11K Ryutaro Tanno 28/10/07
How did the Cold War begin?
How did the Cold War affect America’s policy toward Vietnam?
When the Second World War ended in 1945, many European countries that had once been powerful were in ruin and were exhausted by six years of fighting. Only two Super Powers – The USA and The USSR remained after 1945 and a state of extreme tension developed between them. This tense rivalry is called “The Cold War” and this strangely named rivalry is generally regarded as a conflict between communism (East) led by the USSR and capitalism (West) led by the USA, “characterized by mutual perceptions of hostile intention between political alliances or blocs” (quote 1; L. Dockrill and F.Hopkins, 2006, The Cold War Pg 1), without open armed direct fighting between the Great Powers. There were some conflicts in the Cold War but they were called proxy wars because the two Super Powers did not fight directly and just supported the interests of one of their allies against the other. The fabric of the rivalry was said to consist of the following two competitions - politically to compete for the ascendancy of each ideology, and economically for the wealth of people. However it was just a superficial front to hide the fact that the rivalry was a competition for spreading their ideology to as many countries as possible by expanding their controllable areas. Both sides were trying to prevent the other side from expanding its controllable area and also to stop the spread of the enemy’s ideology. Therefore the rivalry had many features of a conventional war, such as, causes, weapons, tactics, events, results, spies and propaganda, and the rivalry actually resulted in many tragedies, for instance Korean Warfare, Vietnam War, Cambodia civil war and Afghanistan civil war, though all-out war between the USSR and the USA was avoided. In this essay I shall talk about how the Cold War began and how it affected America’s Policy towards Vietnam.
The origin of this rivalry dates back to the Russian revolution in 1917, long before the Second World War. This revolution had given communists power in Russia and led to the establishment of Soviet power under the control of the Bolshevik party. This was a serious threat to liberal democracies in Western powers, such as Britain and the USA. In 1919 the Comintern, an organization which was dedicated to expansion of communist ideology against capitalism was established, it increased the fear of Western Powers which resulted in them throwing their support behind the opponents of communist during the Russian Civil War of 1918 to 1920. Therefore, from then on the Russian distrusted Americans and Americans did not trust Russians. At that time a frosty atmosphere of mistrust had developed between the West and East, and ideological clash between Communism and Capitalist Democracy had already started.
Joseph Stalin became the leader of the USSR in 1924 following the death of V.I.Lenin. During the 1920s and 1930s, Stalin instituted Great Purges (removal of all opposition to Stalin by imprisonment, exile and killing) and Five Year Plans (Stalin’s strict agricultural policy to industrialize the USSR by setting production quotas for everything that was produced in factories and farms. Farms had to be collectivized and set quotas following the Five Year Plan, so much grain was taken in taxes after that and millions starved) which resulted in the death of many of his own people. This fact horrified the USA and Great Britain as they came to the full realization that in order to keep world peace they had to promote capitalism at the expense of communism, whilst Stalin attempted to do the reverse. Because of Stalin’s actions, the antagonism in the relationship between Western Powers and The USSR had been aggravated and the mood of distrust had developed even further.
On August 23, 1939, The Nazi Soviet Non-Agression Pact was signed by Ribbentrop and Molotov, . “Publicly, this agreement stated that the two countries - Germany and the Soviet Union - would not attack each other. If there were ever a problem between the two countries, it was to be handled amicably.” (Quote 2; about.com 20th century) This pact surprised the world since the USSR (capitalism) and Germany (capitalist) had opposed ideology and antagonized each other at that time. Superficially Germany seemed to sign the pact for development of the strong diplomatic relations so as to share the benefits, but as a matter of fact it had signed simply for the short-term convenience to prepare for the invasion to the USSR. Although this pact was meant to last for ten years it actually lasted less than two years.
