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the nature of Indo-China

  • in the 19th century, Indo-China had been divided between the British and the French Empires, with an agreement reached to leave Thailand as a neutral barrier between the two.
  • Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were French-controlled and Burma and Malaya were controlled by the British. The whole area had been rapidly overrun by the Japanese in 1941-1942.
  • White colonial supremacy suffered a devastating blow to its prestige. Britain abandoned Burma to indepenedence after the war but returned to the rule of Malaya and Singapore. French sought to reimpose colonial rule on Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam but soon discovered that she faced an up-hill struggle. Vietnam was the key area which the French had tried to regain
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was there a communist threat in South East Asia?

the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam

  • founded in 1930, it was a nationalist party devoted to expelling the French as one promoting soviet-style communism. Leader was Ho Chi Minh
  • in 1941 the Indo-Chinese Communist Party broadened its appeal by joining with other radical groups in the Viet Minh. They stressed national independence rather than Marxism, but was essentially a front organisation for the Communist Party. During the next 4 years the Viet Minh fought the Japanese occupiers with American assistance. When the Japanese surrendered in '45, Ho and the Viet Minh quickly proclaimed Vietnamese independence before the French could return.
  • The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was established in Hanoi with Ho as president. The Viet Minh's influcence in the south was less and the French began to reassert their authority there with British support. Ho hoped for the US support or sympathy, and before the Cold War really developed this wasnt a vain hope. The USA declared its opposition to colonialism, gave the Philippines their independence and encouraged the Dutch to abandon Indonesia. Ho showed a willingness to negotiate but late in 1946 fighting broke out between French troops and the Viet Minh, which was to last for 8 years
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US involvement in the French struggle vs Viet Minh

  • the triupmh of Mao and the China Communists in '49 transformed the situation and led the Truman administration to see Ho's forces as part of the same international grouping rather than an indigenous nationalist movement. As the French struggle developed, the Viet Minh became more openly Marxist and with Mao's triumph began to receive aid from China. The USA encouraged the French to grant some degree of independence to the Vietnamese, which they did in '49, making it easier for the USA, as an opponent of colonialism, to assist the French
  • In Feb '50 the USA recognised the French-backed gov of the emperor Bao Dai as the legit gov of Vietnam. On the last day of June, just after the Korean War had started, 8 US transport planes touched down near Saigon and were rapidly handed over to the French air force. Later that year a US ship cranmed with military hardware docked in the Saigon river. Massive US assistance was being made available to the French in their struggle with the Viet Minh. The USA decided that the fighting in French Indo-China against Ho's nationalists was all part of the same struggle against Moscow and international communism
  • In giving aid to France, the USA was also influenced by events in Europe. Here the confrontation with Soviet Russia over Berlin, culminating in the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949, had made America ancious for French support in NATO in confronting the USSR. By Dec '53, the USA was providing France with 10,000 tons of equiptment per month and the annual aid totalled $500 million. The USA was covering 75-80% of the cost of the French struggle with the Viet Minh
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Domino Theory

  • the justification for this vast expense was a belief that there was a 'communist threat' worldwide, orchestrated from Moscow. The new Republican vice president, Richard Nixon, visited Vietnam in Dec 1953 and justified America's involvement.
  • 'if Indo-China falls, Thailand is put in an almost impossible position... If Indo-China goes under communist domination the whole of South East Asia will be threatened and that means that the economic and military security of Japan will inevitably be endangered also'
  • President Eisenhower used the image of dominoes going over in a press conference in April '53, but others in the US administration had frequently used the idea of a chain reaction of threat
  • In 1951, the US War College, responsible for thr training of senior officers, embarked on a study of US policy in South East Asia. Its conclusions were that Indo-China was of only secondary strategic importance to the USA and it was quite unsuitable as a place for the development of American troops. This point was fully appreciated by Eisenhower, who having got the USA out of one unpopualar was in Korea was anxious not to be landed in another
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French defeat at Dien Bien Phu

  • By 1954, French resolve to continue the struggle was weakening despite massive US help. The French, in a desperate throw against the Viet Minh decided to fortify a remote area in north Vietnam. It hoped this would cut supplies coming in from China and possibly force the Viet Minh gurrillas to come out and fight a traditional battle; the French believed the Viet Minh would surely lose in view of superior French fire power.
  • The Viet Minh, under their talented General Giap, took up the challenge, dragging artillery through jungle and assembling a vast force against the 12,000 French soldiers, who relied entirely on air supplies.
  • The result was the battle of Dien Bien Phu, which ended in a crushing defeat for the French in early May 1954. Eisenhower came under intense pressure to send direct assistance but refused, always insisting that any American involvement must enjoy British support as well. Some of his advisers pressured him to use tactical nuclear strikes against Giap's forces. Eisenhower rejected such advice completely. France was defeated and a new chapter in Vietnam's history opened with the Geneva Conference in May 1954.
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communist insurgency in Malaya, 1948

