Explain the role of colonialism in giving rise to the Vietnam War. What types of problems did it cause in 20th-century Vietnam prior to the war?
From 111 B.C. until 938 A.D., Vietnam was part of Imperial China; in 938, the Vietnamese became independent of China. During what is known as the second Napoleonic Empire, (1852-1870) the Emperor Napoleon III acquired parts of Vietnam at different times. At first, Cochinchina, which is the southernmost part of what is modern Vietnam, was taken along with Saigon in 1862. One year later, France became a protectorate over Cambodia. Later, after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 with the founding of the Third Republic, which dated from 1871-1940, France conquered Tonkin, which is in northern Vietnam, and later Laos.
With a colonial government established in French Indo-China, there was initially some guerrilla resistance. Perhaps, one condition conducive to failure of the colonial French government was the selling of the new lands to those who bid highest, and--worse than that--French speculators and Vietnamese collaborators with the colonial government. For, these conditions led to a class of landless tenants, not unlike the sharecroppers of America, who worked in the fields for rents that cost up to 60% of the crop which was sold by the landloards at the market in Saigon. Profits increased because of the additional cultivable land from the creation of new waterways, but also from the exploitation of the peasantry.
This exploitation led to a new nationalist movement. Unlike the traditionalist opposition, this new nationalism, while rejecting European rule by the French, embraced Western ideas and concepts of science and technology. In 1905 Phan Boi Chau traveled to Japan into order to solicit its help in freeing his country; he later sent many of his countrymen into Japan for training. In 1907, the Free School of Tonkin was opened as a center for agitation against the French; however, after only a few months, the anti-French demonstrations were suppressed. Nevertheless, in 1908, mass demonstrations against high taxes occurred in the cities. Demonstrators and organizers were arrested by the colonial government and sent to penal camps. Phan Boi Chau fled to China, but he was arrested by French agents and returned to Vietnam in 1925; he died under house arrest in 1940.
There was an intensification of the movement for national liberation after World War I. Prominent intellectuals attempted negotiations with the colonial regime in return for political concessions. When these failed, revolutionary groups arose, especially in Annim and Tonkin; one such group was the Vietnamese Nationalist Party [VNQDD], a group which embraced terrorism with a plan to oust the French in a military uprising. However, the VNQDD was vanquished; surviving members became exiles in China, where they were supported by the Chinese Nationalist Party.
**In 1930, Ho Chi Minh, who had founded the Revolutionary Youth League of Vietnam in 1925, formed the Indochinese Communist Party. In May of 1930, Ho Chi Minh's party capitalized upon the condition of starvation that existed by enlisting peasants in an uprising in which many landlords and government officials were killed. It took the French until 1931 to suppress this uprising. Nonetheless, the Communist party recovered rapidly, influencing intellectuals, workers, and peasants alike. But, while it became a well-organized political force, it was forced to hide during World War II because during this time, the Vichy government of France allowed the Japanese to station 30,000 troops in Indochina, thus creating an extremely important "staging area" for all Japanese military operations in Southeast Asia. As WWII progressed, Japanese ousted the French forces because of concern that they might turn against the Japanese as defeat seemed imminent.
After the defeat of Japan in August of 1945, Ho Chi Minh's communist-led Viet Minh re-emerged and found no opposition to a general uprising. It seized power in Hanoi, and the emperor abdicated the throne. However, the French insisted on restoring their colonial presence and, with aid from Great Britain, they gained control of Cochinchina. This action at the beginning of 1946 created two Vietnams--a communist north and a noncommunist south.
This split of Vietnam proved disastrous as two Indochina Wars resulted. In the first, Viet Minh attempted to gain control of French troops in Hanoi. Fearful of the spread of communism, the United States sent large amounts of aid to the French. In May of 1954, an international conference in Geneva negotiated an end to the war. North Vietnam then became a Communist government with the assistance of China and the Soviet Union. In the South a Roman catholic, Ngo Dinh Diem became prime minister and, later president. In its fear of Communism growing, and with the opportunity to increase its military-industrial complex, the United States provided financial backing, intelligence, and security forces to counter Viet Minh. These actions, of course, spread the influence of the United States as an international power.
In the second Indochina War, after a military uprising in South Vietnam, General Nguyen Cao Ky was appointed president. But, this oppressive government was equally incapable of dealing with the Viet Cong. In 1965, the Viet Cong had built its military up to 150,000 men, and U.S. intelligence analysts felt that the Saigon regime under Ky was seriously threatened since the The National Front for the Liberation of the South also had a huge following.
As a result of the fears of Communism spreading into South Vietnam, the number of U.S. advisers in South Vietnam increased from 700 to 17,000 by 1964, along with numerous American helicopter pilots. Finally, in February 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the bombing of Vietnam in the hope of deterring further infiltration of the Viet Cong military into the South. Four weeks after the bombing, American troops arrived in South Vietnam.
Perhaps, if France had not so oppressed the Vietnamese people, a different government may have formed such as that proposed in the early 1900s by Phan Boi Chau with his nationalist movement. Also, the continued colonialism of France with its Vichy government allowing Japan to occupy the country, certainly caused hatred, and, as so often occurs, radicalism is born from hatred. Also, at the time that Ho Chi Minh emerged on the political scene, communism had begun to implant itself in other countries, a fact that encouraged the growth of communism in Vietnam, added to the resentment of Western oppression suffered under colonial France.
By the mid 1800s, the French had gained a lot of influence over Vietnam and their politics. The French were competing for power, and knowing that Vietnam didn't have the right technology and weapons to stop them, they decided to invade.
Vietnam didn't gain a lot from this take over. Their natural resources were taken, their people were poorly treated, and their leaders couldn't do anything to stop it. Naturally, the people began to resist. Inspired by Japan's defeat of Russia and revolutions in China, Ho Chi Minh studied techniques of warfare and formed the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930 (or the Viet Minh). They focused on guerrilla tactics and underground intelligence and tried to gain as much land as possible. However, their plan failed which led the Nationalists and the Viet Minh to fight against the French. China and the Soviet Union also assisted them by sending supplies and weaponry.