U.S. Foreign Policy in Vietnam

U.S. Foreign

Policy in Vietnam

In the history of the United States, our
foreign policy has caused many disputes over the proper role in international
affairs. Because of the unique beliefs and ideals by which we live
in this country, we feel obligated to act as leaders of the world and help
other countries in need. Therefore, the U.S. has attempted to somehow
combine this attitude with economic and strategic gain. After World

War II, the Cold War was initiated, and Americaís fear of communism led

Truman to begin the endeavors of the "containment" of communism.

As a result, the U.S. became involved with Korea and then Vietnam.

The U.S. was determined not to let South Vietnam fall to the communists
because President Eisenhower once stated that the fall of Vietnam would
have a "domino" effect. Unfortunately, not everyone viewed Vietnam
the same way as Eisenhower. Opponents of the war believed that the

U.S. had no right to intervene in this civil war, while supporters maintain
the attitude of moral obligation for the world by defending freedom and
democracy from communism. Three historians in Conflict and Consensus
carefully examine our foreign policy and involvement in the Vietnam War.

Each article emphasizes different points and explains how one of the most
powerful countries in the world lost the war.

In the first article, "Godís Country and

American Know-How," Loren Baritz argues that the American myth of superiority
based on nationalism, technology, and moral ideals brought the U.S. into
the war. The Americans never understood the Vietnamese culture and
their true sentiments on the war. Nevertheless, because of our power
and moral prowess, the U.S. was confident that we would prevail.

This was our biggest mistake; we were blind and "ignorant"(473).

Baritz states that "we were frustrated by the incomprehensible behavior
of our Vietnamese enemies and bewildered by the inexplicable behavior of
our Vietnamese friends"(470). Because of our isolation on the North

American Continent, the U.S. had a difficult time understanding the exotic
cultures around the world, especially Vietnam. Thus, as a direct
result, Americans considered foreign courtesies and rituals crude and inferior
to the customs of the civilized country of America. This point is
quite sad and embarassing, but Baritz points out that "cultural isolation"(476)
occurs all over the world. It is the Solipsistic philosophy that
the universe revolves around the earth, just as all the nations of the
world revolve around the U.S. According to John Winthrop, we are
the "Chosen People"(473) because of Godís favor and presence. So
are we obligated to set the standards of culture for the world? Because
of our prominence and success as a prosperous nation, we stand forth as
leaders; however, no country can define the culture of another nation.

The U.S. failed to understand that "everyone prefers their own language,
diet and funeral customs"(475). Upon first impression, the American
soldiers viewed the Vietnamese people as savages because "they lived like
animals"(470). Thus, the soldiers failed to appreciate "the organic
nature of Vietnamese society, the significance of village life, the meaning
of ancestors, the relationship of the family to the state, the subordinate
role of the individual, and the eternal quest for universal agreement"(470).

Just because the Vietnamese were poor, we presumed that they were begging
for our help; we were "attempting to build a nation in our own image"(471).

Furthermore, it is not the "ingratitude or stupidity"(470) which sparked
the Vietnamese resistance against U.S. soldiers but rather a cultural misunderstanding.

Baritz believes that this ignorance of
culture is one of the primary reasons why we lost the war. Dr. Henry

Kissinger even admitted that "no one in this government understands North

Vietnam"(471). We even thought we understood the Vietnamese to some
extent by thinking that "life is cheap in the Orient"(471). However,
this ridiculous comment rose from our "ability to use technology to protect
our own troops while the North Vietnamese were forced to rely on people,
their only resource"(471). This meant that the Vietnamese were willing
to sacrifice as many men as possible to win the war. Our ignorance
prevented us from overcoming this kind of warfare.

As for the cultural misunderstanding of
our allies, the South Vietnamese, Baritz points out one custom which the

American soldiers could not tolerate: soldiers holding hands. Vietnamese
soldiers held hands with other accompanying soldiers. This was a
show of friendship for the Vietnamese, but for Americans, holding hands
was a sign of homosexuality. American soldiers measured up to "the
militaryís definition of manhood"(472) by compeletely condemning homosexuality.

This simple custom caused many problems between the U.S. soldiers and the

South Vietnamese.

Baritz now provides the other argument
for entering the Vietnam War: The Cold War. In