Commentary Magazine


Containing China: A Round-Table Discussion

Last February, COMMENTARY asked Bernard B. Fall, Richard N. Goodwin, George Mcgovern, and JOHN P. ROCHE to participate in a three-hour round-table discussion centering on the question of whether the purpose of American policy in the Far East is to contain Chinese expansion or to halt the spread of Communism. The discussion, moderated by NORMAN PODHORETZ, editor of COMMENTARY, was entirely spontaneous and held before an invited audience which participated during the third hour. What follows is an edited transcript of the entire proceedings.

Norman Podhoretz: Unfashionable as it is at this moment to have a discussion of American foreign policy that doesn't focus specifically on Vietnam,1 I nevertheless think that there may be some value in trying to set the issues that concern all of us so urgently today into a somewhat broader context—the long-range conflict between the United States and China. In terms of that conflict, the war in Vietnam may perhaps be seen—and apparently is seen by the present administration—as a tactical element within an overall strategy. For despite all the official talk about preserving the freedom of South Vietnam, one gathers that what the United States actually thinks it is doing in Vietnam is containing China in Asia, much as it contained the Soviet Union in Europe from 1947 on.

The best brief statement I myself have seen of this particular interpretation of American policy was made by Adlai Stevenson shortly before he died, in reply to a group of writers who had appealed to him to resign his post at the UN in protest against U.S. policy in Vietnam. Here is what Stevenson said:

I would like to send you my reasons for believing that whatever criticisms may be made over the detail and emphasis of our foreign policy, its purpose and direction are sound. . . . The period from 1947 to 1962 was largely occupied in fixing the postwar line with the Soviet Union. It is not a very satisfactory one, since it divides Germany and Berlin, but the Russians respect it in Europe. So do we . . . .

We have no such line with the Chinese. Since they are in an earlier, more radical stage in their revolution, it may be more difficult to establish one. Should we try? And is the line we stand on halfway across Vietnam a reasonable line? Should we hold it? . . .

The line inherited by the Democratic administration is the 17th Parallel. History does not always give us the most convenient choice. . . . Since this is the line, should we hold it? The answer depends on the assumptions made about Chinese power. In the past, some Chinese dynasties have been aggressive, claiming sovereignty over wide areas of Asia, including all of Southeast Asia and even some of India. So far the new Communist “dynasty” has been very aggressive. Tibet was swallowed, India attacked, the Malays had to fight twelve years to resist a “national liberation” they could receive from the British by a more peaceful route. Today, the apparatus of infiltration and aggression is already at work in North Thailand. Chinese maps show . . . the furthest limits of the old empire marked as Chinese. I do not think the idea of Chinese expansionism is so fanciful that the effort to check it is irrational.

And if one argues that it should not be checked, then I believe you set us off on the old, old route whereby expansive powers push at more and more doors, believing they will open until, at the ultimate door, resistance is unavoidable, and major war breaks out. . . . My hope in Vietnam is that relatively small-scale resistance now may establish the fact that changes in Asia are not to be precipitated by outside force. This was the point of the Korean War. This is the point of the conflict in Vietnam. I believe Asia will be more stable if the outcome is the same in both—a negotiated line and a negotiated peace. . . .

Now interestingly enough, George Kennan, who, of course, was the architect of our containment policy in Europe, recently said in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Vietnam—Senator Fulbright's “teach-in,” as James Reston called it—that the same measures which worked in Europe could not, for a variety of reasons, work in Asia. Nevertheless, it does seem clear that President Johnson and his advisers do believe that, with certain modifications, China can be contained by a combination of military, political, and economic force. Vietnam, according to this reasoning, is Greece in 1947. It is also, one gathers from some of Secretary Rusk's pronouncements, Czechoslovakia in 1938. Thus, as Stevenson suggested, American policy toward the Communist world in the postwar period can be regarded as perfectly consistent—not only in itself, but in its continuous and unwavering determination not to repeat any of the mistakes of the 1930's which presumably led to World War II.

Now I would like to propose, if only for the sake of argument, that we agree here as to the ambitions of China in Asia, and that we further agree as to the fact that, for the time being at least, it is mainly American power that stands in the way of these ambitions. Once we have agreed on those two propositions, we can move on to the really difficult questions which have to be examined. First of all, should the United States be trying to contain China at all? Or, to put the same question in another way: is China really a threat to the United States? And if so, in what sense?

Secondly, can China be contained in Asia as the Soviet Union was contained in Europe?

Thirdly, even assuming that China both can and should be contained, does containment require absolute American opposition to a Communist regime in Vietnam, or Laos, or Thailand? Would such regimes necessarily pose a threat to the United States? In what sense would they constitute a threat to American national interests?

During the Dulles era, the rhetoric of American foreign policy was militantly, even religiously, anti-Communist. The assumption was that there existed an international Communist conspiracy directed from a single center, and dedicated to the overthrow of the West by any and all means. Since 1960—and largely, I suppose, in response to the fragmentation of the Communist world, the Sino-Soviet dispute, the growth of “polycentrism”—the rhetoric has changed. Communism is no longer spoken of in official circles, and certainly not in public pronouncements, as an absolute evil, or as a temporary aberration which is destined to fall of its own internal contradictions. That kind of inverse bolshevism is gone. But the irony is that our actions nowadays seem at odds with the assumptions behind the new, rather more sophisticated, rhetoric, and far more in tune with the assumptions behind the Dulles rhetoric than the actions of the Eisenhower administration itself were. And this, I think, is perhaps the major source of the general confusion over the issues we are going to try to throw some light on in this discussion.

Mr. Goodwin, as a former adviser to both Presidents Johnson and Kennedy, you are probably in the best position of anyone here to tell us whether the Stevenson statement I just read actually represents the thinking of our government.

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Richard Goodwin: I don't believe that the United Slates government has a clear China policy. Over the next years, though, I think you will see one emerge. It is true, after all, that policies like the containment of Russia, or relations with China, emerge out of conflict and experience; they are not imposed on a situation in advance. China, although an immediate enemy in Korea, has not up until this moment been, or been felt to be, a physical threat—which is perhaps why a clear policy toward China has not yet evolved. But then we had no consistent policy toward the Soviet Union either until the late 40's, when, out of our experience in Greece and Turkey and other countries, we became clearer about what we felt were Soviet intentions.

I think it is important for us to try to get at the ultimate and very rarely answered questions of foreign policy, such as why we want to help the underdeveloped world, or why we want to contain the Soviet Union. These questions are rarely answered, and for a good reason, which is that they involve enormously difficult and chancy predictions about history—predictions that depend upon a whole series of assumptions and judgments which, like judgments about literature, are highly fallible. Any good foreign policy, therefore, has at least to observe two cautions. First, at every step you have to leave as many options open as possible and decide as little as possible; because you may be wrong, you have to leave yourself with opportunities to change your mind, to make different decisions in the future. Secondly, since almost all important policy judgments are speculations, you must avoid risking too much on the conviction that you are right. At the same time, while trying to do all this, you cannot allow yourself to be paralyzed in action; you still have to meet specific situations and circumstances.

Observing those cautions, let me take a quick look at the ultimate question of whether we want to contain China at all. What difference does it make to us if China takes Southeast Asia, and the rest of Asia for that matter? Why should we care if China takes Manchuria and Burma? Or, in the most extreme case, would it be in our interest to act if Chinese armies marched into India, and the Indian government asked us for help? Should we respond, or should we let China have India?

These are not easy questions to answer—although what our actual response would be is very clear: we would, of course, respond immediately and fight China in India. But whether or not we should, it seems to me, is a more difficult problem. What would the harm be to the United States if all or most of Asia fell to China?

Well, there is first of all the simple proposition that we don't want to allow people to be conquered by other people when ours is the only power that can prevent it. This is a motive with an idealistic basis, but it can't be overlooked as part of the answer. Secondly, a Chinese conquest of Asia would enormously strengthen elements hostile to the United States—I avoid the word “Communism”—in other parts of the world, and weaken our position in Latin America, Africa, and everywhere else, just as Soviet successes operated to weaken our position throughout the world for a period of time. It would put enormous pressure on the Soviet Union itself to move or else completely lose control of the Communist world. Therefore the likelihood is that were China to be left unchecked, we would be faced with a militant Soviet Union (unless the militancy were directed toward China, which is unlikely). Moreover, it would immeasurably strengthen a country which is already a nuclear power, and which within half a decade, or a little more, will also have intercontinental missiles and all the other paraphernalia of destruction, aimed at us, the declared enemy.

Perhaps most important, the impact on American society itself of such an enormous gain to a hostile power would be immeasurable. If the fall of China to Communism contributed to McCarthyism, or Soviet gains to the militarization of the United States, a victory of this scale by a hostile nation like China would, I think, seriously erode the civil liberties and non-military traditions of this country to an extent that we have never experienced before in our history. As a nation, we would be put very much on the defensive, and the result would be an undermining of the principles of our own society.

Those considerations are what lead me to think that it is essential, not to contain the Chinese—because to contain them means to stop them right where they are, and there are places, such as the Russian border, where we don't care about stopping them, and there are places, such as Tibet, where we don't have enough interest to try to stop them—but to keep China from absorbing all of Asia. The basic question for American foreign policy, then, is not whether, but how and under what circumstances.

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Podhoretz: Senator McGovern, does it seem to you that we have a vital interest to defend in Asia?

