Edward Cuddy's article blaming Dwight Eisenhower for the debacle in Vietnam (Viewpoints, Oct. 5) needs some perspective.
The United States was an "interested nation" in Geneva. Eisenhower complained about the Accords partly out of frustration. He did not want to see the French turn Vietnam over to the Communists after the United States had spent four years and $4 billion aiding the French against Ho Chi Minh. Ike also did not want to give the Communist Chinese any indication of diplomatic recognition, and he was concerned for the security of Laos and Cambodia.
Professor Cuddy argues that Eisenhower boosted Ngo Dinh Diem to power. But Emperor Bao Di pushed for Diem as prime minister. In 1954, Diem appeared to be a consensus choice -- a viable nationalist, anti-Communist alternative to the French. He enjoyed the backing of influential American Catholics such as Senators John Kennedy and Mike Mansfield, Cardinal Francis J. Spellman and Justice William O. Douglas.
American elites supported Diem's cancellation of the 1956 elections. After Diem's defeat of the Buddhist sects and the French pullout in 1955, Sen. Mansfield made a plea in Congress for armed aid for Diem, including nuclear weapons.
Cuddy claims the formation of the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization was a critical blunder. But SEATO was a typical Cold War containment grouping similar to the Central Treaty Organization in the Middle East. Britain joined hoping to secure its economic interests in Malaya. Pakistan joined hoping it would help deter Indian aggression.
Early on, the Kennedy people gave it a high profile. However, at a National Security Council meeting in November 1962,Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told President Kennedy that he would recommend U.S. action in Vietnam even if SEATO did not exist.
Cuddy also argued that the McCarthyite-Dulles purge of East Asian and Chinese specialists from the State Department was devastating. But after Averill Harriman re-established the Far East Bureau in 1961-62, no effort was made to bring back the purged specialists. In time, the experts deferred to "can-do" guys and senior staff.
Kennedy is conspicuously absent from Cuddy's critique. Yet Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson shared Eisenhower's "doctrinaire anti-Communism." Fifties-style Cold War polity -- a fear of China, the domino theory, monolithic Communism, bombastic nuclear rhetoric and the stress on vital national security interests -- moved easily into the Democratic administrations.
On Jan. 19, 1961, Eisenhower instructed President-elect Kennedy on the importance of independence for Laos, a country Ike thought more strategically important than Vietnam.
Vietnam historian George Herring suggests -- harshly, I think -- that the "quirks of the electoral calendar spared Eisenhower from facing the ultimate failure of his policies."
But recent historians have given Eisenhower good marks for his self-restraint, refusal to engage militarily in 1954, consultation with Congress, reliance on military expertise and desire to involve the allies. Ike's problem and the problem for subsequent presidents was the political vacuum created in the carved-out southern section of Vietnam after the French collapse.
Gary A. Glovins Cheektowaga