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Interview with Douglas MacArthur, 1982

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Summary
A United States Ambassador to Japan from 1957-1961, Douglas MacArthur II recalls why the United States originally supported the French in Vietnam. MacArthur explains that at the time there was a belief that if Vietnam fell, soon after it would be followed by Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and therefore it would serve as a sign that anyone who resisted the Viet Minh would be supported. He was not convinced, however, that the United States could completely destroy the Viet Minh. MacArthur recounts being directly involved with an offer of aid that was made to the French Prime Minster, Laniel in 1953. The offer was refused, so the United States constructed the Navarre Plan that gave both financial as well as specific items of military aid to France in support of their war in Indochina. MacArthur also explains in detail why Russia and China were supporting the Viet Minh and the reasoning why the terms of the Geneva Conventions were accepted by Vietnam.
Topics
Bombing, aerial, Insurgency, Treaties, Counterinsurgency, Intervention (International law), Communism, War Finance, Revolutions, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, United States--History--1945-, Indochinese War, 1946-1954, Vietnam--History--1945-1975, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, Vietnamese, United States--Politics and government, Vietnam--Politics and government
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Transcript

U.S. support of the French in Indochina in relation to communist expansion

VIETNAM
TVP 002
DOUGLAS MacARTHUR, II
SR 5F...
Ch
This is WGBH, July 2, 1982 ...doing an interview with
Ambassador Douglas MacArthur.
This is Sound Roll #5F. Reference minus a.d.b. zero coming up.

