Nineteen years ago, a complacent United States sat back behind its ocean wall and watched Mussolini march through Ethiopia. Most Americans, having scarcely heard of Ethiopia, argued that this country should not get mixed up in other people's wars. One year ago, few Americans knew the difference between Viet-Nam and Viet-Minh. They only knew that France was fighting a guerilla war in Indo-China. Clearly, for the average citizen, here was someone else's war.
Yet today, Americans are faced with the prospect of fighting in Indo-China. The emergence of Russia and the United States as the two most powerful nations in history has made such a change in global politics that the defense of three unpronounceable states in the midst of a steaming jungle is now as vital to U.S. national interest as the defense of the Philippines was in 1941.
For the Indo-Chinese war has almost entirely lost its complexion of French colonialism. With the United States and Communist China pouring in every sort of aid except actual troops, the war now represents a holding operation in a crucial theater in the struggle between the Communist and non-Communist worlds. Defeat now for the French and Vietnamese would mean not only the lose of Indo-China itself, but eventual Communist domination of Burma, Thailand, and virtually all of Southeast Asia. In addition, it would enormously strengthen the prestige of Communist China. And weakness or defeat in Asia would lead to a serious decline of French influence in Europe, for it would show even more graphically that France is no longer a major world power. Clearly, then, a line must be drawn, across which the Communists cannot step. Indo-China must be the high-water mark, not just a halting place, in the tide of Communist aggression.
Although the Associated States are now virtually independent, the issue of colonialism remains the trump card in the Communist pack. As long as the Viet-Minh can claim that they are the only group fighting to rid Indo-China of French influence, they have a tremendous psychological advantage. The inescapable conclusion is that France will receive full Viet-Nam support only if it cuts even the last remaining strings that bind the Associated States to the French Union. Naturally, if this is done, the French will lose much of their will to continue fighting. Seven years of jungle war have already drained the life-blood of the French officer corps. The war meets with continual opposition at home.
French failure, however, would mean almost certain victory for the Communists. For this reason, the United States has only one curse of action: all possible aid, short of actual intervention, should be given, and the U.S. must be prepared to enter the war if other efforts to reach a peaceful settlement fail. But U.S. intervention should come only after France has guaranteed Viet-Nam complete independence. Without such a guarantee, this country would find itself linked with imperialism and colonialism, if not in practice, at least in the eyes of other Asian states such as India and Burma. A Western victory in Indo-China that is won at the expense of Asian support would be more like a defeat.
The Eisenhower Administration has recognized the situation's great urgency. Secretary Dulles has explicitly stated that this country will not stand for further expansion of Communist rule. Election year expediency, however, has prevented the Administration from making a clear statement that the United States will enter the war if other means to peace fail. Yet at this time, with East facing West across the conference table at Geneva, such a statement is vital. A negotiated peace is far more likely if the Communists know this country will not allow them to win. Aggression in Korea might never have come if the United States had explicitly guaranteed South Korean independence.
Isolationists argue that U.S. entry into the Indo-China war will lead to full-scale war with Communist China. But Chinese fear of our massive retaliation would make such a war unlikely. War is, however, a risk the United States must take. The only alternative to this risk is Communist control of Southeast Asia.
(Tomorrow's editorial will discuss a negotiated peace in Indo-China.)