U.S. Reaction to the Geneva Accords: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 The United States at…
  • 1:15 The French-Viet Minh…
  • 2:03 The Key Geneva Agreements
  • 3:20 The Increased Aid to…
  • 5:02 The Military Coup Against Diem
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christine Serva

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

In this lesson, you'll learn how the United States responded to the Geneva Accords. Find out why U.S. involvement in Vietnam increased just as the French were leaving.

The United States at the Geneva Accords

During the Geneva Conference, which was the 1954 conference in Switzerland designed to resolve issues following the Korean War, the United States leaders didn't care for the way conversations were headed on the topic of Vietnam. The French, ready to end a war in the region that had lasted for almost a decade, were in the process of negotiating with the Viet Minh.

Here's the back story on that conflict, known as the First Indochina War: The Viet Minh were the Vietnamese people who had declared independence and taken up arms against the French in 1946. France wasn't willing to lose its colony and believed it could win the fight. As the Viet Minh employed revolutionary guerrilla tactics and endured heavy losses without stopping, the French became weary of a fight that seemed to have no end in sight. When the Viet Minh won the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, serious negotiations were in order.

The unhappiness of the U.S. attendees with these Geneva Conference negotiations led the country to take on a role of observer rather than decision-maker. Whatever the other countries agreed to do as part of the Geneva Accords, the U.S. would not forcibly interfere. However, the U.S. also wouldn't agree to uphold those decisions.

The French-Viet Minh Negotiations

Why was the United States unhappy with the negotiations? Given that the U.S. had supported France during their fighting against the Viet Minh in the First Indochina War, you might expect a close collaboration between France and the U.S. during the Geneva Conference. Although the two did aim to work together, by this point, their interests had diverged.

The French Prime Minister Pierre Mendés-France was eager to end the war, even if concessions had to be made to the Viet Minh. The United States, on the other hand, was contemplating the nature of its increased role in the region. The Americans did not want to be bound to the agreements made by the French, who were exiting. Although the actual history of these negotiations is much deeper than this lesson will cover, the important result was that the U.S. could not support what the French decided to do.

The Key Geneva Agreements

Among the decisions made in Geneva, several posed a particular problem for the U.S. First was the agreement to separate the north and south, albeit temporarily, through a ceasefire line at the 17th parallel, giving the Viet Minh control of the north. Secondly, elections were scheduled to be held by July 1956.

At this time, the United States considered Ngo Dinh Diem a viable leader in South Vietnam. Though U.S. leaders were later in favor of his assassination, Diem initially seemed like a good fit as an opponent to North Vietnam's charismatic nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh. Ho was a communist, which made the U.S. fearful of him winning if elections were held.

Diem was positioned as the anti-communist, supported by the United States. Elections would likely not go in his favor; Ho Chi Minh was popular, while Diem generally was not. When the time came for elections, the new anti-communist government under Diem simply decided not to hold the elections called for in the Geneva Accords. The U.S. certainly did not object, given that this was in their favor, politically. Rather than having a communist elected, Diem kept control of the government in South Vietnam. North and South Vietnam, intended in the Accords to be only temporarily separated, were now indefinitely split.

The Increased Aid to South Vietnam

Since the United States had a vested interest in Diem's success and wanted him to block the progress of communism, American leaders were willing to sign off on military and financial help for him. In return, Diem was expected to bend to some of the wishes of the United States, particularly in becoming less tyrannical in his approach.

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