University of California, Santa Barbara
Case Method Website

1941-1945 Indochina at the Crossroads:
Colonialism, Trusteeship, or Independence?

Thomas D. Beamish, Dept of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara, (1997)

Abstract  Case Text Teaching Notes

This case is constructed to engender in the student a re-evaluation of a historical event, the Vietnam War, which has had and continues to have, a profound impact on the American psyche. In particular, memories of the Vietnam War in contemporary culture often come bereft of historical context; most memories start well after US involvement had already been initiated. In this case US foreign policy is not an abstraction, but based in the diplomatic record as it appeared at the time featuring a young Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ho Chi Minh), State Department officials, and then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This gives the student a chance to confront a tough set of choices in an international context: deciding between a people's fight for emancipation, the demands of a former colonial power (France) and U.S. ally to have its properties returned, and an emerging U.S. hegemon who has not yet completely defined what its policy is when deciding between colonialism, a U.S.-lead trusteeship, or independence.

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At the close of WWII Indochina was at a crossroads. Until the war a French colony, and during the war occupied by the Japanese, Vietnam was becoming visible as an "international issue." As the undisputed "winner"1 of WWII, the US increasingly became--of its own volition--an arbitrator to many of the international conflicts that were brewing as a result of the weakened position of the once dominant colonial world powers (England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan). Thus, the stage was set for US involvement in South east Asian affairs--a region which was soon to become the focus of American foreign policy concerns.

Historical Background

2000 Year Old Struggle Against Foreign Domination

The first verified date of importance in Vietnamese history is 208 BC; the founding date for the kingdom of Nam-Vet whose "boundaries" roughly coincided with what is today the Tonkin region of Northern Vietnam (see regional map, p. 14). Soon thereafter (111 BC), however, the Chinese annexed that territory, starting what would be for the Vietnamese people a two thousand year struggle for independence. The Chinese ruled over what is present day Northern Vietnam for a thousand years, until the Vietnamese revolted in 939 AD. Following their successful rebellion, Vietnam was rent by five hundred years of factional strife as competing blocs of "royalty" engaged in open warfare to secure their claim to dynastic rule. This period also saw persistent Chinese meddling in Vietnamese affairs, as the Chinese, at intervals, either invaded or supported particular factions in an attempt to retain influence over the region. Finally in the fifteenth century regional rule was consolidated with the ascendance of the Le dynasty, who also repulses yet another invasion attempt by China (in the Red River region of Tonkin). At this point Vietnam begins its history as a more or less independent country.2 An important point that needs emphasizing is the effect that a millennium of Chinese domination and interference had on the Vietnamese national psyche; in Vietnam fears of Chinese invasion continue to be a basic fact of life.3 Cooperation with Chinese interests has always been filled with suspicion--active resistance to them has been Vietnams' historical role.

The next six hundred years, following Le's success, found the Vietnamese expanding territorially, first ingesting the rival Champa kingdom of central Vietnam and then pushing into the deep south taking from the Khmer empire the Mekong Delta--an area ideal for rice cultivation. This last expansion gave Vietnam a territory which roughly corresponds to its' present national boundaries.

Entrance, French Colonialism

In the seventeenth century four European nations--France, England, the Netherlands, and Portugal--took an active interest in Vietnam's commercial potential.4 In 1867 French forces occupied Southern Vietnam (referred to as the Cochinchina region) under the pretense of liberating Christian priests from persecution and imprisonment and by 1884 French forces had consolidated control over the central (Annam region) and northern (Tonkin) regions of the country.
French colonial rule, although calling for the "indirect administration" of Indochina,5 was in fact absolute. The French conceived and treated the "territory" as a profitable economic enterprise which was to be exploited for the benefit of the mother country. The economy was dominated by private French investors and the Bank of Indochina, which was established to provide the colony with a monetary exchange and to encourage economic development. The end result was almost complete control of profitable enterprise, directly through French investment or indirectly through French "oversight" of investment vis-à-vis the French Bank and its credit programs. French domination continued uninterrupted until WWII and Japanese occupation.

The Growth of Nationalism

Nationalist sentiments in Vietnam find their earliest roots in the period of Chinese domination. This tradition of resistance was resurrected with the emplacement of a French colonial administration. Early on, resistance to colonial ambitions was led by high-ranking Mandarins and members of Vietnam's Imperial court, their early agenda being the ejection of the French and restoration of Vietnam's dynastic order.

