Replacing France: The Origins of American Intervention in Vietnam

Replacing France: The Origins of American Intervention in Vietnam

Replacing France: The Origins of American Intervention in Vietnam

Replacing France: The Origins of American Intervention in Vietnam

Synopsis

Using recently released archival materials from the United States and Europe, Replacing France: The Origins of American Intervention in Vietnam explains how and why the United States came to assume control as the dominant western power in Vietnam during the 1950s. Acting on their conviction that American methods had a better chance of building a stable, noncommunist South Vietnamese nation, Eisenhower administration officials systematically ejected French military, economic, political, bureaucratic, and cultural institutions from Vietnam. Kathryn C. Statler examines diplomatic maneuvers in Paris, Washington, London, and Saigon to detail how Western alliance members sought to transform South Vietnam into a modern, westernized, and democratic ally but ultimately failed to counter the Communist threat. Abetted by South Vietnamese prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem, Americans in Washington, D.C., and Saigon undermined their French counterparts at every turn, resulting in the disappearance of a French presence by the time Kennedy assumed office. Although the United States ultimately replaced France in South Vietnam, efforts to build South Vietnam into a nation failed. Instead, it became a dependent client state that was unable to withstand increasing Communist aggression from the North. Replacing France is a fundamental reassessment of the origins of U.S. involvement in Vietnam that explains how Franco-American conflict led the United States to pursue a unilateral and ultimately imperialist policy in Vietnam.

Excerpt

The story of American intervention in Vietnam begins with an alliance—the sometimes ambivalent, often contentious, and almost always misunderstood Franco-American alliance. Paris and Washington clashed repeatedly over how to respond to the dual threat of communism and nationalism in Vietnam when the forces of the Cold War and decolonization collided there during the 1950s. When a colonial power leaves a former colony, the new state usually grapples with growing pains on its own. in this case, the South Vietnamese were never given the chance as the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration systematically replaced French control in South Vietnam with American influence. Why and how the United States did so are the core questions of this book.

In answering these questions, a transnational perspective is critical. Throughout the 1950s, a significant cast of characters—including Paris, Washington, London, Saigon, Hanoi, Moscow, and Beijing—had a major impact on the denouement of events in Indochina. There is a world of difference between the 1950s, when the United States played the role of puppet just as often as that of puppeteer, and the 1960s, when U.S. policy was the most important of any country’s in determining the course of American intervention in Vietnam. in the earlier decade, a host of great and small powers vied to pull the strings; but by the end of Eisenhower’s presidency there was only one puppet master.

The story contained within these pages, featuring the Franco-American alliance as the main character, explains how—much to the consternation of the French—the United States emerged as that puppet master. the primary focus, therefore, rests on intra-alliance politics, among those who claimed to be on the same side. Decision making at the highest levels in Paris and Washington, and how these decisions played out domestically and abroad, receive the lion’s share of attention. Particular emphasis is placed on Franco-

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