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Vietnam was controlled by the French during the pre-World War II era. After the French were defeated in 1940 by the Germans, they formed a coalition with Japan to rule colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. However, the Viet Minh was formed in 1941 to seek independence from France and later took up the same cause against the Japanese. They were supported in this struggle by America and China who wanted to alleviate the region from the control of the Axis Powers. Japan assumed full control in 1945.
This was followed by a period of extreme famine caused by natural conditions as well as gross exploitation at the hands of the Japanese administration. Over 1 million of the 10 million Vietnamese population died of starvation between 1944 – 1945. The Viet Minh’s popularity and its numbers grew. The Ho Chi Minh led group attained freedom for Vietnam on 2nd September 1945 and this was supported by the Japanese.
The Allied powers, US, UK and the Soviet Union agreed that the region should be under French control. The ousted Viet Minh began a guerilla war and were strengthened with weapons in 1949 by China. The US government, convinced of that the region was at the center of a communist expansion, began aiding French Vietnamese soldiers.
By 1954, the United States had supplied 300,000 small arms, spent US$1 billion and was shouldering 80 percent of the cost of the war. The French eventually lost and Vietnam was granted independence in 1954. However, Vietnam was temporarily divided as North Vietnam (Communist) and South Vietnam (Anti-communist) with elections to form a unified government to be held in 1956.