Vietnam War


Kennedy And Indochina

Indochina was a sideshow in the cold war under Truman and Eisenhower.

Kennedy's presidency saw a major increase in US commitment to the region.

Under Kennedy, vientam became a 'National Obsession'

When Kennedy Came into office, the US still held the view that there was a united communist threat requiring containment by America. 

Relations with the Communist world were poor due to:

-disagreement over the duture of Berlin

-Shooting down a u2 spy plane over USSR

-the growing crisis in indochina

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Despite vietcong gains in vietnam, US attention was focused on laos

The fall of laos to the pathet Lao could allow VC forces to attack cambodia, Thailand and south Vietnam (domino theory)

Eisenhower had not recognised the nautrality of Laos Under the Geneva accord

The worsening situation in Laos led to a US instigated Geneva conference

In July 1962, Laos became neutral and independant

With this the US shifted attention to south vietnam, a more suitable battle ground

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Kennedy's foreign policy

Kennedy was critical of the policy of 'Massive detterence' develloped by J.F Dulles

it (US nuclear retalidtory policy) cannot prevent the communists from gradually nibbling at the fringe of the free worlds territory and strength

Kennedy Robert McNamara (secretary of defence) and Deam Rusk (Secretary of State) develloped a flexible response with containment still at heart

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The Flexible approach

This looked at non millitary approaches to strengthen newly independent countries against communism:

-Technical and economical assistance

- Financial Aid

-Millitary advisors

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The South Vietnam Crisis

-January 1961, Krustchev declared support for nationalists struggles in the third world in an attempt to improve relations with china

-Kennedy saw this as a direct challenge and determined to defend south vietnam

-Kennedy authorised:

  • US helicopter pilots to suppoer the ARVN
  • US military advisors to engage VC - 400 special forces in addition to 700 other advisors

-With this, Kennedy broke the Geneva accord- too many US personel

-In May 1961, Vice president Johnson was sent on a fact finding mission to South Vietnam

-Johnson found that an increase in financial support and the expansion of the ARVN would be enough to maintain Diem's regime. Deployment of US troops was undesireable

-In september 1961, the CIA reported that the insirgency was mounting in the Mekong Delta

-Kennedy's support for Diem's regime was unconcerved with its nature.Containment of communism was primary concern, not the defence of democracy.

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Taylor Rostow report

The US deligation led by genral Maxwell Taylor and Walt Rostow called for greater millitary commitment including:

  • Greater use of US helicopters
  • Bombing of the North
  • Increased use of US combat troops

The report overlooked opposition to DIems amongst the South Vietnamese, seeing the insurgency as simply a threat from the north.

Kennedy now faced a dilema- the commitment of moe US troops. US troops would embroil the US in Vietnam. Failure to act could lead to the loss of South Vietnam

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Military Assistance Command

Febuary 1962, Kennedy sent extra military aid to South Vietnam

US advisors rose from 3,205 in December 1961 to over 9,000 by the end of 1962

US began use of napalm and defoliants.

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Strategic Hamlets

Early in 1962 Diem introduced the strategic Hamlet programme

Peasants were herded into armed and protected Hamlets to isolate them from the Vietcong

Incentives included social services and farming support

70% of the peasant population were affected

Many officials were corrupt

The villagers resented the forced removal from ancestral homes.

The ARVN was unable to prevent Vietcong preperation of the hamlets

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In the spring and summer of 1962 , the ARVN and their US advisors stepped up their campaign against the Vietcong.

However the noise of the helicopter allowed the Vietcong to avoid confrontation and concentrate on gaining support of peasants.

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Senator Mike Mansfield Report 1963

Mounting criticism of the Vietnam policy, including the denucialism of Diems governmet as corrupt led kennedy to send advisors to South Vietnam on a fact finding mission.

