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The Defeat of the US
The activism of Cuba and Vietnam outside their boundaries placed a lot of pressure on the policy of the third world at a period when there were opportunities for the perpetuation of socialism outside Europe created by decolonization. During this time, most of the leaders became preoccupied by the conflict with China. They had started a revolution that was gradual but positive regarding the views of the party on the potential for the third world’s socialist revolution.
The Cuban and Vietnamese intention to confront the United States awed and irritated them. There was a long duration of uncertainty in the third world policy of the Soviets which led to three subsequent periods of euphoric engagement, disappointments and doubts, and activism. There was more consistency in the third world policy of the United States. As the US began getting wired in the Vietnam War, a sense of hysteria that had existed in the Congress administration began to decline.
The political incidences in the third world appeared to be separate from the jeopardizing Soviet Union and were the cause for lowering of the tone. Military coups in most developing nations seemed to take the states away from the Soviet embrace and instead direct them to some kind of engagement with the United States. In most cases, the military coups won without any intervention from the US apart from some cases where China or the Soviet Union intervened and gave support such as in the Vietnam case (Westad 159-160).
After a momentous war between 1954 and 1955 that saw the defeat of the French against Vietnam, a stage was set for the Geneva conference. The negotiations between America and France that ended that year saw America get involved in the struggle with the Vietnamese communists. This struggle continued for two decades and led to the victory of the communists. The US has rarely experienced such defeat at the hands of foreign enemies (Anderson 1-2).
Tracing through the administrations of several of the past US leaders, it is possible to come up with a case for a number of turning points with regard to the policy of the US towards Vietnam. It is argued that the reason for their concentration on the presidency of Eisenhower is that when he was in leadership, between 1953 and 1961 after the French military had departed from Vietnam, the south of Vietnam had the Republic of Vietnam existing there. The southern regime was then patronized by the United States.
This raises several questions as to whether the American assistance to Vietnam was based on ignorance and innocence. It also raises the question of whether Eisenhower’s administration was out to resolve the issue in Vietnam or was actually managing it for purposes that were political and domestic. The American aid to both Saigon and the South is argued to have been misplaced. The Eisenhower administration’s actions did not necessitate the intense intervention of the American military in Vietnam.
The decisions of John. F. Kennedy and Johnson to expand and escalate the military assistance and involvement were clearly their own actions and should not have been taken. There were alternatives that they could have taken. Again, the Eisenhower administration’s eight years formed a basis for the subsequent resolutions to intervene, set a pace for America’s public opinion to admit intervention and really enlarged the commitment of the US towards South Vietnam. There was great peace in America for the eight years of Eisenhower’s tenure in comparison to the casualties and hostilities endured in Vietnam later on during the period of the New Frontier – Great Society (Anderson 2; Marshall Cavendish Corporation 1620).
The years of Eisenhower were a period of pause between the two Indochina wars. Whereas Harry S. Truman resolved to assist France in Vietnam, Johnson sent not only combat divisions but also American bombers. Rather than being a lapse between these two events, the Eisenhower tenure acted as a link between them. His leadership held the line in Vietnam by causing the South to ensure that Vietminh did not enjoy the full fruits of triumphing over the French and hence buying time for strengthening another alternative against the communists. Whereas the negative objective of ensuring that the communists were held at bay succeeded, the positive goal of coming up with a new southern nation did not succeed. The Republic of Vietnam became a government rather than a nation in 1961.
Earlier on (within the 1950s), America had envisioned Southern Vietnam as a partner in an area that was strategically valuable and this concept appeared to be in line with the foreign policy of America (Anderson 3).
Mutual Support between the US and Japan in the Vietnam War
The American involvement in the Vietnam War is one of the most important developments in Asia in 1965. The government of Japan under the premiership of Eisaku Sato clearly declared its support for the United States in the war and allowed the United States to make use of its bases in Japan. These were to be used as rare bases (Shiraishi 29). As a result, the economy of Japan grew as a result of the war. Although the already expanded economy did not increase as a result of the expenditure by the US military, as had been the case during the Korean War in the 1950s, Japan had indirect economic benefits from the war.
Japan made investments in the neighboring nations where the military needs and aid were met by the heavy spending by the United States. Although the private investments of Japan in Southern Vietnam were almost not existent, the exports of Japan to that nation increased greatly in 1966. The military and political instability of South Vietnam had made the Japanese companies afraid (Shiraishi 30).
Several regional and international organizations in the western Pacific were established and sustained by Japan. Some of them include the Asian and Pacific Council (ASPAC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The coming into existence of these organizations in 1966 is not a coincidence. They were strategically established to contribute toward purposes such as the economic and military needs of the US military base in the Vietnam War.
