History Paper II

  • Created by: hibawot
  • Created on: 22-05-14 17:50

Early Attempts at Containment

In 1959 - after a 3 year Guerrila campaign, Fidel Castro overthrew the American-backed dictator Batista. 

1959 - 1961

  • Castro took over American-owned businesses in Cuba but he let the USA keep its naval base
  • Castro assured Americans living in Cuba that they were safe
  • Castro only wanted to run Cuba without any interference. 
  • In 1960 he started receiving arms from the Soviet Union and American spies knew this

January 1961

  • USA broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba & Castro thought they were preparing to invade
  • USA no longer prepared to tolerate a Soviet satellite in the heart of its 'sphere of influence'.

April 1961

  • Kennedy supplied arms, equipment and transport for 1400 anti-Castro exiles to invade Cuba
  • Exiles landed in the Bay of Pigs + met by 20,000 Cuban troops armed with tanks and weapons. The invasion failed disastrously. Khrushchev thought Kennedy's attempts were pathetic.
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What was the Soviet Union doing in Cuba?

  • Soviet arms flooded into Cuba.
  • In May 1962 the Union announced that it was supplying Cuba with arms.
  • By July 1962 Cuba had the best equipped army in Latin America.
  • By September it had 1000s of Soviet missiles 

• Patrol boats

  • Tanks

  • Radar Vans

• Missile Erectors

• Jet Bombers 

• Jet Fighters 

• 5000 Soviet technicians 

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October Crisis

Sunday 14th October 1962 - American U-2 spy plane flew over Cuba - there were nuclear missile sites built by the USSR. 

Do Nothing: 

  • For: USA can still destroy the USSR so the USSR would never use these missiles.
  • Against: USSR had lied about Cuban missiles - to do nothing would be another weakness

Surgical Air Attack: Immediate attack to destroy nuclear bases

  • For: Would destroy the missiles before they're ready to use
  • Against: Destruction of sites cant be guaranteed. Attack would inevitably kill Soviet soldiers and to attack without advance warning was seen as immoral.

Invasion: All out invasion by air and sea

  • For: Would get rid of the missiles AND Castro
  • Against: Would guarantee an equivalent Soviet response
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October Crisis (cont.)

Diplomatic Pressure: To get the UN or other body to intervene and negotiate.

  • For: It would avoid conflict
  • Against: If the USA was forced to back down, it would be a weakness

Blockade: A ban on the Soviet Union bringing in any further military supplies to Cuba, enforced by the US navy who would stop and search Soviet ships

  • For: Would show the US is serious but not a direct act of war. 
  • Put the burden on Khrushchev to decide what to do next. 
  • US had a strong navy and could still take the other options.
  • Against: Wouldn't solve the main problem - missiles were already on Cuba
  • Could be used within one week and the Union might retaliate by blockading Berlin as it had done in 1948
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Why'd the Soviet Union place nuclear missiles on C

• To bargain with the USA: Khrushchev wanted the missiles as a bargaining counter. If he had missiles on Cuba, he could agree to remove them in return for some American concessions.

• To test the USA: Designed to see how strong the Americans really were - whether they could back off or face up. Soviet Union wanted to test out Kennedy.

• To get the upper hand in the arms race: Krushchev was concerned about missile gap between the USSR and the USA that he would seize any opportunity he could to cose it. USA would never launch a first strike against the USSR.

• To defend Cuba: Missiles were genuinely meant to defend Cuba (lol)

• To trap the USA: Missiles were a trap and Khrushchev wanted the Americans to find them and be drawn into a nuclear war. 

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Cuba stayed Communist and highly armed but the nuclear missiles were withdrawn under the UN supervision.

• Both leaders emerged with something from the crisis

Kennedy came out with a greatly improved reputation

Khrushchev claimed a personal triumph and Cuba remained a useful ally in America's zone

• His role as a responsible peacemaker, willing to take the move towards compromise, was highlighted. 

• Cuban missile crisis helped thaw Cold War relations beween the USA and USSR

• Within the USA, the crisis had affected anti-Communist opinion. Critics of containment had wanted the USA to invade Cuba. However the Cuban crisis highlighted the weakness of their case because such intervention wasnt worth the high risk

A Communist Cuba was an inconvenience to the USA but a nuclear war would be the end of civilization. 

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Origins of the Conflict

Ho Chi Minh was a communist supported by China. In 1960, he set up the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam which started a guerrila war to take over South Vietnam from Diem and his American supporters. 

  • The Americans called the NLF guerrillas the Vietcong and supported Diem with military advisers and money.
  • Diem's government was corrupt and unpopular - by 1963 most of South Vietnam's rural areas were under Vietcong control - the ARVN (South Vietnamese army) couldn't defeat them

In 1963, the US supported a military coup which murdered Diem and put a military government in South Vietnam.   

In August 1964 - sailors on the US warship USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin claimed they had been attacked by N.Vietnamese torpedo boats. 

The Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution allowing President Johnson to take direct military action in retaliation.

In February 1964 - Vietcong attacked American air bases and killed American soldiers - President Johnson declared war against N. Vietnam

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Why did the US get involved?


