February 9, 2012
In the broader scheme of the Cold War, it was a crucial event – the longest lasting war that was fought during the
period of the Cold War by the US. US’ first major defeat. Great failure of the strategy of containment.
US “containment” and “domino” theories
“the best and brightest” Robert McNamara
The battle for “hearts and minds”
The Viet Cong
On a far greater scale 3-4 million Vietnamese died during the war. Enormous game changing event.
Vietnam Syndrome: for some years afterward, and leading up to the Iraq war in 2003 there was a concern over
involving in an international affair would lead to a disaster. American policy makers were less willing to go and
commit American forces overseas than they had been prior to that.
From the Canadian perspective, it was important in part because it created a lot of tension in Canadian- American
relations. Canada did not contribute troops directly to the war and was not a combatant at war. But Canada was a part
of the International Control Commission in Vietnam and could represent American interests there greatly
complicated matters. Canadian policy makers were doing things that American policy makers disagreed with –
Only on occasion was there a public reach. It was usually running under the surface. It badly damaged relations
between US and Canada. Also on a social and cultural note as well, Vietnam caused Canadians to lose faith in
Americans and American government. In the 1950s relations between US and Canada had been closer and happier
than they had ever been. In the 1960s, in part because of civil rights and the Vietnam war, many Canadians started to
have serious doubts about the US. Believed Americans were a flawed people who were pursuing flawed and
dangerous policies. There had always been some anti-American sentiment in Canada, but this became much more
pronounced in the 1960s – it became okay to openly complain about American policies.
Canadians never really looked at Americans the same after Vietnam. And when they looked at themselves, they very
much liked what they saw – great surge in Canadian nationalism due to Vietnam. They could look at Vietnam and
say they had avoided it as well as the civil rights riots. Avoided political assassinations. A lot of Canadians felt that
their country was better than the US, that they lived in a more peaceful and sensible and free society.
Whether we were really separate from this is something we will discuss today. Hard to overestimate the significance
of the Vietnam War in American and Canadian culture. The premise behind the war in the States there isn’t a very
honest or open reckoning about what the war was.
The basic premise of the war was a benevolent premise. It was a sincere and honest premise – the US did not get
itself involved because there was some financial gain in it or because they were seeking to grab territory from another
country, there was no imperialist or economic impulse that drove American involvement in Vietnam. It was, instead,
two very closely related theories which formed the basis of American strategy throughout the Cold War – the
containment theory (originated with Truman Doctrine), the mission of the US to contain the spread of communism, to
prevent innocent and non communist countries from falling under the sway of the communist menace. Based on the
assumption all communist action was directed by Moscow. Only by vigilance and if necessary military force, could
the expansion of communism be prevented. Why was it so important to contain communism? Second theory: domino
theory. Premise that if one country were allowed to fall to communism, others in the surrounding region would be
likely to fall as well. Domino theory has been criticised for being overly simplistic. Countries do not fall like
dominoes but this was at the heart of American strategy during the war. Those who had come up with and
implemented the containment strategy “the best and the brightest” Americans. Rob McNamara believed any problem
could be resolved if you accumulated enough data and arrived at logical conclusions and solved them through well
thought out policies. Not inclined to accept the limitations of American power nor did they appreciate the
circumstances on the ground in Vietnam. Much more complicated than knocking over a domino.