  • the situation was complicated, not only by the merger of ideological conflict over communism with a struggle over colonialism, as in Vietnam, but inter-racial conflict. The chief opponents of British rule and the most active communists were drawn from the large Chinese minority in Malaya. They were, however, bitterly opposed by the native Malays, who feared Chinese domination in post-imperial freedom. The result was a 12-year-long struggle, termed by the British, with appropriate understatement, as 'an emergency' not a war.
  • Conflict began in '48. Attacks were waged on plantationd and tin mines by the communist guerrillas, who tried to intimidate villages into supporting them. Opponents of the communists could be flayed and left tied up to have their bleeding bodies eating alive by insects. The British Army, assisted by the Malay police, responded with counter-terror, dropping the decapitated heads of captured gurrillas back into the jungle to lower the morale of their comrades. The 'emergency' lasted 12 years but ended in the utter defear of the communists and the establishment of a prosperous and capitalist Malaya, friendly to the west
  • the presence of a communist threat in Malaya added to Americas's impression of a generalised communist conspiract and gave support to those who upheld the domino theory.
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The Eisenhower administration and Vietnam

  • the republicians had won the presidential election of November 1952. On the suface they were more anti-communist than the Democrats and they had made much of the Democrats 'losing China' in the election. There was a very strong 'china lobby' within the party and the noroeious red baiter, Joseph McCarthy, was a republican senator. Eisenhower was determined to continue the policy of 'containing' communism but this didnt involve launching a crusade to roll back communism, despite the rhetoric used by some republicans during the elections
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Guerrilla warfare

  • means 'little war' in spanish and use of the term 'guerrilla war' originated in the Peninsula War of 1808-1814, when spanish partisans acting in small groups harassed the large french army occupying spain. the essential principle of gurrilla warfare is to force a superior army which cant be beaten in open battle to break up into small units to try to control a large area. the guerrillas then take on the small units. at Dien Bien Phu the Viet Minh abandoned guerrilla warfare and accepted the french challenge of a set-piece battle, which against expectation the Viet Minh won
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The Geneva conference and accords May-July 1954

  • the conference in Geneva was jointly charied by Britain and the USSR, both anxious to moderate the tensions of the Cold War. The Chinese feared direct US intervention in Vietnam and wanted the conflict ended. The USA wasnt directly involved in the conference and refused to recognise the Chinese delegation as legitimate, so sent only observers but still exercised influence behind the scenes. A change in the gov in france in june enabled a deal to be made between the new french gov and the chinese premier, Zhou Enlai. Ho reluctantly accepted what his chinese sponsor agreed. The result was the Geneva Accords.
  • these ended the first vietnam war (France vs Viet Minh) and laid the basis for the second. Vietnam was to be divided at the 17th parallel, with the north controlled by the Viet Minh and the south by Bao Dai and the french. the french were to withdraw from the north and the viet minh from the south. Laos and Cambodia were to be independent and neutral. There were to be elections held in 1956 to secure the reunification of Vietnam. there were to be no foreign troops in any of the four territories.
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US response to Geneva accords

