Category Archives: Pre-1965 Involvement

Articles about the advisory period of US involvement

Polling the Burns/Novick ‘The Vietnam War’ Documentary

Are you watching the Burns/Novick 'The Vietnam War' Documentary?

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Do you think the documentary is biased toward the American point of view?

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Do you think the documentary is biased toward the communist point of view?

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Do you think the documentary is biased toward the South Vietnamese point of view?

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Do you think the documentary is historically accurate?

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Ho Chi Minh’s Entreaties to Truman

By Paul Schmehl

Whenever discussing the Vietnam War, one of the topics that comes up is that the OSS worked with Ho during WWII, Ho requested help from the US by sending both letters and telegrams to President Truman and Ho quoted the American Declaration of Independence in his own declaration of independence.

While all these things are true, they often lead to a false conclusion.  It is argued that because the US ignored Ho, he turned to China and Russia for help with his nationalist movement.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but that doesn’t stop people from arguing it.  Ho was a committed communist and skilled deceiver, as our lengthy treatise establishes thoroughly.  He had no intentions of turning Vietnam into an American-like republic.  His assignment, as a member of the Soviet Comintern, was to establish communism in Indochina. To that end, he established the Indochina Communist Party in 1930 and worked assiduously to strengthen it to seize power when the opportunity presented itself.

The vacuum created by the end of World War II provided his opportunity, and he seized it.

It is also claimed that Truman ignored Ho Chi Minh’s entreaties because he wanted the French to re-establish their colony in Indochina.  However, the text of telegrams sent to the consulates in Saigon and Hanoi by the Secretary of State and Acting Secretary of State demonstrate that the Truman administration was not fooled by Ho’s claims of nationalism.  Ho’s entreaties were ignored because they were known to be deceitful.

In February, 1946, the US Secretary of State of the Truman administration sent a telegram to the Ambassador to France asking to be kept up to date on whether “Leclerc the intransigeant and uncompromising colonial-minded and d’Argenlieu the conciliatory and moderate” had the support of the French government. 1

In his response two days later, the US Ambassador indicated that it was his belief that the French government was inclined toward “a liberal and progressive colonial policy in Indo-China” 2

Ten days later, the Assistant Chief of the Division of Southeast Asian Affairs cabled the US Secretary of State and stateed, “It seems certain that Annamese plan desperate resistance to French.” 3

Two weeks later, the Consul of Saigon cabled the Secretary of State that “there were additional incidents last night including sacking of house of one of signers of “motion” calling for Vietnam independence and cessation of hostilities. He himself was severely beaten by military.” 4

On August 9th, the Chief of the Division of Southeast Asian Affairs cabled the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs and informed him that “Recent developments indicate that the French are moving to regain a large measure of their control of Indochina in violation of the spirit of the March 6 convention. The evidence, as set forth below, suggests that the French are attempting to gain their objective by manoeuvres designed to confine and weaken Viet Nam. In the event that Viet Nam decides to resist these encroachments, which is by no means unlikely, widespread hostilities may result.” 5

The March 6 agreement to which he refers is the modus vivendi signed between the French and the Viet Minh government (Ho Chi Minh), and the reason for the rising animus was that the Viet Minh felt that should have the right to Cochinchina, including the Mekong Delta, Saigon and Cholon, and the French disagreed. They were willing to recognize Ho’s government, but did not what to give up the rich, fertile lands of the South.

He closed with this: “In conclusion, it is SEA’s view that the Annamese are faced with the choice of a costly submission to the French or of open resistance, and that the French may be preparing to resort to force in order to secure their position throughout Indochina. It may not be advisable for this Government to take official notice of this situation during the Peace Conference,56 but the Department should be prepared, SEA believes, to express to the French, in view of our interest in peace and orderly development of dependent peoples, our hope that they will abide by the spirit of the March 6 convention.”

So, in 1946, the US was opposed to the French reoccupation of Indochina (at that time Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina, Cambodia, and Laos.

On September 11, the Ambassador in France cabled the Secretary of State and reported that he had met with Ho Chi Minh, who had requested assistance from the US in his failing negotiations with the French. He wrote, “The principal point on which they failed to reach agreement concerns Cochin China: the French representatives insist that Cochin China be an “independent” entity in an Indochinese federation, while the Viet-Nam representatives insist that one central government in Indochina must dominate the whole country. He said that he and his party aspired to Viet-Nam “independence” in an “Union Franchise”. He said that they would like to receive some “help” from us, but did not specify what he meant by that. He took occasion to say that he was not a communist.” 6 Ho was, of course, a paid Comintern agent at the time and lied to the US Ambassador.

On September 17, the Ambassador reported that Ho had signed a modus vivendi with the French. 7

One of the elements of that agreement was that all fighting in Cochinchina would stop. It did not, of course, and this became the second diplomatic agreement that Ho violated. In point of fact, Ho violated every international agreement he signed. He refused to agree that the armed forces in Cochinchina would disarm.

In October, State cabled Saigon asking for an explanation of Ho’s flag, particularly the use of a gold star in the center of a red field, since that clearly hinted at communism. 8

In December, the Secretary of State cabled various missions abroad informing them that the nature of the government in Vietnam was communist. 9

So, before the end of 1946, the US was already aware that Ho and his government were communist, not nationalist, and US policy proceeded accordingly.

In January 1947, the Secretary of State cabled the Embassy in France asking them to convey US consternation with French attempts to “place US in partisan position” and asked they contact the French Foreign Office and request a retraction. 10

So, even after becoming aware that Ho was a communist and his government was communist, the US still refused to take a partisan position regarding the unrest in Annam, Tonkin and Cochinchina.

On January 15, 1947, the Ambassador cabled the Secretary of State to update him on affairs in Indochina. He wrote regarding Ho’s government, “the small Communist group which now dominates, and which is composed, he says, of a coterie of Moscow-trained young men.” 11

By January 15,1947, the US was well aware that Ho and his government were Soviet-trained communists.

FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES – TRUMAN – 1946 100
851G.00/7-746: Telegram
The Acting Secretary of State to the Consul at Saigon (Reed)
SECRET WASHINGTON, September 9, 1946— 2 p.m.
Intelligence reports of uncertain reliability state USSR (a) anxious to see Ho Chi Minh succeed unite three Kys under Viet Nam for possible eventual weapon against National Govt China and (b) has instructed French Communists manoeuvre reliable French Officers to Indochina, for training cadres future Viet Nam army. Keep Dept informed indications subservience to Party line by Ho and other leaders, relative strength Communist and non-Communist elements Viet Nam, and contacts with Communists other countries.
Inform O’Sullivan.Sent Saigon. Repeated
Paris59 for info.
CLAYTON
— — — — — — — — — —
59 As Telegram 4680

FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES – TRUMAN – 1946 108
851G.00B/10-946: Airgram
The Acting Secretary of State to the Consul at Saigon (Reed)
SECRET WASHINGTON, October 9, 1946.
A.29 Reference Department’s telegram Number 241 of September 9 and Consulate General’s telegram Number 374 of September 17.
Department would appreciate information on the origins and significance of the use of a gold star in the center of a red field as the Vietnam flag. The flag of the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Union forces in Malaya (an organization undisguisedly controlled by Chinese Communists) was red with three gold stars in the upper right corner. Three stars were used to symbolize the three races in Malaya. Although the MPAJU has been disbanded, the Communist movement in Malaya is still known as the three-star movement. The official Vietnam explanation of the Vietnam flag would be especially interesting in view of Ho Chi Minh’s denial of Communist orientation on the part of his government, since the Vietnam Government must, certainly realize that the use of a gold star on a red field will inevitably lead nationals of other countries to form conclusions which the Vietnam Government would apparently not wish them to form
ACHESON
— — — — — — — — — —

FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES – TRUMAN – 1949 54
851G.01/5-1149: Telegram
The Secretary of State to the Consulate at Hanoi1
SECRET WASHINGTON, May 20, 1949— 5 p.m.
Reur informative tel 36:2
In talks Xuan and reps his govt you may take fol line as representing consensus informed Americans: In light Ho’s known background, no other assumption possible but that he outright Commie so long as (1) he fails unequivocally repudiate Moscow connections and Commie doctrine and (2) remains personally singled out for praise by internatl Commie press and receives its support. Moreover, US not impressed by nationalist character red flag with yellow stars. Question whether Ho as much nationalist as Commie is irrelevant. All Stalinists in colonial areas are nationalists. With achievement natl aims (i.e., independence) their objective necessarily becomes subordination state to Commie purposes and ruthless extermination not only opposition groups but all elements suspected even slightest deviation. On basis examples eastern Eur it must be assumed such wld be goal Ho and men his stamp if included Bao Dai Govt. To include them in order achieve reconciliation opposing polit elements and “national unity” wld merely postpone settlement issue whether Vietnam to be independent nation or Commie satellite until circumstances probably even less favorable nationalists than now. It must of course be conceded theoretical possibility exists estab National Communist state on pattern Yugoslavia in any area beyond reach Soviet army. However, US attitude cld take acct such possibility only if every other possible avenue closed to preservation area from Kremlin control. Moreover, while Vietnam out of reach Soviet army it will doubtless be by no means out of reach Chi Commie hatchet men and armed forces.
1 Repeated as 84 to Saigon and 1713 to Paris and in 379, May 24, 5 p.m., to New Delhi, 286 to Bangkok, and 636 to Manila.
2 May 11, p. 25. [0524]

The 1956 Vietnam Unification Elections

This past week the University of Texas at Austin held the Vietnam War Summit.  It was another disappointing attempt to analyze the war without the input of Vietnamese participants (other than the communist ambassador from Vietnam) and without views opposing the accepted wisdom of the anti-war scholars who dominate Vietnam War “scholarship”.

