. By August 1944, however, he had convinced the regional Chinese commander to support his return to Vietnam at the head of a guerrilla force. Accordingly, Ho returned to Vietnam in September with eighteen men trained and armed by the Chinese. Upon his arrival, he vetoed, as too precipitate, a plan laid by the ICP in his absence to launch a general uprising in the Viet Bac within two months. Ho did, however, approve the establishment of armed propaganda detachments with both military and political functions. *
Viet Minh Begins Plotting for Vietnam Independence at the End of World War II
As World War II drew to a close, the ICP sought to have the Vietnamese independence movement recognized as one of the victorious Allied forces under the leadership of the United States. With this in mind, Ho returned again to southern China in January 1945 to meet with American and Free French units there. From the Americans he solicited financial support, while from the French he sought, unsuccessfully, guarantees of Vietnamese independence. On March 9, 1945, the Japanese gave the French an ultimatum demanding that all French and Indochinese forces be placed under Japanese control. Without waiting for the French reply, the Japanese proceeded to seize administrative buildings, radio stations, banks, and industries and to disarm the French forces. Bao Dai, the Nguyen ruler under the French, was retained as emperor, and a puppet government was established with Tran Trong Kim, a teacher and historian, as prime minister. Japan revoked the Franco-Vietnamese Treaty of Protectorate of 1883, which had established Indochina as a French protectorate, and declared the independence of Vietnam under Japanese tutelage. [Source: Library of Congress *]
The communists concluded that the approaching end of the war and the defeat of the Japanese meant that a propitious time for a general uprising of the Vietnamese people was close at hand. Accordingly, the ICP began planning to take advantage of the political vacuum produced by the French loss of control and the confinement of Japanese power largely to urban and strategic areas. Moreover, famine conditions prevailed in the countryside, and unemployment was rampant in the cities. In the Red River Delta alone, more than 500,000 people died of starvation between March and May 1945. Because Japan was considered the main enemy, the communists decided that a United Front should be formed that included patriotic French resistance groups and moderate urban Vietnamese bourgeoisie.
The overall ICP strategy called for a two-stage revolt, beginning in rural areas and then moving to the cities. Accordingly Communist military forces responded to the plan. Armed Propaganda units under ICP military strategist Vo Nguyen Giap began moving south from Cao Bang into Thai Nguyen Province. To the east, the 3,000- man National Salvation Army commanded by Chu Van Tan began liberating the provinces of Tuyen Quang and Lang Son and establishing revolutionary district administrations. At the first major military conference of the ICP, held in April in Bac Giang Province, the leaders determined that a liberated zone would be established in the Viet Bac and that existing ICP military units would be united to form the new Vietnam Liberation Army (VLA), later called the People's Army of Vietnam ( PAVN). Giap was named Commander in Chief of the VLA and chairman of the Revolution Military Committee, later called the Central Military Party Committed (CMPC).
