The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975

Posted by Lindsay Krasnoff
September 29, 2010
Man Watches Sunset Over Mekhong River in Vientiane

About the Author: Lindsay Krasnoff serves in the Office of the Historian.

This being Washington, DC, one of the first questions that people ask me is: what do you do? When I respond, “I am a historian in the Office of the Historian at the Department of State,” I am usually met by a blank stare.

Nestled in Foggy Bottom, the Office of the Historian has been part of the Department of State for many decades. Our office currently has more than 30 historians in several divisions, who carry out numerous missions. One of these missions is to compile and publish the Foreign Relations of the United States series.

Commonly referred to as FRUS, the Foreign Relations series is the oldest official documentary record of its kind. First authorized by President Lincoln in 1861, FRUS has remained in continuous publication providing documentary coverage of all significant aspects of United States foreign policy since the Civil War. FRUS is an indispensable resource for the scholarly community, the general public, the press, and policy makers. It provides valuable historical context to aid in understanding historical events and their relevance to current policy. The evidence provided in FRUS allows for analysis and reflection on United States policy, and reexamination of the history of the conflict in light of newly declassified information.

Today, the Office of the Historian launches a two-day historical conference, “The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975.” It's a morning of beginnings and ends for us. For the past year, several of us have helped to plan and execute the multi-faceted and ambitious program agenda. Now that the event is fully upon us, it is somewhat bittersweet.

One of the main goals for hosting this conference is to commemorate the end of a process that began in 1971, when the first section on “French Indochina” pertaining to the year 1946 was published in a FRUS volume entitled, “The Far East.” Since then, the Office of the Historian has published more than two dozen FRUS volumes on the subject, culminating on September 23, 2010, with the publication of the last volume in the series, which covers the final phase of engagement from the Paris Peace Accords to the Fall of Saigon in 1975. This sub-series detailing United States engagement in Southeast Asia now consists of 26 Foreign Relations volumes spanning 24,500 pages of official documents produced by the White House, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other government agencies.

Our conference highlights the completion of this sub-series, with special focus on the Vietnam War period, 1961-1973. Yet, it also serves as an opportunity to re-examine the history of American policy towards Indochina/Vietnam during this period.

In this sense, when Secretary Clinton opens our conference today, she will launch a two-day period of reflection and re-examination; a forum for American and international scholars to present papers on such critically important Vietnam War topics as force and diplomacy, counterinsurgency and pacification, the United States and its allies, and the war at home. As part of the academic community, my office finds this scholarship, based upon declassified and -- in some cases, recently released -- documents to be very exciting.

Our featured speakers include Dr. Henry Kissinger, Ambassador John Negroponte, and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Rounding out our scholarly panels today will be two speakers from Hanoi, who will offer some perspective on the North Vietnamese experience, and a panel of senior scholars who will discuss how academia has treated the Vietnam War. Finally, to close a long and eventful first day, we have put together a panel of distinguished journalists to provide a unique perspective on the role and impact of the media on public opinion and U.S. policy during the war. This evening's 6:00 p.m. roundtable discussion on the media and the Vietnam War by William Beecher, Marvin Kalb, Edith Lederer, Morley Safer, and Barry Zorthian promises to be quite interesting.

Thus, as months of planning for this conference ends the years of hard work by our historians who have compiled, edited, declassified, and published the FRUS Southeast Asia/Vietnam sub-series, we look forward to the beginnings of new and renewed discussion on the history of U.S. foreign policy of this period.



Massachusetts, USA
September 29, 2010

Trudy in Massachusetts writes:

Very interesting introduction...excellent job and well written! Amazing how little we citizens don't know of what information is available, made possible by our government. Congratulations on a job well done!

Susan C.
Florida, USA
September 29, 2010

Susan C. in Florida writes:

Lindsay, fascinating. What a great job you have! I have taught art for many years, and I love my subject, but next to art I love history. The period of time that you have just finished documenting must have been extremely interesting, also very sad. Thank you for this posting. Please keep us updated.


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