the Vietnam War

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Tom Hartrick and David Lally                10/10/06

The Vietnam War

How the US got involved

During the Second World War, South-East Asia had been under Japanese control, but, in 1945, the French re-occupied Indo-China, which had been a French colony before the war.

During the war the Japanese had been opposed by a Vietnamese nationalist group called the Vietminh, led by Ho Chi Minh. The Vietminh, however, had been fighting for their independence, and not to reinstate the French Empire, so now they tried to drive out the French. In 1954, the Vietminh surrounded and wiped out the French army at Dien Bien Phu.

The French realized they would have to leave, and over the next 20 years, America was dragged into fighting a costly and disastrous war in Vietnam.

Why did the US get involved?

1. Containment  

China had fallen to communism in 1949, and America had fought in Korea in 1950-53 to contain the spread of communism.

The US president, Lyndon B. Johnson, said: "I am not going to be the president who saw South-East Asia go the way China went."

2. Domino theory  

Americans believed that, if South Vietnam fell, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand - and then Burma and India - would follow.

President Johnson said: "If you let a bully come into your garden, the next day he'll be in your porch, and the day after that he'll rape your wife."

3. ARVN's weakness  

It was obvious the South Vietnamese could not resist communist infiltration by the Vietcong without help.

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In 1963, the American commander reported that the ARVN - the South Vietnamese army - were "ill-equipped local militia who more often than not were killed asleep in their defensive positions".

US advisers believed that good government and an efficient, large-scale war would defeat the Vietcong.

4. The US was attacked  

The North Vietnamese had attacked the USS Maddox in August 1964, and then killed US soldiers in February 1965.

Johnson became convinced that action in South Vietnam alone would never win the war: "We are swatting flies when we should be going after the manure ...

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