Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier, President, Statesman

By Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview
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22
"No More Koreas": Eisenhower and Vietnam

David L. Anderson

"We want no more Koreas with the United States furnishing 90% of the manpower." 1 This unanimous declaration by eight legislative leaders succinctly summarized the opinion of Congress in April 1954, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower pondered an American response to war in Indochina. In a striking parallel, prominent members of Congress now cry "No more Vietnams" as the Reagan administration assesses U.S. options in conflicts around the world. Both historical and contemporary debates often reduce complicated problems to simplistic aphorisms. Eisenhower was aware of what in today's jargon might be called the "Korea syndrome," but his Indochina decisions in 1954 were much more complex than the congressmen's negativism. The United States avoided war in 1954, and the President let it appear that Congress had a major role in that outcome. In reality, the administration made its own policy determinations. By giving credit to Capitol Hill for policy recommendations, Eisenhower was cleverly attempting to maneuver Congress into supporting an interventionist policy.

By the spring of 1954, events in Indochina had evolved to the point where a simple yes-or-no choice was not possible on the question of employing U.S. military forces in the region. On March 13, the decisive battle of France's war against the communist Vietminh began at Dienbienphu. This bloody fight quickly turned into a French military disaster, and the Eisenhower administration urgently weighed the possibility of armed American involvement in order to forestall a communist success. Whatever course the United States took had sweeping global implications far beyond Vietnam. If the United States rushed to France's rescue in the name of anticommunism, Washington would be aiding what American officials themselves had labeled a colonial war to reestablish French influence over its former Asian empire. Conversely, not to join the French on the basis of

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