The Vietnam war

Vietnam war under Eisenhower and Kennedy 

  • Created by: mariamme
  • Created on: 10-04-12 13:12

Background to Vietnam

  • Indochian key area security and trade S.E Asia
  • traditional enemy of China dominated by it from 111B.C-938 A.D
  • 15th Century expands south, took Mekong Delta from Cambodia
  • people Independent and developed warrior techniques to ward off China
  • After France defeat Siam and China in wars during 1960's and 1980's-take over alot of  Indochina (compete with other European colonial powers)
  • Internal quarrels allows to divide into provinces: -Cochinchina, Tonkin and Annam,(modern day Vietnam), Cambodia, Laos
  • Federation until 1954, formal power in hands of local leaders like Emperor of Vietnam and King of Cambodia FIGUREHEADS
  • French settlers in fertile area Cochinchina (South)
  • Economic exploitation of land, established rubber plantations on border with Cambodia, rice fields in virgin lands and drained marshes Mekong delta
  • Saigon (capital Cochinchina) 'Paris of the orient'
  • educated Vietnamese were peacful and wanted moderate reform through constitutional party-DENIED
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Ho Chi Minh and the ICP (Indochinese Communist Par

  • Revolutionary nationalist movements begin as soon as French took control
  • Early revolts aim to restore Mandarin class, but fail
  • colonists stop formation of middle class, therefore resistance came from peasant nationalist movements
  • strong rural communities and resistance under national leaders like Phan Boi Chau
  • focused on demonstrations, violence and propaganda
  • 1920's suppresed and remnants exiled to China
  • ICP very resistant national movement, leader Ho Chi Minh
  • 1923 invited to join comintern made soviet links that would continue throughout life
  • sent to china following year to form communist groups, met other nationalists and formed the ICP
  • 1930 led party in organising peasant revolts against France
  • Joined CCP during civil war and was imprisoned
  • 1941 returns to Vietnam to form Vietminh, merge of ICP and and moderate groups, dual objective national independence and social reform
  • appealed to issues that people cared about- social change, land reform, better working conditions
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Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh

  • 2 years later suggests that US forces in South China train VM forces against Japanese TURNED DOWN
  • French had surrendered to Hitler and forced to concede Indochina to Japanese imperial control under Frenc administration
  • Ho returned to Vietnam and attempted to lead uprising, failed and many leaders executed, he was imprisoned, released in 1943, and used as spy against Japanese
  • resumed leadership ICP
  • got aid from USA secret service in return for spying on Japan and rescuing US pilots
  • Considers USA as allie, recieves weapons, training and radios from them
  • March 1945, Japan overthrow French system, place Bao Dai at head of government
  • POWER VACUM especially in country
  • Intensity of Vietnamese national identity gave VM unity and domination
  • led resistance movement against Japan during WW2
  • When Japan surrendered Bao Dai abdicated, French too weak to continue ruling, so Viet Minh seize government HQ
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Challenges to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam

  • Internal and foreign challenges
  • China:-During WW2 agreed that Jiang's nationalists would recieve surrender of Japan in northern Indochina, dangerous to DRV as may try to annex
  • ransacked but could not afford distraction, about to resume CCW
  • occupy and disarm Japananese, not interfere with new government
  • Britain:-allied plan Britain took control of southern Indochina
  • soon had to deal with unrest fermented by VM
  • had to use surrendered Japanese forces to regain order
  • France:-October 1945 Gen Le Clerc, 5000 french drove out VM from Saigon (with help form British)
  • re-established control over whole South Vietnam by end of year
  • De Gaulle wanted retention of empire to RESTORE PRESTIGE
  • restore control in form french union
  • Truman tried to help negotiate with Ho in 1946, Ho wanted TOTAL INDEPENDENCE
  • Ho offered to intergrate smaller nationalist parties into a National assembly to govern North
  • March 1946 preliminary agreement drawn up to make DRV free state within French Union
  • Without strong direction from Paris, local french officials follow independant line and fighting resumed
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France and the VM 1946-1950

