The handouts included in this section were developed based on the research noted above, so I have not footnoted the handouts themselves. They are written in more colloquial language for less strenuous reading, and some details have been glossed over so students do not get bogged down. It may be helpful to have students answer basic content questions about the readings or to briefly outline their positions before beginning the task of developing a proposal, particularly with the younger students.
Handout One: Overview (2 pages)
The countries now known as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were once considered one region called Indochina. Around the year 1000 A.D., the empire of Annam (which is now Vietnam) was established. For hundreds of years, China owned this empire, but eventually, in 1427, Annam became independent. Khmer, the kingdom that is now Laos and Cambodia, was developed in the 1100s.
Europeans got interested in this part of Asia around the 1500s. By the mid-1800s, European missionaries were converting thousands of native Indochinese to Christianity, and the Vietnamese emperor became concerned. According to the Christian priests, some Vietnamese traditions were not acceptable to Christians, and the emperor worried that the Europeans were destroying his country’s culture. He made Christianity illegal, and his armies arrested the priests and missionaries who stayed in his empire. Many of these missionaries were killed, and since most of the missionaries were French, France got involved.
France sent its navy into the waters off of Vietnam, and what started out as protection for the missionaries turned into an effort to take over the area completely. By the 1890s, France had conquered Indochina and declared it a colony. This was not unusual for that time; many countries took over other regions and countries without asking the residents what they wanted. For many years, this was just the way things worked, and not many people thought anything of it.
Indochina, however, was never a quiet colony for France. Right from the start, rebel groups were organizing themselves, trying to get France out of their country. With France in charge, Indochina became very poor; schools had to close down and much of the money in the area went to the French government. Vietnam was especially active in resisting French power. Many Vietnamese scholars organized peaceful rebel groups and tried to make their own government to replace the French. Other groups sent representatives to Paris to ask France to grant rights, such as freedom of press, to the Vietnamese people. The French government did not take these requests very seriously, and by the 1930s, the Vietnamese protesters were getting violent. Some terrorist groups started bombing French buildings and assassinating French officials.
In World War II, Japan took over large parts of mainland Asia, but they left Indochina alone until 1940, when Germany invaded France back in Europe. It was too hard for France to defend their own country and Indochina at the same time, so when Japan asked to put troops in Indochina, France had to give in. (It also helped that Germany, which was on Japan’s side, was running France.)
The Japanese were not really interested in Indochina; it was just a good place to keep troops and station headquarters. The French troops still there, however, were enemies of Japan, and they tried to fight the Japanese. The Japanese had a strong military and quickly put down any French fighters… but while this was keeping the occupiers busy, the Vietnamese were quietly getting ready for the end of the war. China helped one rebel group called the Viet Minh organize a government, while the former emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, was organizing his own government and appointing officials.
The End of the War
Just before Japan surrendered at the end of WWII, they gave their power to Bao Dai’s government, but the Viet Minh were not satisfied. They felt they could do a better job running the country, so they declared their own government to be the
government of Vietnam. In the meantime, it seemed like no one was really in charge, and the country was falling apart. There was a famine in the region, so people were starving, and some smaller violent rebel groups were causing trouble, as well. Bao Dai, who worried that this confusion would give the French a chance to take over again, quickly agreed to let the Viet Minh government rule. Governments can’t be built in a day, though, and not all the rebel groups wanted to let the Viet Minh run the show. Indochina was a mess, and decisions had to be made.
What should happen to Indochina now? Who gets to decide? Does France get the region back since they had it before? Should Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia just be made independent countries with their own governments? Japan “owned” the region last -- since the United States beat Japan, should the U.S. now get the rights to the region? China helped Vietnamese rebels set up the government that’s now in charge; should China be in control?
Handout Two: Point of View for Vietnam (2 pages)
Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Viet Minh, who is very well-educated and speaks fluent English and French
Independence! You’ve been trying to get out from under French control for almost 100 years. You want to set up your own government, not live under some other country’s rules. Another thing you don’t want is for some other Vietnamese group to run your government -- you know that right now, you are the only people in your country organized enough to handle the job. Letting the emperor or someone else take charge would be a disaster, and France might come in and take over again while your country tries to get itself together.
