America became increasingly involved in the affairs of Vietnam between 1954 and 1965 due to many significant reasons, the most important being their extreme fear and hatred of communism.One of the most important routes of their involvement was the extensive amount of aid they poured into South Vietnam, which was temporarily segregated along the seventeenth parallel at the Geneva conference in 1954. It was agreed at the conference that it would remain separated until the elections in 1956. The identity of their new leader would be determined at these elections and Vietnam would again be united. However, when Diem refused to take part in the election President Eisenhower supported him fully. Diem believed that because North Vietnam was larger than the South it would prove difficult for him to have any real chance of winning. He justified this by stating that the communists would never allow free elections anyway. If he didn’t win it meant that Ho Chi Minh would, and it was he who intended to unite Vietnam under a communist government.
Eisenhower was determined not to let this happen which is why he supported Diem’s decision. He did this because he viewed communism as a global threat, to the world and to the US’s capitalism and so when it came down to it he supported the south of Vietnam in the bid to increase defence against the Vietminh (controlled by communists). By refusing the elections Diem angered Ho Chi Minh and in response he set up the Vietcong. This was to prove fatal for the Americans.America’s fear of communism originated from WW2 when both Eastern Europe and China fell under its influence. To ensure that surrounding countries did not become victims they intervened in the affairs of Vietnam, using it as an excuse to put forward their own intentions, to stop the spread of communism.In an initial attempt to contain communism America set up the “Truman Doctrine” which promised any country threatened by communist take-over that they would be assisted indirectly in their fight against it.
This included financial, military and economical aid. It was in fact their financial and military support that brought about their direct intervention in the Vietnam War.In the bid to excuse their involvement America came together with the “Domino Theory”. This was the belief that all countries were comparable to a row of dominoes, once one fell to communism the others would helplessly follow suite. America justified their involvement using this theory as they led many people to believe that they were involved only to prevent the first domino from falling. This is said to be the most important reason concerning their involvement.
Because China, the biggest, most threatening domino of them all had already fallen to communism America committed themselves further into the affairs of Vietnam. This was noticeable in the formation of the SEATO treaty (South East Asia Treaty Organisation) set up in 1954. Because South East Asia was a neighbour of China America feared that it would not withstand the communist threat and if it fell to communism then it would not be long before the collapse of the entire European Empire. Keeping to the policy’s of the SEATO treaty America fully engaged themselves to the defence of South East Asia. In the bid to do this they increased the amount of economical, military and financial aid that was constantly being poured into South Vietnam. The more involved they became the more they were determined to win and the harder it became to contemplate a complete withdrawal.Despite the fact that by the peak of the war America seemed to be making the majority of decisions in Vietnam they were initially involved only by supplying aid to the French, who were fighting to regain Indo-China.
Although they were anti – communist themselves they were not fighting a war against communism like the US. As the war went on the US presidents escalated their involvement further especially seeing as though the purpose of the war was increasingly becoming a fight to contain the worldwide spread of communism and not a fight for the possession of Indo-China, as it had originally been. The US constantly battled to prove that their involvement was necessary and that they could not withdraw until they had won.
However, the truth was that America could have retracted all involvement at any time. It was only the stubbornness of the presidents that prevented this, as they did not want to allow Russia to believe they were stronger than America.Throughout the many prolonged years of the Vietnam War the differing views and opinions of the ever-changing presidents became an important aspect concerning Americas refusal to withdraw troops from Vietnam.
President Eisenhower first became involved, as mentioned earlier, by financially supporting the French in their battle for the re-possession of Indo-China. However, he was very much aware that if he wanted to stop communism he needed to increase his support. He escalated his involvement in November 1954 by pouring in economical aid and military advisors to South Vietnam. By the time he left the presidential office in 1961 he had sent over 685 advisors to Vietnam. Although it appeared that he was willing to do anything to contain communism he only did what was in his best interest. An example of this was his refusal to send US aircraft and crews to support the French in 1951.
When President Kennedy came to power he expanded his involvement even further, sending over 10,000 advisors to South Vietnam and presenting over 200 million pounds to the A.R.V.N.
However, he did this secretly as not to lose the publics support whom by now possessed an anti-war attitude. His views were similar to those of Eisenhower and believed that it was strictly a Vietnamese war, and no Americans were to contribute to fighting. Despite this due to American involvement by 1963 50 Americans had lost their lives. Also, unlike Eisenhower, President Kennedy was conscious of Diem’s ability to be a successful leader. He believed that sooner or later Diem would be responsible for them losing the war. He believed this because, by making the public pay tax, he was withstanding their support, which was crucially needed to contain communism. If he didn’t have the public vote it meant that the communists would receive it instead.When Kennedy was assassinated and President Johnson first took control he knew very little about the affairs of Vietnam and so was unsure of what actions to take.
He could either make a peace agreement with the North, increase his involvement and do what was necessary to win, carry on with the current policy and continue sending in advisors or step down and let the dominoes fall. Not wanting to make any decisions too quickly he stuck to the current policy. However, he knew that he could not stick to it forever, and he also knew that he could not escape from Vietnam without the dominoes from falling.
He needed a strategy, an excuse to seize control of the war. Because he had won his presidential elections by a landslide he felt he had enough support from the public to do as he pleased. This is what gave him the confidence to exaggerate the Gulf of Tongking incident. The gulf of tongking incident involved the attacking of two US warplanes by the North Vietnamese. This incident provided Johnson with the excuse he needed to take control of the war. Because Johnson had publicly announced that they were under attack the civilians panicked and threw all of their support behind Johnson.
This incident was a critically important event concerning America’s involvement in the war, as without it he would not have had the stability to increase his involvement to the maximum.In February 1965 Vietcong attacked the US base at Pleiku. This gave Johnson permission to bomb North Vietnam, which he had refused to do without the consent of the public. Because Vietcong had attacked them first the public agreed to the bombing campaigns upon North Vietnam. An example of such a bombing raid is “Operation Rolling Thunder”. As part of this raid specific targets were aimed for including roads, bridges, supply deports etc, all that were considered without the use of would be great hindrances to the Vietcong.
This, Johnson knew, was a serious escalation of the war and their involvement, one that led on to a series of dire retaliations from the opposed side.