The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era proxy war that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. ... The U.S. government viewed involvement in the war as a way to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam as part of their wider strategy of containment. The North Vietnamese government and Viet Cong viewed the conflict as a colonial war, fought initially against France, backed by the U.S., and later against South Vietnam, which it regarded as a U.S. puppet state.
Gulf of Tonkin false flag
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, also known as the USS Maddox Incident, is the name given to two separate confrontations involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by "communist aggression". The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for deploying US conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam. ... It was originally claimed by the National Security Agency that the second Tonkin Gulf incident occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead may have involved "Tonkin ghosts" (false radar images) and not actual NVN torpedo boat attacks.
It has now been confirmed that the second incident never took place. This is the cause of great controversy, as it was this second incident that led to the passage of the 'Gulf of Tonkin Resolution', which was used by President Lyndon B. Johnson as justification to scale up US involvement in the Vietnam War.
After just nine hours of deliberation, both houses of Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution today in 1964. The bill authorizing the United States to officially go to war with Vietnam was signed by President Lyndon Johnson three days later. Of course, the United States had been increasingly involved in Vietnam at least since 1955, when then-President Eisenhower deployed the Military Assistance Advisory group to help train the South Vietnamese Army. The supposed August 4th attack on the USS Maddox was used to legitimize the growing U.S. presence in Vietnam and to give the President authority to use the military in the effort to combat Communist North Vietnam.
As President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply. The initial attack on the destroyer Maddox, on August 2, was repeated today by a number of hostile vessels attacking two U.S. destroyers with torpedoes. The destroyers and supporting aircraft acted at once on the orders I gave after the initial act of aggression. We believe at least two of the attacking boats were sunk. There were no U.S. losses. (August 4, 1964)
For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there. (1965)
Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles with Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngo Dinh Diem was the first president of South Vietnam (1955—1963). In the wake of the French withdrawal from Indochina as a result of the 1954 Geneva Accords, Diem led the effort to create the Republic of Vietnam. Accruing considerable US support due to his staunch anti-communism, he announced victory after a fraudulent 1955 plebiscite in which he won 600,000 votes from an electorate of 450,000 and began building a right-wing dictatorship in South Vietnam.
The top US officials in Vietnam tried to be optimistic, and tried to create the impression that Ngo Dinh Diem was a magnificent and popular leader who was winning the war. A few American reporters were saying that something was seriously wrong, but the US Embassy in Saigon did its best to discredit them.
US officials in Saigon therefore began encouraging ARVN officers to overthrow Diem. ... The basic problem of the Saigon government--the incompetence and/or corruption of most of its officers--remained unchanged. ... While ARVN officers competed with one another for personal wealth and for political power in Saigon, the guerrillas continued to gain ground in the countryside.
Napalm bombing campaign
We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because it's obscene!
Napalm, incendiary gel that sticks to skin and burns to the bone, came into the world on Valentine's Day 1942 at a secret Harvard war research laboratory. On March 9, 1945, it created an inferno that killed over 87,500 people in Tokyo—more than died in the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It went on to incinerate sixty-four of Japan's largest cities. The Bomb got the press, but napalm did the work.
Napalm ... is an American weapon: it was invented in America and has been used longer, more widely, and to greater effect by the United States than any other country. ... this is a story of America, from global authority at the end of World War II to its increasingly constrained position in a globalizing world.
By the first half of 1964, it was clear that the Communists were winning the war. ... South Vietnam became, by a wide margin, the most heavily bombed country in the history of the world. ... The war was an unusually brutal and savage one. ... Most of the casualties the Americans suffered were inflicted by ambushes, night attacks, mines, and booby traps. ... On the other hand, when a Communist was killed or wounded it was generally done by bombing planes...
So while I think people might know a little bit of it, I doubt that they know the full story as I came to know it.
...violence against Vietnamese noncombatants was not at all exceptional during the conflict. Rather, it was pervasive and systematic, the predictable consequence of official orders to "kill anything that moves."
Our policy in Southeast Asia has been consistent and unchanged since 1954. I summarized it on June 2 in four simple propositions: 1. America keeps her word. Here as elsewhere, we must and shall honor our commitments; 2. The issue is the future of Southeast Asia as a whole. A threat to any nation in that region is a threat to all, and a threat to us; 3. Our purpose is peace. We have no military, political, or territorial ambitions in the area; 4. This is not just a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity. Our military and economic assistance to South Vietnam and Laos in particular has the purpose of helping these countries to repel aggression and strengthen their independence.
The reasons for U.S. involvement
Along with Lippmann and Morgenthau, Kennan, the great practitioner who first introduced the concept of containment, insists that the U.S. 'had... no business trying to play a role in the affairs of the mainland of Southeast Asia' (1968: 58). ... the instability of the French regime in the Far East after 1950 gradually led the US to take France's position in the region. In terms of the relationship between the USSR and Communist China, China demanded that they be 'foreign friends' since, as Kirby points out, 'They could not remain standing alone or unaided, but would have to "unite" with others, in this case with the Soviet Union and its allies' (Kirby 1994: 13). The relationship between the two states, therefore, can be called bandwagoning, which Waltz defines as follows: 'States work harder to increase their own strength, or they combine with others, if they are falling behind' (1979: 126).
Free world dominion over the region would provide markets for Japan, rebuilding with American help after the Pacific War. U.S. involvement in Vietnam reassured the British, who linked their postwar recovery to the revival of the rubber and tin industries in their colony of Malaya, one of Vietnam's neighbors. And with U.S. aid, the French could concentrate on economic recovery at home, and could hope ultimately to recall their Indochina officer corps to oversee the rearmament of West Germany.
The cost of war
Each side suffered and inflicted huge losses, with the civilian populace suffering horribly. Based on widely varying estimates, between 1.5 and 3.6 million people were killed in the war.
Normally, we tend to assume that in a war of attrition, the side that is inflicting the greater number of casualties on its enemy is winning. In Vietnam, the United States enjoyed huge advantages in weapons, technology, and logistics, and furthermore was able to use those advantages quite effectively; the notion that the American forces were unable to make their technology relevant on the battlefield is a myth. The result was that the number of men who died while serving in the Communist forces was over ten times the number who died in the American forces. Nonetheless, it was the Communists who ultimately won the war of attrition against the Americans.