Thursday, December 1, 2011

America and the War in Vietnam

A)   Vietminh and the OSS

1)     Ho Chi Minh – Ho was a Vietnamese nationalist who admired the works of Marx, and wanted to establish a socialist state in his country

2)     Vietminh armed forces – with military supplies from the US, the Vietminh fought an effective guerilla war against the Japanese.

B)   Japanese surrender – when the Japanese surrendered, the Vietminh expected the US to continue to support them in their effort to establish an independent country

II)               French attempt to re-colonize – the Vichy government (the government which controlled France during the Nazi occupation of that country) had surrendered to the invading Japanese, but many French rubber plantation owners had in fact cooperated with the Japanese, and were allowed to maintain their property.

A)   Vietminh resistance – not surprisingly, the Vietminh resisted the attempted French re-colonization, and maintained their guerilla war against the occupying forces.

B)   US aid to France – the US provided some military assistance to their NATO alliance partners, in the form of credits and some military advisers

1)     Geo-political decision – the officials of the US government decided that it was more politically important, in our “Cold War” against the Soviet Union, to make nice with France in their struggle to re-assert colonial control, than to ally with a small, insignificant country with which we had no economic interest, nor any real political interest.

C)   French military offensive

1)     1946 – while the Vietminh were still expecting the US to side with them in the dispute, the French forces in Vietnam were able to drive the Vietminh forces out of most of the cities in the country

D)   French military defeats – after their initial victories against the Vietminh, the French suffered a series of devastating defeats; in response, the French government changed military commanders in the country.

1)     “The light at the end of the tunnel” – soon after taking command of French forces, commander Gen. Henri Navarre declared that “Now we can see victory clearly, like the light at the end of the tunnel.”  That is not the last time that phrase is heard in relation to conflicts in Vietnam.

2)     Dien Bien Phu – in the jungle near this small hamlet, a large French force was surrounded by Vietminh forces, and after an extensive two-month siege, the Vietminh forced the French survivors to surrender on May 7, 1954.

3)     Geneva Accords – at the insistence of the United States, the country of Vietnam was divided “temporarily” along the 17th Parallel, and nationwide elections to choose a government for a unified Vietnam were to be held in 1956

III)            Vietnam and the Domino Theory – the so-called Domino Theory was an ideology subscribed to by both liberals and conservatives; a politician who could be portrayed as “soft on communism” effectively signed their own political death warrant.

A)   Government of South Vietnam – largely a paper tiger, if not a myth.  The government in South Vietnam never enjoyed any widespread popular support; if it were not for the millions and eventually billions of dollars that the US poured in to the country, it would have collapsed of its own inertia long before 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army finally rolled into Saigon.  As a secret government study conducted by the Pentagon, and leaked as the famous “Pentagon Papers,” the “government” of South Vietnam was largely a creation of the United States government.

1)     Premier Diem – Vietnamese Catholic, he organized a “national referendum” that led to the creation of the Republic of Vietnam.  He then won a rigged election to head that government, and maintained control only with US support (eventually, that support from the US amounted to over $1 million a day)

(a)  Diem’s only support in the country come from other Vietnamese Catholics (a very small percentage of the population, by the way), and other Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French

2)     US $$$ -- the United States was positive that given a choice, no country would want to pass up the political and economic advantages that could be provided by alliances with the US

3)     National Liberation Front – in December of 1960, the National Liberation Front was established by forces loyal to Ho in the south; they were popularly known in the US by the derogatory term given them by forces loyal to Diem in the south, Viet Cong (which became “VC” or “Charlie,” eventually, in US GI slang)

B)   Kennedy and Counterinsurgency – Kennedy was elected over Richard Nixon (barely) in part because of his promise to “close the window of vulnerability” that he claimed existed and threatened the security of the US.

1)     Counterinsurgency – the creation of a Special Forces branch in the Army, which supposedly would be able to respond to Communist aggression around the globe

(a)  “Green Berets” – to train South Vietnamese forces in techniques of counterinsurgency, and dry up the sea of support which the National Liberation forces swam in (an allusion to an idea Mao espoused, where he compared guerilla forces to fish in a sea, undetectable among other fish.

(b) Cowboys and Indians – the Vietnamese forces were an unconventional enemy that enjoyed widespread support among the people of the rural countryside—which in Vietnam, meant most of the people living in the country.

(c)  Lack of success – the lack of success that the South Vietnamese forces enjoyed in their counterinsurgency battles meant that more and more money and material was flowing into the country from the US, as were more and more military advisors, to “support” the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN).

IV)            Escalation of US Involvement

A)   Gulf of Tonkin – the USS Maddox was allegedly “attacked” while offshore from North Vietnam, in disputed seas (North Vietnam claimed the area as sovereign territory, while the US maintained that the waters were international waters).

1)     Gulf of Tonkin Resolution – after the alleged attack, President Johnson asked Congress for, and received, authorization from Congress to “take all necessary measures to repel armed attacks against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

(a)  Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed unanimously in the House, and only two dissenters in the Senate (both of whom lost in the next election that they faced.
B)   Da Nang

1)     USMC – on March 8, 1965, a large force of Marines landed at Da Nang to reinforce an airfield there; by March 13 the Marine expeditionary force was joined by 40,000 other troops, and by late June of that year the Army commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, had received authorization to commit American forces to battle wherever he saw fit.

