Vietnam War Outline/Discussion

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Vietnam War


Review Context of Vietnam War

  1. Cold War – Define and focus on proxy wars and spheres of influence, China, invasion of S. Korea by N. Korea

  1. Domino Theory and Containment are two key guiding principles of U.S. policy

French-IndoChinese War

  1. Map – Partition at the 17th parallel

  1. Ho Chi Minh declares independence in 1945

  1. Communist led Vietminh – Army fighting for independence primarily in the North and included nationalists

  1. Bao Dai – After the Japanese assume direct control of Vietnam after disarm French troops and place Bao Dai in charge of a puppet government. Army of Liberation takes over much Vietnam

  1. French troops return and France installs Bao Dai as ruler in the South and Ho Chi Minh becomes leader in the North. Eisenhower recognizes the Bao Dai government.

Lessons Learned from 1945-1960

  1. Relations with Ho Chi Minh – Importance of distinguishing between nationalism and communism.

  1. Support for a colonial power is tenuous – By end of the French-Indo-Chinese War, U.S. is funding ¾ of the expense

  1. Limitations of a well armed, well funded conventional army

a. Nixon says that Vietnamese “lack abilities to conduct a war or govern by themselves.”

b. Senator Kennedy acknowledges that it is very hard to defeat an enemy that has popular support.

b. Dien Bien Phu where a combination of guerrilla tactics (including mobile warfare), substantial and committed forces, and forms of conventional warfare led to the defeat of a French army that had state of the art weapons and technology, far more resources at its disposal, but smaller troop numbers who were facing morale issues.

  1. Misunderstanding about the desires of the Vietnamese people:

    1. V.P. Nixon and Sec. of State Dulles both invoke Domino Theory, threat of USSR and China as key supporters and puppet masters.

    2. All about communism and not nationalism

    3. Senator Kennedy in the 1950’s declares that no people would choose communism over democracy

    4. Eisenhower is embarrassed because he was partially elected based on “lost China” platform

  1. Misunderstanding about civil war vs. war of war of aggression

Geneva Accords and Aftermath

  1. Accords include:

    1. Participants at the table U.S., China, USSR, Laos, Cambodia, Republic of Vietnam (South), Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North)

    2. 17th parallel partition with demilitarized zone

    3. Cease fire and offensive aggressions banned

    4. POW exchange

    5. Elections in 1956 to unify Vietnam – “settlement of political problems, affected on the basis of respect for the principles of independence, unity and territorial integrity, shall permit the Vietnamese people to enjoy the fundamental freedoms, guaranteed by democratic institutions established by the right of free democratic elections by a secret ballot” (Gettleman 75).

  1. Collapse of accords

    1. Eisenhower later says that all of the experts said that Ho Chi Minh would win over Bai Dia so they tried a new leaders Diem.

    2. Diem won’t sign and the U.S. vows to support him.

    3. Both sides engage in propaganda and sabotage to discredit each side – CIA assists the South with psychological and political warfare (disrupt transportation and communication outlets) and military advisors train insurgents. Eventually incursions over line of demarcation on both sides.

    4. Economic hardship for both sides – For example, the North loses rice from Mekong Delta and the South loses key harbors.

  1. Problems with backing Diem

    1. U.S. knows that Diem is not the best leader - “Democratic One Man Rule.”

    2. Catholic and represses Buddhists monks – Closes monasteries

    3. Land reform demanded by U.S. to win hearts and minds.

      1. Disastrous – Peasants had to end up buying land that the Viet Minh had liberated and redistributed to them.

      2. Favors Catholics who fled from the North and gave them priority land.

    4. Democratization Plan

      1. U.S. wants Diem to bring democracy to the villages

      2. Diem cancels elections and appoints officials who would target dissenters (Vietminh and nationalists)

      3. Censorship

      4. Diem conducts a terror campaign against dissidents such as Buddhists, nationalists and communists and Ho decides to send some support to help the insurgency in the South.

    1. Diem does not cooperate with the U.S. due to his authoritarian tendencies, his nationalism, and his anti-western perspective.

    1. U.S. gives economic and military aid to South Vietnam (1955-1961)

      1. 78% of all foreign aid is to build up a weak military with untrained officers and low morale. 1500 military advisors also allocated

      2. Direct economic assistance ($127 million) went to pay for trade deficits due to excess imports. This plan increased dependency and was geared toward consumer goods for elites.

      3. Overall, 60-75% of entire S. Vietnam budget paid for by U.S.

  1. Activities in North Vietnam

    1. Dissidents are executed (3,000-15,000)

    2. Continue land redistribution

    3. Decision to support the insurgency in the South (Diem will call this group the Viet Cong meaning Vietnamese communists). The remaining members of the Vietminh made up the foundation of the Viet Cong.