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George McGovern: I think our greatest interest in Asia is in the prevention of a war with China. I would view a military conflict between the United States and mainland China as the worst possible catastrophe that could develop in the rest of this century, and in my opinion the prevention of that war ought to be the number one task of American statesmanship for as long as we can look down the road.

I think it's desirable to prevent Chinese military power from expanding across the face of Asia, but I don't regard that as the principal challenge China presents to the world today. There may be a stage as we move along when China will, in fact, become militarily engaged with our principal allies in the Far East, but I don't see that as an immediate probability. The greatest danger that it will happen, in my view, comes from the policy we are presently following in Southeast Asia and in other parts of Asia—that policy being one, first of all, which attempts to isolate China diplomatically from contact either with ourselves or with other great powers. We have used all the influence we could muster since 1949 to cut off diplomatic contact between China and the western world and the other countries of Asia. I personally think that has been a dangerous and ill-advised course for us to follow.

I have no idea whether or not at this point the government of China would permit us to install an ambassador and an embassy on their soil, but I can't think of any place in the world where we so desperately need a competent ambassador backed up by a good staff, as we do in China. One of the great problems about our relationship with China, and about discussions of this kind, is that we begin from ignorance. If we can imagine where we would be today with reference to the Soviet Union if we had had no diplomatic contact with that nation for the past twenty years—no conferences at the United Nations or in other assemblies where we had an opportunity to hear the Soviet point of view firsthand—we get some idea of the problems that we are up against when we try to carry on an informed discussion about China, and what her probable course of action will be.

I think, too, that it is not in our interest to try to boycott China economically. However belligerent, maddening, and—as some people would say—hysterical the Chinese leadership may be, I don't believe we contribute to a more moderate course of action on their part by trying to isolate them economically. For example, our policy of doing what we can to prevent normal commercial intercourse between the Japanese and the Chinese makes no sense at all. Japan is in a position to carry on an active trade with the Chinese, and to offer some degree of economic assistance that would be beneficial to both countries, and my impression is that there is a mounting tide of resentment within Japan itself over the fact that our policy has been lined up against that kind of development. The more diplomatic and economic contact there is between China and the outside world, the more likely it is that China will move in a less belligerent course.

In my opinion, we have no interest in Asia that demands our adoption of a unilateral containment policy. If we accept the argument that China needs to be contained, we should also accept the corollary argument that this should not and cannot be done unilaterally. We have no responsibility, we have no mandate, to take charge of Asia for the years ahead. What we do have is an obligation to work with other countries to preserve the peace. Certainly, with reference to China, that includes the close cooperation of other major Asian powers—Japan, India, Pakistan, and the other principal countries there, who presumably know at least as much about China and how to handle her as we do.

I think the course that we are now following is one that is calculated to aggravate all the worst features of the Chinese government and Chinese society. In addition, I fully agree with George Kennan, Senator Frank Church, and others who have said that trying to set up military strongmen on the borders of China is bound to increase Chinese pressure on those areas rather than to decrease it.

I would hope, then, that if we decide a policy of containment is in our interest, that it will be a broadly-based policy which does not rely excessively on military power, which does not rely on the creation of puppet regimes along the border, but which seeks to encourage strong and independent states wherever possible in Asia and elsewhere in the world. I would also hope that, insofar as possible, our efforts will be directed through the international community rather than unilaterally.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Roche, Senator McGovern seems to believe that our present policies in Asia are not calculated to avoid a major war with China. Others have put the case even more strongly, saying that we are on a collision course with China, that war is almost inevitable. Do you agree?

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John Roche: Let me try to get at the question under three headings. First of all, what are we dealing with? Second, has our policy toward the Red Chinese been sound in the past? And third, what options do we have?

On the first point, it seems to me that we are dealing with a red-hot, simplistic ideology composed in equal parts of traditional Chinese imperialism and messianic Communism. We are faced, also, by the largest underdeveloped nation in the world, which may have an absolute net decline in standard of living: that is, it may be—the statistics are very hard to get—that every year that goes by, the standard of living in China in terms of population declines. But whether or not that is the case, it is surely true in the relative sense: there is a greater and greater gap between China and the more advanced industrial societies—the Soviet Union, the United States, and so on. And we are faced, finally, by what amounts to a ferocious theological brawl—unlike anything that has been seen since the Reformation—between the Stalinist Soviet Union and the Trotskyists in China.

The Soviets, who are good Stalinists despite the fact that they are vilifying Stalin, are today in a profoundly isolationist phase, and have, in effect, imposed socialism in one country on the Chinese. The Chinese, standing on the principle of permanent revolution or, in Trotsky's phrase, combined development, expected the Russians to provide the technological base for the Chinese primitive accumulation of capital. That is, they expected the Russians to give them the means to jump from the pre-capitalist to the socialist phase of historical development. In short, the Chinese demanded socialism on the cuff from the Russians, and the Russians, who were doubtless appalled by the fantastic burden involved in this (which could, of course, destroy the internal priorities of consumer goods and the rising expectations of affluence within Soviet society), told the Chinese that they would have to earn their own way to socialism. As best as we can discover, the Russians have, in fact, given more economic aid to East Germany than they have to China.

The Chinese today, it seems to me, are desperate, and they are old (the average age of the Chinese Communist Plenum is around 66). They are old men, they are the men who came up inside. Now a great many suggestions about dealing with China are based on the assumption that these people can be bribed. I don't think that they are bribable. I think that they are driving ideologues who are not going to call off their offensive against American imperialism in return for, say, an annual subsidy of wheat or industrial goods from the United States. If Secretary McNamara had made the statement that war is a testing-ground for character, we would all be leaping up and down and shrieking, and yet this is precisely what Marshall Lin said in his statement several months ago. We are dealing here, in other words, with men who are ideologues and who are not subject to simple, old-fashioned capitalist bribery. In fact, I think they are the Anabaptists of the Communist “Reformation”; they are striking out wildly at all those who will not accept their own particular chiliastic vision.

On the practical level, the reason I don't panic much about the problem of China is that they seem to be almost utterly incompetent to deal with reality—which, of course, is a common characteristic among Anabaptists. One might indeed suggest that Mao and his followers be brought before the Committee on Un-Marxist Activity. If Mao were President of the United States, he would have been impeached six months ago for having been responsible, internally and externally, for one disaster after another, with Indonesia as the culmination. I think what has happened in Indonesia is probably the most important development in Asia since the fall of mainland China to Communism—and the turn of events in Indonesia was a matter of sheer bungling by the Communists. Mao, then, is no Lenin or Trotsky. Indeed, he sounds like a caricature of the Marxist tradition, a kind of Red Goldwater with a little bit of Billy Graham thrown in. I do not find the philosophical specific gravity of Chinese Communism any great threat to the West nor, for that matter (speaking strictly as a clinician), to the Soviets.

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To come now to my second heading: Has our policy been sound? Before we can answer that, we have to ask what our policy has been. Since 1950, we have had about four competing China policies within the American government. There has been this phony issue of recognition, for example. If you look at the world as I do, you say that recognition does not mean recognition of the legitimacy of a government, it simply means recognition of its existence. I recognize the existence of the Red Chinese, and I think the American government's policy on this has been silly. But would any alternative policy that anyone could have devised have made much difference, given the driving, messianic quality of the Chinese? This seems to me the crucial problem. The same reasoning applies to the National Liberation Front in Vietnam. In 1954, at the Geneva Conference, when the time came to find someone to initial the Accords for the Pathet Lao and the Khmer Resistance Forces, the Hanoi man, Ta-Quong Buu simply said, “I'll sign for them,” and he did. The moral of the story, of course, is that legalistic approaches to the problem of the recognition of Red China, or the recognition of the National Liberation Front, are essentially diversionary. Whether we could have devised an alternative policy toward China, one with a strategic design, I don't know. It is clear that the policy, or several policies, we did design had no particular set of priorities (which, in a sense, undermines the notion that there is a great capitalist conspiracy at work).

Finally, what are our options? It seems to me that we have three options. They are the familiar ones: unilateral disengagement; escalation to the point of bombing China; a holding of the line. I want to make it clear that I am neither a hawk nor a dove; I am a slightly frightened robin who wants to avoid a war with Red China, as any sane man does. My basic position is that we have to play for time; that we cannot plot some grand plan for dealing with Red China, because we don't know the variables; that we should not attempt any great rollback of Red Chinese power, but on the other hand, that we should attempt to the best of our ability to maintain the frontiers essentially as they are today in Asia.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Fall, do you agree that American policy ought to be dedicated to holding the frontiers of Asia constant?

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Bernard Fall: The real question is whether Washington agrees. As we look at statements made by the administration over the last four or five months, there seems to be a new thread running through all of them. It started perhaps with the speech by Secretary McNamara before the NATO Council of Foreign Ministers a few months ago, when those good Europeans were treated to a rather surprising lesson in geopolitics which went back to Hearst's “Yellow Peril”—Europe is about to be overrun by hordes of Chinese, and it is therefore about time the Europeans woke up to their obligations in Southeast Asia. The same theme was sounded in a speech by Under Secretary George Ball a few weeks later, and then again in California by Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy: the Chinese are the real danger and it is they who have to be stopped. I am reminded by this of the manufacturer who was losing five dollars on every dress, but expected to make his profit on volume. We have a policy that doesn't work too well in Vietnam, but if we apply it to China and all of Asia, it might come out all right.

