Vietnam War - The Exit of the French 1950 - 1954
In January 1950, the communist nations, led by the People's Republic of China
(PRC), recognized the Viet
Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam
as the government of Vietnam. Non-Communist nations recognized the French-backed
State of Vietnam
in Saigon led by former Emperor Bao Dai the following month.
outbreak of the Korean War in
June 1950 convinced many Washington policymakers that the war in Indochina was an example of communist
expansionism directed by the Kremlin.
PRC military advisors began assisting the Viet Minh in July 1950.
weapons, expertise, and laborers transformed the Viet Minh from a guerrilla
force into a regular army. In
September, the U.S. created a Military Assistance and
Advisory Group (MAAG) to screen French requests for aid, advise on strategy,
and train Vietnamese soldiers. By 1954, the U.S.
had supplied 300,000 small arms and spent US$1 billion in support of the French
military effort and was shouldering 80 percent of the cost of the war.
There were also talks between the French and Americans in which the possible
use of three tactical nuclear weapons was
considered, though how seriously this was considered and by whom are even now
vague and contradictory. One version of
plan for the proposed Operation Vulture envisioned sending 60 B-29s
from US bases in the region, supported by as many as 150 fighters launched from
US Seventh Fleet carriers, to bomb Viet Minh commander Vo Nguyen Giap’s positions. The plan included an
option to use up to three atomic weapons on the Viet Minh positions. Admiral Arthur W. Radford,
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave this nuclear option his
backing. US B-29s, B-36s, and B-47s could have executed a nuclear strike, as
could carrier aircraft from the Seventh Fleet.
U.S. carriers sailed to the Tonkin
gulf, and reconnaissance flights over Dien Bien Phu were conducted during the
negotiations. According to Richard Nixon the plan involved the Joint Chiefs
of Staff drawing up plans to use 3 small tactical nuclear weapons in support of
Vice president Richard
Nixon, a so-called "hawk" on Vietnam, suggested that the U.S. might have to
"put American boys in". President Eisenhower made American participation
contingent on British support, but London was opposed. In
the end, convinced that the political risks outweighed the possible benefits,
Eisenhower decided against the intervention.
The Viet Minh received crucial support from the Soviet Union and PRC. PRC
support in the Border
Campaign of 1950 allowed supplies to come from PRC into Vietnam. Throughout
the conflict, U.S. intelligence estimates remained skeptical of French chances
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu marked the end
of French involvement in Indochina. The Viet Minh and their mercurial commander
Vo Nguyen Giap handed the French a stunning military defeat, and on 7 May 1954,
the French Union garrison
surrendered. At the Geneva Conference the French
negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the Viet Minh. Independence was granted to
Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
Vietnam was temporarily partitioned at the 17th parallel, and under the terms of the
Geneva Convention, civilians were to be given the opportunity to freely move
between the two provisional states. Elections throughout the country were to be
held, according to the Geneva accords, but were blocked by the South Vietnamese
president, who feared a communist victory. Around one million
northerners, mainly Catholics, fled
south, fearing persecution by the communists, following an American propaganda
campaign using slogans such as, "The Virgin Mary is heading south",
and aided by
a U.S. funded $93 million relocation program, which included ferrying refugees
with the Seventh Fleet. It is
estimated that as many as two million more would have left had they not been
stopped by the Viet Minh.
In the north, the Viet Minh established a socialist state—the Democratic Republic of
Vietnam—and engaged in a drastic land reform program in which an estimated eight
thousand perceived "class enemies" were executed.
In 1956 the Communist Party leaders of Hanoi admitted to "excesses" in
implementing this program and restored a large amount of the land to the
In the south a non-communist state was established under the Emperor Bao Dai,
a former puppet of the French and the Japanese. Ngô Đình Diệm became his
prime minister. In addition to the Catholics flowing south, up to 130,000
‘Revolutionary Regroupees’, went north for "regroupment" expecting to return to
the South within 2 years. The Viet Minh left
roughly 5,000 to 10,000 cadres in South
Vietnam as a "politico-military substructure within the object of its irredentism."
The last French soldiers left Vietnam in April 1956.
PRC completed their withdrawal from North Vietnam at around the same time