1) Indochina after the French

Consequences of the Vietnamese victory against the French
·The Vietnamese victory against the French was marked by the Defeat at Dien Bien Phu on May 7th 1954.
·The French had been crippled throughout the eight years of conflict in the First Indochina War by the passionately patriotic Vietminh. Dien Bien Phu was to be France’s strong fortified garrison in Vietnam in 1953-1954: General Navarre saw it as being the best place to relieve the threat in Laos, as well as an area where open battle would see French firepower dominate. However, the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu had quashed their desire for colonial rule in Indochina. The losses they were suffering could not justify their colonial presence.
·The Vietminh force consisting of the People’s Army, conscripts, and workers had an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 casualties at Dien Bien Phu. The French had only 8,000 soldiers killed and 7,000 wounded. But the depth of the Vietnamese forces ensured this amount was sufficient for victory. The comparative losses at Dien Bien Phu are consistent with the comparative losses in the entire of the First Indochina War, with an estimated 90,000 French Union soldiers killed and 200,000 Vietminh fighters killed. Despite these lopsided death counts, the Vietminh won the war.
·Vietnamese victory did wonders for the Vietminh nationalist movement. The Vietminh movement, led by Ho Chi Minh in the mould of communism had defeated one of the most prominent powers in Europe – which was being 70% funded in their war effort by the USA (the world’s Superpower). The victory strengthened the Vietminh in its confidence, recruitment, and most importantly its resolve (determination in achieving its purpose).
·The bond between the communists had strengthened. The Soviets and the Chinese had provided funding for the Vietminh during the War, and their contributions had borne fruition. Vietnam was now in a position to become an independent state, to be ruled by the victorious Vietminh communists. The ‘Red Tide’ was flowing.
·Laos, as a result of the Vietnamese victory was liberated from French rule when France withdrew. The circumstances in Cambodia were slightly different. The Cambodian people celebrated independence on November 9th 1953, six months before the defeat at Dien Bien Phu. This was because the Khmer Issarak (an anti-French, Khmer nationalist political movement formed in 1945) who were working with the Vietminh, had control over around 50% of Cambodia. In addition, King Norodom Sihanouk (who had previously been pliable by the French) had exiled himself to Thailand, and would only return when Cambodia was granted Independence. Therefore, Dien Bien Phu resulted in the liberation of Laos, however Cambodia had already become independent and so the consequences of the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu were minimal to Cambodia.
·The failure of the French to maintain colonial control over Indochina had profound consequences on US Foreign Policy. “You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly” [President Eisenhower 1954]. China had recently become a communist state, Korea had to be divided due to the communist threat, Russia was rivalling America in Superpower status, and now Western influence in Indochina had fallen and the communist threat was looming. Therefore, the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu provoked the US Foreign policy of containment, in accordance with the domino theory. Vietnam was to become a battleground for conflicting ideology.
·The Vietnamese victory also gave the Vietminh some leverage at the Geneva Peace Conference – they were in a better bargaining position than the French.


