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

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


>>David Ferreiro: Good afternoon. I’m David Ferreiro, the Archivist of the United
States. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the William
G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives, whether you are here in person or joining
us on our YouTube channel. Before we hear from Max Boot about his new
book The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam I would like
to tell you about two other programs coming up this month. Tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. we will show
the Emmy Award winning HBO documentary Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, based
on the book of the same name. This 1987 film features actors and actresses
reading actual letters home from men and women serving in the Vietnam War. It will be introduced by Bernard Edelman who
edited the book upon which the film is based. Then on Thursday, January 25, at 7 we will
host the panel discussion on Vietnam: The Tet Offensive. Erik Villard and others will discuss the Tet Offensive and his book “Vietnam: Staying The Course, September 1967 to October 1968.” To learn more about these and all of our public
programs and exhibits, consult our monthly calendar of events online at Archives.gov. Check out our website or sign up at the table
outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National
Archives activities and programs. Another way to get more involved with the
National Archives is become a member of the foundation, National Archives foundation which
supports all of our education and outreach activities and their applications for membership
in the lobby also. Our current special exhibit, Remembering in the Lawrence F. O’Brien gallery upstairs explores the Vietnam War through historical
records and contemporary interviews with the Americans and Vietnamese, both civilians and veterans. This exhibit is on display all year. This marks the 50th anniversary of the height
of America’s war in Vietnam. Two weeks from now is the 50th anniversary
of The Tet Offensive. I ask all U.S. veterans who served on active
duty in the United States armed forces at any time during the period November 1, 1955
to May 15, 1975, to stand and be recognized. (Applause.)>>David Ferriero: Veterans as you exit the
McGowan Theater after today’s program, staff and volunteers will present each of you with
a Vietnam veteran lapel pin. On the back is embossed “A grateful nation
thanks and honors you.” The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration is a national initiative is the lasting mememto of thanks. Remembering Vietnam draws on National Archives
records from all parts of our agency, federal, civilian and military records, Presidential libraries,
photography and motion pictures, sounds recordings and electronic records. By showcasing our records and exhibits such
as remembering Vietnam, we also bring attention to our primary mission to preserve and make
accessible the records of the federal government. Every year tens of thousands of researchers
come to our research rooms and more and more use our online resources. Some of this documentary mining results in important
books about our nation’s history. Today’s guest author Max Boot sought out records
from records group and from many of our locations. For his work on The Road Not Taken: Edward
Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam Boot used records from the Truman, Eisenhower,
Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Presidential libraries, as well as State Department, OSS, CIA, Department of Defense and the Kennedy assassination review board records at the National Archives at College Park. Pleased to welcome a scholar familiar with
our documentary resources and uses them to tell the important stories of America’s past. Max Boot is a military historian, best-selling
author and foreign policy analyst who has been called one of the world’s leading authorities
on armed conflict. Boot is of the Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in national security studies
at the Council of Foreign Affairs in New York and frequent guest on television and radio
news programs. Lectured on behalf of the State Department and many
military institutions. In 2004 he was named by the World Affairs Council
of America as one of the five hundred most influential people in the United States in the field of
foreign policy. In 2007 he won the Eric Breindel Award
for excellence in opinion journalism given
annually to the writer who exhibits love of country and democratic institutions and bears
witness to the evils of totalitarianism. Before joining the council in 2002, Boot spent
eight years as a writer and editor at the Wall Street Journal, the last five as op-ed
editor. From 1992 to 1994 he was editor and writer
at the Christian Science Monitor. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Max Boot. (Applause.)>>Max Boot: We are going to have the Power
Point? There it is. Excellent. Thanks very much, David, for that introduction. It is a delight to be here with you to be
able to talk about this book in the very place where I did the research. Not exactly this place. A lot of the research was done at the National
Archives in Maryland and at the Presidential libraries, as David mentioned. But in this place in a holistic sense at NARA. I’m grateful for the work that everybody here
does in preserving our records and making possible books like this one. I could not imagine without the assistance
of the first rate archival team here. I’m here to talk about my book, obviously
The Road Not Taken. I probably missed a trick by not calling it
Fire and Fury. I probably would have sold a few more volumes. The subject is Major Edward G. Lansdale, one
of the oddest general officers of the United States Air Force and probably any military service. He was somebody who at one time was quite
famous, said to be the model for both the quiet American and ugly American. He was written about by pretty much every author who wrote about the Vietnam War. Sometimes in positive terms and sometimes
not so positive terms. If you go online you will find a burgeoning
conspiracy theory trying to assert that Edward Lansdale was the master mind of the Kennedy assassination. If you believe what you read online you would
think that this photo taken in Dallas on November 22, 1963 shows Edward Lansdale from the back. And that’s a pretty flimsy basis on which
to accuse somebody of being the master mind of a Presidential assassination. Nevertheless he has that infamy. It was the basis for an entire movie by Oliver
stone, the movie JFK which has very little, in fact no foundation in fact. I would quote to you the words of General
BruteKrulak, one of Ed Lansdale’s bureaucratic competitors in the pentagon in the ’60s. He said There are few individuals are more damned and at the
same time applauded. History is going to have to portray Lansdale’s real part. That’s where I come in. I am the voice of history because I spent the last five years trying to figure out who the real Ed Lansdale was and try to get beyond some of the myths good and bad that accumulated around him over the decades. So who was Ed Lansdale? He was born in 1908 in Detroit. He was a very middle class kid, not somebody
