Saturday, February 10, 2007

February 10

By early 1954, the United States was funding roughly 80% of the French war in Indochina, which was intended to retain this 100-year-old colonial possession within France's orbit. Perversely enough, the French war effort was largely waged by troops drawn from other regions of its empire; of the roughly 100,000 "Frenchmen" killed during the near decade-long struggle, tens of thousands were Algerian, Moroccan, Senegalese, Cambodian and Laotian. More than 300,000 Vietnamese nationalists and civilians perished as well, all of whom most assuredly did not want to die in defense of the French empire.

With the war proceeding not at all well for France, the American president, Dwight David Eisenhower, insisted at a news conference on 10 February 1954 that the United States had no intention of being drawn into a war in Southeast Asia:
I would just say this: no one could be more bitterly opposed to ever getting the United States involved in a hot war in that region than I am; consequently, every move that I authorize is calculated, so far as humans can do it, to make certain that that does not happen.
Later in the press conference, Eisenhower returned to the question and repeated his assurances that another Asian war would be catastrophic.
Wall, I am not going to try to predict the drift of world events now and the course of world events over the next months. I say that I cannot conceive of a greater tragedy for America than to get heavily involved now in an all-out war in any of those regions, particularly with large units.
Little over a month after Eisenhower's press conference, the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu began. Within two months, another two thousand French soldiers were dead and France's defeat was virtually assured. A century of colonial occupation appeared to be at an end for the Vietnamese.

By October 1954 the United States had begun offering substantial "humanitarian" assistance to the "government" of South Vietnam, with the goal -- contrary to the letter and spirit of the Geneva Accords -- of thwarting an eventual nationawide referendum on unification with the North. Those efforts ultimately failed, although four American presidents spend two decades and ended several million more lives in their pursuit.

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