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THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM CONFLICT(LE COMÉDIE VIETNAMIEN): A "POPULAR" WAR THAT WON'T GO AWAY
By V.I. Brown
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 V. I. Brown
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE FIRST COMMITMENTS, 1954
The Cold War was an international fact of life. Paranoia over the threat of communist subversion had reached a fever pitch. The rising crescendo of anti-communist fervor which had begun in 1946 compelled U. S. leaders to make firm decisions. Public sentiment accordingly demanded that the leader of the Free World act decisively to halt a perceived effort by the Communist Bloc to control the world.
The Geo-political Situation, 1954
The U. S. became involved in Vietnam in the immediate aftermath of the French defeat in May by the indigenous forces and the French departure soon after. The country was then divided between the North which favored unification under a communist form of government, and the South which supposedly favored a government modeled after that of the United States. The U. S. of course favored the South because of its avowed contempt of communism. Indeed, the U. S. provided significant aid, both military and otherwise to the French while that country engaged the indigenous forces who eventually prevailed.
The same year that the indigenous forces prevailed, all sides to the conflict convened at Geneva, Switzerland. There they ratified the Geneva Accords which formally settled the conflict and decided on the future of Vietnam. These Accords would be the standard used to judge the legitimacy of any subsequent government which would replace the French. The Accords would also be used to scrutinize the motives and activities of any other party which would intervene into Vietnamese affairs. The U. S. did not participate in the Geneva Conference. However, the U. S. did issue a declaration recognizing the Accords. In addition, the U. S. formally resolved not to inhibit their implementation.
However, the U. S. in the person of Secretary Of State John Foster Dulles conveyed its dismay at the French defeat. Despite his distress at the French defeat, in May he stated that the U. S. was successful in keeping the People's Republic Of China from entering the war on the side of the Viet Minh/Viet Cong. He believed that China had heeded the U. S.' warning to stay out of the conflict. This he opined was a U. S. foreign policy triumph. Indeed, it appeared that the U. S.' "warning" to China to refrain from interfering in Vietnamese affairs would characterize the entire coming conflict. During the entire war no nation engaged the U.S. and her allies other than the Vietnamese. Mr. Dulles further stated that the U. S. would use all of its resources to disrupt the efforts of the Northern part of Vietnam to impose a communist government on all of Vietnam. In addition, he pledged that the U. S. would fight the spread of communism in Asia.
Several years following the partition of Vietnam, it was agreed that elections would be held in order to determine what form of government a unified Vietnam would have. When it became apparent that the Northern part of Vietnam which embraced communism would prevail in the forthcoming elections, the U. S. was instrumental in having them cancelled.
Between the Japanese departure in 1945 and the truce of 1954, the situation in Vietnam was of such complexity that the author could not do it justice. The relationships between and among (1) the Vietnamese Nationalists, (2) their nemesis the Viet Minh, (3) the French, (4) the figurehead Emperor Bao Dai and (5) the U. S. were sensitive in the extreme. The Vietnamese regarded the U. S. as its only liberator. U. S. military personnel who arrived in 1945 were greeted with adulation because the people believed that the U. S. would help in attaining freedom from the French whom they despised. The leader of the Viet Minh Party, Ho Chi Minh, was successful in persuading many that he had established friendships with U. S. officials. Such friendship many believed would allow Vietnam to secure the independence which they craved. One individual who was a force in Vietnamese affairs during this interval and then to the end of U. S. involvement was one Bui Diem. His relative obscurity outside Vietnam belies his importance. However, he is likely the most eloquent and knowledgeable chronicler of the transition which Vietnam underwent from 1945 to 1975. In his memoirs he refers to his relationship with David Halberstam. He is discussed below.
The Author's Situation, 1954
The author began kindergarten in September.
Chapter TwoFINDING BASES FOR INTERVENTION; THE U.S. ACTING AS "ADVISOR", 1955–61
The hostilities in Indochina had subsided. After watching from the sidelines and observing communist influence grow in Indochina, the Guardian Of Freedom could no longer allow communist ideology to further expand. National self-confidence in the validity of the capitalist system, its industry and technological innovation compelled the U. S. to impede opposing interests. The commitment to fight communism would have to increase.
