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Vietnam: Origins and Pacification


Vietnam: Origins and Pacification Lsn 23 Road to War 1941 Ho Chi Minh secretly returns to Vietnam after 30 years in exile and begins organizing Viet Minh. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Vietnam: Origins and Pacification

Vietnam Origins and Pacification
  • Lsn 23

(No Transcript)
Road to War
  • 1941 Ho Chi Minh secretly returns to Vietnam
    after 30 years in exile and begins organizing
    Viet Minh. US works with Ho to harass Japanese
    and rescue downed US pilots
  • 1945 Allies divide Vietnam to aid in disarming
    Japanese (Chinese disarm north and British disarm
    south). Allies honor French request for
    restoration of its pre-war Indochina colonies
    (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia)

Ho Chi Minh
Road to War
  • Sept 1945 Ho unsuccessfully seeks US recognition
  • Oct 1945 French troops return to Vietnam
    guerrilla fighting begins almost immediately
  • Dec 1946 First large scale Viet Minh assault on

French Far East Expeditionary Corps
Road to War
  • 1949 Mao defeats Chiang Kai-shek in China. US
    begins containment policy
  • 1950 US authorizes aid and advisors to French
  • 1954 Viet Minh defeat French at Dien Bien Phu.
    US does not intervene

French paratroopers run for cover during the 55
day siege of Dien Bien Phu
Road to War
  • 21 July 1954 Geneva Accords divide Vietnam at
    17th parallel.
  • 1955 Ngo Dinh Diem becomes president. Begins
    illegitimate and corrupt (but strongly
    anticommunist) rule.
  • 1956 Last French soldier leaves.

Road to War
  • 1959 Ho declares Peoples War to unite
  • 1961 President Kennedy sends 400 Green Berets to
  • Oct 1961 Maxwell Taylor visits Vietnam and
    reports If Vietnam goes it will be exceedingly
    difficult to hold Southeast Asia. (domino
    theory) Recommends sending combat troops.

Road to War
  • 1963 Diem assassinated in US-backed coup
  • 1964 North Vietnamese patrol boats attack US
    destroyer in Gulf of Tonkin. US begins bombing
  • 2 Mar 1965 Operation Rolling Thunder begins
  • 8 Mar 1965 First US combat troops arrive. By
    the end of the year, 184,300 troops are in

The massive bombing campaign was plagued by
restricted targeting and the non-industrialized
nature of North Vietnam
Lessons 22 and 23
  • Key Players
  • Guerilla War
  • Pacification
  • The Big War
  • Domestic Issues
  • Legacy and Lessons

Key Players
President Kennedy began US involvement in Vietnam
using counterinsurgency techniques.
When Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson became
president and escalated US involvement.
Nixon became president in 1968 promising peace
with honor.
Key Players
General Westmoreland commanded US forces in
Vietnam from 1964 to 1968
Creighton Abrams succeeded Westmoreland
US troop levels peaked in 1967 at nearly 500,000
Key Players
General Vo Nguyen Giap led North Vietnamese
military forces
The Viet Cong soldier was tough, disciplined, and
in it for the long haul
Ho Chi Minh was the political leader of the Viet
Key Players
Vietnamese civilians were often caught in the
middle of the fighting
Journalists like Walter Cronkite did much to
influence public opinion
College students were among the most active war
Guerilla War
  • Insurgency-- An organized movement aimed at the
    overthrow of a constituted government through the
    use of subversion and armed conflict
  • Guerrilla warfare-- Military and paramilitary
    operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile
    territory by irregular, predominantly indigenous

Prerequisites and Other Conditions Required for
or Conducive to an InsurgencyFM 90-8
  • Vulnerable population
  • Leadership available for direction
  • Lack of government control
  • Popular support
  • Unity of effort
  • Will to resist
  • Discipline
  • Intelligence
  • Propaganda
  • Favorable environment
  • External support

Conditions in South Vietnam
  • Diem illegitimate and corrupt
  • Catholic in an overwhelmingly Buddhist society
  • Ignored Geneva Accords call for elections in 1956
  • Nepotism
  • Succession of military coups resulted in a
    revolving door government

Several Buddhist monks burned themselves alive to
protest Diems religious oppression
Insurgent Leadership
  • Increasing North Vietnamese infiltration creates
    security threat in South Vietnam
  • In Dec 1960, the insurgents formed the National
    Liberation Front (typically called the Viet Cong
    or VC), a broad-based organization led by
    communists but designed to rally all those
    disaffected with Diem by promising sweeping
    reforms and genuine independence

