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Was America’s enactment on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution justified?

 Extended Essay in History
_______________________________________________________ CANDIDATE NUMBER – gpz118

The Gulf of Tonkin resolution was drafted in response to the Gulf of Tonkin incidents which occurred on the 2nd and 4th of August. The final incident that led to American retaliation on North Vietnam occurred on August 4th, in which two American destroyers (Turner Joy & Maddox) were subject to ‘imminent attacks’ after they received intelligence of incoming strikes from North Vietnamese submarines. John J. Herrick, the Captain of the Maddox, was at first hesitant to act on the threat, and instead retreated the ships further out to sea. However, only a few hours later, three North Vietnamese patrol boats began quickly approaching the ships, after which Captain Herrick ordered the ship’s guns to fire, resulting in one completely destroyed boat and the other two heavily damaged. The next day, both destroyers received intelligence that another attack was imminent, and at around 21:00 ICT Maddox reported spotting unidentified vessels, after which both destroyers engaged in high speed maneuvers to avoid confrontation. During this, Maddox reported multiple torpedo attacks as well as automatic weapon fire, which led to both ships returning fire at the “enemy”.1
Navy Commander James Stockdale, who had overseen the air defense of Maddox and was flying recognizance throughout the Gulf doubted the legitimacy of the attack, and stated; “Our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets... There were no (North Vietnamese) boats there... There was nothing there but black water and American firepower.”2 Captain Herrick later too questioned what his crew had seen and reported, and believed the incoming missile reports to have been an error on behalf of the crew members.
However, by the time this opposing perspective was received government officials in Washington D.C. had already began moving towards retaliating, which included informing the press on the situation and telling the public of their intentions. By the 7th of August Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson only days later. This marked the beginning of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, as the resolution entailed increased military presence in Vietnam. Months later, the US officially launched Operation Rolling Thunder, which authorized large-scale bombing runs in North Vietnam and began deployment of American troops to directly combat the Viet Cong.
Although there were numerous factors that contributed to the drafting of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the two consecutive ‘attacks’ on the Turner Joy and Maddox were the most significant, and as stated by Lyndon B. Johnson himself drove the US to finally take action on Vietnam after the numerous years of tension between the nations. This essay will study the two main schools of thought; the argument that the United States intentionally lied about or exaggerated the events that took place in the Gulf of Tonkin, or whether America’s actions were politically justified and the attacks weren’t faked or mispresented, meaning the US had valid reason to draft the resolution and increase their involvement in Vietnam.

The First Attack – August 2nd, 1964 | USS Maddox
 Map Chart of USS Maddox Patrol Route, 1964.

The image above is a map chart depicting the patrol route of the USS Maddox and Turner Joy, dating from July 30th to August 2nd, 1964. On the 31st of July, the USS Maddox embarked into the Gulf of Tonkin on a path nearing the North-Vietnamese coast further North towards the Tanh Hóa province. The black dots situated on the progressing direction line represent her location on a date and time, which is outlined every 24 hours. On August 2nd the Maddox continued back South of the Gulf when it was claimed to have been attacked by 3 PT boats at 16:07. PT boats, short for patrol torpedo boats, were torpedo-armed attack vessels used by both North Vietnam and the United States during the conflict, due to their maneuverability and inexpensive production4. The Maddox engaged with gun crews firing heavy shells at the perusing boats, who responded with two missed torpedoes and the first boat, being the only one equipped with external weaponry opened fire with low-caliber guns at the destroyer. The Maddox promptly retreated South and contacted the nearby USS Ticonderoga, an American aircraft carrier that promptly deployed four F8 fighter jets with orders to “attack and destroy the PT boats”5. 2 of the 3 fleeing boats maneuvered evasively yet still suffering from heavy damages, whilst the last was left dead in the water engulfed in flames after the numerous firing runs carried out by the F8’s.

Contextual understanding of the USS Maddox’s actions
Opposers of the resolution amongst the American public believed there was malintent on the US side as the first shots fired in the confrontation were by the destroyer. However, in response to the intel received from the earlier SIGINT message, Captain Herrick “ordered gun crews to open fire if the fast-approaching trio closed to within 10,000 yards of the destroyer”6, as he was aware of North Vietnamese intent due to the hostility towards the US following the OPLAN 34A raid on Hon Me. It is important to analyse the smaller details of the conflict such as the Captain’s orders to his crew, as they could provide information that can help better understand the intentions of the countries involved. In a discussion with an ex-naval officer Joseph A. Doyle, who served 9 years in the US navy, I received perspective on US naval procedures and operations that can help better contextualize the situation that unfolded in the Gulf. Mr. Doyle mentions that in the context of naval operations, 10,000 yards is a relatively short distance for two military ships to be in from each other, and commonly US ships would set a much larger distance to open fire in the interest of the crew’s safety, in order to attack before the threat can get in a dangerous range. In the context of the actual conflict involving the destroyer and the PT boats the danger of the short distance becomes even more prominent, as 10,000 yards was certainly in range for the Vietnamese boats’ torpedoes. Herrick’s orders could therefore be perceived having been made with tremendous caution, as the short proximity of the ordered firing distance implies that Herrick was well aware of the political consequences that would follow an engagement with the Vietnamese patrol boats, and was willing to put himself and his crew at an increased risk to avoid conflict. This is further supported by the numerous warning shots the USS Maddox gave before attacking, giving the patrol boats plentiful time to avoid the conflict.

Was the North Vietnamese attack on the USS Maddox justified?
The two destroyers were not deployed with intent to ensure the safety of the other ships or act as a threat to North Vietnam, but instead were set to patrol for recognizance as a part of Operation Plan 34A. OPLAN 34A was a highly classified program that consisted of covert actions against the DRV involving naval sabotage operations7, which primarily consisted of South Vietnamese raids on DRV outposts that ran radar transmitters and controlled communications with Viet Cong naval supplies. These raids were crucial for South Vietnam’s coastal and maritime control, however their forces suffered heavy casualties from these operations and often resulted in raiders being captured or killed. The United States, whilst not directly deploying units in aid of OPLAN 34A used their destroyers to intercept DRV signals (SIGINT gathering) in DESOTO patrols, which were patrols with the tactical purpose to intercept North Vietnamese communications to then relay it to South Vietnam. An extremely sensitive document which was only declassified in 2005 outlined the orders to the DESOTO patrols: “Locate and identify all coastal radar transmitters, note all navigation aids along the DVR’s (Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s) coastline, and monitor the Vietnamese junk fleet for a possible connection to DRV/Viet Cong maritime supply and infiltration routes”8. The United States only ran recognizance, and did not directly involve themselves with the operation as it would be perceived as collusion with South Vietnam, which would have resulted in substantial consequences and would have compromised numerous other secret operations. However, the confidentiality of the United States’ involvement with OPLAN 34A was compromised on the night of July 30th, as the USS Maddox continued its DESOTO patrols along the North Vietnamese coast when it got caught in the vicinity of a South Vietnamese raid on the island of Hon Me.
Following the attack, North Vietnam filed a complaint with the International Control Commission that “The US and South Vietnamese administrations sent two naval vessels to shell Hon Ngu and Hon Me islands”, and deemed the DESOTO patrols having been an “enemy incursion into the Gulf of Tonkin”9. The US justified the patrols as its assertion of the right of freedom of the seas, however this premise was certainly not supported by the US’ actions in the gulf. The Maddox’s patrol course drove entirely through the coast of North Vietnam, which was not confirmed to have been in international waters. Having said this, the territorial laws were quite ambiguous, as each side perceived them differently. The map above illustrates the conflicting territorial claims that took place during the crisis, which is an important issue to address as both sides used their differing claims to justify their actions. Neither the Maddox nor the Turner Joy approached closer than 4 miles from the islands, or 8 miles from the mainland. The US assumed that North Vietnams territorial waters only extended three miles; in which case, no violations took place. However, if North Vietnam claimed twelve miles, like China and the Soviet Union, then in the eyes of the DRV there were indeed violations. Although North Vietnam did not appear to have made any formal claims regarding the extent of their territorial waters before August in 1964, a week before the Gulf incidents there was a complaint on South Vietnamese warships violating North Vietnamese territories, which were located about 9 miles off the mainland10. Whilst the US did not seem to have been infringing on any established territorial claims due to the lack thereof, the American ships were still knowingly adding to the sensitivity of an already fragile conflict. Additionally, America’s involvement with OPLAN 34A certainly justifies the attacks, as they were supporting South Vietnamese raids on DRV outposts that crippled their radar transmitters and naval communications. Whilst the North Vietnamese attack on the USS Maddox may not have been the optimum decision in the interest of reducing political conflict, it was still justified as America’s secret operations and collusion with South Vietnam imposed a significant threat to North Vietnam.

