U.S. Foreign Policy in Vietnam U.S. Foreign Policy in Vietnam In the history of the United States, our foreign policy has caused many disputes over the proper role in international affairs. Because of the unique beliefs and ideals by which we live in this country, we feel obligated to act as leaders of the world and help other countries in need. Therefore, the U.S.
has attempted to somehow combine this attitude with economic and strategic gain. After World War II, the Cold War was initiated, and Americas fear of communism led Truman to begin the endeavors of the “containment” of communism. As a result, the U.S. became involved with Korea and then Vietnam. The U.S.
was determined not to let South Vietnam fall to the communists because President Eisenhower once stated that the fall of Vietnam would have a “domino” effect. Unfortunately, not everyone viewed Vietnam the same way as Eisenhower. Opponents of the war believed that the U.S. had no right to intervene in this civil war, while supporters maintain the attitude of moral obligation for the world by defending freedom and democracy from communism. Three historians in Conflict and Consensus carefully examine our foreign policy and involvement in the Vietnam War. Each article emphasizes different points and explains how one of the most powerful countries in the world lost the war. In the first article, “Gods Country and American Know-How,” Loren Baritz argues that the American myth of superiority based on nationalism, technology, and moral ideals brought the U.S.
into the war. The Americans never understood the Vietnamese culture and their true sentiments on the war. Nevertheless, because of our power and moral prowess, the U.S. was confident that we would prevail. This was our biggest mistake; we were blind and “ignorant”(473).
Baritz states that “we were frustrated by the incomprehensible behavior of our Vietnamese enemies and bewildered by the inexplicable behavior of our Vietnamese friends”(470). Because of our isolation on the North American Continent, the U.S. had a difficult time understanding the exotic cultures around the world, especially Vietnam. Thus, as a direct result, Americans considered foreign courtesies and rituals crude and inferior to the customs of the civilized country of America. This point is quite sad and embarassing, but Baritz points out that “cultural isolation”(476) occurs all over the world.
It is the Solipsistic philosophy that the universe revolves around the earth, just as all the nations of the world revolve around the U.S. According to John Winthrop, we are the “Chosen People”(473) because of Gods favor and presence. So are we obligated to set the standards of culture for the world? Because of our prominence and success as a prosperous nation, we stand forth as leaders; however, no country can define the culture of another nation. The U.S. failed to understand that “everyone prefers their own language, diet and funeral customs”(475). Upon first impression, the American soldiers viewed the Vietnamese people as savages because “they lived like animals”(470). Thus, the soldiers failed to appreciate “the organic nature of Vietnamese society, the significance of village life, the meaning of ancestors, the relationship of the family to the state, the subordinate role of the individual, and the eternal quest for universal agreement”(470).
Just because the Vietnamese were poor, we presumed that they were begging for our help; we were “attempting to build a nation in our own image”(471). Furthermore, it is not the “ingratitude or stupidity”(470) which sparked the Vietnamese resistance against U.S. soldiers but rather a cultural misunderstanding. Baritz believes that this ignorance of culture is one of the primary reasons why we lost the war. Dr.
Henry Kissinger even admitted that “no one in this government understands North Vietnam”(471). We even thought we understood the Vietnamese to some extent by thinking that “life is cheap in the Orient”(471). However, this ridiculous comment rose from our “ability to use technology to protect our own troops while the North Vietnamese were forced to rely on people, their only resource”(471). This meant that the Vietnamese were willing to sacrifice as many men as possible to win the war. Our ignorance prevented us from overcoming this kind of warfare.
As for the cultural misunderstanding of our allies, the South Vietnamese, Baritz points out one custom which the American soldiers could not tolerate: soldiers holding hands. Vietnamese soldiers held hands with other accompanying soldiers. This was a show of friendship for the Vietnamese, but for Americans, holding hands was a sign of homosexuality. American soldiers measured up to “the militarys definition of manhood”(472) by compeletely condemning homosexuality. This simple custom caused many problems between the U.S. soldiers and the South Vietnamese.
Baritz now provides the other argument for entering the Vietnam War: The Cold War. In this argument, the U.S. is more concerned with showing off our strong military power with strategic planning in the nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union. “They [Soviets] knew, and we knew, that this threat was not entirely real, and that it freed the Soviets to engage in peripheral adventures because they correctly believed that we would not destroy the world over Korea, Berlin, Hungary or Czechoslovakia”(480). Thus, we extended the arms race in “limited wars”(480) around the globe.
