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The Gulf of Tonkin Incident 1964, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

“All men are created equal.  They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”[1]  The implications of this statement seem simple, yet are surrounded with the complexities of a world turned upside down.  Both the United States and Vietnam share this passage as a common thread to tie together their countries.  The United States adopted it near birth and in Vietnam when Ho Chi Minh declared independence from the Japanese and the founding of the DRV in 1945.  Unfortunately, both countries had vastly different principles for which these words were applied which would result in one of the world’s worst fear-based wars, The Cold War.  The ideological practices of the East versus the West set the stage for intense hostilities that can be traced back prior to the onset of the Cold War.  A deep examination of the increasingly hostile world relations will render a clearer understanding for the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident was a highly political and calculated attack on Northern Vietnam for which the end result would never be seen by Western powers.

Post World War I Europe was a melting pot of factional regimes.  War had all but devastated most countries and so thoughts of a better life fueled factional momentum.  The Russian Revolution paved the way for Communism.  Fascism exploded in Italy through the use of military force and “flourished in the soil of poverty, social unrest, and wounded national pride.”[2]  Germany rose to extreme totalitarian power as Adolf Hitler took center seat, effectively eliminated democracy and was supported greatly by the people of Germany for his efforts to combat the effects of the Great Depression.  Old continental powers, Britain and France, were left with a bleak reality of looming wartime debt, little financial backing and the United States taking a fairly hands off approach to its reparation.

Meanwhile, the United States didn’t fare much better in the aftermath of World War I and back to back economic depressions.  Once Roosevelt was elected as President, the economy started to flourish once again.  He accomplished this turn around through the implementation of a welfare state whereby legislation mandated “relief for businesses, price supports for hard-pressed farmers, and public works programs for unemployed youth.  The Social Security Act of 1935 set up a fund to which employers and employees contributed.  It provided retirement benefits for workers, unemployment insurance, and payments to dependent mothers, their children, and people with disabling physical conditions.”[3]  It wasn’t long before the United States was one of the major world forces, and powerful at that.

After the opening of Tokugawa Japan, western influences infiltrated Japan and with that brought a lot of internal unrest.  Since Japan wasn’t allowed to remain a closed off country anymore, the need to be a world contender gripped their culture, government and mode of production.  The modernization of Japan brought about an undeniable truth, reliance on U.S. oil exports.  Japan also firmly believed that in order to remain a world contender an equal navy (ships) was a must.  After several attempts to negotiate equal treaties with the United States and England, Japan was thrice left in the dark which ultimately left them lower on the totem pole with a 10-10-7 allocation.  In a futile attempt to mitigate dependence on the United States, “Japan advisors, particularly naval officers, believed that Japan needed to occupy portions of Southeast Asia.  Japan’s hope was that it would eventually create a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, wherein Asia’s economy would be centered in Japan.  Southeast Asia held the promise of markets and raw materials-especially oil.”[4]Japan’s presence had been virtually unstoppable in almost every country until they reached Tonkin bay Vietnam at the beginning of World War II.  Until this point Japan was undefeatable.

China was also one of the major world players, although somewhat to a lesser degree.  China was under the “rule” of Sun Yat-Sen and China’s momentum resembled a Republic under which notions of capitalism were present.  Simultaneously, Mao was rallying the destitute peasantry into a full-blown revolution.  Upon the death of Sun Yat-Sen, Chiang Kai Shek continued on with Sun’s mission of a China that was a bit more “Western.”  The conundrum that surrounded the politics of China stemmed from a prosperous urban center while the rural communities suffered tremendous amounts of poverty and subsequent suffering.  The poverty and suffering of the rural communities (which is essentially most of China’s population) was the platform for Mao to sell Communism.  Mao was incredibly effective in his endeavors because his implementation, strategically, was brilliant.  While Chiang Kai Shek worked from the urban centers outward for his platform, Mao gathered up the peasantry from every surrounding area possible and moved inward onto the urban areas.  This plan was so successful that Kai Shek’s army didn’t stand a chance against the masses of Communist supporters.

