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From the 1880s until World War II France governed Vietnam as part of FrenchIndochina which also included Cambodia and Laos The country was under the control ofan emperor Bao Dai In 1940 Japanese troops invaded and occupied French Indochina InDecember of that year Vietnamese nationalists established the League for theIndependence of Vietnam or Viet Minh seeing the turmoil of the war as an opportunityfor resistance to French colonial rule The United States demanded that Japan leaveIndochina warning of military action The Viet Minh began guerrilla warfare against Japanand entered an effective alliance with the United StatesWhen the Japanese signed their formal surrender on September 2 1945 Ho ChiMinh used the occasion to declare the independence of Vietnam which he called theDemocratic Republic of Vietnam Emperor Bao Dai abdicated the throne The Frenchhowever refused to acknowledge Vietnams independence and later that year drove theViet Minh into the north of the countryHo Chi Minh wrote eight letters to US president Harry Truman imploring him torecognize Vietnams independence But the foreign policy of the United States during theCold War was driven by a fear of the spread of Communism Eastern Europe had fallenunder the domination of the Communist USSR and China was ruled by CommunistsUnited States policymakers felt they could not afford to lose Southeast Asia as well to theCommunists The United States therefore condemned Ho Chi Minh as an agent ofinternational Communism and offered to assist the French in recapturing VietnamIn May 1954 the Viet Minh mounted a massive assault on the French fortress atien Bin in northwestern Vietnam The Battle of Dien Bien Phu resulted in perhaps themost humiliating defeat in French military history Already tired of the war the Frenchpublic forced their government to reach a peace agreement at the Geneva ConferenceFrance asked the other world powers to help draw up a plan for French withdrawalfrom the region and for the future of Vietnam Meeting in Geneva Switzerland from May8 to July 21 1954 diplomats
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