Today in History: CIA Reject The Domino Theory (1964)

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The Domino Theory was a very influential theory during the Cold War. It was to decisively influence American foreign policy during the 1960’s and the 1970’s. America was very concerned at the rapid expansion of Soviet influence in many areas of the world and the growing number of Communist revolutions around the world. The Domino Theory, that was developed by right-wing American intellectuals, stated that if one country fell to Communism, then this would lead to other countries in the surrounding region becoming communist.

Vietnam. As the second phase of operation "Thayer," the 1st Air Cavalry Division (airmobile) is having operation"Irving" in the area 25 miles north of Qui Nhon which lies 400 miles north-northeast of Saigon. The 1st Air Cavalry was given the mission of clearing a mountain range where an estimated two battalions of North Vietnam regulars were supposed to be massing an attack on Hammond Airstrip. Troops of "A" Company, checking house during patrol., 10/06/1966
AMERICAN SOLDIERS SEARCHING FOR COMMUNISTS (1966)

This theory was very influential during the American involvement in Vietnam. This theory stated that if South Vietnam fell to the communists, the rest of Southeast Asia would also fall “like dominoes,” and the theory had been used to warrant much of the American War effort in Vietnam. The theory greatly alarmed the Americans and this led them to commit hundreds of thousands of troops to prevent Communist North Vietnam from conquering South Vietnam. President Johnson was very much influenced by the Domino Theory in his handling of the situation in Vietnam.

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B-52 BOMBER OVER VIETNAM

However, not everyone agreed with the Domino Theory and its implications. The C.I.A, the American Intelligence Agency was to challenge the theory.

In reply to a formal question submitted by the then President Lyndon B. Johnson. The CIA argued against this theory and they believed that it was flat out wrong and that it should not be used in the development of American foreign policy. The C.I.A. argued that even if one country fell under the sway of Communism this did not mean that its neighbors would.

The CIA concluded that Cambodia was probably the only nation in the area that would become a communist state if South Vietnam did fall. The C.I.A. report said, “a continuation of the spread of communism in the area would not be inexorable, and any spread which did happen would take time and the time in which the total situation might change in any number of ways unfavorable to the communists.” The C.I.A. did not believe that the spread of Communism was inevitable.

The C.I.A. also argued that even if much of South East Asia did fall under the control of Communist regimes that America had many allies in the region such as the Philippines.  Furthermore, the report also argued that all the countries in South East Asia were weak and would not pose a threat directly to America.

President Johnson appears to have ignored the CIA analysis. He continued to be deeply influenced by the Domino Theory. If President Johnson had accepted the C.I.A. argument that the Domino Theory was not true he would have adopted a totally different policy towards Vietnam. He would not have been as keen to fight the North Vietnamese. During his Presidency, he eventually committed over 500,000 American troops to the war in an effort to block the spread of communism to South Vietnam and elsewhere. This was a fateful decision and it was to lead to a massive loss of life and America’s first defeat in a war.

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