George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment

George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment

George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment

George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment

Synopsis

During his tenure as undersecretary of state from 1961 to 1966, George Ball was the only presidential adviser who systematically opposed American military intervention in Southeast Asia. In George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment David DiLeo profiles Ball's opposition to the United States' role in Vietnam and evaluates the impact of this dissent on the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.
At the height of the Cold War, Ball questioned the validity of the domino theory and was virtually alone in challenging the idea that containment was an attainable or even desirable goal of American foreign policy. He asserted that the nation's foreign policy must respect material as well as moral limitations, and he was skeptical of the use of military power as a political instrument. American intervention in Vietnam, he believed, was the inevitable and tragic consequence of the uncritical globalism that had marked the thinking of policymakers since World War II.
DiLeo analyzes Ball's contention that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson exaggerated the global significance of the Vietnam conflict by perceiving it as a struggle of the Free World against a monolithic communism. He examines Ball's repeated warnings about the futility of strategic bombing and his sobering assertions about the possibility of Chinese and Soviet intervention, assesses the influence of his bold declarations that the United States would be defeated, and traces his frustrated quest to find another advisor within the Johnson administration to confirm these judgments.
Proving a comprehensive picture of Ball's actions and motivations, DiLeo draws upon personal papers of key participants in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Ball's office telephone transcripts and personal archive, National Security Council memorandums, and more than forty personal interviews. The result is a fascinating book that illuminates why Ball is generally recognized as one of the most original and insightful strategists of the past quarter-century.
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Excerpt

The last half-century has been a time of turbulence for the world and a time of testing for American foreign policy. Few among those charged with steering the republic through the storms of the twentieth century have been more successful in keeping their heads while all about were losing theirs than the subject of this work.

Though George Ball came out of the isolationist heartland, he somehow had from the start an instinct for the realities of the great world beyond. in 1940, in Chicago, the very citadel of isolationism, he took the interventionist side during the bitter national debate over American policy toward the war in Europe. As a lawyer in the Lend-Lease Administration, he began to prepare for the economic problems of the postwar world. As a director of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey in Europe, he perceived the limitations of air power as a means of winning wars. in the 1950s, as an associate of Jean Monnet, he helped organize the campaign for European integration. in the 1960s, as David L. DiLeo shows in rewarding detail, he vainly but presciently opposed deeper American involvement in the Vietnam War. in the 1970s he warned against the growing identification of American interests with the shah of Iran. in the 1980s he rejected the idea that the United States should give a blank check to the government of Israel. He was among the first in the United States to recognize the historic changes Gorbachev was bringing about in the Soviet empire and to pronounce last rites on the Cold War.

I have known George Ball through most of this turbulent half-century, have worked with him in diverse undertakings in government and in politics, and have continually rejoiced in the company of a wonderfully spirited, cheerful, resourceful, imperturbable, elegant man; so my assessment may be prejudiced. For more detached testimony I cite the message that Roy Jenkins of Great Britain, former chancellor of the Exchequer and former president of the European Community, sent to George Ball's eightieth birthday celebration: "to the man who had been more nearly right on every major foreign policy issue of the past forty-five years than anyone else I know. . . ."

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