who was to the manor born, didn’t go to Ivy League or work on Wall Street like many of
the so-called wise men who created US foreign policy in the post-World War II era. He had a much more modest upbringing. That is Ed as a boy right there with his family,
father Harry, an automotive executive in the very early days of the automobile industry
at a time when companies were going boom and bust and many employers did not survive. As a result of that the Lansdale family had
their fortunes go up and down. Sometimes they were flush and sometimes poor. Ed Lansdale, as I said, was born in Detroit. Then spent a couple of years in Bronxville,
New York, but many of his early years were spent in California out in L.A. He became a quintessential Californian. He was very informal. He did not like hierarchy, was a maverick. Didn’t like wearing neck ties. A proto Silicon Valley kind of guy long before
Silicon Valley was formed. There are assets of his upbringing worth pointing
out briefly. One, he was not a great student. His life story should give inspiration to
every C student out there. He was a great devotee of the founding fathers
and loved reading documents of the founding. He was devoted to the Declaration of Independence
and the Constitution. Their ideals would become his lode stars as he came to represent American policy in Asia. The other point worth bringing out is that he grew up at a time in the 1910s and 20s
of virulent racism. There was a lot of prejudice especially against Asian Americans in California. He was never contaminated with that prejudice. I read pretty much all of the letters, essays
and all his other writings I could find. I saw no evidence anywhere of any kind of
racial prejudice, not even the kind of racial slurs that were very common at that time. He always looked upon everybody of whatever
race or ethnicity as being a fellow human being, just as worthy of respect
as somebody who happened to be white and middle class like him. There’s one aspect of his background that
I think gave him special empathy and sympathy with ethnic minorities. That is the fact that he was also a minority. His family were Christian Scientist at the
time when this was a small religion looked down upon by the mainstream of society. He knew what it was like to be an outsider. That gave him sympathy with other outsiders. Now, Ed Lansdale went to public schools in
L.A. He went to UCLA, dropped out a few credits short of graduation at the height of the Great Depression and moved to New York and hoped to become a New Yorker writer or a cartoonist but it didn’t work out. And so like many of frustrated creative type before him, He went into advertising and had a successful
advertising career in California in the 1930s. That is Ed Lansdale with some of his colleagues
at an ad agency in San Francisco. And this is one of the ads they put together. That’s Lansdale himself right there. As you might imagine, December 7, 1941, a
date that will live in infamy was also day that changed Ed Lansdale’s life forever as
it did for the lives of everybody in this country. He was eager to get into the struggle. He wanted to contribute to the war effort
but had trouble doing so initially. He was over age and had health problems so
could not get into the Army right away. Instead he went into the OSS, America’s first civilian
intelligence agency. He spent the war years, right here, state side, wasn’t deployed abroad. And what he dis was, he interviewed travelers who had information
about the strange and mysterious places where allied troops would shortly be landing, everywhere
from northern Africa to the islands of the Pacific. And in the course of doing that he revealed himself to be a skilled listener, Lansdale the listener. That was one of the essential skill sets he
would take with him as a counter insurgent and nation builder in Asia. In the fall of 1945 as millions of American GIs were coming home from the war, Lansdale was deployed abroad on his first overseas assignment to the Philippines. This is Ed Lansdale on a leaky rice boat surveying some of the newly liberated islands of Japan. Acting really as an anthroplogist in uniform as much as anything else. He was determined to find out as much as he
could about the country where he found himself and was fascinated by the Huk rebellion, the
Communist insurgency just starting at the end of World War II in the Philippines. This is Lansdale in the 1940s with some captured
Huks here. Lansdale constantly went to the country side. He was fascinated by Filipino culture folklore, myths, food, everything about the Philippines. It was a subject of fascination to him. He was trying to learn as much as possible
about this country where he was deployed. Now, by this point he was already married. In 1933 he married Helen, a small town girl
from upstate New York. They had a couple of kids. When he deployed to the Philippines in 1945
he met this woman, Pat Kelly, a Filipina war widow. Her name came from her late husband, who was
Irish Filipino ancestry. She was unusual for the Philippines of the
1940s because she was an independent single mother, working. She was a journalist, eventually went to work
for the U.S. information agency in Manila. Feisty, smart person. Lansdale was initially drawn to her because
she came from the same part of lieu San where many of the Huks were from. She went to high school with the leader of
the Huk rebellion. He enlisted her as a tour guide to take him
to the boondocks and back country of the Philippines to meet with the rebels and learn their grievances. He wanted to know what they were all about. As he was doing this a friendship was forged
and later on a romance and Pat Kelly became in many ways the great love of his life. One of the advantages I had in writing this
book was not only having access to newly declassified official documents at the Archives but
getting my hands on this treasure trove of letters, love letters that Pat Kelly and Lansdale
exchanged over the course of many, many years, still held by her grandchildren who live right
here in northern Virginia. And these letters allow me to tell the inner
story of Ed Lansdale in a way never told before, especially when combined with the letters
that he also wrote, often simultaneously to his first wife Helen provided to me by his
kids. “Kids” I say. Now they are in their 60s and 70s, who live
in New York and in Florida. So I was actually the first person after Ed
Lansdale himself to read both sets of letters, written both to his long time misstress,
Pat Kelly, as well as to his first wife, Helen Lansdale. They provide this unrivaled perspective on
the inner Ed Lansdale and allow me to really, I think, provide a fuller and more rounded
and informed portrait of Ed Lansdale than any previous author has been able to do. Of course, it also gave me a vantage point
into the awkward moments and some of the personal turmoil of his life, like, for example, in
