Different from its involvement in the Vietnam War?
In the 40ï¿½s onwards USA got interested in Asian affairs. Taking into account the fact that they were not defending themselves or any other American ally, they had to further extend territorial boundaries to fall on political-ideological frontiers. Indeed, they were defending its territory from enemies in a new scale: the fear against the developing communism over the world. In these lines, Korea and Vietnam portrayed two international hotspots now focused on Asia, as the stage within the fight of the two global powers: USA and the Soviet Union. Anyways, were the circumstances by which USA faced communism in both countries different?
First of all, the background in South-East Asia determined in great scale American intervention in the area, since either country were occupied by other foreign powers: while Korea was under Japanese domination, Vietnam still remained part of the French empire (later becoming member of the French Union).
The first case of Korea was already been the stage of the war between democracy and communism. USA was quite anxious since the conflict that had already happened in Germany and the one that was going on in Turkey and Greece, both cases falling under soviet beliefs.
After the defeat of the Chinese Kuomintang in 1949, by communist Mao, American leaders began fearing that the rapid spread of the system around the world would be successful one more time in Asia. Thus, USA decided to risk and try obtaining new territory that would give them an ally in East Asia, which, in turn, would give it time to plan more attempts and new victory against communism. Thus, they fought against the Japanese settlement as an excuse to free the territory in the name of democracy. However, the Soviet Union was also very interested in the area for the same reasons: a new ally and victory against capitalism.
Anyways, the whole territory was firstly freed under the name of United Nations, towards democracy, for “support free peoples who are resenting attempt subjugation”. However both powers claimed their part very soon. Both powers set up a divisor line along the 38th parallel, where the North would be under Soviet aim and the South by American intervention. Then, although elections were held in South Korea (August 1938) supported by UN, Russia rejected to do so in the North. The South became the independent Republic of Korea and the North adopted the name of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, very much in the lines of Chinese system.
The tension now remained very high at either sides of the line. Since the president of North Korea by the time, Kin IL Sung might have been encouraged by the Chinese government and Russia with military supplies to test USA President, Truman’s determination, showing him that communism was the dominant power in Pacific Asia, also with the promise of spreading further very soon.
At that stage, ‘the domino theory’ was beginning in American minds. This concept applies to the idea that the fall of one state to a common system would lead inexorably to a series of the same. Therefore, if communism triumphed in China and Korea was already under its influence, the wave could have an unlimited repercussion in the entire area of South-East Asia. Thus, behind these ideas, American troops were ordered to Korea to withdraw North Korean’s troops after their invasion in the south republic, together with forces from another 14 countries all under the command of General McArthur.
However, afterwards, South Korea was almost taken by North Korea troops but American troops regained control in the territory later and also two thirds of North Korea, in its advance northwards. With this movement, they eventually placed a fleet between Taiwan and China mainland. Thus, China now feared them to help Chiang Kai-Shek troops from the island to come again and conquer the region of Manchuria as the most important industrial and strategic area. This attempt, if successful, would cut off the problem of communism in Asia, since China would turn back to democracy and therefore either North Korea would remain isolated or without Chinese help, she would not be able to survive in the area for long.
These reasons made the Chinese government launch a massive counter offensive in 1951 that captured South Korea capital again. Now McArthur was afraid of Chinese power and thought that the best strategy to defeat communism in the area was only possible with atomic bombs. With this new horizon within the fight, president Truman feared a large-scale war that would provoke a nuclear war, which USA did not want. It pointed out the American limitations that would enclose them within the fight: they feared communism because the nuclear power that could destroy them, but the only force capable to defeat it was their nuclear power, something that, however, they could not use since it would drag them into a fatal war.
Thus, now, the only American possibility focused to settle in East Asia to contain communism there: in January 1951 UN troops expelled the North Koreans troops from South Korea and fortified the frontier, until in July 1953, both countries firmed a peace agreement that stated the limit at the 38th parallel.
After American impossibility for annexation of territories in East Asia, the new step had to be focused in the South, due to the independence of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from the French Union (Geneva Agreement, 1954). Then, Vietnam was temporarily divided into two countries, and analogously as Korea, the frontier was established at another parallel, in this case the 17th one. In 1956, elections were to be held in the whole country, but they never were and only in South Vietnam a referendum was held in 1955, which gave Ngo Dinh Diem as the president. He did not want to hold elections for the whole country and USA, with Eisenhower as the new president feared much more intensely the ‘domino effect’. Moreover, Diem was unable to rule the country, mainly because he was very unpopular among the peasants, which furthover, in the future encouraged unwilling towards American presence in the south and appetence for communism.
At this stage the Vietcong (the guerrillas) in the south were receiving supplies, equipment and troops from North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, who was leader of the resistance against French Union and who wanted communism to rule the country, thought that giving aid to South Vietnam against Diem, national elections would not be held and to unify the countries forces would be necessary. Thus, the next American presidencies had to launch a very strong campaign to stop the communism wave in Vietnam:
-Kennedy (1961-3) tried to keep American involvement against the guerrilla, by sending ‘advisors’, military equipment and enclosing local peasants into fortified villages to isolate the Vietcong outside. However, this failed since most of the peasants were members of the Vietcong.
-Johnson (1963-9) decided to bomb North Vietnam (1965), as he thought that Ho Chi Minh controlled directly the Vietcong. He also sent half million troops in the south.
However, due to the great pressure of American public against the war, since they saw the conflict as a total failure, Johnson stopped the bombing in March 1968, although he did not want to withdraw.
-Nixon (1969-74) based his plan in the new concept of ‘Vietnamization’: As public opinion did not allow him to send more troops to Vietnam, he would use the ones that were already there to re-army the Vietnamese army keep their own defence. That would allow gradually American troops to withdraw. However, he began a new wave of bombing in the north, but this time including Cambodia and Laos, as they were receiving supplies and troops from North Vietnam.
Despite all the measures and policies, at the end of 1972, the Vietcong controlled almost the entire territory and several factors obligated the American intervention to reach the end. Eventually a ceasefire was agreed in January 1973. Then, American troops were withdrawn and in 1975 the Vietcong unified the whole country under a communism government by occupying Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. Also in Laos and Cambodia the system was established the same year.
Taking all these explanations into account, I can state that there were slight differences between the American policies in both the Korean and the Vietnamese wars. The main reason was the potential force used in each one, and China played an important part. It applies to the fact that the attack against them was not as ruthless as in Vietnam, mainly due to Chinese power. While in Vietnam neither China nor Russia supported the army as directly as in Vietnam, in Korea China was directly involved since the problem was slighted related with the relationship between USA and Chiang Kai-Shek troops. For China, American troops recovered Manchuria, they would give back China mainland to them.
Communist China was not willing to accept that, and USA knew that she was capable of fighting bravely to an extent that USA did not want to test, since the split of the Sino-Soviet agreement left China in an uncertain situation from the international point of view: “We do not want the fighting in Korea to expand into a general war”. Therefore, American government did not risk indeed and the only price was to lose North Korea.
Nevertheless, in Vietnam they could use a more violent system as they communist China was already established and did not fear USA any more. Moreover, the conflict was seen under UN eyes: “solely for the purpose of restoring the Republic to its status prior to the invasion”. For international support, it was a fight towards the human rights, since North Korea under communism did not want to hold elections. However, UN never supported the war in Vietnam and the international view of the war and American methods to be victorious pressed the government to reach the end of the conflict.
Therefore, differences between the both wars was mainly due to internal factors of each country, but especially the foreign intervention that encouraged or restrained American actions to act in one way or another.