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.
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.
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.