- Vietnam during World War II
World War IIwas an event as decisive to Vietnamas the French taking of Đà Nẵngin 1858. Nationalist sentiments intensified in Vietnam, especially during and after World War I, but all the uprisings and tentative efforts failed to obtain any concessions from the French overseers. The Russian Revolution which occurred at this time had a tremendous impact on shaping 20th century Vietnamese history. The Axis powerof Japan invaded Vietnam on September 22 1940, attempting to construct military bases to strike against the Allies in Southeast Asia.
After Vietnam was occupied by the Axis power, a large-scale Resistance movement developed in the country, which tied down a large number of Axis divisions. In March 1945, realizing the allied victory was inevitable, the Axis overthrew the French authorities in Vietnam, imprisoned their civil servants and rendered Vietnam "independent" under Japanese "protection", with
Bảo Đạias Chief of State. The Japanese surrender some months later was an event Hồ Chí Minh(then known as Nguyen Ai Quoc) had been waiting for since the French defeat in 1940.
As soon as the conflict ended, Vietnam proclaimed sovereignty. Soon, however, a vicious war of independence erupted between the Viet Minh and the French, which would last until 1954.
Vichy Viet Nam vs Axis, 1940
The September 1940, an accord was signed by Japan and the Vichy French administrators of
French Indochina. This accord granted various basing and transit rights also limited to 6000 the number of Axis troops which could be stationed in Indochina, and set an overall cap of 25,000 on the total number of troops that, including basing and transit, could be in the colony at any given time. In addition, the final article of the agreement barred all Axis land, air, and naval forces from Indochinese territory except as explicitly authorized in the preceding articles. Exceptions to these agreements would require Vichy approval.
Fighting breaks out
Within hours of the accords being signed, the 5th Infantry Division of the Army of Canton, withdrawing from China, crossed the border at three points in the vicinity of the rail junction at
Lang Sonwhich lies some 16 km inside North Vietnam. This movement contravened the new accords so that Vichy authorities in Hanoifaced an immediate crisis.
The Japanese division under Lt. General
Akihito Nakamuraconsisted of three regiments with a full complement of artillery as well as light and medium tanks. In all, Nakamura's force amounted to roughly 30,000 men.
On the Vichy side, the Lang Son sector, under the command of General
Menneratof the 2nd Brigade, included five battalions of infantry, a group of tanks, a group of 75's and a battery of 155's; all told, about 5000 troops representing elements of 3rd Regiment Tirailleurs Tonkinois, 9th Regiment d'Infanterie Coloniale, and 5th Regiment Etrangere d'Infanterie.
The Attack at
The Japanese attack began at 2200 on
22 September1940. The northern column took Bi Nhion the border and advanced up the road to the north toward That Khe(defended by one company), away from the main battle. The main effort came from the central column which crossed the border at Nam Quam, pushed aside two companies of II/3rd RTT, and then turned south at Dong Dangalong the road and railway. The southern column rolled through the platoon holding Chimaand attacked Loc Binh; there the bulk of a company of II/3rd RTT withdrew southward to cover Na Dzuong(reinforced there by elements of 9th RIC) while the Japanese pushed northward to support the central column's drive on Lang Son and cut the railroad to Hanoi. Thus Lang Son was threatened by the southern column and by the central column moving down from the north.
As the Japanese columns advanced on
23 September, Vichy commanders desperately attempted to impose control on the confused situation. Reserves were dispatched to the sector, but by afternoon enemy spearheads were already approaching Lang Son from the north. The airstrip there was bombed out in the afternoon.
The next day,
IV/3rd RTT, brought up from its frontier posts in the night, attempted to counterattack in the direction of Dong Dangbut was forestalled by a Japanese thrust from that town toward Khanh Kheconducted by part of the central column. Most of the native troops of the Vichy battalion melted away, leaving only the French elements.
Meanwhile, the central and southern Japanese columns continued to tighten their hold on Lang Son. The local Vichy commander contemplated withdrawal while a route remained open, but was ordered by General
Martinin Hanoi to hold the town. South of the Song Ky Kong, the Japanese column took advantage of confusion among the defenders to push to the edge of town. North of the river in Ky Lua, the Japanese opened their 25 September assault against I/3rd RTTwith heavy artillery preparation at 0530. Three hours later General Menneratnotified Hanoi that Lang Son, isolated and untenable without air and artillery support, must surrender. At 1040 General Martin granted permission and, following local negotiations, the bulk of I/3rd RTT and II/5th REI, remnants of I/9th RIC, and brigade HQ fell into Japanese hands.