On June 22, 1941 Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR called Operation Barbarossa commenced. International society was not really surprised except for the USSR by Germany’s action. This is because in Hitler’s “My Struggle” he maintained that German people needed Lebensraum (extra living space or raw materials for the growth of German population) in the USSR for the benefit of Aryan generation in the future, such as agricultural surplus, more labor force, better access to oil and other raw materials, improving Germany’s geostrategic position and so on, and also so as to secure a vast colony in the USSR for the expelled Russian and Slavic people that were considered to be an inferior race from Hitler’s perspective. Also in his book he made clear his intention of an invasion of the USSR as the vital action to bring the hope to the real world. Despite that, secret agents of the USSR already knew about the presence of Operation Barbarossa, long before it was carried out on June 22, 1941 the USSR did not have any provisions against Operation Barbarossa and thus, initially the Soviet’s armies were overwhelmed by them and the condition was aggravated. Why did this happen? Stalin had also known that Germany was to invade the USSR as secret agents had told him. On the other hand, in Germany a rumor saying that Operation Barbarossa was just a lie and it was a maneuver by Great Britain, was spread to deceive the USSR. Stalin did not even listen to what the Soviet’s secret agents were saying and was deceived into thinking that this was a maneuver of Britain aimed at creating a rivalry between the USSR and Germany. In other word, he trusted what Germany said, rather than what his own country’s secret agents said. Basically at that time the ideological clash and distrustful mood of Western Powers including Britain and the USSR was already at this level. As the condition got worse Stalin thought he needed a help from Britain and the USA. He asked Great Britain and the USA to attack Germany from the West, but as they refused to attack German until they could get ready, he thought they were delaying on purpose. However at the end they helped the USSR and owing to them, his Red army succeeded in pushing back the German armies in 1942-5. On 7 May 1945, Germany surrendered and the war in Europe finally ended.
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In February of 1945, the Big Three - Churchill (representing Britain), Roosevelt (USA) and Stalin (USSR) – held a summit meeting at Yalta, the old palace of the Tsar in the USSR to discuss how Europe was to be structured after the war was over. At the conference, the Big Three were determined that their three countries should corporate in ensuring free elections would take place in all countries liberated from Germany and they signed the “Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe”. However Stalin wanted to control Eastern Europe surrounding the USSR in order to create a hoped “buffer zones” for the prevention of aggression from Europe (as The USSR had been invaded from Europe three times in the last century and a half). Therefore he was determined to institute a similar thing to the Great Purge to reduce the number of people who opposed Communism and hoped to make Eastern Europe Soviet’s satellites countries. He achieved this aim by holding the election taken place in January 1947 in which he intimidated voters and changed the voting lists as he desired. In short the USSR breached the promise between the three countries for their own benefit. Furthermore Stalin was still dissatisfied with communist control in Eastern Europe and he encouraged the communists even in Western Europe, such as France and Italy to expand communist influence to whole of the Europe.
The hostility of the West towards the USSR increased profusely by Soviet communist expansionist activities in Europe, in addition to the breach of the “Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe”. On March 12, 1947, President Truman (USA) instigated a major change in American Policy in his speech stating “At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one. One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms. I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way. I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.” (Quote 3;american rhetiric.com). Basically Truman divided the world into good called Liberalism and evil called communism and declared a confrontation with the USSR. This idea was apparently an anti-communist doctrine and to stop communist spreading. Truman had chosen to take advantage of European countries instead of sending troops to Europe to fight communism. At that time the European countries were in ruin and their governments were still struggling against the effects of the Second World War.
Therefore he thought that if the USA used its wealth to aid the war-torn European countries by helping with money, equipment, food and technical assistance, their economies would recover more easily, regain prosperity and it would be more unlikely that Europeans countries would be tempted by communism. Further more he believed that by doing this, the USA would benefit economically from a revival of trade between America and the Europe, in addition to a barrier to Communism. On June 1947, the Marshall Plan was inaugurated by General George Marshall, which “guaranteed Europe’s economic recovery and strengthened the West’s efforts to keep Communism at bay” ( Quote 4; L. Dockrill and F.Hopkins, The Cold War 2006 Pg 164).
