In 1965 the United States (U.S.) Department of State (DOS) wrote a White Paper to persuade readers that the U.S. needed to become militarily involved in Vietnam. Vietnam was divided between communist North Vietnam with its capital in Hanoi and non-communist South Vietnam with its capital in Saigon. The line of delineation between North and South Vietnam had been defined as at the 17th parallel. The White Paper’s title was “Aggression from the North.” The situation in South Vietnam was described as terrible from enduring terrible attacks from North Vietnam. The blame is placed on the government in Hanoi for military attacks against the South. In general the essay has no dates or other facts to back up the claims so it is not clear whether the White Paper is reliable. The following analysis of the White Paper points out the flaws in the argument presented.
The first paragraph describes South Vietnam as being the victim of blatant military assault from the northern region. The DOS explains that the government in Hanoi was a Communist government and argues that it wanted to take over the southern portion of the country and make it Communist. The next six paragraphs are used to explain why no one has noticed the extent of the problem (except for the U.S.) by using examples from other countries Greece, Malaya, and the Philippines, that have faced similar problems, but under different circumstances. The examples do not have dates or any detailed explanations but the point was to demonstrate that the differences between the situation in Vietnam and other examples of Communist aggression have been very different. Interestingly in the seventh paragraph the actions of the North are described as “concealed aggression” and “the planners in Hanoi have tried desperately to conceal their hands.” The claim that the North Vietnamese government used concealed offensive actions is opposite to the claims made in the first paragraph that describe blatant offensive strategies.
The author also explains how after ten years of dealing with the aggression from North Vietnam, the government of South Vietnam had repeatedly requested support from the U.S. In 1961 a U.S. DOS report titled “A Threat to the Peace” was published. It was based on previous testimony from the South Vietnamese at the International Control Commission (ICC). And then in 1962 the ICC reported that government officials in Hanoi had initiated aggressive acts against South Vietnam which violated the 1954 Geneva Accords. The culmination of the charges against North Vietnam convinced the DOS that the citizens of the U.S. and other free peoples in the world should be told the truth about the problems in Vietnam “It is important for free men to know what has been happening in Vietnam, and how, and why. That is the purpose of this report . . . .” The major claim made is that since the facts speak for themselves the U.S. “has taken its place beside them in their defensive struggle.”
Although the White Paper continually teases the reader about the facts and the compelling and convincing evidence against Hanoi – none are set forth. It would have been very helpful if a simple timeline of the events during the ten years between 1950 until 1960 had been included. The types of aggressive events are only described in very general terms without explaining what happened or if there were any injured or dead resulting from the offensive attacks. North Vietnam’s reason for the attacks was determined by the DOS to be to force the South to adopt a communist style government. That would mean that South Vietnam would be changed from a capitalistic market economy to a communist type economy. The White Paper explains that Hanoi had violated the United Nations (U.N.) Charter, and four points in the Geneva Accords but the violations are not listed or explained.
The White Paper uses a strategy of persuasion that leaves no room for discussion. The conclusions reached are offered as correct without any references given to prove the points. At one point the White Paper states that all people must be given the facts in order to know what is happening to South Vietnam. This makes sense because in democracies the people would need to decide if their countries’ military should be used to support the South Vietnamese. But two paragraphs later the White Paper states that the U.S. was already collaborating with South Vietnam to provide defensive support against the North. The most disturbing sentence in the White Paper is the very last sentence “The choice now between peace and continued and increasingly destructive conflict is one for the authorities in Hanoi to make;” because in reality the choice seemed to be up to the U.S. The U.S. could have let their citizens decide on whether or not to use diplomacy to negotiate a peace between the two countries instead of using military force. Unfortunately the U.S. chose to use military action which turned into a devastating war lasting many years.
U.S. Department of State, “Aggression from the North, February 27, 1965” White Paper on Vietnam, U.S. Department of State Bulletin. March 22, 1965. Accessed December 23, 2 012, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/USStateDept-vietnamfeb1965.asp.