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Vietnamese Independence Declaration of 2 September 1945_Schlager

Vietnamese Independence Declaration of 2 September 1945_Schlager

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Published by Tobias Rettig
Overview piece for a wider audience in Schlager's Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources that Shaped the World, Vol 4 (2010)
Overview piece for a wider audience in Schlager's Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources that Shaped the World, Vol 4 (2010)

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Published by: Tobias Rettig on Dec 30, 2011
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Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
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       1       9       4       5
Declaration of Independence of theDemocratic Republic of Vietnam
“Viet-Nam has the right to be a free and independent country—and in fact it is so already.” 
Context
In mid-1945 the opportune moment that Vietnamesenationalists had been awaiting for so long seemed to finally arrive in the shape of a double power vacuum. First, onMarch 9, 1945, the Japanese troops garrisoned in FrenchIndochina since 1940 destroyed the French-Indochinesemilitary apparatus and brought down the administration of  Jean Decoux, which was aligned with France’s Vichy gov-ernment (and so with Nazi Germany, since the Vichy gov-ernment was the puppet regime that collaborated with theNazis). Eighty or so years of French colonial dominationwere thus effectively ended within a day. Five months later,following the Soviet offensive in Manchuria and the devas-tation of the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima andNagasaki, on August 15 the Japanese imperial governmentsurrendered—as such leaving a dangerous void of authority in French Indochina. While the Japanese troops remainedin Indochina to be disarmed by the Allies and the Frenchwere yet held captive by the Japanese, the Japanese-backedgovernment of the conservative scholar and politician TranTrong Kim resigned. The international and domestic racefor political control of Vietnam had begun in earnest. After being ousted, the French government provedintent on reoccupying Indochina, though they were willingto grant more autonomy within the framework of theIndochina federation the French had formed in 1893 andthat encompassed the regions of Vietnam, Cambodia, andlater Laos; officials of the Truman administration repeated-ly signaled consent to this goal. In early June, French pres-ident Charles de Gaulle instructed General PhilippeLeclerc to organize a French Far East Expeditionary Corps,which would arrive in October. Meanwhile, the close of  World War II was orchestrated by the Potsdam Agreementof July 24 and Allied General Order No. 1 of September 2(which established U.S. control of Japan following the Japanese surrender). In Vietnam, Chinese Nationalisttroops (from the Republic of China, now known as Taiwan)were to disarm the Japanese north of latitude 16° north,and British forces were to do the same to the south. In late August, some two hundred thousand of General Lu Han’sChinese Nationalist troops were entering Tonkin, while the vanguard of General Douglas Gracey’s twenty-six thousand
Overview
On the afternoon of September 2, 1945,speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of aboutfour hundred thousand Vietnamese and anattentive handful of foreign observers inHanoi’s Ba Dinh Square, the president of the provisional government, Ho Chi Minh,proclaimed the independence of the Demo-cratic Republic of Vietnam. The Vietnamese Declaration of Independence came at the high point of the August Revo-lution, staged in the weeks following the surrender of impe-rial Japan on August 15, 1945, which ended World War II.Seizing the opportune moment, the Vietminh had takencontrol of the major cities of Vietnam, replaced the short-lived Japanese-backed Tran Trong Kim government, andpressured Emperor Bao Dai, who had ruled for almosttwenty years, to abdicate.The independence declaration was a defining moment in Vietnamese history. It signaled the long-awaited close of more than eighty years of French colonial domination andalso the end point of the Vietnamese monarchy as a politi-cal institution. Internationally, however, it failed to have thesame importance because the administration of U.S. presi-dent Harry Truman had already accepted France’s intent toreturn to colonial power in Southeast Asia. This discrepan-cy eventually led to the unleashing of destructive forces thatwould engulf the eastern half of the Indochinese peninsulain three decades of civil and international warfare.The enduring appeal of the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, as with the declarations produced by theDutch in 1581 and the American colonists in 1776, is thatthis most public challenge to the colonial masters was notdefeated but eventually led to victory. Coming in the immedi-ate aftermath of World War II, the declaration also signaledthe onset of a major wave of decolonization. In the present-day Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Communist Party regards the document, despite its many different versions, asa key foundational text and its issuance as a legitimizingevent. In the context of world history, Ho Chi Minh’s presen-tation of the declaration continues to fascinate owing to thehybrid nature of the event, text in translation, and speech andthe author’s means of addressing various audiences.
 
