A curious thing happens reading revisionist and dissident outlets with regards to the American Empire. It just magically appeared in 1945 after World War Two and has been humming since. It is mighty funny to read how this global empire sprang into existence. Rome was not built in a day, the British East India Company did not form in one campaign and America’s Empire was not world dominating immediately in 1945.
This colours commentary downstream. American imperialism started after the European powers stopped meddling in Latin American affairs and America started actively forcing its will on others as with the Spanish-American War. Economically, America was a creditor nation that was calling the shots for others similar to how China is developing its global role today. Those were the baby steps of an empire that slowly accumulated power to rise to prominence with World War Two.
The closer to 1945, the worse using Red and Blue Empire sounds. Henry Luce was an uber-neocon before neocons were invented and ran the Time-Life empire as a newly minted Yaleman in the 1920s. America itself had not figured out what it wanted or even the means of how to get there. America just knew they wanted to dismantle the European led empires after World War Two that Wilson failed to dismantle after World War One. As the sole combatant from World War Two left standing, America was in prime position to impose its will and solidify its empire.
A great historical example of the Red vs. Blue proxy war is the Vietnam conflict. The Vietnam war period of 1964 to 1975 is the better measure as prior to that Diem was not a Red client. The Diem show was a bipartisan program. Some revisionists identify the 1963 coup in Vietnam as Red/Blue jostling while missing that Diem was a client of the US government solely because he was the entire American establishment’s to use against France in defeating their empire. Diem’s removal was not about Red/Blue as much as Diem passing his expiration date.
Prior to the end of World War Two, America was actively fostering relations with Ho Chi Minh’s political organization. It fed American ears with what it wanted to hear, which was that it was fighting the evil Japanese ferociously and that its organization was just a united nationalist front. The media touted Ho as a George Washington figure. This was the propaganda work of committed left winger Harold Isaacs writing in large media outlets. CIA forerunner, the OSS, sent multiple men to make contact and thereafter distributed them in the embassy, the State Department and non-profit, nongovernment organizations to advocate for Ho. America even sent military personell for dedicated training and aid to help Ho Chi Minh in 1945.
The problem for Ho Chi Minh and his enablers in the American foreign policy establishment was the emergence of the Cold War. The containment policy directed against Soviet sponsored Communism meant that America had to figure out how to best combat the Soviet and Chinese aided communist insurgencies. Ho’s forces were firmly in the Soviet camp now.
A logical path would have been to bolster the European empires and slowly devolved them to European aided yet locally administered territories. France to this day still uses its extensive banking and economic players in the third world to exert influence in different locations, all of this is after the supposed end of their colonial era. America somewhat followed this path by funding a majority of the French fighting against the Vietminh. Roughly eighty percent of all material and funding for the war effort was funded by American taxpayers.
This did not mean that America supported the French wholeheartedly. The entire time the Americans supplied aid, they demanded more and more a say in how the war effort was going on despite knowing next to nothing about Indochina. Subsequent actions and strategy would reveal that whatever America knew it was erroneous. American figures also played a game where they sought an anti-communist figure who was also anti-colonialist to lead a political bloc. Throughout the French Indochina war, the American advisor class would tell these anti-colonial, anti-communist figures to not participate in the fight against the Vietminh unless the French granted them full independence. This would ultimately mean that those Vietnamese fighting would use American material and who would advise and train them? Americans.
Just because this is American military equipment and a war does not make the search for a figure or bolstering of a figure a Red Empire thing. The very man that would be defended by the American right wing after his assassination, Ngo Dinh Diem, was originally a CIA hand selected man. Diem came from a long established mandarin family via marriage to one of the older emperor’s descendants. Diem went into exile during the post-WW2 chaos, and found a very eager patron in Wesley Fishel at Michigan State University.
Wesley Fishel was a CIA man, and Michigan State hosted the MSU Vietnam Advisory Group. The MSU group selected Diem for his peculiar traits and his family connections to be the front man for their government in waiting. The MSU group would in effect administer the South Vietnamese government. As pathetic as it is to see Harvard trained presidents installed in Africa, it is merely the descendant of the installation of Diem.
Diem lived in a New Jersey seminary as a devout Catholic from 1951 to 1953. Diem did not step foot back in Vietnam until the US was ready to install him as head of state. His brother Nhu was a labor figure who openly stated he was a socialist. American labor backed the Ngo family takeover of Vietnam because Nhu was their man. American labor union advisors set up unions in European colonies where allowed. This was often a scheme to then have a socialist labor union become an anti-colonial yet anti-communist voice in the colony. Once the European nation stepped back, it would only make sense for the old labor union leader to become the star of the democratic show.
