“Domino Theory” by La Londe (2002) is set in Smalltown, USA and deals with multiple themes in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Five times in a hundred years, from 1898 onward, America sent its soldiers abroad and saw them return dead, wounded or whole but covered in glory. Vietnam was the significant exception because Americans beat a hasty retreat just before the combined Vietcong and North Vietnam land forces took the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon and erased the name from the map forever.
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The longest USA commitment abroad commenced with military advisors and trainers in 1950, escalated to the increasing commitment of land, air, and sea forces, and ended badly in 1973. In this 6-page short story, La Londe succinctly portrays three points of view about Vietnam.
The first-person narrative is Jake’s viewpoint. He represents the restless youth of that time, neither especially talented for college work nor blessed by family wealth. As was the fashion of the day, he travels from Juneau to San Francisco to immerse himself in the hippie counterculture of Haight-Ashbury. In the process, he discovers marijuana and drifts around the fringes of those marching to protest the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Out of respect for his family’s legacy of military service (but also because he needs to be fed and housed), he signs up, is trained to be a field medic, and is lucky enough to be in the minority of medics that escape assignment to Vietnam. In West Germany, Jake appears to have done what he was trained for handling the odd medical emergency well enough. The rest of the time, he makes known his sympathies with the protest movements of the era by being sloppy about military dress and grooming regulations. About Vietnam, he is convinced that going there was not a patriotic duty but serving “financial interests”, then known by the term “military-industrial complex.”
On returning to civilian life, Jake muddles through and therefore symbolizes the author’s viewpoint about the wastefulness of military life and how dispirited veterans became. He tries working in a Veterans Administration hospital but, lacking a college degree, can only fill the job of orderly. Finding this demeaning, he eventually winds up operating a sidewalk espresso stall. But the earnings are not enough to pay off the mortgage he took out and so, his house was foreclosed.
The second viewpoint that La Londe finds sympathetic is that of David Francis, a schizophrenic who Jake feels is a victim of government neglect and therefore represents those Vietnam veterans mentally or physically crippled by the experience. He is not, however, a Vietnam veteran.
Finally, there is the antagonist, Tom. He made a lifelong career out of serving in the military. Being in the Criminal Investigation Division, he has no patience with protestors or slackers like Jake. And he is a firm believer in the “Domino Theory”, that the U.S.A. was duty-bound to stop the Communist tide in Vietnam else the rest of Southeast Asia would fall.
Quality of the Work and Influencing a Student’s Understanding of the War
That La Londe chose the title from the belief system of the villain shows how little he thought of the “Domino Theory”. This helps us understand that America was polarized in the late 1960s and early 1970s because protesters and those who broke the law by escaping the draft shared La Londe’s viewpoint. But this is not necessarily true. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Communist-exported “national revolutions” essentially withered on the vine in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. A quarter-century after the Vietnam defeat and two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall gave the lie to Marxist ideology, only North Korea, mainland China, Vietnam, and Burma remain as the last bastions of Communist-inspired central planning and authoritarian government. Both Marx and Mao would have cheered China’s exports of arms and rockets to Iran and Palestine today.
As to public opinion, finally, one is reminded that America has been divided about its foreign adventures ever since 1898 and right up to the present where Afghanistan and Iraq are concerned.
La Londe, W. D. (2002). Domino theory. Viet Nam War Generation Journal, 58 – 63.