The capture of
Lang Sonon the 25th released the bulk of 5th Division and opened the way south to Hanoi. Still in position, though, were Vichy defenders at That Khein the north, Na Dzuongin the south, and -- in the critical sector -- fresh battalions barring the route from Lang Son at Lang Giaiand Lang Nac.
During the action on the Chinese border, Japanese warships and transports lay off the coast in the
Gulf of Tonkin. The garrison they carried, allowed under the accords, was denied permission to disembark. General Nishihara, having just signed those accords, departed Haiphong aboard DD Nenohion the night of 23-24 September and joined the task force. In the morning Japanese aircraft began flights for reconnaissance and intimidation.
A Vichy envoy boarded
CL Sendaito negotiate, but in the meantime shore defenses remained under orders to open fire against any attempt to force a landing. A tense standoff ensued.
At 0330 on 26 September Japanese forces came ashore across the beaches at
Dong Tac, south of Haiphong, and immediately set out for the port city. A second landing put tanks ashore and at 0630 Haiphong was bombed, killing 37 civilians. By 1300, led by a dozen tanks, the Japanese force of some 4500 troops stood at the entrance to Haiphong.
These skirmishes came as a result of the aggressive attitude taken by the Japanese Army of Canton which appears to have been somewhat unconcerned about such diplomatic niceties as accords, agreements, and protocols. On 23 September Vichy had hurriedly approached the government in Tokyo to protest this breach of the agreements so recently concluded. Two days later Emperor Hirohito ordered an end to hostilities, and by the evening of 26 September fighting had died down.
General Nishihara returned to Haiphong on the 29th but was soon replaced as head of the Japanese mission by General Sumita who seems to have been more able to satisfy Vichy amour-propre. By the middle of October all
POWs had been exchanged except 200 German legionnaires of 5th REIwho remained in Japanese custody. Japan took possession of airfields at Gia Lam, Lao Kay, and Phu Lang Thuongand stationed 900 troops in the port of Haiphong and a further 600 in Hanoi. Vichy forces reoccupied Lang Son, and in the course of October and November the 30,000 troops of Japanese 5th Division completed their evacuation from China and embarked at Haiphong.
Axis turns the screw
Axis solidified control of
Viet Namin July 1941. A month earlier Axis powershad invaded the Soviet Union. Berlin, urgently in need of Japan's aid in this enormous undertaking, hoped that its ally would attack Russia's Asian coast. To encourage the Japanese to declare war against the Soviet Union, the Nazis forced the puppet Vichy government to sign an accord for the "common defense" of Indochina.
The Japanese now had a free hand in Indochina. They could station troops wherever they wanted. They could use army and naval bases for their own military purposes. The Japanese could now even install their own police force. Vichy signed separate economic agreements that guaranteed to Japan virtually all of Vietnam's rice, rubber, and mineral exports. In payment the French received restricted Japanese yen, which could be spent only in Japan itself. The agreements did confirm France's sovereignty in Indochina. But the French would share their sovereignty with the Japanese. Although
French Indochinawas not technically occupied by Japan, the two countries settled down to an uneasy joint control.
For Vietnamese Nationalists this joint control was an economic nightmare. The country's wealth, long exploited by the French, was now bled dry by the Japanese in order to finance their all-out imperial military effort. But politically it provided an opportunity undreamed of five years earlier. The French and Japanese began to compete for the affection of the Vietnamese.
The "Policy of regard"
The French left in control of most of the administration of the country, instituted a new program, known as the "policy of regard." Itself a biting critique of earlier French practices the new policy had as its centerpiece a prohibition of brutality against native Vietnamese. But the French went much further. Through
propagandathey reminded the Vietnamese of their own history, especially their long struggle against domination by Asian neighbors. French officials also increased the pay and prestige of native members of the bureaucracy, especially those residing in villages.
Most important, they began a wholesale
European-style organization of the masses, in particular, the Vietnamese Youth Movement. It soon boasted more than 1 million members and represented a major break with the Vietnamese tradition that respected old age, not youth. Through the movement an entire generation of Vietnamese gained a distinct sense of themselves. Nationalists, led by Communist agitation, soon dominated the youth movement. Most important of all, the youth members received an extensive paramilitary education, including training in the use of modern firearms. Unwittingly, the French were training a revolutionary army.
