The USA and Indochina
Political and social issues in Indochina by 1960
North Vietnam
ŸIn 1953 the number of landless peasants in liberated areas was 15%, so land reform began.
žLand reform in North Vietnam from 1953-56 had massive impacts on the quality of life of many Vietnamese, and it is estimated that at least 50000 were killed. Other estimates that 12,000-15,000 people were unjustly executed on false charges of sabotage in the North or supporting counterrevolutionary activities.
            • The mass deaths were the result of overzealous communist cadres, who were eager to produce high numbers of 'traitors' for the Politburo
žPublic criticism sessions were held in liberated villages in 1953 to encourage the poor to criticize the alleged tyrannical behaviour of wealthy elements in the local community and ‘crimes against the people.’
žThe cadres were given the responsibility to get rid of disloyalties. People were encouraged to denounce enemies: and it was often family and neighbours that were denounced.
žPeasants were often falsely accused and summary executions took place for the people that had been French supporters during the First Indochina War or who were anti-communist.
žBy 1960 60% of North Vietnam was under cooperatives.
South Vietnam
ŸDiem conversely supported the wealthy land owners in SVN rather than the peasants working for them
            • Land owners allowed to charge 'back-rents' for the time they had been displaced during the French War
            • Overtaxation of the peasantry resulted in the continuation of widespread poverty
            • It projected the image of an undiciplined Government- did not sit well with Confucian society
ŸIn 1955 Diem ordered the suppression of the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai (religious groups) and also of the Binh Xuyen (a criminal syndicate). The Hoa Hao’s leader was beheaded in public and this ended the Hoa Hao as a military group. Even though the three anti-communist groups were markedly defeated they still controlled much of the countryside and many members joined the Viet Minh.
Elections
ŸIn 1956 Diem refused to participate in the national elections with the backing of the US, as he knew they would win and after this the North thought it was fair to begin their military campaign.
Removal of civil Liberties
ŸIn 1956 it was now a capital offence to be a communist sympathiser and punishable by death.
ŸFrom early 1957, the cadres began to stir and begin insurgency operations in response to Diem’s Denunciation Campaigns and Diem’s authoritarian repression. 90% of Viet Minh cells were either crushed or disbanded. As a response to this and with Hanoi’s consent a covert assassination campaign began. Between 1959 and 1961, the number of South Vietnamese government officials assassinated rose from 1200 to 4000 a year. Police officers, teachers, village leaders and government workers were targeted by the Viet Cong.
ŸIn 1958 Diem established the Law for the Protection of Morality which outlawed, divorce, abortion, prostitution, contraception, public affection, opium dens and dancing.
ŸBy 1958, 40,000 people who had opposed Diem had been imprisoned, and by 1961, 150,000 were imprisoned. In all 50,000 were probably executed.
ŸNgo Dinh Nhu, Diem’s brother was appointed the head of the Can Lao secret police.
ŸBy the early 1960s the South had become totally dependent on US aid and pacification programs were introduced aimed at ‘winning hearts and minds’ of the people. Aid was given in the form of health, education and subsidised rice.
ŸIn SVN, the Movement of National Revolution banned all political parties except the Can Lao Party (run by Diem’s brother and formed to support the Diem regime.)
ŸThe million or so catholic and anti-communist refugees that fled North Vietnam were the experienced bureaucrats and the highly skilled.
NLF and VC
ŸIn 1960 the National Liberation Front (NLF) was created and was a non-communist organisation which opposed Diem it included peasants, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, Binh Xuyen, women, Buddhists and students. The NLF demanded and fought for democratic freedom, land for peasants, US expulsion, and the reunification of Vietnam. They also advocated a neutral foreign policy and good relations with Laos + Cambodia. People were offered land that joined and self sufficiency was encouraged and family contacts were used to infiltrate enemy villagers. They had no official HQ or uniforms. Ho Chi Minh sent support via the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Sihanouk Trail.