What about Vietnam?  Vietnam has been an instrumental country for a lot of countries for several different reasons.  Historically, the Vietnamese have been one of the most culturally static countries.  By this I mean to indicate that even when Vietnam was occupied by China for over a century, China’s government, China’s language, China’s religion and customs weren’t a match for the Vietnamese.  During the colonization period in Western Europe and the massive amounts of Imperialism exerted on the less civilized world weren’t a match for the strength exuded from the Vietnamese.  What then is it about the Vietnamese that was such a draw for Eastern and Western counterparts?  Vietnam itself wasn’t rich in any specific marketable raw material that was desired by the West, nor was it a massive producer of much but rice.  Vietnamese occupation is strictly strategic.

For the West, Vietnam and more specifically Tonkin Bay, is located in one of the most desirable spots for imports and exports with the Eastern world.  Vietnam not only produced an incredible amount of rice, but Tonkin Bay was an ideal stopping spot for refueling cargo ships and also a strategic gateway to other Southeast Asian countries that were ripe with raw materials.  Raw materials were a necessity for capitalist countries consumption demands.

The dynamic for the East’s occupation of the Gulf of Tonkin is a bit more complex than mere exploitation.  For China and their need to be viewed as the Middle Kingdom, Northern Vietnam was the key to import and export regulation with the Western world.  For Japan, control of the Gulf of Tonkin was a bit more complex in thought.  Japan wanted to gain control over all of Southeast Asia to create a self-reliant stable market for which the West, namely the United States, would have to draw from.  This idea stemmed from previous ill relations between the United States and Japan.  To be quite honest, Japan had had their fill of inequality from Western world powers and was ready to take drastic steps to implement and ensure their survival and independence.

From all of these complex systems of government, each hoping to fulfill their need for supremacy, World War II erupted.  Most think of World War II beginning with Germany and ending with the rise in superpowers from the United States and the USSR, but in fact World War II began before Adolf Hitler’s destruction did.  Japan was the initial instigator of the War the affected most of the world.  In Japan’s notion of the ideal world, they were seeking control of all of Southeast Asia to create the market aforementioned.  In the process, the Japanese wreaked havoc in China, famously known as the Rape of Nanjing, and downward into what they would believe would be their final destination occupation of Vietnam.  To Japan’s surprise, they were met not with greater force, but a smarter force and the countries people weren’t strangers to the notion of foreign occupation.  Japan was in fact defeated in the Tonkin region by the Vietnamese through strategy, not head-to-head combat.

As the war progressed, Germany became the next bone of world contention.  In Europe, the usual powers, England and France, had seen a rapid decline in social and governmental stability which left the door wide open for the German and Russians to fulfill their missions of supremacy.  It wasn’t until the United States understood the magnitude of Germany’s power did they choose to step in and help mitigate the actions that were being taken.  On another front, Japan was planning an attack on the United States which we all know too well, Pearl Harbor.  Once Japan had implemented their attack on the United States, the US then retaliated by dropping the bomb not once, but twice on Japan.

Nuclear power became the new threat instead of one country simply competing for supremacy.  The armament race was on and so too was the need for advancement in all aspects of the word.  World War II didn’t end with one winner and a bunch of losers, it ended with two diametrically opposed world views; Communism versus Imperialism/Capitalism.  These competing world views, coupled with the threat of nuclear weapons annihilations became the fertile grounds for which the Cold War was bread and grown.

Origins of the Cold War have been greatly debated for decades.  “Some point to consistent U.S., British, and French hostility to the Soviets that began as far back as the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and continued through the Depression and World War II.”[5]  In another vein, “others stress the Soviets’ aggressive policies, notably the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact and Stalin’s quick claims on the Baltic States and Polish territory when World War II broke out.”[6]  Either way you choose to acknowledge it, it was there and felt by the entire world as a looming force.

