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The Struggle for Unity of North Vietnam

The Japanese occupation during the Second World War provided the avenue for the full development of a Vietnamese nationalist movement (Fall, 1965). This nationalist movement first sprang during the French occupation of the country prior to WWII. Most Vietnamese were against the colonial policies of the French especially those which concerned immigration and forced labor. During the landing of Japanese forces in 1940, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Vietnamese Nationalist Movement, created guerilla units to fight the invaders. These units worked in teams behind enemy lines to provide intelligence for the allied forces stationed.

Thus, Ho Chi Minh was given funding by the US Office of Strategic Services. Ho was also given adequate supplies for the day to day combat operations of his guerillas. In 1944, the Japanese army overthrew the Vichy French government (Vichy France betrayed the axis powers by surrendering to the allies in North Africa – note that Vichy France became part of the axis power upon the surrender of France to Germany in 1940). The colonial officials were ordered to be imprisoned by the Japanese. Vietnamese working under the colonial regime were instantly executed.

Thus, on March 11 1945, the Japanese granted Vietnam independence (with the guidance of the Japanese). It also encouraged the development of a Vietnamese independence. The Japanese though were unaware that most of the Vietnamese supported the guerilla units of Ho in its fight against imperialist Japan. The long list of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers while in Vietnam enraged the population (Fall, 1965). Thus, it can be said that the “independence” granted by the Japanese was perceived by the Vietnamese population as a form of political demagoguery against the allied powers.

After the surrender of Japan, Emperor Bao Dai abdicated, and a transitional government was set-up by Ho. Thus, on September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France (this was known as the August Revolution). Several US army officers were present during the occasion. They applauded the vigor and strength of a new Vietnam in creating its own self-determination. Here, Ho read the US Declaration of Independence as his main argument for Vietnam’s separation with France. Ho hoped that the United States would make Vietnam an ally in the fight against colonialism.

Roosevelt, on his political speeches during the climax of allied assault in North Africa, said that America “will not support any effort of any country to extend colonialism beyond the confines of its own borders” (Fall, 1965). At one time, Ho told a US officer that he would welcome “a million American soldiers … but no French. ” Politics, however, intervened. The rise of the USSR as a superpower put the United States into an awkward position (Chomsky, 1993). The US was forced to support France in its efforts of curbing Communism in continental Europe.

This extended to Vietnam. At Potsdam, the allied powers agreed that Vietnam would be occupied by Great Britain and China. The Chinese army arrived after receiving orders from the Kuomintang. After a few days, the British army arrived in the south. Saigon was occupied by the British. The Vietnamese though resisted the onslaught of British occupation. Thus, the French government called on the British parliament to turn over Vietnam into the hands of the French government. The French government negotiated with the Chinese government.

In return for giving up concessions in the China, the Chinese government would allow the French to occupy the northern part of Vietnam. Ho became disillusioned of the power play of the major powers. He hated the Chinese more than the French. He sought the support of other nationalist groups in the formation of a new resistance movement. Thus, when the French guided government formation failed, the French immediately mobilized their forces. Ho sent messages to the US president asking the support of the United States in case of a major war with France erupted. The United States government though ignored the appeal of Ho.

Thus, Ho asked assistance from Mao Zedong (the Nationalist government of China was defeated in the civil war with the Communist movement of Mao). The French war of occupation (the war of Vietnamese independence) began. French forces began attacking the headquarters of the resistance movement of Ho. After a year though, the French was on the losing side. Almost all cities were captured by Ho’s forces. Its largest fort in the north fell into the hands of the Vietnamese forces. The French called on the allies for negotiation. The allies agreed that Vietnam would be divided into two: North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

North Vietnam was to be headed by the Communist government of Ho Chi Minh. In 1950, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was established (a puppet government of France). China, the Soviet Union, and the United States respectively recognized the new republic. Here are the insights from the historical background of Vietnam prior to the Vietnam War: 1) We can see that from the very beginning, the Vietnamese nationalist movement aimed for the decolonization of Vietnam from any foreign power. This nationalist movement denounced any form of colonization, either in the form of diplomacy or military means.