  • US didnt see the conference as a success. They were suspicious of the elections to secure the reunification of vietnam, promised for 1956, as it was assumed by all that Ho would win these. He completely controlled the population in North Vietnam, which formed a slightly majority of the population of all of vietnam. The answer to the USA seemed to be to built up S.V, free from french and the taint of colonialism, as an effective barrier. There was a view that in the state department that an opportunity had been missed in China to secure the south of the country, free from communist control, if only Chiang Kai-shek had been more realistic.
  • The USA, therefore, set about creating a viable south vietnamese state. the French first withdrew from the north, as agreed at Geneva, and then pulled out of the south in 1955, leaving a poorly officered native force, which would be no match for the Viet Minh. Diem was appointed prime minister and the USA agreed to extend massive aid to the gov of SV at the end of sep'54. The agency for much of this was MAAG (military assistance advisory group), which from '55 became heavily involved in training the ARVN (army of the republic of vietnam).
  • as the french withdrew, the US moved in to become the essential support to the southern state. there were some doubts as to whether Diem was suitable but his ruthless crushing of the criminal Binh Xuyen organisation, which controlled much of the vice in Saigon and supplied funds to the emperor Bao Dai, convinced many doubters.
  • In the USA, the American Friends of Vietnam association was established to press for support for Diem. It included some fire-eating anti-communists but also liberal democrats like senators john kennedy. Diem consolidated his hold on power by securing the abdication of Bao Dai and his own appointment as president of the new republic of vietnam in oct'55. this seemed to mark a clean break from the colonial past. the regime was also strengthened by the mass emigration from the NV state of hundreds of thousands of catholic vietnamese, encouraged both their priests and CIA-orchestrated propaganda.
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  • In sept 1954, Dulles succeeded in establishing the South East Asain Treaty Organisation (SEATO). It was signed in Malaya, Australia, NZ, France, Britain, Pakistan, the Phillipines, Thailand and the USA joined. The ex-states of French Indo-China were forbidden to join such a pact under the Geneva Accords, but SEATO guaranteed their security. The aim of the pact was mutual defence and it was meant to assist in the containment of communism in the region.
  • In 1956, Diem further broke the Accords by joining SEATO as an associate member. On the surface the pact looked like an establishment an anti-communist alliance like NATO in Europe, but in reality SEATO was less binding.
  • Nevertheless, it appeared that containment had been applied in South East Asia, and until 1959, it appeared to be working. The British had largely defeated the communist insurgency in Malaya. In South Vietnam it did appear that a viable South Vietnamese state had been achieved, even if Diem's regime was hardly a showcase for Western democracy. The NV state appeared to have been abstained from effective interference in the South. This was to change in 1959-1960 and real problems were to confront the new presidential administration of John F. Kennedy
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Growing probs in Indo-China, 1959-1960

  • The NV had never really withdrawn from this region (Laos) and the Pathet Lao, the native communist organisation, heavily supported by the NV, appeared to be on the point of dominating the whole country. Another domino was about to fall.
  • Trouble was also developing in SV, although initially it wasnt seen to be as pressing as the communist threat in Laos. In the course of 1959, the Politburo in Hanoi, the governing body of NV, appears to have decided to step up aid to communist supporters in SV, who were under pressure from the Diem regime. Many of those who had left SV in 1954 were sent back to encourage and help the insurgency against Diem. Furthermore, the NV government reactivated the Ho Chi Minh Trail along the Laos and Cambodian boarder as a means of supplying arms to the fighters in SV.
  • Reforms under Diem were the policy of 'Agrovilles', uprooting peasants from their villages and herding them into new rural towns where in theory they could enjoy the benefits of of education and welfare. In reality, such moves were resented, as peasants had to leave their traditional lands and the graves of their family.
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The Kennedy Administration

  • Defence Spending was increased from $40 billion to $56 billion. The number of nuclear delivery vehicles was massively increased and there was a new emphasis on meeting the challenge of revolutionary subversive movements through the use of specially trained forces. These became the US special forces
  • The man chosen to supervise the big increase in defence spending was Robert McNamara. 
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why did the KA increase involvement in V?

  • everything was set in a cold way context. The USA was perceived to be locked in a worldwide conflict with the Soviet Union in which revoluntionary subversion was the key chosen soviet weapon. Ho Chi Minh had received training in Moscow and his regime in NV couldnt be conceived of as seperate from the worldwide communist conspiracy to subvert Western capitalism and liberal values.
  • the 2nd great influence on the Kennedy generation was the curse of appeasement. It seemed to most who had come through WW2 that the great mistake made before the war was not standing up to hitler in time. Kennedy drew attention to the failures in British pre-war policy. It appeared that the only way to deal with dicatators was to stand up to them.
  • 3rdly there was an enormous self-confidence in American economic and military power. The USA wasnt Britain in the 1930s, struggling with serious economic problems during the Depression. America was a 'can do' country, and in WW2 she had shown this to the benefit of humanity. American prestige couldnt be sacraficed nor did it need to be
  • finally, American politicians were acutely aware of the power of US anti-communist sentiment, which could break a politician. Democracy in the USA tended to produce simplifications of the world situation. Cold calculations of US interest and cost-benefit analyses of whether it was worth getting involved in Vietnam didnt tend to play as well as high-sounding platitudes about crusading for freedom.
  • thus, for a variety of reasons and assumptions there was little challenge to the policy of confronting the Viet Cong. Hardly anyone around the president dissented from the policy. Greater involvement in the affairs of SV was not due to a military conspiracy or the interests of the military-industrial complex, but a shared belief that communism had to be contained and the USA had the power to do this
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the growing commitment, 1961-1962

