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The United States was established with the intention of neutrality with foreign diplomacy. It was one of the United States’ founding fathers, George Washington in his Farewell Address to the people of the United States, that dictated its stance for the two centuries to follow, “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world.” (Mount Vernon).
However, as situations changed, and new conflicts arose, it became necessary for the stance of the United States to do so as well.
At the start of the 20th century, wars pushed the United States into the forefront of the global stage once more. The American government and society’s views began to shift towards a more dominant role, which was more intrusive than helpful. A prime example was American involvement in the Vietnam War, or the Second Indochina War, which resulted in over 50,000 American deaths for this so-called “fight against Communism.” For In recent years, the Vietnam War has been seen as a failure and black mark by Americans, The US’s actions went against their core values as a country founded on the principles of fundamental freedoms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness during the Vietnam War.
While the US did follow their values of restricting Communism and supporting the growth of democracies, they forced their ideology of government onto the Vietnamese people, directly oppressed them to fit their narrative, and knowingly placed American lives on the line. The United States Government deliberately spread misinformation about the Vietnam War through propaganda and incomplete reporting.
President Nixon, the president that e pulled the troops out of the war, stated in his book No more Vietnams that “no event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.” (Richard Nixon Foundation). American media falsely portrayed the events in Vietnam as a Communist revolution.
The conflict in Vietnam dates much farther back, beginning with violent French imperialist occupation of the area during the late 1800s, then called French Indochina, present-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia After World War II, France tried to reestablish their power in the colony. However, Vietnam revolutionaries established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and under President Ho Chi Minh, declared independence as a free state from France, resulting in the First Indochina War. America entered this conflict supporting their longtime allies the French because of the communist ideals of Chi Minh. The Second Red Scare portrayed Communism as dishonorable and iniquitous. Ho Chi Minh’s forces ended the war in a Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954, and Vietnam was split into South and North Vietnam after the Geneva Conference of 1954. The US, fearing that Vietnam would turn into a Communist state and influence other Asian countries, supported Ngo Dinh Diem, an anti-communist politician.
Together, they created the Republic of Vietnam, more commonly known as South Vietnam, with Diem as President. As this broke the agreement of a nationwide election to decide the fate of Vietnam as a whole, An aggravated Minh drew upon military support from the Soviet Union and began attacks on South Vietnam. The US involvement during the Vietnam War resulted in atrocious consequences both for the American and Vietnamese people who were supposed to be the beneficiaries. The decision to enter Vietnam was against American values, but preceding policies completely rejected any semblance of values. Henry Kissinger, United States Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, stated: “The Vietnam War required us to emphasize the national interest rather than abstract principles.” (Smithsonian). That notion is demonstrated by the two decades and five presidents that were given the gradual political disaster that was Vietnam by the end of the war.
The US administration’s decision to enter the war was not because of a noble cause to save the poor, defenseless Vietnamese people from the oppressive force of Communism, but a highly political move. The US, seeing that the Soviet Union was supporting North Vietnam, inserted themselves in Vietnam as the democratic power to counter the Soviet Union and prove that democracy was superior. America, as a society, was fearful of the prospect that Communism could take over globally and sought to limit it. A poster promoted internationally by the United States Information Agency (USIA) states “Anywhere there is communism, there is terrorism and assassination!” (U.S. Information Agency). This antagonism and terror of Communism majorly influenced American involvement in Vietnam.
The involvement of the US was misplaced onto a situation that the US didn’t truly understand, as the US viewed the events in Vietnam as a Communist revolution due to the involvement of the Soviet Union rather than a group of people fighting for freedom from an oppressive imperialist power and the right to exist within their own culture. Kennedy and Johnson’s administrations disagreed and preceded to push their democratic and capitalist ideals on the Vietnamese people through the intervening support of Diem’s ‘democratic’ government. This support proved to be an immense failure considering the incompetence of the Diem’s government and the United States military invasion after Diem’s assassination. South Vietnam’s democratic government was inefficient, preoccupated with monetary advancement, and massively corrupted.
Higher officials were appointed through nepotism and apathetic towards the struggles of the common people, while many lower-level officials abused their position by extorting locals, resulting in public opinion swaying against Diem’s government. Despite ample evidence testifying the disreputable and unfavorable nature of Diem’s government, the United States continued to offer military and financial support, prolonging the separation of Vietnam. The United States oppressed a group of people, forced them to fight for a government that they did not support, and created a more significant conflict to prove the superiority of their ideals. As a country, the United States continued the work of Imperialist France to dominate Vietnam and continued to support a figurehead leader and corrupt government in hopes of using the conflict in Vietnam to demonstrate American superiority.
The US disregarded the safety and freedom of the Vietnamese people because of the egotistical ambition of superficial ideologic dominance against the Soviet Union. After the assassination of Diem, America’s involvement escalated with the Gulf of Tolkien Resolution., allowing President Johnson the powers to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”(National Archives Foundation). With this new power, he proceeded to send 100,000 soldiers in both 1965 and 1966. By 1967, there were an estimated 500,000 US troops fighting for South Vietnam, which was a lost cause. Johnson sent the soldiers with the understanding of failure. President Johnson, in a phone conversation with Senator Richard Russel of Georgia, long before he began sending Americans to Vietnam, states that “The great trouble I’m under, a man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere. But there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam.”( Zelizer).
Even after being advised by his Vice President to put out of the war, Johnson continued to send Americans to Vietnam out of pride and the fear of being titled a coward, the first US President to lose a war. As a result of the arrogance of one man granted a tremendous and undeserved amount of power to sway the nation towards virulent nationalism and intense patriotism, millions of lives were sacrificed. The government placed national pride above the safety of their people, and deliberately misled the American people regarding the war, delivering false information on the supposed process and ensured victory through presidential speeches. US involvement in the Vietnam conflict was because of two reasons: the need to prove democracy as the best form of government and the fear of communism. The actions and poor handling of the subsequent Presidents outlined the US’s desertion from their values. During this period, the US did not only oppress a group of people who were fighting for independence but also forced western ideologies and a corrupt, abusive government on the people of Vietnam.
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