Robert G. Kaiser

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The Road Not Taken: Edward Lans­dale and the Amer­i­can Tragedy in Viet­nam by Max Boot

The Road Not Taken:

Edward Lans­dale and the Amer­i­can Tragedy in Viet­nam by Max Boot.

Liveright, 715 pp., $35.00

On the long list of peo­ple who played im­por­tant parts in Amer­ica’s calami­tous war in Viet­nam, few were more im­por­tant than Edward Geary Lans­dale. Born in 1908, Lans­dale was a swash­buck­ling Air Force of­fi­cer who (though he long hid the fact) worked in the Philip­pines from 1945 un­til 1954 for the Of­fice of Strate­gic Ser­vices (OSS) and its suc­ces­sor spy agency, the CIA. His ex­ploits there won him a trans­fer to Viet­nam, where his ac­com­plish­ments in 1954 and 1955 “proved that one man and his vi­sion can make a dif­fer­ence in his­tory,” wrote Neil Shee­han in A Bright Shin­ing Lie (1988), still the best book on the Viet­nam War. With­out Lans­dale, “the Amer­i­can ven­ture in Viet­nam would have foundered at the out­set .... South Viet­nam, it can truly be said, was [his] cre­ation.” An of­fi­cial CIA his­tory of the war con­cluded that Lans­dale was re­spon­si­ble for the agency’s “most sub­stan­tial achieve­ment” in the twenty years of the con­flict.

And yet if you watched the re­cent Ken Burns–Lynn Novick doc­u­men­tary on Viet­nam, you heard just one brief ref­er­ence to Lans­dale, never saw him, and never learned about his crit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions in the mid-1950s. This lack of se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to Lans­dale is not un­usual—Shee­han’s book was an ex­cep­tion. One other ex­cep­tion was a ha­gio­graphic 1988 bi­og­ra­phy of him writ­ten with his co­op­er­a­tion by Ce­cil B. Cur­rey, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South Florida. To­day Lans­dale is pri­mar­ily re­mem­bered by afi­ciona­dos of the war and by many of us for whom Viet­nam was a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. Most books about Viet­nam in­clude few ref­er­ences to him, or none at all.

One en­dur­ing source of his fame may be the oft-re­peated tale that he was the model for Gra­ham Greene’s Alden Pyle, the an­ti­hero of The Quiet Amer­i­can. The fic­tional Pyle was a ro­man­tic young CIA agent sta­tioned in Saigon in the early 1950s who tried to pro­mote a “third force,” nei­ther pro-French nor Com­mu­nist. He and Lans­dale shared some at­tributes, par­tic­u­larly a naive con­fi­dence in their own ca­pac­ity to shape Asian re­al­i­ties, but Greene didn’t need Lans­dale as a model. He fin­ished his novel more than a year be­fore Lans­dale ar­rived in Viet­nam.* Max Boot has now put Lans­dale back where he be­longs, at the cen­ter of the story of the war. A fel­low at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions who is an OpEd colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Post, Boot has the rep­u­ta­tion of a “Never Trump” neo­con­ser­va­tive, but his book is the prod­uct of se­ri­ous schol­ar­ship, not ide­ol­ogy. Boot has scoured the ar­chives and found in­trigu­ing new ma­te­rial, es­pe­cially Lans­dale’s re­veal­ing per­sonal let­ters to his long-suf­fer­ing *Lans­dale re­ally was the model for Colonel Ed­win Bar­num Hil­lan­dale, the mo­tor­cy­cling, har­mon­ica-play­ing spy in Wil­liam Led­erer and Eu­gene Bur­dick’s 1958 best seller, The Ugly Amer­i­can. wife and his Filipino mis­tress, who be­came the sec­ond Mrs. Lans­dale in the last years of his life. The Road Not Taken is an ad­mir­ing but also crit­i­cal bi­og­ra­phy; it in­vites many quib­bles but re­wards the reader with an en­gross­ing por­trait of a unique fig­ure who de­fied the bu­reau­cratic val­ues of the in­sti­tu­tions in which he served.

