TIN TỨC

fanpage

Thống kê truy cập

  • Online: 11
  • Hôm nay: 1829
  • Tháng: 27706
  • Tổng truy cập: 3773127
Chi tiết bài viết

Chapter 4 : TENSION AND RIVALRY IN INDOCHINA

Howard, R. T.. Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America, 1945-2016. Biteback Publishing.

On the afternoon of 17 September 1951, an immaculate and revered French general, Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, stepped off a passenger ship, the Île de France, and onto the quayside at New York. The 61-year-old ‘King Jean’ had arrived to win round American opinion and rally it behind the French cause in Indochina. He wanted the leaders and people of the United States to give it their whole-hearted support and to view the conflict there as indistinguishable from the war in Korea, where American forces, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, were locked in a bloody and protracted combat with Chinese troops.

Indochina was a cause that he was utterly committed to. ‘If we lose our grip on Indochina then Madagascar, Dakar, Tunisia or Rabat will also go their own way,’ the general argued. ‘As long as we keep control of the region, we will stay a great power. If we win our struggle, we will truly be one of the “great” powers. But if we lose it, we will become the “sick man” of the second half of the 20th century.’ France’s struggle for Indochina, in his eyes, was a test case of French and Western willingness to confront Communism. But he knew that without strong American support the struggle would be lost.

There was no better start to his mission than striking the right image. He posed for press pictures, standing alongside Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, who were on their way home after filming The African Queen. He also insisted on his picture being taken just as the passenger ship sailed past the Statue of Liberty, knowing that this setting presented a superb photo opportunity.

De Lattre, who nine months before had been appointed as France’s high commissioner for Indochina as well as the commander-in-chief of its forces there, struck an impressive figure that was calculated, and virtually guaranteed, to command press attention and public respect in the United States. The general certainly had the credentials to seize the popular imagination. He had taken part in the last cavalry charge in the history of the French Army, and his chest was embroidered with numerous medals that he had won in the First World War, during which he had been quite badly wounded. He was France’s youngest general at the time of the German onslaught in the summer of 1940 and had fought bravely before being taken prisoner. Desperate to continue the fight for his country, he had then managed to escape from a Vichy prison before making his way across France to join Charles de Gaulle’s Free French forces.

The press was well aware that, long before he took up his new position in Indochina in December 1950, he had acquired something of a legendary reputation. After his appointment, morale amongst the French soldiers and colons(colonials and expatriates) in Indochina surged. Perhaps the war was winnable after all. One American reporter wrote how ‘informed persons realize that the situation basically remains critical [but] both French and Vietnamese, nevertheless, have been infused with a new spirit and energy’. This was because their new leader had banished ‘defeatism’ and ‘stirred widespread enthusiasm by a rare combination of showmanship, charm, energy and forcefulness’. He had shown enormous energy in travelling constantly throughout the region, delivering rousing speeches to his men in a ‘husky voice that ranges from a whisper to a fortissimo’ and making ‘heart-stirring points’ to his audiences. Another American observer noted that he was ‘the chief military personality in France today … and his appeal for the average French soldier or civilian is comparable to the appeal which Eisenhower and Patton have for the average American’. As a result, he was said to have engineered a ‘miracle’ in French fortunes.

The French had needed such moral support ever since Indochina had erupted into open revolt in December 1946. After the defeated Japanese Army had surrendered and retreated the previous year, the French had proclaimed that they, once again, were the overlords. But nationalist sentiment had been growing fast during the war years. Paris granted limited independence to Laos in 1950 and promised to give Cambodia its own freedom three years later. France also offered the Vietnamese a deal. They could govern their own affairs, the French proposed, provided they remained within the French Union and Paris retained responsibility for their defence and foreign affairs. But the Viet Minh rejected the offer and demanded outright independence. The fighting intensified.

Although de Lattre was now courting American support, he had always held strong suspicions of the United States. He had angered Washington by expelling from Indochina an American air force liaison officer, Edward G. Lansdale, who he suspected of harbouring an anti-French agenda. And in 1951 he had banned French newspapers from even mentioning American economic aid to the war effort, regarding this as an insult that made France look ‘like a poor cousin in Viet eyes’.

