US History AP
23 April 2010
The Vietnam War
With the end of World War II in 1945, many Americans hoped to head toward an era of prosperity and renewal. However, this was made impossible as the anti-communist tensions of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR sparked almost immediately after the destructive world war. The tensions between anti-communists and communists eventually led to one of the most controversial events in American history: the Vietnam War. Historians have still left many unanswered about this infamous war. Was the war avoidable? Why did the United States engage in a war that did not directly affect them? Was the war moral? However, perhaps this is the biggest question of all: could the war have been won or should the war have been won?
When the Vietnamese finally successfully overthrew the French colonial power in 1954, the fragile country was separated into two partitions: a communistic republic in the North and a US-backed governmental regime in the South. In an attempt to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam by Communist North Vietnam, the United States joined forces with Britain, France, Thailand, Pakistan, Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia to for the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) on September 8, 1954. However, this had very limited success. Unfortunately for the Americans, situations became messy when the Led by Ho Chi Minh, the Northern Communist Party formed the National Liberation Front (NFL) on December 20, 1960, in hopes of reuniting the divided nation. The American-backed corrupt Diem government was vulnerable to the communists. Following the 1947 Truman Doctrine, the United States felt obligated to impose the “containment policy” by halting the “spread of communism.” Therefore, in the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy and his administration, devoted to defend the Southern Democratic government, began to American boys into the perilous jungles of Vietnam.
The “modernization theory” also helped support the United States’ reason for entering a foreign war. The theory stated that the “traditional societies of Asia…could develop into modern industrial and democratic nations by following the West’s own path” (The American Pageant 913). In other words, if developed Western nations, such as the United States, assisted developing countries in other parts of the world, namely Asia, both economically and industrially, then those countries will, in turn, transform into nations with democratic governments hereby eliminating communism. Clearly referenced to in Walt Whitman Rostow’s book, The Stages of Economic Growth, the modernization theory significantly supported the United States’ decision to enter the Vietnam War.
However, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy’s tragic death gave his Vice President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the presidency. At this time, American morale in the Vietnam War was still high. In the Cold War, tensions with the communistic Soviets were even colder than ever before, especially since they threw their support toward the communist NFL in the North against the United States-supported Diem government in the South. American citizens learned to scorn and sneer at the Soviets, and began to enlist in the army to directly defeat the communists in Vietnam and to indirectly humiliate Soviet Russia.
In August of 1964, President Johnson claimed that Northern Vietnamese had fired at American ships in the Tonkin Gulf while attacking Southern Vietnam. Using this as the perfect excuse, President Johnson persuaded both houses of Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, virtually giving him a “blank check” for the Vietnam War. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution states for “the United States…to take all the necessary steps, including armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom” (The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution...
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