1947, 1948 when his wife Helen and his boys Ed and Pete came to live with him in Manila. As my teenage daughter would say, Awks, awkward,
considering that he was seeing Pat Kelly at the same time. This was one of his greatest secret operations
as the covert operative was to juggle these two women simultaneously. He did ask his wife for a divorce and she
refused. This was hard at that time to get a contested
divorce. They stayed married. He spent much of the next ten years or more
deployed abroad in Asia. So like many spouses of deployed soldiers,
Helen wound up being de facto a single mother having to raise her kids largely by herself
in Washington and doing a pretty good job of it. One thing I want to stress about the relationship
between Pat Kelly and Ed Lansdale is that this was not just a relationship that was
of great personal importance to Lansdale, all though it was. Also it was a relationship of great professional importance. Pat Kelly provided an entree to Lansdale into
Filipino culture and allowed him to assimilate and to learn about the Philippines in a way hard for an
outsider to do and that set the stage for his greatest triumph of that began in 1950 at a dark
time for the United States. This is when the Korean war was going on. This was shortly after the fall of China to
the Communists. This was shortly after the Soviet Union acquired
an atomic bomb and the McCarthyite era was kicking up steam. There was a widespread feeling that all of Asia was going quote-unquote red. We have to do something about this. Because we were engaged in all out war in
Korea, there were no troops to spare for the Philippines. Although the Joint Chiefs of Staff did draw up plans to send multiple army divisions to fight the Huks if necessary. There was a fear at the time that the leader
of the Huks would be the next Communist leader in east Asia to take over a major country. Rather than sending troops to fight Taruc
and the Huks, the decision was made in Washington to instead send Ed Lansdale. And by this time he was working for a small super secret intelligence
agency called OPC, the office of policy coordination which shortly would be folded into the CIA
as it its covert action arm. In 1950, Ed Lansdale was dispatched to Manila. This is Ed Lansdale here in his bungalow in
Manila at the head of the table. This is his friend Bob Shapely the New Yorker corespondent, the former Smithsonian anthropologist, Bobo Hannan, and these are the Filipinos they worked with. This picture gives you a glimpse of the microcosm
in how he like to operate. He hated formal meetings with agendas hierarchy and all the rest of it, but he liked to sit around in his bungalow and shoot the breeze over coffee in an informal
laid back kind of way. Out of these coffee klatches would emerge the ideas
that would defeat the Huks rebellion. The most important thing he did was to befriend
this man, Ramon Magsaysay. He was an energetic young Senator, former guerrilla fighter against the Japanese who had just been appointed defense minister. He was a reformer, a person of integrity, not corrupt. He wanted to fight the Huks effectively but
didn’t know how to do it. Ed Lansdale became his one man brain trust
and they became very close. Lansdale and Magsaysay, as close as brothers. They were like brothers and toured the countryside
and developed today what would be called the doctrine of counter insurgency. The insight that Lansdale had was that the
Philippine Army was not going to defeat the Huks with massive use of force. He believed they were using too much force. He told them stop bombarding the barrios with
artillery. You will create more enemies than you eliminate. Instead of being heavy handed and repressive Act as brothers to the people. Embrace the people. Win the trust of the people. If you do that, they will rat out the insurgents
in their midst. Today a lot of this sounds like counter insurgency
101, but it was far from conventional wisdom in the early 1950s. Ed Lansdale was a pioneer who developed a lot of this thinking. He also developed some other approaches to
fighting the Huks that were a little bit more different from what would normally be expected. He was, let’s recall this, an advertising
man. He loved psychological warfare, the military
version of advertising. He knew a lot about Filipino folklore. He knew there were legends about the Aswang, these vampires who were said to haunt the Philippine countryside. He decided to put the fear of the Aswang into the Huks with had the help of the Philippine army. He took a dead Huk and gave the body puncture
wounds, to give the impression he had been killed by the Aswang. And they spread the rumors around and made
the local Huks community believe that the supernatural were working against them. This became part of the Lansdale legend. This was told around the agency: Can you believe
what he did? I don’t want to give the impression that Lansdale
defeated the Huks through dirty tricks and psychological operations. His main line of operation was political. He understood that the appeal of the Huks
lay in their slogan which was “bullets, not ballots.” Why? Because people in the Philippines could not
trust the voting process because the elections were rigged, fixed. There was an oligarchy that controlled much of the society, these feudal landlords controlled the electoral process. The poor oppressed peasants if they wanted
change in their terrible conditions, they had to take up guns and bombs and fight for
it. Lansdale was determined to reverse that equation,
to give people faith again in the political process. He did that by enlisting Filipino civic organizations
to safeguard the balloting, make sure that the vote was free and fair. Then as his ultimate coup, he convinced Magsaysay
to run for President in 1953 and served as his virtual campaign manager. If any of you are interested in running a
Presidential campaign in the developing world, I recommend to you a document I was lucky
enough to read courtesy of the National Archives, Lansdale’s top-secret report to his CIA Allan
Dulles, how he won the 1953 Presidential election in the Philippines. He didn’t do it with fraud or stuff the ballot
books. It was politics 101, doing everything from
helping to write a campaign song for Magsaysay to coming up with the slogan Magsaysay is
my guy. He became known throughout the Philippines
as the guy. Thanks to Lansdale’s expert campaign management
on behalf of the CIA, Magsaysay was in fact elected in a landslide in 1953. This is Magsaysay being inaugurated. That is really the event that destroyed the
Huks rebellion. Seeing this honest reformer, receptive to
the people, getting elected President destroyed the Huks’ rationale for fighting. They gave up the struggle shortly thereafter. Most of the followers did the same. This became the great untold success stories
of the Cold War for the United States. A success story that was achieved without
sending a single American soldier into combat. As you might imagine, Ed Lansdale became quite
a popular figure in Washington among the handful of people who knew what he had done, including
principally, of course, CIA director Allen Dulles. It is not terribly surprising when the U.S.
