Posted: March 18th, 2023
Causes, Course, and Consequences of the Vietnam War against the USA
As the worldâ€™s superpower, the United States got involved in the Vietnam War but left the country with a mortifying conquest, appallingly high fatalities, the public in America cuttingly divided, and the leaders unsure of the way forward regarding foreign policy. The Vietnam War is in history as Americanâ€™s most protracted and enervating war that the country ever lost and had an overarching impact and consequences on multiple facets of the American life including foreign policy, domestic politics, and the economy.
Causes of the Vietnam War
The U. S. immersion in the Vietnam War was primarily caused by the communist containment policy developed when the Cold War began in combination with aspects of Wilsonianism (Thayer, 2016). Two ideological superpowers divided Europe at the end of WW2. President Truman had anticipated that Eastern Europe that was newly conquered would hold free elections and establish their course of government, but his hopes were shuttered by Stalinâ€™s resistance to open his markets and the Marshall Plan. The U.S. was unwilling to make concessions to the Soviet totalitarian government, and the communist ideology was fundamentally opposed to capitalism.
America served as a crusader and was morally obligated to establish an international environment that allowed for democracy and free markets to flourish by stopping the communist ideology from spreading. Democracy in the modern day is based on classical liberal thought and Christianity, which are against communism and socialism (Thayer, 2016). Truman and other leaders of the West were convinced that democracy was superior in the moral sense to other government forms and considered communism a threat to the idealist dream of harmony in the world.
The First State of Union Address by President Wilson underscored the importance of treaties, stateâ€™s trustworthiness, and international laws as the precursors of global order. The Western leaders such as Eisenhower and Truman also widely believed in the Domino Theory in the sense that if one country fell to communism, then the neighboring nations were at a risk of conversion (Emerson, 2014). If this series continued, it would place the United Statesâ€™ security at risk. However, the United States failed to recognize the intricacies of communism. For instance, the communist government in China was different from the Russian communist state, and the two even became enemies.
The Vietnam War was enabled by the United Statesâ€™ fear of the â€˜domino theory.â€™ The Truman doctrine provided that the U.S would help governments that resist communism. The American presidency regarded North Vietnamâ€™s government led by Ho Chi Minh, the National Liberation Front (NFL) and the Vietminh as proxies of global communism (Emerson, 2014). On the other hand, Americans and the U.S. policymakers were avid anti-communists. Communists desecrated human rights, scorned democracy, pursued military bellicosity, and established state economies that are closed and hardly transacted with nations that embraced capitalism. According to Americans, communism was transmissible and just like dominos communist countries would be lined up to the end. In China, the Communist Party assumed power in 1949, and the U.S feared Vietnam would turn into the next Asian domino. It was the primary cause for the decision made in 1950 by Trumanâ€™s administration to support the French as they fought Vietminh.
Other factors justified the U.S.â€™ involvement such as Truman believed that by supporting the French in Vietnam, other non-communist developed countries would receive a boost whose fates were surprisingly tied to the Vietnamâ€™s preservation and spread all through Southeast Asia due to the domino theory (Thayer, 2016). The involvement of the Washington in Vietnam was also a reassurance to the British who had correlated their recovery after the war to reviving the tin and rubber industry in one of Vietnamâ€™s neighbors, their colony of Malaya. With the help from the United States, French could focus on recovering economically at home and ultimately recall their officers from Indochina to supervise the rearmament of West Germany.
As the Vietnam War progressed, most of these ambitions were sidelined, and Washington could not just stop. Eisenhower acknowledged that if the U.S. withdrew from the war, it would deliver the country to a communist region, a risk that Americans were not willing to take. For instance, if elections scheduled in 1956 in Vietnam were held, 80% of the voters would have voted for Ho Chi Minh (Thayer, 2016). The various ideologies on the same between Democrats and Republicans also made the U.S. leaders not to stop the war to avoid backlash. The Vietnam commitment was passed from administration to administration, and the motives kept changing through the years. The U.S. presidents including Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy had promised to stand by South Vietnamese allies and giving up on them would have been regarded unreliable, and its credibility jeopardized.
Each presidentâ€™s temperament, personality, and experiences had an essential part in extending the commitment of the U.S to the war. For Instance, Eisenhower controlled the involvement of the United States since he was apprehensive about Washington fighting a land war in Southeast Asia. President Kennedy was focused on proving his resolve to his Communist adversaries and the American people, particularly after making several errors regarding foreign policies just after assuming office (Thayer, 2016). As a Southerner, Johnson likened winning the Vietnam War to a successful hunting expedition, and he pushed harder than the two. In early 1965, Johnson was set to engage in a limited war as he began the North Vietnamâ€™s bombing and sent Marines to South Vietnam.
Course of the Vietnam War
President Truman approved a program of military and economic help to the French in May 1950 who participated in the battle to maintain the dominance of their Indochina colony, comprising of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The French forces were conquered in 1954 by the Vietnamese Nationalist Vietminh army that was led by a communist. The outcome compelled the French to assent to the establishment of communist North Vietnam and a non-communist South. The U.S was not in agreement with this arrangement. President Eisenhowerâ€™s administration proceeded to establish a country and formulate a government in South Vietnam. The U.S assumed the French leadership position, trained a South Vietnamese army, and released the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as it prepared for the fight against North Vietnam.