By the turn of the century, however, Vietnamese liberation forces were increasingly espousing a more progressive program based in part on the diffusion of French cultural, economic, and educational values into traditional Vietnamese society. An educated cadre of revolutionaries began to shift the focus of their demands from reinstatement of a Vietnamese dynasty to calls for modernization; their requests included social and economic reforms meant to remedy the widespread deprivation the Vietnamese people had experienced under French rule. Initially their attempts to bring about independence were through petition, as opposed to open conflict. 

A letter penned by Ho Chi Minh6 and sent to the US Secretary of State in 1919 illustrates this point. In it, Ho appeals to the legal rights and political ideals on which both France and America presumably stood, asking them to live up to what they claim to represent and support a Vietnamese bid for independence.

To his Excellency, the Secretary of State of the Republic of the United States, Delegate to the Peace Conference (Mr. Robert Lansing) 7

We take the liberty of submitting to you the accompanying memorandum setting forth the claims of the Annamite people on the occasion of the Allied victory. We count on your kindness to honor our appeal by your support whenever the opportunity arises. We beg your Excellency graciously to accept the expression of our profound respect.
Since the victory of the allies, all subject peoples are frantic with hope at the prospect of an era of right and justice which should begin for them by virtue of the formal and solemn engagements, made before the whole world by the various powers and the entente8 in the struggle of civilization against barbarism. While waiting for the principle of national self-determination to pass from ideal to reality through the effective recognition of the sacred right of all peoples to decide their own destiny, the inhabitants of the ancient Empire of Annam, at the present time French Indochina, present to the noble Governments of the entente in general and the honorable French Government the following humble claims:
1) General amnesty for all native people who have been condemned for political activity.
2) Reform of the Indochinese justice system by granting to the native population the same judicial guarantees as the Europeans have and the total suppression of the special courts which are the instruments of terrorization and oppression against the most responsible elements of the Annamite people.
3) Freedom of Press.
4) Freedom to associate freely.
5) Freedom to emigrate and to travel abroad.
6) Freedom of education, and creation in every province of technical and professional schools for the native population.
7) Replacement of the regime of arbitrary decrees by a regime of law.

              For the Group of Annamite Patriots
              [Signed] Nguyen Ai Quoc
              56, rue Monsieur le Prince-Paris

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By the 1920s attempts by Vietnamese scholars and bureaucrats to promote structural change from within the colonial authority had been denied and or exhausted. With the diplomatic channels closed, violent insurrection seemed the only avenue open to the Vietnamese through which emancipation might be achieved.

The dominant resistance group at this time was the VNQDD (the Vietnamese Nationalist Party)--a non-communist organization which had built itself in the image of the Chinese Republican Kuomintang Party.9 But 1930 saw a VNQDD attempt to foment national insurrection backfire, as already alerted French forces thoroughly crushed the movement. With the demise of the VNQDD a political vacuum arose, which left the relatively new communist organizations as sole heirs to Vietnamese resistance. Soon thereafter, Marxist splinter groups coalesced around their common objective, independence, forming the ICP (Indochinese Communist Party) which was to become the dominant force throughout the rest of the revolution and eventual independence.

Outbreak of WWII--the Pacific Theater and a Chance at Independence

The outbreak of WWII gave ICP forces in Vietnam the opportunity needed to push for independence. During this period the maturation of the Vietnamese resistance forces under the direction of Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap consolidated and organized itself into a formidable force; helping to defeat Japanese forces in 1945; the defeat of French forces in 1954--which led to the Geneva accords and a partition, at the seventeenth parallel, of the country into North and South; and eventually the defeat of the American-backed South Vietnamese forces in 1975, uniting the Vietnamese people under one flag.

Immediately following the withdrawal of the Japanese in 1945, the revolutionary movement under Ho Chi Minh held mass celebrations. One million or more people flooded the streets of Hanoi reveling in what they believed was their new found independence. Ho issued a Declaration of Independence for the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam--a document which borrowed much of its text from both the French revolution's "Rights of Man and the Citizen" and the American revolution's "Declaration of Independence." The document's opening proclaims: "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; among those are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." For the first time in its modern history, Vietnam felt free of foreign domination--a situation which was to change within a number of weeks, plunging Vietnam back into revolutionary war.

