In December 1953 the French army occupying Vietnam challenged the elusive Vietnamese army to engage in a decisive battle. When French paratroopers landed in the jungle on the border between Vietnam and Laos, the Vietnamese quickly isolated the French force and confronted them at their jungle base in a small place called Dien Bien Phu. The hunters-the French army-had become the hunted, desperately defending their out-gunned base. The siege in the jungle wore on as defeat loomed for the French. Eventually the French were depleted, demoralized, and destroyed. As they withdrew, the country was ominously divided at U.S. insistence, creating the short-lived Republic of South Vietnam for which 55,000 Americans would die in the next twenty years.
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