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Main Idea / Reading Focus

Independence in Southeast Asia

Map: Southeast Asia

The Vietnam War

Faces of History: Ho Chi Minh

Map: The Vietnam War

Changes in Southeast Asia

Independence Struggles in Southeast Asia


Independence Struggles in Southeast Asia

Main Idea

Long under colonial domination, many Southeast Asian nations achieved independence in the postwar years. The transition, however, was not always a smooth one.

  • Reading Focus
  • How did independence come to Southeast Asia?
  • What were the main causes of the Vietnam War?
  • How has Southeast Asia changed in recent decades?

End of Colonial Presence

Colonial Powers

  • During war, Japanese occupied these Southeast Asian colonies
  • Occupation helped weaken grip of European, American powers
  • Some nations decided to end colonial presence in region at end of war
  • U.S. granted independence to Philippines; British gave up Burma
  • Before World War II, Southeast Asia controlled by major colonial powers
  • Burma, Malaya controlled by British; Philippines by United States; Indonesia was Dutch colony
  • Modern day countries of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia part of French colony, French Indochina

Independence in Southeast Asia

Communist rebels in Malaya fought British before achieving independence

Group known as Vietminh fought French troops to win Vietnamese independence

Vietminh leader, Communist Ho Chi Minh

Received assistance from China, Soviet Union

Major goal was independence, not expansion of communism

After years of fighting, Vietminh defeated France; French control of Indochina ended



Make Generalizations

How did Southeast Asian nations achieve independence?

Answer(s): In some areas, Japanese occupation during World War II helped weaken the grip of the European and American powers in the region. In others, independence came with struggle.


Vietnam’s Future

Domino Theory

  • 1954, representatives from France, Vietnam, U.S., Soviet Union, other nations met to establish peace agreement for Vietnam
  • Talks reflected Cold War tensions
  • Worried about spread of communism, Western powers did not want Ho Chi Minh, Communists, to have complete control of Vietnam
  • Vietnam temporarily divided into northern, southern halves
  • Communists would control north
  • Voters to choose government for reunited Vietnam in 1956
  • President Eisenhower warned if Vietnam fell to communism, other Southeast Asian nations would quickly follow
  • Belief that communism would spread called domino theory

The Vietnam War

Fighting with France was over, but conflict was not—Ho Chi Minh’s dream of a united, independent Vietnam would be achieved only after years of war.


Fighting Begins

  • U.S. supported South Vietnam
  • U.S. supported South Vietnam to keep from being taken over by North
  • South Vietnam leader Ngo Dinh Diem prevented 1956 election
  • Also made enemies with corrupt, brutal rule
  • Vietcong
  • Diem’s enemies formed Vietcong, “Vietnamese Communist”—not all Vietcong Communists; all shared goal of overthrowing Diem, reuniting Vietnam
  • Soon North Vietnamese entered South Vietnam, fought alongside Vietcong
  • Fighting Escalates
  • As Vietcong influence spread, U.S. increased aid to South Vietnam
  • Also sent thousands of military advisors to help South Vietnamese forces
  • August 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson informed Congress two U.S. Navy ships subject of unprovoked attack by North Vietnamese gunboats

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

  • True, one U.S. ship fired on by North Vietnamese; second attack seems to have been misunderstanding
  • Johnson did not mention full facts, Congress passed Gulf of Tonkin Resolution—gave Johnson power to expand U.S. involvement without formal declaration of war
  • American Presence in Vietnam
  • American military presence in Vietnam grew quickly, hundreds of thousands of combat troops sent to region
  • Increased U.S. involvement forced North Vietnam, Vietcong to change military strategy
  • Rather than press for quick victory, focused on outlasting enemies

Weakened Support

Opposition Grew

  • American leaders had claimed victory in Vietnam close at hand
  • Tet Offensive dramatically showed this was not case
  • Attacks greatly weakened American public support for war
  • After Tet Offensive, war expanded into Laos, Cambodia
  • North Vietnamese had supply network—Ho Chi Minh Trail
  • U.S. efforts to destroy trail failed
  • More Americans opposed war

Tet: A Turning Point

  • 1968, North Vietnamese army, Vietcong carried out daring strike against cities, other targets across South Vietnam
  • Attack began on Vietnamese New Year, called Tet—came to be known as Tet Offensive
  • Offensive military setback for Vietcong; still delivered heavy political blow to U.S., South Vietnamese effort

