A topic of “settled history” that I always questioned in school was the debunking of the Domino Theory when discussing the roles of American and Soviet expansion during the Cold War, to the point that Domino Theory is considered some whacky misguided false narrative.
While I do strongly believe our involvement in places like Vietnam were borne from confusing a French colonial war with a war of Communism, China and the Soviet Union supported the NVA for the same reasons we opposed them, and just as Dominoes push on what is next to them, we saw expansion efforts in Ukraine, the Baltic states, Romania, Germany, much of South America (though I am admittedly pretty weak on my history there) and in Asia the communist countries used their influence over North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and so on.
Each one of these conflicts was incredibly nuanced and it is a disservice to say it was purely NATO v Warsaw, but in some ways the Domino Theory still holds some very valid points.
What are your thoughts? Is Domino Theory a false narrative or was there some truth to it?
There was definitely some amount of truth to this:
George Kennan, a notable American diplomat, stated that the spread of communism, even when democratically elected, was a threat to the United States’ national security. This idea stemmed from the observations of the situation in post-war Eastern Europe (Soviet dominance). This was Stalin’s Russia, so you can understand the reason for fear. So, he proposed a policy of containment.
There was North Korea trying to invade South Korea.
There was the spread of communist rule in three Southeast Asian countries in 1975 (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia).
Before Vietnam, there were unsuccessful communist campaigns in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
As you pointed out, communist governments had a history of supplying aid to communist revolutionaries in other countries.
According to historian Max Boot: “In the late 1970s, America’s enemies seized power in countries from Mozambique to Iran to Nicaragua. American hostages were seized aboard the SS Mayaguez (off Cambodia) andin Tehran. The Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan. There is no obvious connection with the Vietnam War, but there is little doubt that the defeat of a superpower encouraged our enemies to undertake acts of aggression that they might otherwise have shied away from.”
There was the rise in terrorist incidents by left-wing terrorist groups, funded in part by Communist governments, between the 1960s and 1980s. The kidnapping and assassination of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro, the kidnapping of former US Brigadier General James L. Dozier, by the Red Brigades, the terrorist actions of the Red Army Faction and the Japanese Red Army and others. These were all backed by the Soviet Bloc. Not all left-wing terrorist groups were backed by the Bloc though. If you want to read further, here’s a link.
I disagree. They didn’t confuse a colonial war with a war against Communism. You can’t discuss the Vietnam War as a struggle for independence because they already had it after WWII and the humiliating French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
In the Cold War, as local activists and political leaders established newly independent countries out of Europe’s former colonial empires, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China saw these new nations as potential allies and hoped to draw as many as possible into their respective orbits.
The Geneva Conference of 1954 basically pulled a Korea (except the North won). They should’ve learned from that awful mess.