The United States was involved in the Vietnam war before American ground troops became directly engaged in combat in 1965. According to Andrew Mark Lawrence American involvement in Vietnam was predicated on Cold War rivalries with both China and the Soviet Union. “As the globe split into rival blocs headed by Washington and Moscow, conflict in Vietnam increasingly appeared to be connected to the worldwide struggle between democratic capitalism and international communism.” (Lawrence, 2008, 5) Two days after assuming the Presidency, Johnson said, “the battle against communism.
must be joined. with strength and determination.” (Quoted in Karnow, 1983, p. 339) In this context American involvement in the Vietnam war was inspired by the related motives of spreading democracy and stopping the spread of communism. On the most immediate level the precursor of American direct military involvement related to alleged violations of international law in the Tonkin Gulf in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam in 1964. In two separate incidents in August 1964, the USS Maddox reported exchanging fire with North Vietnamese patrol boats while it was conducting surveillance off the coast of Vietnam.
Subsequently, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that permitted the President to use military force to “assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance to the defense of its freedom.” (“Tonkin Gulf Resolution”, 1964) The Tonkin Gulf incident and the “Tonkin Gulf Resolution” were the immediate pretexts for American involvement in Vietnam. Therefore, in the broadest sense, the American involvement in Vietnam sprang from a desire to halt the spread of communism and to protect ‘any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance to the defense of its freedom.