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Us Involvement In The Vietnam War

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Autor:  anton  21 March 2011
Tags:  Involvement,  Vietnam
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United States' Involvement in the Vietnam War

Source Based

Vietnam in South East Asia had always been a desirable country. Since

the 19th century, it was ruled by France and called Indo China. Apart

form one rebellion in 1930, France had total control of the country

until they surrendered to Germany in the Second World War in 1940.

Japan, Germany's ally, took control of Vietnam and the resources in

it, such as coal, rice, rubber, railways and roads. An anti-Japanese

resistance organisation, which was called the Viet Minh and led by Ho

Chi Minh, a communist, was formed. At the end of the war, the Viet

Minh controlled the North Vietnam and had ambitions to control the

rest. Japan had gone when they entered Hanoi in 1945 and declared

Vietnamese independence. When war broke out between France and Vietnam

in 1946 because the French wanted to regain control of Vietnam, the

Viet Cong, which was a communist-supporting group against the

Americans set up in the South of Vietnam, used guerrilla tactics

against the French. These involved hit and run raids and other tactics

that the French hadn't experienced before and made them almost

impossible to beat.

To begin with, the USA was sympathetic towards the Viet Minh because

they viewed the situation as Vietnam wanting to have independence and

they did not agree with countries having colonies anyway. However in

1949, when communists took over China and began to give help to Ho Chi

Minh, the USA became afraid that the Viet Minh were the puppets of

China. The Americans then became increasingly involved in Vietnam

because they hated communism and were very much afraid of a communist

spread. They feared the Domino effect, which meant that if Vietnam

fell to communism, they expected nearby countries such as Cambodia,

Laos, Thailand, Burma and India to become communist one after the

other, very quickly. The USA had a policy known as the Truman

Doctrine, which meant that they would send money, equipment and advice

to any country threatened by a communist take over. Therefore, they

provided Ngo Dinh Diem, who was helped to set up the anti-communist

Republic of South Vietnam, with $1.6 billion in the 1950's. The other

policy that the USA had was containment, which was to prevent

communism spreading any further than it already had done in Eastern

Europe. The USA stopped the proposed elections taking place in Vietnam

for fear that the communists would win, so Vietnam was divided into

North and South Vietnam in 1954. This communist victory over the

French led the Americans to believe that communists were taking over

the world and must be stopped.

Sources A to C show two people's views towards America going into war

against North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. Source A is a speech made by

US President Johnson in April 1965, one month after the start of

Operation Rolling Thunder. He is justifying the reasons for going into

war against Vietnam, which are to keep the peace and freedom of the

people in South Vietnam. Its content can be trusted because, being the

President, he was directly involved in Vietnam so he knew what was

happening and understood what he was talking about. However, it is

untrustworthy because he is speaking after Operation Rolling Thunder

so he has a need to justify the reasons for the bombing and attacks on

Vietnam, and he could just be identifying reasons that will help

receive most support from the public for the war. He is speaking after

the Gulf of Tonkin incident where two American ships were attacked so

he is speaking in the 'heat of the moment' and perhaps at a time where

he feels that he can convince most of the public that they are going

into war to keep the peace and security.

After the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the US Congress passed the Tonkin

Gulf Resolution. This gave Johnson the power to 'take all necessary

measures to prevent further aggression and achieve peace and

security.' The Congress meant that they would support a war if its

purpose were to bring peace and security, so this is maybe why Johnson

is saying these are the reasons why America should go into war. It

does not give his true opinion of why or whether America should go

into war. It gives the official reasons and the ones he wants the

public to hear. This suggests that the source is not completely

trustworthy and is therefore not useful for providing the feelings

that President Johnson really had for going into war. Also, the

ascription states that he was 'speaking' but it there is no

information as to where he was speaking and in front of which groups

of people. This affects the source's usefulness because historians

will not be able to tell which people Johnson wants to hear these


Source A is very useful for showing what President Johnson wanted the

American public to think the reasons were for going into war against

Vietnam. He explains, 'we fight because we have a promise to keep,'