Washington started sending individual advisors to South Vietnam in 1955. The U.S. supported Presided Ngo Dinh Diem both financially and at military level but in the late 1950â€™s, Washington felt restricted (Emerson, 2014). Diem had established a 150000-men personal army that reported to him. The paramilitary functioned as a counter-balance to the South Vietnamese Army who had most of the senior officers interested in politics. The U.S felt shortchanged as Diem played the teams against one another and America could no longer focus entirely on the supposed common enemy. Washington was more focused on removing Diem from the picture if they were to win against North Vietnam as he was considered a divisive leader.
President Kennedy covertly sent four hundred Green Beret soldiers in South Vietnam to facilitate training of the South Vietnamese on combating the Communist guerrillas in a counterinsurgency war in early 1963. Diem was also considered a corrupt leader by Americans. The United States had spent more than $400,000,000 to support Vietnam by 1963 with insignificant return on investment. While the funds were predestined to revolutionize the South Vietnamese Army, significant sums were misappropriated by Diem, his friend, and family. American supported Diem for eight years while the North took advantage of the situation to gain the trust from the peasants in the South. The West was keen on demonizing the Viet Cong, but by 1962, more than three-quarters of the peasants from South Vietnamese preferred him to the corrupt Diem.
In November 1963, Diem was mostly unpopular among the citizens and was overthrown and killed by the South Vietnamese army. Communism continued to spread within the South because of abuse of the peasantsâ€™ rights within the agricultural community and the political confusion. President Johnson became more committed to the Vietnam War. He secured the Tonkin Gulf Resolution from the Congress in August 1964, which was a functional declaration of the War. Johnson authorized the U.S. aircraft sustained bombing in February, and March 1965 in North Vietnam and 3,500 Marines were posted to South Vietnam on 8 March. By the time, the war ended in 1975 after defeat from the communist North Vietnam, the United States had lost more than 58,000 people and spent more than $168 billion on the war.
Consequences of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War had a serious effect on the American economy. America spent $168 billion during the conflict, but the effect on its economy was the actual cost of the war (Emerson, 2014). For instance, President Johnsonâ€™s decision to finance both the Great Society and a major war without any notable increase in taxes accelerated inflation that was at its peak in the mid-1970s (Appy, 2016). Massive expenditure on the War also resulted in a progressively negative balance of trade that led to the U.S. gold reserves and the international monetary crisis in 1967-68. The threat presented convincing evidence that the United States could no longer finance the conflict. The Vietnam War-fueled inflation resulted in increased oil and food prices that President Nixon has to confront by making several fiscal and monetary adjustments.
The war also resulted in policy changes including ending the military draft and introducing the all-volunteer army and moving the voting age to 18. The War Powers Resolution was passed in November 1973 by the Congress that restricted the power of the President to send the Americans military group into combat for 90 days ad above without consent from the Congress (Appy, 2016). The War Powers Act was meant to restrain the president from getting involved in external conflicts longer than expected as seen in the case of Vietnam. President Nixon also saw the ending of the draft as the most effective political strategy of diminishing the anti-Vietnam war movement. He believed that once middle-class youths knew that they fighting in the Vietnam War was not an option, they would stop protecting the conflict.
Apart from the policy changes, the U. S suffered mistrust from its citizens. For instance, President Johnsonâ€™s credibility was lowered once he obtained the Gulf of Tonkin Resolutions to send military groups to Vietnam. President Nixon experienced the same reaction during the Kent State Tragedy and My Lai Massacre. The Watergate scandal and the end of Nixonâ€™s presidency confirmed this sentiment. When the Vietnam War began, more Americans grew cynical, skeptical, and suspicious of the state and public institutions.
The aftermath of the war was losing more than 58,000 men and billions of money while attempting to contain Communism but still the United States failed despondently (Emerson, 2014). The United States felt humiliated, and the defeat undermined the U.S commitment to internationalism and the confidence of the citizens in its moral and military superiority. In 1977, when President Carter assumed office he had to deal with the â€˜Vietnam Syndromeâ€™ whereby the U.S. was more wary of getting involved in other countries conflicts unless it received significant support from the public and was the only way to protect the national interests (Appy, 2016). For instance, in 1979, Carter failed to stop Russiaâ€™s invasion of Afghanistan. In the subsequent wars, the U.S. has mostly sent smaller military actions, obtained by proxy or done covertly. After winning the Persian Gulf War, Bush was pleased to announce that the Vietnam Syndrome was finally kicked out.
However, the United States has since proceeded with excessive caution when waging new wars. For instance, employing its non-intervention policy and amidst the criticism, the U.S did not give aid to Kurds uprisings against Hussein and Iraq. President Clinton also ordered the withdrawal of the American troops from Mogadishu despite the area turning into an extremist haven. America did not get involved in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and before the 9/11 attacks, the U.S interventions overseas stayed largely restricted. Several years after the Vietnam War, it still serves as a reminder to the United States whenever it feels the need to flex its military muscles overseas.
Appy, C. G. (2016). American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity. Penguin Books.
Emerson, G. (2014). Winners & Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from the Vietnam War (reissue). WW Norton & Company.
Thayer, T. (2016). War without fronts: The American experience in Vietnam. Naval Institute Press.
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