On February 2, 1965, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam kidnapped Gustav Hertz, Chief of Public Administration for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Hertz’s captivity set in motion an intricate series of diplomatic gestures that involved several governments, including those of Algeria, Cambodia, and France, and numerous prominent individuals, such as Senator Robert Kennedy, Cambodian leader Norodom Sihanouk, and Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella, in an effort to win his release. This article examines the Hertz kidnapping to illustrate that South Vietnamese politics heavily influenced and thwarted U.S. nation-building efforts. The case reveals that when perpetuating the impression of South Vietnamese sovereignty conflicted with saving the life of a USAID leader, U.S. officials chose the first objective.

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