There had been tensions between the two countries over Indochina even in the course of the Second World War, when both confronted the same enemy. In November 1944, a young American airman had been shot down as he flew over Cao-Bằng, in the Gulf of Tonkin in North Vietnam, and been forced to bale out. Almost as soon as he landed, Lieutenant Rudolph Shaw was surrounded by Viet Minh militia who escorted him to their base camp some miles further north, very close to the border with China. It was here that he met their leader, a diminutive, bearded and waspish man with a sharp smile and a gleam in his eye. Ho Chi Minh recognised an opportunity: if he could look after the airman and ensure his safe return, he reasoned, then he had a chance of winning American diplomatic support for his cause of Vietnamese independence.

Ho’s clever move worked brilliantly, and within weeks he had not only established links with the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, but also set up a network of rescue teams composed of his own men, who were given responsibility for finding any downed American airmen and ensuring their safety. In return, the OSS parachuted supplies and a number of agents into Viet Minh hands.

Ho went one stage further in his bid to win American support, using his contacts in the OSS to transmit messages directly to desk officers in the State Department. For a time it seemed that his tactics might be working, for on 4 February President Roosevelt issued a directive, specifying that any military operations in Indochina should only be undertaken against the Japanese Army and not to support the French, who were anxious to win back their Indochinese empire from the Japanese. Instead of allowing the French to rule over the region, Roosevelt wanted to establish a ‘trusteeship’ that would pave the way for outright independence. His enthusiasm waned prior to his death in April 1945, and his successor, President Harry S. Truman, took a more neutral line, cautiously accepting a restoration of French authority. It was vital, his officials warned him, ‘to treat France in all respects on the basis of its potential power and influence rather than on the basis of its present temporarily depleted strength’, adding that the French people were ‘exceptionally sensitive to questions involving their national prestige’.

Others in Washington harboured a much greater hostility towards the French. In August 1945, a young veteran of the Resistance, Jean Sainteny, had flown to Hanoi to establish a spy network on behalf of Charles de Gaulle. But at his side was an American intelligence officer, Major Archimedes Patti, whose purpose in Hanoi was to make contact with, nurture and support local nationalist forces. Just two weeks later, Patti attended a Viet Minh ceremony that proclaimed ‘the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’ and produced a revolutionary document with a preamble that seemed to closely echo the American Declaration of Independence.

Abbot Low Moffat, the head of the State Department’s Division of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs, also made a visit to French Indochina at the end of 1946 and urged his counterparts in Washington to distance themselves from France or even to actively work against it. If the war continued, he argued, then the French could end up turning the Vietnamese people ‘against all whites’ and destroy any chance of preserving Western political and economic influence in the area. The United States had to show ‘moral leadership’, he continued, and put pressure on Paris to end the war. Other American officials concurred. Going along with French policy ‘would be catastrophic [for] American prestige, would turn Vietnamese who distrust and hate [the] French into [a] violent anti-white bloc’, warned the American vice consul in Hanoi. His counterpart in Saigon concurred, adding that it would ‘ensure irretrievable orientation [of] intellectuals and people towards communism and Moscow and against West … and destroy confidence that natives still have in [the] US’.

Meanwhile, in Paris, many French policymakers were deeply hostile towards the prospect of American interference in their colonial affairs. In a secret cable sent in September 1946, the Acting Secretary of State in Washington noted ‘the French colonial tendency (to) picture the US as aggressive and imperialistic. This brings certain French colonials, unwittingly for the most part, very close to [the] Communist party line’. He also castigated a colleague who ‘should know better than encourage anti-American suspicions’. The following year the American representative in Saigon reported back that ‘many French, in Indochina at least, are suspicious of American motives’. He also referred to a number of articles in the French media ‘charging American interference in affairs in this area for the purpose of securing a position of economic domination’, and he added that

the French have always believed that the Americans favoured the native cause and this belief has coloured their actions and reactions to Americans and to American organizations and institutions … some opposition to the Americans arises from the fact that the Americans did not back the French for the recapture of Indochina, that the Americans wanted to be fair towards native aspirations, and because many French here fear that the United States, by opening up this country, will reap a part of the rich profits that formerly flowed into French coffers.

