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First Indochina War

During the era of conquest in East Asia, France focused on the fortune withheld in Indochina. The French had been in the area for centuries, yet policies changed when other Western European nations began to colonize and claim their own pieces of Asia. The French corrupted the Vietnamese sovereignty by colonizing and dividing the nation. It became known as a French “protectorate” from 1883-1939 and remained a colonial empire or “possession” until about 1945. The Vietnamese people strongly resented the tyrannical rule and political and social implementations of the French. Thus, a guerrilla-type revolutionary organization, the Viet Minh, formed to drive out the French. They were led by Ho Chi Minh, the recently elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (currently known as North Vietnam). The First Indochina War was virtually a stalemate between the French and the Viet Minh from 1946 – 1950; then towards the end in 1954, the Viet Minh gained significant advances in driving out the French.

In 1949, France set up the State of Vietnam (currently known as South Vietnam) as an “associated statehood” under Bao Dai because he had been cooperative with France in the past. But this government clashed with Ho’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam in its political and social ideals as well as his nationalistic goals. The Vietnamese and other nations felt that this attempt was not a significant step towards Vietnamese independence, but rather just a cover up of the fact that Vietnam was to remain a “puppet nation.” The Viet Minh, supporters of communism, also focused heavily on the ideas of nationalism in their fight for freedom from France; this broadened their pool of allies within Vietnam. Although the French had superior weapon technology and financial aid from the United States, they were greatly outnumbered by the Viet Minh in manpower. The French also suffered from unfamiliarity with fighting in a jungle environment against a guerrilla soldier waiting in the tall grass. Enemies were hard to identify, for they looked no different than civilians; in fact, some were, during the day. The Viet Minh easily recruited local fighters, and because of the Vietnamese hatred of the French occupation, the Viet Minh also benefited from the intelligence information the civilians provided them. When the Chinese Communist Party won control of China in 1949, the advanced weapons gap between the two opposing sides slowly closed because China, along with the communist Soviet Union, began to supply the Viet Minh with artillery. Yet, the most impressive feat of the Viet Minh guerilla fighters was that they overtook the Red River Delta without any major battle. Their guerrilla tactics and civilian intelligence allowed the Viet Minh to defeat the French.

At Dien Bien Phu, in 1954, the French made their final stand in this long, grueling battle. The siege and battle took a toll on the French military from when, they could not recover. In the same year, the Geneva Accords were signed, and the French left their colonies in Indochina. These accords split Vietnam in half, North and South, but did not end the fighting. South Vietnam now quaked in fear of the communist North overtaking them. The U.S. soon came to the aid of South Vietnam and the War which ensued would greatly stir up American politics and cost a massive amount of American lives.

Researched by Rachel Disselkamp
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


Allen, Joe . “Vietnam: The war that the U.S. lost.” International Socialist Review Issue 29May-June 2003 22 May 2008 .

“Indochina wars.” Encyclopedia Britannica Article 22 May 2008 .

Joyce, C. Alan. “Vietnam War.” The World Almanac for Kids 2008. 2007. World Almanac for Kids. 22 May 2008

Moise, Edwin E.. “The First Indochina War.” The Vietnam Wars. 1998. 22 May 2008 .

“Vietnam : First Indochina War 1946-1954.” Wars. 2008. War Crimes Limited (UK) . 22 May 2008 .

“Vietnam: Timeline of Events to 1974 .” Vietnam - 1945 and before. 22 May 2008 .

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