American War in Vietnam or Vietnam War?

 

Till date, the Vietnam War remains one of the most notable, yet controversial, proxy wars in history.

Beginning in 1954, as a local conflict between the communist Viet Minh troops led by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong, Southern Vietnamese troops, it soon escalated into a full-fledged, grand-scale war, resulting in more than 3 million deaths, amidst the backdrop of rising tensions between the Soviet Union and the US. In fact, both superpowers were heavily invested in the war, with the US sending in more than 500,000 military personnel in 1969[1] and spending $140 billion for Vietnamese war efforts.[2]

But why did these 2 superpowers take particular interest in Vietnam, rather than other nations in the region? What propelled them to invest so heavily in the Vietnam war?

Geopolitical and economic imperatives.

To the Soviet Union, supporting Ho Chi Minh’s communist efforts would contribute to a growing communist base, aiding its ascension into world dominance. On the other hand, to curb the Soviet Union’s growing dominance and the monstrous manifestation of communism across the globe, the US had to prevent Vietnam from falling into communist hands. In particular, Eisenhower’s domino theory sparked the fear of the possibility of the spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia.

Domino Theory[11]

Figure 1 Domino Theory[3]

 

In addition, the US had to consider the economic interests of its 3 main allies, Japan, France and Britain. Following the end of World War 2, these allies faced economic stagnation and economic recovery necessitated new sources of raw materials from Southeast Asia[4], so securing a victory in Vietnam was essential.

Yet, in their pursuits for their individual interests, the 2 superpowers placed too much emphasis on classical geopolitics and failed to consider the practicalities of their decisions. There was an evident disconnect between classical geopolitics and practical geopolitics.

According to classical geopolitics, specifically, Spykman’s Rimland Theory, securing Vietnam was legitimate and the statecraft practised by each was justifiable.  If the Soviet Union were to triumph, they would successfully extend communist influence . Whereas the US would be able to limit the Soviet Union’s access to the Rimland, preventing them from achieving dominance. However, critically examining the costs and benefits of the war, their actions were not justifiable anymore.

In the actual operational theatre of war, the massive loss of human lives and horrific war images casted doubts as to whether intervention was necessary or even excessive. In 1967, around 35,000 demonstrators supported anti-war movements outside the Pentagon[5], citing that the war did not weaken the enemy but only sought to sacrifice innocent civilian lives.

LSU-Vietnam-war-protest-1970--featured

Figure 2 Antiwar Protest[6]

To the Vietnamese, anti US sentiments began to grow as the drastic deaths of Vietnamese civilians and US’s seeming disregard for that seemed to indicate that the US only cared about their own interests and Saigon was merely a puppet for US to advance their imperialist ideals.

vietnam-war-protest

Vietnam War protesters. 1967. Wichita, Kans, 1967[7]

The war finally ended in 1975, when DRV forces captured Saigon. The US had lost the war.   But this outcome was not unforeseen. Throughout the war, the US failed to understand the true nature of the war. Rather than to advance communist ideals, the Vietnam war had its roots in anti colonialism and national strife.[8] US’s involvement in Vietnam’s domestic war only escalated the scale of the war, resulting in the unnecessary loss of civilian lives. US’s understanding of the war was diluted as it was located so remotely far from the operational war theatre where it so actively participated in, leading to its misapplying of power across space.

 

 


 

[1] History.com Staff. (2009). Vietnam War History. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history

[2] Rohn, A. (2014, January 22). How Much Did The Vietnam War Cost? – The Vietnam War. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://thevietnamwar.info/how-much-vietnam-war-cost/

[3] [Domino Theory]. (2014, April 7). Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2010/04/origins-of-the-domino-theory.html

[4] Mercille, J. (2007) The Radical Geopolitics and Geoeconomics of U.S. Military Spending: A Case .. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=-NSV1Fgbc9EC&pg=PA186&lpg=PA186&dq=geopolitics of vietnam war&source=bl&ots=wJDloi1Tui&sig=k6WevomXB5Oo5LU0XPeCTlnG7po&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiw2dbq5rrLAhVPA44KHdGiC8Q4HhDoAQg9MAc#v=onepage&q=geopolitics of vietnam war&f=false.

[5] Ibid

[6] Dewolf, N. (2013, December 30). [Antiwar Protest]. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://www.peterpappas.com/tag/vietnam-war

[7] Vietnam War protesters. 1967. Wichita, Kans [Digital image]. (1890). Retrieved March 12, 2016, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vietnam_War_protesters._1967._Wichita,_Kans_-_NARA_-_283627.jpg

[8] Record, J. (1998). The Wrong War Why We Lost in Vietnam. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/r/record-war.html

 

 

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