Update, September 8, 2015: Since January 20, 2009, the American people has found itself led by a usurper who believes in Containment Theory, but who has devoted himself to the spread of Communism, aka racial socialism, through unleashing all of the destructive forces of the world, and handcuffing or slaughtering all of those who seek to stop the deluge.
Containment Theory is Dead! Long Live Containment Theory!
By Nicholas Stix
February 27, 2003
A Different Drummer/Toogood Reports
Cold War thinking was dominated in the West by "Containment Theory," one of whose implications was Domino Theory.
Containment Theory, as originally formulated by diplomat George Kennan, stated that America had to aggressively confront the power of the Soviet Union, wherever the latter made inroads, or threatened to make them. The main means of confrontation was in putting American troops in the Soviets' path. "Domino Theory" held that the fall of any government to communism likely would topple neighboring governments.
Domino Theory began making a comeback regarding Islam during the mid-1990s, and the term "containment" has been much bandied about by those arguing against war on Iraq. (Except that "containment" is, in their case, a euphemism for appeasement, which containment theory explicitly opposed.) While safely ignoring the presence of over 100,000 U.S. troops nearby who lend credibility to the U.N. weapons inspectors, but who cannot remain forever on alert in the Persian Gulf, those who "oppose" war tell us that Saddam Hussein is "contained" by the presence of the inspectors.
Given the limited number of notions there are for dealing with international conflict, Containment/Domino Theory's derivation from timeless assumptions and ways of thinking about human action, and its influential history, it is to be expected that it would figure in contemporary debates.
O'Malley & Co. Dodge the Truth
One sneering observer of Containment/Domino Theory is George Mason University history instructor Michael O'Malley:
"By , proponents of 'containment' were also talking about 'the Domino Theory.' Hardly a theory at all, since it had little or no intellectual content, the 'domino theory' argued that if one nation (Vietnam) fell to the communists, neighboring nations would fall as well—like dominos. This absurd argument perpetuated the tendency, deeply rooted in the doctrine of containment, to see other nations as having no history, no past, no culture that mattered. They were simply dominos in a row, to be knocked down or picked up by the world's two largest powers."Actually, Ike mentioned Domino Theory in a press conference as early as 1954, but I'm no history professor, so what do I know?
I don't know what Michael O'Malley considers "intellectual content," but a social scientific theory must predict behavior. Even as described by O'Malley, Domino Theory makes empirical predictions which will either come true, or fail to come to true. (However, he misrepresents it, by making the direction of its momentum ambiguous.) And it is certainly the case, that countless times in history, the collapse of a government has destabilized neighboring governments.
Let's see. The Vietnam War led to the collapse of its neighbors, Laos and Cambodia, into communist tyranny, and the murder of millions. And 14 years after the fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (reform) in the Soviet Union led to the collapse of communism in Russia, the Soviet Republics, and the entire East Bloc. The collapse of Soviet communism, which vindicated Domino Theory as presented by O'Malley, should have humbled him. O'Malley, however, apparently has no shame. Conversely, the collapse of Soviet communism refuted conventional Domino Theory, as understood at the time by anti-communists and communists alike.
Sure, Containment/Domino Theory was imprecise. It was a theory of international relations, a field so huge and with so many factors, that testing, and thus corroborating or refuting a theory is impossible. (You cannot control for different causal factors.) The Domino Theory component derives from the ancient notion of a slippery slope, which is itself a negative theory of momentum. As such, Domino Theory was the twin of Marxism, which believed that historical momentum was leading inexorably to the worldwide toppling of capitalism, and its replacement with socialism.
The problem with theories of momentum, is that, as history teaches us, momentum is ambiguous, and can change. For instance, some opponents of a war on Iraq argue that an American attack will lead to counterattacks from other Islamic nations and terrorist groups, or foresee one war leading to other wars. Some opponents of a war on Iraq also imply -- as once did Cold War containment theorists -- that momentum can only go one way -- in favor of Islam. (The pessimistic implication, that momentum only went one way, actually protected Containment Theory from becoming hopelessly vague.)
And yet, had American foreign policy not been guided by Containment/Domino Theory, communism would surely have spread much wider than it did, Gorbachev might never have become Soviet dictator (or might have handled himself much differently), and the Soviet Union might still exist today.
Michael O'Malley holds to a set of beliefs and attitudes that are pervasive in academia, and in which American undergraduates are routinely indoctrinated, including:
• The romanticization of the murderous, communist dictator, Ho Chi Minh, into a Jeffersonian Democrat; and
• The presentation of Vietnam as an historically unique case by:
o Detaching its communist takeover from the 20th century history of world communism;
o Redefining the War in Vietnam as a civil war and a "nationalist revolution for independence";
o Tarring Americans -- soldiers, politicians, and thinkers alike -- as "racists" for ignoring Vietnam's "unique culture"; and
o Promoting the myth of "non-aligned" communist nations that spontaneously opted for communism through the will of their culturally unique, respective peoples.
O'Malley is uninterested in the millions who were either murdered by the Communists, escaped, or died trying to get away. I suppose they don't count as "authentic" Vietnamese, Cambodians or Laotions in his book. Meanwhile, for O'Malley, it is the Americans who were the monsters in Southeast Asia. Surprise, surprise!
All of the Soviet Republics and East Bloc countries had unique cultures prior to being crushed by Soviet imperialism, and some continued to have recognizably distinct cultures during the Soviet Period. But such cultural distinctness was powerless before the communist apparat. Indeed, O'Malley is hypocritical, in emphasizing cultural uniqueness only when it helps him score debating points against Americans, such as when he harps on the cultural incongruity of President Ngo Dinh Diem (1954-1963), a Catholic, ruling South Vietnam, a nation that was 80% Buddhist. Were O'Malley honest, he would have noted the cultural incongruity of a largely Buddhist nation being ruled by communists. That he ignores such incongruity, is one of many "tells" that he supports communism, cultural uniqueness be damned.
O'Malley uses "cultural uniqueness" as a front for "cultural unity" (the old "spirit of the people" dressed up in new duds), in order to smuggle in a pro-Communist interpretation. In itself, however, "cultural uniqueness" will not explain why a nation fell to communism, because no people ever knowingly embraced Communism without a fight.