They said when I was growing up that America’s involvement in Vietnam began in the 1960s with Presidents FDR, Truman & Eisenhower sending advisors to Vietnam to help a democratic South defeat an aggressive communist North. After Kennedy’s assassination the US was ultimately dragged into war following the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964.
But the truth of America’s involvement is far more complex as Section V of the Pentagon Papers outlines below. US involvement dates back to FDR, Truman & Eisenhower. Actually the book cover obviously states realtions began in 1945 – before the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan.
American involvement and plans for a post World War II Asia extended back to the Presidency of FDR and then Harry Truman, noting negociations with the French regarding Indo-China before the end of World War II.
US involvement in Vietnam spans a full generation reaching back 30 years to an pre-war era of French Colonialism. I must admit: it is amazing to read communications between the OSS (precursor to the CIA) and the French Government discussing the role of a new French Indo-China following the coming Japanese defeat in World War II. Plans for a post-war “French Union” in Indo-China were being negotiated by the French as victors in the war with American support for their aims set against a backdrop of an emerging cold war with the Soviet Union and communist China. It would forever handicap our efforts fighting the Communist north. The Pentagon Papers document efforts by Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson in the following volumes:
[Part V. A.] Justification of the War. Public Statements.
Volume I: A–The Truman Administration
Volume I: B–The Eisenhower Administration
Volume I: C–The Kennedy Administration
Volume II: D–The Johnson Administration [Part V. B. 1.] Justification of the War. Internal Documents.
The Roosevelt Administration
The Truman Administration. Volume I: 1945 – 1949
The Truman Administration. Volume II: 1950 -1952
The Eisenhower Administration. Volume I: 1953
The Eisenhower Administration. Volume II: 1954 – Geneva
The Eisenhower Administration. Volume III: Geneva Accords – 15 March 1956
The Eisenhower Administration. Volume IV: 1956 French Withdrawal – 1960
The Kennedy Administration. Book I
The Kennedy Administration. Book II
The papers clearly bring American interests at the end of World War II to light with France’s attempt to re-claim colonial territories lost to Japan during the war.
The struggle against a powerful Soviet Union and communist China in the east forced the US and it allies to take a more aggressive approach to fighting communism. While France lost it’s Vietnamese territories during the Japanese occupation it was more than willing to reclaim those colonies upon the end of the Japanese empire.
Memorandum for the President April 20 1945
Suggested reexamination of American Policy with Respect to Indo-China
1. The Japanese aggression against the French in Indo-China last month has brought about a marked increase in the number of proposals advanced by the French for the use of French forces and resources in the Pacific.
2. The consequences of these military developments make it clear that our past policy, which held that the disposition of Indo-China was a matter for post-war determination and that the United States should not become involved in military effort for its liberation, is in urgent need of reexamination and clarification. This is particularly so in order that American military and naval authorities may have guidance to enable them to take appropriate action with respect to the French proposals referred to above.
3. The United States Government has publicly taken the position that it recognizes the sovereign jurisdiction of France over French possessions overseas when those possessions are resisting the enemy and has expressed the hope that it will see the reestablishment of the integrity of French territory. In spite of this general assurance, the negative policy so far pursued by this Government with respect to Indo-China has aroused French suspicions concerning our intentions with respect to t he future of that territory. This has had and continues to have a harmful effect on American relations with the French Government and people.
4. On April 3, 1945, the Secretary of State with the approval of the President issued a statement of which the following excerpt is pertinent to the present problem:
“As to territorial trusteeship, it appeared desirable that the Governments represented at Yalta, in consultation with the Chinese Government and the French Provisional Government, should endeavor to formulate proposals for submission to the San Francisco Conference for a trusteeship structure as a part of the general organization. This trusteeship structure, it was felt, should be defined to permit the placing under it of the territories taken from the enemy in this war, as might be agreed upon at a later date, and also such other territories as might voluntarily be placed under trusteeship.
5. General de Gaulle and his Government have made it abundantly clear that they expect a proposed Indo-Chinese federation to function within the framework of the “French Union.” There is consequently not the slightest possibility at the present time or in the foreseeable future that France will volunteer to place Indo-China under an inter-national trusteeship, or will consent to any program of international accountability which is not applied to the colonial possessions of other powers. If an effort were made to exert pressure on the French Government, such action would have to be taken by the United States alone for France could rely upon the support of other colonial powers, notably, Great Britain and the Netherlands. Such action would likewise run counter to the established American policy of aiding France to regain her strength in order that she may be better fitted to share responsibility in maintaining the peace of Europe and the world.
In the light of the above considerations, the following recommendations, which have been communicated to the War and Navy Departments, are submitted for your approval.
1. The Government of the United States should neither oppose the restoration of Indo-China to France, with or without a program of international accountability, nor take any action toward French over- seas possessions which it is not prepared to take or suggest with regard to the colonial possessions of our other Allies.
2. The Government of the United States should continue to exert its influence with the French in the direction of having them effect a liberalization of their past policy of limited opportunities for native participation in government and administration, as well as a liberalization of restrictive French economic policies formerly pursued in Indo-China.
3. The French Provisional Government should be informed confidentially that, owing to the need of concentrating all our resources in the Pacific on operations already planned, large-scale military operations aimed directly at the liberation of Indo-China cannot be contemplated at this time.
4. French offers of military and naval assistance in the Pacific should be considered on their merits as bearing upon the objective of defeating Japan, as in the case of British and Dutch proposals. The fact that acceptance of a specific proposals might serve to strengthen French claims for the restoration of Indo-China to France should not be regarded as grounds for rejection, On the contrary, acceptance of French proposals for military assistance in the defeat of Japan should be regarded as desirable in principle, subject always to military requirements in the theater of operations.
5. While avoiding specific commitments with regard, to the amount or character of any assistance which the United states may give to the French resistance forces in Indo-China, this Government should continue to afford all possible assistance provided it does not interfere with the requirements of other planned operations.
6. In addition to the aid which we are able to bring from the China theater of operations to the French forces resisting the Japanese in Indo-China, the United states should oppose no obstacle to the implementation of proposals looking toward the despatch of assistance to those forces from the southeast Asia theater of operations, provided such assistance does not constitute a diversion of resources which the Combined Chiefs of Staff consider are needed elsewhere.
Its important to note context: These documents were sent to the President four months before the US dropped two atomic bombs (August 6th and 9th) on Japan. Clearly the President and the Allies were planning a post war Asia policy that would permit France to reclaim property in Indo-China for their multinationals — namely Michilin’s enormous rubber factories.
America’s generation long march into darkness in SouthEast Asia began before World War II even ended.