Vietnam and Wars of National Liberation

The World Since 1945

Spring 2006

The American Public and Vietnam

•      After the Fall of Saigon, the American public wanted to forget Vietnam.

•      The war was so divisive that Hollywood and TV would not really touch the subject.

How divisive was Vietnam?

•      More than the Mexican War?

•      More than the War of 1812?

•      How about the Civil War?

What Made Vietnam Divisive?

•      American heritage

•      Emphasis on Total War

•      Use of Annihilation

Who Did The Public Blame?

•      The public sought answers and couldn’t find them.

•      Defeat is almost alien to American culture.

•      Blame fell on the warriors.

•      Few Americans failed to understand one truth.

•      They are to blame for what happened.

Then Came Hollywood

Oliver Stone’s Contribution

Contributions of Hollywood

•      Reinvented Vietnam for the public.

•      Often gave the false impression of History.

•      Played upon popular stereotypes.

•      Such as POWs and MIAs.

•      Often better seen as a metaphor.

•      Rather than historical truth.

Cold War Culture and Vietnam

•      Westerns had a political flavor to them.

•      Television only increased their popularity.

•      John Wayne, a hero in his own right, gave the Cold War a positive and ennobling imagine.

•      What about Gary Cooper in High Noon.

Myths of Vietnam

•      We really could have won the war.

•      If the politicians didn’t tie the hands of the military.

•      The news media was responsible for our defeat.

•      Americans never committed atrocities.

•      Every GI was a combat veteran.

What Role Did Popular Culture Play?

Legacy and Culture

•      Did Vietnam create a climate of violence?

•      About the time of the fall of Saigon Soldier of Fortune was published.

•      How do men measure themselves in a changing world?

Legacy and Culture 2

•      Major themes are violence.

•      That American GIs were sold out by Washington.

•      It becomes a form of a stab in the back legend.

•      Read by boys.

The Situation After the War

•      The US military demobilized.

•      Tensions mounted between the US and USSR.

•      The British could not pick up the tab for Greece so the US.

•      The Truman Doctrine was born.

•      Followed by the Marshall Plan and NATO.

•      The United States lost it’s atomic monopoly.

•      The world was no longer safe.

The Situation in Vietnam

•      The French wanted to return to Vietnam.

•      Vietnam was occupied by both China in the North and British troops in the South.

•      The British supported the French in and around Saigon.

•      The division of Vietnam irked the Vietminh.

•      The OSS supported the aspirations of the Vietnamese.

The Vietnam-American Friendship Association

•      Was formed on Oct. 17, 1945.

•      Gen. Philip E. Gallagher, CO of the South China Command appeared on Vietnamese radio.

•      Both Americans and Vietnamese joined.

•      They even sang songs on the radio together.

•      This exacerbated relations between Paris and Washington.

Pop Quiz

Confusion at Foggy Bottom

•      Washington needed a strong France with mounting tensions developing in Europe.

•      The State Department reigned in the OSS.

•      Hard liners in Washington had no love for Communists either.

•      Ho asked Truman for support at least three times and was rejected.

•      A strong France was more important than Vietnam.

Who Was The First American Casualty in Vietnam?

Situation in the Spring of 1946

•      French arrange for the Chinese to leave Tonkin.

•      March 6, 1946, a French task force arrives at Haiphong.

•      Ho Chi Minh and Sainteny, a French negotiator, reach a major agreement.

Ho Chi Minh-Sainteny Agreement

•      France recognized RVN as a free and independent nation with its own parliament, central government, and armed forces.

•      RVN would be part of the French Union.

•      15,000 French troops would be stationed north of the 16th Parallel and would be relieved by Vietminh troops in five years.

•      France was to train and equip the Vietminh troops.

What Went Wrong?

•      The French High Commissioner, Admiral Thierry d’ Argenlieu, decided on his own to reach a similar deal with Cochinchina.

•      Ho Chi Minh thought that this was done in bad faith.

•      Ho thought that he had spoken for all of Vietnam.

•      Due to confusion in France, no one was willing to negotiate with Ho when he arrived.

The Thoughts of Jean Sainteny in 1953

“France undervalued the . . . The power [Ho] wielded.  There’s no doubt that he aspired . . . To become the Gandhi of Indochina.”

                                  Jean Sainteny in 1953

The Status of the French Military

•      The French could not use draftees to serve in Indochina.