The Cold War itself wasn’t a war fought with outright combat, but instead was a war that existed strictly out of propaganda.  For the United States, Communism was the antithesis of a thriving capitalist economy, especially with its roots deeply embedded in the free market enterprise system.  This as well as many but not all forms of capitalism, rested heavily in the notion of privatization of the service sector, ownership of property and massive accumulation of wealth in relatively few hands.  Communisms’ emphasis rested in the equal distribution of wealth and services so that all persons have “an equal lot in life.”  Communism in Russia stemmed from essentially the same reasons that China pushed for and ultimately achieved Communism, widespread poverty and suffering of the many with only elite few holding anything of value.

Supremacy is an absolutist point of view.  And for supremacy’s sake, there can only be one.  What would the world do with two supreme powers that negated each other’s way of life?  This was the fuel that inspired the use of propaganda to promote or demonize another’s way of life.  Another distinction that is clearly being made here is the distinction between the East and the West.  Easterners are thought to be Communist demons that are trying to occupy and spoil all that is good in the world while the West encompasses all the virtues of what is good and right with the world.  Conversely, Easterners viewed the Western capitalist/imperialists as the evil that is going to infiltrate second and third world nations for exploited labor and raw materials.  Profit came on the backs of the lesser on the social and economic ladder.

Early Cold War strategies amounted to a competition of East versus West.  In so doing, a “new kind of arms race, based on ‘mutual deterrence,’ emerged; [and] was useless to speak of ‘massive retaliation,’”[7] and “the cold war became a series of moves and countermoves in the shared occupation of a rich European heartland that had fallen into chaos.”[8]And soon, the competition between the two powers increased to include Asian politics.  Once Mao had successfully implemented the PRC and the thoughts of a Communist world were actualizing, the United States took astute interest in stopping it dead in its tracks. The Gulf of Tonkin in Northern Vietnam was a strategic spot for the United States to divert their energies.

In an attempt to keep Western ideals and ways of life alive and well, protect US investments in the French occupation of Vietnam, and curb the spread of Communism, the United States launched an attack in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964.  The terms by which the United States waged this attack have been greatly debated and even so much so that the terms of the attack were later deemed as “fictitious.”  Realistically, Vietnam wasn’t ever one of the major threats in the Cold War.  Vietnam was in fact a Communist country but weren’t to the magnitude of neither China nor the USSR.  Vietnam was merely a pawn as they had historically been in their dealings with the rest of the world and the fight for supremacy, the fight for an economic edge into the Asian market and the fight for cultural beliefs.

What immediately followed the initial attack at the Gulf of Tonkin was the Vietnam War.  A well documented war that was fought by the United States on mostly false premises.  The war wasn’t supposed to last as long as it did, but the threat of losing hold or control of the Communist regime gripped the United States.  The economic gain from Vietnam occupation was negligible at best and perhaps an outdated excuse for being there.  The primary goal was to prevent the spread of Communism with the biggest threats north of a small divided and occupied country.

The aftermath of the Vietnam is twofold in outcomes assessments.  First, Vietnam is a country to be reckoned with.  Historically they have suffered minimal temporary defeats.  While occupied by China and France, Vietnam did not succumb to the ways of their cultures.  Some assimilation and adaptations of opposing views were integrated into their culture, but overall disenfranchisement, not a chance.  Since the Vietnam War, Vietnam has risen again to their own culture and has successfully created the DRV as their form of government.  The United States never really stood a chance in trying to overcome what may have looked like a weak and powerless country.  On the other hand, Vietnam geographically was destroyed.  The amount of toxins and bombs dumped into their country has left a scar that will never diminish.  Bombs are still known to pose a serious problem and are an inconceivable truth that children find these curious things and become yet another casualty from the Vietnam War.