was shortly thereafter faced with another major challenge in Southeast Asia, thoughts
turned to perhaps using Ed Lansdale to solve this problem just as he had solved the problem
in the Philippines, whereby the way he acquired a new nickname, known as come them Colonel landslide, landslide Lansdale for orchestrating the Magsaysay victory. The new challenge occurred in 1954 where the
French forces were beaten at Dien Bien Phu by the Viet Minh. This is a photo I’ve taken at the museum in Dien Bien Phu, which I recommend to anyone who gets out that way. As a result of that the Geneva Convention
was held which partitioned Vietnam between north Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh and the Communists
and South Vietnam which was supposed to be a non-Communist state. The question was how on earth could you form a viable, artificial state in South Vietnam. The answer in Washington was: Let’s get Ed
to do it. In the summer of 1954, Ed Lansdale was sent
to Saigon. His marching orders from Dulles was: Do what
you did in the Philippines and he actually did do what he did in the Philippines. The first thing he did was He understood that just as he had an important
protege? Philippines, he needed a new protege in Vietnam. He found him in this man, Ngo Dinh Diem, newly
appointed Prime Minister of South Vietnam, just a few weeks after Lansdale arrived. He was a Catholic, Confucian Mandarin and had been a minister under the French but had quit but had credentials as an opponent of both colonialism and communism. Few people imagined in 1954 that he would
last nine weeks much less nine years. The fact that he lasted consolidating power
was largely due to the advice and help he received from Lansdale. There is Lansdale. There’s Diem. He cultivated Diem much like he cultivated
Magsaysay. Which was not so easy to do. For starters, he didn’t speak the language. Magsaysay spoke English, but Lansdale, being
kind of a typical American, had very little linguistic ability, did not speak French or
Vietnamese. He had to talk through a translator. But he was effective in winning trust and
confidence with Diem. His secret weapon was listening. He didn’t lecture, he listened. Westerners and Americans in general when we
go out to the world we love to lecture and tell people what to do. That wasn’t Lansdale’s method of operating
at all. He listened. That wasn’t easy to do with somebody like
Diem. Diem became notorious for long-winded lectures,
giving hours long lectures that would bore the pants off most Americans. Lansdale was made of sterner stuff, had endless patience and a good bladder. He would listen for hours to Diem and when
Diem was done, Lansdale would say to him: Fascinating! If I understand what you’re saying, you are
saying XYZ. Then he would very subtly rephrase what Diem had
told him, putting across his own ideas as if they were Diem’s. This is a subtle but effective method of operating. It made Diem think that he was generating
all these great ideas on his own even though they were being implanted by Ed Lansdale. By winning Diem’s confidence and trust, Lansdale
was able to carry out a very ambitious agenda to stabilize and really to create this new
state of South Vietnam, including doing things like operation passage to freedom which was
his massive operation done with the help of the U.S. Navy to move 900,000 refugees from
north to South Vietnam in 1954-1955, many of them Catholic refugees, strengthening the
state of South Vietnam and Lansdale with his love of PsyOps, he did things, for example,
hiring a soothsayer to predict bad fortune for north Vietnam and good fortune for South
Vietnam. Another initiative and he was an early pioneer
in civic action and coined the term, Operation Brotherhood where he brought over Filipino
doctors and nurses to Vietnam to provide free medical care to make people more sympathetic
to the government. This was done by the ostensibly independent
civic operation in the Philippines called Operation Brotherhood. Don’t tell anybody! It was actually created and funded by the
CIA, by Ed Lansdale to be exact. Now, not everybody in the U.S. government
agreed with what Ed Lansdale was doing. Not everybody thought that the CIA officer
should become a political king maker and shaper of destiny any in the Philippines and Vietnam. One of the people who disagreed was Lansdale’s
boss, General Lightning Joe Collins, a four star general who fought in both the European and Pacific theaters
in World War II and was appointed by Eisenhower as his ambassador in Saigon. In their very first in-country team meeting General Collins announced he wanted to reduce
the size of the South Vietnamese Army because it was too expensive to pay for this large force. Lansdale disagreed. He said we need a large Army in South Vietnam because they have to take control of the countryside, the areas being vacated by the Viet Minh and no part of the government has that capacity. Plus they need to absorb the sect militias, in order to prevent all the private Armies, preventing them from running around the countryside. Collins had no patience for what Lansdale
was saying. Collins cut him off and said I’m the personal
representative of the President of the United States here, mister, and you’re out of order. Sit down. At that point most Colonels being told off
by a four star general would sit down. Remember, Lansdale was a troublemaker and
maverick. His reply was, he said, sir, you may be the
personal representative of the President of the United States, but I am confident that
if the people of the United States heard what you were saying, they would disagree with
you. And I’m here to speak up on behalf of the
people of the United States. On behalf of the people of the United States,
we’re walking out on you and out he walked, out the door. As you can imagine, very few Colonels are
able to survive such impertinence to a four star general. The fact that Lansdale in fact was not cashiered
on the spot was evidence of the very high level of backing that he had in Washington
from the Dulles brothers, CIA Director Allen Dulles and Secretary of State John Foster
Dulles. They were fans of Ed Lansdale. At the end of the day they had more power
than any general even, a four star general in the U.S. Army. That fact proved of crucial importance during
the pivotal episode of Diem’s consolidation of power in the spring of 1955 when he sent
