The End of the First Indochina War: A Global History

The End of the First Indochina War: A Global History

The End of the First Indochina War: A Global History

The End of the First Indochina War: A Global History


The French withdrawal from Vietnam in 1954 was the product of global pressures and triggered significant global consequences. By treating the war as an international issue, this book places Indochina at the center of the Cold War in the mid-1950s. Arguing that the Indochina War cannot be understood as a topic of Franco-US relations, but ought to be treated as international history, this volume brings in Vietnamese and other global agents, including New Zealand, Australia, and especially Britain, as well as China and the Soviet Union. Importantly, the book also argues that the successful French withdrawal from Vietnam - a political defeat for the Eisenhower administration - helped to avert outright warfare between the major powers, although with very mixed results for the inhabitants of Vietnam who faced partition and further bloodshed.

The End of the First Indochina War explores the complexities of intra-alliance competition over global strategy - especially between the United States and British Commonwealth - arguing that these rivalries are as important to understanding the Cold War as east-west confrontation. This is the first truly global interpretation of the French defeat in 1954, based on the author's research in five western countries and the latest scholarship from historians of Vietnam, China, and Russia. Readers will find much that is new both in terms of archival revelations and original interpretations.


The Geneva Accords of 1954 failed to establish an enduring peace in Indochina. Less than a decade after the agreements’ failure, American military personnel were fighting alongside their allies in South Vietnam and in the skies above North Vietnam. By the fall of 1966 it had become obvious to many that the US government had trapped its armed forces in a costly and intractable war in Vietnam. From retirement, former British Prime Minister Anthony Eden consoled ex-Secretary of State Dean Acheson: “I loathe the idea of the best of your young people being bogged down in that merciless morass in a growing cost in limb and life.” Eden also saw no easy way out for the United States: “… it is not possible just to decamp … yet the free world must suff er if the greater part of even your massive power is sucked into that quagmire.” The answer, Eden argued, lay in the rejuvenation of an older diplomatic solution, the Geneva Accords, which had enabled the French Expeditionary Corps to exit the First Indochina War in 1954 and established Vietnam’s independence. A compromise, principally between China and the United States, could once again end the fighting, Eden suggested. If only Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam could be “neutralized”— ruled off -limits to Cold War competition—tensions in Southeast Asia could be reduced for the benefit of all sides.

Eden reached back in time for an alternative international solution, which had made Vietnam everybody’s business. The Geneva agreements established that for Indochina and the international community as a whole in 1954, peace was preferable to war. Beginning in 1964, the French, Indian, and Canadian governments once again weighed in with support for a new Geneva Conference. In 1964, French President Charles de Gaulle spoke forcefully for a comprehensive regional peace conference but also reveled in his role as anti-American gadfly. More constructively, in 1965 Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson urged a bombing pause and negotiations. By 1966, Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR) also endorsed this avenue toward de-escalation.

Other US observers looked upon Geneva and its legacy with distaste. General Maxwell D. Taylor, former US Ambassador to South Vietnam, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee described the . . .

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