Year
1954
Month Day
April 07

President Eisenhower delivers Cold War “domino theory” speech

President Dwight D. Eisenhower coins one of the most famous Cold War phrases when he suggests the fall of French Indochina to the communists could create a “domino” effect in Southeast Asia. The so-called “domino theory” dominated U.S. thinking about Vietnam for the next decade.

By early 1954, it was clear to many U.S. policymakers that the French were failing in their attempt to re-establish colonial control in Indochina (Vietnam), which they lost during World War II when the Japanese took control of the area. The Vietnamese nationalists, led by the communist Ho Chi Minh, were on the verge of winning a stunning victory against French forces at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. In just a few weeks, representatives from the world’s powers were scheduled to meet in Geneva to discuss a political settlement of the Vietnamese conflict. U.S. officials were concerned that a victory by Ho’s forces and/or an agreement in Geneva might leave a communist regime in control of all or part of Vietnam. In an attempt to rally congressional and public support for increased U.S. aid to the French, President Eisenhower gave a historic press conference on April 7, 1954.

He spent much of the speech explaining the significance of Vietnam to the United States. First was its economic importance, “the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs” (materials such as rubber, jute, and sulphur). There was also the “possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world.” Finally, the president noted, “You have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle.” Eisenhower expanded on this thought, explaining, “You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is a certainty that it will go over very quickly.” This would lead to disintegration in Southeast Asia, with the “loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following.” Eisenhower suggested that even Japan, which needed Southeast Asia for trade, would be in danger.

Eisenhower’s words had little direct immediate impact–a month later, Dien Bien Phu fell to the communists, and an agreement was reached at the Geneva Conference that left Ho’s forces in control of northern Vietnam. In the long run, however, Eisenhower’s announcement of the “domino theory” laid the foundation for U.S. involvement in Vietnam. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson both used the theory to justify their calls for increased U.S. economic and military assistance to non-communist South Vietnam and, eventually, the commitment of U.S. armed forces in 1965.

READ MORE: How the Vietnam War Ratcheted Up Under 5 U.S. Presidents

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Tito is made president of Yugoslavia for life

On April 7, 1963, a new Yugoslav constitution proclaims Tito the president for life of the newly named Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Formerly known as Josip Broz, Tito was born to a large peasant family in Croatia in 1892. At that time, Croatia was part of the ...read more

Sweden’s Dag Hammarskjöld elected U.N. head

By a vote of 57 to 1, Dag Hammarskjöld is elected secretary-general of the United Nations. The son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, a former prime minister of Sweden, Dag joined Sweden’s foreign ministry in 1947, and in 1951 formally entered the cabinet as deputy foreign minister. The ...read more

Refugess of the Rwandan Genocide

Violence erupts in Rwanda, foreshadowing genocide

On April 7, 1994, violence fuels the launch of what would become the worst episode of genocide since World War II: the massacre of an estimated 500,000 to 1 million innocent civilian Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Following the first wave of massacres, Rwandan forces manage to ...read more

Japanese battleship Yamato is sunk by Allied forces

On April 7, 1945, the Japanese battleship Yamato, ostensibly the greatest battleship in the world, is sunk in Japan’s first major counteroffensive in the struggle for Okinawa. Weighing 72,800 tons and outfitted with nine 18.1-inch guns, the battleship Yamato was Japan’s only hope ...read more

JFK lobbies Congress to help save historic sites in Egypt

On April 7, 1961, President John F. Kennedy sends a letter to Congress in which he recommends the U.S. participate in an international campaign to preserve ancient temples and historic monuments in the Nile Valley of Egypt. The campaign, initiated by UNESCO, was designed to save ...read more

Lewis and Clark depart Fort Mandan

After a long winter, the Lewis and Clark expedition departs its camp among the Mandan Indians and resumes its journey West. The Corps of Discovery had begun its voyage the previous spring, and it arrived at the large Mandan and Minnetaree villages along the upper Missouri River ...read more

John Wayne wins Best Actor Oscar

On April 7, 1970, the legendary actor John Wayne wins his first—and only—acting Academy Award, for his star turn in the director Henry Hathaway’s Western True Grit. Wayne appeared in some 150 movies over the course of his long and storied career. He established his tough, rugged, ...read more

Battle of Shiloh concludes

Two days of heavy fighting conclude near Pittsburgh Landing in western Tennessee. The Battle of Shiloh became a Union victory after the Confederate attack stalled on April 6, and fresh Yankee troops drove the Confederates from the field on April 7. Shiloh began when Union General ...read more