Did Vietnam halt the spread of Communism?

I have read various takes on the issue and will freely admit I don’t know enough on the topic to make an informed judgment. Some seemingly informed authorities say that the Domino Effect was a myth and that had there been no war* in Vietnam then not only would no more nations have been taken over by Communists than were anyway, but that Cambodia likely would not have succombed to Pol Pot. Other writers say that it was directly because of our involvement in Vietnam that other nations did not fall and indirectly the reason the USSR ultimately collapsed of complete exhaustion in the late 1980s. Still other sources I’ve read speculate that without Vietnam there would possibly have been a war between the USSR and China.

I defer to the judgment of those better read than myself (I’ve read Karnow’s book, Fire in the Lake, a couple of bios of Ho Chi Minh and many articles and websites but nothing truly definitive). What do you think would have been the result had U.S. involvement in Vietnam had decreased or ended in the early 1960s?

*Note: I’m well aware it was not a war officially, though for the purposes of this thread feel free to use war, conflict and other terms interchangeably (unless of course you’re discussing it not being a war).

My (uninformed) opinion on this is that it did more harm than good. Without the US getting involved so heavily in Vietnam I think that the USSR would have run out of gas even earlier. Also, I suspect there was a chance that had the US sided with Uncle Ho and against French colonialism, there is a possibility that the North and South could have been united without massive bloodshed, and the US could (possibly) have had an ally, or at least a neutral…instead of an enemy. I don’t see how that could have helped the USSR or Communist Chinese.

As to a potential war between the USSR and China, I don’t see how our involvement in Vietnam would have effected that, but I admit I’m no expert on the subject. I lived through the Vietnam war as a teen ager, so it’s hard to be unbiased on the subject…and having lived through it, I was in no hurry to do any deep research on this painful period.


And it would have helped the US in terms of moral authority. Vietnam helped frame the Cold War in terms of being a conflict of Western Imperialism versus the oppressed people of the world. Not that it was the only conflict that contributed to that interpretation of matters.

(As in Watergate) follow the money.

The Soviet Union collapsed for economic reasons. Their currency was almost worthless in the international economic community (at a time when globalization was taking root). Supporting proxy wars only drained them to a far greater degree than the proxy wars supported by Western countries.

If you are going to realize delusions of global grandeur you have to have the blessing of the international bankers. They are the ones that decide whether the checks are going to get cashed.

I’ve never understood the resistance to the domino theory. We pulled out of southeast asia in 1975. After we did the nations of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos all became communist.

Ironically the communists in Vietnam eventually overthrew the Cambodian communists in 1979. However Laos and Vietnam are still technically communist nations.

From what I know of it, ‘communism’ is an umbrella term for a variety of rebellions for a variety of reasons. Some communist insurgents were economic, some are nationalistic and anti-colonial, some are idealogical, some are anti-dictatorship. Pol Pot was idealogical, the Vietnamese were nationalistic, the Chinese and Russian were probably economic. That is my impression.

IIRC, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma went Communist anyways, so it’s hard to see the Vietnam war as being particularly successful in preventing the spread of communism in the region. Malaysia had already squashed it’s communist party revolution before Vietnam began, so that basically leaves Thailand as the only place you can even begin to argue was saved by the Vietnam War.
I think xtisme has the right idea, if the US had it to do over again we should’ve sided with nationalists like Ho Chi Minh against the French and other Colonial powers in the area. Once we let the Communists become the pro-indigineous/anti-colonial power, we put ourselves on the wrong side of history, and made it inevitable that at least part of SE Asia would end up Communist.

Burma never really went Communist. Are you talking about Ne Win?

Yea. Here’s wikipedia:

I don’t know much about it, but that certainly seems pretty Communist sounding.

Is that the new microsoft OS?

If they’d have looked at history they’d have seen that China and Vietnam had spent the previous thousand years constantly fighting wars, huge periods of nonstop war. Sure enough, five years after we got kicked out they started another one with China. So it was just a total screwup.

I’d say the USSR was circling the drain, and then they blew out the bottom of the bathtub by going into Afghanistan.

I think the U.S. loss in Vietnam encouraged the Soviets to try their luck somewhere else (multiple proxy wars) and then into direct involvement in Afghanistan.

That’s pretty much the Reader’s Digest version. Ho was a nationalist. After all, he was a sous-chef in a Boston hotel. He didn’t hate America, he wanted our support.

That being said, Vietnam claims to be a “communist” country but it isn’t. Free enterprise reigns supreme within certain constraints. Vietnam is nothing like Cuba or North Korea. Goods and services are readily available. The Vietnamese are motivated by capitalistic principles and, for the most part are non-political.

As Vietnam exists today, millions (billions?) of America dollars and about 58,000 American lives were spent so that the Vietnam government could make the place safe for Citibank, Visa, American Express, Intel, all of the Japanese manufacturing corporations, tourists, and everybody else.

If the USA had “won” there would still be a presence of American troops, the place would be unsafe for tourists and there would be the threat of insurgent uprisings.