Meanwhile, the ICP was expanding its influence farther south by forming mass organizations known as national salvation associations (cuu quoc hoi) for various groups, including workers, peasants, women, youth, students, and soldiers. As a result of labor unrest in Hanoi, 2,000 workers were recruited into salvation associations in early 1945, and 100,000 peasants had been enlisted into salvation associations in Quang Ngai Province by mid-summer. In Saigon, a youth organization, Thanh Nien Tien Phong (Vanguard Youth), established by the communists in 1942, had recruited 200,000 by early summer. Thanh Nien Tien Phong became the focal point for the Communist effort in the south and soon expanded to more than one million members throughout Cochinchina. By June 1945, in the provinces of the Viet Bac, the Viet Minh had set up people's revolutionary committees at all levels, distributed communal and French-owned lands to the poor, abolished the corvee, established quoc ngu classes, set up local self-defense militias in the villages, and declared universal suffrage and democratic freedoms. The Viet Minh then established a provisional directorate, headed by Ho Chi Minh, as the governing body for the liberated zone, comprising an estimated one million people. *
Despite its success in the north, the ICP faced a range of serious obstacles in Cochinchina, where the Japanese maintained 100,000 well-armed troops.In addition, the Japanese also supported the neo-Buddhist Cao Dai sect of more than one million members, including a military force of several battalions. Another sect, the Hoa Hao, founded and led by the fanatical Huynh Phu So, eschewed temples and hierarchy and appealed to the poor and oppressed. Although lacking the military force of the Cao Dai, the Hoa Hao was also closely connected with the Japanese. Meanwhile, the Japanese had also gained control of the Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi (League for the Restoration of Vietnam), established in 1939 as an outgrowth of Viet Nam Quang Pluc Hoi. Mobilized by the communists to face this array of forces in Cochinchina were the Vanguard Youth and the Vietnam Trade Union Federation, with 100,000 members in 300 unions. *
Creating a Liberation Army in the Closing Days of World War II
Ho Chi Minh used the chaos at the end of World War II to lay claim to Vietnam and launch a popular revolution against the French. By the spring of 1945 the Viet Minh controlled large parts of the country, particularly in the north. In mid-August, Ho Chi Minh formed the National Liberation Committee and called for a general uprising, later known as the August Revolution, to take advantage of the power vacuum. In August 1945, days after the Japanese surrender, the Viet Minh captured Hanoi.
On August 13, 1945, two days before Japan surrendered, the IndoChinese Communist Party (ICP) Central Committee held its Ninth Plenum at Tan Trao to prepare an agenda for a National Congress of the Viet Minh a few days later. At the plenum, convened just after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an order for a general uprising was issued, and a national insurrection committee was established headed by ICP general secretary Truong Chinh. Slogans were adopted— 1) End foreign aggression, 2) Seize back national independence; and 3) Found the people's power—and orders were given to combine political and military action to agitate and to demoralize the enemy, to force them to surrender before an attack, and to focus on the most important targets. [Source: Library of Congress *, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
On August 16, the Viet Minh National Congress convened at Tan Trao and ratified the Central Committee decision to launch a general uprising. The Congress brought together delegates from many parties, organizations, and ethnic and religious groups and elected a National Liberation Committee, headed by Ho Chi Minh (who was gravely ill at the time), to serve as a provisional government. The congress decided on the following resolution: "To seize power from the hands of the Japanese and puppet government before the arrival of Allied troops in Indochina and receive in our capacity, as masters of the country, the troops which come to disarm the Japanese". ~
The problem was pre-emptying the "Allies" (Chiang Kai-shek, British, French and American) who all wanted to occupy Indochina in their own interests. The following day, the Congress, at a ceremony in front of the village dinh, officially adopted the national red flag with a gold star, and Ho read an appeal to the Vietnamese people to rise in revolution; "This hour is a decisive one for our nation's destiny. Let us all stand up and fight tenaciously for our own liberation. Many peoples of the world are rising up to regain their independence. We cannot lag behind. Forward! Under the Viet Minh banner, let us march courageously forward" *~
Viet Minh Capture Hanoi
The Liberation Army promptly liberated the town of Thai Nguyen. Everywhere mass organizations and guerrilla and self defense units swung into action. A tidal wave swept the country; in every village and every town between August 14 and 25, large crowds backed by armed groups laid siege to administrative offices. The local authorities fled or handed power over to the revolutionaries. Most of the garrisons of demoralized Japanese or puppet troops allowed themselves to be disarmed. Only a few cities remained under occupation : Lai Chau, then occupied by a large French column returning from China where it had taken refuge during the Japanese putsch of March 9, 1945, and Mong, Cai, Hit Giang and Lao Cai on the Sino-Vietnamese border, then occupied by Chiang Kai-slick's troops. ~
