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Asselin and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam Hanoi

Choosing Peace Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam, 1954­1955

Pierre Asselin


In early February 1997 the Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) authorized the publication of a major series of documents relating to its own history. The resulting series, Van kien Dang--Toan tap (Party Documents--Complete Works), has been published incrementally since 1998 by the ofªcial National Political Publishing House. The series is organized chronologically beginning before the founding in 1930 of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), the forerunner of the Vietnamese Workers' Party (VWP; which existed from 1951 to 1976) and the present VCP. By early 2007 the series, which includes documents on domestic and foreign affairs generated by the highest party ofªcials (those on the Politburo and the Central Committee), had reached events of the early 1980s, with new volumes appearing every few months. Each volume typically covers one year.1 The resulting record is incomplete and selective, but the volumes shed much new light on VWP policies, internal debates and disagreements, and the motivations for speciªc policies. Among the topics that are now easier to comprehend is the VWP's immediate response in 1954­1955 to the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam. Much has been written about the role of the delegation from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN) during the Geneva negotiations. Moreover, thanks to the scholarship of Robert Brigham, we now understand how proHanoi groups in the south responded to the Vietnamese agreement.2 Less well

1. Some volumes for the years before 1948 cover multiple years--for example, Vol. 1 (1924­1930), Vol. 6 (1932­1936), and Vol. 7 (1940­1945). 2. James Cable, The Geneva Conference of 1954 on Indochina (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986); Robert F. Randle, Geneva 1954: The Settlement of the Indochinese War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Journal of Cold War Studies Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring 2007, pp. 95­126 © 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology



known, however, is the stance of VWP leaders on a number of key points: the settlement generally, speciªc provisions concerning the "temporary" division of the country along the seventeenth parallel, and the prospects for achieving peaceful reuniªcation through a political process culminating in nationwide elections.3 Did the authorities in Hanoi believe that the Geneva settlement was workable and in the interest of the revolution?4 Did they immediately or at a later point regret having signed it? When did VWP leaders realize that peaceful reuniªcation under the agreement was impossible and a resumption of hostilities inevitable? The volumes in the new series covering 1954 and 1955 contain previously secret documents that make it possible to answer these questions more or less conclusively.5 This article draws on the volumes and other sources to explore VWP policymaking in the immediate aftermath of the Geneva Agreement and to assess Hanoi's actions in 1954­1955 relating to that settlement. The article demonstrates that Hanoi accepted the agreement and sought to abide by its provisions, conªdent that implementation would bring peaceful reuniªcation and promote the cause of socialism in Vietnam. Revolutionary leaders in the south, however, objected to the agreement because they suspected that the French, the Americans, and the anti-revolutionary forces that controlled the South Vietnamese government would never abide by its terms or permit a peaceful triumph of the revolution. In a series of directives that began in late July 1954, the leaders of the VWP nonetheless insisted that party cadres and supporters in both halves of Vietnam should undertake no activity that would contravene the spirit of the agreement or that might provoke or serve to legitimize non-compliance on the part of the Saigon regime or its French or American backers. The failure of this policy, which was soon apparent in Hanoi, had major repercussions, prompting a change of leaderUniversity Press, 1969); and Robert K. Brigham, Guerrilla Diplomacy: The NLF's Foreign Relations and the Viet Nam War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999). 3. Carlyle A. Thayer explored some of these issues in his insightful War by Other Means: National Liberation and Revolution in Viet-Nam 1954­60 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1989). However, his treatment of the VWP's stance on the settlement is cursory and based solely on Western sources and ofªcial Vietnamese histories produced before the era of "renovation" (doi moi) began in 1986. 4. The term "revolution" refers to the effort spearheaded by the VWP and initiated by its previous incarnation, the ICP, during World War II. That effort had three objectives: (1) to "liberate" Vietnam from the clutches of Japanese occupation forces, French colonialists, and, subsequently, Vietnamese "reactionaries" and American "neo-imperialists"; (2) to achieve national reuniªcation of three territories (Tonkin, Annam, Cochinchina) that were initially under French rule and then established as two polities after 1954; and (3) to set up a socialist regime. Liberation and reuniªcation were essentially achieved simultaneously in April 1975 with the fall of Saigon; the march to socialism is, by ofªcial accounts, ongoing. 5. Because of the secretive nature of the party and the fact that its "raw" archives are closed to foreign and most Vietnamese scholars, one would be naïve and irresponsible to contend that available Vietnamese materials can provide deªnitive answers to perplexing questions about VWP policymaking.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

ship in the North and causing VWP leaders to lose faith in diplomacy as a means of advancing the revolution, and induced them to rely predominantly on military operations to achieve revolutionary success. The DRVN adhered to these policies throughout the subsequent period of American military intervention and during the Paris negotiations of 1972­1973 that produced the end of that intervention.

Choosing Peace

On 7 May 1954, Vietnamese nationalist forces under Communist leadership overwhelmed the garrison of the French Expeditionary Corps in the Far East (Corps expéditionnaire français en extrême-Orient; CEFEO) at Dien Bien Phu.6 A day later, an international conference on the future of Indochina convened in Geneva.7 Chaired by representatives from Britain and the USSR, the conference was supposed to end hostilities on the Indochinese peninsula by forging a political settlement between French colonialists and their indigenous opponents in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Besides Britain and the Soviet Union, the participants included delegates from France, the DRVN (representing Vietnamese nationalists), the royal governments of Laos and Cambodia, the United States, and the People's Republic of China (PRC).8 Also in attendance but notably ignored in the deliberations about substantive issues were representatives from the State of Vietnam (SOVN), which the French had created in Saigon in March 1949 under former emperor Bao Dai as head of state and Tran Van Huu as president. A puppet regime, the SOVN gained a veneer of legitimacy when the French National Assembly voted in April 1949 to repeal the "département" status of Cochinchina and grant autonomy to Vietnam (Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina) within the French Union (Union française).9 Under this arrangement, the SOVN government ostensi6. The best account of the battle is Bernard B. Fall, Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu (New York: Da Capo Press, 1966). One of the most recent is Martin Windrow, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003). 7. The Geneva Conference ofªcially opened in April 1954 to discuss the postwar situation on the Korean peninsula. At the conclusion of those talks, on 8 May, the focus shifted to Indochina. 8. The DRVN was proclaimed by Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi on 2 September 1945, following Japan's surrender. The event marked the culmination of a relatively peaceful process known in Vietnam as the "August Revolution," during which Communist nationalists seized the reins of government from the Japanese and forced the abdication of the presiding Nguyen emperor, Bao Dai, thus ending the tencentury-old dynastic system in Vietnam. After the military occupation of Indochina by the French and the outbreak of war in December 1946, the DRVN government retreated to the mountains of northern Vietnam at Pac Bo, on the border with China, where it remained until the signing of the Geneva Agreement. 9. The French Union (1946­1958) was, by ofªcial deªnition, "an association of sovereign and independent peoples, free and equal in their rights and duties." On the nature of the French Union, see



bly became responsible for domestic and some foreign affairs of Vietnam and deployed an army under its own ºag. Leaders in Hanoi were concerned that accommodating SOVN interests would give that government international legitimacy. Hence, the DRVN insisted that the SOVN's positions on substantive issues be ignored. To expedite the diplomatic process, the French acceded to this request. After weeks of bargaining, negotiators in Geneva agreed on 20 July 1954 to three separate agreements--one for each of the Indochinese states (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia)--that, among other results, effectively ended the First Indochina War.10 In the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam, signed by France and the DRVN, the two parties agreed to an immediate ceaseªre, the independence of Vietnam, the temporary division of the nation into two zones separated by a demilitarized zone at the seventeenth parallel, a mandatory relocation of all forces loyal to France or the SOVN south of that line and forces loyal to the DRVN north of it within 300 days, and a voluntary relocation of individual Vietnamese along the same lines.11 The two parties also agreed to prohibit the introduction of additional foreign military personnel into Vietnam, to refrain from retaliating against former enemy combatants, and to hold general elections within two years to set up a government for a uniªed Vietnam. To supervise the implementation of these provisions and monitor violations of them, the settlement created a Joint Commission for Vietnam with representatives from France and the DRVN, as well as an International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC) with representatives from India, Poland, and Canada. In line with the balance of forces in the country as of mid-1954, the DRVN inherited jurisdiction over the northern zone, and France--and by extension the SOVN, which was not a party to the agreement--received jurisdiction below the seventeenth parallel. Because the partition of the nation was meant to be temporary, the Geneva negotiations produced an additional document titled "Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference: On Restoring Peace in Indochina, 21 July 1954," which called for consultations between "the competent representative authorities of the two zones" starting in April

Xavier Yacono, Histoire de la colonisation française (Paris: Presses universitaire de France, 1969), pp. 110­117. 10. The French National Assembly voted to ratify the Geneva agreements on 23 July 1954 by 462 to 13, with 134 abstentions. See Arthur J. Dommen, The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), p. 251. 11. The text of the agreement is reproduced in U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Background Information Relating to Southeast Asia and Vietnam, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 1967, pp. 50­62.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

1955 to set the terms for nationwide elections leading to reuniªcation under a single government by July 1956, at which point all French forces were to be withdrawn from the country.12 By the spring of 1955, the entities effectively taking part in this process were the DRVN and the SOVN, the de facto governments of North and South Vietnam. Despite having been almost totally excluded from the Geneva negotiations and the resulting agreement, the SOVN was now playing a crucial role. The SOVN's cooperation was a prerequisite for the success of the agreement and the post-Geneva processes. Yet France ignored the SOVN during the negotiations. The "absence of any French consultation," in the words of one historian, was "remarkable in diplomatic history."13 Not only did this policy absolve the SOVN of responsibility for abiding by the terms of the agreement and thereby all but guarantee the failure of the accord; it also revealed the essence of French attitudes toward Vietnamese sovereignty. The Hanoi authorities had colluded with the French to exclude the SOVN from the Geneva negotiations, and if their intent was to isolate the SOVN from the French and from Vietnamese nationalists and to undermine its legitimacy, then "they succeeded brilliantly."14 Equally lamentable was the non-committal stance of the United States in the Geneva negotiations, a situation that left another major actor in the Vietnamese arena unbound by the July 1954 agreements. The United States had become actively engaged in Indochina in the spring of 1950 when the Truman administration began assisting the French ªnancially and materially against Vietnamese nationalists, whom the U.S. and French governments regarded as Communists.15 From that point on, U.S. ofªcials were so determined to preserve a non-Communist Vietnam that they had even considered military intervention in 1954 to save the CEFEO from defeat at Dien Bien Phu.16 The assumption that an agreement on the future of Vietnam could be