which implies that previous American presidents wanted to help South

Vietnam to gain freedom and independence, and he is following this

policy. He also states, 'we are there to strengthen world order,'

which is suggesting that the USA is like the world's police force and

it shows their position in the world, meaning that they are a country

with power and responsibility. Johnson has used the bible to gain

public support, as he says, 'Hithertho shalt thou come, but no

further…' He has done this because a lot of the United State's

population were Christians so it would persuade them to think that

going into war is morally the correct thing to do. Johnson has

introduced an element of fear by saying that if they hadn't gone into

war against Vietnam, 'the result would be instability and unrest, and

even wider war.' The American public would still be recovering from

and remembering the devastating effects of the Second World War and

they desperately didn't want another war, so it would add to public

support for the war. Johnson refers back to the Second World War when

he says, ' we must stay in South East Asia- as we did in Europe,' to

reinforce that America needs to go into war to preserve the peace

because when they were involved with Europe it worked out peacefully

in the end so it should do this time. Therefore this source does have

its uses, especially for demonstrating the official reasons for going

into war and some of the views he wanted the American public to have,

for example America being like the world police force. He emphasises

that the war is about keeping peace and is for the freedom of the

people in South Vietnam.

The usefulness of Source A is however limited, particularly by details

that are left out and the way the source is one-sided. President

Johnson was bitterly anti-Communist, which is one of the main reasons

America went into war against Vietnam. Johnson feared a spread of

Communism around the world. In the source there is no reference to

Communism or mention of any of the causes of this conflict and why war

is actually necessary to preserve the peace. Instead, his speech

concentrates on what the consequences will be if America does not go

into war. He does not give information on the Domino theory or

containment. This makes it less useful because there is no evidence to

back up Johnson's speech that war is needed to keep the peace. Johnson

is also very positive about the war and does not mention any problems

that the soldiers might have fighting, for example the Viet Cong's

guerrilla tactics that the American soldiers were not used to at all

and had trouble fighting against. Johnson also doesn't talk about the

Gulf of Tonkin incident, which happened a short while before his

speech. This is because he did not want to appear weak, but it affects

its usefulness because historians cannot find out what Johnson's

opinions were on it.

Some points that Johnson makes are accurate and correct whereas some

are not, for example when he says, 'since 1954 every American

President has offered support to the people of South Vietnam,' he is

being accurate in some ways. When John F. Kennedy became President in

1960, he increased the number of military advisors from 100 to 1600 by

1963, and also helped to equip the South Vietnamese army. President

Eisenhower supported the South Vietnamese government before him.

However, Johnson has been slightly inaccurate because although the

American Presidents have supported the governments, they haven't

necessarily supported the people. A lot of the South Vietnamese people

actually supported Communism because a lot of them were peasants and

it meant that everyone would be equal and landlords would not be

better off anymore. However, the leader Ngo Dinh Diem imprisoned many

of the people who supported Communism, so they didn't always express

their opinions. Johnson has been accurate about staying in South East

Asia in earlier times, because the Americans did fight here and didn't

just ignore it or leave it. There is evidence to suggest that Johnson

has been pretending that he wants to go into war because in May 1964

he spoke in a private conversation and said, 'I don't think its worth

fighting for.' This affects the source's usefulness because historians

cannot trust the source, as it could all just be an act to the public.

Source B has been taken from a private conversation that President

Johnson was having in May 1964. He is basically saying that the

situation in Vietnam is not worth fighting for and that he disagrees

with going to war, although certain factors are making it very

difficult for him not to go into war. As he is speaking in a private

conversation, it makes what he is saying extremely reliable because he

is likely to be being honest and truthful, as he does not have to put

on an act in front of a group of people and he is not speaking on the

radio for example so Johnson does not think that what he is saying

will be disclosed to the public. Johnson sounds as if he is being

honest too, because he is speaking in a very informal tone, as he says

things like, 'we care a hell of a lot less,' and 'it's the biggest

damn mess.' He would not use language like this if he was trying to

persuade someone important and pretend to them that he was opposed to

going to war. He is presenting the unofficial reasons of why America

should and shouldn't go into war and they are likely to be his

personal views. However, because there is no information to suggest

whom he is talking to, it makes it less useful because he may have

been speaking to someone who he wanted to make believe that he was

against war. Also, there is the risk that the details of his speech

may not have been captured inaccurately, for example if someone had

overheard him, and this makes the source very slightly untrustworthy.