•      The French Command only had approximately 100,000 troops to draw upon.

•      French foreign legionnaires, colonial troops, or from the Regular Army.

•      The French would eventually use Vietnamese and that was hard for them and the Vietnamese.

The Vietminh

•      Giap made some premature mistakes on the offensive operations.

•      Eventually, the Vietminh move into the Central Highlands in an effort to drive the French out.

•      The Vietminh openly aid the Pathet Lao.

The Political Situation in Vietnam

•      The French were looking for a way out of the war in 1952.

•      With the Korean Armistice in 1953, the French didn’t want to go it alone against the Red Chinese.

•      The new French commander, Henri Navarre came up with a new, bold, and yet stupid, plan.

The Navarre Plan

•      Goal was to keep the Vietminh off balance.

•      By rapid raids in the border zones.

•      It was hoped that such moves would keep the Vietminh away from the deltas.

•      Then Navarre wanted to disrupt the Vietminh’s thrust into Laos.

•      He selected a remote and isolated base at Dienbienphu.

•      At the limit of French airpower.

The Object of Dienbienphu

•      Designed to block Giap’s moves into Laos.

•      Expand the defensive parameter.

•      Establish an airfield.

•      Overlooked the five feet of annual rain.

The Changing International Situation

•      The Korean War ends in 1953.

•      Stalin dies.

•      The French want out.

French Positions at Dienbienphu

French Paratroopers Land at Dienbienphu

Words of Wisdom from the French Arty Commander at Dienbienphu

Giap Surprised the French

•      Giap moved faster than the French estimated.

•      Giap had 50,000 men plus another 20,000 along the LOCs.

•      His men moved the arty up hill by hand and dug them in.

•      The attack began on March 13, 1954 on Fort Beatrice followed on Gabrielle.

•      The attacks were costly

The Situation Becomes Desperate

•      French airpower could not support the base.

•      Only air drops could re-supply Dienbienphu.

•      In the meantime, Giap’s troops moved closer and closer.

•      The French Chief of Staff, Paul Ely, arrived in Washington with a request on March 20.

•      He wanted air strikes in and around Dienbienphu, including possible Atomic Bombs.

The Fighting Around Dienbienphu

Operation Vulture

•      Admiral Radford, Chairman of the JCS, proposed a raid of 60 B-29s flying from the Philippines with French markings.

•      The French liked the idea and so did the USAF.

•      But the British didn’t nor did the US Army.

•      The Pentagon thought that “three nukes” could do the job.

•      LBJ, the minority leader thought otherwise.

The French Surrender

•      The French were left to their fate.

•      The last reinforcements were Vietnamese paratroopers.

•      Then on May 8, 1954, the end came.

Dienbienphu Memorial

The International Meeting at Geneva

•      The meeting took place before the fall of Dienbienphu.

•      The meeting was co-chaired by Great Britain and the USSR.

•      The other nations or states that attended included: China, USA, France, Cambodia, Laos, DRV, and RVN.

•      A truce was signed on July 20, 1954.

•      Hanoi claimed that the PRC forced them to sign.

The Geneva Accords

•      A provisional demarcation line was established at the 17th parallel.

•      Set national elections for 1956.

•      Evacuation of French troops north and Vietminh troops south of the 17th Parallel.

•      Freedom of movement among both zones for 300 days.

•      Both North and South Vietnam could not join foreign alliances.

•      An International Commission to monitor the accords.

On The Cover of Time November 22, 1954


JFK’s Words Mobilized a Nation in 1961

JFK Meets With Ike

•      Foreign affairs was a key issue.

•      Ike thought that Laos was the most dangerous problem the country would face in the Far East outside of Formosa.

•      Vietnam was to become his test case.

•      Lansdale warned JFK that in serious trouble.

•      JFK also allowed for an expansion of the ARVN force levels.

JFK’s Early Crises

•      Bay of Pigs

•      The Civil War in Laos.

•      The Berlin Crisis.

•      Khrushchev’s call for “Wars of National Liberation.”

Missions to Vietnam: Kennedy’s Eyes and Hears

•      The first Mission was led by Eugene Staley.

•      Staley gave JFK two options about ARVN force levels – 200,000 or 270,000.

•      Kennedy selected the lower number.

