There are two reasons to explain why the USA became involved in Vietnam, pearl harbour and the threat of communism in Vietnam.Vietnam was part of an area known as French Indo-china, which was rich in natural resources such as rice, corn, coal, and rubber this made it a valuable area to control. Japan wanted to gain control over Indo- China so they could use the resources and Frances defeat against the Germans gave Japan their chance to move in. Japan also discovered that their Chinese enemies had been receiving supplies from Haiphong and Northern Vietnam. In July 1941 Vichy France allowed Japan to occupy the rest of indo china. They allowed the French to continue running it as long as they could take all the resources that they would need for their war against China.
They took all they could from the area and 2 million Vietnamese starved to death because of this. There was however already resistance to Japan.In 1941 two Vietnamese communists Ho Chi Minh and Nguyen Vo Giap set up a league for the independence of Vietnam or Vietminh in southern china. The Vietminh also included non-communists. The aim of Vietminh was to be free from foreign control (nationalist).
The Vietminh operated from china but had help from the American intelligence service, the organisation of strategic services (OSS). The OSS trained and equipped the Vietminh during the war. By the end of 1944 the Vietminh were ready for their guerrilla warfare (hit and run tactics) against the French and the Japanese in northern Vietnam. Although the attacks made were only small scale they had a massive impact. Vietminh were very popular and by early 1945 they had about 5000 guerrilla fighters.
Japan tried to get rid of the French altogether and offered to set up an independent Vietnam.They appointed Bao Dai as its leader in August 1945, however the Japanese surrendered and a question mark was left for who was going to replace Japan in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was determined it was going to be Vietminh and not the French.
Also the reason the USA became involved was because of the attack by the Japanese at pearl harbour in Hawaii against the USA. On December 7th Japanese fighter planes attacked the American pacific fleet at its base pearl harbour, destroying or damaging 8 battleships and nearly all the aircraft. This attack was a total surprise as there was no declaration of war from the Japanese, and the Americans had expected an attack in the pacific during 1941, though they thought it would be at their base in the Philippines, much closer to Japan. Then on the 8th of December the USA and Britain declared war on Japan, for revenge!In competition with the French, Vietminh took control of Hanoi and Saigon and in September 1945 Ho Chi Minh announced that Vietnam was an independent and democratic republic. The USA was sympathetic. By December 1945 however there were 50,000 French troops ready to restore the French power.
Vietminh were weak in southern Vietnam, so the French claimed victory by March 1946. The French could conquer Vietminh areas but they couldn’t keep control of them. They did not have enough troops to hold down the countries they had captured.For some time there was an uneasy truce between the French in the south and Ho Chi Minh in the north. Both sides agreed on a ceasefire.
In November 1946 the French broke the ceasefire and launched a major attack against Vietminh in Haiphong. In December fighting started in Hanoi. The Vietminh retreated into the jungle and there was hardly any fighting until 1950. By 1950 the USA’S attitude towards the French in Vietnam had changed as the cold war had started and the Americans were willing to help anyone fight against communism. Ho Chi Minh was communist. In July 1950 President Truman sent $15 million of supplies to the French. They spent $3 billion in the next four years helping the French in Vietnam.In 1949 communist forces in China won a victory and this was a great boost to the Vietminh.
Mao of China provided other communists with military supplies. This victory was another reason why attitudes to the French changed. Communism seemed to be spreading and it had to be stopped or the domino theory would be true. With the “fall” of North Vietnam to communism in 1954 the USA became committed to stopping the further spread of communism in the region. Within a year of the North Vietnam victory over the French the USA began to offer support to the anti communist Ngo Dinh Diem, helping him to take control of the South Vietnamese government, which was subsequently declared a republic wrest control of South Vietnam from Bao Dai the USA supported lots of weak governments in South Vietnam in order to prevent communist influence in Indo-China.
