Waving the Munich Pact, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain promised his people “peace in our time.” But his appeasement of Hitler ensured, instead, a ruinous war that relegated Britain to the status of a third-rate power. This lesson, so clear to one generation of Americans that they vowed there would he “No more Munichs,” has little meaning today for a generation which, lulled by a vocal minority of faint-hearted educators and students, demands that there be “No more Vietnams.” “Leave us alone,” this new slogan implies, “all we want is peace.” And that, of course, was all that Neville Chamberlain wanted.
There is a phenomenon in the conduct of international relations which might be called the Pendulum Rule.
No matter what practice we follow, it will rarely produce all the results we seek. Achieving results in the international world is a difficult, delicate task, and usually a long-term one. But Americans are impatient people. They want quick results. A new administration Washington would like to solve the country’s problems before it leaves office—before the next elections if possible. When a given approach has not caused a problem to disappear there is a temptation to try a different approach. Even an aging administration has been known to take a fling at a new approach. However, the chances are that the new approach, or the new practice, won’t work much better than the old. Possibly it won’t work as well.
Frequently the new practice is one that has been tried before and has been given up because it didn’t work, or didn’t work as well as expected. But the administration doesn’t know that, or it feels that it can carry the old practice more successfully than it was carried out before. It may feel that new circumstances will make the old practice easier to carry out. Sometimes Congressional and public opinion will impel an administration toward a policy to which it is not fully committed.
United States and Russia. Before Hitler invaded Russia, in 1941, our government had grave doubts about the Russian government’s intentions toward the United States, and about its devotion to freedom. We did hesitate to express our misgivings toward Russia and to communicate them to other nations. Once Russia found itself at war with Germany, however, our attitude changed, as of course it should have.
But we were not content to recognize that circumstances had changed, that Stalin’s Russia now was in a position of having to defend itself against the same Nazi aggression that was intent on destroying freedom everywhere in Europe, and possibly beyond Europe. We felt compelled to act as though the Russians also had changed. We made Russia an honorary member of the democratic world, a “peace-loving” nation, a loyal and willing ally. The Russian government’s sins, which we had formerly condemned with self-righteous passion, we now decided to overlook. Russia was very much in the position of an international pariah when Hitler attacked it. We helped to change that. We urged our friends, and even nations that were not particularly friendly to us, to establish diplomatic relations with Russia, and many did.
As the war neared its end, it became evident to our representatives abroad that Russia’s friendship with the United States, to the extent that it existed, was a friendship of convenience; that its devotion to freedom did not embrace freedom for other countries. The Russian government had never been really cooperative with the United States even during the worst years of the war when its very survival depended upon our military support. It now began to show active hostility. Communist parties in other countries, which faithfully parroted the Russian line, began to engage in vicious anti-American propaganda. I was ambassador to Paraguay at the time, and I asked Washington, with some urgency, to send me material with which to combat that propaganda. I was rapped on the knuckles for my pains. The State Department told me that it had no intention of engaging in “anti-Russian” propaganda in Paraguay.
It was not long, however, before Russia’s attitude toward the United States and the other democracies became evident to officials in Washington. The pendulum began to swing back. Our embassies were flooded with anti-Communist propaganda and we were urged to give it the highest priority. In doing that, of course, we managed to make the Communists eight feet tall, while we were correspondingly diminished. We may have damaged our own cause. Certainly our minds were diverted from other things which were of great importance to us and to which the Communists were quietly giving attention.
But the pendulum is again swinging toward closer relations with Russia. Even while American mines are holding Russian ships captive in Haiphong, and preventing other ships from entering the harbor with supplies for North Vietnam’s hard-pressed armies, President Nixon, as I write this, is in Moscow discussing matters of great importance to Russia and the United States, and to world peace.
Spain. Our government’s attitude toward Spain has had the same pendulum-like quality. The Spanish peninsula was vital to Allied success during World War II. Hitler’s troops had occupied France, to the north. They were plainly visible to persons standing on the Spanish side of the international bridge at Irun. At the southern tip of the peninsula was Gibraltar, the only Allied foothold in Western Europe. Gibraltar had once been Spanish and Hitler had promised to return it to Spain. From the Hotel Maria Cristina in Spain’s Algeciras, German observers could keep easy track of military activities in Gibraltar, including the extension of the airport into neutral waters. The enlarged airport tendered notable service during the American landings in North Africa in November 1942.
