To what extent should American involvement in

To what extent should American engagement in Vietnam be explained by their desire to forestall the spread of communism in Indo-China?

There can be small uncertainty that the Vietnam War which consumed the American populace during the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s was synonymous with the Cold War and the conflict on the portion of the western capitalist powers to distribute communism coming within the range of Southern and Eastern Europe ( in add-on to Australasia ) via its incursion into Indo-China. Viewed through this prism, the Vietnam War can be seen to stand for the low-water mark of the Cold War, which had hitherto been characterised by a discernable deficiency of contending – taking topographic point alternatively in the Black Marias and heads of the people who lived within, on the one manus, the West and, on the other, in the districts that came under the domain of influence of the former Soviet Union. The Vietnam War can hence be viewed to be a ‘war of proxy’ with the two cardinal supporters contending their causes through two like-minded systems of authorities competing for power on the mainland of Vietnam. The fact that the Americans were prepared to travel to war to forestall the spread of communism across the Earth is besides testament to the fright that the assorted US disposals who ruled Washington during this clip had with respects to the power of political political orientation in a universe merely really late bereft of fascism.

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For the intent of position, the undermentioned scrutiny into the motivations of the American Government must follow a Manichaean attack. One portion of the statement must look at ways of confirming the theory that communism was the main motivation factor behind the determination to travel to war in Vietnam while another must needfully detail the counter statement that the war was the consequence of other extenuating factors that dominated the international political landscape at the clip. A decision will be sought that efforts to get married the two statements while staying true to the testimony of the assorted historiographers who have dedicated their callings to understanding the calamity which occurred in Vietnam. First, nevertheless a historical context for the war must be established so as to set up a conceptual model for the balance of the treatment herein.

It is impossible to gestate of the Vietnam War without mention to the wars of independency that circulated through the part of Indo-China and its immediate venue after the terminal of the Second World War. Like many other states in the part, such as Burma and Cambodia, Vietnam was a former European settlement – in this case a Gallic settlement. With the licking of France in 1940 and the subsequent devastation of the European continent which followed during the old ages 1940 to 1945, these former colonial districts saw a alone chance to interrupt free from the bonds of imperial regulation in order to encompass national independency. It is from this point of view that the wars which would ramp in Vietnam over the extroverted 30 old ages began with viing political political orientations all competing to take entire chauvinistic control of Indo-China. These viing political political orientations that emerged in Vietnam after 1945 were represented by the dominant political groups of the South Vietnamese Republic of Vietnam ( RVN ) , the Democratic Republic of Vietnam ( DRV ) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam ( the Viet Cong ) . These groups constituted the ideological forepart line of the subsequent First Indochina War ( 1946-1954 ) that followed the licking of the old busying Nipponese forces and the retreat of the predating European colonial ground forcess.

This preamble to the First Indochina War is the key to understanding the causes behind the outgrowth of the ulterior struggle that would see the United States send 1000s of military personnels into Vietnam. If the Gallic and the South Vietnamese Republic of Vietnam would hold been able to drive the progresss of the Viet Cong and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, so there would hold been no sensed demand in Washington for America to fall in the war. It is a simple point yet one that is frequently overlooked: at that place would hold been no cause for a drawn-out Vietnam War had it non been for the extremely disruptive national, colonial and political background that historically existed in Indo?China long before the reaching of American military personnels get downing in 1954 ; regardless of the Cold War and political political orientation. Surely, it is the sentiment of historian Fredrik Logevall ( 2001 ) that the war could so hold been prevented with a better direction of the pre?war state of affairs on the portion of the Gallic in peculiar. The same can be said of the awkwardness of the US-sponsored Diem Government that came to power after the divider of Vietnam, which succeeded merely in weakening the republican foundations of the South via province executings and human rights atrociousnesss at the really clip when stableness and rapprochement were required in order to forestall the oncoming of the full graduated table Vietnam War. The Communists of the North were therefore galvanised by the Draconian authorities of the purportedly freely elective authorities of the South. Therefore, although the Americans were to a great extent involved in the fundamental law of the post?1945 universe order, they can non be held responsible for Indochina’s descent into national lawlessness. Without this indispensable precursor, the Vietnam War as we know it would ne’er hold taken topographic point.

However, the fact that the Americans were visibly present in South Vietnam during the old ages 1954 and 1963 is testimony to the fright that Washington felt with respects to the spread of communism throughout Asia. Writing during the present clip, it is hard to understand the extent of this fright. Yet to grok this fright one demand merely look at the province of planetary political relations at the beginning of the 1960’s when the USA foremost started to direct big measures of military personnels into Indo-China. Unlike in the modern epoch, at that clip approximately one tierce of the planet was under a communist type of authorities, one tierce was under a capitalistic democratic manner of authorities while approximately one 3rd remained unaligned to either of the major international political political orientations. It was this open one tierce of the planetary community that most concerned America and the West and it was Vietnam’s place in the link of this open tierce that is cardinal to understanding merely how of import the function of communism was to American leaders such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. One must besides retrieve that, every bit far as Kennedy was concerned, the building of the Berlin Wall ( 1961 ) and the oncoming of the Cuban Missiles Crisis ( 1962 ) were major factors that conspired to do an ideological confrontation between West and East taking topographic point about inevitable by 1963. Surely, the thought of shiping upon a war by placeholder seemed to both sides to be the lone logical solution to what had been a rapid impairment in the foreign policies of both Washington and Moscow ( and, to a lesser extent, Beijing ) . This is what historian Lawrence Freedman ( 2002 ) refers to as portion of the broader strategy of “Kennedy’s Wars” in Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. All were portion of the same ideological aim: to incorporate and finally destruct the influence of socialism throughout the universe.