The fact that he is speaking in May 1964 means that he is speaking

before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, where two American ships were

attacked, because this happened in August 1964. Therefore the

Vietnamese showed no real threat to the Americans at this point in

time anyway and he may have changed his mind after this event, which

is what his public speech after war broke out was suggesting. This

makes historians unable to trust that what he is saying is what he

thought directly before the war, when the situation was more

desperate, although it is difficult to tell whether he had changed his

mind to be supportive of the war due to his speech being public. Like

Source A, President Johnson is speaking and he was directly involved

in the war so he knows what he is talking about and can make therefore

use his knowledge and experiences to make informed arguments. This

makes it a trustworthy source to be used to see the reasons for not

going into war at this time, and it can be used to show why America

did not go into war this early.

Due to this source being a private speech, historians can be almost

certain that these are the President's true thoughts and feelings, and

so it can be used to investigate what they were. Johnson implies that

he does not want the USA to be involved in Vietnam by saying, 'I don't

think the people of our country know much about Vietnam,' but the

people and politicians would be unhappy if he withdrew. Also, he

thinks that he would be replaced or not elected again, as he says,

'they'd bring a President down if he ran out.' He is implying that he

is being forced to go into war by the people and politicians so he can

remain President, yet they do not know enough about Vietnam to be able

to able to support going into the North of Vietnam to fight. He is

suggesting that the people and politicians of America don't understand

why he is not making a move and going into war. The source can be

useful for showing what the thoughts of the politicians and people

were in May 1946 but historians could not fully trust it, as it is

only what Johnson has said, although he probably has no reason to lie,

as he is speaking privately.

Johnson does want to make sure the Communists are dealt with and not

ignored, as he says, 'if you start running from the Communists, they

may chase you into your own kitchen'. This means that if the

Communists are ignored, they will take over, spread and become a

threat to US lands. He is referring indirectly to the US policy of

containment where Communism has to be prevented from spreading and the

Domino theory, which demonstrates how Communism could spread extremely

quickly. Historians can make good use of these views of the President

because his views are very important, as he was one of the main

leaders in the Vietnam War. The source can also be useful to suggest

that Source A is inaccurate because President Johnson has given a

totally different account of why America should get involved with

Vietnam. In Source A he is saying that it would be to preserve peace

and allow the people of South Vietnam to have freedom, although in

Source B he is arguing that it is not worth it, as the country is so

far away and no use to America, which implies that one of them is


The source's usefulness is affected by the information that is left

out, as it means that historians cannot use the source to find out the

President's views on other issues. President Johnson doesn't mention

why he wants to 'contain' Communism and why he does not like this

system, which is partly because it means that the country cannot be as

productive. In addition, he does not mention the Truman Doctrine or

what his opinions are on it when he explains the only reasons they

should go into war. This makes it less useful because historians will

not be able to see whether Johnson thought it was worth sending

supplies into Vietnam, because from what he says, he does not appear

to think that Vietnam is a worthwhile country to get involved with.

Johnson does not explain how he would feel about going into war

against Vietnam if the Vietnamese caused a threat to America, other

than the spread of Communism, like they did in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Therefore, historians cannot justify whether he is saying Vietnam is

not worth fighting for because they have been no real threat to

America yet and whether he would actually change his mind if they

became a threat. Johnson does not comment on why the public and

politicians agree to get involved in Vietnam, which makes this

statement less reliable because there is no evidence to back up this

point. If what he is saying is correct, historians will be unable to

find out why these people supported the war from this source, or what

Johnson thought their reasons were for supporting war.

