Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


John Dumbrell, Vietnam: American Involvement at Home and Abroad


John Dumbrell, Vietnam: American Involvement at Home and Abroad

BAAS Pamphlet No. 22 (First Published 1992)

ISBN: 0 946488 12 6
  1. Chronology
  2. List Of Acronyms
  3. Introduction
  4. Origins Of The War
    i. From Containment to Dien Bien Phu: 1946-1954ii. From Geneva to the 1963 Assassinations
  5. The Tragedy Of Lyndon Johnson
    i. Escalation and Americanisation: 1964-1967ii. Tet and After: 1968
  6. Nixon And Kissinger
    i. Nixon’s Strategyii. Widening the War: 1969-1972iii. The Peace Process; 1972-1975
  7. Interpreting The War
    i. Explaining American Involvement: Quagmires and Turning Pointsii. Explaining American Failure: The Debate over Military Strategyiii. American Public Opinion and the Antiwar Movement
  8. Conclusion
  9. Guide To Further Reading
  10. Notes
British Association for American Studies All rights reserved. No part of this pamphlet may he reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. The publication of a pamphlet by the British Association for American Studies does not necessarily imply the Association’s official approbation of the opinions expressed therein.

1. Outline Chronology

1945-1953: Presidency of Harry Truman

August: Viet Minh comes to power after Japanese surrender
November/December: War begins between French and Viet Minh
May: Truman Administration now clearly backing the French war effort

1953-1961: Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower

7 May: French defeated at Dien Bien Phu
8 May 21 July: Geneva Conference: Vietnam divided
June: Diem forms government in South
April: Final French withdrawal
20 December: Establishment of National Liberation Front (NLF)

1961-1963: Presidency of John Kennedy

July: Neutralisation of Laos
19-25 October: Taylor-Rostow mission
November: Military coup against Diem

1963-1969: Presidency of Lyndon Johnson

7 August: Gulf of Tonkin resolution
24 February: Rolling Thunder bombing begins
8 March: 3,500 US Marines land at Danang
April and October: Mass antiwar rallies in US
30-31 January: Tet offensive begins
26 March: “Wise Men” meeting
31 March: President Johnson announces bombing limit and withdraws from Presidential race

1969-1974: Presidency of Richard Nixon

Troop withdrawals
18 March: Secret bombing of Cambodia begins
4 August: Kissinger begins secret meetings with North Vietnamese leaders
October-November: Mass antiwar protest in US
March: Thieu’s “land-to-the-tiller” reforms
30 April: Cambodian invasion
4 May: Kent State killings
8 February: South Vietnamese army (ARVN) invade Laos
30 March: Beginning of the North Vietnamese army’s Easter offensive
18 December: Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong begins
27 January: Peace agreement signed

1974-1977: Presidency of Gerald Ford

30 April: Fall of Saigon


2. List of Acronyms

AID Agency for International Development
ARVN Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnamese army)
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
CORDS Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support
MAAG (American) Military Assistance Advisory Group
MACV Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (successor to MAAG)
NLF National Liberation Front (South Vietnamese communist organisation)
NVA North Vietnamese Army
PLAF People’s Liberation Armed Forces (NLF military wing)
PRG Provisional Revolutionary Government (post-1968 name for NLF)
SEATO South East Asia Treaty Organisation


3. Introduction

The Vietnam war divided American society at every level. Received truths about the conduct of American foreign policy, about Presidential power, about America’s role in the world, about the entire national purpose, were all called into question. An identifiable “Vietnam generation”—former student radicals, yes, but also military and business leaders, academics and creative artists, representatives of “middle” and of “fringe” America, even Presidential candidates -emerged to shape and question American cultural and political values. The Presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush offered different responses to the memories of Vietnam. The need to recognise Vietnam’s “lessons”, or alternatively to exorcise the “Vietnam syndrome”, hovered above Carter’s foreign policy, Reagan’s reassertion of American power in the early 1980s, and George Bush’s handling of the 1990-91 crisis and war in the Persian Gulf.

The passions and divisions generated by the war have still to collapse into purely academic and scholarly debate. Much of the war’s history has, in fact, been written not by academic historians, but by journalists, political memoirists and polemicists of various kinds. Some basic questions have still to attain any consensual resolution. How and why did the United States become so deeply immersed in so unlikely and remote a place as Vietnam? Why did America lose? (Did America lose?) To what extent were particular patterns and structures of decision-making to blame? Was the war lost by civilian or by military leaders? What would have constituted a winning military strategy? Was the war lost through domestic dissent? Was American involvement morally justified? Perhaps, above all, there remains the question as to what kind of a war it really was. At one level, this is a military question; the debate among rival military theorists has been particularly intense. Was it essentially a conventional war or was it, after all, a guerrilla-based insurgency? Was it a civil war? In political and moral terms, was it in any sense a war for freedom? A war against international communism? Against “the people”? Against North Vietnam? Against North and South Vietnam?

We shall return to the central questions in Sections 5 and 6, after surveying the course of US-Vietnamese relations between 1946 and 1975. Before embarking upon this survey, however, it is essential, by way of introduction, to draw attention to two major features which shaped the backdrop to the war: the legacy of French colonialism and the development of the American doctrine of containment.

Vietnam did not uccumb to European imperialism until the mid­19th century. French colonialism involved a familiar alliance between missionary zeal and politico-economic aggrandisement. Saigon emerged as a cosmopolitan financial centre and hub of rice exports to Japan and China. The French sought to exploit the ethnic, dynastic, religious and geographical divisions within the country. Vietnam was divided into three separate administrative units: Tonkin in the North, Annam in the centre and Cochinchina in the South. Colonial rule rested upon coercion and on the immiseration of the peasantry through land seizures and punitive taxation. Shortly before his death in 1945 President Franklin Roosevelt remarked to former Secretary of State Cordell Hull:

France has had the country for nearly one hundred years, and the people are worse off than they were in the beginning. France has milked it for one hundred years. The people of Indo-China deserve something better …[1]

The French colons were backed by elements from the Vietnamese mandarin class and by the (often Chinese) commercial sector. Yet Vietnamese nationalism grew: initially under the tutelage of scholar­leaders; but—against a background of a disaffected peasantry and social dislocations caused by urbanisation—increasingly associated with the Indochina Communist Party, founded in 1930.

As Roosevelt’s comment showed, there was considerable American sympathy in the 1930s and early 1940s for the anti-imperialist cause. The nationalist and communist opposition was allied with the US in the struggle against Japanese forces which, in concert with French collaborationists, controlled the area between 1940 and 1945. (In 1945, the “August revolution” brought Vietnamese communists temporarily to power). The American Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA, worked closely with anti Japanese communist guerrillas in this period. FDR’s scheme for a postwar Indochina centred on the idea of “trusteeship”, a phased transfer of power to anticolonial forces. However, the unpredictability of China’s future cast a shadow over this idea and, under his successor, President Harry Truman, it was abandoned. The US was not directly involved in the re-establishment of French rule in 1945-46, although it acquiesced in it. The return of French power was facilitated in the South by the British, who were concerned about their own postwar imperial future. (British troops occupied Saigon and environs between September 1945 and March 1946). In the North the French comeback represented part of a bargain made with China.[2]

In a speech to Congress on March 12, 1947, in what became known as the Truman Doctrine, the President announced that nations were now faced with a clear choice between communism, a system “based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority”, and freedom.[3] Containment of communism, a doctrine originally conceived by diplomat George Kerman as a policy for Europe, was to become America’s global priority. Asian communism, despite its infinite complexity and interpenetration with anticolo­nialism, was seen as merely the Eastern flank of expansionary world communism. To many Republicans the “fall” of China to communism in 1949 sugested that traitors were at work in Washington. For virtually all US policy-makers the “fall” reinforced arguments for global containment. In April 1950 National Security Council Resolution 68 was forwarded to Truman. It outlined a worldwide policy of militarised containment, “a policy of calculated and gradual coercion”. In the same month the joint Chiefs of Staff declared Southeast Asia to be “a vital segment in the line of containment of communism”.[4] Two months later, the North Korean invasion of South Korea seemed to confirm all America’s worst fears. Small countries, even those with little obvious significance for US interests, must not be allowed to “fall”. Once the row of dominoes—small countries and large—began crashing, then liberty, even American liberty, was in danger of extinction.

Detailed exposition of the developing Cold War and of containment theory is beyond the scope of this pamphlet. Suffice it to say that, between 1946 and the early 1960s, the US became in large degree a “national security state” rooted in the doctrine of anti-communist containment. The doctrine permeated public and private belief systems. Thus, a West Virginia carpenter, interviewed in 1963 as part of the first Harris survey of opinion on Vietnam, declared: “If we don’t stand up for people oppressed by Communism, we’ll soon be oppressed ourselves”.[5]

4. Origins of the War

From Containment to Dien Bien Phu: 1946-1954
Between 1946 and
1954, the containment of communism became the fundamental stated purpose of US foreign policy. Against this background, the United States slowly became implicated in the war being fought in Indochina between the French colonial power and Viet Minh nationalists led by Ho Chi Minh. A formal declaration of Vietnamese independence, consciously modelled on Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of 1776, was promulgated by Ho on September 2, 1945. In leading the war against France, Ho stood in a long line of Vietnamese nationalists, promising to rid Vietnam of foreign inter­lopers and to institute the “mandate of heaven”. Ho, however, was also a communist and the Viet Minh a communist organisation. As the Pentagon Papers, the US Department of Defence study of Vietnam policy commissioned in 1967, were to note, the Viet Minh had been formed and led by the Communist Party in Indochina. This fact, however, did not prevent Ho and his organisation from being regarded in Indochina as the authentic voice of Vietnamese nationalism. The Pentagon Papers concluded that the “Viet Minh was irrefutably nationalist, popular and patriotic”.[6]

By the early 1950s, the United States was solidly backing the French cause. In May 1950, President Truman undertook to provide 750,000 dollars in economic and ten million in military aid. A year later, the US was underwriting approximately 40 per cent of French war costs; by 1954, the figure was nearer 80.

As noted above, the period before 1950 had seen some indications of an alternative policy. In the late 1940s, American diplomats in Vietnam, along with the State Department’s Far Eastern bureau, agreed that Soviet links to Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist movement could not be detected. Ho himself in the mid-1940s felt that the US was independent Vietnam’s best hope as a backer. Ho repeatedly requested American help, even promising that an independent Indochina could be a “fertile field for American capital and enterprise”.[7] By 1950, however, the American die had been cast in favour of French colonialism. The desire of the Truman Administration (and especially of Secretary of State Dean Acheson) to be seen in the face of domestic criticism to be applying the doctrine of world communist containment to Asia clearly underpinned these decisions. The Chinese revolution of 1949 was rapidly followed by Chinese and Soviet recognition of Ho’s regime. These events hardened American attitudes. As war broke out in Korea in June 1950, Vietnam was already being incorporated as part of the Asian sector of the Cold War battlefield.

The United States was also anxious to augment French governmental authority for reasons not directly connected with events in Asia. The power of the French Communist Party (of which Ho Chi Minh, incidentally, was a founder-member) was a factor here, as was the need for French help in establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. French and American interests in Vietnam, however, by no means coincided. France was fighting to retain and re-establish its empire; any concessions it made, such as the 1948 installation of the Ammanese Bao Dai as head of the “State of Vietnam”, were simply cosmetic changes designed, at least in part, to make it easier for Americans to back the war.