12. "Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference: On Restoring Peace in Indochina, 21 July 1954," The Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XXXI, No. 788 (2 August 1954), p. 164. 13. Dommen, Indochinese Experience, p. 249. Dommen's work offers a nuanced assessment of the terms of the Geneva agreements (see pp. 256­260). 14. Ibid., p. 250. 15. On the origins and evolution of the U.S. commitment to Indochina, see Lloyd C. Gardner, Approaching Vietnam: From World War II through Dienbienphu (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988). 16. In the end, the Eisenhower administration decided against military intervention. However, on 8 April, the day the administration communicated its decision to France, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles allegedly offered French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault two nuclear bombs for France to use to save its garrison, an offer the French declined. On this purported episode, see Georges Bidault, D'une résistance à l'autre (Paris: Les Presses du Siècle, 1965), p. 198; George C. Herring and Richard Immerman, "Eisenhower, Dulles, and Dienbienphu: `The Day We Didn't Go to War' Revisited," in Andrew J. Rotter, ed., Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Vietnam War Anthology (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991), p. 80; and J. R. Tournoux, Secrets d'état (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1960), p. 56. For a more



successful without the acquiescence of the United States was therefore more than misguided; it was folly. The U.S. government was so deeply concerned about the region, which it viewed exclusively through the prism of the Cold War, that it was not inclined to uphold an agreement to which it was not a party, especially an agreement that might--and likely would if the parties honored its terms--result in the reuniªcation of Vietnam under a Communist regime. In a unilateral declaration at Geneva, the United States had refused to endorse the agreements on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia or to join the "Final Declaration" approved by the negotiators. Instead, the U.S. delegation merely "took note" of those agreements and of the "Final Declaration" (aside from a section in the declaration stipulating that conference members "agree to consult one another on any question which may be referred to them" by the ICSC "to insure" that the agreements "are respected") and pledged to "refrain from the threat or the use of force to disturb" the agreements and "view any renewal of the aggression in violation of the [agreements] with grave concern and as seriously threatening international peace and security." The U.S. government also afªrmed that it would "continue to seek to achieve unity [in Vietnam] through free elections supervised by the United Nations to ensure that they are conducted fairly," an arrangement altogether different from that set forth in the Geneva accord.17 The omission of two crucial parties meant that the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam amounted to little more than a bilateral accord between France and the DRVN to end the 1946­1954 war and endeavor to unify postwar Vietnam. Despite the obvious ºaws in the settlement, it fulªlled the immediate needs of both France and the DRVN: it rescued France from a highly unpopular sale guerre ("dirty war") on terms short of capitulation before a deadline imposed by Premier Pierre Mendès-France; and it presented the DRVN with an opportunity to advance its revolutionary goals by means less costly than the long and destructive war it had fought for the previous eight years.18 In accepting the Geneva Agreement, the DRVN seemed uncharacteristically willing to compromise, placing at risk the achievement of substantive

comprehensive treatment, see Melanie Billings-Yun, Decision against War: Eisenhower and Dien Bien Phu, 1954 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); and John Prados, The Sky Would Fall (New York: Dial, 1983). 17. "Unilateral Declaration of the United States at the Concluding Session of the Geneva Conference, 21 July 1954," in The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of the United States DecisionMaking in Vietnam--Senator Gravel Edition, 5 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), Vol. 1, pp. 570­ 571. 18. Six days after the collapse of the Laniel government in Paris on 12 June 1954, Pierre MendèsFrance was appointed president du conseil (that is, leader of the ruling coalition) by the French president. Mendès-France, in his acceptance speech, promised to deliver peace in Indochina by 20 July 1954. See Pierre Mendès-France, Gouverner c'est choisir, 1954­1955 (Paris: Gallimard, 1986).


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

revolutionary goals. Some scholars have argued that the DRVN was acting reluctantly and under pressure from the USSR and the PRC.19 The Soviet Union and China, the argument goes, "sold out" their Vietnamese allies by insisting that they accept a partition of the country and a highly problematic plan for reuniªcation. The USSR and China, according to this view, were less interested in helping the Vietnamese Communists than in improving relations with Western countries, including the United States. Coming on the heels of the end of the war in Korea, the Geneva Conference supposedly offered an opportunity for a thaw in the Cold War. By one Vietnamese account, Soviet ofªcials went to Geneva "with the intention of rapidly ending the only hot war remaining in the world after the ºames of the Korean War were extinguished." The USSR, according to this account, was aiming "to bring about favorable conditions for détente" and "international cooperation."20 The Chinese, for their part, supposedly wanted to facilitate the settlement of a major international conºict in order to gain wider credibility for the recently founded Communist government in Beijing.21 The same Vietnamese source claims that the Chinese were so eager to make a deal with the West that they acquiesced in "a Korea-type solution for the Indochina war, namely a military armistice without a full political settlement."22 According to another, more problematic, Vietnamese source, the Chinese pressured the DRVN delegation in Geneva to accept the partition of the nation because Beijing feared that Washington would intervene militarily in Vietnam if it found the outcome of the Geneva talks objectionable.23 Although Soviet and Chinese pressure may have affected the outcome of the Geneva talks by inducing the DRVN to be more accommodating, there is little reason to believe that Hanoi could have achieved a better agreement without that pressure. Dien Bien Phu may have been a momentous victory

19. See Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945­1990 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991) pp. 38­ 39; Gary R. Hess, Vietnam and the United States: Origins and Legacy of War (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998), p. 48; and George C. Herring, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950­1975 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1979), pp. 39­40. 20. Le Kinh Lich, ed., The 30-Year War, 1945­1975, Vol. 1, 1945­1954 (Hanoi: The Gioi, 2000), p. 368. See also Ban chi dao Tong ket chien tranh--Truc thuoc Bo chinh tri, Tong ket cuoc khang chien chong thuc dan Phap: Thang loi va bai hop (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Chinh tri quoc gia, 1996), pp. 216­ 217. 21. For an elaboration of the Chinese position at Geneva, see François Joyaux, La Chine et le règlement du premier conºit d'Indochine--Genève 1954 (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1979); and Qiang Zhai, China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950­1975 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), pp. 49­63. 22. Le Kinh Lich, ed., 30-Year War, p. 368. 23. Su that ve quan he Viet Nam-Trung Quoc trong 30 nam qua (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Su that, 1979), p. 32.



for the Vietnamese resistance, but it was also a bloody and costly climax to a long and devastating war. During the siege, the revolutionary forces suffered more than 20,000 casualties, including perhaps 10,000 killed in action. In the aftermath, those forces were in desperate need of respite.24 Furthermore, although the outcome of the battle deªnitively undermined France's position in northern Vietnam, it did little to affect France's position in the south (or the strength of France's indigenous allies there). In fact, the colonial apparatus in the south remained almost intact, an outcome that facilitated the "Americanization" of the South after 1961. At Dien Bien Phu, the French, pro-SOVN, anti-Communist side lost a battle, not a war.25 Ho Chi Minh admitted as much in a letter in May 1954 addressed to participants in the Dien Bien Phu campaign. The victory marked "only the beginning," he told the participants. "We must not be self-complacent." The revolutionary struggle "may be long and hard" before "complete victory can be achieved."26 The PRC eventually counseled Hanoi to the same effect, suggesting that in the near future the North Vietnamese desist from ªghting and use the peace to mend their wounds.27 More important, in signing the Geneva Agreement, VWP leaders were convinced that its provisions were workable, precluded direct U.S. military intervention, and created "favorable conditions" for the triumph of socialism in the whole of Vietnam.28 On the one hand, the settlement recognized the liberation of the North by revolutionary forces. The VWP publicly hailed this as "a major victory for our people's struggle for liberation" because it allowed for the establishment of a "solid base" (dat co so vung chac) to "achieve peace, unity, independence, and prosperity in [all of ] Vietnam."29 On the other

24. Jules Roy, La bataille de Dien Bien Phu (Paris: René Julliard, 1963), p. 568; and Phillipe Devillers and Jean Lacouture, End of a War (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969), p. 149. 25. "We emerged victorious from that war" with the French, one cadre later commented, "but [the enemy's] forces had not been completely destroyed. That is why we signed the Treaty of Geneva." Quoted in Joseph J. Zasloff, Political Motivation of the Vietnamese Communists: The Vietminh Regroupees (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1968), p. 53. 26. Vo Nguyen Giap, Dien Bien Phu (Hanoi: The Gioi, 2000), p. 8. (All translations mine unless otherwise noted.) In a recent interview, Giap himself admitted that the victory at Dien Bien Phu was important only to the extent that it "contributed to the success of the Geneva Conference, which recognized Viet Nam as an independent and uniªed nation and completely liberated North Viet Nam and the capital city of Ha Noi." Vietnam News Service, 5 May 2004. 27. Ang Chen Guan, Vietnamese Communists' Relations with China and the Second Indochina Conºict, 1956­1962 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1997), p. 13. 28. Truong Loi Hoa, Cuoc chien tranh chong My cua Viet Nam (Ho Chi Minh City: Nha xuat ban Thanh pho Ho Chi Minh, 1998), p. 9. The work of a Chinese scholar, this translation offers valuable insights into the Vietnamese Revolution. 29. Quoted in Vien nghien cuu chu nghia Mac-Lenin va tu tuong Ho Chi Minh, Lich su Dang Cong san Viet Nam, Vol. II, 1954­1975 (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Chinh tri quoc gia, 1995), p. 27.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

