John Foster Dulles
U.S. secretary of stateThe key to successful defense, and the key to deterring attack, is association with others for mutual defense, and that is what the United States seeks in Southeast Asia. On May 7, 1954, Dien Bien Phu, a major French stronghold in northwest Vietnam, fell to Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese Communists after fifty-seven days of siege. A few hours later, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced the French defeat, and called for an expansion of America's military presence in Southeast Asia. In 1949, with military and economic assistance of newly Communist China, Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh forces launched an effective guerilla war against French and southern Vietnamese forces, both of which were armed largely by the U.S. In November of 1953, the French, weary of jungle warfare, occupied Dien Bien Phu, hoping to draw the Viet Minh out into the open where the superior French artillery could be used against them. The Viet Minh attacked the fortified French position, and by March of 1954, some 50,000 Communist troops had encircled Dien Bien Phu. The first Viet Minh assault against the 13,000 entrenched French troops came on March 12, and by late April, the French held only two square miles. On May 7, after fifty-seven days of siege, their positions collapsed. Although the defeat brought an end to French colonial efforts in Indochina, the United States soon stepped up to fill the vacuum, increasing military aid to South Vietnam and sending the first U.S. military advisors to the country in 1959.