The Vietnam War remains today to be one of the most memorable and long-standing conflicts in recent history in which the US involvement has played a huge role. This paper shall discuss and highlight certain points in the course of the development of the Vietnam War, from its beginnings and up to the present-day implications that it has brought about in the political life of the country and the balance of powers in the international community.
The researcher has also chosen to include visual images of the devastation and the ramifications of this dispute in order to further underscore the fact that even if the Vietnam War happened more than half a century ago, the effects of this conflict live on today and has in fact brought attention to the consequences of a state’s intervention in the domestic (especially political) affairs of another.
The Vietnam War was, as we shall see throughout this paper, caused not by any one factor that was escalated to the level of an international dispute.
The fact of the matter is that the war was caused by a number of factors that have come together to push the issue into the arena of international politics and therefore warrant the attention and subsequent intervention of other states. However, one thing remains clear: the Vietnam War was primarily a consequence of the US anti-Communist foreign policy in the 1960s.
This in itself merits scholarly interest in the involvement of the US government in the war, and a look into the real reasons why the US chose to engage itself in the local political conflicts of this country to the extent that it did.
Years of bitter guerrilla warfare in the rugged jungles and villages of Vietnam eventually resulted in a North Vietnamese victory and the reunification of Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of people, American and Vietnamese alike died in the war, and the country today still struggles to re-establish itself after the damages on its economy, land, and people the war caused.
The researcher has employed systematic review methodology for searching online academic journals and electronic databases for relevant literature on the subject as well as graphics and photographs. It is the primary tool for determining how far US involvement in the war went and the different courses of action that it had undertaken to support its advocacy. Systematic review methodology is more typically applied to the primary data on health care technologies such as drugs, devices and surgical interventions (Green and Moehr, 2001, p.315).
But there is a growing tendency to apply this kind of review methodology to other topics such as policy-making and social research. The Cochrane Collaboration has taken the lead in this type of application, which consists of a regularly updated collection of evidence-based medicine databases. Systematic review methodology allows the researcher to have a wider look at the question at hand by looking at the various perspectives offered by previous research, and then synthesizing them to come up with a coherent answer as to the what, how, why and so what of the topic.
However, care should be made in choosing the right electronic sources that can offer us with the most number of relevant researches, as well as in establishing the key words that will be used exhaustively for turning up previous findings on the topic.
For the purpose of this paper, several key words were used to search Google, Questia and other suitable online sources for information on the development of the Vietnam War and the role of the US government in it. The keywords used for the research are US involvement in Vietnam War, development of Vietnam War, US anti-Communist policy in the 1960s and US and Vietnam War. Other formulations of the main research topic yielded the same results and so only these three major key phrases were considered for the review of related literature.
This paper shall look into five main points of the war, but these are not by far the only important topics or questions that the conflict has raised for the US, for Vietnam and for the international community at large. Specifically, the researcher shall focus on the following:
1. The reason why the US entered into the Vietnam War
2. The beginning of US intervention in the war
3. The US anti-communist policy in the 1960s
4. The war at home
5. The long term ramifications of the war
The US government’s role in the war
Vietnam was split into two in 1954, as part of the Geneva accords in order to pacify the different stakeholder nations who were nervous to begin another large-scale conflict after Korea (Vassar College, n.d.). It had a communist government in the north and a democratic south which were due to be reunified after a national election was held. A series of events led up to a full scale war between the two countries which included not only the Vietnamese, but people from America, Australia, and other nations.
The Americans supported the widely unpopular southern regime, and although in the beginning they attempted to keep their involvement limited, they sent millions of soldiers to war in Vietnam to prevent the spread of Communism. The US was unwilling to make any major commitments in the war, but it soon became apparent that the French troops needed help battling an enemy who was willing to “willing to absorb tremendous losses in terms of manpower in order to protract the war while waiting for the French to tire” (Weist 2003).
As France’s ally in the war, the US was in a difficult position in order to protect the interests of France by helping out in its campaign against the Northern guerrillas, but it was not ready to commit itself to something that could potentially become the Third World War. It was a dangerous situation insofar as it was beginning to look like France was not capable of crushing the Communist guerrilla forces (Mintz 2007).
