span.fullpost {display:inline;}

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Lisa's Thinking About the Domino Theory

After the "Love Is Strange" scene, Neil Kellerman comes into the dance-practice room and talks with Johnny Castle about whether the employees will perform a pachanga or Cuban-soul dance at the final night's talent show. Johnny immediately surrenders to Neil's insistence that the dance will be a pachanga.

Baby Houseman and Johnny go for a walk, and Baby tells Johnny to talk to Neil again about which dance should be performed. Johnny feels unable to change Neil's mind. Johnny feels that his only money-earning alternative to dancing is house-painting.
Johnny Castle
... I could have told him some new ideas.

Baby Houseman
Why did you let him talk to you that way?

Johnny Castle
What, fight the boss man?

Baby Houseman
You tell him your ideas. He's a person like everyone else.

Johnny Castle
Look, I know these people. They are rich and they're mean. They won't listen to me.

Baby Houseman
Why not fight harder? Make them listen.

Johnny Castle
Because I need this goddamned job lined up for next summer. My dad calls me today. "Good news," he says. "Uncle Paul can finally get you in the union."

Baby Houseman
What union?

Johnny Castle
The House Painters and Plasterers, Local #179, at your service.
Then their conversation in interrupted. They see Jake and Lisa Houseman and Robbie Gould come out a door, involved in a conversation. Baby and Johnny duck down to not be seen.

Lisa tells Jake and Robbie:
Lisa Houseman
I've been thinking a lot about the Domino Theory. Now, when Vietnam falls, is China next?
As Lisa, Jake and Robbie walk away, Baby feels relieved that she and Johnny were not seen. However, Johnny feels insulted by Baby's desire not to be seen with him.
Baby Houseman
I don't think they saw us.

Johnny Castle
Fight harder, huh? I don't see you fighting so hard, telling Daddy I'm your guy.

Baby Houseman
I will. With my father, it's complicated. I will tell him.

Johnny Castle
I don't believe you, Baby. I don't think that you ever had any intention of telling him.

No matter what Lisa said, Johnny felt intellectually inferior. He felt able to talk to Neil about the dance. He felt unable to do any alternative job besides house-painting. He felt unable to be introduced to Baby's parents as her boyfriend.

In fact, Lisa's statement about the Domino Theory did matter. Johnny probably did not understand the expression "Domino Theory", and this ignorance aggravates his feeling of intellectual inferiority. He would not be able to participate in or even understand a conversation about the Domino Theory.


The Wikipedia article about the Domino Theory includes the following passages.
The domino theory was a theory prominent from the 1950s to the 1980s, that posited that if one country in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect. The domino theory was used by successive United States administrations during the Cold War to justify the need for American intervention around the world.

Though he never used the precise term "domino theory", U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower described the theory during an April 7, 1954, news conference, when referring to communism in Indochina: Finally, 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.

In 1949, a Communist-backed government, led by Mao Zedong, was instated in China. ... The takeover by Communists of the world's most populous nation was seen in the West as a great strategic loss ....

By 1948, as a result of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S., Korea was split into two regions, with separate governments, each claiming to be the legitimate government of Korea, and neither side accepting the border as permanent. In 1950 fighting broke out between Communists and Republicans that soon involved troops from China ... Though the war never officially ended, the fighting ended in 1953 with an armistice that left Korea divided into two nations, North Korea and South Korea. ...

In May 1954, the Viet Minh, a Communist and nationalist army, defeated French troops in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and took control of what became North Vietnam. ...

President Eisenhower was the first to refer to countries in danger of Communist takeover as dominoes, in response to a journalist's question about Indochina in an April 7, 1954 news conference ... If Communists succeeded in taking over the rest of Indochina, Eisenhower argued, local groups would then have the encouragement, material support and momentum to take over Burma, Thailand, Malaya and Indonesia; all of these countries had large popular Communist movements and insurgencies within their borders at the time.

This would give them a geographical and economic strategic advantage, and it would make Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand the front-line defensive states. The loss of regions traditionally within the vital regional trading area of countries like Japan would encourage the front-line countries to compromise politically with communism. ...

The John F. Kennedy administration intervened in Vietnam in the early 1960s to, among other reasons, keep the South Vietnamese "domino" from falling. When Kennedy came to power there was concern that the communist-led Pathet Lao in Laos would provide the Viet Cong with bases, and that eventually they could take over Laos.