  • bombardment of Haiphong, main port NV, amphibious assault on the North resulted capture Hanoi, February 1946
  • French garrisons stationed throughout Northern provinces, claimed seeking independence for region by setting up Vietnamese state under Bao Dai 1949
  • No prospect colonial rule so French soldiers give up, gave confidence to VM
  • not used to VM tactics, retreating to remote areas and launching guerilla attacks (Mao)
  • AVOID pitched battles, quick attacks and quick dispersal
  • communists operated underground
  • maoist theory: overrun police outposts and remote military bases;state overreact with human rights abuses;capitalise on resulting public anger to gain support and recruits
  • Giap build up forces in mountains and rural areas while French concentrate on cities
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Impact of Mao's victory in the civil war (October

  • China sent weapons and artillary, provide facilities to train guerillas
  • January 1950, Ho declared only legitimate government, supported by USSR, CCP and rest of communist block
  • France claimed now fighting global war against communism. Chinese supplying weapons so portray as part of global cold war-would guarantee American intervention
  • Fall of China to communism undermined Truman administration, not prepared too see further spread of communism
  • Truman want to protect trade and security in SE Asia
  • May 1950 congress allowed $15 million aid, supply French with weapons, lorries, transport and aircraft
  • US arms shipped to Saigon and west recognised Bao Dai regime
  • US National security council issued policy documents NSC 64 and 68- arguing Indochina was crucial link in defensive perimeter and tripling US military spreading
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Truman's support for France

  • End 1950 sent few dozen men to Saigon as Military Advisory Group
  • Eisenhower supported French with $100 million supplies, including US aircraft, patrol boats and ground combat equipment to Saigon
  • uneasiness about propping up colonial regime 
  •  more aid supplied=more aid requested
  • did not want to repeat mistakes made with Jiang 'pouring sand down a rat hole'
  • make sure aid being used wisely
  • Although US felt Defensive perimeter, SE Asian trade, democratic values at stake half-hearted response like Korea, French left to fend for themselves
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Vietnam 1951-1953

  • 1951 General De Lattre de Tassigny comes up with new strategy, secure key areas in Northern Indochina
  • air power attacks on VM bases 'de Lattre line' of defences to protect Hanoi
  • mobile columns supported with air power defeat VM, large casulties
  • REGROUP during rainy season
  • France reocupy frontier area cut VM supply from China, France out on limb and tied down protecting lines communication with northern posts
  • November De Lattre returned to France, replaced by Salan, saw French needed to send more troops if stood chance against VM
  • Government refused to allow conscription, DISILLUSIONMENT of the people with war
  • by April 1953 VM invade Laos, stretches French forces
  • 1953 sign treaty with Laos allowing continued presence French troops
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Battle of Dien Bien Phu May 1954

  • Uneasy peace in Korea 1953, Eisenhower wanted to let ex-colonial powers deal with unrest rather than deploying own troops
  • France supplied with $385 million worth of aid and weapons
  • France had superior air power, so confident could win better bargaining position when they negotiate if able to get Giap out into open
  • chose Dien Bien Phu, as on main supply route from China to Laos, surrounded by hills
  • 20th November seized, fortified and supplied garrisons by air
  • plan was thst Giap would need to focus on Dien Bien Phu but would not be able to bring heavy artillary to recaprure due to jungle terrain
  • Giap hack new supply route through jungle
  • Giaps forces bombard fortress from surrounding high ground , as thousands peasants dismantled heavy long range guns and taken piece by piece into the surrounding hills
  • successfully camoflauged until ready to be fired
  • Men surrender 7th May
  • inflicted huge casulties on VM but failure for France
  • humiliating and military turning point, 1st victory 3rd world Asian army against european ground forces in regular combat
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The Geneva Agreements

  • negotiations began before DPH in mid-1953
  • policy makers wanted quick settlement
  • however John Dulles (secretary of state) would not agree till tide of  battle had turned in favour of  France
  • policy was containment over diplomacy
  • Geneva conference opened 26th April 1954 attended by: GB, France, USSR, PRC, DRV
  • USA and Bao Dai (South Vietnam) onlookers
  • Dulles refused to shake hands with Zhou Enlai (foreign minister PRC)
  • After DBP French government and the west publicly gave up any hope of retaining Indochina
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Terms of the Geneva Accords