  • there were less than 1000 US military personnel in SV when Eisenhower handed over to Kennedy in Jan 1960, but even this number was in breach of the 1954 agreements, which stated that there was to be no foreign troops in Vietnam. The American military presence was therefore concealed by various deceptive devices. The policy of surreptitious intervention was stepped up in March 1961 when US planes were ordered to destroy any hostile aircraft over SV. However, any resulting damage to US planes was to be described by MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) as 'accidental' not as a result of combat
  • American policy under Ken was set out in a National Security Action Memorandum in May '61. It committed the US 'to prevent communist domination... and to intimiate, on an accelerated basis, a series of mutually supporting actions of a military, political, economic, psychological and covert character'. Here was the blueprint for escalation.
  • A series of missions left for Saigon to find out what was necessary. Vice President Johnson went in May and returned convinced that there was only Diem to prevent a communist takeover. Money was promised and, later, US support in the way of training and cash to expand the ARVN. In 1961, military aid rose from $220 million to $262 million
  • Ken agreed to step up intervention but notn to include ground combat troops. Nevertheless, the number of trainers was to increase dramatically and helicopters and air support would be provided, flown by US personnel
  • As US involvement in Vietnam increased in '62, there were inevitable questions from the press as to the extent of America's role in the region, which the administration tried to play down. Officially the USA were there in support, but as Harriman the new assistant secretary of state pointed out, it often appeared that the USA was assuming responsibility for the war was against the Viet Cong. Operations were led and initiated by US advisers and often used English code names
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Compromise in Laos

  • Ken displayed more concern about Laos. It boardered China and he didnt wish to repeat McArthur's mistakes in Korea and bring the Chinese directly into confrontation with the USA.
  • negotiations in Geneva began in '61 and a deal largely brokered between the USSR and the USA led to a temporary settlement.
  • these Geneva accords of '62 established a neutral Laos and US military advisers were withdrawn.
  • However, DRV forces didnt withdraw as they promised and Laos remained vital as part of the chain of communication between North and South Vietnam. The so-called Ho Chi Minh train continued to operate and the USA's unwillingness to impede it effectively was to be a major handicap to winning the war in the south
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the downfall of DIEM, 1963

  • the brutality of his rule meant that he was clearly not an ideal figurehead for resistance to communism in the name of democracy. Furthermore, he was increasingly seen as incompetent in his supervision of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN). He appeared over-anxious to minimise casualties among his troops at the expense of effective action. He was hypersensitive to criticism and ever ready to take offence. In 1962 he expelled various American journalists from CBS etc for reporting his defects, in particular his tendency to talk at length and say nothing of importance. Some had criticised the strateic hamlets programme which had been adopted with the intention of lessening support for the Viet Cong.
  • In Jan '63, the weaknesses of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARNV) were glaringly displayed in what became known as the battle of Ap Bac. Outnumbered 4 to 1, a Viet Cong battalion out-fought an ARVN force despite superior fire power and hardware. The US adviser attached to the army was appalled and wrote a report accusing ARVN officers of cowardice. There was a growing sense of frustration from the US embassy in Saigon downwards to officers like Lieutenant Colonel Vann, who wrote the report on Ap Bac
  • It was the Diem regime's confrontation with the Buddhist majority that was to prove the final straw. This began in May 1963 when Diem's gov prohibited the use of Buddhist religious flags. Demonstrations followed, and when protestors defied the ban to celebrate the annual Buddhist festival of Wesak, gov forces fired on the crowd killing 9 people. In response to the deaths, on June 11th, a senior Buddhist monk, doused himself in petrol and, while sitting calmly, burned himself to death. His suicide by fire attracted the world press. Diem refused all US advice to compromise and proclaimed martial law with widespread arrests. Some in the SV army began to plan a coup, and although the USA didnt instigate it there was an increasingly widely held view that Diem's departure would be a good thing for the fight against communism
  • The coup came in early Nov. The VIA and US authorities in Saigon chose not to warn Diem. He was desposed and murdered along with his younger brother. Ken was horrified by the murder although he had accepted the inevitability of Diem's removal
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The Kennedy Legacy

  • Johnson, Kennedy's successor, inherited a very difficult situation in SV
  • The numbers of US advisers had been increased massively to over 16,000 and special forces had been depolyed; yet still the government of SV was tottering. After all this increased involvement and expenditure, withdrawl and the acceptance of a communist victory would be more difficult than it would have been under Eisenhower
  • Kennedy's tacit approval of the coup against Diem further increased US commitment to an independent SV
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the predicament of L B Johnson

