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US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

 
  

Project: History of US Interventions

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1947

       Ho Chi Minh is leading the Vietminh—a popular movement of Catholics, Buddhists, small businessmen, communists and farmers—in their fight for Vietnam's independence from the French. He makes a dozen appeals to US President Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee for help, insisting he is not a communist and suggesting that Indochina could be a “fertile field for American capital and enterprise.” He even mentions the possibility of allowing a US base in Camranh Bay. Likewise, US diplomats in Vietnam in their communications to Washington note that he has no direct ties to the Soviet Union and that he is a “symbol of nationalism and the struggle for freedom to the overwhelming majority of the population.” Major Archimedes L. A. Patti of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) later writes that Ho “pleaded not for military or economic aid, ... but for understanding, for moral support, for a voice in the forum of western democracies. But the United States would not read his mail because, as I was informed, the DRV Government was not recognized by the United States and it would be ‘improper’ for the president or anyone in authority to acknowledge such correspondence.” Instead, the US will help the French—even offering them two atomic bombs. Ho Chi Minh is eventually forced in 1950 to look to the USSR and China for support. [Pilger, 1986; Smith, 2003; Herring, 1986]
People and organizations involved: Ho Chi Minh, Archimedes L. A. Patti, Franklin Delano Roosevelt
          

1954-1975

       The casualty statistics of the Vietnam War are staggering.
At least 58,000 American soldiers loose their lives. [Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004; Herring, 1986]

815,000 US soldiers are disabled. [Disabled Veterans' LIFE Memorial Foundation website, 4/15/2004]

At least 20,000 Vietnam veterans commit suicide after the war. [Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004]

Between 100,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese combatants are killed [Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century website, 4/15/2004]

Between 400,000 and one million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong combatants are killed. [Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century website, 4/15/2004]

Between 300,000 and 2 million Vietnamese civilians (North and South) are killed. [Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century website, 4/15/2004]

          

1954

       Under the Phoenix Program, the CIA creates and directs a secret police ostensibly run by the South Vietnamese. Its objective is to destroy the Viet Cong's infrastructure. During the course of the program's existence, the secret police units, operating as virtual death squads, are implicated in burnings, garroting, rape, torture, and sabotage. As many as 50,000 Vietnamese are killed. [Ahmed, 9/24/2001; Valentine, 2000; Pilger 1986 Sources: Anthony Herbert, Ralph McGehee] The most decorated American soldier of the war, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Herbert, will later recall in his book, Soldier, “They wanted me to take charge of execution teams that wiped out entire families and tried to make it look as though the VC themselves had done the killing.” [Pilger 1986]
People and organizations involved: Anthony Herbert
          

1954

       The Geneva Accords temporarily divide Vietnam in half at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh's forces in the north and Bao Dai's regime in the south. The accords also call for elections to be held in all of Vietnam within two years to reunify the country. [Sources: Geneva Accords] The US opposes the unifying elections, fearing a likely victory by Ho Chi Minh, and refuses to sign the Geneva accords. “If the scheduled national elections are held in July 1956, and if the Viet Minh does not prejudice its political prospects, the Viet Minh will almost certainly win,” the CIA notes. [Ahmed, 9/24/2001] And US President Dwight Eisenhower admits, “I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, a possible 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader.” [Ahmed, 9/24/2001]
People and organizations involved: Bao Dai, Ho Chi Minh, Franklin Delano Roosevelt
          

