Cold War: Vietnam
Was the world made safe for democracy by the U.S. actions during the Cold War?
Historians generally date the Cold War from the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It refers to the intense rivalry for world domination between the United States and its allies on one hand and the Soviet Union and other communist countries on the other. While there were no direct military conflicts between the two superpowers, there were several armed clashes with military support by one side or the other or both. In the early 1950s, the Korean War pitted the South Korea, United States and others under the flag of the United Nations against North Korea and Communist China.
Cold War Arms Race
Cold War tensions grew ever more grave with the invention of atomic weapons by both sides. Both the U.S. and the Soviets invested in massive nuclear build-ups designed to so threaten the devastation of the other that an attack would be unthinkable. Both countries greatly increased military spending. However, nuclear deterrents did not stop ground wars between other nations and intense economic and diplomatic competition. The arms race even extended into space with programs first of satellites and then of manned space flights.
The U.S. adopted the policy of containment first developed by diplomat George Kennan. It did not seek to push back the Soviets from Eastern Europe or Communist Chinese on the theory that their own internal weaknesses would eventually lead to their collapse. It was, however, committed to preventing the spread of communism ("containment") to new territories. In the 1950s, nationalist forces in Vietnam tried to overthrow the French colonial power and drew support from neighboring Communist China. Fearing what was called the "domino effect", the U.S. stepped in when the French were defeated to prevent losing neighboring Southeast Asian nations one by one to communist-aligned forces. Eventually, the North Vietnamese army forced a U.S. withdrawal after staggering losses of soldiers and civilians on both sides.
Americans' Response to the Vietnam War
American involvement in Vietnam was very unpopular at home. President Lyndon Johnson, fearing an expansion of communism in Southeast Asia, committed even more troops to the conflict. With political opposition mounting, Johnson refused to seek election in 1968. President Richard Nixon sought a military victory with more and more American troops, provided by a draft of young American men. Colleges proved to be particularly strong staging grounds for protests against U.S. policy, sometimes leading to illegal or even violent demonstrations. Protesters clashed with police at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, providing an ugly window on a breakdown in the U.S. political process. That led both parties to re-examine their nomination policies to be more inclusive to minorities, women and young voters who felt that they had been frozen out of the top level of decision-making.
American economic superiority eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan instituted a major build up of military forces in the 1980s. The Soviet Union attempted to match American commitments but could not sustain the effort, leading the Russians to severe domestic problems. The Soviets could no longer keep in place the troops necessary to keep satellite countries in submission, and Eastern European countries began to throw off Soviet rule. The Soviet Union itself split into Russia and several independent nations.
The Cold War was over, leaving the United States as the world's only superpower. However, the Russians retained their nuclear arsenal, and the rise of religious and ethnic tensions in the Middle East and China's dramatic rise as a major economic and military power created new challenges to world peace.
What ideas influenced US policy during the Cold War?
- "Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Nations," ca. 1950-1975 (Video)
- Operational Priority Communication from Strategic Services Officer Archimedes Patti, September 2, 1945 (Document)
- Letter from Ho Chi Minh to President Harry Truman Asking for Intervention, February 28, 1946 (Document)
- Truman Doctrine, March 12, 1947 (Document)
- "Come South" Propaganda Poster, August 5, 1954 (Image)
- "Communism Means Terrorism," September 15, 1954 (Image)
- "America's Stake in Vietnam" Speech by U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, June 1, 1956 (Document)
- "No. 52 Vietnam" NSA Memorandum, May 11, 1961 (Document)
How did changes in technology impact global cooperation/alliances during the Cold War?
- "No. 115 Defoliant Operations in Vietnam" NSA Memorandum, November 30, 1961 (Document)
- "Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, July 26, 1963 (Document)
- "Stick 'em up!" June 9, 1964 (Political Cartoon)
- "Iowa Veteran Describes Tactics of the Enemy During the Vietnam War" from Iowa Public Television, 2015 (Video)
- "U.S. Army Veteran’s Perspective on the Mindset of the South Vietnamese Soldiers During the Vietnam War" from Iowa Public Television, September 10, 2017 (Video)
How effective was U.S. diplomacy in creating or eroding safety in the world?
