USA vs. Vietnam (Why did America intervene in Vietnamese Affairs?)

Pre-University Paper, 2001

18 Pages, Grade: 1++






















On December 21, 1965 the United Nations passed a resolution declaring that no state has the right to intervene in the affairs of another state and condemning armed intervention. It declared, "Every state has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another state." So why then did the USA intervened in Vietnamese Affairs? Why did the USA think that their power and glory will give them the right to fight in Vietnam? What were the consequences that followed?

The Origin of the War

French Indochina was occupied by Japan during World War II. The Vietnamese communist leader Hô-Chí-Minh (also called Uncle Ho) and his league of independence, called the Viét Minh, organised resistance against the Japanese and on the 3rd of November 1945 Hô-Chí- Minh declared Vietnam an independent republic. France did not accept that at all and did everything in their power to prevail that Vietnam should break out from their "colony" Indochina. In 1945 they lured the Viét Minh into a battle at Diên Biên Phu, but were in turn besieged there.

Indochina and Vietnam became a matter of the whole world and Vietnam was brought up on the Geneva conference. There it was decided, that Vietnam should be divided into two parts, North and South Vietnam and that the French soldiers should withdraw. The thought was, that elections were to be held within two years in Vietnam and thereafter the country should be reunited again.

Now Vietnams people started choosing which side they were on: the communists moved to North Vietnam, where Hô-Chí-Minh was in charge and the Catholics moved to the South. When the world realised what was happening, the USA saw it as their "responsibility" to "rescue" Vietnam from communistic rule.

The Founding of the National Liberation Front

To prevail that Vietnam and the rest of Indochina should become communistic (the domino Theory), the USA put a high amount of money and a lot of effort to create a US-friendly regime in South Vietnam. The United States also took Frances part as military advisers. When the thoughts about Vietnams reunion were washed down the drain, the south Vietnamese president Ngô Dinh Diêm became more and more like a dictator, which led to a whole of resistancegroups against him. In December 1960 they all went together with the Viét Công (former Viét Minh) and founded the National Liberation Front (NLF). It was mainly communistic but there were other groups as well.

In May 1959 the communistic government in North Vietnam, still led by Hô-Chí-Minh encouraged the resistance to Diem and the government in Saigon (Today known as Hô-Chí- Minh-City). They started to send in little troops that co-operated with the NLF in a guerilliawar. Weapons and supplies were brought along the Hô-Chí-Minh-trail that went along the borders against Laos and Cambodia. The guerrilla tactic was to kill as many of Saigon statesmen as possible and then to take over and create a administration that controlled all the villages on the outback of South Vietnam. In the years 1959-1960 over 270 statesmen were killed every month! To stop the massacre, the South Vietnamese government placed the peasants into strategic placed villages (hamlets) that the North Vietnamese army was supposed to protect, but since the South Vietnamese army was mainly mechanised it was not suited for a guerilliawar.

On December 20th 1960, the NLF formulated the following Ten Points:

1.) Overthrow the camouflaged colonial regime of the American imperialists and the dictatorial power of Ngô Dinh Diêm, servant of the Americans, and institute a government of national democratic union.
2.) Institute a largely liberal and democratic regime.
3.) Establish an independent and sovereign economy, and improve the living conditions of the people.
4.) Reduce land rent; implement agrarism reform with the aim of providing land to the tillers.
5.) Develop a national and democratic culture and education.
6.) Create a national army devoted to the defence of the Fatherland and the people.
7.) Guarantee equality between the various minorities and between the sexes; protect the legitimate interests of foreign citizens established in Vietnam and of Vietnamese citizens residing abroad.
8.) Promote a foreign policy of peace and neutrality.
9.) Re-establish normal relations between the two zones and prepare for the peaceful reunification of the country.
10.) Struggle against all aggressive was; actively defend universal peace.

In full, each of these points was followed by several specific means of implementation. For example Point 2 included the following: abolishing the dictatorial powers of Diêm and electing a National Assembly through universal suffrage: implementing essential democratic liberties such as freedom of opinion, press, assembly, movement, trade-unionism, religion and political organisations; proclaiming a general amnesty for all political prisoners and abolishing fascist and antidemocratic laws; and prohibiting all illegal arrests, detentions and torture.

The Twelve Points of Discipline for the People Liberation Army suggested the following conduct for soldiers toward civilians: "Be fair and honest in business with the people...Never take even a needle from the people...When staying in civilian houses, maintain it as if it is one's own...Be polite with the people and love the people." With these ideals as standards, it is no wonder that the NLF made such successful inroads in South Vietnam.

Diêm's Fall

Meanwhile Diêms regime went more and more dictatorial. Since he was a Catholic, he treated the Buddhists in an unacceptable way. This led to that 8 Buddhist monks burned themselves to death in protest against Diêm.

