Which president started the Vietnam War?
The First Indochina War ended with the French failure in the efforts to re-colonize Vietnam. In July 1954, the Geneva Accords were designed as an attempt to secure peace in Indochina. However, undermined by the Cold War tension and mistrust, the Accords had been hastily negotiated and drafted. Both the United States and the State of Vietnam acknowledged the Accords, but refused to sign them1. On the other side, Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh, who did not agree with the separation at the 17th parallel and doubt the national election scheduled in 1956 to unify the country, was forced to sign the Accords under pressure from both Soviet and China1.
In the United States, President Dwight Eisenhower, who had warned against the possible expansion of communism in April, obviously opposed the unifying election. He foresaw that if the election was held in 1956 possibly eighty percent of Vietnamese population would have voted for Ho Chi Minh2 and Vietnam would certainly fall to the communists. As a result, he began to instruct efforts to help Ngo Dinh Diem establish a new government in South Vietnam. In a letter sent to Diem in 19543, Eisenhower promised Diem that the United States would make a greater contribution to the stability of the government. By the end of 1955, Diem, backed by the US, had full control of Saigon and most of South Vietnam.
In 1956, Ngo Dinh Diem refused open talks with Hanoi and unilaterally blocked the unifying election. When the July 1956 deadline passed without a national election, the Communists knew that they had to march south to reunify the country. Vietnam was now on the edge of a new conflict.
In early 1961, the escalation of Communist insurgency and poor performances of Diem’s government caused an increasingly concern for the United States. In order to improve the situation, President Kennedy continued to increase economic and military aid to South Vietnam. By the end of 1961, Kennedy administration supported $65 million in military equipment, $136 million in economic aid and dispatched about 3,200 U.S military advisors to South Vietnam. By 1963, the number of US military advisors reached to 16,0004.
Following Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson, who shared the same vision on Vietnam with his predecessor, took office and continued to expand U.S’s military role in Vietnam. Beginning with the order to conduct bombing raids on North Vietnam, Johnson then came to a decision to escalate U.S. military presence in South Vietnam by dispatching the first US ground troops to Danang on March 8, 1965. Since then, he continued to constantly increase the number of U.S troops in South Vietnam to more than 500,000 over the next five years.
1. Moïse, Edwin E., The Vietnam Wars, Section 4, The Geneva Accords. Retrieved January 11, 2014 from http://www.clemson.edu/caah/history/FacultyPages/EdMoise/viet4.html.
2. Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1963), Mandate for Change, 1953-56 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.), p. 372.
3. The Department of State Bulletin (November 15, 1954), pp. 735-736.
4. Vietnam: U.S. Advisors 1955-1965. Retrieved January 11, 2014 from http://olive-drab.com/od_history_vietnam_advisors.php.