The only problem is that right now, your country is a bit of a mess: there are still French and Japanese troops here and there, there’s no government really in charge, and your country is very poor. You can have your country up and running in five or ten years, but you need some outside help to get started.
Obviously, you don’t like France one bit. These people took over your country and caused a lot of trouble doing it. You think French rule is the reason your country is poor, and because of France you lost a lot of schools, which you thought were very important. You tried to peacefully work with the French, but they just ignored you. They won’t even give you the freedoms they give their own citizens! When you tried to take your country back, they sent you to China, not letting you come back to Vietnam, your own home. You want the French out of your country for good.
Before France came along, China ran your country for awhile. You’re not exactly eager to let them be completely in charge, just in case they want to take over again. China has been helpful, though; they helped you set up your government and they’ve offered to help you become an independent nation. They might turn out to be a good friend to you. During World War II, China helped your rebel group by giving them money and protection when you snuck back into Vietnam; in return, you told China what the Japanese were doing in your country -- you were spies -- so you’re on good terms with China right now. They are also a large and powerful country in Asia, so even if you don’t completely trust them, you can’t make an enemy of them. That could be dangerous for you.
The U.S. is hard to figure out. During WWII, you helped the U.S. the same way you helped China -- when American pilots got shot down in your country, you helped the U.S. get them back, and you told the U.S. what the Japanese were up to. In return, the United States gave you weapons, so they seem to be friends. President Roosevelt, who just died, was also a big fan of making countries independent; he hated the whole idea of colonies, and he said so all the time.
You’ve got a lot in common with the U.S., too. The U.S. used to be a colony, and they fought for their freedom -- just like you! The Americans should definitely see that you just want the same thing they have.
There are a couple of problems, though. During WWII, when you were helping the United States, you noticed that sometimes the Americans would drop shipments of food and supplies to the French troops near you. You know that France and the U.S. have had good relations as long as the United States has been a country, so it’s possible that friendship might be stronger than any American desire to help you. Also, since Roosevelt died, you aren’t sure if the new president (President Truman) is as into getting rid of colonialism.
Still, how can the Americans
believe in you? You just want a declaration of independence and a constitution like theirs! They may be your best friends if you can win them over to your side.
Handout Three: Point of View for France (2 pages)
General Charles de Gaulle, who led the fight to win France back from the Germans. He is a loud, confident man who is proud to be French.
You want to get France back to the way it was before the war. You have managed to get your homeland in Europe back from Germany -- that was a tough fight that lasted nearly five years. Now you are ready to get your country back to the powerful place it used to be. Right now, you are low on money, and a good way to get money back is to get help from your colonies. Your goal is getting your colonies organized again; you have several colonies in Africa and in Asia, and now you are ready to be in charge again.
The great thing is that now you can go back to helping the Indochinese, so it’s a good situation. Now that the Japanese are out of the way, you can help Indochina run their country, and you add some strength to your own country in the process. Everybody wins!
Vietnam seems to think it has a government in place, but it’s not the
government of Vietnam. It’s just a group of rebels you kicked out a few years ago -- they think they can run the place, but they really can’t. They aren’t even worth talking to -- they’re too disorganized and they have no experience with this sort of thing. They are crazy, violent men who have no business trying to lead a peaceful country. Because you’ve been in Vietnam for so long, you know the place better than anybody, so you are in a great position to take charge again and get things back to normal.
Vietnam is a beautiful place, but it cannot take care of itself. For years, your citizens who have been living in Indochina have sent back reports about the area. They have told you that the natives there are good people who make excellent workers, but that they are not very well educated. These people need you to help them run the country -- otherwise, they will just be a nation of poor, helpless peasants.
China was on your side during WWII, so they are friends of yours, but you aren’t very close to them. You know China used to take over parts of Indochina all the time, so you might not want to let them get too involved. So far, they haven’t caused any problems for you, but you don’t necessarily trust them completely.
