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The New York Times, November 29, 1858, p.4:

The French in Cochin-China.

    When Frenchmen and Spaniards went to war with the imbecile monarchy of Annam, there were those who saw in the business another realization of the lion and ass who went hunting, in the fable. France embarked in the venture upon a shrewd calculation of securing enough territory to pay the outlay. Spain proposed to avenge her slaughtered saints, whose missionary labors the Anamese had rewarded with martyrdom; and accordingly dispatched her armada, with virgins and crucifixions blazoned on its banners, and the promise of endless honor on earth, and a desirable remission of purgatorial pains to such as should fight the good fight.

    The crusade has already had its results. Our foreign advices instruct us that France is actually in possession of the port and territory of Turon [Đà Nẵng, Da Nang, Danang, Touran, Tourane, south of Huê], thus making sure of the lion's share, and that the allies were about moving on the Anamese capital, to obtain the Spanish residuum--limited to a meagre security for the future safety of priest and convert. There is little doubt of both objects being acquired with little difficulty or loss.

    Turon—a place hereafter to be marked on the map of the world as a French dependency--comes to that people by a title more than questionable. It is the way of the world for a contracting party who fails to fulfill his engagements to pretermit all claims to the consideration. How France came by her pretensions to Turon will be remembered.
    There was a dethroned and disinherited Prince of Cochin-China, some seventy years ago, who fell into the hands, and became the convert and protogé, of a shrewd Jesuit Father. Father PIGNEAUX carried his cause on speculation to Paris, where, in desperation, the Cochin-Chinese fugitive agreed to assign the port and neighborhood of Turon to the French upon the condition of a French fleet and army reinstating his dilapidated rights. With this contract the envoy returned to Asia.
    At the same time orders were transmitted to the French Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies to fulfill the French undertaking. Count CONWAY, who occupied that post, refused to obey the order.

    No help was forthcoming; and at last, in a fit of that still profounder desperation which impels men to forlorn hopes of enterprizes unassisted, GIA-LOUNG recovered Cochin-China by his own efforts, lived to erect the Empire of Annam by adding Cambodia and Tonquin to the paternal State, and died after a long, fortunate and progressive administration. Before that calamity, however, he was called upon more than once, by a French man-of-war, to fulfill that little covenant touching Turon.
    His reply, uniformly courteous and gentle, was always to the effect that, as the French had afforded him no aid in his extremity, they were entitled to no pay.

    His successors, offended by the continued and unblushing importunity of the barbarian, for Spaniards and French were alike and indeed identical in their eyes, grew gradually cool to the missionaries whom GIA-LOUNG had patronized, and presently endeavored to expel them by persecution. Hence, the Spanish casus belli is clearly the offspring of French misbehavior.

    With the opening of China and Japan, grand anticipations of future traffic in the Northwestern Pacific fill the French imagination. Intermediate ports and harbors of refuge become important. The isle of Reunion and Pondicherry form but two links in the desired chain. Turon adds the necessary third; and Turon is now acquired. Excellent authorities, it may be added, assert that a far more valuable point was attained by the easy method of peaceful negotiation some two hundred miles to the southward.

    Hué, though more extensively and skillfully fortified than any other place in Asia, or, perhaps, in Europe, will probably fall into the grasp of the allies without trouble. Its vast walls, in the absence of a more prodigious armament than the entire military of Annam can furnish, are of no strength to resist the European siege-train; and what the native soldiery is worth we learn from the circumstance that the five forts of Turon fell without the assailants losing a man.

    The enterprise can have but one result. The bayonets of allied commerce and Christianity will open Annam to the world. The missionary and the merchant will press in. And the history of an extinct people will be written by the historian of two or three generations in the future.

TIME Magazine, April 10, 1950, p. 26:

INDO-CHINA: Mosquitos & the Sledge Hammer
    How is the war going in Indo-China? Last week, from the Southeast Asia front where Communism is reaching for new conquests, TIME Correspondent Wilson Fielder reported:

    The bull-necked French captain stood at the rail of his U.S.-made LCI moored up the Mekong river 70 miles from Saigon [now Ho Chi Minh City]. Along the marshy jungle bank moved a column of tough, tired fighters-- Foreign Legionnaires, Senegalese, Algerians, a few French-- back from a day's action by naval-ground-&-air forces against the elusive Viet Minh (Communist-led) guerrillas. Two of the legionnaires had been wounded by a booby trap. Behind them, over banyan and bamboo groves, rose the smoke of a straw-hut village they had put to the torch. With them the legionnaires brought a small batch of women and children captives.

