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The Debate over the Intervention in Vietnam

The Debate over the Intervention in Vietnam

The Vietnamese war pitted the North Vietnamese communist government against South Vietnam and its ally, the United States. Notably, the war was exacerbated by the ongoing cold war between the US and the Soviet Union. It was a costly and divisive war whose outcomes are still subject to debate to date. The war led to the death of about three million people, including 58,000 Americans. Supporters of the war argue that it was necessary to prevent the spread of communism in Vietnam and the rest of Asia. However, most of the deaths registered by Vietnamese people were mostly civilians, making Americans question their continued stay in the country.

The domino theory presents a major reason to justify US intervention in Vietnam. A case was presented that if the communist government in Northern Vietnam succeeded, it would spread the communist ideology to the rest of Asia. The North Vietnamese government was fighting French colonialists when the US was considering intervention in Vietnam. The US feared that once the communist government took over, it would spread the ideology to the rest of Asia. There was also the feeling that the Vietnamese government would be used as an agent of the Soviet Union and communist China. President Johnson advanced these reasons in a phone conversation with Senator Russell (The Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1964). However, Senator Russell opposed an intervention because there was no way the US would exit without facing off with China. In other words, even if the US helped the liberal South Vietnamese government take over, China would reverse the gains immediately.

On the other hand, opponents of the war felt that the US was not under any direct threat to any actions taking place in South Vietnam. In the latter stages of the conflict, there was a strong feeling within the US government circles that the US needed revenge for the lives lost in South Vietnam and Laos. However, in a testimony to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, John Kerry argues that these reasons are unfounded. Firstly, he argues that arguing that American lives have been lost is hypocritical. John Kerry reiterated crimes against humanity directed at the Vietnamese people to emphasize his point. American soldiers had confessed to raping, torturing, and maiming civilians at the direction of their commandos (The Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1964). Therefore, claiming that the war was sustained for revenge does not hold water.

Besides, Kerry argues against the notion that it was acting to protect the interests of the South Vietnamese people. On this, John Kerry argued that the ordinary Vietnamese people could not differentiate between democracy and communism. He also argued that they were only interested in peace so that they could be allowed to work on their rice paddies. John Kerry stated, “We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart” (The Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1964).

Another reason for US intervention in Vietnam is anti-communism fervour. Following the Cold War, country after country in Eastern Europe fell into the hands of communist adherents. Later, China followed. By the time the US decided to send military intervention, communism had spread to other parts of the world, such as Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The US felt like they were losing the Cold War, and it was against this backdrop that the US sent military advisers to assist the French army in battling insurrectionists from North Vietnam. However, arguments in the New York Times titled “We are Deluding Ourselves in Vietnam” on April 18th, 1965, present a different case. Firstly, Hans avers that the conflicts in Asia and the Middle East differ from those in European settings. He states that the Vietnamese problem was political and not military. To that end, communist subversion targets weak societies and governments. There is little that can be achieved through military intervention in such cases. According to Hans, “Physical conquest would require the deployment of millions of American soldiers on the mainland of Asia” (The Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1964). A successful intervention could only turn South Vietnam into a US military outpost.


In summary, the debate on the justifiability of the US’s intervention in Vietnam rages on. Based on the arguments above, the opponents of the intervention presented a better case. One of the reasons that led to the intervention is the domino theory. However, the US would have to face the likes of China to counter communist influence. Also, John Kerry refutes a claim that the US’s intervention was a revenge act. He asserts that the US had meted out way more humanitarian crimes on Vietnamese people. The third reason that contributed to the military intervention was a desire to stop communism from spreading in Asia. However, the people of Vietnam did not understand or even care about who would be in government. Given the bad economic state of the country, most people only wanted peace so that they could work on their farms. Based on these arguments, the US’s military intervention in Vietnam was unjustifiable.


The Joint Chiefs of Staff. (1964). Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense: Vietnam and Southeast Asia.


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Debate over the Intervention in Vietnam

By the beginning of the 1960s, the United States had been indirectly engaged in Vietnam for some time. However, American involvement had been extremely limited. In 1964, with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the United States formally began to ramp up its commitment to troops. Even as the decision was being made, there were doubts about whether this was the right choice for our country, and these doubts grew over time.

The Debate over the Intervention in Vietnam

The Debate over the Intervention in Vietnam

In an essay of 1000 to 1500 words, compare and contrast the key arguments in these documents for and against American intervention in Vietnam. Overall, which side do you think presents a better case? You should provide at least three points of comparison (argument versus counter-argument).

Your arguments should be clearly supported by brief quotes taken from the primary source documents provided. This is NOT a research assignment — use only the documents provided.

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