Cold War in Asia- Why and with what results did the US become involved in Vietnam?


  • President from 1953-61
  • Thought it was better to pay the French to fight communism rather than send US troops.
  • 1954 France were struggling agianst Viet Minh in Laos and Vietnam, Eisenhower send US bombers and 200 US technicians- marking first US personnel in Vietnam.
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French Control in Indochina

  • French had more troops, but Viet Minh had better tactics eg, guerrilla warfare.
  • China sent weapons to Ho Chi Minh (leader of Viet Minh), providing Viet Minh with facilities to train guerrillas for open combat.
  • Giap's Army (head of Vietnamese Liberation Army) were strong and knew terrain, had people's support.
  • Emporer Bao Dai and French alienated the people. 

Dien Bien Phu, May 1954, French failure:

  • French chose village Dien Bien Phu, surrounded by hills- easy target. On main Viet Minh supply route.
  • Giap and Viet Minh found a route through jungle to get weapons to billage.
  • French beat back one assault, to be hit with more.
  • Viet Minh had 50,000 troops surrounding village, French had 13,000.
  • Eisenhower didn't intervene- French took last stand at Dien Bien Phu.
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The Geneva Agreement

  • Conference April 1954.
  • Stalin had just died, new Soviet leaders wanted to reduce Cold War tensions.


1. Vietnam divided along 17th parallel, communist in North, Bao Dian and PM Diem in South.

2. Truce; French withdraw from North, Viet Minh from South.

3. Democratic elections for single Vietnamese government,

4, No military alliances with foreign powers.

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Franco-Viet Minh conflict/hostilities and Rise of

Franco-Viet Minh conflict/hostilities

  • French invaded Haiphong (main port in N Vietnam) and captured Hanoi in 1946.
  • French not used to Viet Ming tactics of retreating to remote areas and guerilla tactics.

Rise of the Viet Minh

  • Unpopularity of Diem's government. Diem was a Catholic ruler of a Buddhist country.
  • 1963 Buddhist protests and government killed thousands of protestors. One Buddhist monk burnt himself to deatah. Madame Nhu said "Let them burn and we shall clap our hands" calling the burnings 'Buddhist barbecues'.
  • Ho Chi Minh popular and a people person.
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Domino Theory

  • Publically declared by Eisenhower in a press conference in April 1954.
  • It is the view that as one country fell to communism, surrounding countries would too, like dominoes falling.
  • If Vietnam became Communist, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand woud be threatened.
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The US and fall of Diem's regime

  • 1955 Diem elected as President of S Vietnam- elections were violent and unfair.
  • 1956 450,000 people registered to vote and Diem claimed that 605,025 people voted.
  • It was a rigged election with Diem claiming 98.2% voted for him versus the US claim of 60-70%.
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The NLF, 1960

  • The National Liberation Front.
  • Formed in Hanoi in December 1960 to co-ordinate various nationalist groups.
  • NLF land reforms atracted peasant support.
  • Groups which existed in the south called PLAF- People's Liberation Armed Forces.
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Kennedy 1961-63


  • 'Green Berets' were an elite group of Army Special forces trained in guerilla warfare, plan was to face VC on their own terms.
  • Strategic Hamlets programme isolated VC from villages and peasants of S Vietnam and deprive them of supplies and soldiers that they needed.
  • Septemper 1962- 1/4 of S Vietnamese population in an isolated village,
  • Policy ffailed- removal of entire villages very cruel.
  • Hugely unpopular and alienated entire villages.
  • 'Hearts and Minds' campaign tried to win Vietnamese peasants by persuading them that the peasants were on their side- the policy failed.
  • 1962 Kennedy approved 'Operation Ranch Hand'- spraying Agent Orange, destroying millions of hectares of forest by 1969. Later discovered to cause birth deformities in children and cancer in soldiers fighting the war. Aimed to denry food to the NLF.

Military Advisors and Economic Aid

  • Number of military advisors increased from 800 to 17,000 during Kennedy administration.
  • During Kennedy's presidency $1.2-$1.3 billion dollars of aid given to Diem.
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Hawks and Doves


  • Were Joints Chiefs of Staff wanting strong military support for S Vietnam.


  • Were on the other side, people like J.K Galbraith, US ambassador to India.
  • Wanted a phased withdrawal from Vietnam using a strategy similar to that in Laos.

Doctrine of Credibility

  • Domino theory shifting to this.
  • Was keeping up the credibility of the US' reputation as a global superpower.
  • Vietnam became a testing ground for new strategies to prove that the US were strong and willing to use its power to contain communism.
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Battle of Ap Bac Jan 1963

  • Ap Bac near Saigon
  • 2,000 ARVN & 113 US armoured personnel carriers, helicopters & bombers
  • 350 gurrelias
  • ARVN refuse to attack
  • 5 US helis & 3 pilots lost 
    • unexpected strength and preparedness of VC
    • Diem ignore US advise, used CIA trained soldiers, fear lose too many men & want stay in power
    • ARVN & General Cao unwilling to fight
    • S Vietnamese performance unfavourably reviewed in US
    • Diem= military incapable winning war early 1963
    • US= weak
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Advisor- Robert McNamara 1961-67

  • Defence Secetary during Vietnam War.
  • Grew more controversial after 1966.
  • Said US strategy in Vietnam had falied.
  • Novemeber 1967 he resigned.
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Assassination of Diem and Kennedy

  • Generals were planning a military coup including Henry Cabot Lodge (Ambassador to South Vietnam in 1963).
  • Dean Rusk (Secetary of State) gave informal US approval for the coup.
  • 1st November 1963 ARVN Generals carried out the coup and murdered Diem, and the Nhus the next morning.
  • Kennedy admitted US involvement in the coup.
  • President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas on 22nd November 1963.
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Johnson 1963-69

  • Inexperienced in foreign affairs and was slow to become involved in Vietnam.
  • Aware of legacy left by Kennedy, was sure he wasn't going to lose in Vietnam.
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Gulf of Tonkin 1964

  • US destroyer 'Maddox' sent to N Vietnam waters to get info on naval defences, Maddox attcacked by N Vietnam in Gulf of Tonkin August 1964.
  • Gulf of Tonkin resolution gave the president freedom of action in Vietnam.
  • Gave him authority to take all measures to stop aggression.
  • Johnson ordered attacks on N Vietnamese naval bases.
  • His public approval rating rose, giving him support during the election.
  • US troops sent in March 1965- by 1968 number of troops increased by 400,000 in 3 years.
  • 1965 Westmoreland began a 'search and destroy' approach.
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Bombing campaign

  • March 1965 Johnson launched Operation Rolling Thunder- planned to destroy N Vietnamese economyand stop guerilla warfare.
  • Planned to last 6 weeks, but lasted 3 years.
  • From 1965-68 1 million tons of bombs dropped on Vietnam.
  • Also used napalm- jelly gasolline that burns skin. 3/4 of all napalm victims in Vietnam were burned to the muscle and bone.
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