One of the aims of Allied strategy was to keep Spain out of the war. Hitler had different plans. They were for Spain to enter the war on the side of Germany and to facilitate the passage of German troops. Franco never quite got around to agreeing to that. Hitler could have forced his way through Spain, of course, and several of his close advisors urged him to do it, but he decided against it. Instead he invaded Russia. Spain could wait, he said. That may have been his greatest military error.
During the Spanish Civil War, which had ended just as World War II was beginning, American public opinion had tended to favor the Republic, which Franco defeated. World War II needs had caused the pendulum of U. S.-Spanish relations to swing toward greater friendliness on our part, but it had swung very slowly. The British rather than the Americans were the architects of Allied policy toward Spain. The U. S. government supported the policy but with distaste. Ideological opposition to General Franco was strong in the United States, and our government was sensitive to it.
Spain had lost most of its usable military equipment during the Civil War. Germany had supplied some replacements but very few. When our ambassador, Carlton J. H. Hayes, suggested that the Spanish army might welcome a modicum of military cooperation from the United States—a few obsolete tanks, for example, or some other outmoded equipment or weapons, as well as the closer relationship to the United States that such cooperation would bring—Washington reacted violently. One might have thought the ambassador was guilty of treason.
But the pendulum continued to swing. Today Spain is a bastion of American military strength in Europe. During World War II, when Franco’s cooperation was probably indispensable to military success in Europe, Franco could do little that was right in official American eyes. Today, when the military importance of Spanish territory may be not nearly so great, one sometimes has the impression that from the American viewpoint he can do little that is wrong.
Foreign Aid. Consider for a moment our attitude toward foreign aid. For years we gave little attention to the less developed countries, although they supplied us with raw materials that were necessary to our economy, and with markets that we also required. There was little feeling that we had any obligation to help those countries improve, except possibly through trade and direct investment. When farmers in the United States complained that they could no longer make money growing cotton, our Congress hastened to vote them subsidies. When domestic oil producers complained of competition from “cheap” foreign oil, the Congress voted them tax privileges and placed quotas on imports. But when Latin Americans complained that world prices for coffee were condemning producing countries to poverty, we advised them to diversify their economies.
Suddenly however, spurred on by wartime needs and, later, by Communist interest in the less developed countries, we began to view the people of those countries as fellow men who had problems that were not entirely of their own making; to realize that neither we nor they were islands in the one world we lived in.
The U. S.-financed Marshall Plan made it possible for the highly developed countries of Europe to restore their economies rapidly after the war. We were so pleased with its success that we saw aid as a solution, also, to the problems of countries that had hardly begun to develop. There was a place for aid to such countries, an important place in fact, but it was not the place that our eager helpers visualized.
The Alliance for Progress, an American initiative that also was largely financed by the United States, was supposed to solve the economic problems of many of the Latin American countries in a period of ten years. It was Americans, not Latin Americans, who made that estimate. Today, despite real progress in some fields, Latin America’s economic problems, and perhaps its political problems as well, may be a little more difficult than they were when the Alliance was launched. And the U. S. Congress, which shared the early enthusiasm for it, is steadily reducing aid appropriations. Many of its members want to eliminate aid altogether. The pendulum is still swinging back.
Intervention. Consider, also, our attitude toward intervention. During the early part of the century we went overboard, as people say, in extending protection to Americans and American interests abroad, particularly in Latin America. On occasion we used our military forces to help protect them. We engaged in a number of formal interventions, some of them lasting a number of years. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy, however, we renounced intervention. Years later, when Castro rebels in Cuba kidnapped a group of sailors from the U. S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, we meekly negotiated for their release.
The pendulum continued to swing away from intervention, although one would not have suspected it from the public expressions of some of our leaders. When Chairman Khrushchev announced that, in case of necessity, Soviet artillerymen could support the Cuban people (against the United States) with rocket fire, President Dwight Eisenhower, on 9 July 1960, retorted:
“I affirm in the most emphatic terms that the United States will not be deterred from its responsibilities by the threats Mr. Khrushchev is making. Nor will the United States, in conformity with its treaty obligations, permit the establishment of a regime dominated by international communism in the Western hemisphere.”
