French Outpost in Vietnam during the Franco-Vietnamese War. The outpost was overrun by Viet Minh forces at a cost of over 25,000 troops, killing 5,000 French troops, and taking 10,000 captive. The two-month long battle marked the end of French occupation in Vietnam.

The 1960s was a dark time in the history of the United States. Our nation was plunged into an undeclared war in Vietnam that cost the lives of more than 3 Million Vietnamese and close to 60 thousand American Soldiers. Why did so many people have to die? Misunderstanding on the part of the Americans, bad decisions by the French, strong will and opposition by the Vietnamese, the aftermath of the Second World War, and a slew of other factors I am not about to get into. This is dedicated to the millions of humans, regardless of what side they were on, who needlessly died because of the superiority complex of nations.

The French colonization of Indochina (Vietnam today), began roughly around 1880 and ended in 1939. During the era of colonization, policy in Indochina was particularly unfair. During the 18th century British colonial times in the US, the people of the 13 American Colonies were mainly of European descent, had among the highest per capita wealth in the world, and weren't oppressed very much. We American's today love to celebrate our independence won in a war fought so we wouldn't have to pay certain taxes. Regardless of what our history books say, British colonial rule in the Americas wasn't that bad.

Unfortunately, things weren't so pleasant during French colonial rule in Indochina. Poverty was rampant, and the French didn't do very much to develop the infrastructure of their colony. There was highly uneven land distribution with a small elite class of French land owners, but a large amount of peasants. Conditions ripe for revolution. However, the Peasants were no match for the French, so nothing changed. Up until the outbreak of World War II.

World War II was the most influential war the world has ever seen. During this time, the French, supposedly one of the most powerful nations in the world, one of superior military and financial strength, was completely overrun by the Nazis. The French fell right into German hands because they concentrated their army on the Maginot Line, in northeastern France, near the German border. The Germans, not being very stupid, knew this, and attacked France through the Ardennes. The French believed the Ardennes to be woodlands so thick that they were impassable by tanks and ground troops. So much for French military superiority.

As France itself fell and war ravaged Europe, things were even worse in Asia. The Japanese ripped through Asia building a vast empire. Vietnam was no exception to the Japanese wrath. However, although we may learn that the Japanese did horrible things while conquering other Asian nations, you may not have been taught that the Vietnamese viewed the Japanese as liberators. Even though treatment was harsh in Japanese-occupied Indochina, the Vietnamese realized that the French were not infallible rulers. The Japanese proved to the Vietnamese that Asians could defeat European enemies. As the war ravaged on, the nationalist movement, The Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Min, fought a guerrilla war against the Japanese with some support from the United States.

As the war came to a close, and the Japanese and Germans were defeated, things could never go back to the way they used to be. As Europe began rebuilding itself, the French, utterly humiliated by their inability to stand their ground, decided to quickly rebuild their military and reassert their dominance. The battlefield chosen was Vietnam.

In effect, the Vietnamese became very tough from their experience fighting the Japanese. They weren't so pleased when the French decided to return and assert their colonial rule. Throughout 1953, there was a lot of bloody fighting between the French army and the Viet Minh nationalists. The French, still cocky regardless of their humiliation in WWII, felt no remorse fighting the Vietnamese for control of their land. By 1954, things didn't look so good for the French. They realized that they were in over their heads.

So it came down to Dien Bien Phu, May 7, 1954. After the dust cleared, the Vietnamese were the clear victors of this battle. The French were completely annihilated, despite their superior firepower and supposed strength. Imagine how overwhelmed the Vietnamese soldiers were when they had to deal with more POW's than they had ever before seen.

From here, the French prisoners were marched off to North Annam. I don't know the distance, but these walks made the Death Marches conducted by the Nazis look like pleasant strolls in the park. Viet Minh prison camps didn't have guards or barbed wire or anything of that sort. The French POW's knew that if they escaped, the Vietnamese jungles and landscape were not very pleasant. Their chances of survival was much higher by staying in the camps. More or less, the French POW's were enslaved. Imagine being a French soldier, thinking you're one of the toughest and best nations in the world, and then being forced into slavery (nonetheless by someone you viewed as a disgusting inferior 'gook.') Now that had to be a massive blow to your self esteem. Being in the prison camp sucked. The French had to chant anti-colonial slogans continuously, political reeducation (agreeing with Marxist philosophy, or having the crap beaten out of you), and a lot of other lousy stuff.

