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.