S. ForeignPolicy in VietnamIn the history of the United States, ourforeign policy has caused many disputes over the proper role in internationalaffairs. Because of the unique beliefs and ideals by which we livein this country, we feel obligated to act as leaders of the world and helpother countries in need. Therefore, the U.S. has attempted to somehowcombine this attitude with economic and strategic gain. After WorldWar II, the Cold War was initiated, and Americas fear of communism ledTruman 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 communistsbecause President Eisenhower once stated that the fall of Vietnam wouldhave a “domino” effect. Unfortunately, not everyone viewed Vietnamthe same way as Eisenhower. Opponents of the war believed that theU.S. had no right to intervene in this civil war, while supporters maintainthe attitude of moral obligation for the world by defending freedom anddemocracy from communism. Three historians in Conflict and Consensuscarefully examine our foreign policy and involvement in the Vietnam War.
Each article emphasizes different points and explains how one of the mostpowerful countries in the world lost the war.In the first article, “Gods Country andAmerican Know-How,” Loren Baritz argues that the American myth of superioritybased on nationalism, technology, and moral ideals brought the U.S.
intothe war. The Americans never understood the Vietnamese culture andtheir true sentiments on the war. Nevertheless, because of our powerand 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 behaviorof our Vietnamese enemies and bewildered by the inexplicable behavior ofour Vietnamese friends”(470). Because of our isolation on the NorthAmerican Continent, the U.
S. had a difficult time understanding the exoticcultures around the world, especially Vietnam. Thus, as a directresult, Americans considered foreign courtesies and rituals crude and inferiorto the customs of the civilized country of America. This point isquite sad and embarassing, but Baritz points out that “cultural isolation”(476)occurs all over the world.
It is the Solipsistic philosophy thatthe universe revolves around the earth, just as all the nations of theworld revolve around the U.S. According to John Winthrop, we arethe “Chosen People”(473) because of Gods favor and presence.
Soare we obligated to set the standards of culture for the world? Becauseof our prominence and success as a prosperous nation, we stand forth asleaders; 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 Americansoldiers viewed the Vietnamese people as savages because “they lived likeanimals”(470). Thus, the soldiers failed to appreciate “the organicnature of Vietnamese society, the significance of village life, the meaningof ancestors, the relationship of the family to the state, the subordinaterole of the individual, and the eternal quest for universal agreement”(470).Just because the Vietnamese were poor, we presumed that they were beggingfor our help; we were “attempting to build a nation in our own image”(471).
Furthermore, it is not the “ingratitude or stupidity”(470) which sparkedthe Vietnamese resistance against U.S. soldiers but rather a cultural misunderstanding.
Baritz believes that this ignorance ofculture is one of the primary reasons why we lost the war. Dr. HenryKissinger even admitted that “no one in this government understands NorthVietnam”(471). We even thought we understood the Vietnamese to someextent by thinking that “life is cheap in the Orient”(471). However,this ridiculous comment rose from our “ability to use technology to protectour own troops while the North Vietnamese were forced to rely on people,their only resource”(471). This meant that the Vietnamese were willingto sacrifice as many men as possible to win the war. Our ignoranceprevented us from overcoming this kind of warfare.As for the cultural misunderstanding ofour allies, the South Vietnamese, Baritz points out one custom which theAmerican soldiers could not tolerate: soldiers holding hands.
Vietnamesesoldiers held hands with other accompanying soldiers. This was ashow of friendship for the Vietnamese, but for Americans, holding handswas a sign of homosexuality. American soldiers measured up to “themilitarys definition of manhood”(472) by compeletely condemning homosexuality.This simple custom caused many problems between the U.S. soldiers and theSouth Vietnamese.
Baritz now provides the other argumentfor entering the Vietnam War: The Cold War. In this argument,the U.S. is more concerned with showing off our strong military power withstrategic 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 becausethey correctly believed that we would not destroy the world over Korea,Berlin, Hungary or Czechoslovakia”(480). Thus, we extended the armsrace in “limited wars”(480) around the globe. We demonstrated thisin Korea, and the situation is the same in Vietnam; “we had to find a technologyto win without broadening the war”(481).
