Was the U.S.'s involvement in Vietnam really justified?

Honestly, if the Vietnam War was a civil war, was the United States really right in placing itself in the middle?

I can see sending supplies and medical aid, but not troops.

“OOoooooh, the Domino Effect… OOooooohh noooooo!! Stop the Communist threat!!! Uuuuuuhhhhhhhh!!”

Please, even at that time, there were plenty of other Communist nations around the world, that weren’t corrupting America, so why care?

It’s funny how nobody says this about Korea. I suggest that one reason why we don’t is because South Korea is now a healthy, wealthy democracy while their Stalinist neighbors to the north are starving to death. Keep in mind that North Korea came damned close to grabbing the whole peninsula before American troops stabilized the Pusan Perimeter. South Korea would not exist if it were not for American troops.

Now take a look at beautiful Vietnam. Hopped into any affordable Vietnamese cars lately? Played Starcraft with any Vietnamese kids on Battlenet? Hell, no. What are all those Vietnamese folk doing, then?

My guess is most of them are carp fishing in a hundred thousand bomb-craters and being backwards-ass subsistence-livers, while a few puppets tout the virility of the new “Commie Lite” Vietnam. And you might be doing a similar thing right now if America (and a dozen other capitalist countries) hadn’t shown the will to oppose the spread of communism. Sure, we lost that one, but we held the line for a long damned time.

The clarity of hindsight shows that the Soviet Union and China really were trying to take over the world, that communism in practice is a f*ck-all bad system that doesn’t work, and that the West’s willingness to use their own troops to oppose spread of communism in Greece, Yemen, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam and other places kept at least some of us from being condemned to oppressed and impoverished lives.

The same reason we cared that Germany invaded Poland and France and Iraq invaded and Cuba. There are countries out there that quite franky, don’t like us or our allies. It is in our best interests that those nations don’t spread their influence all over the world.

In the 70s, the Soviet Union was (at least on paper) as big and powerful as the US. They were also very much our arch enimy.

Do you think it makes sense to prevent your enemy from gaining strength while they are small and before they threaten you. Or do you wait until they are powerful and threaten you directly?

Also remember you have the benefit of 30 years of hindsight.

Morally correct, yes. Justified… well, that’s iffy. The interventioned was “justified,” after all, by the TOnkin Gulf incident, which is of dubious credibility.

I happen to believe Communism is as evil a philosophy as any that has ever existed. So, I’m predisposed to support any action taken against it. I agree with ROnald Reagan that preventing a COmmunist takeover of Viet Nam was a “noble cause.”

BUT… a “noble cause” can still be a bloody fiasco. And there is no justification for lying to the American people about what was going on over there. IF there was a case to be made for intervention, the U.S. government should have had the integrity and cojones to make that case, instead of getting involved incrementally and then (perhaps) escalating dishonestly. AND, once it was known how badly the war was going, the government had an obligation to level with the people, rather than continuing to insist that everything was fine, and “the boys” would be home by Christmas.

There’s a lot of complicated reasons why we got involved in Viet-Nam. One of them was that we wanted a bit more influence in south east asia then we had at the time. Communism was bad and taking steps to ensure that it didn’t spread was a pretty good idea.


There are a number of issues here that are very complex, and much easier to see in hindsight than they were at the time.

First, the U.S. got itself in a bind by supporting the French colonial regime. Shortly after WWII, Ho Chi Minh attempted to seek U.S. help in freeing Vietnam from Colonial rule. He claimed to be a fan of the U.S. Constitution, and wanted to pattern his government after an American-style Democracy. The U.S. turned him down because France was an ally.

After he was unable to gain U.S. help, he then went to the Soviet Union, and professed to be a Marxist. The Soviets came to his aid, which then dragged the U.S. back into the conflict. Then the French suffered a big loss at Dien Bien Phu, and the U.S. found itself committed to a strategy of fighting the VietCong.

Ho probably wasn’t much of a Capitalist or a Communist. He was an opportunist, claiming to love the philosophy of whoever could aid him. So there was an opportunity lost in steering the VietCong away from Marxism. That’s easier to see now, than it was back then.