hand, new evidence suggests that the leaders of the VWP believed that the South Vietnamese state created by the French in 1949 would not long survive the political process set in motion by the Geneva Agreement.30 The titular head-of-state in the South, Emperor Bao Dai, was unpopular and was perceived on both sides of the seventeenth parallel as a French stooge. Accordingly, North Vietnamese leaders were conªdent that their side would win the upcoming elections and would reunify the nation under their authority. They believed that even if the Southern regime and its French allies tried to sabotage the agreement and boycott or cancel the elections, such efforts would fail under the weight of popular pressure. Thus, the North Vietnamese leaders were convinced that reuniªcation would come peacefully and in a relatively short time, probably before 1957.31 DRVN President Ho Chi Minh was sincere when he heralded the Geneva Agreement as a "big victory" (thang loi lon). The settlement, Ho insisted, had compelled the French to "recognize the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of our country."32 The VWP Central Committee subsequently reiterated this view, adding in a public declaration that the Geneva Agreement was a "great victory" (thang loi vi dai) for the people and the armed forces of Vietnam. For the VWP, the victory was doubly pleasing. Not only did it mark the collapse of French military power in Indochina, but it also signaled "the defeat of the American imperialists' plan to transform Indochina into an American colonial outpost and military base."33 Unlike Ho, whose statement on the subject made no reference to the United States, the VWP Central Committee voiced concern about U.S. intentions. Acknowledging that the French position in Indochina generally and in Vietnam speciªcally had been undermined by Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Agreement, the VWP Central Committee nevertheless warned that the future of the revolution remained uncertain and that the people, the army, and the party must remain vigilant and keep "their ªghting spirit" well

30. See Dang Cong san Viet Nam, Van kien Dang--Toan tap, Vol. 15, 1954 (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Chinh tri quoc gia, 2001) (hereinafter referred to as VKD with years covered). See also William J. Duiker, The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996), p. 181. 31. Janos Radvanyi, Delusion and Reality: Gambits, Hoaxes, and Diplomatic One-Upmanship in Vietnam (South Bend, IN: Gateway Editions, 1978), p. 14. Radvanyi was a Hungarian diplomat who regularly dealt with North Vietnamese counterparts. 32. "Loi kieu goi sau khi Hoi nghi Gionevo thanh cong, ngay 22 thang 7 nam 1954," in VKD, 1954, p. 229. 33. "Loi kieu goi cua Ban Chap hanh Truong uong Dang Lao dong Viet Nam, ngay 25 thang 7 nam 1954," in VKD, 1954, p. 234. "By their intervention in Indo-China," Prime Minister Pham Van Dong added later, "the American imperialists pursued the aim to gradually oust the French from IndoChina and turn Indo-China into an American colony." Quoted in American Imperialism's Intervention in Viet Nam (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1955), p. 21.



honed in case the United States tried to sabotage the peace process established by the settlement.34 In contrast to the optimism expressed by leaders in Hanoi, revolutionaries in the South were dismayed by the outcome of the Geneva negotiations. In their view, the agreement did nothing to help the revolution in the South and a great deal to harm it. The source of their immediate concern was the provisions concerning South Vietnam. By giving France and the SOVN jurisdiction over everything below the seventeenth parallel, including areas already "liberated" by revolutionary forces, it nulliªed the results of years of struggle while legitimating the SOVN. "Our armed forces had to regroup and retreat to the North," a Vietnamese source later noted. As a result of the Geneva Agreement, "large liberated areas and revolutionary bases fell under enemy control, where our people had to live under the cruel yoke" of the Southern regime and its American ally.35 Many of the revolutionaries, in the words of another account, experienced "a profound sense of frustration in having to accept not only the partition of the country, but a sudden halt to a march toward the victory of the Revolution."36 Instead of waiting for the problematic results of the political processes devised in Geneva, insurgents operating in the South "wanted to continue ªghting until complete victory or ªghting for a while longer to pressure the enemy into making further concessions."37 Ho Chi Minh himself eventually acknowledged the validity of these assessments before the VWP Central Committee.38 The Southerners believed that the forced retreat of revolutionary forces from the South as mandated by the Geneva Agreement meant that VWP leaders in Hanoi had essentially abandoned the South. The surrender of areas that had been "liberated" at great cost was particularly difªcult to accept. Although the war against the French and their indigenous allies had been waged under Northern leadership and by a predominantly Northern army, thousands of Southerners had contributed to the effort. Now, after the cessation of hostilities in July 1954, those men and women had little to show for their efforts and sacriªce. The tradeoff of concrete assets for the promises of a

34. "Loi kieu goi cua Ban Chap hanh Truong uong Dang Lao dong Viet Nam, ngay 25 thang 7 nam 1954," in VKD, 1954, p. 236. 35. Vien Lich su Dang--Hoi dong bien soan lich su Nam Trung bo khang chien, Nam Trung bo khang chien, 1945­1975 (Hanoi: Tong cong ty phat hanh sach Lien ket xuat ban, 1992), p. 237. 36. Philippe Franchini, Les guerres d'Indochine, Vol.2, De la bataille de Dien Bien Phu à la chute de Saïgon (Paris: Éditions Pygmalion/Gérard Watelet, 1988), p. 151. 37. Vien Lich su Dang--Hoi dong bien soan lich su Nam Trung bo khang chien, Nam Trung bo khang chien, p. 238. 38. See Duiker, Communist Road to Power, p. 172.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

political process in which they had no faith was not an exchange that Southern revolutionaries made willingly. Hanoi tried to assuage these concerns by repeatedly assuring the Southerners that the setbacks were tactical and temporary and the reuniªcation of the nation under revolutionary leadership was a foregone conclusion. The Southerners were unmoved, and they increasingly viewed the VWP as a Northern-dominated organization willing to advance the interests of the North at the expense of those of the South. Some of them quit the VWP in protest and joined other nationalist organizations more concerned with the advancement of Southern interests.39 As these developments unfolded, Hanoi remained committed to the Geneva Agreement and to the process of peaceful reuniªcation it entailed. When the Geneva Agreement was signed, DRVN leaders had not yet set forth their position on the agreement's provisions and had not instructed party cadres on their responsibilities in the new phase of the revolution. In the days and weeks that followed, the VWP laid out its position in increasingly speciªc terms. On 27 July 1954, VWP First Secretary Truong Chinh told party cadres that "our nationalist struggle has entered a new era" and "become a political struggle to consolidate peace."40 In revolutionary terminology, this meant that the VWP would forgo military activity and instead use politics and diplomacy to implement the settlement and achieve revolutionary goals. Hanoi's stance, according to the historian Robert Brigham, manifested its "willingness to persuade legal and semi-legal organizations to agitate for implementation of the political provisions of the Geneva Accords."41 The decision to abandon the military struggle also signaled Hanoi's acceptance of the "Moscow line."42 Anxious to reduce Cold War tensions after the death of Josif Stalin the previous year, the Soviet Union had been hoping to avert a resumption of war in Vietnam. For Moscow, the easing of tensions in Indochina created an important opportunity to reduce East-West tensions in the Cold War generally. Although the Soviet political line may have inºuenced Hanoi's decision, satisfying the interests of the USSR was ultimately not a priority for the VWP.43 Although Soviet leaders welcomed North Vietnam's decision to sus39. Bhabani Sen Gupta, "The Soviet Union and Vietnam," International Studies (New Delhi), No. 4 (October­December 1973), p. 560. 40. "Chi thi cua Ban bi thu, ngay 27 thang 7 nam 1954: Tuyen truyen ve nhung Hiep dinh cua Hoi nghi Gionevo--Tinh hinh va nhiem vu moi," in VKD, 1954, p. 238. 41. Robert K. Brigham, "Why the South Won the American War in Vietnam," in Marc Jason Gilbert, ed., Why the North Won the Vietnam War (New York: Palgrave, 2002), p. 100. 42. Ibid., p. 101. 43. A similar claim regarding Hanoi's decision to abide by the terms of the agreement is presented in



pend military activity in favor of peaceful struggle, and although Moscow joined Beijing in urging Hanoi to abide by the Geneva Agreement and avoid giving the Americans a pretext to intervene, the VWP decided primarily for its own reasons to accept the agreement and work for its implementation. The VWP chose peace--that is, to discontinue the military struggle--mainly because that was the sensible approach to take under the circumstances. Avoiding war for the time being was crucial for several reasons.44 First, the armed forces had been exhausted by the war with France and needed to regroup for a possible U.S. intervention in Indochina. In the immediate aftermath of Dien Bien Phu, the revolutionary forces would have been hard pressed to continue the war against the French, much less against an American army equipped with superior weaponry and other resources. According to the revolutionary army's own account, "the majority of our weapons and equipment were infantry weapons, which were not uniform in quantity or type and were of poor quality." Many of the armaments "were unserviceable, and they were technically obsolete when compared to equipment used by other armies around the world." In addition, the army's technical support facilities "were very poor."45 Regardless of what Vietnamese Communists thought about the United States, they were mindful of U.S. military might and the ability of the United States to destabilize the region and undermine the revolution. Second, peace would give the DRVN desperately needed time to consolidate itself politically and economically. From 1938 to 1954, North Vietnam's population had increased by 50 percent to 15,300,000 at the same time that annual rice production had declined from 3.5 million to 2.5 million tons largely because of disruptions caused ªrst by the Japanese invasion and then by the war against the French. More people and less food spelled trouble for DRVN leaders and compelled them to rely heavily on assistance from the USSR and the PRC.46 Moreover, the long period of almost continuous war and disruption had led to a dire economic situation. The North Vietnamese