In effect, the Marshall Plan was proclaimed for any countries even the USSR, but this is because Marshall was certain that the USSR would reject it and simply in order to make it look fair the policy was inaugurated in this form. Following his prediction the USSR regarded the American financial aid as an American maneuver to make all European countries anticommunist and they rejected it. The USA succeeded in consolidating its influence in Western Europe, but since the USSR forbade her satellite countries (Eastern Europe) to accept the American financial aid and proclaimed the Molotov Plan to counter the Marshall Plan by offering a financial aid to them. Finally, at the same time as the USSR advocated the blockade of the Western occupied zone in Berlin in 1948 Europe was divided between East led by the USSR and West led by the USA. Because of this Soviet’s reaction the antagonism between them reached the highest level. In 1949 the USSR had a great success in the testing of an atomic weapon. Now both sides of the USSR and the USA had nuclear weapons. If they started war using nuclear weapons they would both be annihilated. There is no winner in atomic warfare. The communist expansionist activities of the USSR continued without any stops and it even included invading countries outside Europe. In order to stop this the USA was determined to confront any communist actions that were thought to be expansionist activities from their perspective wherever in the world, but there was no direct military engagement between the U.S. and the USSR and the wars that happened over about forty years from then on had to take the form of proxy wars so as to avoid all-out war which would lead to a greater chance of atomic warfare. The Cold War began.
In 1939 Vietnam was a part of French colonies called French Indo-China and during the Second World War Japanese troops occupied the area as it was abundant in natural resources. Local people did not want be controlled by foreigners and strongly hoped for the independence of Vietnam. In 1941 two Vietnamese communists, Ho Chi Minh and General Nguyen Vo Giap established The Vietnam Revolutionary League (Vietminh) for the independence of Vietnam and freedom from foreign domination. Vietminh was helped with weapons and ammunition by the USSR, but after the bombardment of Pearl Harbor, they also had the help of the OSS (organization of strategic service) that was a USA’s intelligence service. As the USA was fighting with Japan at that time, the OSS not only supplied equipments but also trained Vietminh and taught them about military tactics in order to enable them to attack Japanese troops in Northern Vietnam. The USA took advantage of Vietnamese hopes for independence, so as to damage Japan. On 15 August 1945, the Second World War was over as Japan surrendered. However, the hope to independence of Vietnam was not achieved yet and a new war was about to break out.
After the Second World War, in December, 1946, a conflict between France that wanted to keep Vietnam in its empire and Vietminh whom wanted to free from foreign domination began. The Indochina War broke out. The Indochina War lasted for seven and half years until the armistice signed in January, 1954. Vietminh was supported by the communist party of Indochina, China and the USSR as it had communist ideology. On the other hand, America was on the side of France that opposed the independence of Vietnam. The presence of “Domino theory” – if one country in East Asia falls into communism, other neighboring countries would also fall under the control of communist government - influenced the United State’s action in Asia. This theory had emerged in the NSC (National Security Council) for the first time in 1951 and over the next few years it was developed profusely and by 1954 the USA’s President anticipated that if one country in East Asia fell into communism, it was highly likely to happen that not only other neighboring countries but also Japan and India would fall. The speed of spreading communist ideology was very fast and President Eisenhower who had seen that China was under the control of communism and had intervened in the Korean War, was afraid of the possibility of all Asian countries falling into communism. Therefore during the Indochina War the USA gave one billion dollars and tried to do whatever they could to help France so as to stop the spread of communism. However the French lost the war and the survivors were put into prison, despite all the money. The armistice was signed two months later and the French troops agreed to leave Indo-China.
In July, 1954, as a result of peace talks at the Geneva Conference held in Switzerland, the Indochina War was declared a ceasefire. At this conference it was also agreed that the Vietnamese government would be divided into South and North along the line of seventeenth parallel at latitude 17°N.The North became a Communist Republic, controlled by the Vietminh and it was to follow the way of communism under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. On the other hand, Southern Vietnam also became a republic with Ngo Dinh Di as president. At that time President Eisenhower still believed in Domino Theory and he was frightened of the chance of all Asian countries falling under the control of Communist governments. Thus, America was determined to support Ngo Dinh Diem who had strongly opposed communist ideology, and thanks to the USA’s backing Diem won the election in 1955 and became the president of South Vietnam. However Diem’s rule was harsh and it was unpopular with the Peasants and the southern government was mostly corrupt. Therefore many of the South Vietnamese started to support Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam. Despite that, it was agreed that the election for the president of united Vietnam (North and South) would be held over another two years at the Geneva Conference, America and South Vietnam refused to hold the election because they were afraid of the possibility of communists winning the election and the whole of Vietnam turning to be communism. With the division of Vietnam now fixed, the hostility between South Vietnam (supported by America who wanted a pro-American government in East Asia and to maintain its influences with countries that supported its West vs East Cold War) and North Vietnam (led by Ho Chi Minh who wanted Vietnam to be independent) was intensified by this incident. However as I said before, Diem’s government was unpopular with his own people. This is because the government of South Vietnam supported by America was corrupt and the country was controlled autocratically – a similar situation to the Great Purge that Stalin instituted in 1930th took place. As a result people who were against the government were ruthlessly killed or imprisoned, and the gap in society between rich and poor was widened.