The U.S. shouldn’t have ardently supported the French. Colonial rule is not something that the U.S. should have supported. At least at the beginning, Ho had a valid case that the French were trampling the Vietnam people’s right to self-determination.

Anyway, after this happened and Ho made his deal with the devil (the Soviets), all bets were off. The Soviet Union saw Vietnam as a great stepping stone to expand its influence in Southeast Asia. The ‘Domino Effect’ gets ridiculed these days, but it was probably correct - a solid, pro-Soviet government early on in Vietnam would almost certainly have led to the toppling of other governments in the area. Plus, South Vietnam did not want to be Communist, and asked the U.S. for aid. So their presence there was at least moral.

The next question is whether or not the war was conducted properly or morally. I don’t believe it was. War should be a last resort, but once you unleash those dogs you have a responsibility to end it as quickly as possible with a minimum loss of life, while still attaining your objectives. The U.S. didn’t do that. Instead, it tried to use the conflict as a bargaining chip. The ‘rules of engagement’ were ridiculous - supply lines were allowed to stay open, aircraft could not be attacked on the ground, etc. If the U.S. had bombed the daylights out of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, cut off supplies elsewhere, bombed Strategic targets like factories in North Vietnam, and pressed the ground war heavier, they might have brokered a peace much earlier, and with better results.

Instead, the U.S. fought a half-war, constantly scaling back the offensive and allowing the enemy to regroup, almost daily changing the rules of engagement that the soldiers had to obey, etc. Also, far too much of the war was controlled by Washington, which micromanaged a lot of what should have been decided by commanders in the field who were in a better position to know.

Contrast this with the Gulf war - after Bush decided to attack, he turned the conflict completely over to his military command. It was total warfare, until one side capitulated. Imagine if Baghdad had been off limits, if airports couldn’t be attacked (or even aircraft once they land), and if the advancing army was only allowed to move a short distance and then told to dig in while negotiations with Saddam take place. Then, as a show of good faith, the government ordered the troops back, then weeks later commanded them to re-take the same ground they took the first time… If the Gulf War had been fought like the Vietnam war, it could have been a quagmire that cost far more lives than it did, on both sides.

I disagree on this, Sam Stone. In hindsight, we really didn’t gain anything by opposing the communists in Vietnam. Laos and Cambodia fell anyway. Would Thailand or Malaysia also have fallen had we early on let Ho have his way in Vietnam? No way to know, but what we do know right now is this: by fighting in Vietnam, we gave the USSR and China a reason to send tons of arms to their northern allies, strengthening them and the indigenous communist movements in Laos and Cambodia. By making a strategic retreat and choosing to fight in Laos and Cambodia instead, we may have been able to keep those two countries free.
As to the argument, frequently made, that we fought with one hand tied behind our backs: well, yes, precisely because it was a civil war, in which we were only supposed to be helping the South beat back the North.
Finally, imagine, if you will, what would have happened here in the U.S. if Britain had sent troops to either the Northern or Southern sides in our civil war. Rather quickly, I think, the war would have turned into a fight against the British, in which anyone fighting on the side allied with them would have the faint smell of treason on their hide. Something like this I’m sure must have happened in Vietnam.

It’s sooo funny how Americans so adimently back the actions of ths US in Vietnam, yet are aghast and horrified in regards to the Soviet Union part in the conlfict in Afganistan. How hypocritical. This has always really irked me…:frowning:

I cannot see how one can “disagree” with Sam Stone, Pantom. As I read his post, he did an outstanding job of detailing some of the complex issues that went into our getting involved in the first place, with good historical perspective. I can agree with you that the outcome was hardly what anybody had hoped for, on any side in the various conflicts associated with the Viet Nam era, domestic and foreign. But I don’t think Sam was arguing a case so much as setting the scene.

