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city. With a population of roughly 500,000 and a protected harbor. Da Nang constitutes the principal economic center in northern South Vietnam. The old imperial capital of Hue (population of roughly 200,000), situated about 50 miles north of Da Nang, historically has exerted a strong cultural influence over the Annamesc coast.* Scores of large towns, such as Quang Tri, Hoi An, Quang Ngai, Can Tho, and Vinh Long, extend down the coast and across the Mekong Delta. Often these serve as provincial capitals. A few lesser population centers, notably Pleiku, Kontum, and Ban Me Thuot, are situated in the Central Highlands.

Most of South Vietnam's major towns and cities are connected by one highway-Route 1. Constructed by the French during the early 20th century. Route 1 originally extended from Hanoi, the principal city of Tonkin in northern Vietnam, down the coast and inland to Saigon. While Route 1 and a French-built railroad which parallels it helped unify South Vietnam's most densely populated areas, the country's road network is otherwise underdeveloped. A few tortuous roads do twist westward from Route 1 into the mountains to reach the remote towns there. Of these the most noteworthy are Route 19, built to serve Pleiku in the Central Highlands, and Route 9, which extends westward into Laos from Dong Ha, South Vietnam's northernmost town. A number of roads radiate outward from Saigon to the population centers of the Mekong Delta. For the most part, however, the Vietnamese people traditionally have depended on trail networks, inland waterways, and the sea to satisfy their transportation needs. The location of the bulk of the population in the watery Mekong Delta and along the seacoast has encouraged their reliance on waterborne transportation.

Vietnam's Recent History

Prior to July 1954 the expanse of mainland Southeast Asia now occupied by South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia belonged to France.

*The population of most of South Vietnam's cities and towns has been swollen by the influx of refugees which occurred as the Vietnam War intensified in the middle 1960s. In 1965, for example, refugee population estimates for the three major cities were as follows: Saigon-1.5 million; Da Nang-144,000; Hue- 105,000.

 

Together these possessions constituted French-Indochina over which the French had exercised political control in one form or another, with one exception, since the last quarter of the 19th century. The only interruption occurred following the capitulation of France in June 1940. Exploiting the disrupted power balance in Europe, and attracted by the natural resources and strategic value of the area, Japan moved into northern French-Indochina less than four months after France had fallen. In 1941 the Vichy French government agreed to Japanese occupation of southern French-Indochina. Soon Japanese forces controlled every airfield and major port in Indochina. Under this arrangement the Japanese permitted French colonial authorities to maintain their administrative responsibilities. But as the tide of war began to turn against the Japanese, the French became increasingly defiant. The Japanese terminated this relationship on 9 March 1945 when, without warning, they arrested colonial officials throughout Indochina and brutally seized control of all governmental functions.

Six months after the dissolution of the French colonial apparatus in Indochina, World War II ended. The grip which Japan had held on most of Southeast Asia for nearly half a decade was broken on 2 September 1945 when her foreign minister signed the instrument of unconditional surrender on board the battleship USS Missouri. Shortly thereafter, in accordance with a previously reached Allied agreement, Chinese Nationalist forces moved into Tonkin and northern Annam to accept the surrender of Japanese forces. South of the 16th parallel, British units arrived from India to disarm the defeated Japanese. A detachment of 150 men from a small French Expeditionary Corps arrived by air in Saigon on the 12th to assist the British, who had included them only as a courtesy since France was not among the powers slated to receive the surrender of the Japanese in Indochina.

But the end of World War II and the arrival of Allied forces did not end the struggle for control of French-Indochina. Instead, it signalled the beginning of a new conflict in which the contestants were, in many respects, more formidable. One of these, the French, moved quickly to restore their former presence in Cochinchina and Annam. Reinforced with additional units, they occupied most major towns between the Mekong Delta and the

 

 

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