Before the U.S. was entangled in a tragic war aimed at preventing the dominoes from falling in Vietnam, the French fought the Viet Minh and other nationalists.
The Viet Minh evolved into a force strong enough to trounce the French army. The Viet Minh, formed in the 1940s, was seeking Vietnamese independence. After the occupying Japanese were defeated by the Allies in World War II, France demanded the return of its colonial empire. Although the U.S. condemned French colonialism, it was essential to retain alliances with France. So America picked up the sword from France — and fell on it.
The Vietnamese, raised on a Confucian diet of obedience, were accustomed to simply accepting their lot and not questioning the political order. But many Vietnamese allied with French Marxists, trade unionists and political radicals sought revolution and release from French colonial domination. Marxist theory promised racial equality, an end to colonialism and better lives for workers and peasants. The best known of the nationalists to emerge in this postwar period was Nguyen Sinh Cung—later known as Ho Chi Minh—who sought a Paris peace conference for Vietnamese independence, only to be ignored.
In contrast there’s the myth that the Vietnamese rebels were a ragtag militia (known as the Vietcong, the military wing of the National Liberation Front). A book by Eric Deroo and Christophe Dutrone, Le Viet Min (Les Indes Savantes, 2008 in French edition only) stakes out the visual history of the movement and its military. Here are some of the propaganda and paraphernalia that inspired and motivated the “North Vietnamese” to drive the French from their country only to have the vacuum filled by American advisors and ground troops.