By Abraham Lucey, Andrew Mariotti, Zachary Schafer

French Indochina Warfare Categories:
Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese native, led a revolution against the Imperialist French forces beginning in 1946 and ending in 1954. The war was mainly guerilla however there were exceptions. Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh’s plan was to hide from French forces until his army could rival that of France’s in size and power. Giap wanted to finish with a large counter offensive into the Red River Delta to completely eradicate French presence [1]. France however wanted to fight in open field where their technology could beat the rebel forces easily and definitively. The rebel tactics of evasion won out and the French forces had trouble finding an enemy to fight. The first time when Giap and Minh decided to lead their army out of the northern jungles and mountains was a total failure; during the Red River offensive which lead to a full retreat by the nascent Vietnamese forces[2]. Fortunately for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam forces under Minh and Giap the second open field campaign against the French lead to a decisive and war-ending battle. The final battle of the war a siege lead by Giap on an isolated but large French stronghold at Dien Bien Phu which brought about a ceasefire and the start of the Geneva Accords of 1954[3].
Many people within France disliked the French Indochina war [4]. It was hard for France to proclaim total war on Vietnam with such little support in its own home country. Propaganda in France tried to make the war out as a war against communism, as the post WWII red scare was abound. The French leaders thought that this approach would make the public think that it was doing the world a favor and making it safer thus improve moral for the war at home. However, this tactic was not extremely successful and after the battle at Dien Bien Phu public support turned united against the French forces. American support was offered throughout the war as well. The United States of America provided the French government with large sums of money and supplies however they never offered troop support and attempted to remain neutral through out the war [5].
This was not a civil war at the out start of the war as Viet Minh forces were fighting a war of independence against the French Foreign Legion forces. As the war went on however, there was a French and American backed South Vietnamese government put in place that supplied troops to the French forces which foreshadows the more commonly known Vietnamese Civil War that would take place barely a decade after the end of the First Indochina War [6]. It was not a conventional civil war as it started as an international war between natives of Southeast Asia and France, but there was intranational fighting near the end of the war in the form of men and being given to the French forces by the newly created South Vietnamese government.

Long Term Causes:
In the late 19th Century, France conquered the regions of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; eventually re-named French Indochina. There was much unrest and discord among the populace of the French-controlled Southeast Asian Empire and many revolts were put down due to lack of coordination among the revolutionaries [7]. The pattern was broken, “Among the nationalist movements, the most effective was the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), founded in 1930 by the Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh” [8]. The ICP during World War II to wanted to have Vietnam be its own sovereign nation, and would do whatever it took to get Vietnam back under the control of its natives. So, after Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945 the Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh formed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The group took over North Vietnam establishing Hanoi as the capital.
Short Term Causes:
The DRV had issued a Declaration of Independence to France similar in nature to the United States Declaration of Independence. The starting words were that all men are created equal, and claims that France had exploited the people of Vietnam. As well it spoke “They have enforced inhuman laws… They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots, they have drowned uprisings in rivers of blood. They have fettered public opinion… They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials…” [9].
The Catalyst:
Once France had regained the colony of Vietnam as part of the Paris Peace Treaties, negotiations started with DRV forces under Ho Chi Minh. Some policies were; as long as a French military outpost could be posted in North Vietnam, then France would recognize the “DRV as a free state under French federation” [10]. Negotiations were going peacefully, though neither side could gain its entire platform. The floodgates broke loose when French forces arrived in Northern Vietnam. Neither the French nor the DRV could reach a compromise and the Viet Minh attacked, sparking war [11]. Retaliation by the French came in the form of bombarding the city of Hai Phong, leaving up to 6,000 dead [12]. The war, known as the first Indochina war, had begun and would drag on for an 8-year period.
Technological Developments:
During the beginning of the First Indochina war there was a stark contrast between the armament of the French Foreign legion with supporting forces and the DVR’s firepower under Ho Chi Min. For instance, apart from a small scattering of non-military planes the DVR forces lack airpower, as well as significant naval forces, whereas the French had ample of both. The Vietnamese independence forces maintained a guerilla or “People’s War” tactic against the French forces as Mao Zedong was doing against Chiang Kai-shek in China [13]. DRV forces applied hit and run tactics against French bases, using overwhelming force from the populace recruits to outmatch the firepower of the French.[14]
Home Front:
The economic and social impacts in France during the First Indochina War were slight. Women in France got “The Vote” in 1944 two-years prior to the outbreak of open hostilities in French Indochina (FIC)[15]. On the inverse side, Vietnamese women were given the vote by communist principles, although their status as citizens of France would have given them the vote regardless of the War [16]. The most pertinent, native, opposition to Vietnamese communism led by the DVR was a French backed government in southern Vietnam lead by Bao Dai that was formed in 1949 [17]. The southern government however was eventually, as promised, to become a true democracy under its first President in Ngo Dinh Diem in 1954 [18]. This is in stark contrast to the revolutionary movement in the North lead by Ho Chi Min who, although his side professed to be the “Democratic Republic” of Vietnam actually adopted not only the military tactics of the Chinese Communists but also their ideology. Even before the breakout of WWII Ho Chi Min assisted in the founding of the ICP or Indochinese Communist Party, which was to become the dominant independence party during WWII and go on to be the head and leading force in Vietnam during and after the First Indochina War [19].

