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The Origins of the Vietnam War

The origins of the Vietnam War stem from the end of the Second World War. To defeat Hitler, UK, USA, and USSR all joined forces to help defeat him. The big threes relations although on the surface portrayed a co-operative alliance, were actually very uneasy. Problems arose from differing ideas on how to win and keep peace after the war, but also fundamental principles such as communism and capitalism were to prove difficult to agree on. After the war relations worsened, the UK and USA became increasingly suspicious of USSR motives and each side interpreted the others movements as being aggressive. This started the beginnings of the Cold war.

The Korean War turned the cold war into a global issue rather than a European one and worsened tensions between the East and West. Russia flooded aid into China and consequently the two communist giants became less trusted and more feared. After the war America immediately set up SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation), and America actively supported Nationalist China.

America was very committed to a theory called the Domino Theory and the Truman doctrine of containment. America believed that Communism was likely to spread very rapidly if left, and if just one country fell to it then many others would follow, just like a game of dominos. When America decided that the threat now came from the Chinese Communists they acted by isolating them from the UN by cutting off trade; this left China with only one alternative and so relied more and more on the USSR, the bond between communist USSR and communist China became stronger and so the likelihood of communism spreading throughout the rest of Asia was increased.

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After World War II the French tried to hold on to their colonies that ran from North Africa to Vietnam. They believed their country and colonies to be one and were not willing to give independence to any of them. During the twentieth century opposition to French rule in Vietnam had increased. The French would take all the good jobs and the peasants were forced to work for low wages in the French interests. The first active protests were set up by the Vietnam Nationalist party when in 10 they led a revolt to destroy French colonial authority this was stopped by the French. This party was replaced by the communist party who set out a series of strikes and armed uprisings, these also were stopped by the French military.

The Second World War replaced the French government with the Japanese, although the French still in paper owned Vietnam, the Japanese were in control.

After the war the Vietminh under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh called for people to get rid of the weakened French rule. The war left the Vietminh in the right situation to gain support, the French troops were spread out to watch the Japanese not the Vietminh, and people were in the right frame of mind to listen to any solutions people said they had, and so the support among the peasants grew rapidly.

In 144 Ho Chi Minh led a revolt that was to liberate the North of Vietnam above the 16th parallel. Below this line the British were able to impose order and released the French who were being held by the Vietminh. The French then assumed power and pushed back the Vietminh. The country was then ruled in the North by the Vietminh and in the south by the French. The French then decided because talks with the Vietminh were not going in their favour, and because they wanted all of Vietnam to control, that a display of military might would persuade the Vietminh to co-operate. Unfortunately they underestimated the Vietminhs military strength, which, with the aid of the Chinese attacked the French, targeting their power stations. These actions started the war between the French and the Vietminh. Soon after the outbreak of the war it became clear that neither side had the winning edge. France then started to concentrate on the communist element of North Vietnam and persuaded the USA to increase the support they were already helping with. The USA using the Domino theory to excuse them started to pour aid and military advisors into Vietnam and by 15, 70 percent of the war was being paid for by the USA.

In 15 General Navarre decided to try and defeat the Vietminh in one huge battle. With 1,000 French troops, two airstrips and what they thought was vastly superior firepower the French were over confident. Their enemy was renowned for guerrilla fighting, not for large-scale open battles, but despite this the Vietminh under the command of General Giap forced through the French strong points and claimed victory. This victory allowed the Vietminh to call peace talks and in April 154, it was decided to split the country into two along the seventeenth parallel and among other things there should be a general election held before July 156. North of the border the country was ruled by a corrupt government. Diem was a French educated Roman Catholic and a strong anti-communist. He practiced nepotism and under his rule 50 percent of the land was owned by only percent of the population (mainly the Roman Catholics). This was understandably very unpopular among the peasants. The Americans decided to ignore this, and instead chose to concentrate on his anti-communist regime and so supplied him with advisors, training and helicopter gun ships.

Ho Chi Minh was annoyed by the fact that the Americans refused the general election they had promised and so in response he set up the Communist supported NFL (National Liberation Front), or to the Americans the Vietcong. The peasants realising that their situation was not at all to their benefit started to support the Vietcong. Missions to take out American officials were started and in retaliation the Americans poured more aid into the South Vietnamese army and government and sent in more advisors. When Kennedy was assassinated there were 16,000 US advisors in Vietnam. But just before his death he had agreed to withdraw 1,000 troops, but had not publicly announced this.

Linden Johnson took his place, he was a very firm believer of the Domino theory and had a complete hatred of communism. In 164 there was a choice to be made, the communists were about to win this war so either America would withdraw from Vietnam, going against their anti-communist ideas or escalate it. Johnson took the latter and under the cover of the Gulf of Tulkin Incident, within one year the amount of troops was escalated to 60,000 from the original 16,000. The Gulf of Tulkin involved two American destroyers, and a supposed unprovoked attack. The truth was that the destroyers were aiding a South Vietnamese attack on North Vietnam. As well as their presence and intentions being questionable the attack was also in question. The submarines were probably nothing more than freak weather conditions. Never the less Johnson used this to persuade Congress to go to war. Without a proper discussion they Americanised North Vietnam, the advisors became combat troops and officially America went to war.

Helena Drurys Imagination

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