|America and Vietnam Study Guide
Week 2: Akira Iriye, The Globalizing of America, pp. 1-18, 131-216
I. The Age of European Domination (pp. 1-18)
A. The Rise of the West
1. Before World War I, the world was European-dominated.
a. Because the European nation-states fought one another constantly
throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, they had to develop centralized administrative structures to mobilize forces and collect taxes.
i. Competitiveness resulted in an increase in the region’s overall power and led to developments in science and technology.
c. Two additional factures perpetuated European predominance:
i. The Industrial Revolution
ii. The Enlightenment
2. The United States when it emerged was molded by military, economic, and cultural developments in Europe.
a. Military developments
i. Its existence came out of the French-British struggle for power.
ii. Founding fathers took for granted the need for a military force and a bureaucracy.
b. Economic developments
i. Continued economic activities as had done as British colonials, part of Western economic system
c. Cultural developments
i. American ideology was a product of British liberalism and the Enlightenment
ii. American ideas were a refinement of, not a departure from, European thought.
3. United States was significantly different from Europe in the late 1700s in the cohesiveness of its society and the resulting sense of nationhood.
a. No feudalism, established church, monarchical institutions.
4. America in the nineteenth century.
a. Continued to be part of the Western-dominated world.
b. Cohesiveness began to erode because was divided on economic and geographic terms.
c. Began to expand economically, culturally.
B. The Emergence of Modern States
1. The end of the Civil War meant that the political unity of the nation would never again be challenged.
a. The government was free to conduct foreign affairs without worrying about their impact on domestic cohesiveness.
2. The end of the Civil War coincided with significant developments in Europe,
which brought the continent into the age of modern states.
a. Italian and German unification, Franco-Prussian War, Third Republic in
France, reform bill of 1867 in Britain, emancipation of serfs in Russia in
b. The Modern State
i. Centralized administration, secular public authorities define
laws, mass participation in politics, unified domestic markets, legal codes, systems of production and distribution
ii. More powerful than earlier nation-state.
iii. Tendency to extend their sway: imperialism (vs. earlier colonialism).
3. The United States shared many features with the modern states of Europe, but lagged behind in overseas colonization.
a. During the 1890s, however, undertook military strengthening and colonial expansion.
4. The U.S. entered the twentieth century as a global power.
a. Strong militarily, territorially, economically.
b. Ideologies flourished that stressed power, order, and civilization.
i. “White man’s burden”
ii. Growing self-confidence of American leaders in the nation’s
special role in the world.
-Taft’s “dollar diplomacy”: using the nation’s financial resources to promote an economically (thereby politically) more interdependent national order.
-Idea of world peace through international law.
II. Totalitarianism and the Survival of Democracy (131-148)
A. Totalitarianism and War
1. The rise of modern totalitarianism can be attributed to the Depression, discontent with results of the Great War, dissatisfaction with the mood of internationalism, climate of uncertainty.
2. Fascist movement would gain power both through elections and mass demonstrations and violence.
a. Entered into alliances with the army and business community.
3. Fascism and communism shared common features:
a. Undisputed power of state, rejection of democracy and pluralism, nationalism.
4. Totalitarianism was a system of political control that prioritized internal unity, discipline, and self-sacrifice in the name of national power and glory.
a. Both fascists and communists thought war was inescapable and established the legitimacy of the domestic order.
B. The Democracies and War
1. During the first half of the 1930s, democracies were confronted with a challenge to their legitimacy because of severe economic crises.
a. The New Deal struck many as moving the nation toward fascism.
i. No abandonment of pacifism or glorification of war.
C. The Isolationist Impulse
1. Isolationism was a major force in America in the mid-1930s.
a. Thought that should focus on domestic economy.
b. Amounted to abrogating its role as a world leader.
i. Examples include American performance at the London economic conference, Silver Purchase Act of 1934, failure to renew naval disarmament agreements with Japan and Britain, failure to intervene in Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1934, failure to take lead against Hitler.
2. However, America did undertake some diplomatic initiatives.
a. Recognition of the Soviet Union
b. Good Neighbor policy in Latin America
III. The Emergence of Geopolitics (149 – 169)
A. Wars in Asia and Europe
1. In November 1936 Germany, Japan, and Italy signed an anti-Comintern pact; for the first time the totalitarian states of the right were pitted against the dictatorship of the left.
2. Japan was trying to construct a new order in East Asia, began war with China in 1937.
3. Germany was trying to establish hegemony in Central Europe.
4. Western democracies were on the defensive.
B. America Reenters the International Arena
1. In his second term, Roosevelt took the initiative to bring America back into the
international community and became especially assertive in Asia.
C. The Growth of Geopolitical-Mindedness
1. The consciousness of power and the readiness to consider war as an instrument of national policy developed; the intellectual development went hand-in-hand with Roosevelt’s new assertiveness in foreign policy.
a. Roosevelt increased defense spending in 1940, an indication of American determination to play a role in international affairs.
b. Roosevelt sought to have neutrality legislation repealed.
c. Diplomatic efforts (all took place before the outbreak of the European war)
i. In Europe, continued effort to appeal to world leaders to settle disputes peacefully.
i. In Asia, more forceful (abrogation of commerce treaty with Japan).
IV. The Road to Pearl Harbor (170 – 190)
A. The European War and U.S. Neutrality
1. September 1939 to spring 1940: “phony war” in which war had been declared but there was little fighting.
2. United States had many choices.
a. Do nothing, support democracies “short of war,” treat Soviet Union differently from Germany, negotiate compromise with Japan, step up support of China.
3. U.S. more willing to take hard line in Asia than in Europe.
B. The Axis Versus the Democracies
1. Hitler sought to prevent U.S. intervention after the spring offensive, but failed, as public opinion turned decisively against Germany.
a. U.S. sent arms and funds to prevent Britain’s defeat and helped protect the British Empire in Asia.
