Chapter One

The background

Vietnamese history is characterized by two major themes. The first is the effort to preseve the national identity against foreigners. This meant a thousand-year-long struggle against Chinese control (111BCC—AAD938), followed by a long effort to preserve that independence and territorial unity against the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and then the Americans. The second theme is territorial expansionism, most notably the march to the south as far as the Cà Mau Peninsula. Wars, both international and civil, have long been a part of a tumultuous Vietnamese history. The scholar Pham Quynh noted the repeated divisions that wars have caused his country: “We Vietnamese are a people in search of a country and we do not find it.” 1


Geography

Vietnam is part of Indo-China. The term is attributed to Danish carto-grapher Konrad Malte-Brun (1775-1826) and applies collectively to Burma, Thailand, Tonkin, Annam, Cochin-China, Laos, and Cambodia. Through the centuries Indo-China has been a crossroads with India to the west, China to the north, and, through an archipelagic extension into the South China Sea, the southeast. 2 The political entity of Indo-China was a late nineteenth-century French creation and included Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Vietnam, the easternmost portion of Indo-China, extends east from Laos and Cambodia to the Gulf of Tonkin and South China Sea. As a crossroads of Asia it was destined for a stormy history. It encompasses some 127,300 square miles of territory. Put in the context of the United States, it is

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