that is, those who elect to argue their somewhat unique views of history - with their lists of 100% totally unblemished heroes and 100% totally besmirched villains. I'm presently jumping back and forth between a half-dozen histories of the Vietnam War which fit that mold.
The role of FDR in Southeast Asia (only one of the many regions affected to some extent by FDR) is a complex topic. I think it's fair to say that he knew and cared a lot more about precinct by precinct voting in Dutchess County than the aggregate geopolitics of Indochina.
In any event, here is a syllabus
, Southeast Asia During World War II; and an accompanying handout
. These outlines are useful as a simple check of one's knowledge - how much don't I know about this limited regional topic and FDR ?
More particularly, and with reference to and quotes from many original documents, we have (among many other sources to the same FDR and HST periods), U.S. Policy & Indochina in World War II
. One might well question the "FDR Effect" on such agreements as the following from March 6, 1946 (pp.18-19):
1. The French Government recognizes the Vietnamese Republic as a Free State having its own Government, its own Parliament, its own Army and its own Finances, forming part of the Indochinese Federation and of the French Union. In that which concerns the reuniting of the three "Annamite Regions" [Indochina, Annam, Tonkin] the French Government pledges itself to ratify the decisions taken by the populations consulted by referendum.
2. The Vietnamese Government declares itself ready to welcome amicably the French Army when, conforming to international agreements, it relieves the Chinese Troops. A Supplementary Accord, attached to the present Preliminary Agreement, will establish the means by which the relief operations will be carried out.
3. The stipulations formulated above will immediately enter into force. Immediately after the exchange of signatures, each of the High Contracting Parties will take all measures necessary to stop hostilities in the field, to maintain the troops in their respective positions, and to create the favorable atmosphere necessary to the immediate opening of friendly and sincere negotiations. These negotiations will deal particularly with:
a. diplomatic relations of Viet-nam with Foreign states
b. the future law of Indochina
c. French interests, economic and cultural, in Viet-nam.
Hanoi, Saigon or Paris may be chosen as the seat of the conference.
DONE AT HANOI, the 6th of March 1946
Signed: Ho-chi Minh and Vu Hong Khanh
By that time, FDR was almost a year dead; and Harry S. Truman had begun to shape his own initial policy toward Indochina, U.S. Neutrality in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1946-1949
By 1950, HST's Worldview had shifted and we began what Bruce Palmer called our 25-Year War (1 May 1950 - 30 April 1975). As opposed to liberation from colonialism (a policy which the US did adopt re: Indonesia), our policy from 1950 constituted US support of what the Viet Minh were more than happy to call an alliance of colonialism and neo-colonialism.
The attitude of the War College Class of 1951-1952 was more "direct hands off" in Indochina than anything else.
War College Class 1951-1952, U.S. Policy in Sourheast Asia, Reports of Student Committees # 13-17 (Carlisle Barracks, Pa: U.S. Army War College, 1951), presented in October 1951. From Bruce Palmer, Jr., The 25 Year War
(University Press of Kentucky, 1984), pp.2-3:
.... Although opinions were somewhat divided, a large majority opposed any major U.S. involvement. The conclusions of the majority could be summarized as follows:
(1) The United States had probably made a serious mistake in agreeing with its allies to allow French power to be restored in Indochina. As a colonial power, France had done little to develop indigenous civilian and military leaders and civil servants in preparation for the countries' eventual independence.
(2) Indochina was of only secondary strategic importance to the United States. The economic and military value of Vietnam, the most important state in the region, was not impressive. Politically and socially Vietnam was obviously entering an unstable period with uncertain consequences. In any event, it did not warrant the commitment of US forces to its defense.
(3) General war planning by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) envisioned a strategic defense in the Pacific, drawing the U.S. forward defense line to include Japan, South Korea, and the offshore island chain (Okinawa-Taiwan-the Philippines). But in Southeast Asia the line was drawn through the Isthmus of Kra on the mainland, excluding all of Indochina and most of Thailand. Thus, the Straits of Malacca and populous, endowed Indonesia were considered to be the prime strategic targets of the region.
(4) Militarily the region in general and Vietnam in particular would be an extremely difficult operational area, especially for U.S. forces. Unlike the relatively narrow Korean peninsula, Vietnam presented very long land and coastal borders that would be almost impossible to seal against infiltration and difficult to defend against overt military aggression. Much of the region was covered with dense jungle and much was mountainous. Weather, terrain and geographical factors combined to present formidable obstacles for military operations and logistic support.
(5) Politically and psychologically the United States, if it were to become involved, would have to operate under severe disadvantages, for it would inherit the taint of European colonialism. The United States should not become involved in the area beyond providing materiel military aid.
This view of these field grades (many to become flag officers) became lost in the shuffle as the US moved toward greater and greater direct involvement in Indochina - and then South Vietnam as a remnant. The focus on Southeast Asia (and the important Staits of Malacca and Indonesia) was similarly pushed into the background.
It was only after a decade passed after withdrawal of our combat units from Vietnam, that our emoticon Vietnam commander recognized that our efforts in Vietnam (however guided, misguided or mixed) had contributed to a Southeast Asia that was able to make its own way.
A Distant Challenge: The U.S. Infantryman in Vietnam, 1967-1972
LTC Albert N. Garland, USA (Ret.)
Indeed, history may judge that American aid to South Vietnam constituted one of man's more noble crusades, one that had less to do with the domino theory and a strategic interest for the United States than with the simple equation of a strong nation helping an aspiring nation to reach a point where it had some reasonable chance to achieve and keep a degree of freedom and humanv dignity. It remains a fact that few countries have ever engaged in such idealistic magnanimity; and no gain or attempted gain for human freedom can be discounted.
Although in the end a political default, it is now clearly evident that there was an ironic strategic dividend to our presence in Vietnam; namely the impact of the American military "holding the line" for ten years against communist pressures on Southeast Asia thus provided for the Asian countries (Philippines, Malasia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand) a shield and hence a breathing spell toward development of greater political matrurity and self confidence as nations. It encouraged Indonesia in 1966 to throw out the Russians and, as time passed, unhappy events in Indochina showed to the people of Southeast Asia the real ugly face of communism and the inadequacy of the communist system. Consequently, the countries of Southeast Asia now seem to be staunchly a part of the non-communist world.
William C. Westmorland
Attributing all that occured in this part of the World 30 years after FDR to FDR simply does not hold up to any reasonable historical test. An argument extending his influence as all powerful globally is more unreasonable.