Vietnam Essay, Research Paper
At the end of World War II in 1945, The United States government was, seemingly, intent on eradicating Communism from the world. The government was, in a Machiavellian but sometimes inept way, using any means necessary to achieve this goal. In the process, the United States nearly engaged in nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, sacrificed over 58,000 American lives and some 300,000 causalities (not to mention the untold millions of Asian lives), and created “feelings of disillusionment among many Americans who believed that they had been betrayed by their leaders” (Opposing Viewpoints, pg. 17). Despite these costs, the United States government constantly reaffirmed its anti-communist stance. Throughout the nearly two decades of United States involvement in Vietnam, the United States government entered into, and remained in, the Vietnam War, due to the fear of Communist world domination, and the resolve to halt the spread of Communism before it was too late, something not done to Nazism prior to World War II.
Following WWII, France found itself in another war, this time in an attempt to regain Imperialist control over its former colony of Vietnam. The Western World, wary of the possibility of Communist control of Asia and the domino effect, committed to help the French in their effort against Ho Chi Minh and his regime. Truman and Eisenhower both agreed to spend exorbitant amounts of money on France’s war, but refused to send troops. In 1954, the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu and agreed to withdraw from Indochina. After the French defeat in Vietnam, an agreement was struck in Geneva. Vietnam was to be divided into two sections, the North going to Ho Chi Minh and his Communist regime, while the South was placed under control of Ngo Dinh Diem. Furthermore, the Geneva conference established that by July 1956, an election was to take place, unifying the north and south under one government. However, Diem denounced the agreement, and was supported by the United States’ refusal to sign the agreement. As then Senator John Kennedy states in his speech before the “American Friends of Vietnam,” on America’s stakes in Vietnam the refusal to hold the election is due to the fact that the odds were heavily in favor of Minh and the Communist party. And although his logic is that we can’t have democracy by holding an election if the election will result in anti-Democracy and rigged elections for years to come, his statement is one of the most ridiculously un-democratic statements ever made by anyone in the United States government.
Kennedy, of course, had valid reasons not to want to lose Vietnam to Communism, he saw it as the “cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia” (Podhoretz, pg. 19). Secondly, Kennedy saw Vietnam as a testing ground for Democracy is Asia, an alternative to Communist and Totalitarian dictatorship. Kennedy knew that if South Vietnam’s non-Communist government had worked, it would have created an optimistic view of Democracy in many Asians’ minds, as opposed to the pessimistic view held by most Asians toward Democracy at the time. That is why he could not allow Ho Chi Minh to unify Vietnam under Communist control, he needed it as an example of Democracy to the rest of Asia. Still, Kennedy went on and voiced more reasons for the United States involvement in Vietnam. Kennedy also saw Vietnam as a test, a test to show the rest of the world that America could still be looked on for leadership, commitment, and help. Kennedy stated that he saw the United States and its people as the parents of South Vietnam. We created it, we nurtured it, we shaped its existence, and for this Kennedy knew that the failure of South Vietnam for any reason would reflect poorly on the United States and our reputation would forever be tarnished. His final reason for our involvement was related to the lessons learned following World War II. Those who had lived through World War II and the rise of Hitler felt that they had learned a great lesson. This lesson is known as the “Lesson of Munich.” That lesson was that, “an expansionist totalitarian power could not be stopped by giving into its demands and that limited resistance at an early stage was the only way to avoid full scale war later on” (Podhoretz, pg.11). In other words, “a relatively limited degree of resistance then would have precluded the need for massive resistance afterward.” (Podhoretz, p. 11). They arrived at this conclusion after looking at their reaction to Hitler in the early and mid 1930’s. Hitler invaded the Rhineland, as well as other places. He started off small, and the Allied Powers, mentally and physically exhausted from “The Great War,” tried desperately to avoid conflict. Hitler kept making demands, and we kept giving in, figuring, this will be the last thing he asks for. Hitler’s demands grew and grew, when, next thing we knew, he was invading Poland, Czechoslovakia making his way outward. So we analyzed our mistakes from that time, and vowed to never let that happen again. This is a problem societies have run into throughout history. They analyze and discover what they feel is the lesson of their previous war, and then decide that the lesson shall forever hold true and attempt to apply it to their next war, and the one after that, and the one after that. Unfortunately, war is not math. You can’t apply the same formula to a new equation time and time again. Sooner or later, your luck will run out. So, the United States learned from World War II, that it is necessary to stamp out expansionist movements early on, and they applied this lesson to Korea in the 1950’s, it worked, but inevitably, the lesson didn’t hold true when the Vietnam conflict arose, and our theory on how to crush expansionist movements backfired.