By the end of the first week following the Tan Trao conference, most of the provincial and district capitals north of Hanoi had fallen to the revolutionary forces. When the news of the Japanese surrender reached Hanoi on August 16, the local Japanese military command turned over its powers to the local Vietnamese authorities. By August 17, Viet Minh units in the Hanoi suburbs had deposed the local administrations and seized the government seals symbolizing political authority. Selfdefense units were set up and armed with guns, knives, and sticks. Meanwhile, Viet Minh-led demonstrations broke out inside Hanoi. The following morning, August 18m a member of the Viet Minh Municipal Committee announced to a crowd of 200,000 gathered in Ba Dinh Square that the general uprising had begun. The crowd broke up immediately after that and headed for various key buildings around the city, including the palace, city hall, and police headquarters, where they accepted the surrender of the Japanese and local Vietnamese government forces, mostly without resistance. *
According to the Vietnamese Communist Party take on the events: "In Hanoi, pro-Japanese agents trying to stem the revolutionary tide, set up a National Salvation Committee which failed to rally the masses. On August 17, a rally called by the Federation of Functionaries in support of the puppet government was turned into a huge demonstration in favor of the Viet Minh by an enthusiastic crowd. A general strike was launched. On August 19, more than 100,000 people demonstrated in the streets, and the puppet government was forced to resign and hand over power to the revolutionaries." ~
Viet Minh Capture Hue and Saigon
On August 18, The Viet Minh sent telegrams throughout Tonkin announcing its victory, and local Viet Minh units were able to take over most of the provincial and district capitals without a struggle. In Annam and Cochinchina, however, the Communist victory was less assured because the ICP in those regions had neither the advantage of long, careful preparation nor an established liberated base area and army. Hue fell in a manner similar to Hanoi, with the takeover first of the surrounding area. [Source: Library of Congress *]
A swift victory in Hue and Saigon was deemed of was of paramount importance. Hue was the royal capital and seat of the pro-Japanese puppet government. The Viet Minh, to avoid bloodshed, tried to persuade Bao Dai to abdicate and his prime minister, Tran Trong Kim to resign. The reactionaries, wanting to hang on to power, were planning to ask the Japanese command for a 5,000 strong guard, but in order to prevent this, the people of Hue and surrounding villages, accompanied by armed groups, took to the streets to demonstrate and occupy various ministries. On August 23, Bao Dai agreed to abdicate, and the Tran Trong Kim government collapsed. On the 25th, a delegation from the people's government in Hanoi led by Tran Huy Lieu received the dynastic seal and sword, the symbols of royal power, from Bao Dai. Bao Dai became citizens Vinh Thuy. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
According to the Vietnamese Communist Party take on the events: "In Cochinchina, on August 14, pro-Japanese elements formed a united National Front. The king's envoy from Hue, Nguyen Van Sam, asked the Japanese to arm the members of this front. However, he was unable to withstand popular pressure. On August 25, one million people from Saigon and neighbouring areas, protected by armed groups, marched through the city and established the revolutionary power. The insurrection had won complete victory throughout the country. "
Saigon fell on August 25 to the Viet Minh, who organized a nine-member, multiparty Committee of the South, including six members of the Viet Minh, to govern the city. The provinces south and west of Saigon, however, remained in the hands of the Hoa Hao. Although the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai were anti-French, both were more interested in regional autonomy than in communist-led national independence. As a result, clashes between the Hoa Hao and the Viet Minh broke out in the Mekong Delta in September. *
According to the Vietnamese Communist Party: "The August Revolution of 1945 put an end to 80 years of French colonial domination, abolished the monarchy and reestablished Vietnam as an independent nation. The revolution dealt a severe blow to the colonial system, and along with other movements throughout the world, ushered in the dismantling of colonial empires. The August Revolution was characterized by a sound combination of political and armed struggles, one supporting the other, the importance attributed to either varying with the circumstances. It showed the political maturity as well as the capacity for action of the masses and the leadership ability of the Viet Minh Front and Communist Party. Victory was achieved thanks to its leadership that had called for the right action at the right moment, and identified forms of action appropriate to each movement and each locality. It was also the product of long preparation, both political and military, that began at the start of the Second World War, and which ended in creating a strong national union on the basis of a close alliance between the workers and peasants, and succeeded in inspiring the masses with a courage that could be held out against all challenges." ~
Ho Chi Minh Declares Vietnam’s independence
On September 2, 1945, only a week after Ho Chi Minh had been carried out of the jungle, half a million people gathered in Ba Dinh Square to hear him read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, based on the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. After indicting the French colonial record in Vietnam, he closed with an appeal to the victorious Allies to recognize the independence of Vietnam.
