WHILE there was much on the mind of President Lyndon Baines Johnson when he landed at Subang Airport on Oct 30, 1966, checking the rise of communism, especially in South-East Asia, would have figured largely among his concerns.
Johnson, the 36th president (1963-1969) of the United States, was a believer in the “domino theory”, which postulates that if the communists of North Vietnam were allowed to conquer its southern counterpart with no resistance given, it would not be long before the rest (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and all the way down to Malaya) turned Red as well.
The same can be said of the Communist Party of Thailand, which was opposed to the presence of US troops on Thai soil and launched a guerrilla war against the Thai government in 1965, calling the government a US stooge.
In 1965, Indonesia’s President Suharto had crushed Partai Komunis Indonesia in a bloodbath that left an estimated 500,000 of his countrymen dead.
In 1965, Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk severed ties with the US, and allowed North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases in Cambodia to attack the
US-backed South Vietnam.
Malaya had to grapple with the Emergency (1948-1960), but had more or less suppressed the armed communist struggle by mid-1960s.
In short, the entire south Asia region was seen as a tinderbox
waiting to burst into a red flame.
For sure, communist “containment” was practised long before Johnson assumed the presidency. Alarmed at the momentum of communism in south Asia, the United States started sending military advisers to what was then French Indochina (now Vietnam) from 1950.
Johnson, also popularly known as LBJ, was responsible for drastically increasing the deployment of US troops to Vietnam, with the numbers starting to increase in the early 1960s after combat units were deployed beginning in 1965, with numbers peaking in 1968.
Upon his arrival at Subang airport that morning, Johnson said: “Though I feel that I know you, I have come here to learn from you. I know that your nation is a model of what may be done by determined and far-sighted men in South-East Asia, and in other parts of the world.
“You valiantly subdued a Communist insurgency in your own nation. And then, from the very same room where you once planned battle strategy, you planned the works of peace. You began building a free and prospering countryside that can relieve the poverty and the apathy upon which communism so often thrives.
“Your achievement in this respect, I believe, has the greatest significance for our struggle in Vietnam today. You have shown that military action can stop Communist aggression and that while the aggression is being stopped, and even more strongly when it is stopped – the peace, as well as the war, can be won.”
Johnson and his entourage, which included his wife, were brought to Kuala Lumpur’s new buildings, including the spanking new National Mosque (completed in 1965), and the National Museum (completed in 1963).
But what is most memorable was his trip to the countryside, to a village in Negri Sembilan about 70km from Kuala Lumpur that was later renamed as Kampung LBJ to commemorate his visit. (see sidebar on Felda LBJ).
In his tribute, Johnson said: “Fifteen years ago (1951), the city where we spent the night was a day in conflict. Your streets were filled with soldiers and your hospitals were filled with the wounded.
“Yet here today, we have seen what the future can hold for a troubled country. We see a bright and thriving, modern capital-bursting with energy. We see an inspiring new mosque – symbolising your trust in God. We see a beautiful new museum – showing your great respect for a very rich past.
“We have travelled more than 15,000 miles (24,000km) since we left home two weeks ago, and tonight we are near the end of our journey through Asia. Soon we will return to our own America. Nowhere in our travels have we found greater expectations than here in your own country of Malaysia.”