The Seeds Of Conflict In The Vietnam War History After a prolonged colonial war and intense struggle against the imperialist France from 1945 to 1954, Vietnam was forced to accept an unanticipated result of the Geneva Accords 1954 where a once unified Vietnam was to be partitioned into two pieces of land. As matter of fact, this formal division within the country caused by an artificial line drawn at the 17th parallel had unintentionally led Vietnam into one of the world major wars, leaving behind a permanent scar upon both the Vietnamese people and the nation itself. Unforeseeably, ripple effects resulted from the Geneva Accords have engrave the years of terror and brutality into the Vietnamese history. The Seeds of Conflict As an imperative, Vietnam was divided into two areas above and beyond the 17th parallel. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam proclaimed an area above the official line. Under Ho Chi Minh, an elected nationalist leader, North Vietnamese people lived under a communistic manner where the regime was supported by Russia and North Korea as they all held a similar political ideology, that is, communism. Despite being labeled as a communist leader, Ho Chi Minh gained massive support from his fellow nationalist Vietnamese in North Vietnam. His major and loyal adherent was the nationalist Vietminh who was well-trained in guerilla warfare and was strongly discontented by Ngo Dinh Diem, a leader of the South Vietnam. Below the 17th parallel lied the Republic of Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem. In contrast to communist Ho Chi Minh in the North, Diem seemed to believe in the American concept of democracy and capitalism. His administration was largely supported by the United States and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Notwithstanding, during his administration, Diem faced major aggressive opposition, that is, the National Liberation Front (NLF). The NLF was a nationalist organization functioned in South Vietnam seeking to overthrow Diem’s government while receiving commands from North Vietnam. The NFL was one of important actors throughout the 9 years of the Vietnam War. The American Commitment As Diem’s government was heavily threatened by the aggressive NLF, the US then felt an immediate need to come into the scene to secure the Pro- American government while preventing the supposed democratic South Vietnam from falling under communism. The US congress’ determinations were clearly expressed in the December1961 White Paper that the US would prepare the force necessary to combat with the North Vietnam; the NLF must be crushed and communist forces must be ousted. The congress then asked for an increase in military, technical as well as American advisors and economic aid to stabilize Diem’s government (pp. 150-153). However, John F. Kennedy, the President at the time held different viewpoint towards the situation. He wanted to limit the US partnership with Vietnam in that the US would increase its military involvement only by supplying machinery and advisors, not the whole scale American combat. Unfortunately, by 1963, streets in Saigon were full of active demonstrators against Diem, protesting for his resignation. The situation was worsened by Diem and his family’s prejudice against Buddhism. He overly promoted pro-Catholic policies as Diem himself was Catholic while failing to acknowledge the fact that Buddhism is a symbol of Vietnamese nationalism and of the country itself. Such discriminations led monks to engage series of self-immolation; already, his government was on the verge of collapsing. Soon with Washington’ approval, in the same year Diem and his brother were assassinated. Two weeks after, the President was also shot dead in Dallas. After John F. Kennedy’s assassination, his vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson sworn in the office, taking completely different steps towards the situation in Vietnam. In contrast to Kennedy, John demanded more aggressive actions against the NLF, military interventions and more combatants were needed. Nonetheless, the escalation of war was clearly seen through the launch of operation Rolling Thunders. Such was a response to the North Vietnam as they attacked the US air base at Pleiku. Johnson then ordered heavy air bombing upon North Vietnam hoping to destroy Hochiminh trail, a network of different trials such as footpaths or truck routes which was used as a strategic supply route from the North Vietnam to the NLF in the South. However, the operation hardly affects the trail since it was simply and easily built, the trail can also be quickly repaired. The situation was worsened by the infamous Tet Offensive incident where the NLF combined the force with the North Vietnamese to launch an attack in major cities and places in South Vietnam on the 31 January 1968, the Vietnamese New Year. By doing so, Ho Chi Minh hoped to break the aggressive will of Lyndon Johnson as well as to humiliate and bring peace to Vietnam. However, Ho Chi Minh militarily lost the battle as the North Vietnamese’s casualty was as high as 50,000, yet the North Vietnamese believed; they gained psychological triumph against the Superpower America as the guerrilla forces were able to capture the US Embassy, major Army quarters and American bases in South Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Americans were taken aback by strength and tactics of the guerillas troops, signaling the American to disengage and retreat from the war. Notwithstanding, the Tet Offensive had led to turning points in America as the incident strongly shaped public opinions at home. While Washington was busy fighting the War in Vietnam, the war at home was on the horizon. By deliberately getting involved in Vietnam, the US’ situation at home was pressurized by the anti-war sentiments which grew among the Americans, significantly among college students and intellectuals who were in favor of the retreat. Because the Vietnam War was the first major war which had been televised nation-wide, 50 million Americans back home were experiencing the War as intense and immediate as those away from home; often media distorted facts in favor of the retreat. For instance, in James Loewen’s writing Lies My Teacher Told Me: “During his lectures his audience was asked to estimate the level of education among those who were against the Vietnam War in 1971. They guessed that 90% of college graduates were against the war, but only 60% of those with only a high-school