Dressed on a khaki tunic and rubber sandals, the 55-year-old, disease-ridden nationalist declared: "All people are created equal. They are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"—words take almost verbatim from the American Declaration of Independence. He also made a nod to the credo of liberty, equality and fraternity as embodied in the French Constitution of 1791.
The National Congress held in mid-August 1945 adopted a 10-point program: 1) Seize power and found the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) on the basis of total independence; 2) Arm the people and strengthen the Liberation Army; 3) Confiscate the property of the imperialists and traitors, and depending on circumstances, nationalize it or share it out among the poor; 4 ) Abolish the taxes imposed by the French and Japanese, and replace them with a just and non-punitive budget system; 5) Guarantee the fundamental rights of the people—human rights and right to private ownership—and guarantee fundamental civil rights: universal suffrage, democratic freedoms, equality among ethnic groups, and between men and women; 6) Share out communal land fairly, reduce land rent and loan interest rates, postpone repayment of debts, and provide relief to victims of natural disasters; 7) Introduce labor legislation: an eight-hour workday, minimum salary, national insurance; 8) Build and independent national economy, develop agriculture, and set up a national bank; 9) Develop a national education system : fight illiteracy, and introduce compulsory elementary education. Build a new culture; and 10) Establish friendly relations with the Allies and countries struggling for independence. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
After Bao Dai abdicated and Saigon was captured the Viet Minh held power in a shaky coalition with noncommunist groups. Ho Chi Minh had moved his headquarters to Hanoi shortly after the Viet Minh takeover of the city. On August 28, the Viet Minh announced the formation of the provisional government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) with Ho as president and minister of foreign affairs. Vo Nguyen Giap was named minister of interior and Pham Van Dong minister of finance. In order to broaden support for the new government, several noncommunists were also included. Emperor Bao Dai, whom the communists had forced to abdicate on August 25, was given the position of high counselor to the new government. [Source: Library of Congress *]
Despite the heady days of August, major problems lay ahead for the ICP. Noncommunist political parties, which had been too weak and disorganized to take advantage of the political vacuum left by the fall of the Japanese, began to express opposition to communist control of the new provisional government. Among these parties, the nationalist VNQDD and Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi parties had the benefit of friendship with the Chinese expeditionary forces of Chiang Kai-shek, which began arriving in northern Vietnam in early September. *
Chaos as Vietnam is Divided Into North and South at the Close of World War II
A footnote on the agenda of the Potsdam Conference of July 1945 was the disarming of Japanese occupation forces in Vietnam. It was decided that the Chinese Kuomintang would accept the Japanese surrender north of the 16th Parallel and that the British would do the same to the south. [Source: Lonely Planet =]
According to Lonely Planet: "When the British arrived in Saigon, chaos reigned. The Japanese were defeated, the French were vulnerable, the Viet Minh was looking to assert itself, plus private militias were causing trouble. In order to help the Brits restore order, defeated Japanese troops were turned loose. Then 1400 armed French paratroopers were released from prison and, most likely looking for vengeance after Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of independence, immediately went on a rampage around the city, breaking into the homes and shops of the Vietnamese and indiscriminately clubbing men, women and children. The Viet Minh responded by calling a general strike and by launching a guerrilla campaign against the French. On 24 September French general Jacques Philippe Leclerc arrived in Saigon, pompously declaring ‘We have come to reclaim our inheritance’. The end of the war had brought liberation for France, but not, it seemed, for its colonies. =
