The Presidents during the Vietnam War

By: Jill Morris



Eisenhower 1953-1961

          Eisenhower was the first president to go head first into the Vietnam conflicts. Eisenhower did not support the Geneva Accords signed by France and Vietnam in the summer of 1954. The Accord made the 17th parallel dividing the country of Vietnam to north and south section until two years when they would hold a free election for all of the country. Eisenhower and his secretary of state John Foster Dulles believed that the agreement gave the communist too much power in the north. Instead Eisenhower decided to create the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). This treaty’s purpose was to stop any more communist influence in Southeast Asia. Using the SEATO as a cover, Eisenhower started to help build a new nation in South Vietnam. In 1955 GVN was born, the government of the republic of Vietnam, the image 1leader being Ngo Dinh Diem, after a landslide election.

Soon after Diem claimed his country was under attack from communist. In 1957 the Vietnam War began. Diem imprisoned all those he viewed as being suspected communist and his people became outraged, administering protest and demonstrations.

          From 1956-1960, North Vietnam did all it could to put political pressure on Diem’s regime, gathering followers in the south to overthrow him. Since the false imprisonments it was not hard to rally rural areas in the south. This was how the National Liberation Front (NFL) was created. Washington

[Viet-Cong]Discredited the NFL in a series of “white papers”.


Kennedy 1961-1963

          By 1961 Kennedy was now in office and he had a new team to investigate the conditions in South Vietnam. This investigation was known as the “December 1961 White Papers”. The content in the white paper was basically a cry for more aid to Vietnam. Kennedy decided to send more advisors and machinery but would not send troops. In 1963 Kennedy put his support into a Portrait of Lyndon B. Johnsoncoup. Diem and his brother were killed. Three weeks later Kennedy was assassinated.


Lyndon B. Johnson 1963-1969

          This was the president in office when the Gulf of Tonkin attack occurred. Two U.S ships were attacked off the coast of Vietnam in neutral water. The first attack was legitimate but no one knows if the second actually occurred. Johnson decided to use this situation as a chance to cover up the resolution that gave Johnson more war powers. This was called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution was a series of air strikes against the North Vietnam territory. In 1965, the NFL attacked U.S. bases in South Vietnam and Johnson ordered a bombing mission called Operation Rolling Thunder. Johnson was the one who sent the first combat troops to Vietnam. Johnson’s hope was that the North Vietnam would get tired of the war and want peace talks. The draft was instituted and anti-war movements reached an extreme. Protests on campuses erupted everywhere, Kent State being one of them. 1968 the North Vietnam army led a series of attacks against major cities in South Vietnam known as the Tet Offensive, to force American to the bargaining table. Although South Vietnam and American forces pushed the North Vietnam army out of the cities, it was still a political loss to America and South Vietnam. Johnson left his office when time was up in disgrace. Making it known he will not accept the democratic renomination.


Richard Nixon 1969-1974

          Nixon claimed he had a secret plan to the war and won the election. He used a process called “Vietnamization”. This was a method of training the South Vietnam troops to fight and then slowly pulling American troops out of Vietnam. During Nixon’s years the war was brought into Cambodia and Lao to try to find pockets of communist along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Finally a peace talk emerged but South Vietnam would not settle. Leaving the North Vietnam to intensify its position this was retaliated by the “Christmas Bombing”. In January 1973 a peace treaty was signed ending the war for Americans but not for South Vietnam. North Vietnam took over the south after the American troops left putting an end to the Vietnam War.

Vietnam War - US troops during the war in Vietnam in 1966. Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the pullout of Americans from the Vietnam War.


My Problems with the Foreign policies in Vietnam.


       There is a connection between the foreign policies that started the war and what ended the war. Eisenhower did not want to see communism taking control. It took measures to make it so but ultimately plunged us into the Vietnam War. Why get involved? Some say that when running a country in a tyrannical fashion it will eventually destroy them. Is that enough to bet on? If I were to make a decision in Eisenhower’s time I would not have made the SEATO. What will be, will be. Although we were there to stop a communist government they eventually took over. It is easy to say all this in view of what the public knows today, but it is risking interfering with every communist government that tries to pop up. It should be left alone to deal with internally in those nations because eventually it will overthrow itself. Carry-over-effects are unstoppable when it comes to a retiring presidents foreign engages and the new president’s. Kennedy had a situation to deal with now. Sending an investigation team was an excellent idea. One problem I had with Kennedy was the support of the coup against Diem. Meddling is what I call it. In my opinion I do not think it is fit to run into a country stir up opposition and then stage a coup. I understand that our government works well for us and gives us freedoms that most do not have, but as my mother says “you can not fight with ignorant people”. All we can do as a standing-by country is to live by example. When things get out of hand and human rights are being violated then it comes time to act. When I mean human rights I mean awful acts such as genocides. Enlighten is all we can do as a superior country, using force is just degrading us. When Johnson went into office he was knee deep in war. In my opinion Johnson was a victim of circumstance. He came into office with this dirty mess splashed into his lap and he spent his whole time in office trying to wipe it off. I truly believe that he did all he could do to win the war. The one problem I had was that troops should never have hit the ground in Vietnam. I believe by the time Johnson got into office Vietnam was a lost cause. He should have set the South Vietnam army up so that they could least have a fighting chance and let the countries go at it. We can see now it didn’t really matter if America helped or not, the ending was still the same. The American public needed to blame a head figure for loss of men and the only one that sent troops formally, was Johnson. Nixon’s secret plan of “vietnamization” was in my opinion right on the mark and should have been done earlier.