Particularly irritating was a session that included the inputs of communist sympathizers Tom Hayden and Marilyn Young without so much as a single opposing view.  Our own Dr. Robert Turner could have added much to the discussion, since he was personally involved in debating anti-war activists during the conflict.

The conference was discussed on Twitter under the hashtag #VietnamWarSummit, and that resurfaced some of the enduring myths of the war.

This is an old canard repeated by opponents of the Vietnam War to “prove” that Ngo Dinh Diem was never a popular leader.  Here’s the quote:

I am convinced that the French could not win the war because the internal political situation in Vietnam, weak and confused, badly weakened their military position. I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai. Indeed, the lack of leadership and drive on the part of Bao Dai was a factor in the feeling prevalent among Vietnamese that they had nothing to fight for. As one Frenchman said to me, “What Vietnam needs is another Syngman Rhee, regardless of all the difficulties the presence of such a personality would entail.”

Those who use the quote often elide the fact that Eisenhower referred to Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai and not South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem.  They also ignore the fact that the quote dates to 1954 before the Geneva Accords were signed and referred to “the time of the fighting” rather than the brief peace that followed.

The claim is often tied to a related one.

The elections referred to are the ones recorded in a supplement to the Geneva Accords that was not signed by any state and would have taken place in 1956.  Neither the US nor South Vietnam were signatories to the accords and therefore neither agreed nor disagreed regarding elections at that time (although South Vietnam protested the talks since they were excluded).

While it is true that the US opposed the 1956 elections (as did Diem), the reason for doing so had nothing to do with Ho winning an election.  The objection was due to the Russian refusal to allow elections monitored by the UN.  By 1956 Ho was struggling with the disastrous results of his land reform program that killed tens of thousands of North Vietnamese landowners for the “crime” of being landowners.  At the same time Diem was being hailed as a “miracle worker” by the New York Times.

Rather than oppose elections, the US supported them until they realized that Diem was adamantly opposed unless they could be made free.

The U.S. did not–as is often alleged–connive with Diem to ignore the elections. U.S. State Department records indicate that Diem’s refusal to be bound by the Geneva Accords and his opposition to pre-election consultations were at his own initiative. However, the U.S., which had expected elections to be held, and up until May 1955 had fully supported them, shifted its position in the face of Diem’s opposition, and of the evidence then accumulated about the oppressive nature of the regime in North Vietnam.

In the US Secretary Dulles explained the US position and indicated that there was no fear of a Ho election victory if free elections were held:

Neither the United States Government nor the Government of Viet-Nam is, of course, a party to the Geneva armistice agreements. We did not sign them, and the Government of Viet-Nam did not sign them and, indeed, protested against them. On the other hand, the United States believes, broadly speaking, in the unification of countries which have a historic unity, where the people are akin. We also believe that, if there are conditions of really free elections, there is no serious risk that the Communists would win…..

However, opponents of the war continue to insist that not only was Eisenhower admitting that Ho would have defeated Diem in an election but that the US actively worked to prevent the elections from occurring.  Neither claim is even remotely supportable by the evidence.

Here We Go Again

Paul Schmehl, Independent Researcher

Whenever Vietnam is mentioned in an opinion article, we always sit up and take notice. It is not at all uncommon for the history of Vietnam and the lessons of Vietnam to be invoked in reference to other conflicts. In fact Vietnam is the fulcrum from which all false arguments about war are launched. We are told we should not forget the lessons of Vietnam, but the lessons are often based upon falsehoods and misrepresentations that make the lesson unhelpful.

Such is the case with a recent article published by CNN.  Writing about the recent Paris attacks, the author invokes the specter of Vietnam to “prove” how badly America has handled foreign policy.

It helps to look at history — not to find equivalencies but understanding, taking the long view that recognizes appropriate contexts. We make bad decisions about foreign policy — and war — when we fail to take into account the historical setting, which is, well, almost everything.

For example, we lost 50,000 American soldiers in Vietnam because our policy-makers failed to look at the wider historical context, ignoring the traditional animosity between China and Vietnam — a conflict in which it was highly unlikely that the “domino effect” would ever be relevant. It wasn’t, and we created mayhem in the region.

Pushed to the limit, we simply withdrew in 1975, with our tail between our legs. And where is Vietnam today? The U.S. is currently the largest single importer of Vietnamese goods and Vietnamese are the eighth-largest student group studying in the States. Of course, it took almost four decades for that kind of healing to occur.

So much untruth packed into such a short space!

First, we certainly wouldn’t argue that it doesn’t help to look at history.  The problem is, it actually needs to be history to be helpful.  We lost more than 58,000 men and women in Vietnam because we faced a determined enemy who was willing to sacrifice over 1.4 million of its own citizens to conquer an independent nation.

Citing the animosity between China and Vietnam, which exists to this day, as proof that  US policy makers failed to understand history is so profoundly ignorant that it takes one’s breath away.  China provided billions of dollars in materiel and support to North Vietnam and tens of thousands of military advisors.  Whatever differences there were between China and Vietnam, they were set aside during the 2nd Indochina War to pursue a common goal – the defeat of South Vietnam and the spread of communism.

What US policy makers failed to understand was that their enemy was not a rational actor that would respond to stimuli the way Americans would respond.McNamara’s graduated escalation policy had little effect on the North Vietnamese and the bombing pauses were used by the North Vietnamese to regroup, resupply and reinforce their defenses. We are making the exact same mistake today in the war with ISIS.

The idea that the Domino Theory was fraudulent has been a central point of the communist propaganda campaign from the beginning.  Many Americans have fallen for it.  But we have addressed it in detail here and shown that not only was it legitimate but the dominos did not fall precisely because the US intervened in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Furthermore, the claim that the US “created mayhem” in the region ignores several things.  First, the North Vietnamese began the first steps of their conquest of South Vietnam in 1945, left troops behind in 1954 in violation of the Geneva Accords and began escalating the war in 1959, long before the US inserted combat troops.  They had been creating mayhem for quite some time.

By the time the US got involved militarily, North Vietnam had been actively committing atrocities and terrorist activities in South Vietnam for almost 20 years.  By 1959 they had also invaded both Laos and Cambodia and began establishing bases in both countries.  After the US left, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese, tens of thousands of Laotians and 1.7 million Cambodians were killed.  The mayhem created in Indochina was a direct result of North Vietnamese communist party policies, not US policy, and continued long after the US left Vietnam.

Finally, claiming that the US was “pushed to the limit” and “withdrew in 1975” again displays profound ignorance of the 2nd Indochina War.  The US began removing combat troops from Vietnam in 1969 and by the time the peace treaty was signed in 1973 we did not any combat troops in Vietnam.  North Vietnam, consistent with all their previous deceits, violated the treaty before the ink was signed, but they were so weakened by US and South Vietnamese forces that it took another two years before they could again invade in force.

There are certainly lessons that need to be learned from Vietnam, but we will never learn them until we finally acknowledge the truth about Vietnam.  That will not happen until communist propaganda is no longer used to justify arguments about Vietnam that have no relation to the history of the conflict.

The American Betrayal of President Diem

Dr. Geoffrey D. T. Shaw

This is an excerpt of an upcoming book (which you can pre-order) The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam by Geoffrey D. T. Shaw by permission of the author, who is a member of VVFH.

“The fall of the dictator, greeted at the beginning with joy by the Vietnamese as the grounds for a quick peace and a better government, is regretted by many today as an unpardonable mistake which has deprived the country of its most prestigious non-communist nationalist leader.” 1

Rufus Phillips, a CIA operative who had just met with Diem but a few days before the coup, was deeply saddened and distraught when he entered Gia Long Place on the day after the overthrow as it brought to his mind the immediate sense of waste and stupidity in the acts of those who were responsible for Diem’s murder: “I wanted to sit down and cry. And I was so upset when I heard that he’d been killed…That was a stupid decision and,God, we paid, they paid, everybody paid.” 2 At the time, Vice President Johnson had supported Nolting and other officials who had attempted to stop the coup plotting as, by all accounts, he genuinely liked Diem and thought him a superior leader. He was livid over the murder of Diem and did little to hide his contempt for those who had a hand in it and later, in 1966, when he was President, he confided to Senator Eugene McCarthy the horrible reality of what happened back in 1963, in Saigon: “We killed him [Diem]. We got together and got a goddamn bunch of thugs and we went in and assassinated him. Now, we’ve really had no political stability since then.” 3 William Colby had stated nearly the same thing to this writer back in 1996 when he confided that after Diem, things never really got back on track. On November 5th, Madame Nhu stated: “Whoever has the Americans as allies does not need any enemies…I can predict to you all that the story in Vietnam is only at its beginning.” 4 Her words were to be proved prescient and true.

