– The Vietnam War is known by many names. The most prominent of these is “The American War. It is the longest war that was ever fought by the Unites States of America on foreign soil. It spanned from November 1955 to April 1975; just over 17 years. The Vietnam War was overseen by four American Presidents; Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. The roots of the Vietnam War date all the way back to pre-World War II era. This paper answers crucial questions on the origin, execution, result and aftermath of the Vietnam War.
– The French Connection
– The territory including modern day Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were ruled by France colonialists. This colony was known as, “French Indochina” and, like all colonies Indochina saw a fair share of rebellion against colonial France. The tide changed during World War II when France was defeated by Germany. The Axis powers gained supremacy in the European theatre and cut off the French colonies from receiving supplies and reinforcements. The situation grew worse after the Imperial Japanese Army occupied vast portions of South-East Asia. The French, knowing that a military victory over the Japanese Army would be futile, agreed to cede power to the Japanese. Under this new agreement, the French would continue the administration of Indochina while the Japanese retain supreme authority. At the end of World War II and the surrender of Imperial Japan, the victors of the Western Allies decided that France should retain ownership of Indochina.
– At the request of the United States, Britain occupied southern Vietnam and China occupied the northern territories. Britain landed in South Vietnam and armed the depleted French forces in Indochina. Britain did not have the strength in troops to occupy the territory on their own. In the meantime, a popular politically party named Viet Minh won the local elections with Ho Chi Minh at its helm. In March of 1946, Ho signed a treaty with the French and agreed to replace the Chinese Nationalist troops with French troops. However, the French ousted Viet Minh and took control of the territory with the departure of British troops during the same time. The Viet Minh launched a guerrilla warfare campaign against the French.
– As of 1955, the United States was paying for over 75% of the expenditure in the French conflict. They supplied small arms and formed a tactical team to provide military training for Vietnamese in the south. The total investment cost over one billion US dollars even without active participation in the conflict. This was despite skeptics among US intelligence on a French victory in the outcome. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ensured that the United States stayed clear of an active role in the conflict. In May 1954, at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Viet Minh forces defeated the French comprehensively. This Viet Minh victory sealed the independence for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Subsequently, the Geneva accord of 1954 temporarily divided Vietnam into two states and allowed civilians to reside in the state of their choosing. Elections were held in the two states in 1956. Ngô Đình Diệm was elected power in South Vietnam which he declared independent under the name of Republic of VietnamPredictably, Ho Chi Minh was elected to power in North Vietnam.
– America’s interests in progressive escalation
– The United States saw a steady decline in allies in the Asian theatre after the Second World War. The Chinese Nationalists who aided them were overrun by the Communists and the relationship with the USSR turned into a cold war. This was followed by the Korean War where the United States made it her responsibility to halt the Communist advance. The spread of communism could not be tolerated; especially when state after state continued to embrace communism and turn their back on pre-World War II alliances. Moreover, a combined Communist-Asian bloc presented a potential threat to America’s national security.
– In 1960, the Viet Cong was formed. The Viet Cong opposed the land reform brought on by the Government of Vietnam. The controversial land reform gave power to the landlords and imposed rents on poor farmers whose lands were snatched. Furthermore, the South Vietnamese army was used to recover rents. The Ho Chi Minh government in the north on the other hand, snatched lands from the rich landlords and distributed it to poorer farmers. This resulted in the Viet Cong receiving a massive 70% support and the Republic of Vietnam mustering only 5% support among the country side populations in villages and towns.
– After deliberating on providing support to the South, the North Vietnamese Army invaded Laos and Cambodia in 1961. Subsequently after establishing supply lines, North Vietnam invaded its southern neighbor with 10,000 soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army in 1964. This number increased from tenfold by 1965 to 100,000.
– In November 1963, ignoring advice from Eisenhower, US President John F Kennedy deployed 16,000 troops in Southern Vietnam. The Southern Vietnamese Army was ill-equipped to handle the guerrilla warfare deployed by the Viet Cong. Corruption reeked through the South and severely tampered any chance of an appropriate response to the Northern intrusion. Eventually, President Kennedy ordered the deployment of the élite Green Berets to counter the guerrilla warfare.
– President Kennedy was reeling from a slew of campaigns gone wrong from the Berlin wall to the Bay of Pigs. He was vehemently opposed to any advice; foreign or domestic that warned against an active armed participation by the United States. Many domestic politicians feared that America would suffer the same fate of the French. However, for Kennedy, this war was more than politics. It was the reputation of the United States as a defender of the weak and his own reputation amongst policy makers.
