By early 1954, French efforts to defeat Ho Chi Minh’s forces in North Vietnam had soured. In mid-March, the French army found itself encircled by Vietminh forces at Dienbienphu. France pushed the United States to intervene, but Eisenhower eventually decided not to and the French army surrendered in early May. Despite not coming to France’s aid, Eisenhower worried that the French defeat would ultimately result in a communist triumph in Indochina--the term Indochina refers to the intermingling of Indian and Chinese influences in what is now known as Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam--as the following remarks indicate.)
Q. Robert Richards, Copley Press: Mr. President, would you mind commenting on the strategic importance of Indochina to the free world? I think there has been, across the country, some lack of understanding on just what it means to us.
The President: You have, of course, both the specific and the general when you talk about such things. First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs. Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world. Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the "falling domino" principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.
Now, with respect to the first one, two of the items from this particular area that the world uses are tin and tungsten. They are very important. There are others, of course, the rubber plantations and so on. Then with respect to more people passing under this domination. Asia, after all, has already lost some 450 million of its peoples to the Communist dictatorship, and we simply can't afford greater losses.
But when we come to the possible sequence of events, the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following, now you begin to talk about areas that not only multiply the disadvantages that you would suffer through loss of materials, sources of materials, but now you are talking about millions and millions and millions of people.
Finally, the geographical position achieved thereby does many things. It turns the so-called island defensive chain of Japan, Formosa, of the Philippines and to the southward, it moves in to threaten Australia and New Zealand. It takes away, in its economic aspects, that region that Japan must have as a trading area or Japan, in turn, will have only one place in the world to go - that is, toward the Communist areas in order to live.
So, the possible consequences of the loss are just incalculable to the free world.