It’s hard to say what’s going on with the U.S.! You have been friends with them since they first became a country -- in fact, you helped them get independence -- and in WWII, they were very important in helping you get your country back. Still, can you really trust them? Lately, it seems like they’re against you every time you turn around.
Roosevelt, the president who just died, was very loud about hating colonialism. He was always talking about how countries should be free and independent -- he just couldn’t understand that you had a good relationship with your colonies. Of course, about 3 years ago, he did reassure you that he wanted to get France back to the way it was before the war started -- colonies and all. Did he mean it? When you tried to fight the Japanese in Indochina, Roosevelt didn’t help you until about a month after most of your troops had been killed already… so he helped, sure, but not when you needed it most. Of course, Roosevelt has died… there’s no telling if Truman, his replacement, feels the same way. Maybe Truman is on your side.
The United States is very powerful, so you can’t just make an enemy of them. They are helping you rebuild and you need them -- but on the other hand, you can’t really trust them in this matter. The United States used to be a colony, and they fought to be free, so they may be really eager to help other colonies do the same thing.
Handout Four: Point of View for China (2 pages)
Chiang Kai-shek, who led his country during WWII, which was a very hard time for China
You are willing to help Vietnam gain its independence; you don’t really want the French involved in your part of the world anymore. There’s just no reason for France to be here.
You don’t really want to take over Vietnam yourself, but there is a lot to be gained for you if you can be in charge for just a little while, at least. Your country had a hard time of it in World War II, so it would be nice if you could build up your resources again. If you help Vietnam build its own government, you’ll have access to their resources for a little while -- just long enough to get your own country back to its usual strong self.
France was on your side during WWII, so they are friends of yours, but you aren’t very close to them. There’s no good reason for them to be mixed up in Asian business, so you don’t want to let them get too involved. So far, they haven’t caused any problems for you in particular, but you don’t necessarily trust them completely. You know their whole goal here is to take over Indochina again and use it for their own good, sending all the money and resources out of Asia and into Europe, just like before.
Before France came along, China ran Vietnam for a long while, so you share a lot of culture with Vietnam. You understand them, and they understand you. They do seem to be a little out of control right now, so you’re not exactly eager to let them be completely in charge, just in case the place falls apart completely. It would not be good for you to have a crazy, leaderless country so close to your own -- problems could spill over into China.
The current people in charge, the Viet Minh, have been helpful to you. They were sent out of Vietnam before WWII and wound up in your country. You gave them money, protection, and even some weapons to sneak back into Vietnam; in return, they told you what the Japanese were doing in Indochina -- they were spies for you -- so you’re on good terms with the Viet Minh right now.
The Americans were on your side during WWII, so, like France, they’re friends of yours. You are better friends with the U.S. than you are with France, though; an American general helped you out a lot in World War II. Like with France, there’s no good reason for the U.S. to be mixed up in Asian business, but you’re willing to work with them a little more. First of all, you met with Roosevelt about a year ago and he told you about his idea for an international team to help Vietnam get itself organized as an independent country. You told him that was a great idea.
Unfortunately, Roosevelt just recently died, and you aren’t sure what the new president, Truman, will say or do. He might be interested in helping Vietnam be independent, or he might be one of those Americans who wants to protect his friendship with France. It’s possible he might take France’s side in all this and help them take over Indochina again, but you hope not.
Handout Five: Point of View for United States (2 pages)
President Harry Truman, who has just become president because Roosevelt died while in office.
You just want to get this situation settled without losing any friends! France has been your friend as long as you’ve been a country, so you can’t make them angry. At the same time, the last president (Roosevelt) really wanted to help Vietnam be independent; they are a colony the way the U.S. used to be a colony, and he wanted to help them get the same freedom we have. China seems to be on Vietnam’s side, and you don’t want to lose China’s friendship, either -- they are some of your best friends in Asia, so you can’t afford to lose them. Indochina is a mess right now, and since you won WWII, you have to help sort it out, but you want to be on everybody’s side. If you make enemies, it could hurt you later.
