Cold War – Define and focus on proxy wars and spheres of influence, China, invasion of S. Korea by N. Korea
Domino Theory and Containment are two key guiding principles of U.S. policy
Map – Partition at the 17th parallel
Ho Chi Minh declares independence in 1945
Communist led Vietminh – Army fighting for independence primarily in the North and included nationalists
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
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
Relations with Ho Chi Minh – Importance of distinguishing between nationalism and communism.
Support for a colonial power is tenuous – By end of the French-Indo-Chinese War, U.S. is funding ¾ of the expense
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.
Misunderstanding about the desires of the Vietnamese people:
V.P. Nixon and Sec. of State Dulles both invoke Domino Theory, threat of USSR and China as key supporters and puppet masters.
All about communism and not nationalism
Senator Kennedy in the 1950’s declares that no people would choose communism over democracy
Eisenhower is embarrassed because he was partially elected based on “lost China” platform
Misunderstanding about civil war vs. war of war of aggression
Geneva Accords and Aftermath
Participants at the table U.S., China, USSR, Laos, Cambodia, Republic of Vietnam (South), Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North)
17th parallel partition with demilitarized zone
Cease fire and offensive aggressions banned
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).
Collapse of accords
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.
Diem won’t sign and the U.S. vows to support him.
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.
Economic hardship for both sides – For example, the North loses rice from Mekong Delta and the South loses key harbors.
Problems with backing Diem
U.S. knows that Diem is not the best leader - “Democratic One Man Rule.”
Catholic and represses Buddhists monks – Closes monasteries
Land reform demanded by U.S. to win hearts and minds.
Disastrous – Peasants had to end up buying land that the Viet Minh had liberated and redistributed to them.
Favors Catholics who fled from the North and gave them priority land.
U.S. wants Diem to bring democracy to the villages
Diem cancels elections and appoints officials who would target dissenters (Vietminh and nationalists)
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.
Diem does not cooperate with the U.S. due to his authoritarian tendencies, his nationalism, and his anti-western perspective.
U.S. gives economic and military aid to South Vietnam (1955-1961)
78% of all foreign aid is to build up a weak military with untrained officers and low morale. 1500 military advisors also allocated
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.
Overall, 60-75% of entire S. Vietnam budget paid for by U.S.
Activities in North Vietnam
Dissidents are executed (3,000-15,000)
Continue land redistribution
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.
Keep U.S. involvement limited
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.
Uses special forces to also challenge insurgents.
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.
By November, 1963 there are 16,000 U.S. advisors in S. Vietnam.
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.
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
Strategic Hamlet program is a failure as evident by growth of Viet Cong (300,000 by 1963)
Diem refuses to reform South Vietnam and opposition continues to mount
Johnson considers several factors in his decision-making concerning the course of the war:
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.
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.
Viet Cong controlled approximately 40% of the South and 50% of its people
Still plan to train the ARVN to launch a full scale offensive
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.
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.
Turning point in decision-making prompted by Viet Cong attack on Pleiku Air Base (Feb, 1965)
Operation Rolling Thunder (massive bombing of North Vietnam included) is implemented along with troop escalation to protect air bases - 500,000 troops by 1967.
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.
In May he was forced to admit, due to an accidental press release, that the troops would also participate in offensive campaigns.
Signs the war was not going well
Communists stepped up recruitment efforts in South.
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.
McNamara started to talk about a political solution and he claimed, at a congressional committee, that the bombing on the North had failed.
LBJ privately worried that escalation would draw the Chinese into the war but publically, the administration only communicated optimism.
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.
By 1966 the USSR and the Chinese send 2 billion dollars to the North.
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 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.
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.
Specific elements of his strategy included:
Influenced by TET, U.S. anti-war movement, and increasing casualties of U.S. troops, he recognized limited war was the only option.
Vietnamization would increase the ARVN and reduce U.S. troops
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
CIA run Phoenix Campaign designed to demoralize and reduce the number of Viet Cong
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.
June, 1970 – Congress repeals Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
Congress bans use of troops in Cambodia and Laos
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
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.