Why did the USA become involved in Vietnam in the 1950’s and 1960’s?

In this piece of coursework, I will be stating: Why the USA became involved in Vietnam in the 50’s and 60’s. I think that the US became involved in Vietnam for a number of reasons. Firstly, because of their fear of communism and the “Domino Theory”. It was a superstition. Secondly, because of the growing threat of ruling a country in this way. This is because in communism, people are all seen as equals: there is no unemployment, everybody is given somewhere to live, and things such as healthcare, pensions and education are excellent. The USA might object to this, as in a communist state, there is no unemployment, they would think people are unhappy and are forced to work. They would have also criticized that the Government owns all businesses and houses; they’d think people can’t speak freely. Also, there were no differences in class, so the Americans would think that the ‘Government’ were above its citizens.

The US knew that N.Vietnam was allied with other communist countries such as China, and they knew that the communist north wanted to turn the whole country to communism. America could not let this happen as they were opposed to communism in all forms, and feared it could be growing. This is the main reason why Vietnam received American intervention, because of their fear of the “Domino Theory”. The Domino Theory (first revealed by President Eisenhower) was the idea that if a nation became communist, then other surrounding countries would follow thus starting off a chain reaction. The “Domino Theory” can be used to justify America’s intervention in Vietnam, as it could imply that all of Indochina would fall to this (Indochina- the name given to the French colonies: Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam). The USA feared this as they believed in ruling a country, by using capitalist democracy. Other ways of ruling were (in their eyes) wrong. The Americas were so hostile towards communism, that they thought it would spread and take over the world; even the United States of America.

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One of the many reasons why the US got involved in Vietnam during the 50’s and 60’s in the first place was because of the Cold War. In fact, the Cold War wasn’t necessarily an actual war with battles and military conflict. It was two primary sides in competition, trying to outdo each other militarily, economically, financially etc. The two main sides in competition were the USA and the USSR/Soviet Union (communist Russia). The US was allied with Western Europe and the USSR were allies with Eastern Europe and other communist countries; such as China, Cuba, North Korea etc. it was also a war of ideology. Both sides were trying to make up the better weapons, aircraft, trying to be the first do something etc. The Cold War was basically a rivalry of 2 nations and included events such as The Truman Doctrine (March 1947)-  a statement made by President Truman, was a policy of the United States to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures”. The Berlin Blockade (June 24th 1948) was also another event, and the Korean War. The experience of the Korean War in particular profoundly affected the US:- In 1948, a new Korean government was elected, but the communists of the nation rejected it; and on June 25th 1950, the North Korean communists staged a full scale invasion on South Korea. Soon American and china backed-up their own 2 sides. So after china were successful in becoming a communist nation in 1949, the US fought in Korea from 1950-53, so that the spreading of communism was stopped. The Korean War didn’t exactly end with an overall victor, but it instead cost the lives of 4 million people. So china and N.Korea didn’t necessarily succeed in continuing communism.

Another way to show that the Korean War profoundly affected the US, was the forming of the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) later in 1954. It was made up to stop the spreading of communism in South-east Asia. The countries that were its members- the USA, the UK, Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand- made an oath to protect South-east Asia from communism. But only five of them actually sent troops to Vietnam. This shows that the USA had been profoundly affected by the Korean war, the fact is that they became ‘obsessed’ by stopping communism and banded together other countries to set up an organisation, so an event such as the Korean War could never happen again (contradicting the fact the Vietnam War happened).

The events of the Cold War-and the Truman Doctrine in particular- all leads back to America’s involvement in Korea and Vietnam, and ultimately their fear of communism and the Domino Theory. This proves that the America’s were terrified of communism and got involved in Vietnam. They were allies with the south (just as they were allied with South Korea, during the Korean War) for the same reason. The Domino Effect. They didn’t want another communist country and were worried that the whole of Asia would become communist. These events raised the awareness of the American’s of the growth of communism, so they got involved in Vietnam in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

A way that the USA got involved in Vietnam was by constantly aiding the south and by using different policies. When the US president, Eisenhower was in power from 1954-60, he supported the south part of Vietnam and aided Ngo Dinh Diem; who was the capitalist leader of S.Vietnam allied with America.

Eisenhower used different American tactics such as sabotage, propaganda campaigns and direct aid to S.Vietnam trough American advisors, which were all interpreted by its leader Diem. For example, the South Vietnamese government gave back farming land abandoned by owners during the Indochina War (1941-54). Or, Diem’s forces executed as many as 12,000 communist supporters in South Vietnam.

Eisenhower supported Diem so he could eradicate the expansion of communism spreading to Asia, and having a “Domino Effect” on many other nations. But, Eisenhower’s American policies and aid failed. We know how this aid did not work because the communists remained popular in the Mekong Delta (around the mouth of the Mekong River) and Diem failed to become popular. We know why this aid did not work because the Mekong Delta is in South Vietnam itself.

