The U.S. Contained Communism In Vietnam
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In 1949, Mao Zedong led the Peoples Revolution, which established a Communist State in China. Communism has now been introduced to Asia. In this period, after World War II, Communism was a popular ideology being introduced throughout the world. Vietnam was one of the many countries under the threat of Communism. At this time, Vietnam was a French Colony. As time went on tension started to come between the French and the Vietnamese people. As tension increased so did the fighting between the French and The Vietnamese. Finally in 1954, The French decided that they could no longer withstand the revolts of the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese were now free of French rule. However, many problems still remained in Vietnam. After the war there was a conference to discuss the troubles in Vietnam and all of the other troubles in Asia. That conference was called the Geneva Conference. Vietnam sent two delegations to the conference. One of the delegations represented Viet Minh (which was Communist in their leanings) and the other represented Bao Dia's government, which was backed by the United States. Both claimed to represent all of Vietnam. At the conference there was a discussion about dividing Vietnam at the 17th parallel to solve the troubles between the two delegations. Now there were two Vietnams. One, in the north, was under Communist rule and the other, in the south, was not. While the Geneva Conference was being held, the United States was already concerned about Communism being spread. The United States then decided that the only way to solve the problems would be to contain Communism including in Vietnam.
The true answer to why the United States got involved in Vietnam lies in part in the Truman Doctrine. This statement is true for two reasons. First, the Truman Doctrine set forth a policy that was applied the international spread of Communism. Second, the Truman Doctrine was brought up when the conflict in Vietnam was increasing. The first United States involvement in Vietnam began in the late 1940's, long before it escalated to include the United States Military. Because of the basic terms or the Truman Doctrine, the United States was drawn in the Vietnam conflict. The Truman Doctrine dealt with fears of Communism, the domino theory, and a feeling there was a need for containment. All of Vietnam was in danger of falling into the hands of Communism.
The threat of Communism that was unfolding could end was with the United States worst fears coming true, or a successful effort of containment and the spreading of democracy. Thus, the Truman Doctrine and Vietnam were very much intertwined.
The Truman Doctrine was brought forth before Congress on March 12, 1947.
Although not directly stated, the message was strongly implied. President Truman talked about a society "based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority...terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms." This society was a nightmare in the eyes of the United States; this type of governing was called Communism.
In addition to speaking of the terror of Communism, the Truman Doctrine called for an anti-Communist foreign policy. President Truman stated, "One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion." The Truman Doctrine, in essence, said three things. Communism was thought of as a threat to freedom. A threat to freedom anywhere represented a threat to freedom everywhere. The United States had an obligation to halt the spread of communism.
Dwight Eisenhower, the President of the United States after Truman, wanted to support the South Vietnamese. At a news conference, Eisenhower stated, "You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is a certainty that it will go over very quickly." Eisenhower believed that if the United States didn't step to the aid of the South Vietnamese, they would fall to the Communist aggressions, as would the rest of Southeast Asia. President Eisenhower and his staff then started to set up a plan for the support of Vietnam. Eisenhower's secretary of State, John Dulles, was determined that the American's could build up South Vietnam as a Barrier to Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh was the leader of the communist party in North Vietnam) and his Communist followers.
The Vietnam conflict changed when John F. Kennedy took the Presidential oath of office in 1961. Kennedy had long been interested in Vietnam. As a senator, he had visited the country in 1951. Like Truman and Eisenhower, Kennedy felt the United States needed to contain the spread of Communism. Kennedy wanted to take more military action against Communist rebels. When Kennedy took office there were only 900 American military advisors in Vietnam. Diem's Army of the Republic of Vietnam (known as ARVN) numbered 200,000 men, opposing a Viet Cong guerrilla force of only 17,000 men. The ARVN seemed unable to stamp out the Viet Cong (Communist rebels). Kennedy wanted to know why this was happening. In October of 1961 he sent General Maxwell Taylor and Walt Rostow to Vietnam to examine the situation. When both Taylor and Rostow returned, they presented a simple plan. That plan was that more American involvement was needed in Vietnam. They both wanted Kennedy to send additional advisors to South Vietnam to show the army and the government how to improve. Along with the advisors, they also called for 10,000 American combat troops to fight the war directly. Kennedy didn't want to send in combat troops, but he did agree that there was a need for troops. He decided to increase the Green Beret forces and to send in more military equipment. The new U.S. advisors took a more active role in the fighting. Some of them went into combat with the ARVN forces.
On December 22, 1961, one of the advisors, James T. Davis, was riding in a truck with some ten South Vietnamese soldiers. The truck ran over a Viet Cong land mine buried in the road. Davis, who was unhurt by the explosion, jumped out of the truck with his gun ready. The Viet Cong were hiding in some nearby brush alongside of the road. The Viet Cong jumped out of the bushes and gunned down Davis and the South Vietnamese soldiers he was training.
The Americans found that the ARVN troops were eager to learn but did not perform well in combat. They were both poorly paid and poorly led. The only reason why their officers were appointed was because they had "connections" and a loyalty to Diem. The American advisors were not able to give the South Vietnamese a fighting spirit that was equivalent to the Viet Cong. The Americans continued to try to help the South Vietnamese army, but it did no good. Soon there was more trouble in South Vietnam than there was before. The American advisors tried to persuade Diem to reform his government, but Diem wasn't one who would be coerced. Corruption spread throughout all the levels of the government. The South Vietnamese people were beginning to protest against their government. Diem could no longer move on without the population's support. Diem soon started to fear for his life. Diem asked to be hidden so that he would be safe, but that did no good. Diem and his brother, Nhu, were both assassinated in the fall of 1963. When the news of the assassination reached Kennedy there was talk about Kennedy withdrawing the United States advisors from Vietnam. Three weeks later Kennedy too, was assassinated. These events changed the scope of the United States involvement in the Vietnam conflict.
The United States' plan to contain Communism in Vietnam eventually failed. The United States' forces fought many harsh battles but were never able to solve the problem that was going on in Vietnam. On April 30th 1975, The South Vietnamese officially surrendered to the North Vietnamese. Remaining United States personnel and some of our South Vietnamese Allies were forced to evacuate in an emergency airlift. However, many who worked with the U.S. were unable to escape an ultimately were either killed or "reeducated." In conclusion efforts to contain Communism in Vietnam failed. Some of the reasons include: Lack of domestic support in the United States; Failure to allow the Military leaders to effectively execute the war effort in South East Asia; Inability to convert the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. The lessons learned from the Vietnam experience have dominated the United States Military and political debate for the last 25 years.
1. Marrin, Albert. America and Vietnam. New York: Penguin Group
2. Charlton, Michael. Many Reasons Why The American Involvement In Vietnam. New York: Hill And Wang
3. Ian Beckett, eds. The March Of Communism. New York: Bison Books
4. Hoobler, Thomas. Vietnam Why We Fought. New York: Alfred A. Knopf