Unsurprisingly, when in late 1946 Washington officials offered to mediate and bring an end to the war, the French government refused the offer: the French embassy in Washington told State Department officials that France would handle the Indochina matter ‘single-handedly’ and would negotiate directly with the Viet Minh when it had gained the upper hand. The Americans were well aware that any interference in the region would inflict a ‘loss of prestige’ upon the French, and felt that in general the French public supported the conflict because it was ‘vindicating the power and glory of France’. They did not have to search hard to find evidence of the resentment they were causing: in Indochina, for example, an undercover intelligence agent called Albert Meyer organised the arson of an array of vehicles and flats that belonged to an American contingent.

But in the months that followed, there was a sharp shift of sentiment in both Paris and Washington. As the threat from Communist insurgents increased, French rivalry with the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ was pushed into the background. The unity was only superficial, however, and underneath there were real tensions between them that consistently surfaced.

In Indochina, French colonials and soldiers had quickly started to struggle to contain the insurgency. In September 1945, General Philippe Leclerc had led 80,000 troops to Indochina to reimpose French rule after the Japanese defeat, but even this considerable force soon proved to be insufficient. Five months later, recognising the strength of the Viet Minh’s support in the northern areas of Vietnam, Leclerc urged Paris to offer Ho Chi Minh limited independence, while remaining under the ultimate sovereignty of Paris, as soon as possible.

At the same time, French and American leaders were becoming increasingly concerned about the new ‘Cold War’ against the Soviet Union. In April 1948, Washington organised a major airlift to reinforce West Berlin and prevent it from being starved into surrender by the Soviet Army, which had blockaded the city’s road and rail links to West Germany. Communist movements seemed to be on the march everywhere – in France and the rest of western Europe, but above all in China. On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong’s Communist movement won a long and bitter civil war with Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government and proclaimed the formation of the People’s Republic of China. In Paris and Washington, and in other Western capitals, the threat of Communist encroachment into, or even engulfment of, the free world was becoming increasingly real.

Both the French and the Americans had to balance competing interests. Paris needed American support to keep a ferocious and tenacious Viet Minh enemy at bay, but at the same time regarded Indochina as its own territory in which the Americans had no right to interfere. Equally, Washington was increasingly concerned about Communist infiltration into the region, while at the same time wanting to disassociate itself from French imperialism, fearing that it would give America a bad name.

The turning-point came in the spring of 1949, when the French government had recognised that ‘the attitude of Great Britain and the USA make it inconceivable to follow a policy of re-establishing our sovereignty on the old terms’ and offered the Vietnamese a higher degree of autonomy than it had originally wanted. On 9 March, French officials then signed the ‘Élysée Accords’ with the Emperor Bảo Đại, granting Vietnamese ‘independence’ within the French Union, while allowing Paris to retain control over Vietnam’s defence, foreign relations and finances. By doing so, the French had helped their supporters in Washington to gain the upper hand over their critics, who had argued that French obstinacy was simply stirring up more nationalism and playing into the hands of Communism.

President Truman now authorised limited support for the French war effort. Soon afterwards, on 21 June, Washington effectively ended its neutral position on the conflict and sided openly with France, proclaiming the formation of the Bảo Đại government and heralding French promises of a new Vietnamese constitution as ‘welcome developments’ that would allow Vietnam to assume its ‘rightful place in the family of nations’. The March agreement, continued the presidential statement, would ‘form the basis for the progressive realization of the legitimate aspirations of the Vietnamese people’.

In November 1949, Chinese soldiers reached the border with Indochina and Ho Chi Minh was invited to Peking for talks with Communist leaders. The fate of Indochina, as a French government memorandum argued, was ‘no longer a matter of concern for the French Union but had assumed an international character’. It was ‘at the frontline of the anti-Communist struggle’ in the wider region because of growing Sino-Viet Minh collusion and the distinct possibility of direct intervention by Chinese troops alongside Ho Chi Minh’s men. When, two months later, Ho visited Moscow and pleaded for Soviet support in his anti-French struggle, America’s worst fears seemed to be realised. President Truman told Congress that ‘a large part of our military aid will go to Indochina, where French troops are valiantly fighting Communist forces’, while Dean Acheson visited Paris and pledged more aid.