ŸIn 1961 land reform campaigns began in liberated areas in the South.
ŸPropaganda from the Vietcong portrayed the US as another colonial imperialist.
ŸThe USA had introduced the use of defoliants and herbicides in late 1961.
ŸThe US strategic hamlet program caused mass dislocation and in Harper’s view was never going to succeed. Forcibly removing people from their ancestral land and into fortified villages surrounded by barbed wire and without rice paddies, was never going to be popular. Thus they lost basic local support for the war and drove many into the welcoming hands of the VC.
ŸIn 1962 an attempted assassination attempt on Diem and the Nhu’s occurred at the Independence Palace, when two pilots bombed and strafed the palace and it was very unlucky that it was not successful.
ŸThe target had been to create 12,000 hamlets by the end of 1963.
ŸIn 1963 Buddhist demonstrations against Diem continued throughout the summer. In August the special forces loyal to Nhu raided the Xa Loi Pagoda in Saigon. The pagodas were vandalised, monks beaten, the cremated ashes of the fist self-immolating monk were confiscated and simultaneous raids were carried out across the country at other pagodas. When citizens of Saigon came to the defence of the monks 30 civilians were killed and 200 wounded. In all 1400 monks were arrested. No further Buddhist protests occurred during the remainder of his rule.
žMadame Nhu became extremely unpopular among Vietnamese and Americans alike when she stated ‘Let them burn and we shall clap our hands.’ And when she said that the demonstrations were barbeques and offered to supply the gasoline in the future. She also labelled Buddhists as ‘hooligans in robes.’
The end of Diem
ŸDiem was assassinated by a group of army officers with tacit approval of the US. Diem had strayed too far from US intentions and had never been overly popular.
ŸDiem assassination in 1963 caused irrevocable instability in the social and political structure of South Vietnam. It was a catalyst for a revolving door of military coups and juntas for the next two years.
ŸThe new regime under General Duong Van Minh collapsed nine months later and replaced by General Nguyen Khanh, who in turn was replaced by Nguyen Cao Ky’s and Nguyen Van Thieu’s split government. They remained as the leaders until 1975.
Peasantry
Ÿ“It remains a stubborn fact that the percentage of the countryside which is dominated or threatened by the Viet Cong continues to grow.” McGeorge Bundy 1965
ŸThe peasantry of Vietnam suffered unimaginably during the American involvement in Vietnam. Peasants were under constant pressure from both sides for support and were often subjected to brutality from the side they did not side with. Livestock would be killed, crops destroyed and homes burnt, family members killed, fields sprayed with herbicides, pesticides and intermittently scattered with mines.
ŸOn 16 March 1968 80 members of C Company under the command of Lieutenant William Calley flew by helicopter to the village of My Lai on a search and destroy mission aimed at depriving Viet Cong of support by searching the village and if VC equipment was uncovered destroying it.
ŸC Company killed 500 women, children and old men and women in a rampage of frustration and hatred.
ŸCluster bombs, anti-personnel bombs, white phosphorous, Agent Orange, Napalm B and defoliants and pesticides were sprayed over wide areas to destroy Viet Cong hiding places and sanctuaries.
ŸBetween 1962 and 1972 nearly 20 million gallons was sprayed, 11 million being Agent Orange.
ŸWith US escalation an estimated four million people gravitated towards the larger cities such as Saigon, Cholon and Danang.
ŸThe makeshift slums led to epidemics of malaria and dysentery, the black market flourished, crime increased and prostitution increased, which US soldiers enjoyed.
The North
ŸIn the North, as US bombing intensified, the entire nation was mobilised and children and the elderly were evacuated to the countryside.
ŸBomb shelters were built all throughout Hanoi in little holes in the ground and bridges had to be perpetually replaced or bypassed because of frequent bombing.
ŸAll essential items were spread across the cities (Hanoi and Haiphong) to reduce the destruction by US bombing of goods imperative for the war effort.
Ÿ30,000 children in Hanoi and Haiphong suffered permanent deafness during the bombing at Christmas in 1972.


