Revisiting the US War against Viet Nam

Amazingly, the history of the Vietnam War is still being fought over in the United States. There seems to be an effort to reframe that horrific and shameful campaign into some honorable intervention. For example, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 authorized the U.S. Secretary of Defense to conduct a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. In 2012, President Obama signed a proclamation stating that the commemoration would begin on Memorial Day (May 28th) 2012 and would continue until Veterans Day (November 11th) 2025.

Unfortunately, the specified goals for the commemoration were limited and ignored the background that set the stage for the conflict as well as the efforts of the peace community at home. Fortunately the material prepared by the Pentagon goes beyond these limited goals, but it still provides an incomplete picture of this horrendous, devastating and unwarranted slaughter.

If the so-called elite can continue to spin the truth about this terrible campaign and our subsequent war crimes such as the attack on and invasion of Iraq, we will inevitably commit more war crimes against other far weaker and non-threatening nations.

The following is a brief synopsis of the background leading up to the Vietnam War that provides some additional context to the material provided by the Pentagon.

World War II

During WWII, a Vietnamese nationalist alliance, the Viet Nimh, led by Ho Chi Minh, opposed the Japanese controlled but Vichy French administered rule of Vietnam. The U.S. aided the Viet Nimh in its opposition to the Japanese forces.

Creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam

At Potsdam, Germany in July 1945, the leaders of the Allies, primarily the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Britain turned their backs on freedom for the Vietnamese and instead supported the return of control of Vietnam to France.

Despite this unconscionable decision, immediately after the formal Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam and named himself as the first president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). In the following months, Ho repeatedly offered to work with the U.S. and hoped that the U.S. would honor its commitment to independence and self-determination. His efforts were to no avail.

Defeat of the French

The Viet Nimh strongly opposed the French reoccupation. During May to September, 1946 Ho Chi Minh was in France in an unsuccessful attempt to gain a guarantee of full independence and unity for Vietnam. While he was in France, the French declared a separatist government of South Vietnam. Major fighting started in November 1946 when the French bombarded Haiphong harbor and occupied Hanoi.

The newly created People’s Republic of China as well as the Soviet Union recognized the DRV in early 1950 and China began giving military aid to the DRV. Later that summer, the U.S. began providing military aid and advisors to the French. Fighting continued into 1954 when the Vietnamese finally defeated the French forces.

The 1954 Geneva Peace Agreement

A peace agreement was reached at Geneva, but the U.S., although a participant in the negotiations, did not sign it. A key part of the agreement called for a temporary partition and stated: “The Conference recognizes that … the military demarcation line should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary.” The accord also called for elections in July 1956 for establishing a united Vietnam.

President Eisenhower and the CIA both were confident that Ho Chi Minh would overwhelmingly win a fair election. Thus, in violation of the terms of the Peace Agreement, the U.S. soon supported someone it thought would be a compliant leader in the South and backed the establishment of a South Vietnamese government and state. As a result, the national election did not occur. The U.S. had again sided against democracy for the Vietnamese.

Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO)

In September 1954 the U.S. and some allies formed the SEATO to prevent the spread of communism. Vietnam was not a member of SEATO as the Peace Agreement prohibited it being a member of any military alliance. In addition, this defense treaty, unlike NATO, did not require military intervention to support other members. Hence the U.S. was not bound to support the South Vietnamese government it had helped to create.

A war we couldn’t win

President Johnson and other political leaders concluded before the big U.S. troop buildup in 1965 that we likely couldn’t win a military struggle in Vietnam. Defense Secretary McNamara came to that same conclusion in mid-to-late 1965. Undersecretary of State George Ball had strongly made this same case in late 1964 and early 1965. French President de Gaulle also predicted that the U.S. would lose in Vietnam. As early as 1954, President Eisenhower was unwilling to commit U.S. ground forces in Vietnam because of the difficulties and risks in fighting there. Yet we continued the fighting and killing for years more.

Who stood for freedom?

Clearly the U.S. did not support freedom and independence for the Vietnamese. By supporting French colonial rule in 1946, the U.S. failed to live up to its professed values. By opposing the election called for by the peace agreement, the U.S. stood against democracy. Through its support for French rule, the U.S. drove Ho Chi Minh, a potential ally, to seek aid from the Chinese and the Soviets.

If the U.S. had supported freedom and independence for the Vietnamese at the start, millions of lives could have been saved, including those of the 58,000 U.S. soldiers. In addition, Vietnam would not have been devastated. This war was in vain and totally unnecessary.

Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston and was a Green Party candidate for Congress and also for governor of Colorado. Read other articles by Ron.