War is always a controversial topic whenever it is discussed in a political setting, or even a private conversation between friends. No War has ever been a more controversial than the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was the longest War the nation has ever engaged in. The United States entered the war in 1961 and pulled out in 1975. Although the death toll did not reach as high as the civil war, or either World War One, or World War two. The Nation still lost over fifty thousand soldiers in the deadly conflict. After World War two the French returned to controlling Indochina, but democracy in all areas of Indochina were not welcomed.
Ho Chi Minh tried to downplay the tension to Washington, and show his respect for democracy, but a resistance was formed against the French. The French army and their American advisors seriously underestimated the Vietnamese Independence League and thought a victory would be easy. In 1953, President Eisenhower sent military aid to the French along with military advisors to Vietnam to prevent a Communist victory. However, a year later in 1954, around 10,000 French soldiers surrenders after a crucial battle at Dein Bein Phu at which around 8000 Viet Minh and 1500 French soldiers died.
After this crucial loss the French decided to pull out completely after eight long and bitter years of fighting. The Americans at this point, had already invested billions of dollars in aid to the French and decide to enter and to step up their presence in Vietnam heavily. The U. S. main objective upon entering the war was to stop the spread of communism and to put a halt to the “domino” theory. In 1961, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev called the Vietnam War a ‘wars of national liberation’ and greatly supported communist in North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh. Heavy volumes of U. S. roops began to arrive in South Vietnam in 1961, as well as economic aid. The Americans showed their support to the President Ngo Dinh Nheim and joined forces against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. By 1961, The United States were heavily involved with the war both in military and in economic support. John F. Kennedy became president and virtually inherited this new war. Kennedy saw the Vietnam War as another by product of the Cold War. Kennedy became excited about using his military, and his “flexible response “military strategy. The Army began a new training program in counter insurgency called Special Forces.
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Like a kid with a new toy, Kennedy was eager to use his new elite, unconventional small armed tactical soldiers named the Green Berets in the jungles of Vietnam. “Despite American aid, the corrupt and repressive Diem regime installed by Eisenhower in 1954 was losing ground”. (Henretta, 830) The North Vietnamese had formed a revolutionary movement called the “National Liberation Front”. (Henretta, 830) The National Liberation Front (NLF) had their own specialized guerilla warfare soldiers known as the Vietcong, and they were fighting in their backyard. Once again, the Americans had not fully realized what they were up against.
We had not learned the lesson from the French, and even with more troops on the ground and Special Forces Green Berets in the fight, the North Vietnamese were collecting one small victory after another. This was an unconventional type of warfare that America was not prepared for in more ways than one. When talking about guerilla warfare this is one rule that must be followed to have a successful guerilla campaign. When a smaller force is going up against a larger force, and are outnumbered and out gunned they must follow this rule to have any sort of real success.
Guerilla warfare is primarily composed of shoot and move, hide and seek tactics. These tactics will work very well if you have support from the surrounding civilian populous. “The NLF’s guerilla forces-the Vietcong –found a receptive audience among peasants alienated by Diem’s strategic hamlet program, which uprooted whole villages and moved them to barbed -wire compounds . “(Henretta, 830) To further separate the natives from the American interest and Diem, militant Buddhist monks began protest in dramatic fashion. These protest included self- immolation and were captured on film by American television crews.
Eventually Diem was overthrown and assassinated; this was not something that was anticipated by Kennedy. By this time, the United States had around 16,000 ‘advisors’ from helicopter crews to Green Berets. President Kennedy was at a point of putting full responsibility on South Vietnam for winning their own war and completely pulling out all U. S. aid. In a CBS interview “Kennedy had remarked that it was up to the South Vietnamese whether there would be won or lost. ”(Henretta, 830) History will never know if Kennedy really would have pulled out of Vietnam like he hinted he had plans of doing so.
On November 22, 1963 President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas Texas. Kennedy’s closest advisors argue that is exactly what he was planning on doing , but we will never know, and to some that argument downplays the stakes of what the Vietnam was really about and what it represented. “The United States was now engaged in a Global War against communism. Giving up in Vietnam would weaken America’s credibility. And under the prevailing domino theory, other pro-American states would topple after Vietnam’s loss. (Henretta, 830) Just as Kennedy inherited the Vietnam War from Eisenhower, Lyndon B Johnson had now inherited it from Kennedy. Although Kennedy may have been planning a full removal of U. S. troops and economic aid. However, it was almost a completly different war than what Kennedy first inherited. Johnson knew by this point that preventing the fall of South Vietnam would take a large scale military force that had not been committed to South Vietnam. This was not an option for Johnson who was a firm believer in global containment. In fact, this was his position upon taking office.
I am not going to lose Vietnam; I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia goes the way China went. ’(Henretta, 835) Johnson was a bit of a sneaky fellow; he kept his foreign affairs out of the limelight, and had a tendency to do the complete opposite of what he said he would do when dealing with the Vietnam War. He did not think the American populous would have the stomach, or the will to do what he ultimately thought was necessary. In 1964, Johnson ran on the pledge that there would be no escalation, and that “no American boys fighting Vietnams fight. (Henretta, 835) Well Johnson being a slick talker, said one thing and did another. In the summer of 1964, Johnson got reports that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had fired on the U. S. destroyer the Maddox. “In the first attack, on August 2, the damage inflicted was limited to a single bullet hole; a second, on August 4, later proved to be misread radar sightings.
