settlements in Indo-China at Geneva". The Council stated further that, if necessary, the
US should consider continuing the war without French participation.14
The Eisenhower administration had for some time very seriously considered
committing American combat troops to Vietnam. Apparently this move was not made
only because of uncertainty about congressional approval and the refusal of other
countries to send even a token force, as they had done in Korea, to remove the
appearance of a purely American operation.15 "We are confronted by an unfortunate
fact," lamented Secretary of State John Foster Dulles at a 1954 Cabinet meeting. "Most
of the countries of the world do not share our view that Communist control of any
government anywhere is in itself a danger and a threat."16
In May, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Arthur Radford, sent
a memorandum to Defense Secretary Charles Wilson on "Studies With Respect to
Possible U.S. Actions Regarding Indochina" which stated that "The employment of
atomic weapons is contemplated in the event that such course appears militarily
advantageous."17 (General Charles Willoughby, MacArthur's director of intelligence,
put it a bit more poetically when he advocated the use of atomic bombs "to create a belt
of scorched earth across the avenues of communism to block the Asiatic hordes".)18
By this time, two American aircraft carriers equipped with atomic weapons had
been ordered into the Gulf of Tonkin, in the North of Vietnam,19 and Dulles is, in fact,
reported to have offered his French counterpart, Georges Bidault, atomic bombs to save
Dien Bien Phu. Bidault was obliged to point out to Dulles that the use of atomic bombs
in a war of such close armed conflict would destroy the French troops as well as the
Dulles regularly denounced China, in the ultra-sanctimonious manner he was
known for, for assisting the Vietminh, as if the Chinese had no cause or right to be
alarmed about an anti-communist military crusade taking place scant miles from their
border. As the Geneva conference approached, a CIA propaganda team in Singapore
began to disseminate fabricated news items to advance the idea that "the Chinese were
giving full armed support to the Viet-Minh" and to "identify" the Viet-Minh "with the
world Communist movement". The CIA believed that such stories would strengthen the
non-Communist side at the Geneva talks.21
Joseph Burkholder Smith was a CIA officer in Singapore. His "press asset" was
one Li Huan Li, an experienced local journalist. It is instructive to note the method
employed in the creation and dissemination of one such news report about the Chinese.
After Smith and Li had made up their story, Li attended the regular press conference
held by the British High Commissioner in Singapore, Malcolm MacDonald. At the
conference, Li mentioned the report and asked the Commissioner if he had any
comment. As expected, MacDonald had nothing to say about it one way or the other.
The result was the following news item:
MORE CHINESE SUPPLIES AND TROOPS SPOTTED EN ROUTE TO
HAIPHONG. At the press conference of the British High Commissioner for Southeast
Asia today, reports of the sightings of Chinese naval vessels and supply ships in the
Tonkin Gulf en route from Hainan to Haiphong were again mentioned.
According to these reports, the most recent of many similar sightings occurred one
week ago when a convoy of ten ships was spotted. Among them were two armed
Chinese naval vessels indicating that the convoy consisted of troops as well as arms and
High Commissioner Malcolm MacDonald would not elaborate further about these
The story was put onto a wire service in the morning, and by the evening had
gone around the world, coming back to Singapore on the European relay to Asia.
The Geneva conference, on 20 July 1954, put a formal end to the war in
Vietnam. The United States was alone in refusing to sign the Final Declaration, purely
because it was peeved at the negotiated settlement, which precluded any further military
effort to defeat the Vietminh. There had been ample indication of American displeasure
with the whole process well before the end of the conference. Two weeks earlier, for
example, President Eisenhower had declared at a news conference: "I will not be a party
to any treaty that makes anybody a slave; now that is all there is to it."23 But the US did
issue a "unilateral declaration" in which it agreed to "refrain from the threat or the use of
force to disturb" the accords.24
The letter and the spirit of the ceasefire agreement and the Final Declaration
looked forward to a Vietnam free from any military presence other than Vietnamese or
French, and free from any aggressive operations. However, while the conference was
still in session in June, the United States began assembling a paramilitary team inside
Vietnam. By August, only days after the close of the conference, the team was in place.
Under the direction of CIA leading-light Edward Lansdale, fresh from his success in the
Philippines, a campaign of military and psychological warfare was carried out against
the Vietminh. (Lansdale's activities in Vietnam were later enshrined in two semi-
fictional works, The Ugly American and The Quiet American.) Over the next six
months, Lansdale's clandestine team executed such operations as the following:
â€¢ Encouraged the migration of Vietnamese from the North to the South through "an extremely
intensive, well-coordinated, and, in terms of its objective, very successful ... psychological war-
fare operation. Propaganda slogans and leaflets appealed to the devout Catholics with such
themes as 'Christ has gone to the South' and the 'Virgin Mary has departed from the North'."25
â€¢ Distributed other bogus leaflets, supposedly put out by the Vietminh, to instill trepidation in
the minds of people in the North about how life would be under Communist rule. The following
day, refugee registration to move South tripled. (The exodus of Vietnamese to the South during
the "regrouping" period that followed the Geneva Accords was often cited by American officials
in the 1960s, as well as earlier, as proof of the fact that the people did not want to live under
communismâ€”"They voted with their feet" was the catchphrase) Still other "Vietminh" leaflets
were aimed at discouraging people in the South from returning to the North.