Sk8, one of the things you need to keep in mind here was the complex game of international power politics being played at the time. The Viet Nam conflict was not, for most of its time of existence, a civil war. It started, as Sam noted, as an attempt to get rid of French colonial overlords. Then, by a treaty after Dien Bien Phu, the country was to be divided along what became the North/South Vietnamese border for a specific period of time, while the north organized under Ho Chi Minh’s government and the south under the Diems. There was supposed to be work towards unification that never happened. The civil war broke out, both sides began looking for foreign aid to the lead country of the bloc they were affiliated with, “military advisors” were brought in, and then troops, and so on in a typical escalation of a conflict.

The domino theory was strategic orthodoxy at the time; it had not yet been refuted, and John Foster Dulles under Eisenhower and the Kennedys all bought into it. It was when the Johnson administration began doctoring the news that the, uh, manure struck the air circulating device here in the U.S. And with the country divided, we failed to do either the one thing or the other: get out or use enough force to win. The results are what you read in history: one ugly mess. Too bad. BTW, there are at least a few Vietnam vets who post to these boards; they may have a much different perspective than anything posted here so far. I look forward to reading it and learning from them, if any do.

Not hypocritical at all. The Soviets, and all other commies, were the bad guys. That means that almost any actions on their part in another country, or their own for that matter, were automatically wrong.


Poly: Mostly I was disagreeing with him on the Domino Effect part. Given that Laos and Cambodia both fell anyway, it seems to me that this is a tough argument to make in favor of our going to Vietnam (at least given hindsight, which I realize is 20/20). The rest, the history part, was, as you say, quite accurate - which I should have mentioned.

Please…Please…Please tell you were being sarcastic in that post.

Please…Please…Please tell you were being sarcastic in that post. **

Nope. The Soviet Union, North Korea, China, Cuba, and Viet-Nam all had/have bad governments and aren’t much fun to live in. The USSR was the bad guy as was North Korea and the communist forces in Viet-Nam.

That isn’t to say that US conduct has always been snow white of course.


Jee…don’t you think it’s a bit harsh to label the Soviet Union as a “bad guy”. The US has engaged in as many covert and quite under-handed actions as the USSR. I just don’t think it’s as cut and clear as you describe. The Reagenistic idea of the USSR as beeing this great “evil” was soo silly, but then again, everything seems to be a bit more clear when you take a biased view, which one is forced to take when one lives through the Cold War.

Now wasn’t French help kind of important in our Revolutionary War (essentially a civil war against the monarch)? Kind of glad the French thought it was justified to assist the colonials.


Of course I wouldn’t say that every citizen or even every government offical was a bad guy. But I don’t think it is any more difficult to label them as the bad guys any more so then Germany circa 1939.

Do you think all those Eastern European nations wanted to be controlled by the USSR?


Well covert and under-handed aren’t quite the same things now are they? I never claimed that the United States was as pure as the driven snow. But can you honestly say the citizens of communist nations lived as well and as free as nations of western Europe and North America?


I disagree, obviously. I think it is pretty clear that the USSR was the bad guy.

Heaven forbid that I should take a biased view against the USSR, Red China, or North Korea. Next thing you know I’ll be taking a biased stand against gay bashers, the KKK, or child molesters. Oh the humanity.

No, of course not. Do you think that the people of Iran actually wanted to be ruled by the Shah? All those Nicaraguans – do you think they actually wanted the US to support the Contras, or fuel a right-wing takeover of their country? And I suppose you believe there was a great deal of support in Cuba for the Bay of Pigs invasion, and that all those Cubans really longed to get rid of Castro and return to the days of Batiste, so they could go back to working in the sugar fields for slave wages while US sugar companies raked in the profits.

Strange thing: when the US moved its troops into Vietnam, set up a puppet regime, started running around the country-side relocating villages, burning homesteads to the ground, and shooting civilians – weirdly enough, the Vietnamese failed to grasp that we had come liberate them from the threat of Communist aggression.

And what exactly, in your opinion, is the difference?

Jeesh. You can say that again.

