Assess the application of the policy of Containment in Southeast Asia between 1954 and 1975
Containment was a United States policy which involved military and economic strategies to prevent the spread of communism. This was due to the US’ fear of the domino theory, who suggested that if a country becomes communist, the countries around would have a greater risk of becoming communist too. Thepolicy had already been applied in Korea to prevent North Korea from invading South Korea. In Vietnam, the situation was already complicated, before the American intervention as the Vietnamese with Ho Chi Minh leading the Viet-Minh had fought the French for their independence during eight years. In 1954, a year after the end of the Korean War, the Viet-Minh defeats the French at Dien Bien Phuleaving the country to communism.
In 1954 took place the Geneva Conference, a response to the war. It was a conference between many countries who agreed to restore peace in French Indochina and Vietnam. The Geneva Accords, signed by France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam guaranteed the independence of Laos and Cambodia while Vietnam was to be divided temporarily into two states at the 17thparallel: Ho Chi Minh was the recognized leader of the North and Ngo Dinh Diem ruled the South. Elections were to be held, but Diem always refused to prepare them in fear of the communist victory. The USA, on the other hand, did not push him for the same reason. Clearly, the USA were supervising the zone, and Diem’s actions, as it is seen in document A, a letter from Einsenhower to Diem: “discourageany who might wish to impose a foreign ideology on you free people”. There, the fear of communism is visible. However, why did the Americans get completely involved, to the point of sending troops? They had helped the French, sending arms and equipments, making the balance with the Chinese support of the Viet-Minh, but they had never sent men. They started in 1961, as Diem’s government was notefficient anymore: Diem lost popularity; he was a Roman Catholic when the three quarters of the population was Buddhist, he also had the reputation of being corrupted, and he introduced harsh security measures. This is why they decided to increase their military presence in South Vietnam, as before, they had only sent economic aid and military advisers: with a non-popular government, the South couldeasily become communist,especially that the North and the Vietcong had a big influence.
There were three phases in the war, based on the different American presidents. The first one is Kennedy’s, who lasted two years from 1961 to 63. He introduced the “safe village” policy, which consisted in moving the local peasants into fortified villages, in order to isolate the members of the guerrilla. Thisdid not work, as it was impossible to make a distinction between the peasants and the Vietcong. These were often part of villages, and had support from the rest of the inhabitants. How could they trust more the foreign soldiers than their family? Kennedy also sent 16,000 men, helicopters and equipment. The second stage, was Johnson’s very violent offensive. He sent half a million troops in theSouth, and bombed the Northern cities and the Ho Chi Minh trail from 1965 to 68, considering the fact that they were following Ho Chi Minh’s ideas. However, this was not very effective as the Vietcong hid in the countryside, and knew the country much better than the Americans. In 1968 they managed to capture over two thirds of the towns and villages, proving the inefficacity of Johnson’s policies,and creating more anti Vietnam war movements in the USA, reducing the population’s support. This is why when Nixon arrived, it was clear that he had to create a new tactic. Instead of sending even more soldiers which would have been useless, he introduced a new theory called Vietnamization. It consisted in using the South Vietnamese population, training them and rearming them in order to defend...
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