2/16/09 - america's initial position on vietnam

In today's excerpt - France, essentially bankrupt in the aftermath of World War II, had lost its colony of Vietnam (Indochina) during the war and wanted that colony back. But it with no military strength of its own it needed the U.S.'s support and approval to reconquer Vietnam:

"Franklin Roosevelt had been especially opposed to the return of Indochina to French rule after the war. He had made a point of opposing colonialism in the Atlantic Charter and hoped to replace the colonial regimes in Southeast Asia with international trusteeships. On January 24, 1944, he told Secretary of State Cordell Hull that he did not think Indochina should go back to France. 'France has had that country—thirty million inhabitants for nearly one hundred years' he said 'and the people are worse off than they were at the beginning.' ...

"[Yet when] Truman came to office, French sovereignty over Indochina was recognized. But in 1945 the United States made it clear to the French foreign minister, Georges Bidault, that Washington was not happy with French colonial practices. Self-government looking toward 'eventual independence' was the favored American outcome. ... The State Department's Office of Far Eastern Affairs strongly argued that Washington should support Asian nationalism and oppose French colonialism—a continuation of Roosevelt's policy. But the Office of European Affairs cautioned policymakers to pay attention to France's central role in European affairs; ... this meant taking care not to alienate French policymakers or put too much pressure on the French government. ...

"With the outbreak of fighting in the north between the Viet Minh [Vietnamese nationalists] and the French troops in late 1946 [Undersecretary of State Dean] Acheson called in French ambassador Henri Bonnet that December. He told Bonnet that Washington would be prepared to use its good offices to facilitate a settlement in Indochina. He also urged the ambassador to tell the Foreign Ministry that any attempt by the French to reconquer the country through military force would be wrongheaded. ...

"Early in February, Acheson and Secretary of State [George] Marshall instructed their ambassador in Paris, Jefferson Caffery, to remind the [French] that colonial empires 'are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.' On the other hand, Caffery was informed that 'we do not lose sight [of the] fact that Ho Chi Minh has direct Communist connections and it should be obvious that we are not interested in seeing colonial empire administrations supplanted by philosophical and political organizations emanating and controlled by [the] Kremlin. Frankly, we have no solution of [the] problem to suggest,' Acheson admitted. The United States, in short, was determined to remain outside the conflict. ...

"[However France believed that] granting full independence to Vietnam would set a precedent for France's negotiations with its other colonies, especially Tunisia and Morocco. French public opinion would oppose the collapse of their empire in such a short time, and therefore the government would fall, endangering the other policies that France was carrying out [in accordance with U.S. desires] in regard to German sovereignty and European unity."


James Chace


Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 1998 by James Chace


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