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The United States became increasingly involved in the war in Vietnam Essay

1. Explain why the United States became increasingly involved in the war in Vietnam.

In the years after the Second World War, it became necessary for the Allies to decide the future of the French colony, Indochina, when the Japanese who had been occupying the country, surrendered. Prior to the Second World War, the French had ruled over the regions of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The French ruling was unpopular, forcing ideas of democracy upon the Vietnamese people and the French overthrew any efforts of resistance.

When the Japanese invaded the French colony, to resist the Japanese rule, an organisation was founded, the Vietminh, led by Ho Chi Minh. In order to defeat the Japanese, it was essential for the Vietminh to co-operate with the Allies and at the end of the war, Vietnam was declared independent. Unfortunately, the French returned and responded to Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of the Vietnamese independence by enlisting British help in order to expel the Vietminh from the south of the country, resulting in a division between Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam and the French’s South Vietnam.

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This division was followed by futile attempts to negotiate between the French and the Vietnamese, which lasted a year. For the Vietminh, it was vital that the country reunited as the majority of the food production was in the south, but the French refused and so the Vietnam war began in 1946, when the French killed over 5,000 civilians.

The American President, Roosevelt, disliked the French method of colonialism but conceded to pressure to conform in order to respect the United State’s Ally Britain. When Truman came into power in 1945, he favoured the French in order to gain a sense of strength in Europe against the Soviet Union. Truman saw the Vietnam War not as a civil war but as communist expansion.

During the first three years of the war, the US began to finance the French and so Ho Chi Minh was ultimately forced to seek support from the Soviet Union and China, confirming US fears. Although the French were being supported by the United States, the Vietminh of the north was being equipped with weapons by China and the Soviet Union, who were both communist. The French greatly underestimated the force of the Vietminh, who used guerrilla warfare tactics against the conventional tactics of the French. In 1954, the weakening French army experienced a breaking defeat after surrendering a siege of 55 days at Dien Bien Phu. This fractured the French morale to continue fighting the Vietminh; they could not comprehend such a small nation had defeated a renowned European power. Due to pressure, humiliation and great losses of troops, the strain was clearly beginning to show and in the same year, the French pulled out of the war.

When China fell to Communism in 1949, the US treated the Chinese with suspicion as they believed that they would try to spread communism and consequently, they feared that the whole of south-east Asia would turn communist, country by country. The dominant idea in the US foreign policy was the ‘Domino Theory’, strongly upheld by President Truman, which outlined their fear of the whole of south-Asia falling to communism. This was the idea that if one country fell to communism, the rest of the world would follow like dominoes. This meant that Indochina was of great importance to the US in order to prevent the occurrence of further communism. The US was worried about their strategic position in Asia should Vietnam ‘fall’ to communism as Vietnam was in an advantageous position on the trade routes between Europe and the Far East.

In order to establish a resolution for Indochina, a conference was held in Geneva in 1954, and the countries that attended were the USA, the UK, France, China, and the SU, and there were representatives for North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Mutually, they agreed on the retreat of French troops, the initiation of a cease-fire and a new regional agreement. Indochina was split up to form the communist North and non-communist South Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia. The division of the North and South of Vietnam was a demilitarised area at the 17th parallel, with the North being controlled by Ho Chi Minh’s communist government and the South being provided with a US-picked anti-Communist government.

From the peace conference, it was promised that the North and South of Vietnam would combine after elections took place, but the US prevented the occurrence of free elections as they knew that communism would dominate them, resulting in a triumph of communism. Instead, the next American President, Eisenhower, proposed aid to South Vietnam, as well as training up the South Vietnamese army, by sending over military advisers. Both arms and money were sent to South Vietnam in hope of containing the communist North but unfortunately, the majority of it ended up in the hands of the corrupt politicians of the handpicked South Vietnamese government.

It was now that the Vietminh reacted by fighting against both the South Vietnamese and US government as North Vietnam verified that they wanted to conduct a war on the South in order to reunite Vietnam as one country. The US government were supporting Diem, the South Vietnamese Prime Minister, claiming his government to be democratic when it was authoritarian, unpopular, forceful and ignored the obligation for free elections as stated at the Geneva conference. The reason that it was so unpopular was because the South Vietnamese government destroyed any form of opposition and imprisoned many antagonists, and there was also the fact that in a Buddhist country, they had a Catholic Prime Minister. The US backed the Prime Minister Diem whilst the SU and China provided North Vietnam with aid, weapons and food. Even though the US supported the South Vietnamese government because it was anti-Communist, many of the South Vietnamese people preferred the Vietminh and Communism.

