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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): U.S. Policy in the Vietnam War, Part I: 1954-1968

About this Collection

This collection documents the deadliest conflict in modern U.S. history prior to the current war against terrorism. The goal was to assemble both classic and relatively well-known documentary sources as well as the most recent declassified materials, making a single comprehensive resource for primary substantive research on the Vietnam conflict.

The set consists primarily of documents from the White House, National Security Council, State Department, Defense Department, and other federal agencies involved in policy-making on the war in Southeast Asia. It also features detailed reporting from the field as well as analysis from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, American embassies overseas, U.S. regional military commands, especially the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), and the uniformed military services. There are also certain documents from foreign sources, including the governments of South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom, and others.

Research Value of the Collection

This collection covers a conflict that engaged America for two decades and progressed from simple foreign aid and military assistance to active combat, to negotiations, to a renewed period of military assistance. The period includes a multiplicity of diplomatic maneuvers, lengthy deliberations in the White House and elsewhere in Washington, and combat action in the theater of war. Details of individual crises and battles, and descriptions of the U.S. government's responses give researchers a vivid picture of how the Vietnam War developed, how it was perceived in other capitals, and how costly the war became. Because many of the documents were written by U.S. officials observing and reacting to events as they unfolded, they open a fascinating window into the thought patterns of the men and women who sat on the front lines in this conflict and whose actions had an immediate impact on many levels. Among these materials are regular, sometimes hourly, reports sent to the president that impart some of the urgency of events at the top levels of the U.S. government, as well as detailed narratives from U.S. embassy and military officials reporting from the scene.

Beyond the immediacy of these descriptive documents, the materials in this collection also give a uniquely detailed portrait of the planning and decision-making that, at each stage of the Vietnam involvement, led the U.S. deeper into the quagmire of conflict. The initial decision to back Diem, the decision to expand the war, the one to overthrow Diem, the choices involved in pressuring Hanoi, first by covert operations, then by bombing, the commitment of ground troops, the strategic decisions in the war, and the attempts to open negotiations are all documented in impressive detail. More extensive discussion of these features of the collection is contained in the subset-by-subset treatment given in the introduction.