There were a numerous amount of reasons for the US getting involved in Vietnam and then increasing its involvement. It first got involved to contain communism, a long-term cause of US involvement. They believed in the “domino theory” which stated that if Vietnam fell to communist rule, and then so would all of Indo-China. Therefore it decided to support South Vietnam financially and militarily and sent in 11,000 troops under Kennedy’s presidency in December 1962. By 1965, 180,000 US troops were fighting in Vietnam – an increase of 169,000 troops in roughly 3 years!
This figure increased further to 500,000 soldiers by 1968. Now that we know what happened, as historians we must ask ourselves why. I believe that the major reason for this was that the Americans underestimated the Viet Cong, supplied and supported by China and the Soviet Union, and were not ready or well trained enough to fight against them. I know this is true because the guerilla tactics used by the Viet Cong did not suit the American style of conventional warfare. Therefore the Americans suffered heavy casualties, as they almost had no enemy to fire back at.
Booby traps, or fighters who hid in trees, or “civilians” who were in disguise and even suicide fighters would kill them. Their constant defeats and humiliation resulted in more troops being needed to keep them in the battle. Military action was also stepped up for long-term political reasons. After JFK’s assassination, his vice-president Johnson (LBJ) came to power. Like all politicians, he had to build up his reputation as an anti-communist willing to do what it takes to contain communism so he could stay in power and be re-elected, especially because he was relatively unknown.
Therefore, this influenced his decisions and they could have been over-exaggerated. Many US citizens believed, or were influenced to, that communism was the enemy, and he was under pressure of losing his place. Another short-term reason was the belief that the situation was desperate because of the weakness of the South Vietnamese government. He saw that he needed to help these people from “communist invaders” from the North and therefore also increased involvement. A short-term reason for US increasing its involvement was the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964.
This gave President Johnson an excuse to obtain the power to do whatever he wanted. This was a minor naval battle between the North Vietnam navy and the US Maddox. Even though there was minor damage sustained by the US Maddox, President Johnson managed to convince congress that it was necessary to retaliate against communist rebels in defence. In the short-term, the US wanted to end the war as quickly as possible to stop the mass amount of casualties sustained and to also stop the media from obtaining certain facts which may have turned world opinion against the US.
This would’ve made the US army increase its involvement so that they could crush the North Vietnamese quickly. This was a quite significant reason. In the long-term, many such battles during the time of the Cold War between communists and capitalists such as the Korean War, Afghan War and Vietnam were almost an indirect way for the superpowers to fight and show off their power. The Viet Cong were indeed supplied by China and the USSR both militarily and financially. The US was almost using the war in Vietnam to fight the USSR, indirectly and also through media.
I believe this is quite an important reason for the US wanting to increase their involvement so that they would not be humiliated in front of, or indirectly “by”, the USSR and China and the communist world, and to prove their superiority. In conclusion, we understand that the US increased their involvement in Vietnam for various long-term and short-term reasons. These are mainly world opinion and humiliating and shocking defeats/casualties suffered by the US army. Q2/ Study Source A. Do you agree with this interpretation of the problems faced by the United States soldiers in Vietnam?
Use the source and knowledge from your studies to explain your answer. I fully agree with the interpretation of the problems faced by US soldiers that is written in Source A. The source states that the troops sent into Vietnam against trained guerilla fighters were young, nai?? ve, inexperienced and unskilled fighters. It also states that the soldiers were not intelligent and that they therefore died within months. I know that the facts stated in Source A are valid and factually correct because of other various resources such as encyclopedias and Internet websites (BBC GCSE Bitesize) confirm these.
They did in fact lose heavily in many conflicts because of this, and the average age of a dead US soldier coming from the Vietnamese War was 19. Also from Source F (Video of My Lai massacre) there is a quote by one of the generals who says that the US troops sent to Vietnam were a “cross section of American youth”. We can therefore understand that the information given to us adds to a list of reasons that the US lost the conflict in Vietnam. However, I believe it would be wrong to take this source at face value, as there were many reasons that the troops had problems.
The US troops were not used to the guerilla tactics used by the Viet Cong. They were also scared of what might happen to them because of previous incidents where the US army was humiliated. Another problem was the drug abuse that plagued the war. These are of many problems that were faced by US soldiers in Vietnam that are not mentioned in the source. Source A is quite limited. It is an extract from a book, “Four Hours in My Lai”, published in 1992. It is a secondary source, which means the writer has had insight into all the occurrences of the war and can use other resources and references to form his book or conclusions.