We felt invincible; up tothe Vietnam War, we had never lost a war. “We had already beatenthe Indians, French, British, Mexicans, Spaniard, Germans, Italians, Japanese,Koreans, and Chinese”(479). The U.S. was becoming too confident inrelying on our technology to beat the North Vietnamese. “We thoughtwe could bomb them into their senses with only limited human costs to ourselves”(483).Technology gave us the ability to organize precise strategic maneuversand attacks, but unfortunately, the simple guerrilla warfare of the Vietnamesewas overpowering.
“Our national myth showed us that we were good,our technology made us strong and our bureaucracy gave us standard operatingprocedures”(483), but even with this combination, the strategy was notgood enough to win the war.In the second article, “The Legacy of Vietnam,”Guenter Lewy carefully discusses the assumption that Vietnam and all ofSoutheast 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 theevil, and Eisenhower believed that controlling Vietnam was the key to continuethe “containment.” However, Lewy believes that the “containment”of China by defeating Vietnam is not necessary. “Asia is a very largecontinent. It has a diversity of cultures, traditions, states, andso on. Nations like their independence in Asia just as much as theydo in other parts of the world. To assume that some mystic inevitabilityhas decreed that they are all to be swallowed up in the Chines empire isnot convincing”(485).
Lewy thinks that Eisenhowers prediction ofthe “domino” effect was wrong. In fact Lewy believed that Americanpolicy makers went into Vietnam because of fear for the grand allianceof communism that would dominate Asia. The importance of Vietnamis over exaggerated.
“By 1969 South Vietnam accounted for less than onepercent of American import”(487). This obviously shows the unimportanceof the economic gains in Vietnam Even if these imports were importantto United States economy, it seems that the “commodities produced by thearea, 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 madeuntil 1970, twenty years after the conflict had started. “Needlessto say,” Lewy concluded, “this discovery in 1970 can hardly explain decisionstaken in the previous 20 years”(487).Even as the war dragged on, the validityof American claim in Vietnam diminished. The valid fear for the spreadof 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 openenemies.” It is therefore no valid claim to stay in Vietnam for “theworld communist movement no longer represented a monolith”(487).
China turned inward and focus more on its cultural revolution. Interms of foreign policy, China sought new allies to counter-balance thepresence of its hostile Northern neighbors. The admission of Chinainto the United nations in 1971 proved the new direction that Chinese foreignpolicy head toward. As Lewy stated, “Communism had ceased to be thewave of the future”(487).It seems that after series of claims tobe in Vietnam fell short, the only reason to go in is the preservationof democracy. Democracy is the one claim which compelled us to stayin Vietnam. Yet again Lewy doubted the great moral claim.
Hebelieved that United motives to go into Vietnam was not as altruistic asit seemed; the main motive of the war was to defend the title of UnitedStates as the dominant power in the world. Such challenge is statedwhen North Vietnamese Defense Minster declared in July 1964 that “SouthVietnam is the vanguard fighter of the nation liberation movement in thepresent era… and the failure of the special war unleashed by the U.S.imperialists in South Vietnam would mean that this war can be defeatedanywhere in the world.
” (487) It is not surprising that presidentsimmediately begin to declare Vietnam as “a vital interest of U.S.”200,000 U.
S military personnel were in Vietnam by early 1966, despite thefact that Vietnam was “not a region of major military of industrial importance.”(488) United States was ready to defend its world supremacy throughthe battles of Vietnam. What was worse for the United States wasthe arrogant attitude. United States was not like France, who “couldwithdraw from Indochina and North Africa without a serious loss of prestige.”(488) Many people believed this philosophy to be true. In facteven as the situation became worse during Johnsons and Nixons administration,it was still “important to liquidate the American commitment without ahumiliating defeat.” (488) The defeat however is inevitable and theimpact of the war was more devastating than the optimistic Americans hadpredicted.The fall of Vietnam marks the most humiliatingdefeat in American History.
Americans were awaken by the trauma ofVietnam. A “No more Vietnams” psychology sprung up all over the country.Lewy commented that American turn to isolationism in hope that such andisaster will never happen again. Lewy stated that the “United Statescannot and should not be the worlds policeman.
” (490) The resultfor taking up a moral burden such as Vietnam only results in the severecasualties. Despite what the American ideal for democracy, Lewy concluded,we can not support and change the world. “The Statesman cannot bea saint” (491) as the Korean Conflict and Vietnam conflict had shown tothe American people. The American idealism changed significantlybecause of the impact of Vietnam war.Lewy ended his essay with one of the mostfrequently asked questions: could the United States have won in Vietnam?Lewy suggested that United States started off on the wrong foot in thebeginning.
