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Decolonization and Indo-China


The following paper was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements in Modern Europe, 1914–Present, a Graduate level course, at Millersville University, spring 2008.

John Keegan.

May 2008


The theory of self-determination, in its twentieth century form, can be traced back to Woodrow Wilson. While, he never precisely defined the term, Wilson did state that “national aspirations must be respected; peoples may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase it is an imperative principle of action ….”[1] This idea was also expressed as the fifth of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which in essence, stated that the interests of a colonial population must be given equal weight to that of its prospective ruling government.[2] However, the Versailles Conference did not settle the colonial question, and it would be some twenty-two years before the issue of decolonization would surface again in the Atlantic Charter of August 1941; its third principle respected the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they lived. Article 76 Paragraph B of the United Nations Charter of June 1945 reinforced that principle. Thus, near the end of the Second World War decolonization was a major issue for the Allies especially the French who desperately wanted to retain their colonial possessions after the war.

Indo-China exemplified the difficulties the French had in retaining their colonial possessions. The Vietnamese wanted the independence that the Atlantic and United Nations Charters called for and were prepared, if necessary, to fight for it. The French were no less determined to retain possession of Vietnam and the rest of Indo-China, for they viewed the retention of their colonial possessions as necessary to regain their international stature. Thus, the French, with monetary assistance from the United States, fought the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Minh). France was able to secure American aid as part of the United States effort to contain communism. Despite American assistance, the French were unable to defeat the Viet Minh and withdrew from Vietnam and the rest of Indo-China. Read more...


[1] Quoted in M. K. Nawaz “The Meaning and Range of the Principle of Self-Determination,” Duke Law Journal 1965.1 (1965): 3.

[2] Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, (accessed April 25, 2008).

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