Wednesday, June 13, 2007

June 13

On this date in 1971, the New York Times began publishing documents leaked by a former State Department official named Daniel Ellsberg. The secret report, which reconstructed the history US policy in Southeast Asia from 1945-1967, had been commissioned by Lyndon Johnson's Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who resigned not long after requesting it. Among other things, the documents revealed that four consecutive American presidents -- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson -- had deceived the public (including Congress) as to the precise nature of the United States' role in French Indochina, its relationship to Ngo Dinh Diem's regime in the South, its efforts to deliberately thwart the 1954 Geneva Accord, and its covert military activities in Laos and North Vietnam prior to August 1964, when the Gulf of Tonkin "incident" allegedly took place.

Among the documents released to the Times was a 1952 National Security Council Document warning of the dire consequences of communism in Southeast Asia, where France was then engaged in a struggle to maintain its empire.
Communist domination, by whatever means, of all Southeast Asia would seriously endanger in the short term, and critically endanger in the longer term, United States security interests.

The loss of any of the countries in Southeast Asia to communist aggression would have critical psychological, political and economic consequences. In the absence of effective and timely counteraction, the loss of any single country would probably lead to relatively swift submission to or an alignment with communism by the remaining countries of this group.
The document went on to recommend that the United States maintain its support for the French in a war that eventually took hundreds of thousands of lives. It also suggested that the US might at some point need to intervene on its own to prevent the "loss" of Indochina to communism.

These plans, as it happened, didn't work out so well.