Growing concern about the morality of war prompted political scientists and international relations experts to examine and describe the justice of conflicts. Vietnam War is among the case studies used by scholars to understand the ethics of interventions. In 1955, the U.S was compelled to invade Vietnam, leading to a two-decade military intercession that has been the cause of controversy and questioning. Approximately half a century after the U.S lost and withdrew its troops from Vietnam, several questions about the justification of America’s decision still linger. While America offered numerous reasons for its resolution to intervene, most individuals blame the nation for engaging in an unjust war.
According to America, the main reason was to contain communist communism by preventing China and the Soviet Union from controlling Vietnam. Another central point presented to support the intervention is the American intention to uphold its credibility of commitment and safeguard the integrity of SEATO. Based on the principles of just war, motives of the U.S, and reactions from different quarters around the globe, America was not justified to intervene in the Vietnam War.
There has been a growing concern about the morality of interventions within the past few decades. Political scientists and international relations experts attempt to examine and describe the justice of war in a bid to ensure peace and tranquility across the globe. Various individuals hold different views regarding conflicts in general (Martignago, 2018). For instance, the pacifists argue that war is forcefully and plausibly an intrinsic evil, utterly prohibited. Critics, on the other hand, believe an organized use of force is permissible. With such varying opinions regarding conflicts in the global arena, determining whether an intervention is justifiable or not is quite challenging.
Among the most controversial wars is the Vietnam War, especially the joining of the U.S (Fox, 2019). Some maintain that America had no moral right to interfere with Vietnamese internal affairs. Opponents of such an idea argue that America being a world superpower, had all the reasons to ensure peace even in the distant and most remote areas in the world. The lack of a clear understanding of America’s moral role in the war continues to become a contentious scholarly topic.
Given that the history of humankind is plagued with war, judging the conflicts using one criterion would not be plausible. There is a dire need to examine in detail the causes and effects of the war and the motives of the intervening states. In political science and international relations, the just theory of war is the most consulted principle while assessing the moral ground (Klein, 2020). However, scholars come to a conclusion after relating the ideals surrounding the conflict with other forces that might have compelled the external state to enter the war. The antagonism between the North and South Vietnam raised concern in global politics as different actors had interests in various parts of Indochina.
France had been a dominant force in the region, but China, in collaboration with fellow Communists such as the Soviet Union, was quickly taking over the region (Falk, 2016). The escalating situation compelled America to intervene by helping its long-time ally, France, to reinforce its grip on the territory.
Due to the French’s dwindling power even after getting reinforcement, the U.S was compelled to take over the situation reluctantly, leading to a two-decade military intervention in Vietnam that has been the cause of controversy and questioning. Approximately half a century after the U.S lost and withdrew its troops from Vietnam, several questions about the justification of America’s intervention still linger. Based on the principles of just war, motives of the U.S, and reactions from different quarters around the globe, America was not justified to intervene in Vietnam’s affairs.
Understanding the Fine and Crucial Details of the Vietnam War
In the late 1940s, the U.S adopted the containment policy meant to prevent communism from spreading across the globe. At the time, the Soviet Union was quickly influencing neighboring nations in Eastern Europe to join the communist world. America realized the relentless ambition of the Soviet Union to control the entire world through socialist ideas. Sensing the threat, America sought to develop a reaction strategy to stop the communists.
President Harry Truman and his advisors proposed the containment policy that became the only viable option (Falk, 2016). Since most of Eastern Europe was not salvageable as it had fallen under communist control, Indochina was the second region of concern to the U.S. Communist China had successfully taken over the leadership from frail Nationalist China and was aggressively launching strategies to announce communist control of the entire territory. Taking over Korea and Vietnam became the major objectives of the communist nations (Ewing, 2017). Nevertheless, a section of people in the two targeted countries, South Korea and South Vietnam, disliked communism.
France had colonized Vietnam for a significant time, but its powers gradually depreciated after years of fighting against the relentless Vietnamese nationalists and revolutionary groups. The communists realized a weak point to control Vietnam in one of the rebels, the Revolutionary League for the Independence of Vietnam, or the Viet Minh (Cramer & Bartels, 2019). China offered to train their troops and supply them with weapons and other requirements to continue fighting against the French and their allies, including the South Vietnam government. Realizing that the French were overwhelmed by the communists, the top U.S. officials advised President Truman to intervene in the conflict lest communism spread across entire South Asia.
