On This Day Eisenhower warns of “ominous” situation in Asia


On this day, August 4th, 1953, Speaking before the Governor’s Conference in Seattle, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warns that the situation in Asia is becoming “very ominous for the United States.” In the speech, Eisenhower made specific reference to the need to defend French Indochina from the communists.

By 1953, U.S. officials were becoming increasingly concerned with events in Asia and elsewhere in the so-called “Third World.” During the early years of the Cold War (1945 to 1950), the focus of America’s anticommunist foreign policy was on Europe. With the outbreak of war in Korea in 1950, however, the American government began to shift its focus to other areas of the globe, particularly Asia. During the presidential campaign of 1952, Eisenhower was harshly critical of President Harry S. Truman’s foreign policy, declaring that too little attention had been paid to Asia and that the Korean War was the result of ignoring communist intentions in that corner of the world. Shortly after taking office in early 1953, the victorious Eisenhower adopted a “get tough” policy toward the situation in Korea, even hinting that nuclear weapons might be employed to break the military stalemate between U.S. and communist forces. On July 27, 1953, an armistice was signed, bringing the Korean War to an end.

Just over a week later, Eisenhower addressed the Governor’s Conference and suggested that the communist danger in Asia was far from over. He specifically noted the communist threat in French Indochina, where the French military was battling Vietnamese revolutionaries for control of Vietnam. Eisenhower defended his decision to approve a $400 million aid package to help the French in their effort as “the cheapest way that we can prevent the occurrence that would be of most terrible significance to the United States.” According to Eisenhower, communist victory in Indochina would have far-reaching consequences. “Now let us assume that we lose Indochina. If Indochina goes, several things happen right away. The Malay Peninsula, that last little bit of land hanging on down there, would be scarcely defensible. The tin and tungsten that we so greatly value from that area would cease coming.” One by one, other Asian nations would be toppled. “So you see, somewhere along that line, this must be blocked and it must be blocked now.”

Eisenhower’s speech marked the first appearance of what would come to be known as the “domino theory”–the idea that the loss of Indochina to communism would lead to other Asian nations following suit, like a row of dominos. The speech also indicated that the United States was fully committed to the defense of Indochina to prevent this possibility. After the defeat of the French in 1954, America took France’s place in fighting the Vietnamese communist revolutionaries, thus beginning its slow but steady immersion into the Vietnam War.