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  Page 3 (Background to Military Assistance )

 

CHAPTER 1

Background to Military Assistance

The Geographic Setting-The People-Vietnam' s Recent History-Post-Geneva South Vietnam-The American Response

 

 

The Geographic Setting

Hanging like a bulbous pendant from China's southern border, the Southeast Asian land mass projects itself southward to within 100 miles of the equator. Often referred to as the Indochinese Peninsula, this land mass is contained by the Andaman Sea on the west, the Gulf of Siam on the south, and the South China Sea and the Tonkin Gulf on the east. Along with the extensive Indonesian island chain which lies to the immediate south, mainland Southeast Asia dominates the key water routes between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. So positioned, the Indochinese Peninsula and the offshore islands resemble the Middle East in that they traditionally have been recognized as a ' 'crossroads of commerce and history.' '

Seven sovereign states currently make up the Indochinese Peninsula. Burma and Thailand occupy what is roughly the western two-thirds of the entire peninsula. To the south, the Moslem state of Malaysia occupies the southern third of the rugged, southward-reaching Malaysian Peninsula. East of Thailand lies Cambodia, which possesses a relatively abbreviated coastline on the Gulf of Siam, and Laos, a landlocked country. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), which borders to the north on China, and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) form the eastern rim of the Indochinese Peninsula.

Vietnamese have often described the area currently administered by the two separate Vietnamese states as resembling 'two rice baskets at the ends of their carrying poles.' 2 This description is derived from the position of extensive rice producing river deltas at the northern and southern

extremities of the long, narrow expanse of coastline and adjacent mountains. Vietnamese civilization originated in the northernmost of these so-called 'rice baskets,' the Red River Delta, centuries before the birth of Christ. Pressured at various stages in their history by the vastly more powerful Chinese and by increasingly crowded conditions in the Red River Delta, the Vietnamese gradually pushed southward down the narrow coastal plain in search of new rice lands. Eventually their migration displaced several rival cultures and carried them into every arable corner of the Mekong Delta, the more extensive river delta located at the southern end of the proverbial 'carrying pole.' Although unified since the eighteenth century under the Vietnamese, the area between the Chinese border and the Gulf of Siam came to be divided into three more or less different regions: Tonkin, centered on the Red River Delta;Cochinchina, centered on the Mekong Delta; and Annam, the intervening coastal region.

Since mid-1954 the area known collectively as Vietnam has been divided into northern and southern states. South Vietnam (known after 1956 as the Republic of Vietnam), where the earliest U.S. military activities were focused, came to include all of former Cochinchina and the southern half of Annam. The geography of this small state, described in general terms, is rugged and difficult. The lengthy country shares often ill-defined jungle boundaries with Laos and Cambodia in the west and with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) to the north. Its land borders total almost 1,000 miles-600 with Cambodia, 300 with Laos, and roughly 40 with North Vietnam. Approxi-

Page 3 (Background to Military Assistance )