US policy-makers continued to favour an independent, non­communist Vietnam. Rather than to a restoration of French imperialism, they looked to an economically resurgent Japan becoming, in Acheson’s phrase, the “workshop of Asia”. The likelihood of Japan emerging as the fulcrum of a new liberal capitalist regional order was seen to depend upon access to Indochinese raw materials and markets. The immediate concern for US policy-makers was the military containment of communism. A State Department working group reported in February 1950:

… failure of the French Bao Dai “experiment” would mean the communization of Indochina. It is Bao Dai (or a similar anti­communist successor); there is no alternative.[8]

President Eisenhower and his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles sought to square the circle of anti colonialist modernisation and anti­communism in their “liberation” doctrine, which had anti-imperialist as well as anti-communist overtones. In the short term, however, Ike and Dulles were prepared to fund the French effort, with no guarantee that such backing would entitle the US to dictate the war’s terms. Soon France’s inability to hold up the falling Vietnamese domino became apparent. The siege and impending French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in early 1954 triggered a major debate within America’s political leadership over the nature of the Indochinese commitment. Eisenhower himself agreed with General Matthew Ridgway that an open-ended US ground force commitment, especially so soon after the achievement of peace in Korea, was unacceptable. The President further dismissed the possibility of once again using nuclear weapons in Asia, and argued that unilateral American military intervention would “lay us open to the charge of imperialism or colonialism …”.[9]

The Dien Bien Phu hawks were led by Admiral Arthur Radford and Vice-President Richard Nixon, who subsequently was consistently to hold that American inaction in 1954 set the stage for all future difficulties. Congressional and allied doubts over military action also affected the eventual decision. No doubt Dulles would have liked the British to have, in Anthony Short’s phrase, signed “his shotgun permit”.[10] However, there was no concerted American enthusiasm in 1954 for rescuing the French from an embarrassing imperialist nemesis. Vietnam was to become the object of American nation-building.

From Geneva to the 1963 Assassinations
With America providing
neither air nor ground support, the French garrison surrendered on May 7, 1954. French withdrawal, and the creation of a political vacuum which the US was likely to occupy, appeared imminent. At an international conference in Geneva (April July 1954), eventual agreement was reached on the partitioning, on a provisional basis, of Vietnam along the Seventeenth Parallel. Viet Minh and French forces were to regroup North and South of the line respectively, observing an indefinite ceasefire. The Final Declaration at Geneva (to which only France, Britain, the Soviets and China gave nequivocal support) required that free elections be held, North and South, by July 1956; and that neither sector was to join any military alliance nor receive any significant outside military support. To the Viet Minh the settlement was a disappointment. It effectively involved a retreat from areas in the South which had long been under communist/nationalist control. They were pressured into cooperating with the settlement by the Soviets and China, who wished to avoid provoking the United States, and contented themselves with the prospect of victory in the elections. The initial American reaction was to oppose the “loss” of North Vietnam. Dunes and Radford concocted another plan of intervention (July 1954) only to have it vetoed by Ike and Ridgway. Official US policy emerged in a promise not to “disturb” the settlement by threat or the use of force. Slowly, the Americans turned to the consolidation of anti-communism in the South: notably around the figure of Ngo Dinh Diem.

An autocratic, anti-French Catholic nationalist, Diem was asked by Bao Dai to form a government in June 1954. (He deposed Bao Dai the following year and proclaimed the “Republic of Vietnam”). Progressively, the Eisenhower Administration—most famously through the offices of Colonel Edward Lansdale, working through the CIA station in Saigon—insinuated American influence in the interstices of the Diem regime. Consolidation of Diem’s authority, notably against non-communist sectarian opposition, was complemented by the drawing-in of South Vietnam into SEATO, a new American-dominated military alliance. This, along with the US military presence (coordinated, from April 1956, through the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), set up to train Diem’s army) demolished any remaining American commitment to the Geneva agreements. Protesting that free elections would be impossible in the North anyway, Diem and his American sponsors abandoned any prospect of free elections in the South as well. These developments, along with increasing repression of former Viet Minh sympathisers in the South, provoked a communist response. Northern communist leaders were preoccupied with consolidating their rule above the Seventeenth Parallel; however, they also began to accede to requests from Southern party members and supporters—never an organisationally separate body—to re-prioritise the “Southern revolution”. In September 1960, the Hanoi leadership endorsed plans to set up the National Liberation Front (NLF) in the South to lead the “people’s democratic national revolution” there. (In February 1961, various armed units were combined into the People’s Liberation Armed Force (PLAF), the NLF’s military wing).

When John F. Kennedy became President in 1961, he inherited an American commitment in Vietnam which was institutionalised and even, to a degree, militarised. The Eisenhower Administration had injected about one billion dollars into Indochina—most of it into Vietnam—since 1955. Kennedy inherited the CIA and MAAG presences in Vietnam, with between 800 and 900 American “advisers”. Alternative policies had been abandoned: not only the embryonic anti colonial, pro-Ho policy from the 1940s, but also the view advanced by Eisenhower era doubters like General J. Lawton Collins and Secretary of Defence Charles Wilson, who either distrusted Diem or feared the implications of an open-ended American commitment.

To the Vietnam problem, summarised for the new President in a pessimistic report from Colonel Lansdale, Kennedy brought considerable personal knowledge. JFK had visited Vietnam in 1951 and had concluded that America had allied itself “to the desperate efforts of the French regime to hang on to the remnants of an empire”. During the Dien Bien Phu debate in Congress, Kennedy had stated:

I am frankly of the belief that no amount of American military assistance in Indo-China can conquer … “an enemy of the people” which has the sympathy and covert support of the people.[11]

Kennedy believed that Vietnamese hearts and minds could be deflected from communism and towards the viable nationalist alternative offered by Diem. Central to this project were the doctrines of counter-insurgency and pacification. Communist-inspired “wars of national liberation” were to be met and defused by American nation­builders. During Kennedy’s Presidency, a version of this was attempted, with some success, by the elite US Green Beret forces among the montagnards of the Vietnamese Central Highlands. In the long run, however, hearts and minds could not be won without thoroughgoing, democratic political reform and economic (primarily land) reform. And this Diem would not countenance, dismissing all reform as a sign of weakness. As the war deepened, the activist, technocratic attitudes of the Kennedy Administration appeared increasingly lame. Adam Yarmolinsky, Special Assistant to Robert McNamara (Kennedy’s technocratic Secretary of Defence) later characterised them as follows:

…. all we were going to have to do was send one of our Green Berets out into the woods to do battle with one of their crack guerrilla fighters and they would have a clean fight, and the best man would win and they would get together and start curing all the villagers of smallpox.[12]

For all this adrenalin-inducing New Frontierism, JFK’s initial instincts tended to be cautious. He sought to do enough to keep Diem afloat, while maintaining pressure on the regime to reform. Diem, for his part, was anxious to protect his independence, telling Vice­President Lyndon B. Johnson in Spring 1961 that he did not want US ground troops. Better than his American backers, Diem knew the domestic danger of being seen as the agent of a new colonialism. Returning from Saigon in May 1961, Johnson told Kennedy that, if Indochina were not protected from communism, the US might as well pull its defences back to San Francisco. In October national security adviser Walt Rostow and General Maxwell Taylor reported that Diem would sink in the face of communist opposition unless US assistance were dramatically increased.[13]

Although not fully in line with the Taylor-Rostow recommendations, Kennedy’s late 1961 decision to escalate was pivotal. By 1963 over 16,000 US troops—now organised under the auspices of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) and headed by General Paul Harkins—were in Vietnam. By November of that year there appear to have been at least 63 American combat deaths. Three of these occurred during US helicopter involvement in the January 1963 battle of Ap Bac; PLAF guerrillas (now commonly known as “Viet Cong” or, in the case of Harkins and his NIACV staff, “raggedy-ass little bastards”) defeated a far larger and better equipped force from Diem’s army.[14]

Before Ap Bac, it was the complex situation in Laos—a threeway struggle between the communist Pathet Lao, CIA-backed rightists and neutralists—that commanded Kennedy’s attention. His favoured solution, “neutralisation” of Laos, formed the basis of American policy at a further Geneva conference in 1962. In General Maxwell Taylor’s words, there emerged a “tacit understanding” that the fate of Laos, the backdoor to South Vietnam, would be “resolved in Vietnam”.[15] The result of the “tacit understanding” was effectively a partitioning of Laos. Throughout the war, the North Vietnamese, despite direct and indirect American incursions, were able to keep the Laotian backdoor open. From a primitive route the Ho Chi Minh trail was developed into a year-round access to South Vietnam. By the early 1970s, tanks were moving along what American soldiers nicknamed the “Averell Harriman Freeway” (after JFK’s chief negotiator at Geneva in 1962). Kennedy’s policy in Laos also had a more immediate effect on Vietnam. As Paul Nitze (Assistant Secretary of Defence under Kennedy) recalled:

After our shift in Laos, the executive branch decided that if we then appeared to give up in Vietnam, the Kremlin was likely to doubt that we intended to stand firm anywhere.[16]

Meanwhile, the relationship between Diem and the Americans began to evolve like a Jacobean tragedy. At times, and not for the last time in the war, the South Vietnamese puppet appeared to be controlling the American puppeteer. The litany of Diem’s excesses became familiar to sections of the American public now becoming sensitised to events in Vietnam: corruption and nepotism; the flamboyant posturing of his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu and Madam Nhu; the Strategic Hamlet Programme, wherein peasants were forcibly moved from their lands to “protect” them from communists; the intense and unpredictable repression, especially of Buddhists; and the 1963 Buddhist self-immolations (Madam Nhu’s “monk barbecue”). When Henry Cabot Lodge replaced the pro-Diem Frederick Notting as US Ambassador in Saigon in August 1963, he quickly made his view known that Diem was the problem. What followed was, in the words of William Bundy (another assistant to McNamara in this period), a confused but basic American decision:

…. in effect to recognise, and to some extent help create, a situation where a military coup was entirely possible, and then to acquiesce in it.[17]

Leading American policy-makers had come to the view that Diem’s “penchant for self-destruction”[18] should be allowed to run its course. On the first day of the month that was to witness JFK’s own assassination, Diem and his brother were murdered in a military coup.

Much speculation centres on what would have happened had Kennedy lived. He inaugurated a high-level review of Vietnam policy shortly before he died. However, as William Bundy noted, “there really was no significant discussion of the option of withdrawal”.[19] Kennedy was capable of acute insight into the nature of the American dilemma in Vietnam. He was also capable of transgressing his own analysis and of basing policy on a facile optimism.

5. The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson

Escalation and Americanisation: 1964-1967
The ousting of
Diem simply exchanged compromised nationalism for political instability and uncertainty; military and other cliques vied for control. Alarmed by CIA reports, President Lyndon Johnson set his face against Vietnamese “neutralisation”, which he saw as simply “another name for a Communist take-over”.[20] Soon after he assumed office, LBJ was told by McNamara that “the situation has … been deteriorating in the countryside … to a far greater degree than we realised …”.[21] Though not publicly criticised, the blandly optimistic Harkins was made a bureaucratic scapegoat and was replaced at MACV in June 1964, by William Westmoreland. By the end of 1964, the number of American military personnel in Vietnam had risen to 23,300.