Flag of the National Liberation Front
Insurgent Leadership
  • The NLF skillfully combined political and
    military organizations and efforts
  • Politically they created special organizations to
    give status to such groups as farmers, women, and
  • Used agitation and propaganda (agitprop) to
    arouse the people to the governments
    oppressiveness and lack of responsibility

Protesters in Saigon to express their
dissatisfaction with the Diem government.
Insurgent Leadership
  • Militarily they assembled a disciplined and
    potent force of an estimated 80,000 fighters by
  • Relied on speed, surprise, and deception to
    strike targets selected for the maximum
    psychological effect
  • Used violence to coerce or win over the
    population and undermine the legitimacy of the
    South Vietnamese government

A hit and run Viet Cong attack in 1968 leaves a
South Vietnamese soldier and civilian lead as
children run for cover.
External Support
  • North Vietnam began constructing a massive supply
    route through Laos and Cambodia that allowed it
    to infiltrate supplies and personnel south
  • The Ho Chi Minh Trail
  • The Soviet Union and China provided equipment,
    advisors, and diplomatic support

Mao on Guerrilla Warfare
  • Mao wrote On Guerrilla Warfare in 1937 while in
    retreat after ten years of battling the
    Nationalist Chinese army of Chiang Kai-shek
  • In 1949, Mao defeated the Nationalist Chinese and
    validated his theories of revolutionary guerrilla
  • Remember from Lesson 21
  • The National Liberation Front would pattern much
    of its strategy and tactics after Mao

Phases of Development
  • Phase I Latent and incipient insurgency.
  • Activity in this phase ranges from subversive
    activity that is only a potential threat to
    situations in which frequent subversive incidents
    and activities occur in an organized pattern. It
    involves no major outbreak of violence or
    uncontrolled insurgent activity. The guerrilla
    force does not conduct continuous operations but
    rather selected acts of terrorism.

Viet Cong tactics included the use of punji
sticks smeared with excrement to foster infection
Phases of Development
  • Phase II Guerrilla warfare.
  • This phase is reached when the insurgent
    movement, having gained sufficient local or
    external support, initiates organized continuous
    guerrilla warfare or related forms of violence
    against the government. This is an attempt to
    force government forces into a defensive role. As
    the guerrilla becomes stronger, he begins to
    conduct larger operations.

Scene of Viet Cong terrorist bombing in Saigon,
Phases of Development
  • Phase III War of movement.
  • When the guerrilla attains the force structure
    and capability to directly engage government
    forces in decisive combat, then he will
    progressively begin to use more conventional
    tactics and may obtain combat forces from an
    external source. He may also begin to conduct
    more extensive defensive operations in this phase
    to protect the areas he controls.

VC planning an attack upon a South Vietnamese
Regional Force post.
  • Between 1961 and 1963, President Kennedy launched
    a full-scale counterinsurgency program in
    Vietnam, part of which would become the
    pacification program
  • Major goals
  • Strengthen the South Vietnamese governments hold
    on the peasantry
  • Cut into the heart of the Viet Cong
    politico-military organization
  • Designed to win the hearts and minds of the
    South Vietnamese

In 1967, Robert Komer, shown here with President
Johnson, was selected to head CORDS (Civil
Operations and Rural Development Support)and
coordinate all pacification programs
  • Strategic Hamlet Program South Vietnamese
    peasants from scattered villages were brought
    together in defended and organized hamlets in
    order to protect them, isolate the Viet Cong, and
    show the superiority of what the SVN government
    could offer
  • Patterned after British experience in Malaya
  • Did not work in Vietnam because of traditional
    Vietnamese ties to the land

  • Combined Action Program Placed selected Marine
    squads within the village militia to eliminate
    local guerrillas
  • Very successful at the local level but required a
    degree of American-Vietnamese cooperation unable
    to be replicated on a wider scale
  • Drew American troops away from the big war
  • Instead, American troops concentrated on the big
    warand left pacification to the South Vietnamese
    who did not show an abundance of commitment to
    the task

  • Revolutionary Development Program Put armed
    social workers into Vietnamese villages to begin
    grass roots civic improvement and eliminate the
    VC shadow government
  • Didnt reach full potential because South
    Vietnamese government feared the consequences of
    real rural politicalization