The communist revolutions in Cambodia and Laos started organizing in the 60s and were openly in revolt before the U.S. pulled out (or seemed about to pull out). It’s hard to credit the American presence in Vietnam with preventing communism in those countries when they were well on their way, revolution-wise, when the U.S. began to withdraw.

Arguably, it was infighting amongst the various communist parties of SE Asia that delayed their actual revolutions until the 70s.

I don’t know if we should have favored the communists. But I think we’d have been better off supporting the Geneva Accords of 1954. We should have supported the principle of democracy and a national election even if a communist victory would have been the likely result. We needed to recognize the difference between an indigenous communist movement like Vietnam’s and an imposed communist regime like the ones in Eastern Europe or Afghanistan. After that we could have worked on turning Vietnam into a neutral power rather than a Soviet or Chinese ally - a goal which probably would have been supported by Hanoi.

A major problem with the Domino Theory is that it was an outgrowth of the perception that communism was monolithic and any group calling itself communist was Communist with a capitol C and taking its orders from Moscow. Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist first and a communist of convenience. His goal for Vietnam was driving foreign dominance out and self rule of the country, or ruling the country under himself, whichever you prefer; he wasn’t a particularly savory character but he wanted Vietnam for the Vietnamese, not Vietnam for the Communist bloc. The Viet Minh received US support during WW2 as they were fighting the Japanese who had taken Indochina from the French. With the end of WW2, Ho Chi Minh made a very overt attempt to continue receiving US support, including heavily referencing the US declaration of independence in his speech declaring the independence of Vietnam when WW2 ended. Roosevelt and Truman both distained imperialism, but with the fall of the Iron Curtain the reality was siding with Ho wasn’t in the cards. Doing so would have completely alienated the French and heavily unsettled the UK and other western European nations with colonial holdings when rallying support against Communism seemed far, far more important. Vietnam received very little notice; no one in the US in 1945 would have imagined its future importance.

With the world going bi-polar, Ho took his backing from communism. The folly of the Domino Theory and monolithic Communism is made pretty clear by the fact that communist Vietnam went to war with its communist neighbors China and Cambodia very soon after the end of the Vietnamese War over ethnic and nationalistic issues.

The argument can be made that while those countries did indeed fall to Communism, the reason why it stopped there was because the Soviet Union was so drained financially that they couldn’t sponsor any further expansion of Communism. It’s certainly a plausible argument, because it wasn’t until the 1970s that things began to unravel for them in a big way, and Afghanistan finally closed the door on Soviet expansionism.

Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. If you read some books about Vietnam it strikes you that the United States ended up escalating a war that few really wanted to be a part of, and nobody can tell you with any certainty why it happened.

The whole thing was a big mess, really.

I think a lot of people in this thread are either ignorant of certain bits of history or are deliberately ignoring it to suit their worldview.

First, this notion that we should have supported Ho, or that Ho was a nationalist. He wasn’t a thoroughgoing nationalist really, and he was always a committed communist in his political life. He was a founding member of the French Communist Party in 1921. He worked variously with the Comintern and the Chinese Red Army before returning to Vietnam and organizing the Viet Minh.

So whether he wound up with a larger or smaller area under his control, he was going to organize it along Stalinist lines. History shows that he did just that, and we can’t ignore that simple fact.

Nor can we look at Vietnam today, which is relatively prosperous, and conclude that this is how the communist governments of Vietnam since 1976 and North Vietnam even earlier always ran things. The fact is that the party old guard was run out of power in the mid-1980s after years of economic mismanagement and political repression. Prior to this were the years of the boat people and the reeducation camps, which I don’t think many here will defend. And even with these reforms Vietnam isn’t free by Western standards - it is a one-party state with significant censorship, persecution of religious minorities, and imprisonment or harassment of regime opponents.

All of this doesn’t touch on whether the Vietnam War was or wasn’t a good idea, or whether it had an impact either way on the spread of communism. But at least we should refrain from telling falsehoods or comforting myths while we have this debate.

This “confirmation” of the Domino Theory should be considered along the same lines as all those sports theories like, when the Redskins win their last home game before an election, a Democrat is always elected; or when the stock market goes up in a year, the American League always wins the Series, or whatever. One event really doesn’t have a causative effect on the other.

In Asia and Africa, the appeal of communism has to be considered as directly related to decolonization and the imbalance of relationships with Western powers. To simplify, if you live in a country that you feel didn’t benefit under colonialism, who are you going to want to align yourself with: the Western bloc that perpetrated the colonialism, or the Eastern bloc that offers a revisionist political and economic system? The idea that the US could step in and militarily stop the external infiltration of an ideology is a massive red herring: it isn’t so much about the people of Vietnam or Angola wanting the Soviets in, it’s more about them wanting the West out.

There’s more to it than that, of course.

Oh, and Vietnam had nothing to do with preventing a war between China and the USSR. It was just a different issue.

But you just upheld the domino theory. The people in these nations were anti-colonial and were anti-western. And once the west left the region and was unable to repress those urges those nations went communist within a few months.

The domino theory proposed that Communism wouldn’t stop there, but would continue to take over the world. Remember the 1950’s “World Domination” map that claimed Communism would complete the conquest by 1973 and was on schedule?