Vietnam Essay, Research Paper
The Vietnam War is probably the most questionable of all American wars. First, it is morally deceptive. It was both a war against communism and a war to suppress nationalist self-determination. Second, it can be (and was) very confusing. American objectives were not always well defined. As a result, United States policy often wondered: the United States would Americanize the war only to Vietnamize it later. Third, things in the Vietnam War were often not what they seemed. To attempt to make sense of the United States involvement in Vietnam, the war must be considered in a larger context. With the fall of North Vietnam to communism in 1954, the United States became committed to stopping the further spread of communism in the region. During this commitment, there were many men who would take part in the conflict, but two who stood out were John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson. It is not possible to grant those men with responsibility for all of Americas war effort, but with majority of it.
During the escalation period of the Vietnam War, which lasted between 1955-1965. The United States would antagonize the North Vietnamese by stepping into the footprints left by the French. The United States would also step into the hated role of imperial master in Vietnam. Unfortunately for the United States, while they backed them, the South Vietnam government was weak and corrupt, while the North Vietnamese government was a proud and independent group of nationalists willing to fight against foreign control for Vietnamese unification.
In 1961 John F Kennedy would be elected into Presidency. Kennedy had to appear tough on Communism. He needed to show that He had the edge, and refuse to
back down to his enemies. Some of his most famous confrontations were the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1961 Kennedy was involved in another Crisis, a
crisis over Vietnams neighbor, Laos. American policymakers began to worry that Laos would fall. For a brief time, the tiny country of Laos became an important reason for a global Cold War confrontation. Kennedy s first thoughts of contributing to Americas war effort in Vietnam had just happened, He began to realize that if he did not do something, that communism was sure to take place. Once Kennedy accepted responsibility for Americas war effort in Vietnam, he began to increase American soldiers, as well as American conflict in Vietnam.
During the increased conflict, in 1962 the United States established the Military Assistance Command of Vietnam (MACV), which, provided American command assistance in the training of ARVN. The creation of MACV meant that many additional American advisors were moved into South Vietnam. Kennedy has added to Americas war effort in order to prevent communism. He has now made a major American commitment to Vietnam. Within one year, American soldier s presence rose from one thousand soldiers to over fifteen thousand. Kennedy kept increasing American involvement. In 1963 Kennedy s increasement would no longer lay in his hands, but in the hands of Lyndon B Johnson. Kennedy would be assassinated. During Kennedy s reign as president, He would make a number of errors, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. At this time the United States mind was focused on the Domino Theory, which was a theory, that if one country falls to communism, then the next will, and so on and so forth (Dr. Statler/notes). Though Vietnam was in many ways a Vietnamese issue, it was for
Americans, an issue of non-communism in the United States. Once Americans began to show their involvement, they could not turn back.
Johnson would soon realize what Kennedy went through. He saw himself as a tough anti communist. Though Kennedy had begun to show a slight increase in men, Johnson raised the number of American advisors to around twenty seven thousand men. Johnson began to show his increasement of American war effort, which was almost double the amount of Kennedy s. Although Johnson does not bear primary responsibility for American war effort, he does bear majority of it. Nonetheless, Johnson tried to handle the Vietnam situation very moderately, striving to continue Kennedy s early programs without escalating the war. Under Johnson, in attempt to frighten the North Vietnamese, He increased the use of Agent Orange, a tree killing herbicide meant to destroy the Vietcong s jungle camouflage (Herring 168). Rather than give in, the North Vietnamese responded by preparing for war.
In August of 1964, two American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, the USS Maddox and the USS C. Turner Joy, reported attacks by North Vietnamese vessels. The Senate quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a resolution that did not formally declare, but which gave the President war deciding powers (Dr.Statler/notes). Though he was given the power to do so, President Johnson did not employ full powers in which he was granted through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Johnson prolonged openly, escalating the war until after his re-election in 1964. Meanwhile, Vietcong attacks on Americans became very violent, killing American officers and destroying many soldiers. With America upset with the amount of American deaths, it would lead to the United States
bombing against North Vitenam, known as Rolling Thunder, the expanded air war also provided the pretext for the introduction of the first United States ground troops into Vietnam (Herring 144).
