Assess the view that it was a lack of understanding that caused the USA to become involved in the Vietnam War during the 1960s The USA’s lack of understanding concerning the situation in Vietnam during the 1960s was a substantial factor which lead them to increase their military force in Vietnam and ultimately become involved in the Vietnam War. However there was also a number of other factors which contributed to this action. Factors including the Cold War and the USA’s fear of communism as well as issues within the US government and the department of defence also contributed to these decisions.
However it is clear that their lack of understanding was the main reason the USA escalated the situation in Vietnam to a full scale war. The lack of understanding of the Vietnamese situation during the 1960s was the main reason the USA became involved in the Vietnam War because it lead them to make a series of bad decisions which in conjunction with other factors lead to the Vietnam War. Their limited knowledge of Vietnamese history meant they did not understand the feelings of the average Vietnamese person towards foreign people and the nationalistic views they held as a legacy of this history.The fact Vietnam had constantly struggled from independence from China, overthrowing Chinese rule in 938 and 1428 was overlooked by the USA.
Also nationalistic leaders in heroes and leaders in Vietnamese history such as the Trung sisters were overlooked. This meant the USA were not able to form a stable government in Vietnam with wide support because they did not understand what the people wanted in their government, which was shaped by their long history of struggle against foreign rule.The nationalism which the Vietnamese people felt due to their history then gave rise to support for nationalistic leaders such as Ho Chi Minh who became a popular leader due to his ideas concerning the independence of Vietnam and the increased rights of Vietnamese people. Because the USA did not understand this support for Ho, instead of attempting to set up a stable government in South Vietnam under Ho they backed Diem, who set up an unpopular authoritarian style of government.The USA did this because Ho was seen as a communist, however had they been willing to come sort of compromise and allow him to become leader of South Vietnam, it is likely he would have been popular and able to set up a unified Vietnam without the need for any war. Also elements of Vietnamese culture which also came from its history of rice farming were overlooked by the USA. This is important because it lead them to establish a highly anti-communist government under the very unpopular Ngo Dinh Diem.In 1956, this government reversed many of the land reforms introduced by the Viet Minh which meant they peasants (who made up the majority of the population) had to buy or pay rent on land they had previously owned.
This made the Diem regime very unpopular and allowed communists from North Vietnam and from within Vietnam to stir up opposition to the government and cause protests. This lead the US to begin increasing troop numbers in Vietnam and as communist opposition grew troop numbers also grew until a full scale war developed throughout Vietnam in which the USA was strongly involved.Also the USA’s monolithic view of communism evident through their involvement in the Korean war and through the formation of organisations such as SEATO lead to the USA becoming involved in the Vietnam War. This is because it lead them to believe that it was essential to prevent Vietnam from becoming communist to prevent the rest of SE Asia from becoming communist.
The Cold War and the USA’s fear of communism was another major factor, other than their lack of understanding of the situation in Vietnam which caused them to become involved in Vietnam.This is because they believed that if Vietnam fell to communism the rest of south east Asia was doomed to the same fate. Their fear of communism is highlighted by political policies such as the Truman Doctrine, a policy introduced in 1947 which announced that the USA would provide the necessary economic and military aid to stem the spread of communism. As a consequence the USA were bound to become involved in the Vietnam war because during the early 1960s it was believed that if Vietnam fell to communism so would the rest of South East Asia.This view rose from The Domino Theory which by 1950 was generally accepted by member of the US Department of State and first mentioned in a public speech by President Eisenhower in April of 1954.
This idea also encouraged the USA to become involved in the Vietnam because it caused them to support the French in The First Indochina War up until 1954 and to enter Vietnam after that and attempt to stamp out all communist activity in South Vietnam. This was an important contribution towards the USA’s decison become involved in the Vietnam War.Their fear of communism led them to make other bad decisions such as supporting the Diem regime in South Vietnam which became very unpopular with the peasant and Buddhist majorities due to Diem’s religious policies and land reforms. The US government began to back Diem in 1955 due to his strong anti communist ideology. Being catholic, he allowed his brother to ban the practice of Buddhism and introduced unpopular land reforms in 1955 and 1956 which stripped peasants of their land.As mentioned above this encouraged protests and communist activity in South Vietnam which the USA responded to ever increasing numbers which eventually lead to a full scale war. However overall it can be said that the Cold War and the USA’s fear of communism was a relatively minor factor compared to the USA’s misunderstanding of the situation in Vietnam during the 1960s.
Issues within the US government, particularly between the Departments of Defence and state were yet another factor, other than their lack of understanding of the situation which caused them to become involved in the Vietnam War.The first major issue was conflict between the Department of State and Department of Defence as to how the situation in Vietnam should be solved. Until the Gulf of Tonkin incident the US Department of state wanted a more diplomatic and peaceful solution to the Vietnamese situation during the early 1960s. On the other hand the Department of Defence believed a military approach was necessary to solve the problems of communism in Vietnam. This became evident when Robert McNamara, then the Secretary of Defence said””.This is important because this was the part of government primarily responsible for increasing US involvement in Vietnam which lead to the start of the Vietnam War. The next major issue was the change in leadership which occurred in late November and early December during 1963, when John Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson assumed his role as president.
This is important because many historians believe Kennedy wanted to solve the problems in Vietnam more diplomatically than militarily (although this is debatable). On the other hand it was believed that Johnson was more inclined to solving the situation militarily.Therefore it can be debated this change in leadership during a very important time was partially responsible for the USA entering the Vietnam War. Another important issue was the controversial Gulf of Tonkin which occurred in July and August during 1964 incident which created more support for the war in the USA and more importantly caused congress to unanimously pass The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on the 7th, August, 1964. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was a piece of legislation which authorised the president to “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the U.S. and to prevent further aggression. ” This effectively allowed President Johnson to commit troops to Vietnam without the congress having to agree to declare war on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the increase in public support greatly influenced the decision to enter the Vietnam War. These various issues within the US government in conjunction with their philosophical attachment to democracy and fear of communism was a significant cause of the USA becoming involved in the Vietnam War yet not as substantial a cause as their lack of understanding of Vietnam.In conclusion, it can be said that the USA’s lack of understanding of the situation in Vietnam during the 1960s was a substantial factor yet not the only factor which caused them to become involved in the Vietnam War. It is clear the Cold War and the USA’s Fear of Communism was another significant factor. Also issues within the US government were a major cause of their involvement in the war.