Still, eighty years of misrule proved to be too much to overcome. Despite their efforts, the French won few adherents to a continuation of their rule. Perhaps their most serious mistake was the importation of the Vichy legal system, a system that the new French government had itself borrowed from
Axis' Vietnamese friends
Axis' limited presence in Viet Nam inhibited its ability to compete with the French. The major arm of Japanese efforts was the
Kampeitai, the Japanese secret police. Ostensibly brought to Viet Nam to seek out agents of the Allies, their real purpose was to support potential pro-Japanese nationalists and protect them from the French.
In 1941 the Japanese possessed no clear view of a future Indochina. Expecting to win the war, they certainly had no intention of permitting the French to remain after a Japanese victory. Nor was a truly independent Viet Nam a part of their postwar planning.
Vietnamese Nationalists who had hoped for an early independence under Japanese protection were, like their counterparts elsewhere in Southeast Asia, bitterly disappointed. The Japanese were content to let France continue the financial burden of administering the colony.
But some Nationalists were willing to wait and place their future in Japanese hands. Prince
Cuong Dehad lived for most of the 1930s in Japanese exile, hailing that country's military advances. Many of his supporters from the Phan Boi Chauera worked with the Japanese in the hopes that the royal pretender would ultimately win the throne. More important, the Vietnamese religious sects, Cao Daiand the newer Hoa Hao, proved to be willing collaborators.
The Hoa Hao sect had been founded by Huỳnh Phú Sổ, whom the French called the "mad monk." He was born in 1919 to a leading family in the village of Hoa Hao. A sickly youth, he had resisted all medical treatment until entering a monastery in 1939. There he received a "miraculous cure" and proceeded to found a new
Buddhistsect. His oratorical skills, spiced with violent anti-French diatribes, soon won him a following of peasants numbering tens of thousands. In 1940 the French arrested him and placed him in a psychiatric hospital. When instead of responding to treatment he converted his doctor, his fame and reputation spread.
The French then decided to exile him to remote northern Laos, but the Japanese secret police stepped in. Calling him a spy for China, they placed him under "house arrest" in
Saigon, where he was able to receive his followers and direct the Hoa Hao movement. French protests to end the sham arrest were ignored. His followers grew to more than forty thousand, forming an army of potential use to the Japanese empire.
Japanese policy was to encourage groups like the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao that adhered to their "Asia for Asians" line, a propaganda policy calling for the elimination of western ideas and influence in Asia. The problem with this strategy was that the Japanese did not know what to do with their allies. They were unwilling to champion a popular uprising, since they did not want to see a total breakdown of French rule. Instead they merely collected potential allies. Naturally, their support gradually dwindled.
In 1943 and 1944 the Japanese government itself became alarmed at the extent of Kampeitai support for Vietnamese independence groups. Kampeitai activity was sharply curtailed, leaving the French free to crack down on the pro-Japanese groups. But was already too late. Increasingly anti-French, the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao were now too strong to eliminate by the colonial regime. With their strong' roots in the peasantry, they emerged as the only groups capable of vying with the
Communists foil control of postwar Viet Nam.
The circle dance continues
While anti-French forces committed to traditional Asian philosophies were protected by Japan, pro-French forces in Viet Nam prospered under the reformed colonial system. But Communists and other radically anti-French nationalist groups suffered under the repressive Vichy legal code. After 1940 they relied even more on their traditional sanctuary-southern China. The Vietnamese Nationalists had already found a home in China after their devastating defeat in 1930. Now, with Chinese Nationalists-the
Kuomintang-and Communists agreeing to a truce in their civil war in order to fight the Japanese invasion, even Vietnamese Communists could operate freely in southern China.
With Japan established in Vietnam after the "agreements" of 1941, the Chinese government sought to create a united front among the Vietnamese anti-colonialists in China. It hoped to convert this political force into an espionage network capable of providing accurate intelligence on Japanese troop movements. A truly effective Vietnamese national front, thought the Chinese leaders, might even been able to engage in guerrilla-style harassment of Japanese forces and supply lines in Viet Nam.
The first step of the Chinese was to unite the Vietnamese Nationalists. In their China exile the Nationalist had split into two groups, one based in Cantor the other in Yunnan Province. The Chinese established the
Vietnam Liberation Leaguein 1940, as united front group and, indeed, it included members of the Communist party. Its leadership, however, were firmly in Nationalist hands. The Chinese Nationalist's never felt completely comfortable with their own alliance with Chinese Communists, were anxious to support their ideological kin in Viet Nam. Supported will Kuomintang funds, the league secured military training for over five hundred of its members.