Vietnam War Ends

  • End of War
  • 1973, after long negotiations, U.S. reached peace agreement with North Vietnam, withdrew military support; without support, South lost ground
  • 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, ending war
  • After the War
  • 1976, Vietnam reunited officially, but faced major problems
  • Millions dead or made homeless; Vietnamese economy severely crippled
  • 1980s, abandoned Soviet-style planned economy, made economic reforms
  • Still Communist Nation
  • 1995, U.S. formally recognized united Vietnam
  • Two nations agreed to improve trade relationship
  • Many economic reforms; political reforms slow for Communist nation

Make Generalizations

Summarize the course of the Vietnam War.

Answer(s): United States feared Communists would take control of South Vietnam; war began and U.S. involvement increased; American public opposition to the war grew; United States removed troops; North Vietnamese took control of South Vietnam.




Soviet Ally

  • Over 13,000 islands spread across Indian, Pacific oceans
  • Had been Dutch colony known as Dutch East Indies before being taken over by Japan during World War II
  • Dutch tried to regain control after war
  • Dutch faced independence movement led by Sukarno
  • 1949, Indonesia finally won independence
  • Sukarno became first Indonesian president
  • Tried to stay out of Cold War; eventually allied with Soviet Union, supported growth of Indonesia’s Communist party
  • Sukarno almost bankrupted nation

Changes in Southeast Asia

Some of the political and social forces that tore apart Vietnam were also at work elsewhere in the region. After World War II, other nations in Southeast Asia struggled to build stable independent nations.


Suharto In Control

Suharto Loses Control

  • Suharto took control of country when struggle ended
  • Ruled Indonesia for many years
  • Authoritarian regime corrupt, but Indonesian economy revived
  • 1980s, some Indonesians turned against Suharto, resented corruption, use of power
  • 1997, economy collapsed; protests, riots broke out

Coup d’Etat

In 1965 a group of army officers and Communists tried to seize power in a coup d’état. The head of the army, General Suharto, fought back. In the struggle for power that followed the attempted coup, hundreds of thousands of Communists and alleged Communists were murdered.

Suharto stepped down the following year. In subsequent years, a series of democratic governments worked to rebuild the nation’s economy.


Indonesia Today

  • Population
  • Today Indonesia has fourth-largest population in world
  • Home to over 300 ethnic groups
  • Diversity
  • Muslim majority
  • Large Christian minority; also Hindus, Buddhists
  • Diversity has led to conflict
  • Conflict
  • On island of Sulawesi, thousands died in fighting between Christians, Muslims
  • 2000s, Muslim radicals linked to terrorist attacks in Indonesia
  • Tsunami
  • 2004, devastating tsunami struck Indonesia
  • Over 225,000 people killed, destruction widespread

East Timor and Cambodia

  • East Timor
  • 1975, Indonesia seized control of East Timor, former Portuguese colony
  • East Timorese fought against Indonesian invasion for nearly three decades
  • Over 100,000 people died; 2002, finally won independence
  • Myanmar
  • 1948, Burma, now known as Myanmar, won independence from Great Britain
  • Faced many difficulties: weak central government, severe ethnic tensions
  • 1960s, military dictatorship seized power; still controls Myanmar today
  • Peace Prize Winner Imprisoned
  • 1991, opponent of government, Aung San Suu Kyi won Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote democracy in Myanmar
  • Government has held her in prison, or under house arrest, for much of time since late 1980s

Rebuilding Society

Constitutional Monarchy

  • Goal: country of simple peasants
  • To achieve goal, all influences of urban life, modern civilization had to be destroyed
  • All opposition destroyed
  • Anyone educated killed
  • 1.5 million died
  • Conflict between Khmer Rouge, Vietnam turned into war
  • 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, forced Pol Pot from power
  • Pol Pot led Khmer Rouge guerrillas in civil war throughout 1980s
  • Now rebuilding


  • Cambodia endured years of struggle after winning independence from France in 1953
  • In 1975 Communist Khmer Rouge gained control of country
  • Khmer Rouge established Communist government led by Pol Pot
  • Renamed country Kampuchea
  • Began radical program to rebuild Cambodian society

Make Generalizations

How have nations in Southeast Asia changed?

Answer(s): Many of its nations have gained independence from colonial rule, but have struggled to build stable, independent governments.