That the Vietnam War was an look of two viing universe political orientations that had been swelling up since terminal of the Second World War is non in uncertainty. Yet there were other concealed motivations behind the American determination to direct military personnels into Indo-China and these motivations are of import in footings of understanding the nature of the Cold War in general ; they chiefly concern economic sciences and planetary capital. Capitalism, as a sophisticated economic system is inherently reliant upon the ideals of the free market economic system. These ideals encourage free trade and the lift of competition as the steering rule of economic dealingss between viing capitalist states, as McCormick inside informations below:

“Throughout its five centuries, capitalist economy has been a extremely expansionistic type of economic system. The key to roll uping capital, enlarging market portions and maximizing net incomes has historically been long distance trade, particularly by big capitalists with political connexions and economic reserves.” ( McCormick, 1995:2 )

The trade path through Southern Asia has ever been of the most of import international trade paths, linking the East with the West. Thus, by shiping on a war in Vietnam the United States were non merely engaging a war against communism they were besides engaging a warin favour ofplanetary capitalist economy and free trade. Surely, there is a good instance for the statement that the USA fought the Viet Cong so ferociously exactly because of the economic benefits of a free, capitalistic Vietnam over a command socialist economic system that would non be inclined on an ideological degree to prosecute in trade with America and the West. One must bear in head the fact that China had merely really late fallen to communism in 1949 doing it, in the procedure, a really existent menace to America in footings of Beijing taking control of Indochina and doing it a entirely negligible international trade path for the West. Parallels to this line of question can be found today by looking into the modern-day US foreign policy in the Middle East, which can merely partly be explained by a desire to battle terrorist act and fundamentalist visions of Islam. As was the instance in Vietnam and so throughout the Cold War, there besides exists the important enticement of economic addition to be made out of natural stuffs and free trade that can merely be of benefit to the big transnational American corporate monoliths. Economicss is accordingly a major factor behind all wars affecting the USA and its Western capitalistic Alliess.

One must besides be cognizant of the impact of single political histrions and political parties refering the prolongation of the Vietnam War after the autumn of the Diem authorities in the South. Basically, while America’s entry into the war was finally dominated by Washington’s desire to hold the spread of communism into Indo-China, there were similarly tremendous fluctuations of sentiment between the assorted US presidents who served during the tallness of the Vietnam War – between 1963 and 1975. A brief overview of these consecutive disposals is of import so as to underline the political jussive mood that resided underneath the surface of the logistical determination to stay at war in Vietnam.

Kennedy’s purposes have been made clear: he was caught up in the intensifying planetary crises of the epoch and felt mostly unable to take any sort of aversive action without doing the United States appear impotent on the universe phase. The state of affairs remained mostly similar for his replacement, Lyndon B. Johnson, though he found himself walking a much more delicate sort of a political tightrope with respects to the war in Vietnam. One the one manus, Johnson had to pacify the increasing public recoil to the war, which was making big scale urban tenseness domestically and was besides exacerbated by intense international media attending which, as Michael Hall ( 1999 ) argues, was a cardinal factor in controling the enthusiasm of the American populace in the 1960’s. On the other manus, Johnson had to counter the claims of the ‘hawks’ operating in Washington who were in favor of utilizing utmost force in order to forestall the oncoming of the so?called “domino effect” – the autumn of other capitalist provinces to socialist political orientation within the immediate venue of South East Asia. Thus, Johnson bit by bit found himself hemmed in politically from both sides ; from the ‘doves’ who protested against any farther US military engagement in Vietnam whatsoever and from the ‘hawks’ who advocated the usage of intensive “military power… to coerce a alteration of communist policy” ( National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy to President Lyndon B. Johnson, January 1965 ; quoted in, Johnson, 1971:122 ) . Therefore, LBJ’s continued presence in Vietnam was merely partly influenced by the desire to halt the spread of communism to South East Asia. His Presidency, which lasted from 1964 to 1969, was besides influenced by political expedience and the wane and flow of the sentiment polls that bit by bit grew more and more critical of the war in Vietnam with each go throughing twelvemonth.

