Just as the American colonies fought for independence from Great Britain and African nations finally emerged from their own colonial past, the Vietnamese fought the French so that they could also enjoy native rule without outside interference. The Vietnamese (as well as other French Indochina colonies Cambodia and, later, Laos) had been fighting for their independence in one way or another since France took control in 1859. After the Japanese surrendered control back to the French following World War II, the Viet Minh--a communist group led by Ho Chi Minh and formerly supported by the United States--declared Viet Nam an independent state. The Viet Minh were initially driven out of Hanoi, but Ho began a guerilla movement that initiated the First Indochina War. When the communists took over China, China officially recognized the Viet Minh government and began to actively support them militarily. The French were eventually driven out for good following the disastrous siege and surrender of Dien Ben Phu in 1954.
During World War II, the Vichy French--Frenchmen who collaborated with the Germans following the fall of France--actually continued nominal control over French Indochina during the Japanese occupation. The Vichy French government in Indochina cooperated with the Japanese until Germany fell in 1945; when the Vichy French began negotiations with the Free French, the Japanese siezed control. A famine that resulted in the starvation deaths of more than one million Indochinese spurred the first revolt by the Viet Minh, who advocated rebellion by the starving Vietnamese. The Viet Minh's stance gained great support from the people, and when the French attempted to regain control following the war, Ho Chi Minh's popularity grew to new heights.