Laos
Political chaos
ŸLaos was granted full independence from the French after the Geneva conference of 1954. It did not however settle who was going to rule the nation.
ŸThe US-backed Royal Lao Government ruled over a divided country from 1951 to 1954.
ŸPrince Souvanna Phouma, a neutralist, operated from Vientiane; in the south, right-wing, pro-US Prince Boun Oum of Champassak dominated the Pakse area. In the far north, Prince Souphanouvong led the leftist resistance movement, the Pathet Lao, drawing support from North Vietnam.
ŸOver the next few years there were a number of unsuccessful attempts to set up a coalition government to bring royalists and communists together.
ŸIn 1956 an uneasy coalition was formed between Prince Souvanna Phouma as Prime Minister and his half-brother Souphanouvong and his Pathet Lao.
ŸIn 1960 fighting broke out between the Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao Army, this being the pre-requisite to civil war.
ŸIn 1961 a neutral independent government was set up under Prince Souvanna Phouma based in Vientiane, the capital.
ŸA second attempt at a coalition government floundered in 1962 due to the expansion of the war in Vietnam. The neutralists later joined forces with the Pathet Lao to oppose forces backed by the US Thailand.


Outbreak of Secret War
ŸIn the late 1950's, The US withdrew aid to a communist dominated government and civil war broke out.
ŸFor the next decade, Laos was plagued by civil war, coups, countercoups, and chaos, and was dragged headlong into the Vietnam War. Laos became a pawn of the superpowers, with Hmong tribesmen trained by CIA agents, Thai mercenaries fighting for the Royal Lao government, and the Pathet Lao receiving help from the Chinese, the Russians, and the Vietminh.
ŸDuring the Vietnam War, Laos was effectively partitioned into four spheres of influence: the Chinese in the north, the Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the east, the Thais in western areas controlled by the US-backed Royal Lao Government, and the Khmer Rouge operating from parts of the south. Because of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Laos was subjected to saturation bombing by aerial raids launched from Thailand and from within Laos.
ŸIn 1968, the North Vietnamese Army launched a multi-division attack against the Royal Lao Army. The attack resulted in the army largely demobilizing and leaving the conflict to irregular forces raised by the United States and Thailand.
ŸThe number of Laotian coups became so confusing, that the Americans were unsure which Phoumi, Phuouma, Phoui, Souvanna, or Souvanou was in power at any given time.
  • "Laos was as improbable as the Looking Glass world ruled by the Red Queen, the White Queen and Alice. Its towns and trackless jungles swarmed with guerrillas, communist agents, Special Forces troopers, armed tribesmen, opium growers, an international corps of mercenaries and sundry camp followers. Vientiane was awash with the dollars pouring in with the foreigners. The Chinese-owned gold shops along Samsentai Street did a booming business in twenty-four karat gold bracelets, each weighing five ounces or more. Customers included pilots of the CIA’s Air America, French military advisors, Belgian mercenaries, spooks, assassins and journalists. Foreigners bought gold bracelets on the theory that if they were shot down or wounded, they could pay for help from tribesmen with gold, the only currency universally respected in Laos." - Malcom Browne
ŸIn 1973 as the US were withdrawing the Pathet Lao got the upper hand, controlling most of the country’s provinces.
ŸIn 1975 with the fall of Phnom Penh and Saigon, opposition to the Pathet Lao crumbled. The Pathet Lao eventually took Vientiane without opposition and established the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR)


Cambodia
ŸPrior to the First Indochinese Conflict involving the French, Cambodia had experienced a relatively stable political environment. Despite threats from neighbouring countries it continued to remain a peaceful, devoutly religious and cultured nation.
ŸThe conflict with the French severely damaged Cambodia’s economy and instead of engaging in plans of economic development, so as to improve the nation’s living standard. Cambodian government’s large consistent government deficits due to extremely large military budgets. The economy was to be further strained in the Second Indochinese War after B-52 bombing and the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants. Even after receiving US$1.8 bn in aid throughout 1970-75, the Cambodian economy remained impoverished and corrupt.


Impact of the USA
ŸThe Khmer Rouge only had 2200 members by 1964 and these were the only 2200 in the country that were members of a communist organisation.
ŸArguably if the US had respected Sihanouk’s policy of neutrality, Lon Nol would not have taken power and many peasants would not have turned to communism.
ŸBetween 1960-75 Cambodian cities such as Phnom Penh received an enormous influx of people who had left their agrarian lifestyle and religious ties behind in the hope of becoming rich.
ŸOperation Menu killed thousands of Cambodians living on the border, as B-52’s inaccurately bombed targets of military significance. Approximately 1/3 of Cambodian’s were refugees by 1972 due to PLAF and PAVN border raids, special force operations and the devastating effects of US bombing. Many became resentful of all foreign, pro-US capital initiatives to ‘help’ Cambodia over the next several decades.