Did the United States intentionally provoke the Gulf of Tonkin incident?
One controversial yet not uncommon perspective entails the US having purposely provoked North Vietnam with their hostile naval presence in the Gulf, as a means to get further involved in Vietnam whilst avoiding diplomatic backlash they most certainly would have received had Vietnam not been ‘painted’ as an aggressive threat in need of control. An example supporting this statement can be taken from the OPLAN operations. As stated by military historian Robert J. Hanyok; “The OPLAN reflected the current American strategy of escalation of the war through graduated response. The U.S. established four levels of actions; It began with harassment attacks and operations, whose cumulative effect, though labeled "unspectacular," was to make Hanoi aware of them to the extent it would allocate forces to counter them”11. US involvement was to be kept minimal in the early stages of the OPLAN operation, in order to achieve the “non-attribution” status in case North Vietnam publicized the raids. Therefore, no Americans were allowed to participate in the actual raids, and only provided external support12. On August 1st, 1964, the naval intercept site in the Philippines reported that a DRV naval base informed their naval units (what is understood to have been one of the attacking PT boats) of the Maddox’s patrols on the coast, and that it had been “decided to fight the enemy tonight when you receive directing orders”13. Captain Herrick of the USS Maddox was informed of the DRV communication, and was warned of a potential attack. Herrick then immediately requested the Seventh Fleet for the termination of the Desoto mission, that “if the intelligence was correct, continuing was an unacceptable risk”14. He was however overruled by admirals Moorer and Sharp, and ordered to resume the operation. The behavior of the naval commanders and divide between Captain Herrick and his superior leaders of the operation further supports the premise that the US intended on provoking a conflict with North Vietnam. An attack on the Maddox would allow the US to dig its claws deeper into Vietnam, whilst still holding a “non- attribution” status as further involvement could be deemed necessary retaliation to the attack. Throughout the night (after the original warning) DRV communications were continuously monitored. Intercepted communist messages informed that the North Vietnamese continued to track the destroyer. The next morning, the DRV ordered numerous PT patrol boats to begin concentrating towards the Maddox’s position, all of which supplied by the Soviet Union and armed with 12.7mm machine guns and primed torpedoes. Having received this intercepted information, the NSA sent a message to the MACV and Commander 7th informing on the new intelligence and warning an imminent attack. The Maddox, however, was not on the distribution of this message, and never received these critical warnings before the attack15. It was crucial for the United States to appear uninvolved, as launching a campaign against North Vietnam without a justified cause would be a political nightmare and would have yielded little public support. In an interview on BBC’s War, Lies, and Audiotape, Historian Frederik Logevall discussed the United States’ necessity to win public opinion: “(President Lyndon B.) Johnson said in the spring of ’64; You can have all the military power in the world, but if you can’t win the thing politically then you’re not going to succeed”16. It wasn’t only historians that were suspicious of America’s intentions in the Gulf; many American politicians were similarly skeptical.

New York Times Newsletter, September 19th 1964.
In an archived newsletter from The New York Times September 19th, 1964, the incident was first reported to the American public. The article makes mention of skepticism from political figureheads; Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican Presidential candidate, was said at first to have endorsed the retaliation. Later, however, he referred to the “so-called” crisis in the Gulf of Tonkin and accused the Democrats of having arranged crisis for political profit17. This article provides crucial context on American political behavior. This newsletter was published over a month and a half after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, yet contains very little information on the conflict as “The Administration limited itself to a brief statement acknowledging that an action has occurred involving American warships”18. The NSA heavily restricting and limiting information on the incident even months later further exhibits their drive to control public opinion.
International public being made aware of the United States’ true involvement in Vietnam with the OPLAN operations would result in serious political consequences for America. Public skepticism of the GoT incident can also be seen in The New York Times’s newsletter simply by its content; much of the article focuses on suspicion towards President Johnson and his actions in the gulf. Whilst this alone provides us with key information on the American political climate at the time, understanding the political context further supports the claim of American deceit in the Gulf; The New York Times was (and still is) a democratic newspaper. For them to publicly criticize and condemn President Johnson, who, not only was a democrat, but was also heavily endorsed by the NYT during his campaign, shows how skeptical and mistrusting even the ‘famously patriotic’ American public was of the US’s justification for their actions in the Gulf of Tonkin19.
The United States was well aware of how North Vietnam would react to their operations. On August 4th, two days after the attack, the CIA’s John McCone bluntly told President Johnson, “The North Vietnamese are reacting defensively to our attacks on their off-shore islands”20. In an archived audio tape of a conversation with President Johnson, secretary of defense McNamara discusses how their covert operations managed to successfully provoke a North Vietnamese reaction:
I think I should also, Mr. President, explain these covert operations. There's no question of what that has bearing on us. Friday night, as you probably know, we had four boats manned by Vietnamese or other nationals attack two islands. We probably shot up a radar station with a few other miscellaneous buildings and the following 24 hours after that with this destroyer in the same area undoubtedly led them to connect the two events. (see appendix 1)
Furthermore, what then later became the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was drafted by the Johnson administration in Honolulu two months before any incident took place21. It is almost implausible to fully confirm that the United States truly did intentionally provoke the incident on the 2nd of August, 1964. However, given the now accessible audio files of President Johnson’s conversations, the publicized OPLAN operations and aggregate support from historians, it can be said that the United States likely provoked the incident intentionally to further fuel its campaign against North Vietnam, by gaining public support and political immunity.

The Second Attack – August 4th, 1964 | Turner Joy
The August 4th Attack: Was it Faked?

Today there are two main premises of the incident that are undisputed; The first attack on the Maddox did occur, the second did not. We now know of the misunderstanding that took place on the 4th of August with NSA files called the Pentagon Papers (declassified in 2011) stating an attack never took place, with the panic being a product of faulty radars and poor communication. This information however is not necessarily new or significant. The vital question here is; did the US fabricate the event to justify their advances against North Vietnam? Or was it truly just a negligent misunderstanding? With hundreds of classified files from the NSA being released in the past few years, the overall consensus leans towards the former; it was fabricated. While McNamara claimed the SIGNIT intelligence intercepted North Vietnamese messages involving planned attacks against the destroyer, we now know this is far from the truth. Robert J. Hanyok, military historian who reviewed these intercepted DRV messages, found that none of the Vietnamese boats were ordered to attack the destroyers; they were simply given towing missions to retrieve the destroyed PT boats from the prior incident on the 2nd. “So in reality”, says Hanyok, “none of the boats named in the original Marine warning participated in anything but salvage efforts”22. Additionally, even if the incident was not fabricated, US officials were still well aware that the attack never occurred long before drafting the Gulf of Tonkin resolution (which the US said was the result of the attack on August 4th). In a recently declassified file of the Pentagon Papers from the office of the secretary of defense, Robert McNamara notes how confirming evidence of the attack being nonexistent was received before the US reprisal was launched (see appendix 2). This meant that the US Congress, including President Johnson and secretary of defense Robert McNamara, were well aware that there was indeed no attack on the 4th of August, yet still sought to push their Gulf of Tonkin resolution using the ‘phantom attack’ as a means of obtaining both public and international support. Although the intercepted DRV messages still indicate that the attack was indeed fabricated, the Pentagon Papers still show that Congress would have used any means necessary to adopt the resolution, whether by purposely ignoring evidence of the attack having not occurred, or faking it all together.

The events that took place in the Gulf of Tonkin can be compared to the Gleiwitz incident that occurred in August 1939; a false flag operation staged by Nazi Germany for a justification to invade Poland. This investigation has sought to understand if the US had justified reason to adopt the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. The evidence and arguments considered has led me to the conclusion that America was, indeed, not justified to adopt the resolution. This is supported by North Vietnam’s attack on the USS Maddox being legitimate instance of defense, whereas America’s patrols and retaliation were evidently planned to provoke a reaction from the DRV. Furthermore, even if the attack was not fabricated, US officials were well aware that the attack on August 4th never occurred weeks before the resolution was presented, further indicating that the US Congress wanted retribution against North Vietnam to give President Johnson authority to enter Vietnam’s civil war.
As described by Hanyok, the GoT incident reflected the American strategy of escalation of the war through graduated response. The incident happening over 50 years ago does not rob it from its value, as it gives valuable insight on modern American politics. Like Barack Obama with Syria, Lyndon B. Johnson was a president who felt “the fierce urgency of now” to act on global dilemmas that conflict with the American ideology. Historian Frederik Logevall quoting President Johnson, “I don’t think we can win in Vietnam and I don’t think we can get out. You can have all the military power in the world, but if you can’t win the thing politically then you’re not going to succeed”23. Whilst we now know the truth behind the Gulf of Tonkin incident, it makes us question today’s conflicts that America is hiding behind. Fifty years later we know that the spark for the Vietnam war was a façade. Will it be another fifty before we know the truth about Iraq?