Simple motives like “fighting for democracy in Vietnam”and “halting communist aggression” while having some truth in them arenot enough to justify the position of U.S. intervention. PresidentJohnson also made a mistake in the beginning of the war because of hisconfidence. He constantly “spoke of success and light at the endof the tunnel, but continued to dispatch additional troops while casualtiesmounted steadily.” (492) The turning of the war from a “limited war”to a full scale occurred as more troops were sent in. Yet while Johnsonwas willing to send in more troops, he was unwilling to declare war.American people did not know what they were fighting for because of theundeclared war.
Further, without industrial mobilization on the homefront, the mission was destined to fail. The nation ended up fighting”a limited with the full employment of its military power restricted throughelaborate rules of engagements and limitations… while for its determinedopponent the war was total.” (492)Lewy did not deny that the war was lostmilitarily. In fact he believed that U.
S. strategy was wrong fromthe beginning. He wrote that “the U.S. failed to understand the realstakes in a revolutionary war.” (497) United States army failed torealize the objective of the war. Edward G.
Landsdale once wrotethat “the Vietnamese Communist generals saw their armed forces a instrumentsprimarily to gain political goals. The American generals saw their forcesprimarily as instruments to defeat enemy military forces.” (497)As a result Lewy concluded, “the enemys endurance and supply of manpowerproved stronger than American persistence in keeping up the struggle.”(497) The resolute Vietnamese opposition simply demoralized our willto fight.
When they suffered major casualties it strengthened themwhile it weaken United States morale when we suffered major casualties.Finally Lewy believed that The United States had set out on the wrong footfrom the beginning. “The war,” Lewy commented, “not only had to bewon in South Vietnam, but it had to be won by the South Vietnamese.” (497)Yet it seems that from the beginning of the conflict, The Republic of Vietnamdid not have the zeal that the U.S. did. The United States howeverfailed to stress the importance of the role the South Vietnamese shouldplay.
As a result the war could not be won because we were not Vietnamese.Henry Kissinger inevitably concluded that “outside effort can only supplement,but not create local efforts and local will to resist.” (499) TheUnited States could neither win a war nor lose one because it is not ourwar. The failure of the Vietnamese people to take their active rolesin their revolutionary war was the cause for the lost war. Lewy thereforeconcluded that with the war lost on the enemy front, home front and theVietnamese front, the war in Vietnam could not be won.Finally, in “The Last War, The Next War,and The New Revisionists” Walter LaFeber also attempts to address the Vietnamquestion. He first addresses the reason for the losing of the war.
He brings up the Westmoreland Thesis which argued that “the conflict wasnot lost on the battlefield, but at home where overly sensitive politiciansfollowed a “no-win policy” to accommodate “a misguided minority opposition.”and that “the enemy finally won the war politically in Washington.” (500)Other revisionist historians like Gelband Betts proposed that “it was notthe system; that failed..
. the failure was to be blamed on the Americanpeople who never understood the war and finally tired of it, and on thePresident who supinely followed the people.” (501) Lewy, anotherhistorian further, clarified Westmorelands argument that antiwar groupswrongly labeled Vietnam illegal and immoral.
But Lewy inevitablydestroyed Westmorelands thesis when he mentioned the massacre at My Laiand at Cam Ne. The blame for losing the war, therefore LaFeber concluded,is split among the Revisionists and the other historians.LaFeber then addresses the impact of thewar to build up his thesis of the Revisionists. He argues that “Vietnamgreatly altered the world balance of power” and that “American powerhas dramatically declined, politically as well as militarily.” (501)The lessons of Vietnam invariably became the basis for American foreignpolicy for the next decade. The Afghanistan and Iran crisis duringCarters administration showed that lessons of Vietnam had finally takenitself in the form of the nations policy.
Furthermore, Ronald Reaganproclaimed in one of speeches that “we must rid ourselves of the Vietnamsyndrome.” (503) Therefore LaFeber concluded that the lesson of Vietnamhad changed U.S. foreign policy greatly.Lastly, LaFeber discusses the argumentsof the new revisionists.
