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A Look At The Vietnam War


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An overview on the American presence in the Vietnam war with an emphasis on failed strategy in fighting the war, particularly the so-called "war of attrition."

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A Look At The Vietnam War

  1. 1. A Look at The Vietnam WarThe American Presence in a Land They Did Not UnderstandSusan Bertolino-Temple University
  2. 2. Dedication  This powerpoint is dedicated to the memory of the American soldiers who lost their lives in battle, the Vietnamese soldiers who lost their lives in battle, the many American soldiers who felt as if they died in the Vietnam War, the immeasurable deaths of Vietnamese civilians, the families and friends of every veteran, American and Vietnamese, and to every soldier who may feel that we civilians do not appreciate the sacrifice they perform on a daily basis. You will never be forgotten.  Susan BertolinoSusan Bertolino-Temple University 2
  3. 3. Focus of This Powerpoint  There is so much to say about the Vietnam War that I cannot do it justice in one survey. I will focus mainly on the American role, our mission and the result of our involvement.  Consider this question as we examen our military presence in the Vietnam War: did we break the social contract with our own people when we sent our soldiers to Vietnam? Did we break the social contract as defined by John Locke far earlier than our decision to send troops to assist South Vietnam?Susan Bertolino-Temple University 3
  4. 4. Timeline  For dates and a timeline, look at the following link: ndex.html This is from the site Battlefield Vietnam. This timeline is relatively simple to follow, yet it is very complete without bogging the reader down with extraneous detail about contemporary American cultural events.Susan Bertolino-Temple University 4
  5. 5. Immediately Before the Americans: Vietnam War  What we call the Vietnam War is actually called The Second Indochina War, 1954-1975. It grew out of a long conflict between France and Vietnam—it became an example of the decline of colonialism and the immersion of the people as governor’s of their own destiny.  These same battles were fought throughout the world against colonial powers: India, the Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, Surinam, and West Indies: many European countries, weakened by two world wars, were no longer able to defend their dominance in these lands. In some cases, the decolonization was relatively peaceful: Britain granted Jamaica became independent in 1962, the Spanish Sahara gained independence from Spain after the death of Franco in 1976, but generally there was violence, upheaval and resistance.  France especially saw its power as a colonial ruler shift into chaos: the fight to keep Algiers is one of the best examples. France was named as a victor against fascism after WWII, but that was only because of their alliance with Britain and the United States. France knew that they contributed little direct effort to the WWII fight as they were conquered by the Nazis on June, 22, 1940 after the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries on May 10th, 1940. Despite the best efforts of the French resistance run by Charles De Galle to regain control of their country, the defeat of the Nazis came through the combined efforts of the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States, who entered the war in 1941. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 5
  6. 6. Vietnam Map Pre WWIISusan Bertolino-Temple University 6
  7. 7. Eisenhower Years In 1954, France lost a decisive victory to the Vietminh, the fighting force in Vietnam that opposed the French colonists. After this loss, France sued for peace. Under the direction of the Geneva Peace Accords, Vietnam was partitioned into 2 countries: North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The decision reflected the tensions of the Cold War: the Korea War, still fresh in the minds of the Communist superpowers, China and the Soviet Union, influenced this decision: they did not want to provoke the United States, the powerful ally of France. The North became the terrain of the Vietnamese Communists, led by Ho Chi Minh, and the South was ostensibly to be under the control of the Vietnamese monarchy. Elections were to take place in 1956; however the monarchy was abolished in 1955, and the Prime Minister, Ngo Dinh Diem, won a controversial election. The United States supported his rise to power: he was staunchly anti-communist, he represented the Catholic minority in the country (many Vietnamese converted to Catholicism under French rule), and he seemed to be the most amendable to American direction in the new country. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 7
  8. 8.  Map of North and South Vietnam during the American intervention Susan Bertolino-Temple University 8