After Eisenhower, President Kennedy followed suit by sending over 10,000 US troops to Vietnam as aid. As more and more troops and advisers were being sent to Vietnam, more of the Vietnamese people were turning to the communists, and although the Americans involvement was increasing, the Vietcong were still leading. Lyndon Johnson came to power in 1963, he chose to increase the US involvement in the Vietnam War considerably. He believed that the desperate situation of South Vietnam had got so bad due to the feebleness and invalidity of the South Vietnamese government, which had been overthrown. He presumed that for the US to defeat the Vietcong, the Vietminh’s successor that was formed in 1960, it was imperative that it was done quickly. When, in 1964, an inconsequential naval incident occurred in the Gulf of Tonkin, President Kennedy used it the incident involving North Vietnamese ships and a US naval destroyer as an excuse to wage war on Vietnam, despite the fact that the US was not officially at war with Vietnam in the first place.

By the end of 1965, approximately 200,000 US soldiers were fighting in Vietnam and it was then that LBJ ordered the commencement of “Operation Rolling Thunder”. This was where US aircraft strategically attacked important areas in North Vietnam using bombs, in the hope of depriving the Vietcong of essential supplies, but these efforts were in vain and the bombing continued for many years after, and still the war did not end. With help from the USSR and China, North Vietnam was able to survive and so had the strength to carry on, in contrast to the waning US army.

There were many reasons why the USA involvement became intensified, especially having a foreign policy being dominated by domino theory. This meant that each President dealing with the Vietnamese problem was equally reluctant to escape involvement and face the accusation that they had lost the battle against communism and so consequently, dug the US in deeper. Considering the difficulty of getting themselves out of a sticky situation and that many foresaw disaster displays the scale of the military involvement of the US in the Vietnam War, resulting in the mass loss of life and destruction. However, it would have been practically impossible to avoid any involvement in the war, as the Allies needed to decide on the future of the French colony, Indochina.

It would most likely have been wiser for the US to support Ho Chi Minh’s regime in the first place and then from there, attempt to manipulate the situation to their own advantage. It were factors such as the domino theory and the fact that Vietnam was in such a good trading position that initially led the USA to gain a greater involvement, but it was when the French pulled out their troops that the Americans became really involved. This is easy to say with hindsight as the Geneva negotiations were badly handled and free-elections held immediately after would have allowed the US to pull out from Vietnam after the French, being democratic and giving them no further justification for war. The panic at the time is understandable, but it was the belief in the domino theory and the USA’s distrust and suspicion towards the communist countries that led to their downfall and increasing involvement in the Vietnam War.

2. Study Source A. Do you agree with this interpretation of the problems faced by United States soldiers in Vietnam? Use the source and your own knowledge to explain your answer.

I agree with the source’s interpretation of the problems faced by the United States soldiers when in Vietnam to an extent. The source highlights the main problems faced by the US troops, claiming their defeat was mainly down to low intelligence and inexperience of the GI’s as well as the fact that they were trying to conventionally fight the Vietcong’s guerrilla warfare, who were fighting on their own territory.

Inexperience of guerrilla warfare had a great deal to do with why the US was defeated in Vietnam. Fighting tactics in Vietnam were an important factor in the victory of the Vietcong over the US as there were key differences in their fighting methods, of which the Vietcong took full advantage. The Vietcong used guerrilla warfare, where they used their own knowledge of their home ground to hinder the US army, whereas they US had been accustomed to conventional warfare, in the form of fighting their enemy in trenches, for example. The advantage of using guerrilla warfare was the ability to plant booby traps, which naturally unnerved the US soldiers, although the technology of the US was superior to that of the Vietcong’s it was ultimately ineffectual, particularly as most of the GI’s were young, unskilled, untrained and inexperienced, compared to prepared and proficient guerrillas.

The fact that the length of conscripted duty of the average US soldier was only one year, “the tour of duty in Vietnam was one year”, meant that if the soldier survived that long, as soon as they had gained the necessary experience of fighting the Vietcong, they would be sent home in order for another fresh and inexperienced soldier to be sent off to fight. In addition to this, it was discovered that the majority of the US recruits sent to fight were of such a low intelligence, that in normal circumstances, they would not have been allowed into the US Army.

Due to the fact that the US government were more interested in funding bombing projects such as “Operation Rolling Thunder”, more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than on Germany in the Second World War, than helping the problems that faced the soldiers themselves, the army suffered greatly. Considering the lack of resources for the soldiers from low government funding, with the vast majority of the soldiers of low intelligence and little skill, it is not surprising that the US troops were ineffective against the accomplished Vietcong.

