Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” The United States was not originally a part of the conflicts and events that were occurring between the French and Vietnamese. The United States was allies with the French and was worried if they did not help their fellow ally that they would lose them. Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson all played major roles on the entrance and escalation of the conflicts in Vietnam. Throughout the war these individuals were required to make crucial decisions that could possibly be detrimental to the United States. These individuals’ decisions were fueled by the emotions, safety, and the well-being of the United States populous.
The conflict in Vietnam was first brought to the attention of the United States when “Brigadier General Philip E. Gallaher returned from Hanoi, where he served as the U.S. liaison team with Chinese occupation forces in northern Indochina, and briefed U.S. officials in Washington on conditions in Vietnam.”1 This was in the winter of 1945-1946, five years before Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president. The conflicts in Vietnam continued to escalate at an accelerated rate. When President Eisenhower became president he was required to make some pivotal decisions regarding the United States involvement in the Vietnam conflicts.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the president in office when major decisions were needed. The Communists were taking over and the United States ally, France, was being threatened. The United States started by sending money and weapons, yet this proved to be futile. The United States soon needed to make the decision whether to place troops on the ground in Vietnam or to pull out of the war/conflict completely.
“Eisenhower was the first president to go head first into the Vietnam conflict. Eisenhower did not support the Geneva Accords signed by France and Vietnam in the summer of 1954. The Accord made the 17th parallel dividing the country of Vietnam to north and south section until two years when they would hold a free election for all of the country. Eisenhower and his secretary of state John Foster Dulles believed that the agreement gave the communist too much power in the north. Instead Eisenhower decided to create the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). This treaty’s purpose was to stop any more communist influence in Southeast Asia. Using the SEATO as a cover, Eisenhower started to help build a new nation in South Vietnam. In 1955 GVN was born, the government of the republic of Vietnam, the leader being Ngo Dinh Diem, after a landslide election. Soon after Diem claimed his country was under attack from communist. In 1957 the Vietnam War began. Diem imprisoned all those he viewed as being suspected communist and his people became outraged, administering protest and demonstrations.
From 1956-1960, North Vietnam did all it could to put political pressure on Diem’s regime, gathering followers in the south to overthrow him. Since the false imprisonments it was not hard to rally rural areas in the south. This was how the National Liberation Front (NFL) was created. Washington Discredited the NFL in a series of “white papers”.”2
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was the next president after Eisenhower. “By 1961 Kennedy was now in office and he had a new team to investigate the conditions in South Vietnam. This investigation was known as the “December 1961 White Papers”. The content in the white paper was basically a cry for more aid to Vietnam. Kennedy decided to send more advisors and machinery but would not send troops. In 1963 Kennedy put his support into a coup. Diem [Ngo Dinh Diem was the first president of South Vietnam and was a part of the 1954 Geneva Accords. He helped lead the effort for the Republic of Vietnam] and his brother were [brutally murdered]. Three weeks later Kennedy was assassinated.”3 President Kennedy’s assassination took the United States by surprised. His assassination automatically promoted Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to President.
Americans were angry that President Kennedy was sending money, advisors and machinery to Vietnam. United States citizens did not support the “war” and wanted President Kennedy to pull completely out. On the contrary, American citizens were happy that Kennedy did not put troops on the ground in Vietnam. The United States people felt that there was not a threat at this time and that the United States should mind its own business. President Kennedy help escalate the war by sending equipment, but Lyndon B. Johnson was the President who made the conflicts become a true “war” by placing troops on the ground in Vietnam.
