* On December 7 1941, Japan’s main carrier force, seeking to destroy the American fleet and thereby purchase time to complete its southward expansion, struck Pearl Harbour.
* And the world celebrated.
* As De Gaulle said “that’s it, the war’s over.”
* He was totally confident in U.S. superiority.
* He must have been part American.
* Unfortunately FDR’s confidence in de Gaulle was much lower.
* He hated him.
* And the more powerful de Gaulle became, the less sure FDR was that the French should get their colonies back after the war.
* But if Indochina and potentially other colonies should not be returned to the colonial powers after the war, what should happen to them?
* Roosevelt proposed a trusteeship formula by which the colonies would be raised to independence through several stages.
* Those not ready for independence—which in FDR’s view included all of France’s possessions—would be placed under a nonexploitive international trusteeship formed by the United Nations.
* In laying out this plan to British foreign secretary Anthony Eden in March 1943, the president singled out Indochina as an area that should be controlled by this new system.
* Eden, who would end up playing a huge role in Britain’s Indochina policy for the next dozen years, wondered outlaid whether FDR was being too harsh on the French.
* FDR just ignored him and said that France should be prepared to place part of her overseas territory under the authority of the United Nations.
* Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, the man who wrote the original draft of the UN charter, Mr Ol’ Black Threesome himself, asked “But what about the American pledges to restore to France her possessions?”
* Roosevelt replied that those pledges applied only to North Africa.
* Sumner thought “hmmmm I bet there’s a lot of blacks in North Africa….”
* FDR’s trusteeship sounded a lot of like Wilson’s mandate system that divided up the Middle East after WWI.
* But this was going to be totally different.
* Because it had a different name.
* The way he saw it, the enforcement mechanism would be a greater degree of international accountability.
* As before, the core principle was that a colonial territory is not the exclusive preserve of the power that controls it but constitutes a “sacred trust” over which the international community has certain responsibilities.
* Eden knew that this was old wine in new bottles, and he didn’t like the taste.
* He and others in the Foreign Office suspected the Americans of seeking to use trusteeships to their own economic advantage—the “international supervision of colonies” would simply be a smoke screen by which America could facilitate access to the economic resources of the colonies and spread her influence globally.
* And the British didn’t like the sound of “international supervision”, especially of their own colonies.
* He suggested other countries would, at most, had an advisory capacity.
* FDR though insisted that it be an international trusteeship.
* So the Brits just changed the subject, talked about black threesomes, and that was that.
* So FDR went to Cairo for his only wartime meeting with Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of China’s Kuomintang nationalist government.
* FDR wanted Chiang on board with his trusteeship program.
* But Chiang resisted, expressing a preference for outright independence for Indochina and other Asian colonies.
* Probably because it would make them easier for him to take over.
* FDR tried to sweeten the deal by saying he supported the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule.
* So Chiang said “go tell Winny The Poo that, then come back and talk to me about Indochina.”
* Meanwhile, the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong, who had been waging an intermittent struggle against Chiang’s Nationalist (Guomindang) government since the late 1920s, were gaining strength in the north.
* From Cairo, FDR traveled to Tehran for meetings with Churchill and, for the first time, Stalin.
* During their initial get-together, FDR stressed to Stalin the importance of preparing the people of Indochina for self-government along the lines of what the United States had done in the Philippines.
* Stalin agreed that Indochina should not be returned to France and said he supported independence for all colonial subjects.
* Because if Stalin was anything, he was a nice guy.
* A note taker at Tehran noted that “The president remarked that after 100 years of French rule in Indochina, the inhabitants were worse off than they had been before.”
* When Roosevelt brought up his trusteeship scheme, implying that Chiang Kai-shek agreed, and Stalin expressed support.
* As the meeting drew to a close, they agreed there was no point in discussing the India matter with Churchill.
* For the British, FDR’s idea was a dangerous game of dominoes:
* If Indochina was allowed to fall from colonial control, what would keep Burma, Malaya, India, and other parts of the British Empire from being next?
* after learning of another Roosevelt attack on the “hopeless” French record in Indochina, Alexander Cadogan, permanent undersecretary of the Foreign Office, warned
* “We’d better look out. Were the French any more ‘hopeless’ than we in Malaya or the Dutch in the East Indies?”
* For the British, Indochina was the linchpin of all Southeast Asia, a barrier between China to the north and a string of prized British possessions to the south.
* Japan had used it as a forward base for her operations against Malaya and Burma, and this could not be allowed to happen again.
* As always, Strategic considerations – protecting British colonies – took precedence over morals about “freedom-seeking peoples of the world”.
* The Brits also knew they were going to need a friendly and powerful France after WWII to help them control Europe.
* And help maintain the balance of power with a powerful Soviet army, U.S. military and economic superiority, and possibly a revived Germany.
* How to secure such a cooperative France?
* Partly by supporting Charles de Gaulle’s determination to retain the French colonies, including Indochina, and partly by avoiding arguments with Washington on the issue.
* Churchill said to Eden in mid-1944 ““Roosevelt has been more outspoken to me on that subject than any other colonial matter, and I imagine it is one of his principal war aims to liberate Indochina from France.… Do you really want to go and stir all this up at such a time as this?”
* Quietly, London stonewalled American efforts in early and mid-1944 to negotiate on the colonial issue.