Edward Lans­dale was present at the cre­ation of the Viet­nam War, which re­ally be­gan in 1954 with the in­ven­tion of a new coun­try, South Viet­nam. In the course of ten months be­gin­ning that June, Lans­dale en­joyed his great­est suc­cesses. He made Ngo Dinh Diem the func­tion­ing leader of a state de­vised on the fly to try to im­pede the spread of com­mu­nism. He or­ches­trated clan­des­tine psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare and or­ga­nized an am­bi­tious US Navy flotilla that brought 900,000 Viet­namese, mostly Catholics, from North Viet­nam to the south, a pro­pa­ganda coup. In April 1955, when many Amer­i­can of­fi­cials had con­cluded that Diem could never lead a suc­cess­ful na­tion­al­ist move­ment, Sec­re­tary of State John Fos­ter Dulles ap­proved a ca­ble an­nounc­ing with­drawal of Amer­i­can sup­port for him. But Lans­dale in­ter­vened with both Diem and the Eisen­hower ad­min­is­tra­tion, which re­versed Dulles’s de­ci­sion. That ma­neu­ver pre­served Amer­i­can sup­port for Diem and his cre­ation, the coun­try we came to know as South Viet­nam. The zeal of sub­se­quent Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tions to save that cre­ation led us fate­fully to war.

Ab­sent

Lans­dale’s per­sonal in­volve­ment, Diem’s rump state would likely have dis­ap­peared soon af­ter the 1954 Geneva conference on peace in In­dochina had pro­vided the pre­text for its cre­ation. Had it been ab­sorbed then into the new Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Viet­nam, which Ho Chi Minh and his com­rades ruled from Hanoi, the US would not have squan­dered 58,220 Amer­i­can and more than two mil­lion Viet­namese lives. We would have saved hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars and avoided one of the great­est dis­as­ters of Amer­i­can his­tory.

Lans­dale can­not be blamed for those catas­tro­phes. In the two decades that fol­lowed his feats in the mid-1950s, Amer­i­can pol­i­cy­mak­ers usu­ally ig­nored his ad­vice. He fa­vored try­ing to win hearts and minds, not gun­fights. He ar­gued against many of the pol­icy choices that made Viet­nam so cat­a­strophic, es­pe­cially the de­ci­sion to send a huge Amer­i­can ex­pe­di­tionary force to fight a con­ven­tional mil­i­tary cam­paign against the Vi­et­cong and North Viet­namese. Lans­dale be­lieved that only a Viet­namese army that had the po­lit­i­cal sup­port of the peo­ple, un­der the lead­er­ship of a pop­u­lar na­tional leader, could win the war.

But he was not an in­no­cent by­stander. His ac­tions made the kind of big war he hoped we could avoid more likely. In 1961, Lans­dale helped per­suade his ad­mirer John F. Kennedy to let the thou­sands of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary “ad­vis­ers” in Viet­nam fight in com­bat be­side the South Viet­namese army units they were train­ing. This led to the first Amer­i­can ca­su­al­ties and deep­ened the Amer­i­can com­mit­ment to what proved to be a hope­less cause.

And Lans­dale ea­gerly en­gaged in in­tense med­dling in South Viet­namese af­fairs, be­gin­ning as soon as he took up his post as a CIA op­er­a­tive in Saigon in June 1954. Med­dling was a tac­tic he had learned in the Philip­pines sev­eral years ear­lier, when, as an agent of the new CIA’s se­cret Of­fice of Pol­icy Co­or­di­na­tion based in Manila, he cul­ti­vated a per­sonal friend­ship with Ra­mon Magsaysay, a Filipino con­gress­man who be­came his coun­try’s min­is­ter of defense and then, in 1953, its pres­i­dent. Lans­dale was Magsaysay’s in­ti­mate ad­viser. To­gether they guided a suc­cess­ful coun­terin­sur­gency against the Huks, a left-wing in­sur­gency group whose sol­diers had fought first against the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of their coun­try and later against its post­war govern­ment. Magsaysay fa­mously won the sup­port of the peas­ants the Huks sought to or­ga­nize against his govern­ment, and squelched the re­bel­lion. Lans­dale learned from Magsaysay the im­por­tance of treat­ing peas­ants and sol­diers with dig­nity and re­spect, skills he re­tained. Magsaysay’s hon­est, na­tion­al­ist regime and his per­sonal pop­u­lar­ity pro­vided a model for cop­ing with left-wing in­sur­gen­cies that be­guiled Amer­i­can of­fi­cials. For years af­ter­ward, his ex­pe­ri­ence with Magsaysay contributed to “a cer­tain mys­tique,” in the words of a former col­league, that Lans­dale avidly cul­ti­vated. “He was the leader of [a] cult,” said Daniel Ells­berg, the man who leaked the Pen­tagon Papers in 1971, years af­ter he worked for Lans­dale in Viet­nam. “I was a mem­ber of that cult.”