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When the world was informed about the happenings in South Vietnam, the USA realised that they had to do something about it, before people started blaming them. In November 1963 Diêm was overthrown and killed by a group lead by American advisers. For a couple of years the government switched until Marshal Ky took the command in 1965. During that time the NLF had grown much stronger and the USA got more and more engaged in South Vietnam since Hô-Chí-Minh's influence over the Vietnamese People increased rapidly. To prevail that North Vietnam took control over South Vietnam, the USA sent in more than 23.000 men to "protect" South Vietnam. When two American destroyers were attacked 1964 by the North Vietnamese in the Tonkin Gulf, President Johnson got to make the congress support a war in Indochina. He ordered the covert bombing of Laos near the border of North Vietnam. In August the U.S.S. Maddox was attacked while patrolling in Gulf of Tonkin, probably in relation for a South Vietnamese Navy attack on an island in the North two days before. The Maddox fired back, and two days later another attack was reported. The U.S. ships were not damaged nor were any Americans hurt, while they had sunk three or four of the attacking torpedo boats. Nevertheless Johnson ordered sixty-four bombing sorties over four North Vietnamese bases, and he requested approval from the congress to use armed forces. This excessive response has been considered a violation of rules of civilised warfare as interpreted in the Nürnberg Trials. Senator Wayne Morse declared that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave the President "war making powers in the absence of a declaration of war", and he lamented that it was a historic mistake.

USA vs. North Vietnam

On February 17th 1965 President Johnson, who had been overwhelmingly elected over Goldwater's militaristic and reactionary programs, ordered the bombing of North Vietnam. The next day the Students for a Democratic society (SDS) issued a statement of outrage saying, that the U.S. was supporting dictatorship not freedom, and that it was intervening in a civil war, not a war of aggression. SDS asked, "What kind of America is it whose response to poverty and oppression in Vietnam is napalm and defoliation?...How many more lives must be lost, before the Johnson Administration accepts the foreign conclusions?" A graduated bombing program was begun in March and in April the United States began sending thousands of combat troops to South Vietnam. The war developed to a war between North Vietnam and the USA, while South Vietnam had to take care of the "cleanslingoperations". The U.S. intensified the bombwar against North Vietnam and during the years 1965-1968 they had dropped more than 1 million tons of bombs over them!

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Both sides had grown much stronger. The USA had now more than 550.000 soldiers in Vietnam, some of them from Australia, South Korea and Thailand. But North Vietnam was not alone. They had the USSR and China on their side.


In 1966 the USA stopped the bombing over North Vietnam and began negotiations with Hanoi, but they refused to even talked to the US before they had admitted the NLF's power and everyone of the American soldiers was out of South Vietnam. Of course the USA didn't follow their demands and started the bombing again. A citizens white Paper by Schurmann, Scott and Zelnik studying nine critical periods from November 1963 to July 1966 concluded,

"Movements toward a political settlement have been retarded or broken off by American interventions, most of which have taken the form of military escalation.

By 1967 nearly half a million American soldiers were fighting in South Vietnam. In November General Westmoreland announced that troops withdrawals could begin in 1969 if the bombing and the military progress continued. However, on the Vietnamese Holiday of Têt (New Years Day) at the end of January 1968 the Viét Công (NLF) launched a massive attack on the major cities of South Vietnam. Within three weeks about 165,000 civilians had been killed, and there were two million new refugees. An American major looking at the devastated village of Ben Tre, said : "We had to destroy it in order to save it". The offensive, which included an invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, came as a great shock to the Americans. The huge size of the action and it's surprise to the Americans and the South Vietnamese Army indicated, that most of the people in the country were more loyal to the NLF than to the government.

When Westmoreland and the Chef of Staff General Wheeler asked for 200,000 more troops, President Johnson was visibly shaken and began to doubt seriously for the first time the military policies he was following. In March Senator Eugene McCarthy won a victory in the New Hampshire Presidential primary running against Johnson's Vietnam policy. A few days later, Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy. On March 31 President Johnson announced, that he would not seek re-election and to begin de-escalation of the war, he limited the bombing to a small strategic area. The war and the anti-war movement, that had been aroused to protest it, had ruined the Johnson Presidency, which on domestic issues had been rather successful. In May formal negotiations began in Paris, but with the election of Richard Nixon, American involvement in Indochina was to drag on for five more years. The peace movement continued to grow and affected Nixon's policies as well. President Nixon wanted to strike a "savage blow" against North Vietnam in the fall of 1969 by mining the Hai Phong Harbor and perhaps even using nuclear weapons, but the demonstrations were so large in October and November, that he changed his mind for political reasons.