Within weeks, Washington officials nodded their assent to requests from the French Navy to use American ports as transit bases en route to Indochina. The Pentagon also sold or leased a number of ships to the French, who picked them up from West Coast bases. The following May, Secretary of State Dean Acheson decreed that he had authorised the provision of ‘economic aid and military equipment’ to the French war effort in Indochina, and in August set up a US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Saigon. In the summer of 1950, Eisenhower allocated a $ 100 million package to support the French war effort, and a year later that amount increased again, reaching around $ 170 million. At the same time, the French spy chief in Washington, Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli, struck a deal with the CIA, which agreed to provide French forces with intelligence and radio sets, and hold twice-weekly meetings to exchange information. The French Army established a special English-speaking unit in Saigon to liaise with their American counterparts and arrange delivery.

Paris also urged Britain to play its part. When, on 7 April 1950, the Viet Minh unleashed a new offensive, the French made urgent calls to Britain as well as to America for assistance, pleading for hundreds of Bren guns and radio sets and an undisclosed quantity of Australian automatic weapons that the British had in their possession. In both Singapore and Saigon, high-ranking British officials declared their support for the French cause and proclaimed Tonkin to be the ‘key’ to the security of south-east Asia. In early July and mid-August 1950, British commanders met in secret in Singapore and Saigon with their French counterparts, who tried to link the fate of British Malaya with French Indochina. The British did propose establishing a radio link between Singapore and Saigon, but despite the ‘very friendly’ meetings, refused to commit themselves to helping the French and did not think that the fate of Indochina necessarily posed any threat to Malaya. More meetings with British and American officials were held in Singapore in mid-May, where representatives of the two ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries agreed to exchange intelligence and to coordinate their naval movements, notably to curtail gun-running in the area, more closely. However, the French still wanted more and hoped that a visit to Saigon in January 1951 by the diplomat Sir Esler Dening amounted to ‘a display of solidarity [that] will entail a change in British opinion’.

Meanwhile, American aid was not arriving at the rapid rate that the French needed. Under ferocious pressure on the ground, French commanders bitterly complained that the flow of US material support, made up of jeeps, trucks, lorries and radios, had been tailing off noticeably. There was a ‘chronic shortage’ of vehicles, in particular a ‘serious’ and ‘critical’ shortage of lorries, noted officials, and a ‘crisis’ due to the shortage of barbed wire, which was vital for the protection of bases and fortifications. And while there were good reasons to be optimistic about the outcome of the war, concluded a French military report, a great deal depended on whether military aid from ‘generous’ America would continue to grow.

French officials became even more frustrated when reports reached them from their counterparts in Washington. Closely monitoring the production and development of American arms, they sent dispatches back to Paris in which they noted, in detail, the proliferation of napalm, atomic-powered submarines and supersonic aircraft. France needed these materials so badly for its war in Asia but was not getting any of them.

To win more support, de Lattre had sailed to America in September 1951. He returned to Europe with good reason to feel pleased. He had made a strong impression on the Americans and been ‘a real success’, noted the French ambassador in Washington, in the course of a trip that promised to yield ‘highly fruitful’ results. True, President Truman had not authorised the all-out use of force to support French forces, or the establishment of a joint Franco-American command. And there were certainly not going to be any American boots on the ground. But far more American resources were on their way.

On his way back home, the general also visited London where he met with the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, the foreign and defence ministers, senior Foreign Office officials and Winston Churchill. De Lattre and other French strategists thought that Great Britain could use its bases in Burma and Malaya to contribute to Indochinese security. British sea power, in particular, could disrupt enemy supply lines.

Meanwhile, his counterparts were stepping up their efforts to sign up Britain and America to what they called a ‘common strategy’ for the defence of south-east Asia. On 11 January 1952, representatives of the three countries – General Omar Bradley, Viscount John Slim and General Alphonse Juin – met in Washington to discuss ways of building this front. They agreed upon the importance of establishing military bases around Tonkin and coordinating action against the ‘prospect, perhaps an imminent one, of Chinese intervention’, and advised their respective governments to warn China of the dire consequences of any aggression it showed towards Indochina.

