How Did the U.S. Become Involved in the Politics of Southeast Asia?

Written by hugh houchin
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How Did the U.S. Become Involved in the Politics of Southeast Asia?
(Southeast Asia map/creativecommons.org)

The Atlantic Conference & Charter, 1941, says the U.S. became involved in Southeast Asian politics because of the Atlantic Charter, which was ratified by the U. S. and Britain in 1941. Its concept was for the postwar re-establishment of self government for countries that had been occupied during World War II. The re-establishment process was called self determination. This meant citizens of a previously occupied country had the freedom to choose a method of government without interference from another country. After the war the U.S. felt it was necessary to be involved because Russia and China hadn't signed on to the Atlantic Charter, thus were not bound by it. Instead, they were practicing colonialism. As a result Communist control in Southeast Asia was increasing.

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The Domino Effect

The U.S. was apprehensive that the expansion of Communism, from country to country, would be like a line of dominoes set on edge. Once the first one fell all would fall. Unless it was stopped the U.S. feared Communism would spread until it took over the Philippines, and then into the U.S. through California.To curtail the domino effect, early in 1950, the U.S. declared it would defend the self determination rights of countries on the "Pacific Rim," which extended from Japan to the Philippines. Shortly thereafter the Korean conflict began which was the first test of that declaration.

Korean Conflict

The Korean conflict began as a one-country battle when North Korea invaded South Korea. It grew to involve the world when communist China supported North Korea and the United Nations supported South Korea. Although the Korean conflict was never officially declared a war and was a United Nations project, the U.S. supplied 90 per cent of the United Nations troops. An armistice was signed in 1953 with nothing accomplished by either North or South Korea. In the armistice the original boundaries of both North and South Korea were restored. North Korea remained Communist, while South Korea remained democratic. The U.S., though, had become involved in Southeast Asian politics.

Further Escalation

After Korea, the U.S. became more embedded in Southeast Asian politics. It supplied France economic and military aide in their war against Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam. The three countries wanted their independence from France. France lost the war, and so Laos and Cambodia were declared independent, while Viet Nam was divided into two countries, North Viet Nam, which was communist, and South Viet Nam, which was democratic. There was to be an election held for the Vietnamese people to decide on which form of government they wanted, communist or democratic, but it was never held because of U.S. intervention.

Viet Nam

The U.S. forestalled the elections in Viet Nam because they believed the leader of South Viet Nam was a communist sympathiser. Instead they decided to inhabit South Viet Nam and rebuild their schools, economy and medical facilities. In 1965 North Viet Nam attacked an American airbase and two weeks later the U.S. committed itself to a search and destroy military engagement. The U.S. was now fully entrenched in Southeast Asian politics.

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