Chapter Four

The Vietnam War: the United States takes over (1954-65)

The 1954 Geneva Conference that ended the Indo-China War temporarily divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel. A Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separated the two parts and national elections to reunify the country were to be held in 1956. Regroupment of the 120,000-man French Expeditionary Corps from Tonkin and 140,000 PAVN soldiers and guerrillas from the South proceeded without incident. The French had 100 days to withdraw to Hai Phòng and an additional 200 days to re-embark for the South. They evacuated Hà Nôi on 9 October and Hai Phòng on 30 October. At the same time Viêt Minh units in central and southern Vietnam carried out their own regroupment. By 30 October the Viêt Minh had only two bridgeheads in the South, at Quâng Ngãi and at the tip of the Cà Mau peninsula.

A great many Northerners took advantage of Article 14D of the Accords that gave them free passage south during the 300-day regroupment period. The great majority were Roman Catholics from the Red River Delta area who, following their priests, often moved as entire communities. Minorities, such as the Nùng, also left. The US Navy provided sealift support. The Viêt Minh employed a variety of means to try to stem this exodus, but upwards of a million people left the North to resettle in the South—a propaganda bonanza for the State of Vietnam. 1

Hô Chí Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) governed the North. The State of Vietnam (SVN), headed by Emperor Bao Đai, then living in France, held sway in the South. In June 1954 Bao Đai appointed Ngô Đình Diêm to head his government.

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