INTERVIEW WITH GENERAL ANDREW GOODPASTER
INTERVIEWER: This is June the sixth 1996 and I'm talking to General Andrew Goodpaster for the Cold War series, the Vietnam program, the war program and (unintelligible). Starting with... If I could ask first to associate the connection with the Vietnam story, can you tell me why the United States supported the French in Indo-China, when the French were fighting against the Vietminh? What was the policy reason for that?
ANDREW GOODPASTER: Well, France of course was an ally, we were trying to develop NATO at the time and the French were pressing us very strongly to assist them in Vietnam. The other side of that from the NATO side, General Eisenhower was our first NATO commander and he was pressing the French very strongly to give Vietnam its independence and he thought when Marshall Tavsenin went out to Vietnam, that he was a man who had sufficient strength and authority and respect in France, that he would be able to do it. He always regarded it as a real tragedy that Marshal Dulatte died very soon thereafter and there was no one then who had the strength to make the decision to give Vietnam its independence. Eisenhower felt always that that should be the policy of the United States and when he came in as President, that's what he supported.
INT: What was the American attitude towards Ho Chi Minh? Because at the time of independence, we all hear the story about how Ho Chi Minh, he used Thomas Jefferson's words and was helped in the 1940s by the Americans, what was the Eisenhower administration's attitude towards Ho?
AG: I think the thought there was that he was primarily a nationalist, that he was devoted to Vietnamese independence, that he had played a very strong role during the war and that independence would come. The negative was that he seemed to be tightly tied to the Communists and he carried with him the danger of Communist control being extended, expanded over Vietnam, but there was a lot of feeling in the United States that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist patriot and that... so far as Vietnamese independence was concerned, that's what should be accomplished.
INT: But the reason for supporting the French in their fight against Ho then would have been because it was seen that the French were supporting an anti-Communist struggle. The US was supporting an anti-Communist struggle by the French.
AG: The US was trying to work with the French in NATO and the French were pressing very hard for our support in Vietnam and they were stressing that Ho Chi Minh represented Communist control of Vietnam, so it was a mixture of the United States wanted to see an independent Vietnam, I think our feeling was that we would have to deal with Ho Chi Minh, Communist or no, but that the goal should be an independent Vietnam. And on that, we've had a good deal of stress with the French, who were really pressing very hard for support for what they were doing there.
INT: Was there a feeling that the Communism wasn't a monolith and that the Russians and the Chinese and Vietnamese might represent completely different views?
AG: Early in Eisenhower's term and going back into the time when President Truman, I think the Communist bloc was seen as monolithic. It was only to a limited extent and in the later years of Eisenhower's administration that we were aware of strong differences between China and the Soviet Union, but we thought that North Vietnam was firmly committed to the Communist bloc.
INT: And how do you think the concept of the domino theory dominates the Eisenhower administration's attitudes?
AG: I think Eisenhower was very concerned about the so-called domino effect working in Vietnam and extending on into Cambodia, affecting Laos as well. But then constituting a threat not only to Thailand, but to Burma and to Malaysia as well.
INT: Up to the battle of Tienmenfu and then the Geneva discussions, what were the US's objectives in those discussions?
AG: Initially, it was to... keep the hope alive that South Vietnam at least would be able to remain independent and non-Communist and it was only a hope. In the fall of 1954, that is some months after the agreement in Geneva, the United States on the initiative of Secretary Dulles sent a survey party, headed by General Laughton Collins, to see whether South Vietnam might be viable with some outside assistance in maintaining its independence.
INT: You were at the Geneva discussions, weren't you?
INT: Sorry, I thought...
AG: I came back and joined President Eisenhower in October 1954 and one of the first things that I was involved in was indeed talking with Secretary Dulles and arranging for the mission headed by General Collins to go out and make his assessment of the possible viability of South Vietnam.
INT: Why did the United States support Diem in his decision not to hold the elections that had been agreed at the Geneva accords?
AG: It was felt that the elections could not be free in the North in particular. I would say that was part of it. The other was a sense that even if free elections were held, they probably would be dominated by the Communists and the Communists would gain control. So it was partly a reason that had reality to it and partly a reason that could be used to pursue a policy of delay.
INT: Have you always stood by that decision, or have you ever thought it was a mistake not to support Diem in his willingness to hold elections?
AG: I think it's difficult to reach a judgement, even now, on that, because there was no possibility of a free election in the North, so the idea of free elections was basically flawed. That however was part of the Geneva agreement flawed it to that degree.
INT: The Collins' investigation had presumably recommended that South Vietnam was viable and Diem should be the person to support. That's right, is it?
AG: When General Collins went out there, he felt that it was worth the effort of providing assistance and training to the South Vietnamese. There could be no assurance that they could survive, but without it they surely would not be able to survive. So it was almost to avoid the negative.
INT: What was the reaction to Diem's government in the 1950s?
AG: Initially we were far from sure that he would be able to govern, but then he was able to conquer or overthrow the various sects that were out there and it looked as though he was going to be able to establish and build a government. That government was recognized would be very weak and there would be some degree of covert Communist opposition to his government, especially when it became clear that there would not be the elections, by which the North would have been able to gain control of the South.
INT: Was his Catholicism and his anti-Buddhist (unintelligible) seen to be a problem?
AG: My recollection is that Secretary Dulles had talked to Cardinal Spelman before making the proposal - 'scuse me - (unintelligible) happens to the best process.
INT: The nuclear issue was actually talked about at that time?
AG: No, it was not discussed in explicit terms, no. In relation to the situation in Berlin, we had constant consideration of what our nuclear posture was and what our nuclear options would be, but they were not specifically or explicitly raised and discussed in relation to Berlin.
INT: Final question. Why do you think Khrushchev took the moment in the end of '58 to make the ultimatum? How much was he speaking from what he considered to be a position of strength?
AG: My own assessment of this - 'scuse me. My own assessment was that it was driven by the sight of the flight of East Germans trying to escape from the Communist area. that it did not come from strength, but it came from... in a sense from weakness and from criticism that this was demeaning to the Soviet Union and to its policy to see the... East Germans undergoing this kind of a situation and we do indeed know - I think we knew then - that the East Germans were exerting great pressure on the Soviet Union to do something about this flight of their people to the West.
INT: But to be able to do something about it, Khrushchev presumably had to feel that he had themilitary wherewithal to issue a threat. How do you think his military strength was?
AG: I think... he saw this as a means of threatening the West to see whether the West would buckle under the threat. He still had the option open as to whether actually to carry them to the point of conflict. But I think that they had a quite a good assessment of what war would be like. War was not so long before, when they had suffered terrible destruction, loss of life, sacrifice of World War Two, so it's one thing to threaten, but it would be something else actually to do it.
INT: Thank you very much.
AG: The study came about because President Johnson had a meeting with his chief advisers and asked is it possible to win in Vietnam? And Secretary MacNamara came back and asked that a study on that be conducted. General Wheeler, who was then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked me, I was assistant to the Chairman, to set up a study group and to look into that. we did that...