Effects and results of Wars:
The Geneva Accords called for France to withdrawal almost all troops from old French Indochina and it partitioned Vietnam into Northern Communist (DVR) and the Southern Democracy backed by the French and United States. There were to be elections in 1956 in which the populace of Vietnam would decide the future of their country, unified or otherwise. Territorial changes also took place across southeastern Asia, as the nations of Laos and Cambodia were created from the Remnants of FIC and Thailand gained portions of FIC as well. The political repercussions reverberated around the world from Europe to the United States [20] culminating in the Vietnamese War of 1959-1975 [21].The relationship between the democracy of South Vietnam and communism with North Vietnam became one of increasing dichotomy as the DRV sought collective security in the U.S.S.R.[22] and P.R.C.,[23]while the South sought security with the United States and other pro-democratic governments in the West. While the North Vietnamese had won a great victory in the name of independence, it was still a mainly agrarian country with little bureaucracy already in place with the need for adaptation to an entirely new government system in Chinese modeled communism. Thus, the economic strain on N. Vietnam was considerable, and many turned to the military for a stable and consistent jobs. In France, the economic toll was noticeable but not as great as the World War II debts it endured, those being in large forgiven by the United States [24]. France was able to endure such a debt from the First Indochina War and continue its GNP[25] growth of between 15-25 percent during this time [26].

Executive Summary:
The French Indochina war was both an international and intranational war resulting in the creation of a partitioned country, North Vietnam being communist and South Vietnam being (eventually) democratic. The FIC war began a chain of events leading to the second Vietnamese war in 1959.

[1] (First Indochina War - MSN Encarta)
[2] Ibid.
[3] (Geneva Accords - MSN Encarta)
[4] (First Indochina War)
[5] (First Indochina War - MSN Encarta)
[6] (Szczepanski)
[7] (First Indochina War - MSN Encarta)
[8] Ibid.
[9] ( - Full text of theVietnamese Declaration of Independence)
[10] (First Indochina War)
[11] (Szczepanski)
[12] (Haiphong: Excerpt from the Columbia Encyclopedia)
[13] (First Indochina War - MSN Encarta)
[14] With the exception of a failed attempt to take the Red River Delta by DRV forces under Vo Nguyen Giap, and the final cataclysmic battle at Dien Bien Phu that ended the war.
[15] During the period of German occupation of France from May 1940-December 1944 a resistant movement was ever present from the French populace including the women living in France at that time. Due to women’s role in the resistance De Gaulle was unable to deny them the vote any longer.
[16] (Laubier)
[17] (First Indochina War)
[18] (Ngo Dinh Diem)
[19] (First Indochina War - MSN Encarta)
[20] As the United States had backed France with money and supplies and now backed the Southern government

[21] (Szczepanski)
[22] Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
[23] People’s Republic of China
[24] (Present at the Creation)
[25] Gross National Product
[26] (Marshall Plan)

Works Cited
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"Present at the Creation: The Post-WWII Reconstruction." Brad DeLong's Website Home Page. Berkeley University. Web. 24 Sept. 2009. <>.
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" - Full text of the Independence Declaration of the Democratic
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