Thousands of books have been written on the issue of the American involvement in the Vietnam War. It's an issue that still evokes emotion and difference of opinion today.
America's official military involvement in the Vietnam War lasted from 1965 to 1975, 10 long years. Prior to American involvement in the region Vietnam was a French colonial territory.
The Vietnamese people were generally oppressed under French rule both prior to WWII and after. In 1930 Ho Chi Minh drew up a charter for the Indochinese Communist Party. The objectives of the party were the overthrow of the French; establishment of Vietnamese independence; establishment of a workers', peasants', and soldiers' government; organization of a workers' militia; cancellation of public debts; confiscation of means of production and their transfer to the government; distribution of French-owned lands to the peasants; suppression of taxes; establishment of an eight-hour work day; development of crafts and agriculture; institution of freedom of organization; and establishment of education for all citizens.
Ho Chi Minh
Prior to this, however, Ho Chi Minh had spent his entire life perusing Vietnamese independence from France. Ho traveled all over the world seeking help in gaining Vietnamese independence, but most importantly, he tried for 30 years to work through establishment processes to secure Vietnamese independence. He traveled to France, he put himself through school in France, he wrote letters to the French government, he tried to get a job in the French government to work from within the system, and he even tried to contact President Woodrow Wilson after World War I, but he was always rejected, always turned away. Ho's letters asked for, "equal rights for Vietnamese and French in Indochina, freedom of press and opinion, freedom of association and assembly, freedom to travel at home and abroad, and substitute rule of law for government by degree." Ho's goal was clear, he wanted to put an end to the French oppression in Vietnam and wanted Vietnam to gain independence. Ho claimed that his greatest hero was American leader and President, George Washington.
Ho Chi Minh in France (1920)
When the Versailles Peace Conference started work, Ho drew up an eight-point program for their country's emancipation and forwarded is to the conference secretariat in January 1919. Today, this plan, inspired by President Wilson's 14 Points, sounds extremely moderate. It asked for permanent representation in the French parliament; freedom of the press; freedom to hold meetings and form associations; amnesty decree; equality of legal rights between French and Annamese. When Ho tried to argue their case with Wilson himself at Versailles he was unceremoniously shown the door
- Jean Lacouture
During World War II Ho Chi Minh helped to rescue downed American pilots and gathered intelligence on the Japanese for the American OSS. Ho worked closely with the American intelligence community during WWII and his views were well known to them. They knew that his primary concern was Vietnamese independence.
During and after World War II the issue of Indochina, the region which contained Vietnam, was a matter of question.FDR sided with Chiang Kai-Shek and Stalin in stating that the region of Indochina should be turned over to a trusteeship and set on the road to independence rather than be returned to its position as a colonial territory of the French. Churchill rejected this idea because it was an issue that could set president on the matter of colonialism, which the British certainly hoped to maintain.
Eventually, even under FDR, American support was given to the French and Indochina was returned to a state of French colonial rule much to the chagrin of the Vietnamese people. When this happened the French instituted even more repressive control in Vietnam, and millions died of starvation while Vietnamese rice was exported to France.
Throughout the 1940s Ho Chi Minh and other Vietnamese leaders made repeated appeals to Truman and other American officials to help them gain independence from French colonial rule. These appeals were generally ignored.
On February 16th, 1945 Ho Chi Minh wrote a letter to President Truman asking for American assistance in gaining Vietnamese freedom. The letter closed with the remarks:
We ask what has been graciously granted to the Philippines. Like the Philippines our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.
I am dear Mr. PRESIDENT,
Ho Chi Minh
The letter was not declassified until 1972.
For the full text of this letter, and others, see:
Collection of Letters by Ho Chi Minh
In 1945 Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese Independence, and conflict between the French and the Vietnamese people officially began.
The Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam starts:
"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Liberty, Life and the pursuit of Happiness."
This immortal statement appeared in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, it means: all the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live and to be happy and free.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, made at the time of the French Revolution, in 1791, also states: "All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights."
Those are undeniable truths.
Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of liberty, Equality and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice.
Politically: they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty…
Due to the fact that Ho had tried every conceivable way to cooperate with both the French and Americans in gaining Vietnamese independence, and all of those efforts had been fruitless, Ho turned to the Communists for help.
The US generally took an approach of non-involvement in the issue of Vietnamese and French conflict, and in doing so supported French colonialism. America became less and less inclined to support Ho Chi Min due to his Communist affiliation yet at the same time American analysts could not draw any link between Ho Chi Minh and Moscow, writing that Ho Chi Minh did not seem to be following any directive from Moscow and that the policies of Ho Chi Minh did not correlate with Russian policy.
