The American/Vietnamese War Essay, Research Paper
The American/Vietnamese War
By Kelly Reynolds, Year 12
Despite the defeat of the French in 1954 by the Viet Minh, America was still confident that they could win the America/Vietnam war.
During this time Americans believed that America was the protector of the “free” world and it was their duty to contain communism. To add to this was the Domino Theory, which was introduced by Eisenhower during his presidency. This was the unshakable belief that if one country fell to communism its surrounding countries would soon follow. It was this over-confidence and fear of communism, which was the initial reason why America became involved in Vietnam. However, as the war went badly, restoring American prestige and credibility replaced the immediate goal of establishing a free and independent South Vietnam.
Initially, there were two reasons why America became involved in Vietnam. In general terms this was due to over-confidence and fear of communism. In 1952 America was “sucked in” by the French because the French enticed the U.S by calling it a war against communism. Of course America, being the great power it was, complied. Eisenhower began to accelerate aid to France to fight the Viet Minh. This was to no avail. In 1954 the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) reluctantly signed the Geneva Agreement in 1954 which meant a ‘temporary’ division by a demilitarized zone along the 17th Parallel. The Americans refused to sign the agreement because they claimed it was a failure of the policy of containment because it had surrendered North Vietnam to communism. Ho agreed to sign the agreement because he was promised elections in the next two years and was confident that he would win. These elections to reunify North and South Vietnam were never held.
The Vietnamese had no one to turn to for help or even a leader they could identify with. The President of South Vietnam at the time, Ngo Dinh Diem, was an anti-French, rich, catholic in a population of poor Buddhists. Diem was notorious for corruption and discrimination. Under Eisenhower the U.S began to build up Diem’s military forces in the south and, at the same time, North Vietnam began sending extensive aid to the Viet Cong.
Successive American presidents escalated the war and devised useless tactics to contain communism in Vietnam. In 1961 President Kennedy came into power. His attitude towards to war and America’s current global status is summed up in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961. “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty”.
During this time he escalated the war by increasing American “advisors” in Vietnam from 800 to 17,000. He also formed the Green Beret to fight the Viet Cong through guerilla warfare; however, the Green Beret lacked the local support that the Viet Cong obtained. A tactic called the Strategic Hamlet was introduced; this was to separate the Viet Cong from the people. This was a huge failure because the Viet Cong were indistinguishable from ‘real peasants’. JFK was assassinated in 1963, just 2 weeks after Diem. President Thieu became Diem’s successor. By this time half of the population in South Vietnam supported the National Liberation Front.
President Johnson intensified combat and deceived the people, which led to many turning against the war. He developed the ‘quick kill’ strategy to put a stop to communism quickly without worrying about any implications this might have. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave LBJ a “blank cheque” to do whatever necessary to prosecute the war. This resulted in the ‘carpet bombing’ of North Vietnam, which was later escalated by Nixon. U.S ground troops were increased dramatically in South Vietnam. America also obtained support from SEATO allies to make the war look like a general commitment by the whole ‘free world’. The next strategy to follow was operation “Rolling Thunder” which was the bombing of North Vietnam in ‘retaliation’ to an alleged attack on an American war ship in 1964. Pentagon Papers delivered by an anonymous source in 1971 showed that the U.S had planned to ‘retaliate’ against North Vietnam before the ‘provocation’ had even taken place, the Congress had been totally deceived. As a result of these measures 2 million Asian soldiers had died along with 1.5 million civilian causalities, this all in the country that was being “protected”! In 1968 (the My Lai Massacre) American firepower turned into “one vast killing field” (Evans, Harold; London 1998; p524), since the Americans couldn’t distinguish between the Viet Cong and “real peasants” they brutally mowed them all down in cold-blood regardless of who they were and what they stood for. This dramatically weakened U.S morality because this was seen as senseless murder and strongly challenged America’s claim that they were fighting for democracy.
Nixon’s regime (1969-1974) was devoted to restoring American prestige and credibility rather than establishing a free and independent South Vietnam. Nixon began Vietnamization by re-arming and training South Vietnamese troops. More than 15,000 Americans died trying to stop the Viet Cong from coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Cambodia and Laos were then invaded which resulted in the death of four U.S protestors. But all Nixon could say to this onslaught was that he would “rather be a one-term president than permit America to become a second rate power” (ABC Publishing; 1976; Page 5). In 1973 the Peace Agreement was signed, however, this was ineffective in restoring peace in South Vietnam. Nixon and Kissinger then devised a useless tactic where America would cover up the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, and after a “decent interval”, declare South Vietnam collapsed. From the beginning America claimed they were fighting for democracy when it was quite apparent that there was absolutely no resemblance of democratic decree in the south.
By 1975 the Thieu Government collapsed which led to an easy victory for the Communists in Cambodia and Vietnam. Vietnam remains poor, over 1 million have fled the country since 1975; it relies heavily on Communist aid, and has practically no economic value. This goes to show the total waste of human lives on the America/Vietnam War. Like other momentous decisions in history, the decision for American intervention in Vietnam was taken in the heat of the moment (Ward, Harriet; 1985; Page 106). Over confidence and fear of communism sparked America’s endeavour to contain communism. However, when the war backfired, America’s main goal changed to the restoration of American prestige and credibility, rather than freeing South Vietnam.