The three men now set up an ‘ad hoc’ committee composed of French, American and British officials but also with representatives from Australia and New Zealand. At their meetings in Washington, they drew up plans to fight back against a possible Chinese invasion. In this worst-case scenario, the British promised to support Indochina with naval and air support, while the Americans refused to commit ground troops, although they hinted that this might change in the event of a Chinese attack. The French, however, privately expected the British to provide a brigade from Malaya and a division from Korea to beat off a Chinese attack. As the committee continued to draw up plans and proposals, in the spring of 1952, French officials felt confident that ‘we are on track to establish a British– American security guarantee for Tonkin’. They were, however, disappointed because in the end no formal deal was ever signed.

By this time, the Americans were subsidising nearly half the cost of France’s Indochina war. American bombers and transport aircraft had started to arrive, as well as arms and logistical supplies. The Americans provided the French with some of their best rifles and arms such as ‘Variable Time Fuses’; these bombs exploded in the air and then rained shrapnel onto the ground, decimating any enemy soldiers who were trying to take cover. By the following October, the Americans were sending twelve shiploads of supplies to Indochina every month. Supporting the war in Indochina, ran the thinking in Washington, would not only keep Communism in check in Asia but also allow the French government to ‘make their full contribution to the security of Europe’.

But despite so much cooperation, there was also tension between the two countries. One French general complained of the ‘invading nature’ of the Americans and their drive ‘to control … everything of importance’. American liaison officers on the ground in Indochina were also accused of trying to ‘interfere’, and the French refused to let any of the Americans train either their own soldiers or the indigenous Indochinese. The French also disliked the Americans’ cultural interference. A French diplomatic counsellor in Saigon complained that the United States seemed to think that Indochina had been ‘discovered in 1950 and that [the] history of civilization … began with the arrival of US aid’. The Frenchman continued by arguing that ‘if a water pump or tractor is delivered to Indochina, it becomes, in [American] publicity, the first water pump and the first tractor that Indochina has ever had. If a medical first aid station opened, then it is the inauguration of public health in Indochina’. But the French, he continued, had been doing ‘twenty-five times the volume and with 1/ 25 the publicity’.

The Americans were also providing free English language classes, which was viewed as a grave insult to France and its mission civilisatrice, and which seemed to reveal ambitions to turn the region into ‘a zone of US influence’. The efforts of the American cultural mission to promote English reminded French officials of how the Russians wanted ‘to open Russian courses in the blind belief that all that is good is in Russia’. They added that ‘the time and effort’ of the local population ‘might be better spent in acquiring really useful knowledge of French which will be much more important to them’. It would not be so sensible, cautioned one Frenchman, if ‘America expects Vietnam not to remain in the French Union’.

Other American officials quickly noticed the same hostility. ‘The French have been viewing United States economic aid activities … with suspicion and some disapproval,’ reported one diplomat. ‘[ They] appear to want United States aid, but without the Americans, the American label or any augmentation of American influence here’. General de Lattre also made stinging criticisms of American citizens who were in Indochina. ‘Yours is a rich country,’ he told one American representative, ‘so why don’t you build houses? Or get rid of some your ECA [Economic Cooperation Administration] men and your American missionaries, then we could house MAAG?’ The depth of de Lattre’s anger prompted his interlocutor to write a long telegram back to Washington, pointing out that there were serious tensions between the two countries.

One American who quickly noticed French hostility was a junior State Department diplomat called George Lambrakis. During his stay in Saigon in 1954, the American cultural centre and US Information Service offices were firebombed by a culprit who threw a hand grenade through its glass exterior, while one of his colleagues also found a suspicious-looking package, which turned out to be a small bomb, on one of the landings. Lambrakis himself was the victim of several sexual blackmail attempts, all of which were unsuccessful. On another occasion, in Laos, he was astonished to see a truck that ‘pulled up outside my house and dumped a load of sweet-smelling manure all over the front lawn’. The American never found out who was behind this, but could guess: this incident, and the others, was ‘the work of bitter but not terribly bright minds’ in the French military.