Nature and Development of US policy towards Indochina generally and Vietnam in particular
ŸDuring WW2 the US supported and gave direct military materiel to Ho Chi Minh and fellow nationalists through the OSS program. They were trained to find downed US airmen and prevent them from being captured by the Japanese. They also contributed in reconnaissance, gathering intelligence about Japanese positions and movements.
ŸAfter WW2 ended France immediately rejected Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian calls for independence and her yoke of colonialism.
Post WW2 policy development
ŸCommunism was seen as monolithic and entirely controlled by Moscow.
Ÿ26 July, 1950- Truman authorises $15million in military aid to the French (1954- 80% of all French costs). The US had long been anti-imperialist and was proud to not have colonies. When communism (an instrument to achieve Indochinese independence) became an issue however, Truman willing supported the French in their imperialist campaign going to extraordinary lengths.
ŸTruman decided that if action was not taken, the whole of SE Asia would fall under the iron curtain of Marxism.
ŸThe US even put tremendous pressure on the French to maintain their role in Indochina after the defeat at Dien Bien Phu, but the French weren’t interested. The war was unpopular in France, they were not achieving anything, they could not hope to consolidate or cement their position in Indochina, they wanted out.
ŸVietnam was now seen as a measure of American responsibility and determination in Asia. It was thought that if the US backed down, the US would be held responsible and her prestige in Asia would sink to a new low. Vietnam represented a proving ground for democracy.
US commitment begins
ŸDiem had been appointed caretaker Prime Minister by Bao Dai on 7 July 1954. On 23 Oct 1954 Eisenhower made a public commitment to the recently appointed Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.
ŸDiem however would prove to be ‘a puppet who pulled his own strings.’
ŸAfter the defeat of the French, the US was determined to allow the South to develop as a democratic, anti-communist country. This was reflected through their refusal with SVN to sign the Geneva Peace Accords of 1954, and their advice and support of Diem in cancelling the national elections that were to be held by July 1956. Eisenhower knew Diem would not have won the national elections of 1956.
ŸDiem took control of the army in 1955 and was appointed Prime Minister by Bao Dai. Subsequently South Vietnam was worse off under Diem than the French.
ŸSihanouk always had a testy/fragile relationship with the US.
ŸAdvisors, supplies, aid and money did not seem to be helping the South. The North were winning the war.
ŸAssistant Secretary of Defence John McNaughton wrote to Defence Secreatry McNamara in early 1965 and placed values on US motives for involvement in Vietnam.
70 % to avoid a humiliating US defeat
20% to keep South Vietnam territory from Chinese hands
10% to permit the people of SVN to enjoy a freer, better way of life.
ŸAmerican involvement in Vietnam was incremental- step by step, there was never a pivotal point where America committed itself to Vietnam.
Post Dien Bien Phu
ŸAfter 1955 US involvement in Indochina began to increase exponentially. The Viet Cong or left-behinds began to attack the government forces in the south and wage guerrilla/terrorist warfare.
ŸThe US began to be seen by many Indochinese as a new foreign occupant and thus it became the target of nationalistic driven aggression.
ŸThe US administration participated in all facets of South Vietnam’s operations and running and advised Diem to publish an internal election victory in Oct 1955 within the Republic of 70%. He claimed a 98% victory.


United States response to Geneva Conference Declaration

Report by the National Security Council on the position of the United States with respect to Indochina – 27th February 1950
United States intention was "To undertake a determination of all practicable United States measures to protect its security in Indochina and to prevent the expansion of all communist aggression in that area."
The United States "recognised that the threat of communist aggression against Indochina is only one phase of anticipated communist plans to seize all of Southeast Asia."
Had the opinion that "A decision to contain communist expansion at the border of Indochina must be considered as a part of a wider study to prevent communist aggression into other parts of Southeast Asia."

"The Department of State has pointed out to the French Government that it was and is necessary to establish and support governments in Indochina, particularly in Vietnam, under leaders who are capable of attracting to their causes the non-communist nationalist followers who had drifted to the Ho Chi Minh communist movement in the absence of any non-communist nationalist movement around which to plan their aspirations."


