Military conflict that occasioned the Cold War


In essence, the Vietnam War started as an anticolonial war against the French and soon morphed into a fully blown military conflict that eventually occasioned the Cold War clash between democracy anchored on free markets on one hand and international communism on the other. In the north of Vietnam was the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and in the south of Vietnam was the republic of Vietnam – with the latter receiving the backing of the United States and the former having the support of several communist countries including, but not limited to, China and the Soviet Union.

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It is important to note that America’s involvement in Vietnam was essentially escalated by President Lyndon Johnson. It was Lyndon Johnson who authorized a campaign of sustained bombings in North Vietnam and also committed ground troops numbering into hundreds of thousands. At home, the involvement of the U.S. in Vietnam lacked popular support and later on occasioned serious protests that effectively had a hand in the eventual withdrawal of troops in Vietnam. Upon the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the conflict, South Vietnam was invaded by the North – with the eventual consequence being the amalgamation of both countries under a communist government. In addition to explaining the course of American involvement in Vietnam between 1950and 1970, this text also assesses how the war was linked to a youth protest movement in various jurisdictions.

American intervention in Vietnam 1950 to 1975

America’s involvement in Vietnam commenced in the early 1950s with the overriding mandate being the provision of assistance in the First Indochina War to the French. In basic terms, the said involvement of the United States effectively triggered a full-scale military confrontation. It is important to note that as Hunt (2015) points out, as per the Domino Theory that had been formulated by the U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, the fall of a single country to communism would trigger a domino effect whereby other countries would also fall to communism in quick succession. The United States was wary of communism influence expansion in South East Asia.

The early 1950s were marked with increased military aid to French outposts – particularly after China (which had now fully embraced communist tendencies) and the Soviet Union indicated their resolve to advance greater support to the Viet Minh (Hunt, 2015). It is important to note that the Indochina’s French rule ended with the defeat of French forces in Dien Bien Phu by the Viet Minh in 1954. It is at this same time that Dwight D. Eisenhower, the U.S. President at the time, pointed out that the collapse of French rule in Indochina would effectively lead to the establishment of communist domination across Southeast Asia (Hunt, 2015). In the month of July 1954, South Vietnam and North Vietnam was established by the Geneva Accords – with the dividing line in this case being the 17th parallel.

Towards the end 1950s, a supply route by the name Ho Chi Minh Trail was built by the North Vietnamese forces in their attempts to further buttress their guerrilla-like strikes on the South Korean government whose president at the time was Ngo Dinh Diem. It should also be noted that it was also towards the end of the 1950s (specifically in 1959) that the United States suffered its first casualties in the conflict when the living quarters of U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam were attacked by North Vietnam guerrillas. With the Viet Cong gaining ground, a secret operation against the said formation was authorized by John F. Kennedy in May 1961 with the president sending dozens of Special Forces troops to South Vietnam. Three years later, in 1964, additional advisers were sent by the United States government to South Vietnam – effectively bringing the total number of advisers send to South Vietnam by the U.S. government thus far to 20,000 (Hunt, 2015).

In the month of August, 1964, U.S. destroyers stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin were attacked by torpedo boats that, although later on disputed, were believed to belong to North Vietnam. As a consequence of the said attack, Lyndon Johnson sought Congress’ approval to make use of military force in Vietnam (Hunt, 2015). This gave rise to what is known as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution whereby the basis or foundation of direct U.S. military involvement was laid (Hunt, 2015).

It is important to note that with the direct involvement of U.S. military now apparent, the Soviet Politburo deemed it necessary to further enhance its aid to North Vietnam via the supply of an assortment of air defense systems, small arms, ammunition, as well as artillery. North Vietnam also started receiving assistance from China to build defense infrastructure. In the words of Hunt (2015), by June of 1965, “50,000 American soldiers were in Vietnam” (170). By the end of the same year, the number had increased to 200,000. In addition to the continuing of major ground operations, the year 1966 saw the first bombing of North Vietnam, with Hanoi and Haiphong being pounded repeatedly. It is important to note that by the end of 1967, the total number of U.S. troops in Vietnam had escalated to 500,000. At around this time, the U.S. military adopted and deployed a strategy that came to be known as search and destroy. The said strategy involved the deployment of ground forces to enemy territories that were considered prime. After destroying or neutralizing the enemy, the ground forces would then be withdrawn immediately. It is, however, important to note that the effectiveness of the said strategy was soon questioned when high ‘body count’ figures were reported. Further, amid the search and destroy campaign, dozens of civilians (numbering 500) were killed at Mai Lai by U.S. forces on the 16th of March in 1968. These developments further increased the war backlash and effectively led to the announcement by Johnson that he would not be seeking reelection. At the time, huge protests were rocking parts of San Francisco, New York, as well as Washington – with protestors calling for the cessation of the Vietnam War. In a way, the victory of President Richard Nixon in the U.S. presidential elections in November 1968 was largely as a consequence of his pledge to not only end the draft, but also restore law and order.

In essence, the gradual withdraw of U.S. troops from the Vietnam region begun towards the end of the 1960s. With the U.S. fatalities on the increase, the need for a strategic withdrawal was more apparent than before. Peace negotiations also begun in 1968, with the U.S. halting bombing campaigns so as to motivate peace negotiations and encourage Hanoi to join the same. Towards the end of 1968, the Operation Rolling Thunder was eventually halted so as to create way for more structured negotiations (Hunt, 2015). A strategy known as vietnamization was introduced by President Richard Nixon in 1969 with an aim of ensuring that South Vietnamese forces were empowered in a way that could effectively enable them to defend South Vietnam without the need for continued U.S. invention once U.S. forces were eventually withdrawn. In the final analysis, it is important to note that by 1972, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam had fallen from a 1965 peak of half-a-million to 69,000 (Hunt, 2015).

It should be noted that the continued involvement of the U.S. in the war effectively served as fuel to the discontentment of the general public. Although quite a number of groups were involved in the ensuing protests, Hunt (2015) points out that students from various elite universities and colleges were the main driving force of the resistance. Towards the late 1960s, “the rivulet of protest turned into an increasingly turbulent river as public support for the war steadily fell” (Hunt, 2015). The discontent of the youth in Japan was also apparent at the time. As a matter of fact, airstrikes by the U.S. in North Vietnam, as Hunt (2015) points out, were the key triggers of political unrest in the mid-1960s. In the words of Hunt (2015), “details of the bombing campaign and the mounting ground war,” which was prominently broadcast in various mass media outlets, “called to mind Japan’s own disastrous invasion of China, brought back memories of Japan’s own experience with aerial bombardment, and led to charges that Japan bore responsibility for helping to sustain the savage struggle” (183). Student protests in Italy, on the other hand commenced in 1967 – with Rome soon becoming a convergence point. It is important to note that although the focal point of the protests in Italy had been university, it soon shifted to industry (Hunt, 2015).


Hunt, M. (2015). The World Transformed: 1945 to the Present (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford.

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