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Roosevelt’s Vietnam Policy, Stein Tønnesson

January 12, 1945, Task Force 38 strikes Saigon

Historians have argued whether Roosevelt would have supported the Viet Minh takeover of Vietnam from the French if he had lived out his term office. The consensus of American historians has been that Roosevelt would have willingly thrown his support to the French had he lived to see Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh become the major contenders for power in post-WW2 Vietnam. Norwegian historian Stein Tønnesson has a contrary view based on new research. He documents that Roosevelt asked his Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a war plan for a second-front invasion of Haiphong, Vietnam. The invasion would have divided the Japanese forces when the US invaded Okinawa. It would also have disrupted food, oil, and other strategic materials moving by land through Japanese occupied Vietnam to Japan as the Japanese lost control of sea lanes into Japan. By January 1945, Charles de Gaulle was putting pressure on Roosevelt to help the French reacquire Vietnam, contrary to Roosevelt’s announced war aim of an independent Vietnam at the war’s end. Stein Tønnesson believes the January 12, 1945 air strikes throughout Vietnam were intended to make the Japanese think the Allies intended to invade Vietnam, cutting off Japan’s access to war materiel transported through Vietnam. Roosevelt was reading Japanese military intelligence cables (MAGIC) and believed the air strikes and other American provocations would motivate the Japanese to dismantle the remaining French government and military in Vietnam. In March 1945, the Japanese overthrew the Vichy French government in Vietnam and destroyed the remaining Vichy France Army of Vietnam. Tønnesson believes Roosevelt intended the January 12 air attacks to provoke the Japanese into these actions before the end of the war, depriving the French of the means to forcibly reacquire Vietnam after the war.

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