Decolonization and the Cold War
HIS 355 Decolonization in Asia, Africa, and the Americas
Decolonization and the Cold War
The end of WWII and the impact it had on the world was supposed to signify a new way of thinking about imperialism and colonialism. After experiencing the atrocities Nazi Germany had caused in its attempt to spread their ideologies and power, the allies of the world set forth to ensure no society of people would fall under the oppression of another nation. Unfortunately, a new conflict arose which would put the world in a position that would impede the anti-colonialism vision. This was the case in Vietnam, where America was more concerned about supporting their French ally and stopping the increase of communism than they were about the needs of the Vietnamese people.
In the beginning of the 1960’s, the country of Laos was of particular importance for both the communist nations of Russia and China and the democratic nation of America because of its strategic location between Vietnam and China. After the Kong Lae Coupe in August of 1960, when Laos military Captain Kong Le overthrew the Royal Lao Government in a successful coup, Laos ended up in a vulnerable state of affairs. As stated by “The Laos Crisis, 1960–196” (n.d.) “Hardly a nation except in the legal sense, Laos lacked the ability to defend its recent independence. Its economy was undeveloped, its administrative capacity primitive, its population divided both ethnically and regionally, and its elite disunited, corrupt, and unfit to lead” (para.3). Both America and the communist countries of Russia and China wanted to avoid a military conflict, so they settled on a mutual deal not to intervene through the International Conference on the Settlement of the Laotian Crisis in July 1962 (Guan, 2000). While the world focus was on Laos, there was a rapidly growing problem arising in Vietnam.
Since 1858, Vietnam had been under colonial rule by the French government who during WWII allowed their ally, Japan, to occupy Vietnam for their resources and use their people for labor support. Despite being a communist nation, the U.S. supported Vietnam, providing them with supplies and military training, to defeat and push Japan out of their country. When the U.S. had dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan bringing an end to the war, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of Vietnam Independence League, rallied the people of Vietnam and gave a speech in front of thousands proclaiming Vietnam independence. Believing he had U.S. support, Ho Chi Minh was convinced Vietnam would stay an independent country. In his speech, Ho Chi Minh announced his dream of independence for Vietnam by quoting the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Ho Chi Minh, 1961, para. 1).
After WWII ended the alliance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had ended and with it a new battled emerged, the Cold War and fight against communism. The U.S. had become concerned the Soviet Union would spread communism throughout Europe, so they agreed to support the French government. Unfortunately, that also meant the U.S. would have to go against their vision of ending colonialism and helping the independence of the Vietnamese people by supporting French occupation in Vietnam. The French deployed forces throughout Vietnam to reestablish control of the country. Ho Chi Minh responded by pleading with the U.S. for support and his intentions to not go to war with the French. Additionally, he traveled to France to peacefully negotiate with the French government. His attempts were in vain and he was forced to return to Vietnam to re-establish an army.
During France’s attempt to regain control of Vietnam and defeat Ho Chi Minh’s army, the U.S. attempted to provide aid in a passive role by providing French forces with funding and equipment to establish peace in Vietnam. In March of 1954 the Viet Minh forces engaged the French forces in one of the biggest battles in history in a remote northern outpost called Dien Bien Phu. The French forces lost the battle and surrendered after 55 days of fighting losing eight-thousand men. This was a very pivotal point for the U.S. What was transpiring was the ending of Asian colonization, however, the Cold War and the fight to stop communism shrouded that vision under the veil of desire to stop the spread of communism.
After numerous failed attempts to passively support the French in a goal to bring peace to Vietnam and end the continuing cycle of corruptness and violence, the U.S. was forced to actively engage in the conflict. In March of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the order to send in U.S. troops to establish control of South Vietnam and fight against the Viet Cong communist army in the north. For the next eight years the U.S. had engaged in one of the most complex bloodiest conflicts in history. On January 23rd, 1973 the Paris Accords, a cease-fire treaty between South Vietnam the U.S. and North Vietnam, was passed which gave the U.S. the chance to withdraw all forces and bring peace to Vietnam. However, as soon as the U.S. withdrew, North Vietnam overtook Saigon and unified the country under communist rule (Learning Network, 2012).
Guan, C. (2000). The Vietnam War, 1962-64: The Vietnamese Communist Perspective. Journal of Contemporary History 35, no. 4: 601-18. JSTOR, Ashford University Library.
Learning Network (2012). Nixon announces end of U.S, involvement in Vietnam. Retrieved from https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/23/jan-23-1973-nixon-announces-end-of-u-s-involvement-in-vietnam/
Shepard, T. (2015). Voices of Decolonization: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins
The Laos Crisis, 1960–1963. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/laos-crisis