So Kennedy and the United States did not, understandably want to see a repeat of World War II, and they decided that South Vietnam needed to be protected. So it becomes apparent that the United States government had valid reasons to protect South Vietnam. They were afraid that once Vietnam fell so, too, would the rest of Asia, and, eventually, the rest of the world. This, at the time, was a very real and valid fear in the United States. Many people were afraid that Communism would take over the world and that we would be attacked by both the Chinese and the Russians in a nuclear war. Secondly, we entered the conflict, to prove to the rest of Asia that Democracy can and does work. Thirdly, we wanted to keep our reputation as the most powerful force in both international politics and international warfare. And finally, we hoped to save a lot of soldiers and money in the long run by sacrificing a relatively small amount of men and money early on, and in the process, avoiding World War III, or a nuclear holocaust. So, history shows us that while we entered Vietnam with just and valid reasons in mind, the means by which we went about carrying out our will was wrong. This situation was different then World War II, and in hindsight should have been handled differently.
In an attempt to quickly quell the Vietcong (meaning Vietnamese Communists), President Kennedy sent Special Forces troops to Vietnam in 1961. These troops were to train South Vietnamese forces and help them fight the Vietcong. However, the South Vietnamese proved to be inept and seemed incapable of learning to fight, and to protect their country. So, once again afraid of losing the battle to Communism, Kennedy commits thousands more troops. By the end of 1963, shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination, a total of 16,500 American troops are stationed in Vietnam.
When Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States in November 1963, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he was thrown into a difficult situation regarding Vietnam; mainly, how many, if any, troops should he send to the small country in southeast Asia. In campaign speeches the following year, Johnson stated that he would continue to uphold the commitments made by the Kennedy administration, reaffirming the United States’ demand that North Vietnam troops stay out of South Vietnam, leaving it as a veritable democratic haven for those in Vietnam who wished to remain in a non-Communist state. Shortly after being sworn in as President in 1965, Johnson made a speech to the American public in response to questions as why he had escalated the situation in Vietnam. Why not pull out? Why send more troops? By this time the number of U.S. troops had increased to 75,000, and in this public address, Johnson announced he would further increase that number to 125,000 immediately. In the speech, Johnson tried to address these questions and more, with only mild satisfaction from the American public. In stating, “We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else. Nor would surrender in Vietnam bring peace, because we learned from Hitler in Munich, that success only feeds the appetite of power”(Johnson, pg. 100), he demonstrates his belief that Communism is the equivalent of the Nazism of the late 1930’s. He believes that if the U.S. loses the war in Vietnam, “then no nation can ever again have the same confidence in American promise or in American protection. In each land, the forces of Independence would be considerably weakened, and an Asia so threatened by Communist domination would certainly imperil the security of the United States itself”(Johnson, pg.100). This statement seems to be closely related to how Kennedy felt before his demise. This was a notice to the public that things would not change, in fact, Johnson would implement full scale attack on the Vietnam Cong. Declaring that our objective was to maintain the liberty in South Vietnam, Johnson stated that “we will not surrender, and we will not retreat” (Johnson, pg. 102), in our attempt to save the world from Communism. Of course in hindsight, we, in fact, lost the war, and Johnson was so unpopular that he did not even attempt to run for re-election in 1968. That sentiment is expressed in great detail by groups such as the Vietnam Day Committee, in a pamphlet entitled “Attention All Military Personnel,” published in May 1965. The VDC
makes many valid yet extremely biased points. Why were we fighting in Vietnam? According to the government, it was to preserve democracy in South Vietnam, but the VDC points out that South Vietnam is run by a dictatorship, as it has been for generations, and at the time, was under a dictator who was quoted as naming Adolf Hitler as his idol. President Johnson stated that we were fighting for political freedom in South Vietnam, but, and isn’t this ironic, the puppet dictator the U.S. placed in charge of South Vietnam immediately jailed all political opposition, both anti and pro-communist leaders. This clearly doesn’t sound like ” political freedom.” It is a paltry attempt by the United States government to strike a blow to the spread of Communism, the main reason that the United States entered, and remained engaged, in the war in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War lasted a decade and a half, and the entire conflict lasted over three decades long. It was by far the longest war the United States has ever partaken in. Many theories
have been prosed to try and answer the questions the American public, and the rest of the world have as to the United States’ prolonged involvement in the small Asian country’s civil war. There is much we now know, that, twenty five years ago, we didn’t. The conflict was a very complicated situation, in which most Americans had no idea why they, or their young sons and, in some cases, daughters, were sent across the world to die. There is much information that we will never know, due to both the government choosing to withhold information to this day, and the fact that the three men who could tell us so much more about their motives in initially getting, and then remaining, involved, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, have all since passed away. However, with the evidence and information we do have, it seems clear that the main motives for the United States involvement in the Vietnam War, were to stop the spread of Communism, and to avoid a repeat of the spread of Nazism. In hindsight, it is not clear as to whether or not the objectives were met.
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