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Thursday, August 16, 2018, 21:19 (GMT+7)
The whole nation’s strength during our people’s struggle against the French Colonialists in the second half of the 19th century

Located on the eastern Indochina Peninsula, having a coastline of over 3,260 km, Vietnam holds an important geo-political position for which external forces always desire. Moreover, located in the tropics, in addition to advantages in climate, Vietnam has to strive to counter various types of natural disasters. Therefore, a very long time in the past, Vietnamese people always united with one another to create the entire nation’s strength to fight against natural disasters and enemies, which forged the invaluable tradition in the cause of national building and defence. Similarly, promoting the strength of the entire nation to fight the French Colonialists in the second half of the 19th century is a typical example of our country’s history.

Implementing the plan to invade Vietnam, on September 1st, 1858, the French-Spanish coalition with 17 warships and nearly 2,500 troops attacked Da Nang, opening up an invasion of our country. With the superior strength, French Colonialists expected to clinch a rapid victory in order to force Nguyen Dynasty to surrender unconditionally. Once again, our people had to confront a powerful foreign invader. In this struggle, we had to fight a Western invader which was much more powerful in economic and military terms than us. However, the military and people of Quang Nam province led by famous general Nguyen Tri Phuong fenced villages in, banked the earth up into mounds, and used bamboo baskets and wooden barrels with gravelly soil inside to fill up the bed of Vinh Dien river in an effort to stop the enemy’s line of advance. Taking the initiative in the fight, being creative, unanimous, and courageous, we contained the enemy’s advance for 5 consecutive months, leading their plot to quickly invade Da Nang as a stepping stone to Hue capital city to failure. Against that backdrop, the enemy shifted their attacking direction towards the South to gradually conquer our country. In spite of taking control of Gia Dinh citadel, French Colonialists could not dominate the rural areas and Vietnamese people. They always had to face “resistance centres everywhere; it is almost likely that every citizen of An Nam is a resistance centre”. Taking armed struggle as the main method and using every possible weapon, people of the South united with one another and brought into play patriotism and the spirit of sacrificing their lives for the national independence to the utmost to fight against and place the French at a disadvantage. Genouily, the French officer in charge of the invasion had to admit that “the war in this country even gets into more difficulties than the war in Chinese Kingdom”. It is patriotism and willpower to maintain independence and freedom that are the source of strength to defeat the French Colonialists’ plot to quickly invade Vietnam.

When it comes to Nguyen Dynasty, it not only made no effort to fight the enemy with its people, but also thought about suing for peace and gradually surrendered itself to the enemy, thereby forcing the people to take charge of the national liberation cause. Consequently, despite the fact that Nguyen Dynasty signed the Harmand Treaty on August 25th, 1883, agreeing that Cochinchine was a French colony, and Tonkin and Annam were the French protectorates, the military and people nationwide, particularly those in Tonkin showed their strong determination to fight the enemy to the end, which forced the French to impose martial law in Hanoi and its vicinity.

On June 6th, 1884, the Patenôtre Treaty was signed, which marked the surrender of Nguyen Dynasty and the collapse of Vietnam’s feudalist regime, and changed our country into a French colony. However, regardless of the enemy’s strength and Nguyen Dynasty’s cowardice, in response to the movement of Can Vuong, Vietnamese people across the country rose up as one to fight the French. Feudalist scholars and intellectuals determined to side with the people against the enemy and became representatives and leaders of the movement. Relying on the people and their strength as well as on the justice of the struggle for national independence provided an important basis for leaders of Can Vuong movement to assemble force and conduct a lasting struggle across the country with the participation of millions of the masses. In this movement, human and material resources were mobilized to the utmost to fight the enemy. In more than 10 years (1885-1895), in Vietnam, wherever the French troops were stationed, there were uprisings by the masses. Troops of Can Vuong movement achieved glorious feats of arms in Huong Khe, Ba Dinh, Bai Say, etc.