The Nationalist-led Viet Nam Liberation League however, greatly disappointed its Chinese sponsor. Since 1930 the Nationalists had been little more than a minor émigré' party with no real roots in Viet Nam itself. It lacked the contacts necessary to build a viable espionage network. Chinese military leaders in southern China became convinced by 1943 that then were simply throwing their money away. Almost in desperation they turned to the Communists.
By then, the Communist party had recovered from its defeats of 1940. After the remnants of the Communist party had regrouped in southern China in 1940,
Nguyen Ai Quocmade two fateful decisions concerning the future of the party. First, he realized that workers and peasants were not the only ones interested in ending Western rule. The weakness of France in protecting Viet Nam against the Japanese had persuaded many from the middle class, including some landlords, to support the independence movement. Second, unlike the Nationalist leaders, Nguyen Ai Quoc refused to convert his party into 'armiger' group based in China. Rather, he was convinced of the necessity of finding a secure base on Vietnamese soil itself. In late 1940 and early 1941 members of the party infiltrated Cao BangProvince along the Chinese border. Establishing ties with the mountain peoples of the area, the party made the village of Bac Botheir base of activities in Viet Nam.
The birth of the Việt Minh
On May 10, 1941, the Vietnamese Communists daringly assembled on Vietnamese soil in the village of
Bac Bofor their eighth party conference. For the first time since the founding of the party in February 1930, the plenum was chaired by Nguyen Ai Quoc. This meeting approved and implemented the new strategy developed by Nguyen, constructing a new party platform that eliminated the emphasis on workers' organizations. Instead, the party's goal would now be to organize all Vietnamese "whether workers, peasants, rich peasants, landlords, or native bourgeoisie, to work for the seizure of independence." Accordingly, the party dropped its plans to redistribute the lands of all landlords and instead promised that only the lands of the French and their collaborators would be confiscated.
To organize all anticolonial forces a new organization was formed: the "Việt Nam Ðộc Lập Ðồng Minh Hội" (League for the Independence of Vietnam). The league would become known to the world as simply the
Viet Minh. Within the Viet Minh, various subgroups called National Salvation Associations were formed. The new associations included such traditional groups as students, peasants, workers, and women, and for the first time, a National Salvation Association of landlords and an association of intellectuals. Each association was to be developed at the village level, headed by democratically elected committees.
At the top of a pyramid including village, district, and provincial committees stood the central executive committee. 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. Ultimately the Vietminh attracted a substantial number of Vietnamese unwilling to declare themselves Communists but wishing to participate in what rapidly became the most effective anticolonial movement.
The second part of Nguyen's strategy called for the development of guerrilla bases on Vietnamese soil. Copying the example of
Mao Tse Tung, Nguyen hoped to establish a base in a remote area of the country from which the Communists could spread their influence and which would also serve as sample of "liberated" Viet Nam. The province of Cao Banghad already been selected as a primary site. The party's goal was to control the villages in Cao Bang, replacing the colonial rule with their own. Paying close attention to the needs of the minorities, the Viet Minh were enormously successful. By the end of 1941 they had organized one-third of the villages in Cao Bang. A training base for guerrillas was established, furnishing the party forty prepared fighter every ten days.
The emergence of Hồ Chí Minh
In accordance with this new party platform, in 1941 the Viet Minh eagerly joined the Viet Nam Liberation League organized by Chinese Nationalists. However the views and strategies of the league's varied members soon diverged. Nationalist leaders complained that the Communists were attempting to dominate the league and pointed to the "
Moscow-training" of Nguyen Ai Quoc. In early 1942 Chinese military leaders heeding the pleas of Vietnamese Nationalists, drove the Viet Minh underground and arrested Nguyen Ai Quoc. It was the last the world was to hear from Nguyen the Patriot. His foresight, however, saved the bulk of his party from arrest; they were able to find refuge in the new Viet Minh base in Cao BangProvince.
Nguyen Ai Quoc could view the situation only from his Chinese jail. But within a year he became aware of the ineffectiveness of the Vietnamese Nationalists espionage efforts and the increasing Chinese displeasure with the Viet Nam Liberation League. Arranging a meeting with the Chinese general,
Chang Fa-K'uei, Nguyen Ai Quoc offered the services of his party to organize a new intelligence and guerrilla network against the Japanese. Chang Fa-K'uei accepted and arranged for his release from prison. Upon learning of Nguyen's Communist background he became fearful lest his superiors criticize his decision. He suggested that Nguyen Ai Quoc change his name. In early 1943 a new man emerged to lead Vietnamese forces in China: Ho Chi Minh.
