May Freedom Ring
The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. France was able to exploit the Vietnamese people and their land up until World War II. When Germany concurred France, Imperial Japan expelled the French to occupy Vietnam for themselves. The French retained administrators during the occupation. After the war, France tried to re-establish its rule but failed in the First Indochina War.
The West’s exposure in Vietnam dated back to 166 BC with the arrival of merchants from the Roman Empire, to 1292 with the visit of Marco Polo, and the early 1500s with the arrival of Portuguese and other European traders and missionaries. Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit priest, improved on earlier work by Portuguese missionaries and developed the Vietnamese romanized alphabet Quốc Ngữ in Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanam et Latinum in 1651.
Between 1627 and 1775, two families partitioned the country: the Nguyễn Lords ruled the South and the Trịnh Lords ruled the North. The Trịnh-Nguyễn War gave European traders the opportunities to support each side with weapons and technology: the Portuguese assisted the Nguyễnin the South, the Dutch helped the Trịnh in the North.
The conservative Confucian Nguyễn Dynasty in 1802 resisted Westernization. Local Catholics revolted in an attempt to install a Catholic emperor. Tens of thousands of foreign-born Christians and Vietnamese were persecuted and trade with the West slowed during this period. There were hundreds of uprisings against the Nguyễns. The Nguyễn Dynasty did not modernize the country in time to prevent French colonization in the late 19th century.
Under the orders of Napoleon III of France, French gunships under Rigault de Genouilly attacked the port of Đà Nẵng. From 1859 to 1867, French troops expanded their control over all six provinces on the Mekong delta and formed a colony known as Cochin China. France assumed control over the whole of Vietnam after the Sino-French War (1884–1885).
After Gia Định fell to French troops, Vietnamese resistance movements broke out in occupied areas, using guerilla tactics led by former court officers and some by peasants such as Trương Định, Nguyễn Trung Trực, Phan Đình Phùng, Hoàng Hoa Thám and Even the teenage Nguyễn Emperor Hàm Nghi left the Imperial Palace of Huế in 1885 with regent Tôn Thất Thuyết and started the Cần Vương, or “Save the King”, movement, trying to rally the people to resist the French. He was captured in 1888 and exiled to French Algeria. Decades later, two more Nguyễn kings, Thành Thái and Duy Tân were also exiled to Africa for having anti-French tendencies. The former was deposed on the pretext of insanity and Duy Tân was caught in a conspiracy with the mandarin Tran Cao Van trying to start an uprising.
The Đông Du (“Go East”) Movement in 1905 by Phan Bội Châu was to send Vietnamese students to Japan to learn modern skills, so they could lead a successful armed revolt against the French. Prince Cường Để, he started two organizations in Japan: Duy Tân Hội and Việt Nam Công Hiến Hội. Due to French diplomatic pressure, Japan later deported Châu to China. In 1925, French agents captured him in Shanghai. Due to his popularity, Châu was spared from execution and placed under house arrest until his death in 1940.
Vietnamese patriots saw the potential of Romanized Quốc Ngữ alphabet as a useful tool to quickly reduce illiteracy and to educate the masses. The traditional Chinese scripts or the Nôm script were seen as too cumbersome and too difficult to learn. The use of prose in literature also became popular with the appearance of many novels; most famous were those from the literary circle Tự Lực Văn Đoàn.
In 1927, the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (Vietnamese Nationalist Party) was founded. Marxism was introduced into Vietnam with three Communist parties; the Indochinese Communist Party, Annamese Communist Party and the Indochinese Communist Union. In 1940, during World War II, Japan invaded Indochina, keeping the Vichy French colonial administration in place as a Japanese puppet.
In 1941 Nguyễn Ái Quốc, now known as Hồ Chí Minh, arrived in northern Vietnam to form the Việt Minh, an umbrella group for all parties fighting for Vietnam’s independence, but was dominated by the Communist Party. The Việt Minh had a modest armed force and during the war worked with the American Office of Strategic Services to collect intelligence on the Japanese. In 1945, Japanese occupying forces ousted the French administration as they had been holding secret talks with the Free French. Also in early 1945, due to Japanese exploitation and poor weather, a famine broke out, millions of Vietnamese people starved to death in Japanese occupied Vietnam.
The Viet Minh in March 1945 urged the population to rebel. This rebellion bolstered the Viet Minh’s popularity and they recruited many members during this period. The Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August 1945 creating a power vacuum. The Việt Minh then launched the “August Revolution” across the country to seize government offices. Emperor Bảo Ðại abdicated on August 25, 1945, ending the Nguyễn Dynasty.