In 1955, America sent its troops to Vietnam, marking the long, contentious, and divisive military intervention in American history (Martignago, 2018). By choosing to enter the Vietnam Conflict, the U.S. became a victim of its foreign policy of containment. American government experienced increasing pressure from different individuals such as students, scholars, veterans, and the public to get out of Vietnam, and by 1975, President Johnson decided to honor the outcry.
By the time the U.S. withdrew its troops from Vietnam, it had suffered enormous losses. First, America’s expenditure on defense had risen to unimaginable heights. A significant portion of the taxpayers’ money was channeled to support war efforts. Such an idea infuriated the Americans who believed the conflict had nothing to do with their country. Second, many families had lost their loved ones who had been deployed to Vietnam. Several others were left with permanent disabilities. Third, the public got news of the reckless killing of innocent civilians by the U.S. troops, for example, the My Lai Massacre of 1968 (Fox, 2019).
Therefore, the anti-war protests forced the government to end the war and seek peace with the Vietnamese. Despite bringing back American troops, the debate about the legitimacy of the war persisted not only among Americans but in the international arena. To get sufficient insights to assess the justness of American intervention in the Vietnam War, it is crucial to examine the U.S motives (Gawthorpe, 2020). In addition, it is vital to understand the factors necessary for just war, anti-war protest, and the resultant political issues surrounding the conflict.
Motives of the U.S Joining the Vietnam War
Numerous conflicting viewpoints regarding the U.S. intentions for intervening in the war are widespread. The most cited reason is the containment of communism. After the Second World War, America and the Soviet Union emerged as the global superpowers. Although both nations had fought on the side of the Allied Powers, rivalry quickly ensued, with each attempting to spread their ideologies across the world (Gawthorpe, 2020).
The Soviet Union appeared more aggressive in convincing other nations to adopt communism. America was reluctant and only focused on enhancing sovereignty and democracy across the world. Once the Soviet Union embarked on the profound influence of countries on Eastern Europe and Southern Asia, the U.S. realized communism would be a threat to the world. According to the anti-communists, the philosophy did not allow democracy and intended to install authoritarian regimes in the world (Fox, 2019). Hence, the U.S. believed there was a need to utilize every available strategy to contain the spread of communism, including military intervention. As a result, American troops were rapidly deployed to needy territories such as Korea and Vietnam.
Other than containing China, the U.S. intervened in Vietnam as a sign of upholding the integrity of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). During the 1950s, the U.S. had gained several allies in South East Asia who were willing to collaborate in fighting communist insurgency (Falk, 2016). With the threat increasing, America and its close ties decided to form an organization to show the commitment of each member to the course. A meeting was convened in Manila, Philippines, in 1954, where the host nation, Australia, the U.S., Thailand, New Zealand, Great Britain, and France, pledge allegiance to the mission.
The SEATO came into being with the U.S. acting as the leader. Most of the nations that formed the organization joined in part due to the concern over communism rising to threaten their own country and the strong relationship with America (Falk, 2016). Hence, when Vietnam fell under communist attack, America had to show its leadership by remaining true to the SEATO, whose main intention was to prevent communism in South Asia.
While America seemed to have had valid reasons for getting involved in the Vietnam conflict, different actors perceived the nation variedly. For instance, most of the allies viewed the U.S. as an isolationist and anti-imperialistic state. America was able to maintain neutrality during the great wars, an idea that convinces many that it was indeed an isolationist. Similarly, during the scramble and partition of the developing nations in Africa and Asia amongst European powers, America did not participate.
Thus, it confirmed that surely, it is a country with good people and faith. Though America defended the democracy of innocent nations from communist aggression, the main motive was far beyond aid. According to Gawthorpe (2020), the intervention was morally wrong since America thwarted the efforts of Vietnamese nationalists trying to liberate their nation from French control. Instead of America helping the patriots defeat the colonizer, it chose to reinforce the aggressor (Martignago, 2018). Therefore, despite the numerous principles and philosophies explaining how the U.S. intervention was well-meaning, the reality showed otherwise.
Factors Necessary for Just War
Deeper insights into the justification of American intervention during the Vietnam War can come from assessing the conflict through the lens of just war theory. Since its inception by Thomas Aquinas, Philosophers and historians have shaped the principles of just war over centuries (Klein, 2020). Nonetheless, the theory is still relevant in analyzing the morality of a conflict. Abstract standards of just war include two main parts.