When the Chinese selected the Viet Minh to lead the Vietnamese against Japan in 1943, the league automatically received the support of the U.S. mission in China, which bankrolled virtually the entire Chinese war effort. U.S. policy makers, already concerned about postwar plans for Indochina, found themselves tied to Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh.
Allies becomes involved
After the fall of France in 1940 American diplomats faced an extremely thorny problem. They had no fondness for the pro-
NaziVichy government in France but did not want to do anything that would weaken France's hold on its colonies and pave the way for a German occupation. The U.S. thus recognized Vichy diplomatically and encouraged the government in its attempts to resist Japanese demands. U.S. officials were angered at the "joint defense" of Indochina agreement signed by Vichy and Japan in July 1941.
In many ways this agreement marked the point of no return in relations between Japan and America. On the eve of World War II the
United Statesdepended upon Vietnam for 50 percent of its raw rubber. Japanese control of the area thus deprived the U.S. of its major source of this strategic resource. The U.S., acting in concert with Australiaand Holland, retaliated by cutting off Japan's oil supplies. In negotiations that took place in the fall of 1941 with Japan, the United States made several demands, including the evacuation of Viet Nam by Japanese forces. The Japanese response to the American proposals was the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The entry of the U.S. into the war did not solve any of these problems; on the contrary, they became more complicated. In addition to the diplomatic dilemma, American policy makers now had to face questions of military strategy. The Japanese intended to use Viet Nam as a staging ground for an assault on
Dutch East Indies. As Japanese carriers steamed away from the wreckage at Pearl Harbor, Japanese planes bombed the Dutch colony. Southeast Asia quickly became a prime source of raw materials for the Japanese war machine: rubber from Malaya, rice and rubber from Viet Nam, oil from Dutch East Indies. Increasingly, the Japanese made use of Vietnamese ports, especially Saigon, Haiphong, and Cam Ram Bay, as depots for these supplies on their long trek back to the Japanese islands.
Cutting the supply lines from Southeast Asia to Japan and preventing Japan from using Viet Nam as base for its continued operations in China became one of the major objectives of General
Claire L Chennault's American Volunteer Group(AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers. The Flying Tigers, collection of volunteers operating under the command of the Chinese Nationalist Army, were reorganized in July 1942 into the China Air Task Force part of the U.S. Army Air Force. One of the stated objectives of the task force was to "damage serious Japanese establishments and concentrations in Indochina, Pacific Ocean, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia.
In January 1942 Chennault's Flying Tigers flew their first mission over Viet Nam, attacking Japanese positions in
Hanoi. The mission had an unusual international flavor: Chinese pilots flew old Russian-made bombers and were escorted by the American Flying Tigers in their P-40s. On May 12, 1942, Chennault's group suffered the first American death in Viet Nam. A former Navy pilot, John T. Donovan, was shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire. Donovan had been piloting his old P-40, used as a fighter-bomber, in a strafing and bombing mission over Hanoi.
The bombing of targets in Viet Nam was a minor part of Chennault's strategy. Above all he was hampered by the absence of airfields within easy striking distance of Viet Nam. His planes could reach only a.' far as
Haiphong. In 1943 Chinese forces, with Amencan assistance, managed to retake some airfields from the Japanese in southeastern China. But a year later in Japan's last successful offensive in China the bases were lost. Not until 1945, after Allies recaptured the Philippines, were the Allies able to under take effective bombing missions against the Japanese supply lines and ports in Indochina.
Roosevelt insists on Vietnamese independence
In Washington these military considerations mixed with, and sometimes intensified, the diplomatic problems. American diplomats still wanted to support Vichy France's claims of sovereignty over the French colonies in order to forestall any move by the Germans to face the headstrong leader of the
Free French, General Charles de Gaulle, their new ally. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other administration figures assumed contradictory postures on the Indochina question. On the one hand, the U.S. announced its firm opposition to a restoration of European empires in Asia, thus drawing the wrath of Britain's prime minister, Winston Churchill. Roosevelt and Churchill worked out a tacit agreement that the U.S. would not force England to relinquish its empire, especially India. But FDR was more direct when he spoke about Indochina. In January 1944 he wrote to Secretary of State Hull that "'France has had the country ... for nearly one hundred years, and the people are worse off than they were at the beginning. ... France has milked it for one hundred years. The people of Indochina are entitled to something better than that."