Lyndon B Johnson did not want to be the person to lose Vietnam to the communist. He would do whatever was nesscesary to win the war. His presidency marks a continued escalation of American involvement; He was in control of the first arrival of American ground troops in 1965. Since Johnson s plan to bomb the north was not very successful, it left Johnson s administration two alternatives:
It could lower its sights, and settle for negotiations, or send in a larger number of United States ground troops. The decision was to commit the ground troops. Once taken, this decision led quickly to the war s Americanization, the number of men kept increasing, until the president finally called a halt at more than half a million American troops. (Intervention. How America Became Involved in Vietnam. /George Kahin, 347,366)
Johnson once again is contributing to the increasement of American commitment in Vietnam. Once again, American strategy both underestimated and misunderstood the situation of Vietnam. Johnson s belief that intense American bombing would destroy the North Vietnamese, what Johnson was not thinking about was the terrain of Vietnam.
Under Johnson s reign, the United States did not get much accomplished. Johnson kept sending more troops to battle, and lost more American lives. By 1965 Johnson had sent in around seventy five thousand American troops to Vietnam. Johnson was beginning to truly take the war into his own hands. It would not be hard to consider this point of the war Lyndon B Johnson s war. Once all the troops were sent in, Johnson felt that Ho Chi Minh would be willing to negotiate. Ho Chi Minh just backed out most of his
troops, to give operation Rolling Thunder fewer targets. In 1965 Johnson would explain his decision for staying in Vietnam:
We are there because we have a promise to keep. Since 1954 every American President has offered support to the people of South Vietnam. And I intend to keep that promise. To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of everyone in the value of an American commitment, and the value of America s word. The result would be
increased unrest and instability, and even wider war. We will do everything necessary to reach the objective of victory. And we will do only what is absolutely necessary. (America in Vietnam. A Documentary History. /Williams, McCormick, Gardner, LaFeber, 243)
America s Vietnam strategy was not completely unsound. Americans underestimated the Vietcong. America was not ready for what Vietnam would bring towards them. The Vietcong harassed American troops with guerilla tactics, striking quickly and then fleeing back into the jungle.
During the Vietnam war (1955-1975), under the presidency s of John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson the United States would ultimately fail to prevent the North Vietnamese army from accomplishing their goal of unifying both halves of the country under one leader. American military advisors, massive bombing and combat troops were unable to crush the Vietnamese communists, whose guerilla tactics proved to work successfully. Americans struggled to find ways to withdraw from Vietnam with respect.
To consider the war to be Lyndon B Johnson s war would be placing one person responsible for the entire war. Before Johnson would come to power, Kennedy would make many decisions towards the war, some were good and many were very unacceptable. Johnson would consider the war to be Americas war : It was Americas war he insisted, and if I drop dead tomorrow, this war will still be with you (LBJ and Vietnam, George Herring. 183).
United States involvement in Vietnam, was a war within the larger complexity of the Cold War. Based on policies like the Domino Theory. It is possible to say that the American Tragedy in Vietnam stemmed from lessons learned during World War Two. It is possible to say that making decisions, based on lessons of history can be a mistake. The United States involvement in Vietnam was far more than an advisory status. Kennedy
would take the war out of the advisory context, and once the torch of leadership was passed on to Johnson, He too would also take it out of context. Both men tried to win the war in Vietnam, by contributing to the increasing of American commitment, but neither of them became successful. Many lives were lost because of Kennedy and Johnson, and in its entirety the United States would loose the Vietnam War.
George Herring, America s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 168.
Herring, America s Longest War, 144.
George Kahin, Intervention, How America Became Involved in Vietnam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), 347-366.
Dr. Statler, Notes.
Dr. Statler, Notes.
William A. Williams, Thomas McCormick, Lloyd Gardner, and Walter LaFeber, America in Vietnam, A Documentary History (New York: Anchor Book/ Anchor Press, 1985) 243.
George Herring, LBJ and Vietnam, A Different Kind Of War, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994) 183.