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America became increasingly involved in the affairs of Vietnam from 1945 up to 1969. This was due to the American fear and hatred of communism and their policy of “Containment”. America did not have to become involved in the affairs of Vietnam but the possibility of Vietnam falling under communism and falling under Russian influence was something the most powerful capitalist country in the world could not face.
America felt it was in their interest to prevent further spread of Communism around the world and that included South Vietnam so from as early as 1945 America started to become involved in Vietnam. The more heavily involved America became the more they were sucked into the conflict and the harder it became for them to pull out. In 1965 Combat troops were sent to Vietnam as a last resort since other measures to keep Vietnam free of communism had failed.
To understand further more, why USA sent combat troops to Vietnam in 1965 the history of Vietnam must first be acknowledged. During the nineteenth century the French had a colony in South East Asia that consisted of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; this was called Indo-China. There was always opposition to the French government in Indo-China as people felt they were not being treated fairly, nevertheless the French remained in control of Indo-China until the Second World War. During the Second World War things changed, now the Japanese had taken control of Indo-China.
The people of Indo-China who wanted independence were very upset by this. In 1939 under Ho Chi Minh a nationalist resistant movement called the Vietminh, was formed to win back country’s independence. After the Second World War the Japanese were defeated, in the North by the Chinese and in the South by the British. The Chinese tried to establish an Asian government under Ho Chi Minh gave the North to the Vietminh and the British who saw Vietnam still as the French colony returned the South to the French.
The Vietminh declared the country, independent; but this only lasted from mid August to October since the French returned on the 3rd of October wanting to have their colony back. This led to a war between the French in the South and the Vietminh in the North. The communist Chinese in the North were helping the Vietminh whilst the US was giving aid to the French in the South; the war lasted for eight years (from 1946 until 1954) and eventually resulted in a French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
After the French defeat a peace settlement was agreed, the French were to withdraw from Vietnam and the country was divided along the 17th parallel, into the communist North and the non-communist South, it was agreed that election were to be held by 1956 to reunite the whole country, in the meanwhile Ho Chi Minh’s Vietminh was recognised as the government in the North while Ngo Dinh Diem was running the government in the South.
In the Geneva peace settlement it was agreed that elections would be held to reunite the whole country under the control of one leader. The USA were not very fond of this because they feared the communists might win the election, they also feared the speared of communism and the increase to spread of Russian influence in South East Asia, that had already taken over China and North Korea. The USA did not want its rival super power to have any more influence that it already had, so it prevented the elections from taking place.
The USA was prepared to do everything it could to prevent the speared of communism; this was a policy called, “Containment”. USA was even prepared to drop an atom bomb, as the US secretary of state John Foster Dulles talked of dropping one or two atom bombs in order to help the French win the battle of Dien Bien Phu. This was an attempt to scare the Vietminh and an attempt to carry out the policy of “Containment” through intimidation and threats.
John Foster Dulles, President Johnson’s Secretary of State, believed that if Communism over threw any Pro-Western countries, their neighbouring countries would soon follow suit and be toppled like a domino. This was named the “Domino Theory”, and was widely believed in the USA. Dulles set up a network of anti-communist alliances around the world to help reduce the chance of countries being toppled over by communism. The South-East Asian treaty organisation was formed in 1945.
The Central Treaty Organisation was formed in 1955. At the time in America there was real hatred against communism, this was helped further by American propaganda which portrayed communism as an evil, which was trying to take over the world. Senator Joseph McCarthy was responsible for completely ridding the USA of Communism; he said, “The communists had infiltrated American society”. He made it his duty to make America see Communists as the enemy within, and to seek out all Communists and Communist sympathisers in the USA.
Once found, they would most probably lose their jobs and never become employed again. America didn’t take any risks, it did not want Russia to have anymore influence on anymore countries so propaganda was used effectively to show communists as evils of the world and this would have added to the anti-communist feeling that people had, therefore indoctrinating them to win their support so that they would support the policy of “Containment” and this would convince them for actions of any means against the speared of communism.
Diem’s government in the South proved to be very corrupt and very unpopular with the South Vietnamese people. The South Vietnamese people did not support the government entirely because; Diem decided to support the landlords against the peasants, which were the majority of the population. People saw Diem as being a puppet of America they did not like this as it meant they were not independent like the North.
Diem was a Catholic so he was against Buddhists who were majority of his people also he put members of his family in important positions. The fact that he refused to hold the promised elections increased his unpopularity. The unpopularity of the government led to serious protests against it for example Buddhist monks set themselves on fire to show their disapproval of Diem’s corrupt government. Ho Chi Minh’s supporters who were in the South and other opponents of Diem came together in 1960 to set up a resistant movement called the “Vietcong”.
Since the government would have needed people’s support if it were to stand any chance against the Vietcong, the unpopularity of the South Vietnamese government was not particularly in USA’s favour, because USA did not want the communist North to conquer the South, as this would have meant their “Domino theory” was overcoming their “Containment” policy. So to try and stabilise the government in the South, president Eisenhower decided to send American advisers -to help Diem maintain his post and stabilise the government- from as early as 1955.
American advisers were sent to Vietnam also for the reason that USA wanted to keep a close eye on what was going on in Vietnam. By 1963 situation in South Vietnam had gotten even worse, the government -despite the attempts of US plans- didn’t get anymore popular than it was. America was fed up with the way Diem was controlling the country and losing the support of people day by day and refusing to listen to American advice about negotiations. America believed the war could not be won with Diem’s government in power.
