Assignment two: Objective three

Source A is an extract from a book written by John F Kennedy, before his presidency. The first paragraph shows the belief in the ‘domino effect’, meaning that he supported the theory that if Vietnam turned communist, then it would push all the surrounding countries into communism as well. This was one of America’s greatest fears and because of this theory they wanted to prevent Vietnam’s turn to communism. In Kennedy’s words ‘the domino effect’ is described as a ‘red tide of communism’, which will ‘overflow’ across many countries. Kennedy lists the countries that it was believed would fall under communism if Ho Chi Minh was not stopped in Vietnam. This then leads on to the implication that such a spread of communism is a threat to the US. Kennedy says that, “the independence of Vietnam is crucial to the Free World.” In saying this he implying that if communism is allowed to spread then it offers a serious threat to the capitalism in the US. For this reason, it was felt that communism must be contained. At this point in the Cold War it was not possible, or practical, to crush communism completely, but nevertheless it needed to be contained so that it could not grow into an even bigger threat.

The second paragraph continues by putting across this same opinion but also state that Vietnam will (if it proceeds and becomes communist) influence Asia because Vietnam’s ‘political liberty is an inspiration to Asia’.

Kennedy had also already made promises to America that he would help other countries fighting communism.

Source B is an extract from a statement made by the US state department; it helps to show the reasons for US involvement by expressing America’s fears of communism, the source refers once again to the ‘domino effect’ by mentioning Korea and how in 1950 the north tried to take over the south. The source is a very early indication of involvement as it was written in1956, and might be slightly biased towards the US.

Source C is from a book written in 1977 by a Vietnam volunteer. As this is from after the war it is mainly about the reasons for the involvement of men as fighters in the war. It is more of an individual point of view. The book which the source comes from is called ‘a rumour of war’ this is because the US never actually declared or called the fighting in Vietnam a war.

Source B states the same reasons for US intervention in Vietnam as Source A: that it was purely to protect the independence of South Vietnam and its people. Source C, on the other hand, shows the view of a soldier who volunteered to actually fight in the war. It shows how the official reasons in Source B, were interpreted by the recruits saying- ‘we were ordained to play cop to the communist robber and spread our political ideas around the world’. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the soldier in Source C still understood that communism’s spread must be stopped, showing that they still had confidence in the US government’s reasons. In addition, both sources note the fact that the USA had never lost a war. Source B even goes so far as to compare the attempt of North Vietnam to take South Vietnam to the similar situation in Korea in 1950- ‘North Vietnam’s commitment to seize control of the south is no less total than was the commitment of North Korea to take the South in 1950.’

3. Vietnamese people were used to the environment in Vietnam, this meant that guerrilla tactics used (refer to source D) by the Vietcong could be more developed.

Source C is written by an American man, who was involved in the war, he states that ‘war is attractive to young men who know nothing about it’, this shows the inexperience of the US men, they were not trained well enough and the source states that the US soldiers ‘mission was not to win terrain, but simply to kill’. The Vietcong on the other hand were well adapted to the conditions in Vietnam and they were used to both the climate and terrain.

Source D is written by Ho Chi Min, who was the leader of Vietnam at the time of the war. It shows he was the main opposition to the US. The source describes the type of war that the Vietcong were to be fighting; this is very different to the US tactics. Ho Chi Min describes the way that the Vietcong’s guerrilla warfare techniques should ‘nibble at the enemy’. This went on to be a great success for the Vietcong.

Perhaps the most important reason given for the Vietcong’s victory over the US army is the fact that they very rarely fought set-piece battles. As Source D explains, the idea behind guerrilla warfare is ‘not to go in for large scale battles and big victories’ Source C says, ‘the rare occasion when the VC chose to fight a set-piece battle provided the only excitement,’ showing that the US army was only used to set piece battles. They had very little experience with the kind of warfare that the VC chose to fight in Vietnam. Even when the Vietcong did fight a set-piece battle, as source C says, ‘these encounters achieved nothing.’ Furthermore, as explained by Source E, the Vietcong had support amongst the people of Vietnam because they were encouraged to be ‘fair and honest with the people’ and thus, in return, they were ‘respected and loved by the people.’ The US army, on the other hand, had very little support amongst the Vietnamese since many did not want the US to intervene in the first place. The serious deterioration of US tactics, into simply killing any Vietnamese people, did not help matters.