One influnetial report was compiled by Senator Mike Mansfield which warned Kennedy:

  • The struggle in South Vietnam was becoming a 'US War' that could not be justified by US security interests in this area.
  • all current difficulties existed in vietnam in 1955, but 7 years and $2 billion of US aid had not made an impact
  • Diem's regime was less, more removed from the people
  • The cpsts of Us involvement in Vietnam would escalate if changed were not made to current policies.
  • Further measures to save South Vietnam had to come from the Siagon government and the Vietnamese
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Hilsman- Forrestal report, 1963

Kennedy also sent advisors Roger Hilsman and Michael forrestal to Vietnam to acsess the military and political situation

While in Vietnam, Forrestal and HIlsman witnessed how US military advisors were being drawn into the escalating conflict with teh vietcong

Their report concluded that the US and ARVN were containing the VC threat, but war would probably last longer than anticipated

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The Buddhist Crisis 1963

May 1963, Diems brother Archbishop Thuc ordered carrying of flags on Buddhas birthday in Hue was forbidden

Buddhists refused to obey the law, troops opened fire, 9 people were killed

Diem accused the VC of throwing grenades

Buddhist monks issued a manifesto:

  • legal equality with Catholic Church
  • an end to the arrest of Buddhists monks
  • greater Buddhists freedom
  • Compensation for the families of victims in the shooting

Buddhist monks protested by burning themselves

This gave the US a way of replacing Diem

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The Battle for Ap Bac

The battle of Ap Bac shattered Kenneedy's belief that the situation in South Vietnam was improving.

Ap Bac was only 80 Km from Saigon, in the Mekong Delta. The battle took place in January 1963

The VC engaged in a major battle against the ARVN at AP Bac. The ARVN outnumbered VC by 10 to 1 , however the operation was a failure

commanders of the ARVN delayed their own attack, which gave the VC time to prepare defences. Some ARVN units refused to attack or block escape routes and in the confusion some ARVN units fired on eachother.

The battle of Ap Bac was a success for the VC

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the overthrow of Diems Regime

From August 1963, the US administration was even more divided on Vietnam and was faced with 2 choices: continue to work with Diem and move towards a negotiated settlement with the north or a military coup and the removal of Diem

The neutralisation of Laos had failed and North Vietnam were using Laos as a supply route for insurgents in South Vietnam

In October 1963, a delegation led by General Maxwell Taylor and Secretary of Defence Mcnamara recommended to Kennedy to cut finance and millitary aid to persuade Diem to reduce his oppression of political dissenters

This action encouraged ARVN generals who had become dissafected to continue their plan for a military coup and overthrow Diem and his brother

Kenned's main concern was that if coup failed, Diem would order US troops out of South Veitnam

on 1st November 1963 the ARVN generals carried out a coup and Diem and his brother were killed the next day

three weeks later Kennedy was assassinated

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For Withdrawal

Congress was reluctant to continue aid to Diem's regime

Ngo Dinh Nhu, Diems brother complained that there were too many US military advisors in Vietnam.

May 1963 Kennedy and advisors began to plan a phased withdrawal of US troops

General Harkins and the MACV were directed to draw up a comprehensive plan for South Vietnam, designed to ensure military strength

Kennedy's faith in Diem had weakened over the Buddhist crisis

Military programme in south Vietnam had made progress in the final 6 months

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Against withdrawal

Kennedy would not wish to leave south Vietnam without achieving victory

Did not want to be accuses of losing South East Asia

did not want to lose electoral support

did not want communism to spread into Laos

felt France were motivated by anti Americanism

Wanted to improve political situation after Buddhist Crisis

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LBJ takes over

LBJ becomes president on 22nd November 1963

LBJ delivered where JFK promised

Wanted to eradicate poverty in America

When JFK was assasinated, the US had 16,000 military advisors in South Vietnam

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Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

In 1964 Johnson claimed that the North Vietnamese made two unprovoked attacks on the Maddox and the Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin

on 4th August he asked for congressional support for avenging the attack

In June 1964 the administration had drawn a resolution. The aim of the resolution was to raise Saigons morale, but the administration had hesitated to introduce it to congress. The GUlf of Tonkin incident gave Johnson the chance to get the resolution passed.