  • the 1963 coup against Diem, to which the Kennedy regime had assented, increased the sense of obligation to SV and increased the hope of a more effective resistance to communist pressure. In effect it increased political instability, and a series of coups followed until eventually, in 1967, Nguyen Van Theiu emerged as the undisputed leader. In the meantime, the Viet Cong stepped up their pressure, helped substantially by NK's decision in 1963 to intensify the conflict by supplying increasing support to the Viet Cong in the form of men and hardware. From late 1964, actual regiments of NV soldiers began to operate in the south, particularly near the demilitarised zone and the Laos and Cambodian borders. It seemed that unless increased US involvement took place, SV would fall, despite the 16,000 advisers placed there by Kenn and the growing US air power
  • Johnson was trapped in another sense. He, like everyone else in the state department and National Security Council, wanted to avoid direct confrontation with the USSR and China. This again reduced the options avaliable. An all-out assult on NV might bring victory and secure Korea with Chinese military intervention. In consequence, Johnson and his advisers stumbled and bumbled from one move to another, getting ever more involved, chasing the will-o-the-wisp of victory through the jungles and swamps of SV
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the tonkin gulk resolution 1964

The Gulf of Tonkin incident

  • SV forces had begun raids on NV coastline, often planned and directed by the CIA. In this the US navy gave assistance but not through direct participation. In Aug 1964, two controversial indicents arose from this in the Gulf of Tonkin, off NV's coast. Two US destroyers were involved in electronic surveillance in support of covert raids when one of these, USS Maddox, was attacked by DRV patrol boats on the night of August 2nd. The patrol boats were driven off with damage. Two days later the maddox and another destroyer claimed to have been attacked. Their radars picked up what they interpreted as enemy ships but none were sighted.
  • The opportunity was too good to miss and widespread outrage at what was portrayed as a flagrant NV attack on US ships in international waters led congress to pass the draft declaration already prepared by the state department.
  • the tonkin Gulk resolution was later used to cover the vast escalation of the war in 1965. Yet it is wrong to think that this was part of a well-planned strategy of deception. Johnson had no intention in 1964 of massively escalating the war or directly committing US troops. This arose from later circumstances. The resolution was merely designed to threaten NV and hearten the south. When, in '68, the tide of opinion was turning against American intervention in Vietnam, which had become massive, details of the Gulf of Tonkin incident were picked over and portrayed as part of some sinister scheme by the president and advisers
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taking the plunge '65

  • despite the statements LBJ had made during the election about maintaining the limits on US involvement in Vietnam, circumstances drove the USA into greater action. There was no planned escalation, merely a series of responses to a deteriorating situation.
  • Each move it was hoped would be sufficient to produce a counter-escalation from NV, where the influence of the more moderate older leaders like Ho Chi Minh was in decline
  • the DRV was also increasingly receiving help from the USSR and China as the USA stepped up its involvement.
  • America's drive to combat the universal 'communist conspiracy' actually helped to create it. The soviet Union was increasingly at odds with Mao's China but felt it had to compete for influence in Hanoi by supplying sophisticated weapons such as air defence systems.
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the bombing campaign begins

  • While McGeorge Bundy was in SV, Viet Cong troops attacked the US air base at Pleiku, killing and wounding US personnel and destroying some aircraft. The result was an immediate retaliation by air power. Bundy on his return urged a sustained campaign of bombing as being the only way to force the DRV to the negotiating table. The result was operating rolling thunder (programme of bombing of NV authorised by Johnson)  which began on March 2nd. This was supplemented by operating steel tiger (programme of bombing begun in April against targets along the Ho Chi Minh trail in southern Laos) against Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Over the next 3 years, more bombs were dropped by the US airforce than in all the second war. Initially the strategy appeared to enjoy widespread public support, with a Gallup Poll reporting 67% of Americans in favour of the USA's war in Vietnam.
  • although it was popular, it wasnt effective.It had been calculated, based on the number of unexploded bombs, that the USA spent $9.60 to do $1 worth of damage. In fact, because many bombs didnt explode, the USA effectively provided the VC and North Vietnam Army with explosives for booby traps.  The Ho Chi Minh Trail wasnt broken, and more and more men and supplies poured down from the north.
  • Napalm and defoliates were used to little effect. Snake bite was proably as big a hazard on the long journey south as the chance of being hit by an american bomb. Within NV there were few suitable targets in an essentially rural society. Much of the military hardware came from or through China and bombing near the border or Haiphong Habour was placed off limits as being too provocative to the communist superpowers of China and the Soviet Union
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The use of US combat troops

  • if air power could not save the situation then manpower on the ground would be necessary. This marked a new and considerable escalation in US commitment.
  • In March the first combat troops, two marine battalions, were sent in to protect Da Nang air base. The numbers were quickly increased in May. General William Westmoreland argued that only US action could save the Republic of Vietnam and McNamara agreed in June after yet another trip to Vietnam.  Johnson accepted their advice in July and agreed to increse the number of US military personnel to 125,000.
  • He decided, however, not to declare a national emergency and call out the reserves but did drip feed troops from the draft. This approach was intended to moderate criticism, though eventually it would fuel it. From July 1965 the USA was officially at War, but an undeclared one
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the battle at la Drang

