Chapter 5 excerpt
Vietnam: Reconstruction after communist revolution
Click to learn more about the 5 "P"s of nation-building.
This chapter analyzes the failures of American nation-building in Vietnam during the Cold War. Above all, American policies suffered from the absence of effective and legitimate PARTNERS.
Franklin Roosevelt was a war leader who valued flexibility and
elusiveness, often to a fault. His closest advisors could rarely
get him to take a firm position on divisive strategic issues, like
the opening of the Second Front against Hitler, postwar control of
Eastern Europe, and future cooperation with Stalinist Russia. Unlike
many of his successors in the White House, Roosevelt avoided the
temptation to articulate categorical positions on controversial issues
with no easy point of resolution.
On the future of Southeast Asia, however, the president departed
from this pattern. Although he had little personal knowledge or
interest in Indochina, Roosevelt committed the United States to
the postwar removal of French colonialism from the region. He
consistently pushed for "national independence" in what became
Vietnam, despite strong British urgings to the contrary.
Roosevelt warned Churchill that all inherited European empires in Asia were
sources of instability and violence, as they had been in the Western
Hemisphere a century earlier. They offended moral claims to
freedom, retarded economic development, and, most dangerous of
all, encouraged extremist politics—fascist and communist. These
were the lessons Roosevelt had learned from his observations of the
20th-century world. These were very American assumptions
about the evils of empire. Roosevelt was firm and consistent in his
Before the Second World War, Americans
were already accustomed
to dismantling what they perceived as
degenerate and inhumane
empires. These included the British North
of the late 18th century, the slave aristocracy of the
1860s, and the Spanish empire at the end of the 19th century.
In each of these cases, American had acted to destroy established
political power and replace it with a more open, representative, and
The United States substituted American-style
nation-building for inherited empire. Roosevelt perceived French Indochina
in precisely these terms. Paris was the degenerate colonizer
of Southeast Asia. The French Empire had contributed to violence,
poverty, and chaos, according to the president. Americans would replace
empire with nation-states for the sake of peace, stability, and
development in the region.
Roosevelt's hatred of French imperial rule influenced his war
strategy. Until early 1945 he resisted British suggestions to work
with French figures against Japanese forces in Southeast Asia. Instead,
the president favored collaboration with Chiang Kai-shek's
Nationalist (Guomindang) Chinese forces.
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Photos for North Vietnam and Corresponding Caption Numbers:
1966 Collection: 11
Congress Collection: 1, 2, and 4
Election Collection: 1, 5, and 7
Heroic Collection: 6
Khe San Collection: 6
Children Collection: 6, 7, 10, 13
Spring Collection: 4
Three Responsibilities: 6, 10