Vietnam War, Part I – The Geneva Accords

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”   Karl Marx

If there is one subject that shows the bias of college campus liberals more than any other, it is the Vietnam War. Many university professors of today were radical anti-war students in the 1960’s, and the habit of condemning America’s role in Vietnam seems to only harden with age. It is perhaps not surprising that when a radical group of the sixties holds a reunion, they hold it on a college campus, and the attendees include lots of modern day university faculty members.

A modern-day student whose only knowledge of Vietnam comes from mainstream history books and classroom lectures will inevitably be led to share the perspective of the left wing radicals who write most of the books, and give most of the lectures. According to standard textbook portrayals, the people of North Vietnam were perfectly happy living under Communism in the fifties and sixties, and the folks trapped in anti-Communist South Vietnam envied their Northern neighbors. The Americans, according to this view, came in as aggressors, in violation of an international treaty, and killed and terrorized a lot of innocent people in an attempt to deny the Vietnamese people the form of government they craved.

The truth is very different.

The Geneva Accords, and American “Violations”

The story of the Vietnam War begins with an international conference in Geneva in 1954. Vietnamese military forces, some of them Communist, had just succeeded in expelling a French colonial government from all of Vietnam, and had quickly formed two rival governments. Communist forces set up a government under Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam, and anti-Communist forces formed a South Vietnamese government under the leadership of Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem. The two sides immediately started fighting each other for territory.

Representatives of several different nations joined together in Geneva to discuss the situation and issue recommendations.

The conference produced ten documents called, collectively, the Geneva Accords. One of the documents called on the brand new governments of North and South Vietnam to hold joint elections in 1956, in which voters from both countries would vote to choose a single government under which the two nations would be merged into one.  Two years later the South Vietnamese government, with the support of the United States, refused to participate in the joint elections.

This rejection of joint elections, according to college professors and other left wing extremists, was the first of America’s Vietnam era “crimes.”

The View from The Ivory Tower

Professor Eric Foner, a past president of the American Historical Association, takes this position in his textbook Give Me Liberty. Dr. Foner accuses the U.S. of trying to undermine a “struggle for national independence, led by homegrown communists who enjoyed widespread support throughout their country.” “The Truman and Eisenhower administrations,” says Foner, “financed the creation of a pro-American South Vietnamese government in violation of the Geneva Accords of 1954 that had promised elections to unify Vietnam. (Italics added) By the 1960’s, the United States was committed to the survival of this corrupt regime.”

A few pages later Dr. Foner states that “Despite the Cold War rhetoric of freedom, American leaders seemed more comfortable dealing with reliable military regimes than democratic governments.”

The five professors1who wrote the textbook Nation of Nations put it this way:

In May, at an international peace conference in Geneva, the French negotiated the terms of their withdrawal. Ho Chi Minh agreed to pull his forces north of the 17th parallel, temporarily dividing the nation into North and South Vietnam. Because of Ho’s broad popularity, he seemed assured of an easy victory in elections scheduled for within the next two years. Dulles,2 however, viewed any Communist victory as unacceptable, even if the election was democratic. He convinced Eisenhower to support a South Vietnamese government under Ngo Dinh Diem. Dulles insisted that Diem was not bound by the Geneva accords to hold any election – a position the autocratic Diem eagerly supported.

The late professor Howard Zinn uses similar language in his textbook A People’s History of the United States: Dr Zinn devotes thirty-two pages of his freshman American history textbook to the Vietnam War. That’s seven pages more than his coverage of the American Revolution that created our nation! Zinn, who has actually been identified by the FBI as an undercover Communist,  joins the other textbook authors in condemning the American war effort.

The Other Side of the Story

The real story of the Vietnam War is very different from the portrayal college students are getting from their gray-pony-tailed professors. There was no American “violation” of a commitment to area-wide elections. There was no American commitment to hold such elections. There was never anything like a “democratic government” in North Vietnam; quite the contrary. And Ngo Dinh Diem certainly was not “bound by the Geneva Accords” to participate in a joint election pooling voters from North and South Vietnam.

On the Geneva Accords, and Who Was “Bound”

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Geneva Accords consisted of “The 10 documents—none of which were treaties binding the participants—consisted of 3 military agreements, 6 unilateral declarations, and a Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference.”3(Italics added) The language of that Final Declaration makes it clear that it is not an actual treaty: “The Conference takes note of,” “The Conference expresses satisfaction at,” etc.

The Pentagon Papers mention that no one actually signed the Final Declaration, and that no sooner was the document produced than the United States went on record with objections to it.

The government of South Vietnam, known at the time as the “State of Vietnam” was not even given a voice in the creation of the document. The only permanent members of the Supervisory Commission that produced the documents were the Soviet Union, Communist China, France, England, and the US. These imperial powers collectively decided that the future of South Vietnam should be decided not by an election in South Vietnam, but by a joint election pooling the vote from South Vietnam with that from the Communist North.

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Meanwhile Ho Chi Minh’s regime in North Vietnam was so brutal in its repression of its own people that something like one million people voted with their feet by fleeing to the South. According to this Wikipedia page, as many as three million people might have fled the North if the Communist government had not stopped most of them.

