Escalation of the Vietnam War. Analysis of reasons

Seminar Paper, 2005

14 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. Chronology of the escalation of the Vietnam War

3. Reasons for escalation
a. Containment of Communist aggression
b. The quagmire theory
c. The stalemate theory
d. The President as cause
e. Politics and economics

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Since the beginning of the escalation of the Vietnam War politicians and scientists are discussing the reasons for this intensification of military action. One can find as much theories as theorists. In the following I will present the most important and disseminated concepts.

To create a foundation for my presentation I will shortly describe the chronology of the events which frame the escalation and the escalation itself.

After that I will at first present the official, government explanation for the escalation, which is based on the containment of Communist aggression. Subsequent to that I will portray the two most important theories: the Quagmire Theory and the Stalemate Theory. Furthermore some analysts saw the dilemma in the personality and the authority of the American Presidents. At least there is the idea that the escalation was a result of political and economical interests of the USA.

Finally I will finish my work with my own conclusion about the intervention in the Vietnam War and its escalation.

2. Chronology of the escalation of the Vietnam war

After Years of smoulding war between France and Indochina and conflict between North and South Vietnam, President Kennedy agreed to further military assistance to South Vietnam. The sending of combat troops was not included.

In 1963 the leader of the South Vietnamese government Diem, who was initially supported by the USA, got unpopular because of his measures against Buddhists. As a result Diem was assassinated during a military coup, which was supported by the CIA. General Duong Van Minh took over the government. In this context Kennedy withdrew several advisers.

After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson took over his duties as President. His opinion about the war in Vietnam was slightly different to the opinion of the former president, who did not want to withdraw the assistance but tried to avoid increasing the military action either. He believed that the cost of loosing South Vietnam would be higher, than the cost of a war held by American troops. He assumed that the other south Asian countries would fall under the control of China or the USSR if South Vietnam could not resist. So the aim of the Johnson administration became “to help the people and the government of South Vietnam to win the struggle against the communist conspiracy guided and supported from outside”[1].

Increased assistance as well as military actions against North Vietnam was considered as the only possibility to realize this aim. So after the Tonkin Gulf incident took place in August 1964 a military reaction of the U.S. was inevitable. Lyndon B. Johnson published the Tonkin Resolution. Johnson encouraged the Congress to unanimity about the resolution to show Vietnam and the world their strength and courage. In the resolution it was clearly stated, that the U.S. military would answer any attack (“To any armed attack upon our forces, we shall reply.”[2] ). This resolution gave Johnson the authority to react as how he considered as necessary to military aggression against American troops. Short after the resolution passed the Congress the bombing of North Vietnam began and more troops (60 000 at first) were sent to Southeast Asia in the beginning of 1965. In the following year more troops were sent to South Vietnam, until the total of troops counted 184 000.[3]

The bombing of the North was considered to make Ho Chi Minh stop the infiltration of guerrillas to South Vietnam and to restore the confidence to Saigon in the U.S. allegiance. It was also hoped that it would end the fighting in the southern part of the divided country.[4]

Instead the increasing number of American ground troops evoke the escalation of the war on the side of North Vietnam. During the air strikes Hanoi did not have a direct target it could have fought against. But now the American troops presented an easy target which could be effectively fought by North Vietnamese guerrilla forces.[5]

In 1968 the U.S. military command in Vietnam considered them as winning the war and began to plan the end of it, despite the fact that there were still many guerrilla attacks with a lot of casualties on both sides.

While those plans where made, it got evident, that the Congress, as well as the American public, had been deceived by the government during the development of the Tonkin Resolution and about the development of the war. Some members of the Congress criticized openly the proceeding of the involvement.

After an armistice, concluded the year before, peace talks began in January 1969 in Paris, although the guerrillas did not end the attacks on military bases. Nonetheless the planned withdrawal of American troops was carried out. In the course of the so called “Vietnamisation” Vietnamese troops took their place.

However, fighting between the North- and South- Vietnamese troops did not stop till the troops of North Vietnam occupied Saigon in 1975 to take over the government.[6]


[1] McNamara, Robert S. / VanDeMark, Brian: Vietnam. Das Trauma einer Weltmacht, Hamburg 1996.

[2] Lyndon B. Johnson: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, 1964

[3] Moїse, Edwin: Tonkin Gulf and the escalation of Vietnam War. Chapel Hill/London 1996.

[4] Woods, Randall Bennett: J. William Fulbright, Vietnam, and the search for a Cold War foreign policy. Cambridge 1998.

[5] Kolko, Gabriel: Vietnam. Anatomy of War 1940-1975, New York 1986.

[6] See also: Kolko, Gabriel: Vietnam. Anatomy of War 1940-1975, New York 1986. ; ; Blum, William: Killing Hope. U.S. military and CIA interventions since World War 2, Montréal 1998. ; VanDeMark, Brian: Into the Quagmire. Lyndon Johnson and the escalation of the Vietnam War, New York 1991.

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Escalation of the Vietnam War. Analysis of reasons
University Pierre-Mendès-France  (Institut des Etudes Politiques)
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Escalation, Vietnam, Analysis, Cours
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Sophia Freund (Author), 2005, Escalation of the Vietnam War. Analysis of reasons, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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