Comparing and Contrast of Vietnam WAr Essay

This essay has a total of 3215 words and 12 pages.

Comparing and Contrast of Vietnam WAr

A quarter of a century after the Fall of Saigon, Vietnam continues to exercise a powerful
hold of the American psyche. No deployment of American troops abroad is considered
without the infusion of the Vietnam question. No formulation of strategic policy can be
completed without weighing the possibility of Vietnanization. Even the politics of a
person cannot be discussed without taking into account his opinion on the Vietnam Ware.
This national obsession with Vietnam is perfectly national when viewed from a far. It was
the only war that the United States has ever lost. It defined an era of American history
that must rank with the depression as one of this nation’s most traumatic. It concluded
with Watergate and led many to believe that the United States was in decline. Even with
the sobering effect of time, passions concerning American policy and behavior in Southeast
Asia reach a level normally associated with sensitive social issues. To understand why,
one must look at Vietnam in the proper context. American involvement occurred in the
middle of, and was the most visible engagement, of the defining paradign of the post World
War II era, the Cold War. Only through this prism can the Vietnam experience be defined.

One of the seven global powers entering World War II; the United States emerged as an
undisputed “superpower.” Her economic and military night was overwhelming in a world
ravaged by five years of total war. The only adversary of comparable power was a notion
at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, the Soviet Union. As the vanguard of the
communist world, the U.S.S.R.’s raison d’etve was the facilitate the overthrow of the
global capitalist system and replace it with a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Thus
the explicit mission of American Foreign policy after 1945 was opposition to communist
advancement anywhere in the world. This took many forms and was backed by key assumption.

Central among then was the avoidance of a direct military confrontation between the Unites
States and the Soviet Union. With the U.S.S.R. achieving nuclear capability in 1947 and
both sides expanding their armed forces, a full out war was deemed unacceptable. The
result of such a war was seen to be catastrophic to the survival of the planet. The
lesson of the Korean War only reinforced this assumption. The infusion of Chinese troops
quickly escalated the conflict and some American generals advocated the nuclear option
against China. Wisely, President Truman rejected this and avoided drawing in the U.S.S.R.
as active participants.

Avoiding a head on clash with the Soviets meant that the Cold War would have to be fought
indirectly and on the peripheries. This strategy involved a positive and negative thirst.
Positive in that the United States would actively support friendly states and allies.
This support would encompass economic, military, and diplomatic aid. The most famous
example is the Marshall Plan. By generously helping Western Europe rebuild after the war,
the United States was able to effectively quash any Soviet designs in that part of the
continent. It is sometimes forgotten how much popularity far-left parties had in certain
countries. (France and Italy especially) immediately after the war, American involvement
in Greece was another prime example. The United States provided a significant amount of
support and material to help the Greek government suppresses a communist backed rebellion.
Also, to a lesser extent, the Unites States supported the Shah of Iran in helping drive
out Soviet troops who were reluctant to leave. Combined with the invasion of South Korea
by the north. American policy makers forged another key assumption. On that would prove
central to the Vietnam question. The U.S.S.R. was seen as an expansionist for that had to
be countered at every turn possible. There could be no end the United States vigilance.
A peaceful and calm co-existence was not viewed as being possible. One can view this
version of strategic policy as the zero-sum game. In a zero sum world, every action has a
good or bad effect, and your enemy’s gain, no matter how trivial, is a loss for you.
Thus, any Soviet advancement comes at the direct expense of American prestige and
position. Closely related to this worldview was what became famously known as the domino
theory. If the United States allowed even a small and strategically unimportant state to
fall into communist hands, she would be gravely damaged. This was because the communists
would then use the country as a spring board to dominate the neighboring county and so and
so on. Soon, all the countries of that region would fall into the soviet camp and the
United States would become slowly encircled by communist states. Also the abandonment of
an ally by the Unites States would shatter confidence of other countries in the
determination of America to fight communism and could cause those countries to warm to the
Soviet block.