May 1954

       The French army is defeated at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam [Herring, 1986]
          

mid-1954

       Ngo Dinh Diem returns from exile in the US to head the South Vietnamese government. The CIA office in Saigon, under the leadership of Colonel Edward Lansdale, conducts a propaganda campaign aimed at creating the perception that North Vietnam is plagued with massive civil unrest and disorder while there is stability in South Vietnam and widespread popular support for its newly installed leader. [Pilger, 1986; Herring, 1986] “Paramilitary groups infiltrated across the demilitarized zone on sabotage missions, attempting to destroy the government's printing presses and pouring contaminants into the engines of buses to demobilize the transportation systems. The teams also carried ‘psywar’ operations to embarrass the Vietminh regime and encourage emigration to the South. They distributed fake leaflets announcing the harsh methods the government was prepared to take and even hired astrologers to predict hard times in the north and good times in the south.” [Herring 1986, pg 44.] “[Landale's team] stimulated North Vietnamese Catholics and the Catholic armies deserted by the French to flee south. SMM teams promised Catholic Vietnamese assistance and new opportunities if they would emigrate. To help them make up their minds, the teams circulated leaflets falsely attributed to the Viet Minh telling what was expected of citizens under the new government. The day following distribution of the leaflets, refugee registration tripled. The teams spread horror stories of Chinese Communist regiments raping Vietnamese girls and taking reprisals against villages. This confirmed fears of Chinese occupation under the Viet Minh. The teams distributed other pamphlets showing the circumference of destruction around Hanoi and other North Vietnamese cities should the United States decide to use atomic weapons. To those it induced to flee over the 300-day period the CIA provided free transportation on its airline, Civil Air Transport, and on ships of the U.S. Navy. Nearly a million North Vietnamese were scared and lured into moving to the South.” [Pilger 1986]
People and organizations involved: Ngo Dinh Diem, Edward Geary Lansdale, Bao Dai
          

1955

       The US helps arrange a national referendum between Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem and Emperor Bao Dai. Diem “wins” 98.2 percent of the vote. Interestingly, a total of 605,000 votes are cast despite there being only 405,000 registered voters. [Herring 1986]
People and organizations involved: Ngo Dinh Diem, Bao Dai
          

July 1956

       South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, backed by the US, successfully blocks the unifying elections that had been set by the 1954 Geneva Accords, which the US refused to sign (see 1954). It is widely believed that Ho Chi Minh would have easily carried the elections (see 1954). This would have been an unacceptable outcome for the US. [Herring, 1986]
People and organizations involved: Ngo Dinh Diem, Ho Chi Minh
          

January 1957

       US President Dwight Eisenhower rejects a Soviet proposal for the permanent division of Vietnam into North and South. [Ti?ng Anh, 1/24/2003; Historyplace [.com], n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Dwight Eisenhower
          

1960-1973

       In Vietnam, the US military uses about 21 million gallons of Agent Orange to defoliate the jungle in order to deny enemy fighters cover. The defoliant—manufactured primarily by Monsanto and Dow Chemical—gets its name from the 55-gallon drums it is shipped in that are marked with an orange stripe. At least 3,181 villages are sprayed with the highly toxic herbicide, which is comprised of a 50:50 mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and contaminated with dangerous levels of dioxins. Much of the dioxin is TCDD, which is linked to liver and other cancers, diabetes, spina bifida, immune-deficiency diseases, severe diarrhea, persistent malaria, miscarriages, premature births, and severe birth defects. Between 2.1 and 4.8 million Vietnamese are exposed, as are about 20,000 US soldiers. According to Vietnamese estimates, Agent Orange is responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people. Because there is a continued presence of high dioxin levels in the food chain of several sprayed areas, the health effects of Agent Orange persist to the present day. According to studies by Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, some Vietnamese have dioxin levels 135 times higher than people living in unsprayed areas. Schecter has called Vietnam “the largest contamination of dioxin in the world.” The Vietnamese believe the herbicide has contributed to birth defects in 500,000 children, many of them second and third generation. Though the US government has accepted responsibility for the health complications in US soldiers that resulted from exposure to Agent Orange (providing up to $1,989 per month for affected vets and more than $5,000 per month for those severely disabled and homebound), the US has refused to compensate Vietnamese victims. To date, no US agency, including the US Agency for International Development, has conducted any program in Vietnam to address the issue of Agent Orange. When asked by Mother Jones magazine in 1999 if the Vietnam government has raised the issue in private talks with the United States, a State Department official responds: “Ohhhh, yes. They have. But for us there is real concern that if we start down the road of research, what does that portend for liability-type issues further on?” [Associated Press, 4/17/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2000; BBC, 12/30/2001; BBC, 11/19/1999; BBC, 11/15/2000]
People and organizations involved: Dow Chemical, Monsanto
          

