Note: Do not utilize this part of the Advisory Experience module before doing the background reading in Herring and responding to questions in Establishing a Common Background.
Americans who served in Indochina and Vietnam first were political, economic, and military advisers to the French, who returned to Indochina at the end of World War II. As Herring emphasizes, using the best of secondary scholarship on this period of early commitments in Vietnam, our involvement was largely economic in nature and we moved gradually, during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, toward deeper commitments. Herring reports American military aid reached, between 1950 and 1954, more than $2.6 billion.
The chief means of our involvement, during the First Indochina War, was through the advisory apparatus known as Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG), first known as MAAG Indochina, and through the military's volunteer forces known as Special Forces. All involved were "advisers" rather than combat troops. Along with political, diplomatic, and economic advisers, these advised the French in their war against the Vietnamese, known as the First Indochina War.
A political basis for early U.S. commitments was Public Law 597 (June 30, 1952). This law, known as the "Lodge Bill," provided the military with authority to enlist volunteers known as Special Forces. The army had actually already begun this process under its own regulations, and there was an historic background to our use of unconventional warfare operations and forces.
After World War II, however, our return to such practices developed gradually as the Cold War became "hotter." The Korean War (1950-1953) offered new opportunities for emphasis upon national security, intelligence operations, and even covert operations in various parts of the world. First under President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson and then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, CIA Director Allen Dulles (his brother), and President Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. again emphasized unconventional warfare.
This partly explains the creation of volunteer U.S. Special Forces. The earliest unit received training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They had to acknowledge willingness to engage in more flying than usual, to make parachute jumps, and to participate in special training for sabotage and gathering of intelligence. Their training was highly secret. Contrary to popular belief and the record itself, the Eisenhower administration got us started in what later was better known as counterinsurgency training.
Having already read the assignment in Herring, students should be aware of the nature of U.S. commitments in Vietnam prior to the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, May 7, 1954. Duiker's discussion of the U.S. relationships to the French -- before that great victory for Ho Chi Minh, General Giap, and their Viet Minh forces, adds more to that story. Students should think about how close the U.S. came to bailing out the French. What was the nature of our "limited response" or "intervention" in 1954? Would infusion of American forces, advisory or otherwise, have made a difference in 1954? The diplomats who produced the Geneva Accords in 1954, among other things, divided Vietnam. The French delayed for a time their final withdrawal, but certainly the 1954 developments, ending the First Indochina War, prompted a deeper U.S. commitment.
Details of that commitment can also be understood from readings in Herring and Duiker. However, neither scholar examines the Advisory Experience exactly as treated in this module. After the French left, our advisory role was chiefly aimed at the southern Vietnamese, the Republic of Vietnam, as they emerged under President Ngo Dinh Diem.
As Herring notes, our goals in Vietnam included nation-building. The Eisenhower years saw the development of a large and multi-faceted advisory role. Several U.S. government agencies became involved, including defense and state departments, and private international agencies engaged in humanitarian assistance.
In the U.S. the chief lobbying efforts, on behalf of the Republic of Vietnam and President Diem, were those of the American Friends of Vietnam (AFV), an organization created in 1955. It is interesting to note that among its leadership was Senator John F. Kennedy, soon to become president. While AFV promoted more assistance to Diem, other Americans carried out advisory roles in Vietnam. They advised economic, political, and military counterparts there. Examples include the training of police and security forces of the Republic of Vietnam, which involved advisers from Michigan State University, foreign aid programs in support of agriculture, and advising on a new constitution.
No example of our advisory role before 1961, however, is better than the military training of South Vietnam's own Special Forces. The mission of the first American Special Forces in Vietnam was to train fewer than one hundred Vietnamese soldiers. The first training center was in Nha Trang. The Americans arrived from Okinawa in the summer of 1957, and by 1960 they were training more than fifty Ranger units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Although this aspect of the advisory experience began in the Eisenhower presidency, it was greatly expanded under the keen interest and direction of President Kennedy later.
After the French left, and prior
to Kennedy's inauguration, the U.S. role expanded due to several
considerations. Defending the Republic of Vietnam became a direct burden of the U.S. It became a battle within the Cold War. Eisenhower, a great believer in the domino theory, led the nation into new commitments -- training of counterinsurgency Vietnamese troops, nation-building efforts on a broad scale, and the placement of our nation's largest diplomatic corps in Saigon. We assisted the southern Vietnamese in a battle for the "hearts and minds" of the people by means of a Strategic Hamlet Program. In addition, as Herring shows with statistical evidence, we pumped more and more foreign and military aid into South Vietnam.
However, under Eisenhower, we avoided a wider war in 1953-54, and our deepening commitments remained limited in contrast to later escalations under both presidents Kennedy and Johnson. We may have had more than 1,500 Americans in South Vietnam by 1961, and our Saigon mission was the largest in the world (Herring, 62). MAAG's strength, however, had increased to only 692 persons. Nevertheless, this was a violation of the Geneva Accord limitation to 342 advisers.
Links related to the Eisenhower period of this essay will add both information and perspectives to this period of the advisory experience. Students should sample some of them. Most are primary source documents not offered in the core texts for The Vietnam Experience.
United States Recognition of Viet-Nam, Laos and Cambodia, February 7, 1950
Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Viet-Nam, July 20, 1954
The Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference: On Restoring Peace in Indochina, July 21, 1954
United States Policy with Respect to Vietnam: Address by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Walter S. Robertson, June 1, 1956
The Importance to the United States of the Security and Progress of Viet-Nam: Address by President Eisenhower, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, April 4, 1959
After completing this part of the module,