4

The United States and Indochina, 1945-75

The Vietnam War was the longest war in United States history. Though varying in intensity and focus it lasted from 1954 to 1975, cost $150 billion and involved 2,700,000 servicemen. The United States dropped 10 million tonnes of bombs on Vietnam—more than the entire amount dropped in World War Two. The North Vietnamese enemy lost over 900,000 people, compared to 58,000 American dead. Yet the United States still lost the war. Why?

Why did the United States make such a massive commitment to a small, backward country over 10,000 miles away? The decision to become involved in Vietnam was later described by a top American official, George Ball, as ‘probably the greatest single error made by America in its history’. 1 For over twenty years the United States persisted in its objective of keeping South Vietnam free from communism. The United States did not drift ‘blindly’ into the war—every stage of deepening involvement was taken only after much calculation. Still, the United States lost the war and had to make a humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975.

The consequences of the Vietnam war were no less important than the causes. By the end of the war many people in the West saw the United States as a greater threat to the security of the world than the Soviet Union. The anti-war argument had won

-33-

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The Cold War, 1945-1991
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword viii
  • Preface ix
  • Chronology xii
  • 1 - The Origins of the Cold War in Europe, 1945-9 1
  • 2 - Communist China and the Cold War in Asia, 1945-53 14
  • 3 - Peaceful Co-Existence and Nuclear Confrontation, 1953-64 24
  • 4 - The United States and Indochina, 1945-75 33
  • 5 - China Between the Superpowers, 1949-80 42
  • 6 - The Rise and Fall of Détente in the 1970s 50
  • 7 - Reagan, Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War, 1981-91 60
  • Conclusion 71
  • Notes 76
  • Select Bibliography 79
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