American History II
December 5, 2012
UNITEDS STATES FAILURES IN VIETNAM
It was the war that lasted ten thousand days. The war that inspired scores of songs. The war that sparked dozens of riots. (Caputo, Phillip, 10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War.) The Vietnam War, one of the most controversial wars in American history, has been one of the few wars where the United States was not a victor. Despite being a world superpower, the United States was not able to defeat a small, third-world, Asian country. The war divided the nation’s own people in half, and even resulted in violence. The US failure in Vietnam was caused by a mixture of factors including: the difficulties of fighting an offensive war in a foreign country, poor decisions on the American part, and unexpected North Vietnamese resilience leading to massive casualties on both sides that could have been avoided. The United State’s involvement in Vietnam can be traced back to the immediate results of the First Indochina War, which led to a humiliating defeat of the French and their withdrawal from North Vietnam, which came under communist forces. (Caputo, Phillip, A Rumor of War, 1977, Henry Holt and Company, Inc, NY, NY.) The Geneva Accords, which ended the First Indochina War, temporarily divided Vietnam into two sections: a communist north and an anti-communist south, pending a national election to unify them.
The United Stated, fearing a communist victory in national elections and a communist takeover of South Vietnam, supported the South Vietnamese government to elect Ngo Dinh Diem, a staunch anti-communist, as Prime Minister. (Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History, 1983, Penguin Group, NY, NY) The United States feared if South Vietnam were to fall to communism; the rest of Indochina would follow. They believed a “domino effect” would follow any small communist changes in South Vietnam or any concessions made to communists. The United States believed the best way to prevent this from happening was to contain communism. Various American politicians argued to prevent a domino effect, the United States must contain the spread of communism at any cost. This theory fueled much of the United States policies toward Vietnam, such as their support for Diem. Diem’s rein was repressive at best. He canceled the nation-wide elections that were to unify Vietnam and instead rigged election in South Vietnam to elect himself president and create the Republic of Vietnam. However, Diem retained the United States backing because he was staunchly anti-communist. As Diem’s regime became increasingly repressive, resistance to his government increased, especially in rural areas. The Unites States, in an attempt to prevent Diem’s government from collapsing sent military advisors and financial consultants to aid Diem’s regime. However, the resistance was strong, so United States created the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), which Diem used to crush communist and other rebels. (Brigham, Robert K, ARVN: Life and Death in the South Vietnamese Army, April 2006, University Press of Kansas) However, when Kennedy took office in January 1961, he faced an increasingly unsuccessful policy in Vietnam. The ARVN faced desertion, corruption, double agents, and a lack of effectiveness. Kennedy, however, believed that the ARVN could still become effective with proper steps. Kennedy increased the number of American advisors to the ARVN from 800 in January 1961 to 16,700 in November 1963. Kennedy believed if the ARVN could win the support of the Vietnamese villages the National Liberation Front (NLF) insurgency could be defeated. Kennedy began The Strategic Hamlet Program, which was an attempt to resettle villagers into fortified camps. The aim was to isolate the population from the insurgents, provide education and health care, and strengthen the government’s hold over the countryside. However, Kennedy’s policy was largely unsuccessful....