The Domino Theory and the Vietnam War
This investigation will explore the question: To what extent was the Domino Theory validated by the progress and outcomes of the Vietnam War? The years 1940 to 1980 will be the focus of this investigation,
Vietnam War started after World War 2 and ended in 1975. More than 1 million Vietnamese soldiers and over 50,000 Americans were killed in the war. China became a communist country in 1949 and wanted to spread communism throughout Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh ( nationalist leader)who is strongly devoted to communism, was the founder of the Viet Minh and was dedicated to seek independence for his country. The Viet Minh was highly influential in the northern regions of Vietnam. Ngo Dinh Diem ( anti-communist) rejected the ideas from the Geneva Accords that attempted to unify Vietnam, this caused an uproar in the communist societies within Vietnam. Dinh Diem was supported by the United States to stop the spread of communism. Therefore asking: To what extent was the Domino Theory validated by the progress and outcomes of the Vietnam War?
Robert J. Mcmahon, Changing interpretations of the Vietnam War, originally published in 1999, is the first resource to be evaluated in-depth for this investigation. This source is valuable because Robert J. Mcmahon is a professor of history at Ohio State University, specializing in U.S foreign relations, Cold War, and Vietnam War. He has long taught courses on these subjects indicating the he is knowledgeable on this topic. The date of the publication of this source strengths the idea that Mcmahon has been able to analyze a range of sources, such as statistics and government documents of the Americans involvement in the Vietnam War. However, the origin of the source is limited because it lacks documents of the communist in the north and anti- communist in the south.
The purpose of Mcmahon’s book was to focus on the ongoing struggle within American culture over the significance of the Vietnam war.
May 23, 2018
Communist forces in the north was lead by the nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh, and Ngo Dinh Diem was an anti- communist that controlled the south. Ho Chi Minh was supplied with artillery and ammunitions through the Soviet chinese communist bloc. The United States was involved in the Vietnam War because their main aim was to create a viable state in South Vietnam which could prevent the advance of communism.
Eisenhower stated that ” You have a row of dominoes set up, you knocked down the first row, and what will happen to the last one, it will certainly fall over very quickly” ( The Day in History, April 07 1954). This meant that the Domino Theory poised that if one country in a region fall under the influence of communism, then the surroundings countries will also be involved. The Soviet Union gained power by forcefully taking land, and turning countries into communism. Diem refused to go along with the planned elections in 1956 to unite the nations, so the vietminh members in the South created the Viet-Cong and war between North and South for control of the country began.
The U.S got involved in the Vietnam War conflict because General Eisenhower wanted to stop the spread of communism. However, historian Stanley Karnow argued that it was wrong for the United States to interfered with South Vietnam because it wasn’t are fight. It was a civil war between the North and South Vietnam, the issue should’ve been solved between the vietnamese people. Karnow stated in his book Vietnam: A History that “The United States was wrong to fight the war, the story goes, for American policymakers mistook Ho Chi Minh for a member of an international Communist conspiracy when in reality he was merely a proud nationalist who disdained his Chinese Communist neighbors. American leaders were completely ignorant of South Vietnam and mindlessly optimistic about progress in the war”. This meant that America failed to coordinate specific battlefields tactics to secure victory. It also was particularly offensive that people who didn’t even believe that the war was a just or necessary war were nonetheless being forced to fight and die against their will. 18 years old boys were being drafted when they didn’t yet even have the right to vote, this seemed to be a terrible violation of the civil rights of the conscripted soldiers.
Although Karnow argued that it was wrong for the Americas to be involved, Ralph Smith argued that ” Vietnamese Communism posed a serious threat to the United States and hence the United States was right in trying to hold the line in South Vietnam.”( Vietnam: Historians at War, 2008) The U.S had to fight in the Vietnam War because they had to stop communism from spreading throughout other countries. They believed that they had to step up before things gets worse.
Was the vietnam justifiable; Yes the Domino Theory suggested that one nation becoming communist makes it more likely that others will too. Without American involvement the south would quickly have fallen to the north and the nation. Nixon believed that the most critical U.S mistakes was its failure to grasp that the war from the beginning was an invasion by North Vietnam.
On the other hand, this website The Decades- Old Debate Behind Bernie Sander’s Domino Theory Line tell us that Bernie believed that it wasn’t justifiable because interference in another nation sovereign affairs was a violation on international law. It is only legitimate to attack another nation if they attack you, or possibly if you genuinely think they are about to. The violations of the law undermined the western bloc claim to moral superiority, as the US killed thousands of civilians and bombed Cambodia. Furthermore, history shows the Domino Theory to have been wrong, since the only nation Vietnam unification was Cambodia which already fell into communism.
The Domino Theory was validated to a very limited extent after the war. When the U.S pulled out of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fell into communism. Thailand, Malaysia and other Southeast Asia nations didn’t fall into communism because communism didn’t spread much further. Therefore the entire region didn’t fall only the countries in the immediate vicinity of South Vietnam.
This investigation allowed me to looked at things in a different perspective, and also allowed me to gain insight into the challenges historians faced and the methods they used. When analyzing evidence from primary and secondary sources regarding to my research question, I became aware of the challenges historians face with the validity of their judgment and the limitations that some questions are more reliant on which source are more valuable. One challenge faced is language, because it can lead to misinterpretations. Orthodox historian address that revisionists interpret the war based on ” uncritical acceptance,” rather than analyzing the fact, whereas orthodox historians rely on exclusively on ” reasoned analysis.” Orthodox scholars maintained that revisionists’ primary ambition was not to find the truth but to twist the facts of Vietnam War to justify contemporary wars. Each side believed that their historiography is correct; orthodox argued that the war was not winnable from the outset of America’s misunderstanding of the conflict, while revisionist argued that United States threw away victory in Vietnam, focusing on Vietnamization. Historians must understand that history is open to interpretations, because each side can benefit from different viewpoints. The revisionist and orthodox view of the domino theory in Vietnam helped me to understand the comparative nature of historians work.
After researching my topic about the Domino Theory in Vietnam War, I found that there were more secondary sources instead of primary sources.This was a challenge for historians because in the immediate postwar period, historians didn’t have access to communist sources. This negatively affected historians because no historiography would be completed without the view of each side. It was also hard for me, as a researcher, to investigate in this topic because most of the source were written 10 years after the war.
- New American Nation, september 07, 2018. http://www.americanforeignrelations.com/A-D/The-Domino-Theory.html
- Nixon’s Retrospective on the Vietnam War, April 28, 2015.
- The Letter Involvement in Vietnam, No date published
- Pike John, no date published
- Mcmahon Robert J, Changing Interpretations of the Vietnam War, oxford companion to Military History, 1999
- Rothman Lily, Democratic Debate: Bernie Sanders Hits Henry, February 12, 2016
- Moyar, Mark. Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, Cambridge University Press. 2006
- Sorley, Lewis, A Better War: The Unexamied Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam. Harcourt, 1999
- Prados, John . The Hidden History of Vietnam War:
- Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975 , 43:33 – 1:06:50