He criticizes their explicit claims andthe facts that they chose to ignore. The new revisionists claim thatthe country has been “misguided by the opinions of the minority” is notcorrectly stated. Herbert Schandlers study had shown that the latestpublic opinions rallied behind the president. (503) Even as the antiwarmovements increased during late 1970, the public opinions did not turnthe president. LaFeber showed that “it did not stop Nixon from expandingthe conflict into Cambodia and Laos.” (504) Therefore LaFeber concludedthat the Antiwar movements had been greatly overrated by the Revisionists.
The Revisionist instead should emphasize the defeat military in Vietnam.The Revisionists also concentrated too much on the Soviet Union.Instead they should focus “on the instability of the Third World areasthat the Soviets have at times turned to their own advantage.
” (505)The Revisionists therefore did not understand where the problems were insouth East Asia. LaFeber also stressed that the Revisionist had underestimatedUnites States military power. American military will is not lacking;the troops as LaFeber pointed out were “supported by the most powerfulnaval and air force ever used in Asia.” (505) Bombs were droppedevery minute on Vietnam. Therefore neither the will nor the poweris lacking in the war. The war was lost not because U.
S. declinedin power but rather from the “overestimation of American Power.” (505)The Revisionists, suggested LaFeber, over-exaggerated some of the issues.If the power of United States wereoverestimated, the war then was lost because of the aid of our allies andthe cost of the war.
The Revisionists often overlooked this subject,LaFeber argued. He pointed out that “of the forty nations tied tothe United States by treaties only four- Australia, New Zealand, SouthKorea, and Thailand- committed any combat troops.” (506) Even SouthKorea, a country which owed much to U.S., only send troops after Washingtonbribed them. The failure of the aid from the coalition eventuallyundermined the U.
S. effort in Vietnam. The will of the people whichthe Revisionists stressed as the downfall of the war is also affected bythe cost of the war. The American people simply did not want to fighta bread and butter war.
Domestically, the Great Society Program mustbe sacrificed to accommodate the war. The great cost of the war eventuallyinfluenced the public sentiment so much that the will of people favorspeace. By overlooking the two key aspects of the war, LaFeber concluded,the Revisionists attempt to make the war “more acceptable,” and “hopedto make the next war legitimate, even before…
where it will be or whatit will be fought over.” (508)These three articles in Conflict and Consensusall showed remarkably similarity not only in their subjects but also intheir opinions. They all attempted to address why the United Stateslost the war. In doing so they also addressed the attitude of Americanpeople and the military forces. They analyzed the strength of theU.
S. military power and the Vietnamese forces. They all asked thequestion of why the war started and what importance was Vietnam.
But despite the similarities of the three articles, they differ in details.While Baritz addressed the loss of Vietnam,he attributed the loss to the ignorance and haughty attitude of Vietnam.She stressed the myth of America as the “Gods chosen country” and believedthat we lost the war because we were too arrogant and too confident ofourselves. Baritz argued that Americans put too much faith into technology,Bureaucracy and the myth. These things she addressed as the downfallof United States. Lewy shared a different view when he attemptedto address the loss of Vietnam. He attacked the conflict from thebeginning, doubting the importance of Vietnam and United States motiveto interfere. He also addressed some of the major forces that turnedpublic opinion against the war such as TV, the lack of declaration of war,and the antiwar movements.
On a military scale, Lewy also addressedthe ineptitude of the American army to fight a revolutionary war and thefailure to draw the Vietnamese into their own war. Lewy proposeda more comprehensive theory from the beginning to the end of how the UnitedStates could lose the war. LaFebers interest in his article howeveris not addressing how America lost the war. But nevertheless by rejectingsome of the Revisionists points of view, he revealed a different scopeof the war. He rejected Westmorelands theory and pointed out thatthe public sentiment was favoring the president and the war. He rejectedthe focus of the war on Communism and Russia to show that the South EastAsia problem is a question of stability not communism. LaFeber alsopointed out the common misunderstanding of the conflicts central politicaland military features.
He believed that United States overestimatedits own power. Furthermore he revealed the reluctance of Americanallies to commit its troops, and he revealed that the public is unwillingto sacrifice butter for guns. LaFebers view therefore is extremelydifferent from the two historians mentioned before yet he still attemptedto address the same questions.