Vietnam and the U.S., 1954 to 1968

Draft Chapter of The U.S. War Against Asia
by William P. Meyers

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Vietnam, as shown in the Chapter “Vietnam until the French Withdrawal,” suffered relatively little interference from the United States of America up until 1954. The United States, under the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, did support French colonial rule over Vietnam immediately after World War II. Yet there was ambivalence in this support. The unwillingness of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to commit the American military to direct intervention, combined with the weakness of the French military and the strength of Vietnamese nationalists, led to a French defeat by the Vietnamese.

Starting in 1955 the United States would be the dominant foreign power in Vietnam. This would be obvious only in retrospect. The French continued to play a major role for a time, but France’s position in the world was greatly diminished. The Cold War between the socialist nations led by Russia and the capitalist nations led by the United States deeply colored views of Vietnam in the United States. At that time socialism and Communism were formidable rivals of the capitalist states. The Soviet economy had been more damaged by World War II than that of the United States, but was less damaged than Germany’s. During the Great Depression the centrally planned economy of the Soviet Union had grown while America’s had shrunk. So on the whole centralized state planned economies seemed like a good bet for countries that could free themselves from their imperialist masters.

The Geneva accord of 1954 called for armed Vietminh to with draw from south of the Demilitarized Zone, at 17 degrees north latitude, and the French military from the north. It was agreed nationwide elections would be held in the summer of 1956.

Not mentioned in the prior chapter was Ngo Dinh Diem [Ngo Dinh is the clan name, Diem the given name]. He was a Roman Catholic, his ancestors having converted in the 17th century. He was a nationalist, but was not attracted to the atheist, socialist program of the Vietminh. His father had been an advisor to Emperor Thanh Thai, but withdrew from public life when Thai was deposed by the French. In 1933 Diem had briefly been an advisor to Emperor Bao Dai, but broke with him because Bao Dai pursued a life of pleasure rather using his role of Emperor to work for independence [Karnow, 125, 215]. Later, when the Japanese granted the Vietnamese independence on March 10, 1945, they had at first wanted Diem to be Bao Dai’s prime minister, but changed their minds because he was not subservient enough. Soon after that his brother and nephew were killed by the Vietminh. Yet he had a long meeting with Ho Chi Minh in 1946, refusing during it to take position in the Vietminh government, or to cooperate with the Vietminh at all. Unable to obtain influence while the French re-colonized Vietnam, Diem then lived in the United States from 1950 until 1953. [Karnow, 215-217]

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