The United States came to the conclusion that "It is important to United States security interests that all practicable measures be taken to prevent further communist expansion in Southeast Asia. Indochina is a key area of Southeast Asia and is under immediate threat" and therefore that "Accordingly, the Departments of State and Defence should prepare as a matter of priority a program of all practicable measures designed to protect United States security interests in Indochina."

Laos
ŸLaos was originally the cornerstone of U.S. policy in 1954 and the US backed forces of Phoumi Nosavan and the Hmong fought against regular NVA and Prince Souphanouvong
ŸAmerica engineered a right wing coup against the neutralist government under Prince Soucanna Phoua in August 1960 and Laos was plunged into war, as the Communist Pathet Lao rejected the neutralist government citing that it was a US puppet. By 1960, the CIA had spent $US300m on Laos.
ŸAir America also played a secret and ambiguous role in Laos and Cambodia, dealing in drug trafficking, extortions, smuggling gold and the arms trade.
Kennedy’s Camelot
ŸIn Nov 1960 Kennedy was elected President and McNamara head of defence. The US had already sent $US1 bn and 900 military/’agriculture’ advisors to Vietnam before his appointment. Kennedy was unsure how the war should be waged or what aims/policy to institute. He rejected direct military intervention.
Ÿ“Let every nation know that we shall pay any price, bare any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foes, to assure the survival and success of democracy.” Kennedy’s Inauguration speech
ŸAmerican policy towards Vietnam was always paternalistic and they clearly believed they were superior to the people they were trying to support.
Ÿ“If we are not the parents of little Vietnam, we are the godparents.”- Kennedy
ŸGeneral Lemnitzer, the Chief of Staff of the US Army in July 1957 advocated to take the Viet Cong head on. ‘grab them by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow.’
ŸIn 1963 American optimism began to wane due to Diem’s attacks on the Buddhists.
ŸIn Nov 1963, 16000 US military advisors were in Vietnam.
ŸBy the early 1960s the South had become totally dependent on US aid and pacification programs were introduced aimed at ‘winning hearts and minds’ of the people.
ŸUS ideology and policy did not know how to deal with the corruption, nepotism and widespread disproval of Diem and later Thieu. They tried to tell Diem to stop repressing the Buddhists but failed, and they tried to stop him being corrupt and nepotistic.
ŸThe culmination of this frustration reached a high point when they were involved in the coup against Diem. Even this however, proved the lack of understanding and influence they had on the South, when Diem was viciously killed to the delight and joy of many South Vietnamese. It was an embarrassment to the US; they never wanted him killed just quietly removed.
ŸBut Diem had not been the leader the US wanted him to be and nor had he lead a united South Vietnam.
Cambodian relations
ŸSihanouk feared that the US would attempt a similar assassination on him, and broke off relations with the US, this was critical to his neutrality.
ŸIn Cambodia as well, they willingly supported and overestimated the potential of General Lon Nol; a man who frequently burst into tears in times of high emotion, was gravely out of touch with the population, destroyed what was left of the economy, whose brother earned an estimated $US90 m in arms trafficking and extortion, who planned major battles on the advice of soothsayers and sent boys to fight the heavily armed Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
ŸOn 22nd Nov 1963 Kennedy was assassinated, 2 weeks after Diem.
Escalation
ŸAug 2 and Aug 4, Gulf of Tonkin incidents. Gulf of Tonkin resolution 10 August 1964.
ŸIn 1965 Operation Rolling Thunder commenced and General Westmoreland became the new commander in South Vietnam.
ŸJohnson sends two battalions to protect bases.
Ÿ“We’re smarter, we have greater mobility and firepower, we have endurance and more to fight for.. and we’ve got more guts.” Johnson
Ÿ“All the errors in Vietnam had been committed by the Spring of 65; after that, there seemed no way out.” McNamara
ŸJune/July 1965 ground troops enter Vietnam- 50,000 troops with another 50,000 to come.
ŸBy the mid-1960s the US was not able to get out of Indochina because of the way they walked in.
ŸBy 1966 many Fire Support Bases such as the one at Khe Sanh were created to serve as scattered defensive posts.
ŸGenerally the ARVN were thought by the US soldiers as totally incompetent, corrupt and cowards. ARVN soldiers were notorious for walking away from fights or half committing to a battle. Most ARVN units were far from dependable allies and they suffered from poor officer training, and family oriented military appointments. They did not have their heart in the fight against communism, and were quite happy to let the gung-ho Americans take the initiative. They were entirely US armed and trained and like the US were trained in conventional warfare.


