Term Paper: Vietnamization of the Vietnam War

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[. . .] Both sides, however, often demanded conditions to which the other side was unwilling to agree. The Americans, for example, called for the preservation of a non-Communist South Vietnamese state. The Viet Cong, on the other hand, demanded the immediate withdrawal of American troops in Southeast Asia (Dudley 96).

Despite the sharp increase in the number of troops sent to Vietnam, many of Johnson's policies were also aimed at minimizing the impact of the war on the United States. For example, though he asked for authorization to use armed forces, Johnson never asked Congress for a declaration of war nor did he call reserves back into active duty.

Furthermore, Johnson ignored recommendations to invade North Vietnam. He also did not authorize invasions of Cambodia or Laos, the neighboring countries that were used by the North Vietnamese as sanctuaries and as a roadway for transporting troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail (Dudley 96).

Part of Johnson's decision to keep limits on American involvement in the Vietnam War stemmed from fears that greater measures risked confrontation with the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China. The government was wary of a repeat of the Korean War, where the Chinese sent troops to Korea to fight the U.S.-led troops.

Furthermore, Johnson was also working on several potentially contentious domestic policies, enshrined in his agenda for a "Great Society."

These included Medicare, the Voting Rights Act, federal aid to education and affirmative action policies. Johnson was worried that negative perceptions of the Vietnam War would taint his domestic agenda.

Initially, Johnson succeeded on all fronts, winning support for Vietnam, his domestic reforms and eventually, the 1964 election.

By 1966, however, growing discontent over the Vietnam War led to sharp criticism of Johnson's Americanization approach. On one side, "hawks" in Congress and the general public called for a stronger American action, including sending additional troops and implementing more aggressive strategies, such as an invasion into North Vietnam. On the other side, "doves" called for a stop to the bombings in North Vietnam and for a negotiated peace settlement (Herring 181).

The Vietnam War also caused dissent within the Democratic Party, as prominent democrats like Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy challenged Johnson for the 1968 Democratic Primary.

Despite the criticism, Johnson continued to enjoy general support for his policy of American involvement. However, this changed with the 1968 Tet Offensive, which shattered public confidence in the American War effort in Vietnam.

After the success of the Tet Offensive, American military officials called for an additional 206,000 troops. Granting the request would have forced Johnson to activate the reserves. Instead, Johnson sent only 13,500 troops and, on March 31, 1968, declared a halt to U.S. bombings in North Vietnam (Bowman 200).

The halt in the bombings and the increase of troops signaled a willingness to begin new peace talks, which eventually culminated in negotiations in Paris in May 1968. Furthermore, in a decision historians attribute to his failure to win the Vietnam War, Johnson declined to seek reelection in 1968 (Dudley 97).

B. Nixon's Vietnamization

Nixon first used the term "Vietnamization" in a televised speech on November 3, 1969. In this speech, Nixon called on the "silent majority" to support his plan for "Vietnamization" and the gradual withdrawal of American troops from the war (Bowman 242).

For many analysts, the Tet Offensive shifted the focus of the war, highlighting the failures of Johnson's Americanization policies. Under Johnson's administration, the goal was to neutralize the influence of the Viet Cong in the countryside and to bring them under the control of the South Vietnamese government.

This shift from Americanization to Vietnamization was facilitated by two changes in the civilian and military leadership of U.S. forces in South Vietnam. The new commander of the U.S. Military Command, Creighton Abrams, pulled away from the offensive strategies like bombings. Instead, Abrams prioritized pacification and civic action (Schultz 54).

Abrams initiated a "Strategic Objective Plan" which incorporated the new concept of area security. This strategy was premised on the need to address the need for providing the rural population with security through a combination of combat operations and, more importantly, through pacification strategies (Herring 85-86).

The second change was the appointment of Robert Komer to the Civil Operators and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) in 1967. The CORDS office was charged with expanding the scope and pace of pacification strategies in 1966. However, this mandate did not receive priority attention until after the Tet Offensive. Komer and his CORDS successor William Colby were strong advocates of these pacification programs (Mann 243-244).

