There are many speculations as to why the Americans entered the Vietnam War. American involvement was based upon a series of many choices made by five successive presidents during the span of 1945-1975. The decisions made by these leaders were based on one central motive, the need to stop the spread of Communism.
When the U.S government marched into Vietnam, it was because it feared a growth of Communism in a region of close proximity to communist China. When the United States retaliated against North Vietnam to uphold the Truman Doctrine, they ignored foreign policy of isolationism, with Communist threat in mind.
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The United States wanted to aid Southern Vietnam, the help was driven by a factor of communism, and a consistent theme with lives at stake. In 1945, A. Peter Dewey, a Truman administrator, was shot and killed while in Vietnam gathering information to report back to the White House. Ho Chi Minh claims it was “friendly fire and simply an accident”. Accidental or not, Dewey was America’s first casualty in Vietnam, but certainly not the last. Vietnam was on its way to becoming America’s only Thirty Year War. The United States became involved in the Vietnam War in various stages because it was dedicated to combating Communism.
North Vietnam was a Communist country, Proclaimed independent by Ho Chi Minh, a Communist. A Marxist, he believed in ” National Communism ” and during the war with the French, took refuge in northern Vietnam settling there with his fellow communist followers. He founded the Indochina Communist Party and the Viet Minh which was formed in 1941, seeking independence from French rule.
Ho Chi Minh became the president of North Vietnam from 1945 to 1969 when North Vietnam was a poor area cut off from the agricultural benefit of South Vietnam, forced to ask for assistance from major Communist allies – the Soviet Union and China, who chose to aid North Vietnam before and during the war. This was the beginning of communist involvement in Vietnam, a direct violation of the democracy the U.S stood for and respected.
For nearly forty years, Vietnam had not experienced settled peace. On September 2nd, 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed independence from France, which gathered strong opposition. The French wanted to re-establish their rule in Vietnam but were beaten at the battle of Dien Bien Phu on May 7th, 1954.4 At this battle, the Viet Minh fought for their independence from French Rule. The French were not very careful and this allowed the Viet Minh to cut off their airway to Hanoi. After a siege that had lasted for fifty – five days, the French surrendered. Ho Chi Minh had newfound independence from France, but could not manage to unify his own country.
North Vietnam just fought a bloody war over a country separated between Communist North and anti-Communist South. North Vietnam came under the control of the Vietnamese Communists who had opposed France and aimed for a unified Vietnam under Communist rule. The Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French controlled the South. North Vietnam wished to unify North and South Vietnam through military force with an aim to create a communist society. Since the United States feared the spread of communism in Asia, John F. Kennedy provided economic and military aid to South Vietnam to prevent such a takeover by North Vietnam. Kennedy promised in his inaugural address,
“Let every nation know…that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” 5
With specific intent to uphold democracy across the world. North Vietnam proved to be an opposition to American political morals. Though this time, this was still a civil war and the United States was not yet officially involved, but the United States had begun to show support against Communist North Vietnam.
The decision to enter Vietnam reflected America’s need to enforce the Truman Doctrine. This doctrine stated that the United States had to provide economic aid to countries in order to help resist communist take-over.6
When the U.S entered the Vietnam War, more than the money that was needed to stop communism take-over in Vietnam, it was decided that American men were needed on the battlefields. Officially, the U.S. government supported the South Vietnamese government. The U.S. government wanted to establish the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), which extended protection to South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in case of Communist take-over7.
The United States believed that if all of the countries fell under a Communist government, Communism would spread throughout Southeast Asia and further. This belief was known as the “domino theory” introduced by Eisenhower.
The Americans agreed their country had a moral responsibility to safeguard the world against evil governments. With fascist powers defeated, communism was left standing and ready to be challenged. The new type of warfare available began to scare the American people into helping Southern Vietnam.
If nuclear weapons were used, halting communism could mean halting human life on planet Earth. The American’s could agree that communism was bad, but they disagreed on how to achieve the goal of bringing it down. On April 5th,1972 President Kennedy expressed his feeling towards the United States entering the Vietnam war in a Secret letter to President Thieu, the president of South Vietnam.
“You can be sure that the United States stands fully behind the heroic efforts of your people in the defence of their homeland. I can assure you that in the days and weeks ahead we will not hesitate to take whatever added military steps are necessary to support the intense and valiant struggle in which your country is now engaged. We cannot allow Hanoi’s intensified and blatant aggression to go unpunished”8
The fear of Communism called the “Red Scare” was the reason for the Americans being ready to go to all costs to continue on their no mercy mission to stop the spread of communism, and Vietnam was just the place.
The United States officially had their own men fighting in the Vietnam War in 1963. President Eisenhower strongly supported President Diem throughout the 1950s. He continued to support the South by training, equipping and paying the South Vietnamese armies.
By 1961, President Kennedy saw that the North was gaining and winning in this war, he immediately dramatically increased the number of military advisers and aid being sent to South Vietnam, meaning supplying the South with warplanes, helicopters, armoured personnel carriers, rifles, napalm, defoliants and herbicides. In exchange for all this, Kennedy wanted President Diem to reform and strengthen his government.9
The organization of President Diem’s South Vietnam government was one of the reasons why the war never pulled through. Ho Chi Minh’s government was strong with followers and firm believers. The South never ended up gathering a solid anti-Communist following, therefore giving the North a strong advantage. Since Diem was unable to his government, the U.S withdrew its proposition. In 1963, President Kennedy was asked about what he thinks about Vietnam.
“I don’t think that unless a greater effort is made by the Government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it-the people of Viet-Nam-against the Communists.”10
The Americans saw the war going nowhere with Diem as President, on November 2 1963 Diem and his brother were arrested and murdered. His death allowed the Americans to bring this war into their own hands, making it a more personal and American war.
The years following 1963 until the end of the war, much bloodshed, lost lives, broken families, and many other sad effects that could never be accurately accounted for. Here, a soldier from Costa Rica called Juan Casillas tells his cousin’s son about his reaction to the war.
“Juancho, the problem is that you will never imagine how much suffering and pain I saw in that place. There is not one book, article, or encyclopedia that can really describe the human disaster that took place in Vietnam. There is nothing worse in this world than killing a man who you know has a family; destroying their future. Sad, it is very sad, but it is the truth, and it turns more complex when you realize that you were part of that truth” 11
When the Americans withdrew their last troops, Ho Chi Minh’s Communist government had “won”. Communism had spread to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Some believe this was a loss for the Americans because they had failed to protect South Vietnam from Communist rule. Communism had not spread through all of Southeast Asia making the American’s efforts to enter Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism both commendable and admirable.
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson was called before the Senate of foreign relations committee to explain why the United States was readying for war with Japan over a place called Yap. Although Wilson admitted that he could never find Yap on a map if you asked him, he explained that whenever and wherever U.S interests were in trouble, the American government must respond with force.
Years later, in the 1950s, the White House explained its Vietnam theories in the same way. History repeats itself. The Americans felt that they needed to send their own men into Vietnam in order to stop Communism. They entered Vietnam with brutal force and no mercy to Communism. When they withdrew, they would certainly not be forgotten for their key roles and most certainly commended for their historical efforts, in a war that essentially was not their own.
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