  • first real battle between US forces and the North Vietnam Army. Nov 1965. Westmoreland decided to take the fight to the enemy in an area long controlled by the Viet Cong in the central highlands. This battle applied tactics of search and destory. The USA would now do what it had urged the ARVN to do.
  • The USA sent in the first airmobile cavalry division equipped with over 400 helicopters. It ran into a major force of the NV army which was proposing to launch a major thurst east of the coast. This was a return to conventional warefare in an attempt to smash the ARNV before more US troops arrived. The result was many days of fierce fighting in which US airpower and firepower proved effective. The NV army lost 2561 killed compared to the loss of 305 americans. The remnants of the communist forces retreated into the hills on the cambodian border.
  • Westmoreland saw the battle as a success and argued at odds of 10 to 1 that the insurgents and NV would soon be dead. All he needed was more men and similar ratios of body count
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1969 - growing opposition to the war

  • there can be little doubt that opposition increased even before 1968, but it's important to keep it in perspective.Prior to that year fewer than 10% of the American public favoured immediate withdrawl from Vietnam. From 1968 the numbers increased, but even as its most unpopular, there was never more than 25% of americans favouring such a course of action
  • the growth of opposition in the '60s america is a complex phenomenon compounded of many elements. It became tied to the increasing radicalism of the civil rights movement and changes in youth culture. It was also a response to the evolution of the media; the Vietnam war had been described as the first televised war. Far more than Korea or WW2. The destruction of Hue and chaos in Saigon in Feb 1968 was served up raw, and the image of the shooting of the Viet Cong prisoner was deeply shocking to many as it was broadcasted.
  • Unis and colleges became centres for much of the opposition. Here, youthful idealism mixed with concerns about the draft were stirred by well-meaning academics and political extremists.
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public support for the war

  • despite the publicity such scenes gained, it's clear from opinion polls and other evidence that a majority continued to support the war. By a margin of 3 to 1, Americans condemned the demonstrations of 1967 and felt that they assisted the Viet Cong and endangered American soldiers in Vietnam
  • at the height of the teach-in movement in 1965, 70% in a Gallup Poll said they supported the war, and support was strongest among the 21-30 age group.
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the erosion of support in congress

  • Cold War expert George Kennan argued that Vietnam wasnt a vital US interest and it risked jeoparadising American interests elsewhere
  • General James M. Gavin testified that he felt that the war was a misuse of US resources, which could be better employed elsewhere.
  • By 1967, perhaps 12 senators of both parties openly opposed the war but many more privately had doubts
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The Tet Offensive

  • In Jan 1968 the military approach of General Thanh again determined the tactics of the Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army (NVA), as it had at la Drang in 1965. Thann himself had died in July, but the basic idea behind the assult appears to have been his. This change in strategy showed impatience with the slow wearing-down approach of 1966/1967.
  • It was an attempt to launch a series of widespread assults on the cities of South Vietnam and stimulate an uprising against the gov of General Thieu in the south.
  • It was based on the assumption that Thieu's regime was essentially a sandcastle to be easily washed away by the commitment and determination of the Communists.
  • Planning and preparation was thorough. Miles of Secret tunnels were dug, where both fighters and weapons could be hidden. To draw the Americans away from cities, fighting had been initiated near the weastern borders in late 1967
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the assult at Khe Sanh

  • On 20th Jan a major assult began on a remote US marine base near Laos at Khe Sanh. 2 NVA divisions totalling 200,000 men were concentrated against 600 marines who relied on a small airstrip for re-supply. It looked remarkably like a replay of French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in '54. The purpose appears to have been to draw US forces away from the other points of attack and also inflict a major blow to their prestige
  • during the night, attacks began which were to continue with unbated ferocity for 3 months. As at  Dien Bien Phu, the North Vietnamese had concentrated artillery despite the most inhospitable terrain. Shells now poured down upon the US marines and their one lifeline, the airstrip.
  • Westmoreland was determined not to lose the base and poured supplies and reinforcements in. As a diversion it worked perfectly; or almost perfectly.
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Viet Cong turn on towns and cities

