We Were Soldiers - WHAT KIND OF WAR?

In September of 1945, Ho Chi Minh (who would lead North Vietnam as its President) poses with his close aid, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap (who would lead North Vietnam in its military defeat of both French—and later combined American / South Vietnamese—forces). These men were dedicated to their cause and did not want foreign interference in the running their country’s affairs. In this photo, online via Wikimedia Commons, Ho and Giap are standing outside the Bac Bo (Tonkin) Palace.


When American military personnel arrived in Vietnam during September of 1965, they could not have known about earlier Johnson Administration debates:

  • What was the dilemma? How the war (if any) should be fought.
  • What was the nature of the discussions? Let’s take a look.

People like McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara (who knew little about Vietnamese history and the North and South conflict), recommended action that had drastic consequences. Their legitimate concern was “containing” Communism, but their knowledge base was incomplete. They even failed to learn from the French experience in Vietnam, which ended disastrously in 1954.

The Administration’s well-founded fear was that China and the Soviet Union would support the North if America did too much to support the South. But if one makes a decision to "do something," the plan must be "to win" and the effort must be "all-out." Such, unfortunately for America’s dead and wounded, was not the case in Vietnam.

In Vietnam: A History, Stanley Karnow paints the political scene in early 1965:

He [President Johnson] and his aides, poised to escalate the war, awaited the pretext to strike. It was, McGeorge Bundy said, like waiting for a "streetcar." (Page 411)

The "pretext to strike" occurred with the Camp Holloway attack. Bundy was in South Vietnam when that happened. Aleksei Kosygin (the new Soviet prime minister) was coincidentally in Hanoi. Karnow, quoting from a Bundy memo to the President, continues (at page 411):

In pressing the president to make a decision, Taylor [General Maxwell Taylor, then Ambassador to South Vietnam] had recommended that Mac Bundy visit Vietnam to appraise the situation. Bundy had never been there and was "physically detached from the local scene," and he might assure Johnson that "we are missing no real bets in the political field." So Bundy scheduled a trip for the beginning of February, 1965. But he was scarcely going with an open mind.

To put the situation in further context, these U.S. presidential advisors would have benefitted from at least understanding the dedication of their presumed adversaries Ho and Giap. Those two Vietnamese men knew what they were about—and—they were prepared to fight the kind of war that would keep their country free of foreign interference.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jun 19, 2019

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"WHAT KIND OF WAR?" AwesomeStories.com. Feb 01, 2002. Jan 18, 2020.
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