Was American involvement in the Vietnam War justified? Another intriguing question comes to many people’s minds when talking about the lengthy and bloody war in Vietnam.
On the one hand, many believe that the U.S. should not have involved in Vietnam in the first place.
First, before Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from France in September 1945, he had asked President Harry S. Truman and the U.S. for assistance and recognition. Upon being blatantly ignored by the U.S. – the “Democratic” side, it could be argued that Ho had no choice but to seek assistance from Russia and China – the communist side, to gain independence from the French colonial rule.
Second, Vietnam had been a unified country. The division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel as a result of the 1954 Geneva Accords was supposed to be temporary. Should America not have involved, Vietnam should have been unified in the general election in 1956. Hence, American involvement in Vietnam could be considered highly politically motivated. Vietnam was just a “proxy” in the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union.
Third, seven million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia – more than twice the amount dropped in the whole World War II. By using infamous Agent Orange and other defoliants, the U.S. army destroyed about 7,700 square miles of forests — six percent of Vietnam’s total land area, which also caused adverse health effects on millions of people. Many question U.S. policy of saving Vietnam (from the communist) by destroying it.
Last but not least, the undeclared war cost the United States some 58,000 lives, impeded many welfare programs and brought down its economy to the crisis of the 1970s – just to name a few. Those severe consequences put a big question mark over American benefits of its deep involvement in Vietnam.
On the other hand, many think that American involvement in the Vietnam war was a justified action to take.
Strong alliance with the French
France has long been a close ally of the U.S. In fact, it was the first ally of the new U.S. in the wake of the American Revolutionary War and the Statue of Liberty is indeed a gift from the French to American people to the memory of U.S. Declaration of Independence. Hence, President Truman’s decision to ignore Ho’s request for assistance and American very first involvement in Vietnam to aid the French in their war against the communist Viet Minh were rather justified.
The Domino theory might be understated now. But the fact is after the the world war II, communism spread worldwide to Eastern Europe, Africa, Cuba and East Asia under the influence of the Soviet Union (USSR) and to a certain extent China. The assumption that if Vietnam fell, other Southeast Asian countries could fall as well in a domino effect is understandably legitimate. As a matter of fact, former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew argued that the U.S. involvement in Indochina had given other Southeast Asian countries time to consolidate and engage in economic growth, and therefore, stopped further communist spread.
It is also arguable that the U.S. intervention in Korea and particularly in Vietnam, which prevented South Vietnamese “domino” from falling for more than 20 years, not only stopped the communist spread but also helped exhaust the economies of the USSR and China which contributed to the Soviet Union’s dissolution and the end of the Cold War in 1991.
The U.S. had been supporting South Vietnam to defend its independence since 1954. As in President Johnson’s words, to leave South Vietnam to its fate would undervalue America’s words & commitment and ultimately shake its credibility in the world. The U.S., therefore, was obligated to keep their promise of helping South Vietnamese people in their war against the North communists. They had fought hard for a “noble cause”.
Totalitarian North Communist Regime
Diem regime might be terrible but the totalitarian regime from the North, contrary to popular belief, did not get any better if not even worse. They had arrested, tortured and executed thousands of their own people who were all of a sudden labelled as “land lords” during their “land reform” and “re-education” programs from 1953 to 1956 – just before they decided to “liberate” the South. Ironically, many of the so-called “cruel and barbaric landlords” were actively supporting them in their war against the French.