‘Before It Is Too Late’: Land Reform in South Vietnam, 1956–1968

In: Journal of American-East Asian Relations
David A. ConradUniversity of Texas at Austin,

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Attempts by the U.S. government to enact land redistribution in the Republic of Vietnam began in the mid-1950s. At that time. land reform was a linchpin of U.S. foreign policy in Asia. Wolf Ladejinsky, author of the legislation that had virtually eliminated tenancy in occupied Japan, encountered political controversy in Washington and administrative challenges in Saigon in his attempt to bring about greater equality of land ownership in South Vietnam. This initial attempt to modify land tenure arrangements failed when redistribution stalled, far from complete, during 1961. Although new land reform legislation did not appear until 1970, the 1960s were by no means years of inaction on land reform. Years of behind-the-scenes efforts by American policymakers in Washington and Saigon culminated in the Land-to-the-Tiller Law, an ambitious but doomed attempt to complete the work that Ladejinsky had begun over a decade earlier. Documents from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, many newly declassified, suggest that bureaucratic intrigue and political infighting within the Johnson administration and Congress both hindered and facilitated the emergence of a new land reform program in war-ravaged South Vietnam.

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