Kennedy’s Strategy

  1. Keep U.S. involvement limited

    1. Counter insurgency – Train S. Vietnamese to fight the Vietminh and move some forces across the 17th parallel and into Laos (CIA’s “secret war”) with the intention to disrupt supply lines.

    2. Uses special forces to also challenge insurgents.

    3. Strategic Hamlet program – To keep peasants away from the influence of the Viet Cong, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces (ARVN) rounded up peasants into a confined area surrounded by bamboo sticks, moats and armed forces.

    4. By November, 1963 there are 16,000 U.S. advisors in S. Vietnam.

    5. Kennedy Administration rejects DeGaulle’s proposal of Aug., 1963 to negotiate an agreement between the South and the North. Reports are that Ho Chi Minh supports it with a guarantee that Vietnam would be unified and sovereign.

  1. U.S. loses all faith in Diem and in October of 1963, he is brought down and murdered in a coup led by ARVN military officers

    1. Strategic Hamlet program is a failure as evident by growth of Viet Cong (300,000 by 1963)

    2. Diem refuses to reform South Vietnam and opposition continues to mount

    3. Diem even hesitates to approve U.S. troop deployment

LBJ’s Strategy

  1. Johnson considers several factors in his decision-making concerning the course of the war:

    1. Late in 1963, Secretary of Defense McNamara confidentially informs him that the North Vietnamese will be victorious in 2-3 months and wants an immediate deployment of large numbers of U.S. troops.

    2. General Curtis LeMay, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Ass’t. Sec. of State Bundy wants full-scale bombing of the North, U.S. Ambassador Taylor opposed an American land war because it would result in increased Viet Cong attacks in the South, and George Ball, Under Secretary of State wanted to negotiate a political solution.

    3. Viet Cong controlled approximately 40% of the South and 50% of its people

    4. Still plan to train the ARVN to launch a full scale offensive

    5. During his 1964 presidential election he declares that he would not send “American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys out to be doing” (Lessons of Vietnam 17). This drives his decision, once elected, to assert his executive power to wage war.

      1. Gulf of Tonkin Incident and Resolution of Aug. 1964

        • Reports that the destroyer, Maddox, was shot at by N. Vietnamese P.T. boat while patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin

        • Johnson goes to Congress with a resolution that gives him Congressional support to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States to prevent further aggression” (Gettleman 252). Senate approves 88-2.

        • No evidence was or has been presented of an attack.

    1. Turning point in decision-making prompted by Viet Cong attack on Pleiku Air Base (Feb, 1965)

  1. Operation Rolling Thunder (massive bombing of North Vietnam included) is implemented along with troop escalation to protect air bases - 500,000 troops by 1967.

  2. In March of 1965 when LBJ approved of Westmoreland’s first request he did not fully inform the Congress or the people and when asked maintained only a defensive maneuver.

  3. In May he was forced to admit, due to an accidental press release, that the troops would also participate in offensive campaigns.

    1. Signs the war was not going well

  1. Communists stepped up recruitment efforts in South.

  2. Bombing was not having an effect on the supply lines, namely the line known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail (Trail went from N. Vietnam through Laos to S. Vietnam) and its bombing was not inhibiting movement of N. Vietnamese troops to the South.

  3. McNamara started to talk about a political solution and he claimed, at a congressional committee, that the bombing on the North had failed.

  4. LBJ privately worried that escalation would draw the Chinese into the war but publically, the administration only communicated optimism.

  5. Numerous government coups in South Vietnam had finally led to rule by General Nguyen Van Thieu and Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky in Sept. of 1965. In addition morale continued to worsen among the troops of the ARVN and officers were wholly unprepared for guerrilla warfare. Government is corrupt (tanks and helicopters are being sold to the Communists).

        • Programs like Search and Destroy were designed to reduce the success that the Viet Cong guerrillas were having in the villages of South Vietnam but they failed due to the fact that the Viet Cong would retreat from villages as quickly as they could occupy them and take refuge in the jungles. These failures led to tragedies like the My Lai massacre of 1968.

        • Viet Cong continued to have support in the countryside either through recruitment or intimidation and terror.

        • More and more, U.S. is taking over the war but this is masked by official statements about “nation building” and optimistic reports like“light at the end of the tunnel”statements.

  1. By 1966 the USSR and the Chinese send 2 billion dollars to the North.

  1. TET Offensive, January, 1968

        • North Vietnamese Army launches offensive (80,000 troops) that attacked 36 out of 44 provincial capitals, 64 district towns, numerous villages, and 12 U.S. air bases, and the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

        • White House says the TET Offensive was a complete failure and on one level it was given that the South Vietnamese government regained most of the towns and cities, there was no uprising among the people, and the Viet Cong experienced severe losses.

