Primary Source: The American Response to the Geneva Accords

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

After nearly a decade of fighting, the French government of the 1950s decided to award independence to its rebellious Indochina colonies. Even so, they maintained the importance of free elections to prevent a communist takeover.

Independence for Indochina

The region of Indochina, which today are the nations of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, was a French colony from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. A communist insurrection against French authority gained major traction after World War II, since major communist powers like the Soviet Union and China backed revolutions across the globe. The French military attempted to defeat these communist rebels, called the People's Army of Viet-Nam, or the Viet Minh, but failed to do so over the span of a decade. The tremendous unpopularity of the war and the great difficulty in winning a victory led to France awarding independence in 1954 in a peace agreement called the Geneva Accords.

However, this did not end the issue, since France (and other anticommunist nations, including the United States) insisted that the people of these three new nations would have to vote in democratic elections to determine their leaders. France and the United States feared that these elections, however, would result in the election of communist parties, especially since the most popular political figure in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, was an avowed communist. They thus divided Vietnam into two zones: the north, controlled by Viet Minh communist rebels, and the south, an ostensibly democratic-capitalist nation ruled by the former Vietnamese monarch. The Accords stated that by 1956, elections should be held to unify the nation.

The Geneva Accords were not signed by either the United States or South Vietnam, both of whom (appropriately) feared a communist takeover. As such, both had what they believed to be the legitimate authority to continue fighting against the communist Vietnamese. While the Viet Minh were dismantled, many communist leaders remained in South Vietnam, forming a rebel organization that came to be known as the Viet Cong. The United States' efforts against the Viet Cong would intensify until they committed the full strength of their military against them, beginning the Vietnam War. At the time of the Accords, however, many American politicians expressed optimism about the future of Vietnam.

Let's take a look at the American response to the Accords now.

Text of the American Response to the 1954 Geneva Accords

The American Response to the Geneva Declarations, 3 July 21, 1954


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