U. S. Initial Intervention Into Vietnam
Immediately following the cancellation of the aforementioned elections, civil war erupted between North and South Vietnam. The U. S. intervened on the side of the South. The reason why the U. S. deemed itself justified in intervening was because of a treaty which the U. S. had ratified with the "Government" Of South Vietnam. The U. S. insisted that South Vietnam was a country distinct from the "Government" Of North Vietnam. According to The World Book Encyclopedia (2005), this Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (S. E. A. T. O.) treaty was an alliance among Australia, The United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, The Philippines, Thailand and the U. S. In the immediate aftermath of the aforementioned French defeat, the treaty was ratified on 8 September 1954. All of these nations allied to prevent the spread of communism in Asia. These nations further pledged to defend one another from military aggression from communist states. The U. S. feared that North Vietnam would use military force to conquer the South.
U. S. Initial Military Intervention In Vietnam
During the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, from 1958 to 1961 the U. S. began sending military personnel to South Vietnam. In order to make their presence there palatable to the public, the government asserted that these personnel were there in a noncombat status. They were purportedly there to advise the "Government" Of South Vietnam on how to repel the "aggression" from the North. Subsequently however, the government could not ignore or deny that some of such "advisors" were being killed. Figures on the deaths of U. S. personnel grew steadily from the advent of the intervention until the war officially began in 1964. July 8, 1959 is the date which documented the death of the first U. S. "advisor." (Gottlieb, p. xix). Official casualty figures for the conflict to 1974 are provided in Figure 3.
U. S. Intervention In Indochina Placed In Historical Perspective
a. The U. S. Civil War
Precisely one hundred years before the U. S. formally committed to intervening in an Asian civil war, the United States itself was so embroiled. At the inception of the U. S. Civil War (1861–65) at least one foreign government, Britain, had a vested interest in one side to that war. The Commander-In-Chief and President Of The U. S. Abraham Lincoln warned that government and all others to stay out of U. S. affairs. They stayed out of them.
b. The Revolutionary War
Precisely one hundred eighty-eight years prior to U. S. official entry into an Asian civil war, the new United States was involved in a war of liberation. The aim of the new nation was to exorcise itself from domination by a colonial power. Much of this conflict of course was "conventional." That is, groups of soldiers formed into regiments, battalions, etc. and confronted one another on battlefields. However, it has been documented that a portion of the Revolutionary War was fought by the American colonists using guerilla tactics. These tactics entailed harassing the enemy without directly confronting them on the battlefield. This fact has been documented in the life of one Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of the colony of North Carolina who gained fame from his exploits against the British. His attack style was guerilla-type, in that he would harass the enemy at will, and then depart before the enemy could find him. This tactic may indeed have been instrumental in the eventual victory of the colonists over the country which was then the preeminent military power on this planet. As such, he was a perpetual source of consternation for the British Commander, Lord Cornwallis. Quite coincidentally, and perhaps ironically, the new nation's principal ally against the British was France. That nation wanted the U. S. to return the favor in 1945. At the inception of the instant war France sought U. S. aid in retaining its Indochina colonies prior to U. S. involvement.
The lesson which the British apparently learned was clear: even a recognized military power such as Britain cannot succeed against an enemy while fighting against guerilla-style tactics on that enemy's home turf. In 1783 they lost the war and returned home. In 1964 the U. S. military had apparently not remembered this lesson of history. It would however recall or learn it soon.
c. The First World War
The U.S. was one of the Allies who opposed Germany. Among the British, the French, the Italians and others, one of the U. S.' allies was Russia. However, during that conflict in 1917 Russia had a change of government when the capitalist autocracy headed by a Czar was overthrown and replaced by a communist state. The new government immediately made a separate peace with Germany and then set about building the first communist society on this planet. This deprived the Allies of a principal ally and made the war against Germany harder to fight. Further, the U. S. was alarmed that an economic ideology opposed to its own had taken root. In 1918 Commander-In-Chief Woodrow Wilson then sent troops to northern Russia to aid the other allies in opposing the new communist Russian Government, thereby intervening in another nation's civil war. President Wilson was widely criticized for allowing U. S. troops to so intervene. The U. S. derived no benefit from the intervention. Further, the intervention into the Russian Civil War caused discord between the U. S. and the new Soviet Republic for many years in the future.
