The leadership styles, experience, personality, and temperament of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy played a role in deepening the U.S. involvement and commitment to Vietnam. Both presidents vowed to stop the spread of communism, which was viewed as a direct assault to democracy, human rights, and capitalism. (Tucker, 1999) Both presidents also subscribed to the domino theory, or the belief that if one key country should fall to communism, then it would have a cascading effect on other countries turning to communism. (Divine, 1981) This theory was used by many presidents as the reason for ongoing support to the effort in Indochina.
After World War II, the French began a fight for their former colony of Indochina, which included Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The French and other countries failed to see at that time the will and desire of the Vietnamese people to gain independence from foreign rule and to have their country unified. Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese nationalist, fought the French and overtook the North Vietnam capital of Hanoi with his followers, the Viet Minh, declaring the area the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. (Anderson, 2002) The French were unwilling to give up their colony and drove the Vietminh from many of the larger cities in the south. The United States entered the Vietnam struggle in 1950 when $15 million in aid was pledged to France in order to fight the Vietminh. (Anderson, 2002) The rationale was to align with France and keep the Soviet Union from expanding in Europe and to keep another country from falling into communist rule.
Despite the $2.6 billion in aid to the French over a span of four years, they could not defeat the Viet Minh. (Miller Center, 2009) During a siege by the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu, the French appeal to the US for help in the form of an airstrike. President Eisenhower considers his options and chooses to stay out of the conflict and the French are forced to surrender. (Miller Center, 2009) A peace agreement, The Geneva Accord, is then negotiated, granting independence to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. To keep all of Vietnam from coming under communist rule, it was divided in half with North Vietnam under the direction of Ho Chi Minh and Ngo Dinh Diem establishing a non-Communist government in South Vietnam. The Accord also calls for elections in two years in order to unify the country. Economic and military aid continues over the next two years to Ngo Dinh Diem. Realizing his eminent loss to Ho Chi Minh in the upcoming election, Diem refuses to take part. The US encourages the decision and when Diem visits Washington, Eisenhower labels him the “miracle man” of Asia. (Divine, 1981)
The leadership styles of President Eisenhower and President Kennedy differed in the way they handled military spending, balancing the budget and their proposed style of defense against the threat of communism. World War II had recently ended with the bombing of Hiroshima and Eisenhower felt that the...