In the aftermath of World War II, as longstanding empires collapsed and former colonies struggled for independence, the United States employed new diplomatic tools to counter unprecedented challenges to its interests across the globe. Among the most important new foreign policy strategies was development assistance - the attempt to strengthen alliances by providing technology, financial aid, and administrators to fledgling states in order to disseminate and inculcate American values and practices in local populations. While the US implemented development programs in several nations, nowhere were these policies more significant than in Vietnam. In The First Causalities, Jessica Elkind examines US nation-building efforts in the fledgling South Vietnamese state during the decade preceding the full-scale ground war. Based on American and Vietnamese archival sources as well as on interviews with numerous aid workers, this study vividly demonstrates how civilians from the official US aid agency as well as several nongovernmental organizations implemented nearly every component of nonmilitary assistance given to South Vietnam during this period, including public and police administration, agricultural development, education, and public health. However, despite the sincerity of American efforts, most Vietnamese citizens understood US-sponsored programs to be little more than a continuation of previous attempts by foreign powers to dominate their homeland.Elkind convincingly argues that, instead of reexamining their core assumptions or altering their approach as the violence in the region escalated, US policymakers and aid workers only strengthened their commitment to nation building, increasingly modifying their development goals to support counterinsurgency efforts. The First Causalities highlights the important role played by nonstate actors in advancing US policies and reveals in stark terms the limits of American power and influence during the period widely considered to be the apex of US supremacy in the world.
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Jessica Elkind is associate professor of history at San Francisco State University, USA.
"Through remarkable attention to detail in her chapters, [Elkind] offers an experientially driven portrait of the complex quotidian encounters between Vietnamese and Americans around developmentalism in a nation on the verge of civil war." -- Diplomatic History "This highly readable work is accessible to both specialists and general readers and does much to explain the American failure to create a viable South Vietnamese state." -- Journal of American History " Aid Under Fire by Jessica Elkind is a very useful and well-documented study on the use of aid by the United States as a weapon against the perceived threat of communism in Vietnam." -- H-Diplo "Elkind's study fits nicely within a growing body of historical literature on the American experience in Vietnam." -- American Historical Review "Jessica Elkind's excellent study of US development aid to South Vietnam is a significant book that serious students of the Vietnam War and of nation-building strategies should read. It is a solid addition to the growing literature on America's ally in Vietnam and the realities of the Washington-Saigon connection. How US nation building morphed into American military intervention is a cautionary example for US policy makers today, and Elkind's superbly documented conclusions underscore the contribution that professional historical scholarship, if heeded, can make to the creation of sound foreign policy." -- David L. Anderson, editor of The Columbia History of the Vietnam War "Elkind offers a fresh look at nation building in Vietnam, concluding that many aspects of U.S. programs closely resembled imperial projects. This is an important study that is sure to impel us to think deeply about the wisdom and efficacy of nation building abroad." -- Robert K. Brigham, author of The Wars for Vietnam: An International History " Aid Under Fire is an important book that expands our understanding of the U.S. effort to 'modernize' South Vietnam by revealing the critical role played by aid workers on the ground." -- Amanda Kay McVety, author of Enlightened Aid: U.S. Development as Foreign Policy in Ethiopia "A thought-provoking and cogently argued study of US nation-building programs in Vietnam. Elkind's ground-level analysis highlights the enormous, perhaps insurmountable, obstacles that hampered the American aid effort." -- Philip E. Catton, author of Diem's Final Failure: Prelude to America's War in Vietnam "Elkind's excellent book makes an important contribution to the literature on early U.S. involvement in Vietnam, offering an engaging and well-researched social history of the American aid workers responsible for implementing the U.S. nation-building project. Her analysis is astute, and she ably situates the grassroots efforts of the aid workers within the broader context of U.S. policy." -- Scott Laderman, coeditor of Four Decades On: Vietnam, the United States, and the Legacies of the Second Indochina War
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