In the north, Chinese Kuomintang troops were fleeing the Chinese communists and pillaging their way southward towards Hanoi. Ho tried to placate them, but as the months of Chinese occupation dragged on, he decided ‘better the devil you know’ and accepted a temporary return of the French. For the Vietnamese, even the French colonisers were better than the Chinese. The French were to stay for five years in return for recognising Vietnam as a free state within the French Union. =
Vietnamese Struggle to Gain Control of Vietnam
The Vietnamese nationalists, with the help of Chinese troops, seized some areas north of Hanoi, and the VNQDD subsequently set up an opposition newspaper in Hanoi to denounce "red terror." The communists gave high priority to avoiding clashes with Chinese troops, which soon numbered 180,000. To prevent such encounters, Ho ordered VLA troops to avoid provoking any incidents with the Chinese and agreed to the Chinese demand that the communists negotiate with the Vietnamese nationalist parties. Accordingly, in November 1945, the provisional government began negotiations with the VNQDD and the Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi, both of which initially took a hard line in their demands. The communists resisted, however, and the final agreement called for a provisional coalition government with Ho as president and nationalist leader Nguyen Hai Than as vice president. In the general elections scheduled for early January, 50 of the 350 National Assembly seats were to be reserved for the VNQDD and 20, for Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi, regardless of the results of the balloting. [Source: Library of Congress *]
At the same time, the communists were in a far weaker political position in Cochinchina because they faced competition from the well-organized, economically influential, moderate parties based in Saigon and from the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai in the countryside. Moreover, the commander of the British expeditionary forces, which arrived in early September, was unsympathetic to Vietnamese desires for independence. French troops, released from Japanese prisons and rearmed by the British, provoked incidents and seized control of the city. A general strike called by the Vietnamese led to clashes with the French troops and mob violence in the French sections of the city. Negotiations between the French and the Committee of the South broke down in early October, as French troops began to occupy towns in the Mekong Delta. Plagued by clashes with the religious sects, lack of weapons, and a high desertion rate, the troops of the Viet Minh were driven deep into the delta, forests, and other inaccessible areas of the region. *
Meanwhile, in Hanoi candidates supported by the Viet Minh won 300 seats in the National Assembly in the January 1946 elections. In early March, however, the threat of the imminent arrival of French troops in the north forced Ho to negotiate a compromise with France. Under the terms of the agreement, the French government recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) as a free state with its own army, legislative body, and financial powers, in return for Hanoi's acceptance of a small French military presence in northern Vietnam and membership in the French Union. Both sides agreed to a plebiscite in Cochinchina. The terms of the accord were generally unpopular with the Vietnamese and were widely viewed as a sell-out of the revolution. Ho, however, foresaw grave danger in refusing to compromise while the country was still in a weakened position. Soon after the agreement was signed, some 15,000 French troops arrived in Tonkin, and both the Vietnamese and the French began to question the terms of the accord. Negotiations to implement the agreement began in late spring at Fontainbleau, near Paris, and dragged on throughout the summer. Ho signed a modus vivendi (temporary agreement), which gave the Vietnamese little more than the promise of negotiation of a final treaty the following January, and returned to Vietnam. *
Throughout the period, Ho Chi Minh wrote no fewer than eight letters to U.S. president Harry Truman and the US State Department asking for US aid, but received no replies. The "Ho Chi Minh Gold Campaign" refers a huge bribe that Ho reportedly paid the Chinese occupation forces in 1945 to persuade them to withdraw from North Vietnam after the Second World War.