The American presence may also help explain why the French were lashing out at their enemy with the same brutal force that they used in Madagascar and in Damascus. In a dark reference that mirrored these other episodes and presaged events in Algeria, one American visitor noted that, after an enemy attack, ‘the French military summarily punish all the natives in the neighbourhood, a practice which has not endeared them to the population’. French soldiers and intelligence officers routinely tortured suspects to gain information, regularly using ‘waterboarding’ techniques or the equally horrific death of ‘the thousand cuts’ in a bid to get their prisoners to talk. As in Madagascar, the French seemed to be overreacting to their defeat in 1940: feelings of guilt after the humiliation at the hands of the Germany Army, as one observer wrote, had ‘taken on the aspect of a psychosis. Every little victory against the Viet Minh is an answer to the world.’ But more generally, they felt under greater pressure than ever before to keep a grip on their colonies before any other powers, the United States chief amongst them, stepped into their shoes.

French officials knew that, if they were to retain their colonial grip, they had little option other than to accept American military aid, not least because they were coming under greater public pressure at home to resolve the Indochinese crisis. French public opinion had shifted overwhelmingly against the war and in favour of a negotiated settlement followed by a phased withdrawal. Just a relative few wanted to send more troops to restore order. In April 1953, Georges Bidault had warned the American Secretary of State, John F. Dulles, that ‘the [French] government is caught in a crossfire between some on the left who are opposed to the war and some on the right who wish to make economies’. The war in south-east Asia was consuming around one third of France’s defence budget, and without massive American support there was no chance of placating public opinion. But at the same time many French men and women felt a strong sense of nostalgia for Indochina and worried that its decolonisation might prove infectious, stirring nationalist sentiment throughout the empire. Bidault, for example, fervently believed in the ‘French Union’ that had been established by the Fourth Republic in 1946, creating an alliance with colonies, including Indochina, that would remain closely tied to France. Pierre Mendès France, who became Prime Minister in 1954, was more lukewarm about colonialism but still wanted France to retain some of its ties.

The French needed outright victory quickly, before the general public completely ran out of patience. At the end of 1953, Paris asked Washington to send American personnel to maintain a large consignment of planes that the Americans had already dispatched. Eisenhower and the National Security Council concurred. They knew that without strong American support the French might suddenly cut their losses and run, creating a huge void into which Communism would immediately step. In January, the French premier decided that he wanted to negotiate a settlement, and placed the future of Indochina on the agenda of an international summit that was due to be held in Geneva at the end of April.

But by now a large, stranded French garrison was coming under intense pressure in a vast valley, close to the hamlet of Dien Bien Phu, in the far north-west of Indochina. Recognising just how dire this situation was, American officials stepped up their dialogue with their French counterparts into a higher gear. The President’s judgment was now emphatic. ‘We cannot become engaged in war,’ he told his Secretary of State. The remnants of the French force at Dien Bien Phu now surrendered, having held out heroically for fifty-five consecutive days against a vastly superior, militarily ruthless and supremely efficient enemy. In this battle alone, the French Army had lost 7,700 men, although its total losses during the eight-year war were closer to 92,000. The Viet Minh had succeeded not just in inflicting a heavy and humiliating defeat upon France but also in holding the upper hand in international peace talks at Geneva. French negotiators were now entering the conference from a position of weakness.

On 12 June, Prime Minister Mendès France promised to bring peace to Indochina by 20 July. If he failed to do so, he vowed, then he would resign. He managed to beat his deadline by taking a few liberties – the clocks at the Palais des Nations in Geneva were stopped for a few hours so that he could keep his promise and stay in office – and France now agreed to withdraw its troops from Indochina in return for an immediate ceasefire. Vietnam would be divided into two ‘regroupment zones’ followed by national elections. Within two years, North and South Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia, had completely rejected any association with France and instead become independent states. Each of them, with the exception of North Vietnam, turned to the United States for protection.

