The Vietnam War

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Was the Vietnam war, from the Vietnamese perspective, basically an anti-colonial war?

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Vietnamese perceptions regarding the American role in Southeast Asia can be categorized as a struggle against colonialism, although unity among the Vietnamese changed after the 1954 division of the country into North and South. The struggle for independence against France was certainly and unequivocally anti-imperialist or anti-colonialist in nature. France had colonized much of Southeast Asia—mainly Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam—during the mid- to late-19th century. Japanese imperialism supplanted that of France during World War II, and after that conflict, France had sought to reclaim what had been called French Indochina—an effort supported by the United States as part of a grand bargain intended to secure French support for the North Atlantic Alliance, with the Cold War against the Soviet Union being the overriding foreign policy concern of the United States. After France’s ignominious defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and its subsequent withdrawal from Vietnam, Vietnam was divided into North and South, with the South reflecting American influence and the North governed by the Vietnamese Communist Party and its leader, Ho Chi Minh.

In short, the war against France was anti-colonial. The war against the United States by North Vietnam, with Soviet and Chinese support, was both anti-colonial and pro-communism. Ho and his compatriots in the North sought to unify Vietnam and impose a Marxist dictatorship. American support for South Vietnam stood in their way. From the North’s perspective, then, the war against the United States was classified as anti-colonialism. From the South’s perspective, the American presence there was vital to its survival against a very determined North Vietnamese regime. Endemic corruption in South Vietnam’s government and an uncertain approach to ensuring the South’s independence from the North among American leaders provided a critical advantage to the more unified North.

The answer to the question is largely “yes.” Perspectives differed, however, among those Vietnamese in the southern half of the country who opposed communism but certainly preferred the absence of any outside power, whether French, American, Chinese, or Russian. The Vietnamese are a fiercely independent people, but there were definitely disagreements regarding the form of government a unified Vietnam should adopt.

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