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After WWII France was in rebuilding mode, and yet they insisted on trying to reclaim Indo-China. It would seem that in the new world order this did not make much sense for a country that was trying to rebuild itself to commit to such a massive amount of blood and treasure to something that would arguably not produce much dividends in the future.

I'm looking for some articulated reasons by the post-WWII French government to try and reclaim the territory, or a compelling cost-benefit argument as to why they pursued this course of action.

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Did you actually try to find some answer yourself before asking? –  Lohoris Feb 24 '12 at 8:34
I did some searching, but as far as I could find the French were interested in reclaiming it because it was theirs previously. I asked the question because I was wondering if there were political, economic, or other factors that influenced the French outside of "it was ours previously and we want it back." –  ihtkwot Feb 24 '12 at 13:40
I'd say the shear pigheadedness of one Charles de Gaulle. –  jfrankcarr Feb 25 '12 at 13:44
@jfrankcarr Given that De Gaulle was not in power from the end of WWII to the independence of Indo-China, no. –  Gilles Feb 25 '12 at 22:33
I can't think of any example where a colonial power left a colony "unclaimed" after WWII; as far as I know, all colonies reverted to their colonial masters before becoming independent in the 1940s-60s. Why would France be any different? –  Gaurav Feb 28 '12 at 8:08

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

A general trend I have noticed in French history, dating from the fall of France after the defeat at Waterloo and the subsequent losses in the Congress of Vienna, is that there is a strong urge to regain a sense of international prestige. Through out the nineteenth century France slowly degrades from being the world capital of liberal democracy and intellectualism. In the latter half of that century, France suffers an embarrassing and crushing defeat by the newly formed power of Germany in the Franco-Prussian war. This defeat is then compounded by the utter devastation of what was once the most feared military force in the world.

Even in much of the 20th century France is seen as a major world power. As a personal aside, my mother's generation in the Netherlands learned French as their first foreign language, and despite the rise of America, it wasn't until roughly generation X that English replaced French in this regard. Taken all together this explains much of France's attempts to maintain their cultural identity and obtain positions of international importance (such as their attempt to be the home of the EU government among other things). While there are some economic arguments that can be made on the behalf of French colonialism to justify French action in Indo-China, they seem to be much less important than the irrational cultural motivation for doing so (similar to America's need to invade overcome the "Vietnam syndrome" to 'justify' the overblown invasion of Grenada).

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This answer is creative and intriguing. Do you by chance have any sources to add so weight to your argument? –  ihtkwot Mar 22 '12 at 0:59
Offhand, not much as it is mostly based on intuition based on study and reading news analysis. I cannot remember too many specific examples which lead to this judgement, although one is this essay by K Kumar on British and French Attitudes towards imperialism google.com/… –  BrotherJack Mar 22 '12 at 2:17
While your point about the particular importance the French attach to international prestige isvery true, I think that in this instance the more general explanation is the truer one: all colonial powers tried to regain or to retain, as the case was, their colonies after WWII. They also all failed. Occam's razor must intervene, I am afraid. –  Felix Goldberg Dec 14 '12 at 14:16
@FelixGoldberg: Weren't the British at least one exception? To my knowledge, they didn't try too hard (no big time wars) to retain any of their colonies, but rather allowed most of their colonies to gradually transit into independence. –  Kenny LJ Dec 16 '14 at 21:41
@KennyLJ Good point - the British really did put less effort into it, in a sense. Perhaps because they won the war, they felt less need to compensate than the other powers. But there were military efforts nevertheless: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malayan_Emergency and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mau_Mau_Uprising –  Felix Goldberg Dec 16 '14 at 22:16

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