  • Temporary 10 mile demilitarised zone, 17th Parallel, demarcation line
  • VM had to withdraw north, French troops south
  • France agree to evacuate Indochina at once
  • Elections to be held after 1 year of consultation, during time no troop reinforcements, military bases or foreign military alliances
  • International supervisory comission was to oversee-USA had used 'holding action'-thinly veiled military threat to prevent communist takeover of whole of Vietnam
  • Britain and France anxious that US initiatives in Europe, especially European Defence Community should go forward
  • French wished to retain military presence in Vietnam, neither Brit or France wanted US military intervention in Indochina
  • USSR saw continued French involvement in Indochina as useful to distract it from its links to the EDC, but saw Indochina as of marginal interest, wished to demonstrate 'peacful co-existance'
  • China accept terms in order to keep US military out of Indochina, while established new PRC economy and reconstruction
  • Ho's communist regime to remian in control of North, Bao Dai- South
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Terms of the Geneva Accords

  • Laos and Camodia to remain independent
  • USSR and PRC convinced Minh to accept terms, as VM also not want American intervention, exhausted after defeating French, confident country would be easy to unite
  • lost much of position of strength so willing to let Laos and Cambodia go
  • USA and State of Vietnam would not sign as this would mean recognising PRC, but USA agreed that they would not threaten to use force/ disturb
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Eisenhower's policies after the end of French cont

  • New sense of urgency due to 'domino theory'- publicly declared by Eisenhower in press conference 7th April 1954
  • Domino theory- view held by some war strategists chain reaction would be set off amongst neighbouring states if one country fell to communism Vietnam, Thailand, Malaya, The Phillipines,Indonesia, Burma
  • Had vital resources such as tin, petrol and rubber
  • Truman not wish Stalin to establish 'co-prosperity sphere'
  • Dulles feared chinese expansion into Indochina, to restore US prestige further losses in SE Asia must be prevented, must be done through defence system
  • Geneva conference showed other countries would not support US through UN as had done in Korea
  • SEATO set up, USA, Brit, France, Australia and NZ, Thailand, Philippines and Pakistan
  • similar to NATO but action would be in accordance with constitutional practices
  • real purpose was to allow USA take action in Vietnam under guise of collective security
  • Could use SEATO as excuse to increase US military intervention in Indochina in defiance of Geneva Accords (considered not bound to)
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Eisenhower's support for Diem

  • USA decided support other national movements to undermine Viet Minh, Bao Dai appointed Diem as Prime minister during Geneva Conference
  • Diem fanatical catholic, US supporting 'a man rather than a movement'-Doubtful of his ability to do the job (establish independant vietnam)
  • Large areas S.V under control rival religious sects such as Cao Dai and Hoa Hao, had made deals with Bao Dai and recruited private armies such as Binh Xuyen (gang criminals 2500 armed men)
  • USA realised needed army, Eisenhower gave him 78% US total foreign budget between 1955-1961
  • Trying to make Vietnam model state between 1954 and 1961, Eisenhower sent military advisors to train Diems police and financial aid poured into social, economic, and political reforms
  • Supported Diem's descision not to allow democratic elections, felt that Ho would win 
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-Unlike case of Japan and the Phillipines Diem not behaving like a puppet ruler

-Regime narowly based on family, deeply catholic despite the fact that the majority of the population was buddhist 

-Refused US demands for reforms and ignored French officials, who decided to withdraw the rest of their 160,000 troops

-Washington did not wish to continue supporting him, but they had no other alternatives

-He used US money to consolidate his own position after rigging referendum 1955

-Suppressed the power of the sects with the help of US Colonel Lansdale, who used bribes to split up the Hoa Hao

-Diem had General Ba Cut beheaded (leader of the Hoa Hao)

-Rounded up anyone suspected of opposing his regime, and 're-educated' them in special camps

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  • Ho's advisors in Hanoi, prevented him from mounting military action against Diem, as they preferred political pressure
  • So his supporters in the South grew frustrated and in 1957 came into contact with the ARVN, when they launched an attack on southern communist strongholds
  • As revenge the Viet Cong assassinated hundreds of local Diem officials 
  • In 1959 the VM began shipping supplies and personnel along the Ho Chi Minh trail to reinforce strength 
  • This insurgency very effective, so Diem was forced to change his policy
  • Set up 'agrovilles'- peasants were uprooted and transported to isolated rural villages, fortified against infiltration from the VC- had NEGATIVE EFFECT
  • Hanoi created and directed NLF in December 1960 which co-ordinated the various nationalist groups and strived to achieve as broad a range as support as possible 
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-NLF land reforms attracted peasant support in early 1961 those groups that existed in the south organised themselves into the PLAF (people's Liberation Armed Forces)