Source C confirms this by saying that, ‘their mission was not to win terrain, but simply to kill’ and adding, ‘some men acquired a contempt for human life.’ The result was that huge massacres occurred which, for the most part, just resulted in a massive loss of innocent life. It is not surprising, that the US army were unsupported, and in some cases, even hated, by the native population. In some respects, you could say that some of the Vietnamese saw the US as foreign invaders, and the Vietcong as the defenders of Vietnam’s land and people. This did not help the US either. Then there were the military and strategic reasons. The Tet offensive showed the Vietcong surprising everyone by making a full-on attack on southern towns, such as Saigon. The US army were taken completely by surprise because they thought that such towns were safe from an enemy that, up to then, had fought mostly in the countryside.

Despite being defeated within a month the Tet offensive saw a devastating effect on the US public. It had been previously thought that the Communists were almost beaten but the fact that they could penetrate the capital of South Vietnam (Saigon), deep within the south, showed them to be far from beaten. Lastly, another important factor in the Vietcong victory was the infrastructure that they had at their disposal. Miles of supply routes ran all across Vietnam. Where the US bombed towns and villages in North Vietnam, bunkers were constructed to provide safety underground for the Vietcong and civilians. The supply routes also had redundancy routes so that when one was bombed, such as the Ho Chi Minh trail, other routes could be used so that supplies could always be transported.

4. Source F is an article from the US magazine, published in 1967 stating percentages supporting the war, due to the encouragement of television. The figures show that the majority of people are supporting the war. However I think this source is quite misleading, the amount of people included in the survey is not mentioned and therefore we are not aware of how many people came to be involved in the survey. Also the percentages mentioned in the source do not add up to one hundred percent and so we are left not fully informed.

The problems with television are that clips can be selected to give a certain image, and in this case information and footage of the events in Vietnam were probably chosen to promote the involvement of the US. Therefore, despite source F seeming to be quite useful on the surface, its data seems to be flawed in a number of ways. It fails to mention the sort of people that were asked, so it is difficult to put the statistics in context.

Source G is useful because it comes from a respected opinion poll and therefore can be trusted to a certain extent. However whilst it is clear that from 1965 to 1968 the public’s view of the most important problem was Vietnam, it is not clear as to what aspect of the Vietnam war. It could be one of all manner of aspects, including opposition to the war or could be concerned with victory. The point is that we don’t know; all we know is that it was an important issue in the public’s mind.

Source I is useful because, despite any possible spin put on by the reporter, the event described most likely happened. Furthermore, the event itself is horrific on its own even if the reporter did twist the facts somewhat. However, it must be noted that the article was held back from publishing for two years (from 1968 to 1970). This could have been for a number of reasons. The most probable is because it was probably believed that it would have an adverse effect on public opinion. Considering the nature of the article, publishing it in 1968 could have been disastrous if the public decided to take action against the government. Furthermore, it could be argued that it was delayed until after the 1968 election, perhaps so that it wouldn’t affect the voters’ decisions. In conclusion, all three sources are useful in that they show some aspect of what happened. It is true, however, that they can vary in their usefulness. In this case, I would say that Source F is probably the least useful due to its apparent hypocrisy, although nonetheless it does still show some statistics. I would also say that Source I is probably the most useful, due to not only its content but the fact that someone (perhaps influenced by the government) wished it to be held back two years. This shows that public opinion was in doubt and it was unsure whether the public would continue to support their government if such a tragic event came to light at such an important time.

5 There are, no doubt, many reasons why public opinion about the war in the USA changed between 1967 and 1970. One reason was probably that the public became more aware of what was going on in Vietnam. The Vietnam war was the first televised war, so this was the first time that the average citizen back in the USA, far removed from the actual fighting, could see what it was like to be in Vietnam. Furthermore, what they saw was relatively uncensored. For some people it was the first time that they had seen war itself so it is understandable why public opinion regarding the war could change now that they could see what it was actually like. To a lesser extent, this change in opinion originated from the letters home, like the one in Source H, which were also relatively uncensored (compared to those in World Wars I and II). People began to realise that perhaps they were fighting for the wrong reasons. Source K confirms this. For the most part, its tone is sarcastic and its chorus reflects the view of the soldiers towards the end of the war.

