The first real test of this post-Stalin/Truman era came in Cuba in 1963. The Cuban Missile Crisis - as it came to be known - can be split into different sections, starting before the 60s with the Cuban Revolution.
First, it is important to understand that Cuba was Communist. Lying just 90km from the US, Cuba had become Communist under Fidel Castro. Before him, General Fulgencio Batista ruled as a dictator. He was very unpopular but had close relations with the United States, who used Cuba as a playground for their rich and famous. Cheap casinos and big houses for the US, but shortages and hardship for the locals.
In 1953, Castro attempted to overthrow Batista by invading the army barracks with a small band of men. He failed. Epic Failure. This was followed by an 18 month jail stint... and then another attempt...and more failure.
By 1959 his guerrilla tactics won out and he toppled the government. He - along with Che Gueverra - quickly unhooked Cuba's reliance on the USA by signing a sugar trade agreement with the USSR, which gave him thousands of military supplies too.. He drew up plans to nationalize all of the country, and evicted the rich Americans that lived there. America had a Communist neighbour.
Bay of Pigs
Kennedy had been humiliated with the Bay of Pigs incident, but the heat was to be turned up a notch in October 1962 when US U2 spy-planes photographed a shocking secret: Nuclear bases were being built on Cuba.
If that wasn't bad enough, Kennedy's advisers claimed they could be ready in 7 days, AND U2 spy-planes saw 20 Soviet ships on their way to Cuba. If nothing was done, Cuba would be going nuclear.
Kennedy quickly assembled his Security Council - which included his brother - and decided on blockading Cuba. They would allow Soviet ships to come within a 800km radius of Cuba, but no further. If they did come closer, nuclear war would erupt. Kennedy also sent a letter to Khrushchev demanding the demolition of the nuclear bases (Letter 1)
Khrushchev's response is to play for time. He tests Kennedy by ignoring the letter and the blockade. Kennedy prepares to ready nuclear war until, at the last moment, Khrushchev turns the ships round. Nevertheless, the sites in Cuba are till being built, whilst Khrushchev sends two letters (Letters 2 and 3), firstly negotiating the missile situation and secondly ordering the removal US bases in Turkey in exchange. After a US spy-plane is shot down over Cuba, Kennedy is left embarressed. He decides to ignore Letter 3 and go with Letter 2. The Turish missiles remain but Khrushchev complies and the missile sites are removed.
Vietnam War Origins
The Cuban Missile Crisis had rocked the USA. Meanwhile however, over on the other side of the world, in Vietnam, another epic struggle was taking shape. The spotlight of the Cold War would move to the Far East.
Whilst Cuba had been the spotlight for some time, Vietnam had also been given attention by the USA. After China became Communist in 1953 the Domino Theory became part of Containment strategy
Domino Theory: The belief that if one country fell to Communism, others would quickly follow. Containment was needed to therefore ensure Communism did not spread. This belief made the Cold War global but ensured figting did not erupt within already-Communist countries. First came to play under President Eisenhower and the Korean War.
Vietnam's 10 Second History
* Formerly an empire in the South East Asian region - under the Lê Dynasty
* Vietnam then suffered colonisation by the French in the 1800s.
* Although this was not popular, French rule continued until WW2 when Japan swept through the region and took control of Vietnam.
*The Japanese were even more hated than the French and resistance - led by rebel leader Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh - helped flush out the Japanese.
* Nevertheless, the French returned after Germany was defeated, albeit in a weakened state.
The French, though, were having huge domestic problems and were not the empire they were before the war. They continued to fight Ho Chi Minh and set up a military branch especially for this, but once China turned Communist (1953) Ho received even more funding.
The French were being beaten back and faced their last, humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu where Ho Chi Minh triumphed. The Geneva Accords then decided a settlement, where the North (Ho Chi Minh) and South (Ngo Dinh Diem) of Vietnam would be temporarily divided until elections the following year.
Fearful of the Domino Theory, the USA (under Eisenhower) started to back Diem and elections never occured. Vietnam was the new Cold War arena.
How the Vietnam War escalated
I guess you could say I started the whole thing with the policy of Containment and pursuing it round the globe.
Well, let's see... I gave the French US $1 billion to keep them fighting. The Frogs weren't up to it though, even with the 300 00 small arms I gave em! I also backed the hated Diem with money. Didn't do us great tho!