- JFK became president in 1961 but his main concern was the civil war in laos (1959), Berlin, and Cuba

-Appointed Robert McNamara as secretary of defence

-The USA and the USSR gave aid to the competing sides


-In 1959 fighting broke out on the border between Laos and North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh aided communists of the Pathet Lao against other nationalist groups in Laos

-This was a violation of the Geneva agreements (1954), that stated that no nation was allowed to intervene in neighbouring countries

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- Another Geneva Conference was called to sort out this problem

-The conference established a 'neutral' coalition of communist and non-communist elements

-However the NLF's supply route through Laos into SV stayed active, while Kennedy responded by using the CIA to support anti-communist forces, without consulting Congress

-US planes attacked communist positions in central and eastern Laos during 1962 and 1963

-By the autumn of 1962 it was estimated that Diem only controlled 49% of SV, while the NLF held 9% of the rest of the country


-In 1959 Castro seized power in a communist revolution 

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-Kennedy tried to remove Castro by sending troops to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs 1961, quickly defeated

-Major humiliation for the USA, led to cuban missile crisis 1962, at which the USA and the USSR were at the brink of a global nuclear war


- 1961 Cold war tensions flared up in Berlin, resulting in the construction of the Berlin wall

-Seperated the Eastern and Western sectors of the ex-German capital

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- Kennedy found Vietnam situation impossible, but despite some people in government questioning support for Diem it continued

-Only 800 military advisors in SV, Kennedy did not want to end up in the same position as France 

-He was stuck between 'the hawks' and 'the doves'

-His joint chiefs of staff were 'hawks'- wanted strong military support for SV. viewed reversal of US policy as having disastrous effect on relationship with SV and the rest of their asian allies

- 1961 general Maxwell Taylor was sent to see whether sending more US troops would improve the situation. His report suggested increasing US presence to 8000 ground troops

-The 'doves' such as US ambassador to India wanted a phased withdrawal from Vietnam using a strategy similar to that used  in Laos

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-Kennedy wished to achieve something similar to setting up a coalition of communist and non-communist forces

- But the VC would have to be defeated first, so he never seriously considered this policy

-The domino theory was shifting to the 'doctrine of credibility'- which prioritised limiting the effect of newly created communist states on America's reputation, rather than trying to contain the loss of territory

-Vietnam became a testing ground for new strategies to prove USA was strong, willing to use power in world affairs to counter communist threat rather than appease it

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Testing ground for new strategies

-Kennedy administration spent $500 million aid SV

- New US strategy counter insurgency-combat against infiltration by enemies

-Two elements: increase in military advisors 800-3000 by Dec 1961 to 10,000 in 1962 and 16,000 by 1963

-Advisors included the 'Green Berets', who were an elite group of army special forces who were trained in guerrilla warfare- new plan was to face VC on their own terms 

-Were helped by Civilian Irregular Defence groups, recruited from mountain tribes, who carried out search actions 

-Another element of the policy was the Strategic Hamlets Program, started in 1962. Villages surrounded by barbed wire and protected against insurgency and infiltration. within the year 3000 villages. The peasants were meant to be given weapons and training in self defence. In the end there would be a frontier against insurgency created by these hamlets

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-However they were not effective as the Diem regime established them in areas where it could gain more political support, rather than where they could hold off the communist threat 

-Three main reasons that the hamlets failed:

  • Diems regime relocated unnecessary numbers of peasants rather than just reconstructing villages. This often clashed with buddhist population as it took them away from their ancestors graves (ancestoral worship was a key element to their religion)
  • Peasants were meant to be 'reimbursed' for their relocation and for helping refortify their villages, much of this money fell into the hands of officials instead
  • Some of the villages were set up alone in isolated areas, making them easy targets for VC infiltration. The ARVN were slow to respond to VC attacks especially at night. Although the villagers were given weapons  and training they were only expected to hold out until reinforcements arrived. It became clear that these forces could not be relied on, so often 
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villagers were not willing to fight of even small groups of VC

