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The years after the Second World War was full of unrest for Vietnam. The Vietnam war which simply started off as what seemed to be civilians trying to gain independence became more of a common ground for the superpowers to express their influences in relation to the Cold War. This essay is influenced by a few works that display very similar information and criticism of the events that occurred during the Vietnam war. Through them I will criticize the events, that occurred and show how in the long term, the Vietnam war mainly continued for an extensive period of time due to involvement with the Cold War and that, the struggle for independence was not seen as the main cause but a catalyst to the situation.
Essentially the Vietnam War was between 1945-1975. It started off with Vietnam being a French colony after World War Two, where Vietnam went to war against the French for the struggle of independence, that had lasted for eight years. This shows how the Vietnam War started as a struggle for independence where the war was not concerned with being pro or against communism but rather fighting for national liberation. The effect of the Cold War is disclosed after the Japanese had surrendered on 14th August leaving no effective government in place in Vietnam.
Having the Japanese return had given way to the beginning of guerrilla warfare inspired by Mao. The guerrillas’ tactics involved striking when possible, hitting and running, and with this mentality – outlast the opponent. This is due to the Geneva agreement, which had officially ended French imperialism however dividing Vietnam into two; being the North and South, where at that time it was believed with elections to follow in 1956, they would reunify. The problem with this was that North Vietnam was communist and the South was anti-communist. This provoked the US to intervene and block the elections as the US understood that the leader in North Vietnam of Viet Minh – Ho Chi Minh, would win; ultimately making Vietnam become a communist country. This could be seen as the first intervention from the US in terms of the war. What needs to be criticized is that Vietnam would have been reunified and the issue of gaining independence would have been resolved. However, with US involvement, it shows how it was a means to only stop communism from spreading and that the war was prolonged because of the US. Other reasons historians believe the US got itself involved was because of the military vows and commitment America had previously made with Vietnam. However, it is criticized that America could have easily broken off the promises it had made and pulled some strings to recover from, if any, humiliation. Therefore, America entered the Vietnam war had been due to the concerns of the Cold War, and destroying communism seemed like a more serious goal to the US to ally with South Vietnam.
Having Vietnam become communist would turn out disastrous, as the US believed a continued domino effect would befall Asia having one country become communist leading the next to also become communist. Vietnam, hence, in the following years became a site of ‘civil’ war as it was mainly seen as an American war as historians describe against communism with them ‘commanding Asian puppets’. An example of US involvement not benefitting the needs of the people is the entrance of My Lai village. The military troops had massacred between 400 and 500 Vietnamese civilians. As one historian writes ‘With the use of aerial attacks and indiscriminate artillery fire were harming and alienating the very people that these operations were supposed to protect’; it shows how this incident became a microcosm of the American way of war in Vietnam only to display a show against communism.
During the early years of the war, the US had sent resources to the French, and advisors with huge investments to prop up the south government. Critics believe, the leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, was corrupt, trying to make peace with the North and so he got assassinated by the ARVN or Army of the Public of Vietnam. Diem had angered the civilians many times. For example, when the incident of persecution of Buddhists had occurred. Although the majority of the villagers were ancestral worshippers, there were many Buddhists in urban cities like Saigon.
Diem being a catholic was seen as repression when holding flags on Buddha’s birthday was prohibited. President Kennedy forced Diem to make amends, but running on empty promises, Diem did not deal with the situation which made matters worse. In June 1963, a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc had set himself on fire as an act of rebellion to Diem’s policies. Several suicide rituals followed. This made Diem’s brother-in-law raid the Pagoda, capturing many monks and killing around thirty.
Kennedy believed that support for Diem drastically decreased, which was an essential element in winning the war, creating a strong government, and stopping the communist rebellion. It is incidents like this that remind us that the Vietnam war was essential for its people, but then realizing their leaders themselves want to cast away the public, hence the struggle for independence seemed to be coming from within the individual of a Vietnam civilian.
Some historians argue that the Buddhists were a minority and that raising flags should not have been a concern during the civil war, and that these people segregated themselves, but others think otherwise. Again, it would seem America would want to criticize Diem for his acts as being a corrupt leader, but they were only concerned about the peoples support in order to demolish communism. From this, we can see that Vietnam really did have a civil war but alongside and within the ‘American war’.
What really gave a turn to the war was the famous gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. This was a way for the US to become more directly involved with the war. Many however believe US intervention and ideas against communism were pressed forward against communism after the retreat of Japan. It shows how the Americans were heavy influencers on the war from the beginning.
However, for the US to officially go to war, it had to be approved by congress. The south and US military were in an incident where it was stated that there were two confrontations in the waters with the North when in reality there was one and by this time the plead to have the congress accept actions to go to war and do anything to stop communism from spreading had already passed. It seems that there were alterations in facts, and what needs to be criticized is that there is hardly any recount of this event from the North Vietnamese perspective, hence making the incident and events seem unviable and an excuse to do whatever the US wished to do so.
Shortly after the Tonkin incident, US president Kennedy got assassinated with the next president Lyndon B. Johnson using the Tonkin resolution as means to find his solution to the war. This was due to fighting two difficult enemies of the same alignment of communist ideas – being the well-trained North communist soldiers and also the guerrilla members located in the South known as the Viet Cong who were not in uniform making it really difficult for them being seen.