By 1960, whole areas of South Vietnam were in open rebellion against the corrupt government. In December of the same year, the NLF (national Liberation Front) was set up for the withdrawal of foreign armies from Vietnam and the establishment of peace, the independence and the neutrality of South Vietnamese government. NLF was a mixture of students, laborers, intellectuals, Nationalists and Communists. A civil war developed between South Vietnamese Government and NLF. The NLF had help from North Vietnam with equipments but, American troops were well-armed and there was no way to defeat them in open battles. Therefore ironically, they used the tactics that the American intelligence service, OSS had taught them during the World Second War, against South Vietnamese troops supported by America. President Johnson who knew that South Vietnamese troops were facing an uphill struggle against the NLF, wanted to send American troops to Vietnam to defeat the NLF. This is because that he was of opinion that American Democracy was what everyone wanted and if there were some people who were against it, they must be communists and regarded the NLF that consisted of South Vietnamese supported by China and the USSR as North Vietnamese troops. The USA did not realize that the South Vietnamese government supported by America, was completely different to the style of democracy that American actually wanted, and how the government was unpopular with its people. What seems ironic is that while President Johnson was trying to prevent the spread of Communism, his actions were in danger of pushing South Vietnam supported by the USA towards Communism.
However in order to carry out what Johnson wanted to do, he needed a reason. The Gulf of Tonkin incident (“an alleged pair of attacks by naval forces of North Vietnam against two American destroyers, the USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy” Quote 5 from wikipedia Gulf of Tonkin Incident) gave him the excuse he wanted. The US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that allowed Johnson to fight a full-scale war in Vietnam. It also gave him authority to send American troops to defend any SEATO countries whose government was thought to be endangered by communist aggression. In short, thanks to the Tonkin Resolution, it became possible for the USA to do whatever they wanted to do to stop the spread of communism. This escalated the involvement of The USA in the Vietnam War. However events did not happen as America expected. Although President Johnson, in effect, sent American troops to Vietnam to fight with the NLF it was not successful. The NLF used the same tactics against the American troops. They hid in the jungle or mingled with peasants, so it was really difficult for American troops to distinguish who was a guerrilla. On the other hand, most NLF members had once been peasants, spoke same language, knew details of Jungle and furthermore they wore no uniforms, so they looked exactly like a normal peasant. American troops were in trouble because of this and the NLF gradually expanded its scale of the organization through Guerrilla campaigns in rural areas.
The NLF supported by the USSR and China as I noted before, was supplied with money and weapons. So the USA thought there must be a route that the NFL got these weapons from, called Ho Chi Minh Trail and tried to find it out but failed because of very dense jungle. The USA decided on a cruel plan of action. They dropped chemical bombs on the jungle in order to destroy them. It resulted in defoliation and allowed American troops to find where their enemy was easily. In addition US troops also used napalm to kill members of the NFL. A bombardment in South Vietnam began. Innocent civilians including women and children were implicated in the bombardment and many of them were burnt by the napalm. The unpopularity of the South government reached the top level, and there was no one who saw their own government as friends.
Opposition to war was also growing in the USA. Because of Draft Law – law forcing men to do military service, young men even students were forcibly made to go and fight in Vietnam. Needless to say American parents did not want their sons to die in the war in a way they did not understand. Unpopularity with the government was increasing at that time. In January 1968, the Tet Offensive that - an attack on South Vietnam in Saigon by Vietminh and the NLF, was launched and captured seventy five per cent of main cities in South Vietnam including the American Embassy. Although it failed, owing to Tet Offensive finally it became clear even to Americans that there was no way to win, thus American opposition to the war was considerably intensified and this resulted in President Johnson not standing for re-election in 1968. Richard Nixon who wanted to win the election, took advantage of the increasing oppositions to war and in his election campaign made a promise of ‘de-Americanization’ for the American people in order to get more votes. In stead of Johnson, Richard Nixon became the president following the year.
