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Lecture 23: Vietnam and the Unravelling of American Society

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University of Toronto St. George
Erin Black

Vietnam and the Unravelling of American Society 27 March 2013 I. Origins of U.S. Involvement in Vietnam  Vietnam initially part of French colony of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand).  1880s control, and by 1900s already an anti-colonial movement.  Leads to a young Ho Chi Min (then Nguyan Ai Quoc) seeking audience with Woodrow Wilson.  Upset by American non-action, he stays in France and becomes involved in French socialist party. Interested in the „end of colonialism‟ as the beginning of communism.  Works in Soviet Union. Spends time working for Chinese Communist Party.  By 1930, returns to Vietnam, becoming founding member of the Indochinese Communist Party. Willing to work with non-communists to work for Vietnamese independence.  By 1941, Ho Chi Min founds the League for Independence of Vietnam, nicknamed the Vietminh. Communists alongside non-communists.  Japanese effectively took over from France in context of World War II. Received aid from US against Japanese.  As of 1945, declares independence of Vietnam, declaring it the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). Directly quotes US Declaration of Independence.  Signalling to United States that, while his nation is communist, it is not a threat to the United States.  French seek to re-establish control, not accepting its independence. Establish the „associated state of Vietnam‟. Essentially a puppet state.  French essentially trying to gain control, Ho Chi Min stating Vietnam as an independent country.  Divided into two. DRV declares independence. AS rejects this independence.  Negotiations unwilling. Leads to the First Indochina War, from 1946 to 1954.  America supports the French attempt to re-establish colonial control, on the basis of the Cold War - needs France‟s support in establishing West German nation. French reluctant to revive German state. Manoeuvred it into American assistance in Vietnam.  1949, Soviets exploded bomb, and China now Communist. Huge chunk of Asia „gone red‟. Assume Ho Chi Min is a puppet of either Moscow or Beijing. In reality, just a nationalist leader.  Americans begin extensively funding French efforts. By 1952, 1/3 of the war in Indochina is funded by America.  In 1954, the last French stronghold of Dien Bien Phu (a valley) is attacked by Vietnamese guerrillas. Request an airstrike. Eisenhower considers it. Unable to do so: congressional leaders refuse (Korea mess), and British refuse.  French are defeated.  Geneva Accords, 1954. Calls for ceasefire in Indochina. Establishes a demilitarised zone th at the 17 parallel. Decided that there is freedom of movement between north and south.  Fate of Vietnam according to Geneva Accords should be decided by an election in 1956.  Ho Chi Min signs Geneva Accords, confident that he will gain support. Soviets, Chinese, French, and Vietnamese sign the accords. French Associated State of Vietnam and US do not.  Elections never happen. US supports new French-based leader in the south.  Americans could have walked away in 1954. Do not, and become further entrenched.  Ngo Dinh Diem is the man the US supports, and he takes control of South Vietnam under rigged elections. Money from Eisenhower administration. „Free people resisting communist subjugation”.  By 1959, South Vietnam is the recipient of US aid, second to NATO in size. Saigon embassy is largest US diplomatic presence in the world.  National Liberation Front. Southern Vietnamese people. Engaged against Diem, because Ho Chi Min has been supportive of Vietnam, Diem just another US puppet. II. Kennedy and Vietnam  Kennedy determined not to let south Asia fall to communism.  Vietnam a „finger in the dike‟ - domino theory. „America‟s child‟.  Khrushchev announced support for third world power.  Kennedy attacks Truman for losing China.  Concerns over 1964 election - would lose public support if failed in Vietnam.  In the wake of Bay of Pigs, is a chance to do right.  Diem government was massively unpopular, disorganised and corrupt.  Announces support - the „Middle‟ course, or limited partnership with Diem regime.  Does not want Vietnam to collapse, but will not put American troops on the ground aside from special forces units.  900 military advisors increase to 1,600 by the end of 1961.  US money kept by Diem. Alienated peasants.  Comes to a head in fall 1963. Buddhists demand religious freedom - destruction of Buddhist temples.  Waves of protests culminating in self-immolations. Problematic for United States.  Elements of South Vietnamese army suggest overthrowing Diem, US states that they will do nothing.  US tacitly green lights coup against Diem government. Culminates in his murder and his family‟s murder.  Fate of Vietnam if Kennedy had survived - unknown. Died 21 days after Diem.  Likely outcome: o US withdrawal - on tape - but - o Only if efforts made stable state. o Only if he won the 1964 election. III. LBJ and “That Bitch of a War”  Problematic. Increasingly coming to the forefront of US foreign policy considerations.  Vietcong embark on political and military offensive in 1963-1964, successfully.  No popular support or successful warfare, proved difficult for LBJ.  LBJ was complex. Adroit politician. Foreign policy - insecure.  Viewed Vietnam as a test of strength for American hegemony.  Events in South Vietnam provoke US action, therefore: Gulf of Tonkin incites action.  South Vietnamese torpedoes against North Vietnamese ships. N. Vietnamese assume US ship along coast is protecting S. Vietnamese ships. Fire a warning shot.  „Fired at‟ - USS Maddox. Ordered back out, along with C. Turner Joy.  Shot at again. Captain of Turner Joy - we were not attacked, could have been a log - doubtful.  LBJ decides to take the opportunity to authorise the President to prevent further aggression.  In front of Congress, says the attacks are blatant aggression. House votes unanimously.  Gulf of Tonkin resolution passed.  By late fall 1964, admins assumed it necessary to escalate.  Sustained bombing campaign - targeting strongholds and North Vietnam.  Pleiku. 8 US military advisors killed. 126 wounded. LBJ initiates massive bombing campaign, known as Operation Rolling Thunder.  Decision to engage and escalate led to parallel course of escalation on the ground. American pilots had to have ground protection.  Front this point onwards: troops go up. Rapid escalation between 1965 and end of 1968 (over half a million troops).  ORT 25,000 bombing sorties in 1965  ORT 75,000 bombing sorties in 1966  ORT 110,000 bom
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