The results, of course, are rather curious, because you also find in every one of those speeches some repetition of the well-known fact that the North Vietnamese hate the Chinese, and that only in the very worst of circumstances—circumstances, as I myself would say, that can only be created by our military pressure on North Vietnam—will the Chinese come in; and if they ever should come in, the North Vietnamese will receive them with the greatest of misgivings.

So you have here an inherent contradiction in the whole official American approach to China, which in large part is a consequence of the “capture” of Washington by Red Chinese propaganda. If there is anyone in the whole world who actu:ally believes that the Chinese are likely to overrun Asia militarily, it's Washington; at the same time, Washington believes that China is hated by all its neighbors. But if the Chinese are so aggressive—they certainly say aggressive things—why do they allow most of their aggressive schemes in Asia to fall apart without even the slightest reaction?

Obviously, for example, the Chinese have not done very much to help the Pathet Lao. American aircraft operate quite openly all over Laos, and there has been very little evidence of Chinese retaliation on the ground—say in the form of shipments of effective anti-aircraft artillery to the Pathet Lao. Nor have the Chinese tried to pick a fight with the United States over Quemoy. If the Chinese want to win a cheap victory over the United States, all they have to do is to try to occupy Quemoy, which they can do any day of the week. Nor have they intervened against American aircraft carriers in the Tonkin Gulf, which operate in an extremely narrow sea area, about ten or fifteen minutes by jet from Hainan.

Then came the great disaster in Indonesia. Indonesia, after all, has—or had—the largest Communist party outside the Sino-Soviet bloc. The Chinese have stood by in stony silence while upward of 100,000 Indonesian Communists were being slaughtered. To abandon a major Communist party in that way obviously bespeaks either self-control or fear—fear of American retaliation.

I do not doubt for an instant that the Chinese have ambitions in Southeast Asia. So do the French have ambitions in Latin America, which only indicates that the word “ambition” by itself doesn't mean very much. Some ambitions may be welcome. For example, if the Chinese would like to run a few rice-growing programs in some of those countries or would like to build railroads, as they are doing in North Vietnam, that would be unobjectionable. But what about the kind of ambitions that are going to hurt us—the West—in Southeast Asia?

Well, take the case of Burma. Burma is a small country, about 23-24 million people, directly abutting on China. Now the Burmese and Chinese had some border problems, and about five years ago they sat down and literally traded off border areas, and we haven't heard of these problems since. The Burmese government, moreover, proceeded to eliminate its Communists by the normal methods of fire and sword, but there is no evidence that the Chinese sent major forces into Burma to liberate their oppressed fellow party members.

Then there is the case of India. Here again the record will show that the Chinese attacked in India only after a long, embroiled border dispute about which any fair-minded person must agree that they are right. The MacMahon Line was a British-imposed boundary which no Chinese government ever ratified. The Chinese could have taken an additional piece of territory which was abandoned in panic by the Indians, but after moving in, the Chinese moved right back to their proper boundary; they didn't even hold the advance tracts which they could have held, let's say, for negotiating purposes.

This leaves, of course, the Korean War, where there certainly was Communist aggression. Of course, Chinese propaganda will tell you very loudly that the Russians put them up to it. The Chinese didn't lose 900,000 casualties in Korea lightly, just one year after winning their own war on the mainland: they fought the war with Russian equipment and Russian instructors and Russian training. So even in Korea, you have a slightly ambiguous situation if you are talking about Chinese adventurism.

All we can say when we look at the record, in other words, is that the Chinese undoubtedly have ambitions in Southeast Asia, and that they may, beyond a certain point, intervene in Vietnam—there is no question in my mind about this—but I don't think they are quite ready to do so. Interestingly enough, General Maxwell Taylor, who is not exactly uninvolved in the area, recently said just that: he didn't believe the Chinese were going to intervene in Southeast Asia for very good military reasons.

I have flown over the area often enough: it looks like the Creation-plus-seven-days—wild, impassable, no roads, no anything. How can you bring in and feed 500,000 troops under American aerial interdiction?

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Let me, then, come back to the basic point. Speaking in Realpolitik terms, I think the United States can very well interdict Chinese penetration or Chinese influence or Chinese ambitions on the island parts of Asia and on India. But to pretend, as Under Secretary Ball has done, that the Chinese have no historical claims in Southeast Asia, is to fly in the face of history. Even the French at the height of colonialism recognized that the Chinese did have historical claims in the area—the French in 1885 fought a war with China merely to get China's signature on the annexation treaties with Vietnam. If what we want is not only to keep the Chinese back from their “outside” ambitions, but to push them back beyond their own “legitimate” claim line, then, of course, we are preparing ourselves for the kind of imperial wars that the French and the British fought for a hundred years, successfully at certain times, less successfully at others. If the decision is that the Chinese must be contained on the Southeast-Asian equivalent of the Polish-Russian border, that, of course, is a policy—I don't say it is the best, but it is a defined policy. But the policy of containing the Chinese deeper in Southeast Asia would, in my opinion, have a better chance. Suppose, for example, that the Kennan containment policy of 1947 had meant pushing Russians back to the Soviet boundary, with American troops being stationed in Warsaw. I am sure this kind of containment wouldn't have worked as well as the policy of stopping them at the border of their “natural zone of influence.”

Just a last anecdote. When I was in North Vietnam in 1962—that is one of the residual privileges you have as a Frenchman here and there—the North Vietnamese very proudly showed me their national museum, which contained a room with a permanent exhibit on the theme of the heroic historical struggle of the Vietnamese people against the Chinese invaders. As I went through it, I saw a whole class of first- or second-graders with little red scarves, being marched through and shown how their country had for two thousand years held off the Chinese. The sight of these children reassured me considerably as to the future fate of Southeast Asia.

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Goodwin: I don't think it's true that the United States has been obsessed with preventing the Chinese from moving, or with the Chinese threat. The United States has, in fact, been much more obsessed with the Russian threat, and even with the Cuban threat, than with China throughout most of the postwar period, and even today. Interestingly enough, for example, most people in the American government once accepted the fact that Indonesia would soon fall under the domination of a Communist party closely allied with, or sympathetic to, Peking, and yet there was, as far as I am aware, no intention of stopping that internal movement because we knew of no way to stop it short of invading Indonesia. And no one contemplated doing that.

It may be a legitimate position, logically, to say that it is perfectly all right for Russia to dominate Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Bulgaria, and East Germany, because of some abstract conception that we call a sphere of influence, and that by the same token it is legitimate for the Chinese to dominate Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, etc. I don't see that myself, and I don't think that the people of those countries, or the governments of those countries, would agree that they were naturally within the Chinese sphere of domination; nor, for that matter, do the people of Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc. feel that they naturally belong to the Russians. So far as Chinese ambitions are concerned, we know what they say, we know what other nations which have been aggressive have said. We don't know whether they mean it, we don't know whether they will do what they say, but I think that at least we ought to take them seriously.

I don't think the word containment is accurate in describing our policy. Resistance to Chinese expansion would be a better description. And that policy simply says that we will oppose the Chinese if they move under certain conditions. Clearly, an invasion of India would be opposed by the United States; or if the Chinese sent an airborne division into Indonesia, I have no doubt that we would feel it necessary to act. But the resistance to Chinese expansion does not have to rest on a firm belief that they are going to overrun Asia and try to take it over. If they move into a given area, we have to decide whether we should respond, and in what ways.

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Podhoretz: But the difficult question is that almost any insurrection anywhere is interpreted as an instance of China on the move. It seems to be assumed that the war in Vietnam is a case of Chinese expansionism; it seems to be assumed that any kind of uprising, whether clearly dominated by a local Communist party or not, is to be taken as an act of Chinese expansionism. Isn't that the problem?

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Roche: I don't know any serious observer of the war in Vietnam who has argued that this is a Chinese operation. The argument is that what you are dealing with here is an indigenous, North Vietnamese Communist imperialism, which would presumably implicate the Chinese if we went North on the ground.

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Podhoretz: Yes, but then the question becomes, in what sense is an indigenous North Vietnamese Communist imperialism any concern of the United States?

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McGovern: I would like to comment on that. I think John Roche's interpretation of American policy is overly optimistic. I remember being disturbed a year or so ago about the confusion on this very point that exists in our government. After a flurry on the Senate floor in which a number of Senators were involved, we were invited to discuss administration policy with some high officials in the government, to give us a better understanding of the policy. In the course of that discussion, I asked one of these men—who, I can assure you, is very high in our government—if we were involved in Vietnam primarily because we wanted to stop a Communist take-over on the part of the National Liberation Front, backed by North Vietnam, or because we feared Chinese power in the background, pulling the strings on this and other “wars of national liberation” that are supposed to develop in different parts of the globe. After thinking about it for awhile, this official said that he felt our primary purpose was to stop a Communist take-over from whatever source, to preserve the possibility of freedom of choice by the people of South Vietnam against Communism, whether installed by the National Liberation Front, or Hanoi, or China.

That very night, I asked another equally high, maybe slightly higher, official in our government the same question: whether we were there to prevent an internal Communist take-over in Saigon, or whether we were concerned about Chinese military and political aggression in that area. He said: There is no question about it—if not for China, we would not be involved in Vietnam at all; we are there because if we don't hold the line against China's technique of “national liberation” in South Vietnam, we will have to face the same Chinese-inspired activity in Laos, in Thailand, Cambodia, and so on, until eventually the threat becomes so great that we are confronted with World War III.

