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AMERICAN HISTORY SINCE 1865 THE VIETNAM WAR Account for American Involvement in Vietnam between 1945 and 1975 Introduction History - French Colonialism/US Support Vietnamese leadership Kennedy - Johnson - Nixon US Domestic Politics Uncontrollable escalation Conclusion Rise to Globalism - American Foreign Policy Since 1938: S.E. Ambrose
- US Secretary of State Dean Rusk decided that the VC were not Vietnamese but outside Communist aggressors, which meant that foreign intervention would be permitted under the UN Resolution 189. Rusk warned that China was actively promoting war in Vietnam. Nearly every members of the Kennedy administration supported this assertion1.
- It was wrongly believed that US troops would not be needed, just training and equipment provision administered by a small number of 'green berets'.
- Vietnam was treated as a test-case for Kennedy's new counter-insurgency policy.
- The Gulf of Tonkin incident presaged the expansionary of the President's powers over the prosecution of the military campaign.
- In late 1964, still trying to avoid the use of US ground troops. Johnson authorised the commencement of bombing in North Vietnam.
- Ambrose sees Johnson's policies as nothing more than the logical evolution of those of his predecessors. Vietnam - A History: S. Karnow
- Johnson was criticised for refusing to take the ground war into North Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia, 'were all were enemies' in the opinion of elements of the US military2. Instead, fighting in South Vietnam, it became difficult to determine combatants from civilians and impossible to permanently disable enemy supply lines.
- Between 1949 and 1952 the US gave $2billion of assistance to the French war effort in IndoChina as part of their wider containment policy - Potsdam?
- By 1952, six years after the war began, the French dead and wounded totalled 90,000 and they had spent twice the sum they had received under the Marshall Plan.
- The US underwrote Diem's presidency because they knew of no better candidate. He had also spent time in America and was as opposed to Communist control as he was French Colonialism. Bao Dai?
- In 1954, Eisenhower agreed that strengthening Diem's army was one of the best methods of supporting his administration. The US Ambassador to Vietnam, Heath, disagreed, saying that supporting Diem was a gamble; America did not have close control of his behaviour.
- Kennedy was shaken by Nixon's allegations during the 1960 presidential campaign that he was 'soft' on Communism. He was further unsettled by the Bay of Pigs fiasco and lacklustre performances in the diplomatic arena against Khrushchev. On this basis he resiled from any commitment to withdraw America from Vietnam, fearing he would be perceived as an appeaser of Communism; his political considerations were buttressed by a consensus of opinion within the US
1 Rise to Globalism - American Foreign Policy Since 1938: S.E. Ambrose 2 Vietnam - A History: S. Karnow
government which concluded that the loss of Vietnam to Communism would presage the loss of South East Asia3.
- Diem's refusal to share power with any outside of his hand-picked clique encouraged a cabal of disaffected generals to plot against him, leading ultimately to his murder in November 1963. The coup d'etat was encouraged by the US, who had become unhappy with Diem's intransigence.
- However, Diem's replacements were worse. First, there was a military junta, and then Khanh, a General who displaced the junta after three months. This pulled the US further into the war as they could not rely on a well-managed South Vietnamese government and army to prosecute the war effort alone.
- What changed after Kennedy's assassination?
- Johnson believed that US withdrawal from Vietnam would provide ample ammunition for conservatives in the US to topple his presidency; as he campaigned in 1964 his opponent, Barry Goldwater, confirmed that this would be the case. Johnson also feared that conservatives in Congress would sabotage his social policy if he wavered in Vietnam, but he still campaigned on the basis that the US need not commit ground troops.
- McNamara was Johnson's Secretary for Defence.
- Impact of McCarthy era on the psyche of American politicians.
- American ships entered the Gulf of Tonkin in early 1964 to carry out espionage activities, photographing the coastline of North Vietnam, obtaining defensive radar positions and frequencies, and mapping newly installed anti-aircraft defences. This was in preparation for US strikes in the North.
- When, in August of 1964, US ships were attacked for the second time in the Gulf, Johnson sought a resolution from Congress to support military action in the North; not a single congressman demurred. Initial reprisals consisted of sixty-four sorties against North Vietnamese patrol boat bases and an oil refinery; two US airplanes were lost. At this point, the Johnson administration enjoyed 85% public support at home.
- When Khrushchev was deposed in October 1964, his successors secretly increased Soviet assistance to the North Vietnamese.
- The US remained unable to contemplate negotiations which may end in a settlement affording the Vietcong a political role in the South; the Saigon regime was too weak to survive any sort of compromise. Khanh's failure to co-operate with US efforts, his continued agitation of opposition members, and his attempted accommodation with the North, all conspired to force Johnson to 'Americanise' the war - although this had arguably happened long before 19654.
- The first US combat troops arrived in Vietnam In March 1965; Johnson had won re-election the November before and was determined to 'win' the war.
- America misunderstood the Vietcong, believing there was a pain threshold that they could cross which would bring about their surrender; Ho Chi Minh had warned the French that he would choose annihilation over capitulation.
- General Westmoreland - US commander.
- US bombing did not target North Vietnamese cities - Hanoi was hardly touched.
3 Vietnam - A History: S. Karnow 4 Vietnam - A History: S. Karnow
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