Prior Warnings Concerning Proposed U. S. Intervention In Indochina
The U. S. commitment to intervene in the civil war in Vietnam came despite a warning from a high ranking government official in 1950. Halberstam discusses such warning in his analysis of the policy making process within the State Department just prior to the beginning of the Korean War. Speaking of George Kennan, a close assistant to then Secretary Of State Dean Acheson, Halberstam states:
"As American involvement in Indochina deepened, he (Kennan) had written a long memo to Acheson, saying that the French could not win in Indochina, nor could the Americans replace them and win, and that we were now, whether we realized it or not, on our way to taking their place." (Halberstam, p. 414).
The U. S. and many nations were closely watching the situation in Indochina where the French had become hopelessly embroiled. Mr. Kennan knew, as did many knowledgeable observers, that the French had made a big mistake to have become so embroiled. The reasons for this were expressed by numerous State Department officials of whom Halberstam refers repeatedly. Besides the fact that the French may have had no right to be in Indochina in the first place, they opined, these officials knew that no military power could prevail against a guerilla force when fighting on that force's home turf.
Chapter ThreeSETTING THE STAGE FOR MILITARY INTERVENTION, 1961–63
The rapidly deteriorating situation in Indochina required a complete break with the past. It was obvious that the Free World was losing ground. The new leadership was expected to, and indeed had vowed to further commit the vast resources of the U. S. to aid its allies in the fight to impede the spread of the communist menace.
The Domestic Political Situation, 1961–63
a. Initial government change in war policy
Upon his assumption of the Office Of President on 20 January 1961, John F. Kennedy pledged to continue the aid which his predecessor had committed to South Vietnam. However, the press reported that one of the things which Kennedy agonized over from 1961 to 1963 was the turmoil within South Vietnam. Especially egregious was the oppression and denial of human rights of the Buddhist majority by the "government" whose leaders were predominantly Catholic (as was Kennedy). As frequently reported in the media, Buddhist monks were committing suicide in the streets to protest the oppression. Such was accomplished by dousing themselves with fuel and immolating themselves. This was one of the biggest news stories of 1963.
As Halberstam superbly detailed in The Best And The Brightest, the Kennedy Administration represented a marked departure from the policies of his predecessor. In 1961 the U. S. began to send greatly increased numbers of combat "support" troops to aid South Vietnam. These numbered some 12,000 by the end of 1961. This increase marked a critical escalation in U. S. involvement.
b. Reaction to initial government change in war policy
There were no major U. S. protests in 1961 concerning the nation's deepening involvement in South Vietnam. However, some senior government leaders did question such commitment. Among these was the senior Senator of Tennessee, Albert Gore. His sentiments concerning U. S. intervention in Indochina were detailed in his book The Eye Of The Storm. He would remain one of the staunchest critics of the war for the rest of the decade.
c. Subsequent planned government change in war policy
Though it was not made public at the time, government leaders began to radically reassess Vietnam policies in 1963. Many years after the war would conclude, it would be revealed that Secretary Of Defense McNamara in consultation with President Kennedy had planned to retract the deepening involvement in Indochina. The documentary The Fog Of War which would be released in 2003 would reveal for the first time that the two principal architects of the war had discussed plans for the U. S. to extricate itself. They apparently realized that the nation had indeed made a mistake to have become so involved. The plan, of which McNamara makes specific reference in the film, was to remove all of the 16,000 U. S. forces in Vietnam at that time. The timeframe for the removal of the forces was to have been two years. The first group slated for removal was 1,000 personnel to be removed by the end of 1963. The remaining forces were to be gone by the end of 1965. Specific reference to this alleged plan was made in the 1991 film JFK: The Story That Won't Go Away.
However, The Fog Of War would also reveal that the aforementioned plans of President Kennedy and Secretary Of Defense McNamara would be aborted by unforeseen circumstances. The assassination of President Of South Vietnam Diem, discussed below, would cause the plan to be aborted. The subsequent assassination of President Kennedy, also discussed below, would also be instrumental in causing the plan to be scrapped.
The Political Situation In Vietnam, 1961 - 63
The President of South Vietnam in 1961 was one Ngo Dinh Diem. He initially welcomed increased U. S. aid in the form of greater numbers of troops that year. However, when the number of U. S. military personnel there rose above 10,000, Diem began to resent such. He perceived these increased numbers of personnel to be a threat to his authority. His resentment was widely reported in the press and was voiced to U. S. officials.
Excerpted from THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM CONFLICT by V.I. Brown Copyright © 2010 by V. I. Brown. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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