These sections are the reasons for a nation to fight and the methods an actor utilizes during the war. According to Patterson (2018), the judgment in reference to the rationale for war is termed as jus ad Bellum or a justice of war, while the strategies employed are referred to as jus in Bello or justice in war. The two principles are independent and do not influence each other. In some situations, a just war can be fought using unwarranted methods and vice versa. Therefore, the justness of the Vietnam War can be understood based on the justice of war and the justice in war.
Concerning the principle of jus ad Bellum, the most important elements that can inform the morality of the Vietnam War include the just cause and reasonable hope for victory. But focusing on the mentioned factors, one can easily tell whether American intervention was morally right or wrong. For a nation to wage war on another state, there must be a just cause as stipulated by the just war theory. A just cause is confirmed by the right body with the appropriate intention (Patterson, 2018). Usually, international bodies such as the United Nations give permission for a state to intervene when another actor is faced with aggression.
However, the war can only be just if the reasons are to stop a threat and not for political or religious benefits. In addition, the jus ad Bellum principle insists on the intervening nation to first analyze and confirm reasonable hope of winning before engaging in war (Klein, 2020). Even during the war, the U.S. employed unfair tactics against the principle of justice of war.
The U.S. intervention in the Vietnam war contradicts almost every element of the just war theory. First, international bodies allege aggression as the predisposing factor to joining a conflict, which was not the case in Vietnam. The Vietnamese were outraged against the colonizers, and the Communists offered them some help. Additionally, America was not sure whether it would win the war. In reality, it appeared that the U.S. lost the war since it was forced to withdraw its troops after suffering enormous losses and casualties. However, O’Driscoll (2019) argues against victory in war, claiming it is taboo.
Most scholars and experts are reluctant and skeptical to talk about winning in just wars since the main objective is not winning but restoring normalcy and peace. Given the factual basis, context, and conditions of the American cause, the intervention was unjust. Notably, the intention was self-interest, as America wanted to contain communism to allow its ideals and principles to flourish and spread without interference across the globe (Ewing, 2017). Americans had no concern about the Vietnamese, who wanted independence and freedom from decades of French colonialism.
The Anti-War Protests in America
Apart from failing to meet the principles of just war, the rampant anti-war protests experienced in America and other parts of the world confirm the intervention was unjust. Fox (2019) claims that at the height of the fighting, most Americans became concerned about the legitimacy of the war. The war critics represented Americans of different races, religions, and political affiliations. Before 1968, the American public did not agitate so much on ending the war. After the Tet Offensive in 1968, Fox (2019) asserts that a massive public outrage was experienced. Americans were tired of the war, which the government had promised to be short and not expensive.
Specifically, President Johnson had urged the Americans to support the cause. With the end of the war seemingly elusive, Americans lost patience and started forcing the government to withdraw troops from Vietnam. Both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon surrendered to the growing public dissent by sending home troops in 1969. Although the politicians were caught between appeasing the citizens and pursuing victory as a military goal, the protests became severe.
Leading the anti-war protests were military personnel, especially those who had been to Vietnam. Most of them experienced the war conditions and did not want to see the war continue any longer. The rugged terrain was the major challenge for American soldiers who suffered regular ambush from the Viet Cong, who were familiar with the topography of their land. Being a bushy and swampy area, the Viet Cong took advantage of the situation to enhance their guerrilla tactics.
Veterans narrated the stories, and the public was angered after understanding the reality of the war. Some military personnel took the responsibility of airing their views to the relevant government bodies. John Kerry, a Vietnam Veteran, gave a statement before the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations regarding the unjustness of the war. Kerry registered his displeasure with the U.S. decision to join the war (Kerry, 1971). In the claim, Kerry asserted that the Vietnam issue was a civil war. The citizens were seeking freedom after years of colonial domination, and thus, America had no right to intervene.
Other than Vietnam veterans, students launched protests in various major cities across America. At the time, the media coverage of American senselessness and suffering promoted disenchantment. News reports in various magazines wrote about the uselessness of the war. For instance, one article in Washington Post read, “it is simple enough to speak of the futility of such enterprises like Hamburger Hill, where too many men are killed and wounded to no discernible purpose… Maj. Gen. Melvin Zais should leave the hill to the enemy, for whatever good it will do him” (Fox 22019, pp. 21).