But of course it did.
John F. Kennedy, as a candidate for the presidency, took an extreme anti-Castro position. During a campaign speech on 25 October 1960, he said of the Republican candidate:
“Mr. Nixon hasn’t mentioned Cuba very prominently in the campaign. He talks about standing firm in Berlin, standing firm in the Far East, standing up to Khrushchev. But he never mentions standing firm in Cuba. And if you can’t stand up to Castro, how can you be expected to stand up to Khrushchev? The transformation of Cuba into a Communist base of operations a few minutes from our coast—by jet plane, missile or submarine—is an incredibly dangerous development to have been permitted by our Republican policy-makers.”
But, as president, Mr. Kennedy never stood up to Castro. In the end, Cuba, which we had helped free from Spain, was taken into the Communist camp with hardly a protest from the United States. President Kennedy did intervene at the Bay of Pigs. But he intervened while trying to make it appear that he was not intervening. And to the dismay of our friends and the surprise of our opponents, he intervened without success. The failure of two American presidents to stand up to Castro in Cuba meant that one of them, President Kennedy, would be obliged to stand up to Russia in Cuba, in the first (and we hope the last) nuclear confrontation in history.
The Cuban missile crisis meant that the pendulum had completed its swing; that henceforth no American president would lay himself open to the charge that he had stood idly by while another American republic was delivered to Communism without the formality of consulting its inhabitants. The later military landings in the Dominican Republic, under President Lyndon Johnson, were predictable.
Vietnam. Cuba continued to trouble the United States during the early 1960s. Another area that caused concern was, of course, Indochina, and especially Vietnam, where a Communist “war of national liberation” was in progress. Furthermore, there was a relationship between the problems in the two areas.
The Bay of Pigs was a blow to President Kennedy’s pride, and it created a grave problem for his administration. The problem was how to restore international (and indeed domestic) confidence in the United States, its diplomacy, and its resolve. Mr. Kennedy was under strong pressure to prove himself in the eyes of Chairman Khrushchev. The two had met in Vienna not long after the Bay of Pigs episode, and he had not given Khrushchev a convincing explanation of U. S. failure there. The young, inexperienced president had failed to impress the hardened old Soviet warrior, and he knew it. After Vienna, Mr. Kennedy felt a compulsion to raise himself in Khrushchev’s eyes—to create a different image of the President of the United States.
While the Bay of Pigs tragedy was still very much on his mind, President Kennedy named a committee to determine what had gone wrong there. The group comprised General Maxwell Taylor, then Military Representative of the President; Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the President’s brother; Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; and Allen Dulles, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The committee’s report focused on the Communists’ “war of national liberation.” One outcome of the report was the creation of the Special Group for Counter Insurgency which was directed to assure recognition within the government that the war of national liberation is a major form of political-military conflict equal in importance to conventional warfare, and also to assure unity of effort and the use of all resources that might be required to prevent and resist it.[*]
The original membership of the Special Group, C.I., as it came to be called, was the Military Representative of the President, Chairman; the Attorney General, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Special Assistant to the President for National Security, and the Administrator of the Agency for International Development.
The Special Group, C.I., therefore, was to concern itself with the war of national liberation, which the international Communists were pledged to support, and with what the United States should do about it. Most of the members of the Taylor Committee and of the Special Group, C.I., were officials whom persons familiar with national security affairs might have expected to be named. But there was one whose place in the government did not clearly fit him for either the Committee or the Group, and still he was a member of both. He was Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, and the President’s brother. Robert Kennedy’s presence responded to two factors: the special interest the President had in the war of national liberation, and the interest Robert Kennedy, himself, had in it. It was Robert Kennedy who was chiefly responsible for the enthusiasm which the Kennedy administration devoted to combating the war of national liberation. That enthusiasm produced rapid results.