external image c01345.jpg



Consequences of the Geneva Peace Agreement for the Vietnamese People to 1964
·The Geneva Conference took place during May-July 1954, and sought an end to hostilities and a restoration of Peace in Vietnam - among other countries. However, as Pollock argues, “The Geneva Conference did not end the conflict. It produced a military truce.”
·The terms of the Geneva Agreements which impacted the Vietnamese people over the next five years were: 1) Cease-fire 2) French troops to withdraw 3) Vietnam divided into North and South Vietnam at the 17th Parallel 4) Laos and Cambodia established as independent states 5) National elections to be held in two years (by July 1956) throughout Indochina 6) No foreign bases 7) Freedom of movement between the North and South Vietnam for 300 days. The majority of these terms were ignored.
·Ho Chi Minh of the North, accepted the terms on the advice of Communist China’s Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai who, along with the Russians wanted to avoid conflict with the US. Ho would have preferred more favourable terms for the Vietminh as they were the victors in the First Indochina War – such as communist rule over the entire of Vietnam – but the conflicting ideology of the US prevented this. Ho was however, not too concerned.
·America did not sign the Agreement because they did not want to acknowledge Communist China (who had signed the agreement). However, in accordance with the ‘Domino Theory’, US President Eisenhower made a commitment that America would “preserve [Vietnam] from Communist domination”.
·President Eisenhower in his letters to Ngo Dinh Diem gave a clear indication of America’s growing commitment to the survival of a non-communist South Vietnam. America saw no harm in violating the ‘No Foreign Bases’ term of the Geneva Agreement with Secretary of State Dulles quoted as saying “we have a clean base there”. The French had withdrawn, but the Americans had stepped in to take their place.
·Diem was essentially a “puppet leader” as Ngo Vinh Long argues. He was supported by, funded by, and being advised by the Americans. He appealed to America because he was both anti-communist and anti-French. To begin with, Bao Dai (who was the leader during French rule) was the Head of State, and appointed Diem as his Prime Minister after succumbing to US pressures. Diem then threw this in his face and held a elections in October 1955, asking the people if they wished to become a Republic with him as President or remain as a constitutional monarchy with Bao Dai as Head of State. America rigged the election, advising Diem to claim victory with around 70% of the vote; however Diem claimed victory with 98.2% of the vote.
·Ngo Dinh Diem was President of the South (proper name is the Republic of Vietnam) and it was a democratic society. The leader of the North (proper name is the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) was Ho Chi Minh and he ruled a communist state. The 300 days of free movement term in the Agreements resulted in fluxes of refugees moving north and (mostly) south. Diem launched a propaganda campaign claiming that the North was building concentration camps for Catholics. 1,000,000 people fled the North whilst over 90,000 Vietminh troops and another 45,000 political activists headed North. 15,000 activists stayed in the South to build support for the July 1956 elections, and a further 10,000 military cadre also remained in the South with instructions from General Giap to stay hidden and ‘wait and see’ what unfolded under the new arrangements. There was also an attachment to the land that influenced people to remain where they were.
·All in all, Diem never had a true connection with the people, nor did he seek to cater for their needs, or act in the best interests of the population.
·In contrast, despite the turmoil during the land reform campaign the North gained strength after the Geneva Agreements. A combination of communist camaraderie and Vietminh nationalism ensured that the people were devoted to Ho Chi Minh, and in return, Ho looked after the people.
·The elections which, in accordance with the Agreements, were meant to be called by the South in July 1956 never occurred. It is easily argued that on July 16th 1956 when Diem made the announcement not to call the election, the Geneva Agreement had failed.
·Harpur argues that “the major impetus towards the Vietnam war was the failure to hold general elections throughout the country.” Diem had not signed the Accords, and so claimed he was in no way bound by the Agreement. Schulzinger argues that it was US Senator Mike Mansfield, the senate’s leading expert on Vietnam, who advised Diem not to call the election. The non-elections of July 1956 provoked the necessary retaliation by the Vietcong that escalated violence in the South, triggering the US to step in as ‘peacekeepers’ and ‘advisors’. Ho Chi Minh officially committed the Communist North to a revolutionary war with the creation of the NLF (National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam) on December 20th 1960. People in the South were affected by the escalating violence throughout the late 1950s.


Political, Social, Economic and Military developments within North and South Vietnam

Political
·North: the DRV government was restructured to include only communists (members of the Vietnam Workers’ Party). The DRV was guided by a September 1954 Workers’ Party manifesto – “The New Situation, the New Mission, and the New Policy of the Party” – which argued the time had come to shift the emphasis from war to peace, and prepare for unification. Inspired by the Chinese experience, there were the extreme ‘leftists’ who argued for a massive reform agenda, and the ‘moderates’ who argued that Chinese-inspired reforms could prompt US intervention. The leftists triumphed, and closely followed the Chinese model. By late 1955, peasants were protesting against the government. In 1956-57, a number of ‘Intellectuals’ staged a counter-revolution against the DRV, which was quelled with ferocity. Those not killed were subjected to ‘re-education’. This debacle nearly brought the DRV to the point of collapse. Ho Chi Minh, who was considered to be above day-to-day politics, stepped in to save the DRV. He did however; admit that ‘errors had been made.’
·South: Diem gained Presidential status after rigging the referendum election in October 1955. From this point onwards, the government in the South was made up only of Diem and his relatives (a nepotistic oligarchy) – continual rigged elections ensured this, as did US support. For example, in a general election in September 1959, Diem won 78 of 123 seats, with the remainder won by right-wing independents such as Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu (his sister-in-law). Diem was subject to three coups: November 11th 1960 led by Lieutenant Colonel Vuong Van Dong failed, February 27th 1962 (the Presidential Palace bombing) by two Republic of Vietnam Air Force Pilots which also failed, and finally the successful coup and assassination on November 1st and 2nd 1963 led by General Duong Van Minh ‘Big Minh’.

