The reasons for US involvement in Vietnam 1961-63

Early years of US involvement in Vietnam


The situation in Vietnam up to 1961

  • Nationalism
    • Patriotism, loving your country
    • HCM very nationalist!
  • Imperialism
    • Empire; 1 counrty controlling other countries.
    • French colonialism- USA accused of this!
  • Democracy
    • Everyone has a say/ everyone has a vote.
    • USA only democratic when it suited them!!!- they didn't support the Vietnamses elections as they knew HCM would win.
  • Communism
    • No one working for the individual, working for the well-being of the country.
  • Insurgency
    • People within a country uprising against the gvnt (rebellion)
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Why the US got involved, points to consider

1. Why the US got involved and remained in Vietnam.

2. Why the US failed to defeat Communism in Vietnam.

3. The results of the Vietnam war.

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Why did the USA get involved and remain involved i

Historians interpretations;

  • Halberstam;
    • 'Them Making of the Quagmire'. According to this theory the US gvnt let the US get trapped in an expensive commitment trap in an unimportant area, because of their overconfidence and ignorance of the Vietnamesse people and their situation. They could not exist with a loss of credibilty.
  • In the 1970's Halberstam and Fitgerald wrote critically about US arrogance and ignorance of the appeal of Communism in Vietnam.
  • 1970's- Stale Mate theory;
    • The US remained commited, and even escalated the war not to win it but to avoid being seen to lose it by American voters.

e.g 'Sanders and Bragg believe...(view), this is supported by...(evidence)

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Strengths and weakness 1954-61

North Vietnam & HCM = STRONG :)

  • Helped by USSR/China.
  • Popular with the people.
  • Willing to redistribute wealth- sharing.
  • Charismatic- he was popular.
  • Man of the people- he had their hearts and minds.
  • Many supporters in the south.

South Vietnam & Diem = WEAK :(

  • Massively dependant on US aid- not self sufficient.
  • Unwilling to redistribute wealth- greedy!
  • Lacked appealing personality- people couldn't relate to him.
  • No supporters in the north.
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JFK, points to consider

1. Why did JFK continue US involvement to Vietnam.

2. Had JFK lived longer, would he have got out of Vietnam.

3. Was it JFK's (apposed to LBJ's) war.

4. Were JFK's Vietnam policies wise.

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JFK, key dates.

  • 1960:
    • JFK focused on the Cold War during his presidential campaign- the US people cared about the war!
  • 1961:
    • (April) JFK humiliated by failure to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba (bay of pigs)
    • (May) Vice President LBJ visited Diem urging reform; de Gaulle (french president) warned JFK of Quagmire!
  • 1962:
    • 12,000 US advisors in Vietnam & Strategic Hamlet programme.
    • (Feb) JFK created MACV [Military Assisted Command in Vietnam].
    • (May) After visiting S.V, McNamara declares US winning!.
    • (Summer) Unsuccessful unoffical peace talks with Hanoi.
    • (Oct) Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • 1963:
    • (Jan) Vietcong defeat ARVN & US at ApBac- US public not happy :(
    • (spring) Anti-Diem protest by buddhists [self immolisation].
    • (Nov) Diem & JFK assasinated,
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Reasons why JFK intervened in South Vietnam

  • Cold War.
    • The North was Communist- 'Domino theory'.
  • Advisors.
    • McNamara & Rusk- wanted US to get involved.
  • Man of his time.
    • McCarthyism 'ANTI RED'
  • 3rd world.
    • Controlling 3rd World= more supporters of Democracy.
    • US have to get involved to stop them turning communist.
  • "Vietnam is the place".
    • The US are going to win here!- determination after Korea & China dissapointments.
  • Childhood interest in Foreign Policy.
    • JFK always wanted to be a famous international politician.
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Why JFK increases US Commitment

Historians interpretations;

  • Smith argues that in the Cold War era JFK simply had to resist communism- or he'd loose his supporters.
  • McCormick argues that he was just maintaining an American overseas empire-protect super power status.
  • Kaiser is sympathetic to JFK and emphasises he restated pressure to get involved in the war.
  • The commitment trap.
    • Truman and Eisenhower commited the US to involvement in Vietnam.
    • JFK believed he'd inherited SEATO from Eisenhower and that it would look bad if he got rid of it (saying Eisenhower was wrong :S)
    • Schell argues that it wasn't so much other countries might become communist [Domino theory] that was important, but that the world would see that the US lacked the determination to win (loss of credibility)
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JFK's policies

  • Containment
    • Stop communism spreading!
    • Increase 'Sphere of Influence'
  • Domino theory
    • 1 falls= All fall!
  • US 'Vital interests'
    • US got involved as they needed another place to trade with- they want global dominance.
  • Diplomacy- (Negotiation)
  • Arms race
    • Nuclear technology! Planes etc...
  • Bi-polar world
    • 2 opposite worlds...either for US/ against US! [choose sides!]
  • Monolithic Communist block
    • USSR and China- 1 big area of land.
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Policies and actions of JFK


  • He opposed French Colonalism.
  • Domino Theory.
  • 3rd World was the new Cold War battleground.
  • Truman 'lost' china- he doesn't want to suffer the same fate.
  • Vietnam was important- trade, middle of indo-china; influential!
  • Containment of Communism.
  • Increase US sphere of influence.
  • McCarthyism (McCarthy was a family friend).
  • Catholicism (hated Communism because it was atheistic).
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