Measures intended to increase the counterinsurgency capability of our armed forces were greatly intensified. Among others, a school of jungle warfare was established in the Panama Canal Zone. President Kennedy, himself, ordered a sixfold increase in the Army’s Special Forces and (against the Army’s strong objection) ordered them to wear distinctive green berets. Government officials were lectured on the importance of the war of national liberation and the need to combat it. A course in counterinsurgency was set up at the National War College. Another was set up at the Foreign Service Institute. All ambassadors and all military officers of field rank were obliged to take the three-week course before going abroad on official missions. The war of national liberation was the new and immediate threat to American security, and counterinsurgency was the principal instrument for meeting it. That was the theory, proclaimed from the highest places in government. Vietnam was the fact to which it was to be applied.
In Korea, to the north, an armistice had been reached with the Communists after a long and unpopular war, and a threat by President Eisenhower to use the nuclear bomb. The Korean armistice released arms and other Communist resources for use in Vietnam. The Kennedy administration was faced with the possibility that the stand-off in Korea would produce a Communist victory in Vietnam. That was a somber prospect for any administration, whether in domestic political terms or in terms of influence in the international world.
Furthermore, Indonesia, a large and fabulously rich country lying athwart the strategic Straits of Malacca,[†] just south of Vietnam, was under strong Communist influence, and it looked as though it might go over to the Communists any day. The administration hauled out the domino theory and re-examined it, and a good many persons found substance in it (many still do). What if Indonesia as well as Indochina were lost to Communism? Indonesia almost touches Australia. What position would friendly Australia and New Zealand be in? Also, with the bamboo swaying with the Communist wind, could Malaya and Singapore survive as independent, non-Communist states? Or Thailand and Burma? And what about India, next door? India is the second most populous country in the world. Both its democracy and its independence are fragile. Would India be exempt from the domino theory, or would it become evidence of the theory’s validity? Who wanted to find out? The Kennedy administration certainly did not.
Indonesia was not lost to Communism. With no help from the outside, Sukarno, the playboy of the Communist-leaning world, was seized and confined by his own subordinates, and Indonesia moved quickly toward the democracies. That was an event of far-reaching importance, but it is buried beneath today’s preoccupation with Vietnam. Some believe that the presence of U. S. military forces in neighboring Vietnam encouraged Indonesians to break away from Communist influence. It may not be possible to prove that. Nor is it possible to disprove it. Clearly our presence in Vietnam did not discourage Indonesians who supported freedom.
Can anyone be sure, today, that Communist victory in Vietnam would not have been accompanied by other similar victories in Asia? No one can. Suppose, then, that a bloc of Communist countries stretching from the Arctic Ocean across the equator to Australia, and from the Pacific Ocean across Eurasia to the Baltic and Arabian Seas had been created. Or that Communist gains had been only one-half that, or a quarter. Or that Indochina, or Vietnam alone, had gone Communist without resistance by the United States. What would the ideologists in our country, the political opposition, the press, the television pundits whose errors are lost with yesterday’s news but who are always wise after the event, have had to say? Is it not likely that yesterday’s and today’s criticism of two Democratic administrations, and one Republican, for having taken up the Vietnam challenge would be considered mild in comparison? China, with its vast territory and its nearly 800 million people, was beyond our power to influence, and still many Americans placed the blame for its “loss” on their government. How many would have believed that tiny North Vietnam could impose its will upon us?
The United States entered Vietnam slowly, and reluctantly. Many of our military leaders had grave doubts concerning the wisdom of going in. Outstanding officers, such as General Matthew B. Ridgway, warned publicly of the danger of being drawn into an Asian morass which might bring frustration and even disaster to U. S. forces and to U. S. influence in the world. When President Kennedy took office there were only 875 U. S. troops in Vietnam, none of them in a combat status.
Congress was divided, too, but most members went along. Many who later became bitter opponents of U. S. involvement were strong supporters of intervention. Only two senators (Gruening and Morse) failed to subscribe to the Tonkin Bay Resolution which gave President Johnson practically a free hand to carry on the war, not only in Vietnam but also in any country requesting assistance under the terms of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty. Every member of the House voted for the Resolution. The pendulum was near the end of its swing at Tonkin Bay. It would soon begin to swing in the opposite direction.