  9. 9. Ngo Dinh Diem/JFK Years Diem turned out to be an oppressive ruler. He passes a series of laws that allowed for detention without a warrant, destruction of property and executions: these laws were justified as a counter threat to the growing Communism movement among the people. Diem worked closely with the CIA to identify those who tried to bring down his regime, even those who were not communists. Thousands were arrested. Diem murdered and oppressed the Buddhists, setting off what was called the Buddhist Crisis. In 1963, a company of civil guards, commanded by a Catholic officer, killed nine persons, some of them children during a protest: the Buddhists were not allowed to fly the Buddhist flag on Buddha’s birthday. Monks began to set themselves afire as a further protest against the Diem oppression. Students in Saigon University rioted. Diem closed the university and the high school students rioted. All of this was captured on film and reported by the world media. Diem once said of the monks: “I will be glad to supply the gasoline and a match.” His brother’s wife, Madame Nhu, perhaps hated even more than her husband, added that the demonstrators “should be beaten ten times more” by the police; she also said: “I shall clap my hands” at another suicide. She used a phrase that Nixon later made famous: she claimed that the rule of her family was supported by a “silent majority”. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 9
  10. 10. The End of Diem Under JFK Only the younger brother, Ngo Dihn Can, who lived in Hue and was the overlord of Central Vietnam, wanted to settle with the Buddhists. His brother didn’t listen, and there was an increase in police oppression as the monks continued their self-sacrifices. Diem assumed the United States would support his government in whatevermethods he used, because the fear of a Communist overthrow would stay theirhand. The Kennedy administration was split on keeping Diem in power. Some found him to be terribly objectionable and they saw his propensity for causing division; others called him “the best of a bad lot.” However, even his supporters could not ignore the abuses; even some of Diem’s generals approached the American embassy with plans to overthrow Diem. With Washington’s tacit approval, Diem and his brother were captured on Nov. 1, 1963. They were later executed. Diem’s wife escaped to France. At this time, we had 16,000 military advisors in Vietnam, assisting the ARVN—Army of the Republic of Vietnam. President Kennedy was killed 3 weeks later in Dallas.Susan Bertolino-Temple University 10
  11. 11. The US Advisors in Vietnam The purpose of our advisors was to help the Vietnamese fight the growing communist insurgency: the guerrillas, whom we later called the Viet Cong, were becoming stronger as students and peasants joined the movement. The Diem government couldn’t understand that their repressive tactics actually convinced more people to join the guerrillas: unlike the ARVN, the Viet Cong came to the villages without harming the populace, paid for their rice and even worked the fields with the peasants. The ARVN would destroy villages, kill suspected guerillas at random and rape the women. The common soldier in the ARVN was either conscripted or fighting for a wage. They did not have the dedication or sense of purpose that the Viet Cong soldiers had. The generals of the ARVN were often afraid to send their soldiers in battle because Diem feared a military coup; the more soldiers he lost, the more precarious his position became---in his opinion. This alone, without the help of the Chinese and the Soviets, helped the guerrilla movement to grow in South Vietnam. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 11
  12. 12. LBJ and Escalation On August 2, 1964, the captain of the Maddox insisted that his ship was attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin, even though the North Vietnamese disputed this claim. It is highly possible that Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under both Kennedy and Johnson, knew that no attack had taken place. However, the Johnson administration used this attack to gain a Congressional resolution, called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This gave the president broad war powers. LBJ began bombing North Vietnam and in March 1965, the first Marine force landed in Vietnam. The Americans began what was called OPERATION ROLLING THUNDER: a systematic bombing campaign in North Vietnam, aimed at bridges, factories, parks, train depots, roads. The U.S. offered economic aid in exchange for peace: the U.S. wanted the North to stop aiding the Vietcong in the South. They refused, and the bombing continued. By this time, the Chinese were open allies of the North Vietnamese. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 12
  13. 13. General Westmoreland-Westy By 1968, there were over 500,000 American troops stationed in Vietnam. General William Westmoreland, commanded the Vietnam War effort and he asked for what he called an “Optimum Force” of 678,000 if the president wished to hasten victory. Westmoreland, nicknamed “Westy”, created a strategy called the “war of attrition”. He based his theory on the success of World War II’s bombing of Japan and Germany into surrender. He estimated that Vietnam could be controlled by literally killing as many guerrillas as possible so that there would be few left to instigate insurgency. The next powerpoints show the implications of his strategy: Susan Bertolino-Temple University 13