    The captain watched morosely. "When they hear we are coming in force," he said, "they disappear into the swamps. So we must fight them another way. The native shacks burning out there contained Viet Minh literature, or guns, or large stocks of rice." The captain swatted at buzzing insects with an old French newspaper. "They never fight us unless they outnumber us," he went on. "We can never win this fight militarily. It's just like trying to kill mosquitos with a sledge hammer."

    A Finger in Butter. The French expedition had chugged out at dawn from its downriver base. From the undergrowth ashore sounded warning signals-- rifle shots that said the French were coming.
    In a small clearing the expedition found three deserted straw shacks. On a table in one rested a freshly cut papaya. In another coolie clothes hung on a peg. Chickens scratched in a tiny garden patch. As they pulled away, the French tossed a grenade into a frail native dugout on the riverbank; it disappeared in an upheaval of water and swamp hyacinth. "It's hard on people who live here," explained an officer, "but if we leave their craft, the Viet Minh use them for moving ammunition and supplies. Small boats are the transport of this battleground."

    By midmorning two French battalions had disembarked and advanced up each side of a creek, combing the adjoining marshland in extended squad formation. They made no contact with the enemy. An air liason officer had called out three fighter planes (P-63 Kingcobras) for reconnaissance and strafing. As they circled overhead, sometimes diving earthward, a lieutenant said, "It's always like this-- like pushing your finger into butter. The butter spreads and when you pull your finger out you don't have much. Well, anyway, when the Viet Minh come out of hiding they'll find life difficult with no rice or boats."
    So would the peasants upon whose land this war lies.

    Beau Geste Forts. The hit & run war centers around Saigon in the south. The French do little trading in the north, where the Reds have their main base. There, at widely separated strong points, the French sit in Beau Geste-like hilltop forts waiting for surprise attacks on convoys that move along their supply line. The French can go anywhere they want only if they put enough men in the field, fight along mountainous roads and take their losses.

    Under Red boss Ho Chi Minh, Viet Minh now has a regular uniformed army of 70,000. Its armament approaches French standards, though there are shortages in heavy machine guns, mortars, artillery. Viet Minh also has a "popular army"-- some 70,000 irregulars who never leave their native provinces, wage organized guerrilla actions. Finally, on the village level there are "militia" who fight as individuals.

    The French have 130,000 troops, not counting Viet Namese levies now being recruited and trained. In the air, they have three transport squadrons (used mainly for air drops in the north), and a striking force of P-63s, strength undisclosed. Their on-the-spot navy (8,500 men and officers) includes one cruiser, 14 sloops, 12 minesweepers, some 150 smaller craft. In the past 4½ years the Indo-China military operation has cost France $475 million annually-- a total expenditure almost equal to all ECAid [Marshall Plan] for France.

    Iron Heart & Backbone. The ideological struggle between the French-supported Viet Nam headed by Emperor Bao Dai, and the Red-led Viet Minhese is decidedly uneven. Ho Chi Minh has grabbed the slogan "Liberation," a dynamic word in Indo-China today. Said a ranking French adviser in the Bao Dai government: "Ho Chi Minh is a real leader, a man of iron heart, a man to be feared because of his popular following. Bao Dai is a clever man, intelligent and courteous, but like many Asiatics he weaves. He doesn't follow a straight line."

    Many intelligent Viet Namese feel that Bao Dai sold them down the river when he signed the March 8, 1949 agreements which gave Viet Nam something less than dominion status within the French Union. Nowhere do the accords mention the right of Viet Nam to withdraw from the Union. There are other limiting clauses-- heads of Viet Namese diplomatic missions to foreign countries must be approved by the French; in civil and penal courts "French law will be applied every time a Frenchman is implicated"; a "privileged place will be maintained for the French language which is the diplomatic language of Viet Nam," etc.

