Entry into the Morass


Eisenhower meets Diem.  Diem will be deposed in a US condoned coup in 1963 and assassinated.  Upon hearing of the assassaination JFK was said to have turned ashen and left the room.  He himself would be assassinated just weeks later.  After the coup ATK the US has no viable way out of South Vietnam.  So how did we get there in the first place?

Does Kissinger seem a bit defensive here or is it just me?  Maybe defensive isn’t the right word.  Offensive?  Basically he seems to be shouting ITS NOT MY FAULT and underscoring that if cooler heads had prevailed and used the cold hard calculus of national interests vis-a-vis Palmerston or Richelieu then the US would not have involved itself.  It was not in tune with our interests.  It was against our historic anti-colonial stance.  We let China “fall” in 1948, why not little old Vietnam?

Document after document, NSC 64, NSC 68 assessments by Rusk, and all the presidents though point inexorably to more and more involvement into what will become an intractable situation.  Kissinger is often vilified for his role in Vietnam.  Remember that.  No one would pretend, not even Christopher Hitchens (author of “Trials of Henry Kissinger”) that Henry had anything to do with decisions in SE Asia in the 1950s.  He does certainly bear a great responsibility for America’s conduct in the late 60s and early / mid seventies.  He puts his decisions and actions then, in the context of the history of Diplomacy on the 20th century.

How does he set it up?  How does, why does the US get involved in exactly the way they do?  Answer that question and you’re a long way to “getting” this chapter.

2 Responses to “Entry into the Morass”

  1. Claire Olmstead says:

    Although Kissinger comes off as very critical of America’s position as the moral compass throughout the Cold War, he describes the Western countries as the “protagonists.” I think his diction perfectly encompasses how the United States saw itself throughout the entire conflict: as heroes for the Vietnamese against the communists as well as against the French.

    The United States involves itself in Vietnam, seemingly due to a web of paradoxes. By announcing themselves as the universal protector, free of realpolitik-like national interest, the United States (possibly inadvertently) made all countries, no matter how small, part of their agenda. This would backfire, because all of a sudden, they were embroiled in conflicts that were really of little importance to them. Furthermore, by claiming that the fight against the communists in Vietnam was only based on morals, the United States was essentially saying that the cause was important enough that the help from outside nations was unnecessary, yet was unable to effectively crush the communists without the help of their allies.

  2. Isabelle Walcher says:

    Tonight as I watched parts of President Obama’s State of the Union, I couldn’t help but compare what he was saying to what the other presidents mentioned in this chapter (Eisenhower, Truman, Johnson, and Kennedy) were claiming in their inaugural addresses. It seems to me that the values of the US now are similar to what they were in the past. Obama mentioned how the US will support places and people where they have or want freedom, which is similar to what Truman said, “(the US would) strengthen freedom-loving nations against the dangers of aggression…” However, there are differences between foreign policy then and now, the core values of the US have stayed fairly consistent.

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