Relations between the French and the Vietnamese quickly "deteriorated" into war. "In November 1946 the French bombarded Haiphong and in the next month Vietnamese forces attacked French positions . . ." (Ellen Hammer "The Bao Dai Experiment" Pacific Affairs March 1950) Hammer blames the French for attempting "to collect customs alone rather than in cooperation with the Vietnamese. Although they talked about their interest in "a federal government" they would have one of it and opposed any attempt at implementing the commercial and foreign policy aspects of the agreement. (Ellen Hammer "Blueprinting a New Indochina" Pacific Affairs September 1948)
The war is costly to the French. Rice production fell to half and the Indochinese economy is in chaos. The French have half of their military in Indo-China, spend all of their US aid on the war, and have already suffered "50,000 casualties." ("The New Frontier." Time May 29, 1950) The French access to the Viet Minh is limited because most of their soldiers were used for protection.
Time then asks, why continue the war? The answer, is to stop the spread of communism. The US finances this war and may soon have to provide troops to support the French. ("The New Frontier." Time May 29, 1950)
The French hold the most populous and economically rich regions of Indo-China with their 140,000 man army. Of this 55,000 are French and the rest from the empire or the Foreign Legion. There are "60,000 Annamites serving in the French Union forces. "Nevertheless, "Military experts here" believe they can pacify the whole of the country in five to ten years." The Religious cults Cao Dai and Hoa Hao support the French with soldiers. (Harold Callender "French look for Aid to Defend Indo-China" Life December 18, 1949; Life March 7, 1949)
For non-communist Vietnamese J.R. Clementin see siding the the Viet Minh as a disaster; working with the French offers some "political participation." (J.R. Clementin "The Nationalist Dilemma in Vietnam" Pacific Affairs September 1950?) But according to Bullitt the non-communist politicians are dependent on the French and, therefore, not trusted by the Vietnamese people. There is a clear indication that the opposition created by the French is simply a tool of the French.
"Despite concerns over the expansion of communism and freedom observers still see their own side that of the colonial master, something opposed by Vietnamese of all political stripes," wrote New York Times reporter Harold Callendar. ("U.S. Pushes French on Indo-China Claims: Asks Paris to Draw Up Plan for Future in Move to Facilitate Extension of Military Aid" New York Times)
The only possible, but not necessarily probable success would come from "Western powers would have to intervene not only with loans and arms but with man power as well since France alone cannot put enough men into the field." The French have 180,000 troops . . .in Vietnam. According to General Valluy, formerly commander-in-chief in Indochina, 500,000 men would have been needed to defeat the Vietminh in 1948." (J.R. Clementin "The Nationalist Dilemma in Vietnam" Pacific Affairs September 1950?)
The Vietnamese had reason to be concerned as their hard won independence would be surrendered to the High Commissioner as he would "be both the president of the Indochinese Federation and the representative of the French Union. He was to direct the federal services, assure execution of federal laws, and name federal commissioners and advisers responsible only to him. (Ellen Hammer "Blueprinting a New Indochina" Pacific Affairs September 1948) The issues are the constraints the the French want to impose on an already independent Vietnamese nation as they insist on maintaining power and having French officials throughout the government. Although fighting ends for a short time, the French eventually sabotage the agreement. (John Embree "UN Commission for Indochina?" Far Eastern Survey June 2, 1948)
The West will come up with a convoluted interpretation of events saying that because Ho Chi Minh is a communist and China and Moscow recognize his government after the March 6 Agreement, the communists are wasting no time readying themselves to dominate Southeast Asia. William C. Bullitt, an American diplomat, writes in the December 29, 1947 issue of Life magazine an article titled, "The Saddest War." The headline describes the communist leadership as patriots. He describes the French war in Indochina as ". . . pathetic. No good can come of it. Only a little reason and a bit of human understanding are required to end it."