Johnson's Message to Congress Regarding Gulf of Tonkin incident - 5th August 1964
  • "After consultation with the leaders of both parties in the Congress, I further announced a decision to ask the Congress for a resolution expressing the unity and determination of the United States in supporting freedom and in protecting peace in Southeast Asia."
  • "America keeps her word. Here as elsewhere, we must and shall honour our commitments… A threat to any nation in that region is a threat to all, and a threat to us. Our purpose is peace. We have no military, political, or territorial ambitions in the area. This is not just a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity."
  • "As President of the United State I have concluded that I should now ask the Congress, on its part, to join in affirming the national determination that all such attacks will be met, and that the United States will continue in its basic policy of assisting the free nations of the area to defend their freedom."
  • "in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defence Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Treaty requesting assistance in defence of its freedom."
Aggression from the North
In a State Department White Paper entitled "Aggression from the North" released on the 27th February 1965, the United States claimed that "South Vietnam is fighting for its life against a brutal campaign of terror and armed attack inspired, directed, supplied, and controlled by the Communist regime in Hanoi. This flagrant aggression has been going on for years, but recently the pace has quickened and the threat has now become more acute."

Military Operations
ŸOperation Cedar Falls, 1967:
*By the end of 1966, General Westmoreland had failed to draw the NVA and VC into regular combat. He then decided to wage a war of attrition, and search and destroy missions were used extensively.
*Cedar Falls was launched to destroy a suspected network on enemy tunnels and bunkers in the Binh Duong province. 32,000 US and ARVN infantry, supported by tanks and air power moved into the province. 7000-10,000 civilians were forced to evacuate from the villages in the vicinity of the tunnel complex. The villages were then destroyed to deprive the VC of support.
*The US and ARVN withdrew to allow the area to be carpet bombed. The rice paddies and jungle were sprayed with herbicides and defoliants.
*The US then returned to capture any survivors.
*At the time it was considered a major success, but within two months the VC had occupied the area.
*The US was never able to resolve how to secure an area and then maintain that security without permanently stationing large numbers of troops. Westmoreland argued that it would only be a matter of time before the war of attrition began to have effect and the VC/NVA would be unable to reoccupy areas.
Ÿ“The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.” Westmoreland
Ÿ“The politicians in Washington just had no idea about the complexity of the situation in South Vietnam.” Westmoreland
ŸOperation Junction City, Feb 1967:
*Was primarily a search and destroy mission like Cedar Falls.
*Was the largest single operation ever launched involving 35000 US and ARVN troops. The aim was to destroy the imagined COSVN (Central Office for South Vietnam) fortress and other minor communist bases along the Cambodian border.
*Civilians were evacuated followed by massive bombing and defoliation.
*The communists were forced to retreat, but retreated further into the Cambodian jungle. The COSVN fortress or stronghold was never found because it did not exist. Only minor entrenchments existed. The implications were tragic for both the US and Cambodia.
ŸGeneral Abrams replaced Westmoreland as the new commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) on June 10, 1968.
ŸWHAM (winning the hearts and minds) failed due to the adoption of the Strategic Hamlets Program in 1962 and agrovilles, and the burning down and relocation of villages.
Ÿ“The Credibility of the US government was progressively crippled as the rationale for the war shifted from checkmating world Communism to ‘self-determination’ for South Vietnam to protecting American commitments to saving American prestige, to averting ‘humiliation’ to defending the presidency, to rescuing prisoners. Ultimately ending the war became the objective of the war itself.” Marder
Peak of involvement
ŸBy 31 Dec 1968, US troops had reached a maximum of 536,100.
Ÿ Nixon became President in Jan 1969, his policies were largely shaped by public opinion.
