Lansdale, Edward Geary

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LANSDALE, Edward Geary

(b. 6 February 1908 in Detroit, Michigan; d. 23 February 1987 in McLean, Virginia), U.S. Air Force intelligence officer famous as a counterinsurgency expert.

Lansdale was the first of four sons of Henry Lansdale, an automobile parts company executive, and Sarah Frances Philips. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles, but left in 1931 without earning a degree, and in 1935 embarked on an advertising career. In 1932 he married Helen Batcheller; they had two sons. During World War II, Lansdale served in the U.S. Army, working with the Military Intelligence Service and the Office of Strategic Services. Lansdale remained in the service after the war, transferring to the U.S. Air Force in 1947, and eventually rising to the rank of major general in 1963. In 1950, while assigned to the Office of Policy Coordination, a top-secret intelligence agency that engaged in covert operations, Lans-dale was sent to the Philippines, which was beset by the Communist-led Hukbalahap insurgency. Under the guise of an adviser to the Philippine army, he developed a counterinsurgency program that defeated the Huks through a skillful combination of social and political reform, psychological warfare, and prudent military operations.

In 1954 Lansdale was named head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) military mission in Saigon, Vietnam, although he was never an employee of the agency. During the next two years, he worked closely with Ngo Dinh Diem, prime minister of the State of Vietnam and later president of the Republic of Vietnam, to turn South Vietnam into a non-Communist nation. Lansdale used psychological warfare techniques to persuade more than 1 million refugees to leave North Vietnam for South Vietnam. He also planned reforms, helped neutralize the opposition to Diem in South Vietnam from religious sects and the Saigon underworld, derailed a coup by a powerful general, and engineered Diem's elevation to the presidency. Lansdale was one of the few people Diem trusted outside his family circle, while Lansdale saw Diem as the only alternative to a Communist triumph in South Vietnam. To the dismay of many U.S. officials, their relationship bypassed formal diplomatic channels, but Lansdale's accomplishments in the Philippines and Vietnam protected him from his critics. Lansdale received orders to return to the United States at the end of 1956, arriving in Washington, D.C., in January 1957. During the next years he served in the Office of Special Operations in the Department of Defense and as chief Pentagon representative on the U.S. Intelligence Board, which was responsible for formulating national covert intelligence policy. In 1960 he became part of U.S. efforts to bring down the Communist government of Fidel Castro in Cuba. The CIA looked to military action, but Lansdale spoke out against military operations in meetings of the intelligence board, arguing that the CIA's plan to land a brigade of Cuban exiles on the Cuban coast was fatally flawed. The CIA, however, was committed to an over-the-beach invasion, leading to the disaster at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.

In the fall of 1961 President John F. Kennedy named Lansdale executive director of the newly created Special Group, Augmented. Charged with unseating Castro, the group conducted operations under the code name Mongoose. Lansdale proposed to build up a movement among anti-Castro elements in Cuba that would mount an insurrection. The plan, however, was based on wishful thinking. There was no evidence to suppose that Cuba was on the brink of revolt, and Lansdale had no real idea of how to bring one about. Moreover, the CIA showed little interest in the plan and still looked to military intervention to resolve the Castro problem. Ultimately, Mongoose came to center on sabotage missions in Cuba and attempts to assassinate Castro, which Lansdale later said were carried out without his knowledge and served only to prompt the Soviet Union to increase its support of Castro.

Meanwhile, Lansdale had again become involved with Vietnam. At the beginning of 1961 he traveled to South Vietnam to assess the war against Communist insurgents. Questioning the emphasis on military force that Diem's U.S. advisers advocated, he contended that the key to counterinsurgency was to attract the support of the people through civic action, a responsive government, and professional behavior by military forces. Furthermore, while recognizing that Diem had a weak political base, he believed that with sensitive handling he could be guided to adopt policies that would win the "hearts and mind" of the population. Impressed with Lansdale's experience as an Asian hand and his views on the war, Kennedy in February 1961 considered naming him ambassador to South Vietnam. But Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, convinced Lansdale was too much of a lone wolf, vetoed his appointment.

In the fall of 1961 Lansdale participated in a mission to Saigon headed by General Maxwell Taylor, Kennedy's special military adviser, and Walt Rostow, a Kennedy foreign-policy adviser. The Taylor-Rostow report urged a greater U.S. military commitment to the defense of South Vietnam. Presenting the threat to South Vietnam largely in terms of aggression by North Vietnam, it called for more firepower and mobility for South Vietnamese troops, the assignment of U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam, and possible air attacks against North Vietnam. Lansdale, in contrast, emphasized the insurgency within South Vietnam and the need to focus on the political aspects of the war. Kennedy was not prepared to adopt most of the Taylor-Rostow recommendations. But for Lansdale the report was an indication of his waning influence on Vietnam strategy, as policy makers increasingly looked to a military solution. Having few supporters in the Washington bureaucracy, Lansdale retired from the air force on 30 October 1963.

From 1965 to 1968 Lansdale served in Vietnam as special assistant to ambassadors Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and Ellsworth Bunker on pacification issues. Arguing that President Lyndon B. Johnson's escalation of the war would overwhelm South Vietnam and take the initiative away from the South Vietnamese government and army, Lans-dale criticized the conventional military operations conducted by U.S. forces and urged that greater emphasis be placed on political and social reform. But lacking clearly defined authority and specific programs to administer, he had little impact on the war effort. In retirement Lansdale lectured on Vietnam and occasionally advised the Pentagon on guerrilla war issues. His first wife died in 1972, and he married Patrocinio Kelly Yapcinco on 4 July 1973. Lansdale died of heart failure and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Lansdale stands out for his advocacy of nonconventional means to defeat Communist insurgencies in Third World countries. Whether Lansdale's approach would have produced a better outcome to the Vietnam War is difficult to say, but it was as valid as the costly war of attrition the United States fought for so many years.

Lansdale's papers are deposited with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. His memoir is In the Midst of Wars: An American's Mission to Southeast Asia (1972). Cecil B. Curry, Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American (1988), is an admiring biography. Lansdale's activities in Southeast Asia are also portrayed in two novels that appeared in the 1950s. The first, Graham Greene, The Quiet American (1955), reviled a Lansdale-like character, although both Greene and Lansdale denied the connection. The second, William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, The Ugly American (1958), extolled a Lansdale-like character and was on the best-seller list for more than a year. An obituary is in the New York Times (24 Feb. 1987).

John Kennedy Ohl