The ink on the agreement that ended World War II barely had time to dry before another war began, this time in a remote corner of the Earth that most Americans barely knew anything about -- the peninsula in Southeast Asia called Indo- China. But by the time the fighting ended thirty years later, there was hardly an American without a very strong opinion one way or another on the Vietnam War, which cost nearly 50,000 American lives and created deep divides in this country that have yet to heal. In fact, the debate over American involvement in Iraq is nearly a mirror image of the arguments over Vietnam that raged in the 1960s. Those who opposed the Vietnam War did so on the grounds that it was a fight that America couldn't win. Besides, the US had no business meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation on the other side of the globe, they said. Sound familiar?
Even a cursory look at Vietnam's history would seem to indicate that the US's attempt to impose its will on the Vietnamese was doomed from the start. Here were a people whose battle for independence began more than 2,000 years ago when the Chinese first invaded the peninsula. By World War II, with both the French and the Japanese occupying Indo-China, the nationalist fervor exploded into war when the Viet Minh formed to fight for independence under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, the son of a government official, who for a brief period had worked as a cook in America. Few gave Ho's underfed army a chance against one of the so-called Great Powers. But over the next eight years, Ho consistently out-fought and out-manuevered his supposedly superior rivals. Ironically, because the Viet Minh fought against the Japanese during World War II, for a time they received aid from the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA. That also mirrored later developments in Afghanistan where in the 1980s the CIA actively supported its future enemy, the Taliban, when the Islamist group was fighting Russia.
The war between France and the Viet Minh lasted eight years until a truce was declared shortly after the French forces suffered an ignominious defeat at Dienbienphu. By then, American involvement in the war on the side of the French was an open secret, even though American soldiers were already fighting and dying in the frozen mountains of Korea. After the Eisenhower Administration linked the two nations, calling them both victims of Communist aggression, it was clear that soon, Americans would be fighting and dying in the tropical heat of Vietnam. How did it get to that point? How did America become involved in a war that it was destined to lose? Let's turn back the pages of The Nation to 1947, when the roots of America's first military defeat took root in the soil of Vietnam.
In This Pack
Behind the Viet-Nam Revolt
Michael Clark | The author sets the historical background for the current conflict between France and the Viet Minh rebels led by Ho Chi Minh (May 17, 1947).
Viet Nam Celebration
A letter celebrates the Viet Minh insurgency and says that contrary to French propaganda, the group is not Communist-dominated (September 20, 1947).
Last Act in Indo-China
Andrew Roth | According to this eyewitness account, France is losing both the political and military battles being fought against Ho Chi Minh, who, the author says, is not under Moscow's control. Ho is more of a nationalist, he says (January 8, 1949).
Note on Viet Nam
An editorial says the French, who are comitting atrocities against the Viet Namese, are waiting for the United States to step into the fight (July 16, 1949).
J. Alvarez Del Vayo | The author says the United States's course of action in Indo-China will be dependent in part on its relationship with China (January 14, 1950).
Puppets and Patriots
American recognition of the puppet ruler Bao Dai is all about cold war politics (March 4, 1950).
Why Ho Chi Minh Can Win
Peggy Durdin | The French continue to lose on the battlefield despite the support of the US (November 11, 1950).
The Mess in Indo-China
Helen Mears | In a change of policy, the US links Vietnam and Korea, saying both are battles against Communist aggression. This is a mistake, says the author, who writes that the Viet Nam conflict is about nationalism (April 25, 1953).
Korea and Indo-China
An editorial says the help the Viet Minh have received from China in their anti-colonial battle has allowed the US to falsely label their fight as being about Communist aggression (May 9, 1953).