“He be­came the go-to guru,” said Les­lie H. Gelb, the former of­fi­cial and jour­nal­ist who su­per­vised the com­pi­la­tion of the Pen­tagon Papers be­tween 1967 and 1968. “That was the source of his power.”

It was Lans­dale’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the Philip­pines that per­suaded Allen Dulles, the CIA di­rec­tor, to send him to Viet­nam in 1954. Dulles and his col­leagues hoped that Lans­dale could ap­ply what he had learned to the new­est Asian flash­point and help block fur­ther Com­mu­nist vic­to­ries in a far-off land lit­tle un­der­stood by Amer­i­cans, even the of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for US pol­icy.

That lack of un­der­stand­ing was crip­pling. The Amer­i­can of­fi­cials who gave us the Viet­nam War were, to a man, ig­no­rant about Viet­nam’s his­tory, cul­ture, and politics. Lans­dale was no ex­cep­tion. He had made him­self an ex­pert on the Philip­pines, a former Amer­i­can pos­ses­sion where English was widely spo­ken and Amer­i­can ways were mim­icked and ad­mired. He spent three years as a mil­i­tary of­fi­cer sta­tioned there, trav­el­ing through­out the coun­try, mak­ing lo­cal friends, and learn­ing the lore and the folk mu­sic (some of which he liked to play on his ever-present har­mon­ica) even be­fore he be­came an in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive se­cretly coun­sel­ing Magsaysay.

“By con­trast,” writes Boot, “when he ar­rived in Viet­nam, [Lans­dale] had pre­vi­ously spent only three weeks [Boot’s ital­ics] in the coun­try and had as of yet made no Viet­namese friends.” He spoke not a word of Viet­namese—like most of the Amer­i­cans who served in Viet­nam, he never learned the lan­guage—and just a smat­ter­ing of French, which Diem and all mem­bers of the colo­nial-era Viet­namese elite spoke flu­ently. He knew al­most noth­ing of Viet­nam’s com­plex so­ci­ety or of its an­cient his­tory. Nev­er­the­less, he was ready to con­clude, twenty-four days af­ter he landed in Saigon, that Ngo Dinh Diem was the best avail­able can­di­date to be a Viet­namese Magsaysay—a leader ca­pa­ble of ral­ly­ing Viet­namese who wanted to keep the south out of the grips of Ho Chi Minh.

This was a doubt­ful propo­si­tion. As Shee­han wrote, when Diem re­turned to Viet­nam from four years of ex­ile in the US and Bel­gium—as a new premier ap­pointed by the em­peror Bao Dai, a French quis­ling so close to the old

colo­nial power that he ac­tu­ally lived in France—he was “al­most as ig­no­rant as Lans­dale was of the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial re­al­i­ties of his coun­try.” Diem’s ig­no­rance, Shee­han noted, “was will­ful. He was a mys­tic. He lived in a men­tal co­coon spun out of a nos­tal­gic reverie for Viet­nam’s im­pe­rial past.” Diem had none of Magsaysay’s per­sonal charisma; he “fit no one’s im­age of a dy­namic leader,” as Boot puts it. “Best avail­able” he may have been, but as sub­se­quent events made clear, he was not good enough.

Diem landed in Saigon on June 25, barely three weeks af­ter Lans­dale’s ar­rival. That first day Lans­dale min­gled with cit­i­zens of Saigon who were wait­ing to see their newly ap­pointed leader on his mo­tor­cade from Ton Son Nhut Air­port into the city. Land­sale was im­pressed by the level of pub­lic cu­rios­ity, and by Diem’s po­lit­i­cal clum­si­ness. He rode into town in a sedan with closed win­dows, in­vis­i­ble to the crowd on the street, never stop­ping to greet any of his new coun­try­men.