    Some French officials admit that "our system in Indo-China is not democratic," but they feel Viet Nam "needs a strong backbone" to give it security, and that this backbone must be French-armed strength. Says High Commissioner Leéon Pignon: "Military aid will be the best economic aid for Viet Nam... Crisis and poverty are the result of insecurity."

    Indo-China's restless intellectual youth is refusing to rally to Bao Dai's support. Many businessmen, administrators and politicians either work actively with the Viet Minh or aid it by refusing to accept places or responsibility in the Bao Dai regime. The vast majority of Viet Nam's leaders consider the Emperor a puppet. They say: "We will solve our Communist problem after we get rid of the French." They argue that the Viet Minh following is only 20% Communist and 80% Nationalist, then talk hopefully-- and probably foolishly-- of holding elections to prevent the Reds from dominating the country. This sentiment, which inevitably weakens the Western hope behind Bao Dai, creates as difficult a problem as the swatting of mosquitos with a sledge hammer.

Time Correspondent Wilson Fielder, born in China of missionary parents,
    was killed in Korea 27 days after the start of that conflict.


The Pentagon Papers:
    U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954
see also: China News - Cambodia - Malaysia - Thailand

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    The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Asia, is bordered by China, Laos, and Cambodia. The capital is Hanoi. The area of Vietnam is 128,066 square miles (329,560 square kilometers). The estimated population of Vietnam for July, 2008 is 86,116,560. The official language spoken is Vietnamese; English is increasingly favored as a second language, with some French, Chinese, and Khmer; mountain area languages include Mon-Khmer & Malayo-Polynesian.
    The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. It became part of French Indochina in 1887. Independence was declared after World War II, but the French ruled until 1954, when they were defeated by Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh, who took control of the North.
        Vietnam map, from the CIA World Factbook

    US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South.

    Despite the return of peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because of conservative leadership policies. However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries.
    The country continues to experience protests from various groups - such as the Protestant Montagnard ethnic minority population of the Central Highlands and the Hoa Hao Buddhists in southern Vietnam over religious persecution. Montagnard grievances also include the loss of land to Vietnamese settlers.
    CIA World Factbook: Vietnam

Vietnam flag, from the CIA World Factbook

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  Free Books on Vietnam (.pdfs)

A Soldier of the Legion Manington 1907
Around Tonkin and Siam Orléans 1894
France and Tongking Scott 1885
The Truth about Tonquin Colquhoun 1884
The War in Tong-king Staunton 1884
Tonkin: France in the Far East Norman 1884
Tungking Mesny 1884
Visit to Haiphong & Hanoi Robertson 1876
Recent Events in Tong-King Cordier 1875

Cochin China and My Experiences Brown 1861
Mission to Siam and Hué Finlayson 1826
A Voyage to Cochin China White 1824
Voyage from France to Cochin-China Rey 1821

On and Off Duty in Annam Vassal 1910

The Seeds of Enchantment Frankau 1921
The French in Indo-China Garnier 1884

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TIME Magazine, May 29, 1950, p. 24 (cover story):

INDO-CHINA: The New Frontier
...A fortnight ago in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson drew a line in the dust that has so long beclouded U.S. diplomacy. He implicitly recognized that the war in Indo-China is no local shooting match. He pledged U.S. military and economic aid to the French and Vietnamese. The U.S. had thus picked up the Russian gauntlet.
    What kind of frontier and what kind of ally had history chosen for the U.S.?

...The Piecemeal Approach. All in all, the new U.S. ally in Southeas Asia is a weak reed. And the alliance is as ironic as anything in history. For the same U.S. government which abandoned the Chinese Nationalists because they were not good enough was committed by last fortnight's decision to defend a playboy emperor and the worst and almost the last example of white man's armed imperialism in Asia.

    Nevertheless, Indo-China had to be defended--if it could be defended. So had Formosa, last stand of China's Nationalists, which has advantages not to be found in Indo-China--a strong government, a well-trained defending fighting force, and easily defensible tactical position. The U.S. decision to go into such a doubtful project as the defense of Indo-China was the result of an idea that it ought to do something, somehow, to stop the Communists in Southeast Asia. But the U.S. policy in Indo-China was a piecemeal operation...

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