Veitnam War

Topics: Vietnam War, Cold War, World War II Pages: 7 (2693 words) Published: March 23, 2014
In the decades after the departure of the last U.S. combat troops from Vietnam in March 1973 and the fall of Saigon to communist North Vietnamese forces in April 1975, Americans have been unable to agree on how to characterize the long, costly and ultimately unsuccessful U.S. military involvement in Indochina. To some, the Vietnam War was a crime – an attempt by the United States to suppress a heroic Vietnamese national liberation movement that had driven French colonialism out of its country. To others, the Vietnam War was a forfeit, a just war needlessly lost by timid policymakers and a biased media. For many who study foreign affairs, the Vietnam War was a tragic mistake brought about by U.S. leaders who exaggerated the influence of communism and underestimated the power of nationalism. Another interpretation, a fourth one, has recently emerged, now that the Vietnam War is history and can be studied dispassionately by scholars with greater, though not unlimited, access to records on all sides. The emerging scholarly synthesis interprets the war in the global context of the Cold War that lasted from the aftermath of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In this view, Vietnam was neither a crime, a forfeit nor a tragic mistake. It was a proxy conflict in the Cold War. The Cold War was the third world war of the 20th century – itself part of what some have called the Long War or the Seventy-Five Years’ War of 1914-1989. Unlike the first two world wars, the Cold War began and ended without direct military conflict between the opposing sides, thanks to the deterrent provided by conventional forces as well as nuclear weapons. Instead, it was fought indirectly through economic embargoes, arms races, propaganda and proxy wars in peripheral nations like Vietnam. The greatest prizes in the Cold War were the industrial economies of the advanced European and East Asian nations, most of all Germany and Japan. With the industrial might of demilitarized Japan and the prosperous western half of a divided Germany, the United States could hope to carry out its patient policy of containment of a communist bloc that was highly militarized but economically outmatched, until the Soviets sued for peace or underwent internal reform. The Soviet Union could prevail in the Cold War only if it divided the United States from its industrialized allies – not by sponsoring communist takeovers within their borders but by intimidating them into appeasement after convincing them that the United States lacked the resolve or the ability to defend its interests. For this reason, most crises of the Cold War, from the Berlin Airlift and the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Korean and Vietnam wars, occurred when the United States responded to aggressive probing by communist bloc nations with dramatic displays of American resolve. The majority of these tests of American credibility took place in four countries divided between communist and non-communist regimes after World War II: Germany, China, Korea and Vietnam. In an internal Johnson administration memo of March 1965, Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton emphasized credibility as the most important of several U.S. objectives in Vietnam: In a speech the following month, President Johnson stressed America’s reputation as a guarantor: “Around the globe, from Berlin to Thailand, are people whose well-being rests, in part, on the belief that they can count on us if they are attacked. To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value of America’s commitment, the value of America’s word.” Full-scale war was avoided despite repeated crises involving divided Berlin and Taiwan, where the remnant of China’s Nationalist government took refuge after the 1949 victory of Mao Zedong’s communists in China. The Cold War soon turned hot in divided Korea and Vietnam. What Americans call the Vietnam War was the second of...
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