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6 Events That Laid the Groundwork for the Vietnam War

August 20, 2020 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

The conflict in Vietnam took root during an independence movement against French colonial rule and evolved into a Cold War confrontation.

The Vietnam War (1955-1975) was fought between communist North Vietnam, backed by the Soviet Union and China, and South Vietnam, supported by the United States. The bloody conflict had its roots in French colonial rule and an independence movement driven by communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

Vietnam was a battleground in the Cold War, when the United States and Soviet Union grappled for world domination. By war’s end, North and South Vietnam would be reunited, but at great cost. Here are six events that led to the as a model for his Proclamation of the Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, writing: “All men are born equal: the Creator has given us inviolable rights, life, liberty, and happiness!”

2. Battle of Dien Bien Phu

The conflict between the French and the Viet Minh came to a head at the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu, when, after a four-month siege, the French lost to the Viet Minh under commander Vo Nguyen Giap, marking the end of French rule in Vietnam. The question of who would rule Vietnam and how drew the interest of world superpowers, who watched the situation in Vietnam with growing unease.

3. The 1954 Geneva Accords Divide Vietnam

Diplomats from the United States, the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, North and South Korea, and France, as well as representatives from the Viet Minh (northern Vietnam), the State of Vietnam (southern Vietnam), Cambodia, and Laos, in session at the Geneva Conference in July 1954. The resulting Geneva Accords would dissolve the French Indochinese Union.

The Geneva Accords were signed in July of 1954 and split Vietnam at the 17 parallel. North Vietnam would be ruled by Ho Chi Minh’s communist government and South Vietnam would be led by emperor Bao Dai. An election was scheduled in two years’ time to unify Vietnam, but the U.S., fearful that a national election would lead to communist rule, ensured it never took place.

“The ‘temporary’ division of the country at the seventeenth parallel into two ideologically-opposed states meant that the civil conflict in Vietnam would collide full-scale with the East-West rivalry,” says Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, Dorothy Borg Associate Professor in the History of the United States and East Asia at Columbia University.

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