Yuri Ivanovich







INT: So again, just to sort of sum up there, what was it about Kennedy at that time that appealed to the Germans - his youth, the phrases he was using - what was his appeal?

GM: Well, in his major speeches, he developed the concept of the partnership between the United States and Germany; the expansion of freedom, democracy, that the Europeans were symbols of in the world. Very well thought out political speeches, but he always had his little sense of humour, his smile, and some little humorous thing, like "Ich bin ein Berliner", that broke down the barrier between him and these young people. And they were used to these very severe leaders who weren't quite capable of making quips like that.

INT: Moving on then, again, a few years into the Sixties, what was your own personal view on the Vietnam policy started by JFK and continued by Johnson?

GM: Well, I'm glad to say that I missed it really, because... taking any part in it, because it started after I went as ambassador to Germany and I was there the five years that represented the emergence of the Vietnam problem and how it was dealt with. My own reaction when it was first put to me, before decisions had been made that we supply them... that we put our own forces in, came just before... I had been named Under Secretary for Political Affairs. Then, when I became... this position, I went to Dean Rusk, the Secretary, and said that I'd been concerned about some of the papers that I'd been reading... for him: that we ignored the danger of putting in our own military forces and becoming involved. And I recalled to him that the fundamental policy in Greece and Turkey was that no American can ever shoot a (2-3 unclear words) to be shot at; and at the peak we had 26,000 American advisers, civilian and military, in Greece and Turkey, and we never lost a man; and Greeks and Turks (under threat), if they couldn't with our help win, we were not going to fight the war for them. And this was only a theoretical possibility, but they understood that we were not going to fight. And I told Dean that I was disturbed that people seemed to be talking in terms of putting in military forces into Vietnam, and that if we do that, then it becomes our war. If we help them, and are not able to help them to win, we can merely say that "We did the best we could to help you, but we can't fight the war for you." And...

(End of tape)

(A bit of preliminary talk)

INT: ... We just got to the point where you were talking with Dean Rusk about not fighting a war on behalf of somebody else.

GM: Fortunately, I went to Germany before the decisions were made that led to our ultimate role in the Vietnam War. ... it wasn't up to me to participate in making the decisions that only Washington can make. My job was to sell our policies to the German Government. And... most of the seniors in the Department knew of my own view, which was entirely based on my experience in Turkey... in Germany... Excuse me... my exper... I'd better do that over. My views toward this was... the question of whether we sent military forces to engage in combat in Vietnam, was entirely based on my experience in running the Greek-Turkish aid programme, where it was absolutely taboo for any American to get involved in conflict. And I remember when in Germany I first heard rumours that we were putting men in who we said publicly could defend themselves - it actually meant that they could fight, because a man, to defend himself, has to fight, and he shouldn't be in a position to endanger himself if he doesn't expect that he has to fight. And initially, as I think was finally revealed, the President sent a small mission over to Vietnam, to look into this question, and they came back and recommended that he send in... I think their figure was 15,000, or something like that, troops. And he didn't make that decision then; but later he started putting people in, and misrepresenting them really to the American people as being technicians to help in the irrigation, when in fact they were actually to participate in combat. (At the time) I couldn't believe that this was happening. And Cabot Lodge came to Germany shortly afterwards, trying to sell the policy. He was the Ambassador in Vietnam. And I arranged his meeting with,, Adenauer, and he was saying that the Vietnamese War was really nothing - "I mean, we've been at it now for two years; we've lost 200 people. It only costs us a million dollars a day. We don't really anticipate that it's going to amount to anything." And he later told me that some of our people there sometimes found themselves taking over command in combat. I just couldn't believe this. To me, this was so completely wrong. Well, you might say that Kennedy's 25,000 people didn't necessarily lead to 550,000; but once they started, and after Johnson succeeded him, Johnson being very, very sensitive about whether he'd be the first President who ever lost a war, (2-3 unclear words) eventually, as we also know, and raised forces up to 550,000, and... losses 48,000. Yes. In the end, I think this was the worst decision any great power has made in modern times. And the effect on country is so far-reaching, it alienated a whole generation of youths from their parents. I have six children - I went through this. The war brought on world inflation. The world... the war made people in America unwilling to participate in new military needs, because of this debacle. The Nixon policy, which was not to do what we did in Vietnam, still pervades. In retrospect, it was a great tragedy, apart from the 48,000 people we lost and the tremendexpenditure.

INT: Do you think that escalation from 25,000 troops to more than half a million would have happened had Kennedy lived?

GM: This has always been much argued. Kennedy people who speak to the point, don't think it would. They can produce some evidence of things he said that indicated that he wouldn't. The only trouble - it's like gambling: you always want to keep gambling so you can... keep doubling, so you can eventually overcome your loss; and you never know whether you're going run out of chips before you get your doubling.

INT: But what do you think? I mean, you knew Kennedy. Do you think he would have committed one of the great... what you've described as blunders of American foreign policy?

GM: Well, there's a lot of... been written about the attitudes of all the principals here at this time. Bobby Kennedy in his book, for example, stated that the Administration as a whole all felt that this is something we had to do in light of the Cold War, this because of the domino factor, whatever, that we couldn't withdraw. The other view would be that... I remember I wrote a paper on this one evening, coming back from Germany in the plane, that the President would get up before the American people and say, "I'm here to tell you that... we have made a great mistake, that we went in thinking that we were going to help the Vietnamese people achieve their freedom, and we found out that we merely got ourselves involved in a civil war, and that we're going to pull out." (Laughs) I tore the paper up the next day, but the only alternative would have been just to make a frank expression that we were wrong and we're not going to continue intervening in what is really a local civil war.

INT: Right. Moving on to look at the whole 50 years of the Cold War in retrospect, how much does it seem to you that the Cold War has dominated your life?

(Pause for aircraft. A bit of non-interview talk.)

INT: Right. Should I ask the question again? ("Yes" in b/g) How much does it seem that the Cold War has dominated your life?

GM: I don't think the Americans realise how much it has dominated our lives. There's no question in my mind that it's dominated almost every aspect. I spent 20 years actively in the Cold War, not counting the times in between service in Government, when I spent a lot of time speaking... in doing things for the Government that were involved with the Cold War. All the decisions we made during this, decisions as to whether we gave aid to countries in Africa, decisions as to whether we gave military aid here and there around the world, whether we supported a country economically or helped restore and build up its military forces - all these decisions were Cold War decisions, even when we thought we were doing it out of pure generosity. In dealing with the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, every decision that we made was Cold War. When I tried to persuade Nehru not to be neutral, the whole point was to keep India from not being invaded by China. (Pause) We today even haven't gotten over this mentality. Today, we're spending almost as much money as we spent at the end of the Cold... before the end of the Cold War for our military, and... most of it allowed isn't even wanted by the military people themselves. But there's no way, I think, you can justify continuing the expenditures if the level of the greatest threat we ever faced by a power that had military forces comparable, sometimes superior to us... we have no enemy now, so... I used to... when I spoke, I said, "Every time that someone wants to propose an increase or not accept a decrease, just ask them: 'Who is the enemy that we are preparing for?'" And we still haven't faced it. The level of our military here - we spend more than the rest of the world put together. (2-3 unclear words) is justified by any threats that we might face.

INT: Who do you think started the Cold War?

GM: Well, this is very interesting. I've written on this subject and know a little about the thinking of the people. ... (Pause) Of course, the Russians naturally think we did, and we naturally think the Russians did.