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'Low-Intensity' Conflicts

January 23, 1986

Except for some historical errors, F. Andy Messing Jr. writes a commendable essay (Editorial Pages, Jan. 14), "Focusing on Low-Intensity Conflicts: Force Here, Social Justice There? Tend to Them All, or Fail."

Messing errs when he writes, "When President John F. Kennedy died, the military-industrial complex (will we never escape from that cliche?) cast Lansdale aside and steamrolled ahead to 58,000 Americans dead and failure." The fact is that Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward G. Lansdale was "cast aside" by Kennedy who was strongly influenced by Gen. Maxwell B. Taylor author of "The Uncertain Trumpet" and an Air Force hater from day one. (The influence that Taylor held over the Kennedys can be judged when Robert Kennedy named a son Maxwell Taylor Kennedy.)

Another historical error committed by Messing is to credit Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay entirely with the implementation of "all four points"--"the social, political, economic and military concerns of the countries in conflict."

The fact is that these four points were the brainchild of Lansdale. Lansdale was Magsaysay's military adviser when Magsaysay was defense minister. Lansdale reputedly took Magsaysay to view the conditions in which the Filipinos lived in their barangays . Lansdale was supposed to have said to Magsaysay, "If I had to live in such conditions, I would be a Communist too."

Lansdale continued to be Magsaysay's mentor after his election to the presidency of the Philippines in 1953. When Magsaysay implemented Lansdale's program the Huk insurgency withered on the vine without much blood shed at all.

With his success in the Philippines behind him, Lansdale was dispatched to Vietnam where his exploits became legendary.

Most important, however, was Lansdale's personality (in civilian life he had sold advertising) that allowed him to become the confidant of not only Nho Dinh Diem, but of Diem's opponents as well. He was thus able to enlist the support of the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai sects for Diem and to rout the Binh Xuyen gangsters that the French had allowed to run Saigon.

But success spawns jealousy, particularly where there is inter-service rivalry, so Lansdale was "cast aside" early in the Kennedy Administration.

Whether or not Lansdale would have been as successful in Vietnam as he had been in the Philippines is questionable. In the Philippines, the Huks had no ready supply source for arms as did the Viet Cong in Vietnam.

Messing and Lansdale's four-point program works well where outside assistance is not available to the insurgents; but it is doubtful that it would have been entirely successful in Vietnam where Communist men and equipment was poured down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Eventually we would have had to have taken the war north as did Richard Nixon in 1972 to bomb and blockade North Vietnam into submission.

I believe that Lansdale would have recognized this necessity and could have sold it to President Johnson. Had this happened I am sure that 58,000 Americans would still live and that the Republic of Vietnam would be free today.


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