Explain how and why the United States got into the Vietnam War


Keeping in mind that NSC-68 set the parameters of policy discussions and military planning, explain how and why the United States got into the Vietnam War and why it could not seem to get out. Include a discussion of the weight of the Soviet Cold War threat on this engagement.


The Vietnam War

How and why the United States got into the Vietnam War

Following the Geneva Conference in 1954, Vietnam was partitioned into two – South Vietnam, and the North Vietnam. North Vietnam followed communist doctrines while North Vietnam had a non-communist leadership. In 1955, North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, taking advantage of the weak South Vietnam leadership (Kaiser, 2000). The South Vietnamese Army was vulnerable, and was described as nothing more than a group of ill-equipped rebels. This contributed to the U.S. getting involved in the war, since the south lacked adequate resources to liberate itself. The United States got involved in the Vietnam War in order to contain the spread of communism. The NSC-68 report documented the way forward with regard to the country’s military affairs. However, the rise of communism was seen as imminent threat since it had spread in many parts of Asia. In 1949, China adopted communism, sparking fears that the rest of South-East Asia would follow suit (Kaiser, 2000). The United States felt the need to curtail the growing spread of communism.

The other factor contributing to the United States involvement in the war is the domino theory. This theory stipulates that if a country falls into communism, then the neighboring countries would inevitably fall into communism (Kaiser, 2000). The United States held the notion that if South Vietnam fell into communism, neighboring states such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and others would fall into communism (Kaiser, 2000). The war did not seem to end since North Vietnam engaged in guerilla warfare. In essence, although the North Vietnamese would lose, the guerilla tactics meant that war was still on. In addition, the U.S. could not afford to lose face as the superpower by withdrawing from the war, which was not ending due to the guerilla tactics (Kaiser, 2000). The weight of the Soviet Cold War threat fell on the U.S. Cold War involved the United States and its allies against the Soviet Union and its allies. Soviet Union, just like North Vietnam, was a communist state. The United States had to be careful not to escalate the war into World War III, where Soviet Union, China and other communist states would back North Vietnam.

Discussion of the weight of the Soviet Cold War threat on this engagement

The North Vietnamese colonel meant that even though the country lost the actual war in the battlefront, it stilled achieved the goals of the war. North Vietnam was overpowered in the battlefront but it eventually won by conquering South Vietnam. The major goal of North Vietnam in pursuing the war was to unite the South under a communist regime. After a long-protracted war, the United States lost the will to fight, eventually withdrawing its forces from South Vietnam. This gave North Vietnam the power to conquer South Vietnam and turn it into a communist state (Tazabecki, n.d). Thus as the colonel says, it is irrelevant whether the U.S. defeated North Vietnam or not. What is relevant is that North Vietnam achieved its war objectives. From the perspective of the North Vietnamese people, this is a war they worn; especially with the toppling of the South and introduction of communist rule.

The colonel’s reply highlights the myths surrounding the Vietnamese War, where some people argue that the United States “lost” in the war. However, losing in the battle could have different implications. For instance, does losing constitute body count or the amount of territory that one faction is able to annex and control? During the spring Offensive that ultimately say the conquering of the South in 1975, the American forces had already withdrawn from the battleground (Tazabecki, n.d). Thus according to the colonel, the conquering of the South represented a defeat of the American foreign policy. The political goals of the U.S. had also been thwarted, which was a win for North Vietnam. The U.S. hoped that it would establish a free and independent South Vietnam, but these plans fell in disarray as the battle had dragged for a long period. Pressure from U.S. citizens and civil groups had forced the government to withdraw its forces from Vietnam.


Kaiser, D. E. (2000). American tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the origins of the Vietnam War. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Tazabecki, D. (n.d). Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., was a soldier, scholar, military analyst,         writer, editor and friend. Retrieved from     http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/SummersObitText.htm

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