Vietnam lost her independence on August 25, 1883, after decades of resistance to Europeans, when the court at Hue recognized French protectorate in Tonkin and Annam in North and Central Vietnam respectively. The south, Cochin China was already under French sovereignty.
The French Impact
The French colonialists transformed many aspects in Vietnamese life. Extensive public works and road building was carried out. But the benefits of these developments did not reach the vast majority of the locals. Heavy taxing and usurious interest rated kept the rural population in constant debt. Even by 1940, the peasant population was more than 85% of the total.
Replacement of local village leaders by French trained Vietnamese officials removed the traditional village authority and the communal life style of the villages was also shattered. Introduction of French law which was administered by French judges, who were generally ignorant of local language and customs, was another death blow to the Vietnamese people.
Growth of Nationalism
Vietnamese people resisted the French after 1883, well into the 20th Century. A new chapter began with the growth of nationalist organizations. Some of these were Marxist oriented but the leading group, Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD-Vietnamese Nationalist Party) was not. In February 1930, an uprising by VNQDD was crushed by the French authorities. The decimation of these nationalists paved way for the Communists to fill the vacuum among the freedom fighters for a national organization.
The Communists were instrumental in forming the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam, commonly known as Viet Minh) a decade later. However, this group was an alliance of democrats, socialists, communists and other interested groups.
In 1940, with France defeated and Vichy France in power, the Japanese were able to establish military bases in Northern Vietnam. Japan took complete control of Indochina on March 9, 1945, months after the liberation of France by the Allied forces. To the Viet Minh, the Japanese were just another invader, which was a fact epitomized by their slogan, “Neither the French, nor the Japanese as masters”.
August Revolution and Declaration of Independence
The same week the Japanese surrendered, the Viet Minh held a congress in Caobang, near the Chinese border, where a provisional government was formed. This government took control in Hanoi after some minor, scattered clashes with the Japanese troops and puppet militia on August 19. Soon the country was largely under the Viet Minh. The puppet ‘Emperor’ Bao Dai abdicated. Declaring his abdication in a remarkable document, it was stated that, “We cannot but regret the thought of our twenty years’ reign during which it was impossible for us to render any appreciable service to our country”. He ended by declaring, “Long live the independence of Vietnam! Long live the Democratic Republic!”
The government issued the declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. It accused the French imperialists of depriving the Vietnamese of their liberties, imposing inhuman laws upon them, ruining the country’s resources, building more prisons than schools among other things. “They have drowned our revolution in blood”, it further stated. For these reasons, they broke off all ties to the French and stated that the leaders of the provisional government “…..solemnly declare to the world that Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country-and in fact it is so already”.
Long Road to Peace
Almost simultaneously, the British arrived in Cochin China and started to ‘restore order’ for the interests of France. In doing so, they even got the assistance of the Japanese troops remaining in the country, just days after the British and Japanese had stopped shooting each other in Burma, not so far away from Vietnam. By the end of the year, French troops were able to arrive take their colonial lands once again. France tried to defeat the viet minh both militarily and politically, even bringing in Bao Dai back, coaxing him to form a puppet national government to counter the Democratic Republic. The Viet Minh fought on for 8 years until the French met their nemesis at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. But, it was to take more than two more decades for Vietnam to see peace in the country when it was re-unified under the communist rule in 1975.
- Primary Source – Vietnam: History, Documents and Opinions on a Major World Crisis ed. Marvin E. Gettleman. Fawcett Publications Inc. USA (1965).
- From the above source, the following excerpts were also referred
- Jumper, Roy and Normand, Marjorie Weiner Vietnam: The Historical Background
- Isaacs, Harold Independence for Vietnam?
- Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Sep. 2, 1945.
- Abdication of Bao Dai, Emperor of Annam August, 1945.