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The Tangled Web: America, France and Indochina 1947-50

Sami Abouzahr untangles US policy towards France at the time of the Marshall Plan and the war in Indochina.

A French Foreign Legionnaire goes to war along the dry rib of a rice paddy, between Haiphong and Hanoi. Behind the Legionnaire is a U.S. gifted tank. Ca. 1954.American involvement in Vietnam is well-charted territory.  The emotional impact of the war on a generation of Americans and Europeans, its continued impact  on American politics and the office of the President, and the lessons it yields to contemporary American policy have made it an attractive subject for historians. The interpretation of the causes of US involvement in the war is one of the fault lines that separates orthodox and post-revisionist Cold War observers from revisionist or radical ones. To many, the Vietnam War defines their view of the nature of US international policy.

Given the complexity of an issue such as the Indochinese Wars, it seems unlikely that a clear pattern of cause and effect can exist. However, approaching the early stages of American commitment to the region from a European perspective provides an interesting angle on US policy towards Indochina. European issues in the early postwar period were of vital importance to the subsequent involvement of America in Indochina, first through France’s struggle to keep its colony, and later in the Vietnamese civil war itself.

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