The source talks of how “soldiers were most likely to die in the first month” and that “the large majority of deaths took place in the first six months”, whereas it is well known that the Vietcong had seemingly endless supplies of soldiers, who would willingly die out of devotion to communism. In contrast, many of the American troops did not feel so strongly about the collapse of communism.

A factor that the source does not mention is that of low morale. In addition to all of the problems encountered by the American soldiers as shown in the source, for example, high death rates, low intelligence and naivete, low morale would have played a vital part in the downfall of the US army. Factors such as guilt, resilience of the Vietcong, frustration at not being able to fight their enemy face to face, overreaction and defeatism would all have contributed to the low morale of the soldiers. At this time, drug abuse was rife within the army, popular due to its ability to provide escapism for the men.

As well as having to fight the Vietcong, large numbers of the Southern Vietnamese were helping the Vietcong, leading to further frustration for the GI’s. Due to the fact that the American soldiers were unable to distinguish members of the Vietcong from the South Vietnamese people, it lead to destruction of villages in the hope of killing at least a few followers of the Vietcong, causing the Vietnamese people to dislike the GI’s even more. An example of this was the massacre at My Lai in 1968, where the US soldiers were tipped off that there were members of the Vietcong living in the village, when it was mostly made up of elderly, women and children. The soldiers were ordered to kill all of the inhabitants in cold blood and burn the village to the ground, causing them to appear cold and heartless with no regard for human life.

I think that although the source is written with reliability as the writer would have had a lot of access to information about the war, the writer was British, so therefore did not actually experience the war and also wrote the source with the benefit of hindsight. The source is a piece of secondary evidence and seemingly unbiased. It is informative, telling of how the system failed whilst showing the point of view of the GI’s and what they had to go through. It almost acts as an explanation to why the US army was defeated, claiming that although they had to fight the extremely skilled Vietcong, the US army at that time was not to its highest standard as the recruits had to be drafted and so were inexperienced and untrained.

I agree with the source’s interpretation of the obstacles that the US soldiers faced, but it does not mention all of the problems. The source itself tells of how the Americans faced defeat because the recruits were of low intelligence and that there were high death rates. It then goes on to say that the GI’s were only in Vietnam for one year so that by the time they had become experienced and gained a greater understanding of the guerrilla warfare being used against them, they were sent home. It is also mentioned that because the army was renewed every year, this meant that an inexperienced army was constantly being opposed to the experienced Vietnam, who were fighting on their own territory. What the source doesn’t tell us is of the personal problems that the soldiers may have faced such as depression, guilt, frustration and the many other issues caused by drug abuse.

In conclusion, I think that the source is a good interpretation and does its job of providing an insight into the problems faced by the US army, but as it is not primary evidence or written with experience, simply with hindsight, so it is not reliable. I think that Source A’s interpretation of what it was like for the soldiers in Vietnam is accurate yet not entirely reliable.

3. Is there sufficient evidence in Sources A to E to explain why there was an anti-war movement in the United States during the late 1960s and early 1970s?

I think that there is suitable evidence provided in the five sources, accounting for the establishment for an anti-war movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The anti-war movement began in the late 1960s, beginning with the burning of ‘draft’ cards by the men called up to fight, organised sit-its and demonstrations taking place across the country. This was most likely due to the exposure of the war on the television, it being the first televised war.

Source ‘A’ is an account of what the US troops had to endure whilst fighting in Vietnam. It recounts the increasing death toll, “the large majority of deaths took place in the first six months”, the lack of both intelligence, “recruits scored so low on the intelligence tests that they would never have been let into the normal peacetime army,” and experience of the recruits and also of the problems with fighting the skilled Vietcong. The source supplies evidence of how the US army was slowly being defeated by the Vietnamese and provides an insight into the problems suffered by the soldiers and of how they were fighting a losing battle. This source is a piece of secondary evidence so should not be taken to be absolutely reliable, but it was written for a documentary and its author would have had a lot of access to information about the daily torments endured by the troops during the war.

Although the source was written with the benefit of hindsight, it has an acute sense of accuracy in detailing the problems that the US army faced in the sense of lack of intelligence, inexperience of guerrilla warfare and of untrained recruits being sent off to fight the Vietcong every year. What the source does not tell us is of the personal problems suffered by the soldiers such as depression, guilt, frustration and the appeal of drug abuse, which would have granted another perspective into the soldier’s lifestyles.

