The first casualties: *American nation building programs in South Vietnam, 1955–1965

2005 2005

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation explores American nation building efforts in South Vietnam between 1955 and 1965. It focuses on Michigan State University's (MSU) technical assistance program in public and police administration and the International Voluntary Services' (IVS) agricultural and educational development initiatives. This study argues that the United States adopted a fundamentally flawed approach to Vietnam from the earliest years of American intervention and that these programs represented some of the first casualties of this flawed approach. It also demonstrates how non-state actors, such as low and mid-level aid workers from MSU and IVS, played a vital role in contributing to the failure of nation building and the overall US policy in Vietnam.

Participants in the MSU and IVS programs embraced the US government's Cold War vision for inventing a "modern" anticommunist state in southern Vietnam. They attempted to impose American-style models and methods on the Vietnamese people with whom they worked, with little regard for their needs or interests. Like most US policy makers, MSU and IVS program members ignored key elements of the political climate in South Vietnam, in particular the repressive policies of Ngo Dinh Diem's regime, the roots and nature of the revolution in Vietnam, and the legacy of colonialism. As a result of their refusal to examine critically the basic assumptions driving Cold War US foreign policy and their role in its implementation, members of Michigan State and IVS helped to alienate many local people from the government in Saigon as well as from the United States. Furthermore, in the few instances when MSU or IVS participants recognized the negative consequences of their work and questioned the accepted doctrine of US policy, American and South Vietnamese officials refused to alter the course of action and often marginalized these programs and their participants. This refusal to change the basic US approach in Vietnam, despite mounting evidence of its ineffectiveness and futility, first emerged during this nation building period and carried over with tragic consequences as the ground war escalated.

Indexing (details)

American history;
0337: American history
0332: History
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; American; International Voluntary Services; Michigan State University; Nation-building; Vietnam
The first casualties: *American nation building programs in South Vietnam, 1955–1965
Elkind, Jessica Breiteneicher
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780542423185, 0542423189
Wang, Jessica; Robinson, Geoffrey B.
University of California, Los Angeles
University location
United States -- California
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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