Together with Can Vuong movement, the uprising conducted by Yen The peasants, led by Hoang Hoa Tham, mobilized a large force and was always sheltered by the people; therefore, it was the largest-scale, most enduring uprising in the armed struggle against the French Colonialists by the Vietnamese people in the second half of the 19th century. However, due to a dearth of sound guidelines and scientific methods, Hoang Hoa Tham could not develop his force, the operating area, and the military power to win greater victories. Thus, it was just a local uprising and besieged and defeated by the French. In spite of deep patriotism and high fighting morale, scholars and intellectuals did not overcome weaknesses in feudalist ideology or keep pace with the mainstream of the times while those uprisings did not make the connection to create and promote the entire people’s strength for the sake of final victory.

After the French launched its invasion of Vietnam, our people from the North to the South determined to rise up as one to fight the enemy and save the Homeland. Even when Nguyen Dynasty remained powerless and feeble and turned their back on the national interests and the people, the movements against the French continued to develop across the country. Those movements mobilized a large number of people, created great strength, and completely defeated the French scheme of “speedy fight, rapid victory”. It took the French even nearly 4 decades (1858-1896) and a lot of human and material losses to conquer Vietnam. The country’s strength, which stemmed from patriotic tradition and willpower to protect national independence and freedom, was the important reason for that victory. The aggressors had to admit that if the war continued like that, it would last for hundreds of years. That curse remained in the two centuries. Uprisings continuously broke out and led the French plan to quickly take control of Vietnam to failure. It is shame that Nguyen Dynasty did not seize the opportunity to lead and assemble the people, and mobilize the entire nation’s strength to conduct a glorious resistance war and polish the tradition of defending the country. Although the resistance war by our people in the second half of the 19th century brought about a strong impulse, those were just spontaneous movements without uniform organization and leadership, unable to encourage and thoroughly exploit the people’s strength. Thus, in spite of the fact that those movements made glorious pages of history, they could not lead to success, “only rising up and then fading away due to the lack of capable leadership”. This is the most valuable lesson on leading the people and mobilizing the entire people’ strength in the struggle for national independence.

From the failure of the movements, patriotic scholar Phan Boi Chau realized that once the whole people had yet to be unanimous and united under a flag, our country could not liberate itself from the French Colonialists. The appeal for patriotism and unanimity stimulated the spirit of the whole nation and brought about a stronger movement. Nevertheless, due to a dearth of theoretical foundation, guidelines and specific measures, it did not succeed in creating the great unity block and promoting the strength of the whole people. As a result, the movement launched by him also ended in failure. Only when leader Nguyen Ai Quoc came to Marxism-Leninism, found the way to save the people, and founded the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), he resolved the crisis over the revolutionary guidelines and the leading class, brought into play patriotism to the utmost, and mobilized the whole people’s strength, and successfully led the fight for taking power in 1945.

History has revealed that patriotic tradition had been the core in consolidating the community and creating the strength of the whole nation to defeat the enemy. However, to promote this strength, it is necessary to set out sound leadership guidelines, have close, scientific organization, and meet the aspirations of the people and the mainstream of the times. In the current period, to mobilize the whole people’s strength to the utmost in the cause of national construction and protection, it is important to build really pure, strong CPV and extirpate corruption, wastefulness and bureaucracy within the administrative apparatus in order to strengthen the people’s faith. It is vital to renew and build a strong State ruled by law, of the people, for the people, by the people, and to uphold the goal of “a rich people, strong country, democracy, equality, civilization” in the path to socialism selected by the whole people. To that end, our State should carry out administrative reform, complete the legal corridor, build a contingent of cadres with sufficient virtue and capability on a par with their assigned missions, improve the quality of human resources, accelerate the country’s industrialization and modernization, develop economic potential, promote the national great unity as well as all resources, potential and strength of the country. At the same time, it should formulate an overall strategy and policies to properly exploit and use resources to create the country’s strength for the cause of Homeland building and safeguarding.

Sr. Col. Dr Le Thanh Bai, Military History Institute of Vietnam

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