Vietnam: Retrospective Part 2 of 8
The war in Vietnam was a battlefield in the Cold War. The Soviet Union had usurped the victory of the Viet Minh over the French colonialists. The United States rushed in to “contain communism.” It’s as simple as that, but this is going to require a lot of explanation. Indeed, it sets the premise for all the remaining postings in this series. It raises the question: How did Vietnam become involved in the Cold War?
It is no secret that the Soviet Union was set on world domination. They proclaimed their intentions openly at every opportunity. They maintained armies along the Iron Curtain that separated Free Europe from the Soviet Bloc, armies far in excess of any reasonable defensive needs. They boasted at the United Nations that they would bury us (meaning the United States).
Stalin’s strategy was to employ insurgencies to topple governments from within. World War II had demonstrated that the Soviet Union did not have the resources to confront the “free world” in open warfare. Thus, he lured disaffected elements in targeted societies to champion his communist ideology with promises of weapons as well as diplomatic recognition.
The Free World, led by America, adopted the Truman Doctrine of “containment.” Exhausted by World War II, no one wanted a direct confrontation. The Americans and allied Europeans chose instead to support whatever elements opposed Stalin’s communist insurgents regardless of their merit. Thus, they ended up supporting some very unsavory tyrants at times.
The two sides, the Free World and the Soviet Empire, maneuvered for advantage, one timid, the other aggressive. Occasionally, the two sides met in heated battles such as Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. In all three cases, the regular forces of one, the Americans or the Soviets, engaged the clients of the other. The two main belligerents, Russia and the United States, never engaged directly. They were precluded from main battle because both possessed weapons of mass destruction that would result in “Mutual Assured Destruction.” As Ray Bradbury famously said in that time, “We should worship at the altar of the atomic bomb.” It prevented World War III. However, that did not prevent people from dying, as in Vietnam.
Warfare is not for the faint of heart. But, if there is one lesson that was hammered home repeatedly during the Twenty-First Century, it was this: The faint of heart encouraged more wars than did anyone else.
Harold Wilson and his allies appeased Herr Hitler time and again. In the years leading up to World War II, Hitler dreamed of conquest but was forestalled by the simple fact that the combined might of the French army and the British navy outgunned and outmanned Germany. However, he began to doubt their resolve to employ these forces, and he opened his campaign with probing actions. Would they respond if he subjugated Czechoslovakia? He annexed the Sudetenland, and when no one objected, he invaded the rest of the country. France and England responded by making a treaty to defend Poland.
Next, Hitler annexed a portion of Poland. In failing to honor their treaty with Poland before the ink was even dry on the paper, France and England sent a clear message to Hitler that they had no resolve to defend others and, possibly, not even themselves. Thus, appeasement fed the fires of war.
In the case of Korea, Truman and his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, sent mixed signals about their willingness to defend South Korea. Although Stalin was reluctant to take advantage of the situation, a brash young Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, prevailed on him to support his attempt to unify the peninsula under his control, and the Korean War began.
Warfare may appear exciting when viewed on the History Channel but, in reality, the time between battles is filled with much longer periods of resting, regrouping, rearming, and maneuver. A battle is often more influenced by where it is fought than by how it is fought. Armies maneuver to choose the best terrain. If the other side arrives to find that their enemy is firmly entrenched in the most advantageous positions, they will retire to another location, threaten the enemy from another quarter, and attempt to draw them into battle where they have the advantage. However, on occasion, while maneuvering, the forces bump into each other, and a battle commences.
Much like the battle of Gettysburg, the opposing forces may be drawn together by people and circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Neither Lee nor the Yankee commanding general, McClellan, intended to join battle at Gettysburg. Two scouting parties ran into each other there and called for reinforcements. Soon, the main armies arrived and the battle lines were formed almost organically. Individual initiative on that first day, especially at Little Round Top, decided the outcome.
In like manner, the forces that came together in Vietnam met there by accident. The Soviets, emboldened by events in Cuba, opened the next stage of their campaign at world domination in Southeast Asia. They probed with insurgencies in Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Fortunately, the communists succeeded only in Vietnam. However, their victory was costly. Forced to focus all their energy and resources in Vietnam, they lost on all other fronts and the greater war in Southeast Asia went to the Free World. Had the United States not abandoned the South Vietnamese, they would not have won on even that front.
The question that remains is this: Why did Vietnam become the focal point of the war in Southeast Asia? Simply, the opposing forces of the Free World and the Soviet Union came together in Vietnam when Stalin’s disciple, Ho Chi Minh, usurped control of the Viet Minh.