American Foreign Policy in the First Indochina War

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  • 0:03 Revolution for Independence
  • 0:41 Nationalism & Communism
  • 1:38 The Second Red Scare
  • 2:33 A Policy of Containment
  • 3:55 The Domino Theory
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

What sparked the United States to oppose revolution in Vietnam? Why did the Americans choose to aid the French during the First Indochina War? We'll consider these questions and how they led to U.S. foreign policy decisions in this lesson.

Revolution for Independence

During the First Indochina War (1946-1954), France was holding onto Vietnam as a colony while Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh was dedicated to independence for the people of this region.

This situation might sound familiar: colonists fighting for independence from a foreign power. Ho Chi Minh even referenced the Declaration for Independence in his call for freedom from the rule of others. He also asked for the support of the United States. Yet, the United States would ultimately provide France with support and would later outwardly fighting his supporters during the Vietnam War. This lesson explores America's choice to oppose revolution in Vietnam.

Nationalism & Communism

An important factor in the United States leaning toward support of the French is how leaders viewed Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese revolutionaries. On the one hand, the United States had a desire to support nationalists, or the people fighting for the right to self-govern and to be free from foreign colonizers. On the other hand, the United States was also becoming increasingly concerned about the role of communism in the world. The United States was fearful of how the Soviet Union's story was playing out. Although the ideology of communism can take on many forms in a society, any form of communism created fear for American leaders at this time in history.

However, Ho Chi Minh was both a nationalist and a communist. In his view, communism represented a way for the average individual to rise up against staggering oppression. His supporters may not all have been communist, but American leaders were concerned about his ideology and his use of brutality to suppress his opposition, and they were more than a little skittish of his role in Southeast Asia.

The Second Red Scare

Yet in the early days of the First Indochina War, the United States remained neutral and even encouraged France to negotiate. Only over time did the United Sates agree to provide aid to France in their fight. What had changed?

One factor was the wave of renewed anti-communist fears that had hit the country. During the First Red Scare of the World War I era, many Americans viewed communism as the progression of worker strikes turning into anarchist attacks, chaos, and an end to democratic society.

The Second Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s also created a sense of heightened anxiety, resulting in certain people or groups, including all communists, being labeled as un-American. Those who were caught up in this felt that it was justified and necessary to fight communism aggressively, both outside and inside the country. During both of these Red Scares, fears sometimes reached a panic level.

A Policy of Containment

To understand how these fears relate to foreign policy, think of how today's terrorist attacks heighten fears of what the future might bring. Violent events in the world create a sense of urgency to address the threat. Politicians debate questions such as whether to send ground troops into conflict and how to balance the rights of citizens with national security.

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