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 programme, the er war programme 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 Viet-Minh? What was the policy reason for that?
ANDREW GOODPASTER: Well, er France of course was an ally, we were trying to develop NATO at the time and the French were pressing us very strongly er to assist them in er... in Vietnam. The other side of that er, from the NATO side, General Eisenhower was our first er NATO commander and he was pressing the French very strongly to er give Vietnam its independence and he thought when Marshall Tal... Tavsenin (?) went out to er Vietnam, that he was a man who had sufficient strength and authority and er respect in France, that he would be able to do it. He always regarded it as a real tragedy that er 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 er the thought there was that he was er primarily a nationalist, that he was devoted to er Vietnamese independence, that he had played a very er strong role er during the war and that independence would come. The negative was that he seemed to be er tightly tied to the Communists and he carried with him the danger of Communist control er being extended, expanded over Vietnam, but er there was a lot of feeling in the United States that er Ho Chi Minh was a... a nationalist er patriot and that er... 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 French... the US was supporting an anti-Communist struggle by the French.
AG: Er, the US was er trying to work with the French in NATO and er the French were pressing very hard for our support in er Vietnam and they were stressing that er Ho Chi Minh represented Communist er control of... of Vietnam, er so it was a mixture of the United States wanted to see an independent Vietnam, er I think um our feeling was that we would have to deal with er Ho Chi Minh, Communist or no, er but that er the er... the goal should be an independent er Vietnam. And on that, we've had a good deal of stress with the French, who were er really er 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: Er, early in er Eisenhower's er term and going back into the time when President Truman, I think the Communist er bloc was seen as monolithic. It was only er to a limited extent and in the later years of Eisenhower's administration that we were aware of strong differences between er China and er the Soviet Union, er but er we thought that er 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 er domino effect working in er Vietnam and extending on into Cambodia, affecting Laos as well. But then er 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 er to er... keep the hope alive that South Vietnam at least would be able to remain er independent and er non-Communist and that was the... it was er only a hope. In the fall of 1954, that is er some months after the er agreement in Geneva, the United States er on the initiative of Secretary Dulles er sent a... a... a er survey party, headed by General Laughton Collins, to see whether South Vietname... er South Vietnam might be viable with er some outside assistance in maintaining its er independence.
INT: You were at the Geneva discussions, weren't you?
INT: Sorry, I thought...
AG: Er I came back and er joined President Eisenhower in October 1954 and one of the first er 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 er the elections could not be free in the North in particular. I would say that was part of it. Er the other was that er... a sense that even if er free elections were held, they probably would be er dominated by the Communists and the Communists would gain control. So it was er partly a reason that had reality to it and partly a reason that could be used to pursue er 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 er it's difficult to er reach a judgement, even now, on that, because there was no possibility of a free election in the North, so the... the idea of free elections was basically flawed. That however was part of the er Geneva agreement er 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 er... when General Collins er went out there, er he felt that it was er worth the effort of er 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.