Since during the Vietnam War there has been debate on whether the United States was right to become involved in the conflict. Some say that we were wrong to become involved in what was an internal conflict among the people of Vietnam. Others feel that we followed the natural course and that involvement was not only wrong, but also justified. Which view is right? Should we have been in Vietnam or not?
World War II was the defining event for the United States global role. After the war we took a very intense in the rebuilding of Europe and Japan. Even though we worked with the Soviet Union to win the war, we were now more than ever wary of communism. Those two factors together formed the basis for the policies and ideas that would lead to our involvement in Southeastern Asia.
China had fallen to communism right after the war. Obviously this was huge as they were the largest and most powerful nation in eastern Asia after the war. What was even more alarming to US foreign policymakers was the threat of the domino effect. China, if it wanted to, was very capable of exerting a lot of pressure on the smaller countries around them. Once the spread of communism started, the fear was that it would spread so far and so much that soon all of Asia would be under communist rule and that it would continue to spread around the world. Vietnam was seen as one of the cornerstones in this process. If they could keep Vietnam from falling to communist rule, then that would help the region as a whole.
The United States took the initiative to rebuild Japan for a few reasons. Part of the US s new commitment to a global, open economy included Japan as a key to Asia. If the US did not intervene, then political turmoil would occur. Second, US officials feared that communism grew in areas where there is political turmoil. If the US did not restore order to Japan, they feared not only that communism would form, but also that China would be the one to institute it.
I don t think the US had a reason for choosing specifically Vietnam. Most of it had to do with the timing of it. The US needed to prove that democracies would prevail over communism. Moreover, they needed to prove that the US could conquer communism. Vietnam just happened to come along at the right time. The US did not have any reason for choosing Vietnam. They were not a world or even a regional power. They had no influence over any other country, but they did provide for the perfect example.
Our desire, however, was not so much to destroy communism but to contain it. US policymakers formulated a plan that would be known as the Containment Theory. Our goal was to contain communism from spreading, not put it out altogether. In many respects, our war in Vietnam followed a course, as stated by Stephen Ambrose, America fought in Vietnam as a direct result of a world view from which no one in power dissented and as a logical culmination of the policy of containment.
Containment was the main reason we put so much effort into Southeast Asia. Once we started on that path, it was hard to stop. We needed to contain communism. At the time, communism was our greatest foreign policy concern, so of course we would put as much effort into it as possible. In the early 1960 s Kennedy made some commitments that more or less sealed our fate in Vietnam. He committed a number of troops and the US participated in the removal of Diem, the president of South Vietnam. Once Diem was no longer in power, the US had to take an even greater role in order to prevent complete political turmoil, which may lead to communism. Second, once he committed those first troops, it became increasingly hard to attempt to leave.
We could not leave for a few reasons. First, we had not contained communism. The US cannot fail in this respect, as it is one of if not the greatest foreign policy concern. Second, we cannot abandon an ally. How would it look to the world to put some effort into helping South Vietnam, then pull out and abandon them and leave them to be taken over by communists.
So commitments were made and the US was in Vietnam, for better or for worse. We were in Vietnam. Vietnam and the war was in fact a culmination of containment, as Ambrose said.
However, there are others who feel that we should not have been in Vietnam. We had no business in that part of the world. Were we wrong to be in Vietnam? Well, after some years, many would say yes.
After WWII, we felt almost invincible. We had helped save the world, so a little conflict in Vietnam should have been no problem. After all, the Vietnamese do not have the military expertise and training and supplies that the enemy in WWII did. A little spark in Southeast Asia should be no problem to extinguish. It was this kind of mentality that was part of the downfall of the US.
Also, the fact that the South Vietnamese government could not stand on its own became increasingly obvious as the war drew on. The US could not stay in South Vietnam forever, and at some point Saigon would have to fend for itself. As it became increasingly apparent that this would not happen, the tide turned at home.
However, even though the obvious lack of skill and talent of the South Vietnamese was apparent, the US still could not pull out for fear of what our other allies would think.
The US made some policy decisions that had drastic effects on our efforts in Vietnam. Part of our reason for being there was the Truman Doctrine. While this was directed primarily towards countries in Europe, it was applied to the world. Truman made an open ended promise to the world that the US would be there if needed for military reasons.
A second and unwise policy decision was that of attrition. The US brass obviously did not do their research on this one. They did not know how deep the human resources the North Vietnamese went. US soldiers were killing many Vietcong each day, but their resources never seemed to be diminished. On top of that, the villages and countryside was not taken into consideration. They would warn the Vietcong when Americans were coming, thus allowing them to have the lowest possible number of casualties as possible.
Some feel that our involvement in Vietnam was wrong while others feel differently. Can both sides be correct? The answer to that is yes. Upon looking back, and even to some at the time of the war, we were wrong to be there and to become as involved as we did. However, it was a natural progression. We were so afraid of communism and it spreading that we made crucial steps to stop it. Over the years, our involvement progresses because of our commitment to containment. In addition, we were trying to send a message to the world, and in particular the Soviet Union and China, in making an example of Vietnam. We were trying to prove that we could stop Communism.
However, because of some policy mistakes, including underestimating the Vietcong and overestimating the forces of Saigon, we failed. In the end we did not contain communism, as Saigon fell after we left. We tried to control another part of the world that we knew little to nothing about. We were so confident that we never really stopped to thing about if we should.