The Vietnamese complaints against the French both in the letters to President Truman and the 1945 Declaration of Independence, were based on the levying of unjust taxes, increasing the poverty of the rural populace, exploitation of mineral and forest resources, massive starvation, and imprisonment of those who would rebel or question their colonial power. In the long list of grievances against the French stated in the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, “They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty”.
Ho Chi Minh stated in his letter to Truman, that it was strictly for humanitarian reasons he need to revolt, and that “two million Vietnamese died of starvation during winter of 1944 and spring 1945”, and that it was “because of starvation policy of French who seized and stored until it controlled all available rice”. These seem like these conditions were a common occurrence at the time in Southeast Asia, where native people under the domination of French colonialism were not treated with dignity and not even given sufficient bare human necessities to live their lives.
(Zinn Ch. 18 Pg. XXX)
The Geneva Peace accord of 1954 mandated that the French withdraw to the southern part of the country, and that the Vietminh would stay in the north. This was because the French were losing the popular support of the Vietnamese people against Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary movement and there was a power vacuum. The Peace accord also set up the process for Vietnamese elections within two years of the withdrawal to allow the Vietnamese to elect their own government and unify the country.
The United States at first agreed to free elections for the Vietnamese people, when it participated in the multinational Geneva Peace accord. Due to the French withdrawal from the north and the powerful tide of nationalistic and communist ideologies that were sweeping the country of Vietnam, the United States installed a puppet in a former Vietnamese official named Ngo Dinh Diem as the president. After installing him the United States encouraged him not to hold the previously agreed on elections because they feared the unification of the country would make the people’s will felt and thus cause it to be the first domino to fall to communism. (Zinn Ch. 18 Pg. 472)
It seems that the Johnson administration resorted to trickery by using a dubious set of circumstances in the Gulf of Tonkin, where they feigned an attack to persuade Congress for permission to allow them to initiate a full scale war on Vietnam. They claimed according to Secretary of Defense McNamara that “While on routine patrol in international waters, the U.S. destroyer Maddox underwent an unprovoked attack.” However it became clear that the attack was faked, and the Johnson Administration had orchestrated the false attack and lied to the public about it. Zinn states that it was a far cry from unprovoked, and that “the CIA had engaged in a secret operation attacking North Vietnamese coastal installations”. Again a day later they claimed “open aggression on the high seas” when another fake attack was reported on a destroyer. The result of all this lying was that there was a unanimous Congressional resolution passed giving President Johnson the powers to initiate military actions. (Zinn Ch. 18 Pg. 476)
Operation Phoenix was a program carved out by the CIA to eliminate communism in Vietnam by secretly incarcerating, and executing without trial, up to twenty thousand individuals that were suspected Communist underground members. In 1975 an official summing up the operation stated, “Although the Phoenix program did undoubtedly kill or incarcerate many innocent civilians, it did also eliminate many members of the Communist infrastructure.” Again this was an era where acceptable losses of human life could be perfectly justifiable to stop the threat of Communism. a. I could not find any Zinn quote on why Operation Phoenix was kept secret but one could well imagine under the circumstances that the CIA would have kept Operation Phoenix secret to maintain the element of surprise and also to prevent any feelings of sentiment with the Vietnamese people and back home. (Zinn Ch. 18 Pg. 478)
Yes I believe that the invasion of Cambodia by Nixon was a major tactical error, because it caused a huge outcry back home in the United States, did not succeed on a military level, and ended up being the most outstanding reason for revocation of Nixon’s power to extend the war without Congressional approval. With the granting of the war powers to Johnson, Congress had relinquished their need to weigh in on the execution of the war. However after the invasion of Cambodia they stepped in and took back the control over American foreign policy. (Zinn Ch. 18 Pg. 484)
The “Pentagon Papers” were printouts in the New York Times of a top secret Department of Defense history of the war in Vietnam that was written with the help of Daniel Ellsberg a man who often did secret research for the government and had released it to the Times because of his growing disillusionment with the war. The Nixon administration tried to prevent the continued printing of the documents by getting the Supreme Court to stop its publication. Zinn states that the reasons were that the Pentagon Papers had captured the nation’s attention and of course it was meant as an internal document thus spelled out the atrocities and true facts of the war without cover (Zinn Ch. 18 Pg. 487-488) 7) The Vietnam War ended under the combined pressure of intense fighting on the front by the Viet Cong and the pressures of the anti-war movement at home. The growing disaffection with the war among the general populace in America affected the government more than they cared to admit.
Thousands of troops had been dispatched to the war, but thousands (one of every five) were getting dishonorably discharged. Many soldiers (177 of every 1000) were listed as “absent without leave”. Many youth were desperately trying to dodge the draft and not enter the military. Sue to the unpopularity of the war the government was not able to increase the troop count sufficiently to fight the revolutionary peasants. The armed peasants and native people of Vietnam were defeating the global superpower of the United States. By 1973 a last ditch effort to bomb the Viet Cong into submission failed, as many of the B52s were shot down. Protestors all over the world were enraged at this and worldwide unrest increased. In this atmosphere the United States was forced to return to the bargaining table and end the war. (Zinn Ch. 18 Pg. 499-501)