Of course, one of the great paradoxes of the coup and murders of Diem and his brother Nhu was that it also destroyed any harmony there had been amongst the Vietnamese generals who had launched the whole process in the first place: i.e., in killing Diem they had also killed their own chances at governing as any sort of cohesive body. General Tran Van Don took an almost immediate loathing to General ‘Big’ Minh for having ordered the killings and this meant, in all practical estimations, the coup leadership was now at daggers drawn as General Don’s following was just as considerable as Minh’s. 5 This rancor spilled over into all of the ruling junta’s appointments and dealings thus leaving it weak and vulnerable, in turn, inviting overthrow which, inevitably, occurred in 1964. But even in this, General Don should not be given too light a pass as he knew, full well, the petty and vicious motivations of his coconspirators such as Generals ‘Big’ Minh, Kim and Xuan; moreover, he later admitted that he knew ‘Big’ Minh would most likely feel compelled to murder Diem and Nhu as, indeed, the military junta would prove itself incompetent. Thus, General Don told historian, George Mct.Kahin, if Diem and Nhu had been left alive, in about three months’ time the Americans would have ‘fired’ him (Tran Van Don) and the other generals and then they would have returned Diem and Nhu to power; probably with a sigh of relief. 6; page: 418.]

One of the last public comments that Ambassador Nolting made about Kennedy’s decision illustrates the longterm strategic costs of the President’s short-term tactical gains:

Now the young president was caught in a dilemma; there was no question about it. There were several things he could have done, but the worst alternative was what he opted to do. Even worse than the practical consequences of the coup were the moral effects. I will not go into the sequence of events here because I believe it is now clear that after the revolution things went from bad to worse, regardless of the number of troops that we put in and regardless of the fact that the cost went up dramatically: 57,000 American lives, eight years of dissension in our country, huge increases in public debt, and the inflation that afflicted us throughout the 1970s. The actions of the Kennedy administration set the stage for all this 7

In correspondence between themselves written after the coup and murder of Diem and Nhu, General Harkins and Ambassador Nolting tended to be harder on Hilsman, Harriman, and the American press than on the President vis-à-vis responsibility for what went wrong in South Vietnam. For example, on March 27, 1964, Harkins wrote a letter to Nolting expressing his sorrow that the latter had resigned from the State Department. Harkins claimed that the removal of Diem had set the whole counter-insurgency program back about ten months, and he apportioned a good deal of blame to the press: “As you know, the press took the sails out of Diem starting last June and July to make him practically ineffective.” 8 Nolting replied to Harkins on April 7, 1964 and informed him that he and his wife, Lindsay, had gone over the tragedy of what had happened to Diem and Nhu so many times that it was driving them crazy. He told Harkins that he wished that he had been allowed to stay on in Saigon; but, in the final analysis, he had come to believe that the destruction of Diem’s GVN was inevitable. Nolting also reiterated that his reasons for resigning from the State Department in protest over the Government’s poor behaviour, which resulted in Diem and Nhu’s murders, were well-founded.

I too wish we could have stayed on there, but I doubt that would have done any good in the light of what I now know. The deliberate undercutting last summer of our Government’s and our Country Team’s position by certain elements of the State Department is now crystal clear to me. Among other things, these people were feeding to the press the very line that you and I were instructed to counteract — i.e., the ‘can’t win with Diem’ line. As a result, our efforts have been set back by many months, as you say…This is a most unsavory story, but some day the facts will be publicly known. They already are known around Washington, but not admitted, and the press doesn’t like to eat crow…Under these circumstances, it has restored my feeling of integrity to have resigned from the Department of State. 9

In another letter, hand-written to Nolting in 1971, Harkins enumerated the people and actions that alienated President Diem and resulted in his murder, as well as the destruction of an effective U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. Harkins placed Harriman, Hilsman, Senator Mansfield, and the American press corps in this descending order of those he believed were most responsible for this destruction. 10 In 1981, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, in “The First Lesson of Vietnam,” summed up what had happened during the Kennedy years. He singled out the coup and murder of Diem as the central pivot upon which massive U.S. involvement had hinged. Quite accurately, the editor placed the responsibility for what had occurred upon the same individuals Nolting and Harkins had identified back in 1964:

There was no slippery slope; we drove over a cliff. Once we had implicated ourselves in overthrowing the head of an allied government in the name of winning the war, no American president could turn and walk away…As Vice President, Mr. Johnson had strenuously opposed American involvement in any attempt to unseat Diem…That the coup followed a massive struggle within the U.S. government is the first of a number of things to understand about the events of 20 years ago. Averell Harriman and Roger Hilsman at the State Department and incoming Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge led the Diem-must-go faction, arguing that Diem was losing the war by not pressing internal reforms to win the hearts and minds of the people. Gen. Paul Harkins, the American commander in Saigon, outgoing Ambassador Frederick Nolting and Gen. Victor Krulak, the Pentagon’s counter-insurgency expert, warned that toppling an ally was no way to help the war effort. Mr. Hilsman pushed through the decisive cable over a weekend with most officials out of town…. The anti-Diem faction dominated the press through the efforts of three young men in Saigon – David Halberstam of the New York Times, Neil Sheehan of UPI and Malcolm Browne of APP. The pro-Diem faction was represented by Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune, who had already covered two other wars. The significance of this is that those who championed the coup have written the popular histories of its aftermath…What is the lesson of Vietnam? No doubt there are many, but somehow the clearest also seems the hardest for the U.S. to digest. We can always see the imperfections of our friends…And of course it is easier and in the short run a good deal safer to put pressure on friends than on adversaries. We will have learned very little from the pain of Vietnam if we do not learn to beware of that temptation. Too often American policy remains, as Miss Higgins described it, ‘friendly to the neutrals, neutral to its enemies, and hostile to its friends.” 11

In March 1967, The Wheeling Register published an article entitled: “Ex-Ambassador Nolting Speaks: Refusal to Admit Blunder Trapped LBJ in Vietnam.” Therein, Nolting identified the destruction of Ngo Dinh Diem as having been the number one tactical objective of the Viet Cong. The State Department unwittingly collaborated with dissenting generals and radical Buddhist bonzes to hand this objective over to the communists. 12 Nolting warned that, while he was not defeatist, it would take a very long time to build back what had been thrown away in the 1963 coup. He gave another very clear warning about those who had directed the coup: “The facts speak for themselves, I think concerning the judgement of those who encouraged the revolution in Vietnam in the fall of 1963 — some of whom are still in key positions in our government.”13

When Nolting started to go public with his views on what had happened in Vietnam, he maintained that the ultimate responsibility for America’s blundering policy lay with Kennedy and Rusk. During a public address in Lynchburg (Va.), Nolting stated that the “fatal error” which had led America into so much trouble in Vietnam was the consequence of the decision to undermine Ngo Dinh Diem, and this decision had been taken by Secretary of State Dean Rusk and President Kennedy. 14 Nolting recalled how Rusk had remonstrated with him over the Buddhist burnings — “We can’t stand any more burnings” – and wryly observed, “Behind this laconic statement there lay an abysmal lack of understanding and judgement.” 15

Even Nolting’s departure from Vietnam became a point of acrimony and controversy in the aftermath of Diem’s murder. Dean Rusk would later try to absolve himself from any connection to the coup and murder of Diem by claiming that he had asked Nolting to stay on in Saigon and that Nolting was the one who insisted on going home. Rusk’s implications were clear, and Nolting discerned them immediately upon hearing rumor of them: that Nolting had deserted his post during a crucial and tough period. Rusk’s position, however, cannot be sustained by the facts, and the weight of evidence is certainly on Nolting’s side on this issue. First of all, as the cable traffic and memoranda from the State Department’s files show, Harriman and Hilsman wanted Nolting out of Saigon as rapidly as possible and, as previously noted, even if this meant there was no Ambassador at the post. Hilsman had been given the authority by President Kennedy to determine the departure date of Nolting. Accordingly, he acted upon this authority in short order. The weight of documents supporting this is substantial and lends support to Nolting in manifest manner. Secondly, and relatedly, at the time Nolting had placed a request to stay on as Ambassador and for the obvious reasons just mentioned, his request was denied. (16)

On March 18, 1964, Nolting wrote to Rusk about the controversy surrounding his leaving Saigon and his subsequent resignation from the State Department. The key issues which had found their way into the public forum and which the Ambassador was concerned about and required explanation for, were as follows:

  1. That he had been unwilling to go along with the State Department’s policy while serving as US Ambassador in Viet Nam.
  2. That he had refused Rusk’s personal request to extend his tour of duty in Saigon beyond two years.
  3. That he had been over-zealous after his return from Saigon in urging in U.S. government councils that they should continue to support South Viet Nam through the Diem government, and in opposing actions which would weaken that government. 16

Rusk wrote a very terse letter back to Nolting on April 9, 1964. He admitted that there was “not an iota of truth in the first” rumour that the Ambassador had brought to his attention and then stated, “And you and I know to what extent there is anything in the other two.” 17 Nolting responded immediately to Rusk’s brief note and spelled-out the specific details of how he was treated with regard to being informed about Henry Cabot Lodge replacing him and the timing of his being sent home and there was no covering up the fact that the State Department had wanted him out of the way. 18

Nolting heard no more from Rusk on this issue, at least directly, until late summer of 1964, when more than just rumors began to reach the Ambassador’s ears. A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Nolting does not give his name) told him that testimony given by Rusk to his committee indicated that Nolting had refused to stay on as Ambassador in Viet Nam in 1963. Even this committee member noted that Rusk’s implication was clear: that Nolting had quit when the going got rough and was therefore to blame for the deterioration of the situation in Viet Nam during that year. 19 The committee member told Nolting that he believed Rusk had made an unfair charge. Nolting concurred and promptly took Rusk to task in a five page letter which concerned itself with all the pertinent issues related to his departure from South Vietnam. Accordingly, Nolting told Rusk, straight out, that he was disappointed that he had chosen not to talk to him in a direct manner about these issues — something that the Ambassador had requested. 20

Nolting then proceeded to lay out an accurate chronology of events and correspondence related to his permanent return to the United States. The Ambassador also pointed out that regardless of the serious problems that erupted with the Buddhists when he was on leave in Europe, no one informed him. None of this was reported to Nolting, even though his deputy, Trueheart, and the State Department in Washington had been instructed to let him know immediately if a real problem came up, as he would have cut his vacation short and returned to Saigon had he known. 21 Further implicating the Department’s attempts to keep him uninformed, Nolting was not even told about Henry Cabot Lodge’s appointment as new United States Ambassador to South Vietnam. Instead, he first heard about it over the ship’s radio on his way back from Europe at the end of his vacation. Once in Washington, both the State Department and Diem requested his further presence in Vietnam. He promptly returned there, only to find relations between the U.S. government and the GVN all but destroyed and in serious jeopardy. As such, he set to work with Diem, as opposed to the Harriman/Hilsman instructions of table pounding which Trueheart had carried out in his absence. Thus Nolting was able to stabilise the situation so that by the date that he was actually recalled and went home to the United States, affairs were much calmer.

