Turning Point for America’s Involvement in Vietnam
Was there a critical turning point for the United States that changed the nature and context of our involvement there? During the Vietnam War, there were many twist and turning points that caused the nature of the war to shift. That being said, there were also many turning points for America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, such as John F. Kennedy coming into office and sending more troops into Vietnam and Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the war. However, of all of the possible turning points for American involvement, the most critical turning point in the Vietnam War was the formation of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam to whose goal was to “liberate the south” from the rule of Diem. (Young p.70)
Why was the formation of the NLF so critical to change American involvement? Diem was the dictator of South Vietnam that the United States had put their support behind him during the Vietnam War. The NLF was a threat to Diem because they wanted liberation from his rule. The NLF was not just targeting Diem, they were also targeting America directly. The first program of the NLF even states, “Overthrow the camouflaged colonial regime of the American imperialists and the dictatorial power of Ngo Dinh Diem, servant of the Americans, and institute a government of national democratic union.” (Program of the NLF in South Vietnam, p.1)Therefore, America would increase their involvement in order to try and defend the ruler they supported, and themselves, from the group of people that wanted to overthrow them. This event can also be considered an important reason that when Lyndon Johnson became president (after the assassination of John F. Kennedy), he decided to escalate our involvement in Vietnam. Lastly, the creation of the NLF and the events that followed showed how strong Vietnam was becoming and that forced American to increase and change its involvement in order to try and keep them from changing the tide of the war.
Before the NLF was formed, the U.S had committed to a government in South Vietnam that was to be controlled by Ngo Dinh Diem. However, he wasn’t the best ruler in the world. The majorities of Diem’s people were landless or land poor, taxed considerably, and were forced into labor. There was also all of the corruption they faced from their own government and, “it was the accumulation of grievances, large and small, that angered villagers and moved many of them to respond to those who sought to resist the government” (Young, p. 62) When the NLF was formed, they became a huge threat to America; recruiting and training many of the Vietnam villagers angry with both the U.S and Diem, setting mines and other weapons, discovering and releasing the location and whereabouts of government forces, and assisting with small armed attacks and actions. Because of all of this, America had to increase their involvement in the conflict and take action. “In April 1960, a high level U.S military conference in Okinawa agreed that an effective counterinsurgency capacity had to be developed, and in May three, American Special Forces teams arrived in Vietnam to train Vietnamese Special Forces for counterinsurgency warfare” (Young p. 74) In conclusion, this was a critical turning point for American involvement because it forced America to add more military support and training in order to defeat the “radical” group that they had originally wanted to give.
The events caused by the NLF and The Fall of Diem steered up a lot of political questions and concerns for the American people back home in the U.S. Then the assassination of John F. Kennedy caused a lot of sorrow and political unrest. That left Lyndon B. Johnson to deal with the aftermath of the formation and actions of the NLF. Pressured by political fears and the amount of time and effort already put into the war due to the NLF, Lyndon Johnson felt he had no choice but to escalate the war in Vietnam by moving from the original policy of the war, which “limited overt U.S involvement to funding, equipping, and advising the South Vietnamese government in its struggle” (Logevall, p.100), to getting more direct and personal with American involvement; such as in 1965 when Johnson ordered, “Operation Rolling Thunder, a bombing program against North Vietnam” (Logevall, p. 101). In conclusion, due to the mess with the NLF, Johnson had felt pressure to escalate the war, causing America’s involvement to turn a lot more.
Even though America felt that “if the enemy would only stand and fight, the American-trained, -equipped, and helicopter assisted ARVN troops would smash them,” the NLF was still a major threat to them. (Young, p. 88) They defied the ideals and rules of America, which made them our target. Though they were considered a weak enemy to America, they still caused them to dramatically change their involvement throughout the rest of the war. From causing us to pay a lot more attention to the war, causing our involvement to increase through more military and financial support, and leading to the decisions to escalate our involvement to a more personal level by Lyndon B. Johnson, the formation of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was truly a critical turning point of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
1) Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990. New York: Harper, 1991
2) Fredrik Logevall, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. New York: Random House, 2012.
3) “The Wars for Viet Nam.” Program of the National Liberation Front of South Viet-Nam. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 June 2014. <http://vietnam.vassar.edu/overview/docnlf.html>.