C. Japan Attacks the United States
1. Lend-Lease Act in March 1941.
2. Talks among U.S. and Britain to coordinate military strategy
3. Extended Lend-Lease to Soviet Union, prevented Japanese attack on USSR
4. With the Pearl Harbor attack, the Asian and European war became joined and U.S. became deeply involved in both theaters.
V. The Global Conflict (191 -
A. The Diplomacy of War
1. World War II was more global than WWI, touching most areas of the world.
2. Only the U.S. was involved in all theaters.
3. The U.S. saw its role as more than strategic and faced complicated political questions.
a. Problems of governance during wartime military occupation of territories.
4. Wilsonian ideals for postwar planning.
B. The New Internationalism
1. As the tide of war turned, Roosevelt was determined not to let the enemy dictate the conditions of peace.
2. Allied powers wanted a postwar world in which the Axis powers would be kept week and the big four would replace them as definers of international order.
a. U.S. would be the major power in the Pacific and in the Western Hemisphere.
3. Postwar planning committees emphasized a new internationalism — Wilsonian in inspiration by “new” in the recognition of the need to work closely with other military powers.
C. Toward a Postwar World
1. After the war, big-power cooperation underwent changes because Britain and China had become weaker relative to the United States and Soviet Union.
2. The shape of the postwar world would hinge on whether the two powers would be able to work together.
a. Complicated by the vastly expanded territorial control of the Soviet Union and the atomic weapon developed in the United States.
3. Two other components of the international order were developed through American initiative in cooperation with other nations.
a. IMF and the World Bank
b. United Nations charter
1. After 1917, the U.S. emerged as a world leader and provided economic and cultural resources to define and sustain global order.
2. The mid-1930s were an exception, when the nation eschewed leadership.
3. During WWII the U.S. became involved militarily, economically, and politically in all parts of the world.
First of all a note on the readings. These are US documents related to foreign policy over the course of its existence. So, at best I think it’s probably useful to have a general understanding of the evolution (especially the time and context) of these policies rather than very specifically understanding the details of these papers as almost none of them are directly related to the Vietnam War.
The Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776
Since you’ve all read this before I’m sure the take-home message here is that this document primarily outlines the American colonists discontent with the King of England in that he deprived them of “unalienable rights,” and declared the United States independent based on its right to dissolve an illegitimate social contract and institute a new government.
The Northwest Ordinance, July 13, 1787
This document is only peripherally related. It predates the US Constitution and is a constitution of sorts for the Norhwest territory—outlining rules like inheritance, the structure of the government, the election of government bodies, the distribution of states in the territory, the allegiance to the United States, law enforcement, basic freedoms etc.
The Federalist Papers, No. 11
A paper by Hamilton arguing the need for unified policy on foreign trade and a Navy due to America’s powerful presence in the realm of commerce. He suspects that soon European powers will attempt to regulate their countries imports in order to restrict American trade and proposes that the US adopt some defensive policies to counteract those. Also he argues that a Navy will become necessary to protect such a powerful commercial system.
Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796
Washington leaves his post as President with some advice, predictions about possible problems in the future and how to solve them including restricting the competition between political parties, remember the importance of the basic freedoms, etc etc. Most relevant are his isolationist foreign policy ideals which become apparent here. He basically argues that getting involved in the “insidious wiles” of foreign influence and the best way to avoid manipulation by Europe is to avoid dealing with them all together. He extends his argument to commercial policy—that trade should not be selectively restricted, and that the US should depend only on very defense strategies and only temporary alliances in emergency situations.
The Monroe Doctrine, 1823
While still basically supporting isolationism, Monroe argues that only when the United States’ own citizens’ rights are seriously invaded will they take action in foreign affairs. However, one condition of that is the extension of colonialism, which directly contradicts the US’ policy. He declares that any new attempt at colonization on independent nations will be considered a danger to the peace of the United States.
TR’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904
After the German/Italian/English presence on the coast of Venezuela, near the US’ Panama canal, TR extended the Monroe doctrine so that the US would serve as an international policeman. First he presents an extended disclaimer that the US does not intend to use the Monroe doctrine as an excuse to justify self-aggrandizement and that the US’ neighboring nations have nothing to fear as the US intends merely to protect not overtake. Essentially, he just argues that we must take an interest in general peace and justice in the world, intervening when necessary.
Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points, 1918
An even further extension of the US into foreign affairs. This is Wilson’s proposal for peace post WWI. In it he basically outlines how all relevant powers should direct their war resolution efforts such as opening navigation, and removing trade regulations, as well as specific demands such as granting the sovereignty of those war-torn states—Belgium, France’s Alsace-Lorraine, Austria-Hungary, Poland, Turkey, the Balkans, He also presents the idea of a general association of nations to keep international peace (this eventually becomes the UN.)
FDR’s 4 Freedoms, 1941
His mid-WWII policy where he outlines four unalienable freedoms: freedom of speech/expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
However, in the document he also argues that the time has come to prepare for entry in the war as it has begun to threaten the United States. He basically just demands an increase in defense budget and armament development, and outlines a national policy of self-defense, support of oppressed peoples, rejection of peace proposed by aggressors.
Robert. J. McMahon, Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War, 3rd edition (D.C. Heath, 2003), chapter 2
In the introduction to Chapter 2, “The Development of Vietnamese Nationalism,” with the claim that “American officials were often accused of approaching Vietnam with little understanding of its culture and language, and even less appreciation of its rich history—forces that, specialists now agree, contributed mightily to the war’s outcome.” Therefore, the goal of the chapter is to explain the “genesis of modern Vietnamese nationalism.”