The financial support coming from the US was not enough to help the French troops in the war and it looked like something had to be done, which was first started by President Harry Truman in 1950 to help France retain control of its Indochina colonies, covering Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (Nelson 1999).
The US was also very much opposed to the idea of having Vietnam split at the seventeenth parallel to accommodate the different political views governing the separate sides of the country. It was at this point that the US consolidated its hold over the Southern portion of the country and to exercise direct control over the government there, and thus heralded the beginning of actual US involvement in the conflict (Nelson 1999). It put Ngo Dinh Diem at the help of the Southern Vietnamese government, which was supposed to rally support for the anti-Communist sentiment in the country (Vassar College, n.d.).
The start of actual US intervention in the war
According to Nelson (1999), the US involvement in the Vietnam was vastly different from the others that it had participated in because it had no definitive beginning. The US actually entered the war gradually, from 1950 to 1965. It even experienced transition in the terms of support that it was willing to provide France, starting from mere financial and economic aid to its European ally and moving towards actual military occupation and engagement with the guerrilla forces there.
In a little less than ten years, the US had given France $2.6 billion for recovery and rehabilitation of its Indochina colony, but it was scarcely enough to cover the escalating costs of the war and the losses in manpower that the French experienced (Mintz 2007). The losses for the Northern government and for the people of Vietnam are by far greater because of the sustained military offensive against the South and the subsequent participation of the US.
It must be noted here that the US did not even give a formal declaration of war against Vietnam, it just started sending out troops to the Southern portion of the country, beginning with 2,000 soldiers deployed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 (Nelson 1999). Jones (2003) noted that the intensification of the Cold War only prompted Kennedy to put the Vietnam situation higher up on his list and employ more stringent counterinsurgency efforts against the guerrillas.
It was President Lyndon Johnson who, after serving the unexpired term of the assassinated John F. Kennedy and being elected to the presidency in 1965, brought the country to war. Under his administration, the number of American troops deployed in Vietnam increased
and became more involved in supervising the Southern government’s movements against the guerrillas (Pike 2005). The total number of Americans soldiers sent to serve in Vietnam was 2.7 million, and
the costs of the war amounted to more than $140 million. This is probably the most expensive war that America has ever seen, and the reasons for its participation in the first place still remain suspect. There are a lot of doubts as to the veracity of the claims and beliefs made by the US government in terms of protecting the interests of the free world.
The US anti-Communist policy in the 1960s
The different presidents who oversaw the US military campaign in Vietnam all had one thing in common-they considered the northern faction in the country to be “agents of global communism and therefore an opponent in terms of aspiring for the very opposite of all that America holds dear (Nelson 1999). US policymakers were of the opinion that Communists were opposed to human rights, democracy, and free trade especially to capitalist countries. They thought that communism as a contagious disease in the sense that once it took hold on a nation, neighboring states can easily become infiltrated with the Communist ideals and turn into such a state as well.
For this reason, America joined the fray and waged its war against what it perceived to be the growth of Communism in Asia by fending off the Communist movement in northern Vietnam. It created some sort of puppet military government that was under its direct supervision and control.
As already stated, the overarching geopolitical goal of the US in its act of participating directly in the Vietnam dispute was its conviction that the spread of communism must be stopped. However, the real commitment to holding back Communism was soon forgotten (Nelson 1999) as US administration after administration realized that the war might simply never end for the reason that their enemy troops are not getting any smaller or easier to fight.
The guerrillas were good at employing tactics aimed at confounding American soldiers who were more efficient at face-to-face combat. Moreover, the Northern Vietnamese forces received tremendous support from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China that enabled them to carry out the offensive for as long as they did (Pike 2005).
At the same time, serious doubts as to the authenticity of the US government’s reasons for intervening in the war also became apparent. Yet presidents were afraid to pull out from the war and admit to the faults of his predecessor, knowing that such an act would create a huge political backlash in the home country (Nelson 1999). First of all, even though the US government’s first step into the war was only financial and economic in nature, it still belied the that they were staunch believers of the idea that the problem in Vietnam was largely military in nature, and not economic or political.
Secondly, to put it bluntly, the US government was already in too deep in the Vietnam conflict that any sign of wavering belief in the campaign could easily be read as admitting to defeat. This was unacceptable to the administrations that waged open war against the Northern Vietnamese forces, so the offensives dragged on for years and years. The strong anti-Communist sentiment of the US may have been the first to trigger its adversarial reaction to the spread of communism in Vietnam but it was certainly not the only thing that made the war last for far longer than it should have.