As a result Johnsons approval rating rose from 42 to 72 percent

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Why did Johnson continue US involvement in the war

patriotic, anti communist, and often misunderstood foreigners

as senator he always vowed to build up US armed forces

Believed his country fought for world freedom as was as US security

Misunderstood foreigners 'The trouble with foreigners is that theyre not like the folks youre reared with

There were some warning voices. In 1963 Mike Mansfield suggested a United and neutralised Vietnam. Johnson rejected this idea

Johnson did not want to be the first president to not win a war

December 1963, Hanoi ssent an increasing number of peoples army of Vietnam (PAVN) south, strengthening VC

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Why did Johnson escalate the American involvement

Johnsons combative personality made escilation inevitable, he war an aggresive man who was considered over confident and arrogant

Saigon regime was not winning the war

Often unsure of what to do , depended on military advisors

Ambassador Lodge wanted US to run SV

The working group said:

  • an independant and sinti communist SV was vital to the US
  • Domino Theory
  • American national prestige and honour were at stake
  • Escalation was vital to weaken Saigon government
  • suggested heavier bombing
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Johnsons escalatory steps

Early 1965 Johnson took the first great escalatory step when he began large scale and continuous bombing in Vietnam

Vietcong moved freely around SV. On Christmas Eve , VC wearing SV army uniform planted a bomb in a bar frequently used by American soliders

in Spring 1965 Johnson made his second great escalatory step, commiting ground troops to Vietnam

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ARVN perfomed badly

Americans described 'Search and Destroy' missions involving ARVN 'Search and Avoid'

ARVN units were unwilling to engage the enemy

Some ARVN deserted to the communists

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Saigon corruption

American aid rarley reached peasants, much of it found its way into the pockets of corrupt officials

Theft from teh Americans was extensive. American goods were stolen and sold including weapons and ammunition

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Communists won peasants hearts

Both peasants and VC were used to struggling

A judicious mixture of ruthelessness and frequent good behavious gained the VC support of the peasants

Communists offered fairer distribution of land among peasants

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Communist Heroism and Ingeniou

One American general was impressed by some besiged communist soldier in a bunker, who didnt give up even after his ear drums burst

communists suffered infections and disease from the conditions in the wet jungle

Highly efficient communist underground organisation

The communists built a network if tunnels in whcih they could hide, shelter ad regroup

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US forces were disunited

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US forces were disunited

Marines were linked with the Navy and were not keen to obey orders from Westmoreland's army 

Americans distrusted ARVN

Short term service meant that units never felt united

Many Americans felt Vietnam would be beter off under Ho's communism

In teh late 60'sthere was a mass antiwar feeling

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Comfortable war

drug abuse became common, in 1970 58% of US soldiers smoked marajuana

hard to win a war when army disipline detereorated 

a soldier could be airlifted from the horros of war to a luxuries base with air- con and could have a nice meal and drink beer

many soldiers never actually fought

American lifestyle had to be organised for everyone else: running clubs, cinemas and post exchanges

Every week thousands of soldiers were sent to R&R in Saigon

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Lack of officer Experience

Officers were often less experienced than some soldiers that were commanding 

Officers did 5 months on front line

5 months was not long enough to get to know their men properly

After 5 months they would then be moved on to a training, organisation or desk job

Unpopular officers were shot in the back or had frag grenades thrown at them

Hard to win a war with so many inexperienced and increasingly un popular officers

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problem with grunts

Average age of grunts were 19

Many were horrified by the war and shot themselves in the foot

Anytime Americans moved out of an area, communists moved in

Grunts never felt safe. 20% of American wounded were victims of booby traps and not enemy fire

Bouncing Betty's which flew out of the earth when stepped on blew limbs off

VC camoflaged holes of trails so US would fall in and be impailed by sharpened bamboo

Plagued by heat, rain and insects

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American Military strategy

Search and Destroy missions where Americans would try and clear an area of VC

It was difficult to see enemies during search and destroy missions because of Guerilla war

CIA reported 'less than 1% of nearly 2 million Allied small unit operations conducted in the last 2 years resulted in contact with the enemy

Use of technology would not win war because VC made sure they were always close to US troops

Bombing failed it alianated many SV people. Average of 800 tons of bombs were dropped daily

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The Tet offensive

The Tet offensive happened in January 30th 1968. It was the VC and North Vietnamese army against the forces of South Vietnam

The name of the attack comes form the Tet holiday, Vietnams new year

The VC and PAVN launched their most offensive attack yet during the Tet. It was a tactical defeat by the communists. Their long term strategy was ' fighting whilst negotiating'

Vietnam prepared to initiate new attempts to negotate with the US. While negotiating the VC and PAVM would launch simultaneous attacks against the souths major cities, which had been previously insulated from fighting

