Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson

Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson
Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson
Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson
Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson
Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson
Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson
Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson
Vietnam War and Early US involvement- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson
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French Occupation, Battle of Dien Bien Phu & the Beginning of US involvement Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson)

1. Describe the reasons that the US helped the French fight the Vietnamese
2. Identify ways in which the US opposed communism in Southeast Asia
3. Analyze how the US increased its involvement in Vietnam

Terms and People
Ho Chi Minh Domino Theory Dien Bien Phu SEATO
Vietcong Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Background: A Hope for Independence:
After World War II, a spirit of nationalism and revolution spread among Europe colonies around the world. As colonial peoples strived for independence, their struggles sometimes became mixed up with the Cold War conflict between communist states and western democracies. Such was the case in French Indochina, which consisted of the lands of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Unaware of the long and bloody war that lie ahead, a Vietnamese communist named Ho Chi Minh dreamed of a Vietnam free from French rule:
“The oppressed the world over are wrestling back their independence. We should not lag behind… Under the Vietminh banner, let us valiantly march forward!”
- Ho Chi Minh, 1945
Why it Matters:
President Kennedy and Johnson shared a vision for a better America in the 1960s. They also shared a vision for a better world in which America would emerge victorious from its Cold War struggle against global communism. As part of this new strategic and ideological battle, the United States established a new line of defense against communism in Vietnam. The conflict in Southeast Asia would grow to be one of the costliest wars in American history.

Essential Question: Why did the United States become involved in Vietnam?

Situated far away in Southeast Asia, Vietnam did not attract significant American attention until the 1960s. Television news shows rarely mentioned it, and most Americans could not locate it on a map. But over a span of more than ten years, the United States sent several mission soldiers to fight in Vietnam. America’s involvement in Vietnam had roots in European colonialism, Cold War politics, and Vietnamese calls for national independence.

France Rules Indochina in Southeast Asia
In the 1800s, French military forces established control over Indochina, a peninsula in Southeast Asia that includes the modern countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Slightly larger than the state if Texas, Indochina included almost 27 million people by the end of World War II. French colonial officials ruled Vietnam with an iron fist. They transplanted French laws into Vietnam and imposed high taxes. French business people acquired large rice and rubber plantations and controlled the mineral wealth of the country. Some Vietnamese, especially wealthier members of society, benefited from western culture and technology. Many others, however, were impoverished by colonialism.
Some Vietnamese rebelled against France’s exploitative rule. Ho Chi Minh became the most important voice demanding independence for Vietnam. Born in 1890, Ho became involved in anti-French organizations as a young man and fled Vietnam in 1912. He traveled the world, visiting American ports and living periodically in London, Paris, and Moscow. During his 30-year absence, Ho constantly thought and write about Vietnam, and he searched for westerners who would support his plans for Vietnamese independence. Ho embraced communism, and eventually Soviet communists rallied to his cause.

The French Battle Nationalism and Communism
During World War II, Japan had undermined French control over Vietnam. But when the conflict ended, France reasserted its colonial aims there. France’s problem however, was that colonialism was a dying institution. World War II had strengthened nationalist movements while weakening the economic and military positions of traditional European powers. In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh clamored for independence as France struggled in maintain its dwindling global power.
Meanwhile, the United States faced a difficult decision. On the one hand, it supported decolonization. On the other hand, America wanted France as an ally in its Cold War effort to contain the Soviet Union. President Harry S. Truman believed that if he supported Vietnamese independence, he would weaken anticommunist forces in France. So, to ensure a strong, anticommunist Western Europe, Truman sacrificed his own anticolonial sentiments.
Vietnam this became a pawn in Cold War politics. To ensure French support in the Cold War, Truman agreed to aid France’s efforts to regain control over Vietnam. After communist forces won the civil war in China in 1949, America increased its aid to the French in Vietnam. Truman did not want to see another communist victory in Asia. Between 1950 and 1954, the United States contributed $2.6 billion to France’s war efforts. Containing Ho Chi Minh’s communist Vietminh- an abbreviation of the League for Independence of Vietnam became a priority.

The Domino theory and Dien Bien Phu
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in early 1953, he continued Truman’s policies toward Vietnam. He sent monetary aid to the French, arguing that by battling Ho Chi Minh, they were containing the spread of communism. Eisenhower told a journalist that the fight in Vietnam involved more than the future of just one country.

“You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954

The domino theory was the idea that is Vietnam fell to communism, its closest neighbors would follow. This in turn would threatened Japan, the Philippines, and Australia. In short, stopping the communists in Vietnam was important to the protection of the entire region.

In 1954, however, the French lost their eight year struggle to regain Vietnam. The Vietminh trapped a large French garrison at Dien Bien Phu, a military base in northwest Vietnam, and laid siege to it for 56 days. Vietminh troops destroyed the French airstrip, cut French supply lines, and dug trenches to attack key French positions. Finally on May 7, 1954, after suffering some 15,000 casualties, the French surrendered.
They very next day at an international peace conference in Geneva, Switzerland, France sued for peace. According to the Geneva Accords, France granted independence to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The accords also divided Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel into two countries, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh’s communist forces ruled in North Vietnam, and an anticommunist government, support by the United States, assumed power in South Vietnam. The accords also called for free elections in 1956 to unify Vietnam.

During the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, France appealed to the United States for military support. President Eisenhower was willing to supply money but not soldiers. Eisenhower would not commit American troops to defend colonialism in Asia. Nevertheless, the President firmly supported the new anticommunist government of South Vietnam.