1963-1973

       During the Vietnam war, the US uses a total of 373,000 tons of napalm. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/3/2000; Boston Globe,] One ton of napalm alone is enough to burn a football field in seconds. [BBC, 4/24/2001] The use of napalm in Vietnam is widespread and is a favorite weapon of the US military command. General Paul Harkins says it “really puts the fear of God into the Vietcong—and that is what counts.” [Hilsman, 1967] Pilots are given authority to use the weapon without prior authorization if the original target is inaccessible. [Herring, 1986] Entire villages are destroyed by napalm bombs. [Sources: Colonel Recalls Being Ordered to Napalm Entire Village in Vietnam]
 Additional Info 
          

June 11, 1963

       Buddhist clerics begin immolating themselves in protest of South Vietnamese President Diem's prosecution of Buddhists. [CNN, n.d.; Herring, 1986; Mo￯se, 1998]
People and organizations involved: Ngo Dinh Diem
          

November 1963

       The policies of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem create concern in Washington when Diem's government intensifies its repression of the Buddhists and clamps down on the press. Also worrisome to his US backers are rumors that he is considering unification with the North. [National Security Archives, 11/5/2003; Herring 1986; Ahmed, 9/24/2001] When the Kennedy administration learns that a group of South Vietnamese generals are planning a [second] coup attempt, the decision is made to provide them with support. [National Security Archives, 11/5/2003 Sources: Memorandum of Conference with the President, November 1, 1963, 10:00 AM, Memorandum of Conference with the President, October 29, 1963, 4:20 PM, Department of State, "Check-List of Possible U.S. Actions in Case of Coup," October 25, 1963, Memorandum of Conversation, "Vietnam," August 28, 1963, Noon] “President Kennedy and his advisers, both individually and collectively, had a considerable role in the coup overall, by giving initial support to Saigon military officers uncertain what the US response might be, by withdrawing US aid from Diem himself, and by publicly pressuring the Saigon government in a way that made clear to South Vietnamese that Diem was isolated from his American ally. In addition, at several of his meetings Kennedy had CIA briefings and led discussions based on the estimated balance between pro- and anti-coup forces in Saigon that leave no doubt the United States had a detailed interest in the outcome of a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. The CIA also provided $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters the morning of the coup, carried by Lucien Conein, an act prefigured in administration planning.” [National Security Archives, 11/5/2003]
People and organizations involved: Ngo Dinh Diem, John F. Kennedy
          

July 31, 1964

       South Vietnamese gun boats attack the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me as part of operation OPLAN 34A. Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon official working under US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, will later describe 34A as a “100% US operations, utilizing some South Vietnamese personnel along with ... foreign mercenary crews, totally planned and controlled by the US, through MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam], CIA and CINCPAC [Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet]; some people in the GVN [Government of (South) Vietnam] had very limited knowledge of the operations, but no hand in planning or managing them.” [Ellsberg, 2003 Sources: Daniel Ellsberg]
People and organizations involved: Daniel Ellsberg
          

August 2, 1964

       The USS Maddox is gathering intelligence off the coast of North Vietnam. [Media Beat, 7/27/1994; Wells 1996; Pilger 1986; Herring, 1986] When a group of North Vietnamese torpedo boats come within range of the vessel there is a brief, but tense, exchange of fire. The USS Maddox fires on the boats, which respond with torpedoes. The torpedo boats are quickly driven away when aircraft from the USS Ticonderoga come to the Maddox's assistance. The US Government and the press will report that the torpedo boats had launched an “unprovoked attack” against the Maddox while it was on a “routine patrol.” [Herring, 1986] When reports of the incident are received in Washington, the Maddox is ordered to continue is operations close to North Vietnamese shores. Another destroyer, the C. Turner Joy, is sent to support it. [Herring, 1986]
          