The USA supplied these South Vietnam governments with military and also advisory support.Due to a well planned attack by a small number of Vetminh soldiers the French surrendered on May 7th 1954. The French asked President Eisenhower to send some American troops to help and there was even talking of nuclear weapons but Eisenhower said no to both. This was because America had just ended their war in Korea where 40,000 Americans had died and did not want to see this happen again in Vietnam. They became politically involved at a conference in 1954 when Britain, France, China, the Soviet Union and Vietnam met in Geneva in May 1954 to discuss the Vietnam problem and had decided that:.Vietnam would be temporarily divided into two, along the 17th parallel:- the north under Ho Chi Minh and the south under Ngo Dinh Diem.The Vietnamese forces would withdraw from the south and the French would pull out of the north.A date for the elections was also fixed for July 1956.
Not many believed that this would end the conflict as Diem refused to accept this agreement and the Americans also said that they would support Diem as he was very much against communism. Eisenhower wanted communism to stop at the 17th parallel. Diem was elected president of Vietnam in October 1955. The USA would now have to prop up Diem’s government with money, supplies and military equipment. It was clear to everybody that Diem had cheated.
Eisenhower had hoped that Diem would carry out land reforms but he did not. Diem was only concerned about finding supporters of Vietminh and changing their views on communism in prison camps.Those who did not change their views were executed.
Diem favoured the landowners over the peasants and did not have a very nice lifestyle. Communists in the south knew that peasants wanted to fight back since Vietminh supporters were gradually being eliminated. In 1959 communist governments set up a terror campaign against Diem’s government. By the end of 1961 4000 South Vietnamese officials were assassinated by Vietcong (Vietnamese communist) The USA decided they should use this term rather than Vietminh as this stood for patriotism. In December 1960 the communists in Hanoi set up the National Liberation Front in the south.It’s main aim was to overthrow Diem, get rid of the Americans and re-unite north and south Vietnam. In 1961 Kennedy became president of the USA and wanted his people to think that he was tough on communism and he was keen to increase American involvement in South Vietnam but would not send troops there, although he did agree to send out more equipment.
The Americans spent $270 million in military support for 170,000 troops vs. just 10,000 Vietcong. Why could they not be defeated?Diem’s solution in 1962 was to take the peasants away from where the NLF was strong.
This was called the “strategic Hamlet” programme to stop villagers passing information on to Vietcong. The peasants had top pay for the materials to re-build their homes although they had been moved they gained more recruits because of the way they had been treated. After a Buddhist had set himself alight on a Saigon road because of Diems actions against Buddhists his government became very unpopular, Kennedy realised this and knew that they were too unpopular to defeat Vietcong. Kennedy approved a Coup d’etat. Military rules tried to improve relations with all the groups Diem had treated badly, and claimed they wanted a neutral south Vietnam where the NLF would exist and all foreigners would have to leave. The new president Lyndon Johnson was keen also to show he was tough on communism.They became completely involved when the South Vietnamese army had no power to fight unlike Vietcong who had amazing morale.
In 1964 the USA began their plans to bomb North Vietnam. They needed information on anti aircraft systems so they sent the south Vietnamese commando’s to find out. These commando’s attacked the radar stations in the Gulf of Tonkin. North Vietnamese torpedo boats headed straight for the Maddox but did not destroy it. Johnson said that the USA would strike back. Johnson realised that Vietcong would be impossible to beat using the South Vietnamese army.
The president gave his approval to “operation rolling thunder” this meant to bomb north Vietnam on regular basis. By the end of the year there would be 200,000 of them. America’s war had begun.In conclusion to this it shows that America were very reluctant to become involved, but gradually they had no choice especially when they discovered that the south Vietnamese army could not defeat Vietcong, America had to become involved if they wanted to stop communism from spreading. America was also reluctant to become involved as they had just fought in the Korean War and lost a lot of men, but again America had no choice when South Vietnam failed to defeat Vietcong.