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Causes of the Vietnam War

South East Asia [1954-1975]

The Vietnam War can be defined as the period of time between 1945-1975 which the United States was heavily involved in political and military conflicts that occurred in Vietnam.

The U.S. began to get involved during Truman's administration, but it wasn't until Kennedy became President that there was a major escalation in American involvement. Kennedy sent aid, advisors, and war equipment to Vietnam, while at the same time he put American soldiers on the ground there at increasingly higher numbers. Under Johnson's Presidency U.S. participation escalated even further with an influx of new troops being sent over for combat missions along with a much larger amount of supplies and weaponry than what had been delivered under Kennedy's administration.

There are four major causes for America's involvement in Southeast Asia.

The four main causes of the Vietnam War were: 1) The power struggle between France and Ho Chi Minh, 2) The Domino Theory, 3) Cold War politics, and 4) The Gulf of Tonkin Incident 1964.

What was the power struggle between France and Ho Chi Minh?

Ho South Chi Minh was the leader of the Vietminh, whose aim was to gain independence from French rule. He fought against the French with several others who could not stop communism from nationalists, but after he succeeded, France still had control over North Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh worked with several other Vietnamese nationalists to gain independence from French rule at the end of World War II. With the help of Chinese Communists and Soviet supplies, he managed to defeat the occupying French forces despite his small numbers.

However, in 1954, the peace treaty that ended the First Indochina War gave Vietnam its independence but divided it into two separate countries along a six-mile wide demilitarized zone (the 17th parallel).

  • North Vietnam was a communist republic led by Ho Chi Minh.
  • South Vietnam was a capitalist republic led by Ngo Dinh Diem.

North Vietnam was under the influence of communism (supported by China, Soviet Union, North Korea and Cuba) whereas South Vietnam was under the influence of democracy (suppored by United States, South Korea, Thailand, Australia & New Zealand).

In the Vietnam War, the Communist North Vietnamese Army (NVA) defeated the South Vietnamese Army, with the latter surrendering on April 30, 1975.

in 1954, at a conference in Geneva, the country of Vietnam was officially divided along the 17th parallel.

The conference also called for an election by July 1956 to unify the North and the South. However, the agreement was not accepted by the delegates of the United States or South Vietnam. The State of Vietnam, later headed by Ngo Dinh Diem, would oppose the election, thereby instigating the Vietnam War.

Thus Ho Chi Minh controlled the North while a pro-Western group, led by Ngo Dinh Diem, governed the South. This created a power struggle between Ho Chi Minh and France who were defeated by the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Ho Chi Minh established communism in North Vietnam and began his own creation of an ideal communist nation. He wanted Russians to fight for him because he believed that only they could fully help him spread communism.

Because of this relationship between Russia and China, it led to tensions with America which made them involve themselves in the Vietnam War when American troops entered North still Vietnam.

Why did the US support Diem in Vietnam?

The US support of South Vietnemese Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem was due to the administrations concern about an expansionist communist bloc, following Chinese communists victory in 1949.

US officials believed that Diem was more of an anti-communist nationalist and had the best chance of defeating the Vietminh.

Eisenhower believed Diems efficient campaigns against the Vietminh would make him a suitable replacement for Ho Chi Minh as ruler of Vietnam.

Cold War Politics

The Vietnam War was caused by the Cold War between America and China. The two were fighting to get other countries on their side. That is why North Vietnam got help from Russia and South Vietnam got help from America.

South Vietnam was involved in the Cold War because it felt threatened by China, an ally of North Vietnam. As a result, this made them closer allies to the US.

This began when North Korean soldiers invaded South Korea in 1950. Since then, there was a battle over who would be in power in Southeast Asia. America viewed this war as communism versus capitalism, which turned it into part of the Cold War conflict.

Domestic politics played a major role in US involvement because many Americans expected their government to protect them during times of crisis. The media portrayed communists as evil and made it seem like they were on the verge of taking over at any moment, so people expected intervention from Washington.

Popular opinion was that politicians couldn't show weakness or communism would spread. This caused an immense amount of public pressure to help South Vietnam.

What impact did the domino theory have on foreign policies during the Vietnam War?

The domino theory emerged during the Cold War and stated that if one communist country fell to communism, then other countries in its region would too.

This was the reason for US involvement in Vietnam. The US believed it needed to fight against communism to maintain peace in East Asia, while North Vietnam supported communist China and had received aid from them since 1950.

In 1954 at the Geneva Accords negotiations over Vietnam's future failed when Britain gave up control of Malaysia despite its promising economy and political stability. A year later, after successfully removing Diem from office through a coup d'├ętat, American President Eisenhower asked Congress for an additional $200 million in aid funds towards protecting Southeast Asia against "the forces of international communism".

He asked for this additional money to be sent directly towards the three countries most threatened by communism, which were Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Eisenhower stated that if these three countries were lost to communism it could have serious consequences on the rest of Southeast Asia.

Even though America was not in direct control over Vietnam it still feared what would happen when North Vietnam finally took over South Vietnam. This fear lead to American support in funding guerrilla troops in the North with the hope that they would overthrow Ho Chi Minh's communist regime.

In 1955, President Eisenhower signed a treaty of aid with South Vietnam, but by 1963 the Viet Cong were winning battle after battle against the South Vietnamese Army which led to an increased involvement of US forces.

How did the Gulf of Tonkin affect the Vietnam War?

The Gulf of Tonkin incident was a major escalation point that propelled the United States further into the Vietnam War.

On August 2, 1964, U.S. warships were attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in international waters as they conducted a raid against military targets on Hainan Island as part of Oplan 34-A.

The U.S., officially neutral in this conflict between South and North Vietnam, accused North Vietnam of attacking American ships for entering their territorial waters unannounced and initiated military action afterward under the guise of protecting its own safety and property.

Although both sides claimed to be fighting for their independence and freedom from foreign powers, neither side seemed willing to give up, and soon others such as China and Russia began supporting the North Vietnamese in the form of weapons, supplies, and thousands of Chinese troops.

The event led to increased support for Operation Rolling Thunder, which was President Lyndon B. Johnson's way of starting the Vietnam War. It also encouraged Congress to pass legislation such as the "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution", which allowed President Johnson to wage war in Vietnam without needing approval from Congress.

Cite this Article (Chicago Style)

Mcleod, S. "Causes of the Vietnam War." World History Blog, Oct 14, 2021.