Prelude to War

views updated

Prelude to War

Ho Chi Minh . . . 3

Long before American soldiers arrived in Vietnam in the 1960s, the Vietnamese people had endured centuries of violent struggle for control of their country. The most recent of these struggles took place from 1946 to 1954, when Vietnamese Communists—known as Viet Minh—fought to free the country from more than one hundred years of French colonial rule.

In 1954 war-weary France gave up its claims on Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh and his lieutenants rejoiced at their victory and prepared to establish Communist rule over the entire nation. But the United States and other democratic nations objected to this plan because they did not want Vietnam controlled by Communists. The view at the time was that if one country fell to Communist control, others would follow. As a result, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communists were forced to accept a compromise—the Geneva Accords—in which they received only the northern half of the country. The southern portion of the country went to non-Communists. This arrangement was only supposed to be temporary. The treaty called for national elections to be held in 1956 to create a single Vietnamese government. However, South Vietnam and its American supporters refused to hold the elections because of fears that Ho Chi Minh would win.

Before long, North and South Vietnam were engaged in a fierce fight for control of the divided nation. As this battle progressed, the U.S. government provided financial aid and military advisors to South Vietnam. America's involvement angered Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese Communists. They maintained that the United States was interfering with the internal affairs of their country, just as China and France had done in earlier times. Ho Chi Minh explained these sentiments in a letter that was published in the May 1964 issue of an American magazine called Minority of One.