So far the chronological description of events against French colonial imperialism, seem to be the logical expression of the Vietnamese people to rid themselves of an oppressive and alien domination, which for centuries had attempted to uproot their traditional culture, identity, and religion.
At first sight it seems incomprehensible for the U.S. to get ever more committed to the deadly Vietnamese morass. The tragic American involvement cannot be properly understood, unless we take a birds-eye view of the U.S. global policy following the end of World War II. Only a retrospective assessment of the world which emerged after the defeat of Nazism, can spell out the reasons which induced the U.S. to pursue the policy that it did.
The policy was inspired by the sudden, awesome realization that the new postwar world was dominated by two mighty giants: the U.S. and Soviet Russia. Both had fought the same enemies in war, but now in peace they faced each other as potential foes. It was a belligerent peace. Communist Russia gave notice from the very beginning, if not by word, at least by deeds, that she was determined to embark upon a program of ideological and territorial expansion. The U.S. was determined to prevent it at all costs. The conflict, fought at all levels, and simultaneously in Europe, Asia and America, became known as the "Cold War."
That the "Cold War" was not mere verbal fireworks was proved by the fact that soon the two superpowers were arming at an ever faster rate. Also, that Soviet Russia, following a well defined expansionist postwar program, was inching with increasing ruthlessness to the conquest of a great part of Europe. Within a few years, in fact, she had gobbled up almost one third of the European continent. Countries which had been a integral part of the loose political and economic fabric of prewar Europe, were now forcibly incorporated into the growing Soviet empire.
This was done via naked aggression, ideological subversion, concessions and ruthless seizure of power by local Communist parties, inspired and helped by Moscow. Within less than half a decade, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Albania and others had been transformed into Russian colonies. If this had been all, it would have been a bad enough policy, but Soviet Russia intended to promote a similar program in Asia as well. Her ambitions there were as far reaching as those in Europe. Indeed even more so, since she intended to convert the Asiatic continent into a gigantic Communist landmass. To that effect, she encouraged Asian nationalism, combined with Asian communism, exploiting any real or fictitious grievances at hand.
If we remember that at the same time the sleeping third giant, China, was on the verge of becoming Red, then the rapid communist expansion in the East seen from Washington was a real menace. Hence the necessity of formulating a policy dedicated to the proposition that world communism must be checked both in Europe as well as in Asia.
The "Cold War," the child of this tremendous ideological struggle, as the tensions between the U.S. and the Communists increased, threatened to explode into a "hot war." And so it came to pass, that only five years after the end of World War II, the U.S. found herself engaged in the war of Korea, in the opinion of many, considered to be the potential prelude to World War III.
Reciprocal fear of atomic incineration restrained both the U.S. and Soviet Russia from total armed belligerency. The conflict ended in stalemate. Korea was divided. It seemed a solution. The confrontation, for the moment at least, had been avoided.
But if it was avoided in Korea, it was not avoided elsewhere. Certainly not in the ideological field, or in that of subdued guerrilla warfare, since the U.S. had given notice without any more ambiguity, that she was determined to stop the Red expansion wherever communism was threatening to take over. It was at this stage, that she started to view the situation in Indo-China with growing concern. The harassed French had to be helped. Not so much to keep their colonial status quo, but to check the Vietnamese in the South, and in the North. The U.S. could not afford to see the French supplanted by communism, disguised as anti-colonialism, or even as genuine patriotism.
The U.S. strategy was based upon the domino theory. This assumed that in Asia, once any given country became Communist, all the others would become so likewise. Vietnam fitted neatly into this pattern. It became imperative, therefore, that the French should not be defeated by the Vietnamese Communists. The determination of the Vietnamese people to get rid of the French rule, therefore, ran contrary to the U.S. grand strategy, or the strategy of anyone determined to stop the advance of communism in Southeast Asia.
And indeed there was another ready at hand. The Catholic Church had watched the advances of communism in Indo-China with a greater concern even than the U.S. She had more at stake than anyone else, including the French themselves: almost four hundred years of Catholic activities. Seen from Rome, the rapid expansion of world communism had become even more terrifying than for Washington. The Vatican had witnessed whole nations, those of Eastern Europe swallowed up by Soviet Russia, with millions of Catholics passing under Communist rule. In addition, traditional Catholic countries like Italy and France were harboring growing Communist parties. For the Vatican, therefore, it was even more imperative than for the U.S. to prosecute a policy directed at stopping communism wherever it could be stopped. It became inevitable that the Vatican and the U.S. should come together to stop the same enemy. The two having soon formulated a common strategy turned themselves into veritable partners.
The exercise was nothing new to the Vatican. It had a striking precedent as far as how to conduct an alliance with a mighty lay companion, to fight the advance of a seemingly irresistible enemy. After World War I, a similar situation developed in Europe. Communism was making rapid advances throughout the West. The existing democratic institutions seemed impotent to contain it. When, therefore, a forcible right wing movement appeared on the scene declaring communism as its principal foe, the Vatican allied itself to it. The movement was Fascism. It stopped communism in Italy as well as in Germany with Nazism. The Vatican Fascist alliance had successfully prevented Soviet Russia from taking over Europe. Although it ended in disaster with the outbreak of World War II, nevertheless, its original policy of breaking the power of communism had succeeded.
Now the process had to be repeated, since the situation was the same. The urgency of the task was self-evident everywhere. Soviet Russia had emerged from the Nazi debacle, a more formidable enemy than ever before. She was threatening Europe not only with the ideological Red virus, but also with powerful armies. It became a necessity for the Catholic Church, therefore, to forge an alliance with a lay partner, as it did after World War I.
The U.S. was the only military power sufficiently strong to challenge Russian expansion. In Europe the U.S.-Vatican partnership had proved an undisputed success from the very beginning. The prompt creation of political Catholicism on the part of the Vatican, with its launching of "Christian" democracy on one hand, and the equally prompt economic help of the U.S. to a ruined continent, had stopped a Communist takeover.
But if the U.S.-Vatican alliance had succeeded in Europe, the problem in Asia was more complicated, more acute, and more dangerous. A direct confrontation was possible. Not only on political grounds, but also on a military one. This was proved by the fact that the U.S. had to fight a true war in Korea, as already mentioned. The lesson of Korea was not easily forgotten. The U.S. saw to it that the vast unstable surrounding territories did not become the springboard from which another ideological or military attack could be launched to expand communism. When the situation in Vietnam, therefore started to deteriorate and the military inefficiency of the French became too apparent, the two partners which had worked so successfully in Europe came together, determined to repeat in Southeast Asia the success of their first anti-Communist joint campaign. True, the background and the problems involved were infinitely more complicated than those in Europe. Yet, once a common strategy had been agreed upon, the two could carry it out, each according to its own capabilities.
As in the past, each could exert itself where it could be most effective. Thus, whereas the U.S. could be active in the economic and military fields, the Vatican could do the same in the diplomatic, not to mention in the ecclesiastic area, where it could mobilize millions of Catholics in the pursuance of well conceived ideological and religious objectives.
1. For more details see the author's THE VATICAN IN WORLD POLITICS, 500 pages, 52 editions. Also THE VATICAN MOSCOW WASHINGTON ALLIANCE, published by Chick Publications.[Back]
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