A little while ago I wrote a post on the Second World War where I stated that "During the war in the East the Japanese were driven out of Vietnam and the locals began running the place for themselves. Then the Allied army turned up and restored Vietnam to its rightful owners, the French, at the point of a bayonet."
Graeme McIver took me to task over the accuracy of this statement, as is his right, saying "Well, no. The Chinese (Kuomintang) occupied part of Vietnam after the war and the locals (Ho Chi Minh) wanted the French to come back and facilitated their return. They knew they stood a good chance of getting rid of the French eventually, they thought getting rid of the Chinese would be a lot harder (think Tibet). And the allied army didn't turn up, the transition was handled by Japanese troops under allied command. Because they hadn't been driven out, they just stopped fighting the Viet Minh after the end of the war."
As I often do I said that I'd go and read up to check the facts, and unusually for me I actually did. It's not easy to find facts about this period of history either. It's hidden from prying English speaking eyes, although if I spoke Vietnamese it may well have been an easier task to find sources.
Now before I begin, I have to say that one part of the confusion is my poor wording. I said the Japanese forces were driven out and I knew that wasn't correct, what I meant to say was they were defeated and a large number surrendered. By saying they were driven out I implied they had left - which is wrong - as I knew, for instance, that some Japanese POW's were freed to help suppress the local insurgents on behalf of the allies. My bad, although I hope people recognise that was a thoughtless slip of the keyboard rather than a deliberate attempt to distort history as it doesn't actually effect my point, just my credibility.
Now over to Martin Gilbert's enormous and comprehensive tome "Second World War" on the subject (nb: the references to Indo-China refer to the area that was to become Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam):
"On August 19 , four days after the surrender of Japan, the Vietnamese Communist Guerilla leader, Ho Chi-ming, seized power in northern Indo-China; three days later, British aircraft parachuted a Free French military team into southern Indo-China. A new conflict had begun." (pp. 720)
"As... Operation Masterdom began in Indo-China, the attempt by the French, with British and Indian troops, starting September 8 , to forestall the local Communist guerrillas, and to restore the French colonial administration. In this first direct anti-Communist struggle of the post-war world, the French commander, Colonel Cedile, made use of 1,400 Japanese troops, former prisoners of war, who had just been released. The British commander, Major General D. D. Gracey, also enlisted large numbers of Japanese troops, who until three weeks earlier had been the occupying power.
"Two weeks after Operation Masterdom was launched, French troops overthrew the interim Vietnamese Government in Saigon [which is in the south]; Vietnamese retaliation was swift, with more than a hundred Westerners, including the commander of the wartime clandestine American forces, being killed. By the time British troops left Indo-China, in May 1946, a civil war was raging." (pp. 722-3)
So whilst I can find no mention of a Chinese invasion (although there were armed scuffles between allied forces and Chinese troops elsewhere) Graeme's point has been useful in (i) pointing to the fact that the Japanese surrendered as part of the wider collapse of the war effort, rather than, as I implied, being beaten in the region by the Vietnamese resistance (alone) (ii) it made me go and research the events so I'm much clearer on what happened - the general point I was making in the post is left undamaged by the new material - but I will now rephrase the para to read as follows;
"During the war in the East after the Japanese surrender the Vietnamese set up an interim government and began running the place for themselves. Then the Allied army turned up and restored Vietnam to its rightful owners, the French, at the point of a bayonet."
I hope this satisfies.
I note there is a book exclusively on this subject - Operation Masterdom: Britain's Secret War in Vietnam by George Rosie and Bradley Borum - which seems to be out of print but if Santa can lay his hands on a copy I would get very excited.
Friday, December 08, 2006