The North was backed up by the communist USSR and China as means of aligning Vietnam with them and competing with each other to see who has a better communist way of living. Before it was just the American foreign policy of ‘containment’ being expressed in the Vietnam war but then the Communist powers had also got involved in the war indirectly by supplying tonnes of weaponry to aid the North. To try and cripple the North, the US tried a bombing campaign which lasted ten years, known as Rolling Thunder, where they dropped tonnes of bombs a day. This became the indirect incident that was an event part of the Cold war.
The opinion in the West about the war and its commitment changed around 1967-1968, where the secretary of defense, Robert McNamara believed they had made a terrible mistake and so he resigned because he believed the goal was to contain communism not necessarily win. What the Tet offensive did was disrupt the White House and the military because they ‘assured the public that the war was winding down’. The scope of the offensive dashed those claims and made many Americans question the continuing costs of war.
The Tet offensive was an event where the Northern soldiers infiltrated South Vietnam gaining control of the US embassy and many cities. The US eventually regained the cities back but the ‘rag tag’ army strike was done so effectively that it gave a massive blow to the American sense of being the ultimate power unable of being defeated. This in terms lowered their ‘cockiness’ of being the ‘superior’ against the USSR.
What is criticized here is not looking at the enemy directly attacking the US but only seeing the other superpower behind the scenes causing problems. What US did not consider with them being so engulfed with the thought of communism ultimately being controlled by the Kremlin was that the North Koreans themselves were a new enemy, and so having a blind eye to that really pulled the Americans down.
‘The military could have won the war it wanted to fight but did not know how to fight the war it was asked to win’ says Hanson. He continues by saying, ‘Tet is such a symbolic and paradoxical event that its meaning remains as obscure and controverted as the war of which it was a part’. This made Johnson retire with the new president Nixon promising to end the war with honor emphasizing on the Vietnamisation of the war. To even think of ‘Vietnamizing’ the war meant the very fact that the Americans also believed the war played by the south was ultimately from the American’s control and point of view. To ‘Vietnamize’ meant to have the countries, and people handle the situation. Many argue that it should have been that way from the start and that the Americans should not have intervened because it was a civil war. Nixon also had the goal to also try and destroy supply chains through bombing with secretly hammering out a peace deal, with unfortunate effects as the war still continued. After the Watergates scandal, Nixon was forced to resign. General Ford became the last president before the US left Vietnam, ultimately having Vietnam reunify, where it became communist.
One military effort and the reason for the US losing was the use of strategy hamlet. With a very positive military perspective, the strategy was rather a political disaster. To fish out the Viet Cong or destroy any supply ports or secret hideout, the ARVN and US military evacuated several villages and burned them. This move did not win the hearts and minds of the villagers as first, they were forced to leave their homes, but also because many of these villagers were ancestral worshippers, and gave importance to the land where many of their ancestors were buried, they had tightly woven family connections, and so this move angered them. It means the US was so focused on itself and the Cold war that it did not have time to consider the rituals, traditions, and way of living of the very people it was supposed to protect.
Another reason was because the US tried assuring themselves their win through the use of a body count register. Having the numbers of the dead enemy was a way to record their chances of winning, which was obviously not a means of measure to success, with the numbers often being exaggerated. With the Vietnam war being aired on television and media having great importance during the war, it could be seen, that America was afraid of showing loss against the ultimate enemy ‘communism’ which may have started a domino effect in Latin America.
What also affected the win was that both ARVN and US military did not have the tenancy to see the war through. Many conscriptions were not voluntary with men leaving after the year of duty that was mandatory. This was a loss from the US side as they had to retrain and recruit new soldiers who became less and less engaged with the war who used heavy illicit drugs and alcohol on a daily. These men were against strong-willed and driven northern soldiers who were well disciplined and trained with high morale. Coming in with the same mindset of winning against the enemies in Europe, the Americans did not anticipate the jungles of Vietnam to prove difficult. It shows the mentality of always winning, and considering the other weak, as the US believed it could easily contain communism, and this mindset of believing everything works out for them, proved the US was mistaken.
It was a tragic consequence towards the South Vietnamese as for them their country became one of their disinterests. The new socialist republic of Vietnam had sent south Vietnamese leaders in re-education camps giving a call to the South Vietnamese that their lives had changed. With the US abandonment and the inability to confront reality, many fled their homeland.
This essay mostly recounts the events but criticizes them as well. The US was only there for their own benefit. They fled when they were about to lose, not accomplishing the goal of helping the South Vietnamese people. The US also later states, that even though they lost the war, they were in the overall larger scope of the ‘game’ (in the Cold War) had won, and so the loss was outnumbered by the overall win. This then really shows how the Americans did not care about the situation in Vietnam, only wanting to achieve its own goals, ultimately showing the Vietnam war became the consequence of the Cold War, and that the struggle for independence still remained even after the war had ended, with south Vietnamese peoples last struggle being evacuating their homeland. The sources used to supply to write this essay, all had a western point of view and no recounts from a northern communist point of view. That may have changed the course of this essay, however, nonetheless, information and general idea about the Vietnam war in this essay comes into play.
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