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ADA At War: The Evolving Views of A Liberal Group on the Proper Role of Military Power

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Nov 07 2011 at 4:16 PM
FALL 2011 >>

ADA advocates the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan even though it originally supported the invasion. As a progressive internationalist organization, its positions on U.S. wars do not answer to a single doctrine, and have over the years been complex, controversial and evolving.

By Ben Weiss

Founded at the dawn of the Cold War as a liberal, anti-communist response to American communist-affiliated movements like Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party, ADA eschewed pacifism and advocated military build-ups in the U.S. and other Western nations to better confront the Soviet Union.  It supported the Korean War, and backed U.S. aid to Marshall Tito’s independent communist regime in Yugoslavia in its face-off with Stalin’s USSR. At the same time, it displayed its liberal colors by calling for the Truman Administration to engage the American people in a public debate on the value and danger of the hydrogen bomb.

In 1954, ADA dealt for the first time with a subject that would eventually strain the organization’s unity and fracture America’s liberal coalition: Vietnam. Delegates to the 7th annual ADA convention in May,  declaring that “the fall of Indo-China [to communism] would be disastrous,” called for international military support of the newly-independent former French colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Later that year, ADA again showed both its faces (liberal and anti-communist) by denouncing threats by conservative politicians of “massive retaliations” and “preemptive actions” against China for it’s meddling in Southeast Asia; while at the same time warning the Eisenhower Administration against proposed cuts in defense spending.

In September, it slammed the Administration for appearing to wash its hands of both Korea and Vietnam in anticipation of the upcoming midterm elections.  Moreover, it argued that the two conflicts should have been treated as a single topic in negotiations with the Chinese.  Instead, ADA maintained, the armistice on the Korean peninsula allowed the Chinese to shift forces south to Vietnam, bolstering the communist insurgency that eventually defeated the French.

In the early 1960s, ADA was still advocating military support of regimes resisting communism, even if the U.S. disapproved of the government in power.  But at the same time, it worried about America’s unilateral over-commitment in Vietnam and proposed a broader coalition of friendly Asian countries. 

By February 1963, ADA’s non-judgmental policy towards anti-communist governments had changed: it called on the Kennedy Administration to push for the removal of the corrupt Diem regime in Vietnam.  It also worried about the potential provocation to China of  the proposed dispatch of American troops to Thailand.

It was at the organization’s 19th annual convention in 1966 that a decisive shift in ADA’s Vietnam policy occurred.  Following dramatic dueling speeches by two founders of the organization--Hubert Humphrey, at the time Vice President of the United States, who made the Administration’s case for continued U.S. involvement in the war; and economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who argued against it--the delegates voted for a deescalation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement.

In the years that followed, ADA stepped up its opposition to the Vietnam War, calling in 1967 for the immediate cessation of U.S. bombing of the north, and in 1968 for the Johnson Administration to abandon America’s original war aims.

Ben Weiss is an ADA volunteer.