Archive on 4 - Wars, Lies and Audiotape - BBC Sounds.” BBC News, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b04c9lp4.
Dale Andrade and Kenneth Conboy. The Secret Side of the Tonkin Gulf Incident. Naval History (July/August 1999).
DD Guttenplan, “When Presidents Lie to Make a War”, The Guardian, August 2, 2014.
Gerald Kurland. The Gulf of Tonkin Incidents. (Charlotteville, New York: SamHar Press).
Jim and Sybil Stockdale. In Love and War. (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).
Joseph C. Goulden. The Truth is the First Casualty: The Gulf of Tonkin Affair – Illusion and
Reality. 10 Radio Hanoi, 28 July 1964 (New York, Rand McNally, 1969).
Kai Bird. The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy, Brothers in Arms: a
Biography. (Simon & Schuster, 2000).
Keresey, Dick. PT 105. (Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.A.: United States Naval Institute, 2003).
McNamara, Robert. United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967: Study Prepared by the Department of Defense. U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1971.
“New York Times Endorsements Through the Ages.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Sept. 2016.
NSA Command Center Record of Events. "Possible Planned Attack by DRV Navy on Desoto Patrol," B205/981-64, 020302Z August 1964; DIRNSA.
    Edward Marolda and Oscar Fitzgerald. The United States Navy and the Vietnam Conflict, Vol.
 2: From Military Assistance to Combat, 1959-1965. (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical
 Center, 1986).
  Hanyok, Robert. Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin
 Mystery, 2–4 August 1964. Cryptological Quarterly (Winter 2000/Spring 2001).
Paterson. The Truth About Tonkin. (U.S. Naval Institute, 1 Feb. 2008).
Robert Schulzinger. A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam 1941-1975. (Oxford
University Press, 1997).
“U.S. DESTROYERS OPEN FIRE AGAIN IN TONKIN GULF; TARGETS VANISH; No American Losses In Clash Off Coast of North Vietnam.” The New York Times, 19 Sept. 1964.
“What Really Happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964?” Public Radio International, www.pri.org/stories/2017-09-14/what-really-happened-gulf-tonkin-1964.

 Appendix 124
Partial Audio Tape of Johnson & McNamara Transcript:


August, 1964

Washington D.C., United States
McNamara: I think I should also, Mr. President, explain these covert operations. There's no question of what that has bearing on us. Friday night, as you probably know, we had four boats manned by Vietnamese or other nationals attack two islands. We probably shot up a radar station with a few other miscellaneous buildings and the following 24 hours after that with this destroyer in the same area undoubtedly led them to connect the two events.

Appendix 2
Declassified Pentagon Papers “Vietnam Task Force” Office of the Secretary of Defense:
Created: 1967
Declassified: 2011


The Pentagon, Virginia, United States
“While there was some momentary uncertainty about the actuality of the second attack on August 4th, confirming evidence of the attack was received before the U.S. reprisal was launched.” – R.M.


Why did the US Intervene in the Vietnam War between 1946 and 1956?

After WWII, perfidious French colonialism was in motion once more in Vietnam, a country that had been previously colonised by the rapacious French, followed by Japan after the former fell in 1940. The country's road to nationalism, socialism and eventually communism, was paved over decades of defiance and insurgency, in face of foreign imperialism and domestic corruption within the government. The reasons why the US intervened between 1954 and 1964 can only be understood within the larger context of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and is chiefly a by-product of imperialism and containment policy, alongside the domino theory.
The US, a democracy with full-blown ideals of self-determinism, and seeing itself as an advocate for freedom, was said to face a dilemma between support for nationalism and its disdain for communism. This was demonstrated by the fact that the US was the main provider of firearms and weapons during the Vietminh's uprising against fascist Japan after 1941 (the formation of the Viet Minh, or the League for Vietnamese Independence). Throughout the course of the Japanese rule from 1940 to 1945, the Vietminh successfully expanded its base in Tokin and Annam, helping peasants in the proximity through famine and gaining extreme popularity as a result. However, the US's military support can be seen as an ephemeral commitment, as leader Ho Chi Minh initiated the request and Americans were themselves more against the Japanese than for Vietnamese independence. Again, even earlier on in 1919, the US never gave a shred of support for the struggling advocate Ho, who submitted eight demands to the vengeful French at the Versailles Peace Conference, following the end of the WWI. Where were anti-imperialism, freedom, and democracy in play then? And was it of any concern for the US during the Geneva Convention when they opposed the promised elections in 1956, only in fear that the people of Vietnam would choose a communist leadership, without American ties? War devastated and economically depleted colonialist France fought through the First Indochina War from 1949 to 1954, only because the US funded them. To endorse in an action that promotes the trespassing of national sovereignty, and to support another country in the overtaking of nation of a different race is not different from being part of the invasive party itself. To help achieve an imperialist end is nothing else but imperialism and hypocrisy on the part of Americans. More importantly, the reason why the US intervened in the form of war merely years later is also largely political.
The US' then recent set back against the communists in Cuba and failure to control the Berlin crisis, encouraged President John F. Kennedy to show stronger resolve in containing communism in Asia. Again, the Domino Theory, first popularized by President Eisenhower of the previous term was used to justify the intervention that the US undertook. China's 'fall' to communism was seen as a travesty to President Harry S. Truman's shame, and the result of event was the triangulation in relations during the period now in question. The US believed, that as Domino Theory claims, if one country falls to communism, the neighbouring countries will turn communist as well, one after the other. Vietnam, heavily influenced by Chinese culture and politics, was already a country with a peasant base large enough to be threatening as communism, unlike capitalism, promises peace, bread and land. China has fallen; the US cannot remain spectator, as Vietnam was clearly about to become in league with the very enemy the US had fought in the previous two decades.
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu resulted in Vietnamese victory on May 7, 1954 due to General Vo Nguyun Giap's brilliant plan and the Vietminh's resilience to the loss of lives. In total, 40,000 troops launched the offensive, and for every French casualty, there would be ten for the Vietnamese. The Geneva Accords, settled in July 1954 by countries including France, Vietnam, the United States, the USSR, Britain, China, Laos and Cambodia, officially split Vietnam into two, promised to reunify after free elections. The US would argue that the North Vietnamese began radical land reforms, persecuting and imprisoning landowners and forced a wave of close to a million people to South Vietnam by 1955. Yet, again, the US shows sympathy to those who had been the very core of relatively wealthier oppressive landowners who had formally crushed and assisted in the colonial quests of foreign powers. There is no context given in propagandistic American media such as the CNN, and thus creates the illusion that the US, again, intervened as a policing power.
There after, Diem, the leader of South Vietnam, was overthrown and murdered by his very own former supporters, with the help of the CIA on November 1, 1963. The CNN says that after the death of Diem and President Kennedy, a few weeks apart, Vice President Lyndon Johnson "assumed office determined not to lose Vietnam to the communists" (italics added). Kennedy had formerly sent "special advisors" to South Vietnam, who were really military combatants, Johnson in 1963, sends Defense Secretary Robert McNarnara to repledge U.S. support. All of these measures were really actions that showed the preparation the US was making for inevitable militaristic confrontation. In August 1964, the USS Maddox, a destroyer on patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, received fire from North Vietnamese torpedo boats, and reported of another attack two days later. Conflicting evidence from the ships' records show of no second attack, despite the insistence of the Pentagon, and the up played 'intrusion' was unequivocally without substance in and of itself. The ships were destroyers in nature and were in North Vietnamese territory; the incident was merely a tool so that the Johnson administration could push the "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution" through Congress, permitting LBJ to initiate warfare in Vietnam.
The above background and events as summarized provide indication that the US intervention was purely based on containment policy, the domino theory and massive retaliation. The US-installed puppet leaders of the South were not of the people, whereas the Northern leaders gained power from grass roots movements and were supported by the very peasants they fight for. Should not a nation that believes in democracy and self-determination not respect the national sovereignty of the Vietnamese people, whom the US was afraid would come into power if free elections were to occur. Therefore, by stripping away the rights of one small underdeveloped Asian nation, the US ensured the safety of the 'free world'. Yet unlike Cuba, Vietnam was on a completely different continent, without any nuclear potential, and could bring no harm to the US with its power alone. Had the US allowed free elections to occur, perhaps peaceful co-existence would become reality, since the movements of the Vietcong were nationalist in nature, and communist only as identification as an international political stance. Seeing that the US had no prior intentions of encouraging the growth of a 'free' Vietnam, economically independent and internationally respected, the US has no right to blame the country for its friendship with Moscow. And so, obviously, the US intervened at the beginning of the Vietnam War not in the interest of Vietnam, but that of the United States' safety and superpower status among capitalist and communist countries alike.

Roots of American involvement in Vietnam.

