It has frequently been asked what induced the U.S. to be caught in the quicksand of Asian commitments, with particular regards to the Vietnamese imbroglio.
Explanations have been many, diverse and contradictory. Yet the part played by religion is usually relegated to the background or obliterated altogether. Being an intangible force, it is generally disregarded in the context of contemporary problems, where the focus is confined almost exclusively to economic and military belligerency.
Some of the factors which brought the U.S. into Vietnam have already been examined in the previous chapters. Certain historical activities carried out by the Catholic Church during the past centuries in various parts of Asia followed a set pattern similar to that of our own times. Such patterns contributed to a very great degree to the involvement of the U.S. in the Vietnamese nightmare.
Her commitment there did not appear directly connected with the U.S. war machine, yet it contributed to the U.S. debacle. Few in the U.S. identified her interests with those of the U.S. unless they took the time to scrutinize her unique past history:
This study of historical patterns reveals a formula which the Catholic Church has used for centuries, namely the identification of her religious objectives with those of a major lay political power of a given period.
As we have already seen, she used this formula in Asia when she identified herself with the major powers of those days, Portugal, Spain, and France.
In Europe the formula was applied several times in this century. She identified herself at various intervals with France, then with the Catholic Empire of Austria-Hungary during the First World War, and with the right wing dictatorships of Italy and Germany, before and during the Second World War. She advanced her interests in the wake of these Powers by identifying herself with their economic, political and war interests.
Since the end of the Second World War and the annihilation of European Fascism she adopted the U.S. as her lay partner, in the absence of a Catholic superpower. This was prompted by the grim reality of the appearance of world Bolshevism and the growing military presence of Soviet Russia after World War II. The menacing reality of these two compelled the Vatican and the U.S. together and in due course forced them into a veritable alliance known as the Cold War.
As sponsors of the Cold War, the U.S. and the Vatican under Pope Pius XII sealed a concrete alliance prompted by a genuine terror of Communist expansionism. Their alliance was formulated with the precise objective of preventing such Communist expansionism from controlling even larger sections of the emerging post war world. While Washington came to the fore with economic help and armed contingents, Rome supplied the combat troops with vigorous religious and ideological zeal, the most important ingredient for a genuine crusade.
We have already described how far Pope Pius XII had gone in his eagerness to stamp out the Bolshevik nightmare. Thus, the U.S., to fulfill her military role as a superpower, was compelled to fight almost a major war in the Korean conflict in the fifties, where Catholicism was implanted two hundred years before.  The Catholic Church in her turn fought with ecclesiastic weapons beginning with the excommunication of any Catholic who dared to join or to support any Communist movement including the socialist ones.
The battle had to be fought simultaneously on two fronts; in the European, in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European nations, and in Asia, in Korea and the disintegrating Indo-Chinese peninsula. The political and military collapse in Indo-China and its potential Communist takeover, double sponsored by Moscow and Peking alarmed the U.S. and the Vatican. The two came together by formulating a mutual war policy: the taking of military measures by the U.S. and the carrying out of religious activities by the Catholic Church.
The Vatican's intervention in the growing anarchy of the Indo-Chinese peninsula passed almost unnoticed by the international community. This gave the church a favorable start to her almost intangible operations in the region. The silent promotions of her force operated not only directly from the Vatican with its mobilization of its ecclesiastic machinery in the very midst of Vietnam itself, but also through the Catholic lobby in the U.S. The importance of the Catholic lobby in American external policies has often been greatly minimized, when not ignored altogether. Yet it has often steered the U.S. external affairs to a degree seldom imagined by anyone not consonant with such matters.
Vietnam is a classic example of effective Catholic pressure by pushing America, inch by inch, into the Vietnamese quicksand. It was the fear of another Korea, somewhere in Asian territory, which pushed the U.S. towards the Vatican for cooperation in Vietnam. A common objective, the stabilization of Vietnam, drew the two together. The next step was the formulation of a common strategy in which each partner had to play a determined role.
Many voices, inside and outside the U.S. alarmed at the drift towards escalating military commitments warned the U.S. to use prudence. Yet the fear, after France had left, of an ideological and military void in the region, plus a chronic incompetence of Vietnamese politicians, prompted the U.S. to adopt a policy of gradual intervention. Pope Pius XII's hysterical visions and fulminations against communism encouraged Catholics everywhere to support him (and thus the U.S.) in his anti-Bolshevik crusade.
The Catholic politicians of Vietnam, before and after the partition, were mobilized as were certain Catholic quarters in the U.S. itself. There the most belligerent segments of American Catholicism were encouraged not only by certain prelates but also by the State Department, and in due course, even by the CIA, respectively dominated by the Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and his brother Allen.
Their promotion was paramount, since the two brothers were the most ferocious anti-Communists then in power, second only to Pope Pius XII. The combination of the diplomatic Cold War strategy of the State Department with the religious one of the Vatican, created a most formidable partnership. The mass media with their daily bombardment of sensationalism did the rest.
The Catholic strategy became the most vociferous in their denunciation of the peril of potential take over by world communism, emphasizing the danger to religion. Even more effective than that was the personal lobby vigorously operating behind the scenes. The lobby specialized in recruiting the most influential Catholics or pro-Catholic personalities in the U.S. administration.
The most successful recruiter of them all was a master builder of political intrigues, Cardinal Spellman of New York whom we have already encountered. Spellman was a personal friend of Pius XII and also of the two Dulles brothers, although his relationship with them had been purposely minimized. He acted as a very confidential intermediary between the State Department and the CIA, and the Vatican. The Dulles brothers sent Spellman to the Vatican to conduct the most delicate negotiations and often used him to dispatch very personal communications directly and exclusively to the Pope himself. On more than one occasion, in fact, it was reported that Spellman was charged with strictly oral communication with the Pope to avoid any written or telephonic devices.
These precautions were taken to lessen the risks of leaks but also to bypass official or semiofficial records since neither the Vatican nor the State Department trusted ordinary diplomatic channels. The delicate nature of their communications necessitated such measures, they being very often of the utmost explosive character.
The three men worked in unison, united by a profound belief that they had been specifically charged by God Himself with the destruction of God's chief enemy on earth: Bolshevism.
It was this trio more than anyone else, who helped formulate and shape the external policies of the U.S. in this VaticanU.S. partnership. And it was this alliance which was ultimately responsible for the U.S. involvement in the ideological and military Vietnamese imbroglio.
1. For more details, see author's The Vatican in World Politics, Horizon Press, 1960, New York.[Back]
2. The Catholic Church was officially established in Korea about 200 years ago. Pope Paul II was invited by South Korea's President Chun Doo Hwan, to South Korea to celebrate the second century of Catholicism in Korea, in May 1984.[Back]
3. For more details of Pius' excommunication against the Communists, see author's Vatican Imperialism in the 20th Century, Zondervan, 1965.[Back]
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