-Congress agreed to continue giving aid to prop up Diem's regime, as they were convinced it would fail otherwise

-Sent economic aid, aircraft, ARVN training advisers and intelligence equipment

- Falsely portrayed Diem as the 'strong man' of Vietnam 

-Diem became over confident as a result 

-The inefficiency and corruption of his regime allowed a rise in insurgency 

-Brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, head of secret police unpopular and arrogant, so was insensitive wife Madame Nhu

-Military advisors found that Diem and Nhu were reluctant to become involved in military action, so aided deployment ARVN forces using helicopters to leapfrog and surround NLF positions 

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'Agent Orange' and napalm

-US advisors suggested using herbicides to clear the jungle in areas vulnerable to insurgency

-Idea cut off VC from access food and cover 

-'Agent orange' (code name for herbicide and defoliant used), and napalm (jellied gasoline that burns deeply into skin) had some effect

-However innocent villagers often ones to suffer 

-Impossible to identify insurgents/locate them in dense forests and swampy paddy fields 

-Even when they were located and cleared, as soon as US forces airlifted back to bases, insurgents returned

-Strategic hamlet programs alienated rural peasants, refused to pay land taxes and often chose to back NLF 

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-Hanoi (capital NV) wished to prevent US military intervention by emphasising their intent to unite the country, hoped Diem's regime would collapse on its own

-Neither China or USSR wanted conflict to escalate

- Diem didn't trust those of his generals that might be good enough to gain a reputation, so he did not promote on ability, his forces became known for their inefficiency 

-E.G General Cao, who was promoted because he was a loyal catholic follower of Diem. 2nd Jan 1963, at battle of Ap Bac, ordered 2000 ARVN troops not to advance/ attack 350 lightly armed VC. refused to recover US helicopter pilots wh had been shot down

- Small group of communists declared the resullting battle a truning point, as it was  their first victory against a much larger and better-equipped SV force. ARVN claimed it had won, but US media took very negative view

-NLF followed up victory by making considerable gains, destroying 2600/3700  

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strategic hamlets 

-By summer 1963 planning major offensive

-Now seemed impossible to hold SV militarily using only Diems forces

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Religious unrest and nationalism in South Vietnam

-Diem fanatically catholic, yet 80% SV buddhist

-US funded return of catholics living in the north to the south to increase support for Diem, further alieneated the sects and narrowed diems support base 

-Buddhists seen by some in US as key to creating a Vietnamese nation state, but Diems fanatical beliefs made him the wrong man to gain their support

-May 1963, Diems troops fired into crowd of buddhists celebrating Buddha's birthday and waving flags, all banners other than government ones were banned 

-Full scale buddhist revolt broke out at Hue, gov troops killed several thousand protestors 

-One buddhist monk burnt himself to death in protest, Madame Nhu told the press 'Let them burn and we shall clap our hands', called them 'buddhist barbecues', and offered gasoline and matches to those who wished to do the same

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-Group generals in ARVN asked Diem for extra powers to fight VC because they were plotting to overthrow Diem's regime, Diem agreed

-21st August, after martial law declared (law temporarily imposed on an area by a state or national military force when civil authority has broken down or during wartime operations), midnight raids made on buddhist temples across SV

-Temples vandalised, hundreds of buddhists killed and more than 1000 monks and nuns arrested 

-Nhu had taken advantage of martial law to attack buddhist temples while disguised as regular ARVN forces. His special forces and secret police were responsible for raids

-US officials increasingly angry at oppressive regime, Diem also called for reduction by half in number of US advisors in SV 

-Kennedy administration very worried about reports that Diem was seeking settlement with Hanoi. Nhu admitted to negotiating with representatives of the 

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North for national Vietnamese independence

- French leader Gaulle told Kennedy that he supported a reunified Vietnam, free of outside interference

-Soviet and British sceptical that US could solve problems but thought they would wait and see

-Deepening split between USSR and China in 1963, made soviet officials fear that escalation of conflict would increase America/China's domination in that area. Worried that if USSR tried to peacfully co-exist with the west, China would claim leadership of the global communist movement

-As Diem's regime crumbled, representatives from China offered Hanoi support to the northern regime. Unlike US China did not rule out a negotiated settlement with SV