I think, in fact, that we have been following the so-called domino theory in Southeast Asia, that we have seen China in the background manipulating the strings, that we have blamed them for what's taking place in South Vietnam, and that we would not be there were it not for what I regard as an exaggerated fear of Chinese danger to our interests in that part of the world. I quite agree with most of what Bernard Fall said earlier: we have exaggerated the extent of the Chinese threat to our interests, and we have grossly underestimated the force of nationalism in Asia.

Nationalism, in my view, is the strongest single force operating in Southeast Asia, and everywhere else in Asia as well. While we may be primarily motivated by a fear of Communism, the greatest dislike of the people of that area—their greatest fear and the thing they most want to get rid of—is outside control from whatever source. When we identify with regimes that have little national support and are opposed to revolutionary change, we do so at great peril to our own interests.

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Roche: I believe the problem of Chinese power is remote at the moment; it's still ten or fifteen years away. In the meantime, all kinds of things can happen in China. A whole new generation can come along, the bureaucratic complexion of the Chinese Communist party can change—already it is apparent that there are conflicts between the army in China and the party people. They fired one Minister of Defense because he suggested that the generals knew more about fighting wars than the political commissars did, and apparently right now they have another dispute going between the Norman Vincent Peales, who are saying that people armed with sickles can fight off the imperialists, and the generals who are saying: No fellows, those guys have got real bombs.

My theory is that by and large the last twenty years have indicated that the Communists are better at making big mistakes than we are, so we should stick to making small mistakes, and let them make the big ones. That means essentially a policy of playing for time and holding on.

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Podhoretz: Holding on to what?

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Roche: Well, the perimeter—essentially Japan, Taiwan, India. The problem in Vietnam is confused, as Professor Fall knows far better than I do, by the fact that you have there an autonomous Communist imperialism, which is itself interested in taking over the former borders of French Indochina. Wouldn't you say that that is the objective of Hanoi?

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Fall: That's right.

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Roche: As a consequence, I don't think the problem of China in Vietnam is an imminent problem—unless we should invade North Vietnam, which at the moment is about as remote a contingency as I could conceive of.

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Goodwin: I disagree with a little bit of what Senator McGovern said. I don't think we went into Vietnam because of China. I think we got into Vietnam almost by accident. A commitment grew because at every stage we were under the illusion that we could buy a very cheap and easy victory there. In fact, I doubt if you will find China mentioned in the statements of any American President on Vietnam until the last six or eight months. It was a forbidden word.

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Fall: It certainly isn't now.

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Goodwin: No, it certainly isn't now, because at the present level of commitment, China proves to be the only rational reason for our presence there at all. Whether or not it is a rational reason, there is no doubt that the Chinese are much more aggressive in Vietnam today than they were, the Russians are much more aggressive in Vietnam than they were, and we are much more aggressive, because the issue has begun—very unfortunately, I believe—to transcend Vietnam itself. It has become a testing-ground of American power and will in that country and that part of the world. But I don't think this was at all the initial impulse that brought us there.

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Podhoretz: What I would still like to know—and maybe the question I have asked is not a question that can really be answered, especially from the vantage-point of Washington—is the exact nature of American interests in Southeast Asia.

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Fall: Well, that again brings up the contradiction I was talking about earlier. The build-up in Southeast Asia—the air bases in Thailand, the so-called enclaves in Vietnam, the deployment of 200,000 and ultimately even 400,000 more troops—is obviously not intended simply to crush 200,000 guerrillas and break even with the North Vietnamese. I am very much afraid that definitely now, whatever the case was in the past, Washington does look at China as a very serious potential factor in the conflict.

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Roche: In 1950, Walter Lippmann wrote: “It would be an intolerable settlement, of course, if the North Korean army conquered South Korea, but it will not be a decent settlement if at the end of the Korean fighting, the American army finds itself at the 38th Parallel, and is invested for the indefinite future with the task of defending South Korea. There is no use pretending that South Korea, as we know it, can be set up again and maintained as even a quasi-independent state. But on the other hand, there are too many other things to do in the world to wish to govern an Asiatic dependency and to tie up three or four American divisions.”

Yet, fifteen or sixteen years later, we have got what is a pretty workable solution in Korea. There is, in fact, a quasi-independent, viable South Korean state which within a year or two will hopefully reach the economic take-off stage. We simply have to realize that sometimes you get caught in situations. I don't like the idea of fighting a war in Vietnam, or anywhere else for that matter. But the fact is that at this point, as George Kennan recently said, withdrawal would be intolerable. So the question then becomes: what are the real options? The real options are a big war, or a limited war. If we can achieve in Vietnam a solution which involves no “liberation” North, and no rollback South, I think that it would work probably about the way the Korean thing is working, and I think that is the best we can hope for in the circumstances.

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McGovern: I hope we can all agree that there are some other lessons to be learned from our experience in Korea, and one of them is not to be too reckless about these so-called “limited engagements.” I assume that we went into Korea sixteen years ago to reestablish the 38th Parallel. The trouble is that when we got to the 38th Parallel, we kept going.

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Roche: Over my objections, among others.

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McGovern: Well, I hope that that lesson hasn't been forgotten, because while it may, as John Roche has said, only be a remote possibility that we will invade North Vietnam on the ground, we are already attacking her from the air, which certainly is a form of invasion, and one that is not calculated to produce forever a limited action on the part of Hanoi. In spite of our intelligence estimates, we did involve China in the Korean conflict. It cost us many thousands of casualties, and in the end, we finished with about the same kind of settlement we could have gotten had we stopped with a limited objective at the 38th Parallel.

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Podhoretz: Senator McGovern, what is your impression of sentiment in the Senate, both about the Vietnam war, and about the longer-range questions that I have been raising—that is, the question of the extent to which American interests are actually involved, and the extent to which we are either trying, as Mr. Goodwin put it, to resist Chinese expansion, or whether we are carrying on what is essentially an anti-Communist crusade?

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McGovern: It is my own judgment that strong support does not exist in the Senate for the policy we are now following in Southeast Asia, if for no other reason than the fact that the repeated predictions of what was going to happen, which have come to us from top officials in the government, have been consistently wrong; and each time those predictions have proved wrong, we have simply doubled the prescription of what we were doing. Consequently, there has been a growing disenchantment in the Senate about our Vietnam policy. I would say that certainly a majority of the Senate is opposed to any further escalation of this war.

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Podhoretz: An actual majority?

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McGovern: Yes, an actual majority. I think that perhaps ninety out of the one hundred Senators think that we made a mistake in ever becoming involved in the first place. There are a good many Senators who will say that privately, but who will then say, “Here we are, so mistake or no mistake, we have to see it through as best we can.” Certainly, some of those Senators who have been advertised in the press as great hawks are among those who think that it was a disastrous mistake for us to have ever become involved in a combat role in Vietnam. Our involvement there actually goes back to the end of World War II, almost twenty years ago, when for some reason or other, we decided to back the French in their efforts to reestablish their control in Southeast Asia. We didn't make that mistake in most parts of Asia. We recognized the force of revolution, we recognized the power of nationalism, and we identified our policy in most parts of Asia with the revolutionary currents that were moving there. We urged the British to get out of Malaya and the Dutch to get out of Indonesia, we encouraged the liquidation of the British hold on India, and we ourselves got out of the Philippines. But when it came to Vietnam, for some reason or other, we threw in with the French, in what turned out to be a losing effort. I think that we have been on a losing course there ever since.

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Fall: I have done quite a lot of research into this particular question, and frankly, I still don't understand why the United States backed the French at the last moment. In 1946, the U.S. sent a rather interesting mission under Major-General Philip E. Gallagher to Ho Chi Minh, and the French got pretty well perturbed. Then, out of a clear blue sky, there was a literal disappearance for about three years of any American effort in Vietnam. Just think, however, of the fascinating “might-have-been” of an American position in Vietnam consistent with American policy in Indonesia, Malaya, and India. Ho Chi Minh would have been president of all of Vietnam since 1946. This is why the North Vietnamese feel that the Americans are actually attempting to turn back the clock of history.

I would be the last person to guarantee that Ho Chi Minh would have become a Tito under these circumstances. I have spoken to the man himself, and to all his associates. I don't know whether Ho Chi Minh would have “turned Tito,” but what I do know is that he has been anti-Chinese ever since the Chinese arrested him in 1941 and kept him in the stocks for eighteen months.

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Goodwin: If I can get back for a moment to the longer-range possibility of Chinese expansion, and the possibility of resisting it, I think that one of the great lessons to be learned from the European containment is that it was not basically military; it was economic and political, through the Marshall Plan and so on. I think we have to pursue that kind of policy in Asia as well. Some time within the next five or ten years, China will be able to hold the major cities of North America hostage to nuclear power, and this is bound to increase the degree of risk they may be willing to take. To prepare for that, we need to make a massive and very large-scale effort to try to build-in India, in Pakistan, in the Philippines, in Southeast Asia—viable states which can stand on their own economically and which have some capacity to resist internal threats. We will also have to be willing to come in at least against an immediate invasion. At the same time, we have to make an effort to open up relations with China, if only to get a greater knowledge of what they might do and of their capacities, and to give them a greater knowledge of us: I think their ignorance of us is one of the great problems in their approach to the world. In addition to all this, we also have to work with the Soviet Union so that eventually we can get into the position of acting together on what is in fact a common interest—the containment of China. I don't believe that this is a possibility at the present time, but it may become one as the seriousness of the Chinese threat and the concomitant seriousness of the common interest grows. I think only if we pursue all these tracks at once—which, of course, leaves open the question of what China might actually do, but prepares us for any contingency—is there any real hope of containing China.

