Indochina War

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The French colonization of Indochina, consisting of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was over, when Laos became a French protectorate in 1893. The Second World War opened new avenues for anti-colonial movements in Southeast Asia. On the wake of the Japanese occupation of Indochina, the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) set up Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (League for the Independence of Vietnam) or Viet Minh. He gave the call in August 1945 to liberate Vietnam and Hanoi was occupied. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) or North Vietnam was established on September 2, 1945 after the formal Japanese surrender on the same day. Laos and Cambodia did likewise. But the French were in no mood to give up Indochina and the French re-conquest of Indochina began. The Viet Minh was ordered by the French to lay down arms, but the former attacked the French troops in Hanoi on December 19, 1946. Thus the First Indochina War began. The Khmer Issarack or the Free Khmers of Son Ngoc Thanh (1907-1976) were aligned with the Viet Minh. In Laos, the Pathet Lao under Souphanouvong (1901–1995) also fought against the French. The three communist factions formally formed the Viet-Khmer-Lao alliance on 11 March 1951.

In the cold war period, the United States was following the containment strategy and helped France by giving military aid. It was supporting the French Indochinese budget to the extent of 85 percent and it assisted up to 40 per cent of military budget of France in the First Indochina War by 1952. The French had consolidated their position in south of Vietnam. In March 1949, southern part of Vietnam became an Associate State within the French Union along with Laos and Cambodia. By 1950, South Vietnam had been recognized by the United States and Great Britain. The establishment of People’ Republic of China was very favorable to DRV. China recognized the Government of Hanoi and supplied military material as per the agreement of April 1, 1950.Soviet Union and its East European allies also recognized the DRV. Thus cold war politics was played in Indochina. The communist factions of Indochina did not honor the sham independence granted by the French and the War went on. The actual combatants in the First Indochina were the Viet Minh, Pathet Lao and Khmer Issarack fighting against the French. The Viet Minh took recourse to guerilla warfare and the French had to fight with it on many fronts in Vietnam. By the year 1950, the Viet Minh had established their complete control over northern free zone and the Communists had also strengthened position in Laos and Cambodia.

The Commander-in-Chief of Viet Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap (1912) was an expert on modern guerrilla warfare and led the army of Vietnam from its inception. He had liberated the northern Vietnam and made inroads into the Red River Delta. His strategy of dispersing the French troops and capturing the weak outposts had paid well. By 1952, half of villages of Red River Delta came under his control. The War was becoming unpopular in France with heavy loss of men from French Expeditionary Corps and material. Many were severely wounded and taken as prisoners in between 1946 and 1952. The Viet Minh was planning a major offensive in Laos, where their ally, the Pathet Lao was controlling the provinces of Phong Saly and Sam Neua. General Henri Navarre (1898 - 1983), the Commander of the French forces had captured the town of Dien Bien Phu in November 1953, sixteen kilometers from Lao border. Navarre established a fortified camp and was convinced of a North Vietnamese attack so as to open the road to Laos. Giap did not make any assault and instead surrounded the camp with about 50, 000 soldiers of Vietnamese People's Army. The siege of Dien Bien Phu began on March 13, 1954 with 11,000 French troops entrapped. The Viet Minh artillery, which was hidden in tunnels, cut off the supply by air to the French troops. There was talk of use of nuclear weapons by the...
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