-US were unwilling for diplomacy to take place until insurgency had been defeated, as wanted to be able to dictate terms of the agreement. Feared that

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an agreement would favour NV, against 'doctrine of credibilty'

- Although Kennedy could have claimed Diem and Nhu had broken conditions of their economic aid as they did not carry out reforms required and refused to compromise with the buddhists, did not do so

-17th July 1963 stated that US would not withdraw from SV, contradicts those that suggest that Kennedy would have withdrawn from SV if he had not been assassinated 

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Henry Cabot Lodge and the coup of the generals (15

-Nhu’s brutality undermined US policy 

-Severe crisis throughout rural and urban areas SV during summer 1963

-Hear that generals planning military coup, US gov knew about it

-Jan 1963 state department report proposed giving authority to single, strong executive man-military background who understood war essentially about struggle to build nation out of chaos of revolution

-Henry Cabot Lodge- Republican, knew a (very) little more about Vietnam than previous ambassador

-CIA agent General Tran Van Don communicated to Lodge that Nhu framed ARVN for Buddhist raids to increase dissent in lower ranks to weaken support for Generals plans for a coup

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-Told Washington while Kennedy and McNamara on vacation

-Dean Rusk (secretary of state) sent telegram giving informal approval to the coup, Lodge agreed in telegram

-State department authorised by Kennedy on his return, replied to Lodge’s telegram agreeing that Diem should be persuaded to remove Nhu, if refused then Diem would have to be removed

-Coup took place 3 months later, critics of Kennedy think should have withdrawn at this time

-Kennedy revived coup plan, 1st November 1963, ARVN generals carried out coup and murdered Diem and the Nhu's the following morning , plotterns knew that Lodge aware and did nothing to stop them

-Kennedy admitted US complicit 6 November

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-Kennedy’s defenders argue that may have felt a change of regime would speed up reforms needed to build ‘model nation state’ and attract support from VC, so US could withdraw with reputation intact in a year

General Minh tried to form government after Diem’s death, followed soon after by General Khahn, set off succession coups

-Therefore unlikely new regime would stabilize situation in South Vietnam on its own

-Kennedy’s legacy major instability, so very difficult situation for Johnson

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Johnson and Vietnam (23/4/12)

-Kept McNamara and Rusk as Secreatry defence

-More interested in solving domestic welfare problems, had to limit 'great society' programme to pay for US commitment Vietnam

-Automatically president after death Kennedy 

-Stated would continue Kennedy's policy 

-'Doves' continued to warn would only win war by gaining support Vietnamese and creating united, neutralised state 

-Johnson and advisors disagreed felt if Diem implemented political and social reforms would be unnecesary

-new government SV military based and right wing, so unlikely to intoduce democracy and change 

-Johnson stopped any debate, like Kennedy, and demanded complete support of his policy

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Gulf of Tonkin incident

-By summer 1964, only 200 americans died Vietnam, Johsin increased us presence by 2500

-ARVN had command 215,000 troops and nearly 1/4 million support troops, still inefectvive, strength VC estimated under 25, 000 with possible 70,000 volunteers 

-increase VC air attacks so Khanh asked for more military help to expand war, request refused

-Washington knew there would be escalation of war but did not feel the time was right 

-Khanh was increasingly desperate as he felt the Vietnamese were tired of war and felt the cause was hopeless

-While Johnson knew that he could not escallate the war without congress's approval and funding

-Perfect opportunity presented itself in August 1964

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Gulf of Tonkin

-recently SV had been attacking DRV territory to stop Hanoi from supporting insurgent, US destroyers were sent on missions to support raids on NV coast

-2nd August US destroyer Maddox came under attack from NV patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin- none of the three torpedos hit mark, Johson warned Hanoi that there would be consequences if another attack followed

-two nights later second destroyer reported it had been attacked, had returned fire but hit tnothing

-other boats unaware of any incidentof NV patrol boats in that area, commander of maddox urged that US should not retaliate before an investigation had taken place 

-Quite certain that report of the attack was unfounded

-7th August congress gave Johnson authority to take any steps necessary to stop NV agression and defend US forces

-Johson ordered attacks on NV naval bases under US SEATO obligations

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