V. Vietnam • Before WWII, Vietnam was controlled by France as part of French Indochina. Vietnam had been fighting for independence for centuries.
During WWII, Vietnam fell to Japan. Patriotic Vietnamese, under the leadership of communist leader Ho Chi Minh, fought successfully for independence (with the aid of the U.S.). After WWII, France attempted to reassert control over Vietnam. The Vietnamese revolted. Ho Chi Minh requested U.S. aid in fighting the French. The U. S. ignored the request. The French could not defeat Ho Chi Minh and negotiations took place.
B. The country was granted independence in 1954 by the Geneva Convention. Negotiations led to the division of Vietnam into Communist controlled North Vietnam (leader = Ho Chi Minh), and “U. S. friendly” South Vietnam (leader = Ngo Dinh Diem) along the 17th parallel. This division was to be temporary, until elections could be held. The U. S. ultimately did not support the elections for fear that Ho Chi Minh would win. • Ho Chi Minh supported guerilla infiltration of South Vietnam to stir up resistance to the Southern government.
Diem was unpopular, corrupt and dictatorial. His repressive policies led to the growth of revolutionary groups (National Liberation Front Vietcong) and Southern support for Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh supported the Vietcong by sending them weapons and supplies to fight the Southern government. • Various Vietnamese groups, including Buddhist Monks, protested Diem’s regime.
The U. S./Kennedy supported a coup of Diem. Diem was eventually murdered. The United States was viewed by the Vietnamese as a country that could not be trusted.
C. In the early 1960s, President Kennedy told the American people that U. S. “advisers” had been sent to Vietnam to assist Diem. In reality, these were CIA and Special Forces operatives sent on secret combat missions against Ho Chi Minh and the Vietcong.
D. U. S. policy was based on containment doctrine and the “Domino Theory“ – the belief that if one SE Asian country fell to communism, all would fall. http://academic.pgcc.edu/~aimholtz/AandP/206_ONLINE/Blood/Blood_Images/clottingdominos.gif
E. When President Johnson took office, he believed escalation of the conflict (sending more troops) would end it quickly, and used a false alarm sonar reading in the Gulf of Tonkin to gain Congressional and public support. Selective service (the draft) had been in effect since 1948, so drafting more troops was not difficult. The United States began a massive bombing campaign of North Vietnam in 1965 known as Operation Rolling Thunder.
Johnson appointed General William Westmoreland to be the Commander of U. S. forces in Vietnam. General Westmoreland favored the strategy of attrition. • U. S. “hawks” supported an “all out” war. “Doves” wanted to leave Vietnam completely. U. S. policies did not please either group and eroded Presidential support. A well coordinated attack by the communists during “Tet” (the Vietnamese New Year) of 1968 illustrated just how difficult this conflict would be to resolve; and contributed to much American confusion about involvement in Vietnam.
F. No way to win . . . • The Vietnamese had been fighting for independence for centuries. They would not give up. American soldiers were not familiar with the climate, terrain or creatures of Vietnam. They were also unfamiliar with the tactics of guerilla warfare used by the Vietcong. The S. Vietnamese had no will to fight. They disliked the U. S. soldiers and did not view them as “liberators.”
U. S. soldiers had no way to recognize “the enemy,” which came to them in the form of man, woman and child. They could not understand why they were forced to fight for people who did not like them or desire their aid. • Morale was low, fear was high.
President Nixon announced a policy of Vietnamization in 1969 (training the S. Vietnamese to take over the war while simultaneously gradually withdrawing troops). This policy was not successful. Bombing campaigns were intensified in the early 1970s and extended into Cambodia. • The U. S. evacuated Vietnam in 1975. • Vietnam and Cambodia quickly fell to communist regimes.
H. Some Results of U. S. involvement in Vietnam: U. S. military defeat = loss of confidence and leadership in world affairs. • Communist control of Indochina = continued war • and genocide in Southeast Asia. The U. S. government is viewed by foreign nations as a government that cannot be trusted. Societal rifts within the U.S. The U. S. government is viewed by many American citizens as a government that cannot be trusted.