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Lecture 19

History 1810E The Vietnam War - Lecture 19.docx

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History 1810E
Margaret Mc Glynn

History 1810E The Vietnam War Monday March 17 Lecture 19 The American War: Waste Deep in the Big Muddy Outline: I. Rolling Thunder II. The Ground War a. Limited War b. Hearts and Minds III. Technowar a. Agent Orange b. Air Mobility c. Search and Destroy IV. The American Impact Last class… • The Gulf of Tonkin resolution gave Lyndon Johnson a way to escalate America’s commitment to South Vietnam in the way he wanted • In early 1965, the Americans launched air strikes, which escalated into a bombing campaign, Rolling Thunder Rolling Thunder • March, 1965 • There were 2 purposes: o To deter North Vietnam from assisting the insurgency in South Vietnam  Johnson assumed that Hanoi was behind the insurgency in South Vietnam (however although the North was supporting the insurgency, Hanoi did not have a lot of control over events in South Vietnam)  The psychological impact: Johnson and his advisors believed that through air attacks, they could gradually inflict enough damage on North Vietnam to convince the Hanoi government to stop supporting the south (unless Hanoi wanted to see all of the work they’d done since they achieved independence from the French, wiped out) o Governments were still rising and falling rapidly, an unstable situation (and difficult for the South Vietnamese government to fight he insurgents when the government kept changing)  They thought a new government would come in, willing to negotiate with Hanoi and the American advisors  Americans hoped that this would get the Saigon government to continue to fight and resist the NLF (and make them confidence that the Americans wouldn’t abandon them) • Johnson wanted this campaign to gradually escalate o His advisors pushed for a fast bombing campaign (hit the North Vietnamese hard with a knockout blow before they could establish an effective air defense) o Johnson was concerned that if they hit them too hard, it could provoke the Chinese or Russians to get involved  The Chinese might be concerned about having Americans right on the Chinese border  The Russians might be concerned that their Communist ally was about to lose in Vietnam  The Americans were concerned that if China or Russia became involved, it could lead to a third World War o Johnson wanted to find the breaking point gradually • Initially when the Americans were going to target the Vietnamese, they thre going to target the infiltration routes (Ho Chi Minh Trail), north of the 17 parallel o This expanded to military and transportation facilities, and supply depots (working further north towards Hanoi) o When these attacks weren’t breaching the breaking point, Johnson hit electrical plants, steel factories, and targets close to the Chinese border • Between March 1965 and January 1973, the Americans dropped 3x as many bombs on North Vietnam than Asia, Africa, and Europe in World War II (but they still couldn’t reach the Vietnamese breaking point) • The Americans had to demonstrate they were serious, and they realized that bombing wouldn’t help them with supporting a South Vietnamese government – they had to implement ground troops The Ground War • When they began Rolling Thunder in March 1965, the Americans sent 3500 marines to protect the air base at Da Nang where they were launching the Rolling Thunder attack • Their initial role was to protect the air base, but they realized that they needed to be more active against the NLF (this is where the Americans’ whole role in Vietnam changed) o Up until this point, all of the Americans in Vietnam were advisors who taught the Vietnamese how to fight o At this point, they took over the fighting for the South Vietnamese – this was now America’s war • The South Vietnamese were never consulted about these decisions (air attacks, Rolling Thunder, implementing combat troops) • The Americans were worried about the cost of not doing anything in Vietnam o If the Saigon government fell (who the Americans were supporting), the Americans would look like a “paper tiger” – they would look fierce, but have nothing to back them up • Limited War o Johnson wanted to keep the American war in Vietnam limited (he didn’t want it open-ended and getting out of hand, just like he wanted gradual air strikes) o He wasn’t prepared to launch an invasion of North Vietnam (to roll the Communists back into China) because he thought the Chinese would fight back  He saw this with the Korean War – when they pushed the North Koreans back towards China, the Chinese fought Americans in the Korean War o Johnson wanted the ground troops to be limited to South Vietnam o He was committed to society and was concerned about sacrificing “the great society” to an unlimited commitment to Vietnam (it would be extremely expensive)  He didn’t want to tax the American people excessively so they could fight in Vietnam  He thought that any money he raised would draw money away from “the great society” (which he wanted to be his legacy) o For these reasons, Johnson wanted to keep the war in Vietnam limited o In April of 1965, 40,000 more troops arrived o By 1967, almost half a million American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam  This was less than 2 years after there were only 3500 troops on the ground • Hearts and Minds o Johnson was concerned about the American public reaction to escalating the war in Vietnam, so he downplayed the commitment and escalation of American troops o He tried to minimize any impression that this was a major change in America’s policy to Vietnam (he once said he would never send American boys to do the fighting of Vietnamese boys) o When he announced sending new troops, he did it at a press conference in the middle of the day (not a prime time), and he waited to announce the next escalation of troops for 2 months • The U.S. Strategy: 1. A steadily escalating bombing campaign to impede the movement of men and material, force the Hanoi government to stop supporting the So
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