This paper will examine the history of the United States Vietnam involvement from 1964 to 1968 it will emphasize the evolution of the national policy and objectives during that period.
The Vietnam War twisted out to be Americans’ longest war with the massive commitment of men and material, but most consider it a failure for the United States. The Vietnam War resulted in the deaths of more than 50,000 Americans and a serious loss of national reputation. Vietnam had an intense and negative effect on American’s view of the military. It was not until the desert storm that the military regained the trust of the American people.
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Perhaps no other event, except the American civil war did so much raise American’s consciousness and indeed as the Vietnam war.
Unlike World War II the Vietnam War did not generate a national emergency that united all Americans in a common cause.
World war II threatened national endurance and therefore was a much simpler war. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, there was no doubt that Japan was an enemy. Also, Germany became a clear threat to the United States and its allies when it declared war on America following Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor finally causes a separation of the United States to become implicated in the war that had been waging in Europe since the 1930s.
The Korean War like Vietnam lacked a sense of clarity Korea is an important example of a war that did not threaten the United States’ vital interest. Therefore both Korea and Vietnam presented policy-making challenges not present in World War II.
Containment of communism was the policy that governed U.S actions in both-Korea and Vietnam to many Americans communism in Asia did not pose a direct threat to the united states as did World war II or the cold war in Europe this led to less sustained support for Vietnam war in a sense Vietnam was a replacement war in which the united states was fighting an enemy other than Vietnam.
Although he had no official policy-making position at the time Richard Nixon fully expressed the rationale for the war while addressing the commonwealth on California on April 2, 1965 (this is a confrontation not between Vietcong and Vietnam or the United States but between the U.S and communist China)
Nixon went on to say that if South Vietnam fell (to communism), so would Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma and Indonesia. Nixon also believed guerrilla activity in the Philippines could lead to communist domination there and eventually threaten Japan.
United State’s strategy in Vietnam was one of containment of communism. Containment was not new in 1964 and 1965. It originates in the year following World War II. George Kenna’s famous 8,000-world telegram from Moscow to the U.S in February 1946 laid the foundation and had profound implications of U.S strategic thinking. The telegram was extremely well received in Washington because it offered an explanation and rationale for the uncooperative behaviour of the Soviet Union (a world war II ally) in Europe. It also provided the guiding principles that United States leaders south as guidance for their actions toward the soviet containment.
George Kennan’s telegram planted the seed for the idea established the Soviet Union as a communist threat to world democracy. Kennan saw the Soviet Union as an internally insecure and paranoid country that viewed the outside world as a hostile threat. As a result, the Soviets ruled themselves ruthlessly and autocratically did no compromise or negotiate unless it served their interest. Because of this belief, the United States had to deal with the soviets firmly and resist their attempts to spread communist influence globally. He introduces the term “containment” (Foreign affairs Kennan wrote)
The long telegram and foreign affairs article essentially produced the cold war paradigm that guides U.S soviet relations until 1991 and the collapse of the soviet union not surprisingly the loss of mainland China to communism in 1949 and the Korean war the followed cause the united states to view the soviet union and the people the Republic of China as a massive communist union bent on world domination. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations adopted their own version of the containment.
The Kennedy administration initiated no massive military involvement in Vietnam and had instead provided economic aid and a limited number of advisors. The main objective was to maintain a free and independent government of South Vietnam. This supported containment by preventing the south Vietnamese government from falling to communism as had the government of the people’s republic of china.
Extrapolated from this proposition was that if Vietnam fell it would create a domino effect in Asia. Moreover, other countries like Malaya and the Philippines could be next. Nevertheless, in 1963 when Lyndon Johnson became president he focused mainly on his great society programs and left the handling of Vietnam almost exclusively to the secretary of defence McNamara.
Conventional wisdom asserts that beginning with the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis in August 1964 President Johnson stated the process toward U.S escalation in Vietnam.
On August 2, 1964, two North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked the destroyer, U.S Maddox. As a result, President Johnson ordered punitive airstrikes on North Vietnamese ports, naval facilities and petroleum. Following this congress passed the Southeast Asia Resolution which authorized the president to take vigorous measures to protect American forces and came to be regarded by the administration as the functional equivalent of a declaration of war again, congress unaware of the clandestine attacks that had been going on against North Vietnam before the Maddox episode.
Despite the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, the Johnson administration remained hesitant to increase the use of force in Vietnam, facing the elections of November 1964; Johnson sought the moderate approach to distinguish him from his republican Opponent Barry Goldwater, a strong advocate of bombing North Vietnam.
In February 1965 however, the attacks on US advisors at Pleiku and a helicopter base at Camp Holloway were the significant catalysts for escalation. These attacks directly led to the Rolling Thunder Bombing Campaign against North Vietnam.
By June 1965 there were 75,000 U.S troops in Vietnam on July 8, the president ordered an increase in troop strength to 125,000
Johnson’s perception of history had a definite impact on his decision to escalate in 1965. He felt that the fall of Vietnam would damage his administration and the institution of democracy. As a result, he compared the fall of Vietnam to the loss of china.
The decision to escalate was a very delicate and complex situation because it involved several very important competing inters. There were at least 4 parties besides Peking and Moscow. Which the united states had to influence in any decision to direct pressure. These parties were the communist who must feel strong pressure, the South Vietnamese, our allies who must trust us, and the US public which must support our risk-taking with US lives and prestige. The problem here was that any influence on one of these parties could have negative implications on the other. For example, unlimited strategic bombing could modify the North’s behaviour while simultaneously alienating US public opinion.
It appears that past future linkages predominated the reasons for escalation. These linkages were founded in the strategy of containment President Johnson came to office with negligible foreign affairs experience and he inherited an extremely complex international situation in Vietnam. Unwilling to be the first American president to lose a war, when his experts in the government and the military argued for escalation, Johnson escalated. George ball, Undersecretary of State, was a significant dissenter to the decision to escalate.
In February 1956 the president ordered the bombing campaign called rolling thunder to counter Vietcong attacks on the US barracks at Qui Khom. When on March two marine battalions landed a Da Nang, there was no turning back. United States policy and strategy were set for Vietnam,
The decision to escalate US military involvement in Vietnam resulted in form painstaking deliberation within the Johnson administration. President Johnson, who came from rural Texas, was a proponent of working-class people. Despite his political toughness, he had a vision for the United States that included improving the standing of all people. He called this vision the Great society. Johnson took pride in leading this program that would eventually change the nation’s character by ensuring the civil rights of minorities especially blacks.
As the successor to John Kennedy, he would help Americans realize their full potential through the great society programs. Johnson realized that the war in Vietnam would have broad implications on his ability to execute the great society
This balance between national security interest represented by Vietnam and the domestic goals of Johnson Great society was to be in competition for all of his administration.
Vietnam was and the great society was two counterbalancing national interest and resulted in the guns and butter approach to national decision making. As is an example the Johnson distraction wanted both a strong military and engaged in Vietnam and strong domestic program. In retrospect, the results of the counterbalancing interest were not all bad. Both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting rights act of 1965 are legislation passed despite the Vietnam War.
In March 1968 six days after meeting with his wise men president Lyndon Baines Johnson made a television address the announced to the American people that he would unilaterally halt the bombing of North Vietnam. He further said that the remaining limited bombing will stop and the departure from his position. Leaving a strategy that more than 50,000 American lives the eventual price.
Clearly, many factors affected the United States’ involvement in Vietnam during this period. Containment of communism and the domino theory as cornerstones of the United States paradigm in Vietnam. Moreover, the principals approached the problem definition stage with twenty years of intellectual baggage shaped by visions of soviet inspired and aggressive communism.
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