Escalation in Vietnam contrasted sharply with Johnson’s portrayal of himself in the 1964 Presidential election campaign against Republican Barry Goldwater as the peace (though as he reasonably pointed out in his memoirs, not at “any price”) candidate. Speaking in Ohio in October 1964, LBJ famously promised: “… we are not about to send American boys … to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”.[22] By this time Johnson had acquired what he was to interpret as a Congressional carte blanche for expanding the war: the Gulf of Tonkin resolution (August 1964). The resolution represented a kind of declaration of war manque. Opposed in the Senate only by Wayne Morse (Oregon) and Ernest Gruening (Alaska), the resolution was a response to reports of North Vietnamese torpedo attacks on American warships. The precise degree of Administration deception regarding the Gulf of Tonkin incidents remains in doubt; it certainly seems likely, for example, that the attack reported as having occurred on August 4 never actually took place. Johnson and McNamara succeeded in eliciting from Congress (with the strong support of the still-loyal Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, William Fulbright) permission to take “all necessary measures”. In retaliating against North Vietnamese shipping and bases, LBJ set the war’s pattern, declaring: “… our response … will he limited and fitting”.[23]

Political instability in Saigon and apparent enemy breakthroughs set the seal on the crucial 1965 escalation decisions. An attack on the US base at Pleiku in February 1965 occasioned the launching of what was to become Rolling Thunder, the air bombardment of North Vietnam which continued intermittently until 1968. As conditions in the South deteriorated, Westmoreland, in March 1965, concluded that it was time “to put our own finger in the dyke”. On March 8, Danang witnessed the first open commitment of US combat forces on the mainland of Asia since the Korean war. Almost immediately, Westmoreland asked Maxwell Taylor to support a request for more marines to protect radio relay units and airstrips at Phu Bai.

Concerned to keep commitments limited and to preserve the Great Society domestic reform programme at home, LBJ refused to accede fully to Westmoreland’s and the Joint Chiefs’ troop requests. In a speech at Johns Hopkins University in April 1965, he announced an economic investment programme, a kind of Great Society for Indochina. Troop levels were raised: to 125,000 in July and to 160,000 by the end of 1965. McNamara informed the President on July 28:

Our objectives … are quite limited in Vietnam. They are, first, to permit the South Vietnamese to be independent and make a free choice of government and second, to establish for the world that Communist externally inspired and supported wars of liberation will not work.[24]

Undoubtedly, commitments were limited. Yet insufficient attention was paid to ascertaining exactly how limited a commitment could secure McNamara’s objectives. Significant casualty levels, moreover, were now inevitable. US personnel previously restricted to patrolling were now to engage in “search and destroy” missions against enemy main forces. The first major confrontation occurred in the Central Highlands (Ia Drang valley) in November 1965. The conflict followed a soon to be familiar pattern: the PLAY took heavy losses but finally retreated into Cambodia to regroup.[25]

Westmoreland’s war of attrition was no more efficacious than that waged by his predecessor, Harkins. It had simply become more thoroughly Americanised. Commenting on the 233 American deaths in four days of fighting at la Drang, US Marine Corps general, Victor Krulak noted that Vo Nguyen Giap (the North Vietnamese military commander):

… was sure that if the cost in casualties and francs was high enough, the French would defeat themselves in Paris. He was right. It is likely that he feels the same about the U.S.A.[26]

By the end of 1967, the US was sustaining significant losses without any outstanding compensatory gains. The antiwar movement was erupting on American college campuses, whose male inhabitants now faced the prospect of being drafted; by mid-1967, some 30,000 draft calls per month were being issued. In South Vietnam, two new leaders had emerged in the persons of Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu; by late 1967 their hold on power was being guaranteed by almost half a million US troops. President Johnson found himself wedged between military demands for all-out war, involving mobilising the reserves and invasion of Cambodia and Laos, and increasingly doveish noises emanating from Pentagon civilians. Characteristically, LBJ continued to oppose total war while sanctioning incremental troop increases. His San Antonio speech of September 1967 indicated that some kind of mutual de-escalation, and even communist participation in a postwar South Vietnamese government, might be acceptable. The current military and political situation was not improving, however. Elections were held in September 1967, but failed to establish wide legitimacy for the Ky-Thieu regime. The annual cost of the American commitment was now approaching 30 billion dollars. In October 1967, McNamara warned LBJ that, if current strategy were held, the President would have to face fatality levels of between 24 and 30,000 by early 1969. The next month, McNamara moved quietly to the Presidency of the World Bank. The divisions in the Pentagon became apparent on 21 November when Westmoreland told the National Press Club that the end of the war was in sight. In fact, Westmoreland’s famous “crossover point”—where communists were being killed faster than they could be replaced—appeared as far away as ever. Moreover, communist forces simply refused to play along with Westmoreland’s big unit war. American use of defoliants, napalm and designation of “free fire zones” further alienated, destroyed and made homeless much of the rural population.

Tet and After: 1968
Between 1964 and 1968, Johnson undertook over 70 peace initiatives, involving 16 bombing pauses. Hanoi never indicated, however, that it would settle for anything less than domination of the entire country. As the 1968 US Presidential election season opened, world attention focused on the remote outpost of Khe Sanh, near the Seventeenth Parallel. Here, US Marines (“like antichrists at vespers”, in Michael Herr’s phrase [27]) were defending themselves under siege conditions, attempting to prevent a replay of Dien Bien Phu. The siege, which lasted until April, now appears to have been a successful diversion, drawing American attention away from the cities. During the late January New Year (Tet) holiday, communist forces launched a coordinated attack on these urban areas. (At the time, Westmoreland interpreted the offensive as an attempt to divert resources from Khe Sanh).

Just as perceptions of the Khe Sanh siege have changed, so it is now clear that at least one of Westmoreland’s military judgements of 1968 was correct: the Tet offensive was a military defeat for North Vietnam. The offensive seems to have been launched with a variety of motives. Hanoi wished to restore declining morale and to demonstrate to the US that the war was unwinnable. It also looked to the precipitation of a general uprising—a “people’s war”—in the South. This manifestly did not occur. Indeed, with approximately one million South Vietnamese made homeless by the offensive, there was even some evidence of a rally towards Thieu and the South Vietnamese government. Westmoreland, claiming that North Vietnam had now cashed all its “military chips”, proposed a strategy to end the war: a troop increase (including reserve mobilisation) of 206,000, an attack on communist sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia, and an amphibious assault on bases in North Vietnam, all accompanied by intensified bombing.

The view from home, however, was very different. Television coverage of the war stunned an American public which had so recently been assured that all was proceeding according to plan. The communists, after all, were able to assault even the US embassy in Saigon and to hold Hue until Feruary 24. Massive US firepower had to be deployed to recover the cities; (the offensive involved some 36 provincial capitals and 64 district towns). The battle for Ben Tre provoked the most notorious of all American military pronounce­ments: “We had to destroy the town to save it”.[28]

Lyndon Johnson was being buffeted on all sides: by antiwar protesters, by journalists, by blacks in inner city riots, by the Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy candidacies, even by his Treasury Secretary Joe Fowler, who warned him about the war’s impact on confidence in the dollar. Westmoreland’s strategic proposals were handed over for appraisal by Clark Clifford, the new Defence Secretary. Instructed to give LBJ the “lesser of evils”, Clifford and other Pentagon civilians embarked on a full-scale review of Vietnam policy. Clifford was deeply disturbed by domestic strife, elite doubts about the war, and also by the apparently poor economic prospects occasioned by the conflict.[29] His report amplified McNamara’s 1967 doubts and urged delegation of military responsibilities to the South Vietnamese themselves, as well as a move away from Westmoreland’s war of attrition. The US should direct its efforts at achieving security for the people in South Vietnam and at urging political and land reform. Total victory, conventionally defined, was seen as an impractical goal. With Eugene McCarthy gaining a 42 per cent vote in the New Hampshire primary on 12 March, there ensued a battle for the soul of Lyndon Johnson. On the one side were Westmoreland, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, Walt Rostow, and his old associate Abe Fortas. According to the latter, “unless we `win’ in Vietnam, our total national personality will … change”. America would succumb to “self-doubt and timidity”.[30] On the other side stood Clifford and White House aide Harry McPherson, who by now were, in effect, urging LBJ to disengage. Even now, however, Johnson was sticking to his middle ground. By 22 March he had decided against Westmoreland’s strategy on the grounds that the situation in South Vietnam was stabilising and the “middle way” was still viable. On 26 March, however, there occurred the crucial meeting of Johnson’s irregular elite advisory group, the “Wise Men”. Dean Acheson told the President that “we can no longer do the job we set out to do in the time we have left and we must begin to disengage”.[31]

From Johnson’s vantage point, he had been undercut by “establish­ment bastards”.[32] His speech of 31 March gave recognition to what LBJ now saw as inescapable political reality. Johnson announced that bombing would be strictly limited to an area north of the demilitarised zone. Peace overtures would be begun and Johnson himself would step down from the Democratic nomination race. The “bastards” may have got him, but still Johnson was not prepared to abandon his “middle way”. The peace process initiated in Paris indicated that LBJ had departed very little from his original agenda. He envisaged a peace settlement without significant prior American troop withdrawals and with a post-settlement allied force left to defend South Vietnam.

General Creighton Abrams, who succeeded Westmoreland in mid­1968, carried on the war of attrition and the “search and destroy” missions. Not only was this strategy now effectively discredited, but it was being increasingly used to draw off American units into prepared killing grounds.

6. Nixon and Kissinger

Nixon’s Strategy
The self-laceration of the Democratic party continued into the tumultuous Chicago convention and culminated in Hubert Humphrey’s November 1968 defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon.

In Vietnam, President Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger sought “peace with honour”, a “reasonable chance” for South Vietnam’s survival—generally thought to require the exclusion of communists from participation in government—or at least a “decent interval” (between US disengagement and communist takeover of the South). The new leadership saw itself as. realist in every sense of that word; unencumbered by moralism, it would attune US policy to US interests and secure a new balance of power. The United States should not be seen to have abandoned an ally in the face of communist expansionism. Defined in these terms, Vietnam policy came to shape the whole of the Nixon-Kissinger “grand design” in foreign policy. Detente with the Soviets and with China was, at one level, designed to bring great-power pressure on North Vietnam to come to terms. The Nixon Doctrine, promulgated at Guam in July 1969, attempted to spell out to Asian countries that the United States was no longer prepared to take on the role of military defender. The Guam remarks clarified and extended Nixon’s answer to the Vietnam puzzle: the policy of Vietnamisation. Described by Ambassador Bunker as an attempt to change the colour of the corpses, Vietnamisation involved the handing over of defence responsibilities to a beefed-up South Vietnamese army (the ARVN). By the end of Nixon’s first term, a series of phased withdrawals had seen US ground troop totals decline from a peak of 543,000 (April 1969) to 25,000. Draft calls were reduced steadily from mid-1969.

