This section contains some of the best short essays and summaries regarding the Vietnam War. Each entry provides a brief overview of the war, including its origins, conduct, and conclusion. These efforts represent the work of historians, scholars, and social scientists from an array of post-secondary institutions, government agencies, and think tanks. Ultimately, these synopses provide the reader with breadth, depth and scope of a myriad of topics as they relate to the Vietnam War and its impact on American society during the 1960s and 1970s.
Ho Chi Minh Demands of the Annamite [Vietnamese] People (1919)
In June 1919, Ho Chi Minh petitioned the Paris peace conference seeking self-determination and independence for the Vietnamese people. Excited by the prospect of peace based on Wilson’s vision of a “new world” order, Ho drew up an eight-point program for his country’s emancipation and forwarded it to the conference secretariat in January 1919. It asked for permanent representation in the French parliament; freedom of the press; freedom to hold meetings and form associations; amnesty decree; and the equality of legal rights between the French and Annamese people. However, when Ho tried to argue the case with Wilson himself at Versailles, he was unceremoniously shown the door. His proposals would not have meant independence for Vietnam, but instead called for greater equity, more basic freedoms, and Vietnamese representation in the colonial government.
Demands of the Annamite [Vietnamese] People
Since the victory of the Allies, all the subjects are frantic with hope at prospect of an era of right and justice, which should begin for them by virtue of the formal and solemn engagements made before the whole world by the various powers of the entente in the struggle of civilisation against barbarism.
While waiting for the principle of national self determination to pass from ideal to reality through the effective recognition of the sacred right of all peoples to decide their own destiny, the inhabitants of the ancient empire of Annam, at the present time French Indochina, present to the noble governments of the entente in general and in particular to the honourable French government the following humble claims:
- General amnesty for all the native people who have been condemned for political activity.
- Reform of Indochinese justice by granting to the native population the same judicial guarantees as the Europeans have, and the total suppression of the special courts which are the instruments of terrorisation and oppression against the most responsible elements of the Annamite people.
- Freedom of press and speech.
- Freedom of association and assembly.
- Freedom to emigrate and to travel abroad.
- Freedom of education, and creation in every province of technical and professional schools for the native population.
- Replacement of the regime of arbitrary decrees by a regime of law.
- A permanent delegation of native people elected to attend the French parliament in order to keep the latter informed of their needs.
The Annamite people, in presenting these claims, count on the worldwide justice of all the Powers, and rely in particular on the goodwill of the noble French people who hold our destiny in their hands and who, as France is a republic, have taken us under their protection.
In requesting the protection of the French people the people of Annam, far from feeling humiliated, on the contrary consider themselves honoured, because they know that the French people stand for liberty and justice and will never renounce their sublime ideal of universal brotherhood. Consequently, in giving heed to the voice of the oppressed, the French people will be doing their duty to France and to humanity.”
In the name of the group of Annamite patriots…
Nguyen Ai Quoc [Ho Chi Minh]
The Long Telegram (1946)
George F. Kennan, the American charge d’affaires in Moscow, sent one of the most profound American foreign policy statements to the U.S. Department of State detailing his views on the Soviet Union and U.S. policy toward the communist state. Kennan’s analysis served as a fundamental underpinning for America’s Cold War policy of containment. Following the death of FDR, Kennan noted to his superiors that U.S. relations with Russia were waning. His opinions came to be known as the “Long Telegram.” The 8,000 word memorandum began with the assertion that the Soviet Union could not foresee “permanent peaceful coexistence” with the West. This “neurotic view of world affairs” was a manifestation of the “instinctive Russian sense of insecurity.” As a result, the Soviets were deeply suspicious of all other nations and believed that their security could only be found in a “patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power.”
Kennan was convinced that the Soviets would try to expand their sphere of influence. He pointed to Iran and Turkey as the most likely immediate trouble areas. In addition, Kennan believed the Soviets would do all they could to “weaken power and influence of Western Powers on colonial, backward, or dependent peoples.” Fortunately, although the Soviet Union was “impervious to logic of reason,” it was “highly sensitive to logic of force.” Therefore, it would back down “when strong resistance is encountered at any point.” The United States and its allies, he concluded, would have to offer that resistance.
Kennan’s telegram caused a sensation in Washington, D.C. and made the country take cautionary note of Stalin’s aggressive speeches and threatening gestures toward Iran and Turkey in 1945 and 1946. Ultimately, the Truman Administration decided to take a tougher stance and rely on our nation’s military and economic muscle, rather than diplomacy, in dealing with the Soviets. His opinion that Soviet expansionism needed to be contained through a policy of “strong resistance” was the basis for America’s Cold War diplomacy for the next two decades.
Eisenhower’s “Domino Theory” Speech (1954)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined one of the most famous Cold War phrases when he suggested the fall of French Indochina to the communists could create a “domino” effect in Southeast Asia. The so-called “domino theory” dominated U.S. thinking about Vietnam for the next decade.
By early 1954, it was clear to many U.S. policymakers that the French were failing in their attempt to re-establish colonial control in Indochina (Vietnam), which they lost during World War II when the Japanese took control of the area. The Vietnamese nationalists, led by the communist Ho Chi Minh, were on the verge of winning a stunning victory against French forces at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. In just a matter of weeks, representatives from the world’s powers were scheduled to meet in Geneva to discuss a political settlement to the Vietnamese conflict. U.S. officials were concerned that a victory by Ho’s forces and/or an agreement in Geneva might leave a communist regime in control of all or part of Vietnam. In an attempt to rally congressional and public support for increased U.S. aid to the French, President Eisenhower gave an historic press conference on April 7, 1954.
He spent much of the speech explaining the significance of Vietnam to the United States. First was its economic importance, “the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs” (materials such as rubber, jute, and sulfur). There was also the “possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world.” Finally, the president noted, “You have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle.” Eisenhower expanded on this thought, explaining, “You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is a certainty that it will go over very quickly.” This would lead to disintegration in Southeast Asia, with the “loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following.” Eisenhower suggested that even Japan, which needed Southeast Asia for trade, would be in danger.
Eisenhower’s words had little direct immediate impact–a month later, Dien Bien Phu fell to the communists, and an agreement was reached at the Geneva Conference that left Ho’s forces in control of northern Vietnam. In the long run, however, Eisenhower’s announcement of the “domino theory” laid the foundation for U.S. involvement in Vietnam. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson both used the theory to justify their calls for increased U.S. economic and military assistance to non-communist South Vietnam and, eventually, the commitment of U.S. armed forces in 1965.
Senator John F. Kennedy at the Conference on Vietnam Luncheon in the Hotel Willard, Washington, D.C., June 1, 1956
Senator Kennedy was a fervent believer in containing communism in Southeast Asia and around the globe. He made it clear in many of his speeches as a Senator and later as President that he would support and continue the policy of the former President, Dwight Eisenhower, and support the government of Diem in South Vietnam. Kennedy also made it plain that he supported the ‘Domino Theory’ and he was convinced that if South Vietnam fell to communism, then other states in the region would as a consequence. His ardent belief in strong “anti-Communist” policy and rhetoric throughout the 1950s is best illustrated in his “America’s Stake in Vietnam,” which was first delivered at a conference in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the American Friends of Vietnam. The entire text of Kennedy’s first major speech concerning the future of Vietnam and America’s involvement there is contained in the below link.