Bao Dai's Abdication and His Life As Post-War Vietnam Struggles for Independence
The Puppet Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai abdicated on August 25, 1945 at the Belvedere of the Noon gate at the Five Phoenix building in Hue to three emissaries sent by Ho Chi Minh. Dressed in yellow turban and brocaded tunic he stood before a crowd of several thousand people and said: "As for us, we have known great bitterness during the 20 years of our rule. Henceforth, we are happy to assume the status of a free citizen in an independent country," adding "I would rather live as an ordinary citizen of an independent country than be Emperor of a nation of slaves." Bao Dai passed on to Ho Chi Minh's representatives the symbols of his authority: a golden seal and sword with ruby-studded handle. According to the Communist account of the events, one of the representatives lifted the sword skyward to thunderous applause. After his abdication, Bao Dai later wrote that a woman came up and told him: "Your departure is a catastrophe. We will lose everything. It is as if the heavens have fallen on our heads. [Source: David Alexander, Smithsonian magazine, June, 1986]
Initially after the Viet Minh seized power, Bao Dai was given the position of high counselor to the new government. Later he and his wife and their five children moved to Paris. He came back to South Vietnam and lived in Dalat between 1949 and 1955 as the leader of a "nominally-independent" Vietnam but was forced to leave when Ngo Dinh Diem came to power. Judy Stowe wrote in The Independent, after Bao Dai’s abdication "the ex-Emperor, reverting to the name of Vinh Thuy which he was given at birth, made his way to Hanoi at the invitation of Ho Chi Minh to become a special adviser to the new republic. He was accorded a courteous welcome but found his duties less than onerous until in early 1946 he was assigned to head an official mission to Chungking, then the capital of China under President Chiang Kai-shek. [Source: Judy Stowe, The Independent, August 5, 1997 ||||]
"Realising this was a pretext to get him out of Vietnam, Bao Dai declined to return and retired to live in Hong Kong. There he watched from afar as the French returned to Vietnam, tried to reach an agreement with Ho Chi Minh and, when these efforts failed, embarked on full-scale war. He then began to receive feelers from various Vietnamese politicians opposed to the Viet Minh as well as from the French about heading a new State of Vietnam. Since Bao Dai had no wish to be seen as a French puppet, these negotiations were very protracted. In June 1948 he agreed to be flown in a French seaplane to a warship anchored in the picturesque Gulf of Ha Long in northern Vietnam to witness the signing of a document whereby France conceded a measure of independence. He then went on to Paris for further discussions which eventually culminated on 8 March 1949 at the Elysee Palace, where a series of agreements were concluded, leading to the establishment of the State of Vietnam headed by Bao Dai, although no longer as an Emperor with special royal privileges. ||||
"To symbolise his new authority, he immediately flew back to Vietnam to tour the country from Saigon to Hanoi including of course a visit to Hue, his former imperial capital, where the court had been disbanded. He also presided over the establishment of a new government with ministers from all over Vietnam as well as holding discussions with French generals who were still battling against the Viet Minh, about setting up a Vietnamese National Army to join in the fight. Bao Dai then had the satisfaction of seeing the State of Vietnam being accorded diplomatic recognition as an independent country by the Western powers at the end of 1949. A couple of months later, however, Ho Chi Minh, who had been living as a guerrilla in the northern mountains, made a secret visit to Peking and Moscow where he managed to secure Chinese and Soviet recognition for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. That set the scene for the next stage in the war. ||||
"During the next four years, Bao Dai chose to spend most of his time in France where his children were being educated and where too he could keep a closer eye on the developing international situation. When he did visit Vietnam, it was usually to stay at his villa in the mountain resort of Dalat from where he could once more engage in his favorite sport of hunting.
