Once during an interview, conservative actor Brian Dennehy was asked if he ever questioned the intellectual foundations of the Cold War; he answered in the affirmative, citing as an example his denouncement of the “Domino Theory” while in high school during the height of the Cold War, the early 1960s.
Whether true or not, and one should bear in mind that on occasion, Dennehy has claimed to have fought in Vietnam when in actuality he was stationed in the Pacific, this is an example of how the Domino Theory has been mocked and blamed for leading the U.S. into the quagmire of Vietnam.
The term was coined by then-President Dwight Eisenhower, sixty-three years ago this week. In 1954, it was apparent to all but the most deluded that the French attempt to re-colonize Vietnam (they lost control of it when the Japanese seized it during World War II) was failing against the Vietnam nationalists led by Communist Ho Chi Minh.
As such, Eisenhower, while, as a military leader knew the folly of fighting a land war in Asia, nevertheless offered an easily-understandable image to justify increased U.S. aid to the French:
“You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is a certainty that it will go over very quickly.” If the Vietcong took all of Vietnam, it would result in “the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula and Indonesia following.”
Although the French were decisively defeated a month later at Dien Bien Phu, Eisenhower opted for a diplomatic solution to keeping the Vietcong hemmed in. At the Geneva Conference of world powers, the president brokered a deal to allow Minh’s forces control of only Northern Vietnam.
However, in the hands of JFK, and LBJ, the Domino Theory would be used to increase the number of U.S. military advisors and economic aid to South Vietnamese President Ngo Diem, and ultimately to put ground troops into the conflict (even Camelot merchant Robert McNamara, went against his comrades’ confident prediction that had Kennedy lived, there would have been no combat troops inserted into Vietnam by asserting Kennedy’s belief in the Domino Theory would have compelled such a military response).
By 1968, when it was apparent that the U.S. was in an unwinnable quagmire–the U.S. couldn’t withdraw from Vietnam because it would show a lack of resolve, and LBJ, feared that with it, would come a right-wing revolt similar to McCarthyism; nor could it accelerate the war which might bring China and the Soviet Union further into it–the Domino Theory was now viewed as the stuff of tragic folly.
But those who subscribed to the Domino Theory would be vindicated–although such validation has never been recognized by the mainstream media– by the events that followed after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam in 1975. The argument that the Vietcong had benign, democratizing intentions toward the South was rendered invalid as the conquering North engaged in mass executions of “political opponents” and even sent their own into “re-education camps.” Communists moved into neighboring Cambodia, and in the form of the Khmer Rouge murdered two million peasants.
As cited by David Horowitz and Peter Collier in their book, Destructive Generation,” “more people had been killed in the first two years of the Communist peace than in the thirteen years of America’s war.”
Moreover, the American withdrawal revealed the true imperialist designs of the Vietcong’s benefactor, the Soviet Union. To enrich their empire, the Russians took over the potentially cash-rich bases of Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang in South Vietnam. Soon they had control over many natural resources in Vietnam.
Although since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the decades-old containment policy of U.S. administrations (but in reality bolstered considerably by the Reagan administration) has been lauded by even mainstream journalists, the Domino Theory remains shunned and mocked.