August 4, 1964

       Two days after an engagement with North Vietnamese torpedo boats (see August 2, 1964), Captain John J. Herrick of the USS Maddox sees two “mysterious dots” on his radar screen. He determines they are torpedo boats and sends an emergency cable to headquarters in Honolulu reporting that the ship is under attack. Honolulu quickly passes the report on to Washington. [Pilger 1986] President Johnson meets with his advisors and decides that the US must respond. “We cannot sit still as a nation and let them attack us on the high seas and get away with it,” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara says. [Herring, 1986] A few hours later, a cable arrives from Captain Herrick, which reads: “Freak weather effects on radar and over eager sonar men . . . No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.” A little later, Herrick cables that though it was “a confusing picture,” he did believe that there had been an attack. [In 1985, Herrick will reveal that this judgment had been based on “intercepted North Vietnamese communications” which he had not seen.] Half an hour later, the White House receives a third cable from Herrick, in which the captain says he is now uncertain what had happened. But this last report is ignored and President Johnson announces in a televised address, “Renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.” Meanwhile, US forces in Vietnam launch “retaliatory” air strikes against five North Vietnamese patrol boats and the oil facilities at Vinh. [Ellsberg, 2003; Boston Globe, 2/22/2004; Pilger 1986; Herring, 1986] The American media praises the president's speech and actions. The New York Times states the following day that Johnson had gone to “ the American people ... with the somber facts.” And the Los Angeles Times urges its readers to “face the fact that the Communists, by their attack on American vessels in international waters, have themselves escalated the hostilities.” But time will reveal that there had been no attacks. US Navy squadron commander James Stockdale, who had been in the air at the time of the alleged attacks, will later recall: “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there.... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.” [Media Beat, 7/27/1994]
People and organizations involved: Robert McNamara, John J. Herrick, James Stockdale
          

August 6, 1964

       The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Relations Committee hold closed hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin torpedo attacks (see August 2, 1964) (see August 4, 1964). Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, who had received a tip from an unnamed Pentagon insider (not Daniel Ellsberg), asks US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara if the torpedo attacks might have been a response to operation OPLAN 34A which had conducted attacks on the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me on July 31 (see July 31, 1964). The Senator raises the possibility that the North Vietnamese may have thought the ship was supporting OPLAN 34A's attacks. Morse suggests that McNamara should inquire as to the exact location of the Maddox on those days and what its true mission was. McNamara responds: “First, our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any.... The Maddox was operating in international waters, was carrying out a routine patrol of the type we carry out all over the world at all times. I did not have knowledge at the time of the attack on the island. There is no connection between this patrol and any action of South Vietnam.” [Herring, 1986; New York Times, 6/13/1971; New York Times, 6/13/1971 cited in adelphiasophism.com website.; Ellsberg, 2003]
People and organizations involved: US Congress, Wayne Morse, Robert McNamara
          

August 7, 1964

       In response to alleged “unprovoked” attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats against the USS Maddox on August 2 (see August 2, 1964) and August 4 (see August 4, 1964), Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing President Johnson to take “all necessary measures to repel any armed attacks against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” [Herring, 1986; Pilger 1986; Boston Globe, 2/22/2004 Sources: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution] It sails though the House unanimously and in the Senate it meets only the slightest resistance with two dissenting votes. [Boston Globe, 2/22/2004; Herring, 1986; Pilger 1986] When Daniel Ellsberg leaks the Pentagon Papers seven years later, it is revealed that the resolution had been drafted 2 months earlier. [Pilger 1986]
People and organizations involved: Daniel Ellsberg, US Congress
          

August 3, 1965

       One day after the alleged “unprovoked” attacks on the USS Maddox by North Vietnamese torpedo boats (see August 2, 1964), the vessel's captain, John J. Herrick, reports to Washington: “Evaluation of info from various sources indicates DRV considers [my] patrol directly involved with 34-A ops (see July 31, 1964) DRV considers US ships present as enemies because of these ops and have already indicated their readiness to treat us in that category.” [Ellsberg, 2003]
People and organizations involved: John J. Herrick
          

