Vietnam War 1950-1975
The Vietnam War is usually regarded within the framework of the Cold War – the name for the of-stage conflict that started immediately after World War II and bore the ulterior motive of winning the universal ruling by two superpowers the US and the Soviet Union. Though the Cold War usually was led by means of economic measures (such as selective donations and import and export restrictions, etc. ) and through intelligence agency activities, namely the CIA in the US and the KGB in the USSR (assassinations and intimidations, etc.
), history encounters some deplorable examples of military actions known as the Korean War, the Hungarian Revolution, the Vietnam War, the Afghan War and some others that took form of civil wars. Nobody can name the exact date when the Vietnam War broke out. Some hold that it coincides with the France attempt to renew its influence in Indochina that failed with France being defeated by the Viet Minh at the battle of Dien Bien Phu and resulted in Indochina’s Declaration of Independence of 1945 (which covered also Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam) (2).
Thus, in 1954 according to the Geneva Accords of 1954 Vietnam was divided into two antagonistic parts – Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) under the influence of the US and with Ngo Dinh Diem at the head; and communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam with Ho Chi Minh being the President. Consequently, at first, the Vietnam War was a civil war for independence of one at the beginning and then two separate independent states but ended up with becoming confrontation to communism and spread of its influence in Indochina.
However, others share opinion that the Vietnam War is the Second Indochina War (the first is a conflict between France and the Viet Minh) between North Vietnam allied with the US and South Vietnam allied with the Soviet Union and China. The ostensible reason was the reunion of the split country (Vietnam). Followers of this point of view consider the beginning of the Vietnam War to be the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1964. On August 1964 the Washington Post reported hard news under the headline “American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New Aggression” (3).
The New York Times followed it with words: “President Johnson has ordered retaliatory action against gunboats and ‘certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam’ after renewed attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin” (3). The official story went that North Vietnam undertook an ‘unprovoked attack’ against a U. S. destroyer USS Maddox that was in international water zone on ‘routine patrol’ in the Tonkin Gulf and two days later North Vietnamese boats attacked two U. S. ships (4). President Lyndon B. Johnson responded with a message to U.
S. Congress, which was put on the air and in which he informed that he had “directed air action against gunboats and supporting facilities used in these hostile operations” (the so-called attacks against the U. S. boats in the Gulf of Tonkin) (5). The President went on expressing his determination on behalf of the United States “in supporting freedom and in protecting peace in southeast Asia” (5). He summarized his new (according to his words “unchanged since 1954”) policy in the form of four suggestions: 1. America keeps her word.
Here as elsewhere, we must and shall honor our commitments. 2. The issue is the future of southeast Asia as a whole. A threat to any nation in that region is a threat to all, and a threat to us. 3. Our purpose is peace. We have no military, political, or territorial ambitions in the area. 4. This is not just a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity. Our military and economic assistance to South Vietnam and Laos in particular has the purpose of helping these countries to repel aggression and strengthen their independence (5).
Literally that meant beginning of military action in the open, which did not keep waiting and followed on August 3 with an attack on North Vietnam and bombardment of the Vinh Sonh radar installation (2). On August 7 1964 the Congress issued the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which ran that “the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression (5).
This document can rightfully be regarded as declaration of war against North Vietnam and it empowered the President to fulfill his plan and act in compliance with the strategy he had previously announced. It should be noted that though the Resolution was called to be ‘joint’ and presupposed unanimous decision, in fact, there were two senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, who voted against it (5). Unfortunately, there appeals were not heard and their opinion not taken into account. The truth about events in the Gulf of Tonkin appeared to be quite different.
The American destroyer USS Maddox was intentionally embayed to provoke coastal service and in such a way give ‘casus belli’ (cause for war). In answer to attack of two torpedo boats of North Vietnam USS Maddox destroyed one of them, while suffering only surface damage herself, and retreated hastily. As was quite right noticed by a scientist scholar Daniel C. Hallin, reciprocal attacks on North Vietnam were “part of a campaign of increasing military pressure on the North that the United States had been pursuing since early 1964” (6).
Therefore, the President Johnson’ order to ‘retaliate’ to North Vietnam had, in fact, neither reasonable excuse nor legal ground. Noticeably, that top state officials in the Washington themselves doubted the attack against the U. S. boat taking place. News from the Tonkin Gulf were very indistinct and blurred and officers in their reports made reference to “freak weather effects,” “almost total darkness” and an “overeager sonarman” who “was hearing ship’s own propeller beat” (3).
Citing testimony of one of the pilots who were in the air that night, squadron commander James Stockdale, “destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there…. There was nothing there but black water and American fire power” (Herzog 31). And Lyndon Johnson explained presence of the destroyer in the waters near North Vietnam’s coast by claiming that Navy was just “shooting at whales out there” (5).
No matter how unfeasible and ridiculous the President’s words seem to be now, he found complete support among the U. S. mass media. In harmony with misleading Johnson’s speech one of the American newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, prompted the American people to take a sober view of things and “face the fact that the Communists, by their attack on American vessels in international waters, have themselves escalated the hostilities” (5). With regard to this, the author Tom Wells in his book relating the Vietnam War pinpoints that the U.
S. papers of those time “described the air strikes that Johnson launched in response as merely `tit for tat’ — when in reality they reflected plans the administration had already drawn up for gradually increasing its overt military pressure against the North” and mentions the fact of “almost exclusive reliance [of media] on U. S. government officials as sources of information” that was accompanied with their “reluctance to question official pronouncements on ‘national security issues'” (8).
The already mentioned above American scholar, Daniel Hallin, covering in his book “Uncensored War” the Gulf of Tonkin events notices that journalists had “a great deal of information available which contradicted the official account [of Tonkin Gulf events]; it simply wasn’t used. The day before the first incident, Hanoi had protested the attacks on its territory by Laotian aircraft and South Vietnamese gunboats” and adds that it was a common knowledge that before the mentioned incident South Vietnam had carried “’covert’ operations against North Vietnam […
] with U. S. support and direction” (6). To cut the long story short, the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a completely trumped-up case and but for it there would have not been a reason for death of (according to the official data) 250 thousands of South Vietnamese and approximately 58 thousands of Americans on the one side and about 1 million 100 thousands of Vietnamese on the other side of trenches, as well as 2-4 (data varies) million of civilian casualties (2).
These are only official reports, but according to the Vietnam veterans’ testimony body count was often falsified and each day someone had to pay with his own life because the United States refused to admit what everybody round had already known and because President Nixon did not want to become “the first President to lose a war” (9).
From the very beginning the Vietnam War was irrational and its main purpose was neither protecting freedom and peace in southeast region nor averting threat to the US, but blood bath for the sake of resisting the Soviet Union and attempt to redistribute map of the world and take power over new territory. As the Vietnam veterans put it judging from their own first-hand experience, “there is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America.
And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy” (9). Instead of unmerciful killers they found peaceful inhabitants whose major wish was to work in their rice fields “without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart” and did not even make difference between communism and democracy (9).
To sum up, the Gulf Tonkin incident played the integral role and, in fact, initiated the Vietnam War. But for it, the U. S as well as other countries would not have to turn another tragic page in their history and lives of many innocent people would have been saved. And not only the U. S. government, but also the wider public should be put blame on, because as Hanley mentioned: “We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling us the truth” (Hanley 37).
- Renny Christopher, The Viet Nam War/The American War: Images and Representations in Euro-American and Vietnamese Exile Narratives, 1996
- Vietnam War. Retrieved on October 7, 2005 from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vietnam_war&redirect=no
- 30-year Anniversary: Tonkin Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War. Retrieved on October 7, 2005 from