The war at home
Even as the US administration was facing serious difficulties that were compromising its military campaign in Vietnam, it was also faced with real domestic challenges, particularly the increasing opposition from the American public with regards to continuing the war. One of the most deeply-felt consequences of the war was that it was siphoning off taxpayers dollars to a conflict that seemed impossible to win. The 1966 local and state elections in the US showed just how much public dissent has gathered around the issue of the war’s costs on the national treasury (Pike 2005), even as the government was claiming that its troops were gaining against the enemy in Vietnam.
Johnson wanted an all-out war that will not be felt across the Pacific Ocean and will not be felt in the everyday life of the Americans (Vassar College, n.d.). Unfortunately, this goal was never met because the repercussions of the war were widely felt even in the homeland. For example, during the start of the war, the American army had very little or no manpower problems at all and was able to send troops to Vietnam regularly.
However, as faith in the military campaign waned, the number of volunteers decreased dramatically until the administration instituted a draft for the war. As more and more soldiers died, more and more Americans felt that it was wrong to continue sending people to what was becoming a hopeless and no-win situation in a distant country.
Nelson (1999) noted that the movement attracted different factions from across the country-college campuses, labor unions, middle-class suburbs and government institutions all erupted in anti-war protests as the war continued on. Defense of civil rights also became an issue towards which Americans gravitated, and they were concerned not only for their fellow citizens who were getting injured and dying abroad, but also for the Vietnamese who were suffering intensely from all the conflict being waged in their land. The war ended in 1973 when President Richard Nixon announced the withdrawal of US troops because of the popular sentiment against it and the unsustainability of the war effort.
The ramifications of the war
As we have already seen, the Vietnam War is the longest time that the US has been involved in hostile action. It is also a highly debated topic because people continue to question the propriety of entering into a war that is being waged by an ally and the wisdom of America’s taking it upon herself to become the number one defender of democracy. It must be recalled that the war was not really America’s problem, but France’s. It only entered the picture when France began to falter and America feared that what was happening in Vietnam would spread to other Southeast Asian countries.
The war cost so much in terms of human casualty, damage to infrastructure and economic loss to both sides that the general idea is that no one really won when the war was over. The losses sustained by the Vietnamese forces and the US troops cannot be fully appreciated in pecuniary terms, because the war also did damage to the national spirit of each country. Moreover, the subsequent reunification of Vietnam under the communist regime seemed to defeat the very purpose for which the US had entered into the war.
From an economic standpoint, the war brought about a mean cycle of inflation because of Johnson’s unwillingness to impose taxes to pay for the costs of the military campaigns (Mintz 2007). It was also thought that the military did a little inflation management on its own by increasing the actual number of enemy casualties to show that the war effort was getting better and better, when in fact the guerrilla numbers were not as badly hurt as the American troops during the latter part of the conflict.
The war also created grave political consequences for America. The public began to suspect the honesty and integrity of incumbent officials because of their prior experience with the manufactured war statistics and reports on the Vietnam situation. This slow dissolution of faith likewise weakened America’s image of herself as a world superpower. If the country’s well-trained, well-supplied and well-compensated military could not defeat a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters not even trained in military tactics, what could it do? This doubt in American supremacy was carried over as the US tried to intervene militarily in other international conflicts such as the Iraq war.
This paper has traced the development of the Vietnam War, beginning from the socio-political context from which it emerged and the subsequent involvement of the US government in the effort to prevent the spread of communism. While the actions of the US troops may be seen as noble and warranted by the situation, the fact that the war cost so much in terms of lives and money makes any semblance of victory in it seem insignificant. There is indeed no true winner in this war because of the incredible losses that each side had sustained over a decade’s worth of fighting.
America withdrew its troops and ended the war of its own accord when the public furor against the Vietnam War escalated to such a degree as to make continued military campaigns futile. The Paris Peace Accord also gave Vietnam a new lease on its own political life, but it cannot erase the destruction and suffering that the war had brought upon the people and the land. It was a fight that could have been shortened and made less dangerous if only each side was able to negotiate matters peacefully instead of launching military attacks against each other as the primary course of action.