– The fighting caliber of the South Vietnamese Army was exposed when they lost to a considerably smaller and less capable Viet Cong force in the Battle of Ap Bac in January 1963. The defeat exposed the lack of intention to fight on part of the officers belonging to the South Vietnamese Army. The leader of the Southern Vietnamese Army was promoted because he was catholic rather than on his expertise on the battlefield. There was no doubt in the minds of American policy makers at the time; Ngô Đình Diệm was incapable of winning the war.
– In November 1963, the CIA conspired with a few generals in the South Vietnamese Army and had Ngô Đình Diệm executed.
– The coup resulted in a turn of tide in support for the Viet Cong. The conflict was focused less on ousting a weak government to fighting off a foreign invader. The American General in South Vietnam, Paul Harkins was optimistic of a victory within the year, however the CIA was skeptical.
– America’s inability to withdraw
– The untimely assassination of President John F Kennedy brought Lyndon Johnson to office. Lyndon Johnson initially withdrew 1,000 American troops from South Vietnam. However, a spate of skirmishes with the North Vietnamese Navy prompted Lyndon Johnson to launch a series of aerial bombardment missions over North Vietnam. The plan was to destroy the military capability of the North Vietnamese and force them to abandon the Viet Cong. These missions lasted over the next three years from 1965 to 1968 with the US Air force raining numerous bombs including the infamous napalm bombs on North Vietnamese territories.
– Many American historians believed that Lyndon Johnson orchestrated a false propaganda and influenced by the CIA. However, there is evidence to the contrary.
– The involvement of the American War Machine and the cost of industry had risen to unfathomable levels that only further influenced escalation into the conflict. The Americans sustained 60,000 casualties and several thousand marines injured. There were vast sections of the US Army that was involved in substance abuse due to the availability of cheap contraband. The cost of the war skyrocketed.
– The US Air Force and Navy also used a wide range of aircraft from the F4 Phantom2 to the advanced F111s in the closing stages of the war. This meant considerable profit for the aviation industry and enormous funding on research. The industrial lobby’s pressure, the political stability of the region, the reputation of the United States as a reliable friend, the threat of being outclassed by Soviet weapons and the backlash at home if defeated; contributed in the continued participation of the US in the Vietnam conflict.
– Progress of conflict since American involvement
– The Vietnam War always looked like a lost cause. It never bore the signs of a victory ever being achieved. The Viet Cong scored several victories against the South Vietnamese Army despite possessing inferior armaments. However, until active US participation, it was viewed as a civil conflict between two states that should have unified soon after colonial rule. Eventually it became a war against an invading foreigner; America. The Vietnamese were not immune to occupation. They were occupied by China, Japan and France in the past. Hence, the Vietnamese had considerable experience in guerrilla warfare. The Americans were never exposed to this style of combat. In addition, the climate and environment weren’t suitable terrain for the deployment of US forces. Unlike World War II, in this battle the local population rallied behind the enemy.
– The initial skirmishes with the Navy paved the way for a full scale assault on North Vietnam. The aerial bombardment was not delivering the desired results. Despite using advanced and heavy bombers, the thick forests and lack of intelligence reports made the proceedings very difficult.
– There was a sequence of events like a domino effect. The success of aerial operations led to the Viet Cong’s attacking airfields. The South Vietnamese Army was incapable of providing protection hence, American ground troops had to work this detail. The American commanders had been trained to fight on the offense. They did not possess the strategic planning to fight in defensive mode. This created a severe dip in morale. However to fight offensively, there had to be a declaration of war. In its absence, despite having the capability to overrun the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, the Americans were unable to gain any significant ground. Moreover, the South Vietnamese Army met with a string of defeats irrespective of the odds.
– The Tet offensive in late 1967 was the beginning of the end for the Vietnam War. Despite unleashing its enormous firepower, American forces gained little. The call for troops did not receive the anticipated response from allies. NATO allies declined to provide troops. The retaliation of the Tet offensive met with reasonable success however at an extremely high cost. It was a military victory and a political defeat. At this juncture, the support base among the locals tipped in favor of the Viet Cong and its communist allies. It also brought an end to Lyndon Johnson’s political career.
