Containment in Asia
To the Editor:
Hans J. Morgenthau’s piece “Asia: the American Algeria” [July] should be read along with his article in the New Leader of July 3, which directed itself more broadly to the Kennedy administration’s foreign policy. In that critique, he suggested the need for “liquidation of over-extended commitments” and added: “That is to say, the United States, if it does not want to risk war in defense of indefensible and at best non-essential positions, must retreat from these positions.” With these sentences in mind, the reason for Professor Morgenthau’s strained analogy of Asia and Algeria becomes clearer. . . .
French “illusions” about Algeria are not comparable with American “illusions” about Asia because Algeria is a French colony whose people have been at war with France for seven years to obtain their independence from colonialism. That vast land mass called free Asia, as India has learned to her sorrow, is engaged in a two-fold struggle—having achieved independence, to create viable economies and, at the same time, to resist Communist China’s imperialist thrust. . . . Algerian independence has the support of her Mahgreb neighbors and virtually the entire Arab world. . . . Yet if France had ever sought to invest Algeria with all possible military might, France might have broken the rebellion as an implacable Portugal is now doing in Angola. I am suggesting here that French retreat in Algeria was not written in the stars, but was due to public morale and a concern for the national exchequer.
Perhaps I am devoting too much space to debating an analogy, but its implicit syllogism is disturbing: A nationalist rebellion like that in Algeria cannot be quelled by “military means”;
French withdrawal from Algeria is now being negotiated with the rebel leaders;
Therefore, since American activity in Asia has been primarily military, American withdrawal from Asia must also be negotiated.
While there have been rebellions in South Vietnam and Korea, they were, says Morgenthau, directed against an existing regime, and not Communist-inspired and directed. . . . [But] President Kennedy is my source that as of last May, 4,000 civil officers had been assassinated in one year by Viet Minh infiltrators. . . . In other words, there is a war of external aggression going on in South Vietnam, not a rebellion. Diem has attempted to initiate some land reforms. Supposing these reforms were as successful as they have been in Japan and Formosa, would such a triumph necessarily persuade the Viet Minh to stop assassinations and bomb-throwing?
I would not dispute Professor Morgenthau’s criticisms of our aid program in Laos. They are deserved. But if we are to withdraw from the “indefensible” in Asia, it would be intelligent to stop foreign aid and forfeit a part of the world immediately, since, without U.S. military support, a reformed aid program would have as much chance for survival as a lamasery in Tibet. . . .
Professor Morgenthau concedes that the otherwise futile policy of “military containment” in Asia has “worked” in Korea and “for the time being” in the Formosa straits. He does not say why it has “worked” or why a containment (I prefer the word “defense” to “containment”) policy outside of Europe is “self-defeating in that it is a powerful factor in the expansion of what it intends to contain.” . . . However, he implies that containment has worked because “what contains China is its own weakness.” When China becomes stronger, as he predicts, then, unless the administration “reconcile[s] itself to further territorial losses to the Communists, it will be compelled to embark upon a policy of military intervention which can only have inconclusive results at best.” Professor Morgenthau does not define what these “inconclusive results” might be; if they could mean the still continuing existence of these Asian states for a bit longer and, perhaps, under better direction and democratic will . . . wouldn’t it be worth a try in this uncertain world? . . .
Nothing is more futile than to make science out of tendentious prediction. But with Laos gone, South Vietnam gone, Thailand gone, would India find itself immune from so clamorous and determined a neighbor? Or the rest of Asia? . . .
If it were only Laos we were talking about, the unilateral definition of “non-essential” would have some authenticity, and a sound Machiavellian could recommend the banishment of Laos from our overextended perimeter. If one could be certain that it is only West Berlin that Khrushchev seeks, the bright suggestion that we give it to him and build another and greater Berlin might be quite sound. Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia would . . . symbolize the rest of mankind’s redemption. If we could only be sure.
New York City
Mr. Morgenthau writes:
The tertium comparationis in my analogy between French illusions about Algeria and American illusions about Asia is the misunderstanding of the problem and the attempt to settle it by military means. If we were to approach the problem of Asia with the same realism which President de Gaulle has finally been trying to bring to bear upon Algeria, we would note that China can be contained in the long run only at risks to the United States out of proportion to the interests at stake and through military commitments which exceed our capabilities. France learned this lesson in the course of a ruinous war and at the price of its democratic institutions. Are we going to learn our lesson through reflection, or must we suffer disaster abroad and at home in order to learn it?
This was the only moral I drew from the analogy.