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Why Did the French Withdraw from Indochina

By jvinals Nov 11, 2012 1703 Words
Various reasons and accumulative events account for the withdrawal of the French from Indochina by 1954. Since the beginning of the French Colonisation of Indochina by 1893, tension existed by both parties which were only intensified by the series of events and ideas that followed. The aftermath of WWII France significantly weakened the country and its economy. This led to the withdrawal of the French from Indochina, because it eventually became too expensive for the French to fight for their colony. Certain events such as the allowance of the Japanese to use the country for recourses further infuriated the nationalists of the nation and pushed them further into forcing the French to withdraw from Indochina. The treatment and exploitation of the Indochinese by the French and the French’s methods of maintaining control spawned a strong negative feeling towards the French, which sparked activist groups, and anti-colonialist, nationalistic ideologies. Ho Chi Minh and the communist group he formed, the Viet Minh, played a significant role in the withdrawal of the French from Indochina. The large percentage of the population who were part of the Viet Minh, including an ample amount of peasants, were against the French colonisation of Indochina and took certain measures to ensure the French’s withdrawal from the country. The first Indochina war was a major turning point of French colonisation of Indochina. Military tactics such as Guerrilla warfare weakened the French’s set piece army and turned the tables around for the Indochinese. In particular, the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the defeat of the French were integral in their withdrawal from Indochina. The cost of World War II for the French was tremendous and greatly affected their occupation of Indochina and their withdrawal from it. France had lost their economy and Indochina was their attempt at reclaiming power. When France fell to Germany in 1940, South-Eastern France, under control of Marshall Petain, collaborated with the Germans in what was named the Vichy Government. Japan’s cooperation with Germany meant that when Japan demanded access to Indochina for recourses and tactical advantages, the Vichy government allowed them full access. Japan wanted to be in Indochina and specifically the city of Tonkin, because it would help block the Chinese from trading fuel and arms in Indochina. This affected the Indochinese because not only where the French pillaging their land and recourses but so were another enemy, the Japanese. Under Japanese control, troops were set up in the northern parts of Vietnam and regular trains were disrupted as the railroads were used to transport military personnel. This disrupted the lives of the Indochinese and caused for desperate measures that harmed the French’s occupation of Indochina. The expenses of World War II for the French and their allowance of the Japanese into Indochina intensified the civil unrest in the nation and was a significant factor in the withdrawal of France from Indochina.