Ho believed that diplomacy should be the first step in achieving genuine independence (Chomsky, 1993). Ho sent delegates to the United States in order to seek greater military and financial support for the reconstruction of Vietnam; 2) Ho hoped that the United States would persuade France to give up its claim on Vietnam. His hope however withered. The United States ignored Ho’s appeal for aid during his war with the French. At this time of suffering, the Chinese Communist government offered its support to Ho. Ho realized that Vietnam had no genuine allies but the Chinese.

For him, the ideological similarities of China and Vietnam offered a new beginning for increased diplomacy and friendship between the two countries. As Vietnam parted ways with the United States, it was able to establish strong relations with China; 3) The US indifference in the Vietnamese war of independence resulted to increased Vietnamese hatred to the United States; 4) And, the transition government created by Ho was meant to have full jurisdiction over all Vietnam. Like Kim IL Sung of North Korea, Ho believed that Vietnam should be united under one government and flag (Chomsky and Herman, 1973).

Observing the next events in Vietnam will provide cue that Vietnam War was civil war (within one country). Although officially, there are two Vietnams, both the government of Ho and Diem (South Vietnam) perceived the need for One Vietnam. They perceived that the solution to the Vietnam problem is reunification. The means for achieving this reunification though differed between the two camps. President Diem of South Vietnam urged Ho to recognize his government as the legitimate government of Vietnam. Ho fired back arguing that it was his government that took the initiative in fighting for Vietnamese independence.

Diem urged Ho to increase diplomatic friendship with the United States. Ho argued that it was the United States who turned back on them during the war against the French. Here we can see that the two leaders perceived the existence of a “one” Vietnam. In 1956, Le Duan returned to Hanoi. He called on the Vietnam Worker’s Party to take a united stand on the reunification of Vietnam under Ho’s leadership. He added that the need to strike the heart of South Vietnamese government (note that he emphasized the government of South Vietnam, not South Vietnam perse) should be done in accordance with the principle of self-determination.

However, North Vietnam at that time was suffering from an economic crisis. Most of the members of the Vietnamese Communist Party also noted that South Vietnam was not ripe for a peoples’ revolution. In December 1956 however, Ho allowed the Viet Minh to initiate what military strategists call “low level insurgency. ” He hoped that by exposing the weaknesses of the Diem government to the Vietnamese public, he would be able to capture the sentiment of South Vietnamese (which he viewed as part of “one” Vietnam). After four years, Hanoi allowed the establishment of the NLF or the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Fall, 1965).

Two groups comprised the NLF: nationalists and communists. Most of the members of the NLF were nationalists. NLF was under the guidance and control of the Hanoi government. Here are the main objectives of the NLF: 1) The exposition of the abuses of the Diem government against the people of Vietnam. A subset objective here can be summarized as: Since the Diem government was created by the French, it became an extension of colonialism (the Hanoi government knew that the Diem government was a puppet government of the French); 2) The exposition of the mistakes of the 1954 Geneva Conference.

The Geneva Conference of 1954 created political troubles for Vietnam. By dividing Vietnam into two political entities, it would crumble in the face of colonialist onslaught. Foreign powers could easily smash their way between two opposing brother countries (like the French). Added to that, the creation of two Vietnams, as Hanoi predicted, would escalate into a major military conflict, unfavorable on both side; 3) And, seizure of political power in the south through a popular insurrection. Military operations became a secondary tool in achieving reunification.

Thus, the NLF emphasized the virtues of honesty and good government as a form of political attraction for South Vietnamese. We may note that Hanoi viewed South Vietnam not as a separate political entity. The use of propaganda proves this point. Rather than launching an outright attack against South Vietnam, Ho preferred an initiation of insurgency in the south. This was done to avoid an ideological confrontation between the two Vietnams. If this would happen, then the reunification is impossible. Thus, we can say that the Vietnam War was a civil war between two opposing ideological groups.

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