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Negotiating While Fighting: Peace initiatives, British Policy, and the Vietnam War

Alex Ellis, Sylvia Ellis, Richard Fyjis-Walker, Professor James Hershberg, Professor Matthew Jones, Andrew Preston, Professor Patrick Salmon, Sir Robert Wade-Gery, Professor John Young

Wednesday, 9 May 2012, 13:45-18:00, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (closed event)

This ‘Learning From History Seminar’ was jointly organised by FCO Historians, LSE IDEAS, and Professor Matthew Jones of Nottingham University. The seminar focussed on a book just published by James Hershberg, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University, who presented a paper, with a reply by Dr Andrew Preston of Cambridge University.

The book is entitled ‘Marigold, The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam’ (Stanford University Press, 2012). It presents the first rigorously documented, in-depth history of the secret Polish-Italian peace initiative, codenamed ‘Marigold’, which sought to end the war, or at least to open direct talks between Washington and Hanoi, in 1966. Marigold provides a new angle to understanding the Vietnam War and the Cold War in general. It draws on archival research from more than a dozen countries–as well as oral history–and is therefore an important example of multilateral relations.

A first session consisted of papers by Professor James Hershberg and Dr Andrew Preston on peace initiatives in the Vietnam War, focusing on the Marigold initiative and including a UK dimension. Questions followed. A second session consisted of a panel made of two academics – Dr Sylvia Ellis and Professor John Young - and two former officials – Mr Richard Fyjis-Walker and Sir Robert Wade-Gery. Alex Ellis, Director for Strategy at the FCO chaired the second session. It focussed more on the British angle at the time of the Vietnam War.

The audience comprised former and serving FCO and Whitehall officials (e.g. MoD) from a variety of geographical and functional departments, given the cross-cutting nature of the topic.  There was also a good presence from academics from a wide-range of institutions including Cambridge, Oxford, King's College, and Yale.