        • However, the downside for the U.S. and the South Vietnamese was no less severe as thousands of civilians lost their lives many due to bombing and Americans at home watched the attack on the U.S. embassy.

        • LBJ’s response included:

          • Refusing Westmoreland’s request for 206,000 troops, instead granting him 13,500

          • Announcement of a halt in the bombing and an offer to open up negotiations

          • Decision not to run for re-election.

Nixon’s Strategy

  1. Nixon was an ardent anti-communist but he also was the first president to visit China and initiated diplomatic recognition of China and the policy of détente with the USSR.

  2. Nixon was elected on a platform of “peace with honor” and he and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger wanted a negotiated settlement involving USSR and China.

  3. Specific elements of his strategy included:

    1. Influenced by TET, U.S. anti-war movement, and increasing casualties of U.S. troops, he recognized limited war was the only option.

    2. Vietnamization would increase the ARVN and reduce U.S. troops

    1. Intensify bombing campaigns to get North Vietnam to bargain in good faith but too risky to continue bombing the North

        • Feb. 1969 bombing raids in neutral Cambodia commence

          • 14 months in secret (Congress, Sec. of Air Force, Air Force Chief of Staff not informed).

          • Vietnamese communists had used Cambodia as a refuge, staging area into the South, and to maintain supply lines.

        • Strategy didn’t work because the North could not raise the issue of the bombing because then they would have to admit their presence in Cambodia

    1. CIA run Phoenix Campaign designed to demoralize and reduce the number of Viet Cong

    2. U.S. and ARVN invasion of Cambodia in April, 1970

        • Lon Nol invites U.S. to enter Cambodia after his takeover of the country.

        • Nixon says that the U.S. cannot act like a “pitiful giant” while totalitarianism and anarchy threatens the free world.

        • Invasion was not a success because all of the supplies that were destroyed were replaced within months by North Vietnam and its allies. All throughout the war, the North Vietnamese quickly rebuilt roads, bridges, and other kinds of infrastructure.

        • Anti-war movement reinvigorated and tragically capped by the National Guard killing of 4 college protestors at Kent State.

  1. Withdrawal

    1. June, 1970 – Congress repeals Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

    2. Congress bans use of troops in Cambodia and Laos

    3. Invasion of Laos to prevent supplies and troops from North accessing the Ho Chi Minh Trail is planned after intelligence says the North is planning an offensive

        • 30,000 ARVN troops advance in Laos in Feb., 1971 with U.S. air support

        • ARVN troops disperse after North Vietnamese army counter attacks. Mad scramble to flee.

        • Nixon says in private that Vietnamization has not worked

    1. U.S. troop morale is very poor

        • 28% of American troops had used opium and heroin and 4 times that amount had required treatment

        • Fragging intensifies although used in the late 60’s (intentional wounding of commanding officers to protest missions). Officer morale is low as well.

        • Publication of Pentagon Papers revealing that the government had realized the war was shaping up to be a lost cause since 1966 and that information and viewpoints, from high level officials like McNamara, had been kept secret.

    1. Efforts to achieve a negotiated peace continued to be spurned by the North Vietnamese

        • March, 1972 120,000 North Vietnamese troops supported by Viet Cong guerrillas, attack strategic locations in the South

        • Nixon responds by authorizing massive bombing raids and naval blockade of the North, as well as the mining of Haiphong harbor.

    1. Major losses in the North and in the South as a result of bombing and a realization that Nixon was going to be re-elected bring North Vietnam to the negotiating table in Sept., 1972

        • After talks suspended in mid-December because South Vietnamese leader Thieu had insisted on new terms that were unacceptable to the North, Nixon proceeds to order the Christmas bombing of the North

        • This action, although highly unpopular in the U.S. with 50,000 tons of bombs being dropped in 12 days did bring the North Vietnamese negotiator, Le Duc Tho, back to the table

Peace Agreement – Jan., 1973

  1. Cease-fire with communists and the South Vietnamese forces maintaining their positions (150,000 North Vietnamese troops remained in the South).

  2. Withdrawal of all U.S. troops.

  3. Release of all POW’s


  1. Fighting breaks out between the North and the South.

  2. U.S. promises not to abandon President Thieu’s government but Congress refuses to fund any U.S. troops and passes the War Power’s Act.

  3. Congress is steadfast in its position on defunding military action in Indo-China but finally appropriates 300 million dollars in humanitarian aid.

  4. In April, 1975 North Vietnamese troops enter Saigon to claim victory and begin the process of unification

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