AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 487

[ Southeast Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 487: International Dimensions of the Vietnamese Crisis, 1945-1975

Organizer: Pierre Asselin, Hawaii Pacific University, USA

Discussant: Edward G. Miller, Dartmouth College, USA

The proliferation of new archival evidence from Vietnam and elsewhere has allowed scholars to achieve a better understanding of issues that have long perplexed students of the Vietnamese crisis. Focusing on key diplomatic aspects of the crisis, this panel considers some of this evidence and introduces fresh and/or revisionist interpretations on a wide range of topics. As it explores the relationships between various state and non-state actors, both Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese, it explains how those actors used diplomacy to gain from or otherwise cope with the crisis. The panel also underscores the centrality of Vietnam in the broader context of the Cold War. As the panelists demonstrate, events in that country reverberated well beyond the Indochinese peninsula, conditioning as they did the foreign policy of great powers (France, the United States, the Soviet Union, China) and other states (“Third World” countries in particular) to a degree “standard” accounts of the crisis have generally ignored or underestimated. Their papers explore how the agendas of these actors intersected and interacted.

Phat Diem: Neutralism, Diplomacy and Identity in the First Indochina War
Ronald Spector, George Washington University, USA

The First Indochina War is usually viewed as a struggle between the French, later supported by the U.S., and the Vietminh, later supported by the PRC. However, it is now becoming clear that the conflict also – and perhaps more importantly – had many of the aspects of civil war with the colonial/anti-colonial struggle super-imposed over a number of personal and family rivalries and regional, religious as well as ethnic conflicts. This paper explores the role of the Catholic-dominated region of Phat Diem in the war and its uneasy diplomatic and political negotiations with the French and the communists. The story of wartime Phat Diem provides a microcosm of these cross-currents of regionalism, religion, nationalism, and personal ambition.

Hanoi's International Strategy: Small Power Diplomacy in the Cold War
Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, University of Kentucky, USA

During the Second Indochina War, the Vietnam Workers’ Party (VWP) conducted a multi-faceted diplomatic campaign in conjunction with their political and military struggles against the United States and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).  After 1968, Hanoi’s diplomatic struggle gained urgency with the initiation of peace negotiations at Paris.  Using recently-declassified archival materials from Vietnam, this paper analyzes not only Hanoi's negotiating strategy of “dam va danh,” it also explores Hanoi’s fragile balancing act between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with the onset of the U.S. triangular offensive under the Nixon administration.  This paper argues that the main architects of Hanoi’s strategy during the “Anti-American struggle for national salvation,” namely Le Duan and Le Duc Tho, never intended to “negotiate seriously,” but instead sought to win the war through militarily defeating the RVN and warding off “big power betrayal.”

France and the American POW Issue during the Vietnam War
Pierre Journoud, University of Minnesota, France

Historians often reduce General de Gaulle’s position on the Vietnamese conflict to his public and often virulent criticism of the escalation and Americanization of the war, symbolized by his celebrated Phnom Penh speech of 1966. Many forget his numerous efforts (both public and secret), first to speak with all the parties involved in the Vietnam War, including big and small communist powers, and then to bring those parties together around the negotiating table. This paper explores an even lesser-known yet important chapter in the history of France’s involvement in the Vietnam War: the efforts – both official and private – by Paris to indentify US civilian hostages and POWs in North and South Vietnam, to improve the conditions of their captivity, and to provide information about them to their families. Interestingly, as Paris thus helped Washington, it allowed a number of former POWs turned antiwar activists to participate in the French movement against the Vietnam War. Contradictory as they were, these two positions were in fact part of a single policy demonstrating France’s desire to act as a useful intermediary in the war between the United States and Vietnam, to reconcile parties and individuals it had contributed to separate, and to reconcile with itself.

Maneuvering Between the Battling Whales: North Korea and the Vietnam War, 1964-1975
Balazs Szalontai, East China Normal University, Hungary

In recent times, the role that South Korea played in the Vietnam War has received increasing attention from scholars. In contrast, studies on Hanoi’s Communist allies have hardly covered a highly active participant of the conflict: North Korea. Among North Korea specialists, Pyongyang’s confrontative acts in 1967-1968, including the seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo, were often regarded as attempts to help the DRV by obstructing the deployment of South Korean troops to Vietnam and distracting American attention from the Tet Offensive. In reality, North Korea’s motives were far less altruistic. Anxious to take advantage of Washington’s preoccupation with the Vietnam War, Pyongyang sought to prolong the conflict, partly by urging Hanoi to prefer armed struggle to negotiations and partly by enthusiastically supporting Sihanouk’s exile government. This standpoint created a basis for Sino-DPRK cooperation but caused increasing tension in DPRK-DRV relations. By 1973, the VWP leaders, who in 1966-1967 had regarded Pyongyang as one of their most reliable allies, became sharply critical of North Korea’s foreign and domestic policies, whereas the DPRK reacted to the Paris Agreements with “frosty silence,” rather than enthusiasm.

Restoring the North Vietnamese "People" to the History of the War
Harish C. Mehta, Trent University, India

This paper investigates how the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, or North Vietnam), under the leadership of President Ho Chi Minh, created a "diplomatic front" to implement "people's diplomacy." The main focus is on the period from 1965-1972 when the DRV needed these strategies to win worldwide support and sympathy for the Vietnamese Revolution. The diplomatic front consisted of Vietnamese writers, cartoonists, workers, women, students, artistic performers, filmmakers, architects, medical doctors and nurses, academics, lawyers, and sportspersons. Research in Vietnamese, American, and Canadian archives reveals that the front forged important links with peace activists abroad, thus lending greater credibility to their efforts to portray North Vietnam in a positive light. This paper enhances scholarly understanding of the Vietnam War by examining people's diplomacy, a topic that has been neglected in Western accounts of the war. People's diplomacy deserves recognition as a powerful force that played a significant part in forcing the United States to withdraw its forces and end the war in Vietnam. Through people's diplomacy the embattled people of North Vietnam, in conjunction with the peace movement abroad, brought popular pressure on President Johnson to end the war.