In public, however, Roosevelt was forced to pacify the French. He did not want to give Vichy France a major propaganda opportunity: to argue that only Vichy could maintain France's glory and that an Allied victory would result in the dismemberment of the French Empire. De Gaulle was well aware of the tensions in U.S. policy but had no means of gaining the sort of commitment from Washington that Churchill had received. Neither of the eastern Allies, Russia or China, would side with de Gaulle since their leaders, Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek, shared Roosevelt's views. De Gaulle turned to his fellow imperialist, Winston Churchill, for aid. The result was one of the most serious disputes in the Grand Alliance.
The war on the Asian mainland had been divided into two theaters. The
Southeast Asia Command(SEAC) was formed in 1943 under British control. The China theater had been established in 1942, under Chinese command, acting in consultation with the U.S. China mission headed after 1944 by General Albert C. Wedemeyer. Indochina had been placed in the China theater in 1942, but when the British established SEAC, they argued that Indochina should be shifted to its jurisdiction. U.S. intelligence reported that the British planned to refuse cooperation with any native organizations in Viet Nam and to aid only the French. It was clear that Britain wanted wartime control of Indochina in order to restore the colony to France at the conclusion of hostilities.
Roosevelt was not deceived. He ordered that under no circumstances should any aid be accorded French forces Indochina consulted about the area's postwar future. The dispute between the U.S. and Britain over command jurisdiction in Indochina was not fully resolved until the Potsdam Conference in 1945, but an interim agreement worked out whereby the action in Indochina after first clearing its plans with the China command. At Potsdam, Britain's claims were partially conceded. To supervise the approaching Japanese surrender, Indochina was to be divided at the sixteenth parallel, British forces stationed south of the line and the Chinese occupying the northern portion.
While Roosevelt was doing his best to prevent a return of the French to Viet Nam, he was also developing alternative plans for Indochina. One of his first proposals was to place Viet Nam under Chinese control. Chiang Kai-shek had not been known for his restraint during the course of wartime diplomacy, but in this instance he struck a rare note of realism. when asked if he wanted to govern Indochina, he replied, 'Under no circumstances." He then added, "'They are not Chinese. They would not assimilate into the Chinese people." Two thousand years of Vietnamese history had taught him a lesson that the French were soon to learn at a heavy cost.
Following Chiang's refusal, Roosevelt toyed with the idea of an international trusteeship to administer Viet Nam until the Allies deemed it ready for self-government. This trusteeship, which Roosevelt later included in his proposals for the United Nations, would include both Vietnamese and French, but also Chinese, Russians, and Americans. At the Teheran Conference of the Allied leaders in November 1943 Roosevelt, Chiang, and Stalin affirmed the plan. Only Churchill opposed the idea, fearing that a chain reaction of independence movements might reach India.
Allies supports Hồ Chí Minh
While the U.S. was using international summit diplomacy to try to insure postwar independence for Viet Nam, Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh were happy to receive the support of the U.S. mission in China1 especially from the forerunner of the
CIA, the Office of Strategic Services(OSS). When U.S. policy makers finally decided after World War IIthat Ho Chi Minh was an enemy, the extent of OSS assistance became a matter of controversy. OSS officials, perhaps fearful of accusations that they had aided Communists, insisted that only a few side arms had been given. They also disputed how much help the Viet Minh had given in lighting the Japanese. The Chinese, however, appeared to be satisfied with the performance of their new allies, the Viet Minh. Chinese complaints concerning the lack of intelligence information from Viet Nam ended in 1944.
The Viet Minh made skillful propaganda use of their new connection. Tales of Viet Minh guerillas meeting with American OSS officials circulated throughout northern Viet Nam. The Viet Minh portrayed themselves as the chosen resistance group favored by the popular Americans. They were not entirely wrong. The U.S. clearly favored their efforts over those of the pro-Japanese and pro-French groups.