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Roche: This brings up a very important point that is easily overlooked—namely, the extent to which the containment of China is really a Russian problem more than an American one. After all, the Chinese already have maps that show large sections of Soviet Central Asia and so on, as part of China. I think the Russians are probably going to be confronted with Chinese power on the ground much more realistically than we are confronted with it at this point.

I suspect, by the way, that one interesting byproduct of the last year has been that the American obsession with Vietnam may have helped in our not getting mixed up in Indonesia. In other words, we were so busy worrying about Vietnam that our cloak-and-dagger men didn't get a chance to monkey around in Indonesia.

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McGovern: Isn't there some clue in that? Where the Chinese have intervened in a heavy-handed way, they got a bad reaction; and where we are intervening in a heavy-handed way, things are going badly for us.

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Roche: There is one difference: the Chinese can't walk on water. In other words, the geographical situation of Indonesia is such that the Chinese could not possibly come to the rescue of the PKI there, whereas in Southeast Asia, on the mainland, they are in a position to intervene.

But I would like to make a point on this business of creating Titos. In 1947—the time, as we now know, when the Yugoslavs and Russians were engaged in really rough inside fighting, which led eventually to the split—the United States was practically at war with Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavs had shot down our airplanes, and we were issuing ferocious pronunciamentos. But as far as anybody can discover, the fact that we put the arm on Yugoslavia in 1947-48 did not have the slightest impact on the internal dynamics of what was, in fact, a theological dispute; our behavior had no influence one way or the other on the split. If you want to play these games, you can argue, then, that the best way to turn Ho Chi Minh into a Tito would be to put more and more weight on North Vietnam. North Vietnam would then turn to China and ask for help. The Chinese would say, “We're sorry, we can't help you because the Americans will bomb us.” The North Vietnamese would then ask the Russians for help, and the Russians would say, “We're very sorry, we're too busy putting a basketball team in space.” At that point, the leaders of Hanoi would decide that since they couldn't get any help from their loyal allies, they might as well make a deal.

Now I am not favoring this scenario nor suggesting it: I am simply saying that in terms of the logic which is going around these days on the care and nurturing of Titos, this is a perfectly valid position.

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Podhoretz: Mr. Roche, you've been talking a good deal about theology as though there were only one set of theologians in this whole picture. But isn't there a good deal of theologizing going on in the United States in relation to the Communist world? What I mean is this: so long as it was possible to believe—and so long as this belief more or less corresponded to reality—that there was a monolithic international Communist conspiracy which operated in various ways and through various subterfuges which were not always easy to identify as aggression (internal subversion and the like), an anti-Communist foreign policy obviously made some sense. Under those circumstances, stopping the spread of Communism could be taken as within the American national interest. But just at the point where it is no longer possible to speak of a monolithic international Communist movement, we do seem to be pursuing an anti-Communist foreign policy, not because the advance of Communism—which today really means Communisms, in the plural—is demonstrably against the concrete interests of the United States, but almost as though we were fighting a religious war in which the goal is to prevent the opposing religion from spreading to any other country. Nobody in the government talks in these terms any longer, but this is how they seem to be acting.

Roche: Of course there is a good deal of chiliastic rhetoric on the anti-Communist side. But don't identify anyone who takes a hard liberal anti-Communist line with Senator Goldwater or with people who say that we are fighting a holy crusade. I myself, for example, was among those who argued against the concept of a monolithic Sino-Soviet bloc as early as 1954.

Nor do I think that a fair view of American foreign policy suggests that a holy crusade has actually been the decisive motivating factor. For example, President Johnson has made it perfectly clear that we are not interested in a rollback in Vietnam. That is to say, there is to be no “liberation”—we are not living with Dulles and the notion of “liberating” Communist countries. Johnson has, in effect, said that we will settle for a status quo at the 17th Parallel. The North Vietnamese will maintain their Communist state, and even though we don't like it, we are not attempting to overthrow it. This is anything but messianic anti-Communism. I think it is, in fact, a perfectly legitimate horse trade.

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Fall: Well, granted, then, that America isn't pursuing an anti-Communist policy, can we speak of a straight anti-Chinese policy? You could, for example, have a straight anti-Russian policy, in other words, if Russia were ruled by the Czars, we might still oppose a Russian move into Greece. Similarly with the Chinese in Southeast Asia. The Chinese may be misruling Tibet—they have always misruled Tibet—but so are some people misruling Mississippi. This is no reason for calling it “aggression.”

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Roche: But in fact some people do call it “aggression.” That is precisely the point. In Mississippi, a great many of us have been out there trying to stop it, whereas to my knowledge there have been no “Freedom Riders” in Tibet.

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Fall: Still, if the U.S. had wanted to follow a straight anti-Communist policy instead of a straight anti-Chinese one, then South Vietnam should have been made a fortress as soon as the 1954 Geneva Accords had gone by the board—a full-fledged fortress like Formosa, in 1956; with 200,000 American troops right off the bat, and the place militarized exactly like South Korea. At the same time North Vietnam might have been bought off. Washington could have said, “All right, we're sorry, we won't hold elections, you know Diem won't hold the elections, but if you need a half-million tons of rice, you can have a half-million tons of rice.” But the truth is that nobody has really made up his mind in Washington as to whether it is a straight Chinese expansionist threat that has to be contained, or whether it is militant Communism that has to be contained. This perhaps explains why the Vietnam problem is such a muddle.

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Goodwin: I don't think that's accurate. How can you speak of an anti-Communist policy, in the old sense of the term, when we are trying to expand East-West trade, and trying as much as we can in the present situation to move forward in our relations with the Soviet Union?

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Fall: Anti-Chinese, then.

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Goodwin: No—it isn't anti-Chinese, it is opposed to Chinese expansion. That is a very different thing. I don't think the policy is to overthrow the government of China.

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Fall: Would you say the Chinese can't expand because these people hate them?

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Goodwin: I didn't say that they hate them. I don't know how they feel about them at all, and I don't know whether that is even relevant. It's possible for the Chinese to expand into areas where the people hate them.

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Fall: I think it was Jerome Bonaparte who said that you can do almost anything with bayonets except sit on them. The Russians proved this in Hungary.

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Podhoretz: I think it's time to open the floor to questions.

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Trumbull Higgins:2 I wonder if I might ask the speakers to consider the possibility of an irrational explanation for the American intervention and the presumed Chinese hostility. That is, the U.S., having blundered into this war in Vietnam contrary to most expectations, now must engender a Chinese hostility in order to justify the evergrowing war. In short, is not an irrational explanation perhaps more valid here than the desperately rational explanations the speakers are looking for to account for our policies toward China?

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McGovern: I for one agree with that interpretation almost one-hundred per cent. I think Mr. Goodwin hinted at it earlier in our discussion, when he said that at no time did we make a calculated, clearly-defined decision on what our policy in Southeast Asia should be. We did become involved, for reasons that aren't clear to me, in backing the French effort out there from 1946 through 1954, but from there on out, I think the policy emerged pretty much along the lines that Mr. Higgins has suggested. As more and more American forces were committed, and the results of those efforts proved more and more disappointing and more and more frustrating, our policy makers began to depict a larger threat in the form of China as the reason for our heavy involvement. I think that helps to explain a lot of the confusion about why we are there.

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Podhoretz: That's like Macaulay's explanation of how the British acquired their Empire. He said that they did it in a fit of absent-mindedness.

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Roche: Well, I don't want to inject an empiricist note into this discussion, but the reason we got involved in Indochina, in a word, was Korea. We were playing around the edges until the Korean War broke out, and then at that point we began to commit ourselves more and more heavily to anti-Communism in Indochina. Whether it was rational or irrational, is a question I don't think we want to discuss at this point, but that's how it happened.

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Fall: I would like to be able to agree with you on this, because it would make things neat. But the fact is the United States did recognize the Bao Dai government on February 6, 1950 which was six months before the Korean War, and the American MAAG Mission to Vietnam was appointed on June 12th, also before the Korean War. You are perfectly right, though, that the real effort, the $485 million-a-year effort, only began after the Korean War broke out.

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Maurice J. Goldbloom:3 I want to talk about this matter of the parallel with Greece and Yugoslavia. It is important to recognize that the Communists in Greece never had more than about a quarter of the population, and Greece was a country in which there were very strong traditional political forces of the kind that France prevented from ever developing in Vietnam. That is, there were always real alternatives with mass popular support there. The second thing is that although the Communists in Greece were dependent on and received far more material aid from Yugoslavia than the South Vietnamese ever got from North Vietnam, we made it a point to avoid any crossing of the Yugoslav border, or any attack on Yugoslavia during the entire period of the Greek civil war. I think that if we had bombed Yugoslavia, or if we had trained guerrillas to go into Yugoslavia, as we trained them in South Vietnam to go unsuccessfully into North Vietnam, that might have had a very important effect in tying Yugoslavia to the Soviet Union, in forcing her to accept Soviet dictates.

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Roche: I agree with that. That's why I opposed the bombing of North Vietnam.

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Fall: By the way, I don't know how many people remember the very eloquent speech made by Adlai Stevenson in 1964, after the British retaliated against Yemeni guerrillas for having ambushed a British column in Aden. Stevenson said that even under provocation a major power should not retaliate against a weaker country. The then Senator John F. Kennedy also condemned the French in 1958 for bombing a Tunisian border city from which they had been shelled in Algeria, and the then Senator Humphrey at that time demanded that all American aircraft be withdrawn from the French Army. So there has been a great change in the last few years in American attitudes on retaliation against neighboring countries.

