Seeds of communist triumph: How Truman and Eisenhower set the stage for US failure in Vietnam

James John Reynolds, Fordham University


This dissertation examines United States policy in Indochina from 1945 to early 1961. It examines the effect of President Harry S. Truman's failure to ensure that officials responsible for the conduct of US foreign relations in the Far East complied with his policy toward French Indochina during the summer and fall of 1945. Inadvertent noncompliance gave tacit US recognition to Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), which declared independence from France on September 2, 1945. It also delayed a French return to northern Indochina long enough for the DRV to get what it needed to keep France from ever reestablishing full control over Vietnam. Subsequent French efforts to regain full control led to war at the end of 1946. The commencement of American aid in 1950 only achieved stalemate by the time Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed the presidency on January 20, 1953. Eisenhower wanted the French to defeat the Vietminh and grant independence to Vietnam. Yet the French sought to create military conditions conducive to a negotiated settlement that would preserve French influence in Indochina. The US funded the French, while trying to get them to do what Eisenhower wanted. The French loss at Dien Bien Phu led to a settlement at Geneva that temporarily divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel, creating North and South Vietnam. The Pathet Lao got regroupment zones in two Laotian provinces, as well. The US prevented the Lao from reunifying the Kingdom as envisaged at Geneva, and the result was not what Eisenhower anticipated. Whereas in 1954, the Pathet Lao held portions of two provinces, by January 20, 1961, they held all of them, plus much of another. By early May, the Pathet Lao and Vietminh controlled all the Laotian border with South Vietnam. This dissertation makes a contribution to the historiography on the subject in how it structures the examination of Eisenhower and French Indochina. It also differs by showing why events in Laos unfolded as they did, and why what happened there mattered more than anything done to support the government of Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon under Eisenhower.

Subject Area

American history|Modern history

Recommended Citation

Reynolds, James John, "Seeds of communist triumph: How Truman and Eisenhower set the stage for US failure in Vietnam" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3684572.