Duiker, Communist Road to Power, p. 172. The paucity of references to Moscow's foreign policy objectives in the Vietnamese documentary record also suggests that the VWP was not mainly concerned about satisfying Soviet interests. 44. According to Carlyle Thayer, Hanoi's decision to accept the Geneva Agreement "was not without controversy," and disagreement within the VWP was "rife." See Thayer, War by Other Means, pp. 7, 8. Although little is known about some of the VWP's internal debates, including this one, King C. Chen has argued that General Vo Nguyen Giap and other VWP leaders had strong reservations about ending the war through negotiations. See King C. Chen, Vietnam and China, 1938­1954 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), pp. 294­295. 45. Military Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam: The Ofªcial History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954­1975, trans. by Merle Pribbenow (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002), pp. 9­10. 46. Franchini, Les guerres d'Indochine, pp. 170, 177.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

estimated that 57 percent of urban workers at this time had no formal training in vocational skills, in part because most of them were former peasants, recently demobilized soldiers, or both. The lack of training and the absence of an individual work ethic resulted in an average rate of worker absenteeism above 20 percent.47 Years of war had also taken their toll on the state's physical infrastructure. Roads outside large cities were in generally poor condition, as were bridges everywhere. The French-built rail system was in even worse shape because revolutionary forces had routinely targeted railways during the recent wars to disrupt the movement of enemy forces and supplies. Rail connections to China that carried food and other assistance, including vital links between Pingxiang and Dong Dang, Longzhou and Cao Bang, and Fangcheng and Mon Cay, were in particularly poor condition and in need of repair or reconstruction. The restoration of these links was especially pressing because North Vietnam was dependent on imports from China for its survival and recovery from war.48 The disastrous consequences of rural land redistribution and forced agricultural collectivization, the brainchild of First Secretary Truong Chinh and modeled after similar programs in the PRC, compounded the DRVN's economic problems. These policies were key components of the VWP's effort to create a socialist Vietnam. The aim was to abolish "feudal" agrarian practices by eliminating landlordism and tenancy, redistributing land, and setting up collective farms. The program failed so miserably that it further dislocated the economy, produced widespread disenchantment among peasants, and, according to Edwin Moise, prevented the VWP from paying close attention to developments below the seventeenth parallel.49 In crisis-prone Nghe An Province, for example, the collectivization campaign provoked a bloody rebellion among peasants at Quynh Luu. Many of the rebels were Catholics, and the military forces that were sent to quell the unrest consisted mostly of exiled Southern guerrillas embittered by having to give up revolutionary gains they

47. Raymond Toinet, Une guerre de trente-cinq ans: Indochine-Vietnam, 1940­1975 (Paris: Lavauzelle, 1998), p. 225. 48. "The absence of an appropriate technical framework [encadrement technique compétent]," one historian wrote, "will ªnd only a partial solution in the assistance [provided] by fraternal countries and, especially, in the formation of the Vietnamese themselves." See Franchini, Les guerres d'Indochine, p. 177. Despite receiving economic assistance from China, the DRVN steered clear of entering into a formal alliance with either China or the USSR, a step that would have violated the terms of the Geneva settlement. 49. This is one of the primary conclusions in Edwin E. Moise, Land Reform in China and North Vietnam: Consolidating the Revolution at the Village Level (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983). On the land reform effort generally, see also Christine P. White, "Agrarian Reform and National Liberation in the Vietnamese Revolution: 1920­957," Ph.D. Diss., Cornell University, 1981.



had made in the South.50 The exiled insurgents had no ties to the Northern population and were loyal only to the VWP. Hence, during the land-reform campaign, the exiles were often deployed by the North Vietnamese authorities to crush resistance.51 Such measures intensiªed popular resentment against land reform and against the ofªcials responsible for it, including Ho Chi Minh.52 Third, North Vietnamese leaders believed that their own example in honoring the Geneva Agreement would encourage the other side to do likewise, paving the way for peaceful reuniªcation and fulªllment of revolutionary objectives. Ofªcials in Hanoi ªgured that even if the settlement collapsed and war broke out because of violations by the other side, this would make it easier to convince Vietnamese on both sides of the seventeenth parallel of the legality as well as the righteousness of the VWP's cause. If the revolutionary forces showed restraint and endeavored to keep the peace in the face of enemy violations, they would also make world opinion more sympathetic than it would otherwise be, thus facilitating the mobilization of moral, diplomatic, and material support abroad. Hanoi would enhance its credibility and its cause if it could cast itself as a victim of aggression. Finally, and perhaps most important, North Vietnamese leaders believed that peace under the Geneva Agreement would be more promising than war as a vehicle for encouraging national reconciliation after reuniªcation. Leaders in Hanoi were aware that the French and their American allies had for some time been playing "divide and conquer," actively recruiting Vietnamese to ªght their war against Vietnamese revolutionaries. Through the creation of the SOVN and its pro-French army, the French had damaged the revolutionary cause by changing the nature of the conºict in Vietnam from an anticolonial resistance to a war between conºicting Cold War ideologies. The SOVN had held its ªrst military draft and founded a military academy at Da Lat in 1950. By 1954, many non-Communist Vietnamese, including many nationalists, had come to regard the SOVN and its government as legitimate political entities despite continued French tutelage and even interference, and they saw no reason to continue ªghting Hanoi's battles. Radical nationalists, including most Communists, saw the situation differently. For them, the type of independence the French permitted the SOVN was unsatisfactory, and they continued their struggle. The role of SOVN forces in the military phase of the Franco-Vietnamese war gave that conºict a veneer of civil war.53 By

50. Franchini, Les guerres d'Indochine, p. 181. 51. Zasloff, Political Motivation, pp. 44­45. 52. Ibid., p. 50. 53. More than forty years ago, Jean Lacouture convincingly argued, in Vietnam between Two Truces


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

1954, more than 300,000 men had joined or been drafted into the SOVN armed forces, and nearly one-ªfth of them (58,877) had been killed or declared missing. Additionally, from 1946 to 1954, 26,923 Indochinese servicemen in the CEFEO--many of whom were Vietnamese from the South--had also been killed or declared missing. That Vietnamese had been killing Vietnamese for a long time and in large numbers was detrimental to the VWP cause.54 In opting for peace under the Geneva Agreement, the VWP hoped to forestall further internecine conºict and thereby improve the prospects for a smooth transition to national unity. Resuming hostilities was also unappealing because the seventeenth parallel was a historical "fault line" between the two Vietnams. Starting in the eighteenth century, when Vietnam began to take its present form, the two halves of the country had been variously hostile toward or suspicious of each other. For much of the eighteenth century, warfare resulting from a feud between two aristocratic families, the Trinh based in Hanoi and the Nguyen in the South, divided the nation along sectional lines that hardened over time.55 During the colonial era, the division grew more pronounced as a result of the concentration of the French presence in Cochinchina, which Paris favored in matters of economic and infrastructural development to the relative neglect of the rest of the country. What is more, the French-imposed division of the nation into three administrative districts (Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina) largely undermined Vietnamese nationalism, which was already nascent when the French intervened in Indochina in the middle of the nineteenth century. The "devitalization" of Vietnam, as one scholar has argued, began under the French when they effectively destroyed "the constructive economic link [le lien économique efªcace]" between the Red and Mekong river deltas, thereby removing the primary connector between northern and southern Vietnam.56 Thereafter, Northerners and Southerners were no longer conditioned to see each other as extensions of themselves. Given this long history of provincialism, the resumption of hostilities by Hanoi after the Geneva Agreement could easily have been interpreted by Southerners as Northern aggression and encouraged many of them to view the SOVN and its allies more sympathetically. Moreover, North Vietnamese leaders understood that under such circumstances, mobilization of the populace in the North would be chal(New York: Random House, 1965), p. 9, that the creation of the SOVN transformed the Vietnamese conºict into a civil war. 54. Yves Gras, Histoire de la guerre d'Indochine (Paris: Denoël, 1992), pp. 578­579; and Dommen, Indochinese Experience, p. 252. 55. Charles Maybon, Histoire moderne du pays d'Annam, 1592­1820 (Paris: Plon, 1920), pp. 13­25. 56. Hugues Tertais, "L'impact économique et ªnancier des deux guerres d'Indochine," in CharlesRobert Ageron and Philippe Devillers, eds., Les guerres d'Indochine de 1945 à 1975, No. 36 (Paris: Cahiers de l'Institut d'Histoire du Temps Présent, 1996), p. 222.



lenging. As Philippe Franchini writes: "The patriotic motives invoked [during the First Indochina War] would not this time have the same impact because the state in the South was independent and the American presence could not as a matter of fact be compared to an occupation of the neo-colonial type."57

Initial Steps to Uphold the Geneva Agreement

Having resolved to renounce war for the time being, the leaders of the VWP sought to convince the party's southern cadres that this was the correct strategic move. They instructed all party members to respect the letter and spirit of the Geneva Agreement and to avoid hostilities. The revolution must continue "according to a peaceful approach [phuong phap hoa binh]," Hanoi instructed. For now, the pressing task was to "explain the present situation" to members and masses alike and to impress on everyone the importance of avoiding violent action even in the face of provocations by the enemy. "Our people must continue their protracted and arduous struggle by peaceful methods," the VWP insisted, "in order to consolidate peace and achieve reuniªcation, total independence, and democracy throughout the nation."58 Shortly after these initial directives, the VWP First Secretary elaborated on them, emphasizing the necessity for revolutionary forces to refrain from hindering the Geneva peace process or otherwise adversely affecting the political situation in the South. Any actions that obstructed the agreement, the First Secretary warned, would legitimate the desire of the Americans and their SOVN and French allies to thwart peaceful reuniªcation. VWP ofªcials called on supporters of the revolution to court Vietnamese who were traditionally friendly to Western interests, including Catholics and those who had served in the colonial administration, and let them know that the VWP and the DRVN government fully supported the Geneva settlement and the peace and reuniªcation it promised.59 These instructions became part of a broad campaign to win the hearts and minds of people in both halves of Vietnam. In a missive dated 31 August 1954, Truong Chinh instructed cadres in the North to keep close watch over the movement of people from the South to the North under the regroupment program authorized by the Geneva Agreement. Such people might inºuence