C)   The Undeclared War – as more troops were committed, soldiers and Marines from the United States began to assume more of the responsibility of the fighting in this undeclared war

1)     Search and destroy missions – troops from the US forces engaged in the small troop tactic of so-called Search and Destroy missions, where platoons ventured into the jungles of Vietnam, looking for enemy to engage and hopefully kill, or at least locate so that air support could be called in.  Most of the time, these patrols found nothing.  The fault of these tactics was, of course, that the enemy only engaged their pursuers at the time and place of their choosing

2)     The Air War – the US dropped four times the amount of bombs in Southeast Asia than were used by all belligerents during World War II; but this bombing campaign was relatively ineffective against an enemy that was fighting a low tech war anyway—there simply was not much infrastructure to destroy.

3)     Weekly body count – each Friday, the military released figures of casualties, which was how the “score” was kept.  Each week, the total number of casualties for the North Vietnamese Army and the National Liberation Front, which inevitably were higher than the combined totals for the United States and the ARVN—so we were winning the war, right?

4)     Selective Service – because of college student deferments, the burden of service in this war fell inordinately upon the working-class; in fact, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (the three premier universities in the country) between them only had one alumnus die.  George W. attended Yale, drank his way through four years, and then conveniently “served” in the Air National Guard; Albert Gore, Jr. graduated from Princeton, and served in Vietnam—as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes, the newspaper written for members of the military.

D)   Tet – Tet is the name for the Vietnamese New Year; after 1968 the word Tet is associated with the beginning of the end of US involvement in the war in Vietnam.

1)     “The light at the end of the tunnel” – in January 1968, Gen. Westmoreland declared that the end of the war, now three years along in the involvement of US forces, was at hand, that officers there were confident that they were able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

2)     The Tet Offensive – just after Westmoreland made his observance about the end of the war, the National Liberation Front launched its Tet Offensive.  This offensive caught the US and South Vietnamese forces completely by surprise, and NLF forces captured several cities in the south (including the center of religious life in Vietnam, Hue), and threatened to capture Saigon.  The NVA had coordinated an attack at a Marine camp called Khe Shanh at this time, and held it under siege for several weeks.

3)     Result – the effect of the Tet Offensive, from a military view, was a crushing defeat for the NLF and NVA; the US forces eventually defeated the combined force, and retook all of the lost territory; the NLF in particular was decimated.

(a)  The end of US involvement – it became obvious to even the most casual observers that the end of the war was no where close to happening; popular support for continued US involvement in the war began to shift dramatically from this point.

V. “Peace With Honor” and the 1968 Election

A)   LBJ—at the end of March, Johnson announced the “if nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve”—that he was withdrawing from the 1968 presidential race.

1)     “Clean for Gene”—US senator Eugene J. McCarthy, disenchanted with Johnson’s leadership on the war, decided to oppose Johnson for the Democratic nomination. In the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy ran an unexpectedly close second, thanks largely to his superior “ground game” staffed largely with college students, many of whom had “cleaned up” their image to campaign door-to-door in the state.

2)     RFK enters the race—John F. Kennedy’s younger brother, Robert, buoyed by the surge that the unknown McCarthy was enjoying against the despised incumbent Johnson, entered the race on March 16, 1968. Kennedy won several primaries after entering the race, including California on the night he was assassinated (June 4, 1968), but it was far from a foregone conclusion that he would have been nominated.

3)     Hubert H. Humphrey—the most traditionally liberal of the Democratic frontrunners—but Humphrey was burdened by being Johnson’s vice-president, and therefore tied to the war.

B) Nixon and the Southern Strategy—Nixon had closely observed the splintering of the Democratic Party coalition caused by the Civil Rights legislation, and the success that George C. Wallace enjoyed in the North in 1964, heaping scorn on “pointy-headed intellectuals” and voicing concerns about the rising crime rate and government intrusions into private life. Nixon and his vice-presidential running mate, Spiro Agnew (governor of Maryland—again, attempting to appeal to Southern whites), spent much of the campaign claiming to speak for the “Silent Majority,” talking about crime—and inviting conflict with long-haired protestors.

C) George Wallace—running this time at the head of the American Independent Party, with former Air Force general Curtis LeMay, Wallace remained a lightening rod for protestors. Nixon feared the number of working-class whites Wallace might siphon from his Southern Strategy, but it seems that he garnered just about as many from Humphrey.

D) “The Whole World is Watching”—the chant of protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in August 1968. Much of the American part of that world was watching—and hoping that the Chicago cops would hit the protestors harder with their nightsticks. Locally, Mayor Richard J. Daley’s popularity went up with his police department’s handling of the protest.

E) 1968 Election—despite a last minute surge by Humphrey, begun when he turned over the reigns of the campaign to the UAW, Nixon won the popular vote by 7/10ths of one percent (although his electoral victory was substantial)

VI. …The War Goes On
A. Vietnamization—Nixon proposed that the war should be carried on by the South Vietnamese—with American support and assistance. South Vietnamese officers saw this as a chance to enrich themselves, as American oversight waned.

B. Cambodia—to interrupt the North Vietnamese supply chain into the south, a secret invasion into Cambodia was undertaken in late 1969. When the secret leaked out in 1970, this sparked campus protests around the country, including Kent State and Jackson State, where students protesters were fired upon and killed by National Guardsmen.

C. “Peace is at Hand”—Henry Kissinger returned home from negotiations in Paris with promises of peace just in time for the 1972 presidential election.

No comments:

Post a Comment