Vietnam is about 9000 miles away from the USA, but what provoked the USA to determine to get involved in the civil war between the Vietnamese back in the 1940s-70s far away from them? Why did they intervene in the Vietnam War between 1954 and 1963? Actually, the answer is very simple. They were afraid of the spreading of the communism and wanted to stop it before it was too late.
Militarily, following up by the defeat of French, the French was compelled to leave Vietnam which would leave a power void for Ho Chi Minh, a communist, to take over easily. In the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, 1954, 16,000 French troops were either killed or captured by the Viet Minh. It convinced the French government to leave Indochina as soon as possible. It was like handed the part of Vietnam which was under French's control to Communism, and the US would not allow it because of the Truman Doctrine--Containment. Also, the US was heavily involved in the French military financially, even the Viet Minh Supreme Commander, General Vo Nguyen Giap said during a interview in 1996, "We see the Dien Bien Phu victory as the victory [over] the French army and [over] the intervention of the Americans --because in the Dien Bien Phu campaign, 80 percent of the war expenditures were spent by the Americans...So the Dien Bien Phu defeat was a defeat for both the French and the Americans...When we received news of the Dien Bien Phu victory, everyone practically jumped up in the air, they were so happy about it." For both of the sake of containment and honour, the US intervened in that Civil War in 1954.
Internationally, the USA was very unhappy with the Geneva Agreement of 1954. It declared the ceasefire between the French and the Viet Minh, Laos and Cambodia became independent state and Vietnam was divided into north and south temporarily by the 17th parallel. An election would be held in two years which would unit the north and south again. The North was ruled by a communist and the south was ruled by a dictator. Between these two, the USA chose to support the dictator. However, the population of the North was already outnumbered the South's, and a lot of South Vietnamese supported Ho Chi Minh. The threat of Communism took over Vietnam increased dramatically. Thus, the US set its mind to help the South.
Politically, President Eisenhower issued the 'Domino Theory' in 1954, which showed why the US thought that Vietnam must not become a Communist country. Eisenhower said, "You
have a row of dominoes set up. You knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly." The first domino was S. Vietnam, then Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma and India. It was just like the dominos of the Korean War, Korea, Japan, Philippines. That was why the US determined to get involved, because it could not afford the first domino to fall. As the Secretary of Defence at that time, Robert McNamara, said during a interview in June 1996 , "[The domino theory] was the primary factor motivating the actions of both the Kennedy and the Johnson administrations, without any qualification. It was put forward by President Eisenhower in 1954, very succinctly: If the West loses control of Vietnam, the security of the West will be in danger. "The dominoes will fall," in Eisenhower's words...The loss of Vietnam would trigger the loss of Southeast Asia, and conceivably even the loss of India, and would strengthen the Chinese and the Soviet position across the world, weakening the security of Western Europe and weakening the security of North America. This was the way we viewed it." This clearly shows the reason why the US intervened in the War, it was because of the fear to the accretion of the Communism.
From the political, military and international views, they all showed that the reason why the US intervened in the Vietnam War was because it was afraid of the spreading of the Communism and wanted to put a stop to it, contain it.

At the greatest level, what was the extent of the US combat power in Vietnam?
In front of the mMemorial to victory over American terror-bombing in Hanoi. 
The Vietnam War is not such an honourable and noble war for the US. It started as a war for independence, and then it turned into a conflict between the North and South Vietnam for the future direction of the country after the withdrawal of the French. However, the North was led by a nationalist, Ho Chi Minh, and the US viewed this conflict as communism versus the free world. It was similar to the Korean War, with a communist, Kim Il Sung, in the North and Syngman Rhee in the South. The US sent its troops to Vietnam to help the corrupted South Vietnam dictator against the Vietminh, and at the end, the US people started to question why they were in Vietnam in the first place. The US lost the war, and Vietnam fell into communism.
The Vietnam War was a big time, money and efforts consuming war to the US. First of all, from the escalation of war (1945) till the withdrawal of the US (1975), it lasted for thirty years. In these years, the government could have focused on building a 'Great Society' as LBJ's slogan had said than fighting in a country on the other side of the world with no great reason. Secondly, the US spent 346.7 billions in the currency of 1990 for the Vietnam War (1964-1972). It was more than the expenditure for WWI or the Korean War, which were 196.5 billions and 263.9 billions respectively in the currency of 1990 . It showed how much the US was willing to pay for this war and how much it cared. However if this money could be spent on aiding the other in-needed countries or helping the people in the US, maybe it would be better. Lastly, the US spent more efforts in the Vietnam War than the Korean War. 8,744,000 US soldiers were in the Vietnam War, 47,410 of them were dead in the combat and the percentage of death is 0.7%, on the other hand, 5,720,000 US soldiers were in the Korean War, 33,741 of them died in the combat and the death percentage was 0.6%, it was slightly lower than the Vietnam War . The above data shows one of the reasons why there were such strong protests against the war in the US. The war was making their lives worse than what it could have been without the war.
On April 30, 1975, following the fall of Saigon, the capital of the South Vietnam, which united the country under Communist rule as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Vietnam War ended. Around two years earlier, March 1973, the last US personnel left Vietnam . Therefore, the Vietnam War to US ended as its last man left that country, but for the Vietnamese, it was the union of South and North that marked the end to the Vietnam War. There were many reasons why the US troops were leaving Vietnam, but mainly there were three, Nixon's 'Vietnamization', the anti-war movement that took place back in the homeland and the ceasefire agreement. Nixon introduced 'Vietnamization' during his presidency of the United States. This is a policy of "handing over the fighting of the Communists in the Vietnam War to the army of South Vietnam" so that the US troops could withdrawn. This turned South Vietnam into more of an army than a country, and that gave the photographers opportunities to show the American citizens back home what atrocities had been committed here and what a terrible stage those South Vietnamese were living in. This also helped the anti-war movement. Furthermore, the public concern over the usage of chemical weapons, like the napalm, was growing and they were not happy about the increasing in the US casualties. Moreover, "the war was costing the USA $2000 million per month in 1968." The money could be spent in improving the social problems and make all people's lives better in the US. It is like in a corporation, the manager has to make some choices which later on the shareholders are not pleased with, and they may in favour of the opportunity cost of that decision. The shareholders are now pressing the manager to correct the mistake. The people were asking the withdrawal of the US troops and finally the US and the North Vietnam reached an agreement and signed the ceasefire agreement. Thus, the reasons and how the Vietnam War ended for the US and the Vietnamese were different.
Both sides of the war, regardless of which side won, had suffered the consequences of war. For the US, the Vietnam War made it lost its prestige, and it suffered the opportunity cost of a better society for the Americans by using up an enormously amount of money on the war and around 58,000 US citizens had gave their lives for the war. However it learned its lesson. On the other hand, because the North Vietnamese won, they were able to unite the North and South part of Vietnam again and say farewell to the South Vietnam corrupted government. However this war traumatized its people. More than 2 millions of Vietnamese soldiers and around half a million civilians died in the war, and the South's economy collapsed completely after the US troops left, and nowadays Vietnam is still one of the very poor countries in Asia. Therefore, it is not really possible to say if the US or the Vietnamese is better off this way or another.
Vietnam War, compared to the Korean War, is not so forgotten after all.

Escalation of the US-Vietnam Conflict.

Outside the Hanoi Hilton.
 During Kennedy's presidency from 1962, he sent over 16,000 military advisors to Vietnam including Green Berets to train South Vietnamese army defend themselves. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, his successor Lyndon Johnson became the new president. By 1964, 35% of South Vietnam was in Vietcong hands, communists, and 60,000 communist guerrillas operating in the South. Soon after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident on 2 August 1964 the US destroyer Maddox was fired by North Vietnamese and probably another destroyer Turner Joy later. This gave excuse to the US congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution where allowed President Johnson a free hand to send military supplies, including troops, to Vietnam. The resolution led to an escalation of US involvement in the war. The number of troops increased rapidly, reaching 385,000 in 1966 and 535,000 in 1968, totally having 2.59 million Americans served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1975.
As the jungle nature of the country, the guerilla warfare strategies of the Vietcong and the difficulty to discriminate between North and South Vietnamese soldiers made Americans to have a hard time, they relied heavily on air raids and chemical weapons. Vietcong had weaponry supplied mostly from China and the USSR before, it was clearly not as forward as the US so the guerilla strategies were necessary. The US's combat power, therefore, was heavily limited to exfoliate chemical weapons like Napalm and Agent Orange to strip trees bare of leafs for better navigation, to destroy the local rice fields, and stop supporting Vietcong guerrillas in the South, as seen in Operation Rolling Thunder, initiated on February 13, 1965. However, the Tet offensive was a massive attack by the Vietcong upon South Vietnam began on 30th January 1968. All the major cities of South Vietnam were attacked, including Saigon. In Saigon, the US embassy was seized by a suicide squad, which was subsequently driven out by paratroopers. It took 11,000 troops a week to drive the Viet Cong out of Saigon. Eventually the US force managed to repel the Viet Cong, killing 80,000 in the process. What is important about Tet Offensive was that it showed Viet Cong could strike anywhere at anytime and that there is nothing Americans could do about it. It made clear that the war could not be won. In the presidential election campaign in 1968, Richard Nixon promised to withdraw US forces from Vietnam.
Due to the huge efforts put into this war, the US could not afford to quit at anytime during the war. From 1953-1957 the US economic aid was at 823.3 million dollars and 277.8 million dollars in military aid to South Vietnam. US had aided over 4.5 billion dollars on both economic and military aid from 1953-66. This money came from the American tax-payers thus the war had to continue and win. Not only money, casualties was another problem, 50,000 troops had died in the entire war, US couldn't just pull out. Another problem was that it meant another falling domino. Domino effect that was introduced in 1954 by president Eisenhower saying countries falling to communism one by one like dominos. This view that, if one country fell to communism, neighboring states would follow became known as the domino effect. Lao, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia would probably fall if it did.
Comparing with the First and Second World Wars, the US in Vietnam did not have clear enemies. Troops were fighting for freedom but in fact they were killing everyone such as the My Lai massacre. They have bombed over 1,000,000 tones of bombs on North Vietnam. That is much more than any other wars.
Vietnam war was said the most controversial war in the US history. There were huge anti-war movements inside the country. Many students stood up against the war due to three main reasons, the newly available war coverage on television, the heightening American casualties and the war crimes committed against the Vietnamese. The Vietnam Conflict was the first ever war televised in color, nationwide without specific censorship from the government. The people were no longer persuaded by propagandas after seeing the horrible truth on the TV. A large number of the soldiers were conscripts, not volunteers, in Vietnam and not knowing what they've been fighting for. Those disillusioned with the war included students, intellectuals, liberal-minded politicians and returning US troops. Liberals attacked US policy in the war, radicals used the war to make denunciations of the entire US system. Tet offensive indicated that the war was not being won, intellectuals didn't understand why US was involved, people disliked the methods of warfare used by the US, which were all chemicals. The indiscriminate killing that resulted from Search and Destroy missions was critical, for example the My Lai massacre in 1968 where kids, women were killed. Heightening casualties, high expenditure, lack of resources to built a 'Great Society', it was mostly blacks fighting, thus said to be a racist government oppressing other ethnic groups. The growth of the anti-war movement was therefore caused by the combination of a range of factors.
By the end, US had more than 60,000 casualties, 300,000 wounded, 75,000 disabled. Drug addiction, fragging and suicides were very common among the US troops. Statistics show that more committed suicide than killed in combat. Finally, the US pulled out of Saigon before May of 1975. The biggest reason was the nature of the conscripted untrained young soldiers. They couldn't handle the modern weaponries and very unstable emotions. Soldiers were told to kill without losing their sanities. This is the most important reason why the war ended in this way.
For the Vietnamese, it was a big tragedy. Having nearly a million North Vietnamese men lost and Viet Cong troops. Nearly half a million South Vietnamese were killed including the soldiers and civilians. All together nearly 2 million people killed. A country that was one of the biggest rice exporting nation ended up a rice importing country when 90% rice fields were burnt. Even though the war was won, the economy was totally crashed down in Vietnam.
There were not many things gained for both sides in the war. The US had lost lots of money, people and morals. On the other side, Vietnam gained morals, but money and people lost. If we look back from today, Vietnam yet does not have a very stable economy and is hardly maintained by food exports, famous for prostitution and drugs.

