Reasons for US involvement in Vietnam

Reason one - Vietnamese independence

After World War Two a civil war was fought in Vietnam between the communists and the old French rulers and their supporters. Eventually, the French were forced to leave.

It was agreed the country would be split along the 17th Parallel until elections could be held.

Map showing the 17th Parallel separating North and South Vietnam.Map showing the 17th Parallel separating North and South Vietnam

The country remained divided:

  • North Vietnam was a communist republic led by Ho Chi Minh.
  • South Vietnam was a capitalist republic led by Ngo Dinh Diem.

Reason two - civil war

Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh

The Vietminh wanted to unite the country under communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Many of the South Vietnamese people supported Ho Chi Minh as they were unhappy with Ngo Dinh Diem.

War broke out between the North and South. From 1958 onwards the South came under increasing attacks from communists in South Vietnam itself.

Reason three - The Domino Theory

This was the belief that if one country fell to communism, it was likely that the neighbouring one would also fall.

The USA was afraid that communism would spread to South Vietnam. They decided to send money, supplies and military advisers to help the South Vietnamese Government.

Reason four - the weak South Vietnamese Government

Diem was a corrupt leader who refused to give peasants land. He did not like Buddhism and treated the majority Buddhist population badly. As a result, much of South Vietnam’s population was rebelling against him. The peasants wanted communism and supported the Vietminh.

In 1963 Diem’s Government was overthrown. After this, there was no strong capitalist government in the South.

Reason five - The Gulf of Tonkin Incident 1964

On 2nd August 1964, North Vietnamese boats attacked a US Navy destroyer, the USS Maddox, patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Another attack on the Maddox was reported to have taken place on 4th August. Weather coditions were poor and there was doubt as to whether a real attack had taken place.

However in Washington the attack was presented as a fact and the incident gave the USA the excuse it needed to escalate the war.