At the beginning of French rule in 1914, Phan Boi Chau sets up the theme of Vietnam as an oppressed protectorate in his reflections from prison. He writes “Before the time of the French Protectorate, Vietnam only knew a world with China. And when the French arrived we only knew a world with France.” His account is mostly filled with sadness and a sense of hopelessness, but he is willing to fight no matter what, acknowledging that “At most I am an empty-handed rogue with nothing to my name, weak in force and feeble in ability. Yet I am ready still to fight long-toothed tigers and sharp-clawed panthers.” The earliest account sets up a history of oppressive occupation and forced resistance as foundations of Vietnamese nationalism.
In Ho Chi Minh’s attack on “imperialist crimes” of the French he makes his appeal as a member of the Socialist Party in 1920. Ho claims that, under the French, the Vietnamese “have not only been oppressed and exploited shamelessly, but also tortured and poisoned pitilessly. Plainly speaking, we have been poisoned with opium, alcohol, etc. I cannot…reveal all the atrocities that predatory capitalists have inflicted on Indochina.” While Ho strikes out against capitalists to go along with the Socialist Party’s definition of the French as “the bourgeois class,” he also strikes out against the lack of freedom of speech, press, assembly and association that foreshadows the heavy influence of the United States’ Declaration of Independence on Ho’s Vietnamese Declaration of Independence in 1945.
Ho’s speech at the founding of the Communist Party of Indochina in 1930 sets up French imperialism as a result of France’s desire to recuperate the heavy losses from World War I. Ho goes on to predict the outbreak of World War II with the warning that increased conflict will see even harsher treatment of the Vietnamese from the French. Ho supports a Vietnamese revolution from below, with the workers striking and forming a general uprising against the French. To appeal to the masses, Ho lists goals of the Communist Party that include such wide goals as the “overthrow [of] French imperialism, feudalism and the reactionary Vietnamese class” and complete Indochina independence. Also, Ho includes specific reforms such as the implementation of an eight-hour workday that draws a heavy Western influence.
In the fourth entry of the chapter a Vietnamese writer explains the shift in attitude caused by the famine of late 1944 and 1945. He believes that the general belief among the Vietnamese is that “if they eat less, save some money, and work hard, then no matter how difficult life is for them, the can still ‘patch things up.’” However, with a severe famine that was set up with three typhoons in northern Vietnam in September 1944, conditions, already tight due to constraints from the Japanese fighting WWII, became impossible to live under. Prices shot up and it was speculators that took advantage, resulting in the death of between one and two million people in northern Vietnam. Although the Viet Minh is not mentioned in the account, the account describes the hopelessness felt by the peasants that Ho would channel into support for the Viet Minh.
On September 2, 1945 Ho Chi Minh issued the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence. Using The Declaration of Independence of the United States and the Declaration of the French Revolution of 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen as inspiration, Ho details the numerous economic and social contraints that have been forced on the Vietnamese by the French for eighty years up to that point. With the end of World War II recent history, Ho’s appeal for independence comes from the belief that “we have wrested our independence from the Japanese and not the French.” By allowing Japan to take their place in Indochina, Ho believes that France showed that they were not only unable to protect Indochina, but were willing to support the wrong side of aggression, as the French chose passive compliance with Japan over partnership with the Viet Minh in opposition. Ho used the uselessness of France as the primary call for Independence following V-J day.
Summary of The Colonial Impact by David G. Marr
McMahon, Chapter 2: The Development of Vietnamese Nationalism
In 1938, 27,000 French troops were monitoring 18M Vietnamese people. However, as Dien Bien Phu would illustrate in 1954, a revolution of the Vietnamese would erupt in a transfer of power which researchers attribute to a timely combination of patriotism, fury of oppression, and “sophisticated communist organizing techniques.” French educated colonial subjects would learn the concepts of freedom and liberty, resulting in a rejection of Eastern philosophy of the “preordained life.” The second essay, Mark Philip Bradley, emphasizes the influence of the American Revolution on the educated masses in Vietnam. Though exposure to American experiences was through Russian, Chinese, and Japanese commentaries of American history and society, the ideas about a fight for independence greatly affected a public increasingly discontent with colonial rule. This new consciousness, over time, established a stronger, more unified, and defiant Vietnamese public who wanted equal standing among other nations.
Vietnam has a long history of subordinate existence. In order to understand the context of the 1945 revolution which established the Viet Minh as the dominant force in intellectual Vietnamese patriotism, it is important to consider the change in social consciousness in the early 20th century. The French introduction of privatization disrupted the communal structure of Vietnam. This resulted in an increased statificaiton between the wealthy and the poor (those who owned land and those who lived on and cultivated the land). Those who amassed enough land, would often leave villages entirely and reside far away only to return to collect rent. Additionally, the transformation into a cash economy greatly affected the socio-economic interaction which relied less and less on personal contact.
Rice, which the French taxed heavily, became the key Vietnamese export for “non-local interests.” After France, weakened after WWI, was dominated by Germany in the 1940s, Japanese-sympathizing Vichy France (still in control of Indochina) produced loads of rice for Japan, either for consumption or for fuel (fermentation) which resulted in the famine of 1945 where two million Vietnamese were without food.
Realizing the need to establish a Vietnamese force free from domination by other countries, the youth “seized the day” and vocalized the current ideals about socio-economic change in Vietnam. After the Viet Minh’s establishment in 1941, it gained huge support 1945. Though it was neither the political nor the intellectual “vanguard of society (that was the ICP party), they spoke for the peasants and workers.
The optimism that permeated the intellegentsia’s experience from the 1920s to the 1940s was a product of a gradual shift from “Western” to internalization. As their struggle for progress reached the peasants by the 1930s, their merging found a home in the Viet Minh and ICP organizations. “They defended the rights of the poor, encouraged women to participate in the political struggle, stressed the importance of mass literacy, promised democratic freedoms, and portrayed the contemporary world in terms of a decisive confrontation between good and evil.” Eventually, when the time was right, a Revolution took place cementing the ideals that finally were mature enough for manifestation. The August Revolution of 1945 was “a justification for previous agaonist, capping three generations of struggle against unbelievable odds.”