Ho Chi Minh's government is a reality. He called for "postwar independence" in 1941. The Vietnamese would accept nothing less and since they believed they fought for their independence they they would have to be fought to give it up. The Allies arriving in Southeast Asia at the end of the war with Japan saw an existing government. The French were in a quandary. Hammer refers to the Viet Minh government as the Republic. (Ellen Hammer "Blueprinting a New Indochina" Pacific Affairs September 1948)
And many doubt that it can be independent in the sense of being administered exclusively by its own people. (Harold Callendar ("U.S. Pushes French on Indo-China Claims: Asks Paris to Draw Up Plan for Future in Move to Facilitate Extension of Military Aid" New York Times)
The war develops its own character traits. The French never have direct contact with Viet Minh forces. (Wilson Fielder. "Mosquitoes & the Sledge Hammer." Time April 10, 1950)
"The war of national liberation in Vietnam has liberated 90% of her territory . . . (Milton Sacks "Strategy of Communism in Southeast Asia" Pacific Affairs September 1950) "Ho Chi Minh, whose intelligence is highly respected by his French military foes, has an army of perhaps, 50,000, or more, organized on French lines and under ruthless discipline." (Harold Callendar "French Look for Aid to Defend Indo-China." (Life December 18, 1949)
"Under Red boss [notice the pejorative in the librul media] Ho Chi Minh, Viet Minh now has a regular uniformed army of 70,000. Its armament approaches French standards, though there are shortages in heavy machine guns, mortars, artillery. The Viet Minh also has a "popular army" - some 70,000 irregulars who never leave their native provinces, wage organized guerilla actions. Finally, on the village level there are "militia" who fight as individuals. The French have 130,000 troops not counting Viet Namese [sic] levies now being recruited and trained." (Wilson Fielder. "Mosquitoes & the Sledge Hammer." Time April 10, 1950)
William Bullitt says the French have 115,000 soldiers and that they "are badly equipped [but the US equips them]. . . . have no faith in victory. They believe that at least 500,000 well-equipped men would be needed to reconquer the 22 million inhabitants of Viet Nam. They know that the French government allows a delegation representing Ho Chi Minh to function in Paris." So, they ask, why do they fight, losing "about 600" of their fellow soldiers each month. (William C. Bullitt. "The Saddest War." Life December 29, 1947)
"But it is obvious today to all French soldiers in Viet Nam, from generals to privates that Ho Chi Minh's forces cannot be wiped out unless large forces of Annamite nationalist guerrillas will join the French to conquer the Communists." A French captain said, "We can never win militarily. It's just like trying to kill mosquitoes with a sledge hammer.(William C. Bullitt. "The Saddest War." Life December 29, 1947)
The French cannot win the war on their own. They need Vietnamese soldiers. (William C. Bullitt. "The Saddest War." Life December 29, 1947)
Bullitt believes that giving freedom of action to non-communist nationalists will enable them to defeat Ho Chi Minh. There are strong anti-communist feelings in Viet Nam. He encourages the French to look at their "revolution of 1789" as an example to follow and nurture Vietnamese independence. "But Paris is not yet ready to propose even the formula, "independence within the French union." (William C. Bullitt. "The Saddest War." Life December 29, 1947)
"In the past 4 1/2 years the Indo-China military operation has cost France $475 million annually - a total expenditure almost equal to all ECAid for France." (Wilson Fielder. "Mosquitoes & the Sledge Hammer." Time April 10, 1950)
The French control "only the cities and large towns. Everything else in Vietnam is in the hands of the Viet Minh, the leading resistance organization. (John F. Embree "UN Commission for Indochina?" Far Eastern Survey June, 2, 1948)
The French Hih Commissioner Leon Pignon spoke for those who could care less about democracy in Indochina. He said that "Military aid will be the best economic aid for Viet Nam. Crisis and poverty are the result of insecurity." This will provide Viet Nam with a "strong backbone." (Wilson Fielder. "Mosquitoes & the Sledge Hammer." Time April 10, 1950)
And yet, Fielder also wrote of the frustration the French felt fighting this guerrilla war against the ubiquitous Viet Minh. Fielder tagged along with an international group of French Legionnaires in their pursuit of "the elusive Viet Minh (Communist-led) guerrillas. The Legionnaires in their pursuit burned a village and captured women and children. The French also threw a grenade into a small boat in the belief it would be used by the Viet Minh to transport ammunition and supplies." An officer understood the pain he inflicted on the family who owned that boat.
As the French left they "tossed a grenade into a frail native dugout on the riverbank; it disappeared in an upheaval of water and swamp hyacinth." Fielder then quotes a French officer, "It's hard on the people who live here but if we leave their craft, the Viet Minh use them for moving ammunition and supplies." Another officer stated, "When the Viet Minh come out of hiding they'll find life difficult with no rice or boats." Fielder adds, "[s]o would the peasants upon whose land this war lies." Fielder understood this well; and he is not supporter of the Viet Minh and wrote for the conservative Time magazine. (Wilson Fielder. "Mosquitoes & the Sledge Hammer." Time April 10, 1950)
Consequently, fighting exists in the cities, nevertheless, and the British and the Americans support the French in their obstinacy toward Ho Chi Minh. (John F. Embree "UN Commission for Indochina?" Far Eastern Survey June 2, 1948)
In addition, "In the past, the French have found their experiments with autonomous units of pro-French Vietnamese extremely encouraging. In 1949, for example, they had to disarm two brigades (6,000 men) of partisans who were on the verge of decamping to the Vietminh with bag and baggage." J.R. Clementine "The Nationalist Dilemma in Vietnam." Pacific Affairs 1950) This sounds like what happens in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ellen Hammer wrote, and so the war continued. [T]he Vietnamese lacked the force to expel the French, and the French were unable to quell the resistance." The French too were not interested in granting real independence to Vietnam. (Ellen Hammer "The Bao Dai Experiment" Pacific Affairs March 1950)
"After two years of war the Saigon newspaper Union Francaise conceded recently, "No progress whatsoever has been made . . . The situation is getting worse." With 110,000 troops committed, France has spent 800 million to sustain a losing battle against 150,000 rebels. Isolated outposts . . . and odd recruits . . . have not helped much." (Life March 7, 1949)