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If the struggle in the South began in order to expel the French, violence ended up transforming the countryside, and ripping Mekong Delta society apart. The delta went through two internal fractures at the beginning of the war. The first, dating from late 1945 and into 1946, split many (but not all) Khmer from Vietnamese. The catalyst of this fracture was France's drive into the delta from late 1945, when it recruited "partisans," and especially ethnic Khmer, to fight Viet Minh forces. The French worsened ethnic antagonisms, leading to extensive violence between these two communities. The second major fracture was catalyzed by the Viet Minh's attempt to subdue rivals for leadership of the "nationalist" movement. Primed during 1945 and 1946, this second fracture occurred in 1947. For the second fracture, the chapter looks at two key turning points: Cao Dai leader Pham Cong Tac's decision to tactically ally with the French, and the Viet Minh killing of Hoa Hao Prophet Huynh Phu So. The violence following these two acts reshaped the South and definitively set the course for the rest of the war.
By 1953, the communist-led Resistance had been marginalized in much of the Mekong delta. But the cost was high. "Traditional" institutions of the village had, in large swaths of the delta, been destroyed. The Franco-Vietnamese "coalition" had defeated the communist-led Resistance. But who would win the peace? The militia leaders, so skilled in war, were not fluent in the arts of peace. This chapter looks at the endgame of empire, when France was withdrawing from rural areas all over the South, downsizing its military presence, and shifting its support to the State of Vietnam. The end result by 1954, however, was a balkanized southern Vietnam with fragmented sovereignty where militias entrenched themselves in rural fiefdoms. The chapter shows how Ngo Dinh Diem, faced with this divided South, won the battle for post-war control of the South. It pays particular attention to his expulsion to Cambodia of the Cao Dai leader Pham Cong Tac, the co-optation of the Hoa Hao militia leader Tran Van Soai, and the arrest, trial, and execution of the Hao Hao militia leader Ba Cut. The chapter also examines the regional, national, and international legacies of the war.
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