Although it ended in the early 1970s, it’s a conflict that still resonates to this day. To understand the cause of the Vietnam War, it’s necessary to go back to the Cold War.
Policy of Containment
In 1956 the United States firmed up its position in the Cold War. Then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declared that the Soviet Union would face an atomic / nuclear response from the United States if it tried to spread Communism among US allies. This alliance was strengthened in Europe with NATO. The United States made a similar pact in Southeast Asia.
This agreement was called SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization). It was comprised of the US, Britain and numerous Southeast Asian countries. One of them was Vietnam. The cause of the Vietnam War was the policy of an attack on one was an attack on all.
Beginnings of the Conflict
Following World War II, the French returned to Indochina. They came upon the Communist Ho Chi Minh, who had decided to create the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Although the French had superior numbers, Minh had the support of the locals who hated the French presence. In 1954 the Vietnamese dealt the French a stinging defeat at Dien Bien Phu. The French then withdrew from the peninsula.
Following the withdrawal, an agreement was made. The country would be divided between the north and south. The south would be ruled by pro French and democratic allies. The north belonged to Ho Chi Minh and his supporters. Part of the cause of the Vietnam War was Minh’s decision to cross the border that divided the country. He felt he had the support of the southern population too.
The US Enters the Picture
The United States started offering military supplies to their allies in South Vietnam. In 1964 two of these ships were attacked by Minh’s forces. Shortly thereafter, the US Senate passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It stated that US President Lyndon Johnson could use whatever means necessary to prevent the North Vietnamese from winning.
At the onset of 1965, the US started bombing the northern side. In March of that year, US troops landed in Da Nang. By August, the number increased to 100,000. By January 1966, the number was more than 200,000. By 1969, there were half a million American soldiers fighting in the war. Even though the cause of the Vietnam War was generally unknown to the public, the government pressed on with the attacks.
Antiwar Protests and American Withdrawal
The average American couldn’t recognize or accept the justification for the war. They felt their soldiers shouldn’t be involved in the conflict. Antiwar demonstrations began in the late 1960s. In 1968, the northern forces launched several attacks that leveled the US forces. Eventually President Nixon began withdrawing the troops. The Tonkin Treaty was also repealed.
When the Americans withdrew, the South Vietnamese fell apart and the Communists won. In 1976 the country was reunited under the Communist rule.
The cause of the Vietnam War, and its effects altered American policy in Southeast Asia. While they remained anti Communist, they no longer sent their troops to invade countries under that rule.