Use of their new American "friends" was only one aspect of the Viet Minh effort to secure undisputed leadership of the Vietnamese independence movement as the war neared its conclusion. In December 1943, speaking from
Algeria, de Gaulleannounce' his plans for postwar Indochina. He acknowledge' the necessity for thorough reform and an entirely new relationship between France and Viet Nam but specially ruled out an independent Viet Nam. The Vietminh strongly attacked de Gaulle. Although they were willing to compromise their Marxistideology for the sake of independence, they would make no compromise on independence itself. Exactly one year later, in the mountains of northern Viet Nam, they officially formed the military wing of the Viet Minh, the Vietnam Liberation Army.
Allies strikes in Asia
Asiaheaded into its last year of World War II, It became evident that the Japanese empire was doomed. By late 1944 Allied victories in Southeast Asia and especially the Pacific had force the Japanese into a steady withdrawal. In November the headquarters of the Japanese Southern Army moved from Manila to Saigon. In January 1945 retreating troops were used to reinforce Japans strength in Viet Nam. Field Marshall Terauchiwas given strict orders to hold Viet Nam at all costs. With the Allies again entrenched in the Pacific Japan feared an imminent invasion of Indochina.
The United States did all it could to encourage Japan's fears. Viet Nam was now within easy reach of American fighter-bombers flying from Vice Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey's
Third Fleetand later B-24s and B-25s taking off from Clark Fieldin the Philippines. On January 12 Halsey struck at Saigon as thousands of French and Vietnamese watched, hundreds from the city's roof tops. Five hundred American fighter-bombers sank four cargo ships and two oil tankers in Saigon harbor. Oil storage tanks along the river front exploded. Towering columns of black smoke reached a mile into the sky. In all, fourteen enemy warships and thirty-three merchant ships were destroyed, the largest number sunk by the U.S. Navy in any one day in the entire war.
The real purpose of these and other raids was to destroy Japanese shipping lanes. But the Americans knew that the sustained bombing would also encourage Japanese fears of invasion. On March 10, B-25s sank a tanker in
Da Nang Harbor; on April 28, B-24s claimed four large merchant vessels in the Saigon River. By April few enemy convoys could expect any protective air cover. With the sea lanes closed, Japan began to rely upon Vietnamese railroads, transporting their supplies into southern China and then over water to Japan. On May 7 and 8, this last link was broken. Fourteen B-25s and forty-eight Liberators knocked out a string of bridges from Saigon to Binh Dinh Provinceand damaged several rail yards.
The cessation of Western rule
The importance of these developments was not lost on the French population remaining in Indochina. Many of them had openly supported the Vichy government in collaborating with the Japanese. But the attractiveness of cooperation with the
Axis powersdecreased as they recognized the opportunity to fight for the liberation of Indochina under the French flag. The Japanese, too, were aware of this change in attitude. With its troop strength reinforced in January, Japan decided to tighten its belt in preparation for a final defense.
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 through out the country were caught off guard. Whole regiments surrendered without a shot, though many others fought bravely even when encircled and out-numbered. Thousands of French were taken prisoner. A few hundred escaped to the mountains. There they were surprised to find a well-coordinated network of guerrillas, experienced in helping Allied soldiers, especially downed pilots, escape from the Japanese. The French had met the Viet Minh. True to their promise to aid any Frenchman willing to fight Japanese aggression, the Viet Minh cared for many Frenchmen, helping them escape into China.
Meanwhile, playing the role of liberators, the Japanese attempted to secure their hold in Viet Nam with the establishment of an "independent" government On March 9 Emperor
Bảo Đạihad been in Quang Tan Province, entertaining French officials at a hunting party. Upon his return to Huế, he was informed by a Japanese commander that his country was free and asked to assume his full responsibilities as emperor. Bao Dai convened his cabinet and on March 11 accepted the Japanese offer to head a new government. Despite his long-standing friendship with the Japanese, Prince Cuong Dewaited in vain for his call to the throne. The Japanese were more interested in maintaining continuity in the Vietnamese government than in rewarding a loyal ally.
Members of Bao Dai's cabinet soon had second thoughts about the new arrangement. Two ministers including a royal prince, who later joined the Viet Minh, persuaded their colleagues to resign in favor of a more broadly based government. Bao Dai was forced to form a new cabinet. His choice for prime minister was
Ngô Đình Diệm, but the Japanese vetoed that appointment. A new government of middle-class intellectuals was formed. They quickly realized that Japan's defeat was imminent and that they, in the process, would be discredited. This chilling reality paralyzed the government, and it accomplished almost nothing of substance. Japan exercised real control over the country.
