I.Origins.Vietnam began as a "small war" - in the pattern of all the other small wars since the 1880s, US military forces engaged another nation at the discretion of the President - though this time on behalf of French colonists (rather than US corporate interests) but steadily under the misguided notion, the Domino Theory.
b.After WWII, US restores Vietnam to France as colonyi.Ho Chi Minh and Vietnamese struggle for independence from France1. Ho Chi Minh writes to Truman asking for help as he was inspired by US myth of revolution after WWIIa. Ho trained as French colonial soldier and lead the resistance to Japanese occupation during WWIIb. At the end of WWII, as an ally of the US - Ho declared Vietnam independent 9/2/1945 - his speech used such familiar phrases asi."all men are created equal, they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.
Among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness."c. Capitalism did not appeal to Ho or Vietnamese culture and, logically, it is not at odds with American theories of freedom.
2.The French had no intention of letting Vietnam go and, as with the Dutch, France used US aid to fund its reassertion of control.
a.1947 US paying for French military occupation of Vietnami.French control of air = Truman loan of air power from 1950 and by 1954, US aid = 3 billion. US paid 80% of French costs. Airpower has limited use against guerilla army.
b.Facing France and seeing that the US backed France, the Viet Minh had no choice but to seek aid from the only power in the world viewed as possibly standing up to the US. Until their falling out, Viet Minh bridled at commands from Beijing and the Soviet Union TO NOT antagonize the US.
3.1954 France defeated by Vietnamese at Battle of Dien Bien Phu - first time west defeated by South-Eastern communist countrya.siege lasted 55 daysb.More volunteers in last days of siege than planes to take them in. Absurd - it was suicide and French had lost. French artillery commander commits suicide. French lost 1500 dead, 1000s wounded, 10,000 captured. (Cronkite)c.Dulles gave a prophetic announcement - pays tribute to defender that US may honor them by living up to their spirit of defense to defend "serious commitments and vital interests" ie domino theory. One falls, all falls. Ike understood it, McNamara did too. (Cronkite)4.North Vietnam is liberated by independence movement led by Ho Chi Minh after 7-year strugglea.French lost 44,967 dead and 79,560 woundedb.John Foster Dulles, secretary of State, 1953-1958 (died in 1958)i.Born into privilege, isolated from worldii.His interests were those of his clients - the most powerful corporations of the timeiii.A lawyer - he viewed the world in adversarial termsiv.Admirer of Hitler, especially for Hitler's views of a world dominated by Aryans1.He was one of many American lawyers who helped US firms do business with Germany or helped German firms continue to do business despite sanctions on Germany - then helped them avoid prosecution after the war.
2.After the War he hated communism because of Lenin's writings (then Stalin's) on world domination by the proletariatc.Consummate cold warrior (Anti-Communist)i.Hated communism irrationally because it ran counter to his clients' interests - this was transformed into, anyone who defied his clients was a communist and US must defeat anyone who is a communist.
ii.Thus, independent nationalists were communists.
iii.Thus ok to back British against Iran's secular democracy - big blowback 25 years later.
iv.Overthrow democratic government in Guatemala (seeing that the US was not going to help democrats or nationalists - Castro sided with Che and adopted militant revolution, then sought protection from the Soviet Union)d.Deeply Christian: viewed world in theological terms: good vs. evil; among the first Anti-communists who simply, and deeply believed, that what the US did was right and good - ultimately. Therefore, what anyone else did was bad and evil. Thus many decisions made by the US in the Cold War were based on intuition, rather than long term strategy - a big reason why Cold War lasted so long (see Derek Leebaert's The Fifty-Year Wound)i.For example. He counseled Eisenhower to not even meet Soviet leaders and discouraged correspondents from going to Chinaii.The difficulty of learning about communists and life in the Soviet Union was difficult due to the isolationism of the Soviets but doubly hard when Americans don't want to know about their "enemy"ii.1954 Geneva Agreements1.Vietnam's integrity was recognized - country partitioned N and S.
2.Elections were to be held as part of a unification process in 1956. US and South Vietnamese conspired to put off these elections indefinitely3.North would not stand this. Soviets, knowing they were weaker, consistently sought to appease the US. Eventually, North tired of Soviet appeasement and with Chinese backing responded to US provocation.
4.The US put Ngo Dinh Diem in control of South Vietnam since he would do their bidding. He was more French Catholic than Vietnamese but this was only one problem. Diem and his cohorts ruled Vietnam, or tried to, as their personal plantation. Soon the South Vietnamese were in revolt - they abetted and joined the Viet Minh as the National Liberation Front (NLF) - aka Viet Cong.
5.During Kennedy's administration US troops in Vietnam rose from 865 to 16,500.
a.US aid to S. Vietnam was in the form of VERY BIG GUNS, which said to Diem he was fighting a conventional war, not counterinsurgency. But Diem used the army to defend himself against a coup, allowing US air power to fight the OTHER. But US airpower only antagonized anyone who had been neutral in the countryside.
work cited:Zinn, Howard, "A people history of the United States"