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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

conflict in indochina

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The situation in Vietnam in the period up to January 168 was one, which could not have been even attempted by South Vietnam alone. The growing fear of the spread of communism around the world coupled with Eisenhower’s ‘Domino Theory’ meant that the US was deeply alarmed by the state of Vietnam especially after the partition was made at the 17th parallel in 154. The strategy of containment was pursued by the US upon the involvement with South Vietnam. Their decision to aid South Vietnam was not essentially for the benefit of South Vietnam itself but more for the safety of the world as a democracy. The US support for South Vietnam included money, weapons and eventually men was absolutely necessary for the continuation of South Vietnam to retaliate against the communists of the North. In all aspects of the war up until the Tet Offensive of January 168, the US support was essential for a battle to be pursued against the North. Although the main reason for their support was essentially the scare of spreading communism throughout South East Asia, it was also necessary as the South Vietnamese government was not focused or capable enough to perform in battle to the standards necessary.


The main U.S. policy-making strategies in regard to north and South Vietnam had one central focus, the ridding of communism, as written in the US National Security Council Policy document of July 160, “the underlying purpose of Us assistance in the area is to help the non-communist countries to develop more effective political organisation, strengthen their internal administration, and enlist greater allegiance in urban and rural districts”. President Truman was the first of the American Presidents who realised the fear of Communism could become wide spread, which was hastened by the fall of China. However, it was initially under the authority of president Eisenhower that it was realised North Vietnam’s communism under Ho Chi Minh must be opposed specifically. It was therefore decided that American support must be directed toward South Vietnam, “by programs of military and economic aid” (US National Security Council Policy document of July 160) to be offered in states in danger of succumbing to communist takeover. The United States main theory to the outcomes of spreading communism was the ‘Domino Theory’ Cautioned by the Soviet ascendancy over Eastern Europe after WWII, it was President Eisenhower who believed and preached the Domino Theory, to which if one country fell to communism it would inevitably spread to its neighbours. The ‘Domino Theory’ was the bases of the United States backing of Diem in South Vietnam. The ‘containment strategy’, primarily used in Europe would now be stretched to Vietnam by President Kennedy in 161, as an attempt to suppress the ‘Domino Theory” and communism. When the NLF was formed to over throw Diem’s regime and liquidate all foreign interference, it was the growing resistance against Diem and his regime that forced the U.S. to reevaluate the ability of Diem in his position. It could be seen that his intentions were not corresponding to those of the Americans and although it was through the Americans that he came to power, it would be through them again that his position would decline. Without U.S. intervention and support for South Vietnam, Diem’s regime could quite easily changed from a democratic to a totalitarian government. It was also the strength of the US as a world power that allowed for the ability to manage the South government as they saw fit for victory


The significance of the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu and the agreements of the Geneva conference coupled with the growing strength of the Viet Minh, the US believed it had no choice but to support Diem and South Vietnam in order for communism to be defeated. “The position of the United States of America in regards to their support for Vietnam has varied from the time of the first Indochinese war to that of the second” (Vietnam, A History, Stanley Karnow). The fear of the spread of communism into Asia from China and the growing influence of the Soviet Union forced US foreign policy to withdraw support from the Vietminh which had been dwindling anyway and actively back the French through military and other aid in the war against the Vietminh. However, as the French clearly began to loose there control over the South Vietnam it can be seen that the US shift in support from the French to aiding the South occurs at the time that the French inquire a cease fire agreement to which the US did not encourage. The Geneva agreements on May 8, 154, which gained Indochina its independence from France also segregated Vietnam into North and South to which one half, as the Americans saw it, would be ‘lost’ to communism, as written in ‘Vietnam’ (Ngo Vinh Long). At this stage the strength of the Viet Minh was alarming and after defeating the French, they were seen as a great threat to the future of anti-Communism. The Americans however, having decided against military intervention at this point had no choice but to accept the terms of the agreement although they did not sign the treaty. The failure to hold the 156 elections, which would determine the future of a unified Vietnam, due to Diem’s opposition towards them meant that the countries would not be unified by means of election but more than likely conflict. America’s support for Diem’s opposition to the election was due to a unanimous conclusion that Diem’s diminished popularity among his people would surely allow for Ho Chi Minh to obtain control over the unified Vietnam. At these early stages, Diem’s capability to over run the North and subsequently Communism looked grim if the US did not provide military aid and assistance.