Why did US citizens change their opinion on the Vietnam War as it progressed?

The opinion of the citizens of the United States began to change as time passed and incidents took place. The government misled the people, the people became dissatisfied with the current situation and families were torn apart. As American got sucked deeper into the war, Americans wanted to get out more badly. The growth of anti-war movements was caused by a mixture of different factors.
The decline of support for the Vietnam War mainly started in 1968. Although antiwar movements in the United States had been occurring before, the Tet Offensive opened the eyes of countless people. General Westmoreland had assured the public that the war was going to come to a swift end soon, that there was "light at the end of the tunnel". But on January 30th 1968, the National Liberation Front and the People's Army of Vietnam attacked various major cities in South Vietnam including Saigon and the US embassy there. The goal of the Tet Offensive was to ignite and encourage the people of South Vietnam to overthrow their government and to put pressure on the US to withdraw their troops. Even though the Tet Offensive was a brutal military defeat for the communists, over half of their troops were killed; there were weighty effects on the reliability of the government. Americans were shocked. They now realized that if even the American Embassy wasn't a safe place to be, nowhere in South Vietnam was. Citizens of American began to question if the government knew what they were doing and if the Vietnam War was a war that could be won.
As the United States sank deeper into the war, the government started using methods of warfare that concerned citizens. The My Lai Massacre was the result of soldiers frustrated at their inability to complete their search and destroy mission. Instead they killed hundreds of unarmed citizens, mainly women, elders and children. Although the government tried to cover it up, the news eventually spread like wildfire. People were shocked and disgusted. Initially, the government reported that they had killed a hundred enemy soldiers. The My Lai Massacre motivated a good number of people to join peace movements. The number of US casualties also had an effect on popular opinion. In 1965, towards the beginning of the war, the causality rate was at 2,000 people but in three short years the numbers grew to 14,000.
Students played a huge role in antiwar movements across America. In he 1960's, the civil rights movement had was in full swing. In 1959, the Students for a Democratic Society was formed. Many students from universities across the country joined and marched against the war. After the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1965, most of these rallies were to protest against conscription. Some students burned their draft cards and thousands of people fled to Canada. The Draft Resistance Movement was formed to assist those who wanted to avoid being drafted. Protesters were often labeled "communist", "campus bum", "cowards" and "traitors". The number of antiwar protests increased and sometimes these marches became violent. In Chicago, August 1968, the Democratic National Convention as interrupted by thousands of police officers attacking protests who were outside with clubs and tear gas. In May of 1970, National Guards shot four students at Kent State University, Ohio. This ignited numerous college campuses protests across the States. Two more students lost their lives at a protest in Mississippi at Jackson State University. A group of construction workers in New York City beat students at another antiwar rally. As a result, 100,000 people gathered to protest against the students, claiming they were rich, spoiled kids that were protesting while the poorer, working class or African Americans were dying in Vietnam.
As the war dragged on, antiwar marches and protests intensified and at times became violent. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968, thousands of city police officers attacked antiwar protesters gathered outside the convention hall with clubs and tear gas. The most infamous and tragic incident occurred in early May 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio, where National Guard troops called in to calm the scene ended up firing on a crowd, killing four students. The killings touched off protests at hundreds of college campuses across the United States; many of these also turned violent, and two more students were killed in mid-May at Jackson State University in Mississippi. The antiwar movements brought tension between classes. Some people tried to get desk work jobs in the military, doing paperwork or typing things to avoid being on the front line. The majority of soldiers fighting in the war were young people with little education from lower-class families. The deaths at protests made political decision making difficult. Congress tried passing laws that limited the Presidents power.
By the mid-1960's, television was how the American public got their source of news. In 1964, 58% of Americans got most of their news from television. And by 1972, that number rose to 64%. Media had a huge effect on the popular opinion of US citizens. Before the Tet Offensive took place, the media supported the effort at Vietnam. Reporting of military victories and progress. At that time, there was no military censorship which meant that journalists could follow soldiers to the front lines and report their observations without going through the government. During the Vietnam War was the first time the horror of war was brought into the living rooms of Americans. The American public could now watch Vietnamese villages being burned to the ground, families and children being killed and body bags of American soldiers being sent back home. The images seen on their television sets looked nothing like a victorious war. Television coverage of Vietnam began to increase with the Tet Offensive. Images of My Lai dominated stations. Although television allowed more people to access news, the television coverage was often misleading. The complexity of war cannot me understood in thirty minutes over dinner. For example the Tet Offensive was a huge defeat for the North but still played out as a huge defeat by television stations. In addition the famous photograph taken by Eddie Adams of "General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon". Nguyen Van Lem was the captain of a Viet Cong assassination platoon and had just murdered wives, children and relatives of police offers in the South. But anyone who saw this picture taken out of context would have serious doubts about those in control in South Vietnam. Eddie Adams later said, "The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?" 1
As the war progressed, public opinion in the United States became very polarized. Although support for the Vietnam War was at 85% in 1954, it fell with the increasing number of anti-war protests. Some people remained very supportive of the war and firmly believed that if the South fell to communism, Domino Theory would take effect. Some began to question the motives behind the US government's involvement in Vietnam. The entered claiming to be fighting for freedom, democracy and independence but the regime they were supporting in South Vietnam was anything but a democracy and therefore it was immoral to support them. Some believed that the Vietnam War lacked clear objectives. The Vietnam War had diverted large chunks of America's money elsewhere. At its peak in 1968, the United States of America was sending 2 billion dollars a month to finance the Vietnam War.
The United States invested everything into the war and the people could not see why. The vast majority of the public couldn't see the reasons behind fighting the Vietnam War and therefore could not see why they should sacrifice the lives of American soldiers and invest so much money. With the increase of media coverage on the Vietnam War, the people soon realized how disillusioned they were about the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War cost 58,000 American's their lives and still has effect on domestic politics in the United States.