The above illustration is from the Geography website, in an article titled Domino Theory.


The domino-theory remark could have been said by either Lisa, Jake or Robby, but screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein put the remark into the mouth of Lisa. Not only was Lisa thinking about the Domino Theory, she was thinking about it a lot -- and wanted to discuss it with her father Jake and Robbie.

I think that Bergstein put the words "Domino Theory" into Lisa's mouth in order to show Lisa being stupid. Lisa's question -- When Vietnam falls, is China next? -- indicates that Lisa did not understand clearly (or at all) that China had fallen to the Communists already in 1949.

Mao at Tienanment Square in Beijing, proclaiming the foundation
of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949 --
which was almost 14 years before Lisa's "Domino Theory" remark.
Lisa's question would have been intelligent if instead of saying China she had said Cambodia. The Domino Theory did have much merit.

Bergstein in her own personal opinions certainly disapproved of the Domino Theory, especially as a justification for the USA's involvement in the Vietnam War. Bergstein's first novel, Advancing Paul Newman, was based on her own participation in Senator Gene McCarthy's 1968 campaign to win the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination on an anti-war platform. (For more information about that novel, see my earlier blog article titled Re-Watching Eleanor Bergstein's Earlier Movie "It's My Turn".)

Bergstain certainly would have agreed with the Quora website's article titled What are some arguments against the Domino Theory in Vietnam?, which answers the title's question as follows:
A major piece of evidence against the domino theory consists of the failure of Communism to take hold in Thailand, Indonesia, and other large Southeast Asian countries after the 1975 end of the Vietnam War, as Eisenhower's speech had warned it could.

Critics of the domino theory see the Indochina Wars as largely indigenous or nationalist in nature (such as the Vietnamese driving out the French), and suggest that no such monolithic force as "world communism" existed. Fracturing within the international communist movement had already begun at the time, most seriously in the rivalry between the Soviet Union and China, known as the Sino-Soviet split, which began in the 1950s.

Communist Vietnam and Communist Cambodia found themselves at odds from the very beginning. Rivalry between China and the USSR may have exacerbated tensions between them, since Vietnam had affiliated itself with the USSR and Cambodia with China, but nationalism and territorial disputes were obviously more significant factors. ...

Both Laos and Cambodia adopted communist rule as a direct result of the Vietnam War, which had spread over the borders of Vietnam into these countries .... The U.S. and South Vietnamese forces also contributed to the widening of the war when they invaded and heavily bombed Cambodia in an attempt to root out Viet Cong bases.

Opponents also argued that the domino theory misrepresented the real nature of the widespread and growing civil opposition that U.S.-backed regimes in these countries had generated because of entrenched official corruption and widespread human rights abuses, notably in South Vietnam.
Bergstein personally considered the Domino Theory to be stupid, and she made Lisa ask Is China next? in order to mock Domino Theory proponents as extra-stupid.

Because Bergstein portrayed Jake Houseman as an intelligent person, Bergstein could not put the "Domino Theory" remark into his mouth.


Bergstein could not put the "Domino Theory" into Robbie Gould's mouth either, because he was a follower of the philosopher Ayn Rand, who opposed the USA's fighting the Vietnam War. Rand taught that people and organizations should act only in their own self-interest rather than sacrifice their own assets to help others generously. This principle was violated, in Rand's opinion, by the US Government's economic and military assistance to South Vietnam.

The Quora website includes an article titled Was Ayn Rand against the Vietnam War?, which includes the following passages:
... She [Rand] didn't think we had a national interest in the war. Even though she was as adamantly anti-Communist as anyone could ever be, she didn't agree with the strategy of containment. I think she believed that if we just left the Communists alone, they would collapse under the flaws of their own system. ....

.... She said in response to a question about Vietnam: In my view, we should fight fascism and communism when they come to this country. As to fighting abroad, let us send all the military equipment that we can spare (without sacrifice) to any fight for freedom, whether it's against fascism or communism (which are two variants of statism). But let us never sacrifice American lives for somebody else's freedom. ....

Later, in 1976, after another lecture at the same venue, she said: I was against the war in Vietnam. ... We are guilty of colossal, stupid self-sacrifice.
It's likely that Lisa was thinking a lot about the Domino Theory because Robbie had used Rand's self-interest principle to criticize all the US Government's justifications -- including the Domino Theory -- for assisting South Vietnam. Robbie's arguments caused Lisa to re-examine her own thinking about the Domino Theory and about the Vietnam War.