  • some unscheduled attacks began on a few towns to the north on Jan 30th - they had been arranged by the NVA for the 31st. Westmoreland ordered all forces in and around Saigon on full alert. Despite this the attackers in the capital achieved some remarkable successes. The Viet Cong came close to capturing the main building but were eventually all killed. However, the ambassador had to make a hurried departure by helicopter. It was humiliating that the Viet Cong could come so close to success.
  • the exception to the Viet Cong's failures was the seizure of the city of Hue. Just outside the city lay the US military headquaters. Two battalions of NVA infantry broke through the walls and captured the old city. The american military HQ on the other side of the river held out until help evenutally arrived, but to recapture the citadel would be a formidable task. It took many US lives and many days of street fighting before the Viet Cong flag was pulled down on Feb 24th. It was a propaganda triumph for the communist forces, while American families watched footage of carnage and destruction on their TVs
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the human costs of the fighting

  • there were 2 more bursts of communist aggression in May and again in August. The May attacks were referred to as 'mini-Tet' by the US forces, but it produced the worst week and month for US casualties. Over 562 soldiers were killed between the 4th and 11th of May, and over 2000 were killed in the month as a whole.
  • 1968 was the worst year of the war for the US. Nearly half of all US deaths in Vietnam had occured by the end of december 1968, namely 14,650. The Viet Cong and NVA had attacked 44 provincial capitals and 64 district capitals. it was amazing and unexpected, but the war seemed far from won. Yet the cost to the communists was appalling: estimates vary from between 50,000 and 60,000 dead and over 100,000 wounded. Their losses far exceeded those of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) and the USA combined.
  • The Viet Cong was almost finished as a fighting force and from now on was compelled more and more to rely on NVA troops from the north. But even the NVA had suffered enormous losses.
  • The reigme of General Thieu hadnt collapsed and ARVN forces had often fought well. It looked possible to Westmoreland to capitalise on the situaiton and finish the job at long last. Unfortunately for him, it didnt look like this to many americans at home
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significance of the Tet O - public support turns

  • the fact that 1968 was a year of militaty victory in Vietnam wasnt apparent to watching US civilians or even to some highly placed decision makers. On Feb 3rd, 20 million viewers watched General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the head of the National Police in SV, shoot a viet cong fighter in cold blood on the street.
  • The destruction of the ancient city of Hue amid bitter fighting also seemed hard to justify. The words of one US officer fighting in the central highlights were much quoted 'We had to destroy the village to save it'
  • Most damaging of all were the quoted words of veteran CBS news anchorman, Walter Cronkite: 'what the hell's going on here, I thought we were winning this war?'. On return from Vietnam he called for a negotiated peace, describing the war as a stalemate. Johnson famously commented that if he had lost Walter, he had lost America. Between Feb and March, Gallup polls indicated that 20% of Americans had switched from support for the war to opposition
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the johnson administration calls an end

  • within the decision-making elite, opinion also changed. This was partly assisted by the request for 206,000 extra troops from the head of the Joint Cheifs of Staff after consultation with Westmoreland. It would necessitate calling out the reserves and the National Guard and cost billions. The request was badly explained and presented. Half the troops were in fact not for service in Vietnam but to replenish the strategic reserve. Reinforcements in Vietnam werent needed to defend a shaky position but to capitalise on success. This wasnt clearly expplained and the new secretary of defence advised Johnson to turn down the request.
  • Johnson himself was rocked by the events of the first 3 months of 1968. Men who had consistently advised build up and confrontation now advised concession and negotiation. He was exhausted and depressed by the turn of events. His health hadnt been good and he had been toying for some time with the idea of not running for president in '68.
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peace negotiations and the 1968 elections

  • it proved difficult to get negotiatons with NV started. Johnson tried various times in the past to sound out NV about a deal but it had always become clear that only the ultimate takeover of SV was an option. Now even the venue for talks proved difficult. Eventually both sides accepted Paris and talks began in May. Immediately conflict broke out as to the shape of the table around which delegates were to meet and most importantly whether representatives of the National Liberation Front (NLF) on the one hand and General Thieu's Republic of Vietnam gov on the other could be represented.
  • The issue of peace and the war was an important backfrop to the 1968 presidential election campaign, but it was not the only issue. Rober Kennedy was assassinated on June 5th and Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey, was selected as the Democratic candidate. He tried to win the dove vote by staying loyal to Johnson.
  • Richard Nixon was selected by the Republicians. Despite his reputation as a feverent anti-communist, Nixon had become convinced that the USA had to get out of Vietnam in order to assert her true interests in the world.
  • Johnson initially tried to remain the frey. He suspected humphrey of being too soft and unable to take tough decisions and kept Nixon well briefed on developments. Nevertheless,  as the negotiations continued it became clear that the NV were prepared to talk seriously. They had been pressured by Moscow, who feared Nixon. They agreed to accept the SV delegation, just before the election in Nov, and Johnson responded by ending all bombing of NV.
  • Nixon won the elections and peace in Vietnam would be his priority
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Nixon and withdrawl - new team&approach