This did not de­ter Lans­dale from spend­ing the rest of that day and the en­tire night writ­ing an un­so­licited memo to Diem of­fer­ing de­tailed sug­ges­tions on how to run a new coun­try. He of­fered ex­ten­sive, spe­cific ad­vice: bring sev­eral ex­ist­ing mili­tia groups into a new South Viet­namese army; or­ga­nize a coali­tion of anti-Com­mu­nist po­lit­i­cal par­ties; or­ga­nize fo­rums in towns and vil­lages where cit­i­zens could share their con­cerns with govern­ment of­fi­cials; im­me­di­ately adopt a con­sti­tu­tion like the one Lans­dale helped Magsaysay write for the Philip­pines; and more.

This was ex­traor­di­nar­ily pre­sump­tu­ous: a new­comer who knew al­most no na­tional his­tory and spoke no Viet­namese pre­sum­ing to tell a re­cently ap­pointed leader just back from four years of ex­ile—a man with no ap­par­ent po­lit­i­cal skills—how to run a brand­new coun­try that the new­comer had known for just twenty-five days. Boot is less trou­bled by this temer­ity than seems war­ranted, and more im­pressed that Diem de­cided he liked Lans­dale— an open­ing Lans­dale used to cul­ti­vate a friend­ship with this strange man. But Boot does ac­knowl­edge that Diem ig­nored the rec­om­men­da­tions in that first Lans­dale memo, just as he ig­nored much more ad­vice in the years that fol­lowed.

Win­ning the friend­ship of Asians may have been Lans­dale’s great­est tal­ent. Boot writes about his skill as a lis­tener who knew how to show re­spect for peo­ple who were used to colo­nial white men boss­ing them around like chil­dren. Lans­dale him­self, writes Boot, was “ut­terly de­void of con­de­scen­sion and racism.” The sym­pa­thetic friend­ship he of­fered to Magsaysay made Lans­dale, over time, a sur­ro­gate mem­ber of the Magsaysay fam­ily. Soon af­ter his ar­rival in Viet­nam he achieved a sim­i­lar sta­tus in Diem’s.

Lans­dale fa­vored an ag­gres­sive Amer­i­can pres­ence in post-Geneva Viet­nam. “In or­der to con­struct a Free Viet­nam which can be an ef­fec­tive bul­wark against fur­ther Com­mu­nist ag­gres­sion in South­east Asia,” he ca­bled his CIA su­pe­ri­ors in July 1954, “the United States must ac­cept a dom­i­nant and di­rect role in aid­ing the coun­try.” The best that can be said about that ca­ble is that it fit the mood of the times in Wash­ing­ton, where the Dulles broth­ers still dreamed of “rolling back” com­mu­nism. A harsher but more ac­cu­rate ap­praisal would be that in a sin­gle sen­tence, Lans­dale en­cap­su­lated the vain­glo­ri­ous Amer­i­can at­ti­tude that pro­duced the war in Viet­nam.

The pro­duc­tive phase of Lans­dale’s in­volve­ment in Viet­nam es­sen­tially ended with the com­ple­tion of his first tour of duty as a CIA op­er­a­tive in Saigon in De­cem­ber 1956. The CIA had no next as­sign­ment for him (he was never pop­u­lar in­side the agency) so Lans­dale re­sumed his mil­i­tary ca­reer as an Air Force colonel.

Al­ways good at self-pro­mo­tion, he be­gan to make a name for him­self in­side the Pen­tagon as an ex­pert on the newly fash­ion­able field of un­con­ven­tional and guer­rilla war­fare. Soon he had a job di­rect­ing the Of­fice of Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions, which ad­vised the sec­re­tary of defense on all types of un­con­ven­tional war. Viet­nam be­came one of the of­fice’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tions. In 1959 and again in 1960 Lans­dale vis­ited Viet­nam to eval­u­ate the guer­rilla war that by then posed an on­go­ing threat to Diem.

By 1960 the South Viet­namese Com­mu­nists were widen­ing their in­flu­ence, es­pe­cially in the pop­u­lous Mekong Delta. Bick­er­ing politi­cians in Saigon be­dev­iled Diem. In April 1960, he for­mally asked the US to send Lans­dale back to Saigon to help him. The idea was con­tro­ver­sial in­side the Eisen­hower ad­min­is­tra­tion; many of­fi­cials thought Lans­dale was a loose can­non be­yond the con­trol of the nor­mal chain of com­mand. Fi­nally a deal was struck to al­low him to visit Diem, but on a short leash.