Baby Houseman's perspective on the Vietnam War was expressed indirectly in two of the movie's moments.


At the movie's beginning, while the Houseman family is removing their luggage from their car, Baby remarks:
A tragedy is three men trapped in a mine or police dogs used in Birmingham, monks burning themselves in protest.
As I explained in a previous article titled Three Tragedies in the Middle of 1963, the "monks burning themselves in protest" were Buddhist monks in Vietnam, protesting against the South Vietnam government. Baby's remark indicates that she supported the monks' protest and therefore opposed the South Vietnam government.


A short while later, in the hotel restaurant, the family discusses Baby's concern about poverty in Southeast Asia.
Marge Houseman
Look at all this leftover food. Are there still starving children in Europe?

Baby Houseman
Try Southeast Asia, Ma.

Marge Houseman
Oh, right.

Jake Houseman
Robbie, Baby wants to send her leftover pot roast to Southeast Asia, so anything you [Baby] don't finish, wrap it up.

Max, our Baby's going to change the world.

Max Kellerman
And what are you [Lisa] going to do, Missy?

Baby Houseman
Lisa's going to decorate it.
Baby perceives the fundamental problem in Southeast Asia not to be the spread of Communism, but rather chronic poverty. Baby perceives that, in contrast, Lisa is interested in doing business with Southeast Asia's wealthy people who want luxury services like interior decorating.


In July 1963 ideological differences between China and Russia became evident. The website This Day in History includes an article titled Rupture Between USSR and China Grows Worse for the day July 14, 1963. The article includes the following passages.
Relations between the Soviet Union and China reach the breaking point as the two governments engage in an angry ideological debate about the future of communism. ...

In mid-1963, officials from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China met in Moscow to try to mend their ideological rift. The Chinese government had become openly critical of what it referred to as the growing “counterrevolutionary trends” in the Soviet Union. In particular, China was unhappy with the Soviet Union’s policy of cooperation with the West.

According to a public statement made by the Chinese government on June 14, 1963, a much more militant and aggressive policy was needed in order to spread the communist revolution worldwide. There could be no “peaceful coexistence” with the forces of capitalism, and the statement chided the Russians for trying to reach a diplomatic understanding with the West, and in particular, the United States.

Exactly one month later [on July 14, 1063], as the meetings in Moscow continued to deteriorate in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and recrimination, the Soviet government issued a stinging rebuttal to the earlier Chinese statement. The Russians agreed that world communism was still the ultimate goal, but that new policies were needed. “Peaceful coexistence” between communist and capitalist nations was essential in the atomic age, and the Soviet statement went on to declare that, “We sincerely want disarmament.” ....

The July 14, 1963, Soviet statement was the first clear public indication that Russia and China were deeply divided over the future of communism. ....

The Houseman family vacationed at the Kellerman resort hotel from August 10 through September 2, 1963. During that time, the events related to the Vietnam War included the following:

August 5: A second Buddhist monk commits suicide by fire in protest against South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem. (The first monk had committed suicide on June 11.) The wife of Diem's brother Nhu Dinh Diem calls the suicides "barbecues".

August 14: In a meeting with the US Ambassador, Diem agrees to publicly repudiate the "barbecue" remark.

August 20: A group of South Vietnam's military generals asks Diem to declare martial law so that they can move many of the Buddhist monks out of Saigon. Diem approves the request at midnight.

August 21:  Under the cover of martial law, forces loyal to Diem's brother Nhu ransack Buddhist pagodas across the country, arresting over 1,400 monks.

August 23: The US Ambassador reports to the State Department that "Nhu, probably with the full support of Diem, had a large hand in planning the action against the Buddhists." The US State Department instructs the US Ambassador to threaten Diem with a loss of economic and military assistance if Diem does not remove his brother Nhu from power.

September 2: President Kennedy expressed his changing opinion in an interview with journalist Walter Cronkite.

President Kennedy still based his Vietnam policy on the Domino Theory, but now he was coming to to think that US assistance might be futile if the South Vietnam government lost the support of its population.

Kennedy's interview with Cronkite took place on the same day, September 2, when the Houseman family's vacation ended.


There is a historical controversy about whether President Kennedy eventually intended to withdraw all US soldiers from Vietnam, but that controversy involves Kennedy's thinking in October and November 1963.

No comments:

Post a Comment