From the Sourcebook:
Elliott, Duong Van Mai, ''The Third Month in the Year of the Famine,''
SACRED WILLOW, pp. 103 - 135.
“The Third Month in the Year of the Famine” primarily serves to reinforce the Ho’s observations concerning French compliance with Japanese occupation of Indochina. The collapse of France in World World II led to Japanese occupation of Indochina while the French were still in place. “By being compliant, the French hoped Japan would let the colonial governemtn stay in place, which was exactly what the Japanese, wanting to avoid the costs and complexities of an outright takeover, allowed it to do at first.” The Vietnamese were first ambivalent to Japanese occupation but soon found the Japanese to be more quick to punish and execute those who disobeyed them. The famine in Tonkin and north Annam in 1944 was made worse by Japan’s control over the country. In the midst of fighting World War II, Japan forced the French colonial government to collect for army reserves despite vast shortages. “Warehouses were bulging with food stored for Japanese soldiers, while people died by the hundreds and thousands.” To make matters worse, “[t]he colonial government made no effort to deal with the famine, except to issue rice ration cards to the urban population to stretch out the supplies. The countryside was left to die.”
On March 9, 1945, Japan finally moved to crush the French. “It was the hour of humiliation for the French. Colonial rule had been predicated on the myth of the Europeans’ cultural superiority and military might, now Vietnamese everywhere saw how quickly the French could be brought down from their lofty perch.” “In government offices, French employees continued to show up for work, but they were now under Japanese control.” “Suddenly, the French no longer looked so mighty to the Vietnamese.”
The famine and the poor handling of it by the Japanese was used as an opportunity by Ho Chi Minh. Writes Elliott, “[t]he only group that was opposing the Japanese and dealing seriously with the famine was the Viet Minh, short for League for the Independence of Vietnam.” Ho was very good at predicting history and anticipated the power vacuum that would be created after Japan’s loss, something he predicted following D-Day.
“On August 8, Japan surrendered. Upon hearing the news, the Viet minh immediately issued an order to the people to rise up and seize power. General vo Nguyen Giap, then a trusted lieutenant of Ho Chi Minh, led a detachment of the Viet Minh army toward Hanoi. Peasants in Tonkin and northern Annam took over their villages under Viet Minh leadership. In the urban areas, with the power vacuum created by the Japanese surrender, euphoric cries and demonstrations erupted spontaneously in every city, as if a dam had broken. The Viet Minh moved quickly to harness this emotion.” (16)
On August 30 Ho gained further support as Emperor Bao Dai abdicated, saying “he was happier becoming a citizen of a free country than he had been as the king of an enslaved nation.” Following the August Revolution the Viet Minh had unlimited power and worked to indoctrinate the masses. Full power for the Viet Minh rapidly came to an end, however, as Chinese forces occupied Hanoi by September 9. The next three months saw Ho “carry out a precarious balancing act” in which he convinced the Chinese to particpate in a coalition government with the Viet Minh instead of fully occupying the country. Ho pushed for elections in December 1945 to be a show of good faith to opposing political factions. The rigged elections gave Ho 99.9% of the vote and confirmed the Viet Minh’s dominance. By the summer of 1946, the Chinese left Hanoi facing difficuly domestic issues and scared by the prospect of having to fight the French, who had already recapture South Vietnam and were wagin guerilla war with the Viet Minh in the southern regions already.
Ho Chi Minh, still not in a powerful enough position to commit to all out war, saw French ships leave for Hanoi as soon as the Chinese pulled out. “Ho Chi Minh realized that he was too weak to stop the French from coming back and that his best option was to negotiate. On March 6, 1946, he signed an agreement accepting the return of the French to relieve the departing Chinese, with the understanding that all French troops would leave Vietnam at the end of five years.” Of course, violations of the March 6 agreement occurred right after their introduction and the path was set for a prolonged war that would not conclude until Dienbienphu in 1954.
“The Third Month in the Year of the Famine” shows how Vietnam fell under control of four different governments in a short span of time beginning with the end of World War II. The Viet Minh worked to take control from the Japanese, the Chinese and the French. The Viet Minh used the image of Vietnam as a country under attack from foreign influence to gain the support of the masses and following World War II there were plenty of examples. The United States would become another example as their influence became more noticeable following the Geneva Accords of 1954.
Robert J. McMahon, Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War, Chapter 4.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Appeals for British Help, 1954
Eisenhower tells Winston Churchill he doubts the French will be unable to hold Indochina by themselves, and that it is essential for the strategic interest of both the US and Britain that Southeast Asia remain out of Communist hands. With Geneva less than four weeks away and France tired of the war, he fears the Communists driving a wedge between them, and does not think negotiations will be fruitful. Eisenhower proposes forming an ad hoc coalition of nations to provide France with military aid, in part to show China it is not in their interest to support the Viet Minh.
Eisenhower Explains Domino Theory, 1954
Eisenhower explains domino theory to the press, suggesting that if Indochina falls under Communist rule, the rest of Southeast Asia will subsequently fall, putting millions under dictatorship and threatening Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the rest of the free world.
Vo Nguyen Giap on Dienbienphu (1954), 1964
These were the greatest victories won by their people at the time, marking “a momentous change in the evolution of the Resistance War for national salvation put up by our people against the aggressive French imperialists propped up by U.S. interventionists.” The victory, inspiring the rest of the world, was regarded by other socialist peoples as their own victory. Without Dienbienphu, peace could not have happened at the Geneva Conference. The imperialists lost, despite massive spending and manpower, because it was an unjust war of aggression against a people of indomitable spirit.
Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference on Indochina, 1954
End of hostilities in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
Vietnam will have open, democratic elections in July 1956.
Prohibition of introduction into Vietnam of foreign military personnel an all arms and ammunition.
Demarcation line in Vietnam is temporary to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, not to be regarded as a permanent or territorial border.
Free movement of peoples in Vietnam.
No reprisals for past collaborations on either side in Vietnam.
French are withdrawing from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
National Security Council Discussion of Sect Crisis, 1955
Dulles explains that fighting had broken out in Saigon. Diem ordered all-out action against the Binh Xuyen. Dulles is not afraid of Diem losing the showdown with the gangster group—he wouldn’t—but of the civil unrest that would precipitate if he won. They speak of Diem’s strengths but highlight his weaknesses as a northerner and one who does not trust people or delegate power; he mentions they would consider an alternative to Diem. Any other government would probably include the Boa Dai, which would not be favorable.
General Collins names the factors on which the future of a free Vietnam would depend:
Possibility of overt attack by Vietminh (little danger at present)
Loyalty of Vietnamese National Army to Diem
The problem of Sects
The attitude of the French.
The personality of Diem
South Vietnamese Statement on Reunification, 1955
The government does not consider itself bound in any respect by the Geneva Agreement which it did not sign, and places national interest above all. The Vietminh are pushing for elections, but this is Communist propaganda cloaked as championing territorial unity. The south will press for the freedom of all of Vietnam from totalitarianism.
Elbridge Durbrow Assesses the Diem Regime, 1957
Diem was pro-West and anti-communist and brought relative stability and security to S. Vietnam for the first two years. In the last year, however, “Diem has avoided making decisions required to build the economic and social foundations necessary to secure Viet Nam’s future independence and strength.” He is suspicious and authoritarian, and much of the population is discontented. We need to bring strong pressure on Diem to reform and move his country forward.
National Security Council Discussion of Diem’s Growing Problems, 1960
Diem had been faced with increasing insurgency, and his own ranks had been crumbling, and people were openly critical at all levels. He in out of touch with his people, and leaves all administration to his brothers. President asks if the situation might be improved if he wrote Diem a letter, and thinks the U.S. should do everything possible at that point to prevent the deterioration of South Vietnam.
The Tragedy of U.S. Intervention by David L. Anderson
“He contends that while Eisenhower may deserve high marks for choosing not to rescue the beleaguered French garrison at Dienbienphu, his administration’s subsequent commitment to Diem regime represented a massive intervention in Vietnamese affairs. Anderson says that the Eisenhower administration’s generous economic, military, and political support for the Saigon government that it helped to establish never proved sufficient to create a viable nation. Instead, the United States became tied to a corrupt, inefficient, and unrepresentative regime in South Vietnam that never commanded popular support. In the process, it sowed the seeds for future troubles.
The Failure of Vietnamization by Ronald H. Spector
“Analyzes the shortcomings of the first American military advisory mission in Vietnam. Depicts the growth of the Vietcong insurgency in the late 9150s as an ominous threat to the South Vietnamese regime, on that American military advisers had not adequately prepared South Vietnam’s armed forces to meet.”
America’s Lost War: Vietnam 1945-1975
Chapter 1: The First Indochina War 1945-1954
Origins of the Revolution.
After the long struggle the French conquered Vietnam in 1883 and separated the country into three protectorates. Tonkin Annam in the North and the colony of Cochin China.
A small number Vietnamese elite prospered, but French policies impoverished the peasantry, driving them off land in order that they might provide cheap labor for rubber and rice plantations in the south and coal mine in the north.
The brutality of the French rule sparked rebellion and opened the door for Ho Chi Minh to become one of the great revolutionaries of the 20th century.
The Impact of WWII
The effects of WWII allowed Ho Chi Minh to be able to fight a revolution in Vietnam.
US OSS soldiers parachuted into the Viet Minh jungles and helped train Minh’s guerrilla units.
In 1945 Ho wrote a letter to President Harry Truman asking for recognition of Vietnam as a free and independent state.
British helped restore French power in the south while Ho retained power in the north. Ho tried to negotiate with the French but told an America reporter later that it would come to war. “it will be a war between and elephant and a tiger. If the tiger ever stands still the elephant will crush him with his mighty tusks. But the elephant does not stand still. He lurks in the jungle by day and emerges by night. He will leap upon the back of the elephant, tearing huge chunks from his hide, and then he will leap back into the dark jungle. And slowly the elephant will bleed to death. That will be the war of Indochina.”
In December 1946 fighting broke out between French and Viet Minh in Haiphong and soon spread to Hanoi
Harry Truman, had little interest in what seemed to him an obscure part of the world in April 1945
The US also feared that Ho and his followers were politically immature and susceptible to outside manipulation. They viwed Ho and his comrades as part of a monolithic communist conspiracy.
The US did not really know what to do at this time; they despised the French’s colonial rule but at the same time did not want to help give power to Ho who had direct communist connections.
The Expansion of the Cold War
In 1950 both China and the Soviet Union recognized the Ho and his northern DRV
The US became concerned that if Vietnam fell to communism it would create a domino affect that would take all the entire island chain all the way through the pacific.
In response the US recognized Southern Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, all French puppet government, and began to support the French in their war against the North.
The Deepening Commitment
June 25, 1950 confirmed the US’ worst fear when N Korea invaded S Korea. Truman proclaimed “Korea is the Greece of the Far East” and they decided they had to become involved or lose credibility in the eyes of Stalin.
During this time America increased its military aid to the French dispatching more arms, ammunition, naval vessels, aircraft and armored vehicles.
In July 1950 a mission was called the Melby Missions was launched. John Melby traveled to Indochina to asses the French War effort.
