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The Vietnam War (1945–1975)

History SparkNotes

Vietnamese Nationalism and the First Indochina War: 1900–1954

Historical Background: 900–1900

Vietnamese Nationalism and the First Indochina War: 1900–1954, page 2

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1919 France ignores Ho Chi Minh’s demands at Versailles Peace Conference
1926 Bao Dai becomes last Vietnamese emperor
1930 Ho founds Indochinese Communist Party
1940 Japan occupies Vietnam
1941 Ho founds Viet Minh
1945 Viet Minh takes Hanoi in August Revolution Ho takes power, establishes Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) Truman rejects DRV’s request for formal recognition
1946 First Indochina War begins
1954 Viet Minh defeat French at Dien Bien Phu
Key People
Ho Chi Minh -  Socialist and nationalist activist; founded PCI and Viet Minh; established Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945
Bao Dai -  Last Vietnamese emperor; took power in 1926, effectively as a French vassal; continued as figurehead until the 1950s but enjoyed little popularity
Vo Nguyen Giap -  Viet Minh general; used guerrilla tactics successfully against Japanese during World War II, then orchestrated defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954
Harry S Truman -  33rd U.S. president; rejected Ho’s calls for U.S. recognition of the DRV due to worries about Ho’s Communist stance

Early Nationalist Movements

In the early twentieth century, Vietnamese nationalism against the French surged. In 1919, Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese socialist activist living in France at the time, submitted eight demands to the French at the Versailles Peace Conference that followed the end of World War I. The list included representation in the French parliament, freedom of speech, and release of political prisoners. When France ignored these demands, several nationalist and Communist organizations sprang up in Vietnam.

The French tried to counter the nationalist movements by appealing to traditional authority, propping up the Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai, who took power in 1926. Indeed, many of the new nationalist and Communist movements in Vietnam were urban-based militant insurgencies, and none met with much success. However, the movements did create several enduring organizations, including the Vietnamese Nationalist Party (VNQDD), formed in 1927, and the Indochinese Communist Party (PCI), founded in 1930 by Ho Chi Minh himself.

Japanese Rule and the Viet Minh

During World War II, when France fell to Germany, Japan occupied Vietnam from 1940 to 1945. Ho saw the Japanese invasion as a chance to build up a new nationalist force, one that appealed to all aspects of Vietnamese society. Therefore, in 1941, he founded the Viet Minh (the League for Vietnamese Independence).

Americans opposed the Japanese in World War II, so Ho was able to convince U.S. leaders to secretly supply the Viet Minh with weapons to fight their new Japanese oppressors. General Vo Nguyen Giap fought successfully against the Japanese after Ho convinced him to adopt guerrilla tactics. Throughout the course of World War II, the Viet Minh successfully expanded its power base in Tonkin and Annam. It helped peasants in the region during a wartime famine, which won the organization immense popularity.

The August Revolution and DRV

In August 1945, near the end of the war and with Japan’s attention completely diverted, the Viet Minh conquered Hanoi in what became known as the August Revolution. Emperor Bao Dai abdicated his throne in late August, and just a week later, on September 2, the Japanese signed a formal surrender to end World War II.

Upon Japan’s defeat, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam to be independent, naming the country the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). The French did not recognize Ho’s declaration, however. French forces returned to Vietnam and drove the Viet Minh into the north of the country but were unable to penetrate farther.

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