Japanese occupation of Indochina
  • Japanese occupied it in September 1940 with the agreement of the Vichy French government of Petain
  • French had little choice – occupied by Germans, an Axis ally of Imperial Japan
  • Allowed Japanese to use country for supplies and as a base from which to attack China and (later) Southeast Asia
  • In return French were allowed to remain in control of government
  • July 1941 – Japanese military arrived in force and set up large military bases
  • Only about 35,000 Japanese soldiers were needed to staff Indochina – pliant Vichy government did whatever the Japanese demanded
    • grow rice to feed Japanese army
    • send it back to home islands
    • transport supplies and provide forced labour for military projects
  • Vietnam especially of great strategic importance to Japanese
    • supplies could be sent China and Japanese bombers could bomb Chinese targets using Vietnamese airfields
    • perfectly positioned for attacks on rest of Southeast Asia (bombers from Southern Vietnam in range of Singapore, lynchpin of British defence in the region)
  • occupations caused terrible disruption to life in Indochina:
    • thousands forced from villages to cities
    • disruption to rice crop meant that in latter stages of war, when Japanese shipping was mostly at bottom of sea, millions of Vietnamese starved to death
    • enormous destruction to property – roads, bridges, mines, railways and oilfields damaged through Allied bombing or acts of sabotage by local resistance
  • local resistance led by Communist leaders (e.g. Ho Chi Minh, Pham Van Dong, Vo Nguyen Giap) in charge of the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (i.e. Vietnamese Independence League or Vietminh)
  • combined “patriots of all ages and types, peasants, workers, merchants and soldiers” to work towards independence from the Japanese and French
  • small liberation army formed and waged guerilla war against Japanese – received support from American Office of Strategic Service (OSS), forerunner of the CIA
  • clear to politically aware Vietnamese that it was the Japanese who held real sway in Vietnam, despite French flag still flying atop government buildings
  • as war went on Vietnminh gradually built up support – by end of war, in a position of dominance throughout the country
  • famine of 1944 drew huge support for Vietminh as enormous numbers of Vietnamese starved to death while Japanese stockpiled rice in military granaries
  • one peasant said so many peasants died “we didn’t have enough wood for coffins and buried them in bamboo mats”
  • Vietminh successfully seized many granaries and distributed rice to peasants
  • When Paris was liberated from Germans, Japanese promptly seized control of country and brought colonial rule to an end
  • March 1945 – Japanese placed their Vietnamese puppet, Emperor Bao Dai, on throne of supposedly independent Vietnam
  • In next month, Kings of Cambodia and Laos also declared independence
  • When Japanese surrendered 2nd September 1945, Vietminh forced Emperor to abdicate and pronounced independence of Vietnam