Some Myths about the Vietnam War



Myth: Most Vietnam veterans were drafted

          This was proved false by false by Westmoreland. Two-Thirds of the soldiers that went to the army were volunteers. It has been said also that most of the draftees did not even leave the country. They were stationed in army camps around the U.S just in case. McCaffery found that seventy percent of soldiers that died in the war were volunteers also.


Myth: The war was fought largely by the poor and uneducated

            McCaffery found that soldiers from well-to-do areas had a higher risk of dieing because they were usually pilots or infantry officers. Also seventy-nine percent of the soldiers had a high school diploma or better. It was also found that Vietnam Veterans were the best educated forces that the United States ever sent into combat.


Deaths          Average Age      
      Total     58,148          23.11 years
      Enlisted  50,274          22.37 years
      Officers  6,598           28.43 years
      Warrants  1,276           24.73 years
      E1        525             20.34 years
      11B MOS   18,465          22.55 years
Myth: The fighting in Vietnam was not as intense as in World War II.

          The average infantryman in WWII saw forty days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw 240 days of combat in one year. Amputations and crippling injuries were 300% higher than any other war fought before that time.









Personal Interviews from Vietnam Veterans

The following Veterans prefer to remain anonymous. I let them talk as much as they wanted without asking too many questions. I preferred to let them talk because some question could be too evasive.


Position: E-5 Sergeant, Motor pull/ transportation


Veteran: “I guess I can start by telling you what I did in Vietnam. I was a transportation guy. I hauled missiles, guns and ammunition to camps. We usually transported at night because we did not want the N.Vietnam soldiers knowing how many men we had working.


Jill: Did you enlist or were you drafted.


Veteran: I enlisted. I was in the official army six months and they came knocking on my door. I probably would have been drafted if I didn’t already enlist. In my opinion most of the men I knew were drafted but then again I served in 68’ and 69’ so by that time they all were.


Jill: What was life like in Vietnam? What were the conditions you had to live through?


Veteran: Well we slept in barracks that were two stories high. No one slept in the top barracks because if you did you got shot. If you would walk up stairs you could see bullet holes everywhere. It was right at the level of the ground and was an easy target. We never knew who we were fighting against. The general stores and clerks were mostly run by Vietcong but we didn’t know that. At 6:00 the curfew for the towns went into affect and that is when the nice store clerks during the day turned into the Vietcong. The towns all smelled like rotten fish. That is all they ate that and rice.


Jill: Did you eat any dog?


Veteran: (pause to laugh) No fortunately we all had American food unless you were out on the field then we had sea rations. They consisted of little tin cans that had steak and eggs or any other dish mixed up in it. We all got used to the taste I guess. We also had USOs they were areas where American soldiers went to get their hair cut or took steam baths. They were all ran by Vietnam civilians. This made it tricky because there was no way for background checks so anyone could be an insider to the Vietcong and learn everything about you.


Jill: Do you care to talk about the fighting or anything related to that?


Veteran: Well I refused to carry a large gun because I was supposed to be neutral. I carried supplies not only for the American soldiers but for the South Vietnam citizens also. They made me wear a small pistol though. Some times late at time there would be an alert or alarm I guess, go off. This meant that everyone had to turn off their lights. The Vietcong were trying to sneak in under water and other ways. Everything was on massive alert then. It was the most amazing thing how we all used bamboo for everything over there. The Vietcong used them as air tubes under water. We used them for steak knifes believe it or not. They were so tough that we couldn’t cut them down with a chain saw. They only came down if we strapped C-4 around them and blow it up. The Vietcong would dig holes in the ground and stay there for days trying to find us and kill us. They were really good at digging holes. They would use the bamboo and sharpen them and put poison at the end of them. After the new leader of South Vietnam came in to office after Diem we started concentration camps. They were not bad. They were there to shield the rural area citizens from the Vietcong and also keep a close eye and watch we was the Vietcong and who wasn’t. We would pay attention who left for a long time. They would dig holes out of the place. One thing that the people were not supposed to now is, that we spent are time mostly in Laos because it was the only way we could stay alive. We would go out into the field for a couple weeks and return to Laos.


