19 May 2006
EISENHOWER, Dwight D. Autograph endorsement, as President, on 10 November 1954 Memorandum from Attorney General Herbert Brownell, concerning mission to Vietnam by General Lawton Collins. WITH: 4 November 1954 memo from Frederick W. Ford to Brownell, and an autograph transcription of Eisenhower's endorsement, in the hand of a White House aide, on White House stationery. Together 6 pages, 8vo and 4to, on stationery of White House, Office of Attorney General, and Department of Justice. Eisenhower's original endorsement in pencil.
IKE ANGRILY BRUSHES ASIDE CONCERNS ABOUT THE LEGALITY OF GEN. LAWTON COLLINS'S IMPORTANT MISSION TO VIETNAM IN 1954
A fascinating item from the early history of America's long, tragic involvement in Vietnam as Eisenhower sends a military aide on a diplomatic mission of questionable legal status. Attorney General Brownell warns the President in a 10 November 1954 memo (included here) that the proposed mission by General Lawton Collins as a "Special United States Representative with the personal rank of ambassador" could result in Collins surrendering his military commission under the Federal law that bans military officers from holding political or diplomatic appointments in the government. Brownell recommends getting the Congress to pass a joint resolution specifically exempting Collins from the law. Eisenhower's testy response is: "Take this up at once with Sec State & Sec Defense. In my opinion the crux of the matter is character of function--not rank! Interest of U. S. require Collins to exercise functions essentially military--but he can have civilian assistance. All branches of govt can be directed to cooperate with him to carry out his instructions in Vietnam and I think directive should make all this clear--at once! Personal rank given him could be 'the equivalent of ambassador.'"
Eisenhower wanted Collins--a trusted colleague from World War II days--to report on the political and military situation, and to set up a military training program for the fledgling South Vietnamese Army being created by president Ngo Dinh Diem. Collins made a pessimistic assessment. He thought poorly of the fighting capabilities of the South Vietnamese and never thought the Catholic Diem could win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people in the face of a powerful Communist insurgency. The Vietcong had showed their fighting strength earlier that year when they ousted French colonial forces after the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Rejecting Collins's advice, the President recalled him in 1955, and U. S. military assistance steadily grew over the next two decades, reaching some 500,000 troops by 1969. Together three items.
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