U. S. policy makers serving under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson counted on some basic assumptions about the nature of North Vietnam that eventually proved false and led to a stalemate with the enemy. What was the significant assumption about North Vietnam that was overlooked and never confronted?
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There are at least three assumptions that policymakers appear to have overlooked.
- The Ho Chi Minh regime could simply be bargained with. It is sometimes said that President Johnson and his people looked at the North Vietnamese government as being similar to any political group here in the US. The US government thought that the North Vietnamese could be bargained with and would come to a compromise over the fate of Vietnam as a whole. For example, in 1965, the Johnson Administration offered economic aid to the North in return for peace.
- The regime was made up of people who were committed to communism first and foremost. American policymakers seemed to think that the Ho Chi Minh regime was committed mainly to communism. They, arguably, failed to realize that the regime was, above all, a nationalist regime. This increased the Americans’ view of how important it would be to defeat North Vietnam.
- The will of the North Vietnamese could be worn down. The US thought that the North could be worn down by a strategy of attrition. The US did not think that the North would be able to sustain its support of the war over a long period of time when severe hardships were being imposed on its people. However, the North was sufficiently committed to the war that neither the people nor the government appeared to be ready to give up on the war at any point.
These assumptions all helped lead to the stalemate in Vietnam.
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