- Letter from Iowa Soldier during the Vietnam War, Date Unknown (Document)
- "Vietnamese Army's Seven Commandments" Propaganda Poster, May 28, 1956 (Image)
- Letter Detailing Agricultural Issues in North Vietnam, 1963 (Document)
- Memorandum of World's Reaction to Developments in Vietnam, September 14, 1963 (Document)
- "Aggression from the North" Propaganda Poster, April 23, 1965 (Image)
- Saigon CIA Chief's Assessment of Vietnam, March 17, 1975 (Document)
- "U.S. Army Veteran Describes the Role of Military Advisors in Vietnam in the 1960s" from Iowa Public Television, September 10, 2017 (Video)
- "The U.S. Exit From Vietnam War: U.S. and South Vietnamese Veterans Share Their Perspectives" from Iowa Public Television, September 10, 2017 (Video)
|Cold War: Vietnam Teaching Guide|
|Printable Image and Document Guide|
"Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Nations," ca. 1950-1975
- Video resource
Operational Priority Communication from Strategic Services Officer Archimedes Patti, September 2, 1945
Letter from Ho Chi Minh to President Harry Truman Asking for Intervention, February 28, 1946
Truman Doctrine, March 12, 1947
"Come South" Propaganda Poster, August 5, 1954
"Communism Means Terrorism," September 15, 1954
"America's Stake in Vietnam" Speech by U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, June 1, 1956
"No. 52 Vietnam" NSA Memorandum, May 11, 1961
"No. 115 Defoliant Operations in Vietnam" NSA Memorandum, November 30, 1961
"Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," July 26, 1963
"Stick 'em up!" June 9, 1964
"Iowa Veteran Describes Tactics of the Enemy During the Vietnam War" from Iowa Public Television, 2015
- Video resource
"U.S. Army Veteran’s Perspective on the Mindset of the South Vietnamese Soldiers During the Vietnam War" from Iowa Public Television, September 10, 2017
- Video resource
Letter from Iowa Soldier during the Vietnam War, September 6, 1967
"Vietnamese Army's Seven Commandments" Propaganda Poster, May 28, 1956
Letter Detailing Agricultural Issues in North Vietnam, 1963
Memorandum of World's Reaction to Developments in Vietnam, September 14, 1963
"Aggression from the North" Propaganda Poster, April 23, 1965
Saigon CIA Chief's Assessment of Vietnam, March 17, 1975
"U.S. Army Veteran Describes the Role of Military Advisors in Vietnam in the 1960s" from Iowa Public Television, September 10, 2017
- Video resource
"The U.S. Exit From Vietnam War: U.S. and South Vietnamese Veterans Share Their Perspectives" from Iowa Public Television, September 10, 2017
- "The Vietnam War" from Iowa PBS
This resource from Iowa PBS has a number of videos and other primary resources about Iowans' experiences in Vietnam.
- Battlefield Vietnam: A Brief History
This resource provides an extensive timeline to the events that occurred in Vietnam. The website is hosted by the Public Broadcasting System.
- Vietnam War from National Archives
The National Archives have amassed an extensive collection of resources specific to the Vietnam War and has links to a variety of resources from presidential libraries.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (9th-12th Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are high school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for students 9th through 12th grade.
No. Standard Description SS-Gov.9-12.22. Identify and evaluate the contributions of Iowans who have played a role in promoting civic and democratic principles. (21st century skills) SS-Gov.9-12.25. Evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of the implementation of public policy, specifically looking at the bureaucracy, citizen feedback, public opinion polls, interest groups, media coverage, and other related topics. (21st century skills) SS-Econ.9-12.23. Explain how globalization has impacted various aspects of economic growth, labor markets, and rights of citizens, the environment, and resource and income distribution in different nations. SS.Geo.9-12.16. Analyze relationships and interactions within and between human and physical systems to explain reciprocal influences. SS-Geo.9-12.17. Analyze how environmental and cultural characteristics of various places and regions influence political and economic decisions. SS-Geo.9-12.19. Analyze the reciprocal relationship between historical events and the spatial diffusion of ideas, technologies, cultural practices and the distribution of human population. SS-Geo.9-12.22. Evaluate how economic globalization and the expanding use of scarce resources contribute to conflict and cooperation within and among countries. SS-Geo.9-12.23. Analyze the consequences of human-made and natural catastrophes on global trade, politics, and human migration. SS-US.9-12.20. Analyze the growth of and challenges to U.S. involvement in the world in the post-World War II era. SS-US.9-12.21. Analyze change, continuity and context across eras and places of study from civil war to modern America. SS-US.9-12.24. Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness such as the Reconstruction amendments, Emancipation Proclamation, Treaty of Fort Laramie, Chinese Exclusion Act, Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, Wilson’s Fourteen Points, New Deal Program Acts, Roosevelt’s Declaration of War, Executive Order 9066, Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Test Ban Treaty of 1963, Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and the Voting Act of 1965. SS-US.9-12.26. Determine multiple and complex causes and effects of historical events in American history including, but not limited to, the Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. SS-US.9-12.27. Evaluate Iowans or groups of Iowans who have influenced U.S. History. SS-WH.9-12.14. Compare various systems of government, such as monarchies, democracies/republics, empires, and dictatorships, and their methods of maintaining order and/or control. (21st century skills) SS-WH.9-12.16. Examine the ways in which trade, commerce, and industrialization affected societies. SS-WH.9-12.18. Assess impact of conflict and diplomacy on international relations. SS-WH.9-12.20. Evaluate methods used to change or expand systems of power and/or authority. SS-WH.9-12.23. Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness of sources throughout world history. SS-WH.9-12.24. Examine and explain how the perspectives of individuals and societies impact world history. SS-WH.9-12.25. Determine multiple and complex causes and effects of historical events within world history. SS-WH.9-12.26. Assess Iowans or groups of Iowans who have influenced world history.