Why did the USA become involved in Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s?
The USA became involved in Vietnam because of a cry for help from the Vietnamese president of that time, Ngo Dinh Diem, or at least, they used it as an excuse for what they did. The Americans saw it as a prime example to the rest of the world of how capitalism could conquer communism. They didn t worry that they might not actually be able to conquer the communism in Vietnam. Of course, the American view was that the enemy were only a bunch of peasants and farmers who had been given little or no training. The quote It ll all be over before Christmas from World War I times springs to mind.
Vietnam was part of French Indo-China. Since 1930, they found themselves opposed by communists, and by 1940, the League for Vietnamese Independence was founded. This was also known as the Vietminh.
After the second world war, French control had been severely weakened. A movement for independence led by Ho Chi Minh was growing in strength. It was called the Vietminh. The French started finding themselves fighting a guerrilla war against the Vietminh. Other powers became involved. Communist China gave aid to the Vietminh and the USA gave $3billion to the French. Like Korea before it, it became a war of ideology.
By 1955, France knew they were fighting a losing battle. They signed a treaty in Geneva, allowing for Vietnam to be split in two, with a North/South divide at its 17th parallel. The reason for this was because France had been in control of most of the South, and the Vietminh held the North since the beginning of the conflict. It was also decided that the split would be a temporary one. In 1956, elections would be held to reunite Vietnam again under one government. Ho Chi Minh agreed to the Geneva decisions because he felt that the Vietminh would win any general elections.
This was the reason that President Eisenhower of the USA refused to sign the Geneva agreement. The USA didn t want to be part of anything that had the slightest chance of turning communist. He and his advisors thought that communism was spreading like ink on blotting paper , and Vietnam would be next.
For the Americans, the Domino Theory was gaining credibility, and they had no wish to see Vietnam tumble to the call of Communism. Vietnam needed to be defended to prevent other Asian countries from being knocked over . The Domino Theory was supposed to be how communism would spread throughout the whole of South East Asia. It started when China turned communist. Korea then turned communist, then Vietnam, then Laos and Cambodia. It was a domino rally of small Asian countries. They needed to break the chain and Vietnam seemed the best place to do it.
Following the Truman Doctrine, and justifying their actions as being in defence of free people under the threat of communism , they began to supply the South Vietnamese government, first with money and military advisors, and later with full blown military support. An example of this was that a group of American Advisors were sent into South Vietnam after the announcement of the split to ensure that it s people did not support the Communist North in the approaching elections. In 1955, a new President of South Vietnam was chosen. That man was Ngo Dinh Diem. He was strongly anti-Communist and the USA was very happy to support him throughout the 1950s. The problem was that many of the South Vietnamese people hated the South Vietnamese government as it was corrupt, very rich and Christian. This put it out of touch with the common Vietnamese citizen who was a poor, Buddhist, peasant.
Then came the Gulf of Tonkin incident, where an American battle-ship claimed they were attacked by Vietnamese aircraft, and used it as an excuse to launch a full scale offensive on them. This seriously escalated the war.
There has been some questions asked as to whether the ship actually was attacked, as some people feel that America just used it as an excuse for attacking the Vietnamese. This is only a theory, although it is as likely theory as any.
In short, the USA became involved in Vietnam because they wanted to stop the domino theory. They felt that they could stop the toppling in Vietnam, and use it as a showpiece to show how capitalism could defeat communism.
How wrong they were.