  • China had fallen to Communism and America had fought in Korea to contain the spread of Communism.

Domino Theory

  • Americans believed that if S. Vietnam fell, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand and then Burma...
  • President said: If you let a bully come into your garden, the next day he'll be in your porch and the day after that he'll **** your wife"

ARVN's weakness

  • S. Vietnamese could not resist communist infiltration by the Vietcong without help
  • They were ill-equipped local militia who more often than not were killed asleep in their defensive positions. 

US was attacked

  • N. Vietnamese attacked the USS Maddox and killed US soldiers
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The War

February 1965: Operation Rolling Thunder - massive bombing campaign against N.Vietnam. 500,000 US troops sent to fight in Vietnam.

November 1965: General William lured the NVA to attack a force of American troops at Ia Drang

1968: CIA started Operation Phoenix, arresting, interrogating and killing suspected Vietcong activists. Despite this - Americans couldnt succeed. 

January 1968: NVA launched the Tet Offensive - capturing a number of towns in S.Vietnam. North Vietnamese lost 45,000 men including many officers + their morale was damaged. America won the Tet Offensive, but realized that they would never defeat the Vietcong. 

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Vietcong Tactics

• Fought a guerrilla war, ambushing US patrols

• Setting booby traps and landmines and planting bombs in towns.

Mingled with the peasants, wearing ordinary clothes and the Americans couldn't identify who the enemy was.

• They were supplied with rockets and weapons by China and Russia.

• They used the Ho Chi Minh Trail - a jungle route through Laos and Cambodia - to supply their armies.

• They stayed so close to the Americans so they couldn't use air or artillery without killing their own men. 

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Americans' Tactics

Hi-tech war - using B52 bombers, artillery, helicopters, napalm and defoliants (Agent Orange) this killed many innocent civilians and failed to stop the Vietcong guerrillas. 

Forced peasants to leave Vietcong-controlled areas and made them live in defended strategic hamlets in loyal areas. This created immense opposition and allowed Vietcong infiltrators into loyal areas. 

American troops sent on patrols then supported by air and artillery when attacked. This demoralized the soldiers, who realized they were being used just as bait. 

Search and destroy patrols went out looking for "Charlie" as they called the Vietcong but the patrols were very visible and easy to ambush. 

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The US gets out!

1968: Johnson ordered an end to American bombing of North Vietnam

Increasing public opposition to the war in America

Richard Nixon began Vietnamisation - pulling US troops out but giving financial support to the ARVN

On occasion the US escalated the war launching attacks into Cambodia and Laos to pursue the Vietcong hiding there. 

1972: Henry Kissinger worked out a peace agreement with the N. Vietnamese

President of South Vietnam refused to sign so the N. Vietnamese pulled out of the talks.

Richard Nixon mounted huge bombing raids on N. Vietnam until the N. Vietnamese were forced to sign. He told the President of South Vietnam had had to make peace whether he agreed with it or not.

1973: Paris Peace Agreement was signed and the Americans left Vietnam.  

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Why did America lose?


  • Hi-tech tactics continually killed the wrong people and demoralized their own troops
  • US was supplying a war 8000 miles from America
  • South Vietnamese regime was weak, brutal and corrupt
  • The short tour of service meant that American troops were always inexperienced
  • Morale of Americans soldiers were rock bottom - they took drugs, shot officers and deserted


  • Guerrilla tactics were appropriate to the nature of the conflict
  • Vietcong supplied with weapons by China and Russia
  • South Vietnamese peasants supported and sheltered the Vietcong
  • Vietcong continuously at war since they resisted the Japanese during the Second World War
  • Vietcong fanatically determined to drive Americans out - whatever the cost
  • North Vietnamese were motivated, fighting at home to unite their country
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Why did the war arouse so much opposition in the U

  • 58,000 Americans - average age 19 - were killed
  • Hard for the Americans to believe they were defending America by fighting a war 8000 miles away.
  • Extensive media coverage brought all the failures and horrors of the war into US homes
  • Atrocities such as the massacre at My Lai undermined the moral authority of the US to continue the war.
  • Cost of the war meant Johnson had to cancel his Great Society programme of reform.
  • War was opposed by Martin Luther King and by America's black community - because wealthier white men could avoid the draft by going to university or to Canada, and young black men were twice as likely to be killed. 
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Results of the War

Americans left Vietnam in 1973 but continued to support the S. Vietnamese army with financial and military aid. 

April 1975: South Vietnamese regime collapsed and Vietnam united.

Impact on Vietnam:

  • NVA massacred thousands of South Vietnamese after the Americans left. Many people tried to flee S. Vietnam.
  • Vietnamese had to fight wars against Cambodia and China before their independence was secured. 
  • Vietnam ruined - infrastructure destroyed, 1000s of people killed, farmland polluted 

Impact on America:

  • 58,000 Americans died
  • War cost so much that Johnson's Great Society programme of social reforms was cancelled
  • Loss of confidence. Domino theory proved wrong
  • News of atrocities such as the killings at My Lai cost the US its claim to moral superiority
  • 700,000 Vietnam veterans suggered psychological after-effects
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