The visit fi­nally took place in Jan­uary 1961 and lasted just twelve days. On the way home Lans­dale wrote an alarm­ing re­port on his find­ings. “1961 prom­ises to be a fate­ful year for Viet­nam,” it be­gan; he found the Com­mu­nists poised to make sub­stan­tial ad­vances. He de­fended Diem but lam­basted the stiff Amer­i­can am­bas­sador in Saigon, a blue­blood named El­bridge Dur­brow whom Diem dis­liked. He out­lined what Boot calls an “overly am­bi­tious” pro­gram to re­con­sti­tute the US mis­sion with new peo­ple and a new sense of pur­pose. He warned that Diem’s grip on power was un­cer­tain at best. Lans­dale’s tim­ing was ex­cel­lent. His re­port made it to Walt W. Ros­tow, an MIT pro­fes­sor then work­ing on the transition team pre­par­ing for John F. Kennedy to take power a few days later. Ros­tow was so im­pressed that he put Lans­dale’s re­port at the top of a pile of im­por­tant read­ing for JFK. Thus be­gan one of the most in­ter­est­ing pe­ri­ods of Lans­dale’s ca­reer. He was soon be­ing touted, even by Kennedy, as a pos­si­ble new Amer­i­can am­bas­sador to Saigon or com­man­der of the mil­i­tary as­sis­tance group there. Both were jobs Lans­dale knew did not suit his tal­ents or in­ter­ests. But he was fully pre­pared to lead a new Pres­i­den­tial Task Force for Viet­nam and to over­see the im­ple­men­ta­tion of that task force’s plan in Wash­ing­ton and Saigon.

The pos­tur­ing and bu­reau­cratic ma­neu­ver­ing that fol­lowed ended badly for Lans­dale, ap­par­ently be­cause of his tal­ent—on dis­play re­peat­edly through­out his ca­reer—for alien­at­ing col­leagues, es­pe­cially su­pe­ri­ors. Boot shows that Kennedy’s sec­re­taries of

state and defense, Dean Rusk and Robert S. McNa­mara, both lost con­fi­dence in Lans­dale and blocked him from fur­ther par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­cy­mak­ing. This is the only episode Boot re­counts that he can­not re­ally ex­plain. “Lans­dale had tried but failed to take con­trol of the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy to­ward Viet­nam,” he writes. Boot quotes Lans­dale’s own ex­pla­na­tion that Kennedy “se­verely dam­aged” his in­flu­ence by sug­gest­ing he might be the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador or mil­i­tary com­man­der in Viet­nam. That just in­flamed jeal­ous col­leagues who dis­liked him, Lans­dale thought.

Kennedy’s ad­mi­ra­tion for Lans­dale sur­vived, how­ever, and got him an in­flu­en­tial new job as chief of op­er­a­tions of the su­per-se­cret Op­er­a­tion Mon­goose, an idea pro­moted by the pres­i­dent and his brother Robert, the at­tor­ney gen­eral, to try to re­pay Fidel Cas­tro for the hu­mil­i­a­tion of the Bay of Pigs fi­asco of 1961 with a covert cam­paign of ha­rass­ment and per­haps as­sas­si­na­tion, none of which got any­where. Boot de­votes twenty pages to this sad tale, re­count­ing the “nutty schemes” (the phrase is CIA di­rec­tor Richard Helms’s) that re­mained hid­den from pub­lic view un­til the 1975 hear­ings of the Church Com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion of CIA dirty tricks. Those hear­ings did “ir­rev­o­ca­ble dam­age to Lans­dale’s rep­u­ta­tion,” Boot writes.

Boot was born in 1969. He has no per­sonal me­mories of Viet­nam, but he has been in­ter­ested in the war for years. In his ear­lier writ­ings he em­braced the view that “the Viet­nam War was winnable if we had fought dif­fer­ently,” as he put it in a 2011 es­say. This idea may still have been in his mind when he chose the ti­tle of this book. The Road Not Taken im­plies that there was a road avail­able that might have led to a bet­ter out­come in Viet­nam. Boot al­most says this in the pro­logue to this book.

