WHY AND HOW DID AMERICA GET INVOLVED IN VIETNAM?
America first became involved in Vietnam helping the French against the Vietminh during the Indo-China war by indirect means. This meant America did not send troops into Vietnam until 1964. They were not prepared to send more American soldiers into war after the Second World War. Instead it funded the French army to fight against the Vietminh. They supported the French campaign in Vietnam. In 1950 president Truman agreed to send the French $15 million of supplies, but over the next four years USA spent nearly $3 billion helping the French in Vietnam. They sent supplies and arms to the French fighting in Vietnam.
They did this as they feared the spreading of communism. In 1945 a policy of containment was introduced by President Truman to restrict the spread of communism after World War2. They feared the rate at which communism was spreading and thought that it would eventually spread to the USA as well. This led to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan in 1947. Financial aid was offered to all the European countries to help their economies recover but also to ‘resist being enslaved by armed minorities or outside pressure’ which was basically helping countries to keep out communism. This was known as Dollar Diplomacy. This led to distrust between the Russian and American allies. The USSR was a communist country and the USA was a capitalist country. Both the countries started their own propaganda campaigns against each other and in the USA ‘Uncle Joe’ was being shown in a different light under President Truman. He, unlike President Roosevelt distrusted Stalin and the USSR. Russia thought that the USA was building itself a huge empire to exploit economically through the Marshall Plan. Russia was also distrustful and afraid of the USA because the USA had announced secret testing for the atomic bomb. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki USA was the top of the arms race and Russia felt threatened and bullied by America. America on the other hand, felt threatened by the Russian Red Army which was made up of millions of trained soldiers. They also thought that Russia was rigging elections in favor of communist parties to make the countries communist.
This led to an ‘iron curtain’ between the communist and capitalist countries of the world. No new ideas were shared between the two and people were seldom allowed to move between them. This was the start of America’s hatred for communism which later led t to get involved in Vietnam against it. Another reason for America getting involved is China’s fall to communism in 1949. Chairman Mao was the new communist head of China which meant that two of the largest economies and countries in the word were now communist (Russia and China). The USA thought that if one country became communist, its neighboring countries would become communist too. This was known as the domino theory. President Eisenhower believed this theory that communism would spread though countries like falling dominoes. He feared that eventually the USA would fall as well, and wanted to prevent this. He started the Rolling Back of Communism movement wherein he tried to support countries against communism. He believed that this would help prop up the dominoes and help push some of them back.
This also meant the USA now directly intervened in international politics to make sure countries would not fall to communism. Another thing that led to the Americans getting involved in Vietnam was the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. This was the civil war where the Communist North fought against the Capitalist South. The United Nations (mainly the USA) supported the South while China/Russia supported the North by sending money and soldiers. The country was partitioned in 1954 into North and South Korea. All these reasons led to the American involvement in Vietnam supporting the French. The main reason was to stop Communism from spreading into more countries. They thought if Vietnam became communist places like Cambodia and Laos would become Communist too.
After the French were defeated in Diem Bien Phu in 1954 they wanted peace with the Vietminh. They subsequently signed the Armistice which ended the war between the French and the Vietminh; as a result Vietnam was dived along the 17th parallel with elections to be held in 1956. This later led to the Geneva Agreement. The Geneva Agreement was made between all the major nations of the world in May 1954. It was decided that Vietnam would be temporarily divided along the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam. The North would be led by Ho Chi Minh and the South by Ngo Dinh Diem. The Vietminh forced would pull out of the South and the French forces would pull out of the North. In July 1956 there would be elections to elect a government for the whole of Vietnam. America was unhappy with this agreement because 80% of the population at that time would have voted for Ho Chi Minh leading to a communist Vietnam which they had tried hard to stop. President Eisenhower believed in the Domino theory and was determined to stop Vietnam becoming communist. So America supported Diem, the leader of South Vietnam. President Eisenhower then sent 17 military advisors to South Vietnam to train the ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) in conventional warfare. He knew that Diem would not win the elections so would have to prop him up. The military advisors were sent to make sure that if the inevitable war broke out the ARVN would have the upper hand. In 1961 President Eisenhower increased the number of advisors to 685 because Diem had postponed the election and had made himself president of South Vietnam. He became very unpopular with the people, which increased support for Ho Chi Minh and the Vietcong.
Diem became unpopular for many reasons. When he came into power he focused not on making people’s lives better but on exterminating anyone whom he thought could oppose him or anyone who he thought were supporting the Vietcong. Diem also favored the Catholic minority of the country over the Buddhist majority. His government was packed with Roman Catholic landowners. He gave power and title to his family. He appointed government officials in charge of the countryside which antagonized the peasants. Many farmers lost the land they had gained before 1954. He banned flying the Buddhist flag on Buddha’s birthday after just weeks before allowing Catholics to fly their flag. This led to riots all over the city. A monk, Quag Duc, doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in protest against Diem’s religious policy. The picture of the monk in flames was widely circulated and made President Kennedy reluctant to support Diem. In 1962 the USA developed a policy of Strategic Hamlets. Officials would fortify selected villages which they thought would be easiest to defend from Vietcong attacks. Then villagers from miles around would be forced to move to this fortified village and go to their fields from there. This often meant farmers would have to go more than 5 miles to get to his farm. The Strategic Hamlet policy was a failure and turned many people in South Vietnam against Diem and toward the Vietcong. The Hamlets were also a failure because it was easily infiltrated by the Vietcong who cause trouble from within it. In a final effort to gain some support from the people, Diem tried to keep the casualties of the ARVN as minimal as possible. They avoided confrontation with the Vietcong as much as possible even with the US military aid. This further antagonized the reluctant Americans as they were funding the effort and getting nowhere.
In 963, Diem and his brother were assassinated by top ARVN generals who were worried that America would withdraw their support if Diem continued to be in power. The US authorities knew about the plot every step of the way but did nothing to prevent it, However this did not improve things much as Diem’s successors were just as successful as he was. They too were more concerned with consolidating their power than to improve the situation the country was in. President Kennedy was assassinated 3 weeks later from what was believed to be a communist plot against America. This increased public opinion that more effort ought to be made to ensure that Vietnam does not fall to communism. In 1963, America had a new President after the assassination of John F Kennedy call Lyndon. B. Johnson. He felt it was important to stop communism from spreading any further in Vietnam. He had four options to achieve this; he could negotiate a settlement with North Vietnam, Secondly, he could send in US marines and go for a all out victory, he could continue to send in advisors or he could pull out and let the dominoes fall. In March 1964, continued with Kennedy’s policy of sending in military advisors to help train and prepare the ARVN. However, he soon realized that this would not resolve the conflict but he needed to make sure he had the support of the public before sending in troops to Vietnam. On the 2nd of August 1964 the US destroyer Maddox was gathering intelligence information when it was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin.
This became known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The Maddox was filled with reporters who took pictures of the attack. The pictures increased public pressure to send in troops to Vietnam Johnson used the attack to convince the Congress to support greater US involvement in Vietnam. He used this as an excuse to convince them to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which gave him the power to take any military action he thought necessary to defend South Vietnam. At first, Johnson used this to increase air support and attacks. However, in two battles top battalions of the ARVN were defeated in guerilla attacks by the Vietcong. The Vietcong also started to attack UA air bases. This eventually led to operation ‘Barrel Roll’ in 1964 which involved heavy bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Johnson used this to test US public opinion for even further involvement in Vietnam. However this trail was kept active throughout the war despite the US efforts. On 6-7th February 1965, the Vietcong attacked the US air base in Pleiku. The NLF destroyed 10 US helicopter, killed 8servicemen, and wounded over a hundred. This was the reason Johnson needed to escalate was in Vietnam and he was supported by the US public. This led to air attacks on strategic points in North Vietnam from 4th February 1965 called operation ‘Rolling Thunder’. This was the beginning of the massive air assault that would last till 1968. The USA dropped more bombs in Vietnam than the allies did in the Second World War. In March 1965, 3500 US combat troops arrived in Vietnam in order to protect US air bases. This was the start of the Americanization of the war. By December 1966 there were 268,000 US troops in Vietnam. By Jan 1968 this number had risen to 500,000 Us troops in Vietnam.
They were sent because it was becoming increasingly clear that the government of the South could not control the attacks from the Vietcong, The US would have to do the fighting for them. In conclusion, America got involved in Vietnam to stop the spread of communism and to prevent another domino from falling. At first they only sent financial aid and military advisors. However, it became increasingly evident that South Vietnam could not control the attacks. When it looked like Vietnam was about to fall to communism they sent in troops to combat the hostile attacks.