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For example, on November 9th a full page ad appeared in the New York Times signed by 1365 active duty GIs, saying: "We are opposed to American involvement in the war in Vietnam. We resent the needless wasting of lives to save face for the politicians in Washington". The story of the massacre of over seven hundred civilians at My Lai was exposed to public outcry. On November 15th, three quarter of a million people gathered in Washington while one quarter of a million marched in San Francisco.


President Johnson ordered, that no more bombs should be dropped over the 20th parallel and in 1968 the Paris Accords began. To get one step closer to peace, the USA didn't drop a single bomb over Vietnam during November. The Paris accords didn't give any results and USA's new President Nixon started to withdraw the American troops. He begun the so called "vietnamasionpolitic", which meant, that warfare should become totally run by the South Vietnamese army, but they should be supported with education and supplies from the USA.

When Nixon ordered the Invasion of Cambodia in May 1970, strikes on American college campuses involved over four million students. In June the Senate repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and barred future U.S. military operations in Cambodia without congressional approval. Adapting to public pressure, President Nixon began withdrawing U.S. troops, but he kept the war going on by bombing Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam. The "Vietnamization" of the war was doomed to fail without U.S. support. Running against the peace candidate McGovern in 1972 Nixon promised peace and a cease fire agreement was signed in January 1973. However it was only when the Watergate scandal began to weaken the Nixon Presidency that the Congress finally cut off all funds for any military activity in Indochina on July 1st 1973.

Effects on US-Troops

The soldiers were withdrawn and in the end of 1971 there were "only" 175,000 American soldiers left in Vietnam. In the USA and all around the world people protested against the meaningless war and no soldier wanted to be the last one to die in a war that the country considered a mistake

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Drug and Alcohol abuse became widespread among US servicemen and morale plummeted. "Search-and-destroy" -operations became "search-and-avoid". Officers who gave unpopular orders that exposed their troops to, what they considered unacceptable risks became targets for "fraggings"-attempted murders, often by grenades. Racial conflicts grew as black soldiers, stimulated by the civilrights and black power movements, increasingly resented fighting a "white mans war". Declining morale was not limited to Vietnam. The military capabilities of the army all around the world declined and the navy and the airforce also suffered.

Easter Offensive

In April 1972 the NLF and North Vietnam organised another offensive against South Vietnam but the USA just upgraded their bombing of North Vietnam and they also mined the Hai Phong Harbor, where Russians aid were shipped to. The "Easter-offensive" lasted for three months and negotiations gave it one more try. That led to that the NLF accepted a mixed government in South Vietnam and Hanoi accepted to wait until new elections should be done.

New negotiations were started but they broke down in December 1972. After that, the USA made a massive bomb offensive against North Vietnam. The negotiations were restarted again in January 1973 and led to a total weapon siege and that the American soldiers continued to withdraw. Without American support the South Vietnamese government couldn't resist the NLF and in April 1975 the war ended with total Victory for the communists.


What were the results of American military involvement in Vietnam?

Without American support the government of South Vietnam completely collapsed by 1975. More than three million Americans were sent to Vietnam. Nearly 58,000 were killed, and about 300,000 were wounded. A conservative estimate of civilian casualties in South Vietnam was the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees estimates of 400,000 killed, 900,000 wounded, and 6.4 million turned into refugees. The United States dropped from the air 3.2 million tons of bombs on South Vietnam, 2.1 million tons on Laos (almost one ton per person), and 340,000 tons on North Vietnam. Both Johnson and Nixon each presided over more bombing than all of World War 11. An obvious result of American military involvement is that the people of Vietnam were terribly militarised for self-defence and forced to try to solve their problems with military means. The legacy of this goes on.

In South Vietnam alone the United States government directly spent $141 billion. In other words, in a country where the per capita income is $ 157 per year, the U. S. poured in the equivalent of $7,000 per person for the twenty million inhabitants. Most of this was spent destructively, but another result was the most decadent type of economy involving large amounts of graft, favouritism, prostitution, and drugs. The world's most powerful and wealthy nation was unable to defeat an army of peasants using home-made and captured weapons. Ostensibly fighting to preserve freedom the United States propped up a series of military dictators. The American forces travelled halfway around the world to attack Vietnamese people in North and South Vietnam supposedly to protect them from "external aggression." The only conceivable external aggression, other than that of the U.S., was the movement of people from North Vietnam to South Vietnam; yet the basis of the Geneva Accords was that Vietnam was to be one country. Then how can the movement of Vietnamese in their own country be considered external aggression? The United States claimed it must continue the fight for its honour and the respect of its allies; yet never before has America been so dishonoured or lost the respect of its allies more than it did in Vietnam. After devastating the country of Vietnam, the United States has not even considered paying reparations. In fact the U.S. was the only nation out of 141 that refused to endorse a United Nations resolution urging priority economic assistance to Vietnam.