the Vietnamese Army into the streets of Saigon to battle all these sect militias that threatened
to take control of the country, the French controlled sect militias. It was touch and go for a while and General Collins wanted to abandon Diem and call fora new governemnt. Lansdale went around Collins’ back, straight
to the Dulles brothers and got President Eisenhower to overrule his ambassador and eventually
to relieve the ambassador. Here was a mere Colonel out witting and ultimately firing a four star general.As a result of all that, by the time Ed Lansdale left Vietnam at the end of 1956 The situation from Washington’s perspective
looked to be pretty positive. Diem seen here touring the countryside, some
of the areas pacified by Lansdale. He looked like a major Cold War success story,
such as Magsaysay did in the Philippines. He was, Diem was given a ticker tape parade
on Broadway, lauded by Life magazine as the miracle man of Vietnam. Seen as a bulwark against communisim in south east Asia. And of course For those in the know, the person really responsible
for Diem’s success was Ed Lansdale. So he came back to Washington in 1957 a great
hero in the secret world of people who were able to read his highly classified reports. Here he is receiving a medal from Vice-President Nixon as his wife Helen looks on. His fame was growing even outside the secret world. Because in the 1950s you saw the publication of Graham Greene’s novel the The Quiet American. Another best-selling novel, The Ugly American. Ed Lansdale was widely thought to be the model
for the protagonist of both books, although that was something that Graham Greene always
denied. Among those who were enamored of Ed Lansdale
were the Kennedy brothers when they took power in 1961. They admired Lansdale. They thought of him as the American James
Bond, the T.E. Lawrence of Asia, the ugly American. He had all sorts of nicknames for a supposedly
secret agent. He was actually pretty darned famous by the 1960s. His fame would prove his undoing not only
because it engendered so much backbiting and jealousy by his colleagues in the U.S. government but it also gave the Kennedys an unrealistic expectation of what Lansdale could do. They thought of Lansdale when they were dealing with the number one threatthey faced was this man, Fidel Castro. As you know, in one of the very first things
that occurred in the Kennedy administration was the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation. As a result of that the Kennedys developed
an obsession with Castro. They thought he humiliated President Kennedy
and they were going to take him out any way they could, overthrow, kill him, they didn’t
care. They wanted to get rid of Castro, but they
lost faith in the CIA because they were behind the Bay of Pigs. So when the Kennedys thought of getting rid of Castro they thought let’s go to Ed Lansdale, who by then was working at the Pentagon where he was running special operations, because Lansdale was not part of the CIA anymore. He was an outsider with an outsized reputation
as can-do covert action operative. At the end of 1961, the Kennedys appointed
Ed Lansdale to run Operation Mongoose the inter-agency effort to overthrow or kill Castro. Lansdale knew what a tough task he had ahead
of him. He essentially concluded in short order that
the only way they were going to get rid of Castro any time soon was with an American military
invasion of Cuba, but the Kennedys didn’t want to do that, no American troops in combat. They want a magical covert action solution that would enable them to over throw Castro without risking American troops in battle. As a result of that, Ed Lansdale and the people
he worked with at the CIA, State, et cetera, had to come up with creative gimmicks like,
for example, this one. This was a CIA propaganda leaflet featuring
Gusana Libre, free worm. Castro called his enemies worms so the CIA tried
to turn that label against Castro. This is a leaflet intended for smuggling into
Cuba showing free worm sabotaging power lines in Cuba. This has to be one of the cutest mascots that
any insurgency ever had, but unfortunately it didn’t achieve much. There were a lot of propaganda ploys that
were talked about, but at the end of the day they amounted to very little because Castro
was securely in power. The one thing that Operation Mongoose did do was generate the intelligence in the fall of 1962 that allowed policy makers in Washington to understands that Soviets were putting nuclear missiles into Cuba. After the Cuban missile crisis, in October 1962 Operation
Mongoose was disbanded and Ed Lansdale was left defenseless before his bureaucratic enemies. He now lost the favor of the Kennedys because
he hadn’t delivered on the number one priority, getting rid of Castro. Among Lansdale’s foremost enemies was his own boss, Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. These guys were like oil and water, McNamara, the former CEO of the Ford Motor Company, Harvard business school graduate and a man who thought that numbers contained the meaning of existence,
very different from Ed Lansdale the UCLA dropout who didn’t have advanced
education but had a lot of on the ground time in Southeast Asia. One of the very first times that McNamara
and Lansdale met was in early 1961 when Lansdale returned from a visit to Vietnam. He walked into McNamara’s office with a load
of these rusty weapons caked in mud and blood, simple weapons liberated from the Vietcong,
rusty muskets, spears and sharpened sticks and so forth. He dumped this load of dirty weapons on McNamara’s
immaculate deck and said to the Secretary: Mr. Secretary, these are the weapons being
used by our enemies in Vietnam. They don’t look like soldiers. They wear black pajamas, but they are darned
good at fighting and they are licking our side even though we equip our Vietnamese soldiers
with weapons and uniforms and make them a mirror image of our Army. But these guerrillas with black pajamas with very simple weapons are licking our side because they have the power of an idea, the power of an ideal. The only way to defeat them is if we have
our own ideal to offer the people of Vietnam. We are not going to bomb these people into
submission. Now, in hind sight that pretty wise advice but McNamara, who was one of the best and brightest was securely armored in his ignorance and arrogance. He dismissed Lansdale. He thought he was just an idiot who didn’t understand the higher arithmathematical logic that