1945 and the End of WWII: International Context

Diplomatically, the Western Powers were divvying up the post-WWII "international map." British forces soon moved in to occupy the Southern region of Indochina, making overtures to French demands for the return of their pre-war "possessions." At this time the north was occupied by the Chinese Nationalist forces of Chiang Kia-Shek, who were under increasing US pressure to withdraw--both because French forces wanted to reassert themselves and because Vietnamese resistance forces under Ho and General Giap were on the verge of declaring war on the Chinese "invaders." One gets a sense of how the Vietnamese resistance movement felt about both the French and Chinese being in Vietnam through General Giap's response to a treaty, which at the time was being negotiated between French and Viet Minh forces. He asserts "It is better to sniff French dung for a while than eat China's all our lives." 10

Indochina's Economic "Significance"

What made Indochina such a critical international policy issue? Principally food. As one of three East Asian rice exporters (along with Thailand and Burma), Vietnam had the capacity to feed millions beyond its own population. Through its export of more than 1,725,000 metric tons of rice in 1936 alone, Vietnam supplied the rice eating regions under French control with a staple the empire could not have otherwise provided. Thus, early on it was Vietnam's agricultural potential that was seen as the reason why French or Chinese11 interests would want to "acquire" Indochina for themselves. Indochina was also an important producer and exporter of corn (557,000 metric tons 1936); coal (1,725,000 tons in 1938); rubber (57,000 metric tons 1938); and array of other exports including tin, iron, zinc, cement, tea, and fish.

The International Political Stakes

As a political issue Indochina was also gaining in international prominence for a number of reasons. In particular, as a former colonial area it was a testing ground for the newly emerging US global hegemony, representing what US diplomats liked to refer to as "new form of cooperation" between East and West. The success or failure of US-sponsored initiatives in the region were seen by US diplomats as important precedents that all of Asia was closely watching. From this perspective, the US needed to chart a course that would resolve tensions in the region(s)--to the mutual benefit of all the parties involved if possible--and in so doing enhance the likelihood of further voluntary association and cooperation in the future, both in the region and internationally.

Geographical Importance

Another potent factor for the international powers, which lent the issue of Vietnamese independence such urgency, was Vietnam's strategic geographic position. The US State Department saw Vietnam as providing a convenient invasion route into not only its own, but the other rice rich areas of Southeast Asia. It only seemed natural that it was a real point for outside aggression to center itself upon--in particular if China so chose. According to US policy strategists, a China which controlled Vietnam would have a potent impact and influence on the development of the region, including other countries such as Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, and perhaps Japan.

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Choosing a Course

The debate over just "what do about Indochina" begins for the US in 1943, with a number of short memoranda from then Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius to then President Roosevelt. In them, Stettinius forwards to the president French concerns12 that Chinese plans to operate against the Japanese in the north of Vietnam may in fact do more harm than good--Chinese occupation of Vietnamese territory would deny Frances' claims to it, and the indigenous population would not cooperate given that the Chinese were recognized as "hereditary enemies of the Annamite people." The memorandum proceeds:

M. Hoppenot (French dignitary) came to see me at his request. He handed me the attached memorandum, which states the French National Committee understands that Chinese operations will presently open against the Japanese within the frontiers of Indochina. This gave great concern to the French National Committee. If Chinese troops attacked there, plainly there would not be any support from the French, since the Chinese had always claimed interests there, and it was not unlikely that French troops would defend against a Chinese attack.13
Furthermore, Mr. Hoppenot and the French National Liberationists stress that it is a mistake to entrust to Chinese troops the launching of military operations against Indo-China [a.k.a. Japanese occupation] the main reason being the Chinese are hereditary enemies of the Annamites and that an attack by the Chinese would therefore be resisted by the local population as well.
It is our belief that this presentation of the case involves allegations not in accord with the facts, and that the Annamites (Vietnamese), by and large, have for the Chinese a feeling of friendliness and cultural affinity.

Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius

However, President Roosevelt, when asked in which direction US policy should lean, replied it was "perfectly clear" that

Indo-China should not go back to France, but that it should be administered by an international trusteeship. France has had the country--thirty million inhabitants for nearly one hundred years, and the people are worse off than they were in the beginning.
As a matter of interest, I am wholeheartedly supported in this view by Generalismo Chiang Kia-Shek and by Marshal Stalin. I see no reason to play in with the British Foreign office in this matter. The only reason they seem to oppose it is they fear the effect it would have on their possessions and those of the Dutch. They never liked the idea of trusteeship because it is, in some instances, aimed at future independence. This is true in the case of Indo-China.
Each case must, of course, stand on its own feet, but the case of Indo-China is perfectly clear. France has milked it for one hundred years. The people of Indo-China are entitled to something better that that.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Yet, while President Roosevelt was resisting pressures from the French military to assist their bid for a post-war re-conquest of Indochina, bureaucrats in the State Department were beginning to think in very different terms. They were increasingly supportive of a pro-French policy, recognizing the need to cultivate allies who would join the US in its exercise of world power. To cross France would undermine a potential partnership. However the President held firm and when questioned further by Charles Tuassig, a personal advisor of Roosevelt's, the President made himself clear:

    The President said he was concerned about the brown people of the East. He said that there are 1,100,000,000 brown people. In many Eastern countries, they are ruled by a handful of whites and they resent that. Our main goal must be to help them achieve independence--1,100,000,000 potential enemies are dangerous. He said he included the 450, 000, 000 Chinese in that. He then added, Churchill doesn't understand this.

    The President said he thought we might have some difficulties with France in the matter of colonies. I said that I thought that was quite probable and it was also probable the British would use France as a "stalking horse."

    I asked the President if he had changed his ideas on French Indochina as he had expressed them to us at the Stanley Luncheon [refers to a meeting with British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Col. Oliver Stanley]. He said no he had not changed his ideas; that French Indochina and New Caledonia should be taken from France and put under trusteeship. The President hesitated a moment and then said--well if we can get the proper pledge from France to assume for herself the obligations of trustee, then I would agree to France retaining these colonies with the proviso that independence was the ultimate goal. I asked the President if he would settle for self-government. He said no. I asked if he would settle for dominion status. He said no--it must be independence. He said that is to be the policy, "you can quote me in the State Department."

This would be the last "official conversation" Roosevelt would have regarding the fate of Indochina. The US position was, on the threshold of Roosevelt's death, still clouded with indecision. Should the US advocate Vietnamese independence and hope the movement could sustain itself? Was giving in to French demands, a traditional and needed ally of the US, worth the price of denying a people their right to freedom? Or was an "international trusteeship" the best move, a position which stood between these two extremes? Just what the US should and would do was becoming a hotly debated issue within the State Department. What was clear however, was that the US had emerged from WWII in the global driver's seat--whatever decision it came to make was going to have a tremendous impact on South East Asian affairs for the foreseeable future...

The Decision Making Context following FDR's Death

Following the Presidents death on April 12, 1945 the State Department began to review its policy toward Indochina. The process, initiated by the European Division, recommended the US not oppose restoration of Indochina to France. Roosevelt's inclinations toward an international trusteeship as the preferred solution to the Indochinese "dilemma" represented a middle path in what was at this time a tripartite policy debate.
As touched on above the first position was Roosevelt's own and was supported by the International Affairs Committee of the State Department, which saw international trusteeship as the most expedient solution to a difficult problem. The second policy course, submitted by the European Division of the State Department, supported the French bid for re-conquest of the region seeing a friendly France as outweighing the needs of the Vietnamese people. The third proposition, submitted by the Far East Division of the State Department, suggested complete Vietnamese independence, a fairly radical position given the international climate at the time.
It must be added, that at this point in time, the (virtual) hysteria which characterized cold war politics had not yet (completely) asserted itself--although it was increasingly playing a role in policy decisions. The White House was not yet convinced that the Viet Minh were entirely communist inspired, viewing them instead as primarily a nationalist anti-imperialist movement.

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    The US Policy debate as it was formulated April 20, 1945: A letter to the President Outlining the Three Policy Alternatives (President Harry S. Truman). In April 1945, a letter was sent to the President outlining the policy recommendations put forth by the different factions within the State Department. The letter read as follows:

    Draft Memorandum by G.H. Blakeslee, Department of the State, April 1945. Source: 851G.00/4-545, State Department Central Files, National Archives

    There are three possible solutions for the problem of the disposition of Indochina. It may be restored to France, with or without conditions; it may be placed under international trusteeship; or it may be granted independence.