The specifics of the ‘attacks’ really did not matter; this is all Johnson needed to sensationalize. A classic strategy used through the military in U. S. military. Whether or not this was a necessary man ever to encourage U. S. involvement in Vietnam a debatable. None the less, Johnson’s request to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” was popularly voted in by Congress. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution gave President Johnson the authority to conduct operations in Vietnam as he saw fit. In 1964 Johnson had successfully put the elections behind him. Now he could really get to work on the American takeover in Vietnam. The escalation took on two forms in 1965 and really got rolling.
The first form of escalation was the deployment of American troops. The Second form was the increased bombing of North Vietnam. In early 1965, U. S. Marines were patrolling the shores of Da Nang, their main objective was to protect an American air base there, but they would soon find themselves in fire fights with the enemy. “By 1966, more than 380,000 U. S. soldiers were stationed in Vietnam; by 1967, 485,000; and by 1968, 536,000. ”(Henretta, 837) The request of more and more troops in Vietnam by General William Westmoreland, commander of the U. S. orces in Vietnam, was a fear that President Kennedy had right before he had died. His comparison of requesting more troops was compared to having another drink of alcohol. “The effect wears off then you have to take another. ”(Henretta, 837) Other than mass amounts of troops being deployed in Vietnam, another type of escalation was in full swing. Operation rolling thunder was a bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The Hoi Chi Minth trail was an elaborate series of trails, bridges and shelters that stretched from North Vietnam, to Cambodia, all the way over to Laos in South Vietnam.
This trail was a specific bombing target in operation rolling thunder. “800 tons a day for three and a half years. ” (Henretta, 837) By 1968, a million tons had fallen on the North Vietnamese! Around twice that was dropped in the south trying to drive out the Vietcong fighters. Americans did not have a true sense of the enemy they were fighting. They thought that this incredible amount of firepower that was dropped on them would break there will. The American strategist also thought that a combination of severe bombing campaigns, mixed with the vast amount of U. S. troops on the ground would ultimately break the will of the Vietnamese and lead to surrender. This would prove to be the exact opposite at the war goes on. The Vietcong prove to be more resilient and adapt to American tactics. The Vietcong began moving their munitions underground and began constructing a network of tunnels. Operation rolling thunder herded the Vietcong’s will to fight as a result. The North Vietnamese proved that they were willing to loose everything to win this war. The Americans did not have the dame convictions in this particular conflict.
This is a classic rule of warfare that the Americans arrogantly ignored because they thought they had significant fire power and numbers. This would take a toll on the average ‘grunt’ on day to day operations. The massive bombing campaigns took a horrific toll on the Vietnamese countryside. After on particular harsh and unusual engagement with the North Vietnamese a commanding officer was quoted as saying “it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it. ’(Henretta, 837) This was the logic at the time for fighting guerilla warfare.
This was not a conscript ‘grunt’s’ opinion, this was the report of a commanding officer. The bombing campaigns were thought to do more than just remove strategic targets. They were also used to reduce resources to the Vietcong, as well as reduce the amount of available jungle for them to hide in. Chemicals were also used to destroy vegetation. One Chemical known as ‘Agent Orange’ was released to kill vegetation. This chemical was later found to be highly toxic to not just plant life, but to humans as well. Many Vietnam veterans have had serious complications as a result of contact with ‘Agent Orange’.
American policy makers and strategist, as well as Johnson’s advisors were left scratching their heads as the North Vietnamese proved them a worthy adversary. We could just not find a way to win the war. Or could we not find an easy way to win the war? Some argued that a reform in Saigon was necessary to turn the tide of the war. Others argued that America had not fully committed to winning this war with a full scale invasion of North Korea, and possibly a war with China. In my humble opinion, that is exactly what we needed to do if we were over there fighting and dying in the first place.
Otherwise just pack the boys up and send them home. Johnson was ultimately hoping that we would win the war of attrition and hope that American firepower would be the ultimate deciding factor. Johnson was very confident in the beginning years of the Vietnam War. Steady consensus polls showed full American support of the Cold War and the escalation of Vietnam in 1965, and in 1966. However, these numbers began to shift, as the war raged on. American had become weary of seeing nightly news broadcast of American soldiers being killed and seriously wounded.
Journalists began to write about a “credibility gap” and were accusing the Johnson Administration of shielding a lot of the truths of the war. The Johnson administration also began to take a lot of heat from the sheer cost of the war by American taxpayers. “The Vietnam war cost the taxpayers $27 billion dollars in 1967, pushing the national deficit from $9. 8 billion to $23 billion. ”(Henretta, 839) This access of military spending pushed inflation upward. This would end up plaguing the U. S. economy well throughout the seventies. Out of this economic frustration antiwar demonstrations were on the up rise.
At the core of the anti-war voice was a long standing pacifist group known as SANE. SANE, was one of the major protestors of nuclear testing done in the atmosphere in the 1950’s. They gained momentum and were joined by many sets of people. Student groups, clergy, and civil rights activist had all joined the anti-war movement. The movement spread like wildfire and they had grown by enough numbers to put on mass anti-war protest bringing out as many as 30,000 protestors at a time. “Although they were a diverse lot, participants in these rallies shared skepticism about U. S. policy in Vietnam.
They charged variously that intervention was antithetical to American ideals; that an independent, anti-communist South Vietnam was unattainable; and that no American objective justified the suffering that was being inflicted on the Vietnamese people. ”(Henretta, 839) The war raged on and so did the protest. President Johnson through a dice and gambled that the Vietnam War would be a relatively quick victory by the second escalation. There was no such victory to be had been won. Ultimately the unrest of the American people forced the U. S. to withdraw its troops from Vietnam.
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