Mementos from the war against French imperialism
The significance of the Tet Offensive for the Vietnam War.
Tet Offensive : In 1968, the National Liberation Front and Vietcong launched a surprise attack against American and South Vietnamese forces on the eve of the lunar New Year's Day. This surprise attack is known as the Tet Offensive and many people viewed this as a turning point in the Vietnam War.
Militarily, the Tet Offensive showed the significance of Vietcong/Vietminh's military power and nowhere in South Vietnam was safe. On 31st of January 1968, the simultaneous attack the towns and cities in South Vietnam began and this went on for 3 days. Over 35 towns and cities including 13 provincial capitals were seized and shockingly, the US embassy in Saigon was invaded. The National Liberation Front and Vietcong sent more than 80,000 soldiers for the Tet Offensive and after 3days, more than half of its soldiers killed so they had to move back to North Vietnam to retreat itself. Although, Vietminh failed to remove the US troops out of Vietnam but, they showed their military power and it showed that nowhere in Vietnam was safe including the US embassy in Saigon.
Politically, the Tet Offensive made the Vietnam War more significant in US that it became one of the key issues in US politics during the presidential election year. The US politics were basically divided into two sides, the one for withdrawing troops out of Vietnam and the other for giving more support to the Vietnam War. In March 1968, one month after the Tet Offensive, the president Johnson announced that he wouldn't seek re-election, which left Robert Kennedy and Humphrey as a candidate for the Democratic side for the presidential election. Then in June 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated and McCarthy replaced his place. However, McCarthy failed to deliver his speech for his candidacy that Humphrey became the candidate for Democrats. On the other hand, Nixon was a candidate for the Republican side for the presidential election. Humphrey had an idea of continuing Johnson's policy of commitment to the war and Nixon had an idea of withdrawing troops out of Vietnam. Nixon won the election in November by a slight difference. The Tet Offensive made the Vietnam War so big issue that it became one of the most important topics in the US politics.
Socially, many people viewed the Tet Offensive as a sign showing that the US was actually losing the war. The US military have always reported that they were winning the war and in December 1967, Walt Rostow stated, "Their casualties are going up at a rate they cannot sustain ... I see light at the end of the tunnel.", but after the Tet Offensive, the public became skeptic about the reports from the US military because suddenly, it seemed like they were losing the war. So, more and more people were involved in the protest against the Vietnam War in the US.
Economically, the US gave more economic support to the Vietnam War after the Tet Offensive. After the Tet Offensive, the president Johnson raised the income tax to give more support to the Vietnam War. It was used to recover its military and to make its military power stronger. The US's involvement in Vietnam was now costing more than 66 million dollars a day which is a lot of money compared to before. (1960 - 180.3 million 1963 - 186.0 million 1966 - 792.2 million) Since the Tet Offensive increased the income tax, the poverty in the US was exacerbated.

Why did the US fail to save South Vietnam from Communism?

In front of Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum in Hanoi. 

 The US failed to save the South from Communism due to many interconnected reasons. America did not have the ordinary Vietnamese on their side, and like the French and Japanese before, they were seen as 'foreign occupiers'. Furthermore, America faced much controversy over the war within its own borders, and therefore was fighting a war unpopular to its own people and the people which they tried to 'save'. Militarily the US failed to stop guerilla warfare and committed many atrocities against the Vietnamese people. Ho Chi Minh (the leader of the North Vietnamese) on the other hand was a person supported by a lot of the Vietnamese (including many in the South), because he gave the people what they wanted, which were to rid the country of foreign occupiers once an for all, and to give the normal person land.
The biggest plausible reason the US's failure to save communism, was because the people were not on their side. Day after day more and more Vietnamese joined the North, and America was gradually left on its own. This was because America supported the Diem regime in South Vietnam, a catholic repressive government system, and a puppet state to America. For example the Diem regime refused to allow other religious practice other than Catholism. It seemed very obvious why America failed to gain the support of the people when they were allies with the government of Diem. Nowadays in Iraq (though not as big of a war as in Vietnam), a similar situation has occurred where the majority of the Iraqi people are against American occupation, mainly because of cultural reasons such as, religion, race, lifestyle etc. America could and probably would have had a much better chance of winning the Vietnam War if they had the support of the populous.
Since 1887 Vietnam was occupied by the French, the Japanese and finally the Americans. The Vietnamese people were tired of being ruled by people that did not share the same qualities as they did. For example their religion was significantly different from the US, America being predominately Christian and Vietnam being predominately Buddha. America was seen as an imperialist country, fighting only because they were much 'stronger'. A Vietnamese reporter named Lai Chou ling said that no matter how big America is, they will never be able to control the majority, for it is the majority that will eventually rid this country of its foreign occupiers. America couldn't have possibly saved the Vietnamese from communism simply because they didn't want to be saved, and much preferred living under the communist regime of the North. Furthermore another reason why they were seen as imperialists was because a lot of Vietnamese were forced to move away from their original home (home to where there parents, and grand parents were buried and so on). This further angered the Vietnamese because they did not have many options, only to abide by the rules of the country's new "leaders". The Vietnamese people simply couldn't care less if a communist regime from their own cultural ideas was in power, as long as it was not another rich foreign country fighting for what was clearly not theirs.
As the war progressed America faced similar hostility from the public at home. People were tired of seeing the war progress, a war that was unpopular with the Vietnamese people, a war that had no clear sign of ending, a war which imposed a drafting system (In which most were minority groups, and people who were not in college) where a lot of the more economically active families were able to escape the system, and finally a war where thousands of Americans died for what ended out to be no reason at all. Protesters outside the White House held signs up such as LBJ! LBJ! How many kids have you killed today? Moreover America's biggest anti-war protest took place in Washington DC where hundreds of thousands of people protested about many issues to do with the war (e.g. The drafting system, the pentagon papers, which in turn created a lot of the public cynicism towards the government, etc ) for days on end. With this sort of hostility faced at home and abroad it was only a matter of time before the US had no other option than to withdraw.
Militarily America simply was never trained for such an extensive guerilla war. Though the North was terribly out numbered and suffered many more casualties than America (Vietnamese casualties were (both North and South) over 2 million, and American casualties numbered 56,000). However even though the casualties were different by a big amount, most of the war was fought on ground by infantry units. America could only call in air strikes occasionally, and the jungle's rugged terrain made it impossible to use tanks to fight their battles. Furthermore America guerrilla tactics seemed unmatched to that of the Vietcong. Even America's elite soldiers, the Green Berets (today's equivalent of the Delta Force or the British SAS) were sent to help the South against the North, however their training in America proved non valuable against the guerrillas and eventually, were forced to pull out. Though the military of the US seemed impregnable against guerrilla attack forces, the sheer geography of rural Vietnam proved much different.
The US military, along with the help of the media, were very badly portrayed. After stories of how American troops reportedly raped all the women of a village and then killed the rest of its inhabitance leaked out, huge outrage all around the world was voiced. The British (who were against the Vietnam War) were appalled by this and questioned the American military infrastructure; wondering how such crimes could be committed especially when it was against the people they were there for in the First place. From a US military POV one could say that this was justifiable under the circumstances. This was because the villagers were "supposedly" supporting the North Vietnamese. However such claims true or false could not support this point of view simply because America is the so called bearer of freedom, and personal rights. Once these bad atrocities were made public, the Vietnam War was not supported within the US or in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh was the light at the end of the tunnel for the Vietnamese. He was seen by many as a popular, caring leader that gave the ordinary person what they had wanted from the beginning, a Vietnamese leader. Under his communist ideas he insured the ordinary person land (not just the select few). People were willing to fight and die for him, because it was an actual cause. Furthermore it was his popularity and guerilla tactics that saw him to victory.
In conclusion America clearly failed to save the South from Communist occupation. This was due to many reasons, many of which were triggered by the US. America was clearly the unpopular side in the war and could not over come the North because of the lack of support from the South. Even the American public, towards the later years of the war, were very against the American Government's objectives, and were seen as enemies of the State. Ho Chi Minh on the other hand was highly supported within Vietnam and thus these reasons state why Vietnam could not and would not be saved from Communism.

Why the US lost in Vietnam

 The Vietnam War, America's longest war, had ended up in failure for the US. At that time, and until today, the US was the strongest nation on the planet and Vietnam was one of the poorest and a primary industrial country, where peasantry was in majority. The war, more officially, began from 1964 and ended in 1972 and the main reasons for losing the war was underestimation of VC, Ho Chin Minh Trail, Vietnamese people, protests back in the US, efficiency of US troops, cultural differences, and US casualties.
The US has underestimated Vietcong and the NLF. They had supply from the USSR and China, such as MiG fighters that shoot down more than 700 airplanes and the leader of VC, Ho Chi Minh, saw how Mao used the guerrilla tactics. In early 1968, the Tet offensive has proven that 'No Where', 'Nothing', 'No one' was safe in South Vietnam at 'Anytime'. It came to that Saigon, capital city of South Vietnam where had most of the US bases and the US embassy, had been attacked by Vietcong. Obviously the US had underestimated them. Nonetheless, they were not trained to fight in jungles against guerrillas, even Green Berets were not practical in this environment, thus they, militarily, had not much advantages. Not only the Ho Chi Minh Trail but Vietcong also had Cu Chi tunnel system which US troops never figured out.
North Vietnamese, and the local people supplied needs and ordnance to Vietcong, mainly from North Vietnam, through Ho Chi Minh trail. US airplanes have never stopped try bombing this trail but they've never succeeded and figure out where they are. They were not through high ways or big roads but through farmlands which could hardly been seen on airplanes. Also, it covered Cambodia, which made decisions even hard to make. When Nixon decided to bomb Cambodia, soon he realized it was a mistake by strong Cambodian defense and protests back in the US. Vietnamese, through this, had successfully supplied the Vietcong who are fighting in South Vietnam.