•      The Kennedy did not make any requirements that Diem had to meet before he received aid to pay for those troops.

•      The next mission was led by Maxwell Taylor.

Kennedy Always Asked The Wrong Questions

•      He only asked how Vietnam could be saved, not whether Vietnam was worth saving.

•      The State Department wanted a quid pro quo.

•      JFK did not want to do anything that would push him into a corner.

•      If a commitment was going to be made, it would be the least possible.

•      But he did not want the Communists to succeed.

Maxwell Taylor

•      Intellectual and Scholar.

•      Commander of the 101st Airborne in WW II.

•      Author of “Flexible Response

•      Advisor to JKF and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

•      And Ambassador to Vietnam.

The Taylor Mission

•      Coaxed Diem to get the Viet Cong under control.

•      Including the use of U.S. troops.

•      He cabled his report from the Philippines.

•      He recommended sending 8,000 troops to Vietnam.

•      And conduct air ops against the DRVN.

The Debate within the Administration

•      The first person to question the logic of getting involved was Chester Bowles, Undersecretary of State.

•      U. Alexis Johnson another State Department figure authored “Concept for Intervention.”

•      He wanted to send 20,000 to 25,000 troops under the guise of SEATO.

•      Some in the Pentagon wanted to clear the decks and send in six divisions to Vietnam.

JFK on Walt Rostow

The Issue of “Resolve”

•      Today this is ludicrous, but to the men of 1961 it was very important.

•      Vietnam now became central to the policy of Containment.

•      Vietnam was just one more issue in the Cold War – Greece (’47), China (’49), Korea (’50).

•      Kennedy nearly lost the 1960 Election over the issue of Quemoy and Matsu.

•      Then there was the Bay of Pigs, the John Birch Society, and the Domino Theory.

Some Key Issues

•      Taylor and Rostow were wrong, Vietnam did not collapse.

•      McNamara actually thought that US troops could leave Vietnam!

•      Still the numbers continued to grow – 700 in 1961, 3,200 at the start of 1962, and by the end of the year they reached 11,300.

•      Advisors were now down to the BN level.

•      MACV replaced MAAG with Paul Harkins as MACV Commander in 1962.

Origins of the Credibility Gap

•      Reporters saw what was going on.

•      They managed to separate reality from the distortions.

•      Plus some reporters had an inside source.

•      That source was John Paul Vann.

•      A LTC and advisor to ARVN.

The State of ARVN

•      By 1962, ARVN checked the VC.

•      Americans were advising the Vietnamese on all levels.

•      The Americans provided UH-1 “Huey” Helicopters and M-113 APCs.

•      Even with these advantages, there were still problems with ARVN, including desertions and poor leadership.

•      This would become obvious during the battle of Ap Bac.

The Battle of AP BAC

•      Diem did not appreciate aggressive commanders.

•      The VC had already become accustomed to the new ARVN weapons and ambushed the helicopters.

•      Lost five copters.

•      At a time when ARVN claimed that they were winning.     

The Buddhist Crisis, Part I

•      May 8, 1963, Eight Buddhists were shot in Hue.

•      The reason for the demonstration was the flying of both the national flay and the Vatican Flay in honor of the accession of Ngo Dinh Thuc, Diem’s brother.

•      This was a violation and the Buddhists took to the street.

•      The U.S. Consul tried to defuse the crisis and met with Thich Tri Quang.

•      Tri Quang’s advice was “The sky is blue, but the clouds drift across it.”

The Buddhist Crisis, Part II

•      On May 28, 400 Buddhist Bonzes protested in front of the National Assembly

•      The Buddhists then went on a hunger strike.

•      The demonstrations spread through out the county by June 5.

•      Most American newsmen did not cover the story at first.

•      Then Malcolm Browne received a telegram on June 11 to cover the demonstration in front of the main Pagoda.

The Buddhist Uprising

The Administration was Divided

•      The Ambassador Frederick Nolting was opposed to a coup.

•      So was LBJ.

•      Lodge replaced Nolting and was set on a coup.

•      In an interview with Walter Cronkite, JFK warned Diem that he could be replaced.

•      Lodge then began preparing for a coup authorizing a meeting with the ARVN generals.

