Geneva Conference begins - HISTORY
Year
1954

Geneva Conference begins

In an effort to resolve several problems in Asia, including the war between the French and Vietnamese nationalists in Indochina, representatives from the world’s powers meet in Geneva. The conference marked a turning point in the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.

Representatives from the United States, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, France, and Great Britain came together in April 1954 to try to resolve several problems related to Asia. One of the most troubling concerns was the long and bloody battle between Vietnamese nationalist forces, under the leadership of the communist Ho Chi Minh, and the French, who were intent on continuing colonial control over Vietnam. Since 1946 the two sides had been hammering away at each other. By 1954, however, the French were tiring of the long and inclusive war that was draining both the national treasury and public patience. The United States had been supporting the French out of concern that a victory for Ho’s forces would be the first step in communist expansion throughout Southeast Asia. When America refused France’s requests for more direct intervention in the war, the French announced that they were including the Vietnam question in the agenda for the Geneva Conference.

Discussions on the Vietnam issue started at the conference just as France suffered its worst military defeat of the war, when Vietnamese forces captured the French base at Dien Bien Phu. In July 1954, the Geneva Agreements were signed. As part of the agreement, the French agreed to withdraw their troops from northern Vietnam. Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel, pending elections within two years to choose a president and reunite the country. During that two-year period, no foreign troops could enter Vietnam. Ho reluctantly signed off on the agreement though he believed that it cheated him out of the spoils of his victory. The non-communist puppet government set up by the French in southern Vietnam refused to sign, but without French support this was of little concern at the time. The United States also refused to sign, but did commit itself to abide by the agreement. Privately, U.S. officials felt that the Geneva Agreements, if allowed to be put into action, were a disaster. They were convinced that national elections in Vietnam would result in an overwhelming victory for Ho, the man who had defeated the French colonialists. The U.S. government scrambled to develop a policy that would, at the least, save southern Vietnam from the communists. Within a year, the United States had helped establish a new anti-communist government in South Vietnam and began giving it financial and military assistance, the first fateful steps toward even greater U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Country music star George Jones dies

On this day in 2013, legendary country singer and songwriter George Jones, whose numerous hit songs include “White Lightning,” “Walk Through This World With Me” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” dies at age 81 in Nashville. In a career that spanned nearly 60 years, Jones had ...read more

Nuclear disaster at Chernobyl

On April 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Soviet Union. Thirty-two people died and dozens more suffered radiation burns in the opening days of the crisis, but only after Swedish authorities reported the ...read more

Nazis test Luftwaffe on Guernica

During the Spanish Civil War, the German military tests its powerful new air force–the Luftwaffe–on the Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain.Although the independence-minded Basque region opposed General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, ...read more

Polio vaccine trials begin

On this day in 1954, the Salk polio vaccine field trials, involving 1.8 million children, begin at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. Children in the United States, Canada and Finland participated in the trials, which used for the first time the ...read more

Olympic track star Fanny Blankers-Koen is born

On April 26, 1918, Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four Olympic gold medals in track and field events at the 1948 Summer Games, is born in the Netherlands. Blankers-Koen’s Olympic achievements are all the more remarkable because they came at a time when many people believed women ...read more

Reagan visits China

On this day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan arrives in China for a diplomatic meeting with Chinese President Li Xiannian. The trip marked the second time a U.S. president had traveled to China since President Richard Nixon’s historic trip in 1972.First lady Nancy Reagan ...read more

James Beckwourth is born

James Beckwourth, one of only a handful of early mountain men to emerge from the system of slavery, is born in Fredericksburg, Virginia.The exact year of Beckwourth’s birth is in dispute. Some historians suggest it may have been 1800 rather than 1798. The uncertainty arises ...read more

Studio 54 opens

The crowd outside 254 West 54th Street in New York City on this day in 1927 would have been waiting for the curtain of a Puccini opera. On this day in 1957 or ’67, they would have been waiting for a filming of an episode of Password or maybe Captain Kangaroo. On this day in 1977, ...read more

Anita Loos is born

The novelist and screenwriter Anita Loos is born on this day in Mt. Shasta, California, in 1888.Loos began writing as a child and by age 13 was already contributing stories and sketches to magazines. Her family moved to San Diego when she was a teenager, and she briefly acted in ...read more

Maria Shriver marries Arnold Schwarzenegger

Almost a decade after they met at a celebrity tennis tournament, the television news reporter Maria Shriver marries the movie actor and former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger on this day in 1986.Politically, it seemed an unlikely match: Shriver, then a co-anchor for the CBS ...read more

Nuclear explosion at Chernobyl

On this day in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear accident to date occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear plant near Kiev in Ukraine. The full toll from this disaster is still being tallied, but experts believe that thousands of people died and as many as 70,000 suffered severe poisoning. ...read more

Girl murdered in pencil factory

Thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan is found sexually molested and murdered in the basement of the Atlanta, Georgia, pencil factory where she worked. Her murder later led to one of the most disgraceful episodes of bigotry, injustice, and mob violence in American history.Next to ...read more

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth dies

John Wilkes Booth is killed when Union soldiers track him down to a Virginia farm 12 days after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.Twenty-six-year-old Booth was one of the most famous actors in the country when he shot Lincoln during a performance at Ford’s Theater in ...read more

David Hume is born

On this day in 1711 (by the old style Julian calendar, or May 7, by the new style Gregorian calendar), David Hume is born in Edinburgh, Scotland.Although Hume died on August 25, 1776, when the American Revolution was barely underway, his essay “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” ...read more