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Hannah Arendt:4 Mr. Goldbloom just knocked out Greece and Yugoslavia as a parallel: I too am a little worried about this parallel business, because it runs like a red thread through the justification of American policy in Vietnam. If you think about the other parallel which was mentioned here, the third one, Czechoslovakia in 1938, the absurdity of the whole business can be shown very clearly. It is as if France or England would have tried to stop Hitler, not by making war on him, but by making war on Slovakia as being somehow in collusion with the Nazi government against the Czech government. They would have started bombing Bratislava and intervening in what could only have been a civil war in Czechoslovakia. If anyone in 1938 had thought that this would have helped to stop Hitler, he would not have been very realistic. This is true for all such parallels. Once you really pursue them, they explode. If we say we want to contain China, then we have to take the problem in its own terms; no parallels will help, we have to look at China itself.

There is a second point I would like to bring up. I think it was Mr. Goodwin who mentioned the possible boomerang effects of defeats or victories in Asia. I am perfectly sure that this is a very serious question, and even one of the most serious. Not even our own military experts today talk about victory any longer. It used to be said that there was no alternative to victory, but in our time there are many alternatives, and victory is one of the worst. But I want to ask Mr. Goodwin what he thinks the boomerang effect on this country will be if we have to fight a six-year war of attrition. Also, taking into consideration the so-called domino theory, what will the boomerang effect on other Asian countries be when they see what can happen to a country once America intervenes?

I am glad that this discussion has centered squarely on the containment of China rather than on the war in Vietnam. I am against the war in Vietnam, I don't see how any good can come from it whatsoever, but I would agree that China is going to be one of the major problems of American foreign policy in the next thirty years. But to pursue this policy in Vietnam of all places, in Indonesia of all places: this is not to see the reality of the whole situation. It is very significant that the Chinese went back voluntarily after they established their old boundaries in India. I doubt that anybody in China even thinks of attacking India. What shall they do with India? They have enough headaches. Should they take India when they already have 700-million people, and as Mr. Roche pointed out, a declining standard of living? That is true, of course, of India as well, and of all these countries because of the population explosion. The Chinese, I recently saw in the papers, are trying to institute birth control, and very cruelly. They simply don't want to give ration cards to every third or fourth or fifth child born. If they actually do that, they will become the strongest nation in Asia, which today they are only potentially. But if we think about China in these terms—that is, the terms in which they themselves must think—isn't it obvious that the real danger zones are Siberia, which is underdeveloped and underpopulated, and perhaps Australia?

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Goodwin: I agree fully on the question of parallels. I don't think that any of the historical parallels, Munich and the rest, are meaningful at all. As Miss Arendt said, you have to take China on its own terms. I would even carry that a step further by saying on the other side that you can't talk about polycentrism as the wave of the future—in this case using Eastern Europe as the parallel—in order to show that inevitably these countries, once dominated by the Chinese, will then become independent or nationalistic. They are very different societies from the societies of Eastern Europe. They are much thinner at the top, as underdeveloped countries tend to be, and therefore the overthrow of governments comes a lot easier. Moreover, the long-run structural forces within a country that make for nationalistic stability don't exist to the same degree: we see this very clearly in places like Latin America. Beyond that I don't think the domino theory in its crudest sense applies in Asia—or anywhere else, as a matter of fact.

Nevertheless, serious American defeats in parts of Asia would, in my opinion, have an impact on other countries: they would strengthen forces which are hostile to the United States and close to Communist China, and they would tend to weaken those forces which are trying to maintain governments of another kind. What this would mean in any individual country is very hard to say. There is no doubt, for example, that Cuba did give an impetus to Communist movements in Latin America—though that has died out considerably by now.

I think the Chinese are basically hostile to the United States. They may not be able to do anything about it. They may not have the military force for a long time to do anything about it, or even after that, the skill. But they are supporting revolutionary movements in Latin America, for example. I have talked to students in Latin America who have told me that they are receiving funds from the Chinese. In other words, there is a movement, or an effort, going on.

Miss Arendt, I think, is right. Russia does have the most to fear from China in terms of immediate territories. It is by far the most logical target for Chinese expansion. However, we also at least have to keep in the back of our minds the possibility that they may not act rationally. It is often pretty hard to tell what the people in our own government are going to do, much less what Mao Tse-tung is going to do. I don't think the Chinese will invade India, and of course it isn't logical for them to do so, but that doesn't mean they won't, and you have to take that possibility into account in shaping your own policy.

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Roche: The immediate cause of the Chinese invasion of India was the border dispute, but I don't think that was the sufficient cause at all. I think that what the Chinese did there was a political-military masterpiece—it was out of Lenin by Clausewitz. Essentially what they did was at one blow to destroy India's standing as a first-rate Asian power. You will recall that this was after the Russians refused, as we now know, to give any nuclear guarantee to the Chinese at the time of the Quemoy crisis. The Russians were then going to have some kind of summit meeting to which Nehru would be invited, and it was at that point that the Chinese decided to destroy India's standing as a first-rate power, which they did in two weeks. Obviously, they didn't invade India to conquer it. They simply wanted to destroy its reputation as a power, and that they did successfully.

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Goodwin: In my opinion, what has done most to prevent World War III in the last twenty years has not been the pursuit of rational self-interest, but fear: and I am not sure that the Chinese share that fear to the same degree as we and the Russians. That, I think, is the danger.

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McGovern: I think Miss Arendt put her finger on what may be our most crucial blunder in recent years, and that is our tendency to try to use the same course of action in Asia in the 1950's and 60's as we used in Western Europe at the end of World War II. The conditions, of course, are entirely different. In 1945, in Europe, there was a group of Western countries with a background very similar to ours, with a common fear of Soviet encroachment, and a desire to rebuild their economies and reestablish themselves as independent powers. Whereas in Vietnam, it seems to me, we intervened on the side of a political force in Saigon that had very little popular support, and no common heritage with us; we intervened against a popular political leader, Ho Chi Minh, who, at the time we first went in there, had, according to President Eisenhower, eighty per cent of the people of the country behind him. That in itself draws the distinction between Munich and Vietnam. Unfortunately, while those of us around this table can readily discard the Munich parallel, the Secretary of State doesn't draw that distinction. He continues to talk as though we were standing at Munich, and as though all will be lost if we don't continue what we are doing.

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Roche: It's curious that the only statement by President Eisenhower that the American Left has ever taken seriously is the one Senator McGovern just quoted.

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Podhoretz: That, and his farewell speech about the military-industrial complex.

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Frank Armbruster:5 I would just like to draw attention to a point Dr. Fall made, which is, I think, a very valid one and has a lot to do with what has happened around the periphery of China. He mentioned the very primitive areas on the perimeter of China to the South, but this is also important when people talk about a Chinese attack on Russia. You really have to look at the areas they are claiming and look at what their logistic capability is over there. I think it's wrong to say that China didn't want India because of economic reasons. You could make the same argument about Tibet. I don't really think these things fall in that way. Without getting into theology, there is a dynamism which goes along with this type of Communism, and it has to do with vacuums, if you will, on the borders of Communist countries. The Chinese did pull out of India—that is, they pulled out of the Assam plain area. They had one small division down there which, with the snowfall coming in the mountains, would have been trapped there all winter, and so they went back. But in the Ladak area they did not go back. They kept the road which went through the traditional caravan pass that connected Tibet with Sinkiang.

If we are going to talk in geographic terms—and it always comes down to that when you talk about Chinese military capability—you really have to look at a map: I couldn't agree with Mr. Fall more. If you look at a map, you will see why they aren't taking the Russians on in the area that is in dispute.

So far as Vietnam is concerned, I don't think it's a question of Chinese expansion in that area; Ho Chi Minh also has a drive that is drawn, at least to some extent, from Communist ideology. But China counts too, simply by virtue of the fact that it is there, a large power to the north with a feeling of kinship. To get back to Czechoslovakia—even though the Secretary of State has been much belabored for making the parallel—the reason the Sudeten-German leader, Henlein, felt strong had a lot to do with the fact that a large Nazi state existed to the North. This is not a matter of sending troops necessarily; it has to do with the drawing of power. So that a large dynamic force like China in the North does, I think, lend strength to Ho Chi Minh even though he doesn't like the Chinese.

Senator McGovern said earlier that he believed a conflict with China would be the greatest disaster that could happen in the rest of this century. Yet the Chinese simply don't have any capability to expand; I just can't see this great danger. On the other hand, I just came back from Europe recently, and it was pointed out very clearly to me by the Germans—these were students, government people, businessmen—that our military commitments in Southeast Asia are being watched very closely by people in Europe to see how we live up to them. They are very anxious that we be efficient down there. In other words, there could be a domino effect in Europe. The domino theory also works, at least in part, in Asia. There is no military threat from China to speak of, but we still have to worry about the people in Asia taking an attitude such as Cambodia says it has today. Cambodians tell you point blank that they see the trend, and therefore they have to be neutral and sort of pro-Communist in order to make sure that when the Communists take over they won't have been in sharp conflict with them. Now if we wish to avoid that kind of thing, there is something to be said for America living up to its commitments.

