Wednesday, October 24, 2007

October 24

ngo_dinh_diem_mainIn a letter delivered on 24 October 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower wrote to Ngo Dinh Diem on the subject of Vietnam, whose southern half -- recently partitioned at a multi-nation conference in Geneva -- Prime Minister Diem sought to develop into an independent, non-communist state. Meditating ominously on the "enemies without" and "subversive collaborators within" the southern zone, Eisenhower pledged to assist Diem in his efforts to violate the Geneva Accord, which called for a national referrendum on unification by July 1956.

The United States, which did not actually sign the Geneva agreements, felt in no way bound by its provisions, which called upon foreign powers not to interfere with the national destiny of the Vietnamese people. Assuming that any genuine national referrendum would bring Ho Chi Minh into power throughout Indochina, Eisenhower wished to avoid the damaged American credibility that might follow the "loss" of another Asian nation to communism.

Fifty-three years ago today, Eisenhower offered financial assistance so that "loyal" Vietnamese -- most of whom, like Diem, were Catholics who had benefited from French colonialism and were persecuted in the north -- might be brought into the south.
Your recent requests for aid to assist in the formidable project of the movement of several hundred thousand loyal Vietnamese citizens away from areas which are passing under a de facto rule and political ideology which they abhor, are being fulfilled. I am glad that the United States is able to assist in this humanitarian effort.

We have been exploring ways and means to permit our aid to VietNam to be more effective and to make a greater contribution to the welfare and stability of the Government of Viet-Nam. . . .

The purpose of this offer is to assist the Government of Viet-Nam in developing and maintaining a strong, viable state, capable of resisting attempted subversion or aggression through military means. The Government of the United States expects that this aid will be met by performance on the part of the Government of Viet-Nam in undertaking needed reforms. It hopes that such aid, combined with your own continuing efforts, will contribute effectively toward an independent VietNam endowed with a strong government. Such a government would, I hope, be so responsive to the nationalist aspirations of its people, so enlightened in purpose and effective in performance, that it will be respected both at home and abroad and discourage any who might wish to impose a foreign ideology on your free people.
The following year, Diem secured nearly total power in the Republic of Vietnam by winning an astonishing 98% of the vote in a referrendum marked by open fraud as Diem's troops and hired goons monitored polling stations. Edward Lansdale, an American CIA official who organized a variety of covert operations in South Vietnam, had advised Diem to aim for no more than 60-70% of the vote to provide at least a veneer on legitimacy. Soon after his "election," Diem commenced a frontal assault against political dissidents, Buddhists, and other "subversives" who threatened the stability of his regime. Relying on torture, terror, and imprisonment, Diem displayed what most American officials euphemistically regarded as "strong leadership" -- a necessary if unfortunate condition, they added, for the politically unsophisticated peoples of southeast Asia.

Thirty years and perhaps 3 million bodies later, the unification of North and South Vietnam -- the very result Eisenhower had sought to avoid with mere financial assistance in 1954 -- at last occurred.

This is a reposting of last year's entry