57. Franchini, Les guerres d'Indochine, p. 190. 58. "Chi thi cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 27 thang 7 nam 1954," pp. 238­241. 59. "Chi thi cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 30 thang 7 nam 1954: Ve viec chap hanh lenh dinh chien," in VKD, 1954, pp. 248­249.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

the results of the general elections scheduled for 1956, and the VWP wanted them to be treated generously. Kindness toward these people would, Truong Chinh hoped, have a "very big inºuence" (anh huong rat lon) on the spirit of "southern compatriots" and increase the prospects for peaceful reuniªcation under VWP leadership.60 Some 50,000 to 80,000 of an estimated 90,000 Southern supporters of the revolution regrouped to the North after July 1954. Those who remained were directed by Hanoi to uphold the terms of the settlement and serve "as a hedge against the failure of the uniªcation of Vietnam" if the agreement collapsed.61 Upon arriving in the North, male regroupees of appropriate age received military or other practical training, and their families had access to a variety of educational, economic, and social opportunities. Despite these efforts, many regroupees eventually regretted their decision to move to the North. They had been forced to sever their ties with friends and family and in time had developed feelings of homesickness and remorse. Others developed feelings of alienation, as Vietnamese parochialism made it difªcult for them to integrate into Northern society. Even within the armed forces, Southerners found it difªcult to bond with their Northern comrades. "The Northerners stayed with Northerners, the Southerners with Southerners," one regroupee later commented. "They didn't mingle easily."62 Another concern was the regrouping of signiªcant numbers of Northerners to the South. VWP leaders believed that the French and the SOVN government were enticing (du do) or pressuring (bat ep) Northerners, especially Catholics, to move to the South as part of a strategy to inºuence the political situation there by "gathering a few more votes for the upcoming elections." Undermining the French/SOVN strategy by limiting the number of Northerners who chose to regroup to the South was thus a "pressing struggle" for the VWP.63 In and around Hanoi alone, more than 30,000 people signed up for emigration to the South, including 7,373 who left within days after the Geneva Agreement became effective.64 To thwart this movement, the VWP First Secretary urged cadres at all levels to work cooperatively with Catholic and other organizations that enjoyed inºuence among potential regroupees.

60. "Chi thi cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 31 thang 8 nam 1954: Ve viec don tiep bo doi, thuong binh, ot so can bo va dong bao mien Nam ra Bac," in VKD, 1954, p. 259. 61. Douglas Pike, PAVN: People's Army of Vietnam (New York: Da Capo Press, 1991), p. 41; and Duiker, Communist Road to Power, p. 183. 62. Quoted in Zasloff, Political Motivation, p. 59. 63. "Chi thi cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 5 thang 9 nam 1954: Ve viec dau tranh chong Phap va bon Ngo Dinh Diem du do va bat ep mot so dong bao ta vao mien Nam," in VKD, 1954, pp. 263­264. 64. Dang Cong san Viet Nam--Ban Chap hanh Dang bo thanh pho Ha Noi, Lich su Dang bo thanh pho Ha Noi, 1954­1975 (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Ha Noi, 1995), p. 10.



Cadres were to assure these organizations that the party would protect religion and freedom of belief. Gaining the trust of the sizable Catholic communities in Bui Chu and Phat Diem was a major objective for the VWP. Those communities included staunch military and political supporters of the French during the 1946­1954 war. The leaders of the VWP now sought to co-opt them and other Vietnamese Catholics by relying on pro-VWP Catholics to spread information favorable to the party and the DRVN. In September 1954 the party made a further effort to curry favor in Bui Chu and Phat Diem by enacting a suspension there of reductions in land rents and land redistribution (central features of the agrarian reform program) and allowing the circulation of foreign currencies, including Southern currency, prohibited in the rest of the DRVN. More signiªcant, the VWP also ordered the return of property seized from Catholic organizations and the release of clergy members then under house arrest.65 Shortly thereafter, Truong Chinh directed cadres in the North to help their "Catholic compatriots" prepare for and celebrate Christmas. "Christmas has a peaceful meaning," he wrote, and celebrating the holiday offered party members an opportunity to "generate an atmosphere of happiness in Catholic areas" and "make our [Catholic] compatriots understand our Government's correct execution of the religious policy" of freedom of belief. The directive also instructed party members to keep an eye on priests and report any of them who encouraged their followers to regroup to the South.66 As the VWP endeavored to improve its political position in the North, it also sought to cultivate a positive relationship with the ICSC. In a revealing letter to party cadres on 26 September 1954, Truong Chinh reviewed the political dispositions of ICSC member-states and stressed the importance of maintaining cordial relations with them. The commission, he argued, could prove helpful if the SOVN or its allies undermined the Geneva Agreement or accused Hanoi of doing so. Describing Poland as "our friends" and India as "agreeable to peace in Indochina," Truong Chinh warned that "Canada is [ideologically] close to the United States" and that the presence of Canadian representatives on the commission would likely compromise the Geneva Agreement or otherwise cause problems for Hanoi. Truong Chinh therefore stressed the need for caution while at the same time trying to "develop good diplomatic relations with the Canadian representatives." He urged party cadres to make every effort to accommodate the Canadians, for doing so would

65. "Chi thi cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 5 thang 9 nam 1954," pp. 264­270. 66. "Chi thi cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 14 thang 12 nam 1954: Ve viec to chuc ngay le Noen cho dong bao Cong giao," in VKD, 1954, p. 403.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

"create favorable conditions for the struggle to consolidate peace and achieve our reuniªcation."67

The VWP Politburo's September 1954 Position Statement

In September 1954 the VWP Politburo issued a lengthy and deªnitive statement of its policy for dealing with the situation created by the Geneva Agreement. Entitled "New Situation, New Responsibilities, and New Policy," the document elaborated on the views already expressed by Truong Chinh and the VWP Central Committee, offering a list of pressing tasks and fundamental requirements of the "new period" (giai doan moi) needed to preserve peace and achieve reuniªcation.68 The report speciªed ªve transitions that would characterize the new period: (1) from war to peace, (2) from national unity to political partition (the temporary creation of two Vietnams), (3) from rural to urban life, (4) from decentralization and dispersal to centralization, and (5) from separation to unity of the three Indochinese states. The document explained how to implement these transitions in a wide range of domestic and foreign areas, including agricultural production, land reform, industrialization, defense, the situation in southern Vietnam, and relations with neighboring Southeast Asian countries and the United States. The VWP Politburo said that although the North was now liberated, the revolutionary struggle would continue in the South, where Vietnamese compatriots were under the "yoke" of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime and its American patrons.69 But the document stressed that "the mode of struggle [phuong thuc dau tranh] must change" to meet changed circumstances. It called on revolutionary forces to respect the ceaseªre and to shift from "armed struggle [dau tranh vu tranh] to political struggle [dau tranh chinh tri]."

67. "Chi thi cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 26 thang 9 nam 1954: Ve nhiem vu cua cac cap uy Dang o cac dia phuong thuoc bac vi tuyen 17 doi voi Uy ban quoc te," in VKD, 1954, pp. 320­323. 68. The Politburo issued the resolution at the conclusion of a meeting/conference from 5 to 7 September 1954; it is reproduced as "Nghi Quyet cua Bo chinh tri: Ve tinh hinh moi, nhiem vu moi va chinh sach moi cua Dang," in VKD, 1954, pp. 283­315. 69. Diem became prime minister of the SOVN on 19 June 1954 and, by imperial decree, received full civil and military authority. A Catholic from central Vietnam, he had served as minister of the interior under the French and had become a well-known mandarin-administrator. After his resignation, his popularity and prestige among southern nationalists soared. Frustrated by conditions in Vietnam, he traveled to the United States and studied at a seminary in New Jersey in 1952. There, Cardinal Spellman, the archbishop of New York City and head chaplain of the U.S. armed forces, and Spellman's successor, Cardinal Cook, took notice of Diem and recommended that Washington support his bid for power in the South. Among the most recent and well-researched works on Diem is Philip E. Catton, Diem's Final Failure: Prelude to America's War in Vietnam (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002).



The VWP Politburo indicated that, above the seventeenth parallel, the party and the people must foster conditions conducive to reuniªcation, independence, and democracy for all three Indochinese states. To revive the economy from the damage inºicted by many years of war and foreign occupation, they must increase agricultural production through land redistribution, promote industrial growth, and take other steps to improve living standards and the quality of life. The party must also facilitate national unity by not interfering in religious matters and by otherwise encouraging social harmony. This emphasis on the North and Northern concerns suggests that within the new mode of political struggle the VWP was pursuing a "North First" policy. Indeed, the Politburo document was far more speciªc about the tasks and responsibilities facing the revolutionary movement in the North than about anything to do with the South. By the autumn of 1954, the authorities in Hanoi realized that development and reform in the North were essential to consolidate the revolution. Fortifying the gains of the revolution above the seventeenth parallel while improving standards of living would enhance the party's image during the campaign for national uniªcation. Beyond satisfying immediate needs, the effort would lay the foundation for the establishment of a socialist economy after the "liberation" of the South.70 With respect to the situation in southern Vietnam, the VWP Politburo document was much less substantive, reiterating earlier pleas to revolutionary cadres there to observe the peace and work to implement the Geneva Agreement. "Your situation is very complex," the Politburo said to its Southern subordinates, urging them for the time being to limit their activism to the promotion of peaceful reuniªcation while preparing the South Vietnamese people for a more active struggle against the Diem regime.71 As part of a united-front strategy, the Politburo called for close collaboration with friendly elements in Laos and Cambodia. Although the Geneva agreements effectively abolished "Indochina" as a political entity, party leaders still believed that the fate of the Vietnamese nation and the revolution was linked to that of the peoples of Laos and Cambodia.72 Perhaps the war that ended in 1954 had convinced them that Vietnam's national security and terri70. On this point, see "Thong tri cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 22 thang 11 nam 1954: Ve may viec can de chinh don bien che trong quan doi," in VKD, 1954, pp. 370­372. 71. Ban chi dao tong ket chien tranh truc thuoc Bo chinh tri, Chien tranh cach mang Viet Nam, 1945­ 1975: Thang loi va bai hoc (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Chinh tri quoc gia, 2000), p. 88; and Trung tam Khoa xa hoi va nhan van quoc gia--Vien su hoc, Lich su Viet Nam, 1954­1965 (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Khoa hoc xa hoi), pp. 54­65, 179­180. 72. Party leaders, a former VWP cadre asserted in a recent memoir, "always considered Indochina as one geographical entity and a single battleªeld." See Bui Tin, From Enemy to Friend: A North Vietnamese Perspective on the War (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2002), p. 11.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

