I’m going to get a little political in this post, so beware. I’m going to be referring to the Ba Chuc Massacre post of a couple days ago. In the minimal research I did, I was able to read several instances where the Vietnamese named that and several border incursions by the Khmer Rouge as their reason for crossing into Cambodia and fighting the Khmer Rouge.
The United States have started wars for far less.
While I don’t refer to well known incidents like Pearl Harbour or Nine Eleven, there are plenty of incidents in the greater part of our history that involve the United States sense of Manifest Destiny or some holier than thou ethic that drove them to interfere where they were not particularly welcome, but where they wanted to be involved, so they interfered anyway and prospered because of it.
The incident which sits in my mind most prominently–and most appropriately due to the parties involved–is the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. The incident, which I will not repeat in its fullness at this moment, was arguably the trigger for the Second Indochina War between the United States and Indochina.
The basics: the USS Maddox was conducting soundings in the Gulf of Tonkin when it reported sightings of three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The Maddox shot warnings but they failed to deter the torpedo boats. What ensued was called a battle, though it was relatively one sided, if it happened at all. A second incident occurred two days later, though it was written off to radar ghosts and high up officials doubted its occurrence.
When I studied the Vietnam War in college my professor explained that the Incident was probably exaggerated extensively and that the second incident, just two days later, was no more than a misreading of radar signals. Regardless of the facts, President Johnson used the Incident as an excuse to motivate Congress to vote him what has been called a blank check to pursue the “Communists” in Vietnam and to protect their proxy state in the South under Ngo Dinh Diem.
This then, was the inciting incident. A minor interaction between a United States Ship and what were claimed to be North Vietnamese torpedo boats. How is that enough to go to all out war?
The second incident which stands out in my mind is the small battle that precipitated the Mexican-American War. For some time before the 1845 incident the United States and Mexico had been in discussions concerning the Native Americans and their frequent attacks on Mexican villages. This led first to the creation of Texas as a buffer state, but it also led President Polk to send forces under General Zachary Taylor to the border between the Nueces and Rio Grande.
This was disputed territory and President Polk knew it. This military occupation of disputed lands led Mexican forces to attack, killing a handful of American soldiers and taking fifty-two prisoners. This was enough provocation for Polk, and the Mexican-American War began.
There are other examples I could draw on, simply things that led to war not because they were worth a war, but because someone in power wanted a war. The same could be said of the Ba Chuc Massacre. Why would the United States, which has used flimsy excuses and questionable causes repeatedly through its history, draw conclusions of Communist expansion when the Khmer Rouge was threatening to spread their own form of violence across the border into Vietnam.
While I am not an expert on the Third Indochina War, I do know that it was about more than Communism.