Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Andrew Johnston


Using archival material from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam this dissertation demonstrates that from 1954 to 1963 the South Vietnamese government of President Ngô Binh Diçm attempted to promote its own national revolution to build a modem, independent Southeast Asian nation. This revolution, I argue, was intended to rival the socialist revolution being fomented by the communists in North Vietnam and was consistent with the efforts of other Southeast Asian leaders who were attempting to create viable, independent national polities within a region that was subject to the twin forces of decolonization and the Cold War. Beginning in early 1955 the Special Commissariat for Civic Action became an important vehicle through which Diçm intended to realize his revolution. During this period the Special Commissariat for Civic Action faced a number of obstacles in fulfilling its mission, the most significant being a communist-led insurgency. American policymakers in both the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations shared the Diçm government’s belief that the best means to counter this insurgency lay in building a viable nation in South Vietnam. The dissertation contends that the developmental model American policymakers in Washington and advisors in Vietnam based their nation- building prescriptions upon was rooted in an idealized conception of their own nation’s evolutionary trajectory and completely ignored any local realities. Such obtuseness, I argue, offended die nationalist sensibilities of the Diçm government leading it to exclude American advisors in Sài Gôn from deliberations over the development of the Civic

Action program, demonstrating there were significant limits to the scope of American influence in South Vietnam. The thesis concludes that the efforts of the Civic Action cadres to win peasant support to the Diçm government were undermined by a combination of internal contradictions in the revolution they were attempting to foment, poor policy formulation and a heavy-handed campaign to eliminate subversive elements. I argue that these phenomena not only prevented the revolutionary ideals of the Diçm government from resonating with the rural population, but they actually contributed to the rise of the communist-led Nationalist Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam in late 1960. Keywords: nation-building, nationalism, liberal-developmentalism, modernization, modernization theory, Orientalism, postcolonialism, First Republic of Vietnam, Civic Action, United States-South Vietnamese Relations



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