Alongside Vietnamisation, Nixon committed himself, characteristi­cally, to not one but two peace processes. Protracted meetings between the combatants occurred not only in the official Paris talks, but also in parallel clandestine talks. Nixon and Kissinger sought to influence and orchestrate such negotiations by, on the one hand, controlled and decisive displays of intense force and, on the other, by threatening to unleash uncontrolled force: the threat of “mad bomber” Nixon. The threat of disinterring the “old” Nixon might help Hanoi see reason. The President instructed Kissinger in the early part of 1972 to:

… tell these sons of bitches that the President is a madman and you don’t know how to deal with him. Once re-elected I’ll be a mad bomber.[33]

In retrospect, the Nixon-Kissinger strategy on Vietnam (“walk [sic] softly and carry a big stick”[34]—as Nixon described it at the 1968 Miami convention) appears more carefully thought out than it probably was. As in other areas of Nixon’s foreign and domestic policies, there is a danger of attributing too much coherence to what was often a combination of muddled calculation, short-term reaction and (unintentional, as well as intentional) transmission of mixed signals.

Widening the War: 1969-1972
American troops in
Vietnam took high casualties during the communist offensive launched in February 1969. Nixon’s response was to combine peace feelers and Vietnamisation with the drawing up of plans for what essentially amounted to all-out war. Without the knowl­edge of Secretary of State, William Rogers, or Defence Secretary, Melvin Laird, a secret plan, Duck Hook, was drawn up. It would have combined a ground invasion of the North with massive bombing (notably of the Northern dyke system) and mining. The plan envisioned the destruction of the Ho Chi Minh trail, possibly through the use of nuclear power. It was never implemented. Kissinger received the plan (drawn up by his military aide, Alexander Haig, and the Pentagon Office of the Chief of Naval Operations) in July 1969. On October 17, Kissinger recommended against it and on November 1, Nixon himself decided to abandon it. At one level, Duck Hook represented a coherent “win-the-war” strategy; twenty years later, Nixon described his rejection of it as the worst decision he made in the White House. The reality was, however, as Nixon and Kissinger appreciated at the time, that Duck Hook threatened a disruption to American domestic peace greater even than the turmoil of 1968. The White House could not rely even on its “silent majority” (much less the elite groups whose support had already cracked) to back a course of action, which would have involved high US losses and whose short-term military success could not be guaranteed.

Despite the Duck Hook confusion and the huge antiwar demonstrations in the US of October/November 1969, Washington was able to take some comfort from the way events were moving in South Vietnam. The communist overextension of 1968 was still being felt, with PLAF combat strength now in decline. In particular, MACV calculated that Southern recruitment to the PLAF was tailing off. Perhaps the war of attrition/ “crossover point” strategy—in abeyance since the onset of Vietnamisation—was beginning to work after all? In addition, President Thieu, under American pressure and with US financial backing, was at last addressing the issue at the heart of rural discontent: land reform. The communists had long exploited the hostility of landless and tenant farmer-peasants to the corrupt Saigon institutions which controlled rural credit, as well as to those landlords against whom various South Vietnamese governments had refused to act. Approximately two-thirds of the rural population in South Vietnam were tenant farmers, many of whom worked extremely small holdings. The communists’ policy of distributing land under their control had long formed the basis of their appeal; it was effected by a subtle marriage of the idiom of Marxian socialism to that of Vietnamese village communal traditionalism.[35] Thieu’s “Land-to-the-Tiller” law (March, 1970) promised to eliminate tenancy and to break—or at least rival—the communists’ ability to use the trump card of land reform. Pacification and rural development programmes also appeared to be making some headway at last, as did political reforms at village level.[36] At a cruder level, the Phoenix programme, a “hit” operation to eliminate civilian communist cadres was (it is now clear) having a devastating impact. Yet the upshot of all this should not be exaggerated. Thieu’s government had not suddenly become legitimated, popular and democratic. The ARVN, in particular, was still unreliable. However, any notion of reviving the Tet people’s rising idea was now ended. The Americans were now fighting the North Vietnamese army (NVA).

Many American lives, and many more Asian, were lost between 1969 and 1973 in pursuing the Nixon version of the “middle course”. Henry Kissinger correctly points out that not “even the strongest critics in the mainstream of American life”[37] wished to imperil US credibility by pulling out in 1969. American public opinion also, between 1969 and 1973, broadly favoured “peace with honour” over immediate withdrawal. The fact still remains, however, that the “middle course” -in effect, troop withdrawals accompanied by tough, periodic military action—simply was never going to result in a peace settlement which amounted to anything more than an American defeat.

Nowhere was the bankruptcy of the Nixon-Kissinger approach made clearer than in the 1969-1971 extensions of the war into Cambodia and Laos. The Cambodia incursions provoked the most severe public and Congressional criticism, and domestic discord, of the entire Vietnam era.

Under LBJ, American transgressions of Laotian and Cambodian neutrality had been confined to CIA-backed anti-communist adventures and B-52 bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail. In April 1969, Nixon ordered the more concerted (and equally illegal) “secret” (MENU) bombing of communist sanctuaries in Cambodia, which was to continue into 1973. Senior Air Force personnel were ordered to falsify information, even concealing from the pilots themselves exactly upon whom the bombs were dropping. On April 30, 1970, Nixon launched an actual invasion. ARVN and US forces went into Cambodia with the intention of destroying the PLAF “headquarters” there. This action was occasioned by the overthrow, with American complicity, of the (relatively) neutralist Prince Sihanouk by the more pliantly pro-American Lon Nol. Nixon and Kissinger took their chance to wield the “big stick”. They felt, of course, that the communists had long seen Indochina as one battlefield; it was the Vietnamese communists who had first violated Cambodian neutrality, and who now threatened to topple Lon Nol. Domestic protest in the US was inevitable, and both Secretary of State Ropers and Secretary of Defence Laird opposed the invasion. For Nixon and Kissinger, however, the invasion was a test of strength against the despised antiwar movement. Kissinger “knew that … another round of domestic acrimony, protest, and perhaps even violence was possible”.[38] Though American and South Vietnamese forces did come close to the PLAF bases, the invasion was a military fiasco. No communist “headquarters” were unearthed, while enemy forces were able to evade the American advance. It is true that the shifting of communist sanctuaries to more remote areas in Cambodia did reduce the PLAF threat to the heavily populated Mekong delta region. However, the Ho Chi Minh trail remained intact. Moreover, the invasion pointed up the limitations of the ARVN. After 1970, the real threat was clearly from the North, over the demilitarised zone. But the locally-supported, family­oriented ARVN simply could not be successfully removed from the Mekong delta to defend the Northern provinces.

At every level, the Nixon-Kissinger decision to expand the war stood condemned. Domestic violence came as students, recently described by Nixon as “bums”, were shot dead at Kent State University in Ohio. The destabilisation of Cambodia, of course, was soon to usher in the (increasingly anti-Hanoi and eventually US­assisted) Khmer Rouge regime, which effectively declared murderous war on the Cambodian people. On June 30, 1970, the Senate passed the Cooper-Church amendment, barring US military from further fighting in Cambodia. By this time, troops were already withdrawing, having failed to “search and destroy”. Nonetheless, Cooper-Church, along with the full Congressional repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in December 1970, served notice that the legislature was no longer willing to defer to the President’s war-making prerogative.

The ARVN’s invasion of Laos in February 1971 completed the undermining of the White House strategy. The massive military and non-military spending associated with Vietnamisation was having a positive, albeit often grotesquely distorted, effect on the South Vietnamese economy. At the level of the ARVN, however, it was simply not working. The ineptness of the Laotian invasion convinced North Vietnam’s Foreign Minister, Nguyen Co Thach, that here “was the defeat of Vietnamization”.[39]

When the NVA launched its massive offensive against the Northern provinces at Easter 1972, the ARVN did better and the invasion was turned away. However, the crucial allied victory at Kontum (in the Central Highlands) was achieved only after America’s “civilian general” John Paul Vann had substituted US for ARVN leadership. A similar picture emerged from the battle at An Loc, where US Air Force fighter­bombers and Army attack helicopters rescued the ARVN.

The Peace Process: 1972-1975
The peace talks between the US and North Vietnam were among the most tortuous in the history of warfare. By 1969, a succession of disputes deadlocked negotiations: wrangles over who could participate, over the postwar role of the PRG (the Provisional Revolutionary Government, as the NLF was now called), the US and South Vietnamese refusal to accept anything smacking of coalition government for the South, disagreements relating to prisoners-of-war, bombing pauses and American attempts to secure promises from Hanoi regarding its postwar behaviour. In public, the most obvious dispute revolved around political-military linkage. In essence, the North Vietnamese were willing to cooperate with what they saw as the ineffectual policy of Vietnamisation. They would not, however, remove NVA troops from the South, nor (in any meaningful sense) guarantee their conduct subsequent to the American withdrawal. As Kissinger later wrote:

The North Vietnamese considered themselves in a life-and-death struggle; they did not treat negotiations as an enterprise separate from the struggle; they were a form of it.[40]

Yet the Americans also were fighting while negotiating. Nixon’s response to the Easter 1972 NVA offensive was not simply defensive. With a considerable degree of public support, he ordered the mining of Haiphong harbour and the intensive bombing (long urged by General Abrams) of Northern cities. If this meant endangering detente—a summit meeting with Soviet leader Brezhnev was in the offing -then so be it. In fact, the summit went ahead and Moscow made little objection even when it lost a ship in Haiphong harbour. Moscow wanted the North Vietnamese to come to terms, but the truth was that Hanoi was relatively immune from great-power pressure.

In private, Kissinger was prepared to confide to the North Vietnamese that America was sick of the war, but that its hands were tied by the need to win Thieu’s support for any settlement, as well as by US concern for its international credibility. By the Autumn of 1972, the White House had decided to take a different tack. Some things appeared to be going reasonably well. After all, the Spring invasion had been held back and the post-1968 security, pacification and spending programmes were undoubtedly having an effect. Yet many heavy NVA divisions had simply withdrawn back across the demilitarised zone, or into Laos or Cambodia—the 1970 and 1971 invasions had actually made this easier—to await American withdrawal. Moreover, the Presidential election was imminent, (the Democrat George McGovern was in effect an antiwar candidate) and the peace talks were deadlocked. US policy thus entered a new phase: intense, destructive bombing of Northern targets (Linebacker I), the offer of significant reconstruction aid to post-settlement North Vietnam, and moves towards the achievement of joint concessions over the political future for the South. Against the wishes of Thieu, Kissinger accepted the idea of a three-part electoral commission (involving Saigon, the PRG and neutralists). Hanoi did indeed seem prepared to accept an arrangement which, although leaving Thieu in power, granted political status to the PRG. On October 26, 1972, Kissinger announced: “peace is at hand”. The massive victory over McGovern was now only a formality. Yet peace was not at hand. Thieu’s opposition to the agreement was an important factor in the post-election collapse of the October settlement. Too much has been made of Thieu’s opposition, however. Nixon was not above threatening him with the fate of Diem if he became too obstructive.[41] New American military aid (Enhance Plus) also took the sting out of Thieu’s opposition. Kissinger’s “peace is at hand” statement was part bureaucratic gaffe, part election ruse. Nixon himself had grave doubts about the settlement, with its overtones of coalition government and implications (as a Kissinger aide put it) of having “flushed Thieu down the election drain”.[42]

The demise of the October settlement had been the responsibility of the United States and South Vietnam. Now, however, North Vietnam began to backtrack on previous concessions regarding prisoner-of-war exchange. This further deadlock stimulated what was to become, after the Cambodia invasion, the most controversial act of Nixon’s policy in Vietnam: the 1972 Christmas LINEBACKER II bombings. Following his election victory, Nixon sought solitude at Camp David. Privately disturbed by early signs that the Watergate scandal at home might veer out of control, he now sought to end the war. He turned to the “mad bomber” strategy. Between December 18 and 30, over 2,000 sorties were flown. Nixon berated Admiral Thomas Moorer:

I don’t want any more of this crap about the fact that we couldn’t hit this target or that one. This is your chance to use military power effectively to win this war … [43]

“Smart” bombs, of the type later employed in the 1991 Gulf war, were used to obliterate military and communications systems. Inevitably, there were civilian casualties: most famously the Bach Mai hospital in Hanoi.

