But Ho was mystified by the way that those values were simply disregarded in Vietnam. Though President Franklin Roosevelt opposed European imperialism, the Cold War soon led US leaders to support French control over Vietnam. Initially, America reluctantly acceded to France’s desires in the region, hesitant to disrupt to France’s precarious postwar stability by encouraging the country to dissolve its overseas empire. By the mid-1950s, the positions had switched: France wanted to depart its costly occupation of Vietnam, while the US was terrified that a victory for Ho would lead to communist control of all of Asia.
This argument was called the "domino theory," and every Cold War president believed in it. They were all wrong.
As Logevall explains, the domino theory “posited that the countries of East and Southeast Asia had no individuality, no history of their own, no unique circumstances in social, political, and economic life that differentiated them from their neighbors.” More recently, a 2007 study of over 130 countries in the 20th century found that states are only rarely influenced by changes in their neighbors’ internal structures.
"Embers of War" details the tragic history of America’s assumption of the French burden in Vietnam. Not only did the US gradually become enmeshed in Southeast Asia, it did so with willful disregard for what the French experience could have taught them. Said General William Westmoreland, who led the military from 1964 to 1972: “Why should I study the lessons of the French? They haven’t won a war since Napoleon.”
Had American leaders studied the French failures in the region, they might have realized that they were repeating the mistakes of their ally, including the biggest mistake of all: failure to understand that the Vietnamese were willing to do anything to achieve independence from foreign rule. The country lost approximately 3 million soldiers and civilians fighting the Americans, who lost 58,000 men. Any people willing to endure such horrible, lopsided losses could simply outlast its adversary. The Vietnamese succeeded.