Madame Nhu was Part of the Problme

The Forces on the Potomac Against Diem

•      Roger Hilsman

•      W. Averell Harriman

•      George Ball

•      Henry Cabot Lodge

•      Michael Forrestal

The ARVN Generals Wanted Assurances

•      That Aid would continue

•      The link between Lodge and the generals was Lucien Conein, codenamed “Mordecai

•      The Americans hoped that Diem would leave the country.

•      The Generals realized that he was too dangerous and had to be murdered.

Death of Ngo Dinh Diem

Vietnam as a Presidential Problem

•      For past presidents, Vietnam was a nagging problem, not a critical one.

•      But that changed by mid decade.

•      The war would alter his domestic policy forever

•      LBJ was always influenced by concerns about the USSR and the PRC.

Continuation of Policy

•      Vietnam did not dominate the early years of LBJ’s administration.

•      He kept key players onboard – Rusk and McNamara.

•      His first action was NSAM 273 which guaranteed a continuation of JFK’s Vietnam policy.


•      South Vietnam after Diem’s death experienced a revolving door government in 1964.

•      There was a need to bolster the Saigon government.

•      Saigon kept claiming that they were ready to “move North.”

•      Two intelligence operations were being conducted to gather info on North Vietnam.

Intelligence Gathering and Clandestine Operations in North Vietnam

•      OPLAN 34 A – Raids on the coast of North Vietnam.

•       DESOTO – Electronic gathering missions along the coast collecting electronic information on North Vietnam.

•      Congress did not know about these.

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident

•      On August 2, 1964, the US destroyer, Maddox was attacked in international waters.

•      Two days later, the C. Turner Joy joined with the Maddox.

•      On August 4, both reported another attack.

•      This attack was highly doubtful.

•      This gave LBJ a reason to go to Congress and ask for authorization to take extreme measures.

The Attack on the Maddox on August 2, 1964

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

•      LBJ used the incident as a casus belli for action against North Vietnam.

•      The resolution empowered LBJ “to take all necessary measures to repel an armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

•      It was passed on August 7, 1964 and passed the House by a vote of 416 to 0 and the Senate by a vote of 88 to 2.

•      The dissenting were Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening.


•      Tet is the holiday celebrating the Chinese lunar New Year.

•      It is Christmas, New Years, the 4th of July all in one.

•      In 1968 it was the Year of the Monkey.

•      Tet fell on Jan. 30th in 1968.

•      Traditionally both sides laid down their weapons and visited their families.

•      The VC announced a truce running from Jan 27th to Feb 3rd.

Saigon’s Response

•      In the past, Tet truces were marked by a frenzied effort by the Communists to resupply.

•      The Americans never liked them.

•      Saigon announced their own truce – 36 hours – Jan 29 to Jan 31.

•      An exception as made at Khe Sanh were there was no truce.

•      Diplomats hoped that this could be the start of a peace settlement.

The American Political Scene

•      Nineteen Sixty-Eight was the start of the presidential election year.

•      A major issue was going to be the war.

•      There emerged a “dump Johnson” movement within the Democratic Party.

Meet The Candidates

•      The main challengers included Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy.

•      Soon middle class liberals became hostile to LBJ as the war continued.

•      Particularly the issue of the “Draft.”

The War as a Political Issue

•      LBJ had serious problems with college faculties, the clergy, and civil rights leaders.

•      By U.S. standards the war was too long, more than three years too long.

•      By Dec. 31, 1967 the war cost 16,022 lives.

•      Already 500,000 men were in-country.

•      The war now cost $75 billion.

The Progress Campaign

•      It started in 1967 when LBJ brought in leading administrative officials to sell the war.

•      The object was to drowned out the Doves.

•      Deny that the war was a stalemate.

•      Gain support for limited war.

•      It involved a flood of optimistic reports about RVN.

•      LBJ set the tone by asserting the the enemy was suffering incredibly high loses.

The Highlight of the Progress Campaign

•      On November 21, 1967, William Westmoreland appeared at the National Press Club.

•      He told reporters that there was no “stalemate” either on the battlefield or with pacification.

•      He told reporters that “there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

General Wheeler Tells All

•      On December 18, 1967, Gen. Wheeler in Detroit said that the VC/NVA were not on the ropes yet.

•      They can still supply their cadres in the South.

•      Heavy fighting was ahead.

•      Even a “Battle of the Bulge-like” Offensive.

Other Indicators

•      VC/NVA hit provincial capitals not far from Saigon.