Meanwhile, with Chinese military aid the Viet Minh were building up their strength in the north of the country. The climax came in May 1954 when after a 57-day siege the Viet Minh succeeded in overwhelming the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. Fortuitously this occurred on the eve of the opening of a major international conference in Geneva on the future of Indo-China at which Bao Dai played only a backstage role. It resulted amongst other things in an agreement for France to withdraw totally from Indo-China and for Vietnam to be temporarily partitioned between the State of Vietnam in the south and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north. ||||
"At the same time Bao Dai was persuaded, largely as a result of American pressure behind the scenes that the best person to head a strongly anti- Communist government in Saigon was Ngo Dinh Diem, a former mandarin from the court in Hue. That did not endear him to the former Emperor. The feeling was mutual. In 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem staged a referendum throughout the State of Vietnam to decide whether it should become a republic with himself as President. With Bao Dai absent in France and refusing to campaign, the result was unsurprisingly in the affirmative. That marked the end of Bao Dai's official career." ||||
See Vietnamese Royal Family
French Violently Reassert Control Over Southern Vietnam
In the summer of 1945, the French government took a series of urgent measures aimed at re-establishing French sovereignty in Indochina following Japan's defeat. On August 16, France dispatched the Mass Unit and the 9th Colonial Infantry Division with General Leelere as commander-in-chief of the Expeditionary Corps and Admiral Thierry d'Argenlieu, a Catholic, as High Commissioner for France in Indochina. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
On August 23, French troops, among them Cedile, a delegate from the High Commissioner, were parachuted into Nam Bo (southern Vietnam). On August 29, Cedile made contact with members of the Nam Bo Revolutionary Committee and told them France recognized neither Vietnam's Independence nor its unity. The committee told him that independence and unity had already been achieved, and that the Vietnamese people would not recognize any form of colonial administration. On September 2, during a huge demonstration in favor of independence, French colonialists and their agents, hiding in church, opened fire on the crowd, killing and injuring 47 people. ~
On the night of September 22, French troops attacked Saigon. The war for reconquest had begun. The Nam Bo committee immediately called on the people to fight back. The slogan "independence or death" appeared every where. On September 26, president Ho Chi Minh made the following proclamation: "Let the Government and our people throughout the country do all they can for the combatants and people of the south who are valiantly fighting their lives to safeguard the independence of the homeland." ~
Units of the People's Army immediately began the march towards the south. At the end of January 1946, deploying their armored vehicles and navy, the French occupied Nam Bo's main cities and communication routes and those of the southern part of Trung Bo and the Central Highlands. After an unequal fight, the Vietnamese force pulled out of the cities to begin organizing the resistance in rural areas. The main resistance bases were situated in the Plain of Reeds, the Thanh Phu region, Ben Tre Province, the swampy region of U Minh and the western provinces of Nam Bo, Vietnam's central government considered that the main task at that time was to strengthen the resistance in the south as much as possible.
This task provoked incidents in Vietnam's capital city. On December17, an attack by French troops on Hang Bun Street killed a hundred people. On December 18, the French Troops occupied the Ministries of Finance and Communications, and increased their provocation in the streets. On December 19, the French command sent an ultimatum to the Vietnamese government demanding the demolition of barricades, the disarming of self-defense forces, and handing over to French troops of the right to keep order in the Vietnamese capital.
On the evening of December 19 1946, President Ho Chi Minh made an appeal to the nation: " Compatriots, we want peace, and we have made concessions. But the more concessions we make, the more the French colonialists use them to encroach upon our rights. They are determined to reconquer our country. No. We would rather sacrifice all than lose our independence and be enslaved. All of you, men and women, young and old, what ever your region, ethnic origin, or political opinion, arise to struggle against French colonialism and save the homeland. Let those who have guns use their guns, those who have swords use their swords, those have neither guns nor swords use hoes, pick-axes, and sticks. Let all arise to oppose colonialism and defend our homeland.... Our people will win". The war of resistance, until then limited to the south, spread across the country. The newly born Democratic Republic of Vietnam was confronted with a decisive challenge, a war against a heavily armed imperialist power far superior in strength in the technical and economic fields.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014