Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 August 2021
It is common to argue that the communist-led Democratic Republic of Vietnam, following the theory of "people's war," defeated the French in the First Indochina War. This argument is correct everywhere except for southern Vietnam. France's slow and systematic implementation of what it called "pacification," in concert with allied self-defense and paramilitary forces, slowly brought increasing parts of the Mekong Delta under the control of France and its allies. In reaction, The Resistance pursued a four-prong strategy: 1) they strengthened the communist core of the Resistance by recruiting cadres, purging "unreliable" non-communists, and working to capture control of the Resistance at all levels; 2) they reached out to potential allies like the Khmer, Chinese, Buddhists, and Catholics; 3) they practiced outreach towards rivals and enemies through proselytization (Địch vận); 4) they strengthened Resistance ability to engage in a sophisticated repertoire of violence ranging from intimidation to conventional warfare. Despite this sound strategy, the Resistance precipitously shifted to conventional warfare. The French-led forces took advantage of this costly mistake. France's commission of war crimes in keeping food from the population, its access to increased American funding after 1949, and contingent factors also contributed to Resistance failure.