AMERICA’S INVOLVEMENT IN VIETNAM IN THE CONTEXT OF VIETNAMESE HISTORY
August 29, 2011
The Tet Offensive in 1968 was a turning point for a nation at war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. For most Americans the “Vietnam War” began in 1965. For most, too, it was something that took place in Vietnam, not really including Laos and Cambodia. A longer view of the history of Indochina gives a different slant to the story.
America’s “Vietnam War” is only one chapter in a number of wars embracing all of Indochina. The end of America’s Vietnam War proved the resumption of Vietnam’s process of Nom Tien (push southward similar to America’s push westward). This process of Vietnamese expansion south and west was a dynamic political force in Indochina interrupted briefly by French colonialism. The process of reunification of Vietnam divided north and south by the Geneva Convention in 1954 resumed with the removal of both the French and American presence. The manifest destiny of Vietnam as a primordial force revives ancient regional rivalries in which China, seeking friendly neighbors at its borders, serves as the great counterforce to Vietnam. Hanoi viewing China a potential rival allies itself with Moscow as a counterforce against Chinese dominance. Once again, then, Southeast Asia was at the vortex of the final phase of the Cold War. (I was often mistaken as a Russian in my 1993 visit to Vietnam) Vietnam’s Nom Tien had merely been interrupted by French colonial conquest of Indochina.
Nom Tien dates back to, approximately, 1000 A. D. when the Ly Dynasty, checking Chinese domination, began the gradual 850 year drive to the south. Having consolidated power in the Red River Delta in the north they drove the Tai speaking people into the highlands. Moving steadily southward from 1000 to 1470 they defeated the Champa seafaring people gaining control of the central coastal strip. After 1650 the Vietnamese moved out of the central coastal strip into the Mekong Delta. The Khmer (Cambodians) had sparsely settled the area and were pressed by the powerful Thai to the west. Pressing thru the Delta by 1800 the Nom Tien moved into Cambodian territory and in the 1840’s seized control of the King of Cambodia and attempted to Vietnamese Cambodia – a fact no Khmer forgets. Nom Tien, at this juncture is interrupted by the French conquest of Indochina.
In this broader context of the history of Vietnam the first and second Vietnam War (French – American) can be interpreted as confrontations of French colonial imperialism and later American neo-colonialism/globalism with Vietnamese nationalistic regionalism.Nom Tien dynamism was spearheaded by Hanoi (DRV – Democratic Republic of Vietnam) , as “The Prussians from the north”, drive for national independence and unification after division by the 1954 Geneva Convention. Hanoi’s access to South Vietnam necessitated the support of friendly revolutionary nationalistic movements in both Laos and Cambodia.. Contrariwise American support of the Saigon regime necessitated the support of conservative , elitist, royalist/bourgeois regimes in Laos and Cambodia. This being the case the second Vietnam War inevitably engulfed Laos and Cambodia. The final result was the Third Vietnam War that determined Vietnamese hegemony over both Laos and Cambodia each in a “special relationship” with Vietnam.
(See blog sketch of the role of Laos and Cambodia in America’s Vietnam War and post-American Third Vietnam War: LAOS AND CAMBODIA ENGULFED BY AMERICA’S VIETNAM WAR, Sept 4, 2011)