The Vietnam War: Why?

I know the schoolbook answer to this question is “to control the spread of communism”, but why did we really fight the Vietnam War? What was our financial and/or political intrest over there?
[sup]I’m hoping this wont turn towards a GD but my apologies in advance if it does[/sup]

Sometimes the schoolbooks are right. Failure to understand the ideology of the times results in failure to understand the whole sorry mess.

Here’s a gross oversimplification.

Vietnamese nationalists appeal for help in overthrowing French colonial rule. United States says no, USSR says yes.

After a long guerilla-style insurrection, French give up and pull out. Vitenam is partitioned into Communist supported and Western supported sections, like China, Korea and Germany. The truce doesn’t hold and North and South Vietnam begin taking shots at each other.

Not wanting another Korean War, the United States begins sending advisors to aid South Vietnam. You really have to understand the Domino Theory (“If South Vietanm falls, then Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan. . .”) to understand the rationale behind U.S. involvement at this point.

U.S. gets involved so deeply it makes Korea look like Sunday School. Generals do not heed MacArthur’s warning about an Asian land war, keep predicting “light at the end of the tunnel.” Finally, political leadership gets fed up, pulls out and North Vietnam overruns South.

I know, I know. I’m omitting a lot, like the corruption of the South Vietnamese government, the question of whether the U.S. really wanted to “win” or simply force a Korea-style truce, etc. But if you’re looking for an economic reason for the war, there really wasn’t one. If you’re looking for a political reason, it was all a part of the Cold War and the desire not to let the Communists get any more. As in many other places at that time (Cuba, to name one nearby), the U.S. would rather support a corrupt government perceived as being anti-Communist, than a relatively clean government perceived as being sympathetic to Communists.

I think that sums up US anti-Communism in a nutshell. The whole thing with Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile, you name it.

JFK had increased the number of advisors in SE Asia to quite a large degree, but by 1962 ulitmately decided that the war was hopeless, the U.S. couldn’t fight a war for a country who’s own people wouldn’t fight.

He decided that for political reasons, he would pull the troops out after the 1964 election. He realized, correctly I suppose, that he would lose the election to Barry Goldwater by being seen as soft on communism.

His asassination sent LBJ to the hot seat, and almost overnight funding and troop deployments increased several orders of magnitude. We were in it for the long haul after that, and the rest is, as they say, History.

Politics sure makes for crappy warfighting, if you ask me.

Well, I can’t agree with much of the above.

Why was it fought? IMHO, Ccos Communism is no kind of market.

It was the height of the Cold War. Many, many countries were not aligned with either Communism or Capitalism, notably in Africa, Asia and South / Central America. The West and Soviet Union vied for ‘influence’ around the globe. The time would come when the US needed to stand up for one of those countries (or more exactly, the leaders of those countries) it claimed it did / would support when the crunch came. It happened to come first in Vietnam (well, the first time when the UN couldn’t be roped in i.e. Korea).

So, it was really all about protecting, and more importantly, being seen to protect fledgling / emerging / wavering democracies. Why do that ? Democracies (conventionally) guarantee free markets and free emerging markets mean lots of opportunity for more developed countries, particularly USA Inc.

It was, IMHO, a war fought by Capitalism in order to protect and develop markets. Supporting democracy was the convenient justification but not the ultimate purpose. Capitalism is one mean and hungry beast.

I agree with London_Calling that democracy wasn’t much of an issue. We were going to support whoever wasn’t Communist, be they evil kitten-eaters (that’s a reference to The Tick, not to the culinary habits of foreign nations) or domineering wanna-be fascists.

But markets?? What kind of a market was South Vietnam, or all of Vietnam for that matter?

Is there any evidence that economic activity with Vietnam was large enough to even attract Washington’s attention, much less justify the war?

Having devoted hundreds of hours in college to this subject, allow me to weigh in. The answer as to why we were interested in Viet Nam was because of the whole “Spheres of Influence” train of thought in the State Dept. So, we wanted a foothold in Southeast Asia, where the USSR was seen as becoming increasingly popular. Vietnam, was seen as a good sized country that we could manage.

  We watched the French fail. We even refused to send help when they asked. This was so that we could gauge their military. We figured this to be a ground ball. One of the thousands of small problems that led to the disaster of the Vietnam War, was our intelligence. When McCarthy held up that list of 254 known or suspected communists in the State Dept on that day in Wheeling, WV they included all the experts on SE Asia at State. So we had no knowledge of what we were getting into. Never mind the fact that the Vietnamese had just gotten rid of the French, and then the Chinese before them, so why we thought they would allow us in is ridiculous.

 The most important thing to remember when talking about Viet Nam is that there was no delineation of North and South Viet Nam to the Vietnamese people. So when we were attacked by the North Vietnamese, we were attacked by all Vietnamese. We placed No Ding Ziem as the absolute power in South Viet Nam. Where did we find him? A Seminary in NJ. We had to order his military to kill him about 3 years after we put him in there.

  I'll stop now. But this war is not just the North VS. the South and the Communists versus the Democrats. And LBJ is not evil. And JFK wasn't going to pull us out of the war. This war gets glossed over because many people simply don't understand it.

wevets – Vietnam was but the occasion when the US had to demonstrate it would support a leader / country (as it told non-aligned countries around the world it would) when the bad guys came knocking. The size of the market wasn’t relevant, the bigger picture was to reassure all those non-aligned but West-leaning countries in Africa, Asia and central / South America that the US meant what it said. The whole is a big market.

