This excellent report has been professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction. The stunning defeat of the French Third Republic by the German Third Reich at the start of the Second World War underscored the vulnerable condition of both France's political apparatus and her army. The political groups of the Fourth Republic experienced turbulence, particularly in the development of a coherent foreign policy regarding Indochina. The French Army emerged from the Second World only to face dwindling troop strength, poor equipment and training, an overreliance on colonial troops, and low morale. France started war with the Viet Minh in hopes of retaining Indochina as a French-controlled territory. France quickly found that this control would not come easy. A rigid foreign policy seeking colonial control and seemingly constant turnovers of leadership within both the government and the French Far East Command in Indochina hindered France's efforts in the region. In 1950, Southeast Asia gained international focus as a new front in the war on Communism. The French continued fighting for control over Indochina under the guise of anti-communism. The war would continue until 1954 when France suffered a strategic defeat at Dien Bien Phu. In the end, an uncompromising foreign and colonial policy required military leaders to view force as the only means to achieve success in Indochina.
The French struggle to pacify Viet Minh nationalists during the First Indochina War from 1945 to 1954 should have cautioned US policymakers and military leaders. Unfortunately, it did not, and the United States picked up where France left off. Nearly twenty years later, America signed a cease-fire with Vietnamese communists in 1973, providing an unexpected end to the Vietnam War. While the US military had success on the battlefield, rigid political goals hindered military leaders from employing an effective strategy to achieve lasting results. France experienced a similar situation after the Second World War as French politicians struggled to develop coherent domestic and foreign policies. The political elite hoped to return France to greatness by restoring their colonial empire, particularly their "crown jewel" of Indochina.1 French forces in Indochina experienced considerable success during the eight-year war, yet France suffered its worst colonial defeat since losing Quebec to the British in 1759.2 Harry G. Summers, Jr. posed the question regarding the American experience in Vietnam: How can one succeed so well yet fail so miserably?3 This monograph addresses a similar question by focusing on the interaction of policy, strategy, and military operations: Did political instability in the French Fourth Republic limit the successful use of military action to achieve political objectives? The collapse of the French Third Republic and their near-civil war during the Second World War serves a starting point to investigate this question.