torial integrity hinged on the political situations in Laos and Cambodia and that Vietnam could not be free and secure from outside interference unless its western neighbors were equally free and secure. That conclusion was by no means unreasonable. Vietnam, which at its narrowest point is no more than forty miles wide, had long been vulnerable to circumstances in the rest of the Indochinese peninsula. Moreover, the borders of the three states had never been deªnitively drawn and over time had been mutable and ºuid. Until the French imposed themselves on the region, borders on the Indochinese peninsula had shifted on numerous occasions over two thousand years. The region had always been characterized by a dynamic of its own, much of it attributable to the expansionist designs of successive Vietnamese leaders. Indeed, Vietnam itself as a political entity had been forged out of territory originally belonging to the Cham, Lao, and Khmer peoples.73 By some accounts, if the French had not intervened during the nineteenth century, the Vietnamese along with the Thais to the west would have swallowed up what remained of Cambodia after the Vietnamese had taken from it the rich and fertile Mekong River delta in the late eighteenth century.74 As students of history, VWP leaders knew that Vietnam had thrived historically partly because of its people's success in encroaching on and absorbing territory belonging to the country's neighbors. They therefore had no compelling reason to assume that Vietnam could "evolve" properly unless they took account of what was occurring elsewhere on the peninsula. Nor could they assume that the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam could be fully implemented unless the related accords on Laos and Cambodia were also carried out.75 Regarding other international matters, the VWP Politburo asked its supporters to work with "progressives" in France and elsewhere to assure the implementation of the Geneva agreements and the reuniªcation of Vietnam. Mobilizing world opinion on behalf of the revolution was fundamental to spread it to the South. World opinion would be especially important if the peace and reuniªcation efforts failed amid international controversies over who was responsible for the failure. Until the failure of the Geneva accords became irreversible in late 1956,

73. See Dao Duy Anh, Viet Nam van hoa sa cuong (Paris: Sudestasie, 1985), pp. 33­35. 74. At the end of the ªrst millennium CE, the Khmer empire was the grandest in Southeast Asia and one of the greatest in the world. After the Thais sacked its capital in the ªfteenth century, the Khmer nation entered a period of gradual decline and lost signiªcant portions of territory to the Thais and the Vietnamese. 75. On the historical and political evolution of the Indochinese peninsula, see Pierre-Bernard Lafont, ed., Les frontières du Vietnam: Histoire des frontières de la peninsule indochinoise (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1989); and Michel Blanchard, Vietnam-Cambodge: Une frontière contestée (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1999), pp. 33­50.



the VWP Politburo's September 1954 document remained the basis of party policy. In the context of the immediate post-Geneva period, it was the most consequential document produced by any of the VWP branches on the Geneva Agreement.

Efforts to Implement the Document

Within the parameters of the September 1954 Politburo document, the VWP instructed the Central Ofªce for Southern Vietnam (COSVN; Trung uong Cuc mien Nam), its arm below the seventeenth parallel, to exploit contradictions (mau thuan) there between the French and the Americans. North Vietnamese leaders correctly sensed that despite the common goal of creating a pro-Western, non-Communist state in the South, the French and the Americans disagreed about important matters, including governance structures and the role of the military therein. Having learned that the chief-of-staff of the SOVN army, General Nguyen Van Hinh, a "stooge [con bai] of the French colonial reactionaries," disapproved of Ngo Dinh Diem, a "stooge of the Americans," the VWP Politburo directed its Southern operatives to try to exploit that enmity and, by extension, the differences between the Americans and the French. The goal was to foster the creation of a new government in the South that "cared relatively little about the Americans [tuong doi it than My]."76 North Vietnamese leaders understood that France was obliged to give the United States a voice in South Vietnamese affairs because of the material assistance the Americans provided to the Saigon regime. They also understood that French ofªcials resented U.S. involvement because they regarded Indochina as being within France's exclusive sphere of inºuence. The French authorities particularly resented Washington's designation of Diem, a staunch anti-Communist who despised France's mission civilisatrice, to head the Southern government. The VWP Politburo, having surmised that the French were worried that the Americans were trying to edge them out of the region, sought to capitalize on the resulting tensions between the two powers. Among other initiatives, the Politburo suggested spreading disinformation and inªltrating the Southern regime and its armed forces.77 For the time being, however, the most pressing task was to "coordinate legal and illegal political activities closely, but give primary emphasis to the illegal work, and at the same

76. "Dien cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 6 thang 10 nam 1954: Ve nhan dinh tinh hinh va chu truong cong tac moi," in VKD, 1954, pp. 327­328. 77. Ibid., pp. 328­329.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

time take full advantage of every legal and semi-legal opportunity to propagandize and educate the masses on a large scale."78 In the face of mounting difªculties in the South, the VWP Central Committee called in mid-December 1954 for intensiªcation of the propaganda campaign against the Americans, denouncing them for intervening in Indochina and sabotaging the Geneva agreements, while disparaging their French and Vietnamese "lackeys" for perªdy. In a parallel effort, the VWP undertook to spread its views among the people of South Vietnam. These measures were responses to the disillusion felt by many Southern revolutionaries about the political struggle. "We must overcome subjective, remorseful," and "pessimistic" and "faltering" thoughts, the VWP urged. Perhaps most important, supporters of the revolution had to overcome "fear of the Americans" and "lack of belief in the triumph of the political struggle." To dissuade revolutionary elements from resorting to violence, the VWP Central Committee repeated earlier warnings about the importance of respecting the ceaseªre. "We must give all our attention to protecting the foundation [laid by the agreement], avoiding provocations, [and] avoiding manifestations of force." The Central Committee called on party leaders in the South to promote peace more actively, making use of such slogans as "Vietnamese do not kill Vietnamese" (nguoi Viet Nam khong ban giet nguoi Viet Nam).79

Growing Strains on the Accord

Despite such efforts, the situation in the South continued to deteriorate, making increasingly obvious the shortcomings of the VWP's policy. Southern revolutionary leaders tried their best to follow that policy, praising its merits in newspapers, magazines, and public meetings.80 Privately, however, they never agreed with the policy, and their disaffection grew as the shortcomings became more evident. Vo Chi Cong, a prominent Southern revolutionary leader, admitted as much in a recent memoir. Hanoi's acceptance of the Geneva Agreement, according to Cong, effectively nulliªed all the gains the revolutionary forces had achieved below the seventeenth parallel, and it was therefore detrimental to the revolution generally. Equally disconcerting

78. Quoted in Trung tam Khoa xa hoi va nhan van quoc gia--Vien su hoc, Lich su Viet Nam, p. 179. See also Dang Cong san Viet Nam, Nhung su kien lich su Dang, Vol. III (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Thong tin ly luan, 1985), pp. 12­13. 79. "Chi thi cua Ban Chap hanh Trung uong, ngay 17 thang 12 nam 1954: Tuyen truyen van dong manh dau tranh chong de quoc My can thiep vao Dong Duong va pha hoai Hiep dinh dinh chien," in VKD, 1954, pp. 409­419. 80. Vo Chi Cong, Tren nhung chang duong cach mang (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Chinh tri quoc gia, 2001), pp. 148­152.



to Southerners was Hanoi's insistence that all the provisions of the settlement be observed and violence foresworn, even when the enemy resorted to it. Revolutionaries in the South argued that in light of the duplicitous history of French colonialists and the Cold War mindset of U.S. ofªcials, it was naive to assume that either group would permit the reuniªcation of Vietnam under a VWP-led government. They feared that this misplaced optimism, even naïveté, would result in the loss of the South for the people and setbacks for the revolution.81 Southern leaders shared some of their reservations with Hanoi. Following a discussion of the VWP Politburo's September 1954 policy pronouncement, the Executive Committee of Region IV (essentially Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces) in the South suggested to Hanoi that the new policy was not in the best interest of the revolution because it left Southern revolutionaries at the mercy of enemy violence. Sustaining a purely political struggle in the South, the Region IV leaders insisted, would be "extremely difªcult and complex," especially in the "Tri Thien" theater, whose people had suffered greatly during the Franco-Vietnamese war and now faced further violence. Despite pledging to implement the will of the VWP, the regional party ofªcials made certain that Hanoi understood the nature and depth of their concern.82 A month later, the Executive Committee of Region V, in the central part of South Vietnam, voiced similar concerns, though in far more explicit language. After a three-day discussion in October 1954 about the VWP Politburo's document, the regional committee sent a lengthy critique of it to Hanoi that covered a wide range of issues, such as helping peasants to produce higher yields and encouraging more Northerners in the South to return home. The committee's critique highlighted the priorities of Southern revolutionaries after July 1954 and what would be necessary to achieve them. In discussing these issues, the committee pointedly refrained from mentioning the merits or eventual triumph of the political struggle mandated by Hanoi.83 Instead, after making the necessary obeisance to Hanoi's directive, the Region V Executive Committee expressed its wariness of enemy intentions and doubts that reuniªcation could be achieved peacefully. "Our army and governmental structure [chinh quyen] have retreated to the North," the committee told Hanoi. Consequently, the French "enjoy military and political su81. Vien Lich su Dang--Hoi dong bien soan lich su Nam Trung bo khang chien, Nam Trung bo khang chien, pp. 235­236. 82. "Quyet nghi cua Lien Khu uy IV, ngay 26 thang 9 nam 1954: Ve cong tac o Thua Thien va Quang Tri (Thi hanh Chi thi cua Bo Chinh tri ve tinh hinh moi va nhiem vu cong tac moi cua mien Nam)," in VKD, 1954, pp. 560­562; and Vien Lich su Dang--Hoi dong bien soan lich su Nam Trung bo khang chien, Nam Trung bo khang chien, pp. 227­229. 83. "Nghi quyet Hoi nghi Lien Khu uy V, tu ngay 18 den 21 thang 10 nam 1954," in VKD, 1954, pp. 577­607.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