Another thing Ho Chi Min has learned from Mao Tze Tong was that getting people's heart is very important for his strategies. Every Vietcong has memorized Mao's code, which includes Speaking politely to the local people, pay fairly for what you buy, return everything you borrow, pay for what you damage, do not hit or swear at people, do not abuse women, do not ill-treat prisoners. These were all been done by US troops, taking food and drinks, massacres such as My Lai in 1968, beating up Vietnamese, raping women, killing prisoners. US troops became unpopular and people were, of course, willing to help the Vietcong. They gave them food, accommodations, hiding places etc. If Vietcong's truck was struck, people would tear down the wall of the house.

Back in the US, there were protests everywhere. Beginning from Johnson presidency, people doubted if the war was winning. They for the first time saw the TV broadcast from the battlefield and saw how people were killed. "LBJ LBJ how many people did you kill today" was one of their slogan. They've protested over economic issues, casualties, US tactics in Vietnam including Search and Destroy, Operation Ranch Hand, Air attacks etc. By 1970, the Peace Movement had support from all sections of society and no government could ignore it. It got attention from everybody when Security guards killed 4 protesting students in May 1970 at Kent State.
After informing US troops are withdrawing since 1968, those who left in Vietnam had low morale. There were deep questions about the efficiency of them. They started taking drugs, raping, not fighting much, counting the days until the tour was over.
One of the biggest difficulties was to find out the Vietcong amongst Vietnamese. It was hard and they introduced Strategic Helmets where they were kept in a specific area surrounded by the US troops. They had to leave their ancestors' tombs, farmlands, beliefs and houses. Coca Cola, chewing gum, ice creams could not buy off their losses.
By 1968, before the Offensive, US casualties was over 15,000 and keep increasing rapidly. Especially during the Tet Offensive, nearly 1500 US troops were killed every week. This made low morale and huge protests back in the US, which made the war even harder to fight.
With these causes, the US lost the war in Vietnam. There was fully mass back in the US, demonstrations, unstable politics beginning from resign of Johnson, assassination of two Kennedys, Martin Luther King Junior. In the end, US began withdrawing its troops from 1968~1972, began Vietnamisation, however, South Vietnam was taken over by Vietcong, they lost the war and failed to save another "Domino".

Summarise The United States's Involvement in Vietnam
The Vietnam War greatly changed America forever. It was the longest war fought in America’s history, lasting from 1955 to 1973. The Vietnam War tarnished America’s self image by becoming the first time in history the United States failed to accomplish its stated war aims, to preserve a separate, independent, noncommunist government. The war also had great effects on the American people. It was the first war ever broadcast on television. The public was able to see what happened on the battlefield. One of the chief effects of the war was the division it caused among the people. Not since the Civil War had America been so divided. This war would have lasting affects on the United States.

At the site of site of demagogue John McCain's crash in Hanoi. 
 The Vietnam conflict began long before the U.S. became directly involved. Indochina, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, was under French colonial rule. The Vietnam communist-nationalist, also known as the Vietminh, fought for their freedom from the French. The French were being slaughtered, and were doing little to keep the communist North Vietnamese out of South Vietnam. The U.S. sent financial aid to France to help them eliminate the communist threat. At the Geneva Conference in 1954, the major powers tried to come to an agreement on Indochina. There would be a temporary division on the 17th parallel in Vietnam. The Vietminh would control North Vietnam, and South Vietnam would be ruled under the emperor Bao Dai. There was to be an election held in two years to set up the permanent government. The U.S. did not agree to these terms. After the conference, the U.S. moved to create the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization to protect Indochina from communist aggression. The U.S. supported the new leader Ngo Dinh Diem when he took power in South Vietnam. The National Liberation Front, also known as Vietcong, was a guerilla group who supported the communist North Vietnamese and opposed to the Diem rule. At first the United States attention was diverted from Vietnam to other foreign affairs, but with the threat of communist taking over all of Indochina, the U.S. gradually was pulled into the conflict.

Wreckage of McCain plane, Hanoi, October 1967
President Eisenhower had been sending aid to South Vietnam and helped them to create the Army Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). This would hopefully help stop the communist North Vietnamese from taking over. Despite American financial aid, South Vietnam was still being defeated and needed serious intervention from the U.S. With the Cold War, the United States had vowed to keep communism from spreading. President Truman stated that any nation challenged by Communism would receive aid from the United States. The Truman Doctrine, initially for Europe and the Middle East, was adopted by the future presidents and applied to the Vietnam conflict. They feared that if one of the Southeast Asian nations fell to communism, that all the others would eventually follow. This was known as the domino theory. To the U.S. communism anywhere was a threat.

When John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, Vietnam was not a major issue. There were more pressing situations to be taken care of, such as the Cold War. The Vietnam conflict became more of an issue when civil war broke out in Laos. Vice President Johnson was sent to Vietnam, and when he returned he greatly urged President Kennedy to become more involved in the conflict. John F. Kennedy decided to send military advisors and special forces (Green Berets) to work with and train the ARVN troops instead of sending combat troops. Aerial spraying of herbicides like Agent Orange were used to try and deprive the Vietcong of their food and their jungle cover. Kennedy’s advisors secretly reported to him that the ARVN was weak and the situation was becoming more serious. The president wasn’t ready to send troops, but increased economic aid and sent more advisors, increasing the number from 900-15,000.

The leader of Vietnam at the time was Ngo Dinh Diem. He was a Catholic, which caused much dispute because the majority of Vietnam was Buddhist. He was blamed for the worsening situation in Vietnam. Many South Vietnamese united against Diem, and in October 1963, a military coup aided by CIA and the United States ambassador overthrew and murdered Diem. On November 22,1963 President John F. Kennedy was riding through the streets of Dallas, Texas, when he was killed by an assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
After the death of the president, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was appointed president of the United States. Johnson felt that the U.S. should stay involved in Vietnam to prove the U.S. kept its commitments and could stop communism aggression. August 2, 1964 the USS Maddox was off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, when in was fired upon by North Vietnam coastal gunboats. On August 4 the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy both reported attacks from North Vietnam forces. Johnson decided to escalate the war. He ordered bombing of different North Vietnam targets. Congress soon authorized the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the president authority “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” Johnson came up with a strategy to take control of Vietnam called Operation Rolling Thunder. The operation would consist of bombing of North Vietnam, more air power, and increase the number of ground troops. In June 1965, U.S. advisors were sent into combat. This would shift the U.S. “from helping the Vietnam people help themselves, to fighting a full-scale war on and over the land mass of Asia.”

In September 1967, Nguyen Van Thieu was elected president of South Vietnam. The U.S. now had a total of about 650,000 ground troops in Vietnam. Johnson tried for peace talks, but nothing was agreed upon. In January of 1968, the Vietcong and North Vietnam prepared for a major attack. Tet is the lunar New Year, and is Vietnam’s biggest holiday. They planned a surprise attack, hoping the ARVN and U.S. would have let their guard down. Every important city in South Vietnam was attacked, including the capital Saigon. The fighting lasted for about a month. America was able to witness much of this footage on the news. The outcome was a major military victory for South Vietnam, but it was a great political victory for North Vietnam. It proved that the war was nowhere close to being over, and proved how determined the Vietcong was. It also demonstrated how costly the war would be. This was a major turning point in America’s public opinion on the war. It made people begin to loose hope in winning the war, and to question the president’s tactics for the war. When the Pentagon announced the number of U.S. casualties since the beginning of war, the number reached 15,058 killed, 109,572 wounded, and about $25 billions dollars spent each year. President Johnson knew his popularity was lost and decided not to run for re-election.

On January 20, 1969 Richard Nixon was inaugurated. A few months later he announced the removal of 25,000 United States troops by August of 1969 and another 65,000 to be sent home by the end of the year. His planned was called “Vietnamization” which would bring “peace with honour.” It was designed to turn over the responsibility of war to South Vietnam. The U.S. would strengthen the South Vietnam army so they could fight without direct help from the U.S. This would allow American troops to gradually come home. Vietnamization would also set up a self sufficient South Vietnam government.

The Communist soon agreed on a peace plan, but it fell through when they claimed the U.S. wasn’t going along as agreed. The same year Nixon ordered secret bombing of Cambodia to try and wipe out the Vietcong and North Vietnam base camps. On April 30, 1970, President Nixon informed the American people that troops would be sent to Cambodia. This outraged people even more. Nixon had promised peace, but was now bringing on more war. Many more young students became worried that they would be drafted. On May 1, 1970 Kent State University became grounds for anti-war rallies. About fifteen thousand dollars worth of damage was inflicted on downtown Kent. On May 2 protesters burned down the campus ROTC building. The Governor decided to call in the National Guard. On May 4 rallies started again on campus, and the National Guard used tear gas as a means to try and disperse the crowd. The crowd had become very rowdy and all of a sudden shots were fired. No one is certain as to why the shooting started, but 4 people were shot dead, and 9 were wounded. Two of those that died were innocent students switching classes. This tragic news caused much uproar across the nation. A great deal of respect for authority was lost by many citizens. The tragedy made many people realize that protest can go too far, and law enforcement can also go too far in trying to maintain the law.