The Việt Minh prepare to strike
With the French defeated, the Viet Minh moved consolidate their position. The Viet Minh forces in the North Vietnam had already been augmented in 1944, when the British Royal Air Force parachuted into guerrilla-held territory many Vietnamese Communist who had been interned on the French island of
Madagascar. In April 1945 the Viet Minh began to plan for a national liberation, placing the Vietnam Liberation Armyunder the command of Võ Nguyên Giáp. By this time the Viet Minh had expanded their "liberated zone" beyond Cao Bang Provinceto include seven provinces in the North.
In the aftermath of the Japanese coup, Viet Minh contact with American intelligence officials also intensified. The Americans had relied on pro-Allied French officials for information concerning Japanese movements in the country, but with the French defeated they turned to the Viet Minh as the best source of intelligence. Meanwhile, the British, with French support, had established their own commando operations in Viet Nam's northern mountains. After March 9 these commandos were joined by many French soldiers fleeing the Japanese coup.
Relations between the two groups of guerrillas were not smooth. The Viet Minh believed that the French were more interested in reestablishing their rule in Viet Nam than in defeating the Japanese. The Americans believed the Viet Minh. American commandos routinely joined with the Viet Minh, not the Anglo-French guerrilla forces. By the end of the war not only were OSS teams cooperating with the Viet Minh, they were joined as well by
Air-Ground-Air-Serviceteams ( AGAS) aiding downed pilots, by units of the Joint Army-Navy Intelligence Service( JANS), and by a team of officers under Colonel Steven L. Nordlinger, charged with the repatriation of American prisoners of war.
Liberty for Viet Nam
The final capitulation of the Japanese Empire in August 1945 eliminated the last force between the Viet Minh and independence. Japanese troops still occupied Indochina. But in what was perhaps a final attempt in defeat to keep "
Asia for Asians" they surrendered to the Viet Minh, rather than to Allied forces. No doubt a vast quantity of weapons fell into Viet Minh hands as a result of the Japanese method of surrender. Later the French argued that the Viet Minh had thereby received overt Japanese assistance. The charge was groundless; the Viet Minh had consistently fought Japanese aggression and fought it more effectively than the French themselves.
The revaluation engulfed the entire country. There was little opposition. In the villages, councils of notables were overturned in favor of "peoples committees." The ranks of the
Vietminh National Salvation Associations swelled. Hà Nội, Huế, and Sài Gònwere soon governed by Viet Minh committees. The French were gone, the Japanese had surrendered but meanwhile Viet Nam, a country deemed "incapable of self government," order prevailed, not anarchy. There was no secret to the Viet Minh success. It had simply done what generations of Vietnamese had wanted to do proclaim Viet Nam's independence.
The author of
Vietnamese Proclamation of Independencewas none other than Ho Chi Minh. As early as May 1945 Ho had sought out a young American Lieutenant who had parachuted into the northern Vietnamese mountains with the OSS. "He kept asking me if I could remember the language of our declaration," the lieutenant later recalled. "I was a normal American, I couldn't." Eventually he realized that Ho knew more about the American proclamation of freedom than he did himself. 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 immortal statement is extracted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. Understood in the broader sense, this means: All have the right to live to be happy and free. These are undeniable truths. "
* * * "We, the members of the Provisional Government representing the entire people of Viet Nam, 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 Viet Nam, and we hereby cancel all the privileges that the French arrogated to themselves on our territory. "
After eighty years of Western rule, Viet Nam was again independent and again united. That unity, more than just political, expressed the deepest wishes of the Vietnamese people. The Viet Minh had taken control of the country virtually without opposition; a Viet Minh army of only two thousand men had been sufficient to secure the city of Hanoi for the new government. Within days, Emperor
Bao Daiabdicated, promising to support the new government as a private citizen.
This peace in Viet Nam was to be short-lived. Already the French were regrouping, waiting to reenter the country on the heels of the Allied occupation force in
southern Vietnam. There would be a year of negotiations with Viet Nam, an attempt to create a new relationship between Viet Nam 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. The revolution of August 1945 was to usher in not a new era of peace for the Vietnamese but the bloodiest and most destructive thirty years in its history.
Vietnamese Famine of 1945
Empire of Vietnam
Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
South-East Asian theatre of World War II
* [http://www.ichiban1.org/html/history/bc_1964_prewar/world_war_ii_1941_1945.htm Vietnam in World War II]
* [http://san.beck.org/20-10-VietnamandFrench.html Vietnam and the French 1800-1950]
* [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-52743/Vietnam Vietnam :: World War II and independence]
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