premacy" in the South, and the people there suffer under a "colonial and feudal regime." The "new situation" created by the Geneva Agreement, the committee said, was producing "many difªculties in the task to lead the reuniªcation effort." In language intimating a sense of betrayal, the critique reºected the pessimism of revolutionary leaders who knew that the French and their allies would never give up southern Vietnam without a ªght. The Americans represented a particularly signiªcant threat, the committee warned, because they clearly intended to intervene in the South and "carry out the destruction of peace in Indochina." Working in collusion, the Americans, the French, and their Vietnamese allies "will not allow us to achieve peace and national reuniªcation through free general elections." The committee reported that in areas under U.S. control, people were being terrorized, cadres jailed or killed, and revolutionary bases destroyed. Under these circumstances, the committee advised Hanoi to prepare for "the subversion of the general elections" of 1956 and "the resumption of war."84 The tone of these warnings reºected the growing frustration of Southern revolutionaries with Hanoi and its response to the post-Geneva situation.85 Again, however, Hanoi ignored the warnings and concomitant problems of Southern cadres and instead directed them to continue the regroupment of revolutionaries from the South to the North, restructure their ranks with new recruits, and otherwise adhere to the policy announced earlier by the Politburo.86 The leaders of the VWP remained committed to the advancement of the political struggle through early 1955. They redoubled their efforts to keep Northern Catholics from regrouping to the South and launched a wider campaign to rally public opinion in and out of Vietnam behind their cause. The authorities in Hanoi instructed cadres on both sides of the seventeenth parallel as well as North Vietnamese diplomats abroad to publicize the VWP's continued commitment to the peaceful reuniªcation of the nation despite the machinations of the Americans and their "lackeys" in Saigon to derail that process. North Vietnamese leaders by then were worried that the party's credibility was minimal and that the masses still did not understand the VWP's intentions. They urged party members to ªght harder for "the spirit of the people [tinh cam dan toc]."87 The ostensible aim was to "make the people in the country and the people of the world understand clearly that we have always strongly advocated peace" and the scrupulous implementation of the agree84. Ibid., pp. 577­581. 85. Ibid., p. 580. 86. Vo Chi Cong, Tren nhung chang duong, pp. 163­165. 87. "Nghi quyet cua Ban Bi thu so 03-NQ/TW, ngay 29 thang 1 nam 1955, `Thanh lap Tieu ban dan toc,'" in VKD, 1955, p. 37.



ment, and that the "opponents of the agreement are the American imperialists and their puppets."88 Party leaders argued that because of the increasingly belligerent stance of the enemy, appeals to the global community by "internationalizing" the political struggle had become more important than ever.89 The world must recognize the "wicked intentions" of the enemy and be made to "feel resentment" toward the hostile forces.90 The VWP was indeed growing more concerned about the United States and its role in Vietnam. By March 1955, Hanoi saw the Americans as primarily responsible for the failure to carry out the agreement. "The American imperialists have compelled the French colonialists to betray the agreement and are determined to rely on feudalists and the most reactionary bourgeois collaborators headed by Ngo Dinh Diem and destroy [the prospects for] peace, uniªcation, independence, [and] democracy in Vietnam."91 A statement issued by the VWP Central Committee at a plenum in March 1955 asserted that although France and the Diem regime in Saigon were monumental obstacles to peace, the United States was "the primary and most dangerous enemy [ke thu dau so va nguy hai nhat]."92 Shortly thereafter, the VWP Politburo referred to the Americans as "neo-fascists," adding that Washington might intend to keep Vietnam permanently divided, like Germany and Korea. To avoid that odious prospect, the Politburo advanced a new slogan, "Oppose the Americans, Oppose Diem, Peace, Uniªcation" (Chong My, chong Diem, hoa binh, thong nhat).93 Equally disconcerting for North Vietnamese leaders at this juncture was their growing sense that the difªculties they faced in promoting implementation of the agreement were multiplying. After launching the political struggle in mid-1954, the VWP had achieved several successes, but, by its own admission, "the campaign to implement the agreement has had many shortcomings [thieu sot]." Speciªcally, coordination of the effort to implement the agree88. "Dien cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 9 thang 2 nam 1955, gui Xu uy Nam Bo va Lien khu uy V, ve chong am muu dich du do va cuong ep giao dan di cu vao Nam," in VKD, 1955, p. 54. 89. See "Chi thi cua Ban Bi thu so 06-CT/TW, ngay 10 thang 2 nam 1955, ve viec chong hoi nghi khoi xam luoc Dong Nam Ao Bang Coc," in VKD, 1955, p. 61. 90. "Chi thi cua Bo Chinh tri so 07-CT/TW, ngay 16 thang 2 nam 1955, day manh dau tranh pha am muu cua dich trong viec du do va cuong ep giao dan di cu vao Nam," in VKD, 1955, p. 71. 91. "Ket luan cuoc thao luan o Hoi nghi trung uong lan thu bay (Hop tu ngay 3 den ngay 12-31955)," in VKD, 1955, p. 177. 92. "Nghi quyet cua Hoi nghi Trung uong lan thu bay mo rong, hop tu ngay 3 den ngay 12-3-1955," in VKD, 1955, p. 207. 93. "Chi thi cua Bo Chinh tri so 26-CT/TW, ngay 15 thang 6 nam 1955, tinh hinh hon loan o mien Nam va nhiem vu cong tac cu the cua chung ta o mien Nam Viet Nam," in VKD, 1955, pp. 361­362, 387.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

ment was poor, and local party branches were ineffectually connected to Hanoi. Consequently, party policies and plans did not reach lower levels in a timely manner, and "the struggle to implement the agreement is oftentimes belated and passive, which is why our victory has been limited."94 Frustrated by existing conditions and intent on placating the growing number of detractors in both halves of Vietnam (particularly in the South), the VWP started espousing a different line in the spring of 1955. Although party leaders continued to press for implementation of the agreement and non-violent struggle, they now claimed that resumption of war must be delayed at least until the North had been "consolidated" (cung co). In light of the havoc created by the Americans and their allies below the seventeenth parallel, solidifying the North had become a prerequisite for national reuniªcation because only the DRVN could provide the guidance, manpower, and other resources necessary for success under these changing circumstances. Truong Chinh afªrmed in March 1955 that although "our strength resides in the entire nation," the "most essential" priority for the time being was "the northern region."95 Ho Chi Minh supported that position, stating in a public address that the principal tasks of the VWP included continuing the struggle to implement the Geneva provisions, developing stronger leadership at all levels of the party, and consolidating the North on every front while intensifying the political struggle in the South.96 The VWP claimed later that another reason for the adoption of the "North First" policy was concern that the enemy might exploit the vulnerability of the DRVN and attempt to "roll back" the revolution if the party spread its resources too thin. Truong Chinh argued in a report to party members that "if our northern region is not consolidated, then not only will uniªcation be impossible" but the Americans and their allies "might use the South as a springboard to encroach on the North."97 This assertion by the head of the VWP is remarkable in its suggestion that concern about U.S. intentions had reached the point that party leaders feared for the very survival of the DRVN. The aim of the political struggle by mid-1955 was no longer promoting implementation of the Geneva Agreement; it was saving the revolution generally.

94. "Tinh hinh hien tai va nhiem vu truoc mat, bao cao cua dong chi Truong Chinh o Hoi nghi Trung uong lan thu bay mo rong (tu 3 den 12-3-1955)," in VKD, 1955, p. 116. 95. Ibid., pp. 129, 135. 96. "Loi khai mac cua Ho Chu tich, ngay 3 thang 3 nam 1955 tai Hoi nghi lan thu bay mo rong Ban Chap hanh Trung uong Dang Lao dong Viet Nam (khoa II)," in VKD, 1955, p. 93. 97. "Bao cao cua dong chi Truong Chinh tai Hoi nghi Trung uong lan thu tam, hop tu ngay 13 den 20-8-1955 doan ket nhan dan toan quoc dau tranh de thuc hien thong nhat Viet Nam tren co so doc lap va dan chu," in VKD, 1955, p. 485.



Only after the DRVN had become a viable political entity could the struggle against the enemies of the revolution be reoriented. For the time being, the VWP needed peace. In April 1955, Hanoi issued orders for the creation, consolidation, and organization of guerrilla units throughout the DRVN--a decision that suggested fear of an American invasion of the North.98 In the South, the VWP remained committed to the pursuit of the political struggle. In a dispatch to the Region V Executive Committee, Truong Chinh wrote that the plan of action for the South remained "political and economic struggle, not armed struggle." The VWP leader conceded, however, that party members could indirectly assist other groups, including criminal organizations and religious militias, that were actively ªghting the Diem regime and the Americans.99 On 19 May 1955, voluntary regroupment ended. By that time, the VWP's attempts to keep Catholics in the North had failed. Most of the northern Christians, including the entire communities of Bui Chu and Phat Diem, had decided to "follow the Virgin Mary" and go south. In their new location, they reestablished their communities and, predictably, became dedicated supporters of the Southern regime.100 In all, nearly a million Northerners, mostly Catholics, migrated southward.101 After the regroupees arrived in the South and after the territory formerly under revolutionary control had been ceded to the Southern regime, Diem moved to wipe out the revolutionary movement by launching a vigorous anti-Communist campaign across the South.102 Soon thereafter, Diem publicly announced that as a non-signatory to the Geneva Agreement his government was under no obligation to support the 1956 elections and would in fact not participate in them.103 Instead, he held a referendum of his own in October 1955 asking the Southern population to make

98. "Chi thi cua Trung uong so 14-CT/TW, ngay 16 thang 4 nam 1955, ve van de tiep tuc pha am muu gay phi cua de quoc," in VKD, 1955, p. 260. 99. "Dien cua Ban Bi thu, ngay 15 thang 5 nam 1955," in VKD, 1955, p. 299. Such organizations included the Binh Xuyen criminal syndicate and the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religious factions. 100. By one account, Northern regroupees, most of whom were Catholics supportive of Diem, eventually dominated the South Vietnamese government and armed forces. See Anthony James Joes, The War for South Vietnam, 1954­1975 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001), p. 36. 101. On the resettlement of Northern Catholics, see Tran Thi Lien, "Les catholiques vietnamiens dans la République du Vietnam (1954­1963)," in Pierre Brocheux, ed., Du conºict d'Indochine aux conºits indochinois (Paris: Éditions Complexe, 2000), pp. 53­80. 102. By January 1956, Ordinance No. 6 granted South Vietnamese ofªcials carte blanche to incarcerate and put to death suspected Communists and other opponents of the regime. 103. The position of Diem's regime regarding the 1956 elections was articulated in Republic of Vietnam, The Problem of Reuniªcation in Vietnam (Saigon: Ministry of Information, 1958). On 20 July 1954, the day of the signing of the Geneva agreements, Diem declared an ofªcial "day of shame" (jour de la honte). Diem is quoted in Tranh-Minh Tiet, Les relations Americano-Vietnamiennes de Kennedy à Nixon, Vol. 1, Kennedy­Ngo Dinh Diem (Paris: Nouvelles Éditions latines, 1971), p. 35.