One of the strongest reasons for involvement in Vietnam was the experience of World War II, which was very much in the minds of American leaders. President Kennedy, himself, had been a wartime naval officer. He had lost his PT-boat in action against the Japanese. He was an authentic hero. Dean Rusk, his secretary of state, was a Rhodes scholar in England when a group of students at Oxford University took an oath not to take up arms to defend king or country. The “Oxford oath” spread rapidly through British universities and even among the general public. It encouraged Hitler in his aggressive designs, and delayed British preparations to meet them. How many Allied lives it eventually cost can only be guessed. Ironically, many of the students who had signed the oath in a burst of youthful “idealism” were later shot down in their fighter planes as they helped turn back Hitler’s bombers in the Battle of Britain.
Mr. Rusk was deeply impressed by the Oxford oath and its tragic effects. He was convinced that war had come about as a result of early indifference to the Hitler threat and of successive concessions that the European democracies had made to Hitler in the hope of buying peace, concessions that had culminated in the “sell-out” at Munich. It was Munich, and what it represented, that had cost the world millions of lives, persons such as Dean Rusk thought, and they were probably correct. Their natural reaction after World War II was “No more Munichs!” “No more Munichs!” became the formula for peace. The way to avoid another great war was to deny victory to aggressors, even to small aggressors; to resist the temptation to buy peace by giving up people and territory to aggression from whatever source. Ho Chi Min was not a Hitler, nor was North Vietnam a Germany. But behind Ho Chi Minh were Soviet Russia and Communist China. Both those great powers supported North Vietnam’s war of national liberation.
“No more Munichs!” rightly or wrongly, helped to lead us into Vietnam. However, it is seldom heard today, although it is in the minds of many. Some of today’s leaders, and would-be leaders, have no memories of Munich. A good deal of history has been “revised,” and Munich does not have the same meaning for some of the revisionists. During five years of university teaching, I found not more than a dozen students who had ever heard of the Oxford oath. Munich meant little to most students.
On the other hand, “No more Vietnams!” is much on the lips of students, and also of professors. Not all are students or professors, by any means—a small minority in both cases. But a vocal, “newsworthy” minority, a minority in motion who supply commercial television with valuable footage. And of course “No more Vietnams!” also is in the minds of many of the general public.
Post-Vietnam. To the Communists, Vietnam is a war of national liberation. Our government is free, at any time, to change its mind about Vietnam. Vietnam is a single case. But is it free to change its mind about wars of national liberation?
The Kennedy administration foresaw that the war of national liberation might be the principal threat to freedom for some time to come. On 18 February 1962, Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General, said, during a visit to Saigon:
“We are going to win in Vietnam. We will remain here until we win . . . . Vietnam’s struggle to preserve its independence against Communist aggression is a grave one which affects free countries everywhere.”
As late as 1964, he said:
“This kind of warfare can be long-drawn-out and costly, but if Communism is to be stopped, it is necessary. And we mean to see this job through to the finish.”
The same year, Senator William J. Fulbright, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and an administration supporter, said, in his book, Old Myths and New Realities:
“It seems clear that there are only two realistic options open to us in Vietnam in the immediate future: the expansion of the conflict in one way or another, or a renewed effort to bolster the capacity of the South Vietnamese to prosecute the war successfully on its present scale.”
Both those eminent Americans, and many other persons in political life, later changed their minds, as we all know. The war had been prolonged beyond anyone’s expectations, casualties had been heavy, and many Americans were tired and disillusioned. Robert Kennedy, of course, had become a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
Were those persons right in the first place? Were the Taylor Committee and the Kennedy administration correct in their conclusions? Would American withdrawal from Vietnam, in circumstances that would lead to a Communist victory there, constitute an invitation to Communists to resort to wars of national liberation wherever and whenever they might choose? Would Congressional and public repudiation of the Vietnam war confirm such an invitation?
Or is the Communist side also chastened, and perhaps alarmed, at the course the war has taken—its length, its cost, the heavy loss of lives, especially of Communist and civilian lives? Did President Nixon’s visits to China and Russia denote an entirely new relationship between the United States and the principal Communist powers? Should the Taylor Committee’s conclusions now be modified, and if so, how? What do we think, or what should we think, today, of the war of national liberation?