Some of the points that Johnson makes are accurate and correct,

however some of the things he says are incorrect. When Johnson says,

'if you start running from the Communists, they may chase you into

your own kitchen,' he is being accurate by saying this is a

possibility because Vietnam attacked two American ships in the Gulf of

Tonkin so they are prepared to fight the Americans. Also, they used

the guerrilla tactics, which the Americans were not very good at

fighting against, so they had the capabilities of causing threats to

the Americans involving land. When he mentions the politicians by

saying, 'they'd bring a President down if he ran out, wouldn't they?'

he is being quite accurate because they may not like him being

President if he is making America look weak by backing out of Vietnam

and ignoring the situation. Because Johnson makes some accurate

points, it makes the source useful for showing some reasons why

Johnson felt he had to get involved in Vietnam. Some points that

Johnson makes are inaccurate, for example, 'I don't think we can fight

them ten thousand miles away from home' is inaccurate because they did

manage to send thousands of troops and 3500 US marines, and used

chemical weapons and search and destroy to fight against the

Vietnamese government. Although he was unaware of this at the time, it

still makes the source not useful for giving us factual details; its

main uses lie in giving historians Johnson's opinions about going into


Source C is an American critic of the war, called Professor Noam

Chomsky, being interviewed in October 1982. Firstly, this source's

content can be trusted for providing historians with the possible

reasons why America got involved with Vietnam, because he is a

Professor so he is an intelligent man and probably has good abilities

in research and gathering information. However, historians don't know

what he is a professor of, and he could be a Professor of Science for

example. Therefore he may not have studied the war in great depth,

which makes the source slightly less trustworthy, and many US

intellectuals were opposed to the war anyway so this source will not

be as useful, as he will be making the same points as a lot of other

US intellectuals. The source is trustworthy because Chomsky would have

had access to more sources due to the interview being after the war.

He will have been able to look at sources like a private conversation

President Johnson was having, as well as photos of the destruction

that was caused to South Vietnam, so he will have had more evidence to

base his argument on. He would have also been able to research more

events. Because Chomsky is speaking in the 1980's there was more

freedom of speech and he will have been able to say what he thought

without him being seen as a defender of Communism or North Vietnam, as

there would have been little tension and bad feeling at this time.

Therefore he is likely to have been honest, which gives the source

more uses to historians.

The factors that make this source untrustworthy are he is speaking in

an interview so some of his answers could have been altered by the

interviewer or he could have made his answers more dramatic when he

talks about South Vietnam being devastated, to seek public approval.

Chomsky was not involved in the war so it can be argued that he does

not know much about why America got involved in Vietnam, as he was not

there at the time when leaders were making decisions. He can only

assume what the reasons were. This source is not useful for providing

a balanced account of the reasons why America got involved with

Vietnam, as he is a war critic so he is always going to be biased and

against the war. However, he is an American so he is not likely to be

trying deliberately to lie and make the country sound weak and selfish

so historians can be quite certain that what he is saying is truthful

and not just made up. This makes the source more useful to historians.

Source C is certainly very useful for providing the unofficial reasons

for America going into war, possible reasons that the American

government didn't want the public to know and what American war

critics thought of America going into war. This is because Chomsky

suggests what he thinks are the real reasons for America getting

involved in Vietnam and they are backed up with evidence. To begin

with, he denies that the official reasons for going into war are

correct, like the ones in Source A. He disagrees with the possibility

that America was defending South Vietnam by saying, 'the United States

did attack South Vietnam.' He has used the fact that the South was

devastated, including the farming and peasant society, as evidence.

