Vietnam’s victory 40 years ago
Posted on April 29th, 2015

By Janaka Perera

April 30th marks the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Vietnam, a country with which Sri Lanka has developed strong ties during the past five decades.

The press in this country like newspapers elsewhere gave wide publicity to the fall of the U.S.-backed puppet regime in what was then South Vietnam and the victory of the Vietnam National Liberation Front which was also called the Vietcong.

The Ceylon Daily News of Thursday May 1, 1975 ran a pictorial news-feature under the headline, VIETNAM IS FREE: STORY OF AN EPIC STRUGGLE.

The struggle began in 1919 when young Ho Chi Minh (‘He who enlightens’), then living in France, founded the Association of Annamese Patriots comprising Vietnamese Nationals who opposed the French colonial occupation of Vietnam.

Vietnam’s vast natural resources and advantageous geographical position whetted the appetites of the European colonialists. France seized control of the country’s North, following China’s defeat in the Sino-French War (1884-85).  In October 1887 French Indochina was formed encompassing Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina and the Kingdom of Cambodia. Laos was added after the Franco-Siamese War of 1893.

Thereafter for 80 years Vietnam disappeared from the political map but the country was the jewel in the French colonial crown, providing ample natural resources and cheap labour.

In 1945 at the close of the World War II Ho Chi Minh organized the Viet Minh to foment a large scale uprising in Vietnam and declared it an Independent State after the Viet Minh captured major cities across the country which was then renamed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and Ho Chi Minh became its first President.

However in July and August of that year the Western Allies met in Berlin for the Potsdam Conference and agreed to partition country into a Northern and Southern Vietnam the administration of the latter being temporarily given to the British. They allowed French troops to reenter the country claiming that retaining it was essential for the recovery of France’s post-war economy.

This move was strongly resisted by the Vietnamese people and consequently the Ho Chi Minh Government got the French Authorities to sign a preliminary agreement on March 6, 1946, under which France recognized the DRV as a free State and gained the withdrawal of  Chiang Kai-shek’s troops which had occupied the country’s North.

On September 14, 1946, after a hard-fought diplomatic battle the DRV and France signed another agreement – a modus vivendi.  But violating this agreement on December 19, 1946 the French launched a large-scale aggressive war against the DRV.  They seized Hanoi, Haiphong and other towns and important lines of communication.

The United States rushed to the assistance of the French invaders by increasing its arms deliveries and financial help.  A puppet Vietnamese Government under ex-emperor Bao Dai was recognized in 1950 by the USA and Britain, ignoring the existence of the DRV.  But the Soviet Union and other socialist countries recognized the DRV as Vietnam’ legitimate Government.

In December 1953 the Vietnamese People’s Army encircled a major enemy force in the Dien Bien Phu Valley in the North.  Offering France an opportunity to end her aggression without loss of prestige,”   President Ho Chi Minh, in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen in November 1953 said the DRV was ready for a peaceful settlement.   But the French colonialists, ignoring this offer, launched a military operation under the code name Atlant to thwart the DRV forces offensive in the North.

The French Union Force fortified the region in November 1953 in a massive airborne operation (Operation Castor) to block Viet Minh transport routes. Thus began the famous Battle of Dien Bien Phu – the climatic confrontation of the First Indochina War (1946-1954).  On March 13, 1954 General Vo Nguyen Giap launched his counter-attack, seizing position after position and pushing the French until they occupied only a small area of Dien Bien Phu.  The French Artillery Commander, Colonel Piroth, blamed himself for the destruction of the French artillery superiority and committed suicide by exploding a hand grenade.

The French surrendered on May 7, 1954. Their casualties totaled over 2,200 men dead, 5,600 wounded and 11,721 taken prisoners.

Gen. Giap’s victory over the French was an important inspiration for anti-colonial campaigners worldwide, particularly in the French colonies. (Giap served as Defence Minister, Commander-in-Chief of the Vietnamese People’s Army, Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman of the Defence Council).

