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Vietnam 1946

Vietnam 1946: How the War Began

Stein Tønnesson
With a foreword by Philippe Devillers
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Vietnam 1946
    Book Description:

    Based on multiarchival research conducted over almost three decades, this landmark account tells how a few men set off a war that would lead to tragedy for millions. Stein Tønnesson was one of the first historians to delve into scores of secret French, British, and American political, military, and intelligence documents. In this fascinating account of an unfolding tragedy, he brings this research to bear to disentangle the complex web of events, actions, and mentalities that led to thirty years of war in Indochina. As the story unfolds, Tønnesson challenges some widespread misconceptions, arguing that French general Leclerc fell into a Chinese trap in March 1946, and Vietnamese general Giap into a French trap in December. Taking us from the antechambers of policymakers in Paris to the docksides of Haiphong and the streets of Hanoi,Vietnam 1946provides the most vivid account to date of the series of events that would make Vietnam the most embattled area in the world during the Cold War period.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94460-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XII)
    Christopher Goscha and Fredrik Logevall

    Historians have written scores of books in English on the events leading the Americans into war in Vietnam in the early 1960s. And many more are now appearing on the Vietnamese side. Strangely enough, remarkably few scholars have examined the outbreak of the first war in Indochina in 1945–46 between the French and the same Vietnamese, despite the fact that combined the two wars constituted one of the longest, most important, and violent conflicts of the Cold War. Hence the importance of Stein Tønnesson’s incisive study of the start of the war for Vietnam in 1945-46,Vietnam 1946: How...

  5. Foreword by Philippe Devillers
    (pp. XIII-XVI)
    Philippe Devillers

    In a memorable lecture delivered in April 1965 at Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Senator J.William Fulbright opposed what he called the Johnson administration’s new and dangerous “arrogance of power.” President Lyndon B. Johnson had just started to bomb North Vietnam in the hope of deterring Hanoi from fighting for the unification of Vietnam. “Arrogance of Power” could have been the title of this book, which documents similar French behavior in 1946—the first French experience of “decolonization.”

    In August 1945, after Japan surrendered, and following the American reoccupation of the Philippines and the British recovery of Burma, the French government...

    (pp. XVII-XX)
  7. List of abbreviations
    (pp. XXI-XXIV)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Butterfield calls this phenomenon “the tragic element in human conflict” and suggests that the history of any conflict acquires this structure as it becomes revised and corrected and reshaped with the passage of time.¹

    War was Vietnam’s predicament for well over forty years. No other country has suffered asmany war casualties sinceWorld War II. In the first five months of 1945, partly because Allied bombing disrupted transportation and partly because the French and Japanese authorities in Indochina did not prioritize the transportation of rice, famine cost the lives of some one million people in north-central and northern Vietnam.²This was the...

  9. 1 A Clash of Republics
    (pp. 11-38)

    The sequence of war in Indochina began as a collision between two new republics, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(DRV) and the French Fourth Republic. Both were strongly influenced by socialist and communist thinking, while at the same time both strove to build a national consensus with nonsocialist nationalist groups. Both aimed at modernizing Indochina through industrialization, trade, and representative institutions. Both were positively inclined toward the idea of building a common political arena for the Viet, Lao, Khmer, and highland minority peoples, so that they could stimulate one another’s quest for modernity. Both agreed that an Indochinese Federation should form...

  10. 2 The Chinese Trap
    (pp. 39-64)

    In the fall of 1946, before the world learned of the crisis leading to the Indochina War, Indonesian Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir complained to the French consul in Jakarta about the narrow-minded policies of the Dutch and the British, who had joined forces in preventing his country from gaining independence. They should follow the good French example, said Sjahrir, who envied HoChiMinh that he could deal with such enlightened French officials, full of “kindness” and “understanding.” French High Commissioner d’Argenlieu was simply a “genius.” No one could expect Holland to send anyone with a similar broadness of mind to Indonesia—...

  11. 3 Modus Vivendi
    (pp. 65-105)

    Late in the evening of September 14, 1946,HoChiMinhwent to seeMariusMoutet in his Paris apartment. Ho had been in France through the summer, giving interviews and making an indelible personal impression on many French and foreign figures, but the formal Franco-Vietnamese negotiations at Fontainebleau, at a safe distance from the Paris melting pot, had not led to any agreement.The main stumbling blocks were still the questions of national independence and uniting the Vietnameseky. France had not been willing to grant independence, and the Vietnamese had not been willing to settle for less, except as a transitory arrangement.And, even more important,...

  12. 4 Massacre
    (pp. 106-145)

    The deaths of thousands of human beings are concealed behind this terse telegram. When exploring the origins of the Vietnamese wars, it is easy to become absorbed in the actions of the presidents, ministers, commissioners, admirals, generals, and colonels—allmen—and forget the millions of people—men,women, and children—who were wounded, who died, or who lost their closest kin. Sometimes, however, the archives of the decision-makers reveal evidence of the suffering. Jean Sainteny, the man who made peace on March 6, inspected the ruins of Haiphong on December 3, and noted, not only that the military action had been...

  13. 5 The French Trap
    (pp. 146-200)

    After November 23,Morlière expected the French seizure of Haiphong and Langson to lead immediately to a general conflagration, and he concentrated on preparing his forces for responding to a Vietnamese counterattack. In Haiphong, French military intelligence laid their hands on a Vietnamese plan to attack the French garrison in Hanoi, and this reinforced the expectation that the Vietnamese would take the initiative. This would then trigger the “coups d’état” that had been part of French planning since the cancellation of Opération Bentré after the March 6 accord. But the Vietnamese did not attack. Instead, they intensified their defensive preparations and...

  14. 6 Who Turned Out the Lights?
    (pp. 201-233)

    In January 1947, the French got hold of an order from Vo Nguyen Giap to all Vietnamese military units to “destroy the daily order of December 19 immediately,with all appendices.”¹ Something went awry that day.What happened on December 19, 1946, still belongs on the shadowy side of history.Not only the Vietnamese, but the French as well, have had something to hide.

    At 2003 or 2004 hours—this we know—electricity and the water supply were cut off in the city. A few minutes later, Vietnamese assault units attacked French civilians in their private houses and took some two hundred hostages.Many...

  15. 7 If Only …
    (pp. 234-260)

    Historical events change the fate of individuals as much as nations.During the first twelve days of the French Indochina War, the father of the Vietnamese historian Duong Trung Quoc took part in the fighting in Hanoi. On December 31, he was killed near Long Bien bridge. Until recently, I had no idea that my Vietnamese colleague had been so personally engaged in the tragedy of 1946, but in July 2007, after we had known each other for almost twenty years, Quoc suddenly asked if I knew what his name meant. It does not mean “Duong the Chinese,” he explained, “although...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 261-320)
    (pp. 321-326)
    (pp. 327-338)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 339-361)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 362-362)