The final Paris agreement was signed in the wake of the bombing on January 28, 1973. US troops were to leave within sixty days; NVA troops in the South (at least 150,000) were to remain. To the South Vietnamese leaders the agreement’s asymmetry amounted to a betrayal. Thieu took comfort in promises, contained in letters that he concealed in his bedroom, that the US would not simply leave Saigon to its fate. The cease-fire was soon violated by all parties. As one South Vietnamese official put it: “The only provision of the Paris Agreements that was observed was the removal of foreign troops from Vietnam, namely American troops”.[44]

As US air bombardment on Cambodia and on NVA forces in the South continued, Congress moved to cut off funds for the war. On July 1, 1973, President Nixon, unable to battle it out with Congress on Vietnam as well as over Watergate, signed a bill which effectively ended American military involvement in Indochina. The end-game was a mismatch, distinguished by spectacular reversals of strategy on Thieu’s part. For the ARVN, Operation Enhance Plus had come too late and too abruptly; the South Vietnamese army lacked the expertise to use much of the equipment. As a highly disciplined communist force surrounded and (on April 29, 1975) occupied Saigon, Kissinger declared: “The Vietnam debate has run its course’’.[45] The post-Watergate Congress was in no mood to redeem promises made by Nixon and President Ford. Journalist John Pilger’s last memory of Vietnam was of a US admiral’s voice anticipating his ship’s return to the Philippines:

Well folks, that just about wraps up Vietnam. So let’s all have a party and get outta here, so we can mosey on back to Subic Bay and get ourselves a genuine Budweiser beer.[46]

7. Interpreting the War

Explaining American Involvement: Quagmires and Turning Points
Vietnam had little obvious or direct economic or strategic significance for the United States. The importance of South East Asian raw materials was, it is true, considered by officials within the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations.[47] Yet any imputation to the United States of direct economic interest in Vietnam is mistaken. As Harry McPherson, aide to President Johnson, declared in 1985, his boss “did not go in to save iron ore”. He “went in to try to prevent Asia from being rolled up by the Chinese Communists”.[48]

The Vietnam war was fought within the ideological parameters of containment theory. By the late 1950s, the United States stood at the apex of a hegemonic world system, based on liberal free trade doctrines and American-guaranteed mutual security pacts. Successful protection of this system in the face of expansionary communism was held to depend on the maintenance of American “credibility”. As Thomas McCormick has put it, the US was “acting for the whole system rather than [for] immediate American interests”.[49]

Especially after 1960, American preoccupation with “credibility” was evident in both the private and public pronouncements of decision­ makers. In November 1961, national security adviser Walt Rostow identified the “gut issue” in Vietnam for John Kennedy’s benefit. This was “not whether Diem is or is not a good ruler”. Rather it was:

… whether we shall continue to accept the systematic infiltration of men from outside and the operation from outside of a guerrilla war against him …. The whole world is asking a simple question: what will the U.S. do about it?[50]

In July 1965, Johnson replied as follows to George Ball’s case against escalation:

But George, wouldn’t all these countries say that Uncle Sam was a paper tiger, wouldn’t we lose credibility breaking the word of three presidents, if we did as you have proposed?[51]

Nixon, according to Kissinger, was convinced that precipitate withdrawal would “dishearten allies who depended on us and embolden adversaries to undertake new adventures”.[52]

Policy-makers during the Vietnam era were instinctive globalists. True, perceptions of Vietnam were situated within concern for the regional SEATO security system. Yet this was but part of the non­communist world system, defined by the theorists of globalised containment as a seamless web where a threat to one part constituted a threat to the whole. The problem with post-Kennan containment theory was that it offered no criteria whereby commitments could be prioritised, or American interests ranked. It rested on the fallacy that the United States could and would intervene to protect any threatened facet of the system, however remote and peripheral to traditional US security priorities.

In a sense, of course, the United States was fighting world communism in Vietnam (despite the existence of significant non­communist opposition to the various Saigon regimes). The poor human rights record of the revolutionary Vietnamese regime has, along with the collapse of bureaucratised command communism in Europe, lessened the temptation to romanticise America’s adversaries in the war. Vietnamese communist sources have also shed light on this issue. Such testimony needs to be treated with caution, and read in the light of the Vietnamese victors’ immediate political concerns. Nevertheless, it now seems clear that insurgent forces in the South were directed from Hanoi. The idea, dear to liberal antiwar opinion, that there was an autonomous, “democratic” insurgency in the South, now stands in need of extreme qualification, if not outright abandonment.[53] Hanoi received perhaps 85 per cent of its oil and almost all its sophisticated military hardware from the Soviet Union. Chinese aid may have amounted to somewhere in the region of ten billion dollars.[54] Even the Sino-Soviet split (which US policymakers undoubtedly underestimated) to some degree worked to Hanoi’s advantage, as Moscow and Peking competed to help North Vietnam’s cause. Nevertheless, the great-power support for Hanoi was in no way equivalent to US support for Saigon. Chinese-Vietnamese relations were permeated by a venerable tradition of mutual suspicion, while the limits to Moscow’s influence were clearly demonstrated during the peace negotiations. North Vietnam was not merely the creature of Moscow and Peking. Hanoi’s nationalist credentials had a profound appeal throughout Vietnam, while the primarily communist-directed revolution appealed to both the idealism and the self-interest of the South Vietnamese people. Writing in May 1965, John Paul Vann (then employed by the US Agency for International Development) captured this well in a letter to General Robert York:

I am convinced that, even though the National Liberation Front is Communist-dominated, that the great majority of the people supporting it are doing so because it is their only hope to change and improve their living conditions and opportunities.[55]

The abstract injunctions of globalised containment caused US policymakers to ignore Vann’s concern, or to marginalise it in the sideshow of pacification. Attitudes towards Vietnam were also shaped by a peculiar kind of cultural conditioning which inclined American decision-makers against serious engagement with the issues raised in Vann’s letter. At one level, there was the unreflecting “can-do” optimism of the Kennedy and Johnson advisers. This was allied (as Patrick Lloyd Hatcher has demonstrated) to the misapplication by America’s internationalist elite of concepts of collective security and economic intervention designed for European conditions.[56] Cultural misunderstandings proliferated. Pacification officers in the late 1960s had to complete Hamlet Evaluation System questionnaires designed to elicit how many televisions were in each village.[57] The US effort was driven by the ideology of American democratic liberalism and the assumption that American democratic capitalist history provided a model for the world. To quote Loren Baritz:

… our national myth showed us that we were good, our technology made us strong, and our bureaucracy gave us standard operating procedures. It was not a winning combination.[58]

Early (usually disaffected liberal) critiques of the war advocated a “quagmire” interpretation of Vietnam. US policymakers, locked in cultural misunderstanding and incremental decision-making, were seen as having stumbled unwittingly into the Indochinese swamp. To some extent, American involvement was the result of a series of small, incremental decisions which failed to address fundamental questions. Yet there were clearly major “turning point” decisions: for example, the 1950 decision to aid the French, to back Diem in 1954, to increase the number of advisers in the early 1960s, the decision not to oppose Diem’s overthrow, the 1965 escalation and “limited war” decisions, Johnson’s 1968 refusal of Westmoreland’s troop increase requests, Nixon’s Vietnamisation and Cambodia invasion decisions. These “turning point” decisions were not taken in isolation: either from prior Indochina commitments, or from concerns not directly related to Vietnam (such as LBJ’s desire to save the Great Society or Nixon’s calculations about detente). Some “big” decisions, such as to commence bombing, were probably seen initially as little more than tentative experiments. Even allowing for all this, the “quagmire” paradigm seems inappropriate. American leaders were aware of alternatives to the courses of action they took, although they obviously did not foresee the dire consequences of the preferred alternatives. At least six close advisers—not just George Ball—alerted Johnson to the dangers of graduated escalation during the first half of 1965. Sycophancy and “groupthink” do operate at high decision-making levels. However, it would be quite wrong to imagine that Presidents were not exposed to conflicting views and fundamental questioning. Chester Bowles, Kennedy’s Ambassador at Large, provided a thoroughgoing review for the President in April 1962. He outlined various scenarios and forecast that current policy would lead to “an uneasy fluid stalemate”.[59] In 1965, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey warned LBJ that he was taking “big historic gambles” in Vietnam without any clear, “politically understandable” rationale.[60] As Leslie Gelb and Richard Betts have argued, Kennedy and Johnson opted for limited objective alternatives in Vietnam wittingly. They decided on measures to “hurt the enemy but not destroy him” in order to escape the political costs either of “losing” Vietnam or of full-scale national mobilisation.[61] Under Nixon, the decision-making structure was excep­tionally and dangerously elitist. Alternative views were insufficiently aired at the highest level. Ropers and Laird were excluded from key discussions. Yet there can be no question that Nixon and Kissinger were aware of the possible consequences of their policies, and of alternatives to them.

Examination of Vietnam decision-making also reveals the extent to which the Cold War consensus had emasculated the US Congress. Some individuals played roles of importance. Senator Mike Mansfield furnished his friend Lyndon Johnson with dissenting views. Senator William Fulbright, after breaking with the Administration in 1965, provided elite critics with a platform in the 1966 and 1968 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings. Congressional investigations illuminated some dark areas: for example, war crimes (especially the 1968 massacre at My Lai), and the plight of refugees in South Vietnam. In the last resort, in the Spring of 1973, Congress actually ended the war. However, the abdication of responsibility enshrined in the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution stands as a warning against passive legislative acquiescence in Presidential war-making.

Explaining American Failure: The Debate over Military Strategy
Many of the
reasons for American failure are implicit in the preceding narrative: underestimation of the enemy and its ability to sustain massive losses, the mismatch between US “limited” and communist “total” war, the failure or inability to generate popular support for the Saigon regime, the opening and maintenance of the Ho Chi Minh trail and so on: perhaps, above all, the failure to develop, and sell to the American public, a coherent “win-the-war” strategy. Such explanations tend to assume, as does the entire debate over military strategy to be considered below, that victory was possible had different decisions been taken. Before discussing the military issues, it is important to examine this assumption.