Melby concluded that the interests of the French and the US were not only different but mutually exclusive. This did not shake the resolve of the American leaders to preserve their support of the French.
The Elephant and the Tiger
After many defeats the French, in December 1950, dispatched their best field general Jean de Lattre Tassingny, to rally the French forces and turn the tide of the war.
Time was at the hand of the Viet Minh. The French needed a quick victory or the moral at home would be lost as more and more French soldiers died. For the viet minh a slow protracted war would be beneficial. As Ho said, you may kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours but victory will still be ours.
Also the Terrain was very difficult for a western army which is not used to moving in these conditions of swamps and hills. The terrain gave an advantage to guerrilla forces.
Seeing no end to the War insight the American’s urged the French to take a more aggressive military stance. They also told the French to give more recognition to the government of Bao Dai’s and get the Vietnamese people to rally around that form of government for it was the only way to diminish the power of the communist north.
The French did not agree and asked instead for more aid from the American’s. By 1953 the US was paying for more than 40 percent of the war.
The French asked for American ground troops but the US would not agree at this time. However they did not want to the French to pull our so they increased more aid.
Eisenhower Takes Charge
They did not want to see the war in Vietnam end the same was as the Korean war with an negotiated settlement.
IKE urged the French to continue their war
At this time the French were in trouble with their armies confined to the densely populated Red River Delta in the north and entrenched in cities in central and southern Vietnam.
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu
On March 13, 1954 Giap(general of the Viet Minh) launched an attack against the French stronghold in Dien Bien Phu. They out gunned the French and their artillery was located so as to be impervious to air strikes.
They did not think that Giap would use tunnels to get closer to the base and maintain a high ground stronghold that would allow they to cut off air support to for French to evacuate their wounded and re-supply. The French also underestimated Giap’s ability to move large numbers of troops into position. The French fatally miscalculated.
On may 7, 1954 the French surrender at Dien Bien Phu and the French suffered a huge military and psychological defeat.
The US would still not commit troops or even conduct air strikes unless the French would meet many American terms. One major term was to allow the US to take control of the War but the French could not pull out and also the French had to give all power to the Democratic Southern Vietnam after the war which at the time they were still not ready to do
Furthermore the Administration found difficulty with Congress in trying to send troops to save the French so this never happened.
The Geneva Settlement: The Emergence of Two Vietnams
April 26, two weeks before the fall of Dien Bien Phu, a big conference convened at Geneva to seek a more permanent settlement of the Korean War and a settlement of the war in Indochina.
The Soviets and Chinese urged the Viet Minh to make concessions so that the American’s would not become involved militarily. Reluctantly the Viet Minh agreed to military disengagement and the formation of two Vietnams along the 17th parallel.
The division was to be only temporary for the accord stated that in two years their would be a country wide election for a president of a unified Vietnam. The accord stated that there would be no military involvement froma third party and that neither the north or south would be allowed to make a military alliance with a third outside nation.
This resulted in nothing more than a cease fire, not a permanent resolution. The only part of the document signed was the cease fire signed between the French and the Viet Minh.
There was still a powerful need in the heart and mind of Ho to form a unified Vietnam not to Vietnams. After the convention in the mind of Ho and the Viet Minh the US became the new enemy to the Vietnamese.
Chapter 2: The Emergence of South Vietnam, 1954-1961
The Rise of Ngo Dinh Diem
Diem was a 53 year French educated catholic frfom central Vietnam. He served in 1933 as Boa Dai’s minister of the interior but soon resigned because the French refused to give him more authority.
The South at this time was leaderless. The Binh Xuyen (organized crime syndicate) ran a large prostitution and gambling ring and controlled the police force. And religious groups, the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao controlled the outlying peasant regions along with Southern sects of the Viet Minh.
CIA operative Edward Lansdale was given the daunting task of helping and advising Diem on how to consolidate his power. However Diem, not having lived in Vietnam, during the initial Vietnam revolutionary period was displaced and didn’t understand what lied at the hearts of the Vietnamese like Ho in the North did.
The US and Ngo Dinh Diem
On Sep. 8, 1954 the US along with Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand signed the accords creating the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization which was a loose regional alliance that did not require an automatic response from all its member should one of them come under attack.
During this time the US took over the previously help position of the French. They helped 800,000 thousand catholic refugees relocated from the north to south Vietnam. They helped train the southern Vietnamese army and helped Diem gain power.
The relocated Catholics became Diem’s most loyal supporters.
In 1954 General J. Laughton Collins went to Saigon to evaluate Diem. He cabled Washington and told them that Diem was hopeless and convinced them to replace them. However before that oculd be done bloody fighting broke out between Diem and the different sects, the Binh Xuyen, Cao Dai, and the Hoa Hao, in the South. Diem’s army won the battle and quelled any doubt back in Washington about his ability to rule.
Consolidation of Diem’s Rule
Diem did not allow for the possibility of elections to reunify Vietnam as the Geneva Accords called for and in October 1955 called for a referendum on the Monarchy. By an overwhelming 98 percent he won and Boa Dai was disposed and Diem became the President of the Republic of Vietnam. While based on democratic values Diem’s regime was more like an authoritarian regime run by him and his brother Ngo Diem Nhu
In the summer of 55 Diem began the Denunciation of Comminists Campaign aimed at systemic repression of remnants of the Viet Minh and other individuals and groups that opposed his regime. (Check No Other Road To Take by Nguyen Dinh)
Progress in South Vietnam
Most of the American money found its way to the Southern military. Little was spent on economic development or on long term projects that might have created a self sustaining economy. In reality SV was a heavily subsidized US protectorate, with the form but not the substance of a nation.
With the help of General Samuel T. Williams the ARVN was transformed into a large seven-division army of 150,000 men. However, Diem was more concerned about protecting himself as President that promotions in his army were given to his friends and people he trusted rather than people who were best for the job.
