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So why did the US become involved in the Vietnam War.

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The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese.

Despite the added troops and firepower, the underlying political dynamics of the war remained the same. The Saigon government was detested by most of the people, and no amount of U.S. troops in the country could change that fact. A report by the CIA Office of National Estimates on March 2, 1965, warned of the “danger that U.S. troop commitment will lead more South Vietnamese to accept the Communist line that U.S. colonialism is replacing French,” and thus “turn increasing numbers of Vietnamese toward support of the Viet Cong effort to oust the U.S.”

Their main goal was to turn Vietnam into a self-governed communist country.

The day’s operation burned down 150 houses, wounded three women, killed one baby, wounded one marine and netted these four prisoners. Four old men who could not answer questions put to them in English. Four old men who had no idea what an I.D. card was. Today’s operation is the frustration of Vietnam in miniature. There is little doubt that American firepower can win a military victory here. But to a Vietnamese peasant whose home means a lifetime of backbreaking labor, it will take more than presidential promises to convince him that we are on his side.

The French had lost their power and Vietnam gained independence....

In 1945 they had moved back into southern Vietnam and ruled most of the cities.

Many protests combined opposition to the war with some tangible concern such as university cooperation with the Selective Service System, military and CIA recruiters on campus, the presence of ROTC, or contracts with the Pentagon or Dow Chemical (the Pentagon distributed about $1 billion annually to universities for research projects). The draft, or conscription, made the war impossible to ignore.

The antiwar movement was a never-ending fount of new organizations and projects. From 1965 to 1967, new organizations included Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, Veterans for Peace in Vietnam, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Another Mother for Peace, RESIST, and American Writers and Artists Against the War. Among the new projects were the National Voters Peace Pledge Campaign, organized by SANE, “Vietnam Summer,” a community organizing project led by Martin Luther King and Benjamin Spock, and “Negotiations Now,” a petition drive led by prominent liberals such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

All the fighting and death had upset the southern Vietnamese.

In opposition to Diem, a new regime was conjured up in south Vietnam called the Vietcong.

This boy, our friend Hubert, is just destroying himself with his big mouth. He just can’t stop it…. Yesterday morning he went on the TV and just blabbed everything he heard in a briefing, just like it was his personal knowledge, and almost wanted to claim credit for it. They [the reporters] said, for instance, how would you account for these PT boat attacks on our destroyers when we are innocently out there in the Gulf sixty miles from shore. Humphrey said, well, we have been carrying on some operations in that area, and we’ve been having some covert operations where we have been going in and knocking out roads and petroleum things, and so forth. And that’s exactly what we have been doing. But the damned fool just ought to keep his … big mouth shut on foreign affairs, at least until the elections are over.

With the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution enacted, Johnson had the power to expand the war as he saw fit. His strategy was to increase it in stages, allowing the DRV and NLF to capitulate to U.S. demands at any pause. If they did not, the U.S. would increase the punishment. That fall, Johnson expanded the war in the south without fanfare, increasing U.S. bombing runs, building and expanding air bases, dispatching three additional regiments (about 4,500 soldiers), lifting restrictions on the use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus (napalm was already in use), and expanding the area of “free-fire zones” to encompass larger sections of the countryside, including heavily populated areas. It was still not enough. On October 31, 1964, the NLF used captured American mortars to attack the U.S. air base at Bien Hoa, destroying five B-57 bombers and badly damaging thirteen more; four Americans were killed and thirty wounded.

Vietcong were residents of South Vietnam who were in favor of the communist rule in North Vietnam.
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Vietnam vets doing guerrilla street theater in Connecticut

Public opinion shifted during the war. In the fall 1964 election, a majority of Americans voted for a presidential candidate who promised not to send “our boys” to Vietnam. Once combat troops were sent, however, the majority endorsed the war, in keeping with patriotic support for American troops abroad. A Gallup poll taken in June 1965 reported that 66% favored continued U.S. military involvement as opposed to 20% who favored withdrawal. Only one year later, support for the war had begun to wane. A Gallup poll taken in June 1966 reported 48% in favor of continued involvement and 35% in favor of withdrawal.

Bernard Fall, The Two Viet-Nams (New York: Praeger, 1963), p. 257.

Reorienting American thinking about the war was an uphill climb. The generation that came of age during the Vietnam War was raised on heroic World War II stories, pumped full of national pride, and indoctrinated to believe in the benevolence of American foreign policies. Still, the purported “threat” of a communist-led government in a small country halfway around the world did not elicit the same fighting spirit as defending the nation in the aftermath of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This was true for the general population as well – the necessity of the war was not obvious. Hence, the administration had to work assiduously to persuade the public that developments in Vietnam did indeed pose a dire threat to the security of the United States as well as to the survival of the so-called Free World.

Young, The Vietnam Wars, pp. 69-72.

South Vietnam suffered in more ways. Some 1,200,000 people were forcibly relocated through “pacification” programs and five million became refugees between 1964 to 1975. The urban population swelled from 15 percent in 1964 to 40 percent in 1968, to 65 percent in 1974, undermining the social fabric of the country. Normally a rice exporter, South Vietnam had to import 725,000 tons of rice in 1967. Hunger and starvation were side effects of the war. The U.S. also conducted its chemical war in the south, spraying nineteen million gallons of toxins on five million acres, with some parts of North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia sprayed as well. The debilitating effects of this chemical war still linger.

Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War, Vol. 2, p. 293.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. held back from speaking out against the Vietnam War for almost two years, as Lyndon Johnson was a friend of the civil rights movement, having signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By the spring of 1967, he could remain silent no longer as “my conscience leaves me no other choice,” as he put it. He offered a clear exposition of his views in a sermon-like speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam” at the Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, sponsored by the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam.

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