Essentially, “victory” would have consisted in the military defeat of North Vietnam (and the Chinese if they had intervened), combined with the generation of popular support for the non-communist government in the South. Political and public opinion in the US would have had to have been mobilised behind the effort, and have been prepared to support (physically and financially) security arrangements agreed with the post-war South. Such a “victory” is not inconceivable. The gains made after 1969 in generating at least some popular support for Thieu’s regime indicates that at least some progress along these lines was possible. There was nothing foreordained about the communists’ triumph. Given their nationalist credentials, however, it was always very likely (as the population of South Vietnam well appreciated); and its likelihood was compounded by the way the Americans understood and fought the war. America was not simply defending South Vietnam from an attack from the North. Contrary to the situation in Korea in the early 1950s, the US in Vietnam was placing itself in the path of an ongoing national revolution that had already achieved power in the North. This was the case even in the early 1970s when the military picture was much more one of a conventional war against the NVA. The American effort and Thieu’s reforms did dent the communists’ revolutionary and nationalist legitimacy. However, they failed to replace it with anything resembling popular confidence in and support for the Saigon regime.

Should the United States simply have acquiesced in a communist victory some time during the Eisenhower, Kennedy or Johnson presidencies, not so much letting the domino fall as recognising the national legitimacy of Ho’s movement? Such an outcome would not have guaranteed peace and liberty to the people of South Vietnam. It would, however, have represented a mature, flexible interpretation of containment theory, and would have spared the US the misery of the war. After all, in the long term, acquiescence in a communist victory was actually all that Nixon and Kissinger achieved in 1973, with only a “decent interval” sparing America’s blushes. (The above interpretation is open to the objection that post-Kennan containment theory demanded that the US draw a line somewhere in Asia: that some kind of “Vietnam war” be fought (and maybe lost) at some point. Such reasoning, however, simply leads us into an impenetrable labyrinth of counter-factual speculation).

In actuality, their interpretation of containment theory and concern for US credibility prevented American leaders from acquiescing in a communist takeover before 1973. This being the case, American “victory” would have required fundamental, and culturally appropriate, political and economic reform in the South, combined with the extension of non-coercive security to the Southern population. The South Vietnamese had to come to see Saigon and its American sponsors as the guarantor of reform and security, rather than as an alien force whose rule guaranteed disruption. If this analysis is at all correct, it follows that even those “pacification” measures which fell short of thoroughgoing political and economic reform, in a context of non-coercive security, were unlikely to produce the desired results. Nevertheless, they were, from the viewpoint of feasible American “victory” as sketched above, at least on the right lines. In point of fact, the American pacification efforts were fractionalised and marginalised. The various agencies (AID, CORDS and the marines’ Combined Action Platoons, for example) were not subjected to even formalised central coordination until the early 1970s. Pacification never formed a priority for MACV, which remained wedded to firepower and “search-and-destroy”. Westmoreland was openly hostile to the Combined Action Platoons. To a degree, pacification did attempt to deal with the problem of peasant disaffection. But it was also seen as part of the process which was creating dislocation. Pacification officers were, in the words of one ARVN officer, “rich soldiers with luxury stereo musics, C-Rations, all types equipments”.[62]

Not only pacification, but the entire US effort was characterised by inter-service rivalries, bureaucratic battles, poor tactics and byzantine command structures.[63] Again, some improvement was made in the early 1970s with General Abrams’ “one war strategy”; but, as Andrew Krepinevich has argued, the extent to which this effected real changes on the ground is debatable. Institutional fractionation reinforced strategic confusion.[64]

Within LBJ’s general “limited war” constraints—no mass mobilisation, no ground offensive outside South Vietnam—the ground war generals were largely allowed to develop their own strategies and tactics. The resulting, misconceived war of attrition was kept afloat by an almost liturgical recitation of enemy “body counts”. Estimations of enemy strength and casualties were immensely difficult in a war where the enemy was so often invisible. “Good” intelligence (for example, on the futility of Rolling Thunder) was often ignored. The extent to which the military may have deliberately falsified “body count” and order of Battle figures has probably been exaggerated. What is certain, however, is that the whole “numbers mill” had, by 1968, become dangerously misleading.[65]

A host of alternative, “winning” strategies have been advocated in the postwar years. Many of these embrace some kind of enclave strategy.[66] Attempting to protect the whole of South Vietnam, American ground forces did become desperately overextended, almost aimlessly deployed across the whole country. The battles for Hue and Khe Sanh, at the very least, could have been avoided. Enemy­influenced rural areas of South Vietnam were devastated by mass bombing and herbicide attacks. Concentration on providing physical security for the wide Mekong delta (III and IV Corps) region might have mitigated some of this suffering, as well as the attendant alienation of so much of the South Vietnamese peasantry. Further strategic disputes centre on the question of whether the war was insufficiently or excessively Americanised. In retrospect, however, a major failure appears to have been the neglect (until too late) of developing the ARVN as a disciplined, quasi-independent force capable of defending South Vietnam. Most military figures agree that the prior ruling out of open intervention beyond South Vietnam’s borders sent dangerous signals to Hanoi. Others have argued that counter-insurgency, far from being underprioritised, actually diverted attention from the need to provide physical security for the South Vietnamese population.[67] Colonel Harry Summers has gone still further, claiming that the war should have been conceptualised in conventional terms—an attack from the North—from the outset. This writing-out of any significant guerrilla/insurgency dimension appears bizarre and is persuasive only in relation to the war’s final phase. It is probably best understood as a contribution to postwar military rehabilitation. [68]

The war in the air was micro-managed by civilian leaders to a far greater degree than its ground counterpart. It was equally misconceived. Johnson’s Rolling Thunder bombing was confused as to objectives and counter-productive in its effects. The Johnson Administration seems to have conceived of the campaign as a means primarily of communicating with the enemy—convincing Hanoi that the US meant business—while simultaneously lifting South Vietnamese morale. Graduated “ouch warfare”[69] proved impossible to orchestrate successfully. The effect on the citizenry of North Vietnam was, if anything, a hardening of resolve. Despite target limitation, collateral civilian damage was inevitable and world opinion was alerted.

As the bombing developed, so did the US Air Force move to demonstrate its capacity to unleash “technowar”;[70] the scientific application of force would not only break Hanoi’s will, but would also destroy North Vietnam’s capacity to support Southern insurgents. In fact, the North Vietnamese infrastructure was undeveloped. Interdiction and infrastructural destruction strategies conceived for the European theatre were simply inappropriate. As noted above, the massive bombing of South Vietnam was entirely unproductive. Any case for the efficacy of airpower in Vietnam rests not on Rolling Thunder, but on Nixon’s air campaigns: Freedom Train (April 1972), Linebacker I (May October 1972) and Linebacker II (the 1972 Christmas bombing). Freedom Train, designed to break civilian morale, failed. A case can be made for the effectiveness of the Linebacker attacks: accurate bombing primarily directed at military targets. Any such effectiveness derived from the fact that North Vietnam was by this time essentially fighting a conventional war and hence was more vulnerable to air attack. Yet even with Linebacker II, the point must be made that the agreement which it “forced” upon Hanoi was one very similar to that made in October 1972 and also one which Hanoi had no intention of honouring.[71]

American Public Opinion and the Antiwar Movement
It is misleading
to suggest that it was the unsticking of US public and Congressional opinion which snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the period 1972-1975. Thieu’s post-1969 reforms were too little, too late. However, it is the case that American public anxiety about the war effectively ruled out the only course of action which might have secured the gains made after 1969: an expanded American underwriting of the radical economic and political transformation of South Vietnam.

The Vietnam war demonstrated the unwillingness of US public opinion indefinitely to tolerate a conflict which appeared to lack clear objectives and which was producing high casualty rates. This is not to deny that, at times, public opinion was extraordinarily hawkish. In June 1965, for example, the weight of poll evidence indicated a clear public preference for sending in more troops. With the exception of the 1972 Christmas bombing (opposed 51-37 per cent), the major escalatory decisions were supported. Even the 1970 Cambodian invasion initially elicited a narrow majority in favour. Yet the public were continually frustrated by lack of progress and appear to have been deeply disturbed by media coverage of the Ter offensive. Only 23 per cent agreed with Westmoreland’s view that Ter constituted an American victory. Gallup data showed almost one person in five switching from a “hawk” to a “dove” position between early February and mid-March 1968.[72]

Despite his private opposition to the conflict, Hubert Humphrey’s greatest handicap in the 1968 Presidential election was his link to Johnson’s failed war policy. 82 per cent of Americans in 1968 saw Nixon as truly committed to a Vietnamese peace. Nixon appreciated the complex structure of public opinion, in which a “silent majority” was prepared to support Presidential initiatives. By late 1971, polls recorded a record low level of confidence in political leaders and a generalised opposition to the war. But such opposition tended to be diffuse and ill-informed. Nixon was able to buy time by his troop withdrawal and draft decisions, as well as by his exploitation of the prisoner-of-war issue. Above all, the McGovern candidacy in 1972 was a gift to Nixon. Convinced that peace would come anyway, voters would not support a candidate widely perceived and portrayed as “extreme”. For many Americans, moreover, Vietnam was not the most important issue facing the nation. A December 1971 poll revealed that only 15 per cent thought that it was. Nevertheless, by this time, White House perceptions of both potential and actual public opposition were clearly constraining policy.[73]

One of the most tricky areas of interpretation concerns the interaction between public opinion, media coverage and the activities of the antiwar movement. The myth of the oppositional media destroying Presidents and altering the course of the war remains strong. LBJ gave it credence in his attack on the National Association of Broadcasters on the day after his March 31, 1968 speech. However, the postwar notion that public opinion swung away from the war because of crusading journalism and vivid photography is largely myth. Some newspapersnotably the Los Angeles Times and New York Times—were schizophrenic in their coverage; the tatter’s 1971 serialisation of the Pentagon Papers (leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon civilian) represented a key stage in the unravelling of consensus. Generally, however, the media were instinctually pro-war and only shifted when sharp elite divisions had already become apparent. Undoubtedly, the famous photographs and film footage of napalm and bomb damage did have an impact. Analysis of television and press coverage, however, does not support Nixon’s charges of antiwar bias. White House communication failures -especially Johnson’s failure to create an effective “rhetoric of limited war”[74]—were more damaging to the Administration cause than any activities of crusading journalists. Coverage of the 1970 Kent State killings certainly affected public opinion quite deeply; however, media treatment of the antiwar movement was almost entirely hostile. In April 1967, for example, Time poked fun at “Vietniks and Peaceniks, Trotskyites and potskyites”.