McNamara was applying to the conflict. By 1963 Lansdale was without voice in Vietnam policy and on his way to being forcefully
retired from the pentagon which was a tragedy because 1963 was also the year with the
growing crisis in South Vietnam, the Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest the Diem regime and the
Kennedy administration, concluding as a result of that the only way they were ever going to defeat the communists was by overthrowing Diem. This is something Lansdale counseled against. Lansdale said yes, Diem has his problems, he is not a man of the people, he’s too influenced by his conspiratorial brother, but the only way to do this is send me over there. I’ll get close to Diem and reconcile him with
the United States and convince him to take a more conciliatory approach to his own
people. But there was bureaucratic opposition to Lansdale,
so he was never sent over there. The Kennedy administration ignored his advice
even when he told them I know the generals, the people who want to over throw Diem. If they succeed, we are going to be less legitimate,
less effective, less honest than Diem was with all his problems. That advice was completely ignored. So on November 1 of 1963, the military coup
against Diem went ahead with U.S. backing. The next day Diem and his brother were murdered. The consequences of this coup were every bit
as disastrous as Lansdale predicted. The Vietcong stepped up infiltrations of South
Vietnam and South Vietnam itself was plunged into chaos and turmoil. One military coup following another, all the generals changed over, all the governors changed over and the government was falling apart even as the slow motion
invasion from the north was increasing. Such that by 1965 Lyndon Johnson decided he
had no choice but to send American combat troops into Vietnam. That was the last thing that Ed Lansdale ever
wanted to see. He never wanted to see half a million American
troops thrashing around the jungles of Vietnam. But it was perhaps the inevitable consequence
of this tragic error of overthrowing Diem, and Americanizing the war effort. In 1965, Ed Lansdale, who by that point already
realized what a dire situation we were in, went back to Vietnam to try to help, working
at the Embassy. Working for ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. Just like his relationship with McNamara,
his relationship with Lodge was not a good one, who had overseen the anti-Diem coup and was essentially responsible for murdering Lansdale’s friend. And again, was one of the best and brightest, this Boston Brahmin who thought he knew better even though he understood little about Vietnamese society. Now in the past, in the 1950’s Lansdale had no problem going around his bosses and overruling them but he was not so powerful in the mid1960s because his primary
patron within the U.S. government was this man, Hubert Humphrey, the vice-president who
was well meaning and understood Lansdale but practically powerless when it came to the
Johnson administration’s conduct of the war in Vietnam. Lansdale tried to exert influence in Vietnam
by working with this man, Wen Chou Chi, this vice-marshal who became later vice-president
but he was out maneuvered by other generals in the military junta and so as a result of that Lansdale had neither a local protege nor a
top level protector in Washington. He could do nothing but watch in helpless
horror as the war effort continued according to the conventional imperatives of general
William Westmoreland. Westmoreland was genuinely convinced he
could kill the Vietcong faster than they could be replaced. Lansdale told them consistently it wasn’t
going to work. The only way to win is by fostering a stable,
legitimate and poular government in Saigon that can win the allegiance of their people. That advice was ignored and the tragic
consequences became evident to most Americans, already evident to quite a few but evident
to most. Fifty years ago this month with the Tet Offensive. Lansdale actually was in Vietnam at the time and he perceived that the Tet offensive was not the great victory as General Westmoreland tried to claim because the communists had not succeeded in igniting a general uprising. But Lansdale understood that it was a powerful
psychological blow against the war effort because the fact that the Vietcong were able
to stage these attacks all across the South exposed this hollow, the rhetoric coming
from Johnson and Westmoreland about how there was light at the end of the tunnel. When Lansdale finally left Vietnam for the last time in the summer of 1968, he was dejected, defeated and demoralized because he understood that the war was all but lost. He was not terribly surprised in 1975 when
the North invaded and occupied which the South, which by then was the a husk of a state. The intriguing question to ask the question I ask in my book The title of my book The Road Not Taken,
the question: Was there another road to be taken? I submit there was. Had Lansdale and others like him had been more listened to, that doesn’t mean we would have won a war. North Vietnam would have been a formidable
adversary under any circumstances, more will to win than the United States, but one thing I can guarantee you if Lansdale had been listened to we would not have lost 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese killed in the cross fire because he didn’t want to
see this conventionalized war effort. He wanted to defend SouthVietnam, but he wanted
the South Vietnamese to be on the front of their own defense, hated by American advisors but not with American combat troops on the front lines. He was haunted to the end of his days by the great what ifs. What if his advice had been taken. And you know, I think it’s fair to say that
it was a tragic mistake that he was not listened to. But he was in part responsible for his own fate. Ed Lansdale’s Achilles heal, he was tremendously
skilled at influencing foreign governments but very, very bad at influencing his own
government. He viewed the American government bureaucracy
as an enemy. By so viewing it turned it into an enemy an
made it impossible for him to exert the kind of influence he should have exerted. He ended his days feeling a beaten and defeated
man. There was a happy coda to his personal life because
after the death of his first wife, Helen, Pat Kelly, recently retired from the U.S.
