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Before the War-United States Involvement in Southeast Asia 1960-1963

Before the War-United States Involvement in Southeast Asia 1960-1963

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Published by green4sd

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: green4sd on Sep 03, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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For generations of Americans the Vietnam War has become a social, political andmilitary symbol. For millions of others there was nothing symbolic about the VietnamWar—it was very real. However, almost all Americans associate the Vietnam War withthe administration of Lyndon Johnson. Militarily speaking, this is probably fair. However,United States involvement in Vietnam from a diplomatic and political perspectivestretches to the end of World War II. The focus of this paper will be on Johnson’s predecessors in the White House, specifically, John F. Kennedy and to a lesser degree,Dwight D. Eisenhower.When John F. Kennedy became President of the United States in January 1961 itwas heralded as a new era for the country. As Kennedy himself said, for the first time,men “born in this century” would lead the country.Many of the problems, domestic and international, waiting on Kennedy’s desk inthe Oval Office were the same ones faced by the previous occupant of the office, DwightEisenhower. The situation in Vietnam, like virtually every diplomatic initiative of Kennedy’s administration, was colored by the elephant in the room—The Cold War.Much like Korea, the country had been split into two with North Vietnam led by Ho ChiMinh and South Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem.Meanwhile, the specter of communism almost immediately replaced the void left by the French in North Vietnam. The mere thought of Vietnam becoming Communist wasalarming to the Eisenhower administration for many reasons not least of which wasVietnam’s proximity to Russia and to the growing Communist power that was China.
The possibility that Vietnam and other countries in mainland Asia could “goCommunist” gave rise to what became known as the “Domino Theory.” Eisenhower wasreluctant to make any sort of military commitment, especially in light of the stalematethat was the Korean War. Kennedy, on the other hand, came to office as a man of newideas and new solutions to old problems.While Kennedy was just beginning his term, Diem and his military strongman Ngo Dinh Nhu were clinging to power in a country disenchanted with their leadership.Diem, especially, realized his political survival hinged on forging a relationship with thenew president.Whenever Vietnam is mentioned in conversation, especially in the political or military arenas, somewhere soon the term “lessons of Vietnam” comes up. But what arethose lessons? I think one of the main lessons—which have not been learned to this day —is that building alliances in the international community is a complex process that cango wrong in the worst ways. Too often, United States foreign policy has been dictated bythe simplistic theory that “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” At different points inthe last third of the 20
Century the United States supported the likes of AugustoPinochet, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.Vietnam, like so many of its Asian neighbors, has spent very little of its existenceas a truly independent nation. Since 1976 Vietnam has been independent and it was onlythrough over 20 years of virtually continuous war that independence was attained.Throughout its history different sections of what is now Vietnam had varyingdegrees of autonomy. From approximately 1002 until the middle of the 19
century parts2
of Vietnam were under the control of one dynasty or another, though the continuation of rule wasn’t always peaceful. At this point in time Vietnam was known as Indochina.The mid-19
century marked the height of European colonization in Asia. In 1858France, under the direction of Napoleon III, made its first forays into Vietnam by militaryattack and captured Saigon. By 1862, a treaty was signed giving France control of threesouthern provinces of Indochina. Five years later French forces had made their waythrough the provinces around the Mekong Delta and created a French Colony whichcame to be called Cochin China. Later, French forces landed and seized the northern partof the country which they dubbed Tonkin. Finally, in 1887 French Indochina was formedwith Annam as the central colony, Tonkin the northern colony, and Cochin China as thesouthern colony. France allowed the monarchial structure to continue, but in practicethere was little doubt to who was governing the country.This series of events should have sent a message to future invaders or would-beoccupiers of this mountainous, humid land filled with densely populated jungle regions.Vietnam is essentially protected by the South China Sea in the southeast and the Gulf of Tonkin in the northeast. Furthermore, it is lengthy country meaning that it isapproximately 1000 miles from north to south but only 400 miles across at its widest point. At its narrowest point it is less than a 100 miles east to west. Consider: atechnologically superior country (France) needed 25 years to finally take control of whatwould now be considered a third-world country. The French tried to bring westernreforms to the land and even brought Christianity in an effort to modernize Indochina butinstead spent much of the next 50 years heading off one insurrection after another. This is3

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