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The Indochina Wars: Causes of Defeats Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2020


Indeed, the defeat of the French military in the First Indochina war was as a result of many factors including indecisions, lack of stability, domestic conflict and economic incapability back at home. Besides the self inflictions by France, there were other issues, which will be discussed in this paper that contributed to the defeat. After the first Indochina was in 1946-1954, the second Indochina war emerged. In this case, the USA was the main instigator following the conflict between the American-backed government and the Viet Cong communists, who had control of the army (Morgan 189). This paper seeks to discuss some of the reasons that led to the defeat of French during the First Indochina War. In addition, it will explore the factors that led to the loss of war against the USA-backed South Vietnam in the second Indochina war.

Reasons for French Defeat in 1st Indochina War

Domestic Conflict and Indifference

One of the most important factors that led to the defeat of the French was found in the domestic ideological conflict between the French populace and the entire political community. Whereas the political arena considered the Indochina war as a critical priority, the citizenry was completely indifferent about the battle. In fact, in a national survey which was conducted in 1948, the citizens placed Indochina as the last of their priorities (Schwenkel 172).

Importantly, the populace incurred a high cost of living and many casualties so that the war was no longer important from their point of view. This indifference played a major role in the defeat of the French in the First Indochina War, bearing in mind that mobilized and united support is critically important during the war. Similarly, the political arena also evoked such ideological conflict when it came to the importance of the Indochina war. The legislative body opposed the involvement of France in the war while French right opposed it. This led to a weakened position and little moral support of the government to deploy resources and win the war.

Economic Deficiency

Although there were enormous conflicts in the domestic arena, the economic incapability contributed to the defeat. Evidently, the First Indochina war came immediately after the Second World War. During World War II, France had used most of its resources to finance the army and sustain its political strength. As a result, it suffered critical economic losses as well as casualties. This implies France was recovering from the losses of World War II. With such a recovery struggle, it was difficult to win amidst a high cost of living at home and deficient infrastructure. Indeed, the focus was shifted to rebuilding the economy back home, leaving a very narrow gateway for the Indochina.

Order of the Battle and Infrastructure

In essence, the successive government had different views over the First Indochina War. As such, different administrations gave differing levels of attention to the war in respect to their foreign policies. As a result, the alternating policies and change of tactics led to an unstable battling. In addition, the economy was too handicapped to provide the military with enough personnel and facilities. For example, Navarre requested for about twelve battalions, seven hundred and fifty officers as well as two thousand five hundred and fifty NCOs. However, the government could only afford eight battalions, three hundred and twenty officer and 200 NCOs. This is a clear portrayal of incapacitation of the French government as far as the availabilities of facilities and personnel were concerned. Indeed, this deficiency led to the defeat of the French Army in the war.

Geographical Large Area of Coverage

Whereas the French authorities were trying to deal with their domestic economy and infighting, the large territory in Indochina posed a greater challenge. Indochina had three territories including Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. The total area of the territory was about 737,000 square kilometres. The deficient personnel sent by the government had to be distributed over the entire area. As a result, its concentration per square kilometre was very sparse such that conquering the enemy was basically impossible. Importantly, this sparseness led to lack of coordination of the military.

Reasons for USA Defeat in the Second Indochina War

Disunity among Americans

Similar to the French war during the First Indochina struggle, USA was also confronted by domestic disagreements. In this case, Congress was against focused attention and active involvement in the Indochina war. This was evidently portrayed when the USA first made a deal with North Vietnam in order to withdraw from the war. When the North agreed on the deal in order for the USA to withdraw during Nixon’s administration, it later violated the terms of that deal. However, Ford tried to support South Vietnam on the basis that the earlier deal was violated, but Congress stopped the involvement (Turse 127).

Poor Order of Battle

USA was using a poor strategy in the Second Indochina War whereby it has been argued that the USA was not fighting to win. Instead, the country was finding an exit strategy. In this case, this implies that if the USA was fighting to win, it could have conquered the Viet Cong. However, after Nixon’s attempt to negotiate with the North, the opportunity to win the battle was lost. Some elements in the army lost the hope of winning the war against the Vietnamese such that the coordination of the battle was no longer effective. In fact, the army extensively disintegrated because they did not find the rationale of fighting a war which had little significance to the USA and one that had little chances of winning. As a result, the USA had to withdraw, bearing in mind that the unity of the armed forces is critical in a war.

Onset Deployment of Few Military Personnel and Infrastructure

At the onset of the fight, the USA deployed very few soldiers and infrastructure in the war. In essence, this was a crucial mistake on the side of the USA because they allowed the Viet Cong to organize themselves for the battle. As such, the Soviet Union-backed North Vietnam became very strong with time. The lowly motivated USA and South Vietnam Army were unable to stand up against them and win the war.

Geographical Terrain

The Vietcong and NVA were well versed with the terrain of Vietnam that USA troops (Haugen 134). Vietnam had many swampy areas and jungles, which made the NVA and Vietcong defend easily and attack in hostility. On the other hand, USA troops used maps and photos to learn the geography and terrain of the entire area. In that regard, therefore, they were unable to defend and attack effectively. As such, they definitely lost the war against their NVA and Vietcong.


It is evident that the defeat of France and the USA in the Vietnam-based wars was caused by various factors which had critical similarities. In this regard, it was identified that both countries incurred domestic infighting and disunity in countries regarding the importance of the respective wars. In addition, it was discovered that the order and strategies of the battles were faulty. The USA sent fewer troops at the onset of the war such that the enemies had enough time to reorganize while France sent few soldiers over a vast territory. The geographical size became a great challenge for France while the lack of physical knowhow posed a problem to USA troops.

Works Cited

Haugen, David. The Vietnam War. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2011. Print.

Morgan, Ted. Valley of Death and the Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.

Schwenkel, Christina. The American War in Contemporary Vietnam Transnational Remembrance and Representation. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009. Print.

Turse, Nick. Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. New York: Henry Holt, 2013. Print.

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