Nolting pointed out that the renewed agitation of the Buddhists and the subsequent crack-down of the GVN occurred when he had already left Vietnam and Henry Cabot Lodge had not yet arrived. The facts, as Nolting stated, cleared his name and placed the onus on the State Department. He went further than this by clearly implicating Harriman as the leading force in ensuring a revolt broke-out in South Viet Nam. He noted that when arrived back in Washington for consultations, in early July of 1963, he had to report first to Harriman who immediately back-handed him with the blunt statement that if it had been up to him, Nolting would have been relieved of his post after a two year term in Saigon and that, regardless of Nolting’s wonderment at not being informed of the troubles that erupted while he was on leave, he would not have been able to help the situation anyway. Thus, in Nolting’s mind, Harriman was making it crystal clear that he wanted to see Diem’s government overthrown and there was nothing that he, the ambassador, could do to stop it. Naturally enough, this admission of Harriman’s caused Nolting to suspect that it had been Harriman who arranged for him to go on his home leave when it occurred and that he had overseen the decision not to inform him when matters were getting out-of-hand in Saigon. In short, Harriman wanted things out-of-hand and Diem gone as a result. 22

Nolting went on to tell Rusk what he believed and thought to be the major defects which had led up to the debacle in Saigon; and he had apportioned a fair amount of blame to State Department misjudgements and actions. 23 But, not all of Ambassador Nolting’s experiences leaving Vietnam were as sordid as his treatment at the hands of the State Department. Ironically, the Vietnamese seemed to have sincerely appreciated his mission to Saigon. A very moving and relatively accurate article appeared in The Times of Viet-Nam on August 12, 1963, just a couple of days before Nolting left, and it was concerned with the ambassador’s tenure in Saigon. Maybe the saddest and most profound indictment ever made of the out-of-control American press was alluded to in this article, which noted that the American newsmen had accomplished what the Viet Cong had been unable to do, and that was get rid of Nolting. 24

Later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson revealed that he thought Nolting’s recall was a serious mistake. Johnson noted that Nolting had the courage of his convictions and could not be cajoled into a contrary position by influential reporters like David Halberstam. More importantly, Johnson believed that Nolting’s judgement was sound. 25

David Halberstam and his editors at The New York Times, recognized, astutely enough, that Nolting’s removal, more than Lodge’s appointment, represented the undoing of the official policy toward Diem. This was because, in their relatively accurate estimation, Frederick Nolting had become “the symbol for all-out American support for the anti-Communist cause and for Mr Ngo Dinh Diem personally.” 26

What makes the Nolting ambassadorship so worthy of examination, and why it has been called upon with some regularity in this work to reveal the truth about what happened to President Ngo Dinh Diem, is the compelling fact that his advice was the opposite of those encouraging President Kennedy toward the active support of a coup against Diem because Nolting’s position was grounded in realism – and he was right! William Colby, in his Foreword to Frederick Nolting’s, memoirs rendered the best overall analysis, which sums up the Nolting era in American policy toward South Vietnam:

Nolting’s task was to support the Southern government and to understand its need to assert its nationalist credentials even against the United States, on whom it depended. He did a superb job. He developed the closest of relations with the leadership of the new nation and influenced it by persuasion as a friend, not pressure by an adversary…But Nolting had to contend with another constituency — the Kennedy administration that had sent him to Vietnam and its natural sensitivity to American public opinion. This constituency found flaws in the Mandarin regime Diem exemplified as failing to match the democratic standards the United States held up for itself and insisted on for its clients and dependents…. The eventual result, against Ambassador Nolting’s advice, was American complicity in the overthrow and murder of Diem, and a period of political chaos and confusion in Vietnam that President Lyndon Johnson felt compelled to respond to by the commitment of a massive American expeditionary force… As the drama unfolded, Nolting retained a clear and persistent view that the United States should support the constituted authority in Vietnam which Diem represented and that it should persevere in the strategy of helping the Diem government to win its own struggle against the Viet Cong, through such programs as the strategic hamlets. He fought for his policies from Saigon to Washington and against some of the towering figures of the Kennedy administration. In the end he lost the battle, but his story of it is a necessary piece of American history. It is made more important because in retrospect it is clear that the policies he fought against proved to be massively mistaken and engulfed America in a war which shook it internally and which it lost…this account by a farsighted Virginia gentleman of our early Vietnam experience deserves particular attention. 27

Nolting’s entire argument was consistent and straightforward down through the years. From his early letters and cables sent from the embassy in Saigon to the State Department, to his very last arguments at White House meetings; from his early private letters to friends and associates, immediately after the fact in 1964, to his late 1980’s interviews; the consistency of his testimony is remarkable. Hence Nolting’s account of his mission to South Vietnam is of particular value, enhanced, ironically, by the inconsistencies of those who railed against him in the Department of State. The inconsistencies of the testimonies and recollections of the Harriman faction have been made manifest in this work and stand in stark contrast to that which Nolting stood for. From Halberstam et al. in the news media, who attempted to hide behind a veneer of journalistic objectivity, but then openly admitted to wanting to bring down the Diem government, the contradictions are clear. From Harriman and Hilsman, publicly declaring, after the fact, that they had no intention of seeing Diem destroyed, to the transparent coup plotting machinations of their cables and instructions to both Nolting and Lodge, a distinct picture of arrogance, deceit and duplicity is driven home. Indeed, this direction of the Harriman group becomes so unmistakable as to undermine any claim to the truth that they may have had. From Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge we even have an incredible and blatantly inconsistent testimony. He was the diplomat who, after the fact, stated that the cable sent from Washington, which had called for a coup, was a terrible mistake. In his own words, he stated that these instructions had left him “thunderstruck,” but his cables at the time told the Kennedy administration, with compelling urgency, that they had better not back down from overthrowing Diem.

The record of Department of State meddling in South Vietnamese internal affairs, and the department’s internal clash over the issue of promoting a coup against Diem is abysmal and the consequences speak to this directly. Nevertheless, there are a few positive things that can be said, which are made plain for the reader in this work, which indicate that the American government had, in Frederick Nolting, placed the right man for a very difficult task in Vietnam. For one has to consider, quite apart from his work as a diplomat, that Nolting had to have the imagination and mental dexterity to discern that the war America was facing in Vietnam was something new. He recognized that the fight against the communists was not so much that of guns and bombs as it was one of political legitimacy. He discerned that Ngo Dinh Diem had a true political legitimacy that spoke to something much deeper in the Vietnamese soul than mere democracy. Democracy was a foreign political construct that held little meaning, and had virtually no historical tradition, in the centuries-old customs of Vietnam. Accordingly, Nolting intuited that the most valuable gifts America could give the struggling GVN under Diem were patience and time. In this sense then, Nolting was not only a great American diplomat but a military strategist of some substance.

A gifted military mind is naturally drawn to a strategy wherein appropriate weapons and tactics suited to the needs demanded by the terrain, political and otherwise, bring about the defeat of the enemy. In this regard, Frederick Nolting, unlike many in the Kennedy administration, never lost sight of what the fight was about and where it locus lay. His clear-sightedness and steadiness of purpose exemplified a fine and tough moral character beneath the self-effacing Virginian manner on display in his public demeanour. Given that the Kennedy years and U.S. policy were replete with ironies and contradictions, it is fitting that the final irony of this study should be an article written in The New York Times. For this sang praises to Nolting’s steadfast moral qualities at the beginning of his mission to South Vietnam in 1962:

Spirits are noticeably higher in Washington about the fate of Southeast Asia, especially the still precarious struggle for South Vietnam. One reason for the lift is what someone today described as the country-doctor manner of Fritz Nolting: gentle but firm, a bit of old Virginia mixed with broad colloquialisms, lyrical and hard-headed – just about what you would expect of a brilliant philosophy student and a member of a musical, old-line Virginia family…When President Ngo Dinh Diem’s associates went into fits over what they thought was excessive United States pressure to reform their government, their economy and their war, Mr. Nolting spent long patient hours explaining that Washington wanted for them only what they wanted for themselves…His first pleas everywhere in Washington have been against fits of temper over the besieged Vietnamese. These are good but troubled people, he says in effect…Sniping from Washington, he suggests, will not kill one additional guerrilla for them. That, associates here say, is typical of the Ambassador’s steady performance in Saigon…Of all Nolting’s traits, his associates emphasize his courage. 28

Postscript

Frederick Nolting proved to be as resilient as he was courageous as he rebounded from his lonely fight in the State Department to a prestigious position in private business. After having served in the Department of State for eighteen years, he resigned in protest over the destruction of Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu. 29 His official letter of resignation was sent to President Lyndon Baines Johnson on February 25, 1964 and it read as follows:

“Dear Mr. President,
I am sorry to have been unable to get an appointment to see you, for I have wanted for several months to talk with you about Vietnam and related matters. I believe you and I have seen the issues in Vietnam in much the same light from the time of your visit there in May, 1961; at least, I have that impression from talks we have had in the past. I know, therefore, how heavily this problem must now weigh on your mind, as indeed it does on mine also, and I earnestly hope that, despite certain irrevocable errors that I think have been made, a way can yet be found to fulfill our national interests there with honor.