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Roche: I suspect that wherever Asian statesmen meet today, they talk about the inscrutable Americans. In 1955 or thereabouts, Sihanouk of Cambodia went to see Dulles and asked whether he could depend on American protection in case of trouble. Dulles said no. So Sihanouk took out insurance. Now, of course, Sihanouk is getting all kinds of hell for his quite rational policy, and he is probably rather upset because we changed the rules. This going back and forth by us has made life very confusing for people caught on the periphery.

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McGovern: In response to Mr. Armbruster's comment on what I guess you would call our credibility in Western Europe and other parts of the world, my own impression from what limited observations I have been able to make and what I have read, is that there is very little enthusiastic support for the course we are on in Southeast Asia. I don't see that we have had substantial concrete support from our allies in Western Europe for our policy in Southeast Asia, nor have we had any great clear-cut moral support for our position in Vietnam, either from the Europeans or from countries in Asia. Our ambassador in Japan has indicated that there is great apprehension there about our policy. We know that kind of apprehension also exists in India, Pakistan, and other important countries in Asia and Western Europe. So I fail to see where American prestige would suffer if we should do what George Kennan suggested in his statement to the Fulbright Committee—that is, to liquidate some of these untenable positions.

_____________

Armbruster: Of course, Kennan was not suggesting that we pull out of Vietnam.

_____________

McGovern: I'm not suggesting that either, except after acceptable negotiations. I'm suggesting that our current policy has not improved our prestige either in Western Europe or anywhere else in the world.

_____________

Sidney Morgenbesser:6 I would like to ask Mr. Roche whether he disagrees with Mr. Fall's analysis of what Chinese action has actually been, not what it might potentially be. If he doesn't disagree, why does he think we need a special foreign policy in relation to the Chinese? After all, the policy he advocates—holding the line and playing for time—is what we generally should do everywhere. I take it that behind all this “wait and see,” there is a special foreign policy toward China. . . .

_____________

Roche: No, no, I was speaking specifically against the background of the great recent emphasis on China.

_____________

Morgenbesser: But do you think Mr. Fall's description of what the Chinese have actually been doing is right?

_____________

Roche: I think it's essentially right.

_____________

Morgenbesser: If it is right, why do we need a special foreign policy for China?

_____________

Roche: The discussion here is about China.

_____________

Morgenbesser: But what in your view is unique about China?

_____________

Roche: I think because the issue has been raised in such stark terms, that we should de-emphasize the immediate threat of Red China, that we should cool off our ideological blood pressure, so to speak, on the subject of China—in short, that we should play it cool. That's what it comes down to.

_____________

Ernest van den Haag:7 Do the members of this panel think that the recent change in Indonesia would have come about if we had not pursued pretty much the policy we have pursued in Vietnam?

_____________

Fall: All I can say is that the Indonesians very efficiently murdered another set of Communist leaders in 1948 without the United States being present. In other words, where there is internal pressure, it is bound to erupt regardless of what the United States does. It's like the man who marries the boss's daughter. No matter what he does on his own initiative, it will always be credited to the fact that he married the boss's daughter. That seems to be the case here. I would say that the American presence in Southeast Asia, which does, in fact, give the Asians a certain amount of comfort is probably not the presence of forces on the ground; it is the presence of the Seventh Fleet. Two hundred thousand American troops and six hundred thousand South Vietnamese troops bogged down in a fight against lightly-armed guerrillas, is not exactly a demonstration of power. But the Seventh Fleet is another matter.

_____________

van den Haag: But what about resolution?

_____________

Fall: I don't see how the American presence increases the resolution of Indonesia, unless the Indonesians believe that the Americans are ready to land in Indonesia.

_____________

Roche: Now wait a minute. First of all, until quite recently the number of American troops that have actually been engaged in combat operations in Vietnam was not very great. Also, although I opposed the bombing of North Vietnam last Spring—mainly because I find it hard to believe anything the Air Force tells me—it is my judgment, based on some research into the question, that while it hasn't had anywhere near the effect it was supposed to have on the military situation in Vietnam, it did play a very significant role in Indonesia in stiffening the will of the generals against the PKI.

_____________

Joseph Starobin:8 Could I ask the members of the panel to venture an opinion as to the source of China's hostility to the United States? What is eating these fellows? It seems to me that in any discussion of containing China, one has to arrive at a certain estimate of what it is that makes the Chinese act as they do. The Secretary General of the UN, who is Burmese, suggested the other day a sort of psycho-political interpretation of their behavior, and I think it behooves us before we contain them to find out what it is that is bothering them. Is it that they don't like our long noses? Are we the white foreigners? Is it that they expect somehow to overthrow the United States and isolate us? Do they really intend to land troops anywhere near our borders?

_____________

McGovern: Well, keeping in mind Mr. Goodwin's warning that it is difficult to know what is motivating our own government, let alone what motivates the Chinese, I think there are certain considerations that might shed some light on the question of what is bothering them. It begins with our very real effort to prevent the Chinese Communist success in their own country. We failed in that in 1949, but only after we had invested a considerable amount of aid and military equipment trying to keep them from coming to power. I suppose, then, that they took over with a rather sour attitude toward us at the very beginning, and that resentment, it seems to me, was then further compounded by the policy of diplomatic isolation of China that we tried to put into effect after 1949. My memory is that there was some serious consideration given to recognizing China, either late in '49, or early in 1950, but then came the Korean War. The Chinese warned that if we approached their frontier they would intervene. We chose to ignore the warning and they did come in. Everyone knows that the war seriously embittered the Chinese toward us, but it worked the other way too. Those many thousands of American casualties poisoned American public opinion toward China. From that time until this, there has been very little effort to bring China into the family of nations. Professor John K. Fairbank of Harvard thinks that the fact that the Chinese, a proud people, have been treated as outlaws and as gangsters has a lot to do with the enraged attitude they have toward the United States and some of the other Western powers. For all these reasons, I would hope that, rather than a policy of containment as defined in the traditional sense of that word, we will work on a policy of reconciliation that is designed to face up to some of these resentments which the Chinese feel.

_____________

Goodwin: I don't think you can explain Chinese hostility wholly on the basis of their exclusion from proper society. I think there are a lot of other important drives. One is clearly ideological. If you are really serious about building some sort of Communist world, then naturally your greatest enemy is the great bastion of imperialism and capitalism, the United States. Secondly, the United States happens to be the only power which can oppose whatever ambitions or intentions the Chinese may or may not have in Asia. We had the same position in relation to the Japanese in 1941, which led them to attack us. The Chinese have stated what their long-run strategy is; whether they really believe in it or not is impossible to tell. But the Chief of Staff of the Chinese Army, Marshal Lin Piao, has said that they are going to encircle the United States through revolutions in Africa and Latin America, much as the Chinese Communists encircled the cities from the countryside. I don't think that is a very realistic strategy, or even one they intend to follow, but it is the one they have stated.

In any case, there is no doubt that the Chinese are engaged in supporting Communist revolutionary movements all over the world. They are funding insurgency groups and terrorist groups in Latin America and in Africa; that is one of the reasons they have been kicked out of a few African countries. They have been very heavy-handed about it, and very unsuccessful. But when I was in Latin America recently, I discovered that the Russian Communists have become the conservatives of the Left, and that among the young people and the students, if you believed that Moscow was going to help you, you were a sort of statusquo sellout, whereas if you believed in Peking, you could really belong to the new revolutionary generation. There is something going on.

_____________

Roche: Aren't the Russians financing movements in Latin America?

_____________

Goodwin: Oh, the Russians are active, but they aren't doing a very good job. They no longer have a hold on the imagination of the young. The Chinese have it much more; or even beyond the Chinese, there is a kind of nationalistic, anarchistic leftism coming into vogue.

_____________

Roche: There is one point I would like to make in this connection. One of the favorite occupations of people these days in talking about Vietnam is to engage in what amounts to an elaborate denunciation of history—of all the tragic and fearful mistakes we have made. But denouncing history is no substitute, unfortunately, for confronting its realities. I feel much the same way about these psychodramas. If you are interested in this, you might read the first edition of E. H. Carr's Twenty Year Crisis—not the second, which was modified a bit, but the first edition, which explains Nazism in terms of the paranoid drives that arose out of the feelings the Germans had of being trapped; it also represents Munich as a triumph of the peaceful solution of international differences. In other words, when U Thant gets through explaining the Oriental mind to us, I always want to ask, so what? The sins of my fathers burden me down, but they do not in one whit alter the objective structure of the reality that confronts us right now.

_____________

Steven Marcus:9 I would like to ask Mr. Goodwin what he thinks the effects on American society, on American morale, on American politics would be if this peculiarly brutal war continued for another three or four or five years? That is the first part of my question. The second part is, having made such a judgment and given the American temperament, do you think that America could go on with a war of attrition of this particular kind for three or four or five more years?

_____________

Goodwin: I'll take the second part first. I think it might be possible to sustain a low-keyed effort for a long time—low key not in the sense of numbers of troops, but in terms of numbers of casualties, numbers of American soldiers killed—without very serious effect on American society. If the war gets a lot bigger, of course, it will have a serious effect on American society, in the way that Korea did and World War II did.

_____________

Podhoretz: Could I rephrase that question? I suspect Mr. Marcus was talking about moral and spiritual effects, just as the French intellectuals did as the Algerian War proceeded. The idea is that this war is bad for us, morally and spiritually, quite apart from its political and social implications, and that it will get worse if it goes on.

_____________

Goodwin: No. It may have serious effects, but all war is brutalization.