Although it was not immediately instated, US aid became necessary for the continuation of the battle against Communism, Ambassador Durbrow stated in September 160, “if Diem’s position continues to deteriorate… it may become necessary for US government to begin consideration of alternative courses of action… to effectively fight communism”. It was in October 154 under President Eisenhower that the U.S. commenced direct military assistance to South Vietnam. The U.S. army training cycle and field manuals became the standards for the South Vietnam regime. They were also supplying masses of economic aid, by 156; South Vietnam was receiving $70 million per year. The U.S. however was too preoccupied by the threat of communism to worry about how their aid was being spent and although it seemed to the U.S. that power was being achieved by their aid, Diem was using it to rule as he saw fit. Although at this point the support that South Vietnam was receiving from America was ‘Advisory’, the deteriorating situation of South Vietnam eventually forced the United Stated to become militarily involved. The formation of the Viet Cong placed extra pressure on South Vietnam. The growing hatred towards Diem and his regime escalated the members of the Viet Cong and therefore created a threat, which tried to undermine the authority of the Saigon regime. There was therefore divisions in South Vietnam among the people as Diem’s regime was directed a winning the support of the rich landowners and therefore loosing the support of the many peasants of South Vietnam. The South even created the ‘Strategic Hamlets’ to attempt to overrun the Viet Cong, this unfortunately and unsuccessfully alienated entire villages of peasants who were often already unhappy with Diem’s regime. Kennedy was determined to stop the spread of North Vietnamese communism into the south and into Laos and Cambodia. The first step was to send 1,000 US military advisers to the Republic. The Americans denied that they would be taking an active role in the increasing conflict (due to the terms of the Geneva Agreement). Their role was strictly advising the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Although the South was struggling due to loss of support the North under Ho Chi Minh was developing and consolidating communist power in the North before he attempted to unify Vietnam. The use of Guerilla tactics by the North were so unfamiliar to the US that their “cumbersome convention units could not operate effectively” (The Second Indochina War, W.S. Turley”. The strength which Ho was gaining from the Viet Cong in the South became greater than he had anticipated and therefore created the National Liberation Front (NLF) in 15 to bring together the to groups which opposed Diem. The use of the Ho Chi Minh trail by the North was a great advantage for them to transport goods especially weapons from the north to the South. The formation of the NLF then represented a clear declaration of a war of Natinal independence on the Diem government and its United States supporters. For the United States this implemented that simply advising would not be enough to ensure the safety of South Vietnam against the Communists of the North however, It became harder for the U.S. to support South Vietnam when its people were loosing faith in their leader, Diem. Already providing 75% of the total budget for South Vietnam, the U.S. attempted to win over the people by providing consumer goods through ‘pacification programs’, unfortunately this merely led to a reliance on U.S. aid. Although the US poured aid into South Vietnam, it was the arrogance of Diem and his regime that led to corruption and misuse of US support. This therefore increased the need for US support in the South in areas such as military training if any success wanted to be achieved.


