Vietnam Section B

  • Created by: Faolan
  • Created on: 03-06-15 20:12

Reasons why the USA became involved in Vietnam,

  • All three US presidents from 1954 until 1965 (Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson) supported the Truman Doctrine as a centre piece of foreign policy. They believed that the spread of Communism had to be contained. They believed in the Domino Theory and saw Asia as the area where Communism aimed to expand. The loss of China to Communism in 1949 strengthened this belief. In 1956 Eisenhower said that Vietnam was “the cornerstone of the free world in South East Asia”.
  • Vietnam had been controlled by France before 1940 and taken over by Japan from 1940 until 1945. Ho Chi Minh led the Viet Minh against France’s attempts to regain control after 1945. Ho Chi Minh was a Communist and this turned his struggle into part of the Cold War. As part of the Truman Doctrine, the USA gave France $1.4 billion to help defeat the Viet Minh. France was defeated at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and in a peace settlement Vietnam was divided on Cold War lines along the 17th Parallel.
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Reasons why the USA became involved in Vietnam,

  • From 1954 the non Communist South Vietnam government faced a guerilla war against the Vietcong led by Ho Chi Minh, now leader of Communist North Vietnam. The US leaders were determined to save South Vietnam. From 1954 to 1964 the USA sent increasing amounts of indirect help-money, military equipment and advisers to help the government of South Vietnam. By 1960 there were 16,000 American advisers in South Vietnam. President Diem, a Catholic, sided with the landlords against the mainly Buddhist peasants. In November 1963, President Diem was assassinated and the Vietcong controlled over 60% of South Vietnam.
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Tactics of the USA, 1964–68

  • The immediate cause of direct US involvement was the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964. A North Vietnamese gunboat fired at a US warship. There was anger in the USA and Congress gave President Johnson the right to use “all necessary measures” in the Tonkin Resolution. This was termed “Grandma’s nightshirt” as it covered everything! President Johnson ordered direct air strikes against North Vietnam in Operation Rolling Thunder and sent US troops to South Vietnam to prevent a Communist victory.
  • The USA had superiority in weaponry and training. However, the Vietcong were expert guerilla fighters who were familiar with the jungle terrain and very committed to their cause. They ambushed the Americans and disappeared into the jungle. Their punji traps and landmines caused mounting casualties and wore down the Americans. They were frustrated that they couldn’t use their superiority in weapons or face their enemy in open combat. The Americans used intensive bombings and chemical defoliants, e.g. Agent Orange, but these failed to defeat the Vietcong.
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Tactics of the Vietcong

  • The Vietcong had the support of most of the South Vietnamese peasants. They were able to move around freely and were sheltered by the villagers. They spoke the same language and were indistinguishable. One Vietcong leader stated that “the people are the water and our armies are the fish”. The US used Search and Destroy missions in a desperate attempt to capture Vietcong suspects. Often these tactics alienated the South Vietnamese through atrocities like the My Lai Massacre of 1968 when over 300 civilians were killed.
  • The Vietcong received vital help from North Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail along the western border with Cambodia and Laos. This was used to smuggle weapons and supplies from North Vietnam. The Vietcong received indirect help, e.g. raw materials and vehicles from the USSR and China.
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Tactics of the Vietcong

  • The media coverage of the war, e.g. the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre, shocked the American public and contributed to a fall in support for the war. Antiwar protests increased, especially among university students. The morale of American soldiers declined. Over 58,000 were killed and there was an increase in draft dodging. The intensive bombing campaign was very expensive, costing an estimated $28 billion per year. This disrupted Johnson’s social and welfare reforms central to his dream of creating a “Great Society”.
  • The Vietcong were very committed and thousands of North Vietnamese women and children helped keep the supply routes open in spite of intensive US bombing of North Vietnam. The US soldiers were sent on one year tours of duty and most were inexperienced in handling the climate and guerilla war. The morale of the soldiers declined and drug abuse was a major problem among the American soldiers.
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Nixon and change of policy, 1968–73

  • The Tet Offensive convinced many in the USA that the war could not be won. President Nixon introduced a policy of Vietnamisation which involved transferring responsibility to the South Vietnamese Army. The USA began peace talks but negotiations with North Vietnam dragged on until January 1973 when a cease fire was agreed. The US bombing of Cambodia and Laos to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail led to international condemnation and prolonged the war.
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