So president Kennedy encouraged a coup against Diem, which was organised by the leading generals of the Saigon army. Diem was assassinated-against the wish of president Kennedy- on 1 November 1963. After Diem’s murder president Kennedy was himself assassinated and a new president, Lyndon Johnson was in charge. When Johnson came into power US involvement was fairly high in South Vietnam with 16,500 US advisers in Vietnam also 76 U. S servicemen had already died. US helicopters had already been deployed in Vietnam in 1962.
Agent Orange, which was a chemical weapon, was tested on Vietnam in the same year, which cleared 10% of the Vietnamese vegetations and forests so that the Vietcong would not have a hide out in the forest, so when Johnson came into power in 1963 the question on people’s mind was, will he raise or reduce US involvement in Vietnam considering that America was already heavily involved and whether or not he will commit ground troop to the region. Johnson approached Vietnam in a more aggressive way, as his aim was to finish and win the war quickly he was prepared to commit more resources and more financial help.
One of the reasons he did this was because he didn’t want to be seen as someone who was soft on communism, he didn’t want America to be called an appeaser and a coward nation and he didn’t want to be seen as president Kennedy was seen after the Cuban Missile Crisis, weak. Lyndon Johnson did face a big problem that proved to be very hard to solve while the war was still going and that was the loss of public support; the public who had heard of the monks setting themselves on fire and Americans dieing were not so keen on the idea of US involvement in the South East of Asia.
Nothing seemed to stop the Vietcong operating in the South not even US policies, the Vietcong were growing in numbers and the government in the South was in disarray. The Vietcong started a series of damaging raids against American installations in the South; the Vietcong troops crossed the border and seized Hamlets in 1964. Also the Gulf Of Tonkin incident added to the tension in 1964, in which communist torpedo boats attacked US warships in the Gulf Of Tonkin.
USA immediately responded by bombing the Vietnamese Northern naval bases, as we can expect the Vietcong retaliated and attacked the American base at Hoa near Saigon, destroying many parked Canberra jets. This was a good excuse for Johnson to become more involved in the war and introduce harsher methods to try and win the war; the Gulf Of Tonkin resolution -in, which USA was acting as international policeman to try and protect countries freedom using military methods-, justified his military approach on Vietnam.
The need Gulf Of Tonkin incident was used, to persuade the US public of more US military involvement in Vietnam. Johnson believed that the Vietcong were being encouraged and received supplies from the North and were acting under the orders of Ho Chi Minh, so to try and defeat the Vietcong they believed that they needed to stop Ho Chi Minh, consequently they started their bombing campaign on the North which was codenamed “Operation Rolling Thunder” in this operation they bombed parts of the North and the South that they believed were Vietcong’s bases.
The main aim of the bombings was to break the will of North Vietnamese to continue with the war and also to try and stop the North Vietnamese supplies getting to the Vietcong fighters in the South. The only point “Operation Rolling Thunder” achieved was hatred from South and North Vietnamese people therefore creating more opposition to the US within the country. They failed to break the will of North Vietnamese to continue with the war as there were no particular military or industrial targets and anything they hit, was provided immediately by China and Russia.
They also failed to stop North Vietnamese supplies getting to the South as the North Vietnamese took the Ho Chi Minh trail which was different routes going through Laos and Cambodia, so the Americans didn’t have a certain route to patrol with their planes meaning they couldn’t stop supplies reaching the South. A different method had to be introduced if South Vietnam was to have any chance of remaining free of communism.
The military and the majority of president Johnson’s cabinet argued that the South Vietnamese government was showing signs of imminent collapse and unless ground troops were sent in, South Vietnam would be lost. So on the 8 March 1965 the first US soldiers that entered Vietnam were under orders to defend Da Nang airbase and its perimeter. In May 1965 the US commander in Vietnam general William Wetmore asked the president for 180000 men to prevent the South from falling to the communists.
The troops deployed in the South were used to guard the border between Vietnam-Laos and the border between Vietnam-Cambodia to stop the Ho Chi Minh’s trail, therefore preventing supplies from the North getting to the Vietcong. The American ground troops fought alongside the South Vietnamese army to try defeat the Vietcong. America’s determination to contain Communism and its linked support for France and Indochina, led to their involvement in Vietnam, which gradually escalated to a full-scale war.
At first America gave financial aid to France and carried out their policy of containment under the French. After the French defeat America tried to carry out their policy of containment under the South Vietnamese government. This proved to be a big mistake as Diem’s government was weak militarily, economically and did not have the support of it’s public, this lead to them being more and more dependant on the USA and consequently this dragged the US further and further into the war.
As the US became more involved it tried many methods to contain communism within the North and prevent the speared of it to the South. America tried to contain communism by threat of dropping an atom bomb. They tried restraining communism by sending military advisors to help South Vietnamese army defeat the Vietminh. They also tried to use chemical agents to intimidate and kill people to scare them to stop the activities of the Vietminh. The USA also started a bombing campaign to break the will of Vietcong to carry on with the fight.
They tried to control what went in and out by patrolling the Golf Of Tonkin but that failed as well as the other measures. What America realised from all their mistakes was that they couldn’t fight gorilla fighters unless they deploy ground troops. America would definitely have lost South Vietnam if they did not use ground troops, because nothing else had worked America sent in ground troops to try and keep South Vietnam free of communism.