With regard to the ADB, Japan’s role was leading. Besides the US, Japan became one of the bank’s main financiers. After the end of World War II, the Japanese government hosted an international meeting in Tokyo in 1966. The meeting was a ministerial conference. The invitation to the meeting was made to all the South Asian nations apart from North Vietnam. South Korea initiated the organization of the Asian and Pacific Council with other countries participating such as Australia, Japan, South Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and New Zealand. The intention of South Korea was to rally those anti-communist nations that had supported the US in its war with South Vietnam. Nonetheless, Japan, being aware of the political agenda that South Korea had, attempted to link economic rather than political-strategic importance to ASPAC (Shiraishi 30).
As a way of recapitulation, after the two decades following the end of the Second World War, Japan made use of favorable conditions and became Asia’s major economic power. Apart from forming bilateral relations with East and Southeast Asian countries, Japan also did a lot to ensure that regional organizations had been established.
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The United States welcomed these Japanese moves and it expected Japan to be financially responsible in Western Asia where America was attaching strategic significance as the Indochina China conflict escalated. The economic intentions of Japan were explicitly unveiled. She also had intentions to support the consolidation of the strategical and political framework of the US in the region.
After President Nixon declared the Guam doctrine in 1969, the economic role of Japan was intensified in the area. During this time, the overcommitment of the US to the Vietnam War was not only causing a financial crisis but also a lot of protests at home. As a way of dealing with these problems, the American President suggested the “Vietnamization” of the ensuing war and also a reduction of the military and economic burden in the region. In this new policy, the US expected that the Japanese should take over most of the financial roles in the region (Shiraishi 31).
Roosevelt’s Plan for Vietnam
Although Japan served as America’s rare base in Vietnam and was accorded America’s special procurements in the 1960s, the expenditures of the US military did not have a greater impact on the economy of Japan compared to the impact it had in the 1950s during the Korean War. The procurements of the US were a small addition in comparison to the greater way in which the economy had expanded. Through special procurements and military and economic aid, the US made great financial contributions both to South Vietnam and to other neighboring non-communistic nations. These were especially those that allowed the US bases in their own country or send troops to South Vietnam (Shiraishi 31).
During World War II, the thinking of the US on Vietnam was dominated by strategic interests. However, not all officials from the US had a common assessment of the interests. During wartime, the diverse understandings of Vietnam’s potential did not conflict. After the war had come to an end, when Vietnam’s strategic significance had diminished, there was a reasserting of the previous points of view that were held by the US towards Vietnam as well as communistic concerns. A blend of these legacies would enable the policymakers in the US to make a decision regarding the support of the return of French colonialism regardless of the encouragement and assistance granted to Ho Chi Minh by the American military during the time of the war (Young and Buzzanco 126).
After the United States had officially entered the war, the strategic importance of Vietnam emanated from the potential that troops that were allied could make an attack to Japan from China via Vietnam. The decisions to be undertaken by the US officials were therefore several. One of them was whether to cooperate with the French in hope that the French soldiers that had remained in Vietnam would assist them. Another alternative was whether or not to give support to the anticolonial Vietnamese in hope that they would see the sense and accord them needed assistance.
The latter solution is where the US remedy tended towards. However, the support of the US towards the anticolonialism of the Vietnamese was always not strong. It was undermined by promising France that an allied war would make France go back to its colonies. One of the reasons why the policy was contradictory was that albeit Roosevelt had indicated that the French did not deserve to get back their colony since they had not been colonial rulers who were effective. When vital military demanded, Roosevelt was also willing to compromise this principle (Young and Buzzanco 126).
Indicating that France should not continue governing Vietnam did not imply that Roosevelt was anti-colonial rather like other Americans, he considered colonialism as not only old-fashioned but also inefficient. He had a belief that colonialism would slowly diminish after the war and wanted to control the entire process for the advantage of the US. Roosevelt had consistently made a push for Vietnam’s trusteeship earlier on and his emphasis on the same explains his sentiment that colonialism would fade away so that he could manipulate the whole process for America’s advantage.
What had been the policy of the US to the Philippines is what formed the basis of Roosevelt’s perception of Vietnam: a country that’s disinterested, benevolent and developed and ruled over another nation though for the main aim of enlightening its people for self-government. The United States and China would be the trustees for Vietnam with the latter assuming the leading role. Several people were not enthusiastic about the whole plan, including the leader of the Chinese Nationalist government. He referred to the Vietnamese as a difficult lot. This was another time that the policy of the United States had not taken into account the China – Vietnam antagonism that had lasted for a long time in the past.
The trusteeship plan was not favored by the French. The British also perceived it rightly as a strategy through which all colonies have to be governed at the end of a war. On the other hand, there was no reason or the Vietnamese to embrace the trusteeship plan since it was another way of saying that they had not yet attained the capability of governing themselves. Roosevelt’s anticolonialism had hereby reached its limit as he had well believed that colonialism was outdated and yet upheld that both Africans and Asians still deserved to be guided for several decades before being able to govern themselves (Young and Buzzanco 127).
During the same time, some other US officials still partook in this limited anticolonialism. A few in State Department still rallied for the interests of the French even though Roosevelt was trying to come up with a policy that was different. Other officials encouraged the anti-colonial movements of the Vietnamese and believed that the Vietnamese had what it takes to govern themselves.