A much smaller number of citizens left the South for the North, without any interference from the Diem government.

Why America Defended South Vietnam

The professors and textbook authors who try so hard to make America the villain in Vietnam are twisting history. Ascribing the high moral ground to the Soviet Union, China, and North Vietnam is an inversion of real morality.

By the time the Geneva Accords were released, the Soviet Government had murdered something like thirty million of its own citizens under Josef Stalin. Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, who somehow always comes across as a hero in mainstream history books, was about to start a reign of terror that would put Stalin to shame. And between 1954 and 1956, the period during which these supposed partners for peace were trying to orchestrate a joint election in the two Vietnamese nations, Ho Chi Minh’s government killed off an estimated eight thousand people in a very heavy-handed effort at forced collectivization.


America’s so-called “violation” of the joint election clause of the Geneva Accords is something every American should be proud of. The only part of the story that’s really regrettable is that the US was ultimately unsuccessful in keeping Communism out of South Vietnam.

Al Fuller

1Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, and Stoff

2(American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles)


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5 thoughts on “Vietnam War, Part I – The Geneva Accords

  • This article was very biased and based mostly on opinion. There was very little fact in this article.

  • Furthermore, my book entitled “A Revolution in Indochina” clearly shows the reason why Pesident Kennedy and his Advisors should have been arrested (I know that would have been impossible)…but nevertheless, they should have…and gone to the Hague and spent some time in prison.
    My book also notes that the North Vietnamese were also in violation of the 1954 Geneva Accords. Those guys had in excess of 20,000 combat soldiers in Laos…near the South Viet-Nam border…at the time of signing of the 1954 Geneva Accords…and refused to remove them. Of course the three member Conference Enforcement Members…were useless…the three members were Poland, Canada, and India. The Polish member always vetoed any action towards the communist forces. So the Commission members were in effect useless! They were laughed at by the North Vietnamese Communist and the United States. In December of 1961, the three members were in Siagon, and actually watched while U.S. soldiers and helicopter were unloaded at the Siagon port. They did nothing to stop this gross violation of the Accords of 1954.
    Anyway, read my book…it gives everyone who cares some insight of what actually happened in the early days of the Indochina wars.
    It was no coincident that all of our military records were burned and destroyed during the major fire at the U.S. St Louis, MO. warehouse. The fire was a diliberate incident caused by the…probably the C.I.A. The U.S. wanted, without any doubt deny that Americans violated the Genava Conference of 1954, and the Geneva Conference-Laos. It’s apparant MY OWN personal records, while in South Viet-Nam, were amoung those that went up in flames…so to speak.

  • As a former United States Air Force…Crypto Communications Specialist, I resent and disagree that we should be proud of ignoring the terms of the Geneva Accords of 1954 and the Geneva Accords of 1962-Laos.

    President Kennedy sent me and my fellow airman to a foreign counry in clear violation International law. Why wer whould be “proud” being in violation of International Law…escapes me.

    I was THERE….AND I RESENT President Kennedy putting us in “harms’s way,” in clear violation of international law. I am not proud of that fact. The President of the United States should have been indicted by the Hague…and sent to prison.

    I did my job…because to do otherwise would have put me in violation of a direct order to serve in a country that I was not suppose to be in.

    I actually served in South Viet-Nam…After one year I knew that we were going to lose that country to the north Vietnamese. It did not take a “rocket scientist” to figure that out.

    55,000 Americans military lost their lives…in vain. I could have told President Kennedy in 1962…that it was a waste of time and lives…to sent American troops to the Republic of South Viet-Nam.

    Wake up and smell the coffee…you are wrong…we should not have been there in the first place.

    Read my book that was published in Oct, 2011…on sale on Amazon and other book stores…all over the world.

    You are wrong.

    Robert Tuxford

  • I don’t why I bother to reply to such an ideological article, but the truth is that the consensus historical scholarship he rants against was also taught back in the 60s by WW II-era professors, some with a “national interest” bent, and is not the creation of 1960s-spawned “left-wing radicals” with “gray-pony-tails” teaching today. The evidence is that the U.S. violated the “spirit” and not the “letter” of the 1954 Geneva Accord. The “Final Declaration” provided for a general election in 1956 and was signed by the conference participants except for the U.S. and S. Vietnam because they feared Ho Chi Minh would win the unified election. While Ho Chi Minh was, of course, no democrat, it should be noted that he was viewed as a liberator of Vietnam, and post-WW II leaders in Asia were often leaders in the liberation movement from colonial or Japanese oppressors, e.g., Burma, Indonesia, Philipines.

    It’s interesting to note that John Foster Dulles was viewed as very intransigent in Geneva, and undiplomatic (spurning the handshake offered by Zhou Enlai), but 4 years later after he was diagnosed with cancer, his policy moderated somewhat toward communism and he looked for peaceful solutions. The ever-prescient Eisenhower refused to use atomic weapons or rescue the French at Dien Bien Phu and stabilized the situation a bit.

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