Ÿ Nixon withdrew troops from Vietnam but increased the military machinery deployed and enlarged the conflict to include Laos and Cambodia.
Cambodian bombing and incursions
ŸThe US secretly bombed Cambodia from 1969-70 and invaded just past the border in Operation Menu. Sihanouk gave tacit approval to the bombing.
ŸThe Cambodian Incursion by the US from May-June 1970 aimed to defeat 40,000 People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) soldiers and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) who were ensconced in the eastern border regions of Cambodia. It also aimed to destroy the southern terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the mystical secret Head quarters inside Cambodia. It culminated in Operation Parrot’s Beak and Operation Fishhook.
ŸAs far as the US was concerned, such a course of action would provide a shield behind which the policy of Vietnamisation and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Vietnam could proceed unmolested. In terms of Vietnamisation it was a failure. While there were a few outstanding successes and displays of leadership by General Tri and General Nguyen Viet Than, they died in a helicopter crash and the other generals did not perform well. As a test of Vietnamisation, the incursion was praised by American generals and politicians alike, but the Vietnamese had not performed alone. The participation of US ground forces and air support precluded such a claim. The disastrous Operation Lam Son 719 in 1971 also showed that the US lead policy of Vietnamisation had failed.
ŸThe operation failed to eliminate many communist troops or capture the COSVN but a treasure trove of large catches of weapons and materiel were found and destroyed.
Ÿ Throughout 1969 Nixon announced the gradual withdrawal of 105,000 troops and a similar amount the following year, so that by the end of 1970, 335,000 soldiers would remain. This was advocating and enacting the US policy of Vietnamisation.
Growth of ARVN
ŸBy the end of 1970, President Thieu had over one million soldiers under his command. In addition he had 500,000 in his territorial forces.
ŸUS support to Cambodia ruled by Lon Nol, totalled $US1.95 billion in both military and economic aid between the years 1970-75. This was all that held the democratic parts and the nation and cities together.
ŸOn 29th March 1973, the last US troops left Vietnam.
ŸHowever the US continued to bomb North Vietnam and their army.
Summary
Ÿ The intractable policy of containment and the domino theory blinded U.S. statesmen and the few South East Asian analysts and led them to enact ill-founded strategy, and support the fledging democracy in South Vietnam and ‘bastion democracies’, after the French capitulation at Dien Bien Phu on May 7th 1954.
ŸMany non-communist elements in Indochina that were predominantly nationalist opposed US doctrine.
ŸUS policy towards Indochina was purely focused on what America thought was important for Indochina.
ŸThe USA saw campaigns such as those launched by the Vietcong as part of a global conflict, not in local terms. The Vietnamese had fought foreign occupation for thousands of years and in turn had rejected the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, the French again and then the Americans.
ŸThe US were always defending never attacking North Vietnam. American soldiers had been trained in regular combat not to counter guerrilla warfare. Troop strength and superior equipment made little difference.
ŸIt is very clear in retrospect that the US gravely and fundamentally misunderstood the nature of warfare in Vietnam. Before the war they had trained for battles along the high and wide European plateaus, not the confined, oppressing heat of the Indochinese jungle. They also relied to heavily on helicopters in extraction and thought that helicopters and mobility could win the war for them.
ŸSophisticated weaponry and devastating the environment was not equal to the North Vietnamese strategic advantage of familiar terrain, immunity to local disease, the hearts and minds of the people, justification and reasons to fight, knowledge and application of guerrilla warfare and the ability to locate the enemies position; harass them and the melt back into the jungle.

Impact of direct US military involvement in Vietnam and the consequences for Vietnam and Cambodia
- The impact of the second Indochinese conflict on Cambodia was disastrous
- The various international interests of China, the USSR, USA, and Vietnam plunged it into one of the most tragic and defining civil wars in the 20th C.