education. Almost a complete reversal of the facts (Clyne, 2002).” Undoubtedly, the role of media led to in an increase in public awareness while shaping public opinions regarding the situation. The American working class citizens who made up 80% of the total population came realize the cost of the war upon themselves. Unlike, college students, the anti-war sentiments among the working class stemmed from their personal experiences when their children were coming home mentally or physically broken, and in many cases, their children travelled home in body bags. The American working class then engaged in demonstrations such as labor union strikes or refusing to pay taxes in hope to pressurize Johnson to end the war. The anti-war movement became explosive once the fact about what really happened at a small village, My Lai finally revealed by 1968, oppositions against the war grew greater. As illustrated in Adam Silverman and Kristin Hill‘s writing of the My Lai massacre: An American Tragedy: "The American soldiers shot at anything that moved, including cattle, chickens, birds and worse yet: civilians. The villagers did not offer any resistance; still the Soldiers threw handgranades into huts, shouted orders and killed without distinction. The atrocities continued throughout the morning. Infants were killed, young children shot and women raped at gunpoint. Before long 500 civilians lay dead on the ground. But their work wasn't finished… after this the village was set on fire. Bodies, homes, supplies, food - everything was burned (Clyne, 2002)" As a result, the massacre fundamentally shifted the American’s view towards the war; domestic opposition grew even more intense and became uncontrollable. As My Lai massacre was a perfect example of human rights violations and demoralizing actions in which, through media, the Americans came to learn that the soldiers were not fighting the righteous combat as the government proposed. Gradually, American propaganda of justifying the battle in Vietnam as a righteous fight seem to fade away as the American solider was torn down inside, facing the issue of combat refusal. Such was another problem the soldier faced. Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr. stated in his writing of the Collapse of the Armed Forces that the issue of combat refusal among American combatants was common. Soldiers disobeyed the higher command to fight and do not wear uniform. He gave an example of one combatant stationed at Cu Chi, who refused to fight while simply packed his belongings and left the base to visit a friend at another base. Colonel further claimed that many American garrisons were disarmed as the soldiers locked up weapons and machinery themselves. In worse cases, the unpopular authoritarian high ranking official was priced on his death. For instance, $10,000 USD is an award for the death of the colonel Weldon Honeycutt once his initiated command was costly and failed. Although the exact number of death was difficult to estimate, however, an unofficial American Army webpage suggested that between 1969 and 1973, 1,400 of American officers died under suspicious circumstances. As tension both at home and oversea were about to reach its peak, Johnson ran out of his term in office. Majority of American people were discontented by Johnson’s foreign policy towards Vietnam where, in the end, the burden lied upon the American citizens. Not to a surprise, he was unable to secure his presidency in the second run. Richard Nixon, Republican’s candidate, then succeeded as the President with the election campaign of ending the war with honor. Nixon realized the current situation in America where the go for war is furiously opposed, hence, according to, Great Power Diplomacy Since 1914, Nixon, secretly, threatened the North Vietnam with nuclear use. However, the North Vietnam was careless (Rich, 2003). Soon, Nixon formulated a new U.S foreign policy in which he hoped to help South Vietnam through a substantial increase in training and equipment of the South Vietnamese force while the American troops would be flexibly withdrawing from Vietnam. Nixon declared, by 15th December 1969, 60,000 American combat would be out of Vietnam (pp. 901-909). This policy is also known as Vietnamization. This is the way of leaving all responsibility of waging the war to the South Vietnamese as they were asked to draft more troops to continue on without the U.S combat support. Meanwhile, the U.S promised to furnish military and economic assistance requested by the South Vietnam. The U.S, likewise would engage in air war to systematically weakening the North Vietnam via heavy air bombing by the Army of Republic of Vietnam. This was to destroy communications and supply line as well as sanctuaries of the North Vietnam. Notwithstanding, to American people, Vietnamization merely was a fig leaf to cover its own failure, a way of accepting the American failure. The Bitter End By January 1973, after continuous interactions with China, the Nixon Administration was able to bring North Vietnam to the negotiation table in order to sign the proposed Paris Peace Agreement. He believed, if the Agreement were signed, the NLF were then withdraw from South Vietnam and the US would then leave Vietnam with honor. Similarly, Hanoi believed the arrested NLF leaders would be released if they agree to the Agreement. Thus, the U.S and Democratic Republic of Vietnam signed the treaty, ending hostilities between the two countries. Unfortunately, the Vietminh Thieu Ky did not abandon South Vietnam as Nixon believed, instead, they continued on the battle until the Fall of Saigon in 1975 where the South Vietnam economically and militarily collapsed, Vietnam, in the end, became a unified country under communist rule of Ho Chi Minh once again. After years of fighting, the powerful United States gained nothing from the War against a small developing country, Vietnam but a major embarrassment which came with a great cost. From the War, the United States learned their lessons, mainly, not to underestimate the power of nationalism which, in return, created the powerful fighting force while the strategic location like that of Vietnam can not be disregarded. Most importantly, the American’s public opinions towards the war must be taken into consideration before initiating the War, prospect advantageous and stakes needed to be meticulously identified prior getting involved in a large-scale domestic intervention.
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