– America was staring at defeat when Lyndon Johnson decided against sending additional troops to Vietnam in mid 1968. Even peace talks commenced during this time with North Vietnam in Paris. Finally, Lyndon Johnson ordered the aerial campaign to stop over North Vietnam.
– The effect of the Vietnam War on the American people
– The American people steadily turned against the Vietnam War post 1967. They were staunchly against the concept of sending their men into a war that a third of the population believed to be a mistake. Anti-war sentiments grew steadily and demands for troop withdrawal took form in the shape of demonstrations, music and stage. The government’s responses to such demonstrations were also the worst since the days of the American Revolution War. The Kent University shooting was deplorable. The My Lai massacre also played its part in further escalating the protests. All sections of the society were hit by the most illogical war of all times.
– The role of US Presidents
– Four presidents of the United States dealt with the Vietnam War. Two of them decided against active participation while two of the blundered into an escalation that led to one of the bloodiest conflicts that left 60,000 US soldiers dead.
– Dwight D Eisenhower
– Dwight Eisenhower was a brilliant military commander. He knew that American troops would not perform like they did during World War II in the European theatre. He chose to engage the situation politically. Eisenhower also realized that the stability of this conflict ridden region was political and not achievable on the field of battle. He also advised President Kennedy against deploying American troops in South Vietnam.
– John F Kennedy
– John F Kennedy, from the first day decided to provide military support to end the conflict. Moreover he needed to win a war. He had lost one too many prior his armed escalation into Vietnam. The conflict escalated into a full blown war during the Kennedy administration. Kennedy valued his reputation as the leader of the world’s foremost Superpower more than facing the reality of the situation on the ground.
– Lyndon Johnson
– Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam War into one of the worst conflicts for the United States. Several young men were dragged into the war; this led to an economic free fall plunging America in despair. He also declined to declare open war and take offensive in the initial stages of the war. This greatly undermined any progress the Americans tried to make thereon.
– Richard Nixon
– In 1969, Richard Nixon was swept into power by the Vietnam War wave in the United States. Unlike his predecessors, Nixon had the leeway to withdraw American troops from Vietnam in the shadow of heavy communist loses during the Tet offensive. Nixon wanted to strengthen a nationalist movement within the local population and leave the defense of South Vietnam to the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam. Richard Nixon defused international tensions by parading US nuclear missiles borne aircraft along the USSR border to showcase the might of America’s military prowess. This move effectively influenced China and USSR to reduce their nuclear arsenal however it did not deter their supplying aid to North Vietnam.
– International pressure from appalling war crimes and a renewed outbreak of protests at home forced Nixon to end American involvement on January 15, 1973. Subsequently on January 27, 1973 the peace accord was signed in Paris effectively ending American participation in the war.
– Aftermath of the Vietnam War
– American troops began drastic troop reduction from Vietnam in 1973. The South Vietnamese were inclined to dictate terms despite the peace agreement due to the aid that they received from the US before the peace agreement was signed. However future intervention in Vietnam was scuttled by the US Senate through the Case–Church Amendment. Gerald Ford took over from Richard Nixon at the advent of the Watergate scandal. Eventually the US Congress cut the aid to South Vietnam by 300 million dollars. Furthermore the rise in oil prices undermined the South Vietnamese from utilizing their superior military arsenal against their opposition. Eventually with no response from the Americans for aid, it spelled the end of the Republic of Vietnam. A war that cost billions of dollars lost 60,000 American lives and over 300,000 civilian lives; ended in a tame surrender to North Vietnam.
– Herring, George. America’s Longest War. Minneapolis, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
– Atwood Lawrence, Mark. The Vietnam War: A Concise International History. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2010.
– Caputo, Philip. A Rumor of War. Stuttgart, Deutschland: Holt Paperbacks, 1996.
– History.com Staff. “Vietnam War History.” History.com. 22 November 2014. http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history#
– Spector, H. Roland. “Second Indochina War.” http://www.britannica.com. 22 November 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/628478/Vietnam-War
– ushistory.org. “The Vietnam War.” U.S. History Online Textbook. 22 November 2014. http://www.ushistory.org/us/55.asp
– VietnamGear.com Staff. “The Vietnam War.” VietnamGear.com. 22 November 2014. http://www.vietnamgear.com/
– Hickman, Kennedy. “Vietnam War: End of the Conflict” abouteducation.com. 22 November 2014. http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/vietnamwar/a/VietnamEnd.htm
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