_____________

Marcus: That's not a proper discrimination. There are brutalizations and brutalizations. We all know that the brutalization that took place in Germany and Russia was different from the kind of brutalization that has taken place elsewhere. There are moral discriminations to be made.

_____________

Goodwin: I don't see any moral distinction between our involvement in this war and our involvement in Korea. But maybe there are other people who do.

_____________

Fall: I was in Vietnam last summer, and all I can say is that in the particular moral context in which Mr. Marcus speaks, the Americans are going down the same path as the French did. That is the kind of war it is. I was in the French underground for two years. As the “counter-insurgent,” you finally get frustrated, you get shot at from behind, you get shot at by people to whom you just gave candy. And you react.

And then, of course, there is the real and very serious problem of torture. You have to face up to it. For example, you catch somebody who has just planted bombs in a department store—this happened in Algeria. An officer told me: “Look, I knew the man had two bombs; one we found, and the other we didn't. I knew the bomb would explode at 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon and sixty-five women and children would get killed. What could I do? If I stood on my lily-white honor as an officer, and on the Geneva Convention, and didn't torture him, I would have sixty-five women and children on my conscience. If I tortured him, I could save sixty-five women and children.” You and I would just as soon not have to make such a choice. Of course, you could say that in Vietnam there are more lie detectors, so one doesn't have to use torture that often. They have sodium pentathol, the truth drug, so they don't have to use electrodes against testicles or on women's breasts. But it does happen. In Vietnam you get the Vietnamese to do it half the time, or three-quarters of the time, or even ninety-five per cent of the time, but the fact is that the man who has participated in this is not going to be the same. What happens when he gets home?

There is a wonderful book which was never translated, by a man I admire very much, Professor Paul Mus, who is a strong French liberal and whose son was drafted into Algeria. Young Mus didn't like it one bit when he went in, but within a year he had reenlisted. He had become a paratroop brute, the regular who shot civilians. His father was shocked. If this could happen to a boy from a nice liberal professorial family, what about all the others? So after his son was killed, Mus published his letters, in which you can see the very subtle change that progressively turned the boy into a brute.

There are some long arguments in Washington on the subject; people say it can't happen to Americans. That's nonsense. Of course it can happen. It can happen to anybody. If you get caught in a war like this for four or five years, that is what it will do to you.

_____________

Marcus: I agree. One cannot predict what is going to happen to the society at large when this kind of war is being fought, when there is knowledge, general knowledge, that this is the kind of thing that is done in the course of a day. I don't think one can predict the social, or moral, or personal, or cultural consequences of it.

_____________

Fall: In a way that's why I am in favor of using draftees in this kind of war. The difference between Algeria and Vietnam was that in Vietnam you had only the French professional army, whereas in Algeria, there were 500,000 draftees out of 760,000 men. When the French generals in Algeria decided to rise up against the government in Paris, the draftees, to the great disappointment of the generals, remembered that they were citizens first. Good citizens are very much needed now in Vietnam if you are intending to win back the Vietnamese as human beings.

_____________

Theodore Solotaroff:10 I would like to ask Mr. Roche how he proposes to arrive at a “Korean” solution of the Vietnam war without fighting another Korean War—a land war involving five-hundred, six-hundred thousand men. Such a war has already been fought once in that country by the French, with what results we know.

Secondly, how can we “cool it” with respect to Red China, without getting involved in a total reeducation of the American public about the realities of politics in the Far East while prosecuting this war? Yet as we have seen in the last year or two, the war has tended more and more to corrupt and pollute public opinion about these realities.

_____________

Roche: I would support, and do support, and indeed have supported, a planned action in South Vietnam on the order of 250-, 400-, or 500,000 men if necessary to achieve precisely a Korean solution. On the second point, the American people have what is without doubt the shortest historical memory in the history of man. It is one of our great assets that we are historical nominalists, we think that every problem starts at sunrise on the day we find out about it. After all, within three years after the end of the Second World War, we were rearming the Germans. The whole American attitude toward the Germans and also toward the Japanese had changed. So I don't think that this is one of these permanent poisons that is going to infect the American spirit. I might add here, by the way, that I share Mr. Goodwin's view that there is nothing sui generis about the violence in South Vietnam.

_____________

Goodwin: On this matter of public opinion, I think the resistance to relations with China is really overstated and that an American President could in fact recognize China, or even support their entry to the UN, with very little political kickback after the first thirty or forty days.

_____________

Podhoretz: Would you please tell that to Lyndon Johnson the next time you see him?

_____________

Goodwin: But I don't think it is politically or psychologically possible for that to happen while the Vietnam war continues.

_____________

McGovern: I think Mr. Marcus touched on an important problem here in mentioning the byproducts of this war. I think it is probably true that the United States has enough military power to defeat North Vietnam. But what does victory mean? It may be a very hollow victory indeed. If we commit four- or five- or six-hundred thousand men to a little country like that, we are going to destroy it. There won't be enough left to pick up the pieces.

One of the most dramatic—and yet I think most accurate—assessments that I have seen of the war, was by a Times reporter who was out there for about a year and a half. He said that when he went to Vietnam he didn't think the war could be won, but he thought it so important for us to win that it was worth trying. After staying there for a year and a half, he decided that we probably could win the war, but it wasn't worth the price we would have to pay. We would have to kill two or three innocent civilians in South Vietnam for each Vietcong soldier we could wipe out. A policy like that, he said, would make more sense if South Vietnam were the enemy instead of our ally.

Take the case of the Japanese. It is regrettable that we killed so many Japanese in World War II, but at least they were a clearly defined enemy, whereas the people who are going to get killed in South Vietnam are the people we say we are trying to defend. It seems to me that this is one cost that explains some of the moral concern that we feel here in our country. There are other costs we are going to have to pay, not the least of which is neglecting a lot of the things we ought to be doing here in the United States to improve the quality of our own life. We are also going to have to neglect such important problems as nuclear proliferation and our relations with Latin America and with the Soviet Union. Many of these things are going to get shoved into a secondary position because of the necessity of focusing our immediate attention on Vietnam.

_____________

Podhoretz: We have time for one last question.

_____________

William Phillips:11 My question is really addressed to Mr. Roche. He said earlier that he advocates a policy of biding our time and playing it by ear, and I kept waiting and listening for some concrete implementation of these general attitudes. If I read him correctly, he now seems to be saying that the implementation of these general attitudes consists of sending more troops into Vietnam, or into any troubled area. Is this his notion of what a viable and decent American policy might be?

_____________

Roche: I start out with the assumption that the war in Vietnam is not a Chinese war. I look on the situation in North Vietnam as North Vietnamese expansionism, or Vietnamese Communist imperialism. My position, as I indicated earlier, is that we should hold on in the South without going North, without enlarging the war, while attempting, of course, to use our military power in the South as a shield behind which to build the social and political and economic institutions which alone can make any kind of long-range solution viable. But I don't see any contradiction between this and playing it cool with China, because I am certain that the Chinese will not intervene in Vietnam unless we go North on the ground—unless we in fact do what we did in Korea, which was to threaten their control directly. I don't at all believe we are likely to do this.

_____________

Goodwin: I disagree with the assumption that I think both Mr. Roche and Senator McGovern have made, which is that victory in Vietnam is somehow possible. I don't think that victory in Vietnam is likely at all. A Korean-type solution would mean a total defeat of the Communist effort to take over South Vietnam, which is what the war is about. So to speak of that solution is only another way of talking about victory.

A half-million men may seem like a lot of men, but I don't doubt that we will have that many men or more in there very shortly. But you can't win the manpower game. There are 300,000-plus regular troops in the North Vietnamese forces. I have no doubt that those troops will come down, and that when we get a half-million men in there we will find that we haven't got anywhere near enough. Nor has the bombing of the North ever been shown to have anything but the most marginal military value in terms of interdiction of supplies. During the last bombing attack before the pause, there was still a constant build-up by the Vietcong guerrillas. The bombing makes it harder. It means they have to walk at night, it means they have to take ferries instead of bridges. But there are a lot of unemployed people in North Vietnam who can do repair work.

The administration doesn't talk in terms of victory. If we ever did push it to the point of victory, I think the Chinese might well come in. This is a very good argument against pushing it to the point of victory.

I think we are getting into an Alice-in-Wonderland situation in Vietnam. Rhetorically, almost everyone is beginning to agree with everyone else in opposing withdrawal, in doubting that we can win, and in wanting an intermediate position—and all the while the war steadily escalates. My own feeling is that it's going to escalate further. Yet no military expert has demonstrated that victory is possible short of completely obliterating that piece of the peninsula from the earth's surface.


Footnotes

1 This discussion took place on February 14, before the China hearings opened up the question of American policy toward China for the first time in many years.—Ed.

2 Mr. Higgins is a noted military historian.

3 Mr. Goldbloom in a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY and a former Foreign Service staff officer in Greece.

4 Miss Arendt is the author of, among other books, The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem.

5 Mr. Armbruster is an expert on military affairs and a member of the Hudson Institute.

6 Mr. Morgenbesser is professor of philosophy at Columbia University.

7 Mr. van den Haag is a well-known sociologist and social critic.

8 Mr. Starobin is a Senior Fellow at the Research Institute on Communist Affairs at Columbia University.

9 Mr. Marcus is associate professor of English at Columbia University and an editor of Partisan Review.

10 Mr. Solotaroff, formerly associate editor of COMMENTARY, is now editor of Book Week.

11 Mr. Phillips is editor of Partisan Review.

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