Factors Leading to the Vietnam War

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n 1950, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the People's Republic of China (PRC) recognized each other diplomatically. The Soviet Union quickly followed suit. U.S. President Harry S. Truman countered by recognizing the French puppet government of Vietnam. Washington, seemingly ignorant of the long historical antipathy between Vietnam and China, feared that Hanoi was a pawn of the PRC and, by extension, Moscow.[7] As historian and former Hanoi foreign minister Luu Doan Huynh has commented, “Vietnam a part of the Chinese expansionist game in Asia? For anyone who knows the history of Indochina, this is incomprehensible.”[7] Nevertheless, Chinese support was very important to the Viet Minh's success, and China largely supported the Vietnamese Communists through the end of the war.

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 marked a decisive turning point. From the perspective of many in Washington, what had been a colonial war in Indochina was transformed into another example of communist expansionism directed by the Kremlin.[8]

In 1950, the U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) arrived to screen French requests for aid, advise on strategy, and train Vietnamese soldiers.[9] By 1954, the U.S. had supplied 300,000 small arms and spent one billion dollars in support of the French military effort. The Eisenhower administration was shouldering 80 percent of the cost of the war.[10] The Viet Minh received crucial support from the Soviet Union and the PRC. Chinese support in the Border Campaign of 1950 allowed supplies to come from China into Vietnam. Throughout the conflict, U.S. intelligence estimates remained skeptical of French chances of success.[11]

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French involvement in Indochina. The Viet Minh and their mercurial commander Vo Nguyen Giap handed the French a stunning military defeat. On May 7, 1954, the French Union garrison surrendered. At the Geneva Conference the French negotiated a ceasefire...
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