Come on, MGibson. You’re not looking at the facts straight. This war wasn’t about transforming Vietnam into a modern European state or introducing the wonders of capitalism to a deprived people. The US wanted a puppet regime in the area, just like the Chinese. (Actually, IIRC, there wasn’t that much Soviet involvement in Vietnam. I seem to remember that the Chinese were also pretty reluctant to get involved. And while Sam Stone is probably right about Ho Chi Men, the Viet Cong as such were patterned on a ”revolutionary cell” idea very early on. I don’t know all that much about Ho’s relationship to Mao/Viet Cong, but I don’t think it was Ho that brought communism to Vietnam. It was a people’s movement a long time before that, especially in the North.) My point is that as far as the South goes, the US is hardly the good guy and the Soviets the bad guy. The US gov’t is more than willing to overlook the occasional human rights violation in some pissant 3rd world country if the regime favors or supports US interests in the region.

Turning the Vietnam war into a conflict between a buncha godless pinko commies on the one hand, and the noble defenders of truth, freedom, and the American way, on the other, is a ridiculous oversimplification.

My view on this is at odds with the above. For what it’s worth this short thread from a couple of weeks ago offers an (abbreviated) alternative perspective:


BTW, the search term ‘Vietnam’ brings up 308 results in GQ and 272 in GD. One imagines quite a number of those would address the war should anyone be interested.

My Lai was just the most publicized “incident”. There were a lot of others just like it and worse. To say nothing of the thousands of what the Vietnamese call “bui doi” - half-American, half-Vietnamese children who were abandoned by their fathers and left disenfranchised in a society that hated them and what they represented.

The Vietnam War was a good idea at first (if any war can be called “a good idea”) that spiralled way, way out of control. There was no clear objective, a distinctive lack of morale, and no firm guidance. If we could have swallowed our national pride and admitted that, believe it or not, America was capable of losing a war, a lot of deaths could have been avoided, and our country might not have been so badly split in two. Bobby Kennedy would have put us on that path. If he hadn’t been assassinated, the world would be a distinctly different place today.

By the way, I’m not sure classifying any nation in any conflict as “the bad guy” is terribly fair. To them, we were the bad guys. War is just … well … stupid all around.

And Rico Laser wins the “Understatement of the Year” award! :slight_smile:

Sam, I agree with almost all of what you said, but I have to take issue with this oft-repeated viewpoint in the quoted paragraph.

US politicians and military leaders were afraid of the very real possibility of provoking wider involvment of the Soviets in Vietnam or retaliation elsewhere. Had we indeed been able to take a Corps or two up to the northern frontier of North Vietnam, what would have happened? Remember what happened in Korea? Because of this fear, indeed the military’s hands were tied. And in retrospect, it is easy to recriminate by attacking this decision.

Nevertheless, I feel that the politicians probably chose wisely on these points. Indeed, unlike many, I consider Vietnam a marginal American victory, despite the fall of the South.


  1. There was no wider war, as there might easily have been.
  2. For a war, US casualties were quite low.
  3. The war consumed vast quantities of Communist resources, including their attention, that just as easily could have been placed elsewhere, perhaps the Persian Gulf or Western Europe. These resources were not as easily replaced as ours in the West.
  4. After the war, Indochina as a whole was battered, tired, and not a huge threat to US security or those of our ASEAN allies such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, etc.

In reality, Vietnam was a skirmish in a wider conflict against a corrupted political ideology that would just as soon take away our rights as they did the rights of their own citizens. The Soviets saw a very real need to expand their sphere of influence and have a large buffer zone of sypathetic contries around Russia and the various Republics. They wanted plenty of room to avoid another catastrophe like WWII. Naturally, the West wanted to contain this spread.

Unfortunately, the people of Vietnam on both sides had to pay the price of being a cold war battleground. And unfortunately, many of our men and women also had to pay prices of their own.

I for one think we owe our Vietnam (and Korean war) vets a measure of gratitude no smaller than those from WWII. They were fighting battles no less important to our ideals than those hat fought on Iwo Jima, Normandy, or Anzio. I think it was right for the US to be involved in Vietnam for these reasons, as well as those the others stated. That said, we should have backed Ho the first time around. French turned out to be a bunch of ingrates anyway.