The new military command under Abrams and the growing mandate of CORDS highlighted the contrast between Johnson's Americanization and the new Vietnamization policies being set in place. In theory, Americans were preparing to surrender the reins of the war to a prepared South Vietnamese government and military.

C. The Components of Vietnamization

Towards the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the American military policy was characterized by two interrelated components - Vietnamization of the controlling troops and pacification in the countryside.

1. Vietnamization

The first component of Vietnamization was improving and modernizing the equipment and training of the South Vietnamese armed forces. Once this was done, the plan called for the transfer of day-to-day combat operations from American control to the South Vietnamese. Following this, American forces were to unilaterally withdraw from South Vietnam (Nixon, "Vietnamization," 146-147).

For South Vietnam, Vietnamization thus signaled two major changes. First, it marked the beginning of military de-escalation on the part of the United States. Concurrently, Vietnamization also heralded the start of the South Vietnamese government's attempt to create a military force capable of repelling both the North Vietnamese Armed forces and the Viet Cong forces that proliferated in the South Vietnamese countryside.

Nixon's withdrawal of troops early in his administration provided the foundation for this de-escalation. However, the key instigator for Vietnamization was not Nixon, nut his Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird.

Laird had long been a proponent of Vietnamizing the war. Laird believed that instead of continuing to send troops to Vietnam, the United States could instead focus on training South Vietnamese forces, arming them with the proper equipment and leaving them to fulfill the defense and regulatory functions previously filled by the American forces (Nixon Memoirs, 392).

Laird formulated the idea after a 1969 visit to South Vietnam, where he formed an optimistic assessment of the training and defense potential of the South Vietnamese forces. Largely based on Laird's assessment, Nixon agrees to gradually reduce the American troops in Vietnam (Nixon Memoirs, 392).

Nixon, however, had problems with how to define the actions itself. He had built his campaign around a strong platform of anti-Communism, and did not want to be viewed as admitting surrender to the far-smaller Communist forces. Terms like de-escalation, removal and withdrawal seemed tinged with the negative connotation of defeat.

Laird once again came through by coining the phrase "Vietnamization." Though premised on United States withdrawal, Vietnamization focused the concern on passing the reins of power to the legitimate South Vietnamese government. Nixon thus introduced the American people to the noble idea of Vietnamization in his "Silent Majority" speech (Mann 644). Eventually, he insisted that every member of his cabinet use the phrase Vietnamization to address the U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam (Boettcher 263).

The implementation of Vietnamization was divided into two phases. The first phase involved the continued American participation in the Vietnam War. During the second phase, the focus would shift towards preparing the South Vietnamese armed forces to defend South Vietnam against the North Vietnamese armed forces and the Viet Cong. In addition to the training, phase two also involved arming the South Vietnamese with the latest weapons and technology to enable them to stave off the Communist forces (Davidson 107).

2. Pacification

Vietnamization would occur over a three-year period and be divided into three main programs. The first program continued to address area security, the provision of security and protection for the rural population. This meant that the ARVN would be directly involved in providing security for all levels, from peasant individuals to households to small political groupings in the countryside. Such close interaction with the rural peasantry would also have the fringe effect of neutralizing sympathy with the North Vietnamese.

Corollary to this, the second program was targeted towards weakening Viet Cong political organization in the countryside.

This involved neutralizing Viet Cong through practices like disrupting enemy communication networks and placing villages and hamlets under surveillance.

In addition, programs like "Open Arms" sought to persuade Viet Cong members and supporters to surrender, through the promise of various rewards and amnesty programs that suspend punishment. A more punitive program, "Phoenix," involved a series of direct attacks against known members of the Viet Cong infrastructure in the countryside.

The third program aimed towards creating a "sense of community" between the Vietnamese armed forces and the rural villages. This sense of community was supposed to lay the foundation for future… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Vietnamization of the Vietnam War."  Essaytown.com.  April 5, 2003.  Accessed July 18, 2019.