I totally upped the ante. I increased 'military advisors' in South Vietnam from 900 to 16 000. I also sent CIA operatives to train up the local forces; my vision was to get Diem to fend for himself, but my government ended up assassinating him as he was too unreliable.
My strategy was pretty clear cut: I wanted to focus on the USA internally. But then we were attacked at the Gulf of Tonkin. After that I passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the idea was More, More, More. I tried flooding the region with troops - by 1965 there were just under 400 000 US (and ANZAC) soliders in Vietnam.
I ordered intense bombing of the area (more bombs dropped on Cambodia and Vietnam than on Japan in entire WW2) under codenames like Operation Rolling Thunder. 3500 helicopters were put in for transport too.
My government finally got us out of Vietnam, but disastrously. We left after the Tet Offensive and My Lai. We pursued a policy of 'Vietnamization' which was supposed to allow the Vietnamese to fight for themselves, under the Nixon Doctrine. I brought back a quater of a million men. I carried on heavy bombing of Cambodia and Laos under Operation Menu (see below). We then signed a cease fire as the last troops came home in 1973 called the Paris Peace Accords.
Key Moments of the Vietnam War
Dien Bien Phu – General Giap led the Vietminh army to victory against the French when he surrounded their forces and bombarded their position. The French were pinned down and unable to get adequate supplies through because the Vietminh had been supplied with anti-aircraft missiles, and moved quickly through the jungle. Such was the embarrassment in France that the government resigned!
The Geneva Accords 1954 –
this was the promise that there would be free elections in Vietnam once order was restored and the French had left. The country was temporarily divided into 2, with Diem holding the South and Ho Chi Minh the North. The USA began to back Diem and blocked elections.
The Strategic Hamlet Program – this was an operation by joint US and South Vietnamese forces to divide communist guerrillas from villagers. The idea was to provide peasants with new housing, education and healthcare which they would then appreciate and show loyalty toward the US. The peasants though, hated being moved from their ancestral homelands –an important part of Buddhism – and were never really given the promised reforms
1963 Assassination of Diem – the puppet of the US, and ruler of S. Vietnam was killed off in a coup organized by the USA.
Gulf of Tonkin Incident and Resolution - this was the incident that gave Johnson the excuse he needed to increase troops in Vietnam. US warships were supposedly engaged in combat by N. Vietnamese ships, in S. Vietnamese waters. This was seen as an act of war. Johnson therefore passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which promised assistance to any South East Asian country under attack from Communists.
Tet Offensive 1968
The Tet Festival was an important Vietnamese holiday, signaling the beginning of the year. On January 1968 VietCong forces poured into Saigon and the surrounding countryside. Over 80 000 Communist troops stormed South Vietnam, catching the North Vietnamese and USA by surprise. They took the US embassy in Saigon. The USA—under General Westmoreland—soon regrouped and inflicted heavy casualties on the North Vietnamese. Estimates vary from 10 000-37 000 were killed. President Johnson began scaling back troop involvement as a result.
My Lai 1968
In March 1968 ‘Charlie’ Company massacred a hamlet at Mai Lai, including women and children. The event was only uncovered in 1969. Led by Lieutenant Barker (overall command) with William Calley and Captain Medina (on the ground). After Tet Offensive, Barker ordered Calley to eradicate all Vietcong—they went into Mai Lai, found only villagers but rounded them up, abused, raped and killed them, before mass burying them. Even animals were slaughtered. Only Officer Hugh Thompson and his crew protested: he flew his helicopter between US troops and Vietnamese civilians, and helped children out of the area. Between 300-500 civilians were murdered. The USA was horrified and the press began to step-up anti-Vietnam sentiments. Only Calley was charged, and even he was let off after 3 years.
Nixon Doctrine – this was President Nixon’s way of scaling back and then ending involvement in Vietnam. The idea was that the USA would begin to leave, and train up the South Vietnamese in a process known as ‘Vietnamization’, whilst peace talks would go on.
Operation Menu 1969 – this was the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos by the USA by President Nixon. It was aimed and ensuring Communism was contained only to Vietnam, not the neighbouring countries.
Easter Offensive 1972 – this was an enormous attack by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong on the South. Initially it looked as though the South would fall until the USA conducted a large bombing campaign known as Operation Linebacker.
Paris Peace Accords 1972 – this was the ceasefire between the two sides. However it didn’t last long; by 1975 Vietnam had totally become Communist.