Eventually, the prisoners were released after the Geneva agreements. Before leaving, the Viet Minh gave back some of their personal belongings (after forcing them to sign final anti-colonial manifestos, and signing a big register of "Thank You" notes to "Uncle Ho" in recognition of the 'good care' they received while interned.

So after the French retreated with their tail between their legs, the Americans decided to step in and show our strength in fighting communism. That wasn't all too smart, judging from the fact that most American soldiers didn't care in the least about Vietnam or about the French. It wasn't a very pleasant time in our history.

"I hear on Hanoi radio - three or four times a day - about a place called Dien Bien Phu. Something's happening: what is it?"

Ho Chi Minh took off his sun helmet. He turned this upside down on the table and he felt around the bottom of it, and he said "Dien Bien Phu is a valley, and it's completely surrounded by mountains. The cream of the French Expeditionary corps are down there, and we are around the mountains. And they'll never get out."

- Vietnam: The ten thousand day war

Dien Bien Phu is a small market town in north-eastern Vietnam, on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Known locally as the 'arena of the Gods' the town had a long history in Asian warfare, been positioned as it was on a crucial supply route from both China and Laos. Battle at Dien Bien Phu was to spell the end of the Franco Viet-minh war after a crushing defeat for the French. Actually, they had already lost the war some months ago - Dien Bien Phu was merely a last, desperate attempt to scratch some sort of victory out of an overall loss.

Just like the Americans would later, the French had trouble countering the guerilla tactics of the Viet Minh, and longed to lure them into conventional conflict. By establishing a garrison in so audacious a place this is what they achieved.

On November 20 1953, 800 French paratroopers dropped into the town, believing it to be empty. They landed right on top of two companies of Viet Minh fighters, but managed to defeat them after a day of fighting and 40 casualties. Once the town was secure 10,000 French troops moved in with 5,000 in reserve. The French dug bunkers and trenches and erected strong-points in the valley, none of which would save them from the ferocity of the Viet attack.

The Vietnamese accepted the challenge. 50,000 of them began to converge on the valley - all the available fighters plus scores of civilian brigades carrying supplies marched arduously or proceeded on bikes. In an astonishing feat, Vietnamese had dragged 200 artillery pieces through the jungle at a rate of half a mile a day for three months. At 1700 hours on 12 March, they opened up on the French strong points. French artillery could do nothing to counter this, either - all the Viet pieces were in caves or protected in other ways, and even when the French located them they could rarely destroy them. The French artillery commander commited suicide after realising the futility of his efforts.

The battle did not end until May 7. By then the French were exhausted, out of ammunition and just about everything else. They had lost the fort's airstrip on March 27, and from that point onwards had to rely on uncertain air drops to resupply. As they lost more and more land and planes were forced higher and higher, air drops started to fall into Viet hands. Water, ammunition, and in one case even valuable intelligence information were all lost to the enemy.

Another problem for the French were a lack of medical facilities - they had only one nurse, Genevieve de Galard, and four surgeons, and after the airstrip was closed there was no way to evacuate the wounded. The French dug additional underground tunnels and accomodated the wounded underground - this meant moving able-bodied men out of their shelter to brave the assault above ground. Genevieve would eventually receieve the Legion of Honor for her efforts in tending for the wounded.

The French staged several brave counter-attackers to liberate strong points, but in the end defeat was inevitable. They inflicted many casualties on the Viets - about 8,000 - but they lost 3,000 men with the same number seriously wounded. A relief bombing plan was drawn up in America - it is even claimed they planned to drop three small, tactical nukes on the Viet positions. The actions were stopped by Congress leaders, especially House Leader Lyndon Johnson.

After the fort had fallen, French survivors - 8000 of them, including the Generals - began a sixty-day march to the Red River delta 500 miles away, where prison camps awaited them. Only 50% of them would survive. The wounded and Genevieve were left behind until hospital planes could evacuate them.


lalala says that the French were airdropping in insane things like pate and champagne with which to try and enjoy their last days.

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