Some point between 1969 and 1974

       In a conversation with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger about civilian casualties in Vietnam, US President Richard Nixon says, “I don't give a damn. I don't care.” [CBS News, 2/28/2003]
People and organizations involved: Richard Nixon, Henry A. Kissinger
          

June 13, 1971

       The New York Times publishes excerpts from a secret Pentagon study leaked by Daniel Ellsberg of the RAND Corporation to journalist Neil Sheehan. Ellsberg had worked in the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The study, later known as the “Pentagon Papers,” had been commissioned by McNamara and completed in 1968. It focused on how policy and tactical decisions had been made during the war. Between 30 and 40 writers and researchers participated in the 40-volume project, producing 3,000 pages of analysis and compiling 4,000 pages of original documents. After the Times publishes its first article on the papers, the US government goes to great lengths to block additional stories. But on June 30, the US Supreme Court rules in a 6-3 decision in favor of the New York Times. [New York Times, 6/13/1971; Vietnam Veterans of America, 4/15/2004; National Security Archive, 4/15/2004; National Security Archive, 6/29/2001] The June 13 Times article reports that the Pentagon Papers included the following conclusions:
“That the Truman Administration decision to give military aid to France in her colonial war against the Communist-led Vietminh ‘directly involved’ the United States in Vietnam and ‘set’ the course of American policy.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]

“That the Eisenhower Administration's decision to rescue a fledgling South Vietnam from a Communist takeover and attempt to undermine the new Communist regime of North Vietnam gave the Administration a ‘direct role in the ultimate breakdown of the Geneva settlement’ for Indochina in 1954.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]

“That the Kennedy Administration, though ultimately spared from major escalation decisions by the death of its leader, transformed a policy of ‘limited-risk gamble,’ which it inherited, into a ‘broad commitment’ that left President Johnson with a choice between more war and withdrawal.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]

“That the Johnson Administration, though the president was reluctant and hesitant to take the final decisions, intensified the covert warfare against North Vietnam and began planning in the spring of 1964 to wage overt war, a full year before it publicly revealed the depth of its involvement and its fear of defeat.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]

“That this campaign of growing clandestine military pressure through 1964 and the expanding program of bombing North Vietnam in 1965 were begun despite the judgment of the Government's intelligence community that the measures would not cause Hanoi to cease its support of the Vietcong insurgency in the South, and that the bombing was deemed militarily ineffective within a few months.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]

“That these four succeeding administrations built up the American political, military and psychological stakes in Indochina, often more deeply than they realized at the time, with large-scale military equipment to the French in 1950; with acts of sabotage and terror warfare against North Vietnam, beginning in 1954; with moves that encouraged and abetted the overthrow of President Ngo Dinh Diuem of South Vietnam in 1963; with plans, pledges and threats of further action that sprang to life in the Tonkin Gulf clashes in August, 1964; with the careful preparation of public opinion for the years of open warfare that were to follow; and with the calculation in 1965, as the planes and troops were openly committed to sustained combat, that neither accommodation inside South Vietnam nor early negotiations with North Vietnam would achieve the desired result.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]

People and organizations involved: Robert McNamara, Daniel Ellsberg
          

After 1975

       The Vietnamese continue to suffer from Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used by US forces during the Vietnam War that has been blamed for huge numbers of birth defects. [BBC, 11/15/2000; BBC, 12/30/2001; BBC, 11/20/2000; Ahmed, 9/24/2001]
          

(2001)

       The US Government knowingly harbors Nguyen Huu Chanh, leader of the “Government of Free Vietnam,” an organization actively seeking to overthrow the Communist government of Vietnam. From his suburban office complex in Garden Grove, California, he plans and directs attacks against Vietnamese targets. The Vietnam government considers Chahn its most-wanted terrorist and has asked the United States to halt the plotter's activities. [Time Magazine, 10/22/2001]
People and organizations involved: Nguyen Huu Chanh
          


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