The US involvement in Vietnam-summary notes
5 Presidents! and their strategies
5 Presidents! and their strategies
- Truman (1945-53) Financial aid 💰to the French, no US troop involvement.
- Eisenhower (1953-61) financial aid, 💰equipment and advisors 👥 to support the southern regime of NGO Dinh Diem.
- Kennedy (1961-63) more financial aid, 💰equipment and advisors 👥👥 (16,000 by 1963) plus strategic hamlet programme.
- Johnson (1963-69) Americanisation 🇺🇸 of the war-bombing 🧨 campaigns and US troops on the ground.
- Nixon (19 69–73) Vietnamesation of the war. Train and equip the ARVN to fight their own war. Massive bombing campaigns to bring the north to the negotiating table.
- Vietnam had been a French colony before it was occupied by the Japanese 🎌during World War Two.
- After World War Two, it was returned to French 🇫🇷 control, but many Vietnamese people wanted independence. 🇻🇳
- As a result, in the 1950s, the French found themselves fighting ⚔️a war against the Viet Minh, an organisation dedicated to getting rid of foreign powers from Vietnam.
- Worried about the spread of communism in South East Asia, 🌏 the USA began to financially 💵 support the French war effort in Vietnam.
- Halting the spread of communism was an idea that President Truman had said he was committed to as part of his Truman Doctrine (1947)
- In 1954, the French were finally defeated by the Viet Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
- This defeat was formalised in the Geneva Agreement.🤝
- The agreement temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones - a northern zone to be governed by the Viet Minh and a southern zone to be governed by an anti-communist government led by Ngo Dinh Diem.
- The Geneva accords called for elections to take place in 1956.
- The north was controlled by Ho Chi Minh, a communist with backing from China 🇨🇳 and The USSR.
- The south was non-Communist controlled by Ngo Dinh Diem - his regime became increasingly Unpopular because of corruption and nepotism. This was an embarrassment to the USA, and so the CIA backed his assassination in 1963!
- Eisenhower had coined the term, ‘domino theory’. The US was worried that if South Vietnam fell to communism so to Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, and the whole of Southeast Asia and perhaps spreading even to India.
- This commitment to containing communism ultimately lead to the US involvement in Vietnam - different presidents had different strategies.
Americanising the War
- Initially Eisenhower and Kennedy believed US economic 💸 backing and military equipment and advisers 👥 would be sufficient to undermine the communist threat. This proved not to be the case as the VC became increasingly successful in south Vietnam.
- It became apparent that money and military advisers was not enough 🤬 - President Johnson escalated 👆 US involvement (Americanisation of the war) after the destroyer USS Maddox was attacked in the gulf of Tonkin in August 1964.
- Congress passed the gulf of Tonkin resolution. Johnson said it was like grandmas nighty, ‘it covered everything’
- President Johnson ordered the bombing 🧨 of strategic military targets by 1965 US Marines were deployed to protect military bases at Da Nang. This was a shift away from military advisers to combat troops - of which there would be 500,000 in due course.
Waging war (unsuccessfully!)
- US military tactics ultimately failed. 👇🏽
- Operation rolling thunder, ⚡️which was expected to last a few weeks went on for over a year. It failed to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
- Search and destroy missions from 1965 were a bid to “take the war to the enemy“. This meant US soldiers became easy targets for Vietcong guerrilla tactics. This demoralised the US soldiers who realised they were being used to draw out the enemy. These missions, nickname as “zippo raids”, also enraged the South Vietnamese and so the US failed to “win the hearts and minds“ of the Vietnamese people.
- All attempts to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail failed-the US resorted to dumping thousands of gallons of napalm a chemical agent onto suspected Viet Cong strongholds. They also used agent orange, a defoliant to destroy the jungle cover. All of this was televised on American TVs and led to increased criticism of US involvement and their strategies.
- By contrast the VC gorilla tactics were highly effective - the VC used the cover of the jungle to their advantage and fought a hit and run the war against conscripted, inexperienced American soldiers. The threat of an invisible enemy and hidden traps 🎍 called punjis had a demoralising psychological impact on US troops.
The turning point (1968)
- Arguably a turning point in the war was the Tet offensive of 1968.
- This was a massive and well coordinated attack on numerous US held bases across south Vietnam including the US embassy in Saigon.
- Although the offensive was driven back it demonstrated to the Americans that in spite of all their manpower modern military equipment and financial advantages they were not making any progress against the Vietcong or communism.
- Walter Cronkite, once dubbed the most trusted man in America, reported on the news that the war had become a ‘bloody stalemate’.
- This was recognised by President Johnson who did not run for the presidency in 1969.
- Richard Nixon run for the presidency, on a platform of “peace with honour“ and to “bring the boys home “
- Richard Nixon was anti-Communist but he wanted to improve relations with China and the USSR (a policy called detente)
- He introduced the Vietnamisation of the war (the Nixon doctrine) this involved building up the capacity of the ARVN until they could take responsibility for their own defence.
- Simultaneously, Nixon escalated the bombing campaign of North Vietnam and extended the bombing to Laos and Cambodia.
- The purpose was to force the North Vietnamese to negotiate - the tactic brought much public criticism of the war but it did bring the north to the negotiating table.
- Negotiations began in late 1972 with his adviser Henry Kissinger- the Paris peace accords 📄 which ended US involvement was signed in January 1973.
- US forces left Vietnam and by April 1975 the forces of North Vietnam entered the city of Saigon and the country was unified and the communist leadership.
- Containment had failed! 😳💵🤔