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

him head of state in place of Bao Dai "with the mission of installing a democratic regime" below the seventeenth parallel. Despite indications that the voting was rigged--in some districts the number of ballots cast was greater than the number of eligible voters, and the outcome of the vote was 98.2 percent in favor of Diem--the referendum nonetheless removed Bao Dai from ofªce and made Diem the head of state as well as the prime minister of a vehemently anti-Communist and anti-revolutionary government. The referendum therefore enhanced the legitimacy and sovereignty of the Southern regime and set the stage for the formal creation of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). The U.S. Senate's vote to ratify the treaty creating the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in February 1955 formalized the U.S. commitment to the preservation of a non-communist South Vietnam, completing a series of setbacks for the VWP. In response to these developments, the VWP came under unprecedented criticism from its supporters, including harsh condemnations by prominent Northerners who attacked it for the unpardonable Communist sin of dogmatism.104 The VWP was no longer able to deny the failure of the Geneva Agreement and with it the prospect of peaceful reuniªcation under a revolutionary government. Under these circumstances, party leaders reassessed their strategy and allowed for a measured shift of emphasis from political to military struggle. This reversal was chieºy the result of the effort of Le Duan, the highestranking VWP ofªcial in the South, who presented a stinging critique of the party's Southern strategy to the VWP Central Committee on the eve of its Eleventh Plenum in December 1956.105 Entitled De cuong cach mang mien Nam (Directions of the Southern Revolution), Le Duan's report urged the abandonment of the "Geneva line" and the gradual resumption of armed struggle in light of the mounting setbacks to the revolution in the South.106 After lengthy deliberations, the VWP Central Committee approved a limited escalation of violent action in the South, and the Politburo soon ratiªed the decision, thus effectively jettisoning the effort to achieve reuniªcation through a purely political, non-violent struggle. The escalation had to be gradual, however, because the DRVN was still frail and the VWP could not afford to give the Americans a pretext to attack.107

104. See Georges Boudarel, Cent ºeurs écloses dans la nuit du Vietnam: Communisme et dissidence 1954­1956 (Paris: Jacques Bertoin, 1991). 105. One observer has called Le Duan the "chief " VWP "critic of Geneva." See Kevin Ruane, War and Revolution in Vietnam, 1930­75 (London: UCL Press, 1998), p. 41. 106. Vien nghien cuu chu nghia Mac-Lenin va tu tuong Ho Chi Minh, Lich su Dang Cong san Viet Nam, p. 52; and Le Mau Han, Dang Cong san Viet Nam: Cac Dai hoi va Hoi nghi Trung uong (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban Chinh tri quoc gia, 1995), pp. 73­74. 107. According to historian Philippe Devillers, Diem's anti-Communist campaign was so effective that "if Hanoi had not resolved to resume the armed struggle . . . the prospect for reuniªcation would



The failure of the line adopted by the VWP in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Geneva Agreement discredited the leaders in Hanoi while vindicating Southern critics of the political approach. These and other developments eventually led to a purge of some of the VWP's highest ranks and the emergence of new ªgures in the party's policymaking bodies. In the most notable change of all, the Politburo summoned Le Duan to Hanoi in 1957 and made him acting and then permanent First Secretary of the VWP, replacing Truong Chinh.108 As setbacks in the South continued, the "new" leaders began reassessing the party's approach and soon decided to resort to total military struggle. Having lost faith in political and diplomatic solutions, the VWP turned to violent struggle in all forms, including acts of terrorism against enemy ofªcials, sympathizers, institutions, and communities. Soon thereafter, the VWP began encouraging armed insurrection among the Southern populace generally, announcing its commitment to the violent overthrow of the Southern regime by proclaiming in December 1960 the founding of the National Liberation Front of Southern Vietnam (NLF; Mat tran dan toc gia phong mien Nam Viet Nam), an umbrella organization of Southern opposition groups under the close supervision of Hanoi.109 Long after the United States escalated its military intervention in 1965 and the "AntiAmerican Resistance for National Salvation" (cuoc khang chien chong My, cuu nuoc) began, Hanoi persisted in the military mode of struggle with ever greater use of violence.110


The VWP's strong and uncritical commitment to the Geneva Agreement is best explained by the costs of years of continuous violent struggle against the

have disappeared for a long time." See Philippe Devillers, "Une même guerre? Points de vue d'un historien du Viet-nam," in Ageron and Devillers, eds., Guerres d'Indochine, p. 252. 108. The conventional understanding among Western scholars is that Truong Chinh's demotion resulted from the failure of the land-reform campaign he had enthusiastically championed in the DRVN. It is not implausible that it was precipitated by the failure of the Geneva line. 109. The best traditional interpretations of the origins of the insurgency in South Vietnam leading to the formation of the NLF include Joseph J. Zasloff, Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954­ 1960: The Role of the Southern Vietminh Cadres (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 1968); Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972); and Carlyle Thayer, War by Other Means. 110. Charles Fourniau suggested that Vietnam's revolution had to be radical and violent and its leaders uncompromising on account of the historical development of Vietnamese nationalism. By halting "the development of the bourgeoisie by persecuting and annihilating 20th-century bourgeois nationalism," French colonialism "contributed to denying the national movement the moderate path that triumphed in other colonial territories." Fourniau avers that because the interests of the old "structure mandarinale" were congruent with those of French colonialists, "the national movement could not be


Hanoi and the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam

Japanese and then the French. The ofªcial record offers no evidence that would cast doubt on the sincerity of this commitment, and it underscores the party's determination to stick by the agreement even in the face of criticism from revolutionary leaders and other supporters in the South. In the end, this decision was a disastrous failure, and war resumed. More than twenty years would be needed before the foreign occupiers left Vietnam, the Southern regime collapsed, and the nation was reuniªed. The waging of this long and costly struggle, the refusal for a long time even to talk to the enemy, and, once contacts began, the continued unwillingness to negotiate seriously may all be explained by the VWP's experiences in the immediate aftermath of the Geneva Agreement.111 In July 1954 the VWP staked the future of the revolution on the implementation of a diplomatic settlement, only to ªnd that attempts to reach a settlement were sabotaged by Diem and his regime, abetted by their French and American supporters. The most enduring consequence may have been a deep sense of disillusionment in the North with diplomatic negotiations. If the post-Geneva experience taught Vietnamese revolutionary leaders one lesson they would not forget, it was to distrust diplomacy as a means of advancing the revolution. They concluded that there was no alternative to a full-scale military struggle. Among the most egregious errors of DRVN negotiators at Geneva was their failure to insist on guarantees that the Americans would not interfere with the process of reuniªcation speciªcally or in the affairs of the Vietnamese people generally. The United States had not participated directly in the ªrst Indochina conºict, but by 1954 it was largely funding and thus sustaining the French war effort. This was a clear indicator of Washington's purpose in Indochina, and should have prompted DRVN negotiators to demand provisions in the agreement that the United States disengage from Indochina on the same terms as France. The VWP ignored that reality and approached the future of Vietnam as if it were a purely Hanoi-Paris affair. That none of the Geneva agreements bound the United States in any way and left loopholes for its involvement in Indochina undercut VWP claims that the United States was violating the settlement governing Vietnam. By the same token, DRVN authorities failed to anticipate the political vigor of the anti-revolutionary government in Saigon, speciªcally its success in creating a centralized, relatively autonomous polity that many people found tolerable. The regime Ngo

but revolutionary and aim at both social revolution and the independence of the country." See Charles Fourniau, Annam-Tonkin, 1885­1896: Lettres et paysans vietnamiens face à la conquête coloniale (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1989), p. 280. 111. Despite certain accounts to the contrary, Hanoi had no intention of negotiating in good faith prior to 1972. See Pierre Asselin, A Bitter Peace: Washington, Hanoi, and the Making of the Paris Agreement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).



Dinh Diem forged proved to be a remarkably viable foe for the VWP and supporters of the revolution in the South. The two years following the signing of the Geneva Agreement were thus a crucial phase in the Vietnamese Revolution. What Hanoi came to see as the perªdy of the West discredited diplomacy as a mode of struggle useful for the revolution, and so intense was the conviction on this point that it was not until 1968 that the VWP was again willing to talk diplomatically with the West.112 When it decided in 1972­1973 to negotiate seriously and end the war with the United States through a diplomatic settlement, it did so only on terms that assured the success of the revolution by precluding another betrayal by the Americans and/or the Saigon regime. Even then, the VWP refused to give up armed struggle, and the resulting hostilities lasted until the South was completely liberated.


The author wishes to thank the Hawaii Council for the Humanities and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for their ªnancial support; Idus Newby for editing and commenting on earlier drafts of this manuscript; and Justine Espiritu for her diligent proofreading.

112. On this issue, see ibid., pp. 4­25.




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