France had controlled Southeast Asia from the mid-1800s until it was conquered by the Japanese in World War II. When the war ended, France tried to regain control over Indochina. The Vietnamese, under communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, organized a guerrilla war against French rule. The fighting lasted from 1946 to 1954. The Vietnamese received military and financial support from the Soviet Union and Communist China. The United States gave financial aid to the French forces.
In 1954, the Vietnamese captured the French fortress at Dien Bien Phu. Over 4,000 French soldiers were killed and another 12,000 were wounded. Later that year, and agreement was signed at the Geneva Conference. Vietnam was divided into 2 sections at the 17th parallel. North Vietnam established a communist government led by Ho Chi Minh. South Vietnam was supported by the United States and was headed by Premier Ngo Dinh Diem. A demilitarized zone, or “DMZ”, separated the two Vietnams. National elections were scheduled for 1956 to rejoin or “unify” the two parts into a single nation.
In 1955, President Eisenhower sent 500 U.S. military advisors to train South Vietnamese troops. Premier Diem unexpectedly cancelled the 1956 elections. He claimed that a fair election could not be held. The North Vietnamese were angry because they believed the Communists would have won the election.
Communist rebels living in South Vietnam, called the “Vietcong”, began an all-out civil war. The Vietcong were supplied by North Vietnam along a jungle route through Laos and Cambodia called the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The first American soldier was killed in Vietnam in 1961. By 1964, the number of American military advisors in South Vietnam had increased to 23,000.
The Present Situation:
It is August, 1964. President Lyndon B. Johnson has informed Congress that two American destroyers have been attacked without warning by North Vietnamese gunboats. The US warships were sailing in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam (See map). The President has requested that Congress grant him permission to “take all necessary measures” to protect American forces in Vietnam and to use our troops “to prevent further aggression (attacks)”.
1. Two US warships were attacked without warning by North Vietnamese PT boats. The US cannot allow this attack to go unanswered. We must give the President authority to defend our troops.
2. In 1948, President Truman pledged that the U.S. would resist the spread of communism anywhere in the world. We must stop a communist takeover of South Vietnam.
3. In 1954, President Eisenhower promised to support South Vietnam once French troops withdrew. We must keep our word. The honor and prestige of the United States is at stake.
4. In 1961, President Kennedy increased our military and economic aid to South Vietnam. Without this help, the Communists would have won the war.
5. Southeast Asian countries are like a row of dominoes “... You knock over the first one, and …. the last one …. will go over very quickly.” If South Vietnam becomes Communist, so will the rest of Southeast Asia.
6. If the U.S. bombed North Vietnam, the Communists would most likely give up. We have far greater military strength than North Vietnam.
1. It was wrong for South Vietnamese Premier Diem to cancel the 1956 elections on reunifying Vietnam. If the election had been held, the Communists would have won.
2. The fighting between North and South Vietnam is basically a civil war. We should not get involved in the internal problems of foreign countries.
3. The US shouldn’t be a “world policeman” by sending troops to every trouble spot. President Johnson has promised “never to send American boys to do what Asian boys can do themselves.”
4. The security of the US is not at stake in Vietnam. Our nation is not in any danger. Vietnam is too far away to be able supply U.S. combat troops.
5. The current South Vietnamese government came to power illegally. It has become a corrupt dictatorship. The US represents freedom and democracy. We have no business supporting an undemocratic government.