The effect that the fighting had on South Vietnam was more widely

known about in 1982, so people were more likely to agree with his

views and this is probably why he has used the destruction of South

Vietnam as evidence. Chomsky states that people opposed to the war in

the 1960's were accused of defending Communist North Vietnam. He is

probably using this to explain why it is mainly now that people like

him are expressing their views towards America's reasons for their

involvement because if they spoke before they would be accused of

this, and his purpose is to gain more public approval. Chomsky implies

that the official reasons were incorrect by saying, 'the U.S. did not

want an independent South Vietnam that was no longer dominated by

America.' He is suggesting that America didn't actually want South

Vietnam to have independence because America wanted to be in control

and thus make sure South Vietnam would not become a superior force.

The source is concentrating on the reasons America might have had for

going into war that would be seen as being selfish and the ones they

did not want the public to know about. However, there is no mention of

fighting and killing innocent Vietnamese people just because America

wanted to prevent Communism spreading. This is one of the more selfish

reasons that America had for going into war, yet it is not mentioned

by Chomsky, which makes it less useful to the historian because they

are not provided with a full account of the unofficial reasons for

American fighting Vietnam. There is no mention of the Truman Doctrine

or the policy of containment. Also, Chomsky has been slightly

over-dramatic and inaccurate by stating that the reason they fought

Vietnam was to stop Vietnam becoming superior over America and loosing

America's dominance over them. There is no evidence to suggest that

America was seeking power in South-East Asia, and there is even

evidence to suggest they were not interested, for example where

Johnson was speaking in a private conversation and said, 'what is it

worth to our country?' The likelihood is that Chomsky has altered the

reasons for America wanting to control South Vietnam to seek more

public approval. This makes the source less useful, as it is less

trustworthy and reliable, and this makes the rest of the source


Chomksy has been accurate when stating that the Americans were

attacking South Vietnam more than defending. This is because a lot of

the fighting took place in South Vietnam and Americans killed many

innocent Vietnamese people, as they did not wear uniform so the

American soldiers were not able to distinguish between civilians and

soldiers. For example, in March 1971, Calley was found guilty of the

murder of 22 civilians. Considering that a lot of the South Vietnamese

people wanted a Communist government, the Americans were attacking

them more than defending them. Therefore, this part of the source

would be useful to an historian for providing relatively accurate

information. Overall, Source C is mainly useful for identifying what

an American critic thought of the American reasons for getting

involved, and due to some inaccuracy and over-dramatic comments, it is

less trustworthy, so it makes it less useful. There is also no other

viewpoint given that is suggesting reasons why it was right for

America to go to war; it is simply explaining why it was wrong. This

makes the source less useful, as no information can be gathered about

these reasons.

Sources A, B and C are all useful to some extent. Source A gives the

official reasons for America getting involved in Vietnam, that Johnson

wants the public to hear and Source B and C give the unofficial

reasons. Source A is less useful for providing an accurate account of

the reasons for going into war, because they are simply the reasons

that the President wants the public to hear. However, this source is

useful for showing what he wanted the public to think. Johnson was

more likely to be telling the truth in Source B because he is speaking

privately, so it makes the source useful for identifying his thoughts

and feelings. This source is less useful though because there is no

real threat to Americans at this time in the conflict anyway. Source B

is useful for proving that the President is lying in his speech, in

Source A, or has changed his mind, as they show very different views.

Source C is very useful for providing a more accurate account, as

Chomsky is a person who wasn't involved in the war so he does not have

to pretend to anyone what America's reasons were. It can provide

historians with useful facts that suggest that America was being

selfish and was merely attacking South Vietnam, not defending it.

Although this source lacks some details and mentions nothing about

Communism, which is the main reason America became involved, and this

makes it less useful. None of the sources mention anything about the

Truman Doctrine or the policy of containment, which makes them less

useful because no opinions about these can be gathered, although all

the sources give opinions on the reasons for America getting involved,

which can be useful to historians when trying to figure out the real

reasons for America's increasing involvement in Vietnam. The sources

give the views of the President in the 1960s and of an anti-war

campaigner, but not the views of the Congress or U.S. people and they

do not mention why President Kennedy became involved in Vietnam in the

first place. Consequently, the sources cannot be used to gather

information about these issues. All of the sources give historians an

idea as to what the reasons were, but do not provide historians with

the full picture

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