Some members from the Office of the Strategic Services in China during the end of the Second World War had a meeting with Ho Chi Minh and got to consent with him regarding his ability to organize resistance against both the French and the Japanese in Vietnam. Some of these members traveled within Vietnam and availed a lot of weaponry towards the followers of Ho Chi Minh.
Later on, assistance from the OSS was regarded as part of the efforts in the war. After the surrender by the Japanese, it became clear that the potential of the US to support the Democratic Republic of Taiwan was eliminated by a blend of three legacies: anti-communism, mutual perceptions and the broader strategic importance. The successful United States’ island-hopping campaign in the pacific made certain the fact that Japan’s invasion would originate from the Pacific Ocean instead of coming from China via Vietnam.
Vietnam’s strategic importance was declined with the concern of the US regarding who could give support to the effort of the allied war. However, Vietnam was still strategically significant to those who were organizing the post-war. Fresh threats in the region would call for the United States to use stable countries to access military bases and the base in Vietnam could be suitable due to its location between China and Southeast Asia.
The US officials had greatly anticipated a threat from the Soviet Union due to the defeat of Germany. The leader of the Free French had already warned Roosevelt of the same in advance.
America drew from the images of Vietnamese formed in the 1920s and 1930s to assert that the Vietnamese did not have the ability to self-govern themselves. Earlier on, the US had perceived the war against communism as a global one. The consequences of this view to the Vietnamese were two-fold. First, making France appear as a bulwark in Europe against the expansion of communism implied that Vietnam’s strategic importance was still based on colonial rule. Secondly, the officials of Washington did not believe that they had the power to make certain distinctions despite the OSS officials who had asserted that the communism of Ho Chi Minh had been tampered with (Young and Buzzanco 128).
The Turning point
The involvement of America in Vietnam was gradual. When North Vietnam invaded Laos in 1958, it appeared that if communism was given a small opportunity, it would do much harm. The American policy was one that hinged on containment such that isolating a regime that was communist would not only make it not spread but also would make it not survive again. The main goal of the American policy was to ensure that communism was confined among the communistic countries (Carlisle 70). As the war proceeded, a lot of resources were utilized for containment. In 1961, the Special Forces from the US were authorized by Kennedy to put on green berets and as a result, they became synonymous. They were then to be special advisors to the Sothern Vietnamese. The secretary of defense then suggested that in response to the NLF attacks, 200, 000 troops be sent and further that the defense of North Vietnam would be stifled by the NLF attacks.
One year afterward, the foreign assistance act was signed by Kennedy which complimented the US policy of assisting those nations that were under attack from communism. What informed their feelings about Kennedy were the unsuccessful talks between him and Khrushchev and the belief that Southeast Asia would be a battlefield between America and the Soviets. The People’s Republic of China was communist in this context. The policymakers in America could face a lot of opposition from the experts on Southeast Asia for allegedly believing that communistic Vietnam would be a puppet for communist China (Carlisle 71).
In 1963, there were calls from some Americans that Vietnam be fought to a clear triumph or it is left alone. Barry Goldwater, Arizona’s Senator affirmed that Vietnam needed an aggressive approach. He then used this as part of his platforms for campaigning for the presidency in 1964. This was done against Johnson who was the vice president and successor to Kennedy. The election was won by Johnson and he had the challenge of making a decision on Vietnam ought to be dealt with. The turning point of the war was the incident that occurred in early August 1964 at the Gulf of Tonkin. Attacks on the USS C. Turner Joy and the USS Maddox which were destroyers on the Gulf of Tonkin were blamed on Northern Vietnam. There is a part of the gulf that the US had claimed was in international waters whereas North Vietnamese had claimed that it was their territory.
Irrespective of the accuracy of the territorial dispute, the Maddox was hit by a single bullet after avoiding a fired torpedo implying that the attack was not organized at all. Secretary McNamara presented the case for retaliation before Congress. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was then passed which empowered Johnson to make decisions including deploying armed forces in Southeast Asia (Cato Institute 185; Khong 105). This step allowed the conflict in Vietnam to go on and increase without having been a declaration of war (Carlisle 72).
Anderson, David. Trapped by success: the Eisenhower administration and Vietnam, 1953-1961. NY: Columbia University Press. 1993.
Carlisle, Rodney. America in Revolt during the 1960s and 1970s. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2006.
Cato Institute. Cato Handbook on Policy. Washington DC: Cato Institute. 2005.
Khong, Yuen. Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam decisions of 1965. NJ: Princeton University Press. 1990.
Marshall Cavendish Corporation. America in the 20th Century, Volume 12. NY: Marshall Cavendish. 2003.
Shiraishi, Masaya. Japanese Relations with Vietnam, 1951 – 1987. Cornel: Southeast Asian Program. 1990.
Westad, Odd. The global Cold War: third world interventions and the making of our times. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005.
Young, Marilyn and Buzzanco, Robert A. Companion to the Vietnam War. MA: Blackwell Publishing Company. 2006.