1426
Milestone Documents in World History 
British Indian troops arrived in Saigon on September 12,three days after Lu Han’s first men marched into Hanoi.Domestically, Vietnamese political groups of various ori-entations were harboring hopes of filling the power vacu-um. Only the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), howev-er, was able to fully exploit the limited time frame of aboutthree weeks between the Japanese surrender in mid-Augustand the arrival of the British and Chinese troops in early September. Drawing on the lessons of more than fifteen years of anticolonial mobilization, it had begun its prepara-tions immediately after the Japanese coup of March 9.Indeed, the ICP was the most well-prepared and decisive of all Vietnamese political forces and the only one capable of operating countrywide. As early as May 1941, on Ho ChiMinh’s advice, the party had set up a broad Communist-ledfront, the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (Vietnam Inde-pendence League, or Vietminh). It was to be useful as acover to project the image of a unity government and tointegrate non-Communist groups and individuals, whereasits branch committees and mass organizations throughout Vietnam would mobilize the population and garner publicsupport. The ICP had also created the National Salvation Army and the Armed Propaganda Brigade, which merged inMay 1945 into the Vietnamese Liberation Army. Althoughat this stage it was merely a fledgling guerrilla force of notmore than several hundred men, it had cultivated contactswith the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS; the fore-runner of the Central Intelligence Agency), the British, andto some extent the French. In particular, its friendly andopenly visible relations with U.S. representatives were aninvaluable asset in convincing the Vietnamese populationand rival political organizations that the Vietminh had theblessing of the Truman administration. As the opportune moment arrived with the impending Japanese surrender, Ho Chi Minh gave the final call for ageneral insurrection on August 13, 1945. The rapid mobi-lization of the Vietminh’s military, paramilitary, and popularforces allowed it to take control of cities, towns, and vil-lages throughout the country within twelve days. Amongmajor cities, Hanoi was secured on August 19, Hue on August 23, and Saigon on August 25; cities in the southwere taken over in coalition with other political forces. Atlast the Vietminh pressured Emperor Bao Dai to abdicate,which he did on August 30, thus irrevocably sealing thefate of the Vietnamese monarchy. Also in late August andinto September, the Vietminh began to abduct thousandsof people perceived as obstacles to the revolution or as trai-tors, many of whom were never to return. Tens of thou-sands more were neutralized by being placed under arrest.It was in this rapidly evolving international and domes-tic context that preparations for the independence declara-tion were made. In the evening of August 25, Ho Chi Minhwas secretly ushered into Hanoi. His presence and identity were kept secret to all but a trusted few, for reasons of safe-ty, security, and surprise. On August 27, in consultationwith cabinet members, he decided to command country-wide preparations for Independence Day, to be held onSeptember 2. With the main event to be held in Hanoi, for-
1893
Completing apiecemealprocess of con-quest begun in1859, the Frenchset up theIndochineseUnion, includingthe states of Tonkin, Annam,and Cochinchi-na as well asCambodia andLaos.
1941
The IndochineseCommunistParty sets upthe Vietminhand the NationalSalvation Army,precursor to theVietnamese Lib-eration Army.
1945
March 9
A Japanesecoup overthrowsthe JeanDecoux admin-istration inFrench Indochi-na and incapac-itates its militaryforces.
 August 19–30
After the Japanese-backed governmentdissolves, theVietminh seizecontrol of major cities in the AugustRevolution, andEmperor Bao Dai isforced to abdicate.
September 2
In Hanoi, Ho ChiMinh delivers theDeclaration of Independence of the DemocraticRepublic of Vietnam.
November 11
The ICP officiallyself-dissolves,although itcontinues to existunderground.
 Time Line
 
Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
1427
mal observance was to be organized in as many places aspossible. Ho then apparently drafted the independencedeclaration. On August 30, he showed a typewritten draftwith many handwritten corrections and numerous margin-al notes to Major Archimedes Patti, the senior OSS repre-sentative in Hanoi. When it was translated, Patti was sur-prised to find that the opening passage quoted from the American Declaration of Independence. With only five days to organize nationwide Independ-ence Day celebrations, preparations were challenging.Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square, then known as the Place Puginierand located next to the palace of the governor-general of French Indochina, was chosen because it could easily accommodate the expected mass audience. A high woodenplatform had to be erected and a public address systeminstalled. Security measures were taken, and live audiotransmissions to other parts of the country were set up,though they eventually failed because Japanese roadblocksobstructed the transmitter vehicle.On Sunday, September 2, Vietnamese Liberation Army guards secured the platform by keeping the arriving crowdsabout twenty yards away, while self-defense units were posi-tioned in strategic places. Many Buddhists and Catholicsarrived in groups led by their head monks and priests,respectively, while schoolteachers performed the same func-tion for their pupils. Entire villages from the Hanoi country-side were guided by their elders and Vietminh organizers,and ethnic minorities also descended from the hills. Sever-al American OSS members under Major Patti were present,as was the French representative, Jean Sainteny. Wearingwhite rubber sandals and a high-collared khaki jacket, sim-ilar in style to the ones worn by the Communist leaders Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, Ho briskly led his cabinetup the platform. The national anthem was played, followedby a flag-raising ceremony and Ho’s introduction by Gener-al Vo Nguyen Giap. Waving his hands to the crowds for sev-eral minutes, Ho eventually raised his palms to commandsilence and then read out the declaration.
 About the Author 
The Declaration of Independence of the DemocraticRepublic of Vietnam was authored by Ho Chi Minh, whoplayed a crucial role in the founding of the VietnameseCommunist movement. Ho was born as Nguyen Sinh Cungin the province of Nghe An, now in central Vietnam, in1890. His father, a relatively poor scholar-official, inculcat-ed in him patriotic and anti-French views. In 1911 hesailed to France but failed to be admitted to the ÉcoleColoniale in Paris, thereafter earning his living aboardships. After a short time in London, at the end of World War I he arrived in Paris and circulated in the Vietnameseexpatriate community and in French Socialist circles. Headopted a new name, Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patri-ot), and became a founding member of the French Com-munist Party in 1921. During this period he worked as awriter, journalist, and newspaper publisher.
Mi  l   e s  t   on eD o c um en t   s 
1946
October 30
Followingbreakthroughsin Jean Saint-eny’s negotia-tions with HoChi Minh, aFranco-Viet-namese modusvivendi comesinto force.
December 19
The First IndochinaWar breaks outwhen the Vietminhattack the French inHanoi.
1954
July 21
The GenevaAccords tem-porarily divideVietnam alongthe seventeenthparallel, with theCommunist-ledDemocraticRepublic of Vietnam to thenorth and theState of Vietnamto the south.
1959
September 26
The SecondIndochina War,also known asthe VietnamWar, breaks out.
1975
 April 30
The Republicof Vietnam,known asSouth Vietnam,is defeated.
1976
July 2
Postwar unifica-tion is formallycompleted withthe creation of the SocialistRepublic of Vietnam.
 Time Line

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