The divide between the doves and the hawks had grown even larger by the clip that President Nixon was inaugurated in January 1969. Nixon had been elected on a motto of “peace with honour” sing Vietnam, which was the foreign policy enterprise that dominated his full Presidency. However, harmonizing to Jeffrey Kimball ( 1998 ) , Nixon was captive upon protracting the war for every bit long as it was possible in order to procure a resonant American triumph. Furthermore, there can be small uncertainty that it was ideological ardor that motivated Nixon and his disposal as it became known that the Paris Peace Accord ( which was brokered by Henry Kissinger in 1973 ) fell a good trade short of Nixon’s original purposes for the makeup of post-war Vietnam ( affecting the sweeping devastation of communism in the part ) .

The above overview of the cardinal American political histrions in the Vietnam saga shows how of import political differences existed in each scenario. As the war dragged on, so public sentiment and media attending grew, which needfully hampered the purposes and ideals of the governing political elite on Capital Hill. In a democracy, no President can stay in office without the support of the electorate. Other Presidents, such as LBJ, were under intense internal force per unit area from advisers to utilize more extremist military methods, such as the A-bomb, in order to convey a concluding solution to the war. In each case, the prevailing and implicit in factor was political expedience and the will to stay in office. In the concluding analysis, although the argument may hold involved an ideological war in a foreign district, the conflict land remained in Washington instead than Saigon. There is, of class, a great trade of argument between historiographers about the function that single people can hold on the class of history – surely with respects to as tough a inquiry as the grounds for American engagement in the wars of Indo?China. In the terminal, as former Security Advisor to Richard Nixon, McNamara attests, the issue is excessively complex for wide based decisions and those who wish to do history a simple, additive procedure.

“Many would reason that nonrecurring, wide historical forces determine the class of dealingss among states, including wars. They would state that the US intercession in South East Asia in the 1960’s – the Vietnam War – was the consequence of such force per unit areas. In consequence, they say history is predetermined, that missed chances do non truly occur and hence history has few if any lessons to learn wining coevalss: historical events are determined by forces larger than single people doing single picks. Such a position is contradicted by common sense and mundane experience.” ( McNamara, 1999:5 )


The above essay has attempted to explicate how there were many other viing factors besides communism that led to sustained American military engagement in Vietnam. Issues associating to economic sciences, to domestic political relations and to the unanticipated opinion of single political histrions all contributed to the boarding and subsequent prolongation of the Vietnam War. In add-on to this, there was besides the extremely relevant historical context to bear in head, which saw Indochina ravaged foremost by the colonial French, secondly by the occupying Nipponese and eventually by the viing ideological parties that sought to stomp entire chauvinistic authorization of the state. All of these factors were critical in guaranting that a war did happen in Vietnam and that it would – within the context of the Cold War – prove arguably inevitable that US policy shapers would hold to do a tough pick in the really close hereafter.

However, each of these statements entirely can non be sustained without mention to the United States’ intense pursuit to incorporate communism and to halt its spread across the post?war universe phase. The Cold War was without a uncertainty the main factor in the determination to travel to war and to stay at war for so long in Indochina. Indeed, late released paperss from Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency high spot in broken down footings the true causes for American involvement in Vietnam and they make damaging reading for any vindicator of the war. An internal memo quantifies the US aims as:

  • 70 % – to avoid a humiliating US licking ( to our repute as a surety )
  • 20 % – to maintain South Vietnam district from Chinese custodies
  • 10 % – to allow the people of South Vietnam to bask a better, freer manner of life. ( Internal Memo during Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency, quoted in, Hamilton Lytle, 2006:176 )

This clearly demonstrates the manner in which the American purpose of battling planetary communism had, by 1964, go a affair of US national involvement: a pursuit non merely to halt the spread of socialism but besides to maintain America’s repute on the universe phase in tact. The fact that the public assistance of the South Vietnamese came so low down on the precedences of Washington policy shapers damns the bequests of all of the politicians who took portion in the Vietnam War.

Therefore, in the concluding analysis, it is just to reason that the Vietnam War – at least every bit far as America was concerned – was a war that was fought wholly due to ideological grounds. However, once it became clear that the war could non be won by conventional agencies, the value of political orientation to the single American political leaders became less of import than prosecuting a policy of ‘staying the course’ so as non to look weak on the international phase. In this, one can see many comparings with the current war in Iraq where an American determination to ship upon a major land based violative has finally become lost within the fog of war.


Freedman, L. ( 2002 )Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and VietnamOxford: Oxford University Press

Hall, M.K. ( 1999 )The Vietnam WarLondon and New York: Longman

Hamilton Lytle, M. ( 2006 )America’s Uncivil WarsOxford: Oxford University Press

Johnson, L.B. ( 1971 )The Vantage Point: Positions of the Presidency, 1963-1969New York: Henry Holt & A ; Co.

Kimball, J. ( 1998 )Nixon’s Vietnam WarLawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press

Logevall, F. ( 2001 )The Origins of the Vietnam WarLondon and New York: Longman

McCormick, T.J. ( 1995 )America’s Half-century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War and AfterBaltimore: John Hopkins University Press

McNamara, R.S. ( 1999 )Argument without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam TragedyWashington, DC: Public Affairs

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