Embassy in Manila, a grandmother and never having married moved to the United States and on July 4th 1973, Ed and Pat married. This is them in the kitchen of their house in Northern Virginia and they lived happily ever after until Ed Lansdale’s death in 1987 from natural causes. Having spent the last five years researching
his life, it was a moving experience for me to visit his grave at Arlington national cemetery. I felt that by now I know him better than
my own father and better than his own kids did because I discovered all these aspects
of him. This book is more than more than a history,
it’s a spy story, adventure and has resonance for the present day. Today we are caught up in another great counter insurgency not against communist that Lansdale was fighting but against Islamist insurgents and how are we going to defeat the forces of Jihadism. We are not going to do it by sending thousand hundreds of thousands of troops to occupy the middle east. Been there, done that, didn’t like it, not
going to do it again any time soon. If we are going to beat the forces of Islamism,
we are not going to do it with American combat troops, but with advisors. You have to think about Ed Lansdale. He was one of the most successful and storied
advisors of the 20th century and he has lessons well worth studying. They are not positive all positive. He wasn’t proud of the fact that he couldn’t
pick up the local languages. That was a weakness, but he made up for with it empathy, with emotional intelligence and understanding and friendship. Those are all skill sets that I would argue
we are going to need in order to defeat our enemies on today’s battlefield just as we
needed them in the 1950s and 60s. I hope with my book to revive some interest
in Lansdale and to enhance understanding of both his strengths and his weaknesses as we
any about the challenges ahead. So thank you for listening. I would be delighted to take questions or
comments. (Applause.)>>Max Boot: I believe there are microphones
on either side of the room.>>Audience: Thank you for your talk and research. Quick question for clarification. You said he joined OSS. But your last slide up there shows he was
with the Air Force. Can you talk about the dynamics of that? Obviously today we, there were a lot of pictures
of him in uniform. So how was he representing himself versus
what he wasn’t supposed to be representing in civilian clothes, what we see normally
of agencies like that?>>Max Boot: Ed Lansdale had many bureaucratic
masters and one passion, which was serving the United States. He actually, to chart the progression of his
career, outside of advertising, as I said, he joined OSS in World War II. Then he joined the Army and became part of
Army intelligence. He was sent out to the Philippines in 1945
on behalf of Army intelligence. He became an Army public affairs officer at the command of no less than general Douglas MacArthur. He transferred to the Air Force even though he was not a pilot or navigator because he thought as a new service they would be more receptive
to fresh thinking. His great triumphs, having been seconded from
the Air Force to the office of policy coordination and then to the CIA. After the end of his assignment in Vietnam
at the end of 1956, he went back to the United States to not find a permanent home at the
CIA, returned to wearing his Air Force uniform. And became an official within the pentagon
and charged with special operations. Eventually rose by the time of his retirement
in 1963 to be a two-star general in the Air Force. He was a very, very strange general in the
Air Force who had very, very little connection to the Air Force him itself. He was off doing something else, even when
wearing an air force uniform. he was undoubtedly the most prominent counter insurgent in the history of the air force.He was truthfully not a lot of competition
for that honor>>Audience: Thank you very much for a fascinating
talk. Could you say a few words about what role,
if any, Lansdale played in blocking the 1954 election that had been prescribed by the Geneva
Convention? What you described in terms of his work
in helping to manage the elections in the Philippines for a successful outcome, I would
have thought he would have seen that as an avenue that would be worth pursuing and possibly
strengthening the southern voice in the unification election.>>Max Boot: Well, there was in fact an election
in Vietnam in 1956, but it wasn’t the election called for by the 1954 Geneva Convention which
I think is what you are referring to. The Geneva Convention in 1954 called for Vietnam
to be split up into north and South, but to have a reunification election within two years
time, which would have been in 1956. But this was not an election that the U.S.