25th Infantry Division soldiers support the
Revolutionary Development Program by clearing the
village of Rach Kien during Operation Lanakai
  • Chieu hoi (opens arms) amnesty program designed
    to persuade VC to change sides
  • When VC saw the program might bear fruit they
    unleashed a terrorist campaign that reduced
    defections from 5,000 to 500 a month
  • CORDS responded with Operation Phoenix, a direct
    action plan to kill, capture, or co-opt the
    provincial reconnaissance units

These former VC who took advantage of the chieu
hoi amnesty receive training in automotive repair
to help them in their new lives
Pacification Overall Assessment
  • Commonly considered a missed strategic
  • Suffered from being too little, too late
  • CORDS not activated until 1967
  • Perceived as competition with the big war and
    many military officers favored a military

Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay reportedly
said, Grab em by the balls and their hearts and
minds will follow.
Limited War
  • When the Soviet Union and the US nuclear programs
    reached the point of Mutually Assured
    Destruction, the US faced the dilemma of
    responding to communist challenges in peripheral
    areas by either risking starting a nuclear war or
    doing nothing
  • The alternative strategy of limited war was
    developed to harness the nations military power
    and employ only that force necessary to achieve
    the political aim
  • The objective was not to destroy an opponent but
    to persuade him to break of the conflict short of
    achieving his goals and without resorting to
    nuclear war

The US considered, but did not use, atomic bombs
in support of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954
Limited War
  • The limited war theory was more an academic than
    a military concept and its application resulted
    in tensions, frustrations, and misunderstanding
    between the military and civilian leadership

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is sharply
criticized for his technocratic and statistical
approach to the Vietnam War
Johnsons Approach
  • The Johnson Administration was deeply influenced
    by limited war theory
  • Desirous not to let the conflict expand into a
    third world war
  • Imposed precise geographical limitations
  • Cambodia, etc
  • Kept military commanders in close check

General, I have a lot riding on you. I hope you
dont pull a MacArthur on me. (Johnson to
Westmoreland, Feb 1966)
Strategy of Attrition
  • Traditionally, the American way of war had been
    a strategy of annihilation
  • Seeks the immediate destruction of the combat
    power of the enemys armed forces
  • In Vietnam, the US would instead follow a
    strategy of attrition
  • The reduction of the effectiveness of a force
    caused by loss of personnel and materiel
  • This proved to be a poor strategy against the
    North Vietnamese who used a strategy of
  • The gradual erosion of a nations will or means
    to resist

Anti-war protests such as this one at the 1968
Democratic National Convention showed domestic
support for the war was waning
Problems with the Strategy of Attrition
  • Led the US to fight according to the theory of
    gradual escalation
  • A steady increase in the level of military
    pressure ( rather than employing overwhelming
    force all at once) would coerce the enemy into
  • US never had enough forces to control the
  • US soldiers served one year tours in Vietnam
  • North Vietnamese soldiers were there till the end
    and recognized Victory will come to us, not
    suddenly, but in a complicated and tortuous way.

US soldiers regularly conducted clearing
operations but the Viet Cong would reoccuppy the
area after the US units moved on
US Troop Levels in Vietnam
  • 1959 760
  • 1960 900
  • 1961 3,205
  • 1962 11,300
  • 1963 16,300
  • 1964 23,300
  • 1965 184,300
  • 1966 385,300
  • 1967 485,600
  • 1968 536,100
  • 1969 475,200
  • 1970 334,600
  • 1971 156,800
  • 1972 24,200
  • 1973 50

Problems with the Strategy of Attrition
  • Led to a body count mentality
  • Many reports were exaggerated or falsified
  • North Vietnamese were always able to replace
    their losses while Americans became disillusioned
    with the mounting death toll
  • Nightly news broadcasts reported US deaths versus
    North Vietnamese deaths
  • If ours were less, we were winning!
  • North Vietnamese showed a remarkable capability
    to cope, rebuild, and repair
  • The enemy will was never broken

Nightly news anchors such as Walter Cronkite
regularly reported the Vietnam body count
Problems with the Strategy of Attrition
  • Low-tech nature of the enemy prevented the US
    from bringing to bear the full effects of its
    combat power
  • North Vietnamese infiltration routes were hard to
  • North Vietnamese ground troops used the tactic of
    clinging to the G.I.s belts to minimize
    American ability to use artillery and close air
  • The nature of guerrilla war allowed the North
    Vietnamese to avoid contact when it was not to
    their advantage to fight