He also had no wartime pressure and could write whatever he wanted. However, we are not given the whole book to see all his interpretations of problems faced by US troops and are only given this clip of information. Also, it is limited because My Lai is the focus of the book, so it does not show the whole picture of the Vietnam War. A British journalist who is using secondary sources to create his interpretation writes this source and he was not present in Vietnam. Therefore the source is limited as it does not show the whole picture or the full argument but only gives us one of many problems for the US.
Despite the fact that I totally agree with the interpretation of the source, I feel that more information is needed to form a stable argument as to the problems faced, like photographs, newspaper articles, cartoons, extracts from encyclopedias and quotes made by various historians. These also need to be cross-referenced with each other to help create a fair review of the problems faced by US soldiers. However, it is valid and tells us one view on this subject. Q3/ Is there sufficient evidence in sources A-F to explain why there was an anti-war movement in the United States during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s?
I believe sources A to F do not supply sufficient evidence as to why the public and world opinion began to oppose the US’ involvement in the Vietnam War and but helps us to understand why anti-war demonstrations and protests took place on the Home Front. Source A informs us that the US troops that were sent to Vietnam were young and inexperienced soldiers who died within 1 to 6 months. This sort of information would surely influence some sort of anger in the hearts of many US citizens. However the source itself was created in 1992 and is only one person’s interpretation.
It is therefore limited as such because nobody is worried about the war anymore. Source B is a photograph of two innocent Vietnamese children who are suffering at the hands of napalm. This is a petroleum jelly that sticks to the skin and burns. The photograph is horrendous. Many US citizens may feel disgusted by this sort of photograph with two small, naked children running away, crying and burning and they may begin to believe that this war is immoral and illegal, which was being conducted by their relatives and friends.
It must be a terrible thought and the widespread coverage would have indefinitely triggered some sort of debate as to whether the US cause of conflict was truly justifiable. However, the source is again limited, as it doesn’t show us the whole picture. The US army may have killed thousands of Viet Cong in that attack and all we are shown are two unfortunate children who have suffered. An American journalist who says that there is no excuse for destroying villages and killing civilians out of frustration writes source C.
This was the opinion and such massacres like the one in My Lai were due to frustration and difficulty of fighting guerilla troops. The US troops had nobody to shoot at, and could not tell between the Viet Cong and the innocent civilians. Source C explains however that this does not justify US acts of terrorism in Vietnam. This source would also spark US public interest especially if it was written in a newspaper article, and would also cause anti-war feeling in the US. The source is quite biased as the person who wrote it is very anti-war; therefore despite its utility it is quite limited and unreliable.
Source D is a cartoon showing that President Johnson’s policy of a “Great Society” was being used to fuel the US economy onto spending more on the war on Vietnam. The “Great Society” was Johnson’s idea of helping the homeless and to provide more education and medical care. However it seemed to be that the money he promised to create these policies was instead used against Vietnam and it became a joke and an excuse. This is what the cartoon highlights. This may change a lot of public opinion as it shows the President lying to his own people to commit the crimes in the war on Vietnam.
Also the fact that this is a British cartoon shows it was a world opinion against the US policies and not just the US civilians who opposed war. It is limited though because it is a cartoon and is only one person’s interpretation. The US would probably have not seen this cartoon and so we can’t really say that is the reason for an anti-war movement in America. Source E is a statement said by a BBC commentator at a seminar and it describes how effective the media coverage on the war was as it showed the blood spilled in the conflict and the true meaning of the word “war”.
This again proves my statement about world opinion, as it is a British source. The concept that it is British also shows that it would not have been head by Americans, but such speeches may have been said in America. The source itself is limited but helps us to understand. From the other evidence I gathered from the video about My Lai, I fully understood why there was so much opposition to war and why so many anti-war demonstrations took place. There were Vietnamese people talking about how they saw their own sisters get raped and their relatives and friends were shot and their houses burnt to the ground in front of their eyes.
So how would people living in the US knowing that their country is sending their friends and relatives to commit such atrocities react? This again acts as evidence as to why there were anti-war feelings throughout the globe. The source however is again limited because its focus is My Lai. Plus, we know from various sources that My Lai was hidden for a while and so the My Lai massacre would not have been the reason for anti-war movements in the US, but a reason for it.
In conclusion, we can understand that the sources alone do not provide enough to explain the reasons for anti-war feeling in America. The sources show US atrocities and also US policies and lies which all draw the conclusion that the war was unjustifiable, but their limitations dhow us that more evidence is needed. Together they provide us with a clearer picture but I believe that more sources and more historical events, such as the Kent State University protest, should be cross-referenced to help us to understand why the US civilians felt the need to demonstrate their opinions by protesting.