I take the liberty of sending this letter, Mr. President, because I feel an obligation as well as a desire to tell you frankly and directly about my future course of action, which is likely to be interpreted in the press and elsewhere as being related to my tour of duty in Vietnam.

I have today sent to the Secretary of State a request to be granted retirement from the Foreign Service, in order to accept an offer in private business. That my decision has been influenced by my strong disapproval of certain actions which were taken last fall in relation to Vietnam, with predictable adverse consequences, I do not deny. Nor do I deny that I have been uncomfortable in my association with the Department of State since returning from Vietnam six months ago.

Under these circumstances it seems sensible for me to accept a position in private business. As a private citizen, I shall continue to do my best to contribute to our country’s success.

I solicit your understanding, Mr. President, and I wish you, as you know, personal happiness and all success in looking after the affairs of our nation.

Sincerely and respectfully yours,
Frederick E. Nolting

Nolting went to work for Morgan Guaranty Trust in Paris as its Vice-President. 30 He worked at this post in Paris from 1964 until 1969, when he became Assistant to the Chairman in New York City. In 1973, he became a consultant to the company and was able to maintain this position until 1976. All along and simultaneous to his business career, he re-established his academic contacts.

Thus from 1971 to 1973 Nolting served at the University of Virginia as Diplomat-in-Residence. He went on to hold teaching and administrative posts as Olsson Professor of Business Administration in the Darden School of Business (from 1973 to 1976). He also became Professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs and helped found the Miller Center of Public Affairs, of which he became the first Director. He went on to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and as a member of the Center for Advanced Studies and the International Management and Development Institute.

He retired from his full-time academic commitments at the University of Virginia in 1982 and began the painstaking process of compiling documents for his critical analysis of the Kennedy administration’s blunders in Vietnam. This work produced his political memoirs, From Trust To Tragedy, a work that devastates many of the popularly held myths about the Kennedy–Diem period. Because of its unrelenting precision, it will stand as a testament to his gentlemanly yet bold role in American diplomatic and military policy toward Diem’s GVN.

Frederick Nolting died on December 14, 1989, at the age of 78, only a year after From Trust To Tragedy was published. 31 His wife, Mrs. Lindsay Nolting, and four daughters — Mary, Lindsay, Jane, and Francis — survived him (although Francis died in 1995). 32

William Colby would go on to become the Director of the CIA (1971 – 1975) under Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford but his penchant for seeing things clearly, naturally enough, never made him a likely candidate for an even higher political post after this prestigious appointment. The travail of South Vietnam’s war years never really left him alone and, indeed, in his retirement years he went on to become one of the founding executives of the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University. Some of us who knew him always held a small thread of doubt in our minds as to why he perished so suddenly after returning home from a Vietnam Center conference in 1996; for this was the conference wherein Bill Colby actually went after some of the senior figures who had been involved in the escalation of the war. Within less than a week of his return home, his body was found floating in the Chesapeake as he had gone missing when he went out on a solo canoe trip thereupon. Mrs. Nolting, Ambassador Nolting’s widow, told this writer straight-out that many of their diplomatic friends believed that Colby had indeed been assassinated.

As for the martyred Ngo Dinh Diem, General Nguyen Khanh told me that most of the Buddhists who were in full support of the coup, and even the subsequent killing of the man, that took place on November 1-2nd, 1963, have since changed their minds in the intervening decades and now regard his murder as a mistake of unparalleled proportion for South Vietnam. 33 And, as things would turn out, after the war it was revealed by Communist sources that their agents had indeed infiltrated the Buddhists. This resulted in the campaign to get rid of Diem that was pursued with an ideological impetus well beyond the normal means of the regular bonzes which, in turn, caused the Americans, through the auspices of their well-biased press to play right into the Communists’ hands: i.e., by persuading the Americans to get rid of Diem and Nhu for being, amongst other things, so ‘oppressive’ in their treatment of the radical Buddhist bonzes. 34

One of the most fitting tributes given for Diem came from Cardinal Josef Frings, the Archbishop of Cologne when, in 1965, he stated: “Only today, in the midst of these grave incidents (in Vietnam), do we realize that the greater part of the world has not given just recognition of this noble man.” 35 In his pastoral letter, Cardinal Frings went on to note that those who thought the death of Diem would bring peace and plenty to South Vietnam had learned to repent in leisure, and through great sorrow and tragedy, for what they had wrongly assumed in haste. 36 Diem’s memory is kept alive, unto this day, by devout Vietnamese Roman Catholics and all those who know the truth of what transpired in Vietnam, now half a century ago.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

By James D. McLeroy

The first step in the North Vietnamese Politburo’s grand strategy for the conquest of South Vietnam was its May, 1959 order to the Ministry of Defense to begin construction of the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route, later known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Ministry of Defense gave the task to its Rear Services Directorate, which assigned it to the 559th Transportation Group. The Group was designated 559 for the date of its creation in the fifth month of 1959.

The complex transportation network built with enormous difficulty through the jungles and mountains of eastern Laos and Cambodia was one of the greatest feats of military engineering of the 20th Century. Aided by Russian and Chinese advisors, NVA engineers began to improve, expand, and lengthen animal trails, Montagnard paths, and stream beds through the Truong Son range.

River fords were hidden by underwater bridges. Roads and paths were wound around trees to enhance their concealment from the air. Open areas in the jungle canopy were camouflaged by interlacing tree tops or connecting them with trellises interwoven with living plants and vines.  The result was an interconnected, 12,000-mile network of roads, paths, bridges, bypasses, tunnels, caves, and pipelines.

Its widest east-west axis was about thirty miles, and its north-south axis from North Vietnam to the South Vietnamese delta was approximately 3,500 miles. It was vital for the supply of war material and replacement troops to the Communist Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces in South Vietnam. Because of its strategic importance the NVA eventually made eastern Laos and Cambodia virtual extensions of North Vietnam.

After traversing three mountain passes from North Vietnam into Laos, the Trail was divided into eleven regions, five large base areas, five main roads, twenty-nine branch roads, and numerous, frequently changed shortcuts and bypasses. In addition to sanctuary bases for VC and NVA troop units recovering from or preparing for combat in South Vietnam, fifteen large logistics headquarters called binh trams were spaced along the Trail.

They were commanded by NVA colonels with up to 2,000 troops in transportation, antiaircraft, engineer, logistics, and infantry battalions. Both men and women served as route guides, cooks, nurses, porters, mechanics, maintenance, and construction workers. Antiaircraft and infantry battalions guarded their sector of the trail and the roads from it into South Vietnam.

Crude bivouac facilities called “communication liaison stations” were spaced about one day’s march between the binh trams to provide basic food, shelter, medical aid, and route guides for transient NVA troops. The route guides only knew the sections of the Trail half way to the next bivouac stations north and south of their own.

They met the route guide escorting NVA troops from the station north of theirs at a point half way to that station and took them to their own station for the night. The next day they took the transient troops halfway to the next station south of theirs, where they were met by a route guide from that station. U.S. intelligence analysts identified base areas as places where large numbers of NVA troops could always be found. The first headquarters of the 559th Transportation Division was in Vinh, North Vietnam, and its main logistics center was at Base Area (BA) 604 near Tchepone, Laos.

Troops and supplies from North Vietnam were unloaded at BA 604 and divided for distribution to base areas farther south. BA 604 sent most of its troops and supplies to BA 611, where they were further distributed among the base stations south of it. BA 614 east of Chevane, Laos sent its allocations into South Vietnam on an extension of Road 165 from Chevane to QL 14.

In October, 1968, a second Trail headquarters was established in southern Laos near the junction of Roads 92 and 922 (see map). It controlled an entire infantry division, three antiaircraft regiments, two engineering regiments, twenty-three antiaircraft battalions, thirty-five engineering battalions, eighteen transportation battalions, and two pipeline battalions.

Some 50,000 NVA troops guarded, maintained, and extended the Trail network. An estimated 10,000 NVA antiaircraft guns were hidden along the Trail, most of them around BA 604 near the junction of roads 9 and 92 east of Tchepone and BA 611 near the second Trail headquarters. The U.S. Air Force lost more planes at those two places than anywhere else in Laos.

An estimated 8,000 trucks traveled the Trail in relays from one truck to another. On heavily overcast and rainy days and nights, when there was less chance of air attacks, up to 100 trucks traveled in convoys with their lights on. Each truck traveled at an average speed of five to eight miles an hour, depending on road conditions.

First priority was given to trucks carrying artillery, tanks, and anti-aircraft missiles. Second priority was given to trucks carrying fuel, ammunition, and food. Third priority was given to trucks carrying troops urgently needed in South Vietnam. The drivers only traveled fifteen to twenty miles back and forth on one stretch of road. Like the trail guides, they only knew the routes half-way to the next way stations north and south of their own.

Driving back and forth on the same length of road every night and most overcast days, they learned every detail of that section of road and the terrain on each side of it. Eventually, they could drive some sections of the Trail fairly quickly even in the dark. Many trucks had radios to warn them of incoming air attacks and current road conditions.

Fuel and lubricants for up to twenty-five trucks were stored in camouflaged truck parks hidden about three miles off the main roads. At each station the cargo of each truck was unloaded and transferred to another truck. Damaged or destroyed trucks were quickly replaced by others from the nearest station to the north. That station replaced those trucks with trucks from the next station to its north, and so all the way to Haiphong harbor in North Vietnam, where new trucks and new repair parts constantly arrived from the USSR.

NVA monitoring stations at intervals along the roads collected current data on road conditions in their area and the number of trucks passing through in each time period. The data was sent to traffic controllers on each section of the Trail, so that emergency route changes and repairs could be made as quickly as possible.

Most road repair work was done at night, and each binh tram had two or three bulldozers for that purpose. From 1959 to 1975, an estimated 300,000 Laotian men, women, and children were used as forced laborers to repair sections of the Trail and augment NVA food supplies with their small farms.

During daylight hours most transient NVA troops walked from one way station to another on trails at safe distances from the roads. The average infiltrating unit was a battalion moving at between one and three miles per hour, depending on the terrain. Preceded by route guides, they walked in platoon or company groups spaced about 100 yards apart. They did not fire at passing aircraft, but quickly moved off the trail and stood still or lay down. Several times a day they changed the foliage on their camouflage to match the foliage they were passing through.

In 1964, the first regular NVA regiment entered South Vietnam via the Trail, and in 1966 the first regular NVA division arrived the same way. The CIA estimated that between 1966 and 1971 the NVA sent more than 630,000 troops, 400,000 weapons, 50,000 tons of ammunition, and 100,000 tons of food into South Vietnam on the Trail. In 1968 the NVA needed to send 8,000 troops and 100 tons of ammunition and weapons to South Vietnam every month to replace their huge losses in the nationwide battles that year.

Every year more and younger draftees from North Vietnam and more and newer military supplies from the USSR and China were sent down the Trail to South Vietnam. Regardless of how often and heavily the Trail was bombed, and regardless of the human cost of constantly repairing it, the NVA continued relentlessly to do so year after year.

An estimated twenty percent of the infiltrating NVA troops died on the Trail, but only about two percent of those deaths were caused by U.S. air attacks. Ninety-eight percent of NVA deaths on the Trail were from illness, accidents, malnutrition, exhaustion, or exposure.

Seventy-nine large military cemeteries, including one covering forty acres with more than 10,000 sets of remains, were located along the Trail. They are grim evidence of the enormous human cost to the NVA of building, maintaining, extending, and defending the Trail network from its beginning in 1959 to the NVA’s conquest of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975.

Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Recently I’ve been studying the Pentagon Papers and the events surrounding their release. In that regard I read a New York Times op-ed written by Daniel Ellsberg that purports to tell the story of what compelled him to release national secrets to the media. More than any other single event in American history, Ellsberg’s perfidy opened the floodgates of government distrust and the media’s lack of respect for national secrets.  He is the progenitor of Wikileaks and especially of Edward Snowden.

Ellsberg’s op-ed is an obvious example of self-serving justification for an act he knew was wrong. In point of fact, he himself decided he was willing to risk a life in prison to expose what he believed were lies being told to the American people. But were they? There were certainly things documented in the Pentagon Papers that could be viewed as lies by an unsophisticated or biased observer.  What Ellsberg characterizes as lies are decisions made by Presidents against the advice of some of their advisors.  Ellsberg agreed with the dissenting advisors and so believed they were right and the Presidents were wrong.

A generation of presidents, believing that the course they were following was in the best interests of the country, nevertheless chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was, what alternatives were being pressed on them from within the government, and the pessimistic predictions they were receiving about the prospects of their chosen course.

Here Ellsberg casts those who disagreed with the President in the role of being correct in their (and, of course, his own) opinions and naively suggests that open government means airing every disagreement inside an administration publicly.  Good leadership means considering advice from advisors who will often disagree among themselves over a particular course of action.  It also means making decisions based on that advice and your own best judgment.  It is inevitable that some of those advisors will be upset because their preferred course of action was not taken.  It’s equally inevitable that, given the egos involved, some of them will look for opportunities to “prove” that they were right and that the President followed the wrong advice.

That is the reason we consistently see “tell-all” books after advisors whose advice was not taken leave office as well as hagiographies by those with whom a President agreed.

Although Ellsberg himself admits that “a generation of Presidents” believed that the course of action that they chose was “in the best interests of the country”, he nevertheless characterizes them as lying simply because they chose a course with which he disagreed.  One can only surmise that if Ellsberg would have agreed with their decisions, he never would have characterized the process of decision-making as lying.  Yet despite the fact that five consecutive Presidents followed the same general policy, because Ellsberg disagreed with that policy he felt that it was necessary for him to commit a traitorous act to expose them.

Throughout the campaign of 1964, President Johnson indicated to the voters — contrary to his opponent Barry Goldwater — that no escalation was needed in South Vietnam. He sometimes added, almost inaudibly, ”at this time.”

As the Pentagon Papers later showed, that was contradicted as early as May 1964 by the estimates and recommendations of virtually all of Johnson’s own civilian and military advisers. I believe he worried, not only in 1964 but over the next four years, that if he laid out candidly just how difficult, costly and unpromising the conflict was expected to be, the public would overwhelmingly want escalation on a scale that promised to win the war.

To this end, Congress and the voters might compel him to adopt the course secretly being pressed on him by his own Joint Chiefs of Staff. From 1964 through 1968, the Joint Chiefs continuously urged a litany of secret recommendations, including mining Haiphong; hitting the dikes; bombing near the Chinese border; closing all transportation routes from China; sending ground troops to Laos, Cambodia and the southern part of North Vietnam; possibly full-scale invasion of North Vietnam.

I think that this escalation would not have won the war.

While Ellsberg is certainly entitled to his opinion, his opinion did not justify revealing government secrets to the public.  As he points out and history confirms, had Johnson revealed to the public what his advisors were telling him, the public would have demanded escalation in Vietnam.  Since Ellsberg “thought” that escalation would not have won the war, one would assume that he would be happy that the President “lied” to the public.  The irony of this contradiction seems to escape him completely.

Setting aside Ellsberg’s concerns for a moment, what kind of President would conceal his true desires because he believed they were out of sync with the desires of the American people?  We have previously discussed the incompetence of American leadership with regard to the war.  Certainly that would have been grounds for going public with what he knew but without revealing state secrets.

Both Kennedy and Johnson handled the war ineptly, not only ignoring the advice of the military experts but moving in a direction that they were repeatedly warned would not achieve the desired result.  But this is not lying.  It’s incompetence.  Johnson in particular behaved despicably toward the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ignored their advice completely and placed his trust in McNamara, a man who had no military knowledge at all.  This too is not lying but incompetence.

Remarkably, Ellsberg himself recognized that the ongoing disagreements within administrations were debates, but because of his personal beliefs he characterized them as lies rather than normal disagreement within advisory groups.

I first learned of these debates in 1964 and 1965, when I was special assistant to John McNaughton, the assistant defense secretary. I read all the documents of that period that were later included in the Pentagon Papers, and I heard from McNaughton of his discussions with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Johnson. I strongly regret that at that time, I did not see it as my duty to disclose that information to the Senate.

But then I was in Vietnam for two years from 1965 to 1967. I saw that our ground effort in South Vietnam was hopelessly stalemated, and I did not believe that increased bombing of the north would ever cause our adversaries to give up. Therefore I came to the belief in 1967 that we should negotiate our way out.

Because he spent time in Vietnam, Ellsberg apparently became convinced that his limited view of the conflict was an accurate one and decided that he knew better than five Presidents what the correct course of action was.  So, desperate to gain what he viewed as a fair hearing for his beliefs, which he believed were superior to those of five Presidents, he decided to violate his oath and reveal state secrets to the world.  For this traitorous act he is celebrated as a hero by many of the misguided fools that believe themselves to be wiser than the men chosen to lead the nation.

So my concern in releasing the Pentagon Papers was not simply, or even primarily, to get out the truth. I thought I would probably go to prison for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t have done that just to set the record straight. I released the papers because I foresaw prolonged war and eventual escalation, including incursions into Laos and Cambodia, the mining of Haiphong and the bombing of Hanoi. I wanted to avert these events, but they all occurred.

Ellsberg’s ego wouldn’t allow him to accept the fact that he was not the President.  He felt he knew better than the men who had a much broader knowledge of Vietnam, of secret negotiations, of plans he knew nothing about, of issues with which he was completely unaware.  All that mattered was that his views be aired, even if he had to go to prison.  Even what he perceived as the truth didn’t matter!  This is a man with a massive ego.  This is a man for whom no other view than his own is valid.  it’s not surprising then that his oath meant nothing to him when weighed against his superior opinions.