OK, the French have been your friends forever, so you can’t just turn your back on them. When you needed help in the Revolutionary War, they were there for you; when they needed help in World War II, you came through for them. This is how it works.
The fact is, though, that France’s interest in having colonies is not really something you agree with. Besides that, France owned Indochina for 100 years and it is this poor, starving region now. Obviously the French can’t handle their colonial power very well. You don’t want to leave France without your support, but at the same time, it’s pretty clear that giving Indochina back to France wouldn’t be the best thing for Indochina.
Besides all that, your sources have told you that the people of Indochina
hate the French. Even if France gets to “own” Indochina again, they will have to face a very angry group of Indochinese who will not put up with France for long. You’ve heard that if the French try to overthrow the Viet Minh, it will result in a “bloody failure.” As France’s friend, maybe you should protect them from getting into that mess.
China was on your side during WWII, so, like France, they’re friends of yours. You sent an American general to help them out when they were getting beat in World War II. About a year ago, the leader of China met with Roosevelt, and Roosevelt talked about his idea for an international team to help Vietnam get itself organized as an independent country. China said that was a great idea, and so far you have no reason to distrust them.
Vietnam seems like a fine enough place; they aren’t bothering you and all they want is to be free. What difference does it make to you? The main concern you have is that these Viet Minh people who are in charge are Communist. You do not like Communism, and you don’t want it spreading around the world. Some other countries in Asia are already Communist and it’s making you nervous. You know Communists aren’t really “free” the way Americans are, so making Vietnam “free” with a Communist government wouldn’t really make a lot of sense.
You did work with the Viet Minh when it was good for you, though. During WWII, they helped you find your airmen who got shot down over Indochina, and in return you gave them weapons. At that time, it was more important to win the war than to worry about who was Communist and who wasn’t.
Right now, it does look like Vietnam is a mess, so you can’t just leave it the way it is and tell them to figure it out. They need some help getting their country under control one way or another.
Throughout the unit there are brief writing assignments, as described above, meant to help the students think through the rationale of their points of view:
Write a proposal
Explain your or another person’s vote
Predict an outcome
Assessment may also be less formal; throughout the debate, the teacher may call a freeze-frame and ask students to explain what another participant is likely to be thinking at that moment.
The final writing assignment is more in-depth. Students will write a short paper supporting one of the proposals brought to the table in the course of the unit. The paper must include reasons to support the proposal, as well as reasons to disregard arguments against the proposal.
There are several ways to adjust this unit for particular groups of students. Certainly, the most obvious is to require students to do the research themselves to determine and develop their positions. This would be ideal for classes of older students or for classes that are more research-oriented in nature. One way to introduce the unit, then, may be to show the episode of the PBS documentary
Vietnam: A Television History
titled “Roots of War.” This starts everyone off on the same foot with a broad understanding of the region; from there, research can go down the different avenues relating to each country.
Another option is to involve other countries in the debate process. For the sake of time and organization, I narrowed my list to the four main players, but other countries also were involved on some level. Britain, also a colonial power, often aligned itself with France; in the actual outcome of the Potsdam Conference, Britain was the army appointed to control southern Vietnam while China managed the north. The twists and turns of British loyalties are very interesting at this point, as the newly-appointed Labour government strives to move away from the old notions of empire-building.lv
The Soviet Union was a shadow player; officially, they were not involved in the region, but the United States saw the Soviet threat as an important component in Indochinese development. A class dealing with world history may wish to consider the role the Soviet Union played in decision-making, even when they were not directly invited to the table. Certainly, Laos and Cambodia have been given a short shrift in my treatment of the debates; other teachers may wish to include those countries in the debate, particularly if there are students in the class whose ancestry connects them to those areas.
French teachers at higher levels may have students capable of melding French language with the unit. Students may research vocabulary relevant to the debate or actually conduct research involving French-language sources. (Much of the information about the regional conflict is, for obvious reasons, written in French.) Students may write one or more of their position papers in French, and advanced French students may even conduct the debate itself in French.