Eisenhower explains the Domino Theory (1954)

In April 1954 United States president Dwight Eisenhower spoke at a press conference where he was asked, among other things, about the communist victory in Indochina. Eisenhower responded with one of the earliest explanations of the Domino Theory:

Merriman Smith: “Mr President, concerning the hydrogen bomb, are we going to continue to make bigger and bigger H-bombs and, as the H-bomb program continues or progresses, are we learning anything that is directly applicable to the peacetime uses of atomic energy?”

Eisenhower: “No, we have no intention of going into a program of seeing how big these can be made. I don’t know whether the scientists would place any limit; and, therefore, you hear these remarks about “blow-out,” which, I think, is even blowing a hole through the entire atmosphere… We know of no military requirement that could lead us into the production of a bigger bomb than has already been produced…”

May Craig: “Mr President, aren’t you afraid that Russia will make bigger hydrogen bombs before we do?”

Eisenhower: “No, I am not afraid of it. I don’t know of any reason for building a bigger bomb than you find to represent as great an efficiency as is needed or desirable, so I don’t know what bigger ones would do.”

Joseph Harsch: “Mr President, would you care to say anything to us about the loyalty and patriotism of Edward R. Murrow?” [NB: Murrow had given his television address critical of Joseph McCarthy the previous month]

Eisenhower: “I am going to say nothing at all about that. First of all, I don’t comment about people, I don’t comment about things of which I know nothing. I will say this. I have known this man for many years; he has been one of the men I consider my friend among your profession. That is what I do know about him…”

Robert Richards: “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.”

Eisenhower: “…You have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world… 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…

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 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 really about millions and millions and millions of people.

Finally, the geographical position achieved [from the fall of Asian nations to communism] 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… So the possible consequences of the loss are just incalculable to the free world…”

Joseph Dear: “Do you favour bringing this Indochina situation before the United Nations?”

Eisenhower: “I really can’t say. I wouldn’t want to comment at too great a length at this moment, but I do believe this: this is the kind of thing that must not be handled by one nation trying to act alone. We must have a concert of opinion, and a concert of readiness to react in whatever way is necessary. Of course, the hope is always that it is peaceful conciliation and accommodation of these problems.”