Time’s depiction of the antiwar movement was, of course, grossly unfair. Charles Chatfield’s description sets the record straight:

Liberals and leftists, men and women, blacks and whites, students and established intellectuals, clergy and laity: countless citizens passed in and out of the antiwar movement. Its core was indelibly middle class and well educated. It was a typically American reform effort—a voluntary crusade attracting adherents and impelling them to act out of a felt personal responsibility for social wrongs.[75]

The movement had its roots in the American civil disobedience tradition and in the middle class activism that had mobilised for disarmament causes prior to the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty. Deepening involvement and the imposition of the draft coalesced with generational changes to produce the variegated movement described by Chatfield. Familiar American institutions and movements became polarised between pro- and antiwar opinion. Trade unions, universities, professions, political parties, churches, even—to an extent—the army itself, were all affected in this way. Many African-Americans supported Martin Luther King Jr.’s criticism of the war (and of the draft process which discriminated against blacks); more conservative civil rights leaders, however, were cautious about breaking with Johnson. A body of elite dissidents—Senators, writers, entertainers, disaffected bureau­crats—constituted a kind of disembodied superstratum. Different groups and individuals, of course, opposed the war for different reasons: pacifism, opposition to American imperialism, realist calculation that American interests were no longer being served in Vietnam, and so on. Such divisions were reflected within the movement, especially after 1965 when it began to attract New Left radicals and counter-culturists. Between 1965 and the splintering of Students for a Democratic Society in 1969, the movement witnessed extended debates between advocates of electoralism such as Allard Lowenstein and radical direct action supporters like David Dellinger. The shambles of the 1967 National Conference for New Politics, and also the antagonism between the Vietnam Moratorium Committee and the more radical “New Mobe” in 1969, illustrated these divisions. The New Left was weak on theory; it had enormous difficulty in giving re-birth to American leftism; and undoubtedly it did exhibit, to a destructive degree, what Todd Gitlin has called the histrionic “politics of spurious amplification”.[76] However, despite the excesses of the New Left and the intramovement divisions, impressive mass marches and demonstrations were organised. The movement’s impact on public opinion was complex and to a certain degree counter-productive. It undoubtedly contributed to the develop­ing bunker mentality in the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. This mentality was evidenced in the vindictive and illegal harassment visited by the Johnson and Nixon Administrations on the movement. To an extent, antiwar activities contributed to Nixon’s “silent majority” backlash. Yet, marches, petitions, occupations and teach-ins did shake complacency and slowly alter the decisional climate. In various walks of life, influential opinion leaders were alerting sections of the population to antiwar ideas.[77] In helping turn Nixon against Duck Hook  in 1969, the movement achieved perhaps its most specific (though at the time unnoticed) success. From about 1967, war managers were confronted not only by a public whose unquestioning acceptance of official versions of the war could no longer automatically be assumed; but also by a potentially alienated generation of young, well educated Americans, who appeared increasingly reluctant to serve the recruitment needs of corporate capitalism.

8. Conclusion

“Limited” war in Vietnam was devastating in its impact on all parties. American deaths totalled over 58,000; over half of these died after 1968. Over 150,000 were wounded. Compared with their numerical strength in the population as a whole, black and Hispanic death and casualty rates were disproportionately high. Possibly two million Vietnamese were killed (between 850,000 and 950,000 of them Viet Cong or NVA personnel). By the war’s end there were about 21 million bomb craters in South Vietnam. Some ten and a half million South Vietnamese people were turned into refugees by the war. By the war’s end South Vietnam’s natural forest-cover had been reduced by about 60 per cent. Forces supporting the Americans—especially the ARVN and the South Koreans, but also Australian, New Zealand and Thai forces—suffered significant losses. US Vietnam veterans have been prone to suicide and psychic disorder. When Congress set up readjustment counselling centres in 1979, some 200,000 Vietnam-era veterans sought help in the programme’s first three and a half years. The direct financial cost of the war to the US was between 112 and 155 billion dollars, with indirect costs estimated at 925 billion. Both in political and economic terms, the war marked the beginning of the end of the (short) “long cycle” of American international domination dating ‘from World War II. Within the US, the war stimulated a loss of confidence in governmental institutions, a new public scepticism about the entire “national security state” and a collapse of the consensus that had dominated US foreign policy since 1946.[78]

We are now in a position to return to the questions raised in the Introduction. The United States became involved in Indochina knowingly and consciously, and essentially for reasons connected with what was perceived to be necessary to contain communism and protect America’s hegemonic status. The notion of protecting American credibility underscored pivotal decisions on the war. The United States lost the war; Nixon’s attempts to resurrect 1973 as the year of victory rest on unrealistic assessments both of the Paris agreement and of the success of Vietnamisation. American decision-making structures performed poorly, but they did serve the immediate political purposes of successive Presidents. Washington’s secretive, politicised, elite direction of the undeclared war compounded difficulties, rather than facilitating their resolution. The war managers were forced, eventually, to take the threat of domestic protest seriously. Post-1970 public unwillingness to sanction a further expansion of commitments constituted an important constraint upon elite decisions. The military performed poorly and adapted neither its procedure nor its doctrine in any coordinated fashion to the requirements of what was part- guerrilla insurgency, part- conventional war. But the war was lost essentially through civilian, rather than military, misjudgement. The reluctance of US policymakers directly to tackle the question—especially before 1969—of the Saigon regime’s unpopularity was crucial.

American involvement was morally ambivalent. US credibility was the dominant concern, yet American decision-makers certainly did see the containment of communism as in the interests of the South Vietnamese people. As noted in the Introduction, events since 1975 have done nothing to burnish the reputation of neo-Stalinist communism, whether in the Third World or elsewhere. Nevertheless, this should not obscure the fact that the US was (even in the early 1970s) defending a reactionary, unrepresentative and undemocratic elite in South Vietnam. In a profoundly disquieting sense, America’s war was one against the people of South, as well as North, Vietnam—a war waged as part of a futile and misconceived attempt to force them to be free.

9. Guide to Further Reading

Anyone approaching the subject anew would be well advised to begin not with a conventional history, but with the following highly personal accounts: Frances Fitzgerald, Fire In The Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972); Tim O’Brien, IfIDie In A Combat Zone (London: Paladin, 1989); John Balaban, Remembering Heaven’s Face: A Moral Witness in Vietnam (New York: Poseidon, 1991); and the works by Sheehan [14] and Herr [27] cited in the notes.

Among the best single volume histories are those by Herring 7; Kolko 2; Lewy [36]; Palmer [19]; Turley [53]; Brown [2]; Lomperis [36]; and Wintle [18], as well as: Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991); and James S. Olson and Randy Roberts, Where the Domino Fell- America and Vietnam 1945 to 1990 (New York: St. Martin’s, 1991). These volumes cover just about the full range of possible interpretations. R.B. Smith’s An International History of the Vietnam War (3 vols., London: Macmillan, 1983, 1985 and 1991) should also be consulted. Many “first generation” Vietnam books are still valuable, for example B.B. Fall, The Two Net-Nams (New York: Praeger, 1967). However, especially on the years before Kennedy and on LBJ, there are some outstanding recent histories. On the war’s origins, see Rotter [8]; Short b; George McT. Kahin Intervention (New York: Knopf, 1986); and Lloyd C. Gardner, Approaching Vietnam: From World War II Through Dienbienphu (New York: Norton, 1988). On the Eisenhower-Dulles period, see David L. Anderson, Trapped By Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam, 1953-1961 (.New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); G. C. Herring, “‘A Good Stout Effort’: John Foster Duller and the Indochina Crisis”, in R.H. Immerman, ed., John Foster Duller and the Diplomacy of the Cold War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990); and R.H. Immerman, “The United States and the Geneva Conference of 1954: A New Look”, Diplomatic History, 14 (1990), pp.43-66. On Kennedy, see Timothy P. Malta, John F. Kennedy and the .New Pacific Community, 1961-1963 (Basingstoke Macmillan, 1990); and L J. Barren and S.E. Pelz, “The Failed Search for Victory: Vietnam and the Politics of War”, in T.G. Paterson, ed., Kennedy’s Quest for Victory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). On Johnson, see the two Berman volumes [24],[30]; Barrett [60]; VanDeMark [13]; Cable [20]; and Turner [74]; also H.Y. Schandler, The Unmaking of a President. Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977). Good secondary sources on Nixon and Kissinger are: Hersh”; Morris”; Robert D. Schulzinger, Henry Kissinger.- Doctor of Diplomacy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989); and William Shaweross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979). See also Frank Snepp A Decent Internal, (New York: Random House, 1977); and G.C. Herring, “The Nixon Strategy in Vietnam”, in P. Braestrup, ed., Vietnam As History (Washington DC: University Press of America, 1984).

Among many outstanding memoirs are: Nixon [43]; Kissinger [52],[37] Taylor [15]; Colby [67]; Cooper [65]; Clifford [29]; Frederick Molting, From Trust to Tragedy (New York: Praeger, 1988); William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (New York: Dell, 1980); Harry McPherson, A Political Education (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988); and Dean Rusk (as told to R. Rusk, ed., D.S. Papp), As I Saw It (New York: Norton, 1990). See also Eugene E. McCarthy, The Year of the People (Garden City: Doubleday, 1969) and Geore McGovern, Grassroots: The Autobioraphy of George McGovern (New York: Random House, 1977).

Debates on strategy and the role of the US military may be followed in Krepinevich [14]; Petersen [62]; Clarke [64]; Kinnard [64]; Summers [68]; Matthews and Brown [66]; Thayer [63]; Grinter and Dunn [68]; and Clodfelter [71]. See also P.B. Davidson, Vietnam at War (Novato: Presidio, 1988) and John Schlight, The War in South Vietnam: The Years of the Offensive, 1965-1968 (Washington DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988). Mueller [12] is indispensable on public opinion. See also Harris [5] and H.S. Foster, Activism Replaces Isolationism: US Public Attitudes, 1940-1975 (Washington DC: Foxhall Press, 1983). On the antiwar movement, see DeBenedetti [39]; Small [77]; and Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam, 1963-1975 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1984). See also Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York: Bantam, 1987); and Edward P. Morgan, The 60s Experience: Hard Lessons About Modern America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991). On the war’s domestic impact, see McPherson [18]; D.C. Hallin, The `Uncensored War’ (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Peter Braestrup, Big Story (Vol. I) (Boulder: Westview, 1977); and L.M. Baskir and W.A. Strauss, Chance and Circumstance (New York: Random House, 1978).

US policy-making is discussed in: David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1972); Komer [63]; Gelb and Betts [61]; J.P. Burke and F.I. Greenstein, How Presidents Test Reality: Decisions on Vietnam, 1954 and 1965 (New York: Russell Sage, 1989); and G.K. Osborn, et al, eds., Democracy, Strategy and Vietnam. Implications for American Policy Making (Lexington: Heath, 1987). Among many excellent studies of Vietnam at war are: Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971); James W. Trullinger, Village at War (New York: Longman, 1980); and Eric M. Bergerud, The Dynamics of Defeat: The Vietnam War in Hau Nghia Province (Boulder: Westview, 1991). The war has produced many fine oral histories, for example: Wallace Terry, ed., Bloods.’ An Oral History of the War by Black Veterans (New York: Random House, 1984).

Lastly, on the cultural background and impact of the war, see: Baritz [58]; John Hellman, American Myth and the Legacy of Vietnam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986); and Jeffrey Walsh and James Aulich, eds., Vietnam Images: War and Representation (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989).