When Eisenhower’s successor came to power from 1961-63, he increased the amount of aid to Diem. Kennedy did this because Eisenhower’s policy in Vietnam was unsuccessful. Eisenhower had failed to stop some problems that were going on in South Vietnam itself, the country he was protecting! E.g. Between 1954 and 1960, Ngo Dinh Diem’s cheating in the elections show that he was corrupt. This shows the failure of the American policy to get Diem’s government to make political reforms. Or, the fact that the communists remained popular in the Mekong Delta. Even worse; the Mekong Delta is approx’ 50km from South Vietnam’s capital: Saigon. This had the chance to spread to other places in the South, and justifies the failure of American policy under Eisenhower. So Kennedy had to keep sending aid to Vietnam because previous American policies had failed to grant the Vietnamese successful, independent rule.

Kennedy also increased aid to South Vietnam because international events seemed to show that the communist threat was growing e.g. Laos lapsed into a civil war-raising American fear of a new communist state and the Domino Effect. More aid was given as well because the communist Hanoi government was getting more and more involved in the South e.g. By 1962, the NLF(National Liberation Front- South Vietnamese guerrilla communists set up in 1960, aimed to overthrow Diem, get rid of the Americans and reunite north and south Vietnam) had 17,000 members. Also, Diem’s policies didn’t seem to be encouraging people to accept that his regime was permanent e.g. the persecution of Buddhists (Ngo Dinh Diem supported Catholics) ended up in controversial protests (such as monks burning themselves) and turned them against him. Kennedy was also pressured by his advisors; they convinced him to send aid by telling him that Diem’s regime was close to falling to communists.

To increase aid, President Kennedy increased he number of military advisors from 100 to 1600 by 1963. he also helped to equip the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam- South Vietnamese Army). Also, in 1961, he spent nearly $270 million on military support for Diem. Another tactic of support was The ‘Strategic Hamlet’ programme in 1961. it’s purpose was to “save” the peasants from the VC (Vietcong- otherwise know as the NLF). Diem did this by organising a system (‘Strategic Hamlet’ programme) whereby whole villages were moved into defended camps- know as fortified villages. We know how this aid did not work because the peasants did not want to be removed from their land. We know why this aid did not work because none of the policies applied to Vietnam’s citizens (who were mainly peasant). Also, the policy played onto the hands Vietcong, who promised the peasants more land once they accepted communism, and when it had taken root in the south. These foreign policies and aid by Kennedy all equipped S.Vietnam to be prepared against communism and the Domino Theory, or they were at least intended to.

In 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson became president. He had a much tougher policy and wanted a more aggressive war against the communists. Johnson was extremely involved in Vietnam.

The NLF were getting stronger, Johnson knew this because they had executed successful Guerrilla attacks on the US. In February 1965, Vietcong forces attacked the US base at Pleiku. Then aircraft were destroyed, eight US advisors were killed and over a hundred others were wounded. But this wasn’t enough to fight back. So to persuade congress, Johnson came up with the ‘Gulf of Tonking’ incident (July 1964). But this was only an excuse. Johnson and his advisors exaggerated a minor incident off the coast of N.Vietnam. this persuaded congress to pass the Gulf of Tonking Resolution. This gave him the authority to take all “necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression”. Johnson was basically given the power to give armed support to assist any country requesting ‘help’ in defence of its ‘freedom’. President Johnson now had the power to fight communism.

So on February 11th 1965, Operation Rolling Thunder began. It was a joint- attack by ARVN and US warplanes, where they bombed key military and industrial targets in North Vietnam, such as bridges, railway lines, roads, army barracks and supply depots (restrictions were put on Hanoi and Haiphong, North Vietnams largest cities, out of fear that they’d jeopardise US relations with the USSR. This is because the USSR was the largest communists nation in the world, it was also a ‘super-power’ country just like America). And soon after in March 1965, the first American ground troops landed in Vietnam. By December, 150,000 had been sent by Johnson.

Another reason that pushed Johnson into taking action in Vietnam was the fact that the ARVN were failing to win the war. Johnson knew this because in only two battles in 1964, 2 battalions of elite, South Vietnamese units were destroyed in just a couple of VC ambushes. Over 700 were killed, captures or wounded. If the best the ARVN were offering were obliterated, then what chance would regular troops stand against the Vietcong? This led to John to commit to sending combat troops, in order to reinforce the ARVN. Also, to et rid of the growing communist threat.

So on the whole, the factors pushing Johnson to bomb N.Vietnam and send in US combat troops was that Johnson didn’t think the South Vietnamese government was able to keep the North Vietnamese out of the South. This idea led to the         USA’s superstition that Vietnam would fall to communism, and ultimately lead to the ‘Domino Effect’. This led to the American’s to involve themselves into Vietnam even more, by starting a totally new war; because of the growing strength of the NLF’s forces, and the unpopularity of the failing South Vietnamese government.

In conclusion, I think that the main reasons for the US to get involved in Vietnam in the 1950’s and 1960’s, was because of their fear of communism, because the communist countries were huge( especially the super-power USSR). They felt that the Domino Effect was already happening e.g. by 1940: Poland, the Baltic Sates and Eastern Europe were communist, by 1949, China was communist, by 1948, N.Korea was communist and by 1954, North Vietnam had become communist. Also, another fact pushing the American’s to get involved in Vietnam was that by 1959, Cuba was communist. It was right the USA’s doorstep and was a military threat. International events through time (Korean War, Cold War etc) had them convinced that ‘unfair policies’ of communism were spreading rapidly. So they intervened in Vietnam.


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