•      Better weapons moved South.

•      LTG Fred Weyand of the 25th ID warned of an attack.

•      NVA drew MACV towards the borders of Cambodia and the DMZ

•      The siege of Khe Sanh started on Jan. 24, 1968.

Additional Warnings

•      The 101st captured the NVA OPORDER.

•      But MACV didn’t believe it.

•      Statements of POWs.

•      Reduction of defectors.

•      Forty simultaneous attacks.

•      Capture of a VC agent with a prerecorded message.

The Other Side of the Hill

•      In Jan. 1967 the Central Committee decided to conduct a general offensive.

•      Object was to win the war quickly.

•      But to be prepared for the long haul.

•      If if the offensive failed, it would still shorten the war.

Nearly an Undefeatable Strategy

To Giap The Key Was The Political Situation in the USA

•      Force Washington to curtail its commitment to Saigon.

•      Give Saigon a crushing blow that the people will ally with the NLF and drive the Americans out.

•      According to Hanoi the major weaknesses of the USA were 1) financial, 2) doctrinal, and 3) overextension of their forces.

Giap’s Assumptions

•      US Forces were nearly unbeatable.

•      The South Vietnamese would not support the offensive if it was led by the NVA.

•      There was a pressing need for surprise.

•      Distract US Forces from the true targets.

•      The deception battles had to be in the frontier zones and be costly and news worthy.

VC/NLF as Vanguard of the Attack

•      VC Main Force BNs received new weapons such as the B-40 rocket and Ak-47.

•      VC BNs were brought up to strength.

•      VC agents dropped their cover and returned to their parent units.

•      NVA fillers replaced those who were lost.

Objective of TCK-TKN*

•      Force Americans to fight at Khe Sanh and Con Thien away from the cities.

•      Once capturing a town announce that the Saigon government has collapsed.

•      Proclaim a new coalition government.

•      Present the US with a fiat accompli and have the Americans fall back to their enclaves and eventually withdraw from Vietnam.

The War Destroyed LBJ’s Presidency

The Election

•      The New Deal coalition was fractured.

•      The GOP brought back a “New Nixon.”

•      In early ’68 White House Insiders forced LBJ to realize that the war was a failure.

•      LBJ drops out after Eugene McCarthy does better than expected.

•      The fight was on between McCarthy and RFK.

•      And HHH.

Nixon’s Challengers

•      George Romney.

•      Nelson Rockefeller.

•      Ronald Reagan.

Nixon’s Allies

The Election of 1968

Nixon and Kissinger

•      Kissinger and Nixon were willing to try anything to end the war.

•      The objective was to get out and still have an independent South Vietnam.

•      Nixon thought he could do this by a) an increase in ARVN and b) more pressure on DRVN.

The Results of Nixon’s Strategy

•      The war lasted for four more years.

•      Domestic violence continued.

•      The Peace Process was a fraud.

The Key to Vietnamization

Kissinger and Nixon

The Odd Couple

•      Both men wanted to shape the world in their own image.

•      They saw each other as a vehicle to achieve their own aspirations.

•      Both loved raw power.

•      As NSC director (at first) he shaped American policy.

•      As ideologues both were flexible enough to attempt to solve the Vietnam problem.

•      Both had to reshape their earlier views on Vietnam.

The Road to Hanoi went Through Beijing and Moscow

The Breakthrough

•      All US troops would leave RVN sixty days after the signing of the ceasefire.

•      Then the POWs would be released.

•      This would come right before the 1972 election.

•      Kissinger was ready to fly to Hanoi and sign on Oct. 22, 1972.

•      This was the decent interval that Nixon was concerned about.

Nixon has Second Thoughts

•      Nixon didn’t like abandoning Thieu.

•      He still clung to “Peace With Honor.”

•      Nixon then raises about 60 minor points.

•      Hanoi was upset.

•      This set the stage for the Christmas Bombing, Linebacker II, in 1972.

•      It was bombing with an attitude.

•      No targets were spared 36,000 tons of bombs were dropped and the US lost 15 B-52s.

The Paris Agreement

•      The DMZ was a provisional not a political or territorial boundary.

•      The issue of the civilian movement was open to future discussions.

•      All troops were locked in place.

•      The PRG was given legal status.

•      The political fate of RVN was left to the future.

•      US forces would be withdrawn and POWs released.