Conflict in Vietnam, 1963-75
This topic is in Paper 2, the source-based exam – along with World War One. There is no choice of question. The paper tests your source skills, but you must have a good knowledge of the topic as well - and be able to use this both in your answers and in order to understand the sources properly.
Read the advice on the front of your WW1 revision pack for tips on how to answer the exam questions.
Part 1; Reasons for the US involvement in Vietnam
What was the background to the Vietnam War?
Vietnam was ruled by the French till 1954. Then it was divided into two countries. The communist ruler of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, wanted to unite the North and South under his control. He supported the Vietcong in South Vietnam. President Diem ruled South Vietnam. He was strongly anti-communist, but was also a brutal and unpopular leader.
Who were the Vietcong?
The Vietcong (or the National Liberation Front) were the communist guerrilla soldiers fighting to overthrow President Diem and his government. By 1964, there were over 100,000 Vietcong in the South and they were killing thousands of South Vietnamese officials every year. Diem's army could not get rid of them.
Why did the Americans get involved?
America said it wanted to ‘save’ the South Vietnamese people from the evils of communism. But, remember that this was the time of the Cold War. Americans were obsessed with stopping Communism, both abroad and at home in the USA. The Americans wanted to "contain" (stop) the spread of Communism in the world (the Truman Doctrine). The USA wanted to support non-Communist governments which were threatened by Communists. It knew that the USSR and China, both Communist-ruled, were sending aid to Communist North Vietnam. The Americans also believed in the "domino theory". If Vietnam became Communist, they were sure that neighbouring countries (e.g. Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia) would do so too. Diem was a corrupt and brutal leader, who was very unpopular. He was a Catholic ruling a mainly Buddhist country and gave Catholics all the best jobs. This meant lots of South Vietnamese people did not like him and were more likely to start supporting the Vietcong. What did the Americans do to help Diem?
At first, military advisers were sent to train the ARVN (the South Vietnamese army). The US also gave a lot of money and modern weapons to South Vietnam. By November 1963, when Johnson took over as President, there were 16,000 military "advisers" (but many were by now involved in fighting, for example as helicopter pilots). The Americans encouraged Diem to force the peasants in areas dominated by the Vietcong to live in "strategic hamlets" (villages that were heavily defended against attack). This policy did not work. By 1963, the Vietcong controlled about 40% of the rural areas of South Vietnam. Diem was very unpopular because of his corrupt and repressive government. He was assassinated in 1963, but the leaders who followed were not much better.
How did Johnson escalate the war after 1963?
At first he just continued the policy of using military "advisers", but then Ho Chi Minh sent units of the NVA (the North Vietnamese Army) into the South to back up the Vietcong. Johnson now decided to escalate (increase) American involvement. The Gulf of Tonkin incident in August, 1964, (when US ships were allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese ships) gave him the excuse to attack the North. He also persuaded the US Congress to give him a free hand in Vietnam. In 1965, he ordered the bombing of North Vietnam.
He then ordered US combat troops into action to back up the weak ARVN. Johnson believed that they would lead to a quick defeat of the Vietcong. In March, 1965, 3,500 marines arrived at Danang. From now on, General Westmoreland directed the war in Vietnam. By 1968 there were well over 500,000 US troops in South Vietnam.
Part 2: Vietnamese...
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