Nowhere did the coming of Americans, in the case a mere handful of them, mean so much to a people as it did to the population of northern Indo-China. To Annamites, our coming was the symbol of liberation not from the Japanese occupation but from decades of French colonial rule. For the Annamite government considered the United States the principal champion of the rights of small peoples, guaranteed so promisingly by the United Nations conferences... Our prowess in the war, our vast production abilities, our progressiveness in technical and social fields- all were known by the Annamites, to a surprising degree. In their blueprint for self-government they envisaged American trade bringing them peacetime products.
American technicians to help then industrialize Vietnam, American consulates in the political, medical and social sciences. Essentially, they feel that the French did not develop the resources of the country for the benefit of the people themselves, and in their own planning have emphasized their intention to throw Vietnam open to American commercial penetration. As a matter of practical preference they would like to see the economy of Vietnam geared to our own if that were possible or desirable to us. Above all they want the good will of the American people and our government. From the top of the Annamite leadership to the bottom of the social scale in Tonkin, every person made a visible effort to please American officers and men. They offered courtesies and simple gestures of friendship at every opportunity.
The C.B.I. patch on the shoulder of an American was his ticket to a warm welcome and good treatment... Annamites asked for all sorts of advice-how to run a newspaper, how to repair and operate machinery, how to run a street-cleaning department most efficiently-even though they were managing quite well indeed in operating utilities and other physical functions of government. They inquired about our schools, our courts, our elections, about the workings of both houses of the Congress. They seemed to feel that every American contained within himself all the virtues and accomplishments of the nation they wanted most to emulate...
- Arthur Hale, U.S. Information Agency 1945 (not declassified until 1972)
Viet-Minh, as its first move after seizure of the government, sought a united front against French imperialism... Frenchmen think that by labeling Viet-Minh "Communist," they have summed up the situation to the disadvantage of the Vietnam government. There is considerable communist influence in Viet-Minh... The national salute is very nearly the raised right arm salute of the communists. Posters, banners, have been adapted from Western leftist art... But at the same time there is ample evidence of an equally strong influence from the United States... Policy statements and declarations by the government are obvious imitations of American techniques of democratic government. In short, the Viet-Minh leadership seems to have used communist methods of appeal to arouse the masses behind a program for an independent democracy...
- Arthur Hale, U.S. Information Agency 1945 (not declassified until 1972)
It was clear that the Vietnamese people wanted freedom from foreign intervention.
What followed between the region of South East Asia and Western powers was an unnecessary escalation of conflict. Western powers, including the United States, feared Communism and they also felt that non-Western people were not adequate to govern themselves and certainly not to be trusted with important resources and geographic regions. It was felt that it was important to keep economically and militarily strategic locations under Western authority. Had the United States or France given support to Ho Chi Minh and supported the right of Vietnam to self determination at any time up to this point, it is very likely that Vietnam would never have pursued Communism. The only reason that the Vietnamese did was because the Communists were the only ones who were supporting Vietnam's goal of independence.
In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech called "Beyond Vietnam", in which he stated:
They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence -- in 1945 -- after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China -- for whom the Vietnamese have no great love -- but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.
For video and audio footage of Dr. King's speech see:
In 1950 the French gave up their effort to maintain direct control over Vietnam and transferred power to Bao Dai. The US recognized Bao Dai, but the Vietnamese people did not; he was generally a puppet of the French.
In 1954 President Eisenhower wrote:
I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held at the time of the fighting, possibly 80 percent of the population would have voted for Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather then Chief of State Bao Dai.
In 1953 President Eisenhower proclaimed at the Governor's conference in Seattle:
Now let us assume that we lose Indochina. If Indochina goes, several things happen right away. The Malayan peninsula would be scarcely defensible- and tin and tungsten we so greatly value from that area would cease coming… All of that weakening position around there is very ominous for the United States, because finally if we lost all that, how would the free world hold the rich empire of Indonesia? So you see, somewhere along the line, this must be blocked. That is what the French are doing…
So, when the United States votes $400 million to help that war, we are not voting for a giveaway program. We are voting for the cheapest way that we can to prevent the occurrence of something that would be of the most terrible significance for the United States of America- our security, our power and ability to get certain things from the riches of South East Asia.
