The Vietnam War
Vietnam is a small country to the south of China ('Vietnamese' means "non-Chinese people of the south"). In 111 BC, Vietnam became part of the Chinese Empire. For the next thousand years Vietnam struggled to gain its independence from its much larger neighbour. This was achieved in 938 AD. The long period of Chinese rule had left its mark on Vietnam. The language, religion, architecture, system of government and most other aspects of Vietnamese life, reflected the influence of the Chinese. In the 17th Century, French missionaries arrived in Vietnam. The Catholic priests received a friendly welcome from the Vietnamese people and they were allowed to live and work in the country. However, the Vietnamese authorities became concerned when the missionaries began to recruit the local people to Roman Catholicism. The converted Catholics were told to abandon their religious customs including that of taking several wives. The missionaries also instructed their followers to give their loyalty to God rather than to their Emperor. Hostility towards the Christian missionaries grew and over the years there were several cases of priests being murdered. In 1847, French troops were sent to Vietnam to protect the Catholic community. News soon got back to Francethat Vietnam would make a good addition to the French Empire. Nothing was done about it at first but in 1858, Napoleon III sent 14 ships and 2,500 men to the Vietnamese port of Danang. It was a long drawn out struggle but in 1868, the Vietnam Emperor surrendered and signed a peace treaty with France. This did not stop the fighting as China, concerned about the presence of French troops on its border, sent soldiers into Vietnam. The war continued until 1885, when China finally accepted her inability to defeat the French Army and signed an agreement recognising French control over Vietnam. By 1893, the neighbouring states of Laos and Cambodia had also been added to the French Empire. Vietnam became profitable for the French. Vietnam had good supplies of coal, tin, zinc and rubber. Much of this was sent to France. Vietnam also provided a good market for French manufactured goods. By 1938, 57% of all Vietnam's imports were provided by French companies. To help transport these raw materials and manufactured goods, the French built a network of roads, canals and railways. To pay for this the French taxed the Vietnamese peasants. This resulted in many new French mines and plantations. Like the Chinese before them, the French were to change dramatically the Vietnamese way of life. Those who resisted were punished. Others collaborated and agreed to abandon Buddhism and to adopt the Catholic religion and other French customs. In exchange for this sacrifice they were granted privileges in the new Vietnam. This small group, which in time developed into a new elite class helped the French to control the 30 million people living in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, an area that France now called Indochina The skills needed by the Vietnamese administrators meant that they would require educating. French schools were built and in 1902, Hanoi University was opened. Although one of the purposes of this education was to develop people who would remain loyal to the French Empire, some students began to question the right of France to rule their country. One such student was Ho Chi Minh. Inspired by the Russian Revolution, in 1924, he visited the Soviet Union. While in Moscow, Ho wrote to a friend that it was the duty of all communists to return to their own country to: "make contact with the masses to awaken, organise, unite and train them, and lead them to fight for freedom and independence." However, Ho was aware that if he returned to Vietnam he was in danger of being arrested by the French authorities. He therefore decided to go and live in China on the Vietnam border. Here he helped organise other exiled nationalists into the Vietnam Revolutionary League (Vietminh). In September, 1940,...
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