The United States Aids South Vietnam.
America channeled aid to South Vietnam in different ways. In 1954, the United States and seven other countries formed the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO. Similar to NATO, SEATO’s goal was to contain the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.
The United States provided economic and military aid to the South Vietnamese government by Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem was an ardent nationalist and anticommunist. Although he lacked popular appeal, his anticommunism guaranteed American support. When it came time for the 1956 unification elections, American intelligence analysts predicted the Diem would lose to the more popular Ho Chi Minh. Rather than risk losing, Diem refused to participate in the elections, a move made under the auspices (approval) of the United States government.

Communist Opposition Grows.
By 1957, a communist rebel group in the South, known as the National Liberation Front (NLF), had committed themselves to undermining the Diem government and uniting Vietnam under the communist flag. NLF guerilla fighters, called Vietcong, launched an insurgency in which they assassinated government officials and destroyed roads, and bridges. Supplied by communists in North Vietnam, the Vietcong employed surprise hit and run tactics to weaken Diem’s hold on South Vietnam.
Diem’s own policies also weakened his position in South Vietnam. A devout Roman Catholic in an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation, Diem did little to build a broad political base. Instead, he signed anti-Buddhist legislation and refused to enact significant land reforms. His lack of popular support hurt him in the civil war against North Vietnam. Only the support of the United States kept the unpopular leader in power.

Kennedy Send US Troops to Vietnam
After his election in 1960, President John F. Kennedy took a more aggressive stand against the communists in Vietnam. Beginning in 1961, he sent Special Force troops to South Vietnam to advise the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) on more effective ways to fight the communist forces. By late 1963, 11,300 American “advisers” were fighting in Vietnam.
Although US advisers fought bravely and achieved some success. Diem continued to alienate South Vietnamese citizens. By later 1963, his regime was in shambles. Buddhists protested his restrictive policies, occasionally by setting themselves on fire. The Kennedy administration eventually concluded that South Vietnam needed new leadership. Working behind the scenes, Americans plotted with anti-Diem generals to overthrow Diem’s government. On November 1, 1963, Diem was removed from power and later assassinated.

Johnson Leads the Nation Into War
Three weeks after Diem’s fall, as assassin’s bullet struck down President Kennedy. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the new President. Johnson was a Cold traditionalist who held a monolithic view of communism. For this “Cold Warrior”. Communism in the Soviet Union, China, and Vietnam were all the same. He did not recognize subtle differences. He also knew that the American people expected victory in Vietnam

North Vietnamese and US Forces Clash
In 1964, President Johnson faced his first crisis in Vietnam. On August 2, North Vietnamese torpedoes boats fired on the American destroyer USS Maddox as it patrolled the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam. The Maddox was not hit, and it returned fire on the North Vietnamese boat. Johnson promptly responses to the attack and to other North Vietnamese provocations. He announces that “aggression by terror against peaceful villages of South Vietnam has now been joined by open aggression on the high seas against the United States of America.” Troubled by increasing strikes against an American ally, Johnson ordered an airstrike against North Vietnam.

Congress Gives Johnson Broad Military Powers
The President next asked Congress to authorize the use of force to defend American troops. With little debate and only two senators voting against it, Congress agreed to Johnson’s request and passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution authorized the President to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of United States and to prevent further aggression.” The resolution gave Johnson tremendous war powers. It allowed him to commit US troops to South Vietnam and fight a war against North Vietnam without ever going back to Congress to ask for a declaration of war.

1. What role did Ho Chi Minh play? Who supported him? Why?
2. What role did Ngo Dinh Diem play? Who supported him? Why?
3. Access the importance of Dien Bien Phu. What was the result? What would have happened if the French won?
4. How did the US help the South Vietnamese government resist communism?
5. Create a chart for US Presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson), what was their opinion of the Vietnam war? What are some major events that took place during their term as President with reference to the Vietnam War
6. Listen to the videos below, and answer the questions. Create an argument and support whether or not the US should or should not have gotten involved in Vietnam
7. Analyze the political cartoon below. Who is who? What is the overall message of the artist? How can you tell? (Look at symbols, and circle key things to help your reasoning)

Directions: Use the Video: FRENCH INVOLVEMENT IN VIETNAM & DIEN BIEN PHU, and answer the following questions (this is about 26 minutes)
1. Ho supports Ho? Why?

2. When asked if there was going to be a war, how did Ho respond?

3. Describe War tactics used by Vietnamese

4. Who were the Vietminh? Who did they support? Who helped them? Describe their tactics

5. In 1950, and afterwards how did the US aid help? Why did they do so?

6. In efforts to protect/ fight against French airpower, what did the Vietminh do?

7. What weapons, tactics used at Dien Bien Phu? Who is likely to win?

8. Describe how the Vietminh fought against the French?

9. What happened to French captives?

10. What was the outcome of the war?

11. What happened to the refugees that did not wish to live in Vietnam under communism?

Directions: Next Look at the Video: Man of the Month: HO CHI MINH (1966) - WALTER CRONKITE - The Twentieth Century , and answer the following questions (
1. Describe the past jobs of Ho Chi Minh

2. What was Ho’s main goal?

3. Who did his troops consist of? Where were their headquarters?

4. When did Ho think the war with France would end?

5. What did Ho think of American forces helping the French?

6. What was happened at the Geneva Conference? Who got what?

7. Did Vietnamese like Ho Chi Minh?

8. How did Ho Industrialize?

9. Describe Chinese-Vietnamese relations

10. What did President Johnson do in 1965?

11. Describe Vietnamese- Soviet Relations

Directions: Watch the Video of the Buddhist Protest, (

1. Why did he do this?

2. What is your reaction? Why?

Directions: Listen to President Kennedy on Vietnam ( , what is his position towards war in Vietnam?

Directions: Listen to President Johnson on the Vietnam war, ( why does he say we are in Vietnam?

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9 pages
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