VIETNAM - THE PATH TO WAR

Why did the United States get involved in Vietnam, a tiny country half a world away from it? As Vietnam is considered one of the most controversial wars (of US involvement) in history, it is imperative we investigate the factors setting the United States on a path towards a conflict of this magnitude.

In the late 1900s, as the US policy of Imperialism was in full swing, Vietnam was governed by France (it was a French colony) as a part of French Indochina. France held Vietnam as a colony for the resources and market openings it offered. After pushing independence for quite a while, Ho Chi Minh, a name meaning "bringer of light," led a communist revolt against the French control in 1930. Ho was then arrested, and then fled to China and later the USSR. During the 1940s, Vietnam was taken over by Japan, and Ho Chi Minh led the Vietnamese in geurilla warfare against the Japanese. After the Japenese released their grasp of Vietnam with the ending of WW II, France regained control of Vietnam. In an attempt to liberate Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh formed the Vietminh party. Using the United States' declaration of indipendence as a model, the Vietminh party wrote their own declaration and declared independence from the French in 1945. The Vietminh finally prevailed in the North after a nine year conflict with the French, and they founded a communist government there. With this, the French agree to leave the colony.

The year is now 1954, and the president is Dwitght D. Eisenhower. Only one year previous, the conflict between the US and Korea was ended, and the policy containment was and is clearly priority. In 1954, the US pushed for vietnam to be split by the Geneva Accords, a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.. They also come to the descision that there will be a free, democratic elction in 1956 in an attempt to bring both sides of the nation together. At this time, though, a small new nation of South Vietnam was emerging under the influence and leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem. The US would be on the side of South Vietnam, and the Soviet Union in support of the North. The free elections never occur, as it would be near impossible for the southerners to agree to it ( They know that Ho Chi Minh would win). By the late 1950s, a new communism v. capitalism and indirectly US v. Soviet Union war had begun. North and South Korea entered into a civil war.

One could argue US involvement in Vietnam began with Truman's containment policy, as he sent military as well as economic assistance to France to help them contain the spread of communism in their Indochinese colonies. Shortly after the quell of the conflict in Korea, Dwight Eisenhower took office in 1953. He believed in "the domino effect"; if one country fell to communsm, others would soon follow. Eisenhowers step towards involvment was an increase in military aid for containment. He also sent military advisors to help in the south. At this time, Ngo Dinh Diem's "democracy" in South Kores was filled with corruption and scandal. Also, because of his beliefs of Catholicism, he offended many Buddhists, causing them to self-immolate as an act of protest. When Kennedy became president, he supported an overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem's rule because of his corrupt policies in 1963. Through this action, Ngo Dihn Diem was assasinated. As the Democrats were being criticized for being soft on communism, Kennedy wanted take action. He continued to send military advisors, and by his death, there were 16,000 advisors in Vietnam.

When LB Johnson takes over the presidency, it is he who truly takes the final steps towards American involvement in Vietnam. He has seen what a the rise of a dictator can lead to, and wants to stop the spread of communism at all costs. in 1964, US ships in The Gulf of Tomkin are shot at, and the US ship shoots back. With this incedent, LBJ goes to congress, asking for permission to "take all neccessary measures" to protect American forces and "prevent further agression." Congress grants him this "blamk check"; LBJ can basically act freely and enter war without war being declared. LBJ claimed he would seek "no wider war," nut his plans would soon change. In Operation Rolling Thunder, the US continually dropped bombs on North Vietnam, severely intensifiying thier involvement, contrary to his previous promises. Finally, in 1965, 3,500 marines were sent in to join the 20,000+ military advisors already there. From that point on, the war in Vietnam truly began.



Operation Rolling Thunder from AP/Wide World Photos
Operation Rolling Thunder from AP/Wide World Photos
vietnam.jpg
The first troops land in Vietnam in 1965 at Da Nang.