After the French surrender and the signing of the Geneva Accords of 1954 France agreed to withdraw its forces from all her colonies in Indochina – but stipulated that Vietnam be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel with control of the North given to the Viet Minh as the DRV under Ho Chi Minh and the South (called ‘Republic of Vietnam’) placed nominally under ex-Emperor Bao Dai thus preventing the victors of Dien Bien Phu from gaining control of the entire country.  With U.S. support Ngo Din Diem was appointed Prime Minister (later President) of the fledgling government of South Vietnam. His refusal to allow elections in 1956 as had been stipulated by the Geneva Conference would eventually lead to the Second Indochina War, better known as the Vietnam War.

The Americans began giving military aid to the Diem regime the repressive policies of which led to the formation in 1962 of the South Vietnam National Liberation Front which gained control of the rural areas by 1963. Large scale demonstrations – in which South Vietnamese workers, artisans, students, Buddhists, intellectuals and a section of the middle classes played an active role – were held in towns.

Among these the event that created the greatest impact was the much publicised self-immolation of the Buddhist monk, the 66-year-old Venerable Thich Quang Duc at a busy Saigon intersection on June 11, 1963.  The then U.S. President John F. Kennedy was quoted as saying, No news picture in history generated so much emotion around the world as this one.”

The five month-long crisis of the Diem regime culminated five months later on November 1 in a state coup in which he and his two brothers were killed. The downfall of Diem led to the disappearance of even a semblance to a government which the U.S. tried to establish and keep in power in the South Vietnam capital – despite the Americans installing new puppet rulers.

The events which precipitated direct U.S. armed involvement in the fighting began with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s announcement on August 2, 1964 that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had attacked U.S. destroyer Maddox in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. He ordered action against gun boats and certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam.”

By mid-November of that year the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam had risen to 525,000. The American involvement sparked-off worldwide protests, including in Sri Lanka.

U.S. atrocities in Vietnam led to the formation of the International War Crimes Tribunal (1966-1967) organized by British Philosopher Bertrand Russell and French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre.

In 1968 in a large military strike known as the Tet Offensive, the Vietnam National Liberation Front (the Viet Cong) retook many cities that had been under U.S. occupation, even pushing so far as to get troops inside the American Embassy in Saigon.  Though NLF suffered heavy losses, the offensive exposed the weakness of the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces, shifting international public opinion and precipitating the U.S. to seriously consider withdrawing their forces from Vietnam.

As fighting escalated, U.S. began widespread aerial and artillery bombardment all over North Vietnam. The American war machine included the most devastating instruments of slaughter and the most overwhelming explosives and firepower ever assembled anywhere.  All this was used against a population one sixth of the size of the United States, living in a country about the size of Florida.

Ho Chi Minh remained in Hanoi during his final years, demanding the unconditional surrender of the U.S. and all other non-Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.  By 1969 with negotiations still dragging on Ho’s health began to deteriorate from multiple health problems, which prevented him from participating further in active politics. However he insisted that his forces in the South continue fighting until all of Vietnam was reunited under the DRV regardless of the length of time that it might take. He was confident that time was on his side. On September 2, 1969, with the outcome of the war still in question, Ho Chi Min passed away at his home in Hanoi from heart failure at 9.47 a.m. He was 79 years of age.

The war continued for six more years although U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam in 1973. Saigon fell to the liberation forces on April 30, 1975.

During the DRV’s final campaign a song written in memory Ho Chi Minh was often sung by Vietnam People’s Amy soldiers, You are still marching with us Uncle Ho.”

The U.S. defeat in Vietnam had a stupendous global impact on the world. It was the first time that a small underdeveloped Asian nation had won a war against a mighty Western superpower with all the modern weaponry at its disposal.

Following the victory South Vietnam’s former capital Saigon was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City on July 2, 1976, in memory of the great leader. His embalmed body is on display in Hanoi in a granite mausoleum while the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi is dedicated to his life and work.

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