The Siege of Dien Bien Phu
A turning point in the history of colonialism, that lost France Indochina and won Vietnam for Ho Chi Minh.
After the humiliations of World War Two, France was insistent on reasserting itself as a world power. In their Vietnamese colony the nationalists led by Ho Chi Minh were just as determined to gain independence.
The showdown to a seven-year guerrilla war came in 1954 at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Survivors, politicians and historians explain how the horrors of a 56-day siege ended with the French garrison being virtually wiped out. In Paris, desperate politicians even considered using American atomic weapons to try to save Dien Bien Phu.
Julian Jackson, professor of Modern French History recounts how French soldiers lost an empire in the mountains of Vietnam and how 60 years later the defeat still resonates in contemporary France. For the other European powers it marked the beginning of the end for their colonies in Africa and the Far East. Dien Bien Phu was the first time an indigenous force had defeated a modern well-equipped army. The lessons were not lost on rebels from Kenya to Malaya.
It also had profound implications for the onset of the Cold War. In Washington the battle led to President Eisenhower's first articulation of the domino theory about the possible expansion of Communism. For Moscow and Beijing, Dien Bien Phu represented a great leap forward. For the US the political vacuum left by the French abandonment of Indochina was to lead to their own ten-year war in Vietnam.
(Photo: Captured French soldiers escorted by Vietnamese soldiers, walking to a prisoner camp in Dien Bien Phu in 1954, Credit:AFP/Getty Images)