10/25/06 - the election never took place

In today's excerpt - American foreign policy has long placed the establishment of democracy as secondary to other policy issues. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. was stunned by the rapid succession of Communist successes after World War II: the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb, Eastern Europe fell under the Iron Curtain, China fell to Mao, Cuba to Castro and North Korea invaded South Korea. In this post-war climate of fear, the U.S. had acquiesced to the reimpositon of French colonial rule over Vietnam, but the fact that its wars had come from a desire to throw off its colonial masters and fill the resulting leadership void meant little—as did the fact that it was small and distant:

"Long before Japanese, French, and American interference in their affairs, the Vietnamese struggled for nearly 1,000 years to stave off China's unrelenting efforts to swallow up its neighbor to the south. In the process the Vietnamese developed a warrior culture and a tradition of fighting long wars against hopeless odds ... Motivated by religion, strategic impulses, and outright greed, the French, in part due to overwhelming technological superiority, were able to secure rule over Vietnam by the mid-nineteenth century ... As a result, a majority of the nation's sturdy peasants descended into landlessness and poverty ... a dangerous reservoir of discontent that would remain in place until the advent of true land reform. ...

"In 1944 [Franklin D. Roosevelt] commented that the [Vietnamese] people were worse off after 80 years of French occupation. After Roosevelt's death in 1945, such sentiments diminished notably, particularly as anti-communism came to overshadow other factors. Of most concern to the U.S. was Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh resistance to the French in Vietnam. Toward the end of World War II, the Americans had worked cooperatively with Ho against the Japanese and some American intelligence officials developed a favorable view of the Vietnamese leader. But Ho was a communist, and ... it became almost for the United States to cooperate with him, despite the American's acknowledgment that he was a popular leader. Instead, the Americans supported the French. ...

"French failure in Vietnam, epitomized by the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, resulted in the landmark political settlement of the Geneva Accords. In the agreement, Ho Chi Minh received control over Vietnam north of the 17th Parallel, while French forces regrouped in the South, prior to an election that was meant to reunify the country in 1956. The scheduled election never took place, partly due to the American decision to halt the advance of communism in the area. As a result, the 17th Parallel hardened into an international boundary, separating Communist North Vietnam from the American-backed regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam.

"As [Cambodian Prince Sihanouk] put it a few years later, 'The best way to create Communists is to bring Americans where there aren't any [Communists]. Americans attract Communists like sugar attracts ants.' "


Andrew Wiest, Ed.


Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land: The Vietnam Wat Revisited


Osprey Publishing Ltd


2006 Osprey Publishing Ltd


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