However as Nixon did not want communists to win the war, in spite of him being convinced that the USA could not win the war and having made a promise of de-Americanization, he began a bombardment of North Vietnam using napalm as President Johnson thought the reason for an escalation in NFL activities was due to North Vietnam help. This time again, The USA made a big mistake and it resulted in another tragedy. This bombardment triggered more support for the NLF by North Vietnam. The NLF who had not had big connections to North Vietnam until then, thereafter started to get a huge support from North Vietnam and reinforced its military strength. Moreover, North Vietnamese troops secretly moved South Vietnam and joined the NFL. As a result by degree the North Vietnamese troops started to gain the initiative. At the beginning of this bombardment, the USA insisted that the NFL was made up of the North Vietnam army though it was not really true. However since The USA started to bomb North Vietnam, it was gradually getting closer and closer to the fact.
In Jury 1969, President Nixon finally fulfilled his promise and introduced a new policy called Vietnamisation meaning the same as de-Americanization in order to fasten the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. This idea was that during the South Vietnamese governmental armies were in charge of fighting, to make American troops pull out of the country. From the beginning, the USA intervened in the war as the South Vietnamese army alone could never win the war. Therefore it was only a matter of time, the South Vietnamese army would collapse if the American army evacuated from Vietnam. In August 1972 all American troops were pulled out of Vietnam, in March 1975, the North Vietnamese army began a full-scale attack and captured Saigon in April. The South Vietnamese government was easily overthrown with no resistance and the city, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of their leader who had died in 1969. The Vietnam War was over and the hope of ‘independence for Vietnam was finally achieved. Though Vietnam became a communist country, all East Asian countries did not turn to communism – only Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam fell into communism. The Domino Theory that many American leaders, such as Eisenhower and Kennedy were afraid of had been proved wrong.
The USSR’s ideology, communism was based on an idea of working for the greater good of society rather than for personal gain, and its government had no other political parties that the citizens could choose, except for communist party. The communist government had unanimous power and all the citizens of the country were controlled by the government through social, political and financial mechanisms, such as censorship, propaganda and limitations on travel and religious worship. In contrast to this capitalism personified by the USA was based on the idea of liberalism. Citizens in the capitalist West had several political parties to choose from and free elections were held to choose their government. The government had limited control over the population and individual rights were respected. As you can see, these two ideologies personified by West (the USA) and East (the USSR) were completely different. Differences between Communism and Capitalism were evident in areas of government, society and economics. This resulted in growing hostility, started after the Russian revolution. Furthermore, since both West and East thought their ideology to be the best, they tried to expand their ideology and to stop the spread of their enemy’s ideology. This antagonism did not result in open, armed wars between West and East, owing to the presence of atomic weapons but it led to the Cold War when the distrustful mood of both countries reached the highest level. After the Cold War began, the frosty atmosphere of mistrust was increased and resulted in many tragedies such as, Vietnam War.
In the Vietnam War, the USA was horrified by the speed of the spread of communism and was desperately trying to stop Communist aggression in East Asia. This fear of the USA made them to believe in the Domino Theory that was proved wrong after the war, created more futile fights and killed an uncountable number of people. On the other hand, as US troops were acting on mere conjecture given by the US government, they failed many times and the situation gradually got closer to that which the USA did not desire (e.g. intervention of US troops in the Vietnam War, the bombardment of South and North Vietnam). At the end, it resulted in defeat of the USA in the war. It was the first time the American people experienced the loss of war. In spite of sending five hundred thousand soldiers to Vietnam, they could not defeat the troops of a small Asian country. In order to stop the spread of communist ideology, the USA left no stone unturned, this caused much bloodshed and the USA failed to understand the simple hope Vietnam had for independence. The US government could only regard movements opposing their political power as maneuvers or strategies of evil communist. It was one of the tragedies that came from the ideological conflict. I understand how difficult it is for two different ideologies to coexist peacefully through writing this essay. However I still hope that a war will not happen in the future due to a mere ideological difference. To hope may be just a little thing, but it is an important first step to achieving results..
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