The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Thursday, January 05, 2006
VN: The Willard Hotel shindig
The more I read, the more I'm led to think that Uncle Sam's goose was cooked - burnt to a crisp, in fact - way before Saint Jack raised his standard high.
My impression - I've only picked at elements of the Indochina wars story to date - is that the CW story arc that characterises US Indochina policy in the period between the end of the implemention Geneva  and the formation of the National Liberation Front in 1960 was essentially vamping till ready - the DRV had its work cut out recovering from the French war, with military action in the South on the back-burner - until old Ike and his quiet-lifers gave way to the best and brightest.
All the while, however, the American Friends of Vietnam, aided and abetted by a media supine where it was not deliriously enthusiastic, worked to close off debate amongst policymakers, and leave Diem, the Miracle Man, as the only man conceivable as leader of SVN.
This was - so far as I can tell - a Swift Boating aimed largely at the political class.
Seth Jacobs (p241) gives an example:
Except for Diem's tour of the United States in 1957, the AFV's greatest propaganda masterstroke was a conference titled "America's Stake in Vietnam" held at the Willard Hotel in Washington in June 1956". [Leading AFV member Joseph] Buttinger volunteered to set a "top-level" agenda. Over the next few weeks, according to his reports, he courted "representatives from leading national civic, public, veterans, and foreign-affairs organizations; ...representatives of the diplomatic corps in Washington; [and] the press."
There's evidently more, but that's all GB is poneying up right now.
(I find a longer extract from Kennedy's speech here.)
After Tulipmania came Diem-mania. Kennedy, whose shtick, as I recall, included a claim to be some kind of foreign policy expert - in the striking role of anticolonialist cold-warrior - seemed intent on boosting Diem into the stratosphere. Such a paragon was never seen on earth, let alone in mid-century Indochina!
Did he feel he needed any research to back up his claims? Had he ever been advised on SVN affairs by any Vietnamese not within the Diem orbit, I wonder?
This, I suppose, must be the American innocence of which I've heard spoken...
JFK is a guy whose sagacity and judgement have had some boosting of their own, notably on the speculation about his decision (if there was one) to withdraw from VN after reelection.
Does one conclude that he grew up between 1956 and 1961? Did the crush on Diem evident in his Willard ravings affect his judgement in dealing with VN as President?
Who, in 1956, was taking a public stand against the Diem love-in? Anyone?
There are, it turns out, further particulars to be found at the Virtual Vietnam Archive. A book containing an edited version of proceedings at the "America's Stake in Vietnam" meeting , plus much correspondence, memos and like material.
The VVA is full of good stuff, of course; but the search sensation tends to be that of opening a cupboard, and having its contents fall on top of you!
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