• Born in Vietnam, lived in France,
lived as a party functionary in
the Soviet Union, China,
Thailand and Vietnam.
• Not interested in giving up
Truman: Key word -- Containment
• Initially urged France to end the war.
Refused support. Then changed his tune.
Did not want to lose French support for
European strength building.
• Policy based on exaggerated notions of
Viet-Soviet partnership and possible aid
• U.S. devolves into a Cold War culture of
fear, paranoia and militant anticommunism
• Truman admin beaten up for “losing
China.” Feel compelled to show that they
are holding the line somewhere. Extend
aid to the French. Paying 1/3 by 1953.
• Vietnam the key to keeping Southeast Asia out of
Investing heavily in state building to buttress Bao
Dai’s legitimacy: agriculture, hygiene, food and
clothing + propaganda: History of the United States
• French acting as obstructionists
• American Vietnam policy still hostage to
• Republican administration embraced the
“Domino Effect” thinking of democratic
• Increased aid until paying ½ of war costs.
Should Indochina fall, the rest of
Southeast Asia would go over very
quickly, like a row of dominos when the
first one is knocked down, causing much
greater losses of raw materials and
people, jeopardizing America’s strategic
position in the Far East, and driving Japan
into the communist camp. So the
possible consequences of the loss are
just incalculable to the free world.
Dien Bien Phu
• 12,000 French garrisoned
• Ho Chi Minh moves an army
of 50,000 to surround them
• Americans left French to
French surrender after 55
French 1,500 killed 4,000
Vietminh 10,000 killed 25,000
French feel betrayed
Americans believe French army simply
• Ignored possible lessons learned
• Divide into 3 sovereign states: Laos, Cambodia and
• Vietnam “temporarily” divided at 17th parallel: Vietminh
regroup North, forces loyal to French Union – South
• Americans sure that Ho Chi Minh would win immediate
vote, but believe can disrupt chances over two year time
Left during French occupation,
moved to New Jersey
High doses of integrity, but
Love for country in abstract, but
out of touch elitist
No vision for building a modern
As Senator, clear proponent of Domino
• “The fundamental tenets of this nation’s
foreign policy…depend in considerable
measure upon a strong and free Vietnamese
nation…Vietnam represents the cornerstone
of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the
keystone in the arch, the finger in the dike”
against the “red tide of Communism.”
ENORMOUS nation building efforts.
“To have constructed a viable nation in
southern Vietnam, [however], would have
required the most enlightened,
imaginative, and determined Vietnamese
leadership, an ingredient the United States
could not provide.” -- Herring
• Underrated Vietcong statement
that it was the duty of their
generation to die for their
• Believed Vietcong in “black
pajamas” a “fake” army and the
South Vietnamese a “real” army.
• Not Korea, not a conventional
17,000 Americans serving in
•1964 – “Johnson remained profoundly
insecure, especially in the area of foreign
policy, and he viewed the emerging crisis in
Vietnam as a crucial test of strength for his
personal prestige, his authority as President
of the United States and leader of the Free
World, indeed for his manhood.” – Herring
•Obsessed with appearing weak. Could not
accept being president the first time “we’ve
ever turned tail and been shoved out of a
American goals (Pentagon Papers):
• 70% -- To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat
• 20% -- To keep S.Vietnamese territory from Chinese hands
• 10% To permit the S. Vietnamese people to enjoy a better, freer way of
Gulf of Tonkin incident
Bombing retaliation – 25 patrol boats & oil depot
1964 – Johnson running for re-election
Escalation by stealth
Feb. 1965 Vietcong attack American barracks. 8
Johnson responds with full scale bombing of N.
Operation Rolling Thunder fails
Ho Chi Minh escalates infiltration on the
Administration sees only one option:
Authorizes combat troops to Vietnam
First 2 Marine units, then 50,000 men,
then 80,000, then 200,000.
Vietnam a “major American war”
One reporter wrote of Pres. Johnson:
“The President is a desperately troubled man resisting
the awful pressures to plunge deeper into the Vietnam
quagmire—resisting them as instinctively as an old
horse resists being led to the knackers. The President
bucks, whinnies and shies away, but always in the end
the reins tighten—the pressures are too much for
White House = fortress.
Doubters = enemies.
Versed in conventional warfare.
Emphasis on firepower.
600,000 troops by 1967
Hanoi meets every American
escalation with escalation of own:
“A great power of 200 million people
fighting a limited war found itself
stalemated by a small Asian nation of 17
million fighting a total war.”
Tet Offensive January 1968. 80,000
NVA and VC attack 105 cities.
Johnson announces a bombing halt
and withdraws from Presidential race.
From Corson: “The men I wanted to
come into the CAP program had to
have line experience. They had to
know what it meant to take another
human being’s life, and how to
shoot, move, and communicate.
That is not to say I was looking for
the kill-crazy types or psychotics.
On the other hand, I wasn’t looking
for bleeding heart liberals, either. I
was looking for well trained
Marines. Marines that hadn’t gone
so far into the bamboo that they
were unable to empathize with the
Vietnamese people. If they entered
the job with an ethnocentric
attitude, they would not succeed.”
Neutralize the VC threat in the village or hamlet.
Provide security and help maintain law and
Protect local Vietnamese authorities.
Guard important facilities and lines of
communication within the village and hamlet.
Conduct combined operations with other allied
Participate in civic-action and psychological
Assist in economic and social development.
Provide military training to the PFs.
“Peace with Honor”
Withdrawal begins June 1969
Communists stepping in where
Reaction: attack Communist
sanctuaries – Laos &
Cambodia, increase bombing
1972 North Vietnamese launch
1972 renews bombing of Hanoi
and Haiphong at
North Vietnam feels abandoned by
Irony – détente with China and USSR
(Big Daddy Communism) and at war
against a small peasant country -Vietnam – because Communist.
January 23, 1973 cease-fire, full
Paris Accords = reversion to Geneva
Accords status. Full circle.
1975 – South Vietnamese army
collapses. Communists take S.
Vietnam in weeks.
Millions of Vietnamese dead
Devastation of topography and
generational contamination of living
• Relentless bombing of the North
• Agent Orange
did we gain?
What did we learn?
• About counterinsurgency?
• About nation building?