Social
·North: the major social change in the North was the land reforms. Harpur argues that “the North in 1954 was in social and economic disarray, and the land reforms were a way of improving the situation.” It ended up being a case of getting worse before it got better. In 1955 the Vietminh established Agricultural Reform Tribunals to supervise the redistribution of land and to purge the north of ‘landlords and other feudal elements’. The Vietminh estimated that 5% of the rural population fitted this category. Things got out of hand. The purge was extended to include ‘traitors’ of the Vietminh and very quickly these denunciations became witch-hunts. Betrayal, fear, panic, and terror prevailed as fair-trials were abandoned, and executions were common. The campaign fuelled a wave of violence that saw many peasants unleash revenge on brutal landlords. It would seem likely that up to 100,000 people perished at the hands of the Agricultural Reform Tribunal. Harpur argues that the reform period (1954-57) was the most divisive and potentially destructive period of recent North Vietnamese history. ‘North Vietnam floundered in an atmosphere of suspicion and apprehension.’ However, in early 1958, the Communist Party abandoned the Tribunals in favour of introducing Co-operativisation Plans in an attempt to win back the peasant population. The co-operative was based on the principle that each village or hamlet shared the work and responsibility amongst its members. By 1960, 86% of the population was working and living in this structure. Social success for the North!
·South: Diem’s main policies throughout the 1950s were antagonistic, and sought to vindicate those who ‘opposed him’ and those he disliked. The Binh Xuyen, the Hoa Hao, and the Cao Dai were three prominent religious sects in South Vietnam with a large following. Schulzinger argues that Diem “immediately despised them as either thugs or illiterate peasants.” After denying each of the sects a seat in his government, Diem proceeded to eliminate them using the Saigon Police and the ARVN. The summer of 1955 also saw Diem launch his Denunciation campaign. The aim was to eradicate communists from the South – such that no uprising against Diem could be coordinated, and also so that communists could not ‘convert’ the mistreated peasants. Communist sources claim that in 1955 alone, 25000 suspected communist sympathizers were arrested, 4231 were injured, and 1000 were killed. Much like the social problems outlined in the North, the denunciations became a witch-hunt: the sheer brutality and savagery evoked fear amongst the peasants, and social unrest. Diem’s advice to the people, from an article in the ‘Diem Regime Magazine’: “We must let the peasants know that to give shelter to a communist or to follow his advice makes them liable to the death penalty. We must behead them, and shoot them as people kill mad dogs.” Survivors of Diem’s brutality in the mid 1950s (not just communists) went on to form a resistance group, dubbed the ‘Vietcong’ by Diem and the Americans. Harpur says “the strict and often brutal security enforced by Diem in the period 1954-60 was primarily aimed to reinforce his control of South Vietnam.

Economic
·North: the division of the country (at the 17th Parallel) meant that the overpopulated Red River Delta of the North was unable to receive rice from its usual supplier, the Mekong Delta in the South. Emergency supplies were imported from the Soviets, and although 1,000,000 Catholics had fled to the South (demand shift to left), but widespread famine still prevailed. Also, during the First Indochina War, French bombing had destroyed infrastructure in the North. To make matters worse, refugees often looted buildings as they fled in the 300 days of free movement. The land reforms intensified the widespread starvation and agricultural slowdown. However, 1957 North Vietnam had achieved self-sufficiency in rice production. Post-1957 saw growth in key industries such as transport, coal production, cement production, and electricity. By 1960, North Vietnam had changed from a country facing impending famine to the country with the fastest growing economy in South-East Asia.
·South: there were some social issues that had economic consequences. The South was now a capitalist nation, steering as far away from communism as possible. Diem therefore aided the wealthy/landlords and ignored the workers/peasants. This in turn, caused an unequal distribution of wealth among the population. Landlords were given the right to reclaim land that the communists had distributed among the local peasantry in the First Indochina War. Moreover, they could demand ‘back rent’ from the peasants, for the years of lost income. Another social issue was the creation of ‘Agrovilles’ which were purpose-built communities to physically remove peasantry from communist influence. These land reforms further depleted agricultural output. The South, was funded by America. In 1957, the US made an assurance to Diem that US$250million in aid would be provided each year, US$170million of which went to the military.

Military
·North: the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) had existed since the Japanese conflict – these were the blooded soldiers who were experienced, and ruthless in their guerrilla tactics. NLF (National Liberation Front) was established on December 20th 1960 by Ho Chi Minh – were separate to the Communist Party, allowing for greater membership. PLAF (People’s Liberation Armed Forces) was an official recognition of the Vietcong in 1961 – the Vietcong had been fighting independent of the Communist Party since 1955.
·South: the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) was the official South Vietnamese army – it was an army of conscripts that fought alongside the American forces. American military commitment was minimal during the 1950s (relative to the peak of the war). In November 1963, America had only 16,732 military servicemen in South Vietnam.