Historical Contributions to the Vietnam War

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The popularity of a war matters in terms of morale, but often has little effect on the war itself. The Vietnam War was arguably the most unpopular war in which Americans fought, causing an internal conflict in the United States. As ugly as that conflict and the war itself were, many people wondered why the U.S. was even involved. It seems that the U.S. on many other countries was heavily involved in creating the conditions that lead to the Vietnam War.

Fact 1: France moved into Indochina in the 1850s and the 1884 Treaty of Hue confirmed French colonial rule. The French would be in charge of Vietnam for the next 70 years, even though they were continually rebelled against. The Viet Minh Common Front, founded in 1941, was the most successful group to rebel against French control.  

Fact 2: When the Germans defeated the French in 1940 at the start of World War II, the colony become controlled by Germany’s allies, the Japanese. Viet Minh was a communist group that wanted Vietnamese independence, so they opposed the Japanese as well as the French. Viet Minh was supported by the United States and the Chinese Nationalist Party.  

Fact 3: When Germany lost control of France, the Japanese removed the puppet French government from Vietnam. Because Vietnam was supplying rice and grains to Japan, a famine in 1944 and 1945 killed 400,000 to 2 million people. The Viet Minh convinced starving people to raid rice warehouses, and convinced many people to join their cause.

Fact 4: When the Japanese surrendered, ending World War II, the Viet Minh and other nationalist groups took charge. They entered public buildings and confiscated weapons in the August Revolution, without resistance from the Japanese. Any remaining Vichy French were imprisoned for a month.  

Fact 5: The Independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam was established on September 2, 1945 by Ho Chi Minh.

Fact 6: The Allies of World War II all agreed that France owned Vietnam, and intended for France to retake control. France was concentrating its efforts on recovering from the war and occupation, so it was decided the British would occupy the south of Vietnam, while the Chinese controlled the north.

Fact 7: Ho Chi Minh had the backing of the Soviet Union when he began to negotiate control away from the French as they tried to reestablish control. Elections across north and central Vietnam were held in January, 1946, electing the Viet Minh into office. In March of that year, the French invaded Hanoi, and by November had taken control of the city.

Fact 8: The First Indochina War was a guerrilla war against the French Union occupational forces by the Viet Minh.

Fact 9: China and the Soviet Union accepted the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in January of 1950. As the Cold War was in full effect between the Soviet Union and the United States, it was no surprise that the United States and Great Britain recognized the State of Vietnam as colonized by the French.

Fact 10: Before the official war began, on November 1, 1955, the United States had paid for some 80% of the costs, supplying 300,000 arms and spending at least a billion dollars. If the French had been unable to pay for the war, it would have been lost or avoided before it ever began. The United States justified the involvement by claiming it would prevent communism from taking over the world.

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