  14. 14. Implications of the War of Attrition U.S. forces had superior weapons to the Vietcong: the North Vietnamese got their weapons from both China and the U.S.S.R.—neither country had the economic clout to build superior conventional arms, despite their dual success in developing the atomic bomb. Our troops would follow a search and destroy mission to destabilize the guerrillas. They find the enemy and defeat him on his terrain. These were also called “Zippo Missions”, after the zippo cigarette lighters that were caught on cameras as they were used to set villages afire. The objective was to kill and weaken the enemy, so that he would be demoralized and he would eventually surrender. Attrition meant annihilate, and it also didn’t provide for civilians. We had only 3 military hospitals that addressed wounded civilians—only 10% were served. When asked about the mounting civilian deaths from air strikes and shelling, Westmoreland replied: Yes…it is a problem. But it does deprive the enemy of the population, doesn’t it.” (source: A Bright Shining Lie ) Susan Bertolino-Temple University 14
  15. 15. Problems with the Strategy In order to kill the enemy, the troops had to find him. American troops did not knowthe terrain, and many had trouble maintaining their health in the jungle environment.The enemy developed a strategy in which they would seemingly flee from the Americantroops, then suddenly appear and open fire. Often this took place at night. BrigadierGeneral Vuong Thua Vu discussed the strategy in the book They Marched into Sunlight.The American troops relied on air and artillery units to aid them in combat once theywere in battle. The enemy fought close to them, too close for them to call in air forcepower or else they would be hit (friendly fire). Confusion. “When he believed we attacked from the east, we attacked from the west. When he believed we stopped, we attacked again. When he believed we advanced, we stopped…Truth and falsehood, falsehood and truth.” (from They Marched Into Sunlight.) Americans did not know the language or the culture. They weren’t able to distinguish features or accents that may have implied North or South Vietnamese. Moreover, they were associated with the enemy. Attrition meant life was cheap. If the enemy had to be destroyed at all costs, what did this say about the American soldier? The psychology of attrition began to extend toward their own troops—life in itself became seen as expendable. This led to an increase of post-traumatic stress among our Vietnam veterans Statistics vary, but some have indicated that over 70% of our soldiers suffered from some kind of PTSD symptom, more than double of the WWII veterans. 15 san Bertolino-Temple University
  16. 16. Search and Destroy 16 Susan Bertolino-Temple University
  17. 17. Tet Offensive: January 31, 1968This part of the war is now considered to be the turning point in theVietnam War; it became the antithesis of Westmoreland’s strategy—we became the demoralized, the insignificant.It showed how seriously our military had underestimated thedetermination of the Vietcong forces. It also showed that they toocould fight a war of attrition against themselves and still come out thevictor.The North Vietnamese forces launched a systematic attack against keysouthern Vietnamese cities. They sent 70, 000 troops into urban areas.The attacks had been planned since 1967. The American embassy in Saigon was seized. It shifted the war fromthe rural areas into the supposed impregnable areas of the south. TheVietcong fought in Saigon for two weeks, block by block. They heldthe small city of Hue for 25 days. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 17
  18. 18. Tet Offensive Map : Americans Fighting in Saigon 18 Susan Bertolino-Temple University
  19. 19. Tet Offensive Continued  The Tet Offensive did not achieve its ultimate goals: no city or territory was taken permanently. The Vietcong lost thousands of soldiers; the majority of these fighters were seasoned veterans and officers from NCOs to battalion-level leaders.  Many of the ordinary soldiers became demoralized by the losses because they thought the battles had been unrealistic. Soon 70% of the Vietcong forces in the South were North Vietnamese sent down by Ho Chi Minh.  The Southern rebels had died, but they had achieved a tremendous psychological victory over the Americans: (See Next Slide)Susan Bertolino-Temple University 19
  20. 20. The Effect of The Tet Offensive on America 1. Americans watched the battles on television. They saw the determination of the enemy. They now knew he was not an inferior Asian as many of the Japanese stereotypes had lingered from World War II. The enemy became worthy of respect. 2. They also began to doubt that this war could be won. If the Vietcong were willing to sacrifice their best soldiers to make a decisive attack, then what else were their capabilities? 3. Westmoreland’s strategy was a failure. Not only had he not destroyed the enemy, he had created new members for lost soldiers. Despite the claims for high body count, the enemy was willing to fight to the death; they also found reinforcements no matter how many we killed. 4. Since the war now appeared unwinnable, there was no reason for us to fight in it. As Neil Sheenan wrote: “The spectacle broadened opposition to the war and made it a profound moral concern, not just for students and intellectuals, but also for a large segment of the middle class who had no sons of draft age….Westmoreland contributed by playing as ever into the hands of the enemy….the man who thought he was baiting was unable to understand that he had been baited.” (from A Bright Shining Lie) Even as Westmoreland threw more soldiers at the enemy, the Vietcong kept coming back to fight, despite having suffered severe losses. They were not going Susan Bertolino-Temple University 20 to go away.