A Smith. Ssssssssssssssssssssss Sync one coming up on Camera Roll 7F, Sound Roll 5F.
Macarthur:
You tell me when you're ready.
Interviewer:
Okay. Go ahead.
Macarthur:
The facts that ah are behind our support and in—and in support of the French in Indochina and our interest in that area are really the following. In the early fifties, the United States had a concept of communism, international communism as a hard, monolithic block of China and Russia with no crevices in it that were seeking to expand and gain a dominant position in the world. In Europe, they had taken over Eastern Europe, pushed into Czechoslovakia, and in Southeast Asia, an area in which we had interests, they seemed to be trying to do the same thing.
The other aspect is the prevalence at that time of the domino theory, that if French Indochina fell, notably Vietnam, then, very soon afterwards Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines might follow, and that, therefore, anybody that resisted this form of indirect aggression which the Viet Minh with the support of both China and Russia were accomplishing then should be supported. And, that is really the reason why from the very beginning ah in terms of ah our own enlightened self-interest, we supported the French in Vietnam.
Interviewer:
Let's go on to the...Now, in 1953, we gave the French more than half a billion dollars...
Macarthur:
Before we go into that. I did not touch on the aggression...
Synch 2
Macarthur:
In addition, our governments at that time, both democratic and republican, were very deeply influenced by events that had taken place in the Far East and Southeast Asia. Ah. The aggression in Korea, in which we were directly involved, importantly under the United States ah United Nations banner, the ah efforts of the communists to take over Malaysia in a war that went on inside Malaysia against subversion for ten years, the efforts of the communist-supported Huck Revolutionaries in the Philippines, all these things colored ah our view at that time that there was a serious and major effort to subvert and take over and dominate that important area.
Interviewer:
Stop, please. I'd like to do that one once again. Your voice broke at the beginning of it as you came in. I think it will be awkward to cut them together for our purposes. Could you particularly tie in those two, how that happened [inaudible]
Sync 3. Beep.
Macarthur:
In addition, events that had taken place in the Far East and Southeast Asia had an important influence on our support of the French in Vietnam. Ah. I refer, of course, to the communist aggression in Korea in which we were directly involved as a participant in those hostilities importantly under the United Nations banner.
I refer also, of course, to the communist efforts to subvert and take over Malaysia in a war that went on ah for roughly ten years before the Malaysians and the British were successful in subduing the communist ah ah ah efforts in that area. I refer also, of course, to direct communist support of the Huck Revolutionaries who were also endeavoring to overthrow the government of President Magsaysay at that time.
Interviewer:
Stop.
That's good.
Interviewer:
You can naturally talk about the aid...
Macarthur:
In 1953 and 1954, we supported the French by extending to them very substantial amounts of ah financing to help them pay for the war, up to almost five hundred million dollars, as I recall. Now, we did that with the objective basically of assisting them in containing ah communist-expansion tendencies in ah Vietnam, ah in Indochina actually, which we feared ah, if the expansionist drive by the communists succeeded, the domino theory again would operate and other countries would, would fall. So, the purpose of that aid was to enable and assist the French to contain and get under control ah this subversive movement in Vietnam which they were combating.
Interviewer:
Did we believe at the time that we could actually defeat or wither away the Viet Minh?
Macarthur:
We were not convinced that we ah could, in fact, we did not believe that ah with a hardcore revolutionary movement of indoctrinated people, that ah the Viet Minh would simply disappear. We hoped, however, that the French would be able to so ah master it that ah, while it would always represent ah a potential danger at some future time, it would no longer be an active ah ah danger in terms of the country being taken over ah by a communist movement supported heavily from both Moscow and Peking.
Beep. Beep. Sync 5. Beep.
Macarthur:
I happened to be directly involved with an offer of aid we made to ah the French. In the summer of 1953, the president and the Secretary of State, Mr. Dulles, asked me to go and see ah Prime Minister Laniel of France and ah propose to him ah a military aid, military and economic aid package to permit the French to continue ah the war in Vietnam.
Ah. The proposal I took was a general proposal in an order of magnitude, of, as I recall, between three and four hundred million dollars, the details of which were subsequently to be worked out, and then approved by each party, that is, the French and ourselves, before we ah...before the final agreement came into effect. Now, Laniel accepted this offer in principle and French-American working group went to work on it the latter part of the summer and it resulted in ah a plan ah which bears the name of ah...Stop. I can't remember his name.
Sync 6. Beep.
Macarthur:
I was directly involved in an offer...
Interviewer:
Try and look at me when you...No, you're doing fine.
Macarthur:
Ready. I was directly involved in an offer of aid that President Eisenhower made to French Prime Minister Laniel. In the summer of 1953. At that time, the French were hurting very badly financially to support this costly war, and so President Eisenhower sent me to Paris to see Mr. Laniel whom I'd known in '41 and '42 when he was a leader in the French Resistance and I was stationed in Vichy to propose to him a package of ah three to four hundred million dollars, as I recall, of military and economic aid to support this very costly French war.
The package was an offer in principle which ah...the details of which would have to be worked out by a French-American working group and then agreed by both parties. Ah. This work was ah...Prime Minister Laniel did accept the offer. A working group ah went to work on the problem and ah it resulted in the so-called Navarre Plan by which we extended specific items of military and other forms of aid to France to support the their ah struggle in Indochina.
Interviewer:
Stop please. That's very nice....was very nice.

U.S. and S.E.A.T.O.'s containment objective

Sync 7 coming up. Seven. Beep.
Interviewer:
Okay? Okay.
Macarthur:
In connection with SEATO ah President Eisenhower then quite definite in his own mind that we should not be involved unilaterally in activities in that area and that a collective approach ah was desirable. He was, perhaps, influenced in part by the success of the NATO collective approach with which he had been intimately associated. Now, of course, the problem with the SEATO area was a problem of geography and a problem of differing interests of the parties who eventually became participants in that treaty.
Ah. The area was so dispersed, uh, islands, uh, it was dispersed over a huge area, and the interests of the people in that area; ah the British, the French, the Thais, ah the Filipinos, ourselves and, indeed, the Pakistanis who eventually became members ah often differed in certain respects. So, it was a difficult compa—it was a difficult.
Interviewer:
Sorry.
Sorry.
Bells in background. That's going to come in to the picture.
Sync 8.
Interviewer:
So, could you explain SEATO as a regional pact, how it and how it fit into our global concept?
Macarthur:
Of course, SEATO fitted into ah, although it's a regional pact, fitted very ah well into our overall policy of containment of communist expansion wherever it might occur in the world; in Europe and Asia in Southeast Asia and the like, so that there was no inconsistency with our ah participating in a regional pact in terms of the basic overall objective, containment of communist expansion. Of course, for the Southeast Asian members of the treaty ah to them it was really ah a re ...regional pact in terms which they saw in terms of their own security being enhanced by it.
Interviewer:
Just, let's just go on. Ah...
We have to do a camera change, so [inaudible] discuss...
The next point I want to go to is...