10. Notes

  1. Cited in Christopher Hitchens, Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo­ American Ironies (London: Vintage, 1991), pp.253-254. Back
  2. See T. Louise Brown, War and Aftermath in Vietnam (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 1-23; P.M. Dunn, The First Vietnam War (London: Hurst, 1985), pp.167-183; Gabriel Kolko, Vietnam: Anatomy of War 1945-1975 (London: Unwin Hyman, 1987), pp.13-61. Back
  3. Cited in Stephen E. Ambrose, Rise to Globalism (5th. ed., Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988), p.78. Back
  4. Cited in Norman A. Graebner, “Introduction” to N.A. Graebner, ed., The National Security (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp.3-36, 32. See also Richard Crockatt, The United ,States and the Cold War 1941-53 (BAAS Pamphlet No. 18, 1989), p.34. Back
  5. Cited in Louis Harris, The Anguish of Change (New York: Norton, 1973), pp.53-54. See generally Crockatt, The United States and the Cold War and Daniel Yergin, Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the American National Security State (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980). Back
  6. The Pentagon Papers (Senator Gravel Edition) Vo1.I (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), p.47. See also Anthony Short, The Origins of the Vietnam War (London: Longman, 1989), Ch. 1. Back
  7. Cited in George C. Herring, America’s Longest War The United States and Vietnam 1950-1975 (New York: Knopf, 1986), p.10. See also Scott L. Bills, Empire and Cold War- The Roots of US-Third World Antagonism, 1945-47 (London: Macmillan, 1990), pp.144-5. Back
  8. Gareth Porter, ed., Vietnam: The Definitive Documentation of Human Decisions, VoI.I (London: Heyden, 1979), p.227. See also Andrew J. Rotten The Path to Vietnam: Origins of the American Commitment to Southeast Asia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987). Back
  9. Cited in Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: The President (London: Allen and Unwin, 1984), p.182. Back
  10. The Origins of the Vietnam War, p.148. Back
  11. William C. Gibbons, The US. Government and the Vietnam War. Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, Part 1, 1945-1960 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp.93, 204. Back
  12. Michael Charlton and Anthony Moncrieff, Many Reasons Why: The American Involvement in Vietnam (London: Scolar, 1978), pp. 60-61. Back
  13. See Brian VanDeMark, Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp.7-10. Back
  14. See Andrew F. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), p.62; Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (London: Picador, 1990), pp. 201-67. Back
  15. See Maxwell Taylor, Swords and Ploughshares (New York: Norton, 1972), pp.218-219; also, Norman B. Hannah, The Kg to Failure: Laos and the Vietnam War (Lanham: Madison Books, 1987), p.60. Back
  16. Paul H. Nitze, From Hiroshima to Glasnost (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989), p.255. Back
  17. Kenneth W. Thompson, ed., The Kennedy Presidency.’ Intimate Perspectives (Lanham: University Press of America, 1985), pp.261-2. Back
  18. G.C. Herring, “`Peoples Quite Apart’: Americans, South Vietnamese, and the War in Vietnam”, Diplomatic History 8 (1989), p.2. Back
  19. Thompson, (note 17), p.262. See also Bruce Palmer, The 25 Year War: America’s Military Role in Vietnam (New York: Da Capo, 1984), pp.24-25. Back
  20. See Larry Cable, Unholy Grail: The US and the Wars in Vietnam 1965-8 (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 11-14. Back
  21. Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, p.376. Back
  22. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), p.68; Gibbons, The US Government and the Vietnam War, Part 2: 1961-1964, p.357. Back
  23. L.A. Sobel, ed., South Vietnam, VoI.P 1961-65 (New York: Facts on File, 1973), p.116. Back
  24. Cited in Larry Berman, Planning A Tragedy: The Americanization of the War in Vietnam (New York: Norton, 1982), p.142. Back
  25. See Robert Mason, Chickenhawk (London: Corgi, 1989), Ch.5. Back
  26. Cited in Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, p.630. Back
  27. Dispatches (London: Picador, 1979), p.89. Back
  28. Cited in Kolko, Vietnam, p.309. Back
  29. See Clark Clifford, Counsel to the President (New York: Random House, 1991), Ch.28. Back
  30. Cited in Larry German, Lyndon johnson’s War. The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam, (New York: Norton, 1989), p.185. Back
  31. Ibid, p.196. Back
  32. Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), p.44. Back
  33. Seymour M. Hersh, Kissinger.- The Price of Power (New York: Summit Books, 1983), p.568. See also H.R. Haldeman, The Ends of Power (New York: NYT Books, 1978), p.83. Back
  34. Cited in S.E. Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 1962-1972 (London: Simon and Schuster, 1989) p.224; also, Raymond L. Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation (Washington D.C.: Brookings 1985), p.70. Back
  35. See Nancy Wiergersma, Vietnam: Peasant Land, Peasant Revolution (London: Macmillan, 1988), pp.4-10. Back
  36. See Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp.186-189; Samuel L. Popkin, The Rational Peasant (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979); Timothy J. Lomperis, The War Everyone Lost—and Won (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984), p.104. Back
  37. See H.M. Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), pp.288, 286. Back
  38. Ibid., p.481. Back
  39. Cited in Hersh, Kissinger, p.311. See also Charles DeBenedetti (with Charles Chatfield), An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1990), Ch. 10. Back
  40. White House Years, p.260. Back
  41. Nguyen Tien Hung and Jerrold L. Schechter, The Palace File (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), pp.73-74. Back
  42. Allan E. Goodman, The Lost Peace (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1978), p.145. Back
  43. Richard M. Nixon, RN.- The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1978), p.734. Back
  44. Stephen T. Hosmer et al, The Fall of South Vietnam (New York: Crane, Rusak, 1980), p.30. See also Bui Diem (with D. Chanoff, In The Jaws of History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). Back
  45. Herring, America’s Longest War, p.266; David Butler, The Fall of Saigon (London: Abacus, 1985), p.514. Back
  46. John Pilger, Heroes (London: Pan, 1989), p.229. Back
  47. See, e.g., William J. Miller, Henry Cabot Lodge.’ A Biography (New York: Heineman, 1967), p.372; R.B. Smith, An International History of the Vietnam War.’ The Kennedy Strategy (New York: Macmillan, 1985), p.143. Back
  48. Cited in Kenneth W. Thompson, “The Johnson Presidency, and Foreign Policy”, in Bernard J. Firestone and Robert C. Vogt, eds., Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Uses of Power (New York: Greenwood, 1988), p.291. See also David DiLeo, George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991). Back
  49. T. J. McCormick, ‘“Every System needs a Center Sometime”’, in Lloyd Gardner, ed., Redefining the Past: Essays in Diplomatic History in Honor of William Appleman Williams (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1986), p.215. Back
  50. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Tool. I Vietnam (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1988), p.602. Back
  51. Cited in Yuen Foong Khong, “Credibility and the Trauma of Vietnam”, in L. Carl Brown, ed., Centerstage: American Diplomacy since World War II (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1990), p.243. Back
  52. H.M. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982), p.88. Back
  53. See, e.g., Truong Tang, “The Myth of a Liberation”, New York Review of Books, 21 Oct. 1982, pp.31-36; William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War (Boulder: Westview Press, 1986), pp.40-44; Carlyle A. Thayer, War By Other Means: National Liberation and Revolution in Viet-Nam 1954-60 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1989), pp.190-196. Back
  54. Lomperis, The War Everyone Lost—and Won, p.75. Back
  55. Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, p.524. Back
  56. P.L. Hatcher, The Suicide of an Elite: American Internationalists and Vietnam (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), (e.g., p.296). Back
  57. David Donovan, Once a Warrior King (London: Corgi, 1990), p.188. Back
  58. Loren Baritz, Backfire (New York: Morrow, 1985), p.54. Back
  59. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Vol. Il Vietnam (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1990), p.301. Back
  60. David M. Barren, “The Mythology Surrounding Lyndon Johnson, his Advisers and the 1965 Decision to Escalate the Vietnam War”, Political Science Quarterly, 103 (1988), pp.637-663, 646. Back
  61. L.H. Gelb and R.K. Betts, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked (Washington DC: Brookings, 1979). Back
  62. Cited in Michael E. Petersen, The Combined Action Platoons: The US Marines’ Other War in Vietnam (New York: Praeger, 1989), pp.93-4. Back
  63. See Thomas C. Thayer, War Without Fronts: The American Experience in Vietnam (Boulder: Westview, 1985); Robert W. Komer Bureaucracy at War.’ US Performance in the Vietnam Conflict (Boulder: Westview, 1986); and David H. Hackworth, About Face (London: Pan, 1991), p.614. Back
  64. See Krepinevich, The Army in Vietnam, pp.252-257; but see also Jeffrey J. Clarke, Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965-1973 (Washington DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1988), pp.303-308; also, Douglas Kinnard, “The ‘Strategy’ of the War In South Vietnam”, in J.F. Veninga and H.A. Wilmer, eds., Vietnam in Remission (Salado: Texas A. and M. University Press, 1985), p.23. Back
  65. See Berman, Lyndon Yohnson’s War, pp.20, 163-4; Chester Cooper, The Lost Crusade: America in Vietnam (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970), p.427; James J. Wirtz, “Intelligence to Please?”, Political Science Quarterly, 106 (1991), pp.239-63; Cable, Unholy Grail, Ch.7. Back
  66. See, e.g., Hung P. Nguyen, “Communist Offensive Strategy and the Defense of South Vietnam”, in Lloyd D. Matthews and D.E. Brown, eds., Assessing the Vietnam War (Washington DC: Pergamon-Brasseys, 1987), pp.101-121; AJ. Joes, The War for South Vietnam, 1954-1975 (New York: Praeger, 1989), p.113. For a strategy based on massive US deployment South of the demilitarised zone and interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh trail, see Palmer, The 25 Year War, pp.182-88 and Richard M. Nixon, No More Vietnams (London: W.H. Allen, 1986), pp.80-82. Back
  67. See Hatcher, Suicide of an Elite; William Colby, Lost Victory (New York: Contemporary Books, 1989). Back
  68. Harry G. Summers, On Strategy (San Rafael: Presidio, 1982). See also N.C. Eggleston, “On Lessons”, in L.E. Grinter and P.M. Dunn, eds., The American War in Vietnam (New York: Greenwood, 1987), pp. 111-123. Back
  69. Ambrose, Rise to Globalism, p.214. Back
  70. See James W. Gibson The Perfect War. Technowar in Vietnam (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986). Back
  71. See R.A. Pape, “Coercive Air Power in tile Vietnam War”, International Security, 15 (1990), pp.103-46; Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air Power. The American Bombing of Vietnam (New York: Free Press, 1989); Lewy, America in Vietnam, pp.412-14; and E.H. Tilford, “Air Power in Vietnam”, in Grinter and Dunn, eds., The American War in Vietnam, pp.69-83. Back
  72. See J. Dumbrell, “Congress and the Antiwar Movement”, in John Dumbrell, ed., Vietnam and the Antiwar Movement (Aldershot: Avebury, 1989), p.108; DeBenedetti, An American Ordeal, p.298; Lewy, America in Vietnam, p.434; Harris, The Anguish of Change, pp. 71, 75; VanDeMark, Into the Quagmire, p.163; John E. Mueller, War, Presidents and Public Opinion (New York: Wiley, 1973). Back
  73. DeBenedetti, An American Ordeal, p.322; Harris, The Anguish of Change, p.69. Back
  74. Kathleen J. Turner, Lyndon Johnson’s Dual War. Vietnam and the Press (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), p.6. Back
  75. DeBenedetti, An American Ordeal, p.390 (also p.177). Back
  76. T. Gitlin, The Whole World is Watching (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p.285. Back
  77. See Melvin Small, Johnson, Nixon and the Doves (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988). Back
  78. Statistics from: Turley, The Second Indochina War, pp.193-95; Lewy, America in Vietnam, pp.445-50; Gibson, The Perfect War, p.225; W. LaFeber, The American Age (London: Norton, 1989), p.608; Robert W. Stevens, Vain Hoes, Grim Realities: The Economic Consequences of the Vietnam War (New York: New Viewpoints, 1976), p.187; Myra McPherson, Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation (Garden City: Doubleday, 1984), p.230; Justin Wintle, The Vietnam Wars (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991), p.187. See also Richard A. Melanson, Reconstructing Consensus (New York: St. Martins, 1991). Back

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