  21. 21. Vietnamization Richard Nixon had won the 1968 election. LBJ refused to run, Robert Kennedy had been murdered, and Eugene McCarthy was popular among students but not the middle class. Nixon did not want to go down as a president who lost a war, but he also knew that he had to begin withdrawing American troops in order to ensure his popularity. Nixon’s objective was to make the ARVN, the South Vietnamese Army, more responsible for its fate instead of relying on American guidance and manpower. As Nixon withdrew troops, he increased the bombing over North Vietnam, gradually extending the war into Laos and Cambodia. In 1970 Nixon approved of attacks into Cambodia as a way of rooting out Vietcong sanctuaries. As American troops fatalities dropped, Nixon thought he would win more support for the war effort. In his speech on Cambodia on April 30th, 1970, Nixon justified his aggression by claiming that there were Vietnamese strongholds “up to 20 miles into Cambodia”. He insisted that the attacks would cease once the North Vietnamese cooperated; it was not an attack against Cambodia. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 21
  22. 22. The My Lai Massacre And Kent State The disgust with the Vietnam War encouraged more student protests, including the infamous Kent State protest on May 4, 1970 in which the National Guard fired into a crowd of unarmed students at a legal protest. 4 died. The war was becoming more unpopular as war crimes became known to the general public. becoming aware of war crimes: Lt. William Calley Jr. had ordered a massacre of peasants in the hamlet of My Lai. 347 people were killed. This massacre took place on March 16, 1968 toward the end of the Tet Offensive, but it came to light in 1969. Although other massacres and forced evacuations of civilians had taken place prior to this, Calley’s actions gained the most notoriety for the sheer sadism of the acts. Calley was convicted of the crime and many felt he had become a scapegoat of the military. Even Nixon intervened to have his sentence reduced. He was convicted to life imprisonment, but only served 3 years, mostly under house arrest. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 22
  23. 23. Kent StateSusan Bertolino-Temple University 23
  24. 24. My Lai MassacreSusan Bertolino-Temple University 24
  25. 25. This is a picture of a woman taken seconds before she was shot in the massacre. See the following link for more information on the massacre: Bertolino-Temple University 25
  26. 26. Ending American Involvement in Vietnam In 1973, we signed a treaty with the North Vietnamese called the Paris Accords. We ceased all military action in Vietnam at this time. The war itself did not end until 1975, when the ARVN were unable to resist the oncoming North Vietnamese forces. Casualties of American soldiers are 58,226. The Vietnam Memorial lists 58, 152. The Army suffered the most total casualties, 38,179 or 2.7 of its force. The Marine Corps lost 14,836 or 5% of its force. The Navy lost 2, 556 or 2 %. The Air Force lost 2580 or 1 percent. Many pilots became North Vietnamese prisoners; the most famous is John McCain. 304,000 Americans were wounded and over 10,000 are missing in action. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 26
  27. 27. The Vietnamese Dead  As for the Vietnamese dead and wounded, figures are still unclear. Some estimate that the dead alone are almost 4 million. Some keep it to arund 3 million. We really don’t know. Record keeping was very poor, especially by the South Vietnamese toward the end of the war., and the North tended to deflate the numbers because of morale.  Many peasants were not listed among the dead. Many of our bombs simply evaporated people. It is easier to determine the dead among the soldiers because there were registered names and that averages between 1.1 to 1.5 million of North Vietnamese alone  For decades, the Vietnamese government kept the figures to about 900,000 Vietcong and North Vietnamese combined, an absurdly low figure when one takes into account that 181,00 Vietcong and NVA died in 1968 after the Tet Offensive ; this figure does not include Northern or Southern Vietnamese civilians.  There are still unexploded land mines and other types of bombs all over the country. Around 40,000 deaths since the war have been attributed to these bombs. Many are almost impossible to find, and the country does not have the financial resources to search for these well-hidden land mines. These explosives are still a problem for the Vietnamese people. For more information on this ongoing situation, see the following link: Bertolino-Temple University html 27
  28. 28. Vietnam TodaySusan Bertolino-Temple University 28
  29. 29. Susan Bertolino-Temple University 29