The Cold War continued to exist in across the world until the 1980’s. “The sudden collapse of the Soviet Union left the political leadership of the United States unprepared.”[9] The United States had needed the threat of an extreme threat to safety as a justification for the creation of certain bureaus of the federal government and expenditures on the military force.  “Military interventions had been undertaken in Korea and Vietnam with enormous loss of life, also in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and huge amounts of military aid had been given all over the world-in Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia- on the supposition that this was necessary to deal with a Communist menace emanating from the Soviet Union.”[10] Once the Communist enemy was defeated, then what? Would there then be a reallocation of tax dollars that is more reflective of the people?  Would foreign policy and attitudes towards Russia and other Communist countries be adjusted?  Unfortunately, none of these adjustments happened and instead were replaced with a new fear, The War on Crime, The War on Drugs, etc. that were implemented in the Reagan years along with the re-implementation of the crime control model in the criminal justice system.  Has the United States relationship with Russia or China changed drastically?  It has only been in light of the extreme and near collapse of our own economy did China come to be viewed differently by the government. China has a precious commodity that our country lacks, money.

For the most part, the United States has always economically boomed during wartime.  The US remained virtually untouched during all the wars combined.  As for the rest of the major players in the Gulf of Tonkin attack of 1964, it has only really been the Western countries that have prospered financially from the resulting war.  Vietnam, China and the USSR may have won the right to remain Communist, but it cost the Vietnamese so many lives and devastation to their land. The USSR ultimately dismantled and is in the process of trying to rebuild a country that has been riddled with pronounced ups and downs.  France and Britain have remained strong forces in the Western world and provide a strong voice in the deeds and misdeeds of the worlds only remaining superpower, The United States of America.

From this expose into the historical aspects of several countries it is easy to pull out some dominant themes that have run the course of history.  First, the Imperialist West had intentions of occupying every inch of the world that wasn’t yet occupied by a viable white counterpart. Second, as the United States fought for its independence as a country, they quickly rose to a power that had come to be undefeatable and virtually untouchable.  Third, as the power of the United States grew, so too did the need for economic opportunities to support the growing market which brought about a new version of imperialism; massive exploitation of labor and raw materials to supply a hungry consumer and to maximize profits.  Fourth, once it was clear that the United States wasn’t the only world power left standing in the ashes of World War II, the next war would grip the world for more than four decades.  In the process of this war, the Cold War, being fought strictly by appealing to the fear levels, several more casualties resulted, of these Vietnam.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident can be best summed up as a calculated risk that the United States took in hopes of securing their interests in the Cold War propaganda against the Communists.  Some of their motivations were financial and the strategic geographical location of Vietnam wouldn’t have hurt their position into the Asian Market; it wasn’t enough of a reason to justify the havoc wreaked on them though.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident did escalate into a war that the US could not win and has been greatly debated as one of the worst justifications for a war ever perpetrated on another country.

Bibliography

Colton, Joel, Kramer, Lloyd and Palmer, P.P.  A History of the Modern World.  Edited by Jane Karpacz.  New York: McGraw-Hills Companies, Inc., 2002.

Hunt, Lynn, Hsia, R. Po-chia, Martin, Thomas R., Rosenwein, Barbara H. and Smith, Bonnie G. The Making of the West.  Edited by Mary Dougherty.  New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.

Woods, Shelton.  Vietnam An Illustrated History.  New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2002.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1999.

[1] Shelton Woods, Vietnam An Illustrated History (New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2002), 109.

[2] Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia and Bonnie G. Smith, The Making of the West, ed. Mary Dougherty(Boston: Bedord/St. Martin, 2009), 833.

[3] Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia and Bonnie G. Smith, The Making of the West, ed. Mary Dougherty(Boston: Bedord/St. Martin, 2009), 852.

[4] Shelton Woods, Vietnam An Illustrated History (New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2002), 103-104.

[5]Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia and Bonnie G. Smith, The Making of the West, ed. Mary Dougherty(Boston: Bedord/St. Martin, 2009), 884.

[6] Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia and Bonnie G. Smith, The Making of the West,ed. Mary Dougherty(Boston: Bedord/St. Martin, 2009), 852.

[7] Joel Colton, Lloyd Kramer and R.R. Palmer A History of the Modern World, ed. Jane Karpacz(New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2002), 953.

[8] Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia and Bonnie G. Smith, The Making of the West, ed. Mary Dougherty(Boston: Bedord/St. Martin, 2009), 884.

[9] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1999), 592.

[10]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1999), 592.

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