Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Real Tragedy of Vietnam

by Conrad Black

The death of former U. S. defence secretary Robert S. McNamara has caused a good deal of retrospective comment regarding his influence on American defence and strategic policy in the 1960s, and especially the Vietnam War. In writing on the subject for last Saturday's National Post, I found myself with more material than I could get into a single column. What follows below picks up on Saturday's effort.

The horrible nightmare of Vietnam was a long time coming. Franklin D. Roosevelt, unlike Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, knew that Western colonial empires couldn't last, and was afraid the communists would take over of much of them, exploiting discontent against the colonial occupiers. He proposed a scheme whereby power in these areas would be administered in the name of the United Nations, until the territories met agreed criteria for self-government. Britain, France and the lesser empires would not hear of it. No substitute plan emerged, and there were endless colonial wars in Indochina, Kenya, Algeria, Cyprus, Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia, Malaya, the Congo and elsewhere --and prolonged disputes over the post-colonial borders, especially in the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.

Roosevelt's successors, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, were not prepared to fight for the French colonial regime in Indochina. If there was ever a time for the United States to give battle there (and there probably wasn't), it was after France promised independence but was still prepared to fight Indochina's communists. It might have been possible to create a Korea-like coalition and replicate the success of the British and local anti-Communists in Malaya. But neither Eisenhower nor Churchill was prepared to do this in 1954, and Eisenhower was not even prepared to assist the French in escaping the debacle at Dien Bien Phu, which only required a little air transport and close air support to avoid. This, and the gratuitous U. S. response to the Anglo-French Suez shambles two years later, spelled virtually the end of the U. S.-French alliance until the Gulf War of 1991. Alliances are supposed to be reciprocal.

For the rest go to the National Post

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