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It also came down to sheer egotistical behaviour with the US, in particular the president, as President Johnson said, “I am not going to be the first president of the United States to lose a war”. Around the period of 164, the government of South Vietnam was facing many problems. The ARVN had lost many men and the areas, which it previously controlled due to the growing strength of the Viet Cong. In January 161, John Kennedy came to power in America and wanted to prove his credentials as a ‘Cold War warrior’ (conflict in Indochina, Ian Sutherland), although he was qouted commenting on the outcomes of Dien Bien Phu saying “No amount of American military assistance in indochina can conquer an enemy… which has the sympathy and covert support of the people”, after being accused of being ‘soft on communism’ by Richard Nixon. He set an escalating number of advisory troops’ over to South Vietnam were it became almost impossible for them not to take part in fighting. Not only was the increasing number of troops kept secret due to the decisions made in Geneva, involvement of US troops fighting was also kept secret. Therefore the pattern for the future of US involvement was set early in Kennedy’s years, however, secrecy and escalation were kept to protect US credibility. As can be seen by the measures taken by Kennedy (contrary to the Geneva accounts), Diem’s position was obviously in trouble by 161. To make matters worse for South Vietnam, Diem’s discrimination towards Buddhists would cause uproar around the world. Seven monks from June 11 16, set fire to themselves in protest against Diems regime. The photographs were sent around the world and public outcry especially towards America’s position in the war, “the burning’s were in fact the spearhead of a mass protest against the tyranny of the Diem regime” (The Second Indochina War, W.S. Turley). Kennedy himself was outraged and tried to find a way for the US to withdraw from the war. However, it was not possible for the US to deteriorate their position at this stage in the war as their assistance to the South was only just keeping communism distant. This eventually led to the assassination of Diem by a South Vietnamese coup in conjunction with the CIA. With action taking against Diem it was Kennedy’s worry that it might precipitate an attack by the Northern forces on the South while it was in disarray, this occurred and many of the fortified Hamlets were overrun. It wasn’t until the Gulf of Tokin incident, however that America could public attack and wage war without actually declaring war. It was this ‘alleged’ incident that allowed for the US under Lyndon Johnson to intervene unofficially on the bases of defense. Johnson was also facing an upcoming election to which he promised policies of not sending American’s over to Vietnam to fight, however the situation in South Vietnam was worsening as the government was still in disarray. The Viet cong was growing and the ARVN was loosing men. Operation Flaming Dart and Operation Rolling Thunder were Johnson answer to breaking the North’s ability to fight. which was sustained bombing of North Vietnam. The US attempted to overrun the North using Western and traditional war tactics such as bomb raids, and although the South could not have achieved such expenditures alone it was not usually equivalent to the ability of the Guerilla’s who were fighting in such an unconventional way. It was the Tet Offensive of 168 that became a turning point in the war, US tactics imitated that of the Guerillas and during a cease-fire, three communist groups made an attack. Quoted from Colonel Harry Summers of the US Army “Public opinion at home turned when the average citizen perceived that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing”, and it was from this battle that the US, in particular the public realised that they were not going to win the war and the peace negotiations were imperative.


Although the US and South Vietnam did not win the war, it was only caused by US involvement that they were able to hold position for such a period of time. It can be seen by the final results of the war in 175, that only a mere amount of days stood between the US removal of support and the fall of the South to communism. It can be clearly seen that it was because of the position that America had as a world power that allowed for South Vietnam to attempt to over run communism and allow for unity within Vietnam in a democratic manner. Although both sides clearly show use of different tactics, strategies and policies, the effects and outcomes of the war were devastating, not only to Vietnam but to America as many men died to fight for a country that was not there own.


Diem’s government in the South was not fit from the beginning to fight and win a war, it was only due to Us intervention that they were able to hold a position in the war. A major factor of a war being fighting power, Diem did not trust the generals of the army and the men of the south Army were so untrained that they would often disobey orders when they came under fire. Americans also held power and were necessary to the South in the air. The bomb attacks such as operation Rolling Thunder, were to be devastating to the North forcing them to call of the advancing Viet Cong. Unfortunately, due to the strengths and strategies of the North Vietnamese, such as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, civilian resolve grew stronger an little damage was done to the rural country side of North Vietnam. The North had many strengths which were gained from using there own knowledge of their country as an advantage. Whereas the americans tried to train the South Vietnamese in conventional war tactics and stratagies, the North Vietnamese were so well trained in unconventional war tactics such as guerilla fighting that the advantages which they had often caused their victory. The Tet Offensive of 168





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