Another assumption that American policy makers held was that the colonial system was
obsolete and would have to be scrapped. They had both idealistic and pragmatic roots.
The Unites States had always viewed itself as a beacon of freedom and democracy to other
peoples and nations. As such, the majority of this nations elite always viewed
colonialism with disdain. Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points reinforced this after the end
of World War I. The self-determination of peoples was a main foundation of that vision.
The Unites States thus sympathized with the nationalistic aspirations of people in the
post-war world.

The final assumption made by American policy makers (military mostly) was that if the U.S.
did find itself engaged in an armed conflict, superior America firepower would ultimately
win out. No on challenged the premise that the Unites States was the most technologically
advanced country in the world and that this transferred easily to the military. Only the
U.S. boasted a fleet of nuclear-powered mega carries. Only the U.S. possessed long-range
strategic bombers. American jets and submarines were unchallenged as the finest in the
world. Given American economic might, her military leaders had no doubt that the United
States would simply grind down and wear out opponents in a drawn-out conventional war.

As applied to Vietnam, these assumptions were transformed from beneficial guide points of
sound policy to dogmatic assertions that precluded American leaders from carrying out a
strategy suited to the unique situation of Vietnam.

Following World War II, France and her nationalist leader, Charles de Gaulle, was eager to
regain control of her overseas colonies. This applied particularly to Vietnam. (Which
had been taken over by the Japanese during the war) This was the first dilemma faced by
American leadership. Roosevelt loathes de Gaulle and felt that a return to the status quo
ante-bellum was unacceptable. However, as the prospect of a struggle with the Soviet
Union began to loom ever longer, “Roosevelt retreated sharply from his earlier forth night
stand…At Valta in February 1945, the President endorsed a proposal under which colonies
would be placed in trusteeship only with the approval of the other country. In view of
France’s announced intention to return to its former colony, this plan implicitly
precluded a trusteeship for Indochina.” (p.14) This shift coincided with the growing
fear of the Soviet Union and its global designs. “American skepticism about French policy
in Asia continued to be outweighed by European concerns. In the spring of 1947, the
Unites States formally committed itself to the containment of the Soviet expansion in
Europe.” (p. 70) Because France was seen as an essential component of this strategy,
American support for French designs in Vietnam was to become policy. As France was
dragged deeper and deeper into war with nationalist rebels in Vietnam, American support
grew more and more overt. The Unites States committed $133 Million in aid to the French
in 1950. By 1952, the Unites States was now bearing more than 40 percent of the cost of
the war and had established a stake in the outcome. The Geneva Conference proved to be a
key landmark in American involvement in Vietnam. The Americans still clung to the fantasy
that the French could hold on militarily. In fact, France was not willing to sacrifice
what was needed to keep Vietnam. Also, in what was to become a reoccurring theme, the
United States was unwilling and unable to separate nationalistic from communist
aspirations. What many Vietnamese saw as a struggle to kick out the French colonizers and
regain independence, the policy makers in Washington saw a sinister plot emanating from
the corridors of Moscow and Beijing. “The only freedom that most Vietnamese wanted was
not from Communism, about which they knew little and understood less, but from France and
Communist-dominated though it was, the Vietnam was the only force in the country fighting
for an independence which the France were persistently unwilling to grant.” (p. 47) This
was perhaps the most damaging assumption that Washington made and found difficult the
change. The White House and the Pentagon saw Ho Chih Migh was nothing more than a puppet
of China and the U.S.S.R. They felt he was merely a minion doing the bidding of his
masters in Beijing. The U.S. repeatedly rejected overtures by Ito, whose main goal was to
eject the French. As it became more apparent that the French would be unable to hold on,
American strategy shifted in 1955. American policy makers decided to build their
assumptions around Ngo Dinh Dien. President Eisenhower was steadfast in his support of
Dian and felt that there was no other option. He “never wavered in his conviction that
the survival of an independent, non-communist government in South Vietnam was a vital
strategic imperative for the United States.” (p.33)

When asked the reasons for America’s loss in Vietnam, many people reply that the military
was never given a chance to truly win the war. Their hands were tied behind their backs.
The leaders in Washington never gave the armed forces a green light to win. This argument
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