As the Ngo family flew in to take power, what the world saw was an American installed puppet going in to be the front man for the American circus in Vietnam. The general in charge of the military advisory group, General O’Daniel wrote puff pieces for Diem, Colonel Lansdale, experienced OSS hand, was in Diem’s corner, but this was not just a Pentagon show. As stated above, the American Catholics provided public relations support for their pious Diem, and American labor supported the Ngo family. There were non-profit groups not connected to the American government that were for public relations, lobbying and access. Democrats in congress like Senator Mike Mansfield supported the Ngo family in a manner that in hindsight was embarrassing. The Diem PR game was a portion of the USIA mission to sell Americans on the great man we had in South Vietnam. How could anyone argue as the Ngo family represented a little something in every American political bloc.
This is bipartisan and these are all features that formed well after 1945. America did not merely continue on the game that the British had, nor did they mimic the strategy that the colonial powers employed. It is important to remember that England, France and even the Dutch had centuries of experience in these locations and in the global empire building process. America was a relative rookie, and was explicit that their brand of democracy was the one true method. This is laughable considering the effects of the American Empire since 1945 around the globe.
America was not thinking about defeating Ho Chi Minh and communism as much as they were focused on installing an America in South Vietnam. America pushed hard to get the French removed from Vietnamese soil as fast as possible. America was adamant on setting up a government that had no place for even a figurehead, constitutional monarchy using the old emperor Bao Dai. America’s foreign policy establishment wanted a true republic toy to display for the world.
A saner possibility would have been setting up a parliamentary system, keeping the emperor on hand as a form of social and cultural tradition. A saner possibility would have been a military dictatorship with federalism to control what areas the French and their underlings had cleared out while slowly transitioning to a republic once the nation was secure. America did neither of these things.
Discarding anything the French had revealed as positive, the Americans looked at Dien Bien Phu as a catastrophic defeat for the French rather than the exhausting victory for the Vietminh that it was. France’s internal politics were shattered by the loss, and the Ho sympathizers were emboldened. That battle was timed for negotiations and while the Vietminh was exhausted and left with little military firepower afterwards, they won the strategic and propaganda victory to set the terms. This would be echoed fourteen years later with the Tet Offensive.
America installed Diem and then went around destroying every Communist free area in a great centralizing act. The Ngo family was in power solely due to Washington. They were on shaky ground. One by one the Ngo forces went after the power centres that the French had used to keep the peace and fight the Communists. Diem’s new administration assumed the control of the military and then cleared out the Cao Dai sect, the Hoa Hao sect and the Binh Xuyen. These groups all had large numbers of followers. These groups were all solid anti-communists. The French knew the value of these groups. The Ngo family needed them gone to secure power.
Diem’s brutal acts against his fellow countrymen received media protection by the American press. As Diem cracked down on internal opponents and failed to fight communists, the American media continuously used the French colonial boogeyman in reports for causes of conflict in South Vietnam. This was a liberal interventionist establishment that desperately needed to show a win for the American public in the wake of Senator McCarthy’s efforts and the loss of China. This was not a case of blue or red empire as much as the young American Empire figuring out how to operate. Diem’s actions to solidify his and America’s grip consequently destabilized South Vietnam by destroying the very powers that had contained the communists.
It would be better to view the American Empire as fully entering the global stage with Wilson’s entry into World War One and not finalizing its grip on the globe until 1989. By then, there were no more competitors and the practices of the post-war period were refined. The swallowing of pieces of the European powers’ empires was a multi-decade process with competition from the Soviet sponsored brand of Communism. Diem was not a red client as much as the red team was the last American support Diem had. The blue empire was pulling the plug on its support and shifting its direct in-country resources to Africa to ‘help’ decolonize Africa and scoop up client states. The lessons of Vietnam’s Diem era might have created the fault lines between the red and blue imperial approaches. Limited republics and explicit dictatorships with heavy military purchases became the red empire’s client profile. The sloppy messes that claimed to be democracies and mini-Americas, discarding their old colonial or monarchal identities are the blue empire’s specialty. What was Diem’s rule of South Vietnam but a sloppy mess? Now free from Marxist-Leninist ideology and the pressure for democratic elections, Vietnam hums along as a prospering, capitalist friendly nation.