Now that Dien Bien Phu, and North Vietnam, had been lost, the underlying rivalry between France and America surfaced in dramatic style as both vied for influence in the south. The French retained 80,000 men in South Vietnam while the American presence grew sharply. Both also carved out their own political factions in Saigon, each of which came to blows in the spring of 1955: the CIA’s representative, Colonel Edward Lansdale, even accused French ‘soreheads’ of instigating attacks on American citizens in the capital, prompting him to retaliate against French colonists. One ‘Top Secret’ French government memorandum, written on 13 November 1954 and addressed to Mendès France, noted that:

The primary movers in US policy in Vietnam are … determinedly hostile to French influence [and] may have persuaded Washington that it would be sufficient for the nationalists to take over power and for the French to withdraw. Moreover in Bangkok … a member of the US secret service may be supporting Prince Petsarah against the present king of Laos and Prince Savang, in spite of the denials made to us. It would not be too far-fetched to think that he was the real instigator of the recent assassination of the Laotian Minister of War.

Mendès France also accused the United States of ‘replacing’ France in South Vietnam and ‘refusing to consider alternatives’ to the leader, Ngo Dinh Diem. Such bitter disagreements continued until the following May, when Prime Minister Edgar Faure decided to withdraw the French Army from Indochina altogether and allow the Americans to take over.

Faure knew that France’s grip over other colonial territories, much more highly prized than Indochina, was becoming much more tenuous. Within the French Union, nationalists had taken heart from the Viet Minh victory, recognising not only the vulnerability of the French Army but also questioning if Great Britain and the United States would in future render Paris their wholehearted support. In the protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco, nationalist parties were now making a determined effort to win control over local governing bodies and use their influence to demand independence. Soon after the signing of a peace deal in Geneva, violence suddenly flared up in both countries. In the first two weeks of August, Fez and Port Lyautey were rocked by violent and protracted riots, prompting the police to open fire and kill twenty-five people. Algeria was also simmering with increasingly virulent nationalist sentiment. In 1947, the French authorities had blatantly rigged elections to both local and national bodies, cheating nationalist candidates of any representation. Unable to find any voice in representative bodies, Algeria’s nationalists became more restless than ever, looking beyond the moderate leader, Ferhat Abbas, and turning instead to more militant firebrands who scorned dialogue, cooperation and persuasion and instead preached a much more radical message of violence.

 After the loss of Dien Bien Phu, even Charles de Gaulle, so deeply devoted to French rule in north Africa and elsewhere, had bemoaned that ‘Algeria is lost. Algeria will be independent.’ His warning proved prescient, for a wave of popular protests, an ‘Arab Autumn’, was now sweeping through the region. In the early hours of 1 November 1954, within just months of the ceasefire in Indochina, Algeria was rocked by a succession of bombs, and amidst the smoke, bloodshed, panic and mayhem that followed, the Algerian civil war had begun.

In Paris, there was a cross-party consensus that l’Algérie française had to be saved. ‘L’Algérie, c’est la France,’ exhorted Mendès France to the Chamber of Deputies, just days after the revolt broke out. ‘And who among you … would hesitate to use every means to preserve France?’ The mere possibility of failure was all the more painful to the tens of thousands of officers and soldiers who were returning to their homeland from Indochina, badly wanting to avenge their defeat at Dien Bien Phu and harbouring deep mistrust of civilian politicians.

In the years ahead, France’s chief enemy in Algeria was the National Liberation Front (FLN), but the war to save Algeria was fought on several different fronts. Amongst them was a conflict at Suez against President Nasser of Egypt. To fight this war, the French sought to strike up an alliance with Israel, prising it away from the United States in order to establish their own influence in the post-war Middle East. And they also sought to drive a wedge between the two ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries by covertly enlisting Britain to their cause. A close relationship with Israel would also enable France to act quite independently of the British if it needed to. Israel, in other words, was viewed in Paris not just as an ally against the Algerian nationalists but as a pawn in the Great Game against Britain and America.

Howard, R. T.. Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America, 1945-2016. Biteback Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Các bài viết khác

Luật sư tư vấn miễn phí

Gọi ngay
0902818158- 0906834543
0906834543
0902818158

Tin pháp luật

CÁC ĐỐI TÁC

  • Nhà Đất Phúc An Khang
  • The Diplomat
  • The NewYork Review of Book
  • CogitAsia
  • Reuters
  • Viet Studies
  • The NewYork Times
  • TIME
  • Bloomberg Bussiness