Viet­nam was “a catas­tro­phe,” he writes, but “it might con­ceiv­ably have been avoided if only Wash­ing­ton pol­i­cy­mak­ers had lis­tened to the ad­vice of a renowned coun­terin­sur­gency strate­gist,” Lans­dale:

It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to sug­gest that the whole con­flict, the worst mil­i­tary de­feat in Amer­i­can his­tory, might have taken a very dif­fer­ent course—one that was less costly and po­ten­tially more suc­cess­ful— if the coun­sel of this CIA op­er­a­tive and Air Force of­fi­cer had been fol­lowed.

The word “might” is cru­cial here. If we are told that it is “no ex­ag­ger­a­tion” to say that some­thing “might” have hap­pened, what have we learned? Not much.

To his credit, near the end of this long book Boot ac­knowl­edges that, in fact, all the pos­si­ble roads that the US might have trav­eled in Viet­nam led to the same des­ti­na­tion. His thor­ough re­search pro­duced a for­mi­da­ble list of rea­sons why the Amer­i­can ef­fort was doomed—not least the fail­ure of the South Viet­namese to or­ga­nize an ef­fec­tive, pop­u­lar, and hon­est govern­ment. “In fair­ness,” he writes near the end, “South Viet­nam might not have sur­vived even if Lans­dale had en­joyed more suc­cess” in sell­ing his ideas about coun­terin­sur­gency. Lans­dale

may have been overly ide­al­is­tic in imag­in­ing that democ­racy could blos­som in the trop­i­cal soil of South Viet­nam even as a war raged . . . . North Viet­nam would have been a tough and de­ter­mined ad­ver­sary un­der any cir­cum­stances, with more will to win than the United States had.

Boot skims over what I con­sider the most im­por­tant rea­son for the out­come in Viet­nam—the fact that South Viet­nam never was a real na­tion. Viet­namese in ev­ery re­gion seemed to un­der­stand that they lived in one coun­try. South Viet­nam’s lead­ers dur­ing the twenty years it ex­isted could never match the na­tion­al­ist cre­den­tials of Ho and his com­rades. The North Viet­namese were Com­mu­nists, which made them un­pop­u­lar with some Viet­namese—es­pe­cially the Catholics, who in­cluded Diem—but they were the ones who had be­gun fight­ing a war for Viet­namese in­de­pen­dence back in 1941. In 1954, Ho and his great gen­eral, Vo Nguyen Giap, hero­ically hu­mil­i­ated the French colo­nial army at Dien Bien Phu. They won their coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence. Lans­dale was mind­ful of this re­al­ity. On his sec­ond tour in Viet­nam (1965– 1968), which proved much more frus­trat­ing than pro­duc­tive, he tried to pro­mote free and fair elec­tions in the south, hop­ing they might le­git­imize the politi­cians who won them. But by then he knew the truth. In a 1967 memo to Henry Cabot Lodge, then the US am­bas­sador in Saigon, Lans­dale lamented the fact that “there is no po­ten­tial can­di­date for the Pres­i­dency in South Viet Nam who has an im­age to com­pare fa­vor­ably with Ho’s in the minds of the elec­torate.” Lans­dale was par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal of the idea of run­ning a South Viet­namese gen­eral for pres­i­dent. Those gen­er­als, he wrote to Lodge, “are viewed for what they were be­fore 1954 by most Viet­namese... cor­po­rals or sargeants in the French forces fight­ing against the Viet­namese na­tion­al­ists.” Lodge’s can­di­date for pres­i­dent at the time was Nguyen Van Thieu, a gen­eral who, as a young man, did in­deed fight with the French against Ho’s Vi­et­minh. Thieu won a rigged elec­tion with just 35 per­cent of the vote, and went on to serve as pres­i­dent for eight years. In 1975, he presided over the col­lapse of South Viet­nam.

Edward Lans­dale (sec­ond row, hand on hat) stand­ing be­hind Lieu­tenant Gen­eral John W. ‘Iron Mike’ O’Daniel, com­man­der of the US Mil­i­tary As­sis­tance Ad­vi­sory Group (left), Am­bas­sador G. Fred­er­ick Rein­hardt (cen­ter), and Ngo Dinh Diem (right), Saigon, 1955

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