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The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans

Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam

Arthur J. Dommen

Publication Year: 2001

"Dommen's book promises to be the definitive political history of Indochina during the Franco-American era." -- William M. Leary,
E. Merton Coulter Professor of History, University of Georgia

This magisterial study by Arthur J. Dommen sets the Indochina wars 'French and American' in perspective as no book that has come before. He summarizes the history of the peninsula from the Vietnamese War of Independence from China in 930-39 through the first French military actions in 1858, when the struggle of the peoples of Indochina with Western powers began.

Dommen details the crucial episodes in the colonization of Indochina by the French and the indigenous reaction to it. The struggle for national sovereignty reached an acute state at the end of World War II, when independent governments rapidly assumed power in Vietnam and Cambodia. When the French returned, the struggle became one of open warfare, with Nationalists and Communists gripped in a contest for ascendancy in Vietnam, while the rulers of Cambodia and Laos sought to obtain independence by negotiation.

The withdrawal of the French after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu brought the Indochinese face-to-face, whether as friends or as enemies, with the Americans. In spite of an armistice in 1954, the war between Hanoi and Saigon resumed as each enlisted the help of foreign allies, which led to the renewed loss of sovereignty as a result of alliances and an increasingly heavy loss of lives. Meticulous and detailed, Dommen's telling of this complicated story is always judicious. Nevertheless, many people will find his analysis of the Diem coup a disturbing account of American plotting and murder.

This is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand Vietnam and the people who fought against the United States and won.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Twenty-five years have passed since the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam entered Saigon, putting a decisive end to the 30-year war between the nationalists and Communists that had been set off by the Communists’ coup d’état in Hanoi on August 19, 1945. I have tried in this book to unravel the skein of these events and, like Thucydides, who chronicled the 27-year war in which ...


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pp. xi-xiii

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1.The Arrival of the French (1625-1893)

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pp. 1-20

From the Vietnamese war of independence from China in 930–939 to the first French military action in 1858 one counts no fewer than 62 significant wars and invasions on the territories of present-day Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in Indochina. The warlike tradition of resistance against foreign oppressors has been claimed as its own by the Vietnamese Communist Party, for which the use ...

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2. Dealing with the French (1893-August 30, 1945)

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pp. 21-112

By 1893, the outlines of French Indochina had been defined. The game of bluff on the left bank of the Mekong in the summer of that year by a handful of French officers leading Vietnamese militiamen had resulted in the withdrawal by the Siamese from their scattered outposts and had added the final piece to the entity that was to remain on maps with barely a change for more than half a century. ...

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3. The Rise of Nationalist Feeling and the Suppression of the Nationalists (August 30, 1945-December 1946)

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pp. 113-170

Although the declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam read by Ho Chi Minh on September 2, 1945, with its peculiar opening plagiarisms from Thomas Jefferson’s words of 1776, contained numerous references to “French imperialism,” it did not once mention either Bao Dai or Tran Trong Kim. The substance of the new relationship between Vietnam and ...

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4. The Growth of Foreign Intervention (December 19, 1946-July 20, 1954)

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pp. 171-254

In exactly the same manner that the Viet Minh were readjusting recent history in order to monopolize the mantle of patriotism in Vietnam, the French were engaged in trying to turn the clock back on the dramatic shift in the fundamental balance of power that the events of 1945 had brought to Indochina. This is proved by the tenor of official French statements beginning with the March 24, ...

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5.The Crucible of Nationalism (July 20, 1954-1957)

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pp. 255-348

The negotiations at Geneva ended the First Indochina War. The signing of the armistice agreements was to be followed by a breathing spell lasting two years, no more, in Vietnam and Laos, and slightly longer in Cambodia. For Laos and Cambodia, the truce meant the exercise of their independence and sovereignty in the community of nations, and both soon became member states in the ...

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6.The Decline of the Nationalists (1958-1960)

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pp. 349-426

At the end of 1957 and the beginning of 1958 two events occurred abroad which were to have profound effects on the countries of Indochina. First, on September 16, 1957, General Sarit Thanarat, who held the position of deputy minister of defense in the Thai cabinet, carried off a bloodless coup d’état in Bangkok, forcing Prime Minister Phibun and his government to resign. Phibun was given asylum in Cambodia.1 He himself had acceded to ...

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7. The Nationalists Struggle against Great Odds (1961-1963)

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pp. 427-564

The most fateful events of the declining fortunes of the Indochinese nationalists coincided with the presidency of John F. Kennedy. This is not to say that responsibility for the quickening decline can be laid entirely at the feet of the American president, for the nationalists committed grievous errors, especially in their relations with one another and among their three countries, that played ...

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8. Americanization of the War (1964-1968)

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pp. 565-697

The first action in the field of constitutionality taken by the South Vietnamese generals, who had decided to call themselves the Military Revolutionary Council, was to suspend the constitution. This they did in a decision published in Saigon on November 1, 1963. The document reflected their uncertainty about how to proceed once power was in their hands. While the title referred to the ...

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9.The End of the Non-Communist Nationalists (1969-1973)

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pp. 698-853

In Indochina, the foreign press was always poking into everything. A party of well-informed correspondents had discovered one of the DRV’s base camps in Cambodia in 1967.1 The officially secret bombing of Cambodia in the spring of 1969 was almost immediately reported in the press, outraging American officials. 2 Three intrepid reporters in Laos hitchhiked to the CIA’s base at Long ...

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10.The Party Center Triumphant (1973-2000)

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pp. 854-1009

In late 1972, COSVN moved back into South Vietnam from its sanctuary in Cambodia. On October 17, the NLF Central Committee moved out of Kratie, retracing the path of its retreat two years before, and, having forded the Vam Co Dong, was once again on South Vietnamese soil.2 The party center met again to review the new situation in January 1973. It had not quite managed to get the ...

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pp. 1010-1011

In 1975, senior officers who went home to the United States from the embassies in Saigon, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane found that their Foreign Service colleagues in Washington avoided talking about Indochina; junior officers received even a colder shoulder.1 Many left government service, demoralized. Repatriated employees of the Agency for International Development, younger


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pp. 1012-1140


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pp. 1141-1172

E-ISBN-13: 9780253109255
E-ISBN-10: 0253109256
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253338549

Page Count: 1192
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2001