110.11 DU/6–354: Telegram

The United States Delegation to the Department of State


Dulte 146. For Murphy. Just before leaving here, Achilles gave me the following memorandum,1 which represents his personal thoughts on some of the matters we are dealing with. I thought it good enough to bring to your attention, and suggest you ask the Secretary to read it at his convenience.


It is essential to prevent the loss of Southeast Asia to communism. We are currently losing ground militarily and politically on the spot and there is danger of losing more politically here. On the other hand, every inch we lose makes it harder to keep from losing more. On the other, there is no sense in saying we will not yield another inch unless we damn well mean it. What we have got to find is a practical and realistic means of holding every inch we can.

We cannot stop the expansion of communism in Southeast Asia by either war or appeasement. We can do so only by deterring it. In Ernest Bevin’s words (the genesis of the Atlantic Pact): ‘What we need is such a mobilization of moral and material force as will inspire confidence and energy within and respect elsewhere.’ To deter you have got to be willing to fight if necessary, but a US military victory in Indochina might cost us the rest of Southeast Asia psychologically. The difficulties in Asia, like the distances from home, are far greater than in Europe and the community of interest between possible partners [Page 1022] far less. In deterring something, the greater the force and determination available, the less is the likelihood of having to use it. The converse is equally true, and the present mess in SEA is such that the risk of having to use it is great.

The narrow ledge between war and appeasement seems a little wider than it did a month ago, due primarily to the lessening of allied disunity. Despite American pressures toward war and British pressures toward appeasement, the enormity of the issues involved and the need of each for the other have tended to keep both on the path. Bidault has almost single-handedly kept the French Government from selling out and has secured approval for the sending of substantial reinforcements but he is not yet out of the woods.

The dilemma between war and appeasement is only one of several. A second is between the need to build a sound long-term defense in Southeast Asia and the need for immediate military action. A third is between wishful thinking that we might get by with use of US sea and air power and the painful certainty that, once involved, we could not achieve victory or even a Korean type stalemate without at least as large a commitment of ground forces as we had in Korea. A fourth is between the need for solid Asian support and the present Asian attitude of antipathy toward the west and apathy toward communism.

We could easily fumble into a disaster either way. While the right answer is hard to see, certain elements seem reasonably clear:

We must mean whatever we say, and the Russians must know we mean it.
If we decide to intervene directly we must be prepared militarily and psychologically to take on at least another Korean war and quite possibly World War 3.
If we decide to let part or all of Vietnam go we must seek a new line as far north and east as possible which we are prepared to hold militarily, politically, and economically, at the cost of war if necessary.
We cannot count on much help from France or anyone else.
Nothing we do to stop communism in Asia will succeed unless it has the wide support of Asian opinion, not just that of our friends out there. We have got to bring Asian opinion along as far and as fast as we can. This cuts directly across (2) but not necessarily (3). It will take more patience and suppleness than we usually show.
Any real barrier to communism in Asia is going to take time to build and we are going to lose some ground, whatever we do, before we get it built.
If we have to intervene militarily to save the immediate situation we should, while being prepared for the worst, make every effort to keep our intervention limited to a minimum and not get sucked into a major effort to drive the Chinese and Viet Minh back into China. That slope is just as slippery as the one of appeasement.
If there is any prospect of a settlement here that we could live with it is because of Russian respect for the A-bomb and fear [Page 1023] of our intentions. While we must be careful to avoid bluffing, the current military talks may well help to increase their uncertainty.”

  1. A copy of this memorandum, dated May 31, 1954, is located in Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 321.