AMerican B-52's lead aerial assults that pounded the enemy with one of the heaviest bombings in history, over 100,000 tons on a five square-mile area

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The Tet offensive continued

Tet typically bought a cease fire. Hanoi assumed that the south would be unprepared for an assault

30th January 1968, 84,000 VC and PAVN attacked most of the Significant Urban areas across the South

It took over 3 weeks to expel the communists. The fighting created 100,000 new refuges after the US left there in ruins


Tet did not bring the collapse of vietnam. Communists lost 30,000 and US 40,000 Westmorelands perceptions that the Tet cost the communists mroe was accurate

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Result of Tet on America

The Tet offensive was a rude awakening to the realities of the war that prompted a re-evaluiation of the nations commitment

Newspapers and magazines reminded them of ongoing human costs of the war. They found the continued claims of victory ledd credible

Walkter Cronkites reaction epitomised the medias schools when he exclaimed 'what the hell is going on? I though we were winning the war?'

Johnsons credibility plummeted 

May have been a success militarily but morally the nation disaproved

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Effect of Tet on Communists

tet offensive was a rare bettle which was lost by both sides

The communists had suffered griveous losses. It took Hanoi several years to get over this.

The South Vietnamese people had not risen 'en masse' to help the communists, which damaged VC claim to be a liberation force

The communist failed to hold any cities for more than a few days except Hue which they held for 3 weeks

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The battle of Khe Sanh

At the same time as tet, the battle of Khe Sanh was being fought

It was successfully designed to distract the Americans from Tet

10,000 communists and 500 Us soldiers killed

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The battle of Hue

The communists took Hue over during Tet and held it for three weeks

US TROOPS- Tactics involved open fire, not aimed shots. Loyalty between not just soldiers but battalions/ companies were every man for himself

US marines held up strong offensive and dominated NVA with air and artillery power

ARVN-SV  troops were undermined and understrengthened. Performance against NVA was poor, but determined. Driving NVA out of Hue came before their own family. Fearless

NVA - blend in with normal civillians. Guerilla warfare tactics became predictable. Uneducated and inexperienced troops manned explosives

PEOPLE OF HUE - in support of US and ARVN. wanted to protect the cities Historical culture from communist infaltration

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Walter Cronkite report

Walter Cronkite, the most respected Tv journalist, was a strong supporter of the war, until a Febuary 1968 visit to vietnam7

He cocluded that the war could not be won. Some saw his defection as a great turning point: in the next few weeks Johnsons approval rating fell from 48 to 36%

Cronkite also concluded that the American government were over confident and belived they were winning

He believed the only way to achieve anything was through no negotiation

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Student activities on the home front

The number of students rose from 2.5 million in 1962 to 7 million in 1968

in 1962 at port huron in Michigan, a social demonstration society was formed by students. They opposed the institutions that ran America politicians, military cooperations, they called themselves the New left

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Student protests

protestors about war were originally traditional peace campaigners

After Febuary 1968 when the draft boards stopped automatic exemption for students, protests increased significantly

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collapse of the home front

1964- Protests began when 1000 students from prestigious Yale University staged a protests march in New York and 5000 professors wrote in support

1965- Many Universities held a 'teach in' with anti war lectures and debates.20,000 students participated. However thousands sugned a pro-Johnson petition. In April 1965 25,000 protestors marched on Washington. A young Quaker set himself on fire, holding his baby outside McNamaras office. There was widened unrest in 1965

1966- During 1966, public support for the war dropped dramatically. Senate Foreign Relations commitee had steered the Gulf of Tonkin reaction. he now decided Johnson and McNamara had lied about the second attack

1967- Tens of thousands protested in the great cities of America. In October 1967 draft cards were publically burnt.

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Why did the 1968 election herald nearly two decade

Student numbers rose from 2.5 M to 7M

Economic Stability

Anti- war Movement

Hippies were the enemy

Enhanced freedom for black Americans, Women, and the poor

Caused violence, epecially against the black people

Challenged traditional values of hard work and traditionalism

people belived in good members

many had debts

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My Lai Massacre

on 16th March 1968 American soldiers *****, beat and killed 347 innocent unarmed civillians. The Americans were given orderes that all of the people in the village of My Lai were VC guerillas

Old men, women, tennagers and even babies were killed

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