Jill: How were the weather conditions?


Veteran: Well the worst part was the monsoon weather. It would rain for 30 days straight. Are feet would get so wet and worn that you would get this inching sensation in your feet and two days later a layer of skin would peel off. This would happen repeatedly in those 30 days. When I came back from the war some people didn’t recognize me because I was so dark.


Jill: Now you do not have to answer this, are the rumors true about the treatment of the civilians there?


Veteran: Well for the most part they were treated very well. When we saw poor people we would give them money. If we saw children we would give them candy. They only ones we had to watch out for were the Mama Sons, they were the old ladies. They were mean. (Laughter) The only problem we ran into was some soldier on drugs and alcohol. Opium was a big thing over there. Some would take the drug to forget where they were at. This is when we ran into problems. The effects of taking that drug made soldiers not think about what they were doing. This is when the mistreatment happened. Some soldiers were not made out to be soldiers. They should not have been holding a gun in the first place. We did not have personality tests and screening like the military does now. Some say that is why they have them. They found out that not all men were fit to have a gun. The black market was a big thing in Vietnam. It was everywhere. There was corruption between the government and its people.


Jill: Do you have anything to say on Agent Orange?


Veteran: I am still feeling the affects of Agent Orange. My skin peels and my teeth and tonsils were affected. My daughter when she was born had a bad disease with her kidney that no one could figure out. It was found that because of my exposure to Agent Orange it went through me to her. The doctors found some cure in California that reversed the affects. That product can affect any part of your body causing numerous cancers.


Jill: You served during LBJ’s office term. What do you think about him and his leaving his office?


Veteran: Well some say he wasn’t doing his job. Others thought the soldiers needed more money over there. I think he did what he could do. I would say that the reason why we lost the war was because we could fight in the way we wanted to, also because we never got much aid when we needed it. The war was too political. House changes and vetoes during the war really hurt us.


Jill: Did you have trouble when you got back from the war?


Veteran: Well I was a little messed up. It caused my divorce. I wanted to be alone. I could not control my anger. Every time I got mad I had to leave and go away. I realized I needed counseling and that help a lot. The government paid for it all so I went as much as a need to cope with what I did and saw.


Jill: If you do not mind me asking about the kill count ratio and how that actually worked?


Veteran: Well the whole kill count thing was a lie. That hyped men up so much that they actually started to kill animals to get there kill count up. It wasn’t something that was actually true it was all the media and a way of handling the people back home to keep them on our side.



Interview with a Foot Soldier


Jill: What were the conditions like one the ground?


Veteran: We walked through millions of field of rice were we were knee deep in water. There was one time were I saw a hole and I thought it was a Vietcong hole so I poor gasoline down it and set it on fire and out walked a huge tarantula. Now that I saw where they lived I saw them everywhere. It made me not fear spiders like I used to. We would use the bamboo to lift us out of the creeks and most of the time when you did that a viper would wrap around your arm. We learned not to fear them even though they are the second most deadly snake. They have small teeth so they would only be able to break the skin in between you fingers. You had to be careful.


Jill: What was the main thing you searched for or did on the field?


Veteran: Well we would search and destroy hiding spots or looks outs we thought were used by the Vietcong. Massive trees equivalent to a sequoia tree we would blow down with C-4.


Jill: How long where you out in the field?


Veteran: Well most were there for six months. If you extended your leave on the field you got to go home five months early. I decided to put in for relocation as guard in Saigon. I got there in 69’.


Jill: Did you hear or know anyone that went through the Tet Offensive?


Veteran: I knew one soldiers that was pretty good friends with me. They were walking through a horse arena and the Vietcong dung wholes in the sand and covered themselves up and they never knew they were there. The ambushed the American soldiers and kill everyone but this one guy because he was wounded and laid down pretending he was dead.


Jill: Is there anything else you would like to say?


Veteran: Yes, when I was over in Vietnam the Kent State shootings happened. At that time my sister was going to the Mansfield extension to Kent University. She was going to head up there and sign up for classes for the main campus. My father stopped her from going telling her that something bad was going to happen, and it did. Back in Vietnam the soldiers were pretty mad about the protesters. They would yell and scream “kill those hippies”. I was just glad my sister never went up there.