We demonstrated this in Korea, and the situation is the same in Vietnam; “we had to find a technology to win without broadening the war”(481). We felt invincible; up to the Vietnam War, we had never lost a war. “We had already beaten the Indians, French, British, Mexicans, Spaniard, Germans, Italians, Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese”(479). The U.S. was becoming too confident in relying on our technology to beat the North Vietnamese. “We thought we could bomb them into their senses with only limited human costs to ourselves”(483). Technology gave us the ability to organize precise strategic maneuvers and attacks, but unfortunately, the simple guerrilla warfare of the Vietnamese was overpowering.
“Our national myth showed us that we were good, our technology made us strong and our bureaucracy gave us standard operating procedures”(483), but even with this combination, the strategy was not good enough to win the war. In the second article, “The Legacy of Vietnam,” Guenter Lewy carefully discusses the assumption that Vietnam and all of Southeast Asia are important for strategic and economic gains for the U.S. For strategic purposes, Lewy believes that by defeating the North Vietnamese, America might contain Communist China because the Chinese threatened to”change the status quo in Asia by force”(485). As mentioned before, Truman wanted to contain communism and prevent the rapid spread of the evil, and Eisenhower believed that controlling Vietnam was the key to continue the “containment.” However, Lewy believes that the “containment” of China by defeating Vietnam is not necessary. “Asia is a very large continent.
It has a diversity of cultures, traditions, states, and so on. Nations like their independence in Asia just as much as they do in other parts of the world. To assume that some mystic inevitability has decreed that they are all to be swallowed up in the Chines empire is not convincing”(485). Lewy thinks that Eisenhowers prediction of the “domino” effect was wrong. In fact Lewy believed that American policy makers went into Vietnam because of fear for the grand alliance of communism that would dominate Asia.
The importance of Vietnam is over exaggerated. “By 1969 South Vietnam accounted for less than one percent of American import”(487). This obviously shows the unimportance of the economic gains in Vietnam Even if these imports were important to United States economy, it seems that the “commodities produced by the area, such as rubber, tin and coconut oil.. were not irreplaceable”(486). The only commodity that South Vietnam had that was important to the U.S. is the potential oil off the shores.
Yet the discovery is not made until 1970, twenty years after the conflict had started. “Needless to say,” Lewy concluded, “this discovery in 1970 can hardly explain decisions taken in the previous 20 years”(487). Even as the war dragged on, the validity of American claim in Vietnam diminished. The valid fear for the spread of Red Asia under the leadership of Russia came to a halt in the mid-1960s. As Lewy pointed out “Russia and China were no longer close allies but open enemies.” It is therefore no valid claim to stay in Vietnam for “the world communist movement no longer represented a monolith”(487). China turned inward and focus more on its cultural revolution.
In terms of foreign policy, China sought new allies to counter-balance the presence of its hostile Northern neighbors. The admission of China into the United nations in 1971 proved the new direction that Chinese foreign policy head toward. As Lewy stated, “Communism had ceased to be the wave of the future”(487). It seems that after series of claims to be in Vietnam fell short, the only reason to go in is the preservation of democracy. Democracy is the one claim which compelled us to stay in Vietnam. Yet again Lewy doubted the great moral claim.
He believed that United motives to go into Vietnam was not as altruistic as it seemed; the main motive of the war was to defend the title of United States as the dominant power in the world. Such challenge is stated when North Vietnamese Defense Minster declared in July 1964 that “South Vietnam is the vanguard fighter of the nation liberation movement in the present era.. and the failure of the special war unleashed by the U.S. imperialists in South Vietnam would mean that this war can be defeated anywhere in the world.” (487) It is not surprising that presidents immediately begin to declare Vietnam as “a vital interest of U.S.” 200,000 U.S military personnel were in Vietnam by early 1966, despite the fact that Vietnam was “not a region of major military of industrial importance.” (488) United States was ready to defend its world supremacy through the battles of Vietnam. What was worse for the United States was the arrogant attitude.
United States was not like France, who “could withdraw from Indochina and North Africa without a serious loss of prestige.” (488) Many people believed this philosophy to be true. In fact even as the situation became worse during Johnsons and Nixons administration, it was still “important to liquidate the American commitment without a humiliating defeat.” (488) The defeat however is inevitable and the impact of the war was more devastating than the optimistic Americans had predicted. The fall of Vietnam marks the most humiliating defeat in American History. Americans were awaken by the tr …