History 17B Lecture 21 The Era of Reform Page 2


II.  Vietnamese History in the 20th Century

A.  OSS-Agent 19 (Ho Chi Minh)

Before beginning to discuss America's involvement in the war, it is necessary to have an understanding of a little twentieth century Vietnamese history.  Ho Chi Minh - a communist rebel leader fighting French colonialism in Indochina, but also a strong nationalist who believed in an independent Vietnam - had been asking for U.S. support of Vietnamese independence since the end of World War I.   ho.jpg (14234 bytes)
Ho Chi Minh in 1918.

ho1.jpg (21350 bytes)
OSS-Agent 19 
The U.S. rebuffed his requests for help in ousting the French, but kept close ties with him during World War II.  Ho's underground safely escorted many U.S. pilots shot down over Japanese occupied Indochina back to their bases.  Indeed, he was even given an official secret agent number by the Office of Strategic Services (the equivalent of today's CIA).

B.  The French-Indochina War

With the end of the war, Ho copied the U.S. Declaration of Independence almost word for word in proclaiming Vietnamese independence.  After a number of ignored messages from Ho to President Truman in 1945 and 1946, the U.S. - eager to keep France in its European Cold War alliance - publicly announced support for the French in the newly erupted French-Indochina War.  The French suffered a humiliating defeat against Ho's forces at Dien Bien Phu.  (I know, I know...you're shocked at this news!)  DienBienPhu.jpg (60874 bytes)
French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

C.  Geneva Accords of 1954

The peace terms for the end of the conflict were defined in the 1954 Geneva Accords which provided for a truce between French and Vietnamese fighting, a removal of all foreign military bases, a temporary partition at the 17th parallel to remove troops, and national elections within two years for a unified Vietnam.  The goal of the temporary partition was to end the fighting by withdrawing French troops into the South and Ho's troops into the North, NOT to set up two separate countries.  Point Six of the Accords stated: map.jpg (66170 bytes)

"...the essential purpose of the agreement...is to settle military questions with a view to ending hostilities and that the military demarcation line is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary."


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