The U.S.'s deliberations over involvement at Dien Bien Phu

The start of Camera Roll F8. We'll call it sync 9. Beep.
Interviewer:
Okay.
Okay.
Macarthur:
From the time that it became clear that Dien Bien Phu was going to fall and in such event the French would probably be unwilling or unable to continue the struggle against this communist subversion alone, ah, from that time the concept of collective security rapidly came to the fore and ah I might say ah the Geneva Conference did nothing, which was held in July of 1954, did nothing to attenuate our basic concern that the agreements reached at Geneva by themselves would not be adequate to ah prevent ah active communist subversion in the remaining states of ah ah, of Indochina ah and so all these developments and events and our perception of what might come out or what might not come out of the Geneva Conference led to a much more active interest in pursuing the possibility of a collective security arrangement to preserve the states of the area which ah ah SEATO was designed to do.
Interviewer:
In 19...as early as January, '54 before the Geneva Conference touched on the Indochina question we had a number of reservations about the conference and about having Indochina on the agenda. Could you outline those concerns and explain them?
Macarthur:
Well, I think, ah our basic concern about having ah Indochina on the agenda was that here...
Interviewer:
You have to go back and repeat, the concern about the Geneva Conference...
No, no, that was all right...
Macarthur:
Well, let me...stop for a sec, would you. How do you want me to start?
Interviewer:
I just would...
Sync 10 coming up. Beep.
Interviewer:
Just a moment. Okay.
Okay.
Macarthur:
As we faced up to participating in the Geneva Conference ah there were obviously several concerns ah and a certain reluctance on the part of some to to to participate or to get bound by any agreements. Ah. In the first place ah, if as seen probable, the participates, participants would have to recognize the Viet Minh, a communist subversive movement which had derived heavy support from both China and Russia ah we would be recognizing ah in a formal conference or at the conference table ah participants who ah were basically communist revolutionaries and subversionists rather than ah a government in existence. Ah.
Secondly, as we ah went in to the the conference there was the concern that we had no relations with communist China and ah ah sitting down at the conference table on the part of some ah seemed to be a strange thing an abnormal thing to do. This reluctance was, of course, spurred on by the so-called chopped China lobby of at that time that was un, unhappy about any relationships whatsoever with ah ah communist China. Ah. Thirdly...stop...what was the third point we were going to make?
Interviewer:
That, in a sense we were going to lose...
Sync 11. Beep.
Macarthur:
Thirdly, there ah...
Interviewer:
Hold on.
Go ahead.
Okay?
Go ahead.
Macarthur:
Ah thirdly, there were some who were ah very much concerned by the prospect of recognizing a subversive revolutionary regime such as the Viet Minh turning over to a territory to administer because this would be the first time since the ah fall of ah ah China to the communists that ah ah there had been a further advance in Asia, that advance in Korea having been ah ah prevented by the United Nations forces there. Ah.
The concern was amplified by the fear that if the Viet Minh were recognized in a part of Indochina they would use that as a base ah for further subversion in the remainder of Vietnam and eventually in Laos and Cambodia. And, unhappily, those fears eventually turn out to be correct.
Interviewer:
Could you go right on to, you don't want to stop. Let's go right on to your breakfast meeting ah with President Eisenhower over the issue of do we intervene in Dien Bien Phu...
Macarthur:
How do you want me to put the question? What do you want...?
Interviewer:
Why don't you say, "I was present at a breakfast meeting"?
Macarthur:
Well, don't you want a lead into it because we haven't talked about recently about intervention in Viet...in Bien Phu...Stop for...
Interviewer:
No, that would...
Sync 11 coming up. Sync 11. Beep.
Interviewer:
Just a moment. Go ahead.
Okay.
Macarthur:
Before Dien Bien Phu fell, the French did request ah us to give them air support ah to ah help ah prevent ah ah the Viet Minh from winning a victory there. I happened to be present at a breakfast in the White House, a very small breakfast,; ah Secretary of State Dulles, the president, Secretary of State, Dulles; Admiral Radford, myself, one or two others in which this request was discussed.
I recall very vividly that ah Admiral Radford mentioned that he had two carriers standing a couple of hundred miles off the coast in international waters and that he could deliver ah air strikes for those carriers in support of the French in Dien Bien Phu. Ah. The president ah took strong exception to this, explaining that, if we intervened with military ah aircraft in support of the French, in his best judgment that intervention would not succeed at all in preventing the the Viet Minh from ah winning a victory there because they would simply withdraw into the jungle. You couldn't see what you were bombing. You would be bombing a perimeter that was a lot of trees and leaves, and that ah as soon as the planes went away, the Viet Minh would be right back.
Now, if we did that, we would then have only two choices ah left open to us. Two alternatives. One would be to go in then French with ground troops which he said he would never do as long as he was president. Ah. The United states going in alone. And, secondly, he would, we would if we did not intervene, we would have committed our military strength, it would have been shown to be ah ineffective and we would then have to withdraw with our tails between our legs leaving a spectacle for all our other friends and allies of a great power which had intervened uselessly and was really not, not a very dependable partner. And, these are the reasons why he opposed very strongly ah any commitment of ah American military forces alone to Vietnam.
Interviewer:
Stop. That's terrific. That's really terrific. Did you realize at the time that they were putting pressure on...?
End SR #5F.

Russia and China's pressure on Vietnam to accept the Geneva Accords

VIETNAM
TVP 002
DOUGLAS MacARTHUR, II AND AMBASSADOR ALEXIS JOHNSON
SR #6F
Ch
Start of Sound Roll #7F for F7 for WGB,TVP 002. Continuation of Vietnam. Interview with Ambassador MacArthur. Camera Roll 8F. Sound Roll 6 F. Reference coming up.
This is Sync twelve. Camera Roll 8F. Sound. Beep.
Interviewer:
Okay.
Macarthur:
There's been speculation on why the ah Russians and Chinese put heavy pressure on the Viet Minh to accept at ah the Geneva Conference of 1954 ah less than a takeover of all Vietnam. Ah. I think ah our feeling ah was at that time that the elements that induced the Chinese and Russians to do that were several. In the first place, a peaceful settlement was, insofar as they saw it, the first half ah the first bite of the apple.
Ah. They had half of Vietnam, they had recognition of the Viet Minh as a de facto government by the west and as a government in authority for all of Vietnam by ah Russia and china. Ah. They avoided the possibility that we might become involved in the hostilities ah in a way which would ah represent a very serious setback unless the Russians and Chinese also became involved, and if that happened we still had at that time a virtual monopoly on the ultimate weapon.
Ah. Finally, ah. I think that they were convinced that, if you had a Geneva settlement giving half of Vietnam to the the Viet Minh ah they would then be able to use that as a a a base in peace to go go on for further subversion ah of ah the rest of Vietnam. So, I think all these, these ah reasons came together into a whole which led them to press the Viet Cong, the Viet Minh who were very, very gung ho at that time to accept less than perhaps some of their more militant leaders would have liked to accep...have accepted at Geneva.
Interviewer:
Okay. End of interview with Douglas MacArthur, II. We are starting interview
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