Monday, July 06, 2009

Michael Tomasky on the legacy of former US defence secretary Robert McNamara | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

The Vietnam "problem" dates back, if you really want to dig into it, to 1947, when Ho Chi Minh wrote at least two letters to then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson basically saying: Look, I'm in Paris now, but one of these days I'm going back to Saigon and I'm going to lead this nationalist movement for independence, and we'd like your support.

Acheson never so much as wrote him back. That was the crucial error - America could have placed itself on the side of nationalist liberation movements rather than against them, and those movements (or many of them anyway) would not have been drawn to Moscow, possibly. And Acheson was normally more far-sighted - he was steadfastly against the CIA-led coups in Guatemala and Iran that the successor Eisenhower administration undertook. But he wasn't going to cross the French on Indochina for some reason. It's been a while since I've read all this, but it's likely the case that he needed French backing on some other matter, I guess.

All this is fascinating history that's not often told. We think "Cold War" and we tend to think of hardened belligerence, but in fact there was - for a time - an intense debate in the US establishment about how that war should be prosecuted. Things might have been different, although it was probably inevitable that the hard-liners won.
Michael Tomasky on the legacy of former US defence secretary Robert McNamara | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
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