Most of them did not understand why they were fighting and it was almost like a suicide mission. Source K also shows the growing anti-war culture in the USA. Songs like this had a wide audience and they broadcast their opinions much further than letters home, for example, did. Source L very effectively conveyed the growing concern that the USA was becoming too arrogant in its application of capitalism. It began to be felt that it wasn’t right to impose the American political system on to another, completely different, culture. The death toll of US soldiers did not help turn public opinion back to support the war either. Many people couldn’t understand how so many people could be killed by a so-called ‘backward society.’ How could the USA lose a war against such a small country, especially when they had never lost a war previously? Related to this were the huge amounts of money going into the war effort. The “great society” that was planned for the USA had to be scrapped so that funds could be redirected to the Vietnam war, and this no doubt left many people feeling rather bitter towards the government, especially considering the fact that more and more people were questioning the government’s reasoning for the war. Lesser reasons include the demonstrations at universities, such as Kent State University. Not only did these demonstrations raise public awareness but some of them were also the spark of even more mistrust of the government because, for example, in one of the demonstrations, six students were killed by the US National Guard at Kent State University and Jackson State College. It is also worth noting that President Johnson did not re-stand in the presidential elections. Lastly, the Tet offensive during the Chinese New Year in 1968 confirmed, for many people, that the US had lost the war since the Vietcong were able to reach so far as Saigon.

6. During the war television was a main source for the American public to keep up to date with the situation in Vietnam, but as time went on, new types of information were beginning to seep through. Men were coming back from the war with first hand experiences and individual stories. TV footage was not the only type of media coming from Vietnam, photographs, songs and cartoons were being produced and soon the American public were building up strong views about the American involvement, and protests began. It was inevitable that the information would get back to the US and as they fell behind in the war, America and its media continued to bring back information, which was increasingly worse as time went on.

I think this statement is true to a certain extent, firstly, television had an immediate impact.

As soon as something happened in Vietnam, it was relayed back to the USA and put on to the television quite quickly. Previously, this was not possible and news from the front line took weeks to filter back to civilians at home. Secondly, television had very little censorship, partly due to its nature and partly due to the fact that TV networks didn’t have enough time to censor footage to a big extent, due to the fact that they had to broadcast as soon as possible. As mentioned previously, the Vietnam war was the first war in which civilians back home could see the harsh realities of war and also the brutality that goes on. It is very hard to object to something when you don’t really know what it is, but everyone knew exactly what was going on in Vietnam now and they saw things that changed their opinion as to whether the US should be involved. It is a known fact that television has the effect of making events seem nearer and more relevant. Previous wars were far removed from the general population and they didn’t feel a part of it, nor did it affect them in any way.

However, now the war was being beamed straight into their houses and they could do little to keep away from it. The shock factor also played an important part of this. Rather uniquely, the Vietnam War also saw a new aspect of reporting. For the first time, they were out just for facts mainly because that’s what the public wanted. The more facts a reporter could give, the more popular the story would be. This, quite obviously, resulted in a much greater informed public. Lastly, footage was repeated over and over again and this had the effect of drilling events into the public. It became a part of their lives and they knew exactly what was going on. This must have had an effect on their opinions as to whether what they were seeing should be happening. Having said this, there are of course other reasons for the changing attitudes but, in my opinion, these played a lesser role. To begin with, there were magazines and newspapers, which, whilst still around during previous wars, were uncensored for the most part. Therefore, they reflected similar events as television but they also put across various opinions, particularly in cartoons such as the one in Source L. To a lesser extent, radio also informed people of what was happening in Vietnam. There was also the growing pop culture in the US.

Protest singers such as Bob Dillan, Joan Baez, the Byrds and John Lennon (later in the 1970s) influenced other people’s opinions by putting across theirs in a more creative way. Songs such as the one in Source K effectively put across their opinions in a very different way, that made people stop and think about whether the war was right or not. In conclusion, I would say that there were definitely other reasons for the change in the public’s attitudes to the war but I think that television was the most important, not least because it triggered a change in the way the other medias put across their information. It was television that allowed the public to actually see what was happening right at the front line. This was a first and it raised public awareness enormously by providing them with hard, uncensored facts.