The Indochina Syndrome: War, Memory, and the Franco-American Conflict over Vietnam, 1963-1973

Douglas Joseph Snyder, University of Colorado Boulder


This dissertation examines how competing memories of the First Indochina War (1945-1954) influenced disagreements between U.S. and French policymakers about the American war in Vietnam. The thesis seeks most fundamentally to determine why American policymakers rejected advice about Vietnam from France--the Western ally with a unique connection to Southeast Asia--and why exactly the United States was so averse to considering its guidance in the course of an increasingly problematic war. Based on extensive research in U.S. and French archives, it provides a new international framework for understanding why the Vietnam War lasted as long as it did. It advances not only scholarship on the Vietnam War, U.S. foreign policy, and U.S.-French relations but also contributes in new ways to the study of the global Cold War.

The dissertation begins its analysis in August 1963, when French president Charles de Gaulle called for the neutralization of Vietnam, and concludes with the January 1973 Paris Peace Accords. Throughout this time, each side clung to different understandings of the French defeat by Vietnamese anticolonial nationalists. Although a handful of U.S. and French officials looked past their differences to pursue potential opportunities for peace, most U.S. leaders dismissed comparisons to the earlier war as the French offered suggestions to demonstrate the challenges facing the current American military effort. Competing ideas about the nature of the Cold War world and antagonistic perceptions of the other nation infused each country's perspective on the relevance of the French example. These ideas and perceptions in turn limited the potential for significant breakthroughs to communicate more effectively about the broader assumptions driving U.S. involvement in Vietnam.