In 57 and 58 discontent with Diem’s rule began to emerge. Many feared and resented the president’s repressive measures. The remnants of the Viet Minh began to organize the peasantry, assinate officials and ambush ARVN patrolling units. The South Vietnamese government labeled these groups the Viet Cong which was meant to be a derogatory term but ended up sticking for the remainder of the war.
There was a difference between Diem and the US however that would cause a problel. The US wanted Diem to form a capatilistic and democratic government but Diem and his brother did not trust capitalism and rejected Western models of development. They were more concerned with protecting their own power, which meant a more authoritarian government. Diem and Nhu knew they needed American support but were afraid of becoming too dependent on them and giving them to much power over them.
January 26, 1960 at the town of Trang Sup, VC troops attacked the headquarters of the ARVN’s 32nd regiment killing or wounding 66 South Vietnamese troops. Diem and his American advisors were surprised by the size of the attack. General Williams lectured Diem that he needs to begin to recognize the chain of command and top favoritism in his army or more debacles such as what happened at the 32nd regiment will continue to happen.
Nov. 11, 1960 a group of elite paratroopers attempted a rebellion on Diem and his family at the presidential palace in order to force reforms on Diem. Diem had been saved by other ARVN forces that he called in but the coup attempt displayed the weakness of his government.
A New War
In the late 1950’s the National liberation Front spread rapidly, gaining supporters in both the urban and rural areas. The members of this group despised the oppression and corruption of Diem’s rule as well as his dependence on the US. In contrast they found Ho’s leadership genuine and found him to be a charismatic figure worth following.
The strongest NLF support was among the peasantry who lived in the Mekong river delta. They were referred to by one communist organizer as “a mound of straw, ready to be ignited.”
NLF organizers used the discontent of the peasants to stage murders of local officials and intimidations of local officials.
The NLF had to transform the peasantry into hardened soldiers.
However, by the end of 1960 the escalation of violence by the Viet Cong composed of peasantry showed that a new war had begun inn Vietnam.
ôThe Truman Doctrineö (address to Congress, March 12, 1947)
- Pertains to Greece and Turkey
- Greece asked US for economic aid
- Describes poverty in Greece (result of German destruction until 1940)
- States that both Britain and US have been providing financial aid to Greece, but that the country needs more help and that Britain can no longer support it
- Goes on to say that Turkey also needs US and British aid (which it had already been receiving); also claims that such aid is key in the ôpreservation of order in the Middle Eastö
- Applies domino theory (though not outright stating it) to Middle East, esp. Greece and Turkey
- Asks Congress for $400,000,000 to aid Greece and Turkey. States that US spent $341,000,000,000 on WWII, and that money he is asking for from Congress would be just as well spent (and is a significantly smaller figure than that spent on WWII)
- Argues that providing these two countries with material aid and training personnel to set up viable democracies is crucial to preventing the spread of communism and widening the sphere of democracy in the world
NSC 68, parts I (Background à) through IV (The Underlying Conflict à),
- Describes the two world wars and power vacuum resulting
- Power transferred to US and USSR (after defeat of Germany, Japan; ôdecline of British and French Empiresö)
- New nuclear threat; threat of rise of communism
II. Fundamental Purpose of US
- Quotes US Constitution and Declaration of Independence, emphasizing importance of liberty of the individual and democracy
III. Fundamental Designs of the Kremlin
- Elucidates USSRÆs hope to spread communism, especially in Asia
- Suggests that if the USSR were to achieve its goals, US would be seriously threatened as a world power and US principles (freedom, democracy) would be seriously challenged worldwide
IV. Underlying Conflict (US v. USSR)
A. Nature of Conflict
- Emphasizes difference in ôvalue systemö bt/w US and USSR
- Reiterates nuclear threat
- ôMake ourselves strong,ö create ôpolitical and economic system in the free world,ö bring about change in USSR
ôCompulsion is the negation of freedom, except when it is used to enforce the rights common to all.ö Therefore, war = ôlast resortö
- Resolution to spread and teach democracy by example, use war only if necessary
George C. Herring and Richard Immerman, ôEisenhower, Dulles, and
Dienbienphu: æThe day We DidnÆt Go to WarÆ Revisited,ö Journal of American
History, vol. 71 (1984), pp. 343-363: HOLLIS e-journals.
- Discusses US role at Dien Bien Phu (1954)
- Eisenhower originally agreed to air stike to aid France, then changed mind
tried to form coalition opposing communism, but Britain did not join
- At secret meeting, Congress agreed to aid French only if Britain helped
- Secretary of State Dulles and Chairman of JCS Radford agreed to air strike, even atomic strike, but then ôrenegedö
- Since 1950, US had helped France in Vietnam both militarily and economically;
however, argued that France should give up on colonial interests and solely oppose communism
- 1953, Navarre set up at Dien Bien Phu, surrounded by Viet Minh
- Fear of Chinese aid to Viet Minh
- French Chief of Staff Ely went to Washington, informed officials that there was 50-50 chance of success at DBP, requested American planes and volunteers
- Dulles agreed to help only if US had bigger role and if chances of victory were higher
- Radford (Asia-firster) and Ely make plan VULTURE (night air strikes on DBP)
- Radford had trouble getting presidential and congressional support; Dulles and Vice President Nixon hesitant
- Eisenhower and Dulles formed ôUnited Actionö (coalition opposing communism composed of US, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Associated States of Indochina); had a hard time getting congressional support
- Could anger right wing Republicans and Democrats by losing more land to communists, but also ran risk of starting ôanother Koreaö
- Eisenhower and Dulles appealed to Congress for permission to use sea and air force
- Dulles traveled to get support from Britain
- Nixon mistakenly declared in public that US would send men to Vietnam
- Britain (Foreign Secretary Eden, Prime Minister Churchill) refuse to help US.