    1. Restoration of French: Submitted by the European division of the State Department.

    If France is denied its former status in Indochina it will be, to a certain extent, further weakened as a world power (having ostensibly lost much of her power and prestige in losing to both the German forces in Europe and Japanese forces in Asia). It would require the US to intervene in Indochinese affairs--if France is to be denied this position--since France is determined to reassert itself. If the US, given its statements supporting the restoration of French properties overseas, leads the push to dismember the French Empire, French reaction (negative) will surely hamper US relations with her and strain, if not utterly defeat, the basic elements which comprise our policy towards France. An already compromised, increasingly sovereign conscious France does not bode well for a post war collaborative effort in Europe and around the world as a whole.

    If in fact the active policy of the US is to seek and assist in the adoption of measures by which the peoples of dependent countries are lifted from their present social conditions and are to be given in time full self determination, we should consider whether that aim is best achieved, in the case of Indochina, through cooperation with the French or through denial of any role to France (as observed through Vietnamese independence, and somewhat so through an international trusteeship). In reaching that decision we must determine whether it is of more interest to us and the world as a whole to have a strong, friendly, and cooperative France or have a resentful France; not to mention having our hands full of a social and administrative problem of the first magnitude.

    2. International Trusteeship: Submitted by the International Affairs Committee of the State Department.

    There are two considerations which favor an international trusteeship: 1st) the interests of the natives; 2nd) the interests of the US.

    On the first note the failure of France to provide adequately for the welfare of the indigenous population might justify placing Indochina under the control of an international administration, which would follow a course meant to bring about the eventual independence and rising standard in living for the local inhabitants.

    The French administration, heretofore, has not been directed toward developing colonial self government, but rather toward progressive integration of the dependent into a closely knit Empire dominated by the mother country. French policy deliberately restricts indigenous participation in local government. That is, the proportion of Indochinese natives found in official administrative posts is much smaller than that found in British or Dutch colonies. Furthermore, French economic policy has been premised on terms much more favorable to the mother country than one which looks to aid the colony.

    The interests of the United States are opposed to imperialism and favor the progressive development, economically and politically, of dependent peoples until they are prepared for and granted independence. The peoples in the Far East have a vigorous and emotional opposition to Western imperialism and this opposition appears to have increased in strength as the result of the Japanese promises and propaganda during the war. It is in the best interest of the US to disassociate itself from the imperialism of the European powers in the Far East. If in fact the US chooses to participate in the restoration of the French in Indochina, with no provisions which look to the betterment of the indigenous population and the development of these people toward independence, it might well weaken the traditional confidence of all Eastern people in the US and hurt long term interests in the area. If Indochina is a problem--that is if there is a question as to the readiness of its people to self govern--let it be recommended that French rule be terminated and an international trusteeship be instituted in its stead.

    The trusteeship could and or would be constituted by two or more leading powers. The trustee powers would necessarily assume, in the name of the people concerned, all rights and responsibilities of sovereignty including security for the peoples, conduct of foreign relations, financial solvency of the administration, and responsibility and power for all acts of government - executive, legislative, and judicial. A detailed plan for such a trusteeship has been drafted by the international division of the State Department.

    3. Independence: Submitted by the Far East Division of the State Department.

    Over 17 million of the 24 million inhabitants of Indochina are Annamites (Vietnamese). The Annamites are one of the most highly civilized peoples in South East Asia, and it would seem reasonable to suppose that, after a preparatory period, they would prove to be as capable as the Thai, who have successfully governed for centuries, or the Burmese who, before the war, had achieved the substance of self government though not the title.

    A national movement of some proportion already, at this time, exists in Indochina. Although the French have looked with disfavor on the growth of an indigenous nationalism, the liberal tendencies of French thought have inevitably produced a desire for political liberty among the educated native people. More specifically the political consciousness of the natives may be traced in large measure to grievances against the French rulers. Among these are the contrasts in standard of living between resident French and indigenous peoples, discriminatory wage levels, lack of professional opportunity, the high cost of living which nullifies the economic advantages of French rule, inequality before the law, alleged abuses of its privilege by the Roman Catholic Church, unfulfilled promises of increased political liberties and expression, failure to train natives for progressive participation in administration, and the thwarted ambitions of the native intelligencia. Based on these and other such abuses we recommend recognition of the New Democratic Republic of Vietnam and independence for the Vietnamese people.