Opponents of our presence in Vietnam frequently remind us that the war there is a civil war. But the war of national liberation is, by definition, a civil war. Should the United States remain aloof from all civil wars, including wars of national liberation? Is it a corollary to nonintervention that we must stand idly by while others intervene to their hearts’ content, and to our detriment?
Either the war of national liberation is a hazard to world peace, and to democratic survival, or it is not. Popular, and perhaps transient, moods in the United States do not directly bear on the issue, although they may bear on it indirectly in important ways—if they should encourage future aggression, for example, or lessen our power to resist aggression. But the issue, itself, has an enormous bearing on the future. If the war of national liberation is a threat, then the threat will have to be met, or our security will be placed in jeopardy. Of course, we may decide that it is not a threat, or at least that we should be very selective as to which wars of national liberation we consider to be threats. But that poses dangers, too. Some Communists were convinced that the United States would not fight in Korea, and their judgment probably helped to bring on the Korean war. In any event, the decision or decisions should be made on rational grounds, in the context of the real world we live in, not of a world that we might wish for. It would be hazardous to base our decisions on the circumstance that Americans do not like to be drafted, or do not like to fight in Asia, or do not like small wars that cannot be won. The alternative might be a large war that can be lost.
If it should be decided that the war of national liberation is really a threat to the democracies, is there any way of convincing other nations—the French, the British, the West Germans, and the Italians—that this is the case, and of enlisting their cooperation? And if the other democracies will not cooperate in meeting the threat, if they should be content to leave the burden to a willing or unwilling United States, should the United States decide to carry the burden alone, or with help only from certain “client” states? Can it do so successfully?
These are difficult questions. They also are annoying questions, the kind Americans wish would go away. But they will not go away, even after Vietnam is quiet. They have to be asked, and rational Americans will ask them and try to answer them rationally. The alternative is to cloud the future with uncertainty and surround it with dangers that may be incalculably greater than those we have already faced.
Pendulums are moved by people, by their words, their emotions, their acts, and also by acts and attitudes of governments. “No more Munichs!” helped to push us toward Vietnam. “No more Vietnams!” is leading us in the direction of another Munich. Will the pendulum swing that far? Or will it be stopped short of that point? Events of the next few months may tell the story.
Following service in the U. S. Navy during World War I, Ambassador Beaulac embarked on a 40-year career in the U. S. Foreign Service which included assignments as Ambassador to Paraguay (1944-1947), Colombia (1947-1951), Cuba (1951-1953), Chile (1953-1956), and Argentina (1956-1960). At the time of his retirement in 1962, he was Deputy Commandant for Foreign Affairs, National War College. Since 1969, he has been Visiting Professor, Department of Political Science, Ball State University
Generous With Himself
Lieutenant Blank was an oddity in the U. S. Marine Corps. He was well known for never putting a man on report; instead, he always required the man to place himself on report.
One day when the first sergeant formed a detail, the bugler arrived late and fell in on the end of the rear rank as the lieutenant began his inspection. The bugler was not up to the traditional Marine Corps standard, so the lieutenant instructed him to report to the first sergeant after the ceremony and place himself on report.
That evening as the bugler and others of the guard were crossing the parade, the lieutenant’s voice boomed out of the dark, “Music, you failed to place yourself on report, why?”
There was a long silence, then, “Sir, I thought it over and decided to give myself another chance.”
—Contributed by Lt. Col. Arthur R Ives, USAR (Ret.)
[*]The International Relations Dictionary has this to say of wars of national liberation: “A doctrine expounded by the Communists, calling for anti-Western or anticapitalist uprisings in the developing world. Although Marx and Lenin alluded to national revolutions fought by Communists to win power, the broader contemporary definition was first expounded by Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. Wars of national liberation are insurgencies undertaken against the established order in the colonial territories and in the nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Communists consider them to be ‘just wars’ to liberate the enslaved masses from economic and political bondage imposed by Western-oriented elite groups.”
[†] See R. A. Miller, “Indonesia’s Archipelago and Japan’s Jugular,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, October 1972, pp. 26-33.