This is one of my favorite quotes because it so eloquently illustrates the reality of the geopolitical situation. "…how would the 'free world' 'hold' the rich empire of Indonesia?" Indeed. This gets to the crux of not only the Vietnamese situation but the global situation, and obviously the Iraqi situation. The free world is free because it does "hold" control over the "other" parts of the world. The world that is not "free" is not free precisely because it is "held" by the "free world", and the freedom that is possible in the "free world" is only possible because of these holdings.
The Vietnamese people never accepted the rule of Bao Dai. Ho Chi Minh and his forces continued to fight for true independence and the establishment of a communist government that would be free from foreign intervention.
In 1954 Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam and Bao Dai and his French advisors attempted to take control of South Vietnam. At this point America had enough of dealing with the French, who had so far been losing their hold on the region, so the US backed Ngo Dinh Diem who American leaders felt would be agreeable to American authority in Vietnam. Ngo Dinh Diem, who lived in the United States during the French-Indochina war, was the first "democratically" elected president of South Vietnam. The election was coerced however. The only choices were between Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem, both leaders that were favored by Western powers. Voters complained that they were told who to vote for, to vote for Diem, some of those that did not were beaten by CIA supported Vietnamese forces.
The result of the election was 98.2% for Diem. Diem's American advisors told him to change the vote count and release a number no larger then 70% or else the vote would not be believable. As one of his first acts of non-cooperation he refused and claimed a 98.2% victory. The world immediately knew that the election had been rigged and his authority was undermined.
It's easy to see why the first experiences that the Vietnamese had with "Western democracy" left a bad taste in their mouth and resulted in a high level of distrust in American and Western involvement and systems.
In 1956 Diem cancelled a national election between the North and South that were called for in the peace accord with American assistance knowing that Ho Chi Minh would easily win open elections.
Shortly after canceling the elections he had over a hundred thousand citizens put into prison camps, mostly communists, but generally anyone who opposed his rule, including journalists and intellectuals, and even children.
During Diem's term American forces protected the leader against attempts to overthrow him. Under Kennedy the CIA and US military protected Diem as well as took action against oppositional forces. Money was given to Diem as "foreign aid" to help Diem establish a militant system of government to control opposition to his rule as well as to enforce the laws that he was passing, laws that for bayed freedom of religion and kept many Vietnamese in poverty. This was done in the hopes that Diem would be able to suppress Communist groups in Vietnam and unite South and North Vietnam. All that these actions really did was cause the Communist opposition to grow and caused Communist leaders to believe that violence would be the only way to free the country from tyranny. This led to growing militarism of the Communist forces in Vietnam.
In 1961 Vice President Lyndon Johnson wrote:
President Diem is the Churchill of the decade… He will fight Communism in the streets and alleys, and when his hands are torn he will fight it with his feet… President Ngo Dinh Diem is in the vanguard of those leaders who stand for freedom.
Approximately 70% of Vietnam was Buddhist, however the under the rule of the French and Diem there was significant favoritism shown to Christian followers, particularly Catholics. Vietnamese were encouraged to convert in order to get jobs or avoid harassment from government officials. A well known Vietnamese proverb of the time was "Turn Catholic and have rice to eat." Oppressive laws were passed against non-Christian religious practices. Monks were sent into exile and those that attempted to practice their Buddhism in spite of laws against it were harassed and even killed. In 1963 American backed Vietnamese forces opened fire on South Vietnamese demonstrators that were demonstrating for religious freedom. Nine people were killed.
"Of particular propaganda value to Diem was the exodus of almost 1 million Catholics from north to south who were said to have 'voted with their feet' for freedom. Encouraged by the Catholic hierarchy and organized by Lansdale and his team, entire parishes were carried south in American ships following priests who told them Christ had moved south, as well as making promises of land and livelihood. The usefulness of this refugee population did not end with their much-photographed arrival in the South. In effect they were an imported political resource for Diem, a substantial and dependent bloc of loyal supporters.
One of the more effective rumor campaigns Lansdale developed was that the United States would back a new war, one in which atomic weapons would certainly be used. Widely believed, this added to the flow of refugees south. ...Lansdale reported these triumphs, all of them in direct violation of the Geneva Accords, to the CIA."
"...For almost a decade, the Catholic Diem and his family had given favors and patronage to Vietnam's Catholic minority (southern born as well as those arrived from the North in 1954), alienating the Buddhist majority. In the villages and towns around Hue, whose Buddhist organizations had begun to speak out politically against Diem's favoritism, government troops conducted sweeps each spring at the time of Buddha's birthday, 'to show the V.C. that the government was strong,' a Catholic priest in the district told an American, 'and to make the opponents of the government afraid."