The greatest irony of all is that the Pentagon Papers reveal that basic US policy toward Vietnam was consistent across five Presidencies and that all of the claims of the antiwar movement were false.

Vietnam War Ended 40 Years Ago

Dr. William Lloyd Stearman, Founding VVFH Member

A poll taken on this 40th anniversary would no doubt reveal that most Americans believe we should not have fought in this small obscure country half a world away, and do believe that the war there was unwinnable and that our huge expenditure of blood and treasure there was totally in vain. Most people are nonplussed at hearing that we got into World War II because of what is now Vietnam. In the 1930s, we somewhat tolerated Japan’s rampaging all though China. However, when Japan invaded what is now Vietnam, we saw this as a threat to Southeast Asia and took the strong measure of promoting a boycott of critical oil, scrap iron and rubber deliveries to Japan. Japan, then realizing a now hostile US would try to prevent its planned invasion of Southeast Asia, sought to disable our fleet at Pearl Harbor as a preventative measure. Japan then proceeded to use its new-found base to invade and conquer most of Southeast Asia. President Eisenhower must have had this mind when he was asked, at April 7, 1954 press conference, about “the strategic importance of Indochina [Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia] for the free world.” He then described the “falling domino” principle whereby “the beginning of a disintegration [in Vietnam] would have the most profound influences” leading to “ the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the [Malay] peninsula and Indonesia.” He added that Japan, Formosa [Taiwan], the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand “would also be threatened.” (He could also have added India.)

Eisenhower’s “domino theory” was pooh-poohed by a number of people in the U.S., but, given the parlous unstable conditions in Southeast Asia, it was taken seriously by leaders there as well as in Australia and India and by leaders in Hanoi and (then) Peking. For example, China’s famed Marshal Lin Piao stated in September 1965 that the defeat of “U.S. imperialism” in Vietnam would show the people of the world “that what the Vietnamese people can do, they can do too.” In the late 19­60s, Indonesian leaders Suharto and Malik (not great friends of the U.S.) told U.S. officials that our first introduction of U.S. combat troops (Marines) in Vietnam in March 1965 helped embolden them to resist the October 1, 1965 Communist coup supported by China, which came very close to succeeding. (The two later told columnist Robert Novak the same thing.) Had this coup succeeded, the Philippines would have soon been threatened which could well have triggered our intervention under a 1954 treaty. Then we would have been facing a far more threatening adversary than in Vietnam. The 1965 introduction of US Marines apparently had a generally bracing effect in Southeast Asia. For example it also encouraged the British defense of Malaysia against a Communist invasion from Indonesia. By the end of the Vietnam War, even the victorious Communist side that lost over two million dead was too weakened to pose a threat to any country save nearby Laos and Cambodia. The war also bought precious time to enable the countries of Southeast Asia to strengthen their positions. In essence, we basically got into the war to prevent the toppling of dominoes in Southeast Asia and we succeeded. One could say that this was a strategic victory while the loss in Vietnam was a tactical defeat.

Was the war in Vietnam truly unwinnable? After “Vietnamization” had removed all U.S. combat troops from Vietnam, Hanoi, on March 30, 1972, launched its “Easter Offensive” with largest conventional attack of the war consisting of the equivalent of 23 divisions equipped with hundreds of Soviet tanks, long-range artillery, rockets and surface to air missiles. The brunt of the fighting fell on the South Vietnamese ground forces with massive U.S. air support as well as naval and logistical support. The only American ground forces left were advisors and forward air controllers. South Vietnam forces eventually moved from the defensive to counter offensives and by mid-September 1972 were clearly winning. The Communist forces had lost about 100,000 killed in action, twice as many as the U.S. had lost in the entire war. Sometime after Hanoi’s final 1975 victory, a former top commander in the South, General Tran Van Tra stated in the Party organ Nhan Dan that his troops had eventually reached the verge of defeat. Had the war continued some months further, the South could have emerged victorious by evicting all enemy forces from Vietnam. Facing defeat, Hanoi saved the day by offering substantial concessions sought by Henry Kissinger in previous negotiations. With the best of intentions, Kissinger took this bait and the resulting negotiations process brought South Vietnamese military operations to a halt. The 1973 Peace Accords broke down. The U.S. drastically reduced aid, and then Congress banned all U.S. military operations in Indochina sealing Vietnam’s doom.

William Lloyd Stearman, PhD, Senior U.S. Foreign Service officer (Ret.)

National Security Council staff under four presidents, director NSC Indochina staff, Jan. ’73 to Jan. ’76, Adjunct Professor of International Affairs Georgetown University (1977 to 1993), author of memoir An American Adventure, From Early Aviation Through Three Wars to the White House (Naval Institute Press, 2012)

The Domino Theory

Paul Schmehl, Independent Researcher
Apr 19, 2015

The Domino Theory got its name from President Eisenhower, but he was not the inventor of the concept. When World War II ended, the Soviet Union began to extend its influence over Asia and Eastern Europe. This development prompted Winston Churchill to remark in 1946, in a speech at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri, that

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.” 1

The British Empire reached its zenith at the start of World War I. Subsequent to that war its influence began to wane. After World War II, Britain was devastated economically and on the verge of bankruptcy. Therefore, Britain granted many of its colonies independence and its influence as a world power subsided. The United States, which had become increasingly more important in world affairs due to its role in World War II, assumed the mantle of a world power.

Beginning in 1919, with the founding of the Soviet Comintern, first Lenin and then Stalin advocated for a worldwide revolution to promote communism. It was Stalin’s belief that the revolution would proceed through Asia and eventually become worldwide. By the end of World War II, there was great deal of instability worldwide, especially in third world countries. The Russians saw that instability as an opportunity to spread communism far and wide.

As the leader of a rising world power, the Truman administration felt the need to articulate a policy to address what Churchill called “the iron curtain”, the disturbing rise of Soviet communism and influence in the world. The Truman administration believed that the growth of communism was a threat to international peace as well as the security of the United States.

In order to resist the growth of communism, a policy of “containment” was devised. Rather than directly confront the Soviet Union (and perhaps provoke World War III), the United States would come to the aid of any country threatened by communist movements. This aid would often be monetary but potentially could involve US military assistance as well. The policy became known as the Truman doctrine.

In a speech before Congress in 1947, Truman articulated this new doctrine.

” I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid, which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.”2

This policy, though well intentioned, would lead America into some strange alliances, supporting dictators and totalitarian regimes in an effort to stem “the red tide”. It would also lead to the flawed effort often known as the Vietnam War, or, as we prefer to call it, the 2nd Indochina War, because it involved not only Vietnam but Cambodia and Laos as well.

The question for historians is, was Truman correct? If he was, then his policy would make sense. Unchecked, communism might have taken over much of the world, isolating the United States and perhaps eventually even defeating it. To determine whether there was any merit to the belief, one need only look at the words of the Marxists.

Karl Marx articulated the concept of world domination at the close of his Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE! “3

One might ask, in a practical sense, what did Marx mean by this? Marx explained it clearly and concisely.

“You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.

In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so: that is just what we intend.” 4

How did Marx thing private property could be abolished? Through the only means thought possible to do so – armed revolution to overthrow the existing order.

“In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.”5

It’s not difficult to see why an American might be troubled by these declarations. After all, the rights of private property have been held in very high esteem in America. In fact America was founded because its people did not take kindly to the government confiscating their property. Furthermore, the idea that the existing society would be overthrown through a violent civil war reminded Americans of their own painful experience in their Civil War.

As others sought to put Marx’s theory into practice, they actively sought the overthrow of weak regimes and worked to undermine the political nature of healthy regimes. In 1901, Vladimir Lenin expressed it thus:

“History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks confronting the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark, not only of European, but (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction, would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat. And we have the right to count upon acquiring this honourable title, already earned by our predecessors, the revolutionaries of the seventies, if we succeed in inspiring our movement, which is a thousand times broader and deeper, with the same devoted determination and vigour.”6

In 1920 Russia annexed Armenia and Kazakhstan, and two years later eastern Belarus, Georgia and Azerbaijan. In 1924 Russia annexed Moldavia and Mongolia. Recovering from World War I, the world took little notice. In 1944, while World War II was ongoing, Albania became a communist state.7 The Soviet Union was on the march, expanding into more and more territories.

In 1946 Stalin stated that the primary purpose of his Five Year Plan was “to assure the increasing defensive capacity of the U.S.S.R., and to equip the armed forces of the Soviet Union with the most up-to-date military techniques.”8 Since World War II had recently ended world leaders wondered what the Soviet Union was preparing to defend itself against. Victor Kravchenko, a recent defector from Soviet communism, stated that Stalin was planning on conquering the world.

Another defector, former KGB agent Anatoly Golitsyn, said he defected to

“warn the American Government about the adoption of the current grand strategy for Communism and the political role of the KGB and the use of disinformation and controlled political opposition which the strategy entailed, and…help the West neutralise KGB penetration of their governments.”9

A few years later General Jan Sejna of Czechoslovakia defected. Before his death under suspicious circumstances he testified before a US House committee.

“To understand the events of interest today, it is essential to understand that back then the main mission of all organizations in the Soviet empire was to destroy democracy and bring people everywhere under the yoke of communism.

