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The Road to War

The Road to War: France and Vietnam 1944-1947

Martin Shipway
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 324
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  • Book Info
    The Road to War
    Book Description:

    How did France become embroiled in Vietnam, in the first of long wars of decolonization? And why did the French colonial administration, in late 1946, having negotiated with Ho Chi Minh for a year, adopt a warlike stance towards Ho's regime which ran counter to the liberal colonial doctrine of liberated France? Based on French archival sources, almost all of them previously unavailable to the English-speaking reader, the author assesses the policy that emerged from the 1944 Brazzaville conference; and the doomed attempt to apply that policy in Indo-China.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-682-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Martin Shipway
  4. Note on Text
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Map of Indochina, 1945
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    France’s experience of decolonisation has generally been studied from published sources in terms of the ‘wars, plots and scandals’ dominating French post-war history up to Algerian independence in 1962. However, with the gradual opening of the archives, it is becoming possible to investigate the process from the inside, from the perspective of the policy-making elites. Based on archival sources in France (diplomatic and colonial archives, published official papers and memoirs, private papers), this is a study of the role and intentions of policy makers in the French higher administration, and especially in the Ministry of Colonies,¹ during the crucial period...

  7. Part I The External and Domestic Parameters of Colonial Policy Making

    • 1 The Brazzaville Conference and Its Origins, 1940–1944: Policy Formulation and Myth Making on the Congo
      (pp. 11-40)

      Historians of French decolonisation have now largely dispensed with the Gaullian myth surrounding the Brazzaville Conference and the benign, supposedly decolonising vision of the ‘Man of Brazzaville’, de Gaulle himself. Moreover, the conference’s insufficiencies as an exercise in liberal agenda-setting have now largely been accepted.¹ The real French African Conference which met at Brazzaville for nine days in January-February 1944, sponsored by de Gaulle’s French Committee of National Liberation (Comité Français de Libération Nationale, or CFLN) at Algiers, left a highly misleading legacy. An understanding of the origins of the conference, as well as of its highly ambiguous outcome, is...

    • 2 The Republic Strikes Back, 1944–1945: Brazzaville Policy and the Metropolitan Critique
      (pp. 41-63)

      The long-term effects of the myths and ambiguities surrounding the Brazzaville Conference were, by their very nature, incalculable. In the shorter term, however, the Conference’s partial failure was a disappointing but not insuperable obstacle to the promotion of a new imperial policy. This chapter therefore considers the colonial administration’s efforts to ‘sell’ the new policy to an expert audience, but shows how these efforts were met here too with hostility, suggesting already that metropolitan acceptance of the new policy would be at best problematic. Henri Laurentie soon returned to his brainchild, and the convening of an Expert Commission to discuss...

    • 3 ‘We Are in the Midst of Colonial Crisis’: The Response to International and Colonial Change
      (pp. 64-83)

      By the spring of 1945, as liberated Paris prepared itself for the relief and triumph of Victory in Europe, the Brazzaville Conference, the Expert Commission, and the Working Party of the Monnerville Commission had all declined to endorse in anything other than the most qualified terms Laurentie’s proposals for the reorganisation of Empire along federal lines. Returned to Paris as Director of Political Affairs in the Ministry of Colonies, Laurentie was apt to rail against both the undynamic atmosphere which reigned in the ‘dark corridors of the Rue Oudinot’ and against the lack of imagination of the average ‘administrative mind’.²...

    • 4 The Domestic Parameters of Colonial Policy Making After the Liberation, 1944–1946
      (pp. 84-112)

      So far the proposals which emerged from Brazzaville have been considered chiefly in terms of parameters having a direct bearing on policy. These parameters of policy might be taken to include such factors as: the coherence and comprehensiveness of policy; its relevance to clearly identifiable and legitimate aims such as, in this case, the maintenance of Empire or, more specifically, the restoration of French control or influence in Indochina; the theoretical capacity of policy to respond and to adapt to changing external factors, such as shifts in the international system, or the rise of nationalism; an awareness of the limits...

  8. Part II Policy Making in Indochina and Its Breakdown, 1945–1947

    • 5 Calculating the Stakes: The Brazzaville Policy and the ‘Return’ to Indochina, December 1943–September 1945
      (pp. 115-149)

      Throughout the course of the debates and developments discussed in the preceding chapters, the question of Indochina remained in suspense. Alone amongst the territories of Overseas France at the time of the Brazzaville Conference, Indochina stayed outside Gaullist control. Both in Algiers and subsequently in liberated Paris, policy makers found themselves posing a series of as yet only hypothetical questions; their perplexity was barely concealed by the bravado of two political Declarations on Indochina, in December 1943 and March 1945. How should the principles of the Brazzaville policy be put into practice in France’s richest, most populous, and most complex...