The public was frustrated with the persistence of the American government to support a war that had no significance to the public. Furthermore, most soldiers were becoming hopeless due to a lack of motivation as the war goals were not clear. Such protests indicated the unjustness of the war even though the government despised the outcry until when it was too late.
The cry for America to end the Vietnam War extended beyond the country’s borders. Global leaders submitted their concerns to the U.S. government on the need to consider peace negotiations. An excellent example of a notable figure who registered his sentiments was Pope John Paul IV. In his letter to President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, the Pope advised Johnson to consider urgent peace to avert more misery and destruction the war was causing to the nation (Paul, 1965). Pope’s concerns are essential in understanding the views of global leaders regarding the conflict. Pope’s letter indicates that most distinguished individuals around the world did not support the war, and America was blamed entirely for intervening. With all the outcry, protests, and perturbation from different quarters, the Vietnam war was unjustified.
Political Issues Surrounding the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War had longstanding and far-reaching political implications. In America, the people had a varying understanding of the conflict. By critically analyzing the situation, an individual understands how political socialization impacted people’s opinions. According to Cramer and Bartels (2019), war experiences influenced the way individuals interpret a political issue. At the same time, the authors asserted that understanding diplomatic problems had a significant effect on people’s views on their circumstances. In the 1960s and 70s, Vietnam War was a highly divisive issue in domestic politics, and thousands of Americans served in the military at the time.
The conflict impacted individuals who lived through the war period in various ways. For the people, mental and physical anguish became a significant challenge. The restlessness forced scholars and students to protest at home, leading to some losing their lives and others sustaining injuries. Although the Civil Rights Movement was also a significant political subject at the time, Vietnam War influenced event the leaders of the organization, including Martin Luther King Jr (Cramer & Bartels, 2019). who questioned the legitimacy of the war in his speeches.
Public opinion shaped the news coverage during the 1960s. With increased protests and demonstrations urging the government to withdraw the forces from Vietnam, the media heightened their coverage of how the Americans felt about the war. Although the understanding differed based on where a person lived and their economic status, the majority perceived the war as inappropriate. People living in the South and those from poor backgrounds showed little concern for individuals residing in the North and from affluent families (Cramer & Bartels, 2019).
The same case applied to literacy levels, in which the learned individuals criticized the war while the semi-literate did not bother so much about it. Similarly, party affiliations impacted people’s perception of the war, with most Republicans claiming the war was just while many Democrats opposed the way. In the 1970s, the outcry and protests depreciated gradually, with only the Vietnam Veterans showing resilience in the quest to end the war (Cramer & Bartels, 2019). Thus, the presidential elections held between the 1960s and 70s were primarily shaped by the politics of the Vietnam War.
Additionally, the Vietnam War shaped the country’s politics and foreign policy. Kyianytsia (2019) claims Vietnam’s foreign policy and the relationship Vietnam developed with the two world superpowers were directly influenced by the conflict. Immediately after the war, Vietnam’s international relations and how nations interacted in the global arena changed dramatically. The fact that Vietnam was the center of focus for both the U.S. and China during the Cold War explain why the early encounters with the two nations still guide contemporary relationships. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. intervened to prevent China from influencing Vietnam’s internal affairs.
Kyianytsia (2019) criticizes America’s involvement during the war on the basis of interfering with liberal institutions and states. To date, the legacy of the Vietnam War still influences the nation’s foreign policy several years after Cold War. Although the relations between Vietnam and China as well as with America have improved dramatically, the Vietnamese are still haunted by the horrors of the war.
Overall, Vietnam War remains one of the most contentious and divisive political topics of the 20th century. While America offered numerous reasons for its decision to intervene in the war, most individuals blame the nation for engaging in an unjust war. According to America, the main reason for joining the war was to contain communism by preventing China and the Soviet Union from controlling Vietnam. Another central point presented to support the intervention is the American intention to uphold its credibility of commitment and safeguard the integrity of SEATO. However, based on the abstract standards of the just war, America was not justified in engaging in the conflict.
First, the war was unjust since America had no valid reasons or authority to interfere in domestic issues of a sovereign state. Secondly, America had no reasonable hope of victory to legitimize its decision to join the war. In addition, there were rampant anti-war protests in America, suggesting the intervention was not supported by the citizens. Global leaders such as Pope John Paul IV showed concern and disenchantment about America’s decision. Therefore, the American invasion of Vietnam was unjust.
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