Propping Strongmen and Juntas in Vietnam
Dwight Eisenhower announced his domino theory and resistance to communism in 1954, despite leading the massive effort ten years earlier against Germany with the welcome assistance of Stalin’s communist Russia – the latter armed to the teeth by the United States. Robert E. Lee’s postwar comment to Lord Acton was clear about the new American empire becoming “aggressive abroad.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Propping Strongmen and Juntas in Vietnam
“By 1952, the United States was financing one-third of the French military effort in Vietnam. Despite American logistical support, the French lost the pivotal battle of Dien Bien Phu [in mid-March 1954] to communist forces. Ike offered a rationale for committing the United States to fighting communism in Vietnam. “You have a row of dominoes set up,” he explained, “you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly.”
On October 24, 1954, President Eisenhower pledged support to [Vietnamese prime minister] Ngo Dinh Diem, and even pondered sending direct American military aid to prop him up. The fall of Dien Bien Phu was followed by additional Viet Minh victories, which convinced the French to conclude with the Viet Minh and Geneva Accord . . . dividing Vietnam along the seventeenth parallel . . .
While Ho Chi Minh set up a communist government in the North, the United States worked with French and South Vietnamese authorities to build an ostensibly “democratic” South Vietnamese government as well as a military to defend it.
[After the French withdrew completely], Eisenhower and Diem, now president of South Vietnam, proclaimed their support for Vietnamese democracy [and] the Geneva Accord mandated . . . a plebiscite – a popular referendum reflecting the will of the majority – to decide the future of the nation.
Yet both Ike and Diem feared that such a popular vote would reunify Vietnam under the popular and dynamic Ho Chi Minh rather than Diem, a man incapable of commanding much popular support. Diem turned his back on the Geneva Accords and simply refused to hold the mandated vote in the South. Eisenhower voiced no objection to this abridgement of democracy.
On July 8, 1959, two US servicemen became the first Americans killed in action in Vietnam. Two months later Diem’s continued refusal to allow a plebiscite prompted the Viet Cong – a communist guerilla group that succeeded and absorbed elements of the Viet Minh – to begin concreted warfare against the South.
[After increased military assistance in 1960], popular support for the Diem government continued to decline and Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, decided to prop up the government by authorizing increased numbers of military advisors . . . and by June 30, 1962, there were 6,419 American soldiers and airmen in South Vietnam.
[By the fall of 1963] President Kennedy acquiesced in a CIA-backed ARVN military coup d’etat that removed Diem and resulted in his assassination on November 2, 1963. The overthrow . . . served only to make the country even less stable. The incoming military junta was politically inexperienced and generally inept . . . Coups and counter coups followed, so that seven South Vietnamese rose and fell in 1964 alone, with a succession of four more to follow in 1965. [Each new leader] was compliant with US direction, yet each was incapable of commanding the loyalty of a majority of the South Vietnamese.
[After Lyndon Johnson’s ascent to the presidency, in August 1964, two US Navy ships were reportedly attacked in Vietnamese waters, though] current military historians and even some who were present on the scene have concluded that the radar signals were false targets and that no attack was taking place.
Both the president and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara characterized the reported North Vietnamese attacks as unprovoked, even though the mission . . . had been to provide intelligence in direct support of South Vietnamese attacks against the North . . .
McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk both admitted that the attacks [against the North] had occurred, yet, with tortured logic, insisted that they were strictly South Vietnamese operations that did not justify North Vietnamese retaliation against the United States.”
(Profiles in Folly, History’s Worst Decisions and Why They Went Wrong, Alan Axelrod, Sterling, 2008, excerpts, pp. 325-329)