The Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, held a scholarly conference September 29-30, 2010, on United States policy and the war in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975, with special emphasis on the years of greatest American involvement in the conflict in Vietnam. A full program can be found on the Office of the Historian website.
The conference showcased and commemorated the completion of the Indochina/Vietnam War documentary histories prepared by the Office of the Historian in the Foreign Relations of the United States series. In approximately 26 volumes, the Office of the Historian has printed over 24,500 pages of policy related documents. “This exhaustive record of United States policy regarding Southeast Asia from 1946 until 1975,” said Secretary Clinton, “will be a resource for students and scholars, for families and citizens in both of our countries who remain keenly interested in this chapter of our shared history.”
Featured speakers at the conference included Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, who opened the conference, and Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, and Ambassador John D. Negroponte, all of whom played significant roles in the evolution of the United States’ Vietnam policy process.
“People do not easily shake off the weight of history,” Secretary Clinton remarked at the conference. “All over the world, we see the bitter legacy of old conflicts and enmities. It is a source of many of our most persistent challenges. I see it every day as I work with governments on very intractable conflicts that are difficult to even imagine resolving because of the accumulated history of mistrust, of violence that has joined peoples together over time. But how remarkable it is that the American and Vietnamese people have decided to leave behind a history they could not change and embrace a future that we can shape together.”
The program included several scholarly panels featuring thought-provoking works by leading American and international scholars (from Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, and Vietnam) on topics such as force and diplomacy, counterinsurgency and pacification, the United States and its allies, and the war at home.
The program also included a panel on the media and the Vietnam War to discuss the impact of the press on public opinion and United States policy. Marvin Kalb moderated the panel, which consisted of journalists who reported from Vietnam or about the Vietnam War, and a public affairs official who directed media relations for Embassy Saigon. One broadcast journalist—Morley Safer—and two print journalists—William Beecher and Edith Lederer— participated, as did the former Director of Media Relations at Embassy Saigon, Barry Zorthian.
Aided by the recollections of participants in the policy process such as Dr. Kissinger and Ambassadors Holbrooke and Negroponte, by documents in the Foreign Relations series, and by presentations of the most recent research by scholars, this conference provided a special opportunity to re-examine the formation, development, and consequences of United States policy in Indochina and the Vietnam War for America and the world.
Secretary Clinton’s full remarks at the conference are available here.