â€¢ Infiltrated paramilitary forces into the North under the guise of individuals choosing to live
â€¢ Contaminated the oil supply of the bus company in Hanoi so as to lead to a gradual wreckage
of the bus engines.
â€¢ Took "the first actions for delayed sabotage of the railroad (which required teamwork with a
CIA special technical team in Japan who performed their part brilliantly)."
â€¢ Instigated a rumor campaign to stir up hatted of the Chinese, with the usual stories of rapes.
â€¢ Created and distributed an almanac of astrological predictions carefully designed to play on
Vietnamese fears and superstitions and undermine life in the North while making the future of
the South appear more attractive.
â€¢ Published and circulated anti-Communist articles and "news" reports in newspapers and
â€¢ Attempted, unsuccessfully, to destroy the largest printing establishment in the North because
it intended to remain in Hanoi and do business with the Vietminh.
â€¢ Laid some of the foundation for the future American war in Vietnam by: sending selected
Vietnamese to US Pacific bases for guerrilla training; training the armed forces of the South who
had fought with the French; creating various military support facilities in the Philippines; smug-
gling into Vietnam large quantities of arms and military equipment to be stored in hidden loca-
tions; developing plans for the "pacification of Vietminh and dissident areas".26
At the same time, the United States began an economic boycott against the
North Vietnamese and threatened to blacklist French firms which were doing business
Another development during this period that had very profound consequences
for the coming tragedy was the cancelation of the elections that would have united
North and South Vietnam as one nation.
The Geneva Accords specified that elections under international supervision
were to be held in July 1956, with "consultations" to prepare for them to be held "from
20 July 1955 onwards". The United States, in its unilateral declaration, had reiterated
this pledge: "In the case of nations now divided against their will, we shall continue to
seek to achieve unity through free elections supervised by the United Nations to insure
that they are conducted fairly."
The elections were never held. On 16 July 1955, four days before the
consultations were scheduled to begin, President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam
issued a statement that made it cleat that he had no intention of engaging in the
consultations, much less the elections.28 Three days later, North Vietnam sent Diem a
formal note calling for the talks, but Diem remained firm in his position. Efforts by
France and Great Britain to persuade Diem to begin the talks were to no avail.
The reason for Diem's intransigence is well known. He, like President
Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles, knew that Ho Chi Minh would be a certain winner
of any national elections. A CIA National Intelligence Estimate in the autumn
concluded that the Diem regime (which Lansdale himself called "fascistic")29 "almost
certainly would not be able to defeat the communists in country-wide elections."50
Later, Eisenhower was to write in his memoirs: "I have never talked or corresponded
with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections
been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 percent of the population would
have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State
Bao Dai."31 (The latter was Diem's predecessor.)
The study of the Pentagon papers cited "State Department cables and National
Security Council memorandums indicating that the Eisenhower Administration wished
to postpone the elections as long as possible and communicated its feelings to Mr.
This was support that Diem could not have done without, for, as the Pentagon
historians point out: "Without the threat of U.S. intervention, South Vietnam could not
have refused to even discuss the elections called for in 1956 under the Geneva
settlement without being immediately overrun by the Vietminh armies."33
The public statements of Diem and Dulles spoke only of their concern that the
elections would not be "free", which served to obscure the fact that Ho Chi Minh did
not need to resort to fraud in order to win, as well as ignoring the announcements of
both the United Nations and the International Control Commission (set up in Vietnam
by the Geneva Accords) that they were ready to supervise the elections.
In any event, Diem's commitment to free elections may be surmised from a
referendum he held in October 1955 in South Vietnam to invest his regime with a
semblance of legality, in which he received 98.2 percent of the vote. Life magazine later
reported that Diem's American advisers had told him that a 60 percent margin would be
quite sufficient and would look better, "but Diem insisted on 98 percent".34
With the elections canceled, the nation still divided, and Diem with his
"mandate" free to continue his heavy, tyrannical rule, the turn to violence in South
Vietnam became inevitable.
As if in knowledge of and preparation for this, the United States sent 350
additional military men to Saigon in May 1956, an "example of the U.S. ignoring" the
Geneva Accords, stated the Pentagon study.35 Shortly afterwards, Dulles confided to a
colleague: "We have a clean base there now, without a taint of colonialism.
Dienbienphu was a blessing in disguise."36
The Later Phase
"If you grab 'em by the balls, the hearts and minds will follow" ... "Give us your
hearts and minds or we'll burn down your goddamn village" ... the end result of
America's anti-communist policy in Vietnam; also its beginning and its middle.