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1 The US emerged from WWII as the only industrial country with a fully functioning manufacturing sector--in a world destroyed by war the US took the lead role in reconstructing a world system left open by a defeated Europe. [back to text]

2 An important caveat: soon after "defeating" the Chinese Le sent tithes and paid homage to the Chinese emperor in order to assure Vietnam's continued, although constrained, independence.[back to text]

3 Invasions have occurred as recently as 1979. [back to text]

4 This included rice cultivation, corn, coal, rubber, and an array of other potential exports including tin, iron, zinc, cement, tea, and fish, including what the imperial powers saw as a cheap and expendable labor force. [back to text]

5 With the exception of Cochinchina which was officially a colony. See map. [back to text]

6 At this time Ho went by the name Nguyen Ai Quoc--Ho Chi Minh is a pseudonym. [back to text]

7 This is the letter as translated from French originals-National Archives, Washington DC: From Gentlemen, Marvin E., Jane Franklin, Marilyn Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. 1985. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. Grove Press, Inc.: New York [back to text]

8 After WW1 this included France, England, and the US. [back to text]

9 A regime supported by the West for its (more) open market rhetoric and iron-fisted rule. [back to text]

10 Quoted from: Gentlemen, Marvin E., Jane Franklin, Marilyn Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. 1985. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. Grove Press, Inc.: New York. [back to text]

11 A food-deficit nation according to official US intelligence. [back to text]

12 These were from the French underground government of the resistance, not those of the Vichy regime who had submitted to Nazi occupation. [back to text]

13 This is a condensed version of what actually was two Communiqués from two Roosevelt advisors.[back to text]

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Teaching Notes

A Statement About Intent and Purpose

This case is constructed to engender in the student a re-evaluation of a historical event, the Vietnam War, which has had and continues to have, a profound impact on the "American psyche." In particular, memories of the Vietnam War in contemporary culture often come bereft of historical context; most memories start well after US involvement had already been initiated. In this case US foreign policy is not an abstraction, but based in the diplomatic record as it appeared at the time featuring a young Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ho Chi Minh), State Department officials, and then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This gives the student a chance to confront a tough set of choices in an international context: deciding between a peoples fight for emancipation, the demands of a former colonial power (France) and US ally to have "it's" properties returned, and an emerging US hegemon who has not yet completely defined what it's policy is when deciding between colonialism, a US lead trusteeship, or independence.

The key issues to be dealt with are those which both humanize and contextualize what often take form as faceless and "historyless" struggles in popular memory and contemporary policy. For instance, the oversimplification of such experiences through dominant media sources into pitched battles between ideological positions--free world vs. non-free, "their way" against "our way"--reinforce and excuse such tremendously tragic choices like those that the US chose to follow in Vietnam. By complexifying the situation, by turning back the clock to a period when the US still had not committed itself to a specific course of action, the student can evaluate for themselves what would have been for them the appropriate policy decision.

By asking the student to take the position of a state department official in the 1945 policy debate the intent should not be to reinforce the top down perspective which is so familiar to historical recountings (even if in fact this is partially an outcome of this case). On the contrary, the goal of this case is to encourage the student to evaluate at a personal level what the US could have done; and ultimately in so doing shed some light on how decisions continue to be made by individuals in such situations.

It is also important to stress the need to encourage the students to break out of the confines presented by the tripartite policy debate as formulated in this case (as it was in diplomatic record) with the hopes that they will bring in their own perspectives and observations. This would obviously entail going beyond the role play and should move toward addressing important questions which lay at the base of what one finds acceptable at the personal and international level.

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The Role Play
Given the policy debate which was taking place within the State Department at this time, what should the US do? If you were a State Department official which of the three choices would you choose? Or is there another option or position which the state department analysts left out?

We will be breaking into three groups, each representing one of these positions. Think about how you would defend each if you were a hypothetical advocate. After we finish role playing the State Department debate, be ready to discuss the following questions.
  1. What does self interest mean in an inter- and intra- national context?
  2. Are nations bound by moral constraints or are they exempt from such "sentimental directives?"
  3. If in fact morality is judged to be part of the larger set of considerations, how much weight should it be given when considered in juxtaposition to national self interest in making a decision such as the one described in the case at hand?
  4. More directly, are the choices we make as individuals different from those made in more macro(read National) settings? And if so how, and if not why?
  5. Given what Roosevelt mentioned in one of his early appraisals--the ire of 1 billion or more people turning against the US--what would be a long-term vs. a short-term policy prescription look like?
  6. How important a part should history play in the construction of foreign policy, given the case you have just read? (For instance traditional Vietnamese resistance to Chinese intentions)

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Last update: June 2002.

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