Vietnam, Why America Entered?

Map of Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh
The Vietnam conflict has very deep roots. Indochina was controlled by France long before World War Two. During the War the Japaneses took control of these territories. Vietnamese Nationalists (who wanted a independent Vietnam) led by Ho Chi Minh pushed the Japaneses forces using guerrilla tactics (ambushes, hit and run raids, etc. You know anything that avoids long term and frontal/exposed combat this way a little force can fight a larger force). When Japan pulled out in 1945, France tried to regain control but was defeated by Minh's guerrilla forces (Viet Minh) in 1954 resulting in the division of the country into North and South Vietnam. The North was ruled by Ho Chi Minh and the South was led by Ngo Dinh Diem who was hostile to Minh and supported the United States, the country was meant to hold an election but President Eisenhower prevented this from happening because he felt that the Vietnamese people will choose Communism. America was involved even when France tried to take regain control by supplying them the French with money and equipment, they did this because Minh was communist and they believed this to be another attempt by communism to spread its influence
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
through Asia. Minh simply viewed this as a foreign assault against Vietnam. Americans feared that if Vietnam (or any other state) fell to communism then others would soon follow this is called the domino theory, its been found that US politicians followed this concept without doubt accepting it as truth. To help prevent this problem from happening in Asia the United States and its allies formed SEATO in 1954, which was the Asian version of NATO. From 1954 onward the US gave South Vietnam money and resources in hopes that it will prevent the spread of communism. Unfortunately for the United States the South Vietnamese government was corrupt and unpopular (Ngo Dinh Diem was from the landlord class who was cruel towards the peasantry and their Buddhist beliefs. Diem was assassinated in 1963 and replaced by some of South Vietnam's military leaders, who were also corrupt) which resulted in the creation of a rebel force called the National Liberation Front or Viet Cong who had the support of the people and Ho Chi Minh, this soon led to the assault against South Vietnam. In the early 60s US president Kennedy sent US military 'advisers' to support South Vietnam, but even with this support the South was losing. Government officials along with American personnel were targeted by the rebel forces. In 1964 the North Vietnamese navy attacked US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin, which led the US Congress to give the new US president, Lyndon B. Johnson, approval to take any necessary action, this was called the Tonkin resolution. In 1965 President Johnson ordered US Marines ashore at Da Nang which officially started the Vietnam War.

In 1953 the British Foreign Office created a pamphlet called "Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Movement in Indo China - A study in the Exploitation of Nationalism". This pamphlet was designed to refute Minh's policy of nationalism claiming he was using it to justify his conquest Asian territories and setting-up communist governments "Not unsurprisingly, they were even more successful in other countries of Asia, where the Viet Minh was genuinely held to be a coalition of nationalist groups opposed to imperialism … rather than a façade concealing the manoeuvres of a powerful Communist group which was rapidly eliminating all political rivals.". The West was nervous of Minh because of six reasons;
  • He was communist
  • Mao Tse Tung (Communist) took control of China in 1949 causing the fear that Communism will spread throughout South East Asia
  • At this time Minh was pushing the French out of the area and along with this colonies are demanding independents (some gained it peacefully some not)
  • He appeared to be allies with Red China and the USSR
  • He expanded into non-Vietnamese territories (remember he claimed that he fights for Vietnamese nationalism)
  • They feared that he will help place Indo-China into the Communist bloc and help spread communism throughout Asia
The West refuted Minh's policy of supporting the peasantry (He offered them land reforms which take away land from the landlords and give them to the peasantry) because they are being oppressed by the Catholic landlords (the peasants were Buddhist) but rather he wanted them to help him to take over since they represent the majority of local populations.

In 1954 President Eisenhower was interviewed by a reporter explaining why the US is so interested in Indo-China. He explained that the US is interested because of a few major reasons;
  • Loss of valuable resources
  • Loss of free people to Communism
  • The domino theory which means if one state fell more will follow and this will cause further loss of material which will eventually cause free countries like Japan to be forced to work for the Communists so to be able to have access to the materials/resources also more free people will be lost to Communism

In 1965 The British Cabinet discussed the US policy in Vietnam stating that the Americans do not intend on attacking North Vietnam rather just leave forces in the South, but American forces do intend on using air raids (Operation Rolling Thunder) on North Vietnam to pressure the Viet Cong to surrender. The Cabinet stated that it appears that the Viet Cong do not intend on negotiating even with the air raids and the US do not wish to negotiate as well until the Viet Cong cease all activities.

Also in 1965 President Johnson also explained the US policy which, he stated, was because the US had a commitment to South Vietnam since the Americans helped build and defend the South. If the US left Vietnam it will be left to the "terror" of Communism. Also the US is in Vietnam so it can prove its Global commitments (same situation for the Korean war) to all its allies (like West Berlin), if it left they would loss faith in the United States. Finally the US is in Vietnam because it did not want to allow aggressors to believe they can do whatever they want, they wanted to stop aggression from spreading to other states (or maybe he means Communism)

Cartoon Criticizing America's Involvement in Vietnam and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's Acceptance of US Policy
Cartoon Criticizing America's Involvement in Vietnam and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's Acceptance of US Policy

This cartoon was created by the British New Statesman Magazine in 1965. It is obviously criticizing American foreign policy in Vietnam and it criticized British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's acceptance of US policy and how he works so closely with American policies so he can keep the Americans happy, as indicated by the cowboy hat both are wearing.

Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?: Historical Source One: British news film showing US Marines landing at Da Nang in Vietnam in 1965 (ITN Archive).
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?: Historical Source Two: Extracts from a British Foreign Office document Ho Chi Minh and the communist Movement in Indo China. It was published in August 1953
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?: Historical Source Three: US President Eisenhower explaining the Domino Theory in 1954 (US Government Printing Office)
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?: Historical Source Four: Discussions on US policy in Vietnam at a meeting of the British Cabinet in 1965
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?: Historical Source Five: US President Johnson explaining why the USA was involved in Vietnam, 1965 (US Government Printing Office)
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?: Historical Source Six: Extract from an interview in 1970 with senior US politician Cyrus Vance (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library)
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?: Historical Source Seven: British news film showing protests by South Vietnamese people against their own government in 1965 (ITN Archive)
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Entered?: Historical Source Eight: British cartoon from the New Statesman Magazine April 1965 commenting on US entry into Vietnam War (Associated Newspapers/Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature)

Vietnam, Why America Left?

The largest reason for leaving was because US and South Vietnam could not defeat the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, but there were other reasons for leaving;
  • The United States military was powerful and it held off their enemies but they could not defeat them
  • The Vietnamese knew the land well and could navigate easily
  • They used guerrilla tactics against the Americans making it a nightmare
  • They hid in bunkers which negates air raids
  • The peasantry supported the Viet Cong
  • The North Vietnam army supported the Viet Cong
  • They received aid from Red China and the Soviet Union
  • The war caused much suffering among the people of both North and South Vietnam due to bombings and chemical warfare by the United States
  • Due to the previous point and due to the fact the US can't seem to win, it suffered great humiliation on the world stage
  • The American economy suffered greatly from the war
  • The media coverage of the war caused the American people, especially the younger generation, to protest against the war
Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
The United States tried to end the war by holding talks with Ho Chi Minh but neither side wanted to negotiate until the other backed off (same problem with the nuclear weapons treaties between the West and the East). In 1968 Richard Nixon became President of the United States. He wanted to leave Vietnam, but did not want the South to fall so he started the policy of Vietnamisation, which is the policy of helping the South build up its own forces. In 1973 the United States pulled out of Vietnam, but without American forces South Vietnam could not hold off the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese (who invaded in 1975). After this invasion the United States chose not to intervene any further. The British Cabinet discussed the Vietnam crisis in 1966 and 67 stating that both the US and the Soviet Union "talked" about the conflict but actual achievement/resolution (Even though the SU said they did not support the North everyone knew it) was still blurry. The Brits do not agree with the US on the air raids against the North but they still supported their foreign policy (probably so they could maintain friendly relations) and they do believe that the President is trying to resist pressure from his administration to escalate American military force on the North. There is also a belief that this war could escalate onto a global stage.

Geneva Conference on Vietnam
Geneva Conference on Vietnam
In 1954 the UN created a Peace Conference called the 'Geneva Conference on Vietnam' which was led by both Britain and the USSR. This gave both the US and North Vietnam the ability to express their opinions and policies through their respective "friend". The United States uses Britain and the North Vietnamese have the USSR and this chain can work the other way. In an attempt to achieve peace President Johnson tried to use Britain to express its new plan of restricting air raids against the North, to the USSR so they can express this to the North Vietnamese and gain a favorable response from them (This did not succeed since the North Vietnamese wanted the stop of these raids not a restriction). The British believe that if this attempt failed the American public will demand an increase to military might against the North and if this occurred then Britain plans on putting itself in the position that it does not fully support American policy (saving face (covering its ass) on the global stage, hmm great ally).

The US military was also restricted by the American government in archiving victory
  • North Vietnam cannot be invaded since it this can trigger a treaty between it and China (escalating the war)
  • No assault/mining(?) on the Haiphong harbor which receives Northern military supplies because a Soviet ship can be sunk resulting in war (coincidence or not?)
  • The American military cannot chase the enemy forces into Laos and Cambodia (neighboring countries) so war would not spread further

Richard Nixon became the American president in 1968. He wanted to get US troops out of Vietnam so he became a strong negotiator. Even though he wanted to improve negotiations he was tough he allowed US forces to enter Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong bases. Nixon stated that he will pull out US troops as long North Vietnam pulled out of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and the South Vietnamese could freely choose their own government (in the end the North attacked the South but then again the Vietnamese public supported the Viet Cong and North Vietnam).

Cartoon Commiting on Nixion's Peace Policy
Cartoon Commiting on Nixion's Peace Policy
This cartoon was created by the British Daily Telegraph on January 30th 1973. This cartoon is criticizing Nixon's proclamation that he achieved "Peace with Honor", but people feel that this is not true because US could not win the war. Anyway after the US left, the North invaded the South and made it into part of the Communist Republic of Vietnam.

Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Left?
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Left?: Historical Source One: Notes from British Cabinet discussions of the war in Vietnam 1966
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Left?: Historical Source Two: British news report on protests in the USA against the Vietnam War 1967
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Left?: Historical Source Three: Notes from British Cabinet discussions of the war in Vietnam, 1968
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Left?: Historical Source Four: US Secretary of Defence Clark Clifford on the impact of the Tet Offensive, 1968 (Council on Foreign Affairs)
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Left?: Historical Source Five: Notes from British Cabinet discussions of the war in Vietnam, 1969
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Left?: Historical Source Six: British news report on the nature of the fighting in Vietnam, 1969 (ITN Archive)
Learning Curve: Vietnam, Why America Left?: Historical Source Seven: British cartoon commenting on US President Nixon's Vietnam policies, 1973 (Daily Telegraph/Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature)

For further information on Vietnam refer to the The Vietnam War page