Two wars dominated our planning.

First, there was the General nuclear war, which was the responsibility of the military. Even civilian construction projects had to be approved by the Defense Council to make certain they all contributed to the war effort.

Second, there was the political and intelligence wars, the world revolutionary war, as it was originally called. This war was also waged according to a very detailed and complex strategic plan. This war involved infiltration of the government and press, sabotage, subversion, deception, narcotics trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, compromise of political and business leaders, and many other activities, all designed to destroy competing social systems. The primary targets were all industrialized countries and the most important enemy was the United States.

I want to point out that in these and other activities, the Soviets ruled their empire with an iron hand. All directions and controls came from Moscow. People undertook independent actions at their own risk, and the penalties were without any regard for human rights or dignity.

I know, because I was there.”10

Is it any wonder then that American political leaders might seek a policy to combat a political philosophy so counter to the one on which our nation was founded?

The seeds for rebellion and communism in Southeast Asia had been planted centuries before by European colonization of several Southeast Asian countries; the British in Malaysia, Burma and Hong Kong, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Spaniards (and later America) in the Philippines and the French in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. By the outbreak of World War II, the communists had already been organizing in Southeast Asia for more than a decade.

As the Japanese swept through the area, communist organizers took advantage of the Japanese occupation to organize armies of resistance, convincing the fighters that they were fighting for their own independence. Behind the scenes they worked assiduously to eliminate, by cooption, subterfuge and assassination, the true nationalist leaders in each country.

At the beginning of World War II Russia annexed, by agreement with Germany, several Eastern European countries, including eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, part of Finland and part of Romania. Shortly after the war the rest of Poland, the rest of Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belarus and eastern Germany all fell to communism and became part of the U.S.S.R. Russia wasn’t done, however. She began fomenting revolutions in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

After World War II the new American policy of containment would be severely tested. In 1945 a communist rebellion in the Philippines was put down, only to flare up again in 1971. It is still ongoing today. Around the same time war between the French and the Vietnamese broke out, led by the communist Viet Minh. In 1948 the British faced a communist rebellion in Malaysia that wasn’t put down until 1960, and the US had to create the Berlin Airlift to keep Berlin free from takeover by the Soviet backed East Germans. In 1949 China fell to the communists.

Two of the world’s largest nations were now firmly in the grip of Marx’s utopia and the Soviet sphere of influence was expanding rapidly. A year later, with the full support of China and the Soviet Union, North Korea invaded South Korea. Meanwhile communist “revolutions” were popping up all over, including Southeast Asia.

In 1953 the Cuban revolution broke out. By 1959 Cuba, just 90 miles from the US, was a communist country. In Southeast Asia, communism was on the march in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. The future of Southeast Asia hung in the balance.

Dwight Eisenhower, the victorious Supreme Allied Commander of World War II, was elected in 1953, as the Korean War was nearing its end. Trouble was brewing all over the world, but particularly in Southeast Asia. In a press conference in 1954, shortly before the fall of Dien Bien Phu, which marked the end of French rule in Cochinchina, Eisenhower spoke of his concerns regarding communism. He was asked, at a press conference, to comment on the strategic importance of Indochina to America.

“You have, of course, both the specific and the general when you talk about such things. First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs.

Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world.

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”11

What became known as the domino theory was nothing more than a strategic description of the consequences of not implementing the Truman Doctrine. In other words, if we don’t employ the policy of containment, communism will spread throughout Southeast Asia. This policy would later become the subject of intense ridicule by the antiwar movement, parroting the Marxist propaganda line that communism presented no threat whatsoever, and those who thought it did were delusional or paranoid.

This, of course, was what the communists wanted the world to believe about them. It was not, however, what they themselves believed. Che Quevara, writing at a conference in Havana in 1967, stated:

“Let us sum up our hopes for victory: total destruction of imperialism by eliminating its firmest bulwark: the oppression exercized by the United States of America. To carry out, as a tactical method, the peoples gradual liberation, one by one or in groups: driving the enemy into a difficult fight away from its own territory; dismantling all its sustenance bases, that is, its dependent territories.

This means a long war. And, once more we repeat it, a cruel war. Let no one fool himself at the outstart and let no one hesitate to start out for fear of the consequences it may bring to his people. It is almost our sole hope for victory. We cannot elude the call of this hour. Vietnam is pointing it out with its endless lesson of heroism, its tragic and everyday lesson of struggle and death for the attainment of final victory.

There, the imperialist soldiers endure the discomforts [sic] of those who, used to enjoying the U.S. standard of living, have to live in a hostile land with the insecurity of being unable to move without being aware of walking on enemy territory: death to those who dare take a step out of their fortified encampment. The permanent hostility of the entire population. All this has internal repercussion in the United States; propitiates the resurgence of an element which is being minimized in spite of its vigor by all imperialist forces: class struggle even within its own territory.”12

Referring specifically to Vietnam he wrote:

“How close and bright would the future appear if two, three, many Vietnams flowered on the face of the globe, with their quota of death and their immense tragedies, with their daily heroism, with their repeated blows against imperialism, forcing it to disperse its forces under the lash of the growing hatred of the peoples of the world!”

In 1962, while Vietnam was drawing more and more of the Kennedy Administration’s attention, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. School children all over America were being taught to duck under their desks to avoid a nuclear blast, and the world was breathless with anticipation of a nuclear confrontation between Russia and the US.

With all of these events taking place, and the communists talking of a worldwide revolution, it was hardly inconceivable that the next shoes to drop would be in Southeast Asia. Only a fool would have thought otherwise, and only a communist would argue that it was a ridiculous policy. All of Southeast Asia looked to the US to see how they would react to the threat. Yet just a few years later, the antiwar movement in America would claim that the domino theory was silly, just as the communists wanted them to.

The argument made today is that “the dominos didn’t fall, therefore the theory was wrong”. Very few ever seem to ask the question, why didn’t the dominos fall?

Had Ho succeeded, in 1954, in turning Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos into communist countries (as he did twenty years later), Thailand would have been surrounded by communist countries on its northern and eastern borders as well as part of its southern border. Had the British not succeeded in putting down the communist “revolution” in Malaysia, she would have been completely surrounded on her southern border as well. Had the Philippines fallen, ocean access to all of Southeast Asia would have been in the hands of the communists.

This reality was not lost on the Thais. They asked for, and received, US help. Military and CIA advisors were sent to Thailand to shore up the regime and train the Thai troops. In 1965 fighting broke out in Thailand between communists and the state. However, the communists couldn’t commit the necessary forces to defeat Thailand because they were still needed elsewhere – in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – and they were defeated.

The Thai government formed two groups to combat the communists, the Communist Suppression Operation Command (CSOC) under command of Gen. Saiyud Kherdpol and the Police Aerial Reinforcement Units (PARUs). The CIA worked closely with both, providing training and support as they staved off an invasion of North Vietnamese troops supporting local “guerillas”.13

About the same time the communists in Indonesia attempted a coup. Their attempt was put down by the Indonesian military. An estimated 500,000 people were killed, and the Indonesian Communist Party was effectively destroyed. Had the US not entered Vietnam, these events might have turned out quite differently. In 1965, South Vietnam was on the verge of collapse, thanks in no small part to the foolhardy US support of the Diem coup.

Had Thailand fallen, there would have been nothing to stop the advance of communism throughout Southeast Asia. Had Indonesia also fallen, water access to the Straits of Malacca would have been unavailable to allied forces. However, rather than reinforce the fighting in Thailand or support the coup attempt in Indonesia, the bulk of communist forces were tied up in Vietnam. South Vietnam, with the assistance of her allies, successfully tied up the North Vietnamese sufficiently to buy time for the rest of Southeast Asia to establish stable non-communist governments. Americans, both military and CIA worked in all of these countries assisting to stave off the many communist invasions.

When interviewed by the Washington Post, 14 the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, said, “If the Communists get South Vietnam, there will be no security for other countries in Southeast Asia.”

Indonesia’s longtime Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, wrote in his book, From Third World to First:

“Although American intervention failed in Vietnam, it bought time for the rest of Southeast Asia. In 1965, when the US military moved massively into South Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines faced internal threats from armed communist insurgents and the communist underground was still active in Singapore. Indonesia, in the throes of a failed communist coup, was waging konfrontasi, an undeclared war against Singapore. The Philippines was claiming Sabah in East Malaysia. Standards of living were low and economic growth slow.”15

“America’s action enabled non-communist Southeast Asia to put their own houses in order. By 1975 (when the Vietnam war ended) they were in better shape to stand up to the communists. Had there been no US intervention, the will of these countries to resist them would have melted and Southeast Asia would have most likely gone communist. The prosperous emerging market economies of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) were nurtured during the Vietnam War years.”16

The evidence shows that not only was the domino theory valid, but that America’s intervention in Vietnam bought the time necessary for democracy to plant seeds in Southeast Asia, effectively stemming the tide of communism with the tragic loss of three countries and millions of lives. Many, many lives were saved due to the failure of communism to spread past Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

None of this excuses America’s shameful abandonment of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the communist butchers. Had America lived up to her promises, perhaps no dominos would have fallen. (In Cambodia alone, the communists murdered 1.7 million people.17 In Vietnam, an estimated 1 million died as a result of communist suppression after the war. In Russia and China, almost 100 million have died due to communism. Scholars will argue about the precise numbers, but there is no disputing the fact that communism has caused millions and millions of deaths.)18