On September 2, 1945 Hồ Chí Minh declared Vietnam independent under the new name of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and held the position of Chairman (Chủ Tịch). The French, however, did not relinquish their colony without a fight. British forces sent over 20,000 Indian troops to occupy Saigon. They re-armed Japanese prisoners of war known as Gremlin force. The British began to withdraw in December 1945, but this was not completed until June of the following year. The last British soldiers were killed in Vietnam in June 1946. They were followed by French troops trying to re-establish their rule.
In 1946, Vietnam had its first National Assembly election (won by the Viet Minh in central and northern Vietnam  ), which drafted the first constitution: the French tried to regain power by force; some Cochin-Chinese politicians formed a seceding government of Cochin-China (Nam Kỳ Quốc) while the non-Communist and Communist forces were engaging each other in sporadic battle. Stalinists purged Trotskyists. Religious sects and resistance groups formed their own militias. The Communists eventually suppressed all non-Communist parties but failed to secure a peace deal with France. In 1954, after many negotiations and battles, the French were defeated.
In 1947 full scale war broke out between the Viet Minh and France. Realizing that colonialism was coming to an end worldwide, France fashioned a semi-independent State of Vietnam, within the French Union, with Bảo Đại as Head of State. Civil war ensued, Ho Chi Minh controlled North Vietnam and U.S. backed Ngo Dinh Diem eventually controlled the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). In the 1950s the government of Bảo Ðại gained recognition by the United States and the United Kingdom.
On May 7, 1954, French troops surrendered to the Viet Minh and in July 1954, the Geneva Accord was signed between France and the Viet-Minh, ended France’s colonial presence in Vietnam. The Geneva Accords then partitioned the country in two.
Ngô Ðình Diệm, was selected Premier of the State of Vietnam by Bảo Đại. Bảo Ðại was persuaded to reduce his power. Diệm used a referendum in 1955 to depose Bảo Đại and declare himself President of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The Republic of Vietnam (RVN) was proclaimed in Saigon on October 26, 1955. The United States began to provide military and economic aid to the RVN, training RVN personnel, and sending U.S. advisors to assist in building the infrastructure for the new government.
The Geneva Accord promised elections for Vietnam. However, as only France and the Viet Minh had signed the document, the United States and Diệm refused to abide by the agreement and hold the scheduled free election to unite the country. Fearing that Hồ Chí Minh would win the election due to his popularity, and ending western imperialism. So rather than peaceful reunification, the partition led to the Vietnam War, or the American War as the Vietnamese see it.
Although Ho died on September 2, 1969, his presence pervaded Vietnam.
In South Vietnam, although U.S. backed Ngô Đình Diệm personally was respected for his nationalism, he ran a nepotistic and authoritarian regime. Elections were routinely rigged and Diem discriminated in favour of minority Roman Catholics on many issues. His religious policies sparked protests from the Buddhist community after demonstrators were killed on Vesak, Buddha’s birthday, in 1963 when they were protesting a ban on the Buddhist flag. The most famous case was of Venerable Thích Quảng Đức, who burned himself to death to protest. The images of this event made worldwide headlines and brought extreme embarrassment for US backed Diem.
During this time, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union supported the Independence Freedom fighters of the North while the United States supported the French imperialist south. The Tết Offensive was a catastrophic military defeat, it led many Americans to view the war as unwinnable. In 1972 Nixon was pressing both Hanoi and Saigon to sign the Paris Peace Agreement of 1973, for American military forces to withdraw from Vietnam. The pressure on Hanoi materialized with the Christmas Bombings . Despite the peace treaty, the North continued the war as had been envisioned by Lê Duẩn and the South still tried to recapture lost territories.
After 1,100,000 Vietnamese deaths, and about 58,000 Americans dead. The war ended with the fall of Saigon to the North in April 30, 1975. The North Vietnamese were victorious and reunited a free Vietnam. Nevertheless, The reputation of the North towards traitors preceded them, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled the country by all means.
In 1976, Vietnam was officially unified and renamed Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRVN), with its capital in Hà Nội. Saigon was renamed Ho CHi Minh City. The reunified Vietnam suffered further internal repression and was isolated internationally due to the continuing Cold War. The economic, cultural and social stucture of Vietname was desimated. Vietnam suffered a horrific depression due to trade emborgoes put implace by Western Allies. In 1986, the Communist Party of Vietnam changed its economic policy and began reforms of the private sector similar to those in China. Despite winning independence, cultural legacies from France, as well as from Russia and the United States, influence the Vietnamese today.
God bless and protect the people of Vietnam.