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Sadly, the United States first became involved in the Vietnam War in order to preserve French colonial rule there. This came as a big surprise and disappointment to the Vietnamese leaders, such as Ho Chi Minh, who had expected us to support them in their fight for freedom. Not our finest hour.

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After World War II, the Allies formed the core of the United Nations, along with China, Russia, and any country that was interested in joining. Most of Europe was in ruins, Asia, Africa and the rest of the world in lesser degrees of destruction. The core of the United Nations was formed with the collective agreement that it would allow countries in better off positions to offer help to those in need through collective security, funds disbursement, counsel and any form of support a struggling nation could need and a secure one would offer. It would be the battleground of the next great global conflict, the Cold War. The United States, and the rest of the healing western world were pitted in a race against the Communist U.S.S.R. and the Iron Curtain of communist nations which ringed the USSR as communism poured out of the massive Soviet state.

The end of World War II had left the world divided into regions of varying military occupation depending on its fortune during the war. The military equiptment was not put away at the final ceasefires but realigned as the Soviets and the United States keep a wary eye on one another and deuled in expansionist policies. In the eyes of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R there were three kinds of countries out there, friends, enemies and available. No matter how small or unsettled, these smaller nations would play a role in the shaping of the global political and military build-ups because they would be members of the United Nations and would have a vote. Those countries who couldn't decide on a form of government which was favorable to the western democracies or the communist bloc east would meet with light encouragement from one side or the other in the form of re-colonization, invasion, insurgencies leading or fomenting civil strife or in some cases a thinly disguised puppet dictationship was bought or set up that would allow one of the superpowers to pull the strings. The United Nations was the court by which countries would be brought to task should they displease one of the superpowers of France, Great Britian, USSR, United States, Germany(ruled jointly by the conquerers with no vote), and an increasingly unstable China. Any country that had been a colony prior to the outbreak of the war was most likely to return to that colony status if it belonged to a western country and if not the United States would demand that it be allowed to hold free elections and it could set up its own free government with some guidance from the western world powers. Britian got back its Asian colonies comprising roughly India, what is today Mynaamar(formely Burma), Egypt, and some regions of Africa. French wanted its southeast asian colony of Siam or French Indochina back following the expulsion of the Japanese occupation forces, as well as its polynessian islands. Since France had been so quickly conquered by the Nazis at the early stages of World War II, many of its citizens had lived out the war in these nations either because they had been there at the onset of the war or they fled the Nazi invasion to the only other place the French goverment owned, it's last colonies. France had been expecting to use its expertise in Emperialism to extract resources, money, capital and lifeblood from these colonies and pump them back into a rebuilding France. To the people of French Indochina, today's Vietnam, Laos, and Kampuchea, it didn't matter that you wanted to be free or if they wanted to set up their own goverment. That kind of thinking was great when it was being used as corrective measure administered by one of the western powers on a weaker rudderless country, but the western powers would not let a largely undeveloped, thinly populated country with unspoiled Natural Resources preach democracy without dispaching an occupational force of beauracrats to help it get started. Such nations always seem to need extra security so of course, military personnel were always in tow, entering to guarantee a free election and deter communist interference.

Many new nations were carved out of large areas that were unknown or unsettled and others had to be repopulated due to the massive loss of life, farms, cities, etc during the war.

A young, intelligent asian, who had gone to college in France and fought the Japanese in his home country of Vietnam during the war was calling on the United States to honor his country with its own freedom. He wrote several letters to the U.S. asking for monetary aide or investment to develop his country, but most importantly he wanted independence from the French so Vietnam could hold its first election. His letters were the work of genius. He read them before the United Nations and on TV in public whenever he could get an audience. Drawing quotes from the Declaration of Indepence, Thomas Jefferson, Washington, the U.S. Consitution and its ideology he pleaded with the U.S. to not be returned to the French as a colony.

However, the U.S. turned a blind eye to this patriot of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. For the time being, he faded into obsurcity with a vow of resistance. France was still broke from the war and incapable of producing planes, ships or military hardware still so the U.S. had been funding the re-growth of its occupational forces in Indochina and by 1949 was paying for roughly 70% of France's cost to keep Vietnam a colony, and most of that the French spent fighting the forces led by the freedom fighters, the Viet Minh of Ho Chi Minh. It was very important to the United States that communism be stopped from spreading and turned back where possible. Asia, in this case southeast asia, was becoming a showcase for a showdown. The countries of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos were all undeveloped with few concentrated population centers. All were next door to the now communist country of China, a republic recently overthrown my Chairman Mao Ze Tun, and set up with a communist regime peddling influence to its immediate and vast southern borders, which included French Indochina and its civil strife as well as the nation of Korea, which was embroiled in a civil war for its freedom. Communist forces and western backed supporters were clashing in a civil war to decide the fate of the country and it was not to go unfettered. The U.N. would conduct its first "police action" in an attempt to help Koreans peacefully settle the matter and led to Korean War which stalemated to a peace treaty dividing the nation in half along one of 38th parallel, granting a free south and a communist north. The less than stellar outcome to the communist issue in Korea fueled fears that the communists would also fare well in southeast asia, slowly toppling one government after another, like dominos falling one after another. This theology became the ideology behind the western belief in the "Domino Theory." With China growing stronger by the minute, and Soviet aid also pouring through China to the fledging communist forces in the jungles surronding China, the U.S. did indeed have cause for corcern. With these additional and more advanced training and materials, in 1954, not long after the truce in Korea, the French are surrounded en masse, at their largest base in Vietnam, in the northern regions of Vietnam they are surrounded and cut-off at Dien Bein Phu. Having no way to get additional troops or material to their men and worried about being completely overrun and slaughtered the French stun the world when they surrender, and are taken POW with the ultimate outcome of leaving Vietnam in shame following a signing of a surrender in the Geneva Peace Accords of 1954. Since by 1954, the United States was paying for the French war with her colonists, little more was offered to the French than dropping air supplies to their surrounded troops at Dien Bein Phu. Anything more would have been simply throwing good money after bad.