    • 6 The Primacy of Action: From the ‘Return’ to Saigon, October 1945, to the Signing of the Accords of 6 March 1946
      (pp. 150-176)

      On 3 October 1945, the first detachments of the French Expeditionary Corps to the Far East (Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Extrême-Orient, or CEFEO), under the command of General Leclerc, steamed into Saigon aboard the light cruiserLe Triomphant.¹ By the end of that month, Admiral d’Argenlieu had also arrived in Saigon to take up residence at the Norodom Palace as High Commissioner. Already by this time, Indochina was wellestablished as the focus for the GPRF’s new policy for the French Union. As suggested in the previous chapter, this policy had become separated out into two distinct, though not necessarily opposed...

    • 7 Who Rules: Paris or Saigon? The Dalat Conference and the Cochinchina Policy, March–June 1946
      (pp. 177-199)

      With the signing of the Accords of 6 March 1946, a second phase of the Accords policy began, in which the GPRF and the Republic of Vietnam sought to engage in the ‘frank and friendly negotiations’ prescribed by the Preliminary Convention. The aim of this process was to settle the issues left unresolved in the Accords, including still the two principal questions which divided the French and the Vietnamese: Vietnam’s status within the French Union and internationally, and the question of the threeky. The Accords also brought to an end the improvisation and hectic parleying which had marked the...

    • 8 ‘A Round of the Battle We Are Fighting’: The Fontainebleau Conference, June–September 1946
      (pp. 200-221)

      The Franco-Vietnamese Conference, which met at Fontainebleau between 6 July and 10 September 1946 with the aim of drawing up a definitive agreement between France and Vietnam, should by rights have marked the culmination of the Accords policy pursued since the beginning of the year. Instead, it served not only to emphasise the differences which still separated the two sides, but also to accentuate the conflict and rivalry which now dominated relations between the GPRF and the High Commissioner in Indochina. It was clear by the opening of the Conference that Paris and Saigon had diverged further in their respective...

    • 9 The Narrowing of French Policy Options, Autumn 1946: The Accords Policy Abandoned?
      (pp. 222-247)

      Themodus vivendisigned by Marius Moutet and Ho Chi Minh on 14 September 1946 was equally unsatisfactory whether considered from the perspective of Paris, Saigon or Hanoi: it was after all a compromise settlement resolving nothing, signedin extremisby two principal actors, and despised by a third (d’Argenlieu). However, it possessed at least the virtue of providing a six-week breathing space, since it was to come into effect, at Ho’s insistence, only on 30 October. This allowed the Vietnamese to strengthen their political and military positions both north and south of the 16th Parallel, but it also gave...

    • 10 ‘The Tonkin Vespers’, December 1946: Burying the Accords Policy
      (pp. 248-272)

      The start of France’s eight-year war with Vietnam was marked by the ‘Tonkin Vespers’ (‘les vêpres tonkinoises’) on 19 December 1946.¹ It took a few days short of a hundred after the signing of themodus vivendifor Franco-Vietnamese relations to break down completely in this way. As suggested in the previous chapter, this breakdown was probably inevitable after the Haiphong incident, whether it was seen as a ‘flashpoint’ resulting from an inherently unstable and volatile situation in Indochina, as an act of war by the Viet Minh, or as a sign of willingness on the part of the French...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 273-279)

    In these words, Governor Henri Laurentie summed up the failure of the French colonial administration’s attempts, following the Liberation, to find a new formula for French colonial rule which would balance the terms of an imperial equation, contributing to the restoration of French greatness in the wake of humiliating defeat and occupation while at the same time seeking an accommodation with newly powerful and confident colonial nationalist movements. Writing only a year after the breakdown of policy in its first and most important test-case, Indochina, Laurentie was perhaps too closely involved, not to say implicated, in the events which led...

  10. Appendix I: The Administrative Structure of the French Empire, 1945
    (pp. 280-281)
  11. Appendix II: Chronology of Events in France and Indochina, 1944–1947
    (pp. 282-286)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-295)
  13. Index
    (pp. 296-306)