was ever going to allow to occur. In fairness, the United States was not actually
a party to the Geneva Convention and was not bound by it, nor was South Vietnam actually
a party to the Geneva Convention. The reason they weren’t going to allow the election is pretty simple. They knew that Ho Chi Minh was going to win
it, not only because he was a popular hero who defeated the French but because he exerted
police state control over North Vietnam which was more populace than South Vietnam and there was no hope of getting a free and fair election. In hindsight if the United States had been
bent on an exit strategy from Vietnam, this would have been an obvious off ramp where
we could have allowed the election to go forth, Vietnam gets peaceably unified in 1956 under Ho
Chi Minh and we avoid the horrors of war and eventual defeat in the 1970s. That’s with the benefit of hindsight. In the mid 1950s, no one was thinking along
those lines. Their concern was the domino theory, if
we lost Vietnam and Thailand and others countries in east Asia would fall to the communists. They weren’t going to allow the Communists
to take over, whether it was via ballot box or gun point. They were going to prevent the Communist take
over at any cost. Another election occurred in Vietnam in 1956 which Diem held to oust emperor Bao Dai, essentially a puppet of the French, and declare a new Republic of
Vietnam with himself as president. And Lansdale advised them to have the ballots
for Diem in red, which is a propitious color in Vietnam; and the ballots for Bao Dai in
green, a negative color. He said don’t go beyond that; have a free
and fair election. Because he knew at that point that Diem was
pretty polular. But Diem and his brother, as was their wont,
over-egged the pudding and wound up winning an unbelievable, 98.9 percent of the election which signaled
to everybody that it was essentially fraudulent even though if he had a free and fair election
he would have one something like 70 percent. This is an example of how Diem ignored Lansdale’s
advice and ruled in a more dictatorial fashion than Lansdale wanted and unfortunately Lansdale didn’t get much support from Washington after the initial solidification of Diem’s rule. He wanted to get Diem to be less autocratic and the people in Washington didn’t care. They were happy to support this autocrat. Ed Lansdale could foresee if Diem continued
ruling in the heavy handed fashion he would create backlash, as he eventually did, and a new insurgency, but the Dulles brothers were not alive to tha danger and so Lansdale was moved out and Ngo Dinh Nhu gained control over his brother, Diem, and no other American replaced Lansdale after 1956 it is kind of a moderating and stabilizing force on Diem. And so over the years Diem became increasingly autocratic and became locked in this fatal confrontation with the Kennedy administration, whose terrible
consequences we of course know all too well.>>Audience: I joined a little late, but what
persuaded you to write The Road Not Taken? What encouraged you to look into Edward Lansdale’
life?>>Max Boot: Great question. I’ve always been fascinated by Edward Lansdale
and all the more so years ago when I met one of his closest associates, Rufus Phillips,
still living in northern Virginia who was a CIA man, came out of Yale in mid 1950s and went to work for Lansdale in Saigon. He told me about Lansdale. I was familiar with the Lansdale legend and
wrote a little bit about him in my last book Invisible Armies about guerrilla warfare down through the ages. It was really my editor’s idea. Bob Wile at Norton, a tremendous editor, when we were talking about my book, he suggested a book on Edward Lansdale. I said I don’t know, I already wrote about
him. What more is there to say? Bob had this intuition that there was in fact
a lot more to say. Boy, was he right. As I mentioned in my book talk, I got my hands
on this biographical gold mine, these letters that he had written to Pat Kelly, his long
time mistress, and also to his wife Helen and I was able courtesy of the National Archives,
able to read these declassified documents. I think the fact that the CIA drags it’s feet on declassification, to I think, a ridiculous degree, was to my benefit. I became the first historian who had access
to these newly declassified papers. I was able to tell the Edward Lansdale story
in a way that was never told before, dispel the myths good and bad that grew up around
Lansdale in the last years.>>Audience: Thank you.>>Audience: Following up your summary of the
topic, you mentioned that The Road Not Taken could have been a what if. And saving 50-plus thousand U.S. service men as
well as millions in Vietnam. What is your feeling or is it explored in
your book from that perspective, if that road was taken? Would South Vietnam have fallen faster? Would there be a line today like Korea? What are some of the thoughts from that perspective? If supporting a government in the South, letting
them do the ground work would have resulted in a different outcome?>>Max Boot: This is of course the great unknown. Historical counter-factuals have to be a matter
of speculation. We don’t know. It’s easy to say that the way things worked
out is the only possible way they could have worked out. I don’t think so. There is so much accident and chance and so
many difficult decisions, if those decisions had gone a different way there would have
been a different outcome. An it is possible that the outcome would have
been the very positive one that you suggested. Of a free South Vietnam that would be like
South Korea today. This rich democratic Asian tiger. I think that was a possible outcome. We don’t know if that would have been the
case. I think the opportunity for that was probably
lost in many ways after 1963, after the Diem coup, after the destabilization of South Vietnam. What I suggest in the book is I don’t than
want to make grandiose claims that if only Edward Lansdale had been listened to, Vietnam
would be this paradise and everything would have worked out great, everything would be
in accord with America’s wishes. That is not necessarily the case, I said
in my book talk, even the worst scenario would have been better than what transpired. Again if the Lansdale advice had been followed
we might have still lost South Vietnam, they still might have been conquered by North Vietnam
but not at the cost of 58,000 American lives and millions of Vietnamese lives and all the
up roar in the streets and dissension in the America and all of the terrible damage in
the ’60s and ’70s. Lansdale didn’t want to Americanize the war,
didn’t think we should be sending our own combat forces to fight. He didn’t think that the answer to the Communists
lay in massive fire power. He thought it was in winning hearts and minds
and helping the state of South Vietnam to stand up its own government that could win
the support of its people. Of course, that advice became completely,
was completely ignored and became completely peripheral as the war took on its conventional
contours by the mid 1960s. Max, I’m afraid we are
out of time.>>Max Boot: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure. (Applause.)>> Folks, don’t forget there
is a book signing one level up at the archives book store, 15 percent discount today. See you up there in a few moments.>>Plus a free autograph!

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