These problems would have provided reason for the founding of an anti-war movement in the United States as the families and friends of the troops would have known of the suffering of their loved ones at war. The fact that the US army was in such great need of soldiers that they discarded the fact that many of their troops were of such low intelligence they would not have otherwise been allowed into the army, showed that the US were not concerned with the state of the army, but merely that they had a fighting one. To some extent, the American people would have been shocked by the state of the soldiers, however, although it was the first televised war, the Vietnam War caused the American troops to be murderers instead of heroes, which would have provoked a reaction in the sense of an anti-war movement.

Source ‘B’ is a photo of Vietnamese children, the fleeing victims of a misdirected napalm bomb. The source is primary evidence and would have caused outrage when shown back in the US, as the American people would have been horrified that the cause of these innocent children’s suffering was their own army. In the past, people would have been fed a daily diet of propaganda, to not only keep up morale but so that they were in approval of the war itself. As the Vietnam War was the first televised war, when images such as Source B were projected back home, an increase in the anti-war movement occurred as the American people were witnessing the affects of their army on the Vietnamese people first hand. Furtherly, the source shows several US soldiers in the background, taking photos of the effects of the napalm bomb which burnt the back of the little girl in the foreground. I think that the fact that the US soldiers were taking photos of such events was both insensitive and tasteless, thus initiating further anti-war feeling.

Source ‘C’ is a snippet from an article by an American reporter about the situation in Vietnam during the war. It is therefore primary evidence and so is reliable in its account. It talks of how the American troops were faced with daily predicaments of how to deal with the Southern Vietnamese people themselves. For example, if an unknown person attacked a soldier, should the soldier kill all of the suspects in order to enforce authority at the risk of appearing unmerciful and cold-hearted, or simply move on as they could end up killing an innocent unknown in the hope of affecting the Vietcong.

As the reporter quite rightly says that one would not attack innocent people if you are trying to gain support and convince them of the good of your cause. An article such as this would have provoked a reaction by the Americans at home as they would have been provided with an insight into the problems faced by the soldiers. There is evidence in this source that was anti-war in the sense that the US army had no influence over the Southern Vietnamese people, only by administering control through mass murder, for example at My Lai, and overall had no real effect as the Vietnamese people still supported the Vietcong.

Source ‘D’ is a cartoon depicting the problems with the government at the time of the Vietnam War. The president at this time, Lyndon Baynes Johnson, came up with an idea called the ‘Great Society’, where the poorer people and areas of the US would benefit and be improved, in the hope of gaining him more votes. However, due to the cost of the war, this scheme was put on hold. The cartoon shows the occurrence of these events, representing it by showing the president cutting down the Great Society, depicted in the form of wood, in order for use as fuel for the train of ‘Vietnam’. A cartoon such as Source D in itself would have been anti-war as it shows how the US society and economy was being sacrificed and put on hold, in order to support the losing battle in Vietnam, so therefore, it would have most definitely had an impact on the public opinion at home. The fact that it was drawn for a British magazine proves that there were not only anti-war movements in America but in the UK likewise.

Source E is a statement made by the television commentator, Robin Day, made in 1970, during the war to a conference of the Royal United Institution. In his speech, he talks of the grave consequences of televising the war in the sense that not only would it shock the home audiences, witnessing daily the horrific events taking place in Vietnam but that it could possibly over-expose the was provoking anti-war movements. The source is a piece of primary evidence, and is seemingly unbiased, being more of a warning than anything. It was claimed that it was the televising of the war that made the Americans anti-war in the first place as during previous wars, people were fed propaganda in order to prevent anti-war movements.

He also adds that by televising the war, the government are allowing their public to behold frequent atrocities, not only those inflicted on the Vietnamese people caused by their own army, but those that affected the soldiers also. As Robin Day quite rightly pointed out, “blood looks very red on colour television,” meaning that for Vietnam to be the first televised war would not only be revolutionary in the fact that people would be witnessing it firsthand, but they would be observing the genocide taking place. The fact that this speech was presented in a seminar of the Royal United Service Institution, where members of the British armed forces would have been present means that although the statement could be warning that televising the war is a mistake, but also anticipating the rise of anti-war movements.

In conclusion, I can say that there is sufficient evidence in the sources that explain the anti-war movements of the time. I believe that it was the televising of the war that prompted the initial anti-war schemes, but nevertheless, even if this had not been the case, I still believe that these movements would have existed. This is because of the fact that the American people did not want their soldiers fighting a war against a country of which they had no real dealings with. Even if the war had not been televised, it would still have been exposed in newspapers, magazines and cartoons, although understandably not to the same extent.

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