Article on Vietnam Policy Earns Jacobs a Top Prize

Article on Vietnam Policy Earns Jacobs a Top Prize

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

A first-year Boston College faculty member has been honored by the major organization of American diplomatic historians for having written the best article of the year in that field.

Asst. Prof. Seth Jacobs (History), who received his doctorate from Northwestern in 2000 and joined the BC faculty last fall, was awarded the Stuart Bernath Article Prize by the Society of American Foreign Relations for distinguished writing in the society's journal, Diplomatic History.

Two of Jacobs' History Department colleagues, professors Robin Fleming and Lawrence Wolff, also have earned recognition this spring for their work [see separate story].

Jacobs was honored for an article titled, "Our System Demands the Supreme Being: The US Religious Revival and the 'Diem Experiment,' 1954-55," which ran in the fall 2001 issue of Diplomatic History, and described how religious feeling in the United States influenced the Vietnam policy of the Eisenhower administration.

"The article argues that America's commitment to preserve an independent South Vietnam under the premiership of Ngo Dinh Diem - one of the most ruinous foreign-policy decisions of the postwar era - cannot be understood apart from America's mid-century religious revival," said Jacobs.

"I contend that US policymakers in the 1950s conceived of the Cold War as a crusade in which Americans needed to combine with fellow 'Judeo-Christians' against an adversary dangerous as much for its atheism as its military might.

"Diem's Catholicism made him a more attractive ally to Washington than many non-Christian South Vietnamese with greater administrative experience and popular support. Bias against 'Eastern' creeds mandated US adoption of a Catholic South Vietnamese strongman over any Buddhist, Cao Dai or Hoa Hao alternative.

"Policymakers viewed Vietnam's dominant religions as submissive, ethically-relativistic, and therefore susceptible to communism. The Catholic Diem...seemed committed by his faith to advance America's cause in the Cold War.

"Yet Diem's brutal, repressive regime alienated South Vietnamese from their government, increased the nation's vulnerability to communism, and ultimately drew America into the longest war in its history."  

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