There remains the question of Southeast Asia. This, too, was on our minds, even in 1950 and 1951 though primarily in connection with the question as to the amount of support, if any, that we should give to the French, who were then fighting much the same sort of fight, and against much the same adversary that we, in the years following 1964, found ourselves fighting.
Here, at least, I agreed wholly and unreservedly with Walter Lippmann. We had, I felt, no business trying to play a role in the affairs of the mainland of Southeast Asia. The same went for the French. They had no prospects. They had better get out.
"In Indo-China," I complained to the Secretary of State in the memo of August 21, 1950,
we are getting ourselves into the position of guaranteeing the French in an undertaking which neither they nor we, nor both of us together, can win. . . . We should let Schuman [Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister] know . . . that the closer view we have had of the problems of this area, in the course of our efforts of the past few months to sup-port the French position there, has convinced us that that position is basically hopeless. We should say that we will do everything in our power to avoid embarrassing the French in their problems and to support them in any reasonable course they would like to adopt looking to its liquidation; but that we cannot honestly agree with them that there is any real hope of their remaining successfully in Indo-China, and we feel that rather than have their weakness demonstrated by a continued costly and unsuccessful effort to assert their will by force of arms, it would be preferable to permit the turbulent political currents of that country to find their own level, unimpeded by foreign troops or pressures, even at the probable cost of an eventual deal between Viet-Nam and Viet-Minh, and the spreading over the whole country of Viet-Minh authority, possibly in a somewhat modified form. We might suggest that the most promising line of withdrawal, from the standpoint of their prestige, would be to make the problem one of some Asian regional responsibility, in which the French exodus could be conveniently obscured.
This judgment with regard to the folly of a possible intervention in Vietnam rested, incidentally, not just on the specific aspects of that situation as we faced it in 1950, but on considerations of principle, as well. In a lecture delivered earlier that year (May 5) in Milwaukee, I had said--this time with reference to the pleas for American intervention in China:
I wonder how many of you realize what that really means. I can conceive of no more ghastly and fateful mistake, and nothing more calculated to confuse the issues in this world today than for us to go into another great country and try to uphold by force of our own blood and treasures a regime which had clearly lost the confidence of its own people. Nothing could have pleased our enemies more. . . . Had our Government been carried away by these pressures, . . . I am confident that today the whole struggle against world communism in both Europe and Asia would have been hopelessly fouled up and compromised.
Little did I realize, in penning these passages, that I was defining, fifteen years before the event, my own position with relation to the Vietnam War.
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