South Vietnam, it believed, could be a base for the desired ability to mount military and economic operations throughout the globe and regardless of the insidious presence of communist influence, a premise which stood in direct contrast to Ho Chi Minh's dream.
Indeed, as an official policy, leaders in Washington considered that the fall of South Vietnam to communism would be a pathway to the prevalence of communism in other venues, such as Cambodia, Laos and even France, where the ideological movement was very robust amongst student movements. As stated a U.S. Department of State representative during the period in between the first and second Indochina wars, "the recognition by the Kremlin of Ho Chi Minh's communist movement in Indochina comes as a surprise. The Soviet acknowledgment of this movement should remove any illusions as to the 'nationalist' nature of Ho Chi Minh's aims and reveals Ho in his true colors as the mortal enemy of native independence in Indochina."
As point of fact, Ho had ingratiated himself to the support of Russia and China in so extreme a manner as to validate this concern, exchanging supportive propaganda in his own nation in exchange for tactical girding. This would reflect the key decisions made in Hanoi inducing the heightened conflict as it would exist in the period between 1964 and 1968.
The United States would attend to its motives by continuing the training and arming of South Vietnamese soldiers. At the juncture that a proxy war was waged through native forces on both sides, the United States and the Soviet Union would resist dirtying their hands with combat action for another five years. Nonetheless, outright civil war was now a product directly resultant of the divisive imperialism originating in Washington D.C. And bouncing back through a defiant and Soviet-supported leadership in Hanoi.
After a 1964 attack in the Gulf of Tonkin sunk an American warship, the conflict reached a breaking point. Declaring full-scale war on North Vietnam and the NLF, the Johnson administration engaged a policy that was divided between ground forces and air strikes. Beginning in 1965, Johnson oriented the fight in Vietnam with Operation Rolling Thunder. This campaign was girded by Johnson's Rules of Engagement (ROE), also initiated that year as something of a warning regarding the mounting intensity of confrontation with the expansive Soviet Union. Here, Phan (1992) reports that "the restrictive ROEs reflected the administration concern that provocative military activities in the region would trigger a confrontation with the Soviet Union or China. Under the intense political pressure from the U.S. home front to reduce American involvement, Operation Rolling Thunder was gradually de-escalated and came to an end in November 1968. Rolling Thunder failed not only because the coercive campaign was poorly planned and executed but, fundamentally, because North Vietnam was immune to conventional coercion due to its applied revolutionary warfare."
These were lessons which would eventually become clearer to the administration of President Nixon. When the Johnson administration withdrew from its air campaign strategy, it was perceived by the North as a concession. Operating on the pretense that it had broken the American will to defend its nation-building interests in the South, the NVN gradually broke off peace negotiations in Paris and heightened its employment of guerrilla tactics in the South. In 1972, with talks at a stalemate and the United States enjoying little progress in the war while simultaneously suffering a diminishing support at home, the North Vietnamese saw the opportunity to emerge with a full victory. In March, the NVN abandoned guerilla tactics in favor of a conventional invasion of important southern infrastructural points. This would be known as the Easter Offensive, and would mark the end of the American interest or ability to continue its war and occupation in Vietnam.
And consideration that the United States might continue to support its overall goals in Vietnam at least through aid to the South Vietnamese forces that it had propped up for a decade would ultimately be fully dismissed when "in 1975, Congress refused President Gerald Ford's last-minute request to increase aid to South Vietnam by $300 million, just weeks before it fell to communist control. Few legislators had taken the request seriously; many conservative Republicans and hawkish Democrats agreed by then that Vietnam was lost and that the expenditure would have been a waste."
At this juncture, the government which the United States had left to support itself in South Vietnam was toppled and the nation existed under a single, communist flag. Vietnam's 'victory' passed only the major criterion of dispatching a foreign enemy from its soil with its governmental self-determination intact. But for the toll levied on its infrastructure, in its psyche and through the millions dead in the region, it could hardly be said that Vietnam won a war which the United States clearly lost.
Vietnam's emergence from colonialist subjugation to the remarkable status of having defeated the United States in a long and terrible war would make it the dominant power in its regional sphere. In the same year that it would reunite its own nation, the Communist party would likewise instate communist leadership in Laos. And by 1979, it would also overthrow the Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia for its gross mismanagement of the civilian population. In these regards, Ho Chi Minh would truly facilitate the unification of his region under a shared banner of communist rule. That said, some objective scrutiny is relevant when praising the success of Ho Chi Minh's ambitions.
For Vietnam, it accomplishments during the war would foster a false sense of confidence. Torn by decades of war, both civil and insurgent, the Communist government would immediately find itself faced with the difficulties inherent in its ideologies. A compelling embodiment of Southeast Asia in the relatively brief time which has passed since its century of subjugation is one offered in 1990 by a top communist advisor Tran Bach Dang, he recalled an "old Chinese adage: 'you can conquer a country from horseback, but you cannot govern it from horseback.'
Though the resistance formulated by a shared communist ideology converged with a vehement sense of nationalism to enable the Vietnamese to dispatch the United States, they were yet unable to adapt these philosophies as functional governmental policies. Initial indications were that Vietnam's prospects for reconstruction would be arduous, costly and afflicted by obstacles.
And for the first twenty years, this was very much this case. Such was a situation in no small way effected by the economic isolation which had been a consequence of its deeply damaged relationship with the United States. Even as Ho Chi Minh emerged victorious in his primary aims of independence, reunification and communist governance, Vietnam would nonetheless suffer the repercussions of crossing the Western Superpower. The waning Soviet economy and the warming of relations between the United States and China did not augur well for Southeast Asia which remained closed to western relations for many years following its 'victory.' It would not be until Vietnam underwent considerable reforms to its own governmental structure that genuine progress would begin to emerge throughout the region. In 1992, a reevaluation of its constitution would provoke the communist republic to open its doors to global capitalism.
By 1995, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were granted normalized trade status with the United States. This would mark a turning point in the post-war era, bringing each of these nations into contact with the world economy. Today, Vietnam is one of the fastest growing venues for production and technology outsourcing for the west. This is, in many ways, helping to finally heal the scars of America's attempts at subjugating the Vietnamese.
Interestingly, as it increasingly becomes a recognized participant in the world's economy, Vietnam also increasingly has come to identify with the Western values which it fought so valiantly to deflect. Its interest in participating in the spoils of free trade, for example, indicate that the presence of western values would be important in helping the nation to achieve its own identity in the modern era.
For the whole of Southeast Asia, the arrival of French colonialists would begin an era of cultural, political and economic dominance that would give the Vietnamese access to rising principles of a socialist conceit then becoming extremely pronounced in France. The last-ditch effort by the United States to prevent the realization of this fervor would enable it the opportunity to exercise such a philosophy. And as the region gradually becomes a more pertinent and concurrently self-directed part of the world community, the ways in which these experiences have profoundly shaped it become ever more apparent. In its proud determination to define its own destiny and its simultaneous ambition to be an engaged part of the world community, Vietnam today is both a consequence of Ho Chi Minh's dream and a sharp rebuke of the principles which underscored this dream.
Allen, D. & Long, N.V. (1991). Coming to Terms: Indochina, the United States, and the War. Westview…