Vietnamese Troops in France

Vietnamese Colonial TroopsThe French drew on their colonial empire to defend their homeland. Troops from the far corners of the French empire were recruited and shipped to France to fight and die for their colonial masters. Troops from Africa as well as French Indochina (present day Cambodia and Vietnam) fought for France.

In this picture a contingent of Vietnamese troops is getting off a transport train en route for the Western Front. About 90,00 Vietnamese men fought in the French army during World War 1 and of these about 30,000 were killed, representing a far higher rate of fatal casualties than experienced by French and British troops. This may have been due to a number of factors, including inferior training afforded to colonial troops, or to the French tendency to use their colonial Vietnamese troops as cannon fodder, in order to spare their own men.

The casualty figures suffered by the Vietnamese are even more appalling when one considers that the majority of the Vietnamese troops were not actually combat troops. Only about 4,500 were actual combat soldiers, the rest served in labour and support battalions, which theoretically ought to have kept them out of the main fighting.To put the casualties in perspective, look closely at the picture above and then realize that every third man in that picture died, so far from home.At the end of the war, the allies adopted a policy of granting ethnic groups the right of self determination. They applied this policy with rigour in dismembering the Austrian Empire and even parts of Germany. But what was good for the goose was not good for the gander. There was never any thought given to granting Indochina self determination or independence and any dissent or nationalist activities were ruthlessly suppressed by the French authorities. A young Ho Chi Minh journeyed to the Versaille Peace Conference hoping to gain concessions for his people but he was rebuffed.Later the French would wage a costly and losing war against their Vietnamese subjects in an effort to keep their overseas empire. The French defeat in the 1950s would lead to the partition of Vietnam and eventually America’s painful experience with the Vietnam war.

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