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Another result is the terrible injuries, both physical and psychological, which the Vietnam veterans must learn to live with. The moral problems have caused severe psychological disturbances. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were trained to kill and did kill hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. When they discovered it was for no good reason, the remorse, grief, guilt, anger, frustration, and resentment erupted. The number of veterans who have committed suicide is larger than the number of Americans killed in Vietnam. The veterans bear the heaviest psychological burden, but all Americans are responsible.

The only restraints on U.S. military escalation were the fear of a conflict with China or the Soviet Union and the conscience of the American public as represented in the peace movement. Noting that anti-war demonstrators did not kill a single person during the period the U. S. Government killed hundreds of thousands in Indochina, Fred Halstead summarised the accomplishments of the anti-war movement as breaking the spell of anti-Communist hysteria, increasing healthy scepticism of political leaders, changing the stereotype of soldiers as obedient pawns, becoming reluctant to engage in military adventures abroad, and expanding social reform movements to issues of foreign policy. For the first time in American history the people successfully challenged the government's right to wage war.

Why, then, did America get bogged down in the quagmire of Vietnam for so long at such great cost?

After World War II the United States became the greatest power in the history of the world. The abuse of greatness is the abuse of the power. America thought it could do no wrong. At the same time Americans had a tremendous fear of Communism. Historically, it took a decade and a half before the U.S. even recognised the Soviet Union and more than two decades before it recognised nearly a billion people in China. With a world-wide military force the United States was arrogant enough to think that it could stop Communism by force of arms. Psychologically there was the irrational fear that if America did not intervene, somehow Communism would take over the world. The Soviet empire was likewise afraid of encroachment through Korea or eastern Europe and therefore took steps to place a protective ring around itself, while the United States has protective military bases all around the world.

Because of this combination of American power, fear of Communism, and self-righteous concepts about democracy, the U. S. foolishly tried to set up a non-communist government in a country that was trying to free itself from French colonialism by a combination of nationalistic independence and Communist ideology. Only by the influence of its military power could the United States try to hold back the tide of political revolution and true national independence in Vietnam.

What are the lessons for the future the United States and the world can learn?

Military methods ultimately do not solve political and social problems. True independence and self-determination are best attained without military interference. Military methods only militarise the opposition and escalate violence so that peaceful solutions are more unattainable. The security of the United States and its allies is not really threatened by what goes on in small underdeveloped countries. Nuclear weapons are of no use in these situations. Armed intervention will eventually backfire. The U.S. has no legal right to be a policeman in another country. The veterans can teach others of the horrors and agonies of war. The American people must not allow the President to go astray while intoxicated with power. An effective peace movement can dramatically influence political policies. Finally, every person has the responsibility to refuse to support an illegal and immoral war.

Time Line

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Peter Lowe : The Vietnam War

Paul Hendrickson : The living and the dead

Milton J. Bates : The wars we took to Vietnam Robert S MacNamara,

Brian VanDeMark : Vietnam

Stanley I. Kutler : Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War

Joachim Arenth : Johnson, Vietnam and the West

Raymond Ledru : La jeunesse américaine et la guerre du Vietnam

Peter Kronenberger : Der Einsatz amerikanischer Kampftruppen in Südvietnam Anthony Short : The origins of the Vietnam War

Caroline D Harnly : Agent Orange and Vietnam Michael Mac Lear

Peter Arnett

Richard Basehart : Vietnam - the ten thousand day war

William Conrad Gibbons : The U.S. government and the Vietnam War

Excerpt out of 18 pages


USA vs. Vietnam (Why did America intervene in Vietnamese Affairs?)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
864 KB
Vietnam, America, Vietnamese, Affairs
Quote paper
Jihane Belkoura (Author), 2001, USA vs. Vietnam (Why did America intervene in Vietnamese Affairs?), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 7/6/2014

    While the United States was in South Vietnam, there WAS a South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese made two MAJOR attempts to defeat the South...and were crushed both times. The Tet Offensive was a terrible loss for the comrades of the North; after Tet, the Viet Cong were no longer a fighting force as they had been; and after the 1972 "Easter Offensive" the North got waxed again, learning that they could never win as long as the United States was in town.

  • guest on 8/27/2013

    Poor paper, mistakes i.e Dien Bien Phu was in 1954 not 1945, really did not go into depth about why America intervened, 5/10

  • guest on 1/27/2002

    Alle Achtung!!!.

    Alle Achtung, das Ref ist genial!!!

  • guest on 4/24/2001



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