Lyndon Baines Johnson inherited the war. He used the help of President Franklin Roosevelt’s advisors to determine the best way to handle and assess the situations at hand. Johnson was worried and aware that if the United States lost South Vietnam that the war would have ended completely different. “He also tied Vietnam to the realization of these goals [goals from Roosevelt’s New Deal], fearing that if he showed weakness, southern conservatives who opposed his domestic programs, especially his commitment to radical equality, would attack him with a vengeance. ‘If I don’t go in now and they show later that I should have,’ he predicted, ‘then they’ll . . . push Vietnam up my ass every time.”4
Johnson knew that if he lost South Vietnam as an ally then the United States would suffer. “Policymakers also believed that the way the United States responded to ‘Communists provocations’ in Vietnam would have ‘profound consequences everywhere.’ If the United States did not protect Vietnam, Secretary of State Rusk insisted, its ‘guarantees with regard to Berlin would lose their creditability.”5 The turbulence that would be caused in all the third worlds would be outrageous and would soon affect the United States negatively.
The difficulty with Lyndon B. Johnson coming into office the way that he did it made him at a disadvantage. President Johnson was unaware of the direction in which deceased President Kennedy was trying to take the war and how President Kennedy planned to fight. President Kennedy’s assistants took it into their hands to inform President Johnson and to help guide him in the direction in which President Kennedy was attempting to go.
“This was the president in office when the Gulf of Tonkin attack occurred. Two U.S ships were attacked off the coast of Vietnam in neutral water. The first attack was legitimate but no one knows if the second actually occurred. Johnson decided to use this situation as a chance to cover up the resolution that gave Johnson more war powers. This was called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution was a series of air strikes against the North Vietnam territory. In 1965, the NFL attacked U.S. bases in South Vietnam and Johnson ordered a bombing mission called Operation Rolling Thunder. Johnson was the one who sent the first combat troops to Vietnam. Johnson’s hope was that the North Vietnam would get tired of the war and want peace talks. The draft was instituted and anti-war movements reached an extreme. Protests on campuses erupted everywhere, Kent State being one of them. In 1968 the North Vietnam army led a series of attacks against major cities in South Vietnam known as the Tet Offensive, to force American to the bargaining table. Although South Vietnam and American forces pushed the North Vietnam army out of the cities, it was still a political loss to America and South Vietnam. Johnson left his office when time was up in disgrace. Making it known he will not accept the democratic renomination.”6
President Johnson placed troops on the ground in Vietnam which enraged the American citizens and fueled outbursts of protests. The “war” was one that was not to be won and the American citizens only envisioned thousands of American troops dying and innocent Vietnamese people being slaughtered. The United States people were distraught due to the fact that the American troops were being placed on Vietnam soil because of the Gulf of Tonkin attack.
There were speculations whether the Gulf of Tonkin attack really occurred or if President Johnson just provoked the Vietnam soldiers to attack the United States Navy. The attack happened on a stormy night and no one could accurately confirm that there was a missile in the water heading towards the United States ships. President Johnson’s emotions got the best of him when he was in office and he started making critical decisions based on anger he felt towards the Vietnamese. He was discussed with the decisions that he started to make and realized that the decisions he made out of anger were drastically affecting the United States and thousands of troops’ blood was shed.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson all played crucial roles in the entrance and escalation of the conflicts in Vietnam. France was a major reason for the entrance into this conflict. Americans were very uneasy about this war and conflict involving Vietnam and felt that it was unnecessary. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson all did what they felt were necessary and entangled the United States into an unwinnable war. Communists were not going to try to take over the United States. The large amount of causalities negatively affected the United States. The trust in the United States government by the people of the United States deteriorated and citizens questioned whether the actions of the presidents were necessary for the security of the American society.
1 McMahon, Robert J.. Major problems in the history of the Vietnam War: documents and essays. 4th ed. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. 25.
2 Morris, Jill. "The Presidents during the Vietnam War." The Presidents during the Vietnam War. http://personal.ashland.edu/~jmoser1/usfp/morris.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).
4 Herring, George C. America's Longest War. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. 141.
5 iBid. 142
6 Morris, Jill. "The Presidents during the Vietnam War." The Presidents during the Vietnam War. http://personal.ashland.edu/~jmoser1/usfp/morris.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).