The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis

The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis

The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis

The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis

Excerpt

As the battle of Dien Bien Phu reached its climax in early May 1954, the New York Times pointed to a paradox. Just a few months earlier, Dien Bien Phu had been merely "an unheard-of point in a far-away valley in the jungles of Southeast Asia," the newspaper observed in an editorial. Even after fighting had broken out in March, the place seemed to hold only minor strategic significance to the decade-old struggle between Vietnamese revolutionaries and the French military. "It is not even a decisive battle in the war for Indo-China," the Times pointed out. And yet the fight had assumed overwhelming importance. "Today," asserted the editorial, "Dienbienphu rings around the world as one of the epic battles of history."

The Times was not exaggerating. All over the globe, policymakers and media invested the battle raging in remote jungles of northwestern Vietnam with enormous symbolic value. Nothing less than Indochina's political destiny seemed to be at stake. In France, political leaders and public opinion alike viewed the battle as the final test of their country's ability to keep Indochina within the French empire. In the United States, the Eisenhower administration considered the fight a last stand against communist expansion into Southeast Asia. In China and the Soviet Union, meanwhile, communist leaders saw the clash as an opportunity to score a major propaganda victory and to weaken the Western position in East-West talks due to open imminently in Geneva. In India, Algeria, Egypt, and other "third world" countries making the transition from colonialism to independence, nationalists regarded the battle of Dien Bien Phu as a key moment in the global struggle against European domination.

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