In 1971, Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as to limit the power of the president with the war. In January 1973, a cease-fire was negotiated. On January 25, 1973, The Paris Peace Accords were signed ending the fighting between North Vietnam and the United States. U.S. troops would be withdrawn, American POWs would be returned home, and the South Vietnam regime would remain in power. This didn’t end the war, but got the U.S. and our 27,000 remaining troops and 540 PoWs out of Vietnam. Soon after the United States left, fighting resumed between North Vietnam and South Vietnam’s weak army. May of 1975, two years after Nixon pulled out of the war, South Vietnam surrendered. Vietnam was reunified under a communist Vietnam regime. By the end of the war the United States suffered 57,000 casualties and 153,303 soldiers were wounded.
There are many things people blame America’s defeat on. For one thing the North Vietnam and Vietcong armies were much stronger than anyone anticipated. Their guerilla warfare tactics was something the U.S. soldiers were not used to. The fact that there were no clear combat zones also made fighting confusing. The Vietcong also would dress as peasants to trick the soldiers before they would attack. This made it hard for soldiers to distinguish between the enemy and friendly civilians. The Vietcong was also fighting for a cause they were willing to fight to the death for. They had heroic determination and fighting spirit. The American soldiers on the other hand didn’t always have confidence in their goals, and some felt the war was unwinnable. There was no direct threat to their own country and there was no support from the general population. The soldiers were also angered by the government lies they had to witness. Those who returned from war joined the forefront of the antiwar movements. They began wearing peace symbols and other signs of their digression. The African Americans were especially opposed to fighting “a racist war, in a racist army, for a racist government.” Military discipline broke down, and “fragging” began. Fragging was when soldiers would attack their officers, usually by tossing fragments of grenades into the officers sleeping quarters. Some soldiers also openly refused their orders. The military also experienced financial corruption, theft, murder, and suicide. All these factors seriously hurt the U.S. army.

At first many people volunteered to fight. When the draft came into affect many questioned its fairness. Until 1969 local boards had selected those for the draft, and most of those selected were usually minorities and poor working class youths. In 1965, 20,000 men per month were drafted, by 1968, 40,000 were drafted per month, and served 12-13 months. Some people tried to avoid the draft. People moved to Canada, burned draft cards, and went to college. Others served prison sentences, like Muhammad Ali, or avoided the war on moral grounds and instead served a set term of community service. The working-class communities were also another area where resistance was strong because these were the people usually drafted. People began to see the body bags return home and video clippings from the fighting. These factors greatly worried the American people.

  Beside the tank that liberated Saigon from American control
The anti-war movement is also blamed as to why the United States lost the war. The war was popular in the beginning, and most of the American public supported the war. The success of World War II kept people optimistic about the outcome of U.S. involvement and kept them from objecting. Americans wanted to preserve their way of life and stop the threat of Communism. Some people even benefited from the war at first, such as aircraft manufacturers, but this didn’t last for long. When involvement of the U.S. was escalated in 1965, America supported this decision and was positive that the U.S. would come out victorious. When this escalation failed to produce the results that were expected, people started to become doubtful. America had been told that they were winning the war, but as the number of deaths and injuries increased the people realized that this war did have its costs. Just because it was fought thousands of miles away, didn’t mean that it didn’t affect the people at home.

The Media caused major changes in America. The media brought all the horrors of the war to life. For the first time, people were able to see the action everyday on the news. Death and destruction caused by the bombing were shown, and the nightly news even counted the dead. This greatly affected America’s opinions on the war. The media itself also experienced changes. Before the war the media focused on the positive aspects of wars. It showed U.S. action in a positive way and focused on what people wanted and needed to hear. Money wasn’t a factor for journalist, and they didn’t need to compete. Their job was to help the public stay optimistic and keep them from panicking. Many people from the television, magazines, and newspapers were able to travel to Vietnam to gain information to write more informative stories. Most reporters supported the war initially, but after being in Vietnam for long periods of time they grew skeptical and formed biased opinions. They lost enthusiasm and started to give offensive and biased reports. In 1971 the Pentagon Papers were published by the New York Times. They were a copy of the Defence Department’s history of involvement in Vietnam, and were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. This revealed that Kennedy and Johnson had misled the public about the intentions in Vietnam. America would no longer fully trust the government. Journalist criticized the army’s methods and revealed the true horrors of war. The media became an endless competition to earn money, fame, and success.

As citizens realized the seriousness of the war many people started to revolt and publicly display their opposition to the war. When Johnson approved the Operation Rolling Thunder and began the massive bombings of Vietnam, the anti-war movement grew to enormous proportions. The citizens of the nation really began questioning America’s presence in Vietnam. They asked how a small country like Vietnam could cause the world to fall to communism. They used national images in a distorted way to get their opinions across. Demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, and other anti-war movements became regular occurrences on the college campuses. Teach-ins became popular in classrooms. This was where the teacher and students would discuss the war openly in class. The protest really intensified in 1965 to 1970. On November 15,1969, 300,000 people gathered in Washington D.C. for the largest antiwar demonstration ever. Priest and other religious leaders even joined in the rallies. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Tet offensive were both events that caused much uproar. Civil rights leaders even became active in the antiwar movements. Martin Luther King became a vocal antiwar activist and expressed his opinions about the racial discrimination occurring in the draft and army. The My Lai Massacre, the killing of 200 civilians by the U.S. soldiers who couldn’t distinguish the civilians from enemy forces fueled more protest. People even started calling the soldiers “baby killers.” In previous wars, soldiers had been seen as heroic, but in the Vietnam War it was just the opposite. Soldiers were embarrassed to wear their uniform when coming home. To be a soldier was no longer something to be proud of.

There were two extremist groups present during the war, the hawks and the doves. The hawks were nationalist who wanted to escalate the war. They saw the conflict as part of the struggle against Communism. They felt the war could be won. The doves in contrast opposed to the war on moral grounds. They wanted peace at all costs. Norman Morrison a strong activist burned himself to death in front of the Pentagon. Even people in congress were willing to speak out against the war, like Senator J. William Fullbright. Many celebrities and musicians became strong activist. Their speeches and music reflected the views the Americans had towards the war, their anger and feelings that the war was a hopeless cause. Woodstock held in August 1969, was a gathering of many folk and rock artist singing anti-war songs and voicing the same opinions on the war raging in Vietnam. Thousands of people attended this anti-war rally.
The war also had effects on the economy. In the beginning the war spending increased the economy, but soon the cost of war caught up to the United States. The budget had to be expanded. The cost of living rose greatly between the years of 1965 to 1975. The spending of the war was about 150 billion dollars in all. Prices of goods had increased 16% by 1970. Inflation occurred wiping out almost all economic gains, and wages were lowered, leading to many strikes. President Johnson finally asked Congress for extra taxes to help pay for the war. Congress agreed as long as he cut domestic spending. By 1961, 25 billion dollars per year were being spent on the war effort. Business leaders thought it best to end the war than to cause more civil rights movements, strikes, and youth movements against the government.

The war also had devastating results in Vietnam. Many civilians were killed and many children were born with birth defects. Their largest crops were destroyed because of the herbicides used. 800,000 children were orphaned in South Vietnam and at least 10 million people were homeless.

The transition for the soldiers back into public life was a hard one. They only received about half the benefits the veterans from other wars received. Some even faced psychological problems, drug addiction, and employment troubles. Their homecoming wasn’t such a celebration as it had been in the years before. They didn’t receive anywhere near the recognition they deserved.

Since the war America’s views have changed greatly. The soldier are no longer looked down upon, but are honoured. Today there is a national memorial in Washington D.C. in their honour. It was built in 1982 and commemorates all the U.S. Military personnel who died or were declared missing in action in Vietnam. The wall is 493 feet long and in 1984 a bronze statue called Three Servicemen was added to the site. In 1993 a bronze sculpture of 3 nurses and a wounded soldier was also added to honour those women who served. Since the war there have been many movies, documentaries, books, and poems that remember the war and honour the veterans.

The Vietnam War had many costs. Not only the billions of dollars spent, but also the thousands of American lives taken, and the effects it had on American society. The war cost Lyndon Johnson his presidency. Many programs promised to the American people were never fulfilled because of the demands from the war. The President’s power in waging war was limited. The war also permanently changed the way the media functions. It changed the public view of the government and its leaders permanently. Serious questions were raised about the U.S. getting involved militarily in many future situations, and the U.S. stayed out of other countries affairs for many years. The war in all, damaged America’s image and taught the U.S. about its limits of power. The war did have its positive affects. Communist pressure was kept out of Indonesia and other areas in the pacific. This enabled them to remain non-communist since most of the communists’ focus was on Southeast Asia. The Vietnam War is one that will never be forgotten, and its affects on America have changed the way Americans will look at all future conflicts.