Decolonisation in Indo-China Assessment
“You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at these odds, you will lose and I will win.” – Ho Chi Minh
• Assess France’s attempts to restore its colonial rule in Indo-China between 1945-1954.
Between 1945 and 1954 France’s attempts to restore its colonial rule in Indo-China, through both negotiation and military conflict, were largely unsuccessful. This lack of success on the part of a major European power in putting down the resistance of a (relatively) small guerilla force of rebels within its own colony is a cause for much debate.
There are many opinions as to where France’s biggest short comings fell or what ...view middle of the document...
Sutherland agrees, arguing that “control of the villages was vital to the control of the Vietnamese people” and that “neither the French nor later the Americans were able to achieve this control.” This is because of a lack of understanding of Vietnamese culture, but also because of a lack of language skills on behalf of the French. Only a small minority of French spoke Vietnamese and so communication and alliance with the villagers was made difficult.
Along with France’s lack of knowledge of Vietnamese society and language came a lack of experience in the local environment. There are historians who believe that all human history is a direct result of the environment in which certain societies develop. For example, Diamond argues that the differences in the “innumerable environmental features” of different continents and regions directly affect the “trajectories of human societies.” France’s lack of success in its attempts to restore its colonial rule in Indo-China (and the type of Vietnamese society which resulted from this) could bee seen as just such a case.
During the First Indo-China War the French were forced to fight in completely unfamiliar and rather hostile environments. Much of the fighting between Viet Minh and French forces took place in rural areas, which were quite often jungle environments. The jungle was wet and dense and home to all sorts of tropical plants and animals (and diseases) never before encountered by the French. Cantwell explains that movement through the jungles was “slow and tedious for all soldiers.” And describes conditions; “disorientation prevailed and unexplained noises unsettled the emotions of soldiers. Malaria, dehydration and sunstroke were everyday risks.”
This contrasts with the Viet Minh’s relationship with their environment in that they were familiar with the jungle and in fact used it to their advantage by creating booby traps and hide outs and by using it for camouflage.
In this way the environment in which they were fighting had a profound effect upon the outcome of many of the battles between the French and the Viet Minh. As such it affected the success of France’s attempts to restore its colonial rule which in turn had an effect upon the evolution of Vietnamese society and its culture.
The issue of the environment is closely linked to another important factor to be taken into consideration when assessing France’s attempts to restore its colonial rule to Indo-China; tactics. The French used conventional warfare tactics which were not adaptable to the environment in which they were fighting. Because of this the French army, despite having far superior numbers, were quite often at a disadvantage in military situations. This was especially so because of the Viet Minh’s use of ultra adaptable guerilla warfare techniques. “The enemy is fat and sluggish, like the elephant. Our army is like the tiger; swift, resourceful, deadly and unpredictable.”
The simple fact that...