The reasons behind Vietnamese war remain heavily debated by contemporary historians. However, it remains clear that US diplomatic strategies (1940s-1970s) resulted in the direct military involvement, ending the lives of 58,000 Americans in Southeast Asia. This paper explains the path of US involvement in Vietnam during Japanese occupation, First Indochina war, and Cold War, explaining the tensions in the Presidential office, as well as the reasons for the “quagmire.”
One of the first events that led to the US involvement in Vietnam was Japanese occupation. By 1940, US has not declared war with Japan yet, working on minimizing the country’s expansion through Asia. Vietnam remained an essential transition state for the US, where the import of raw rubber took place. When the US entered the war in December 1941, the nature of their relationship with Vietnam changed, sharpening the country’s interest in Indochina. President Roosevelt’s politics supported the idea of Vietnamese independence. However, what seemed like an equal partnership for Vietnam was no more than strategic move from Washington. Another prominent event signifying US involvement in Vietnam was First Indochina War (1946-1954). Though the secretary of the state tended to support the forces, oppressing communist aggression, President Eisenhower chose to remain neutral in the conflict between France and the guerrillas. Later, Vietnamese forces led by Ho Chi Minh were provided with financial and military aid to assist non-communist South.
Roosevelt and Eisenhower were not the only US presidents involved in Vietnam. Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon – all together oversaw the conflict as it intensified over the years, denying to claim responsibility for losing Vietnam to the communist party. In September 1950, Truman sent the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to Vietnam to support the French in fighting the Viet Minh forces. In 1961, Kennedy expanded the military aid given to the government of Ngo Dinh Diem and grew the number of US military advisors in South Vietnam, broadening the political base set up during Eisenhower’s administration. In 1964, Johnson escalated the role of US in the Vietnam war after the Congress voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This bill granted the country permission to use military forces without declaring a war in Southeast Asia. In 1969, President Nixon started implementing the strategy, called Vietnamization, which aimed at building up South Vietnam’s troops and withdrawing American military with their honor intact.
The last major factor which shaped the relationship between Vietnam and US was Cold War confrontation between US, China, and the Soviet Union. With the power struggle between the three conglomerate countries, US attempted to pronounce its prolific efforts to contain communism by aiding non-communist governments. The need to fuel democratic movements led to the increased number of US military advisors in Vietnam, as well as delegated troops, military equipment, and resources. Most importantly, US foreign policy during the Cold War was so strongly embedded in the rivalry that it cost the country more than 50 thousand of lives. Taking into consideration the aforementioned facts, it is safe to say that the US ended in this “quagmire” as a result of the step-by-step process of poor strategic decisions and lack of diplomatic tactic. The country became entrapped in the conflict which did not represent the American interests mainly because of the unpremeditated decision-making and false hopes of the public authorities. If the US leaders were less invested in the Cold War rivalry, the Vietnam War could have been prevented.