There was little serious effort to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese
people, even less chance of success, for the price of success was social change, of the
kind that Diem was unwilling to accept in Vietnam, the kind the United States was not
willing to accept anywhere in the Third World. If Washington had been willing to
accept such changeâ€” which they have always routinely and disparagingly dismissed as
"socialist"â€”there would have been no need to cancel the elections or to support Diem,
no need for intervention in the first place. There was, consequently, no way the United
States could avoid being seen by the people of Vietnam as other than the newest
imperialist occupiers, following in the footsteps of first the Chinese, then the French,
then the Japanese, then the French again.
We will not go into a detailed recounting of all the horrors, all the deceptions,
the destruction of a society, the panorama of absurdities and ironies; only a selection, a
montage, lest we forget.
To the men who walked the corridors of power in Washington, to the military
men in the field, Indochinaâ€”nay, southeast Asiaâ€”was a single, large battlefield.
Troops of South Vietnam were used in Laos and Cambodia. Troops of Thailand were
used in Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam. Thailand and the Philippines were used as
bases from which to bomb the three countries of Indochina.
Military officers in South Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan were trained at
American schools in the Philippines.
CIA-supported forces carried out incursions and invasions into China from Laos,
Burma and Taiwan.
When there was a (much-publicized] pause in the bombing of North Vietnam,
more American planes were thus available to increase the bombing of Laos. And so it
From 1955 to 1959, Michigan State University, under a US government
contract, con ducted a covert police training program for the South Vietnamese. With
the full knowledge of certain MSU officials, five CIA operatives were concealed in the
staff of the program and carried on the university's payroll as its employees. By the
terms of a 1957 law, drawn up by the MSU group, every Vietnamese 15 years and older
was required to register with the government and carry ID cards. Anyone caught
without the proper identification was considered as a National Liberation Front
(Vietcong) suspect and subject to imprisonment or worse. At the time of registration, a
full set of fingerprints was obtained and information about the person's political beliefs
When popular resistance to Ngo Dinh Diem reached the level where he was
more of a liability than an asset he was sacrificed. On 1 November 1963. some of
Diem's generals overthrew him and then murdered both him and his brother after they
had surrendered. The coup, wrote Time magazine, "was planned with the knowledge of
Dean Rusk and Averill Harriman at the State Department, Robert S. McNamara and
Roswell Gilpatrick at the Defense Department and the late Edward R. Murrow at the
U.S Information Agency."38
Evidently Washington had not planned on assassinations accompanying the
coup, but as General Maxwell Taylor, President Kennedy's principal military adviser,
has observed: "The execution of a coup is not like organizing a tea party; it's a very
dangerous business. So I didn't think we had any right to be surprised ... when Diem and
his brother were murdered."39
Donald Duncan was a member of the Green Berets in Vietnam. He has written
about his training, part of which was called "countermeasures to hostile interrogation",
ostensibly how Americans captured by Communists could deal with being tortured.
Translations of an alleged Soviet interrogation manual were handed out to the class. The
manual described in detail such methods as the "Airplane Ride" (hanging by the
thumbs], the Cold-Hot Water Treatment, and the lowering of a man's testicles into a
jeweler's vise, while the instructor, a Sergeant Lacey, explained some variations of these
methods. Then a student had a question:
"Sergeant Lacey, the name of this class is 'Countermeasures to Hostile
Interrogation,' but you have spent most of the period telling us there are no
countermeasures. If this is true, then the only reason for teaching them [the torture
methods], it seems to me, is so that we'll know how to use them. Are you
suggesting we use these methods?"
The class laughs, and Lacey looks down at the floor creating a dramatic pause.
When he raises his head, his face is solemn but his deep set eyes are dancing. "We
can't tell you that, Sergeant Harrison. The Mothers of America wouldn't approve."
The class bursts into laughter at the sarcastic cynicism. "Furthermore," a
conspiratorial wink, "we will deny that any such thing is taught or intended."40
At the US Navy's schools in San Diego and Maine during the 1960s and 1970s,
the course had a different name. There, the students were supposedly learning about
methods of "survival, evasion, resistance and escape" which they could use as prisoners
of war. There was in the course something of survival in a desert, where students were
forced to eat lizards, but the naval officers and cadets were also subjected to beatings,
jarring judo flips, "tiger cages"â€”hooded and placed in a 16-cubic-foot box for 22 hours
with a coffee can for their excrementâ€”and a torture device called the "water board": the
subject strapped to an inclined board, head downward, a towel placed over his face, and
cold water poured over the towel; he would choke, gag, retch and gurgle as he
experienced the sensation of drowning, just as was done to Vietcong prisoners in
Vietnam, along with the tiger cages.
A former student, Navy pilot Lt. Wendell Richard Young, claimed that his back
was broken during the course and that students were tortured into spitting, urinating and
defecating on the American flag, masturbating before guards, and, on one occasion,
engaging in sex with an instructor.41
Fabrications were required to support the varied State Department claims about
the nature of the war and the reasons for the American military actions. A former CIA
officer, Philip Liechty, stated in 1982 that in the early 1960s he saw written plans to