* Roosevelt continued to push his trusteeship plan and his opposition to a French return to Indochina, but with less urgency as 1944 progressed.
* Partly because he was having to re-think his “Four Policeman” plan for running the world after the war.
* China was getting deeper and deeper into an all out civil war and they probably weren’t going to be much help.
* And he knew he needed the co-operation of the British and the French.
* Who would be less inclined to give the U.S. what they wanted if they felt like their colonial possessions were being ripped out from underneath them.
* And then Eisenhower allowed de Gaulle’s Free French forces the honor of entering Paris first.
* Which really pissed FDR off.
* On August 25, 1944, de Gaulle announced the liberation of Paris.
* And everyone knew he was going to be the President of the new country.
* And you might be forgiven for thinking that a country who had recently been occupied and now had been given back its independence might have something of an awakening about their own position as a colonial power – but no.
* These is the French.
* But I’m kidding.
* Do you think many Israelis ever stop and think “gee after what happened to our people in WWII, maybe we shouldn’t be such cunts to Palestine?”
* Of course they don’t.
* They say “but they want to destroy us!”
* And I say “yeah that’s what the Nazis said about the Jews in the 1930s too.”
* Was it a justification back then? No? Okay then. Peace in the Middle East solved. What’s next?
* So there was no way under the Big Celery Stick that Indochina was going to be given its independence.
* At the Yalta conference in the Crimea in February 1945, Roosevelt backed off his insistence on enforcing an international trusteeship over colonial areas; except in the case of Japanese-mandated territories, he now said, such internationalization would happen only with the consent of the colonial power.
* At Yalta, he informed Stalin that he would not allow U.S. ships to be used to carry French troops to Indochina, but he also recommended to the Soviet leader that they not raise the Indochina matter with Churchill.
* “It would only make the British mad,” FDR rationalized. “Better to keep quiet just now.”
* Then FDR died in April.
* One month earlier, in March 1945, the Japanese took full and complete control of Indochina.
* The French just caved in completely.
* This Was A Pivotal Moment For France In Indochina.
* The March coup dealt a blow to imperial authority from which it would never fully recover.
* Colonial rule had been based on the notion of European cultural and military supremacy, and though France had offered little more than token resistance to Japan in 1940, only now did most Vietnamese fully grasp how hollow was the French basis of power.
* The Japanese diplomatic victories in 1940–41, important though they were in many respects, had not appreciably altered everyday sociopolitical relations in Indochina—French officials thereafter still governed in the countryside and the villages, where Japanese officials seldom if ever set foot.
* Now, however, in the space of a few days, French colonial authority had disappeared, in plain view of Vietnamese in both urban and rural areas.
* De Gaulle gave a big speech.
* “Not for a single hour did France lose the hope and the will to recover Free Indochina.”
* FREE Indochina.
* Nice one.
* Ho Chi Minh had been arrested in China in August 1942 by local authorities suspicious of his political activities;
* By his own estimate he then passed through eighteen prisons before winning his release in August 1943.
* During his incarceration, he kept in touch with his closest colleagues via letters written in disappearing ink,
* When he got out he stepped up his efforts to form a broad united front to drive the French and the Japanese from Indochina.
* By late 1944, Ho Chi Minh, now back in Tonkin, could see the endgame.
* He predicted that Japan would lose the Pacific War, France would seek to regain Indochina, and before that Tokyo would overthrow the local French regime in order to protect its army.
* The result would be a power vacuum the Viet Minh could fill.
* But he was careful.
* He told his more militant comrades to slow the fuck down and avoid launching a premature insurrection.
* You know all about that, don’t you Ray? You’ve had a few premature insurrections in your time, Ray.
* Japan’s defeat was inevitable, why not wait until the fruit was ripe to be picked?
* Like you waited five years to pick Heather’s fruit.
* You’re like the Ho Chi Minh of Heather’s pussy.
* Ho knew that even in Tonkin, the Viet Minh controlled only a small part of the territory,
* And in the rest of the country—especially in Cochin China in the south—its presence was spotty at best.
* Some provinces remained devoid of Viet Minh organizing until well into 1945.
* Ho said, “The hour of peaceful revolution has passed, but the hour of the more general insurrections has not yet sounded.”
* Then came March 9, the auspicious moment.
* The removal of the French secret police after the coup, together with Japan concentrating her presence in the urban areas of Vietnam in preparation for a possible Allied invasion, gave the Viet Minh considerable advantages in their underground work and propaganda efforts.
* The Japanese, having chased French troops out of Vietnam, did not think it vital to keep a troop presence in the northern provinces of Tonkin in light of more pressing concerns, and thus the Viet Minh had the region largely to themselves.
* Slowly, in the late spring and summer months, the Viet Minh began to spread southward toward the Red River Delta.
HOW TO LISTEN
If you’re already a subscriber, you can listen to the full show in the player below or subscribe through iTunes or any podcast player.
If you haven’t heard any of the series and want to know if you’ll like it before you sign up, you can listen to the first six episodes totally free. You might want to start with Episode 1, unless of course you’re an old school George Lucas fan, in which case feel free to start at Episode IV. We don’t recommend it though.
If you haven’t already, join our Facebook page and you’ll be in the running to win prizes in our regular “Share The Love” and other competitions.
If you’d like a chance to win a prize, write a funny or insightful review on iTunes.