then Vietnamese nanationalists dedicated to independence grew in strength. Their leader Ho Chi Minh hoped to use Japan’s defeat to assert Vietnamese independence, and he asked for U.S. support. American officials had few kind things to say about French colonial policy, and many were pessimistic that France could achieve a military solution to the conflict. Nevertheless, they rejected Ho’s appeals in favor of a restoration of French rule, mostly to ensure France’s cooperation in the Cold War. Paris warned that American support of the Vietnamese independence movement would alienate French public opinion and strengthen the French Communist Party, perhaps even drive France into the arms of the USSR. In addition, the Truman administration was wary of Ho Chi Minh’s communist politics. Ho, the State Department declared, was an “agent of international communism,” who, it was assumed, would assist Soviet and, after 1949, Chinese expansionism. Overlooking the native roots of the nationalist rebellion against French colonialism, and the tenacious Vietnamese resistance to foreign intruders, Washington officials interpreted events in Indochina through a Cold War lens. Even so, when war between the Vietminh and France broke out in 1946, the United States initially took a hands-off approach. But when Jiang’s regime collapsed in China three years later, the Truman administration made two crucial decisions—both in early 1950, before the Korean War. First, in February, Washington recognized the French puppet government of Bao Dai, a playboy and former emperor who had collaborated with the French and Japanese. In the eyes of many Vietnamese, the United States thus became in essence a colonial power, an ally of the hated French. Second, in May, the administration agreed to send weapons, and ultimately military advisers, to sustain the French in Indochina. From 1945 to 1954, the United States gave $2 billion of the $5 billion that France spent to keep Vietnam within its empire—to no avail, as we shall see (in Chapters 30 and 31). How Vietnam ultimately became the site of America’s longest war, and how the world’s most powerful nation failed to subdue a peasant people who suffered enormous losses, is one of the most remarkable and tragic stories of modern history. The Korean War ●Before Vietnam, however, the United States would fight another large-scale military conflict, in Korea. In the early morning of June 25, 1950, a large military force of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) moved across the 38th parallel into the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Colonized by Japan since 1910, Korea had been divided in two by the victorious powers after Japan’s defeat in 1945. Although the Soviets had armed the North and the Americans had armed the South (U.S. aid had reached $100 million a year), the Korean War began as a civil war. Virtually from the moment of the division, the two parts had been skirmishing along their supposedly temporary border while anti government (and anti-U.S.) guerrilla fighting flared in the South. Both the North’s communist leader Kim Il Sung and the
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