Nor do I think the market argument is so straightforward, it tends to have several benefits. The standard blue print would go something like this:

First you lend them the money to buy your tech, you make your military presence in the country a condition of the deal (protecting your investment), they then buy your tech with the money you leant them which, BTW, earns you interest. All and any upgrades and service contracts are also yours and when they default on the loan because you lend them (purposely) more than the country can afford, you start bartering with their natural resources and / or insist on stricter monetary policies. Then you get the CIA to deal with any opposition and increase your military presence.

Some or all of that may apply to any one country.

Might seem a long way around to get your Air Jordans made for 15 cents an hour but……
DreamWorks - What is a ‘Sphere of Influence’ if it ain’t a market ?

Have you seen documentation supporting this? I know that several aids of JFK began claiming this in the late 60s (after Nixon had been elected), but I have never seen any actual evidence for it and it is hard to see the JFK who announced that we would “pay any price” to defeat Communism, who had gone eye-to-eye with Kruschev over the missiles in Cuba, who had increased the U.S. advisors in Viet Nam from 900 to over 11,000, and who had authorized them to fire if fired upon, suddenly deciding to pack it in because we “couldn’t win.” (Particularly in light of the fact that the Brits were being successful in Malaysia.)

I hope this was a typo. Diem was an off-and-on player in Viet politics throughout his life. He was offered a place on the anti-French Vietnamese cabinet of Ho Chi Minh, but chose exile because of political differences with Ho Chi Minh. His “3 years” lasted from 1954 to 1963. While it is possible that the U.S. arranged for his assassination, it is also quite possible that we simply allowed it.

These are all quotes from “Robert Kennedy and his Times” by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. who wasn’t known to be a Kennedy basher by any stretch… I won’t cite the actual sources Schlesinger does in his book, (Look it up yourself!) but these are just a few of the supporting documented statements on the subject.

“In July 1962, despite the Joint Chiefs’ excommunication of Galbraith, Kennedy instructed McNamara to start planning for the phased withdrawal of American military personnel from Vietnam.”

“that Robert McNamara had told him of an understanding with President Kennedy tat they would close out Vietnam by '65, whether it was in good shape or bad.”

When Kennedy talked with Mike Mansfield, he privately told him he was wrong to keep sending advisors. “I got angry with Mike for disagreeing with our policy so completely, and I got angry with myself…for agreeing with him.”

Publicly Kennedy may have toed the party line, but privately, it’s obvious he’d had a change of heart. He told Mansfield he had been right about total withdrawal.

“But I can’t do it,” he said, “until 1965–after I’m relected.” Otherwise the Republicans might beat him in 1964 over the “loss” of Indochina as they had beaten the Democrats in 1952 over the “loss” of China.

“If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m reelected. So we had better make damned sure I am reelected.”

September, 1963

“In the final analysis it is their war. They are the ones that have to win it or lose it.”

If you do the research, it’s pretty obvious that Kennedy, however bungled his cabinet might have been, had learned just how screwy their advice had been, and meant to do something about it. That politics derailed his plan doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

General Templer was the British commander who successfully defeated the Communist insurgency in Malaysia in the 1950s. Thus he earned a reputation as a leading expert on counterinsurgency jungle warfare. The Pentagon sought his advice in this capacity when it came to Vietnam. General Templer told them that the situation in Vietnam was fundamentally different from that in Malaysia, and that fighting in Vietnam on that basis could not succeed.

They chose to ignore him.

Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty (Focal Point officer between the
CIA and the Air Force for Clandestine Operations), in his book The Secret Team, said the beginning of U.S. involvement in Vietnam was the work of certain CIA cabals who had a liking for adventurism and recklessness. Once they had bitten off more than they could chew, they needed the Pentagon to help pull their nuts out of the fire, and the U.S. kept getting drawn in deeper and deeper, advisors eventually followed by combat troops, and you know the rest.

I believe McNamara said pretty much the same thing about JFK in In Retrospect. Course it’s been awhile since I read it.

I’m certainly not convinced that Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam. At best, he might have kept troops at a low level, but increased military aid. Once again, it was ideology, not economics – that was a post-Vietnam rationale by people who refused to believe that the U.S. would send 500,000 of its children off to the wrong war for any reason as “pure” as ideology.

Recall that the leadership of the U.s. had gone through World War 2 “fighting tyrany,” and had spent the next 15 years looking at Communism as the next tyrany. To them, it was simply a matter of stopping the communists in Vietnam before we’d have to stop them in the streets of Los Angeles.

For a good perspective on the tenor of the times and the missionary zeal that permeated the U.S. view of the world, read Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address.

For a good summary of the stupidity of it all, read the last chapter of Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly. Basically, Truman made a bad decision by letting the French go back in after WWII, and for the next 15 years every policy decision regarding Viet Nam was wrong.

Actually, it was Schlessinger’s *pro-*Kennedy stance that made his remarks suspect. While he may have opposed the war while LBJ was in office, it was after Nixon was elected that Art came out and began to claim “JFK never wanted this!” Without some sort of corroborating evidence, it always appeared that Schlessinger was simply trying to keep some of the Nam backsplatter off his hero.

I have never seen anything by Mansfield claiming that Kennedy agreed with him (which is not the same as saying that Mansfield had not said it), and McNamara’s book is on my “gotta get to it some day” list, so I had not seen any evidence beyond Schlessinger’s claims.

I was going to recommend the Tuchman book as well. It was the first discussion of the Vietnam War I’ve read that didn’t start with the domino theory.

One point that she makes is that one of the critical points for the whole thing was FDR’s untimely demise. Apparently he was adamantly opposed to the restoration of French colonial rule following WWII and had the standing to make it stick. But after Roosevelt’s death Truman had neither the standing nor the perspicacity to deal with it. DeGaulle threw a hissy fit and the state department caved.

Her contention is that if the French hadn’t been restored the history of Vietnam would likely have been similar to that of the Philippines – not an unqualified success, certainly, but better than what they got.