A long line of communist porters carry supplies
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. (AP photo by Trong
Other Manifestations of Limited War Theory
  • Gradual escalation
  • President never fully acceded to the troop or
    bombing requests of his commanders but the
    process resulted in the failure of one level of
    force justifying the increase to the next level
  • Restrictive rules of engagement
  • Bombing pauses and negotiations
  • Failure to significantly mobilize the National

Total War vs Limited War
  • The relationship between the belligerents is
    asymmetric. The insurgents can pose no direct
    threat to the survival of the external power
    because . . . they lack an invasion capability.
    On the other hand, the metropolitan power poses
    not simply the threat of invasion, but the
    reality of occupation. This fact is so obvious
    that its implications have been ignored. It
    means, crudely speaking, that for the insurgents
    the war is total, while for the external power
    it is necessarily limited. Full mobilization of
    the total military resources of the external
    power is simply not politically possible. . . .
    Not only is full mobilization impossible
    politically, it is not thought to be in the least
    necessary. The asymmetry in conventional military
    capability is so great and the confidence that
    military might will prevail is so pervasive that
    expectation of victory is one of the hallmarks of
    the initial endeavor.
  • Jeffrey Record, Why the Strong Lose

Total War vs Limited War
  • Superior strength of commitment thus compensates
    for military inferiority. Because the outcome of
    the war can never be as important to the outside
    power as it is to those who have staked their
    very existence on victory, the weaker side fights
    harder, displaying a willingness to incur blood
    losses that would be unacceptable to the stronger
    side. The signers of the Declaration of
    Independence risked their lives, fortunes, and
    sacred honor in what became a contest with an
    imperial giant for which North America was (after
    1778) a secondary theater of operations in a much
    larger war. For the American rebel leadership,
    defeat meant the hangman's noose. For British
    commanders in North America, it meant a return to
    the comforts and pleasures of London society and
    perhaps eventual reassignment.
  • Jeffrey Record, Why the Strong Lose

Total War vs Limited War
  • The tables were reversed in Vietnam. There, the
    United States attempted to suppress a revolution
    against foreign domination mounted by an enemy
    waging a total war against a stronger power, a
    power for which the outcome of that war could
    never be remotely as important as it was to the
    insurgents. The United States could and did wreak
    enormous destruction in Vietnam, but nothing that
    happened in Vietnam could or did threaten core
    overseas US security interests, much less the
    survival of the United States. Thus, whereas the
    Vietnamese communists invested all their energy
    and available resources in waging war, US annual
    defense spending during the war averaged only 7.5
    percent of the nations gross national product.
  • Jeffrey Record, Why the Strong Lose

Total War vs Limited War
  • The ability of the Vietcong continuously to
    rebuild their units and make good their losses is
    one of the mysteries of this guerrilla war. We
    still find no plausible explanation for the
    continued strength of the Vietcong. . . . They
    have the recuperative power of the phoenix and
    an amazing ability to maintain morale. (Maxwell
  • I never thought the war would go like this. I
    didnt think these people had the capacity to
    fight this way. If I had thought they could take
    this punishment and fight this well, could enjoy
    fighting like this, I would have thought
    differently at the start. (Robert McNamara)
  • Hanois persistence was incredible. I dont
    understand it, even to this day. (Dean Rusk)
  • The US leadership underestimated the toughness
    of the Vietnamese. (William Westmoreland)
  • Jeffrey Record, Why the Strong Lose

Flexible Response
  • President Kennedy moved away from the Eisenhower
    Administrations reliance on nuclear weapons and
    developed a strategy of Flexible Response which
    was designed to permit different types of
    military options at different levels
  • Very interested in counterinsurgency and
    initiates the Special Forces
  • Between 1961 and 1963 Kennedy launched a
    full-scale counterinsurgency program in Vietnam

  • Provided equipment and advisors to South
  • Special Forces conducted civic action programs
  • US helicopter pilots transported South Vietnamese
  • Advisors accompanied South Vietnamese units down
    to the battalion level

Special Forces were active in training
montagnards in the Central Highlands
  • Overall the counterinsurgency program failed
  • The US military refused to embrace
    counterinsurgency and instead stuck to
    traditional warfighting
  • Insisted on using technology and tactics that
    were inappropriate for the environment and the
    nature of the war
  • North Vietnamese became very adept at countering
    US conventional tactics

B-52 bomber over Vietnam
  • Vietnam The Big War and the Vietnam Syndrome