  • the USA in '69 was relatively weaker than in '45 or even '60. The USSR had gained strategic equality in nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Europe and Japan had more than recovered from WW2 and were now almost the economic equals of the USA. The national will for post-war world leadership had weakened and there was a greater interest in domestic issues and a desire to cut defence spending, which had steadily escalted since Kennedy took power.
  • Reducing the US commitment to SV was the key to addressing all of these considerations. Vietnam wasnt seen as meriting the absorption of so many military and financial resources; it was weakening the USA's position in the world. Nixon's desire to be re-elected in 1972 was also an influence, and 'peace with honour' would clearly be popular at home. In other words, Nixon's self-interest as a politician and the interests of the USA dictated peace, if it could be obtained on the right terms
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probs in trying to extricate the USA from vietnam

  • nixon's fundamental prob was how to get the NV to make concessions. He had two advantages over Johnson but otherwise faced similar problems. One advantage was the serious weakening of the Viet Cong as a result of the Tet Offensive of 1968. The other advantage was the possibility of improved relations with the USSR and China, and the pressure they might bring on Hanoi. However, the pressure that Moscow had on the North Vietnamese leadership was limited and its influence tended to be exaggerated by Kissinger and Nixon.
  • the leaders of the democratic republic of Vietnam (DRV) were battle-hardened and deeply distrustful of any deal after what they saw as the betrayal of the Geneva Accords - the USA and south vietnamese had reneged on the commitment to hold national elections across the whole of vietnam as a prelude to unification.
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the conduct of the war 1969-1973

  • troop levels remained high in '69 and peaked in april at 543,000. there was some fierce fighting although the communists now abandoned the conventional attacks of '68, reverting to small-scale gurrilla actions. The Viet Cong pursued a deliberate policy of trying to maximise the numbers of US dead, realising that the 'body-bag count' was a powerful propaganda weapon in strengthening the anti-war movement in America. In the first 6 months of 1969, 8000 members of the US forces were killed
  • the morale of US troops was a growing problem. This revealed itself in fragging and an escalating drug problem. By 1971, 69% of US troops claimed to have used marijuana, 38% opium and 34% herion. Morale was lowered by the anti-war movement and the announcement of troop withdrawls. The system of limiting service to a one-year tour of duty reduced the effectiveness and discipline of units, which often failed to develop 'team spirit'
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  • it involved the staged withdrawl of US forces and the strenghtening of those in South Vietnam.
  • The withdrawl was skilfully done with timed announcements to silence critics of the war.
  • billions of dollars were spent and equipment improved.
  • huge quantities of former US arms were handed over, for instance 12,000 machine guns
  • the strength of the ARVN rose from 850,000 to 1 million. Yet desertion rates remained high, with over 100,000 deserting every year.
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opposition in the USA

  • the invasion of cambodia in april 1970 produced massive upsurge in protests and in particular a tragic event at Kent state university, when the national guard opened fire on demonstrators and killed 4 students
  • the no of senators and congressmen opposing the war had grown considerably
  • between april and july 1971, congress voted 17 times on measures to restrict the presidents actions in south east asia.
  • In june further embarassment was caused for the president and the anti-war sentiments in congress strengthened with the publication of the pentagon papers.  - a historical study to show how the USA had become involved in Vietnam
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making peace

  • From Aug 1969, Kissinger was engaged in secret talks with North Vietnamese diplomats. the first real breakthrough came in May 1971, when the USA made a massive concession that it might not insist on the total withdrawl of North Vietnamese forces from the South. Thereafter the chief obstacle was the north vietnamese insistence that Thieu stand down as effective ruler of SV.
  • further breakthrough in 1972 following the failure and defeat of the North Vietnamese offensive and the clear evidence that Nixon would be back for a second term. Essentially, the North Vietnamese decided that they could accept Thieu in power at a ceasefire and a deal was nearly done in late Oct, although niggling details remained. Theiu felt too many concessions had been made.
  • The NV walked out of the talks on Dec 12th. To get them back, Nixon launched massive heavy bombing on Hanoi and the North of Vietnam. Improved relations with the Chinese had reduced the risk of chinese intervention
  • arrangement reached on 13th Janurary . The result was a ceasefire on 27th January 1973. The USA had bought time for SV and Nixon could claim peace with honour. It is possible that if the USA had accepted NVA forces remaining in SV in 1969, four years of war might have been avoided - but it was a might
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