Why did the US get involved and remain in Vietnam?

Brief bullet point notes on why the US got involved and remained in Vietnam, including:

  • The official explanation
  • Idealism, economic self-interest or militarism?
  • The role of the Presidents
  • The Quagmire theory
  • The Stalemate theory
  • The Commitment trap
  • Shared responsibility
  • My person opinion on the most convincing theory and why
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A2 Vietnam 2nd October 2010
Why did the US get involved and remain in Vietnam?
The Official explanation
US was fighting against an aggressive and evil Communist movement
If Vietnam fell to Communism, other South East Asian countries would do too
(domino theory)
American national security and liberty and free enterprise throughout the world
would be threatened if Communism wasn't halted
Different emphases as circumstances changed:
o 1950s: France (USA's ally) needed help
o 1960s: South Vietnam's need for freedom and democracy
If the US withdrew, American international credibility would be damaged
Idealism, economic selfinterest or militarism?
G. Lewy ­ Sees idealism behind American antiCommunist crusading
G. Kolko ­ American economic selfinterest was the most important motivating
America thrived off the access to the raw materials and markets of South east
Asia ­ something which would cease if S.E Asia became Communist
The role of Presidents
Historians argue over how the blame for the involvement and its continuation should be
apportioned between the various presidents who held office during this period
Truman was the first to get involved but is rarely blamed
Some blame Eisenhower, more blame Kennedy but most blame Johnson
Many revile Nixon for not getting the US out quickly enough
The `quagmire theory'
Quagmire theory ­ Belief that the US got slowly and increasingly stuck in
Successive presidents took one step after another, thinking each step would be
the one to solve the Vietnam problem
The US then got deeper and deeper into the quagmire
The Stalemate theory
The belief that the US continued to fight the unwinnable war in Vietnam, simply to
avoid being seen to be defeated
Chris Cartwright

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A2 Vietnam 2nd October 2010
The Commitment trap
Commitment made to Vietnam by the previous president(s) made it harder for
each president's successor(s) to exit without the US and the president(s) losing
Shared Responsibility
Unfair to blame the presidents alone
Responsibility is shared by:
o Presidents advisors
o State Department
o Defence Department
o Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)
o Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
o And ambassadors to Vietnam
As presidents normally make decisions after hearing the advice of all the above
Some historians…read more


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