President Eisenhower had been the author behind the "Domino Theory" and he felt what he saw happening in southeast asia as a portend of bad things to come. Following the surrender the French agreed to withdraw all military forces from Indochina, recognize Ho Chi Minh as a leader of the northern forces, the Viet Minh, and to facilitate an election in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh was a freedom fighter, a strong believer in the neccessity for an independent Vietnam and a through and through communist. Ironically, it had been his studies in France that had introduced him to the still new and still evolving concepts of communism and recently written books by Marx and Engel. Inspired by these patriots, the Russian revolution and China's turn to communism that pushed him into the resolute belief that Vietnam's independence lay in the hands of a communist insurgency and grass roots movement. He was a hero in Vietnam, and communist or not, he had gotten rid of the French, with no one to really run against him in the election the future for a free Vietnam was grim. To facilitate the French withdraw from Vietnam, in a southernly fashion into Cambodia and to a greater degree to the west, into Laos, the Geneva Accords of 1954, took a page from their truce in Korea. They divided Vietnam in half temporarily until the French could complete their lengthy withdrawl, gradually pulling south then away, surrunding their hundred year old colony. The Geneva Accords played the role of referree in separating the two boxers of the State of Vietnam to the south as it was called and North Vietnam in the north where Ho Chi Minh had easily won his election. The former ruling emperor of French Indochina, Bao Dai, was put into power in the south in an attempt at an election. He ruled the French colony with some characteristics the French liked and something that to this days lends a uniqueness to Vietnam: Bao Dai and a fellow ruling beaucrat Ngo Dien Diem were both Catholic and ruled the colony with noticable favoritisms towards the Catholic citizens and tolerance towards the overwhelming majority of teh population, the buddists. Over time though more and more Vietnamese convertied to Catholicism and it still plays a strong role in the culture and lifestyles of central Vietnam, centered around the ancient capital city of Hue and its thousdand year old palace, built by buddists but now ruled by a catholic Emperor, ruling under the buddhist concept called "the mandate of Heaven." Bao Dai secured his postion with the help of a shady policitican Ngo Dien Diem, whose brother ran the police in the large southern city of Saigon and who had direct ties to American support in the form of cash, weapons and American advisors. The free elections held in the south were ultimately waived off by its government due to the corrupting influence felt from the communist north. The United States, who wasn't forced to leave Vietnam following the treaty had left its many military and political adivisors and material in southern Vietnam, shoring up the free government there and encouraging the belief that it would be dangerous to have free elections in South Vietnam at this time, the free republic is too fresh and vulnerable against an agressive communist neighbor to the north. A promise was made to the crooked, shady , and violent Ngo Dien, Diem, if he could unify the Republic of Vietnam under him into a coheasive peaceful orderly state, he would have the support of U.S. people and personnel. He did this by ousting Bao Dai with a smear campaign that only slightly exaggerated the truth. Bao Dai was heavily influencd by his catholic roots, as was Diem though, but he loved the French way of life and would stay on lengthy vacations there despite the discord in his home country. The more Diem was able to show this to the poeple of the south, the less support Dai got. Ultimately, Diem declared himself President in Dai's absence and threw him out as a traitor and French sypathzier. He had the backing of the United States because the United States thought he had the backing of his people through his hard work as a freedom fighter and his love of idea of independence. But, the security of the new capital of Saigon was one administered through the brutal enforcement of rules with Ngo's Police Chief brother Ngo Dien Diem enforced with brutality, secrecy and passion. By not knowing the true culture of Vietnam, heavily buddhist, only influcenced by catholic imperial roots in the central region, also having a latin alphabet and a couple hundred years of intermittent mixing of Asian and Eurpean blood, the United States false gave many of the American's at home the impression that they were saving a very westernized, freedom seeking Vietnamese people. In a sad and foreshadowing beginning, the US became involved with a violent, corrupt, buddhist hating politician who had no real love for his country just the love of the power, money and influence the Americans could and did give him. To those who did know the true Diem and his brother, the US was looking like another, more brutal France in the making. This set the stage with the two things the United States wanted together on opposite sides that could not communicate: the people of Vietnam who wanted to be an independent democratic country and the Americans on the other side, already swimming against a current they are creating.

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15y ago

To stem the flow of communism.

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15y ago

Cold war; communist containment.

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Q: Why was the US involved in veitnam?
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