Vietnam 1946: How the War Began

Vietnam 1946: How the War Began

Vietnam 1946: How the War Began

Vietnam 1946: How the War Began


Based on multiarchival research conducted over almost three decades, this landmark account tells how a few men set off a war that would lead to tragedy for millions. Stein Tønnesson was one of the first historians to delve into scores of secret French, British, and American political, military, and intelligence documents. In this fascinating account of an unfolding tragedy, he brings this research to bear to disentangle the complex web of events, actions, and mentalities that led to thirty years of war in Indochina. As the story unfolds, Tønnesson challenges some widespread misconceptions, arguing that French general Leclerc fell into a Chinese trap in March 1946, and Vietnamese general Giap into a French trap in December. Taking us from the antechambers of policymakers in Paris to the docksides of Haiphong and the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam 1946 provides the most vivid account to date of the series of events that would make Vietnam the most embattled area in the world during the Cold War period.


Historians have written scores of books in English on the events leading the Americans into war in Vietnam in the early 1960s. And many more are now appearing on the Vietnamese side. Strangely enough, remarkably few scholars have examined the outbreak of the first war in Indochina in 1945–46 between the French and the same Vietnamese, despite the fact that combined the two wars constituted one of the longest, most important, and violent conflicts of the Cold War. Hence the importance of Stein Tønnessons incisive study of the start of the war for Vietnam in 1945–46, Vietnam 1946: How the War Began. In this path-breaking book, Tønnesson provides the first detailed account of the events, decisions, and people who led France in particular into its first of two long wars of decolonization.

As early as 1952, French scholar Philippe Devillers had first suggested that the official French explanations for the outbreak of the war, which pinned the blame exclusively on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), were flawed. The French, especially local officials in charge in Indochina, also were responsible. Devillers based much of his argument on research in Vietnam in 1945–46, on interviews with scores of French and Vietnamese decision-makers, and on his access to internal documents in Paris.

There matters in large part rested until the 1980s. With the opening of the relevant files in the archives in France, Britain, and the United States, Stein Tønnesson not only could confirm many of Devillers’s findings, but go much further. In re-

1. Devillers published a collection of internal documents demonstrating, in his view, French re
sponsibility for the outbreak of the war. Philippe Devillers, Paris-Saigon-Hanoi: les archives de la guerre
(Paris: Gallimard/Julliard, 1988).

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