Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Advisor

David D. Warren


Originally a struggle for independence from French colonial rule, the conflict in Viet-Nam and all Indochina developed into a crisis of the cold war between the communist and Western nations. When the Communist powers Russia and China began supplying the Viet Minh nationalist group and sponsoring it’s regime, the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam, the United States, in turn, began sponsoring and supplying the French sponsored Government of the State of Viet-Nam. The purpose of this thesis is to study United States policy toward Viet-Nam from 1954 to 1956 and to analyze the extent of United States involvement and influence in the conflict.

The most important primary source used in the study was volume II of American Foreign Policy, 1950-1955: Basic Documents published by the United States Department of State. The series Documents on American Foreign Relations for 1953 and 1954 provided many documents not found anywhere else. The volume for 1954 was the only available source containing the complete text of the "Agreements on the Cessation of Hostilities in Viet-Nam."

Of the secondary sources used, the series of volumes on the United States in World Affairs covering the years between 1945 to 1956 were most helpful in providing a comprehensive background for the thesis. Interesting viewpoints regarding the conflict in Viet-Nam were obtained from Joseph Starobin' s Eyewitness in Indochina which provided a sympathetic picture of the Viet Minh side of the conflict, and Roy Jumper's article The Communist Challenge to South Viet-Nam which gave a first hand analysis of the Western and South Vietmiese position. Brian Crozier's article The Diem Regime in Southern Vietnam" gave an excellent analysis of Ngo Dinh Diem's efforts to create a strong government.

Although the main concentration of the thesis was on the years 1954 to 1956, an introductory survey of events in Viet-Nam between 1945 and 1953 was provided to show the gradual increase of American interest in that area. It was found that the United States policy toward Viet-Nam between 1954 and 1956 could be divided into two phases. The initial policy, extending from early 1954 through the Geneva Conference in June-July of the same year, emphasized the possibility of armed intervention by the United States. It failed, however, because of the lack of support both at home and among American allies, and because it was based upon misinformation about the situation in Viet-Nam. At Geneva the United States took a strong position favoring the continued unity of Viet -Nam and the establishment of an International Commission composed of five Asian powers to supervise the cease-fire agreements. On both points the United States was defeated. As a result, the United States refused to sign the Final Declaration of the Conference, but it did agree not to disrupt the cease-fire agreements.

After Geneva, the United States revised its policies completely. The new goal was to establish a strong, democratic government in South Viet-Nam. A vast amount of economic and military aid was extended to achieve this goal. The hope was that a strong, democratic government in the south would point out the weaknesses of the Communist regime to the north and the people would vote in 1956 to unite under democracy. In the middle of 1955 the United States decided that the elections to reunite Viet-Nam should not be held since they would not be genuinely free. The elections were consequently not held and Viet-Nam remained a divided country.

It was concluded that United States policy failed initially because it was late in being formulated and because it was poorly planned. The second phase, on the other hand, was successful because it was constructive, based upon the facts of the situation, and because it began early enough so that it had time to be effective.



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