  • Impact of troop commitment:
- July 1965: General William C. Westmoreland and McNamara (Secretary of Defence) informed LBJ that more troops were needed.
- July 28th 1965: LBJ increased troops.
- The request had resulted in the commitment of 485,000 troops in Vietnam by 1967 and reaching 535,000 in 1968
- There had never been a formal declaration of war.
- 1/2 million hectares of farmland lost and 124 000 hectares of mangroves eliminated (46 species)
- American forces had sprayed 3,500,000 acres with chemical weapons, the effects of which will last over 100 years.
- Tons of bombs dropped: 6,727,084

  • Social impact:
- The US tried to win support from the South Vietnamese with: ‘pacification.’ (Reduction, as of a rebellious district, to peaceful submission) which provided medical supplies and food to the peasants.
- Established ‘Revolution Development’ teams into villages as part of pacification. The RD was supposed to provide security and education and assist with development however failed.
- Training & leading village Defence units.
- Implementing land reforms
- The organisation of local elections.
- However the policies were undermined by search and destroy missions and bombings. The destruction of villages was also not popular.
- Impact: 1/3 of the population was dislocated by 1968 as a result of the hamlet plan (which failed).
- At least 1.5 million (ARVN 184 000 & 430 000 civilians) were killed.
- 3 million had been injured
- 5. 8 internal refugees (1/2 South Vietnamese peasantry)
- 50% of the South Vietnamese lost their homes.
- 1 million widows, 1/2 million orphans & at least 1000 Amerasian (offspring of parents that were a cross between one America and one Vietnamese parent) children left.
- There were over 200,000 prostitutes in the South
- In 1976; there were over 100 000 drug addicts in Saigon alone.

  • Economic impact:
- The Economy had been set back by 40 years behind the other Southeast Asian countries.
- The American money had an impact on Vietnam.
- Establishment of brothels, bars.
- There was significantly increased prices - consumption of goods and services
- Traditional family & economic values were challenged.
- Consumer goods from the US damaged local industry.
- The Vietnamese began to have an increased dependence on US imports.
- Employment opportunities linked to the US.
- Corruption became as a serious issue due to the black market.

  • Political impact:
- The South Vietnamese had disliked US tactics.
- This resulted in an Increased protest movement.
- South Vietnamese government (supported by US) had used military force against protesters.
- "Huge numbers of refugees fled to the rapidly swelling cities & young men were drafted into the armies of both sides, creating rural labour shortages (Alongside high unemployment). Whole villages were destroyed." - Melanie Beresford
- "South Vietnam's cities swelled to a degree unusual even by Third World Standards." - Melanie Beresford
- "It's not that we lost the war militarily. The fact is we, as a nation did not make good our commitment to the South Vietnamese. By virtue of Vietnam, the US held line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling.” Westmoreland

Cambodia:
  • Social issues
- The USA’s direct involvement in 1970 and 1973 only escalated problems with rampant shortages in food as can be seen when food riots broke out in September 1972.
- Unemployment and displacement were widespread with countless fleeing rural areas; “within six months the population of Phnom Penh swelled from round 700 000 to over one and a half million.” - J. Tully
- America’s financial support upheld the Cambodian economy with Cambodia overexerting its budget twice over. America also provided much-needed commodities such as oil, medical supplies and other basic supplies.
- The Khmer Rouge claimed Cambodia was “under threat of national extinction by…the US and colonist capitalist systems associated with the West”. - B. Thornton
- America further isolated support when American troops entered Cambodia in April 1970 in response to growing military activity by the North Vietnamese and the expansion of the Khmer Rouge. The American troop arrival and the affects on the bombing campaign attracted many recruits to the Khmer Rouge’s call for a communist revolution and an end to foreign interference.

  • Bombing:
- Despite withdrawing troops America continued to see Cambodia as an important theatre of war in the fight against communism so Cambodia was carpet-bombed between February and August 1973 in hopes of defeating the Khmer Rouge.
- The bombing had widespread effects; leading to the collapse of agriculture, destroying the traditional rural lifestyle resulting in nearly two million refugees, public infrastructure were destroyed with inflation rampant, there was an estimated 600 000 dead; ten percent of the population.
- The severe impacts of the bombing saw much anger and resentment towards America, making the Khmer Rouge’s anti-American stance attractive for victims of the bombing.
- During the bombing America dropped 257 456 tons of bombs on Cambodia.
- America’s actions regarding Cambodia were viewed by many as excessive, further legitimizing the Khmer Rouge’s call for independence for interference from foreign powers. The sheer destruction of America’s involvement allowed the Khmer Rouge to demonize the US and strengthen their communist manifesto.