- The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990 by Marilyn B. Young
Catholic refugees from Northern Vietnam
"[Landale's team] stimulated North Vietnamese Catholics and the Catholic armies deserted by the French to flee south. SMM teams promised Catholic Vietnamese assistance and new opportunities if they would emigrate. To help them make up their minds, the teams circulated leaflets falsely attributed to the Viet Minh telling what was expected of citizens under the new government. The day following distribution of the leaflets, refugee registration tripled. The teams spread horror stories of Chinese Communist regiments raping Vietnamese girls and taking reprisals against villages. This confirmed fears of Chinese occupation under the Viet Minh. The teams distributed other pamphlets showing the circumference of destruction around Hanoi and other North Vietnamese cities should the United States decide to use atomic weapons. To those it induced to flee over the 300-day period the CIA provided free transportation on its airline, Civil Air Transport, and on ships of the U.S. Navy. Nearly a million North Vietnamese were scared and lured into moving to the South."
- Heroes by John Pilger
On June 11th, 1963 Thich Quang Due, a sixty-six year old monk, set himself on fire in Saigon in protest to the oppression of the Diem administration, as seen below. Diem's response to this action was: "Let them burn, and we shall clap our hands."
Eventually the Kennedy administration was convinced that Diem was not going to be successful in advancing American goals in Vietnam so Kennedy authorized the CIA to support a military coup of the Diem administration. In 1963 the CIA provided a group of South Vietnamese generals with $40,000 to overthrow Diem. Diem was then assassinated.
America had once again created and destroyed a monster.
In 1965 America officially entered the Vietnam War to fight against the will of the Vietnamese people and to support minority Vietnamese interests which were tied to American interests.
Vietnam was a display of American fallibility, lack of judgment, lack of understanding of root issues, lack of support for people to determine their own destiny and govern themselves, as well as a display of just how brutal America was willing to be to attempt to get it's way. It was also an example of the extent to which the government would lie to its citizens and the international community in order to get the support for acts of war.
During the American involvement in the Vietnam War:
One of the best articles written on the early policy making of the war was How Could Vietnam Happen? - An Autopsy, written in 1968 by James Thompson, who worked for the State Department during the early phases of the Vietnam War. I highly recommend this article as it's lessons are just as relevant today as they were in 1968, in fact, in many ways, more so. One of the pertinent closing remarks he makes is:
There is a final result of Vietnam policy I would cite that holds potential danger for the future of American foreign policy: the rise of a new breed of American ideologues who see Vietnam as the ultimate test of their doctrine. I have in mind those men in Washington who have given a new life to the missionary impulse in American foreign relations: who believe that this nation, in this era, has received a threefold endowment that can transform the world. As they see it, that endowment is composed of, first, our unsurpassed military might; second, our clear technological supremacy; and third, our allegedly invincible benevolence (our "altruism," our affluence, our lack of territorial aspirations). Together, it is argued, this threefold endowment provides us with the opportunity and the obligation to ease the nations of the earth toward modernization and stability: toward a fullfledged Pax Americana Technocratica. In reaching toward this goal, Vietnam is viewed as the last and crucial test. Once we have succeeded there, the road ahead is clear. In a sense, these men are our counterpart to the visionaries of Communism's radical left: they are technocracy's own Maoists. They do not govern Washington today. But their doctrine rides high.
This was written in 1968, and today, in 2003, these very men that Thompson wrote about are in the seat of power in America. The war in Iraq is meant to be the success to replace the failure of Vietnam and is meant to be the springboard for the new "Pax Americana", as has been stated by the Project for a New American Century and endorsed by our nation's current leaders. I will retouch on this subject later in the "Putting it all Together" section and prove that one of the major components of the Pax Americana agenda, "altruism", is a lie. America is not, and has never been, altruistic; furthermore American policy makers have specifically stated that America cannot afford altruism. The image of altruism is one of the most significant parts of the propagandistic lie.
How Could Vietnam Happen? - An Autopsy:
Upon returning from Vietnam, Lieutenant John Kerry, now a Senator, testified on the issue of Vietnam before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. Here are a few of his statements:
"I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command....
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."
"In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart."
"We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone on peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.
We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong."
"Someone has to die so that President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, 'the first President to lose a war.'"
More of John Kerry's statements on the war in Vietnam:
Advising the VietMinh:
Ho Chi Minh Archive:
Ho Chi Minh - An American Ally Betrayed by Washignton:
A good overview of Vietnamese history and the war:
Studying the Vietnam War On-line:
Another good resource on the Vietnam War: