The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Calling International Rescue...

(Can't help thinking Thunderbirds somehow.)

GB pot luck on Seth Jacobs' Diem book brings us to p234, in a chapter on the MO of the American Friends of Vietnam, which wrapped up all that goodwill and admiration for the Miracle Man (as outlined in previous pieces) into an organised lobby. (And the lefties complain about today's K Street!)

We join the chapter tantalisingly just after the passage on media manipulation:
...the leading figures in the AFV - Buttinger, Cherne, Oram and the diplomat Angier Biddle Duke - had spent many years working for the IRC, the largest nonsectarian refugee organization in the world.

IRC is International Rescue Committee.
The IRC gained international renown in the 1930s and 1940s for saving European Jews from Hitler's tyranny, and its anticommunist credentials were certified in the 1950s with well-publicized fund-raising drives to rescue East German and Hungarian victims of Soviet repression. An IRC résumé conferred enormous moral authority upon its possessor and tended to place that individual beyond suspicion of legally questionable activity. Moreover, even if such suspicion were piqued, there was little chance of harassment by the US Justice Department, as Oram pointed out in an interview with the historian William Brownell. "Even by 1962, there were only four lawyers to oversee the Foreign Agents Registration Act for the entire United States," Oran recalled. Hence, no one raised the issue of conflict of interest when Oram's firm received money from Diem's government while Oram continued to serve on the board of directors of the AFV. More important than lack of legal oversight was the vacuum of Vietnam expertise in the United States at the time of the AFV's emergence. Cherne remarked to Brownell that the AFV had "a clear field of fire...There was no alternate body of information on Vietnam."

This is, of course a consistent line, offered alike by those condemning the formulation and execution of USG policy in Indochina, and by those seeking to excuse its - shall we say, inadequacies?

We have - earlier piece - Mansfield, a former academic specialising in East Asia before his election to the US House admitting his ignorance of Indochinese affairs in 1949. And the roll call of Halberstam's best and brightest facing a similar gulf of ignorance a decade later.

In particular, the depredations of the Red Scare in the roster of FE are blamed. My hypothesis, raised from the most cursory of searches, is that the guys purged from State by the witch-hunters were like Mansfield - all China specialists.

Mansfield also said in that same 1949 quote that no one else (in the US) knew much about Indochina either. Presumably, if there had been IC expertise in the State Department, then-Rep Mansfield would have known about it. And, if that expertise had already been purged, then Truman would have done the purging!

John Service, John Carter Vincent, John Paton Davies and Edmund Chubb are mentioned by Robert McNamara in In Retrospect. I can find nothing that supports the idea that they were experts on Indochina. Both Service nor Davies come up empty.

(McNamara mentions the quartet for self-exculpator reasons, natch!)

Who else in America knew about Indochina? Certainly, the Michigan State University Group, who were up to all sorts in SVN during Diem's first five or six years in charge.

What about the French? Suez may have put the kibosh on official French assistance and advice - but there must have been some expertise to be tapped from non-governmental sources.

Surely the sheer intellectual curiosity of top USG men with Indochina responsibilities - JFK's, if not DDE's - would have driven them to seek knowledge - however unofficially - from whomsover might have it? (Mac Bundy was Dean of Harvard, for God's sake!)

The Red Scare ranks as an excuse with the Times' Bill Keller's explanation why Judith Miller pieces on national security continued to appear in the rag even though he'd directed her to leave the topic alone:
she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm.

Jacobs goes on:
James Fisher also notes that the crazy-quilt pluralism of the AFV's membership also worked in the group's favor, serving to distinguish it from other one-issue lobbies whose rosters featured only hard-line conservatives or liberal/leftists. The national committee of the AFV, Fisher observes, "comprised perhaps the most ecumenical coalition of opinion-makers ever witnessed," including [Mansfield and JFK], the Republicans Walter Judd and Clement Zablocki, [Luce and Hearst], the liberal academics Samuel Eliot Morison and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, the war heroes Audie Murphy and Mike O'Daniel, the Oscar-winning director Joseph Mankiewicz, the author and "celebrity saint" Tom Dooley, and even Norman Thomas, the president of the American Socialist Party.

One might note, in the first couple of years after the French returned to Indochina after WW2, the Communists in government in Paris opposed any moves towards genuine independence for the place. The PCF changed its tune later.

And also to point out its salutary warning against assuming merit in bipartisanship. Or even polypartisanship!

Thomas apparently joined
...with the proviso that "my interest in Viet-Nam does not extend to automatic endorsement of American participation in war to that end."

For example,
Thomas's signature on a letter arguing that Diem was justified in refusing to permit the scheduled elections was doubly effective; if the socialist leader believed that holding a single election in both parts of Vietnam could "only be regarded as an imperialist endeavor contrary to the will of the South Vietnamese people," then, it appeared, the AFV was not merely spouting a party line.

When William Donovan, an early chairman of the AFV, wrote to President Eisenhower to protest communist Chinese premier Chou En-lai's call for compliance with the Geneva Accords, Eisenhower responded personally within two days, assuring Donovan that he "completely agreed" with the chairman's position and that he would "instantly" take up the matter of Chou's "impertinence" with the State Department. "As you know," the president wrote, "I consider that President Diem is the most potent force we have in South Viet Nam to halt the arrogant march of communism."

God bless us every one...

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