- Argues against the claim that US did not support France at DBP because it did not have BritainÆs support (according to Washington PostÆs Chalmers Roberts)
- Suggests that US decision to intervene was due in large part to difference in approach to Vietnam between France and US
- Suggests that Eisenhower was not fully committed to providing aid to French, but United Action suggests that he was willing to consider it
Edwin W. Moise, Land Reform and Land Reform Errors in North Vietnam, Pacific Affairs, v. 49 (1976), pp. 70-92. Week 5.
Edwin Moise is able to give positive account of the land reform process in North Vietnam due to its success relative to similar periods in other newly communist countries. Moise characterizes the reform period as both a social revolution and a national revolution, but states, “Economically, the land reform had succeeded” (85). He points out that although excesses on the part of the cadres and the cot can became unreasonably harsh, the real Party policies were fair and merely misapplied. Although there were many executions, if there had truly been a bloodbath in the North, the South would have heard about it much earlier. Moise also points out that when the Party realized things were getting out of hand, they fairly rectified the situation, reclassified those who had been unfairly labeled “landlord”, and reconciled the bases of Party support.
On the surface it was a program to abolish landlordism and place the land in the hands of peasant smallholders. Considered simply in this light, the land reform was quite successful.
The laws governing land reform tended to become more moderate from one wave to the next, but their actual implementation became more radical, and “leftist” excesses were most widespread during waves four and five.
The landlords were left with less land than anyone else in the village, and were often deprived of their homes.
New people, especially the poor peasant cot can (backbone elements) trained during the land reform, were given many important party positions.
Land reform lasted roughly from December 1953 to July 1956.
If there had been a bloodbath, Saigon would have known about it, for during the first half of the land reform, the DRV had been allowing large numbers of refugees to go to the South.
Most of North Vietnam did not undergo land reform until wave five, and by that time the land reform had become more radical.
It seems reasonable to estimate that the total number of people executed during the land reform was probably in the vicinity of 5,000, and almost certainly between 3,000 and 15,000, and that the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent victims, often described in anti-Communist propaganda, never took place.
The land reform did commit serious excesses of other types.
Poor peasants who refused to treat people as enemies were likely to get attacked themselves.
The poor peasants (about half the rural population) formed only 3.7 percent of the Party membership.
The land reform cadres chose cot can, who were supposed to replace the people who had been purged, mostly from among poor peasants and agricultural laborers who had not been leaders in the resistance. The cadres were working against a tight schedule, and had to train the cot can rather hastily.
Many people were denounced for things they had never done.
[These errors] occurred at least to some extent in most villages, and were really serious in many.
The great majority of those unjustly attacked lived through the experience.
The government and the Party recognized their mistakes quickly, admitted them in public, and corrected them to the extent possible.
In late 1956 and 1957, over 50 percent of those who had been classified as landlords were reclassified.
Economically, the land reform had succeeded. It had given land to those peasants who had lacked it.
The land reform was accomplished without disrupting the postwar reconstruction of the North Vietnamese economy.
Intellectual Dissent: The Nhan Van Giai Pham Period from Kim N.B. Ninh, A World Transformed: The Politics of Culture in Revolutionary Vietnam, 1945-1975. (Michigan, 2002), pp. 121-163. Week 5.
Kim N.B. Ninh, on the other hand, is able to give such a negative account of the land reform process in North Vietnam because she is concerned with changes in the intellectual climate of the period. Ninh claims that although there were supposedly instances of rectification of error by the Party, the “culture of land reform” was one of totalitarian, unchecked power by Party authorities over policies implemented for the sake of “reform”. By focusing on the lack of cultural and intellectual freedoms, Ninh presents a country where, “Barely two years after the establishment of a new socialist state, virtually every aspect of daily life was under its control” (144). In addition to the loss of life, North Vietnam became a world where everything centered on furthering the government’s political notions.
The twin processes of land reform and organizational rectification wreaked havoc not only on old structures in the village but on the Party apparatus.
[There was an] inherent conflict between the government’s vision and the intellectual’s expectations of the new state and society.
Thac mac: the world of subterfuge-speak, misgivings or discomfort without specifying the source of concern, indirect expression of opinion indicating the oppressive nature of state power.
Lap truong: any official line requiring support.
Each village in northern Vietnam during this phase of land reform became a war zone. Private space was violently invaded and severely restricted.
One can sense the helplessness of the individual against the all-encompassing march of state policy.
The absolute power that a land reform team, particularly the team leader, possessed led to violence and opportunism.
The “east-big” (an to) idea accused any intellectual unable to respond to the demand for propaganda works of condescending to the masses.
Many intellectuals had joined the army as a symbol of their solidarity. Control over its intellectuals was rigid.
Among those who voiced their disappointment, Tran Dan was one of the most vehement.
As the range of intellectual topics had been increasingly curtailed, the works themselves became one-dimensional propaganda pieces for government campaigns and policies. All vestiges of individuality disappeared.
By the end of 1955, the intellectual community was swirling with discontent.
In August 1956, there was a review of the Party’s position on the relationship between politics and art and an examination of the way in which the intellectual structure had been controlled.
Nhan Van and Giai Pham became the dominant forums in which a substantial number of intellectuals came together to present their views, which often differed from those of the state-sanctioned frame of reference.
The culture of land reform, once established, had become institutionalized despite the rectification of errors. Governance by decrees and policies without an established legal system, the excessive concentration of power, the single-minded interpretation of society through a class agenda, etc.
Vietnamese intellectuals were pulled into a confrontation from which there could emerge only one winner, the Party. The zeal to move rapidly toward socialism and the intense effort to maintain vigilance against the enemy generated an environment in which politics riled supreme.