The treatment and exploitation of Indochina by the French and Japanese caused civil unrest and was a cause for the creation of the Viet Minh, in turn contributing to the withdrawal of the French from Indochina. Mistreatment of Indochina by the French included the exploitation of rice during times of famine such as the 1945 famine in the north and south of Vietnam. The severity of the famine and the extent of the abuse by the French is conveyed in a quote by Geoffrey Gunn, writer for the Asia Times Online. “The deaths stemming from the great famine of 1944-45, which reached its zenith in March-April 1945 in Japanese-occupied northern Vietnam, eclipsed in scale all human tragedies of the modern period in that country up until that time. The demographics vary from French estimates of 600,000-700,000 dead, to official Vietnamese numbers of 1 million to 2 million victims” Under the French, Indochinese the peasants of the land were starving and poor due to the little care the French offered towards them. This is proven by a quote from Ho Chi Minh in 1924, “The Annamese in general are crushed by the blessings of French protection. The Annamese peasants especially are still more odiously crushed by his protection; as Annamese, they are oppressed, as peasants, they are robbed, plundered, expropriated, and ruined. It is they who do all the hard labour, all the corvees. It is they produce for the whole horde of parasites, loungers, civilisers, and others. And it is they who live in poverty while their executioners live in plenty, and die of starvation when their crops fail.” This primary source by Ho Chi Ming exemplifies the oppression of the Vietnamese, especially the peasants. The French maintained control of Indochina in certain ways that further angered the natives of Indochina. This included splitting the country into five regions; Tonkin (North Vietnam), Annam (Central Vietnam), Cochinchina (South Vietnam), Cambodia and Laos. The French aimed to “divide and conquer” and certain regions had certain privileges. An example of this is that the residents of Cochinchina were allowed French citizenship while other regions were not. The combination of exploitation of recourses such as, opium and alcohol, the exportation of rice in the famine, oppression of the working class and unfair treatment amongst regions caused unrest and anger in the Indochinese community with eventually caused the French to withdraw from Indochina. In February 1941, Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam, after 30 years of education, with new ideologies and a mission to end French colonisation and ultimately cause the French to withdraw from Indochina. Ho formed the “League of for the Independence of Vietnam” or “Viet Minh” in response to the access of Indochina to Japan and the mistreatment and oppression of Indochina by France. This action severely hindered the French’s efforts and eventually led to the breakout of the first Indochina war. Ho formed a unique ideology that was a combination of communism, nationalism and anti-colonialism. From 1911-1941, Ho Chi Minh travelled the world and lived and worked specifically in Paris and China. HO was introduced to Lenin’s thesis of communism and became a devout follower. In 1960, Ho Chi Minh proves this in the quote, “There were political terms difficult to understand in this thesis. But by dint of reading it again and again, finally I could grasp the main part of it. What emotion, enthusiasm, clear-sightedness, and confidence it instilled in me! I was overjoyed to tears. Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted aloud as if addressing large crowds: 'Dear martyrs, compatriots! This is what we need; this is the path to our liberation! After that, I had entire confidence in Lenin.” Ho believed communism would work in Indochina because it had similarities to the ancient traditions of the Vietnamese. Vietnamese tradition encouraged family and communal sharing, meaning that communism would work in that sense. This allowed communism to be highly received in Indochina, leading to the fight and eventual withdrawal of the French. In a letter written in June 1941 Ho states that he wants help with ridding Indochina of French colonialism from anybody that has the ability. The letter states “Elders! Prominent personalities! Intellectuals, peasants, workers, traders and soldiers! Dear compatriots... rich people, soldiers, workers, peasants, intellectuals, employees, traders, youth and women who firmly love your country! At the present time national liberation is the most important problem. Let us unite together.” It is obvious due to these quotes that Ho Chi Minh inspired a large percentage of the population join his cause, whether they were communist or not, and this was an important step which led to the withdrawal of French from Indochina. Ho was also a fierce nationalist and preached these ideals to the public. Evidence of this includes when Ho created a newsletter denouncing French colonialists in Indochina. Ho states this in an interview discussing the path that led him to Leninism. “I would distribute leaflets denouncing the crimes committed by the French colonialists in Vietnam.” Vietnam was already nationalistic, as it had been fighting off imperial Chinese powers for two-thousand years including 111BCE, 39CE, 1287CE and 1822 CE. Ho’s combination of ideologies were essential in the withdrawal of the French from Indochina in 1954 because it inspired the people and formed the basis of the Viet Minh, hat eventually forced the French out of the country. Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of Independence was an ideal that forced the nation of Indochina to unite and fight off the French colonialists, causing their eventual withdrawal. On the 6th of August 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki. Ho Chi Minh saw this as an opportunity to not only rid Indochina of Japanese occupation but to gain empathy from the United States. 24 hours before the Japanese surrendered, on the 13th of August, Ho stated his “General Order Number 1: Armed Insurrection against the French and Japanese”. This included the blocking of Japanese trails, chaos towards the French or Japanese and general disobedience to those who were not the Viet Minh. Due to these acts and other acts of peaceful protests on August 19th in Hanoi and August 25th in Saigon, the Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated and left the Viet Minh in charge of Government on the 30th of August 1945. This act was vital in the withdrawal of France from Vietnam because it allowed the people of Vietnam to truly be in control of the country. On the 2nd of September Ho Chi Minh proclaimed his declaration of Independence and stated that Democratic Republic of Vietnam was a new country separate from the French. The Declaration of Independence states “The people of Vietnam decided to mobilise all their spiritual and material forces and to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their right of liberty and independence” This quote states the amount the Vietnamese were ready to sacrifice under Ho Chi Minh. The declaration of Independence greatly affected the withdrawal of the French from Indochina and unified the people of Vietnam. The first Indochina war was a major turning point in the events of the French colonialism of Indochina, and is one of major factors of France’s withdrawal from Indochina in 1954.

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